List of Emergency Essentials for Survival
I’m really glad I have started gathering supplies for when SHTF, because let me tell you, I am notorious for forgetting stuff. Even just packing for a family vacation, I am always the guy who forgets my toothbrush or some other small but necessary item. You wouldn’t believe how often I forget to bring something to my own retreat for a weekend away!
When we’re planning for trips, we have the luxury (usually) of making mistakes. If you forget something, you can just go to the store and pick up what you need. It’s inconvenient, but it isn’t a disaster. It’s worse if you’re camping, but even then it’s just a matter of hiking back to civilization in most cases.
Table of Contents
- Here is a List of Emergency Essentials for Survival:
- 1. Your Retreat
- 2. Fresh, Clean Water
- 3. Food and Nutritional Supplies (Dry Goods)
- 4. Cooking and Food Preparation and Storage Supplies
- 5. Supplies for Hunting, Farming, Fishing, and Gardening
- 6. Medical Supplies
- 7. Chemical, Biological, and Nuclear Survival Supplies
- 8. Hygiene Supplies
- 9. Clothes
- 10. Carriers
- 11. Shelter
- 12. Power and Light
- 13. Communication
- 14. Tools
- 15. Transportation and Navigation
- 16. Documentation and Manuals
- 17. Money
- 18. Items for Bartering
- 19. Weapons and Security
- 20. Trade Supplies
- 21. Personal Items and Entertainment
- 22. Skills
- 23. The Right People
- 24. The Right Attitude
- Related Post
But by definition, when SHTF, we will already be struggling to survive through disaster. TEOTWAWKI means you can’t just go to the store to grab whatever it is you forgot. Having some small item like a multi-tool or a compass can make the difference between life and death.
Different types of survival situations call for different preparedness lists. You need a different set of supplies to survive a week-long disaster than you do to survive over a period of months or years. Nuclear fallout calls for different supplies than a flood or civil unrest. Even your geographic location can have an impact on what you need. Some locations may allow you to grow food, so farming and gardening supplies make sense. In others, you may need hunting supplies or a lot of stored food.
My goal with this checklist is to provide you with a comprehensive set of guidelines and a complete list of essentials should you need to survive TEOTWAWKI. That means a situation with no relief in sight where you may be forced to survive independently for an indefinite period of time.
For a shorter-term situation, you probably will not need all of these supplies.
There is another issue which needs mentioning too, and that is that time may be a factor in preparedness. At the very least, I think everyone needs to have a bug-out kit—a bag with absolutely vital supplies which you can just grab if you need to get out of Dodge in a hurry. Sometimes we do not have days to get out of town, or even hours. Sometimes we only have minutes.
But that is exactly why I feel that you should lay the groundwork for long-term survival now instead of waiting. If you need to survive over the long-term, your bug-out bag is only the beginning. It isn’t going to provide you with a life for yourself and your family and prepper group—for that you need a retreat.
So without further ado, I give you the most comprehensive survival checklist you are going to find. All of these supplies are essential if you want to survive—and thrive—in a TEOTWAWKI situation.
Here is a List of Emergency Essentials for Survival:
1. Your Retreat
First things first. When SHTF, you need somewhere to go. If you don’t have a location selected in advance, you are going to encounter a couple big problems:
- You will be at a total loss when you need to bug out. At that point you are probably screwed.
- You will have nowhere to stow all your supplies (that is a problem NOW, since you need to start stocking up).
If you have the money, I highly suggest that you select your retreat now, and that you start stockpiling your supplies there immediately. That way if things do go south, you can just grab your bug-out bag and go.
If possible, you should consider relocating to your retreat full-time. I recognize this isn’t an option for everyone because of work and other commitments.
In any case, here are a few essential guidelines for choosing your retreat:
- It should be far from the city and the main roads.
- It should be sheltered from the climate and hidden to the eye.
- The ground should be defensible against intruders.
- If you expect to be there over the long term, you want to choose an area with fertile soil and access to freshwater, fish, and game.
- The retreat needs to be large enough for your family and preferably have room for guests.
- Protection against nuclear, biological, and chemical attacks is a big plus.
- Working plumbing is another must.
- The retreat should preferably be a secret from anyone you do not plan to permit to use it.
- It is great if you have a plan for blocking off easy access to your space (like being able to barricade a road with a log).
- If your retreat is in a forested region, you need defensible space in case of fire.
- If you are worried about civil unrest, you might want to consider a retreat located near a border.
Whatever area you choose for your retreat, and whatever form your actual retreat takes, it is vital that you learn the local area like the back of your hand. You need to familiarize yourself with the lay of the land, the plants and animals, and the community. You also need to make sure everyone else in your survival group knows multiple routes in and out of the retreat property and can locate and use everything in it.
2. Fresh, Clean Water
Now let’s talk about water, which is your #1 survival supply! It can take weeks to starve to death, and only days to die of thirst. Here are all the supplies you need to ensure that you have fresh, uncontaminated drinking water:
- A water filter, or preferably, a water purifier. A purifier can protect you from bacteria, protozoan cysts, and viruses. With a filter you can only handle bacteria and protozoa. Look for purifiers with UV and reverse osmosis technology.
- I recommend you get a home purification system that your whole family can use, and also stock up on one portable filter for every family member.
- Containers for treated water and containers for untreated water (and labels).
- Water purification tablets (iodine and chlorine dioxide)
- Water bladder bags and canteens
- Bottled water
- Solar distillers
- Stove-top distillers
- Desalinators which you can use if all you have access to is saltwater
- A manual pump for well-water (if applicable)
- Chlorine and other additives of your choosing
* We put together a post on the Top 7 Survival Water Filters.
3. Food and Nutritional Supplies (Dry Goods)
Food is an incredibly complicated topic, so let’s focus first on dry goods. These are foodstuffs that you can store over a very long time span. They can help tide you over if natural resources are scarce, and can help fill nutritional gaps in your diet left by hunting and foraging. See if you can pull together a year’s supply of food for your retreat.
- Grains and legumes like wheat, rice, and beans. Stock up on this stuff in bulk.
- Salt and other spices
- Honey or stevia
- Baking soda
- Vinegar (many uses)
- Freeze-dried and dehydrated foods
- Canned fruits, vegetables, fish, etc.
- Energy bars and trail mix
- Military MREs
- Powdered milk (or nitrogen-packed dry milk), cheese, whey protein, and so on
- Cooking oils
- Peanut butter
- Baby food (if applicable)
- Food for special diets (if applicable)
- Bulk pet food (if applicable)
Obviously this still is going to leave some gaps in your nutrition. I will come back to that in the medicinal and gardening sections. Ideally, you want to get most of your food from your environment if you are going to be in a long-term survival situation (otherwise your situation is unsustainable).
* We've listed on the Best Canned Foods with Longest Shelf Life, just click here.
4. Cooking and Food Preparation and Storage Supplies
It is no good having all that food if you cannot prepare it for safe consumption and store it properly. Here are the essential preparation and storage supplies you need to stock up on:
- A vacuum sealer and vacuum packing materials. Get one that can handle canning
- Home dehydrator (for making dried fruits, jerky, etc.)
- Large kettles and skillets for bulk food preparation (also great for washing—stick with stainless steel or cast iron where possible).
- Portable stove
- Outdoor grill (consider a portable model)
- Pressure cooker
- Dishes and utensils
- Fuel for your grill and stove—what this entails depends on what kind of grill or stove you are operating. It might mean wood, charcoal, butane, propane, or lighter fluid, sometimes even alcohol or white gas. You may want to choose the grill or stove you buy based on the fuel you expect to be able to stock up on. You can also consider solar models
- Can opener
- Hand mixers, grinders, juicers, beaters and mills (you can buy electric models too, but they will quit on you eventually)
- Cheese cloth
- Plastic containers that seal
- Chlorine bleach and kitchen cleaning supplies
- Sharpener for your kitchen knives
- Ziploc bags and twist-ties
- Bottle opener or corkscrew
- Disposable dishes and cups
- Coffee filters
- Aluminum foil and plastic wrap
- Food-grade plastic buckets and/or galvanized trash cans (for food storage). Check for USDA, FDA, or NSF stamp of approval, or the words “food grade” on any plastics you will use
- Food-grade Mylar bags, dry ice, oxygen-absorbing packets and silica-gel desiccant (for food preservation)
- Portable coolers
- Standard fridge and freezer
- Evaporative fridge (in case you have no power)
- Equipment for making ice without electricity
As just discussed, those are just the basic supplies you need for food preparation and storage of your dry goods and weekly meals. Below, I will talk about hunting, fishing and forages supplies!
* We've listed on the Best Portable Fuel Storage for Survival, click here.
* We also put together a post on the Best Camping Stove with Grill.
5. Supplies for Hunting, Farming, Fishing, and Gardening
This is a huge topic area and each section could easily generate its own list, so here is a quick version.
Hunting and Fishing
- Fishing nets, poles and lines
- Long-nose pliers
- Waterproof bag
- Hunting attire
- Long underwear and other thermal gear
- Fingerless gloves
- Rifles, bows, spears, arrows, ammunition
- Bipod or monopod for shooting
- Scope or binoculars
- Bone saw
- Maps and GPS
- Scent attractors and eliminators
- Cases and cleaning supplies for firearms
- Game calls
- Overnight gear
- Knowledge of local game, fish, and edible plants
Gardening and Farming
- Garden tools (shovels, trowels, etc.)
- Organic pesticide
- Seed broadcaster (for agriculture)
- Husking pegs, corn knives, scythes, and grain processing equipment (hand-cranked)
- Seeds, especially heirloom seeds
- Worm composting system
- Lists of companion plants
- Garden fencing
- Greenhouse (you can build one for under $50)
- Livestock and applicable supplies
Ultimately your situation will only be sustainable if you can learn how to live off the land—so this is an area of prepping which is especially important for long-term survival situations! Do NOT wait until the last minute to get these supplies and start learning these skills.
* If you're looking for the Best Survival Knife, check this out.
* We also put together a post on the Best Scope for Deer Hunting and Best Scope for Elk Hunting.
6. Medical Supplies
In a survival situation, you will regularly have to be your own doctor. That means you need supplies for preventative care as well as medical emergencies. You may not be able to get to town to pick up medications or sanitize a wound or treat an infection. You will need:
- A first aid kit
- Birth control
- First aid instructions
- Herbal supplements
- Extra eyeglasses and contact lenses
- Repair kit for eyeglasses
- Castor oil
- Antibiotic ointment
- Bandages and gauze
- Adhesive tape
- Splinting supplies and cast supplies
- Scalpels and surgical masks
- Light for procedures
- Magnifying glass
- Cold and hot packs
- Portable stretcher
- A supply of OTC and prescription medications
- Paperwork associated with prescriptions, medical records, etc.
- Padding for blisters
- Snake bite kit
- Sanitizer and alcohol
- Antimicrobial soap
- Tourniquet supplies
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Petroleum jelly
- Blood pressure cuff with stethoscope
- Dental mirror, extractors, and additional supplies
- Accessories such as razors, tweezers, cotton swabs, sutures, and so on
That is a lot, and it isn’t even a completely comprehensive list. But it should get you started on the right track!
7. Chemical, Biological, and Nuclear Survival Supplies
While the list of medical supplies above is meant as a general all-purpose list, you may have special circumstances to deal with. What if there is nuclear fallout? What if you are dealing with biological or chemical warfare, or an outbreak of disease? Here are some additional supplies to pack.
- Gas masks
- Respiratory masks
- HEPA filters
- Decontamination shower
- Potassium iodide (KI) tablets (there are other forms of iodine available, but KI is usually considered the best choice to protect from radiation)
- Relevant antibiotic and anti-viral medications (stock up if possible)
- Some kind of shelter in your home (it does not have to be a high-tech bomb shelter; a concrete basement should suffice at least for the short-term)
8. Hygiene Supplies
While you are stocking up your medicine cabinet, you also will need to be sure you have all the personal hygiene supplies that you need.
- Toothbrushes, toothpaste (baking soda works), floss, and mouthwash (hydrogen peroxide works)
- Brushes and combs
- Pads for menstruation (re-usable cloth pads are best)
- Toilet paper and wipes
- Plastic bags for waste if necessary
- Towels and washcloths
- Solar shower
- Soaps and soap-making supplies
- Hair care products
- Diapers (if necessary)
It is obvious you will need clothing to wear, but you will want to think pragmatically when getting your clothes packed for survival. Here are some special items you will want to make sure you have:
- Moisture-wicking socks
- An array of shoes and boots as needed
- Snowshoes (if applicable—you may want to consider cross-country skies too)
- Coats and jackets as needed
- Pocket belts
- Thermal underwear
- Warm packs for gloves
- Gloves and mittens
- Scarves and hats
- Insect net for your head
- Camouflage attire for hunting and defense
* We've listed on the Best Extreme Cold Weather Gloves, click here.
* We also put together a post on the Best Windshell Jackets for Men.
While most of your supplies will stay in your retreat, you will need carriers for hunting and fishing trips, expeditions back into town, and your initial bug-out. What should you pack your supplies in?
- Backpacks and large duffel bags. These should always include sturdy, padded shoulder straps and preferably reinforced bottoms.
- Lightweight suitcases
- Suitcases on wheels
- Backpacking gear
- Waterproof packs (if for example you will be fishing or kayaking)
If your pack breaks, you are going to have a hard time replacing it, so it is well worth it to invest extra money into solid gear.
* We've listed on the Top 10 Best Tactical Backpack Brands.
In terms of your retreat, your shelter could vary quite a bit—anything from a log cabin to an underground home. But there are other aspects of shelter you will need to consider as well. What will you sleep in while you are hiking or camping? Here are some essential shelter supplies:
- Nylon webbing
- Patch kit
- Sleeping bag
- Extra blankets
- Netting for insects
- Light sheets
I strongly recommend you don’t just accumulate these supplies, but also that you learn how to use them properly. You should have a plan for setting up and taking down a campsite quickly and quietly in hostile territory. You also should have a plan for setting up in inclement weather conditions without getting all your stuff wet.
* If you're looking for the Best Tents for Outdoor Survival, just click here.
* We also put together a post on How to Make a Survival Shelter.
12. Power and Light
You cannot always expect to have daylight on your side. For that reason, lighting supplies are essential. This is also a good time to talk about power. You may not always have the luxury of electricity, but you should do what you can to set up some kind of solution to stay powered up when the grid goes down.
- Electrical lights and torches
- Hand-cranked flashlights and lanterns
- Solar-powered lights
- LED lights
- Bic lighters
- Waterproof tinder
- Flint and magnesium starters for fires
- Candles and candle-making supplies
- Oil lamps
- Strobe light
- Head lamp
- Light sticks
- Solar panels
- Wind generators
- Standalone photovoltaic system
- Backup generators (propane- or diesel-based)
- Batteries and recharging systems
- Fuel stabilizer
* We've listed on the Best Tactical Flashlights for Survival, click here.
How do you stay in touch with the outside world in an emergency? You may or may not be able to rely on your usual channels, so here are the devices I recommend you have ready:
- Laptop, tablet, smartphone
- Portable router and other networking devices
- Hand-cranked two-way radios with additional power options (batteries, solar). Be sure to get a radio which offers NOAA weather channels.
- Ham radio
- Mirror for signaling
- Waterproof pen and notebook
- Chart for Morse code
Two-way radios and ham radios are actually quite complicated, so learn all you can about them in advance. That way you can pick a model which will give you the access and privacy you need.
* If you're looking for Best Ham Radio, check this out.
* And for Best Hand Crank Radio, just click here.
Please note that this is a list of general tools which are necessary for day-to-day life, not a complete list of all tools necessary for all trades. Depending on your situation, this may not cover it.
- Multi-tool and/or Swiss army knife (this should actually cover most of your basic needs)
- Sharpeners for knives
- Lubricating oils
- Basic set of tools: hammer and nails, screws, screwdrivers, bits, bolts, drills, etc.
- Axes and saws
- Bungee cords
- Various forms of tape
- Plastic sheeting
- Office supplies
- Hoses, tubes, wires, cables
- Paint and brushes
- Glues and epoxies
- Locks and chains to secure important items
- Wheel barrow
* If you're looking for Best Multi-tool, just click here.
This is a section where there could be quite a bit of variation depending on how you are planning on getting around. If you have vehicles, you will need to be able to maintain them at home and on the road. You might also end up with extras like a bicycle or a horse or even a wagon.
Ideas for Transportation:
- Motor vehicle such as a car, truck, van, station wagon, or so on. An RV or fifth-wheel is another option
- Motorcycle or scooter (you can even get a solar-powered scooter)
- Boat (could be anything from a kayak to a yacht, depending on your situation and needs)
- Horse-drawn carriage or wagon
If you own a smaller item like a motorcycle, bicycle, or scooter, remember to secure it like a lock, even when you are home. You may encounter people when SHTF who are desperate for a means of transit other than their own two feet.
- Tire pressure gauge, inflation, and repair supplies
- Spare tire
- Jumper cables (handy not just for yourself, but for others you encounter)
- Tow rope and cables
- Siphon hose
- Winter tires or chains (if applicable)
- Oil and gasoline
- Wood shavings or another material to improve traction if your car gets stuck
- Extra vehicle keys
- Extra lights
- Set of flares for your vehicle
- Window scraper
- Extra parts (belts, batteries, etc.)
- Repair documentation and guides for your vehicles
- Insurance papers and roadside assistance numbers
- Paper towels
- Washer fluid
- Extra coolant
- A basic toolkit with a wrench, screwdrivers, pliers, knife, etc.
- Keep an extra first-aid kit in your vehicle along with some warm blankets, a flashlight, and spare batteries
- A star chart (useful if you lose your compass)
- Maps with primary and secondary routes highlighted (for bugging out or getting to and from town)
Think long and hard well in advance about transportation. Depending on your financial situation, you may simply need to use whatever you’ve got now, but if you have the money, you may want to consider buying a hybrid or electric car, or a solar scooter. A self-sufficient RV also makes a great choice for preppers. Affix some solar panels and you can get yourself off-the-grid with a vehicle that doubles as a mobile shelter.
16. Documentation and Manuals
Make sure you have all the information and documentation you need to deal with the authorities and survive:
- IDs, driver’s licenses, social security cards, passports, etc.
- Paperwork for vehicles
- Paperwork for key assets (including land or buildings)
- Tax records
- Financial records
- Manuals for all vehicles and equipment
- Important phone numbers
- Wills and living wills
- Insurance papers
- Data (electronic copies of the above, plus any other important virtual documents you possess)
A list really is not needed here. The main point is that you should always have cash on hand, because you may not be able to access funds electronically if the grid goes down (or something happens that wipes bank account records, etc.). Make sure you have plenty of small denominations of paper money, and consider investing in gold and silver coins. But remember, items for barter may have more value than your money, depending on the situation. Read up on bartering below.
18. Items for Bartering
No matter how well prepared you are, there are going to be times when you need to trade for items or services you do not have. For that reason, you will want to pack some extra supplies which you can barter away. While there is never any way to be 100% sure what other people need, here are some ideas:
- Cigars and cigarettes
- Pet food
- Cold weather supplies (like thermal wear)
- Extra fishing and hunting supplies
- Trade supplies
- Books and magazines
- Medical supplies
- Work (more on that in the section on Trade Supplies)
These are all things people regularly need—or desperately want. If you stock extra, you can exchange them for what you need, and occasionally gift them to build up good will.
19. Weapons and Security
When prepping for SHTF, you will need to be thinking about both personal security and the safety of your home, vehicles, and possessions. The most dangerous thing in an emergency often is not a plague or natural disaster—it is your fellow man. Those who are less prepared are going to want what you have carefully cultivated for yourself. Don’t let them have it. You will need the following supplies at a minimum:
- Padlocks and chains for bicycles and scooters
- Hidden safes in your home for important possessions and documents (look for something that will protect against burglary, fire and flood conditions)
- Motion detector lights, video cameras, alert system
- Fire extinguisher
- A gun safe
- Ammunition and cleaning supplies for your guns
- Bow and arrows (if you need an alternative to firearms)
- Pepper spray
- Defensive materials for barricades and shielding
- Bars for windows
- Security fence
- An actual plan for defense (what will you do if there is an intruder?)
- Training for everyone who lives in your retreat with you
You may also want to consider a guard dog if you do not already have one. The right breed of dog can provide some security for your home and may also be helpful with chores (i.e. tending livestock).
* We've listed on the Best Pepper Spray for Self-Defense, click here.
20. Trade Supplies
This is a section where it is impossible to make a list, because what you need depends entirely on what you do. I wanted to add a brief section for this because it seems like something that is typically overlooked in other peoples’ lists.
What do you do for a living right now? What do you know how to do for a living? After SHTF, you are going to need to do something to survive and build community ties. You might end up largely supporting yourself off the land, but chances are good you could benefit from some kind of a trade.
If you have a special trade—wood crafting, soap-making, tailoring, cobbling, electronics, or so on—be sure you have a set of tools and supplies ready for a survival situation. Your access to specialized tools and your expert knowledge will not only help you to help yourself, but may enable you to help others as well. Earlier I talked about bartering. You can barter items, but you can barter work as well. If you have an invaluable skill that others desperately need, it will pay off in spades!
21. Personal Items and Entertainment
It is easy to lose sight of when you are stockpiling practical supplies, but it isn’t enough to just survive—you need to have something to live for. And that means you need to go beyond the practical necessities. Life is more than bread alone. Consider stockpiling the following:
- Personal items with sentimental value
- Religious books and ritual items
- Toys for children and pets
- Books and magazines
- DVDs, games and multimedia
- Hobby and art supplies
- A few luxury foods
- A few impractical outfits
- Anything else you can think of that would help you and your family to hold onto hope and happiness
While this list focuses on supplies, material items are not the only essentials that you need for survival! All of the items above are only useful insofar as you know what to do with them. Following is a list of skill-sets well worth developing before SHTF:
- Gardening, farming, and livestock care
- First aid
- Advanced medical or dental skills
- Hunting and tracking
- Meteorological skills
- Ham radio communications
- Engineering (mechanical and electrical)
- Navigational skills (with and without a compass)
- Sewing, crocheting and mending
- Cooking and baking
- Stoneware, glassware and pottery
- Auto repair
These skills not only will help you to survive, but can be bartered for the skills and items that you need. One or more of these may even become your new occupation in your post- TEOTWAWKI existence!
23. The Right People
Different preppers have different points of view when it comes to teaming up vs. going it alone. I for one believe that teaming up is always best if you have good people in your life who you can really trust. Those people may be family, friends, or members of your local prepper community. Regardless, anyone you let into your circle of trust should possess the following essential traits:
- A strong work ethic
- Problem-solving abilities
- The ability to keep a secret
- Some useful skill
- A set of values that is compatible with yours
24. The Right Attitude
Finally, there is one more survival essential which is an absolute must, and that is the right mindset! You will not get far even with the right supplies, skills and people if you do not have the attitude you need to endure through harrowing circumstances.
Here are some essential traits that go with any survival mindset:
- Grit and determination
- A balance of optimism and realism
- Critical thinking
- Honesty with yourself and others
- The willingness to make tough and sometimes compromised choices when you need to (you will encounter situations that call for gray morality)
- A balanced approach to your needs vs. the needs of others
- Empathy and compassion
- Faith and hope
- A plan (and preferably a plan B and a plan C—you are going to need them, and the willingness to follow through on them when plan A doesn’t work)
No one is born with all of these personality traits and abilities. Most of us have to work hard to develop the majority of them throughout our lives. It pays to start now. But it is also important to keep in mind that none of us knows how we will really behave in a survival situation until the moment we are in one. We also cannot predict the unusual circumstances we may find ourselves in, which is why adaptability is arguably the most important trait on this list.
You now have a fairly comprehensive list of all the essentials that you need to survive if SHTF. The hardest part of doing all this (aside from scrounging together the financial resources) is adapting this list to your situation. There are items on this list that do not apply in all circumstances, and you may also have individual circumstances that call for items that are not on the list at all.
So I recommend you start drafting a plan and a list specific to you and your family. Make a list of the people you want to protect and collaborate with if SHTF. Write down the skills you have and make a list of the skills you need to learn. Start attending classes and workshops. Host workshops of your own to teach others the skills that you already have. Make a list of supplies with two columns—items you have and those you need to obtain. If you are going to team up with others, divide the supply list up and work together to get what you need.
It can take years to prepare in full for something like TEOTWAWKI, but gradually it will all come together if you keep working at it diligently. And as you do, you will pick up more and more of the skills and mindset that you need to survive along the way. If TEOTWAWKI does come, you will know exactly what you need to do in order to survive and build a new life for you and your loved ones.