By Thomas Sciacca – Arguably, the most important thing to store for a SHTF (Stuff Hits The Fan) or complete TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) scenario is knowledge. Without it, you won’t survive.
Beyond that, what physical things should you be storing for TEOTWAWKI? Check your survival items list against ours to see what you might be forgetting or need more of.
Our Top 50 TEOTWAWKI Survival Items List
Rubbing alcohol: Not only is rubbing alcohol good for disinfecting, it can also be used as a great ice pack when combined 1:2 with water. Rubbing alcohol also works as a fire starter, cleaning and disinfecting tools and more. Just don’t use it for mixed drinks!
Yarn: Having wool-yielding animals, processing wool, and spinning yarn is laborious, and unless you’re already an expert your future learning curve will thank you for having a supply of yarns on hand for knitting warm clothing and making repairs.
First aid ointment: A simple cut can result in serious infection if not treated properly. And because tubes of first aid ointment usually only contain an ounce, make sure you have plenty on your survival items list.
Anti-diarrhea medications: Diarrhea is also something that people can regularly die from without proper intervention. Expect cholera, a disease whose main symptoms are profuse, painless diarrhea and vomiting of clear fluid. Dehydration can occur a few hours after the onset of cholera. This disease regularly killed folks in pioneer times and there’s no reason it couldn’t return.
Arnica: This homeopathic remedy (Arnica montana) has been used for medicinal purposes since the 1500s and is still popular today. Applied to the skin as a cream, ointment, liniment, salve, or tincture, arnica has been used to soothe muscle aches, reduce inflammation, and heal wounds. It is commonly used as a home remedy for bruises and sprains. As an herb, arnica is generally used only topically (on the skin) because it can cause serious side effects when taken by mouth.
Toiletries, deodorant, beauty products: Just because the world might go to heck in a handbasket doesn’t mean you have to look and smell bad. Taking care of your appearance is good for both your physical and mental well-being.
Bleach: The importance of cleanliness and disinfection of cooking utensils, the home, garden tools, animal holdings, and more will increase as diseases increase in a TEOTWAWKI scenario. You should have lots of this on hand.
Books of all sorts, in print: A good library will be important for reference, but also entertainment. Long, dark winters will be a misery for those who don’t attend to a decent library. Without electricity, solar power is a good way to recharge devices for digital books, but once the device breaks (and you know it will) that power is useless.
Brewing/alcohol making supplies: Storing alcohol for trade or personal use is one thing, but being able to make your own will be more valuable than currency. Tastes better than currency too! (Just don’t consume all your profits.)
Ammunition reloading equipment: A lot of people have a stored supply of ammunition, but once that runs out, will more be available at stores? Don’t bet on it. Save your brass and anything lead, and learn how to reload ammo. It’s a talent that requires extreme precision and attention to detail (an incorrectly loaded cartridge could destroy your gun or cause serious injury), so don’t take this task lightly. If you’re up for it, though, you could save a lot of money by investing in a reloading press.
Citric acid: It comes in canisters large or small, and is important for food preservation, cleaning, and as an additive for nutritious seed sprouting. It also acts as a meat tenderizer for the inevitable tough meats you’ll be eating and can be used to flavor beverages. You can buy it in bulk online for your survival items list.
Cocoa nibs: The health benefits of quality, unsweetened cocoa are well documented, and it will be worth its weight in gold as a cherished ingredient for sweets and treats. It can be used as a valuable barter item, but because of its storage abilities and ability to bring joy to a dreary existence, we recommend keeping it for yourself. And store more. Nibs can be used in themselves or ground into powder, so having nibs on hand is more versatile.
Paracord: You’ll need to tie things up and genuine Mil-spec Paracord is stronger, lighter and more versatile than rope. Plus, the seven inner strands of Paracord can also be separated and utilized for another variety of uses only adds to its handiness and the importance of always keeping it with you. (We’ve used Paracord to lace up our hiking boots. Heck, you can even floss with one of the inner threads of Paracord! Can you tell we love this stuff?)
Dates: Dried dates are a very nourishing, and very storable, food. They are very sweet, which will be welcome when sweeteners become scarce.
MRE (Meals Ready to Eat): Growing vegetables and hunting game are essential skills, but on the slow days, it’s good to have some back-up. High-quality MRE have an extremely long shelf life and come in a variety of tasty flavors, so you’ll have a variety on your survival items list.
Epsom salt: Epsom salts contain important magnesium, which is useful for soaking sore muscles, soothing sprains, and more. Epsom salt is also useful in the garden to help increase vegetable yields.
Fabric: Chances are you’re forgetting some key, long-term items in your holdings, like fabric and the skills to make new clothing as your current stock wears out. In a bad scenario, your clothing will take much more of a beating than it currently does now, and you’ll wish you had denim, cotton, and more available for repairs or making new clothes.
Feminine supplies: If you’re a woman or have women in the household, feminine supplies will be essential to have on hand, however, we don’t recommend tampons. Why? One average female in the U.S. will use between 10,000 and 15,000 disposable tampons or pads in a lifetime, meaning there is no way to stock enough. Instead, stock reusable sea sponges and reusable pads, which can be cleaned, disinfected and reused.
Nail files and nail clippers: Poor foot and nail maintenance and health can cause serious problems and infections later. Don’t underestimate the importance of caring for your feet and hands, arguably the most important tools you’ll have.
Water filtration and water purification: Water is essential for life so you’ll need several gallons a day per person. So even if you store enough for a year, what about year two? It’s a good idea to have a good filtration system, as well as water purification tablets as backup.
Medicinal houseplants: Aloe vera’s medicinal uses are wonderful, so we recommend having a renewable resource of medicinal houseplants like aloe vera and citronella. Can’t grow houseplants? Now is the time to learn. Collect medicinal houseplants and make sure you know how to grow them effectively for the home medicine arsenal.
Games: Along with good books, games are more important than you think to keep the family sane. TVs and DVD players break down in time, but Uno, poker, chess, and checkers never wear down and are always available to you and your family when it’s too dark and cold outside to do anything else. Winters will be longer than you think without entertainment.
Garlic: As a valuable flavor enhancer and for its medicinal and healing properties, there is no way you can have enough. We also recommend storing and regularly rotating bulbs for growing garlic of your own when stored supplies run low.
Ichthammol ointment: This sticky, dark, slightly stinky goop is also known as drawing salve and it works incredibly well for extracting splinters. Just a dab will do ya, so a one-ounce tube of it will last years. Every medicine cabinet should have this.
Hand tools: Repairs to your shelter and anything else will be necessary. There are many antique and new hand tools that will drill, dovetail, saw, and plane wood for shelter maintenance. Invest in the basics.
Hemp seeds: Hemp is good for fiber for nets and rope, can be woven into an excellent fabric and can be used to make a good milk product. No, it won’t make you high.
Honey: It has an indefinite shelf life (honey has been found in Egyptian tombs and is still perfectly edible) and is important as a sweetener. You’ll also need honey’s antibacterial properties to heal wounds. Make sure it’s 100% pure honey.
Potassium iodate (KIO3): Potassium iodate is a critical item to have in the event of a nuclear disaster. Radioactive fallout can travel thousands of miles and if you’re in the zone where it occurs, you can be sickened and die in short order. KIO3 protects your sensitive thyroid gland from the effects of radioactive iodine, meaning you don’t want to be without this important precaution.
Compost pile: Composting is environmentally friendly and will enrich your soil to help plants grow. You can throw any vegetable waste in your compost pile (and even coffee grounds and egg shells), but absolutely no meat, fat or sweet things that might attract rodents or bugs. Locate your compost pile well away from the house, keep it moist and turn it over regularly.
Loom: Storing fabric is important, but having a loom available for weaving blankets, clothing, and more will be important. A large loom is not necessary; even small woven squares can be stitched together into larger items.
Lye: Lye is used in soap making and to preserve or prepare certain types of food, like hominy, curing olives, or making century eggs. It will also be impossible to make soap without lye. Historically, lye was made using wood ashes, but this process takes time to learn to do correctly, and some woods work better than others.
Needles/thread: Don’t underestimate the amount of thread that will be necessary for clothing repair, and how easily needles can break when being used regularly. During the Revolutionary War, sewing needles were a trade item among women. It’s a good idea to stock different thicknesses of thread making sure not to neglect heavy-duty thread for repairing jeans or leather items. And knitting needles will enable you to make sweaters, mittens, and blankets to a host of other items. Sewing and knitting are essential skills.
Oil press: Oil is not only for cooking, it is also for soap making, food preservation, and health and skin care. The problem is that oil doesn’t store well. An oil press will allow you to extract oils from nuts or seeds.
Old medical books: While treatments can be found in old medical books, their most important use is to diagnose disease symptoms. Many diseases have been near eradicated and medical books no longer teach students what they look like. These diseases will likely reemerge in a TEOTWAWKI scenario.
Pencils/pens/paper: We hardly use them anymore, but they will become more desirable and more valuable later. Make sure you have enough.
Reading glasses: We age and along with that comes reading difficulties once we hit middle age. Keep several pairs, in case you lose or break them … which you will.
Salt: No, you’re not storing enough for eating or food preservation. It never goes bad. Store more.
Shoes for children: Children grow and they will need shoes that keep up with them. Cheap shoes that will last six months are fine as a child is growing quickly, but once their feet stop growing, make sure you have high-quality shoewear available for them.
Slingshot: Silent, deadly, and accurate with practice, the sling-shot is a way to defend yourself and hunt small game, even when ammo runs out. Rocks can be used effectively if you have some practice under your belt. Make sure everyone in your group has at least one.
Soap: Cleanliness will be paramount as basic societal conditions decline. While you can make your own bar soap, make sure you have enough soap of all kinds, like soap flakes for laundry, or ammonia, to keep up with the cleaning demands. Cleanliness is one of the most important things to pay attention to.
Socks: Foot health is important, and making sure you have plenty of sturdy, high-quality socks for the entire family will keep you comfortable when you are on your feet all day. And make sure you learn how to darn them.
Sundried tomatoes: Sundried tomatoes are an all-around kitchen staple that can provide flavor and nutrition to soups and stews, along with many important vitamins and minerals. It’s easy to take sun-dried tomatoes and soak them in oil to add flavor or grind them into a powder as a thickener. They are so versatile in the kitchen and for nutrition that we’re sure you’re not storing enough until you get your own tomato crops growing.
Stainless steel buckets, milk pails, etc.: Stainless steel will almost last forever. Buckets and milk pails are easy to disinfect and clean, too. Forget plastic in the home—it degrades and becomes increasingly difficult to keep sterile and clean.
Tea tree oil: Due to its long shelf life (indefinite) and ability to assist with wound healing and disinfection, tea tree oil is an essential item to have in your medicine cabinet. It can be used alone or added to other skin preparations.
Heirloom seeds: Why heirloom seeds? Because you’ll be able to save the seed year-after-year for continued harvests. GMO and hybridized seeds won’t produce viable offspring, and many times the resulting seed won’t even germinate. A good heirloom-based seed bank is paramount.
Tobacco seeds: Growing tobacco for trade will give you an edge, and it has uses as a plant for making repellants in the garden for problems such as aphids, borers, rodents, and more.
Seed-starting supplies: Don’t assume you can just throw some seeds in the ground and have them grow. With many plants, like grains, this is the way to go, but your seed storage will go further if you start seeds then transplant viable vegetables into the garden. Invest in reusable seed-starting supplies.
Vitamin C: Scurvy is a pretty horrific disease, both to have and observe. It doesn’t take much vitamin C to ward it off, but the lack of it is just not an option. People underestimate the value of vitamin C in the diet, and how quickly you can get into real trouble without it. Citric acid (#11) provides vitamin C, but we prefer to save that for food preparation and preservation and stick with vitamin C tablets for scurvy prevention.
Alternate energy sources: Electricity and natural gas may not be available from the utility company during a bad situation. Think about how else to heat the house (such as a wood stove) and provide electrical power (e.g. windmill, solar panels).
Animals: The amount of wild game available will likely dwindle with time. Having livestock such as sheep and goats will enable you to sustain yourself with meat, milk, and fiber. Not everyone has the room for animals on their property, but if you can, do it.
You may have more ideas to add to this TEOTWAWKI survival items list (clear plastic totes, zip lock bags, generator), but I wanted to keep this already large survival items list to a manageable (yet not overwhelming) length. And isn’t 50 a nice round number for a survival items list? On a serious note, though, you may find that you’re not in a location that enables you to keep goats, chickens, and sheep, but this is where you need to be creative and think about creative partnerships you might make with close friends or family members who can stock the items you can’t.
Remember, the more you prep now, the better you’ll be able to take care of your family during times when others are panicking. Use this survival items list as a starting point to being capable and equipped in an emergency. And that’s key, whether you’re talking about a typical tough situation or an all out TEOTWAWKI scenario.
Be safe and stay prepared.
Originally published in Countryside September / October 2014 and regularly vetted for accuracy.