Prepping is a commitment to a wholly new level of procedure, schedule and periodic activity. There are always things to do, skills to learn and topics to investigate. If you are a prepper, if never ends, and if it does, you aren’t really a prepper. To stay still, to remain idle, is to start the clock winding down to disaster, no matter how much you have already done.
But there is one thing, one element that most preppers, heck, most people defer amidst all the other minutiae of their lives and routines. Maintenance and inspection.
That’s right, no matter how valuable, how important and how disastrous deferring maintenance might be on the things we own, most people do not adhere to a proper schedule of preventative maintenance and inspection.
Of all the things we do as preppers, it is the humble equipment check that affords the highest return on investment of time, money and energy.
In this article, I’ll be a making the case for making equipment checks first place on your to-do list of prepping chores, and also offering a few tips to ease the logistical burden of becoming chief technician along with all of your other titles.
Maintenance is Your Hedge against Failure
When was the last time you maintained or even inspected a piece of your gear? I mean really inspected it? I’m not talking about giving the once-over with a casual eye to check for dirt, mud, beer or blood.
I am talking about inspecting your gear with as intent and sharp an eye as you would a priceless painting or a possibly fake hundred dollar bill.
Been a while, if ever? You need to fix that. Periodic, deliberate inspections are the best thing we can do for ourselves both to ensure our equipment large and small does not fail us at the worst possible time during our trials and tribulations and to insure our own hard work and prior diligence against loss or mishap.
Wouldn’t be a shame to have all that food you carefully stored go bad on the shelf, and you don’t find out about it till you open it up sitting in your house with the power out, listening to the ever-worse reports on the emergency radio?
Sure would suck to have your packed bug-out vehicle breakdown with family and pets aboard before you can even get clear of the danger zone.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, will be louder than the snap of a hammer or striker on cartridge that fails to detonate in the chamber when you need to gun down the machete-swinging lunatic intent on making off with your stuff.
Melodrama? Hardly. Equipment failures have been responsible for a large fraction of all mishaps, screw-ups and FUBAR situations since history began.
From loosened lashings holding a spearhead on its haft leading to a failed hunt and empty bellies way back in the dim days when man was young to losses of aircraft with all souls, a lack of maintenance and inspection can spell disaster, even doom, when the stakes are high.
You have probably heard proverbs about this very topic. “An ounce of prevention…” Saves a pound of cure. See? You might have heard the one “For want of a nail” that describes a horse’s shoe losing its nail and subsequently its shoe, dominoing into a lost rider and then calamity.
There are many variations on this one but my favorite is attributed to none other than Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. I have it hanging over my workbench as a reminder to diligently focus on what I am working on even when it seems inconsequential.
“For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
for want of a shoe the horse was lost;
and for want of a horse the rider was lost;
being overtaken and slain by the enemy,
all for want of care about a horse-shoe nail.”
Grim, eh? But it is good advice.
Making Maintenance Top Priority
The laws of the universe abhor idleness. Anything that is idle begins to fail. Anything that does not have appropriate attention paid to it begins to die or rot or break down.
Enduring stone erodes. The strongest steel rusts. Our very bodies grow weaker and more vulnerable if we remain sessile and lazy. There is no escaping it.
Coming back to the practical, everything, and I mean everything you have done to this point as a prepper is falling apart, even if it is doing so slowly and imperceptibly. Some of this you can prevent, but some you can only hope to catch in time to avoid the effects or decommission the affected prep.
Do you want to flush your effort, your work, your tireless care down the toilet, or worse yet experience it coming to no good because of neglect?
Of course not! Then you need to get really serious about your maintenance protocols. I know, I hear you: it seems daunting. So much to do, so much to remember on top of everything else you already take responsibility for. But do it you must.
Lucky for you, I have some tips and tricks to make the doing a little easier and the logistics a little less of a headache.
Triage, Deferred Maintenance and You
While you must take sole responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of your essential goods you are, still, but one man or one woman with only so much time. And you do have plenty to do already if you are living and prepping like you should be.
Considering that, you will prioritize your inspection and maintenance regimens according to the potential for harm should a given item fail or its function be disrupted.
You can push off or even defer maintenance on some things, but not others. There is no hard and fast to this rule and you’ll have to make these determinations for yourself based on your unique situation and requirements. There are a few things you should never defer unless you have no other choice. I’ll give you a few examples.
Consider your fridge
Chances are you are expecting to lose power or abandon your fridge should the SHTF anyway, so, barring economy and cost of replacement in kind time, you have no pressing need to strip and inspect your refrigerator beyond basic function checks.
Now consider it in light of you being or a family member being diabetic and dependent on insulin. Big difference. What about your backup power supply for the fridge when the power goes out? Same thing: you had best stay on top of it also.
An easy one is your self-defense firearm, gun or other item
For a knife, is the blade sharp and free of rust? Is the attachment point of the sheath in good shape, free from tears or worn snaps or loops that may fail? Does it draw smoothly or bind? Are the handle’s scales or wrapping tight?
Is your firearm clean and oiled? Have you conducted a proper function check? Do the springs need replacement? How many round since your last major tear down and inspection?
Have you closely examined the barrel and frame for cracks, chipping or peening? Have you verified the zero of the sights lately? Have you replaced all batteries for accessories lately? How old is your carry ammo?
Is your pepper spray getting old? Have you tested your unit recently? Is the clip and all other features or control still in good shape?
Another Biggie: Your Vehicle
Most folks outsource maintenance of their car, truck or other ride to professionals who may or may not do a good job. While this is acceptable the buck still stops with you if something fails, especially something simple.
I always make it a point to pre-flight my SUV at least every other day, if not every day. It takes me seven minutes to check tire pressure, oil, other fluids, fuel level, and conduct a signals, lights and mirrors check. I do this almost every time I leave the house.
I always keep the tank at half-full or higher. All regular maintenance intervals are tracked in logged in a vehicle logbook that stays with it. I have yet to suffer anything worse than attire blowout.
If you have a shop or dealer perform regular maintenance on your car, you must be triple-sure they are doing it right and doing what you are paying for.
Your food you keep for emergencies will not last forever, but no one knows with any certainty exactly how long most sealed and shelf-stable foods will last. At the least, you should adhere to the posted expiration date or expert assessment based on the type of food and the storage conditions.
Always, always, always rotate your food after a time, pulling from that supply for daily meals and then replacing those items next time you get groceries or supplies.
Similarly, medicines and other medical gear will not last forever. Antibiotics and other drugs lose efficacy over time.
The fabric in gauzes and rubber in many medical components will break down over time with even perfect storage protocols followed. Keep an eye on all of them, and learn as much as you can about expected storage times and use intervals.
These are just a few examples of the “big” items but this level of detail must be paid to everything you have for prepping. Your BOB should for instance be periodically stripped and emptied and each item examined.
Something as simple as a lantern may be deadlined by batteries corroding the terminals. You’ll surely want to know that before striking out for the hinterland ahead of some disaster!
The pack itself should be closely inspected: fraying fabric, loose stitches, and bald spots are all wear indicators. They may, or may not, indicate a pending failure, but it is up to you to determine its service life and if you trust it or not.
Scheduling and Tracking Maintenance
I know that taking responsibility for so much additional labor and inspection may seem daunting, even impossible, when considered wholly, but in reality these things will be spaced out across the weeks and months of your year for most of them.
Fitting in serious inspection and function checks for quite a few things is often easily rolled into other interactions you have with that gear anyway.
Use your self-defense gun as an example like I did above; if I go to the range for practice or embark on a class (teaching or attending) I will invariably clean my gun, at least give it a once over, when I return.
After I get it cleaned up but before I reassemble and function check, I make it a point to clear my mind, slow way down and get plenty of good light and then I really inspect all parts of it.
I look for the cracks, bulges, peening and more that indicates inordinate wear or some tolerances that are no longer playing nicely.
I have spotted everything from crooked gas blocks to hairline cracked frames before on my personal gear and taken care of it before it cost me big time, in more ways than one.
For everything else that is not close to mind or constantly in use, I schedule it using the calendar app on my phone that is tied to my email, complete with multiple reminders and other useful info embedded into each event.
For the really important stuff I enter it my prepper tome, my term for my combination journal, idea book and calendar that serves as the nexus of all my thoughts, plans, fears and personal record. That way there is never an excuse for not looking at it since I am always looking at it.
Mind over Maintenance, er, Matter
Another quick tip. If the prospect of doing all of this seems like a drag, frankly, you might be surprised how enjoyable it can be once you schedule it and set it in stone.
This is just stuff you do now. By getting so invested in my gear and equipment and even my home, I have been organically, in a way, forced to learn even more about all kinds of things.
The act of taking responsibility led to a process of learning and routine that is, for me at least pretty enjoyable and comfortable. Do to keep in mind it is another kind of practice: you had better start learning now as much as you can, since you sure won’t be able to count on Google or calling someone to save the day and fix your car after The End.
Get your own Mr. or Mrs. /Ms. Fixit on and start planning around preventative maintenance today.
Maintenance is something that must be done, but too many choose to defer or put off just a little longer. While luck does indeed cover bad choices, the averages will eventually catch up to you and you’ll be facing a bad outcome as a result.
Crucial gear and supplies must be maintained and the only way it will get done and done right is if you do it. Take it upon yourself to setup a maintenance regimen for all of your essential preps today.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.