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Realistic Self-Sufficiency:
The Do's and the Don'ts

Copyright July 22, 2009 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.


Rustic Cabin The concept of becoming 100% self-sufficient is a very basic emotion that appeals to most people's survival instinct. It is the primary ingredient of a variety of pleasant daydreams where we picture ourselves independent of society and surviving in a comfortable although somewhat modest fashion. However, the reality of self-sufficiency is completely different from the vision we conjure up for ourselves whenever this topic intrudes into our minds.

For example, think about your last visit to the dentist. You sat in a relatively comfortable chair in a temperature controlled office and the dentist repaired your tooth in an almost painless procedure while your jaw was temporarily numbed from an injection a few minutes earlier. Now think about having a tooth removed under primitive conditions without any pain killer by an auto-mechanic using a pair of vise-grip pliers. Sometimes the realities of self-sufficiency are quite different from our romantic notions of living a more primitive existence.

The following comments about self-sufficiency are based on my own personal viewpoints on each of the topics. In almost every case I am writing based on my own personal first-hand experience in each of these areas.

The primary problem faced by our ancestors will be the same problem we would face today if we try to become 100% self-sufficient. There is simply not enough time in a normal workday to accomplish everything that would need to be done during that day. Therefore, each of us would have to prioritize our daily work schedule and do those tasks that absolutely must be done that day. Even under these conditions most of us would still not be able to do everything if our goal was to be 100% self-sufficient.

However, if we were to reconsider our original objective, and not try to become 100% self-sufficient in everything, then it is possible for the average person to achieve some reasonable level of self-sufficiency - just not 100%.

For example, it would be far more cost efficient and practical for the average person to simply purchase a good quality stainless steel hunting knife instead of trying to locate the proper type of raw ore, and then dig that ore out of the ground, and then smelt the raw ore into metal, and then forge that metal into a knife. The average person would be better advised to simply purchase a good hunting knife at a local sporting goods store. The only two reasons why a person would want to make his or her own knife completely 100% from scratch would be if that person: (1) enjoyed knife making as a hobby, or (2) did not have the foresight to buy a good knife before knives became unavailable for some hypothetical reason.

The following suggestions are based on the assumption of partial self-sufficiency as opposed to 100% self-sufficiency. The following suggestions will explain which items to purchase now (such as a good hunting knife) and which items you could learn to provide for yourself if you have the knowledge and a few basic tools and pieces of equipment.

An Early Life Lesson In Self-Sufficiency

Cabin on a Lake When I was seven-years old my grandfather bought each of his three grandsons our own brand-new fishing poles and reels. Then we dug up some worms from our garden area, and my father, grandfather, and the three of us boys traveled in an old car to a nearby lake where there was a rowboat for rent. We rented the rowboat and my father rowed us towards one of the shaded banks of the lake. The three of us boys were then instructed on how to put a worm on a fishhook, and how to cast the weighted bait out into the lake without interfering with anyone else in the boat. We fished for about three-hours but we only succeeded in catching a few really, really small fish which the adults immediately removed from our hooks and tossed back into the lake. Then my father rowed us back to the boat dock.

When we arrived there was a blonde-haired boy about five-years old fishing off the end of the dock with an old cane fishing pole and a small box of hand-tied fishing flies. He had no fishing reel - just a piece of fishing line tied to the end of his cane fishing pole. He was wearing a pair of cut-off faded ragged blue jean shorts and nothing else. No shirt. No shoes. His shoulders had been blistered by the sun and were in the process of healing. As we passed him he pulled up his catch of fish for us to see - about four or five really nice looking large fish. He never said a word. Then he lowered his catch back down into the water. As we were walking towards the car my grandfather remarked that those fish were probably all that boy's family were going to have to eat that evening for supper. I was permanently impressed by two things. First, that a small five-year old boy was providing food for his family. And second, that the boy had caught several large fish with an old cane pole and a few hand-tied fishing flies. As I grew older I reflected on that scene many times inside my mind and I gradually realized that knowledge and experience are more important factors for success than expensive fishing gear and high performance fishing boats.

Quality and Cost

When you think about long-term self-sufficiency, think about how long your planned future investment will last before it gradually wears out.

It would be much better to have one or two high quality items instead of several cheaper items.

It would also probably be better to have high quality stainless steel items instead of items made from other materials which may rust, or break, or more quickly wear out.

Digital Copies and Printed Copies

The following article recommends several different internet web sites where you can download some very practical free survival information. My recommendation is that you download and save a digital copy of that information into a special file on your computer hard drive, and into a similar file on your flash drive. In my opinion this is the type of information that deserves a backup copy on a different medium in the event something unfortunate happens to the other medium. After you have created a reasonable digital library of survival literature, I then suggest that you save all those files onto a "CD" and then store the "CD" at some other area, such as your place of work or the home of a close relative.

Finally, because of the importance of this information, I also strongly recommend that you purchase several one-inch wide three-ring binders. Then print a hard copy of the information in each file, three-hole punch the paper, and then save the printed copy inside one of your three-ring binders. The information that is recommended below for free download is the type of information that could make the difference between whether or not you survive a hard times tragedy event. It would be extremely sad if you knew you had the information you needed, and you knew exactly where the information was on your computer, but you did not have the electricity, or the paper, or the ink to print a hard copy during a hard times tragedy event. Therefore, if you are really serious about acquiring this knowledge because you know that you might actually need it in the not-too-distant future, then please print a hard copy now so you can reference that information quickly if the need should arise.


Regardless of who you are or where you live you should have the ability to be water independent. This is not an optional self-sufficiency issue. It is an absolute necessity.

Over the years I have read a wide variety of suggestions on how to install manual hand-operated water pumps over existing shallow wells and how to install rainwater catchment systems on the gutter downspouts attached to your existing roof. There is nothing wrong with these options if you can afford them. You will probably also need some system for purifying the water off your roof since your roof will probably have a few bird droppings on it, and your roofing material may contain chemicals that are not safe for human ingestion. It would be sad if you poisoned yourself drinking tainted roof water after all your other careful preparations.

Rain on Umbrella If there is even a very slight chance that you may need to evacuate your current residence, then a far superior option would be to simply capture rainwater each time it rains. Rainwater can be captured using heavy-duty tarps that can be purchased at almost any store that sells camping supplies, including most WalMarts. With just a little human ingenuity you could figure out the best way to capture rainwater each time it rains be forming your tarps into a "V" shaped pattern and directing the rainwater into a large water storage container, such as a large plastic tote container. You could then transfer that water to smaller storage containers.

You should have enough water storage containers to store at least sixty-days of drinking water and another thirty-days of personal hygiene water for each member in your family. The simplest and cheapest water storage containers are used, empty two-liter soft drink plastic bottles with screw on lids. After you have consumed the soda, remove the exterior label, and carefully rinse out the inside of the soft drink bottle and the screw on lid, and then loosely screw the lid back onto the bottle. You will need at least sixty of these empty bottles for each person in your family. This will require a really large storage area, such as in your basement or attic. Use the water from you kitchen water faucet to immediately fill ten of these empty bottles for each person and store them inside your house for a future unexpected emergency. (Note: For safety reasons empty those ten water bottles and refill them with fresh water at least once every six-months.) Do not worry about filling the rest of the empty bottles with water until you are forced to provide your own drinking water. After the onset of a real emergency, immediately fill all your water bottles. Then each time it rains collect the rainwater and refill any empty water bottles and water storage containers.

This above is just one suggestion for providing your own safe drinking water. There is a lot of additional information about water on my web site at the following link. I strongly suggest that you print a hard copy of the following article and save it in a three-ring binder with your other emergency reference materials.

How to Find Water and How to Make Water Safe to Drink.

Cooking From Scratch Over a Campfire
or a Wood Burning Fireplace

Box Containing Combo-Cooker Set If you don't already know how to prepare a tasty meal using ordinary ingredients such as flour, sugar, corn meal, and white rice, then you should consider purchasing both of the following cookbooks:
  1. Joy of Cooking, Rombauer and Becker, 915 pages, 1975 Edition or before.
  2. Fannie Farmer Cookbook, Paperback or Hardcover, 1995 Edition or before.
You may also wish to print a hard copy of the recipes on my web site and store them in a three-ring binder for future reference purposes. My recipes are at the following link:

Index to Grandpappy's Basic Recipes.

All of my recipes, plus a few more, are also included in my recipe book Grandpappy's Recipes for Hard Times.

You will also probably need some cast iron cookware if you wish to be able to successfully cook over the red hot coals of a campfire or inside a wood burning fireplace for an extended period of time. Regular cookware is designed for electric or gas stoves and it will wear out more quickly when used over the red hot coals from a wood burning fire.

Additional information about cast iron cookware is available on my web site at the following link:

Cast Iron Cookware.


Home Garden Regardless of how much food you have stored, you will eventually eat it all. At that time it would be really useful if you knew how to grow vegetables and how to save your seeds from one year to the next. I suggest you add both of the following books to your reference library:
  1. New Illustrated Guide to Gardening, Reader's Digest, 2000, $23.
  2. Seed Sowing and Saving, Turner, 1998, $14.
During the course of my life I have gradually acquired approximately thirty gardening books and six seed saving books and the above two books are my personal favorites.

Unless you are an experienced farmer with many, many years of hands-on experience, then don't bet your life and the lives of your loved ones that you can grow enough food to keep you alive. Your family will starve to death as you gradually acquire some practical experience with real world gardening, such as:
  1. Some years are really dry and without rain your garden vegetables will die. During times of serious long-term droughts, many wells dry up and many creeks and small ponds dry up. Some really large lakes are also drawn down to a dangerously low level because the water is needed to generate power.
  2. Some years are really wet and it rains for two or three weeks. Not a lot of rain each day but just enough to keep the sky overcast and the ground soaking wet. Slowly but surely your crops gradually rot in the fields. And there is nothing you can do to stop it.
  3. Some years an unexpected heavy sleet storm destroys your crops.
  4. Some years there is a really, really late unexpected hard frost and your tender crops are destroyed before they produce any vegetables.
  5. Some years you are visited by an unknown blight that sweeps through your crops and everything just dies.
  6. Some years you are visited by an usually large number of garden insects that eat your crops just before they are ripe enough to harvest.
The above are just some of the problems real farmers are accustomed to dealing with. Real farmers understand the unpredictable nature of the above problems. Therefore most real farmers have at least one or two years of food stored in their homes so they can survive one or two years of no crops.

Therefore, if you want to be like an experienced farmer, then you should have at least one or two years of emergency food stored in the event that your gardening efforts don't produce the results you anticipated.

A recommended one-year emergency food supply is discussed on the following page on my web site:

An Affordable One-Year Emergency Food Supply.

Some general gardening information is available on my web site at:

Home Gardening Tips.

Foraging for Edible Wild Plants

Acorn There are not enough edible plants growing wild to keep a family alive for one-year. Don't bet your life that you are just going to walk into an area and find lots of wild edible plants just growing everywhere. It is not going to happen.

However, you should be familiar with the edible wild plants that are extremely common in your area. And you should know how to positively identify them and how to prepare them for human consumption. Two common examples would be dandelions and white oak acorns. More information about white oak acorns, such as how to easily identify them from red oak acorns, and how to easily make them safe for human consumption, are at the following page on my web site:

Acorn Information, Identification, Processing, and Recipes.

Most wilderness survival manuals list a huge number of edible plants but the vast majority of those wild plants can't be found everywhere. And when they are found there is frequently just barely enough of them to provide one very small meal.

On the other hand, some edible wild plants grow in abundance, such as cattails. Therefore, before the hard times become more serious than they already are, you should attempt to find out which edible wild plants currently grow in your geographical area in relative abundance, and how they should be harvested, and how they should be prepared for human consumption. You should first verify that the information you find is accurate and up-to-date, and then you should consider harvesting and processing a very small amount of each of those wild edible plants and consuming a very, very small portion of each plant several days apart to discover if you have an adverse reaction to a specific plant. If you have an adverse reaction now then you could visit a medical practitioner or a hospital emergency room and get the proper medical treatment for whatever reaction you might have. However, if you decide to wait until emergency medical treatment is not available before you experiment with a wild edible plant, then you may regret your decision to procrastinate.

Living off wild edible plants is one of the romantic daydreams of individuals who have never actually tried to do it.

If you want a reasonably good reference book that has color pictures of most edible wild plants then purchase the following book (this book is also recommended later for wilderness survival):

SAS Survival Guide, Collins Gem, Wiseman, ISBN 978-0060849825, small book, Highly Recommended, $8.

I strongly recommend that you avoid all types of wild mushrooms. Although a few are safe to eat, you could quickly kill yourself if you make a mistake. And the nutritional value of mushrooms is so very small that it is just not worth the risk. Therefore, my advice is to avoid all wild mushrooms (and all toadstools).

Farm Livestock

Dairy Cows Just imagine - a rustic log cabin with a small barn and the family milk cow. What a truly romantic mental image. But the image has no realistic estimate of the amount of work involved. The purchase price of a milk cow is just the start. You also have to pay the periodic vet bills and the periodic breeding bill with a bull about once per year to keep her milk "fresh." And you will get no milk for about two months each year. And every day, at approximately 6 in the morning and 6 in the evening you must milk the cow. Whether you want to or not. Regardless of what you may be doing at those two times during the day you must stop and milk the cow. You can't sleep late. And you have to lead the cow out to the pasture in the morning and bring the cow into the barn in the evening. Even in the pouring rain. And you must provide some type of feed or hay for the cow during the winter months. And cows are just like people. Some are easy to get along with and some have very disagreeable dispositions. Guess which type of cow the dairy farmer is trying to get rid of? After you have the cow for one-day you would probably be willing to pay someone to take the cow off your hands. This isn't conjecture. I spent six-months on a small dairy farm when I was in my early twenties.

For each $100 that you invest in a cow (or a milk goat) you could have purchased 14 boxes of instant powdered milk. A 64-ounce box of powdered milk will make 20 quarts or five-gallons of milk. Fourteen boxes of instant milk would therefore equal 70-gallons of reserve milk inside your home that is just waiting for you to consume it. If you spent $400 then that would equal 280-gallons of instant powdered milk. And you would not have to get up every morning at 5:30 to milk a cow. And you wouldn't have to worry about being kicked by a cow and then being laid up in bed for a few days while your body heals. And you would not have to protect the cow from your starving neighbors or from vicious predatory animals. You should think about it very carefully before you make an investment in a milk cow or a milk goat (usually a few milk goats).

I suggest that you add the following book to your home library:

Backyard Livestock, Thomas and Looby, 2007 or before, $13.

I suggest you read the book but do not deceive yourself into believing that raising livestock is as easy as the book makes it sound.

My suggestion is that you not invest in any type of livestock until several years after the start of a serious hard times tragedy event. If you would like to know why then please read the short article on my web site at:

Pets and Livestock.

Instead I suggest that you invest whatever money you would have spent on livestock on instant powdered milk, and canned beef, ham, chicken, fish, and tuna.


Fish If you already have extensive fishing experience then you know a very valuable skill that could help provide your family with a steady supply of fresh fish.

On the other hand, if your fishing experience is zero or very small then you would be better advised to try your luck with a fishing device called a "gill net." To make a gill net all you need is some high quality fishing line, some long strips of nylon cord, and the knowledge of how to tie a good fishing knot. Instructions for making and using a gill net are at the following page on my web site:

Gill Nets.

Even if you are an experienced fisherman, you may have a multitude of other tasks that absolutely must be done each day and you may not have the time to devote to fishing in a conventional fashion. In that situation you may also find the above gill net extremely useful.

Note: Sometimes gill nets can be purchased on ebay. In my opinion, if you can find a new good quality gill net for sale then it would be an exceptionally wise investment.

Hunting and Trapping

Pan Steel Trap If you have been reading the information about survival on the internet for any reasonable period of time then you have already discovered that some people believe that hunting and trapping will be their primary method for obtaining fresh meat on a regular basis. And you have probably also discovered an equal number of people who believe this strategy is doomed for failure.

For the average family the truth is probably somewhere between these two extreme positions.

For some people hunting is a very enjoyable sport and each year they take great pleasure in filling their freezers with a variety of wild game and wild birds. However, these very successful hunters will also tell you that it takes a lot of practice and experience to be a successful hunter and that it is a time consuming activity. During a serious hard times tragedy event you will probably have a multitude of tasks that must be done every day and you probably won't have the time to hunt on a regular basis. Therefore, the average person should not be depending too heavily on obtaining meat on a regular basis with any type of firearm.

On the other hand, trapping is not as difficult to learn. And trapping is a relatively quiet method of obtaining wild game. Depending on your location trapping may allow you to add a little fresh meat to your diet a few times each week.

To be successful, you must first purchase some good steel traps. And then you need to learn where and how to set them. After you have your traps properly positioned and set, they will work for you 24-hours per day seven-days per week. But you must have the time to walk your trap line once every morning and once every evening. You will need to harvest your fresh meat before it spoils and before it is stolen by some type of predator. This means your entire trap line should probably be no more than a one-mile round trip from your residence or retreat. Most people can walk one-mile in twenty to thirty minutes. (Note: For most of us our trap line will be a lot, lot less than a one-mile round trip.) Therefore, my opinion is that trapping could provide your family with some fresh meat occasionally but probably not every day. But it would be worth your time to walk your trap line twice a day to harvest any meat that may have been captured since the last time you walked your trap line.

A brief introduction to traps and snares is on my web site at the following page:

Traps and Snares.

A much more complete reference manual on trapping may be downloaded for free at the following web site. I suggest you print the entire manual, put it into a three-ring binder, and store it with your traps and snares for future use.

State of Michigan Trapper Instruction Manual, 157 Pages, pdf file = 8.13 MB.

Food Preservation

Regardless of how much food you now have stored it will eventually run out. At that time you will need to know how to preserve food so that you can eat that food during the fall, winter, and spring months while you are waiting for your next harvest to mature.

If I were only going to invest money in one book on this topic then I would purchase the following book:

Big Book of Preserving the Harvest, Costenbader, 2002, $15.

May I humbly suggest that you learn how to preserve your food the way your ancestors did before the invention of glass jars and canning lids. Your ancestors knew how to dry food, and how to preserve food in an underground root cellar. This is the type of knowledge that you could take with you anywhere. It is not dependent on glass jars that can gradually break (one-by-one) or on glass jar lid seals.

You do not need an electric food dehydrator to dry your food. Your ancestors dried their fruit, vegetables, and meat using the heat of the sun, or they cured their meat inside a smoke house. Nowadays people are quick to criticize the old ways but in most cases they don't have the intimate knowledge of how their ancestors actually did these things. All they know is what they have read in a book or on the internet somewhere. If the old ways weren't reliable then neither you nor I would be here today.

Please do not think that I am trying to discourage pressure canning techniques. I have a pressure cooker and canning jars and, believe it or not, I have used them in the past and I still know how to use them today. But I also know how much shelf space those glass jars require. If I were forced to become a refugee then those empty glass jars are not something that I would take with me. The reason is because I also know how to dry food using the heat of the sun, and how to smoke food inside a smoke house, and how to preserve food inside an underground root cellar. These are relatively simple things I could build when I got to wherever I was going to try and survive as a refugee.

Alcoholic Beverages

Wine Bottle and Balloons At the current time in the United States an adult may legally make a limited amount of each of the following two beverages for consumption by his or her own family (and which are not offered for sale to anyone):
  1. Wine: Fermentation of grapes or fruits.
  2. Beer: Fermentation of barley.
If you currently enjoy a specific brand name alcoholic beverage, then the chance of your being able to perfectly replicate that taste yourself is extremely small. On the other hand, if you are reasonably flexible in your tastes, then you could make any one of the above two beverages at home.

Wine: In my opinion, wine is the easiest of the three beverages to make at home. You only need the grapes or the fruit, a fermentation bottle (such as a one-gallon wine bottle), a 12-inch diameter balloon (the type used at children's parties), and a little extra white granulated sugar (or the sugar water from sugar beets). If you have a good wine recipe then you can make good quality homemade wine that has a very agreeable taste.

Beer: Although it is possible to make beer at home, you will need to invest in a variety of beer making items and some beer yeast and hops. It is possible to grow your own barley and then convert it into malt, or you could buy the malted barley. You can also grow your own hops. Homemade beer making kits are also available that come in cans and you just add water and yeast and follow the directions. I invested three-years in making homemade beer before I gave up. I still have a good beer making recipe that I developed during this period but it is not on my web site and I do not wish to share it at this time. The reason is because I was never completely satisfied with the taste of my homemade beer. I tried a wide variety of beer recipes from several different books and from several different local homebrew shops where their clientele shared their favorite beer making recipes. And even though I always followed the directions without any personal modifications, I was never happy with any of the beer that I brewed at home. Then I started modifying those recipes and I tried to develop a beer that would taste approximately like a name brand beer. Although I eventually ended up with my own recipe for an average tasting beer, I was never able to duplicate the taste of a name brand beer. Therefore, I don't make beer anymore. The reason I am sharing my failure in this area is so you don't criticize yourself too harshly if you decide to try your luck at homebrewing and you also eventually discover that you don't like your own beer as much as a name brand beer.

Spirits: There are a variety of special regulations that apply to the production of high-percentage alcohol. You will need to determine what those regulations are and then very carefully adhere to them.

Although it was mentioned above, please let me remind you that even if you have all the necessary equipment to make wine or beer, but you do not have any raw materials (grapes or barley), then you will not be able to make alcohol.

My homemade beer recipes and my homemade wine recipes are included in my recipe book Grandpappy's Recipes for Hard Times.

Sewing, Spinning, Weaving

Singer Model 66 Manual Sewing Machine Your clothes will eventually need some type of repair. Therefore, you should have some hand sewing needles and some thread in a variety of colors. These items may be purchased at a very reasonable price at most WalMarts.

You will also need some instructions on how to make clothes. If you know how to make new clothes then you will be better qualified to repair your old clothes. I therefore suggest the purchase of the following sewing book:

Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing, 1976 or 2002 Edition, $23.

I do not recommend growing your own cotton. I also do not recommend keeping a small herd of sheep so you can get their wool. Neither of these activities is practical for the realistic self-sufficient individual. In other words, don't invest in a spinning wheel or a weaving loom. I worked six-years in the apparel and textile industries and I have first-hand knowledge and experience making thread and yarn from cotton, wool, and manmade fibers, and then making fabric and socks from those yarns. In my opinion, this is not an activity the average self-sufficient individual should be pursuing.

I strongly suggest that you buy a few extra pair of socks and underwear for each member of your family and don't use those items until they are needed during a serious hard times tragedy event.

I also recommend that you invest right now in a small inventory of good quality thread, an assortment of bulk buttons, some bulk elastic, and some good quality denim cloth, some flannel cloth, and some shirt and dress cloth. Then store those items until you need to make your own clothes. When your clothes wear out you can take them apart very carefully, and use each piece as a pattern piece to cut your new cloth to the right size and shape. Then sew your new cloth together to make the same item you just wore out.

If the hard times continue for a lot longer than you originally planned, then your clothes will wear out and your shoes will wear out. At that time the most practical solution to the clothing and shoe issue would be to make your own from deerskins or cowhide. If you would like some practical advice about how to do this then you may wish to consider my book:
How to Tan Animal Hides and How to Make High Quality Buckskin Clothing.

To make buckskin clothing, or moccasins, you should also have some really large sewing needles with really big eyes. These large sewing needles can be found in the sewing section of most WalMarts. Buy the hand sewing needles and not the machine sewing needles. A hand sewing needle has the eye at one end of the needle and the point at the other end of the needle. A machine sewing needle has the eye and the point at the same end of the needle.

(Note: Man's first clothes were animal skins and they were made by God. God showed Adam and Eve how to make clothes from animal skins:
Genesis 3:20-21 - "And Adam called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.")

Back-Up Electrical Power

Electricity is one of the conveniences of modern civilization that most of us dearly miss when we don't have it. When most people think of electricity they think about the electrical outlet in the wall into which they plug their appliances. This is indeed the most common form of electricity today. But ordinary flashlight batteries also use electricity - just a different type.

During a long-term hard times tragedy event it would be very useful if you had access to some form of electrical power. The following list briefly discusses these different options:
Solar 11 in One Charger
  1. Rechargeable Flashlight Batteries and a Solar Power Recharger: It is possible to refresh your rechargeable batteries using the sun. The Solar Battery Charger I recommend is discussed in detail at the following web page:
    Solar Battery Charger for Flashlight Size Batteries.

  2. Small Portable Solar Power Generator: A solar generator is simply a solar panel, a deep-cycle marine battery, and an inverter. A portable Solar Power Generator is discussed in detail at the following web page:
    How to Build a Portable Solar Power Generator.

  3. A Solar Powered, or Wind Powered, or Water Powered Home: This third option is a beautiful daydream. But for the vast majority of us, it will always be just a daydream. There is simply no way we could afford the number of solar panels and the number of deep cycle batteries and the huge inverters that would be required to provide electricity to our entire home. However, even though this third option may not be possible for the vast majority of us, many of us may be able to afford one or both of the first two options above.
A gasoline or propane powered generator would also be nice but what are you going to do when you eventually run out of fuel?

In my opinion, if I could afford a gasoline generator, I would much rather spend that money on option 2 above: solar panels and deep-cycle marine batteries and a good inverter. A long as the sun still shines I would have the fuel to recharge my solar powered generator.

It would also be extremely useful if you had a battery-operated AM/FM/Shortwave World-Band Radio. Being able to know what is going on around your city, and around your state, and around your continent, and around the world would be invaluable during a long-term hard times tragedy event. This would be even more valuable if you were able to access this information from a variety of different sources, and not just a local government controlled media source.

Home Repairs

Regardless of whether you rent an apartment or own your own home you should have the basic tools and knowledge required to make simple home repairs, such as tightening a loose screw in a cabinet hinge, or installing a substantial sliding bolt lock on your front door, or adding a new heavier nail (or long screw) to a door frame to make it more secure.

If you were forced to abandon your current dwelling, then you may need to build a new dwelling from scratch at your new location, or you may need to make some significant repairs to an existing dwelling at your new location.

In all of these situations it would be helpful if you had some knowledge of basic building techniques and proper construction methods. Therefore I suggest the addition of the following book to your reference library:

Fundamentals of Building Construction, 4th Ed., Allen & Iano, 2004, $83 (Note: In necessary, buy a good used copy).

The advantage of the above book is that it discusses almost everything you might someday need to know. Most of the books that are sold at home improvement stores discuss one specific construction concept and they are not a comprehensive reference manual.

Basic Complete Portable Tool Set

If you already own a reasonable set of hand tools then you should also own a portable hand-held tool box so you can easily transport all your tools to wherever you might need them. The portable tool box would also allow you to quickly put all your tools into your escape vehicle if you had to abandon your home in an unexpected emergency situation.

If you do not already own a reasonable selection of hand tools then you should seriously consider investing in a good set of quality hand tools that are already pre-assembled inside a convenient plastic tool box that can be easily transported between locations.

A picture of a portable tool set and a picture of a preassembled fastener set are both shown below. Similar sets can be purchased at most hardware stores, and at home improvement stores, and at most WalMarts.

Portable Tool Set Fasteners
Portable Set of Basic Hand ToolsFastener Collection

The above tool set only contains the most common hand tools required for basic repairs. If you know you will need a specialty tool for a specific application then you should also purchase that specialty tool. Some examples might be: a metal file, a hand saw with a 10-Inch Sharp Tooth saw blade, and a stainless steel hatchet with a belt sheath.

Another extremely useful tool is the Leatherman Wave Multi-Tool. It is a small multi-purpose high quality hand tool that comes in a belt sheath. It can be purchased in the sporting goods section of most WalMarts at their knife case display area.

The above fastener collection only contains the most common small fasteners that would be necessary for simple basic repair tasks. It would also probably be a good idea to buy some heavy duty nails, some heavy duty screws, and some larger bolts, washers, and nuts.

Bicycles and Bicycle Repair

An Emergency Bicycle At the current time there are lots of really good quality bicycles for sale at very, very reasonable prices at lots of stores, including most WalMarts. If you do not already own a good bicycle for each member of your family, then now is the time to seriously consider making this investment.

The reasons for making this investment are clearly explained at the following page on my web site:

Bicycles for Emergency Transportation.

If you decide to wait until after the hard times gradually continue to get a lot worse and it then becomes obvious to everyone that a bicycle is really a very advantageous thing to have, then you will probably discover that there aren't very many bicycles for sale, and the price of the ones that are available will have skyrocketed in price.

In order to keep your bicycle operational during a long-term hard times tragedy event you should also purchase the following book:

Bicycle Maintenance and Repair, 5th Edition, Todd Downs, 2005, $14.


Backyard blacksmithing can be an enjoyable part-time hobby. However, it is not the type of activity that the realistic self-sufficient individual should pursue unless it becomes absolutely necessary at some time in the distant future.

If at some future date you discover that your survival depends on your ability to forge and repair metal then the following book would be a good one to have in your reference library:

Complete Modern Blacksmith, Weygers, 1997, $14.


Firearms are useful for self-defense and for hunting. During a serious long-term tragedy event both of these activities will probably become far more crucial to your survival than they are today.

Gunsmith Screwdriver Set You will need to occasionally take your firearms apart and clean or repair them. If you are outdoors and you get caught in a sudden thunderstorm, then when you get home you will need to be able to take your firearm apart and wipe all the internal parts completely dry. You can find complete disassembly and reassembly instructions for almost every firearm you now own available for free download on the internet. You should locate these instructions, save a digital copy on your computer and on your flash drive, and you should print a hard-copy and put it with your gunsmithing tools. WalMart sells a reasonable set of basic Gunsmith Tools in their Sporting Goods Section for less than $10.00 (see picture on right).

It would also be a very good idea to purchase the following book. It includes disassembly instructions for many of the more popular firearms that are widely available. Even though you may not now own all the firearms discussed in the following book, it would be nice to have that information available because nobody knows how the future will unfold and what weapons you may actually be using ten or twenty years from now.

Survival Gunsmithing, J.B. Wood, 1986, $12.

You should have the following minimum inventory of ammunition for each of your firearms:
If you are considering reloading your ammunition or casting your own lead bullets then you might be interested in the articles at the following page on my web site:

Index of Firearm Topics.


Self-Defense If you have always wanted to learn some form of marital arts (karate, judo, boxing, etc.) then there is nothing wrong with pursuing this course of study. Not only will you benefit from the rigorous exercises but you will also learn how to protect yourself in a hand-to-hand self-defense environment.

However, there are a few shortcomings to these types of training:
  1. You will be taught to obey certain rules in order to compete in contests and to avoid seriously injuring your opponent.
  2. Although these skills will be with you your entire life (the same as learning how to ride a bicycle), as you gradually age you will become less effective than you were when you were younger.
  3. In a life-threatening hand-to-hand self-defense situation, your opponent will not be obeying any rules and he or she will be trying to blind you, permanently cripple you, and kill you.
  4. In a life-threatening self-defense situation, you will probably be attacked by someone who wants the odds in his or her favor and that person will use a loaded firearm or a knife and you will be attacked from the rear without any advance warning.
I only mention the above in order to help you make the transition from what you see in the movies to a real life self-defense situation. If you are attacked in real life then you will need to be able to at least equal the odds against you. This means you should also have a loaded firearm and a knife and you should have some basic knowledge of how to use them. If you are attacked from behind and the other person draws first blood then you would at least have the means to inflict some serious damage on your attacker(s) before you die. If your initial wounds are not fatal then you would also have the opportunity to terminate your attacker(s) and maybe even survive your ordeal.

With the above thoughts in mind I suggest that you download and print a hard-copy of the following Marine training manual, Kill or Get Killed, and that you put that copy inside a three-ring binder. Then I suggest that you read the manual from cover-to-cover. However, I strongly recommend that you do not share any of this knowledge with anyone else, and that especially includes your children. When children are playing they sometimes don't realize how deadly some of their actions can be and you don't want to teach them something they could use to kill or permanently cripple another child.

Wilderness Survival

SAS Survival Guide In the vast majority of situations, remaining where you currently live would probably be the best strategy for a family that does not have a specific location to retreat to in the event of an emergency. However, there are some types of events that would require you to quickly and permanently abandon your current home. If that should happen then you may need to establish a primitive retreat in a hostile wilderness environment. In order to have any chance of long-term success in the woods you will need some basic wilderness survival knowledge. I strongly recommend the following small book as an outstanding reference guide on this topic:

SAS Survival Guide, Collins Gem, Wiseman, ISBN 978-0060849825, small book, Highly Recommended, $8.

The original ten bushcraft books can now be downloaded for free from the following web site. I suggest that you download the files and then print a hard copy of each file. The files are called "books" but they are what most of us would call "chapters." Therefore, it is a relatively easy task to three-hole punch the hard copies and store them all together inside a standard three-ring binder that you could take with you into the wilderness if the need should ever arise:

The 10 Bushcraft Books, by author Richard Harry Graves.


During an extended hard times tragedy event your family will need some form of entertainment (distraction) to help take their minds off the depressing situations that exist all around them. This is absolutely necessary for their long-term mental and physical well-being.

The first book below contains the complete rules for a wide variety of games and the other two books below contain a great assortment of children's stories.

  1. Hoyle's Rules of Games, Third Edition, 2001, $7.
  2. Walt Disney's Story Land: 55 Favorite Stories, 1991 or 1974 edition, Golden Book.
  3. The Children's Treasury: Best Loved Stories and Poems From Around the World, 1987, First Glance Books.

Financial Investments

By this time you are probably wondering if I was going to mention silver, gold, diamonds, and rubies.

If I had purchased everything that I knew I would need to survive a hard times tragedy event, and if I had some extra money left over, then I would probably invest it in silver or gold. That hasn't happened to me yet so I don't have any silver or gold. But if you are one of the fortunate individuals who can afford to buy all the necessities that you might need in the future, and you still have some extra money left over, then my advice would be to invest it in silver and gold coins.

On the other hand, if you have silver and gold coins, and you don't have the other items mentioned above, then you need to pause and answer the following question:

If a serious hard times tragedy event were to occur relatively suddenly, which of the following two situations would you prefer to be in?
  1. Being able to count your silver and gold coins every day but having the knowledge that you will probably not live to celebrate your next birthday because you don't have one or more critical survival necessities, or
  2. Being reasonably secure that you could survive for a few years even though you don't have any money.


The key to successful self-sufficiency is knowledge and experience.

However, the amount of work required to become 100% self-sufficient far exceeds the amount of time that any one family would have to devote to these activities. Therefore, it is important to know which skills are critical to learn immediately, and which skills can be safely learned at some future date if and when the need should eventually arise.

The above article suggests that you acquire the knowledge in all the above skill areas by purchasing a book or downloading and printing a free copy of an internet file.

But, due to time constraints, you will probably not be able to immediately gain practical hands-on experience in every skill area. You will need to prioritize. The above suggestions will help you prioritize in the most important survival skill areas.

Later, as time permits and the situation requires it, you could gradually gain hands-on experience in a variety of other skill areas by consulting your three-ring binders and your reference books on those other topic areas.

Click on www.grandpappy.org for Robert's Home Page.

Grandpappy's e-mail address is: RobertWayneAtkins@hotmail.com