Prepping 101: Prep before SHTF, then improvise when you have to
08/03/2021 // Virgilio Marin // Views

Preppers are well aware of the importance of prepping before SHTF, but this doesn't mean that a survival plan is automatically fail-proof. Some situations may require specialized responses that you can only hatch at the moment. This is why preppers should also know how to improvise when the occasion calls for it. (h/t to

Preparing vs. improvising

It may appear contradictory to all that prepping stands for, but improvising is useful and downright necessary since no one can fully predict how long SHTF will last and what dangers lurk in that scenario. However, improvising should never take the place of prepping as this remains the best way to survive a disaster.

While you can create a fish hook out of a can of soda in a pinch, you can put together a cheap and more decent fishing kit that fits in an Altoids tin for your pocket by making this in advance. Similarly, while you can easily scrounge a beer bottle from an abandoned campsite and break it to make a cutting tool, you can also have the foresight to carry a knife with you. (Related: Improsurvivising while prepping: Everyday items that can double duty in an emergency.)

Prepping saves you the time it takes you to hatch an improvised plan. It also smooths out the creases that can otherwise make it harder to address the problem at hand. Without prepping, the odds are stacked against you no matter how resourceful you are.

This is not to say that improvising has no place in the prepper mindset – far from it. Being able to think outside the box in the presence of danger is one of the most valuable skills a survivalist can possess. But improvising should not be your primary goal. Instead, you should always plan ahead and reserve the improvisation for when it is actually necessary.


But when is improvisation necessary? You should only improvise when your survival plan cannot address the situation at hand. This should be apparent to you after reexamining your survival arsenal. If you've exhausted all options to no avail, then that's a clear signal that you need to improvise.

Improvised survival items that can save your life

It's advisable that you use the right gear whenever possible, but in emergencies, you can improvise the following survival items to save your life:

  1. Smartphone signal mirror – Most smartphones have a flat screen that is big enough to reflect sunlight. You can repurpose your smartphone into a signal mirror by turning it off and using it to reflect light.
  2. Camera lens fire starter – If you have no matches but carry a digital camera, you can use the camera's lens to start a fire by treating it like a magnifying glass.
  3. Sewing needle compass – A stainless steel sewing needle can be magnetized to become a compass needle. Simply take the needle and rub it vigorously for a few minutes with a pure wool material. The static electricity generated from the friction will magnetize the needle. You can then dangle the needle using a piece of shirt string and it will adjust to point north.
  4. Bootlace cordage – You can use the laces of your boots if you're pinched for cordage.
  5. Car key saw – Car keys make excellent sawing devices to make notches in branches or whatnot.

It's important to be resourceful to be able to improvise in situations that are not covered by your survival plan. But improvising should not replace prepping because it greatly limits your options and curbs your ability to respond adequately to a disaster.

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