Backpacking For Emergency Preparedness

In the prepping community the term “Emergency Preparedness” is used a lot but what does it really mean to be prepared? There is more to being prepared than just stocking up on food and water. In order to have a good idea of what it really takes to take care of your family you will need some type of experience under your belt. A backpacking trip can be a great way to get the experience needed to help with being prepared.

When planning for emergency survival situations you can make it as simple or as complicated as you want. We’ve all seen the prepper shows where people have underground bunkers, guns & ammo, tons of provisions, water plumbing systems, sealed and filtered air systems, etc. Most Americans have no interest in prepping on that kind of level nor can they afford it.  Realistically, your emergency preparedness items will consist of  basic food, water, shelter, and miscellaneous items stored in a closet or in a small room.

Emergency preparedness can be narrowed down to three basic scenarios that covers everything from a basic power outage to the infamous zombie apocalypse. Really? Yes, really, and if you plan for these three scenarios you should be good to go for whatever comes your way (within reason of course).

1. The first scenario is when you are in survival mode at home (bugging-in). This may happen for any number of reasons including long term power outages, road closures due to flooding/earthquakes/wildfires/ice storms/etc., civil commotion (riots, protests, unrest), home being severely damaged from a storm and you are camping out in the yard until it becomes livable again, and the list goes on and on – I’ll spare you the zombie examples:)

2. The second scenario involves vacating your homestead for any number of reasons. This can range from evacuating with your vehicle due to a flood or wildfire, to hiking out to the woods and living off the grid for a while.

3. The third scenario is car survival. Car survival could also be considered for workplace survival. If you are stranded at work and can’t get home you should be able to rely on your car survival kit to provide you with the basic essentials.

Going on a backpacking trip can help get you prepared to handle all three of the above mentioned scenarios. I recently went on a 2.5 day / 13 mile backpacking trip with a couple friends (Chris & Derek) and realized how little you really need and also realized that what works for one person may not work for another. Below are lessons learned while on the trip, the goal here is for you to learn from our experiences and apply them to your emergency preparedness plans.


          Filtering water from the creek

The weather was perfect, not too hot and not too cold but the terrain was very challenging. My backpack weighed over 50lbs on the first day and over 60lbs on the second day. Due to the less than desired terrain and the heavy pack I consumed a lot more water than I thought I would while Derek barely drank any water. I started the trip with 1.3 gallons of water, on the first day I drank about half of it and then topped off at a creek about half way to our camp. I ended up running out of water by the next morning while Derek still had plenty water left. On day two we topped off at our water cache and then packed more than an additional gallon each (hence the 10lb weight increase on day two).

Lesson Learned:
Water was a much bigger issue for me than I thought it would be. I will need to make sure that I always have plenty of water or have access to a place to filter water on a regular basis. Some people require more water than others. There is really no way of knowing this until you get out there and experience it for yourself.


Darrens Setup: REI Bug Hut Pro 2 with Kelty Noahs Tarp

Derek’s Setup: Hammock with cold weather barrier in the bottom and tarp over the top.
APN recommends Snugpak Jungle hammock with mosquito net

My shelter was the REI Bug Hut Pro 2 Tent with enough room for me and my gear. To shed some weight I left the rain-fly at home and packed a Kelty Noah’s Tarp to use as a wind break, sun shade, and a makeshift rain-fly. Derek used a lightweight hammock with a tarp over the top for cover and lightweight barrier on the bottom to keep the cold from coming up underneath. Chris used a one person backpacking tent, the Eureka! Solitaire Tent, but he didn’t like the fact that there wasn’t any room for his gear inside. We all had lightweight shelter options but they were all very different from each other. Some people with back issues may not be able to sleep in a hammock while others would love it because they don’t like sleeping on the ground.

Lessons Learned:
I was comfortable and had room for my gear inside my tent but it weighed more than the other guy’s set-ups. Derek liked his hammock setup but learned that he will need some type of netting to keep the bugs off of him and a larger cover tarp to keep his gear dry in case of rain. Chris learned that one man backpacking tents are lightweight but there is no room for your gear to keep inside for easy access or to keep dry in case of rain.


Just like the shelter, we all had different thoughts on food so we each brought something different. I ended up bringing freeze dried backpacking meals as they were super lightweight and I was able to pack along a lot of food without adding a ton of extra weight. However, even though my food tasted good and I was full, I found myself wanting something more, something to satisfy a craving I was having. That’s when I remembered that I had a few packets of apple cider and hot chocolate. After drinking one of each the cravings I had went away. Maybe it was the sugar or maybe it was in my head but I was satisfied afterwards.

Lesson Learned:
Food is a huge morale booster. Obviously you need your regular food for the calories but be sure to pack something to satisfy your “craving” whether it’s a piece of candy, hot chocolate, coffee, dried fruit, or whatever, be sure to include these type of items. They may not seem important now but when you are in survival mode they are definitely worth it!

Staying Warm

In addition to what I was wearing I had only planned on packing extra socks (keep the feet happy!) and extra underwear. Since the temperature was expected to get down to the upper 40s and lower 50s I wanted to pack my sleeping bag but I didn’t have room for it. So instead I left my sleeping bag at home and packed long underwear, a long sleeve shirt, wool socks, a beanie (stocking cap) and a pair of insulated gloves. These items weighed less and required less room than my sleeping bag. With the help of a poncho and an emergency blanket I stayed nice and warm.

Lesson Learned:
Thinking outside the box and improvising can really save you a lot of weight and space. Try to use items that can serve multiple purposes. For example: Should you pack that large and heavy survival knife or a lightweight Gerber multi-tool that has a knife, pliers, wire cutters, saw, and other items built into it?

I can give several more examples of lessons learned but this article is already long enough and you get the point. Once you learn what works for you and other members of your family you can then determine between what is actually needed for emergency preparedness versus what you think you need. After you’ve had some minimalist camping/backpacking experience under your belt you will know exactly how to pack your car survival kit and your evacuation kit within the space allowed in your pack. A minimalist backpacking trip forces you to be resourceful and will help tremendously in survival situations, including bugging-in at home.

About the Author:  Darren Gaebel is a U.S. Army Veteran and has a decade of experience with natural disasters as a catastrophe claims adjuster. During Darren’s catastrophe experience he has seen the toll it takes on families who are unprepared. For this reason he created this blog ( to help educate and spread awareness for disaster preparedness. Darren also created to provide a way for individuals, families, and disaster relief organizations to have access to a stress free solution for getting prepared.  A portion of all proceeds from the website are donated to non-profit disaster relief organizations.


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