In the worst event...

The word “prepper” carries with it a flavor of doomsday apocalyptic cultism, encouraged by the Doomsday Preppers cable television series. But disasters do happen in nature, from floods to earthquakes, and the possibility of technology-related catastrophes cannot be dismissed in an era of global interdependence, internet-based logistics systems, and sophisticated cyber warfare. Taking precautions is only prudent.

Prepping intelligently for uncertain times means that you spend your money wisely on items that can consumed by your family and friends and that could also be used in trade for additional items that you did not foresee a immediate need for or could not afford.

Here is my list of eight categories of non-perishable items that can have a dual purpose, when the normal, just–in-time, supply chains are unable to cope with economic, natural disasters, or political disruptions. I based some of these barter/ trade categories on practical experiences learned during the Great Depression. Some categories were added to reflect our digital age.

One more note, the longer and deeper the crisis or emergency, the more valuable your trade stock will become. Conversely, as the economy recovers, and supply chains are re-established, the value of your trade inventory will shrink.  Timing your local barter markets will require instinct, insight and good luck.

Liquor and Wine

Under times of extreme stress many of us drink. Chances are that wine and hard liquor will quickly disappear from store shelves just prior to any catastrophe.  During the Depression, (post-Twenty-First Amendment) the less expensive wines and liquors were extensively used in barter, while the better quality name liquors were saved for special occasions.  Liquor is somewhat less temperature sensitive than wine, but both require a cool dark closet or basement for long-term storage.

Barter liquor should be bought in a combination of both the traditional 750ml size and the smaller hip flask bottles. For wine, only purchase the standard 750 ml size bottles.

Bleach, Toothpaste and Soap

Staying clean (free from nasty bacterial infections) greatly increases you chances of staying alive and healthy. Soap and toothpaste are “must have” consumable items for personal hygiene in any sort of emergency. Theses are also “must have” trade inventory.

Look for sales events to save money.

Bleach kills almost all bacteria, flu viruses and Ebola. Bleach can purify drinking water, clean and disinfect metal, plastic surfaces, and clothes. You can bleach sinks, toilets, showers and floors. Ok, you get the idea.  Plan for at least a fifty-gallon inventory. Start by purchasing two or three gallons each week. Sorry, this will take up a lot of storage space…but you can’t live without bleach in a post crisis world. All the gold and silver in your possession won’t stop bacteria from invading your body or infecting your cooking surfaces. Stay clean and stay healthy.

These three items -- plus other high demand items like solar heated portable showers and razor blades -- will be popular items for barter, especially after a few months without the supply chains coming back on line.

Water Filtration

Clean drinkable water is essential to life itself.  The good news is that water filtration has come a long way in the past few years. Products from LifeStraw and Sawyer have proven records of quality and good value. Purchase enough filtration for three times the amount of water your family and friends will need for three years. Yes that’s a heck lot of filtration, but clean water is not an option. Then purchase that amount of filtration capacity again, for trade inventory.

Seeds and Gardening Supplies

Lawns and gardens will be plowed under for growing food crops in an extended crisis. Seeds, seedling beds, fertilizer, pesticides and chain -link fencing will be in heavy demand.

Remember marigolds, nasturtiums, and alyssums are natural pest controllers for many food crops when planted on the periphery of your gardens. I have successfully used them for many years in protecting tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, squash, eggplants and cucumbers from nasty garden pests.

Here is one instance where next-door neighbors can combine their lots and labor for growing food crops.

Make sure you purchase non- hybrid seeds that produce viable seeds for the following years’ crop. Also be sure you buy seeds that are properly dried for long-term storage. Otherwise seeds improperly stored with excessive moisture content will have a very low germination rate. There are dozens of sites on the web that do a great job explaining these issues and providing solutions.

Plan very carefully about how many seeds varietals to purchase and in what quantities. Also carefully consider how much land, water, labor and security you have available for growing food crops. Intelligently plan and ration your family and friend’s time and energy in food production versus other possible uses of their labor.


If you have the facilities to properly store tons of flour plus salt, yeast and sugar and you are able to construct an outdoor oven, you could become a local baker. This is a labor-intensive opportunity to earn money and trade your baked goods for other essentials you may need.

One ton of all-purpose flour will produce around 2,000 loaves of bread, or put another way, one pound (3.33 cups) will produce one loaf.

During the Depression and in post WWII Europe, bakeries were among the most successful in surviving economic hardships. If there is any government infrastructure remaining, bakeries will get first call on flour and salt distribution.  Everyone needs bread each day, much like water and sanitization supplies.

As a baker, you can trade baked bread for more flour and firewood (if there is no electrical grid), hire other folks to do the labor in trade for bread, and establish a delivery network, by bicycle, for those not in walking distance.

Rule of thumb for bread consumption dating back to Roman times: half a loaf of bread per person per day while performing hard physical labor.

Firearms, Ammunition. Swords and Knives

This category, for use by family and friends and for trade items, can be easily summed up in just five words.

“Never come up empty. Never.” 

Pet Food and Pet Supplies

Security, companionship, and unconditional love are reasons enough to intelligently plan for your dog’s food and medical needs.


Radios, cell phones, flashlights, lanterns, local walkie-talkies, CB band radios and computers need power sources to operate. Solar powered rechargeable batteries are one obvious answer, as well as wind- up generators, solar powered generators and in the short term, gas and diesel generators.

Will cell phones networks survive an EMP attack, or extensive civil and political war?

An excellent and unanswerable question.

So windup emergency radios, generators and solar rechargeable battery systems are must have items for personal use and trade.

Here are a few final thoughts on intelligent prepping.

  1. Be very flexible in your thinking, there are many ways to prep, and no absolute right or wrong solutions to any individual problem. Always ask yourself, what is best the long-term view of any issue.
  2. Have plans for optional meeting places, and options where to post written or digital updates.  Have friends in other states, which will relay messages from family and friends to each other if local West Coast and East Coast communications are unreliable. Set up specific meeting places each year for the next ten years if things really go badly. These instructions should be written down and carried by family and friends.
  3. Think carefully about whom to trust. Help everyone you safely can.
  4. Religious faith, morality and compassion are almost as important as food and water. Without practicing your faith and ideals, why bother at all?