While I haven’t been prepping for very long in comparison to most of you, I’d like to think I’ve learned quite a lot over the years through mistakes I’ve made with prepping. Honestly, mistakes make some of the most valuable lessons resonate with you, even when you probably knew better to begin with. I feel that getting something wrong often pushes you to be better in the long-term, and that they can ultimately be more positive than never having your plans tested.
I’ve learned so many little things along the way it’s hard to imagine I’d be able to write about every mistake and every lesson learned, but I will tell you that, hands down, my biggest lessons came from the experience Thomas and I had back in 2013 when the power grid went down for 5 nights and 4 days in sub-zero Canadian weather. That was not a fun experience, but thanks to friendly neighbours, the experience wasn’t even close to as bad as it could have been. What’s ironic is that the biggest lesson I learned from that entire situation was one that has always been very obvious to me:
Doesn’t matter what you plan to do, if you don’t actually do it, when the SHTF or an emergency situation happens – intentions mean nothing.
Again – SUPER obvious lesson, no one in their right mind has not already figured this out. Still – being the kind of person who really likes to save money, likes to buy things on discount, likes to plan ahead, but doesn’t always execute those plans quickly – this can be a really problematic lesson to make sure I live up to.
Thomas and I thought a lot about winter survival and Toronto power outages in the winter before the outage happened. We had plans to do a lot of things that never got done. Then when the outage happened, well obviously, we essentially got caught with our pants down. Considering we were preppers who were so ill prepared, I was annoyed with myself, but I wrote about my experience anyway because I didn’t want to forget the experience or the poignancy of the lesson learned. I stopped pretending I had an infinite amount of time to prep for emergencies, did what I could to extract as much use out of the not-ideal experience as possible, wrote up a list of winter emergency supplies that would’ve made the experience a lot easier while the experience was fresh in my mind, bought what we needed, and moved on.
Now, I’d love to hear from you –
Have you ever had any experiences where you made a (small or big) mistake with prepping? What did that mistake teach you?
At the end of the day, I can never look at a negative experience in a purely negative way. So long as you survive and make it out, no matter how idiotic or terrible the situation, you can learn and thrive from having gone through it, in my opinion. Some mistakes are worse than others, some have little to do with you and more to do with a lack of luck or unfortunate circumstances (like maybe all your gear breaking or just terrible timing when a disaster struck), others (like mine) are completely your fault and when you own up to that mistake, you become a better person for it if you take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
So yeah, really looking forward to hearing about your experiences and what you’ve learned. Even if the lesson is technically an obvious one (again, like mine). There’s always room to grow and learn, and lessons learned through mistakes are certainly the most motivating.
I am now in my 70s. I want to relate the mistake that an acquaintance of the same age made that has put him in the hospital for months. It was the same mistake my father made twice, ending up in the hospital with serious surgeries.
DO NOT CLIMB ON LADDERS OR GO ON A ROOF. Hire someone, preferably a professional.
Know when to stop certain activities. Ann, a French woman, is about the same age. Her horse threw her two years ago. Broke both wrists. Still needs more surgeries. When you ask friends who were avid riders, they give up when they get seriously injured.
I used to ski. No more. A female friend was an avid skier and owned a condo in Vail. She stopped skiing before she got injured and sold her condo.
You read all the time about people falling in the home. My brother did it and broke a leg. The previous owner of my house fell going down two steps in the house and broke his leg. I hired a metal fabricator to come in the house, design and install a removable hospital rail where the previous owner fell. When I redid the bathroom, I made sure that multiple grab bars were installed.
Thomas Xavier says
Thats some damn good advice BDC, knowing your limits is one of the most valuable lesseons- sadly, as you stated, people often learn them after the fact.
Bob Ocean says
As a “Every Day Prepper” (I live fulltime on a Sail Boat-Yacht) it is a constant battle when buying food to put on the PURCHASE Date.
It doesn’t matter about the Expiry date as this can be checked on the Product and of course varies between different food types.
However, NOT putting on purchase date before storing away food, batteries etc will result in wastage and damage to stuff stored nearby.
I try and make it a habit while unpacking groceries to write on Month/Year on packets with a permanent marker directly, or on masking tape then sticking that on. Write on same place i.e. top left of product so you know automatically were to check and ROTATE when practical.
Invest in top quality square/rectangular (NOT round as they waste space) Plastic re-sealable containers e.g. Tupperware. I am still using 30 year old ones now with now signs of degradation. Not cheap to buy, but Excellent value long term.
Do not leave ANY batteries in Torches (flashlights) not used on a daily basis, as they WILL leak and destroy whatever they were in. Duracell seemed to be the best longer lasting ones, BUT, I have had even some of these fail recently. (maybe formula has changed)
Remember, buy a little often. This while make the financial out less intimidating and keep stuff rotating as it is being used.
Thomas Xavier says
Elise and I have been looking at storage solutions as of late, do you think Tupperware branded containers are still the best? Or is there a new contender in town?
Great article Elise Xavier. I live in North Dakota, and even though we have brutal winters I haven’t planned anything in case of a huge storm and we lose power. It is a huge mistake not to be ready, and I know it. Constantly, I think about it. Fortunately, we are almost out of winter again but I am going to make plans and learn from others experiences.
That the packaging for long term survival requires long term strong material and sealants to stay edible. Some tony Cachere Creole seasoning spices I left in original packages is completely ruined. I should have known better and was supposed to find a better container and seal it – but I didn’t. Which taught me SHORT CUTS DON’T ALWAYS WORK !!!
good comment. reminds me of another mistake. when I started, there were no such things as sturdy, clear plastic containers of varying sizes like the best, Snapware containers (not the kitchen ones, but the storage ones). I spent endless hours labeling cardboard file storage boxes/having computerized lists. Ultimately, the boxes do fail. It took some time. However, when I learned that the clear plastic Snapware containers came in various sizes, I dumped the old cardboard boxes and lists. Snapware large containers probably now have to be ordered on the net. Used to be in the stores. Warning – from a guy in the plastics industry. Before you buy the cheapie plastic containers, learn from the manufacturer if they can be stacked. The Snapware containers can be stacked. And yes, I did buy some cheapie (brand name deleted, but it is everywhere in the big box stores) to learn that they did not stack and broke easily.
My bug out bag was so heavy that if I ever did have to bug out, I think I would have made it about a block. Lesson learned, a bug out bag is for 72 hours not the apocalypse.
Thomas Xavier says
Aye, although I think a lot of people view their BoB as living inside their car, not necessarily for getting out of dodge on foot. Definitely a good idea to test your physical limits though.
Early on it was trying to carry gear that was great, but often too combsome; items that I may ‘need’, but never actually utilized. After a couple of years of constant rotation, I took the time to break things into ‘tiers’, as if any other method of packing. When explaining to those who aren’t big into preparation, I voice it as if it were ‘carry on vs. checked baggage’.
I slimmed down everything I could, as long as no sacrifices were made. CR123 lights became AAA for the city. Wallets became card holders. First aid went to the bag, as did the multitool. In the end, if it wasn’t part of my day-to-day, it went off-body. Wish I learned that a while earlier.
By taking the ‘carry-on luggage only’ approach, as I call it, I find you’re steered into nothing but the essentials and the multitaskers. Mind you, I still carry a big ol’ knife, be it a full sized Cold Steel (just got a new Recon 1 in satin), or an Emerson Super 7. What?? Sometimes the weight is just comforting :P
I also have a fondness for heavy weight waxed jackets. You could store an extra brick and not notice the weight difference. That’s where the CR123 goes.
Thomas Xavier says
Sounds a lot like what I went through, after years of ridiculous over the top EDC’s, I now have a far more streamlined system as well as organised home preps.
in a true crisis we will see many who will pitch in to help their neighbors. with the possibility of a crisis even larger than what government can handle we will find that people will move to the survival mode. what these people will do to survive is troubling. I participated in a community meeting.the topic of Americas attack and how we were prepared. It disturbed me that some thought that government would provide. when questioned if they couldn’t they responded that someone would. if it was only one among the many in that room with that belief wouldn’t trouble me. it was a good portion and the type that would go out and demand support from others. I have prepared. I am prepared to defend any threat to my family or myself. having grown up in Detroit and have faced a gun to my head the ones with the gun must find the guts to pull that trigger I have had to do it and it stays with me until today. If I had an alternate way I would have taken it. I am alive along with my girlfriend of the day. It is one thing to be practiced at shooting a gun and another to point it and pull the trigger at a human. what do I advise prevent it if you can. you have time to create a defense. dont wait until you need a plan to make one. in a crisis you can make only one fatal mistake. No one can tell you what you need. each plan unique and different and the good news you wont know if it will work until it is tried. my only advice over plan and over protect and have twice the food and water you think you need. every day you sustain is another day to prepare for the long survival crisis. one final thingis if you know older people that has lived poor pick their brain for you will learn many things that books miss.
Thomas Xavier says
Those who go looking for help when the world has gone to shit are in for a world of disappointment. Human nature is predictably selfish (sadly).
Thanks for sharing Grampa ;)
In the beginning, it was buying EDC tools for my keychain that ended up so large with so many gizmos it wouldn’t fit in my pocket. Secondary to that it was believing all the hype online about the latest and greatest knife or tool that was reviewed, buying it, then being disappointed because it wasn’t what it was said to be. After that I got smarter, I think!
Thomas Xavier says
That’s me down to a T. My keychain got so crazy that over the years I have cut down to the bare minimum. I don’t feel like I have lost out on utility personally. As for the knives- a lot of the new stuff is too focused on aesthetics and the perception of performance through materials and not enough on cutting performance. In a lot of ways, sharp steel has become man jewellery which is a shame but then again the market dictates what the market wants.
A really bad night.
Many years ago I went on a hike to my favorite lake, in the alpine lakes Wa., late fall. I had been there many times before, but this time there were a few factors that almost cost me my life.
The lake was my “alone place”, where I went to regenerate, when I was bummed or just for the beauty and quiet. This time I had gotten in a fight with my now ex-wife, and the trip was a cluster fuck right from the beginning.
I left, late and was ill prepared, got the the start point an hour from sundown on a two hour hike (at a good pace with a light pack). I didn’t look at the weather, didn’t bring a map or compass. Direction was not an issue, but that would have been nail in the coffin lid if it was.
I was expecting rain, but it was surprisingly cold and stormy. After about an hour of strenuous pissed of uphill walking I got a headache, was cold and tired and the sun had gone down. I couldn’t find my Ibuprofen and decided to camp on the hill. Because I had a headache and was cold, I pretty much thew down the tent on the first open, but very un-flat spot as fast as I could, didn’t look around, faced the door up hill, and didn’t dig a trench around the tent. All things I knew I should be doing, but ignored because I had a splitting headache. Well you can figure what happened. It continued to rain and the water came in the front door, as if someone had invited it in (and I guess I did), right into my COTTON and DOWN O.D. army surplus -30 sleeping bag which soaked it up like a sponge. I was in such pain from the headache I actually tried to ignore it for a bit, but finally got up in a rage after my feet were splashing in several inches of water. I threw the sleeping bag in the woods, stuffed the tent in my pack and scrambled down to the car. When I got to my car I found my Ibuprofen I had been looking for, drove home (1hr drive) shivering the whole way despite the heat on high, took a hot shower until I stopped shivering and slept on the couch with every blanket I could find. There are so many morals here. Never plan a trip under emotion, on short notice, without looking at the weather, leave so late, …….. I studied a bit about sleeping bags, turns out down looses 80% of its heating value when it gets wet and living in the NW getting wet is very likely, so I opted for a poly fill Marmot bag with a breathable highly breathable outer layer. You can get a water resistant shell (usually only for down bags), but that means less breath-ability and you can sweat yourself wet easier from the inside. I always sleep naked (to minimize sweating) with a liner that is washable (just to keep it not stinky). Sweating BTW is a quick way to reduce the bags efficiency (especially in down), so use the appropriate bag/weather combo. I am usually cold when I sleep, so i figure in -15 when I calculate. Synthetic is a bit heavier, but if you are in wet environments I think it is worth it. None of this of course will help if stupidity over rides and you invite the water in the front door. Door on the bottom and for Pete sake’s dig the dumb little boy-scout trench around the tent, especially if you think it is going to rain or haven’t checked the weather. This information is about 15 years old BTW, so I don’t know what kind of new materials they have come out with tin the mean time. I suspect the synthetics have only gotten better though. They say it usually takes at least 3 mistakes to sink a boat. I can only guess that the anger that got me in the mess in the first place, got me back out of it. I was cursing the whole way home. I am not sure if that is a tip on not?
Thomas Xavier says
Definitely a great tip (and story) Kelsey, kudos on sticking it out even though your car was so close. If I had a splitting headache and my tent was at risk of flooding without the mental capacity to adjust and rebuild, I would have immediately called it quits- but then again, a lesson learned is a lesson learned. ;)
Definitely huge advances in synthetics, the best gear in most situations is whatever the latest yuppy camping gear you can get at REI. You don’t see people climbing Everest in milsurp stuff- lets put it that way! Thanks for sharing!
Have made many mistakes.
1. rushing out and buying a “year’s supply of food” without understanding that one prepares for the short term first with foods that do not require you to collect wood and water.
2. going into reloading. find a round that goes bang every time. then study ballistics and shooting skills. they count for much more than the reputed “defensive round”. if you don’t reload, you end up with more room, less equipment and a clean homestead.
3. not understanding that a person has three inputs into survival ability: 1. equipment; 2. skills; and 3. physical/emotional health. Spend some money on skills acquisition
Thomas Xavier says
Yup, I will take any amount of knowledge over the latest survival toy. Obviously this is a gear focused blog (to an extent) but I have always been clear that a Mora is 99% all you need for most situations. The rest is man jewellery and a passion for hardware.
When you went out and bought a years supply of food, did you go with your usual staples or did you get the “all-in-one” longterm/dehydrated survival sets?
I bought the all in one. Very stupid, indeed. I wasn’t thinking it through. Imagine collecting firewood and water in the desert-like climate and urban surroundings of Los Angeles. Then baking bread, rehydrating dried milk, grinding wheatberries and all kinds of stuff while having the time and not being concerned about strangers/fires/and bad guys!
Survival skills comments for people to reflect upon. Maybe your wife can sew. Do you know how? You may have been raised on a farm and kept chickens and raised a garden (me). Do your urbanized kids have a clue about raising tomatoes? Just because you have a skill, doesn’t mean that critical skill is held by every member of your circle. If you became an Eagle Scout, you have a lot needed skills knowledge. Your kid playing with the Nintendo toy does not have your skills.
K. C. says
The best way to build skills is to try doing things for yourself now as a $ saving measure and learning course.
Case in point #1:
Google how to fix your “almost new” lawn mower or string trimmer that won’t run this season. There are many YouTube videos out there. Search “DIY” for your make/model or close enough. In the process, you will purchase a few needed tools or materials. Usually, these are simple “Air, fuel, spark” fixes. With Ethanol, it is a fuel blockage in the carburetor 90% of the time. The YouTube Experts show you exactly what you need and how to clean/fix your machine. Also, how to minimize future occurrences. So, what if you still need to take it to a repair shop! Ask them to show you what they did to fix it! You learned something and acquired some tools. You will be amazed how many times you will feel like a champion when you have success! Tip: online sources provide brand new carburetors for pennies over the cost of repair kits. Most of the time, a small wire will do the trick!
Same goes for sharpening tools, fixing appliances, etc.. Try it yourself! Maybe you will be able to help someone else, someday.
Case in point #2:
Building a garden plot and figuring out “what, when, where, how” can be overwhelming. Start small. Learn from the failures like Elise suggests.
Plant some veggies in large pots. Google growing “upside-down” tomatoes. Plant some berries or a fruit tree in an unused space. You will figure out what grows well in your climate location. Here in Central Texas, Roma tomatoes seem to be the most reliable producers. We learned by trial and error. Also, lessons learned about how much sun, water or fertilizer. Many store brand tomato types have been a failure. If you use non-GMO seed varieties you can save your success seeds for next year. And you now have the “know how” and simple tools needed to grow more when it really counts. In the meantime, enjoy the fruits of your labor!
In a possible future crisis, you will be able to fix a chainsaw, generator or other gas tool with the same process you learned on your lawn mower.
You will also not risk growing plants that won’t produce when it really counts!
Thomas Xavier says
Aye, failures are only failures if you don’t learn from them- the fear of “losing” is what stops so many people from learning genuinely valuable life skills like fixing their own car etc.