“Be prepared,” is not just the motto of the Boy Scouts, it is sage advice and a call to action for those who make self-sufficiency a way of life. On this site and others, you’ll find hundreds upon hundreds of articles admonishing you to get what they need to survive a crisis before you need it. That way you won’t be up the creek without a figurative (or perhaps literal) paddle.
But nothing happens in a vacuum, including life. Funds and time are both limited for all but the most fortunate of us. You may be starting from zero with your prepping, or have a very lean budget to acquire the things you want, or have been told you need. Some items that are priceless in a disaster may simply be beyond the reach of some, or just unavailable.
Maybe you just have the poor, rotten luck of being thrust into a situation unaware, unprepared and with no warning. For all the bravado and bluster of many of us in the community, we all have our weaknesses and areas of vulnerability. So what should you do when you need something, or have to have it, and… don’t?
This article is concerned with getting it after you find yourself neck deep in a disaster or the immediate aftermath of one. It’s easy to tsk-tsk and wag fingers at someone who did not obtain what they needed before the SHTF, and quite another to actually go about getting it during or after. The proceeding paragraphs will hopefully fix that deficiency, or at least make you better equipped to deal with it.
The Things You Must Have, and the Lack Thereof
As I alluded to above, there is no lack of literature on what and how much of anything you should have stored, stockpiled and stashed before a major crisis flips the table on your day to day life, and I will assume for the remainder of this article that you are familiar with basic self-sufficiency and preparation concepts on storing food, water, tools and other essentials.
This article will only refer to those essentials by way of discussing their acquisition, so if you are uncertain if you are adequately prepared today, now, bookmark this page and come back after you have done some more reading on the things and quantities you should store.
At any rate, why you are lacking something essential really does not matter too much in the grand scheme of things: it could be blown away by a tornado, burned up in a fire, stolen, left behind when fleeing home, swept away in a flood, lost, broken, spilled, spoiled or smashed. It just doesn’t matter. What matters is you need it, and must find a way to get it.
I would take some space here to remind everyone reading that the time to get the essentials is right now. Right. Fricken’. Now. Don’t wait. Complacency is a silent and insidious killer. You cannot be blamed for accident or happenstance, but you can for outright negligence. Don’t be that person.
In the next section we will examine what lack really means to you, and similarly what gain is. Sounds like a somewhat strange segue, yes? Not so much as you may be thinking. If you change the way you look at problem, new solutions will present themselves.
What Does Going Without Mean For You?
To answer that question, first consider why you have any particular material prep in the first place. You don’t have water because you need something to drink, you have water to prevent dehydration, a sure killer.
You don’t have a tent because you need a structure to sleep in, you have a tent to prevent or lessen exposure, another reliable killer and exposure itself simply drives your core body temperature too far a direction inimical to sustained life.
Similarly, a flashlight’s purpose is not to create light, its purpose is to keep the dark from blinding you. This may sound a little long-winded and esoteric, but stick with me. Your equipment and supplies, all of them, are only there to solve problems. Those problems can range from crushingly urgent, like emergency medical treatment, to merely inconveniences, like a missing utensil making eating a messy affair.
When you start assessing your capabilities in a trouble-shooting, problem-centric way, you will likely find that alternate and tertiary modes of solution come to mind much quicker; I don’t need a tent to sleep in, I need to stay out of the rain and keep my core temperature up.
I don’t need a compass, I need a reliable way to ascertain my direction. There are several solutions, many of them comparatively simple, for both of those problems, and many others. Equating the loss of any material prep with actual loss of capability is a mindset problem, and should be avoided.
Likewise, gaining a tool or item only affords you a measure of efficiency, which equates to energy and time savings, and a degree of all-important and invaluable
Certainty, one of those rarest of commodities. For instance, lacking a lighter in no way means fire is inaccessible to you, only that you cannot rely on the sure and swift click of an igniter to summon it!
There are many other ways to produce fire, but you start to give up efficiency and certainty without that lighter as you go down the ladder of modern tools and methods to primitive ones.
The following sections will address a variety of ways that you can set your mind to the task of getting what you need during or after a major crisis. Some of these methods are entirely conventional, others are a little more involved. All of them deserve a place in your mental prepper toolbox.
Depending on your situation, locale and the severity of the scenario you are facing down, some of these methods of procuring what you need may not be viable. Please don’t sound off in the comments that one or the other won’t work for you because “reasons.” That’s fine, I believe you, and good thinking; focus instead on what can work for you and start contingency planning accordingly.
Network: Borrow, Barter or Buy
In the event of loss of any critical supplies or equipment, assuming you have other people around to interact with you can perhaps horse-trade or outright buy what you need from them, assuming they have it to spare.
The very best candidates for this activity are people you already have relationships with: fellow preppers in your preparedness group, your neighbors and members of your church or other social flocks.
Anyone who knows you, knows what you are about and trusts you will likely give you what you need if they have it to give. Perhaps you still have some things that they need to make the transaction worthwhile? Barring that, there are many situations where good, old-fashioned cash will still be accepted in a crisis. If you have to have it, and can afford it, buy it then and there.
If you are planning to bug-in or shelter in place in a neighborhood, even a rural one, knowing what all your neighbors have to offer is important. Joe has a ton of food, and some livestock.
Bill has a freshwater spring on his property. John has plenty of guns to hand out. Let them know what you need, or what you may need before disaster strikes. Keep in mind their skills may the cure for what ails you; Dan the doctor can patch you up or implement treatment more effectively than an enthusiastic novice with a packed trauma bag.
Humans are social beings; no matter how badly you want it to be true, no prepper is an island unto himself. You may have invincible endurance, intricate knowledge of the state’s terrain, flora and fauna and you never, ever miss. Great!
Sadly, you are one bad turn from being a corpse. You are the Ubermensch, until you are dead. Without someone to count on, someone who is at least alert to the fact that you exist, you are very vulnerable.
Try to enlist the aid of your fellows whenever you can, and make networking and cultivating quality, trusted contacts as much a part of your preps as storing food, survival drills, and scouting for a bug-out location.
Being able to knock on a door or two and replace an essential item is about as efficient as it gets when it comes to loss remediation. Make sure your generous friends know you’ll do the same for them.
Improvise or Adapt
Making do with less, scrounging, and assembling a workable solution out of disassociated components has long been the trademark of the gadgeteer and tinkerer. All are good traits in a prepper. The ability to create what you need seemingly out of nothing will save your life in austere environments or situations of near total loss.
Improvisation encompasses many domains. You might be handy at assembling workable tools out of found or discarded materials, or adapting other existing tools for purposes that they were never meant to perform.
A lost or broken water filter may only be an opportunity for a crafty prepper to fashion a multi-stage filter from an old plastic jug, some wire mesh, cloth, gravel, sand and charcoal. A badly shredded tent will see an improvisational prepper take duct tape, trash bags and newspaper to create warm, snug water proof sleeping bags.
What were the problems in those situations? The first, loss of the water filter, was a severely reduced ability to produce clean water. The solution? Craft a way to produce clean water, in the form of a homemade filter.
The second problem was a hit to insulation (read “thermoregulation”) capability from severe damage to the tent. Perhaps it was repairable. Maybe not, or not quickly enough. An understanding of the principles of body heat management and a few simple materials turned out a solution that is nearly as good.
Improvisation and adaptation both hinge on knowledge. Your own skills, cleverness and store of mental tricks and procedures will determine the viability of either when it comes to saving your bacon. Some people are very quick-thinking.
Others are somewhat more linear in their problem solving. Regardless it is important to broaden your problem-solving skills using more than off-the-shelf solutions. If you have only ever approached a problem one way, you will be at a significant disadvantage if you ever have to turn to a non-existent Plan B.
Ultimately, if all you have is yourself, and perhaps a knife, with enough knowledge and practice you can literally bend the landscape to provide for you in many environments. Long seen as the crux absolute of prepping, and embodied in such figures as the mountain man, frontier scout, deep country trapper, native peoples and other figures, comprehensive knowledge of the land married to a robust set of skills can see your needs provided for in nearly any terrain.
While it may take longer, be harder and highly laborious (not to mention fraught with peril) a true master, if you could ever claim such a title, of the environment will be able to create fire, shelter, obtain food and adequate water and navigate.
Nature provides everything that humans need in one form or another, but she is a cruel mistress, and a strict instructor. Perhaps Nature’s meanest trick is that she will always issue the test first, and afterward, assuming you survive, provide the lesson.
A thorough working knowledge of primitive fire starting along with “all-natural” shelter creation and a comprehensive knowledge of all plant and animal species in your area, along with where they may be found, as well as all sources of water and their proximity to possible contaminants is a start.
With that body of knowledge, grit, determination and a little persistence you will be able to stay warm, fed and hydrated. You’ll be alive! Many plants have medicinal uses in treatment of various ailments, and also provide much needed vitamins during forays of longer duration.
Take care, as the allure of living off the land has seduced many into a hopelessly bleak slog and occasional death. You will likely not be living or surviving near a crystal clean stream in a wood teeming with game.
The days will probably not be mild and the nights warm. Without a lot of practice and a hell of a lot of sweat equity it will be Hell. Nevertheless it is possible if only you have the strength to achieve it!
When all other methods fail, if you have the know-how, the elbow-grease and the determination nature can still provide for you.
In times of real trouble and terrible need, you may be able to scavenge what you need from the rubble and ruins or abandoned tracts of society. Take notice that I said times of terrible need, as you will likely not be in a “sole survivor” type of scenario where you can pillage and pilfer guilt-free. Everything you are likely to come across belonged, or still belongs to someone.
This is an ethical quandary you need to work out ahead of time. A smashed, deserted house may very well have owners who fled town or went to a shelter. Should you really take from the rubble what is rightfully and lawfully theirs? At what point is something considered abandoned, or “gear adrift?” These are all things that require thought so you do not act yourself into a label that is very difficult to talk your way out of.
Practical concerns may be a witness or even the owner of that “discarded” item taking severe umbrage at you absconding with their stuff. In a really rough time people may turn to violence quickly to deal with perceived looting. Something to keep in mind before helping yourself.
Sometimes your decision will be made for you, as dire need is the ultimate taskmaster; severe thirst and available water in a storefront or abandoned vehicle may see you resort to some B&E to prevent death.
Hunger may see you chasing down food, live or not. Risk of exposure may see you take materials or supplies to create a shelter or build a fire. Dire need of medicine or medical supplies could see you help yourself from an ambulance or veterinary clinic.
Scavenging is often talked about, but this is often in a semi-fantasy context. Some of us privately dream of being the Wasteland Wanderer, taking what we need form the shattered ruins of society in a world gone eerily peaceful, or a sort of Robin Hood figure giving what we can when we can to the needy survivors of a smashed city.
Reality dictates that those things you are taking, unless they are obviously trashed or debris, have owners. Make sure what whatever you take you are not making yourself out as a vandal, or raider, so ask permission beforehand.
Redundancy and Backups
One of the most elegant ways to replace an item you’ve lost is to pull another one off the shelf. Duh. Ok, I’m being facetious, but the moral is true: have spares and backups of all your most important items!
I’m probably like you, in that if I hear one more camo-clad, Birkenstock-wearing, granola-crunching survivor type parrot “two is one and one is none” again, I’ll either explode or scream.
Sadly, that old ditty is as valid today as cliché as it sounds as when it first tumbled pithily off the tongue of some salty old hardass. Redundancy, in any endeavor, drastically increases the success rate of an operation, and prevents catastrophic failure.
If you need clean water, have two different methods to make found water safe: additives and filters. If you need security, you’ll need two defensive weapons. Shelter: a tent, plus a flyweight bivy or tarp. You get the idea. If something breaks or goes missing, and you have a spare, you can carry on with hardly a hiccup.
Taking this concept further, some preppers choose to compartmentalize their redundant supplies in an alternate location to ensure a hit or total loss of their primary cache will not clean their clock.
They might keep their backups in a hidden cache, their bug-out location or with a trusted family member or friend. The downside to this methodology is that their backup items must be retrieved before they can be put to use.
Other, more general concerns are the carrying and storing of twice as much gear as you would have otherwise. If you buy duplicates of everything, you are drastically increasing the footprint and weight of your preps, and it is rarely if ever feasible to move all of them.
Instead, you might choose to adopt a “primary and alternate” plan, where your best, most effective item is backed up by a smaller, lighter, and sometimes less effective counterpart purely as an emergency backup item. This method cuts down on weight and saves space.
Even the smartest, most dedicated preppers can find themselves shorted or going without vital supplies and equipment when disaster strikes. Getting what you need during or after a crisis does not have to be left to chance if you give some thought now to how you can procure things later.
Preparing for lack and loss is no different than preparing for any other threat; it is the resourceful and diligent who will weather such an occurrence.
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.