Special Note: Obviously, an entire book could be written on this subject, which is a task beyond the scope of this article. The purpose of the following piece is to give those with financial difficulty a foothold on prepping without added pain. It is meant to be a starting point, not a compendium.
A friend of mine took note recently that a large portion of activists involved in the Liberty Movement had hit extremely hard times, or had been struggling financially even before the general economic collapse began to take hold. He asked me my theory on why it was that so many of us are always so broke. I could only relate that it is almost always the working class poor in any society that first sees the effects of a corrupt government and a faulty economic system. Those who legitimately hold to the principles of self sustainment, and fair play, are usually the first to be stabbed in the back by the establishment, and so, they are the first to become politically active against it. That is to say, sometimes we have to lose almost everything before we are able to see the bigger picture.
While I consider this fact a source of solace in these extraordinarily hard times, it still does little to put food on the table, or survival gear in the bug-out-bag.
The overall consensus within the prepper community is that survival planning is expensive, and yes, it certainly can be. Another consensus is that you “get what you pay for”; also true...to a point. My belief is that while no prepping model is free of expense or of quality concerns, perhaps there is a middle road that activists with thin wallets can take which will provide solid gear for less money, and that will serve most of the functions of high-end gear that is ten times as expensive. Let’s examine a foundation list of those items that can help get you started now….
Backpack (Bug Out Bag)
You can literally spend hundreds of dollars on many top-of-the-line framed backpacks, and some may even be worth it, but it is not necessary to spend that kind of cash to purchase a decent bug-out-bag. In fact, surplus ALICE packs with frames can be had online for as little as $30-$60, sometimes even less if they are a bit worn. The ALICE system provides adequate back support for your needs, for a low price, and the quality of the design is military proven.
Camouflage clothing and gear runs a wide spectrum in price, and it’s hard sometimes to find the colors you want at a discount. One trick is to buy any camo you find on the cheap, and then lightly dye it to match the colors you want. For instance, one could gauge the dye levels with small samples, find the right strength, and then dye light camo like Digital ACU a darker green. Eventually, you may be able to make your own camo with any clothing you come across. It sounds like a pain, but it’s actually quite easy, and could save you considerable amounts of money.
Extreme Weather Protection
Gortex is outrageously expensive, unless you get lucky and find it used or discounted. While it is difficult to beat the quality (or the warrantee) on most Gortex cold weather gear, there are cheaper alternatives that get the job done almost as well. A great extreme cold weather coat is the N-2B Flight Jacket designed to mil spec and resistant to most wet weather conditions. The jacket was meant specifically to deflect freezing temperatures and it can be had for around $120 or less.
Purchasing several packages of polypropylene thermal underwear could also save your life in extreme weather situations. They are lightweight, can be easily layered, can be packed into a tiny corner of your B.O.B., and will retain much of your body heat. Even if you don’t have a lot of winter gear with you, absolutely do not forget to bring the poly-wear! $30-$50 for a shirt and pants together is well worth it.
Finally, buy wool socks. Buy plenty. Look for deals, but do not cut them out of your budget. Any weather below 20 Degrees Fahrenheit and you’ll want to double up. Cold feet, on a march, on patrol, on guard duty, sucks. They can be damaged permanently if you are not careful.
Top quality combat boots traditionally run anywhere from $100 to $300 depending on the brand. One rule that you cannot break regardless of the circumstances; always treat your feet right. They hold up your entire body. Surplus boots are a good place to start when looking to cut costs, but usually you won’t be saving much. To be honest, there are plenty of knockoff combat boots found in sporting goods stores, usually in the hiking section, that are just as durable as the expensive models but for much less. You can go far in a pair of $60 boots. Be sure, though, to thoroughly check for poor sewing on the seams, crap laces, and light construction. If they feel heavy, they are probably made well enough.
Unless you have your own oil well, or a line on a hidden vein of coal (some preppers I have met actually do), then your best bet for efficient heat during the winter weather in a tent, a makeshift shelter, or a house, is a wood burning stove. Timber fuel sources are everywhere. A couple cords of wood are enough to heat most homes and shelters through the colder months.
Gasoline and propane storage is possible, but the likelihood of shortage is high, and arranging a practical supply lasting a year or more is incredibly expensive. Solar power systems and battery banks are recommended, but again, this is another option that requires moderate to substantial investment when it comes to heating a house. A very affordable alternative for your heating needs would be the M-1941 Military Tent Stove. The cylindrical stove is portable, burns quite hot, and can be had usually for $100 or less.
Some knives deserve the amount of attention and the high price tag they have garnered, but many are just….well….regular knives with a fancy name engraved in the blade. You are buying a knife for its functionality, not its sex appeal. Gerber, SOG, and Kershaw make plenty of knives which work just as well for $80 or less than any $400 cord wrapped Strider knife. Again, pay for the tool, not the name or the artificial commercial mystic.
Good HAM radios, base stations to handheld models, can be had for around $200-$300, but even this amount is sometimes too high for a limited prepper budget. Unless you plan to coordinate operations over longer distances using repeaters, or set up a HAM alert system with multiple members of your community, regular two-way radios costing around $40 to $60 like those produced by Midland should suffice for communications. Consumer models often advertize an effective range of 20 to 30 miles, but this is in totally flat terrain. If you can get five miles out of them in rough terrain, you are doing well. This range is adequate to handle most tasks required during a survival situation.
Gas powered generators are unnecessary in long term survival situations, primarily because the amount of fuel they use is impractical and the noise many of them produce could make having electricity a daily temptation of fate. Solar is really the best way to go. Unfortunately, many people assume solar power solutions to be too technical and overwhelming. In fact, setting up a solar power system is so straight forward it makes all the prepper uneasiness a bit laughable.
A simple and comparably affordable set-up would include one 180 Watt solar panel (which can quickly charge your battery bank during the day), one deep cycle battery, a charge controller, and an inverter. This kit can be had for $600 to $1000, is compact enough to fit in a medium Rubbermaid storage bin, and will power almost every appliance and charge every electronic device that would make life easier during a collapse. Remember also that every Watt of power you produce by the sun reduces your on-grid electric bill, saving you even more money.
At the very least, a portable solar powered battery charger is a must have item. Doing without gear like radios and flashlights is simply not an option. Going caveman is the most ill conceived method for living through the worst of all possible situations.
Pre-made mini survival kits are a rip off. Most of the items they contain (matches, fishing line, compass, small knife, firestarter, wire saw, water purification tablets, etc.) can be easily purchased separately for half the cost. Making your own mini-kit is also a good exercise in efficiency. Being able to prioritize gear and understand what is truly useful versus what is a waste of space is as important a skill as being able to shoot or navigate a map. It does not take a lot of money to build a solid base kit for emergencies….unless you buy one that somebody made for you.
Emergency Medical Kit
Again, all items within most pre-made medical kits can be bought individually for much less. Celox blood stopper, silk sutures, surgical tools, transfusion bags, and other goods should be added in with the staples, raising the cost slightly, but rounding out your kit and allowing for more critical injuries to be cared for. Bulk over the counter medications, especially for stomach ailments, would be highly valuable post collapse, and can be bought wholesale. Medicinal teas, at least the organic brands, work very well! These can be bought for reasonable prices and will boost your immune system, preventing illness before it ever occurs.
If you have enough land to keep them, a half dozen chickens, a half dozen breeding rabbits, and a goat, will produce milk, meat, and eggs daily, providing valuable sustenance, reducing the amount of stored foods you need to use in a day, and reducing the amount of time you have to spend hunting for food in a dangerous collapse environment. Chickens and goats practically feed themselves with whatever is available on your land. Rabbit feed is easy to store, and can also be made at home. These animals are indeed worth their weight in gold.
Seeds are, of course, a currency in and of themselves. Non-GMO seed and strong gardening knowledge will save you and your family. Gardening is not as easy as it seems, however. Extensive practice, trial and error, and an understanding of regional climates will improve your crop yields dramatically.
If you are looking to survive on the cheap and avoid paying thousands of dollars for years worth of freeze dried goods, sustainable food production is the only way to go. Foraging and scavenging is NOT a reliable alternative.
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