These essential preparedness items can save your life if your preps fail.

These essential preparedness items can save your life if your preps fail.

It is easy to go completely overboard when we buy preparedness items.  There are no shortage of lists telling you the top fifty or even top hundred things you’ve forgot to store.

And now I’m going to add to that list. Don’t be angry, though, because this is a list of the things you should keep handy (or know how to scrounge up) when all of your accumulated preps fail.

The problem with all of these accumulated preps is that we might not have access to it during a true survival situation.

If you had to run out of your house right now, you’ll likely have your bug out bag, but will you have much else? What about if your home and your entire stockpile burnt down tomorrow?

When we first moved out to our cabin, we landed there with three small children, no knowledge of living in a remote location, and our moving box didn’t arrive for two full weeks.

Everything I had prepared and packed and planned to have was reduced to what we had been able to pack in the trunk of our little Mazda Protege, and the spring weather took a nasty turn for the worse just as we arrived.

So instead of focusing on a hundred or even fifty items that you should be storing, let’s look at just seven. And some of them are a bit unusual.

Don’t discount them, though.

They are completely versatile and together they can cover most of your survival needs. You could lose every can and jar of food, every item of clothing, and even your first aid kit tomorrow, but if you have – or can find – a few core items, you should be okay. I know this because that’s exactly what happened when we moved to our cabin.

You may just want to keep them around the house, but that won’t help if you need to leave quickly.

You could also make a grab bag with them.

Or make sure they’re in your camping or travel bags so that you’re accustomed to using them.

However you intend on using them, these items will keep on giving back.

Plastic bottles and containers

Plastic is one of the least biodegradable substances in existence.

This makes it awful for the planet, but … great for a survivalist.

Plastic is also one of the most flexible, most easy to cut and mold, and lightest substances around. This number of options makes it ideal for a large number of everyday applications, which is exactly what makes it ideal for survival situations.

Those disposable water bottles that are just about everyone? You can keep them out of the landfill and use them to store medicine and food. Wrap them so that light doesn’t get in, and they’re now safe and easy to carry without risking spoilage.

They’ll also keep electronics – wires and small electrical pieces – dry and organized. And well-sealed plastic containers can ensure that your phone doesn’t get wet or dirty.

The other amazing quality of plastic is that it retains heat. It reflects and retracts light, and bounces heat back down. This is why plastic bottles can be stacked to create a greenhouse or a shelter. You can even heat plastic bottles full of water in the sun and then pack them inside your sleeping bag to warm it up. Your body heat will continue warming them.

Cut a plastic bottle in half and set it in the ground, and dew will collect all around it, inside and out. This makes a perfect little environment to start seeds and nurture the seedling. Or you can put a dish inside the bottle and collect drinking water.

In our modern world, it’s tragic when a plastic bottle or shard harms a defenseless animal, and we should certainly do our best to prevent that from happening. But in a survival situation, that same damage can be used as defense against predators (four legged and two legged) and help you to trap animals for food.

A set of flint-knapping rocks

Okay, this might confuse some people. And I’ll admit that I don’t have this yet, but I’ve wanted to learn flint knapping for a long time, and as my boys enter their adolescence, it’s something I want to learn to do alongside them.

What in the world is flint knapping?

Well, at one time flint was used to make arrowheads, spearheads and knives. With modern creations like smelting and plastic printing, it’s a lot easier to make items that we used to make from flint. But flint knapping is simply the art of making tools from stone. You can use flint, chert, agate and obsidian, but you can also use man-made glass and porcelain.

Because what happens if you can’t access those modern tools? That’s where knapping comes in.

Ever see a window when a BB shot goes through it? The entry hole is small and the exit hole is large. That property of glass means we can turn it into tools.

There is nothing wrong in starting out with some good knives and arrows. But having a set of flint-knapping rocks and knowing how to use them will let you make a weapon for yourself any time, any place. As I mentioned in 3 Weapons for Self Defense That Aren’t Guns, I like knives. There’s a lot to be said for the low tech usefulness of a weapon that can defend your safety, help you eat dinner, and even cut the wood to cook that dinner.

Flint has the distinct advantage over other weapon-making methods in how light and simple it is. You don’t need piles of sharpening tools, heavy materials, or anything complex at all. You just need the right flint-knapping stones and to know how to identify and handle flint. If you have this knowledge, you can travel super light – tools can be made, used and left behind, because you’ll know you can always make more.

Flint can also be used for starting fires. Again, we have an abundance of modern devices for starting fires, but all of them have their drawbacks. Matches don’t work if they get damp. Flint doesn’t work if damp either, but when it dries out it works again. Lighters rely on fuel. Modern spark generating items rely on electricity.

Only flint can guarantee you a quick fire wherever you are – if you know how to use it.

And again, that versatility and ease of use is very important. Other survival methods of lighting fires, such as causing friction between two sticks, or magnifying sunlight, require a high level of skill and perfect conditions. Flint, on the other hand, will work as long as the flint itself is dry.

Nylon or another stretchy fabric

Again, this is one of those planet-not-so-friendly items that turns out to be fabulous for survivalists.

Finding the ideal survival solution for cloth-related problems is always a struggle. None of the obvious choices are just right. Kevlar is great for security features – it’s a plastic strong enough to stop bullets, after all. And waterproof fabric makes great shelters. But as versatile as they are, all of these choices have limitations, as do leather and cellulose-based fabrics.

Nylon, though, is unique.

Its versatility comes from its stretchy, water-resistant, lightweight nature.

Nylon can be used for bandages, to tie items together and to attach them to your bags or your body, and to patch torn clothing.

Nylon can be used to filter water.

You can knot nylon to make strong ropes for snares and fishing nets. You can even extract strands of nylon and braid them for a fine but strong string – now you can make fishing lines, mend clothes or stitch wounds.

These are the properties that make it unique.

You can’t make a fishing line out of leather, after all. You can’t braid a strong rope out of plant tissues or animal fur, not easily. Even if you manage to figure out a way to do it, it won’t be nearly as efficient as the nylon version.

Nylon is lightweight and compact, so you can carry a large amount of it easily.

And when you break it, nylon can still be tied, woven, or unraveled, and then it can be useful again. Just think of all the quilters you know who are trying to figure out a use for little scraps of cotton.

Nylon melts! Okay, under normal circumstances that makes it dangerous. We don’t like our children wearing nylon since it can burn and melt to their skin. But in a survival situation? The ability to melt nylon means that you can create a seal or prevent it from unraveling more.

Make sure to have elastic nylon fabric in your bags!

Garden wire

Nylon can’t do everything, though. For those things, we can turn to garden wire. This is a thin, flexible, single strand of steel wool, usually coated with a layer of waterproof plastic. Gardeners use it to tie plants to trellises and fix holes in chicken wire.

But if that’s all you’re using garden wire for, you’re missing out. We were taught about the wonders of garden wire when we lived in the woods and although we were really dubious at first, we quickly become fans.

You can make wire snares and fish lures to trap prey, form a nice sharp fish hook or a circle snare. Of course, you need to learn how to snare and fish, but that’s a lot easier when you have the right tools.

Garden wire can also be bent into hooks and loops to hang bags and food up in the branches, away from animals and the elements. That doesn’t keep all of your stuff safe, just safe than if it were on the ground.

Sometimes nylon stitching isn’t enough for a wound. We don’t like thinking about stuff like that in our nice, safe modern world, but a survival situation can (will?) mean large open wounds and no hospital. After cleaning the wound well, garden wire can be used to create staples every half inch to pull the wound shut.

Garden wire works great to fix broken zippers and buttons on your bags, or to use the same staple idea to seal bags and ripped fabric shut. You can either snip off small pieces or loop a long piece repeatedly so that it can be reused.

The list of uses I can find for garden wire are long. A basket woven from garden wire can be used to catch fish, carry food back to camp or simply add extra storage to your backpack. We’ve used it to wire together an incredible variety of things.

You can even use it to make a crude armour to protect your skin – if you’re at risk of being attack, are knapping flint or cutting up an animal. Either use little pieces to make a simple chainmail or wrap the wire around your body part several times in at least two directions. Not too tightly, though – don’t cut off circulation!

Garden wire is fabulously reusable. It’s a good idea to keep a box of small cut pieces as well as a roll of uncut wire that you never, ever cut. This way you’ll always have little ‘staples’ as well as a decent length of wire.

A heavy cast iron pan or pot with a lid

When we moved out to the woods, one of our first discoveries was the the taps in our little cabin weren’t working. No water coming in meant that we had to haul water from the stream.

Let me tell you, all of these stories of people drinking water from a stream … it’s a myth. Or rather, it’s a myth that it’s safe. When we filtered and purified that stream water we were absolutely grossed out at all the nasty stuff we found. That didn’t even account for the stuff we couldn’t see.

If you are eating wild-caught meat and drinking water from streams, you really need a way to heat it. (At least you need a way to heat it if you wish to stay healthy) The reason is so very simple. Feces is a disgusting thing to eat, and bears – and fish and mice and all sorts of things – definitely poop in the woods.

You must have a way to boil water and questionable food. And not-so-questionable food like potatoes and nettles, have to be cooked before eating. Scalding soiled clothes, cleaning a wound with boiled water, sterilizing a knife, needle, or your garden wire – for all of those things you need a way to heat them.

Being able to make things very, very hot can save your life.

So why not pick up a set of lightweight camping pots? After all, they’re much easier to carry around and store.

The problem is that they have thin walls and will burn and wear out. Metal reacts to heat, just like everything else. If your pot burns, rusts, dents, or even melts, it will get a hole. Past generations had traveling tinkers who knew how to fix pots – are you expected to have one handy?

Heavy cast iron can handle higher temperatures, quite a bit of rusting, and it certainly does not dent or melt easily. If treated properly, it is naturally nonstick, while conventional nonstick pots have that nasty coats that wears off (and into your food – gross) as you use them.

And don’t forget the lid. With it, your cast iron pot can carry food, or it can be buried to make a makeshift fridge. A heavy lid that holds in steam makes your pot into a very simple pressure cooker. Water boils at 212F but steam gets much hotter. Hold in the steam and you can get things hotter than normal – and your cast iron pot can handle it.

And let’s not forget that a cast iron frying pan has a long tradition as a weapon. It’s heavy, has a strong handle and a weighted end, and it’s unlikely to dent even if you use it to hammer tent pegs, knock out an attacker, or crack bones to get at the marrow.

My goodness, don’t do that. Cast iron is solid and will cause serious damage.


Friends who know that we practically never drink are surprised to find out how much alcohol we actually have in the house. Vodka is an incredibly useful thing to have on hand.

Not to drink! Apologies to vodka drinkers, but if I wanted an alcoholic drink, I’d choose something that had taste. (Like Kahlua – that tastes like coffee. Or I could just drink the coffee and stay sober. Probably better.)

When boiling is not possible, fast enough, or safe, vodka lets you kill bacteria quickly and easily. Poured in a wound, on an item of clothing, or splashed on a knife, you can make the item almost sterile without risk or harm.

A small amount of alcohol in your water will stop it from going stale, and it’s an ancient method of making water safe.

If the situation is quite dire and your only food is slightly off, leave it in alcohol for a while.

It will taste awful and you’ll likely get drunk. You might still get food poisoning, so it’s not foolproof. But you’re at least lowering your risk of food poisoning while getting some calories.

Not a best option but better than nothing.

Did you know that it’s actually very easy to make alcohol? Any starch in water, plus a bit of bacteria from the human mouth, left to sit in a warm, dry environment for a few days, will produce alcohol. I regularly make apple cider vinegar (which goes from cider to hard cider to vinegar) with apple bits that my children have chewed on, and I’ve made it from blueberries, too.

Once you reach the alcohol stage, you can boil it and use your plastic to collect the early condensation to get some almost-pure alcohol. (I won’t get into the details here, but it is something you can do.)

This takes a lot of time and energy, so far better to keep a few big bottles of vodka on hand. And don’t drink them.

That about sums up what I think about drinking vodka, too!

Duct tape

I think most of us know that you can fix anything with a roll of duct tape. And those who don’t know – duct tape is a very strong, plastic-based adhesive tape.

Bear in mind that your roll of tape will wear out.

Even you get reusable tape (and yes, that’s a thing), eventually the pieces will be so small and tattered that you can’t reuse them. Or all of the pieces will be in use.

So use your tape wisely.

Do NOT use duct tape for wounds. Garden wire is much safer and more effective, and it’s reusable. Nylon makes a great reusable bandage.

Do not use duct tape for closing tears in clothes or bags – sew or wire it shut.

Do not use tape to protect your hands or other skin – garden wire chain mail is more efficient.

Do not use it for storing food – plastic containers, a cast iron pot, or hanging food high with nylon or wire is safer and more reusable.

So when should we use tape? Simple: when we need something to be watertight.

If your tent has a hole in it, use tape on both sides.

If you need to mend a boat, use tape on both sides.

If your main water jug breaks, tape the outside.

If your shoes leak, use tape inside and out.

If your sleeping bag has a hole and the stuffing is getting damp, dry it out well and tape both sides.

Whenever it is vital for something to be completely airtight or watertight, then use your tape. Otherwise, you would be wasting perfectly good tape on something you could fix another way, and when you actually need the tape, you won’t have any.

So there you have it – seven items that every prepper should have. Some of them might seem obvious to you, but not all of them. Hopefully I have managed to convince you that these are all useful in a wide range of situations.

Of course, you should still stockpile food, keep power banks on hand to charge your gadgets, build a medical kit and learn how to use it, and make sure you protect yourself in a variety of ways.

But the more options you have at your disposable, the more likely you are to survive an emergency.

If you have to prioritize, here is one really important bit of advice to remember.

Food runs out quickly and is hard to carry. Water can get polluted just when you need to use it. If you rely on firearms, ammo has the same problems that food does. Your phones, electronics and even your vehicle might be of no use when you desperately need them, or they might stop working entirely.

You need tools and knowledge to start fires, trap or gather food, build a shelter and carry water.

Everything else, you can use that mighty computer between your ears and figure out as you go.

Just Plain Living

P.S.  If you enjoy adult coloring pages, click here for my gift to you. Click to open, save to your computer and then print.

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