Most survivalist guides focus on just that: survival. But what comes after that? Life goes on.
Preparedness guides adopt a short-term, defensive view of what you’ll want to squirrel away in case of catastrophe: ready-made food, medicines with a short expiry date, weapons and a finite supply of batteries. Serious preppers, or those of you with plenty of cash, might invest in larger scale generators and storage facilities, but generally even big and expensive post-apocalypse plans only address the bare minimums for survival. And what’s the good of surviving into a brave new world with a lifetime of army rations, but only one decent book to read?
This article aims to address some of the less obvious items that might make the difference between surviving a post-collapse world, and enjoying it. We’re fortunate to live during a time in which many individuals, families and communities are deliberately trying to take their lives off-grid while still enjoying a minimum of modern conveniences: this list draws on their experiences, and should also prove useful to anyone aiming to transition away from dependence on conventional, centralized, technologies.
So: let’s assume that you’ve survived the apocalypse. Or maybe that you live on an island that is suddenly cut off from any outside contact. You have a group of family, friends and/or followers, and all your basic survival needs are met. You don’t need to defend yourself from immediate danger, and you have the capacity to grow, forage or hunt for your own food.
Let’s take it further and assume that you most of the raw resources and materials that our recent ancestors had access to a few hundred years ago. Without being able to go down to Home Depot and buy new power tools etc., how well do you think you could work with the resources at your disposal? Even if human survivors manage to preserve all the relevant knowledge and skills, it would take a freestanding community a hundred years to be able to develop anything like modern manufacturing.
Now let’s assume that you have a small backpack that you can fill to take with into the brave new world. You’re bug-out-bag is all set: leave basic survival necessities out of this one. Let’s assume you don’t have a big budget, either. So what items are relatively cheap and easy to buy in good quality today, but would be very time consuming if not impossible to reproduce in a post-collapse scenario?
- Toothpaste & toothbrushes
You’ll find plenty of recipes for making your own toothpaste – and even your own toothbrushes at home. We recommend giving this a try if you’re interested, but ultimately most toothpaste recipes rely on having a stockpile of bi-carb soda. While bi-carb is much cheaper by weight than ready-made toothpaste, and it wouldn’t be too tricky to weatherproof a large amount of it, I feel like the toothpaste that you know and love would be a major morale-booster as you transition into a radically different life. Struggling through your days with furry gnashers is an avoidable evil!
Why not buy ten years’ worth of toothpaste and toothbrushes now? If you end up cut off from the source of production, you can ration that out to last you much longer than a decade. To keep your toothpaste stockpile fresh, anytime you need to open a new packet, just use up an old one from your stash and replace it with a new one.
- Sewing Needles
The level of smelting technology and precision that goes into modern sewing needles is amazing. And don’t think of them as an optional extra – needles will come in handy for a range of uses, including medical ones. A pack of 30 sewing needles will only cost you a dollar. Buy half a dozen and use as needed, always leaving your stockpile in your stash.
And, to a lesser extent, nails. The thread on screws is pretty advanced technology, really. But at the moment, it’s easy to buy screws in bulk for any of your future building projects. A power drill that can make use of solar-chargeable batteries would be pretty great too.
- A still
It’s commonly supposed that alcohol will become the prevailing currency after an economy-ending apocalypse in the US. Assuming that’s true, what’s the smarter idea: stockpiling gallons of whisky or a copper still and some crop seeds? Stills can also be used to purify water, which might be worth just as much in a post-Nestle Californian wasteland.
- Candle wicks
Stashing a spool of candle wicking yarn seems much more practical than stashing away a lifetime of ready-made candles. Way cheaper and will save you so much space. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where beehives are possible, learning the tricks of apiary and establishing some healthy hives now will mean that you’re all set for wax when you need it.
- A sharp knife capable of switching
If your survival kit only contains a folding knife- these are not recommended for any kind of sawing action. Find a knife with a single piece of metal that runs through the blade and shaft core.
- A whetstone
It’s reasonable to assume that you’ll end up in a house or building full of knives in various states of bluntness. It’s a sad thing about our current world that most people find it preferable to buy ten cheap sets of knives and replace them throughout their lives rather than one good set of knives that can be sharpened.
- A sickle
Another handy blade to have around. Useful for harvesting food, herbs, and medicines, as well as mowing grass in a pinch if you need to ensure visibility because of snakes.
- Rubber bands
Super cheap now, super useful for about a million different DIY hacks around the home, and super difficult to manufacture in a small community.
- Guitar strings
A good guitar, well cared-for, will last you a long time. It’s even possible to make your own. Guitar strings definitely fall into the ‘cheap now-impossible later’ criterion, and in the hardship to come, a little music might just save your soul.
- Magnifying lenses
And/or non-prescription glasses. A powerful magnifying lens could be used to light fires.
- Pens and pencils
They don’t take up too much space, and you can never have too many lying around.
- Purple dye
This was an exceedingly expensive luxury item throughout most of human history. People now wear purple like it ain’t no thing, but think ahead and you might just find yourself with +1 merchant skills come the collapse.
An ark of weatherproofed seeds will be much more valuable looking toward the future than a finite supply of stored food. Think about the absolute essentials for calories and vitamins, then add a couple of things for spice and variety. Skilling up on permaculture (the principal of gardens that take care of themselves with no outsourced fertilizers or synthetic pest-control and as little effort as possible) is a great idea. Establishing a permaculture garden either on your own property or in a public place near you is even better.
Unless you live in an area with abundant accessible salt.
This used to be worth its weight in gold. After living on plain potatoes for twenty years, you’ll know why.
We don’t yet know of a sunscreen with a really long shelf-life, but enough sunscreen to last a few years should get you through the longest days in the sun as you establish shelter and ongoing food and water systems.
You can read more about official versus actual shelf-lives of paracetamol and other medicines here.
- True die
Another one for the ‘dead cheap/impossible to make’ category. I’d like to see you make a correctly-weighted 20 sided dice without plastic mold-injection.
- Playing cards
As above. Buy at least four packs. And printed-out instructions on how to play a dozen complicated games for various numbers of players.
- Small pieces of art and beautiful things
This backpack or container is going to become the treasure-chest of your vault. Keep a handful of things to remind you, among the ashes of a ruined civilization, that humans made some worthwhile things too.
- USBs or external hard drives
Even if you’ve got books or hard copies of all the information you think you’ll need, stash a dozen USBs full of all the good music you can get your hands on. It’s not absurd to hope that many survivors will continue to use computers hooked up to solar or wind power, and USB-stored information, as well as the USB sticks themselves as a method of information transferal, will be useful and valuable.
- Nail polish and eye-liner, etc.
To add a little extra something to your bad-ass apocalyptic wasteland raider outfit
How do they make glitter? Can you even imagine a glitter factory? What the hell is it made of? And won’t we be sorry once it’s gone?