There are as many types of preppers as there are preppers. Everyone has a slightly different set of circumstances that they are preparing to meet and has a slightly different way of looking at those circumstances.
The basics --water, food, and shelter -- have been (and will be) among the main topics on this and many other prepping blogs. My brother and sister authors here do a fine job of covering these basics, so I concentrate more on “skills, not stuff”. This week I'm going to ask you to look at what you know, and what you don't know, in the hopes that it will lead you towards finding out what you don't know that you don't know.
Basic knowledge for any prepper has to include knowing these 7 things:
What do I need?
Needs are not wants. To stay alive (physically alive) you need a certain amount of air, water, food, and shelter. The exact amounts are going to vary according to your location, weather and climate, health, and other variables. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to prepping; you need to look at yourself and your surroundings and make your own decisions. A 72 hour kit that meets your needs in a forest may or may not be suitable for a three-day hike towards a bug-out location. Think about what you actually need and base your preps on that.
What do I have?
Your BOB/GHB is a good start, but you also need to look around and realize what is available for your use without you having to purchase or carry it. Water is a good example: you can choose to carry a five gallon jug full of purified water around on your back, or you can carry a filter capable of purifying water that you may find. The filter makes more sense if you're living near abundant ground water, but the jug makes more sense if you have to travel through as desert. Do you need to carry fuel for a fire, or are there plenty of wood/buffalo chips/pine cones in your area?
How do I use what I have?
Knowing how to properly operate and maintain the equipment that you have is vital. Before YouTube came about, we had to go to a local campground to watch people flail about trying to set up a new tent that they had just bought and had no idea about how to set up. Hilarious when it's someone else; dangerous when it's you. Having 18 ways to start a fire but not knowing how to use them is the same as having zero ways to start a fire. Knives, axes, firearms, and fire starters can be lethal to the user if they are not used properly. Train and learn how to use your gear before you need it.
How long will what I have last?
Nothing in this world lasts forever, and I doubt many of us could afford the few things that come close. Knowing the expected life-span of a tool, or how many meals you can make out of a bucket of wheat, will help you choose the proper amounts and storage for your supplies.Water filters will only treat so many gallons of water; the same goes for a bottle of bleach or iodine tablets. Temporary living quarters, like tents, are not generally made for long-term use and will start to wear out rapidly with daily use.
What am I missing?
Until I win the lottery, I won't have everything I would like to have in order to be prepared for whatever may befall me. I know what I have and I have most of the short-term (my definition of short-term is about 3 months) needs covered. Long-term preps are more expensive in time, labor, and capitol, so I am slowly working on them. I know what I'm going to need at this time, but things are fluid in some areas of my life and are likely to change, which will change the ratio of have/don't have in unpredictable ways. Accepting that things can or will change is a given for preppers; nobody preps for the status quo.
Where/how do I get the things I'm missing?
Water, food, shelter -- the three main needs -- should be scouted out wherever you are. Is there a source of water that you can access year-round? Small streams can dry up in the summer and even large rivers and lakes can freeze over in the winter. Wells can get poisoned. Do you have a way of obtaining water that doesn't rely on your primary source?
Food is fairly easy to store for short-term problems, but what if it truly is a zombie outbreak or World War 3 (or Civil War 2) and you need to eat from your supplies for a year or two? Do you have the knowledge, seeds, land, and equipment necessary to raise your own food, or a skill-set that you can exchange for food? Does anyone around you have what it takes to grow food? What do you have or know that could be bartered for food?
Shelter covers everything from the clothes you're wearing to a house fit to live in. Once it starts to snow it's a bit late to be thinking about getting an insulated jacket. Do you know someone who can make/repair clothes? Living quarters can be anything from a debris hut (useful to learn how to make) to a tent (good for three seasons around here- YMMV), to a cabin with a wood stove. Can you make or trade for any of those things?
What will I do if something I need breaks?
Learning how to do simple repairs can lead to learning how to do major repairs. Repairs generally require tools, so keep that multi-tool handy and set aside some real tools if you have the space. Every vehicle should have a basic tool kit to allow you to make minor repairs on the side of the road. Bicycles should have a tire patching kit and a set of “spoons” for fixing flats, as well as a tire pump.
I grew up around farmers. There are few groups of people more resourceful than old farmers. Reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose, repair, and reclaim all come before “replace” in their dictionaries. If something breaks, they'll find a way to fix it. It may not look pretty or last very long but it will get the job done. I've seen things literally held together with baling wire and duct tape, just long enough to get back to the shop.
Have a flexible mind and look for other ways to get the job done until repairs can be made. Being willing to learn is more than half of the battle, once you accept the fact that you don't know everything you can start to learn.
This is basic knowledge, mainly about yourself and your surroundings. Don't lie to yourself about your knowledge or lack thereof; nobody is going to suffer from that type of lie but you and those you love. Be willing to learn new things, but remember that it's your life on the line and not that of the teacher (or the salesman).