Is Recession Preparing a New Breed of Survivalist?

Yahoo ran an interesting article this morning indicating a rise in the number of survivalist communities cropping up around the country. I have been wondering myself how much of the recent energy crisis is causing people to do things like stockpile food and water, grow their own vegetables, etc. Could it be that there are many people out there stockpiling and their increased buying has caused food prices to increase? It’s an interesting theory, but I believe increased food prices have more to do with rising fuel prices as cost-to-market costs have increased and grocers are simply passing those increases along to the consumer. A recent stroll through the camping section of Wal-Mart did give me pause – what kinds of things are prudent to have on hand in the event of a worldwide shortage of food and/or fuel?

Survivalist in Training

I’ve been interested in survival stories since I was a kid, which is funny considering I grew up in a city. Maybe that’s why the idea of living off the land appealed to me. My grandfather and I frequently took camping trips along the Blue Ridge Parkway and around the Smoky Mountains. Looking back, some of the best times we had were when we stayed at campgrounds without electricity hookups, because it forced us to use what we had to get by. My grandfather was well-prepared with a camp stove and lanterns (which ran off propane), and when the sun went to bed we usually did along with it. We played cards for entertainment, and in the absence of televisions, games, etc. we shared many great conversations.

Survivalist in the Neighborhood

I have a neighbor who recently converted his entire side yard into a vegetable garden. I don’t know his motivation, but I couldn’t help but wonder if he was a sort of “urban survivalist,” planning to grow his own food to live off in an emergency. Maybe he is simply hedging against higher food prices. Either way, he is growing an impressive amount of food. We recently upsized our square foot garden into an in-ground garden in our backyard. By no means could we live off the harvest at this point, but we may have a few veggies to supplement summer salads. Perhaps I need to follow my neighbor’s trend, and borrow his tiller!

Survival Gear

Having a few basic necessities on hand makes a lot of sense, not only in the face of recession, but as a practical homeowner who at times may face natural disasters, power outages, etc. Within this post, I’m going to start a list of items to have on hand in the event of an emergency – sort of a home emergency kit. Over time, the list will grow much larger as I remember new items, or as readers share their lists with me. We keep our home emergency kit in an old school backpack (the contents are stored in gallon-sized Ziploc bags to make them waterproof) and stored high in a closet. In the event of an emergency we could easily grab it and have all the smaller contents close by.

  1. Gallon of water per person, per day of required survival. A general rule I’ve read from others is to keep about three gallons of water on hand per person. Hopefully, in a small scale disaster water treatment facilities could make necessary repairs of diversions to get water back online within a few days.
  2. Water purification tablets. Pickup a few of these at a camping store. In the event you can’t generate heat and boil water these tablets may provide the only way to make drinking water safe.
  3. Can opener. I sort of chuckled as I wrote this, because we always hear jokes of people being stranded with canned goods and no can opener. Think of all the things in your pantry – how would you open them without a can opener? I guess you could resort to smashing them against a sharp object, but save yourself some time and effort by picking up an inexpensive, manual can opener.
  4. Weather radio. Just a couple weeks ago tornadoes ripped through the town just to our north, knocking out power, and taking several radio stations down. Without a battery-operated weather radio tuned to the NOAA emergency station you would have no way of knowing what was going on outside your home.
  5. Spare container of propane for gas grills. Grilling out is kind of a luxury now, but in the event of losing power for several days it may be the only way to heat food.
  6. Ramen noodles. A cheap way to store several days worth of carbs and necessary fats. Add a little water and you have a meal in a real crunch. Hey, if college kids can live off these things, you could in a pinch.
  7. Gatorade. In a hot summer I can go through gallons of Gatorade when working outdoors. In an emergency situation, Gatorade can be a great way to replenish salts and electrolytes robbed by dehydration.
  8. Waterproof matches. Along with a torch lighter or two, waterproof matches may be your best bet for lighting candles, fires or the grill mentioned above.
  9. Whistle. Whistles are great to carry along on hikes because they can make a lot of noise without wasting a lot of energy. They are also good to keep at home in case of a structural collapse as a way of communicating with rescuers.
  10. Swiss army knife. Many of these have multiple tools such as screw drivers, corkscrews and bottle opener, in addition to a variety of cutting tools.
  11. Flashlights. Every home should have a few flashlights and spare batteries.
  12. Gun and backup ammunition. Gun-control advocates won’t like this one, but I believe in our right to bear arms. Make them safe and out of reach of kids if you have them. In the event of a disaster you may be forced to defend your food and other supplies from those who failed to prepare wisely. It is a scary proposition, but unfortunately it is human nature – survival of the fittest.
  13. First aid kit. Every home should have a well-stocked first aid kit. Most of the larger retail stores sell pre-packaged first aid kits, but you may find you can stock your own cheaper. I like to add to ours occasionally by picking up trial-size items at Wal-Mart or Target. It’s nice to toss a small bottle of aspirin or acetaminophen in the kit without having to buy 100 tablets in larger packaging.
  14. Dust masks. I have a box of these on hand anyway to help fight allergies while mowing our lawn. They also offer protection from dust and debris in the event of a structural collapse. We all remember the images of 9/11 when the towers collapsed, spreading toxic dust hundreds of feet.
  15. Prescriptions. It’s a good idea to never let everyday prescription supplies run low. Those taking medicines such as insulin or blood pressure medication should always keep a fresh supply on hand in the event they are unable to venture out for refills.
  16. Hand sanitizer. Sanitizing wipes or squirt bottles are an effective way to clean hands before eating without using up precious drinking water. Again, keep out of the reach of children as sanitizers are toxic if ingested.
  17. Vitamins. Vitamins may help supplement important nutrients missing from an emergency food diet, such as iron and potassium. For purposes of an emergency kit I recommend a bottle of generic Sam’s Club vitamins or similar because a large quantity can be purchased dirt cheap. Look for vitamins that can be halved and given to children making it unnecessary to purchase separate bottles.
  18. Protein bars. Inexpensive way to store individually wrapped servings of protein.
  19. Antibiotic cream. To ward off infection to cuts and scrapes.
  20. Gallon Ziploc bags. We store the contents of our emergency kit in Ziploc bags, but we also store a few extras in case we need to separate things during an emergency, or to store opened food, etc.
  21. Duct tape. Can be used to seal off windows and doors in the event of a biological attack. (submitted by Gretchen)
  22. Surgical mask. Offers some protection against the spread of airborne biological agents. (submitted by Gretchen)
  23. Books to read, a deck of cards, a travel game, and note book and pen. All good ways to pass the time if forced to “wait it out.” (submitted by Greg)
  24. A wad of small bills, mostly ones and fives. Stores would soon run out of change and most vending machines only take small bills. (submitted by Greg)
  25. Waterproof copies of legal documents.  Keep copies of birth certificates and other personal papers in a Ziploc bag. (submitted by Jenni)
  26. Include a book about edible plants.  This is a great idea, and a topic I took great interest in when I first read the SAS Survival Handbook – in fact, I may just pick up a new copy of this excellent book and toss it in the pack. (submitted by lootsdw)
  27. Stockpile seeds for your garden. (submitted by lootsdw)
  28. Don’t forget pet food. I try to have an extra bag on hand for the dogs and when I’ve used up the current bag I rotate and go buy a new backup. Doggies need to eat too! (submitted by castocreations)

Be sure to rotate your food stockpile, water, vitamins and prescriptions so that they are fresh and effective. Most canned goods can easily be stored up to one year, and most dried goods may be consumed up to six months from their purchase date. If no expiration date is present on items, label the date you added them to the emergency kit with a marker so you’ll know when it is time to replace them. I’m not advocating you rush out and buy all these things today (unless you are ready to make a significant investment), simply add a few items from the list to your grocery budget over the next few weeks and begin to build your own family emergency kit.

Ask the Readers: What kinds of things are in your home emergency kits? I’ll add new items to the list and make this a group project.

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photo by: ktylerconk


  1. Great post! I like your survival gear list. I’d add: duct tape to seal off windows in the event of biological warfare (also handy for millions of other things) and surgical masks to prevent you from getting viruses in the event of a major epidemic. Keep these around because if an epidemic occurs they will get sold out quickly at your local stores!

    I worked with a man back in 1999 who was one of these “survivalists.” He quit his job and moved to some outback place in Nevada to sit in a cabin and, presumably, wait for the massive catastrophy that was going to happen when 1999 turned into 2000. Wonder what ever happened to that guy?!

    Also, I think that the square foot gardening thing actually is supposed to net you more veggies per square foot than regular gardening. And you don’t have to till!

  2. Woo-hoo! This is my weird secret obsession. I’d love to be on a few acres, with crops and cows. As is, I’m stuck in the urban survivalist category, where it’s less about producing and more about simply consuming/needing less.

  3. When I see news coverages of disasters on TV there always seems to be a lot of “down time” where people are “waiting it out”. So I would include in my home emergency kit some sort of entertainment. A good book to read, a deck of cards, a travel game, and note book and pen.
    Also I would include a wad of small bills, mostly ones and fives. Stores would soon run out of change and most vending machines only take small bills. Timely topic as I have been thinking of re-working my garage on Memorial Day to make room for some more food storage. Thanks

  4. I also enjoy survival stories. My husband and I just noticed on a local news site that our state (VA) is giving a hurricane preparedness tax break that starts today. There is a list of items people can buy tax free to put in their emergency kits.

  5. I have been stock piling a little food and water lately and I do raise a small garden in the summer. If you really want to keep food in a stock pile you should look at freeze dried foods. You can keep it for 25 to 30 years and it does not go bad. It may not tasted good in 25 years but it would still be edible.

    • @Phil: Good advice on the freeze dried foods. I also thought about adding some MREs to the list because those rations last a while longer than other commercially packaged foods.

  6. Very timely post. We let the kids plant a small garden a few months ago and we have been very happy with the results. I haven’t had to purchase any tomatoes for several weeks now and the added benefit is that the kids are actually eating their veggies!

    • @Dana: My tomatoes haven’t done too well so far. Did you install a basket or other climbing device for the plants, or do they just grow free as tall as Mother Nature allows?

  7. I am working on clearing my basement so we would have somewhere to be in times of emergency. A tornado, two kids, and a ton of clutter convinced me that it needed to be done.

    I need to work on our emergency preparedness though- great post.

  8. People are waaaaaay too linear in their thinking. If things are bad, people tend to think they will always be bad and get worse. When times are good, people think they will always be good and get better and better.

    Everything runs in cycles. Business cycles, economic cycles, natural cycles (winter, spring, summer, fall).

    Preparing for a natural disaster is a good idea but these media attempts to create panic is over the top…then Sam’s and Costco start the “rice panic” to drive up prices…

  9. I remember watching the news reports of the victims of Katrina and wondering why they weren’t more prepared? I mean they live in a Hurricane zone AND in a big hole. Wake up call here – My glass house isn’t any more prepared than they were. We live in a valley with AT least 7 or 8 earthen dams up behind us. And with all the snow runoff they are full. And earthquake could really cause some issues. I remember seeing what happened when the Teton Dam broke in SE Idaho back in 1976. Fortunately they had a warning and it happened during the middle of the day.

  10. You need to keep copies of birthcertificates and other personal papers in a ziploc bag too. You will need to those in any emergency, rain or shine.

  11. Wow! Great post! Sometimes it freaks me out how much we think alike… I was just telling my husband yesterday that we needed to do a better job with our emergency kit… we have all the stuff, it’s just scattered all over the house. Thanks for the great article.

  12. I would add a caution on the meds in the kit– all have expiration dates. So track when those are running close to the date, then switch them out with new bottles or packs and use up the former ER kit meds.

    I’m speaking off the top of my head here– we couldn’t find a flashlight if our life depended on it. And the kids use up all the batteries too. My son does have a hand-cranked LED flashlight, which we’d have to unearth from his room. Perhaps I’ll do that tomorrow and stash it somewhere accessible. It’s a start.

  13. Add a books about wild edible plants, my favorite is asparagas. Stockpile seeds for your garden.

  14. Those who are doing this because they think the world is ending are idiots. Those who do it because it’s a logical thing to do are smart.

    Don’t forget dog/cat/pet food. I try to have an extra bag on hand for the dogs and when I’ve used up the current bag I rotate and go buy a new backup. Doggies need to eat too!

    The gov’t tells you to be prepared for 3 days on your own but I think 3 weeks makes more sense. Who wants to rely on the government???

  15. I would include packets of rehydration salts, which come in a variety of flavors and are then just mixed with a cup of water. I don’t like all the sugar in sports drinks and use these instead, especially when traveling.

    What about blankets? In IL we kept them in our emergency stash in the trunk of the car, as well as some of the other items you mentioned, in case of a breakdown in the midst of the cold.

    If you are including stockpiling of seeds for the garden, then you are thinking long term, which begs the question of a lot of other items – tools, a generator, clothing, a tarp, a tent. How far do you want to take your preparedness? Camping stores would have lots of things that could be useful under very extreme circumstances.

  16. I must live in “survival” mode 24/7. I live on an organic cattle ranch in the middle of nowhere. I’ve lived in cities all my life so the rural lifestyle is very new to me. I just started growing my own veggies, and got some laying chickens for eggs. I get my water from a well (electric pumped).

    Last weekend we had a 24-hour power outage, and I was thrilled to have survived it nicely. I have a little kit put together with all essentials. The deck of cards was an awesome addition.

    Great post.

  17. Great post. I guess my kitchen is my emergency kit because most of the things listed are there. I try to keep a mix of both frozen and canned food simply because I live in the country and power outages are not all that unusual. I like candles so I keep a good supply of them around and during power outages, I use them more than flashlights. My square foot garden is doing so well that I am pretty sure that it will supply my vegetables for the year but then it only has to feed me. My challenge is getting enough variety. And for fuel shortages? Well, there is always the horse…

  18. This is interesting. By far the most likely emergencies to occur where I live are flooding, or being evacuated from the house because the police suspect one of the neighbours of being a terrorist.

    In either case, they would be relatively localised and fairly short-term. I’m probably ok with only basic supplies – documents would be most useful. And of course guns are essentially illegal here.

  19. I definately am a survivalist at heart, with the long term goal of having 25 acres or more on the eastern shore. Currently, I can as much as I can, considering that a freezer can go down. May I suggest you try reading Foods Not Lawns, which would probably motivate you to convert your entire yard to a permaculture garden! We have plans for a rain barrel and converting the entire yard to sustainable food. Plus, I’m getting chickens as wedding present! By the way, I live on 1/5th of an acre in a city. 🙂

    • @Mandi: Now that’s what I’m talking about! 25 acres sounds about right to me. I just want a piece of land large enough where I can’t see my neighbors and I have natural barriers (trees, hills, etc.) between me and civilization. No, I’m not a hermit – I just enjoy solitude.

  20. About the vitamins:

    1. Sam’s Club are crap. Honestly, anything in the form of a pressed tablet with a coating is crap. Reason: your body won’t absorb all of it. I learned this the hard way when I was suffering deficiencies during my pregnancy and realized that the prenatal vitamins the hospital gave me were pretty much no good. I switched to a gelatin capsule with powder fill type of multi and improved in leaps and bounds. To this day that’s the only type of multi I will take, and I only do tablets otherwise if they are not coated.

    2. However, keeping those kinds of vitamins stockpiled isn’t terribly practical. So either rotate through your stock if you’re going to keep extra around, or if you’d rather just have a stationary stock of multivitamins, invest in a bottle of the liquid stuff and check the expiration date once a month.

    3. Relatedly, please do not give your children half of an adult vitamin. I have never heard of a multivitamin that can be split, and I’ve been taking them for years. Just go ahead and get the kids’ vitamins. You wouldn’t expect them to take your meds, so give them their own nutrients too. Again, you can always get Poly-Vi-Sol or a similar liquid vitamin that is in a smaller bottle and easier to store if you have to. Bear in mind, though, that the dropper will have to be washed.

    And about the water purification thing: Iodine tablets are better than chlorine. I have that straight from a person who used to be an Army water specialist. He said reverse osmosis was his first choice and if you couldn’t do that, iodine was the next best thing. It’s also a nutrient you may be deprived of if you suffer long-term deprivation in case of a disaster. Army surplus stores usually carry the tablets.

  21. Oh, and, speaking of children and nutrition? If you’re planning on having a baby, plan to breastfeed as well. I have heard horror stories about mothers in New Orleans who couldn’t feed their babies because they couldn’t get clean water or formula or both. I have never understood why formula is considered more “convenient”–I’ve done both formula-feeding and breastfeeding and I know better–but in the event of a disaster it definitely isn’t, and can be dangerous to boot even if you can find the supplies. This is why very young babies die of GI tract diseases in third-world countries: their mothers were “educated” about the “superiority” of formula, and, well, there isn’t a lot of clean water in developing countries. End of story.

  22. 1) Dog tie out cable. Something he can’t chew through. You may need to confine the dog to a campsite, to the vicinity of your car, etc. In an emergency/disaster, your dog is going to be frightened too. Don’t give him the option to run off and get lost. You’ll want his companionship and his protection, let alone how your bad day will get much, much worse if you lose him.

    2) If you’re female and under 55, or anyone in your household is, sanitary products.

    3) Pen, paper, packing/duct tape. You may need to leave a note for someone. You may need to stick it to something…in a stiff breeze.

    4) Chopsticks, a cup, a bowl. Sometimes there’s very little in the way of substitutes to be found.

    5) Rags

  23. More to think about.
    1) Bleach
    2) garbage bags Large ones can be used for waste or made into raincoats by cutting arm and head openings.
    3) powdered milk or canned
    4) oatmeal is a perfect thing to have. It may be eaten with water or powdered milk. cooked or raw.

  24. An Ax for firewood, or butchering, if worse came to worse.
    A butcher knife or fish filet knife. Fishing hooks and string.
    A short shovel – for diverting rain water etc.
    A list of family phone numbers and emergency phone numbers.

  25. When thinking about masks, it is wise to store N-95 masks as these can be very effective both against dust caused by a disaster as well as for potential use in a pandemic (N-95 rated masks are recommended by the CDC – Enters for Deisease Control – in case of a pandemic outbreak. Typically these are shaped in such a way as to provide better (more secure to the face) coverage than the average surgical masks.

  26. I have melaleuca oil in mine as well as some herbal teas. Melaleuca oil is good for putting under the nose if your congested as well as topically for cuts, scrapes, burns, etc. I carry several different kinds of herbal teas, such as chamomile (mild sedative, good to help you sleep and/or relax) and green tea, because I really am not fond of water, as well as for the fact that eventually you get sick of drinking it. I also have sugar free drink mixes.

  27. If things really came down to the wire, not even that close, I hope folks would have the sense to use a knife to open a can of food. Secondly, I agree pet owners should stock up on pet food, and when you decide that you’re not going to starve anymore you’ll eat the pet food and then consider your pet.

  28. In Western Australia they have come up with a very simple idea in case of a major emergency and people need to leave there homes (here it is bush fires). We leave a green reusable shopping bag with a brick or rock in it at the front gate, to show that the house is empty.Then emergency services can just move on to the next house without wasting time making sure every home is empty.