Serious prepping seems on its surface to be the province of the well-heeled land owners upon first inspection.
The “ideal” is a remote hideaway, deep in the forest, on a mountainside or deep in the desert or tundra stocked to the rafters and beyond with every imaginable provision, piece of kit and all the installations one would need to sustain life pretty much indefinitely when off the grid, gardens and bunkers and cellars and basements, oh my.
Naturally, one lives at full time at or retreats to this mythical redoubt at the first sign of trouble.
But for the rest of us, even most of us, who are normal earth people, such a lofty peak can seem so remote to as be sited on Mars for our chances of getting to it one day.
It is bad enough if you just live and work in the city or live near enough in the suburbs, which are both swarming ant hills of human activity.
If you rent your dwelling, be it house, apartment or condo, you may feel hamstrung in your prepping efforts. After all, you don’t own any land, or even the structure. What can you possibly do to get ready for The Big One? As it turns out, plenty.
In this article, I’ll be tackling some of the biggest gripes, setbacks and challenges faced by those of us, your author included, who rent as opposed to own their homes.
The Prepper Ecosystem
And I am not talking about biome or region where you live. I am talking about all of the things that preppers do to get ready to survive a major crisis. There are different levels to this.
Your initiate prepper, a normal earth person, will be content to stock some extra food, water, lights, batteries and so on, and probably has a pair of hiking boots and grandpa’s old revolver set somewhere, just in case.
The next level up with see all of the above increase by a significant factor and greater emphasis be put on personal development in the form of skills, knowledge and mental sharpening. The prepper at this level knows that gear is not enough.
Going further down the path a prepper will become even more concerned with sustainability. It is not enough to know what to do and how to do it, and have all the tools to do it.
You need access to things that will run out. Replenishment and supply becomes the name of the game. Rain catchment, gardens, fabrication and other endeavors that will fundamentally let you produce the things you need and want are the next logical extension on the journey of self-sufficiency.
Finally, a prepper will want to create their own little kingdom, however small it might be, a place where they have everything they need to do all of the above and expand and grow it.
A place where they can be content and confident that they can sustain, more or less indefinitely, life as they have come to know it. This place is their castle, their keep and their farm, for lack of a better word.
But You Don’t Have a Redoubt of Your Own; You Have a Two Bedroom Apartment
That all sounds logical and idyllic, and while you should not discount the value and effectiveness of such a holding, or give up on your goal of obtaining it, you should not let pie-in-the-sky wishes distract you from the present reality.
If you have mountain retreat-dreams and a tiny apartment-budget, guess which one is going to dictate your present reality? You got it. No rah-rah speeches here about living your best life. You just have to play the pair you were dealt until you can get the straight.
But I bring good news. The single biggest part of prepping is, duh, preparation. Preparation is rooted in knowing your limitations, assessing your situation, planning for emergencies according to how they will impact your reality and then staying adaptable and flexible to take on what comes.
Life does not wait for you to be ready with the perfect solution to any given problem. But you don’t need to wait until things are “just right” before you “get serious,” either.
For preppers, consider Perfect, the enemy of good enough, and furthermore always just out of reach. You can always do something, something, to improve your situation, and you living arrangements have very little to do with it in the grand scheme of things.
Owning a home and a piece of land, even if it is in the suburbs, definitely has advantages. Assuming you don’t have some HOA breathing down your neck, you’ll be able to do things more or less your way on your property.
That means a garden if you want one, a rain catcher system, and all the modifications you want to your dwelling. If you want to add a triple-reinforced, air-gapped safe room with a hardened communications suite, radio mast, CBRN protection and surveillance station? If you have the wherewithal, it’s yours.
Now, you cannot rationally do all of that to a rental house or apartment. Not ethically anyway, not without permission from your lessor, and fat chance of that ever happening.
But you aren’t without options, and you aren’t powerless. There is plenty you can do, and where there is a will, there is a way, for any problem.
Some of the adaptations you’ll have to make are procedural. Some will be planning and contingency related, and others are merely solving the same problems in new and creative ways, ways that play to your strengths and not to your weaknesses. We’ll get into all of the above in the next sections.
Making Up for Loss of Build and Install Rights
Lots of preppers who rent have lamented to me that they chafe under their lack of building autonomy, meaning they can do nothing to radically add to or alter their dwelling’s grounds or structure.
Oftentimes, this has something to do with gardening and the like, but sometimes includes installation of something like a hardened shelter or safe room.
Yeah, you won’t be doing that. But if you look at the problem from a different angle, you’ll find that the obstacle often provides the solution.
You cannot grow a bountiful garden full of plants and veggies, or raise livestock, on the common grounds of the apartment, but you can definitely grow a small container garden of medicinal herbs and plants.
You may not be able to install your own perimeter rain catchment system, but you can always rig up something on a small scale to catch water off your balcony or patio, yes? If a large backup water supply is your objective, have you thought of a different approach?
Disclosure: This post has links to 3rd party websites, so I may get a commission if you buy through those links. Survival Sullivan is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. See my full disclosure for more.
Something like a bathtub basin bag that you can fill up promptly at the outset of a disaster to hold upwards of 55 gallons of water? Do you have clean buckets with lids where you could do the same thing with a remote water source that you filter and sterilize, if necessary?
Yeah, that’s going to be a lot of work, but that’s why you are keeping fit. Right?
Making Up for Lack of Space
This is another perverse sort of mental hang-up I see people run into.
For those living in smaller houses or smaller apartments without garages and plentiful storage, sometimes an anxiety of lack of room to store enough or a fear of running out of room and living like a hoarder keeps them from taking action to stock the things they need.
While I am not minimizing any sincere emotional or mental distress people encounter over this, it is perplexing.
The answer in the short term is to do what you can. If that is dedicating five square feet of pantry space to a stash of water and food, so be it. If it is a few spare bottles of meds in the bathroom cabinet and a small first aid kit, do it. Stop worrying about checking off the entire prep list in one go!
If you have even a dedicated three day supply of goods and equipment for an extended loss of all services, you are already better off than 90% of people out there.
If you have an entire week’s worth, you will be prepared to endure almost anything you are likely to encounter in your lifetime. Just that little bit is very doable, plenty storable and will do much for your outcome, not to mention your peace of mind. Pat yourself on the back!
If you are truly the kind of person who has crap packed to bursting in every closet, nook, cranny and unused guest bedroom, it is time to go Kondo on your nascent hoarder ways and nix anything that does not serve a genuine purpose or bring you joy.
If everything serves a purpose (supposedly) or brings you joy, well, you should talk to someone about that. It might be time for an intervention.
The less “stuff” you have to haul around the happier you’ll be. And the more room you’ll have for the stuff you’ll need to survive when the world turns upside down! Win-win.
Making Up for a Bad Location
That’s what real estate is all about: location, location, location. Well, preppers care about location too, specifically not being in a terrible one when the balloon goes up.
Apartments are almost always located near the heart of major population centers, and you’ll rarely find a rental house that is anywhere but smack in the middle of town.
This is not ideal if things get really bad, even if you plan on fleeing a crisis, since you’ll have to go through concentric and increasingly dense layers of people trying to do the same thing on every roadway.
This is another opportunity to show your cleverness. If you are smack in the middle of the city, you need to spend extra time scouting your alternate, contingency and emergency routes.
Perhaps your primary route could still be viable if you travel by a different method? Would a bicycle or motorcycle bypass the worst traffic congestion? Would a five hour hike that is comparatively easy get you across or out of town to a friends or family members? Start thinking solutions.
You should also be working your social muscles. Start cultivating relationships that can be beneficial to both parties in case of a SHTF event.
Even if it is just a neighbor on the same floor, in the same building or in the same complex, having someone to go to so you can band together for mutual aid is always a good idea.
Living in cramped, semi-communal spaces makes things tricky when it comes time to engage in practicing various skills.
Your fellow apartment dwellers probably won’t appreciate your building fires and primitive shelters on the common grounds, and the neighbors are bound to notice the dwindling bird population when you take up trapping and the blowgun for your supplemental nourishment skills.
You can do much behind closed doors, but for the things that you can’t you need to get in the practice somewhere, somehow, and staying cooped up watching YouTube guides and reading articles, even amazing ones like the ones we feature (that concludes the shameless plug) is no substitute for experience.
Your solution? Take your show on the road. Head elsewhere, even if you have to walk or hike to get there. Look at it as comprehensive and holistic practice. Toss your gear in your pack and head off.
Remember you’ll gain entirely new insight and understanding about your locale when you see it from foot or by bicycle. You’ll miss much whizzing by in a car.
Yes, It can Be Done
Living in a rented home or apartment presents some unique challenges to preppers owing to the restrictions that accompany a lease. While some are trickier than others, none are insurmountable.
The watchword for preppers is adaptability, so adapt to your situation and make the most of it using the tips above to get you started. With dedication and perseverance, your rented home will be no impediment to your chances for survival.
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.