A pile of oddly shaped boxes looms out of the darkened corner of your basement, and a frantic wave of nervous anxiety mixes with a rush of adrenalin flooding into your stomach. You had only minutes to spare 10 minutes ago, and now, you’re rummaging through totes full of gear that will do you no good once you’re dead.
But where is everything—batteries for the flashlight, ammo for the .38, extra fuel for the stove?
You have spent years and a small fortune collecting a respectable accumulation of equipment for just this very minute, and when push came to shove, you’re lost in a pile of your own hoard, not able to find the one thing you desperately need.
You paid too much attention to the collecting and not enough to the actual collection. To maintain a proper cache of usable and reliable gear, you must store, organize, inventory, and rotate.
Survival supplies storage
The first step to having a great collection of survival supplies is having the space to store them. These are not items you will need or use every day (or even once a week). Giving them prominent shelf space in the pantry or upfront in the hall closet isn’t a good use of space needed for other, more-important, day-to-day things such as the vacuum cleaner or the coffee maker.
Finding a corner in the garage or creating a series of shelves in the basement specifically (and only) to store your survival supplies is crucial. It must be out of the way, but it must also be easily accessible: You don’t want to have to move a lot of things to get at your gear.
Don’t have the room for it all?
Break your gear into smaller groups of similar items and store them in different parts of the house. For example, know that your extra batteries are in the emergency collection on the top shelf of your closet. Still, all the reserve canned goods occupy the space above the refrigerator.
This way, your hoard won’t seem so enormous. And if someone were to attempt to steal it, it is better hidden, and you will have access to different parts of it from different parts of the house.
Additionally, if something were to destroy a portion of your house or apartment (earthquake, fire, tornado, etc.), you will not have lost the entire stockpile.
Because everyone’s circumstances are different, their ideas for storage will also be different. However, one highly common approach is to obtain hard plastic boxes in which to store everything. They not only seal well against the elements (humidity, rodents, insects, etc.), they are stackable, and you can write the contents on the sides and lid if need be.
The boxes’ sizes are entirely up to you and how big your stash is, how much more you think it will grow, and how much you can carry. You might consider including storage space for a few extra boxes that will remain empty, allowing your inventory to expand.
Survival supplies organization
Most of us are probably the same. We obtain a new hatchet; this hatchet is the perfect one we feel we’ll need to hack through the front door in the event it is blocked by debris. So, we place it prominently on the shelf and await the day a hurricane piles up debris in front of our door, so we can use that hatchet.
However, that day doesn’t come for a long time; in the meantime, we’ve added snowshoes to the shelf, along with a backpack, lantern, and a pair of muck boots. These new items have buried the hatchet at the bottom of the pile, and when it comes time to use it, we won’t know where it is. We need to organize!
Start by completely clearing the shelves. Take everything you want to keep in your survival supplies and sort them into categories. Knives here, fuel there, flashlights, medical supplies, sleeping gear, etc.
When you begin to box these items up, all your edged tools will make it into one box, for example, and you’ll only need to visit that one box to retrieve any knife.
Group Like Items
Take this concept even further and keep together things that are used together. For example, it makes no sense to store the mantles for your lantern in another box or the blade sharpeners in a box separate from your knives.
If you have multiple examples of similar items, you have a few choices for organizing those items. You can either store them together (as you would any other item), put them in an “overflow” or “duplicate/extra” box that is intended for use in trades and bartering later, or sell or trade them now, especially if space or finances are tight.
Another option is to create a few specialized gear groups and place them in key vantage points. For example, you could create a backpack full of gear for your car’s get home bag and make another for your office.
Place extra supplies in a box to bug out with, and place it in the hall closet next to the front door, where you can get to it quickly on your way out. Utilizing duplicate gear in similar ways will give you confidence, knowing you’ll have what you need when and where you’ll need it.
Survival supplies inventory and records
For all intents and purposes, you are creating a storeroom for a small business. Although you will never plan to hang an “Open” sign or sell anything to the public, your “business” is a small shop for outdoor and survival gear.
As you add inventory to your storeroom, it must be cataloged, inventoried, and recorded. It is a poor business that doesn’t know how many tent stakes it has or how much paracord is on the shelf.
While you are clearing your shelves and organizing your gear into whatever system of organization you feel will work best for you and your family, take time to inventory what you have. Your list can be as simple as a page of line items, showing how many of everything you have—from the number of compasses you will keep in your various bug-out bags to the types of batteries you have on hand.
Pay attention to details
Regardless of how you create your list, make it practical and easy to understand and update. For example, in Box #1 is a KA-BAR Becker BK2 Campanion Fixed Blade Knife (black)—one of 15 bladed objects (axes, hatchets, etc.) in Box #1.
Is putting the date you bought this knife, how much it cost and where you might have purchased it necessary for your list?
Of course not.
The important detail here is that it is in Box #1.
However, are details important regarding items that have expiration dates, such as medicine and perishable foods?
Where did you get the medication (over the counter or prescription)?
How much did you pay for the carton of cigarettes you plan to use as a bartering tool (to help you determine their worth)?
How much longer will that ground coffee last?
Your inventory and records should provide enough detail to be helpful when you refer to the lists in the future.
One of the most important aspects of inventorying your survival supplies is in relation to your stores of food and water. Obviously, because they are highly perishable, you won’t be able to keep them forever, thereby necessitating rotation of your stock.
When inventorying foodstuffs and other perishables (medicine, batteries, fuels, drinks, and other provisions), make sure to take special note of when they expire. Place foods with the longest expiration date at the bottom of the box or at the back of the shelf.
Make a note of when you bought it and how long it is suggested to remain edible (or potent, if it is medicine).
Much as you did with your hard gear, place together food items related to others: baking goods, rice/grains, alcohol/”vices,” etc. As a result, you’ll only need to go to one box (or one shelf) if you plan a specific meal or dish.
Your primary goal in taking these precautions is to not waste money buying and rebuying food that merely goes bad on your emergency supply shelves. Check your food, water, and perishables every six months to ensure your lists remain accurate and up to date.
Survival supplies rotation
As important as collecting gear and food for when SHTF, so is keeping your collection maintained, up to date, and as fresh as possible. Mealy flour, dead batteries, and past-prime gasoline will do you no good, especially at that crucial moment when you need them.
Check your inventory records and rotate out all perishables that are nearing their expiration dates. A great way to do this is, for one, to always store the foods you eat. That way, they can always be rotated into your meal-planning.
For example, you purchased a case of tomato sauce three months ago that is set to expire in one year, and in that time, you’ve bought six additional cans of tomato sauce. Take out the older tomato sauces and replace them with the newer ones, making sure you update your inventory with the changed expiration dates.
A healthy rotation of old with new goods is important to keep your stockpile of perishables fresh, and so they can last indefinitely.
It makes perfect sense to understand that when you inventoried what you have in your cache, you also inadvertently created a list of things you are missing: For example, you have a stove but only half a canister of fuel; or you inventoried three pairs of boots, but there are four people in your crew. What’s missing?
It is a good idea to create a “wish list” of sorts to be fulfilled the next time you have the resources (or insight) to expand your supplies. By properly inventorying, organizing, and maintaining what you have, you’ll be able to focus energies on completing areas of your cache that might be lacking.
You may have plenty of antihistamine but no antifungals; or you might have noted plenty of toilet paper but no bio-waste bags. Inventorying is a great way to round out your gear.
Suggested resources for prepper and survivalists: