Preppers have a bad reputation for hoarding gear, stocking up on a year’s-worth (or more) of food, and packing bug out bags that could supply a platoon. In almost all cases, these preppers would be screwed if there were a disaster or SHTF.
Gear and supplies are useless unless you still have it when you need it, and as I’ve experienced several times in the military – in emergency situations, things don’t usually go as planned.
There is an inherent cost associated with collecting stuff that extends past the initial purchase. Buying means researching, storing, protecting, repairing, maintaining, carrying, and several other ‘ings.
The precept of knowledge weighing nothing has been a long-term idea in my thinking. I love learning how to do things and how to adapt my surroundings by adapting what I have available for new purposes.
Also, if something like a regional disaster hits your area, you may be surviving with only what you have on you at that moment and all that stuff you collected will be useless.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t go out and buy stuff in advance of something happening. Starting a fire with something like a magnesium/ferro fire starter is much easier than by rubbing two sticks together, so those things are really good investments. But if you lost that thing, would you still be able to start a fire?
What I am saying though is that sometimes it’s better to learn than to buy. Let’s look at some examples.
In every part of the world and culture, alcohol plays a major part. Sometimes it’s hidden but even while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was very easy to find it if you wanted it (but you’d pay out the ying-yang for it). During hard times, alcohol gets even more popular.
People throughout the ages have risked their lives to either drink it or sell it. It’s used to run vehicles, sterilize wounds and supplies, give you a buzz or just used as a form of underground currency. With it you can trade directly for other things or use it’s barrier-dropping abilities to help you get other things in trade. Alcohol will always have value.
What you may think then is that you should stock up on gallons of alcohol so you’ll have it if SHTF. No doubt it may be a good investment (plus you can just drink it if you want to while you wait for the world to end).
So you go out and buy two cases of Boru vodka (My favorite vodka of all time and hella cheap at Total Wine) and store it. Then the economy collapses one day and you have to bug out. Can you really carry 2 cases of vodka with all the other stuff you’re taking? Maybe you can but it comes at the opportunity cost of what else you could have carried.
Let’s say you decide you’re bugging out with three vehicles so you have plenty of room and you have your 2 cases with you. Now you can drink it or trade it, but once it’s gone baby, it’s gone.
Instead, what if you learned how to make vodka?
Now you could just bring the equipment you’d need and then collect the items necessary. No matter what you start with or where you’re at, you know you could start collecting the things necessary to distill your own hooch for years.
What’s that? You say that sounds way too complicated for you to figure out? No shit. That’s because you haven’t learned how to do it.
But, if you’d invest some time into learning how to make alcohol instead of just buying it, it won’t seem all that difficult anymore. And you’ll have a great new hobby that you can share with your friends or help you make new friends.
The biggest thing here is that if you ended up leaving your home without your alcohol, or it gets taken or broken, so what? You don’t have to pack anything. It’s in your head. You just figure out how to procure or make whatever you need and then voila!. Also, the more you invest into learning how to do it, the easier it’ll be for you to either make what you need or adapt what you have available. And they can’t take that from you.
What about medicine? It’s all well and good that you have an Elite Large Fully Stocked GI Issue Medic First Aid Kit Bag but do you know how to use anything in it more than the bandaids? Do you know how to recognize the symptoms of internal injury? Would you know when to use the veterinary antibiotics that you stocked up on this last year? By medicine, I don’t just mean pills and stuff but how to fix people.
Obviously medicine is a HUGE thing to look into but one of the things I’d suggest you start looking into (after some basic First Aid) is how to make your own medicine. Just like alcohol, if you can make medicine, you won’t have to carry or stock it, and you can use that knowledge to either barter for goods you don’t have or use yourself.
And don’t think that just buying a book on survival medicine is sufficient. You should go out and train on how to do the things in that book or you’ll be staring at the pictures wondering if you’re doing it right.
Books are definitely things that I do spend quite a bit on – but I actually read them and then do some research on how to use that knowledge. I use the books as reference and to get me started.
Hunting and gathering
Sure it helps if you pack a gun with ammo and your fishing pole with string and hooks with all the smelly stuff etc but do you know how to use all that stuff? Tracking animals takes some skill. Trapping them can take even more.
And if you got yourself a deer in the woods, do you know how to field dress it, skin it, butcher it and store the meat, and all that jazz? There are things to learn about what to do once you actually manage to grab or kill something you’re gonna eat. There are also a lot of uses for animals outside of just eating them. Would you know how to tan animal hides if you had to?
Let’s say you got yourself a dandy cabin in the woods and have a month’s worth of food stocked up there. What’re you gonna do the next month? Tracking, trapping and fishing take time and energy. One thing that can provide even more food per ounce of effort is gardening/farming/homesteading. You may not be able to carry or store 1,000 pounds of potatoes but you can sure grow them.
People who lived throughout the U.S. a hundred years ago and longer knew how to do this stuff because they grew up doing this stuff. A lot of us have lost this knowledge but it’s still available to be learned. Homesteading is the essence of self-sufficiency. In fact, there are so many useful things you can learn if you get into homesteading knowledge that it could easily deserve its own post on the benefits. Divining the knowledge within will bestow upon you the ability to do such things as: make soap, raise and butcher farm animals, grow crops, store food, make food such as butter and cheese out of basic components, make clothing, get energy off the land, and a LOT more.
If you find yourself in a disaster or SHTF scenario, it won’t be enough just to know how to get stuff, fix stuff or store stuff. There are always gonna be people out there who’ve learned the TOPS method of survival – Taking Other People’s Shit.
Even having a gun is pretty useless if you don’t know how to use it. Take some time to learn how to defend yourself. Learn how to fight, how to shoot, how to take care of your weapons, how to make ammo, all that stuff. Figure out what you’d need to know that you can learn now. You may not be able to learn it in time then.
Also take some time learning how to defend your home and family. There are things you can do to set up your homestead and family to be protected, even if you’re not there to protect them. There are also things that you can learn that’ll make you be able to fight like a larger group (called a combat multiplier). The Army doesn’t just teach us to shoot, they teach us what to shoot, how to move, and how to communicate. You should learn that stuff too. You can’t always rely on calling 911.
It’s awesome that you brought a $100,000 tricked-out, lifted, blown and badass F350 turbo diesel all EMP-proofed and stuff but if you went out one morning and it wouldn’t start, would you know how to get it running or does it instantly become a really expensive radio and extra storage for stuff you don’t wanna keep in the cabin?
You may have a garage full of all sorts of tools but do you actually know how to use them? There are a lot of basic things you can learn about how to troubleshoot and fix a car to get it running even if you don’t have replacement parts.
In my lifetime so far, I’ve used kite string and vice grips to get home at least 5 times in two different cars and a Harley. You may not have the luxury of having a mechanic around, or even parts. Plus, learning the basics of how to fix a car can help you if other mechanical things break like your swamp cooler or portable power system. Learn this now or be prepared to junk your stuff later.
The big thing about mechanical ability that you also need to keep in mind is that you need to learn how to fabricate things and use things in ways they weren’t designed for. If you were in the woods, would you be able to have hot water for showers? Could you make an evaporative cooler running off solar or water power? The more you learn about how things work, the easier it’ll be to make it work yourself, or even make one from scrap. Here’s a quick example of how you could make a hand-pump for a water well. With some experience, you could adapt something like this to work without you having to pump it.
This is one that preppers usually do spend some time on. There are literally thousands of websites out there that can teach you call manner of bushcraft, as well as schools. I’d suggest that you get off your computer and get out actually into the woods and try it.
There are many ways to start a fire with wood and friction, and you may know ten methods off the top of your head but have you ever tried to do it? It’s not nearly as easy as it sounds. It’s a little like learning how to play pool. You can read all the books on the subject you want, and sit in lecture halls taught by the leading experts but that’s all crap until you get yourself to a table and hit some balls. If you’re gonna get a book on survival – just get this one – and then take it out camping with you.
You may not think so, but learning how to tie knots can be an important survival skill too. When I was going through the Warrant Officer Candidate School we had a leadership obstacle course that made us have to figure out how to do all kinds of stuff with random crap that was laying at the station. I’m decent with several knots but this was a bit more than I was used to. Luckily, one of the guys on my team was an 18C dude with a LOT of knot-tying experience. It made a few things work that wouldn’t have normally.
In basic survival, you also need to learn things like how to build a shelter, how to find and filter water, how to signal for help and how to protect yourself from the elements. There are many ways to do these things but if you know enough of them, you can just look at what you have available to you and adapt it to your needs without having to only be able to do it like they taught you on TV.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things you can learn from those shows, and they’re a lot more fun than sitting in front of the computer, but some of it you see is bullshit. Try it out for yourself, because it’s also a lot harder to do in real life than what you see on an edited show.
Electronics and communication
I spent decades in electronics. It’s one of those things that’s easily transferred to other things. Getting started in it was difficult. Lucky for me, My first MOS in the Army was in electronics in the 80’s and back then they taught you all the basic theory and then how to troubleshoot things down to the component level. I moved on from there to computer systems and even now use it with my ham radio (which is the best thing for emergency communications). And, don’t be an idiot and say there won’t be any electricity so there’s no reason to learn it now because you don’t know what’s going to happen until it does.
You can make a lot of things out of other things, and electricity is no exception. Here’s a quick video to show you a simple way to make a battery from a lemon, a nail and copper.
See what I did there? Now, not only do you know how to make a battery out of a lemon, you also know a little more about how it works. Once you learn the basics, you can grow from there. You could, for example, change the lemon to a potato (the ones you learned how to grow, remember?) and with a little more knowledge, stack them in series to add up the voltage and in parallel to add up the current. With enough of them, you could do things like charge your electronics. You could also take that basic knowledge and learn how to make batteries that are in a box instead of a spud.
Just like electronics in general, ham radio is a very broad and complicated topic. It may seem like all you have to do is buy a Yaesu 857d like I have, hook it up to an antenna with a coax cable, and power it. That just sets you up. You have to be able to reach someone on the other end and have them reach you.
That can be very difficult at times. Learn it now and you can use it later. Learning it by yourself later is very hard. If you want to start, first get your license and then pick up something cheap like this handheld that you can learn on and keep in your bugout bag. It’s SUPER cheap but works. The best upgrade for any handheld btw is a new antenna. Just keep in mind that this one has a different post at the top than others so you’ll need an adapter.
Where to learn
Since you’re reading this website, you obviously have access to the internet. The internet has MUCH more information about how to do things than any other source. There are countless youtube videos that you can see how things are done and other websites that cater to specifically what you want to know.
I’ve set up THIS PAGE that I update occasionally with the best prepper websites for your convenience.
There are a lot of other things that you could learn. It all depends on what you know now and what you’ll face later. The real thing you have to do is focus on what’s gonna help you directly and also learn how to be adaptable. I’ll take a back street Harley mechanic shop owner over an ASE-certified BMW mechanic to be my SHTF fix-it dude if the world goes to pot anyday.
Also, prepping should involve your life as it is currently as well as in the future. And that future shouldn’t be limited to just a TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) kind of life. That life is probably not gonna happen so while you’re planning in case it does, learn skills that will help you in the meantime. If the world ends the day after you die, all your preps will be wasted otherwise. Also remember that you should be prepping your current and possible future lives for a better quality of life, not just for basic survival.
Theory is as important as application and practice but always remember: In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not. Learn the theory, apply the knowledge and adapt it until it works.