This post is a about minimalist prepping. If you aren’t into preparations, survival or tactical gear, then we want to show you the bare essentials that are easy to achieve but can still help a lot. We have a whole series about how to prepare for different kinds of disasters. But if that’s not your kind of stuff this post should give you an idea of “do at least this”. So please remember that this is the absolute minimum and see it as a starter.
You can see this post also as a way to care for others. Everyone who is into preparation for crisis knows people who can’t be bothered with the topic. If you have someone who doesn’t want to invest any time and money, you can pack them a kit like this, print this text, hand them both and tell them to look into it when they are in need.
TL;DR – “Too long, didn’t read”
If you don’t want to spend the time reading and understanding this post, at least get a bag and put the following inside:
- An extra pack of every medication you need to take on a regular basis
- A printed copy of this post. So you can catch up in case of disaster
- A flashlight run by AA batteries. With a fresh set of non-rechargeable batteries inside
- A sealed pack of non rechargeable AA batteries
- 3l of bottled, carbonated, water (stays longer than plain one. Stock plain as well, if you have pets)
- Two energy or muesli bars with a long shelf life
- A single use FFP3 mask with a vent
- A poncho (If you’re on budget, get a single use one like they have at festivals)
- A radio set to your local emergency frequency. Usually the most popular radio station
- A roll of gaffer tape
- A multitool or Swiss army knife
- A picture of what keeps you going (loved ones, pets, whatever)
- Something that will make you smile
- A pencil and a ballpoint pen
- A notepad
- A space blanket
- An extra warm blanket (wool, if that’s not option felt or fleece)
- Small candles (and a lighter) or chemlights
- Activated charcoal and iodine tablets
- A radio controlled clock that runs on AA batteries
- An (encrypted!) USB stick with scans of your most valuable documents (certificate of birth, passport, licenses, insurances,…)
- Skin disinfectant and/or wet wipes
- A power bank big enough to charge your phone at least twice
- A whistle
- An extra phone charger
- Travel toothbrush and toothpaste
- Extra set of clothes
- Some money in cash
- Small first aid kit
Have one bag ready per person living with you. If someone is too young to know how the items work, teach them. If they are too young to be taught, pack it anyway. Since you have to care for them, you can really need the extra redundancy.
What to prepare for
One of the most important questions before you start preparations is to ask yourself: What are you preparing for? You need realistic expectations to pinpoint the gear you really need.
Since this is about minimalist prepping, we’re limited in the scenarios we should think of. So we need to focus on things that can happen quite probable and don’t need an excessive amount of gear to live through. For example:
- Prolonged electrical blackout
- Cut off water
- Short time evacuation (e.g. WW2 bomb defusal, leaking chemical transporter)
Usually you focus either on “bug in” (you stay at home and wait until the disaster is over) or “bug out” (you take the essentials and run to safety). This setup should cover both scenarios. In fact, the initial idea was “minimalist prepping for somebody else”. Imagine you have (or want to) take care of someone who doesn’t give a fuck about preparing for disaster. Then print this post, build a bag and hand it to them with the words: “When shit hits the fan, open up that bag and you should have a better chance to get through it”. Of course, it would be better if everyone got to know their kit and what to do beforehand but not everybody is willing to.
Same goes for training of survival skills and body fitness. Both can help you a lot during a crisis. But again it’s up to you if you want to invest in preparations or not. This post will continue to cover the basics.
Start minimalist prepping
The most important thing you can prepare for disaster is training. With proper training and enough experience you need less and less preparations. That being said, this post is about minimalist prepping so it’s clear you do not want to invest long training sessions. So let’s try to deal with what we’ve got.
Background and disclaimer
The following recommendations are based on research and experience. I’m by no means a certified expert nor am I a medical professional. Most ideas are of a “better than nothing” or “last resort” nature. Please do ask professionals about details if you want reliable information. All of the things listed in this post are intended to give you better chances in a situation you can’t avoid anyway. DO NOT do things just because your kit could protect you. If you wouldn’t do it without the kit, don’t do it with it.
Most of the items listed here are bad for different reasons in day to day scenarios. Nothing in it is eco friendly or even cheap if you have to replace it constantly. But all of it will stay for a long time without spoiling. So it’s good as a part of emergency kits but not for daily use.
Gear and stocks – the essentials of minimalist prepping
There are a few items that will prove extremely valuable and won’t set you back that much. If you know me, than you’re aware that I’m all about high quality tactical gear. Usually, but not always, high quality equals high price. I will always advise you to get tough and reliable gear you can count on in emergencies. But if you’re on a budget, then there are alternatives that might still save the day. And after all, minimalist prepping is all about getting the bare essentials.
There are different ways to determine what’s important in your kit. A very popular approach is the “rule of 3s“. The following list was built to reflect that rule with a focus on people living in a city and “bug in” being more probable than “bug out”. It should work everywhere but please just use it as suggestions and feel free to modify it to your needs.
I trust you already have a first aid kit ready. If not, building one is a topic for other posts. But remember to have a pack of every medicine you might need in your bag. Don’t forget to rotate so you use the pack in the bag once in a while and put a new one in.
This also includes other products the owner of the bag needs. Like hygiene products, diapers (remember every member of the household should have their bag) etc.
If you have a routine to stock enough toilet paper, that should be enough. If not, put an extra roll in your bag. Do not try to replace toilet paper with paper towels, kitchen tissue or paper handkerchiefs. They don’t dissolve in water like toilet paper and the last thing you want during a disaster is a clogged up toilet.
We have a whole post dedicated to finding the perfect flashlight. In short: The best you can get if you just want to prepare for disaster is one that operates on non-rechargeable CR123a batteries. These models are very bright and the batteries have a shelf life of way over 10 years. If you are aiming for something cheaper get one that run’s on AA/Mignon batteries. You get get them virtually everywhere, there’s a good chance you already have some and they are cheap. I’m a big fan of rechargeable batteries but in a flashlight for emergencies go for non-rechargeables. They will stay way longer if you don’t use them. And regularly (every few years at least) get a new set of extra batteries – always have at least one pack of extras.
Place that flashlight on a place where you will definitely find it, even without light. An ideal place is your nightstand. An alternative is to keep everything in the beforementioned bag and keep that where you will easily find it. You can put other items from your minimalist prepping kit in reach so you can find your flashlight. Like a chemlight.
Bottled water and food bar
Following the rule of 3s, having enough to drink is way more important than to eat. If you’re in a situation where you can’t easily get new drinks and can’t rely on the quality of your tap water this reserve will be important. 3l won’t get you far but they will buy you enough time to think of alternatives or wait for external help. You can have an extra tray (mostly 6 1.5l bottles) in your apartment. Don’t put it anywhere you can’t reach during a disaster (e.g. your basement).
Carbonated water stays longer fresh but will not help with giving water to your pet.
You want food bars that keep you going. So go for “Energy bar” not “Protein bar” or “low sugar low fat sweets”. Extra bars give extra confidence.
If you want to have food for a bit longer you can invest in canned food. Make sure you choose something you can eat without heating (even if it might not taste great). We have a whole post on choosing what and how much when it comes to food in case you want to go beyond minimalist prepping.
You don’t want to be stressed out in an emergency where you don’t know what’s happening and feel extra miserable because of thirst or hunger. If the situation is not over, do not consume all at once. You don’t know, how long it will take until you can refill.
Respirator mask, gaffer tape and poncho
We have a whole post dedicated to the many things you can do with a poncho. But since the most of them are for outdoor situations here are a few more you should think of. First of all, you can use it if you need to leave your house in the rain. More important, if there’s something harmful in the air like in a chemical incident, even professionals use ponchos as “better than nothing” protection. In the same situation the mask will come in handy. If you need to evacuate during a fire, use the mask as extra protection. An FFP3 will not protect you like professional respiratory gear! But if you have to make the way at all cost, the mask will increase your chances by a bit. Do not use the poncho close to a fire.
Don’t forget that a poncho is a big patch of plastic foil. You can use it for lots of makeshift repairs like broken windows, dripping plumbing etc. Especially combined with the gaffer tape you will have nearly unlimited options.
Get creative what you can do with the poncho and the gaffer tape. e.g. you can “write” in your window by forming letters with the tape. This can make your minimalist prepping kit very helpful even outside of full blown disasters.
In times where you can get every bit of information on the internet, radio is still the default emergency communications channel. You can have a radio set running on batteries and you don’t need any infrastructure running aside from emergency radio stations. Find the frequency that’s used for emergency broadcast in your area before any disaster strikes.
Two way communication sets like PMR (a.k.a. walkie talkie) are cheap but they will only help within a short distance. If you have people close you want to stay in touch, that could be an option. Otherwise better invest in other gear. PMR are very common with private companies who need close range communication like event management or security services. Chances are good, you have someone in range with a device working with this standard. There are established emergency channels that work with every device by any brand that follows the PMR standard. Some even can work with other bandwidths and even receive AM/FM radio. With that you could have a cheap solution for emergency broadcasts plus two way communication.
CB radio carries over greater ranges but sets are way more expensive and don’t match with minimalist prepping.
Using radios that can transmit on certain frequencies needs a license. When you buy a device that’s intended for personal use you will find information in the description if the radio is free to use or needs a license beforehand. There are plenty of completely free systems so go for that.
Remember that ways of communication like cell phone networks and landlines often run on other power sources than your wall plugs. So even when everything is dark around you there’s a good chance you will be still able to reach out to someone. Have numbers of people you might want to reach ready on paper. You might forget them in a stressful situation and your smartphone might fail you.
Multitool / Swiss army knife
This one should be obvious. If you need to rely on what you have at home you need means of repairing small things. An alternative for a home kit is to have some of the most used tools ready. Take special care to have anything you might need for things in your kit. e.g. if you need a screwdriver to replace the batteries in your flashlight than make sure you have that kind of screwdriver in your kit.
If you wonder which tools to get, take reference from multitools. Pliers, big and small Philips and flat screwdrivers, file and tweezers should get you quite far.
Do not underestimate how important it is to be reminded of why you want to make it through a disaster and have something that cheers you up. Whatever it is, put it in your bag. Some say skill and motiviation are the most important items in your kit. So don’t forget them when doing your minimalist prepping.
Pencil and notepad
They are cheap, don’t take much space but can be very valuable. Put a note on your door if you need something. Note down important things (like “did I take my pills today?” or “fresh water is announced for tomorrow 2 p.m.”). Note when the sun is going down this season in your area. It will help you with estimating how many hours of sunlight you have left when you have to leave your apartment to run errands. Leave a note when you leave your apartment – where are you going, when do you expect to return.
Get a pencil and a ballpoint pen. If you act wisely you can get both for free as a marketing gift or in furniture stores while shopping. Ballpoint pens will be easier to write and written text will stay longer and won’t smear when wet. But a pencil can’t dry out and you will always find something to resharpen it. If you really want to cover everything, get a permanent marker, too. I’d still call that minimalist prepping.
You can even upgrade your kit with waterproof notepad, which is resistant to fire, tearing and preserves the written text in all weather conditions. Even if it gets wet, the text will not be destroyed.
If the heater goes out in winter you need a way of keeping yourself warm. If you’re not alone: two people under one blanket are less cold than one person under two blankets. Still, even when your usual bed blanket keeps you warm do not underestimate how cold it can be if heating is off in the whole house. Wrap yourself in the blanket in your kit, then in the space blanket and then in your regular blanket. This will keep you warm enough no matter what.
If you’re blanket is fire retardant you can even use it to extinguish fires or wrap yourself in it if you absolutely have to move close to a fire.
Candles or chemlights
They can safe the battery of your flashlight. Candles have the upside that they can give you warmth. Don’t underestimate the power of an open flame. A small candle inside a poncho can keep you from freezing to death in an outdoor emergency. On the other hand the last thing you need in an emergency is to burn down your apartment. So chemlights might be a safer alternative that can give you light for a whole night. What you put in your minimalist prepping kit depends on how you estimate the risk of someone setting fire to your place with a candle.
Activated charcoal and iodine
You can get pills of this in a pharmacy or drugstore. If you suspect you gave yourself food poisoning, try to induce vomiting (this is only right for food poisoning, not for other types of poisoning!) and eat a handful of activated charcoal pills. It’s hard to overdose (if only taken once – there are nasty side effects if taken over a prolonged time) and it will help by absorbing dangerous particles. It will also help with diarrhea.
On the other hand, iodine tablets are strictly only to be used when public announcements tell you to. This is definitely not a product for “just in case”.
If you need to coordinate with other people, sometimes you need to know what time it is. A radio controlled clock doesn’t need any maintenance safe for battery exchange. And it will run for many months off one battery.
Have your most valuable data scanned and copied on an encrypted USB stick. Remember the passphrase at all cost. If you have to leave your apartment e.g. due to a fire, you still have proof of your most important data. It’s important to have it encrypted in case it get’s stolen. If you have people you trust, then it’s a good idea to have copies with them, too. That’s a good starter to start talking about minimalist prepping and you can exchange your data for mutual help.
Skin disinfectant / wet wipes
If you’re cut off of (warm) water, you still need a way of cleaning yourself. Don’t think of being nice and clean for meeting someone. It’s more about stopping infections you might get when not cleaning over a long time.
Power bank and charger
That’s more or less obvious. The smartphone is one of the most important tools in our society and a power bank will help you with keeping it going for a longer time. Calculating how often you can charge what is way beyond this post (and my knowledge of physics) so simply go for one that holds more charge than twice all devices you want to charge. e.g. if your smartphone has a 4200 mAh battery, get a 10,000 mAh power bank.
Don’t forget to put all the cables you need with it in your bag. Charge the power bank regularly. If you need to take it with you outside of an emergency, recharge it after returning home immediately, even if you didn’t use it.
If you need to evacuate and stay anywhere else for a few days you want to have a charger with you.
If you’re hit by disaster and you get sick or hurt you might need to call for help. Screaming might work in movies but in reality you’re out of voice within a few minutes. But you can blow a whistle for a very long time. 3 consecutive calls with the same tone and the same length are an internationally recognized improvised signal for “SOS”. The Morse code for SOS is three short blows, three long blows, three short blows.
Tooth brush and paste
If you need to stay somewhere, like a makeshift shelter in a gym hall, you want to have the essentials with you. Feel free to add something you will miss otherwise. This might not be your first priority. It helps with making your situation a bit less extraordinary if you can keep your routines like cleaning your teeth.
For the same reason bring one extra set of clothing. This might break your space for minimalist prepping but at least take what makes you feel more comfortable like fresh underwear.
Remember if your fridge is not working and for other reasons you might have to take out trash more often. You do not want to have rotting food in your apartment when you can’t leave it. Not only is the smell unnerving it can lead to infections or ilnesses as well.
If your water isn’t working you can place a trashbag in the toilet bowl as a replacement for flushing. That doesn’t sound very nice but it’s still better than not being able to flush at all. Just wrap it up like a dog poop bag and take it out like regular trash.
Money / Cash
Remember that if electricity goes out, you can’t pay with a card. Don’t expect every disaster to be a full blown apocalypse. If it’s just a blackout for a few days it’s not safe to say that shops won’t try to work as usual.
Don’t forget that some systems you need in your daily live will probably stop to work. That’s not only true for registers but also pumps at gas stations, street lights, elevators, automatic doors etc.
First aid kit
As I said, I assume you have a first kit at home. But since this bag should also work when you have to evacuate your home, a small extra won’t hurt and won’t cost a lot.
Cheap (but big) ones are sold as first aid kits for cars. Smaller ones can be obtained from outdoor companies.
I guess you already have enough at home. But put some extras in the bag.
What to do in an emergency or “How do I put my minimalist prepping to good use”
The most important thing is not to start to panic. Sit back, breathe and think and if it’s just for a few seconds. Whatever it is, people have lived through it and chances are high that it just looks like a big disaster but will be over very soon without any big harm done. When you’re reading this, chances are even better you’re prepared for what’s to come. Everything that’s really important is in your bag that will go with you no matter whether you have to stay in your apartment or need to leave immediately.
If you’re in immediate danger, e.g. fire, be sure to follow the routines you’ve learned so far and be as safe as possible. You can improve your chances by putting on your mask and, depending on the type of emergency, your space blanket or your poncho.
The kit is more about staying in your apartment during prolonged disasters like blackouts or floodings. The next thing after not panicking is assessing your situation. Is only your house, street, block, city etc. affected or is it more? You’ll get a good impression by looking out the window. Remember, there are different circuits that will keep different systems running even when others fail. What about other apartments? Street lights? Traffic lights? Does your phone have a connection? Is your landline online?
You can only make assumptions until you got more information so here’s a protocol you can follow when something that feels like a disaster happens. These rules more or less always apply. No matter whether you do minimalist prepping or go full on.
- Look up local and official news sites on the internet
- Only if you can deal with that kind of information: Look up local posts on social media. Usually during a disaster, people post all kinds of panic inducing assumptions. Use it to estimate how far the event reaches but don’t trust anyone there for what is happening
- Turn on your radio
- If you assume that the situation will go on for a prolonged time (information about a bigger event or e.g. a blackout that has already been going for a hour), send messages to people who might worry about you. Use messengers and SMS simultaneously because you never know what way of communication will work first. Let them know you’re safe and that you will stay in your apartment until further notice. Send them even when all communication is dead, they will go out as soon as the system comes back up. Include date and time because messages usually show up with the time they get sent to the provider not when they were typed
- Disconnect valuable devices. Sometimes power comes back with a surge and will fry some systems
- If you assume the situation might take longer than a few hours, start with saving what you have. Send another message, with date and time, saying that you will turn off your phone to save battery. Choose two times a day (e.g. 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.) when you will turn on your phone for 15 minutes and send this information, too. Then turn off your phone. Your clock will tell you when it’s time to turn it on again. This way you will be able to keep your phone going for a long time. Even more with your power bank
- Assess the rest of your situation. Will you be able to get fresh supplies? Always keep some spare in case the situation worsens.
- Don’t take unnecessary risks and chances. Stay on the safe side. Treat even small cuts and bruises because you don’t want to risk an infection
- If something breaks start with repairing immediately. You never know when you need something and if it can be professionally repaired anytime soon. Also broken things tend to worsen over time. You got plastic wrap (your poncho) and tape, that should do for the most things you might encounter in such an situation
- Never rely on predictions when the situation will be over. Even when some systems are restored, they might break again. This is a fine line between easily panicking because of small incidents and risking to waste your preparations. Just try to be on the safe side
- Think outside the box. You have plenty of resources you can work with that could get you through a far worse situation than you’re actually in. e.g. you could improvise a rain catcher with the poncho, and a cut in half water bottle. Or you could improvise a better than nothing water filter with a bottle, some sand and the activated charcoal. Don’t let thoughts like “Ok, it’s not that extreme a situation” lure you into not trying something just because it’s uncommon. If it can improve your situation, do it. No one will judge you for doing something unusual afterwards.
- If you leave your apartment always leave a message saying when you started, where you were headed and when you expect to come back. There might someone be looking for you and they might wonder where you are
- If you are in need and you’re unsure about other people in the house, make yourself seen. Put a big sign in your window if you need help. You an use your gaffer tape to make letters on a window
Where do we go from here? Beyond minimalist prepping
Hopefully you caught on and you’re now interested in intensifying your preparations. If so, there are some posts here on that blog and trust me, there are more to come.
If not but you want to just beef up your preparations a bit and go beyond minimalist prepping, here are a few ideas:
- A solar charger to recharge your power bank. Most producers list what model will charge what in what time. Keep in mind that this is extremely dependent of where you live and how the weather is. So, if you can afford it, get one, that will easily charge all your devices you need in one day. And have a power bank that will hold enough to charge everything at least twice. Charge your power bank during the day and recharge your devices during the night. Or simultaneously if your power bank can do daisy chain loading or your charger has multiple outlets
- An USB charger for AA batteries and NiMH rechargeable batteries. While this shouldn’t replace the non-rechargeable ones, you can use this in connection with the solar charger and the power bank to prolong the time you can use your flashlight by a big amount. There are even chargers that can work as a power bank themselves (by using the charged batteries as power source). I don’t think that this should replace a full blown power bank but it gives you more options. Some flashlights have a charging port, too.
- Water purification tablets. Sometimes water sources get contaminated for a few days during a flooding. You usually get big packs so you can share with your dear ones. Another good starter for discussions about the topic. A more expensive but longer lasting alternative is a water filter
- Get tough outdoor clothing if you need to leave your apartment during a crisis. Maybe you need to refill your stocks or have other things to do outside. Don’t take unnecessary risks, though
Background – why write about minimalist prepping
We had the idea for a post about the bare essentials for some time now. The final push came when several people I know asked me about how to prepare their clients for electrical blackouts. There would be two priorities for this preparation: Low budget and low effort for the recipients. That’s how the idea was born. Since you could see it as a good cause, we asked more than the usual suspects to provide reviews and feedback. What you just read now is the result of the raw draft going through the hands of “Sleepless“, “Kodiak der Bär“, authors at Pinesurvey and the Telegram channel of Wndsn explorer as well as some more that want to stay anonymous.