It’s easy to think it won’t happen to us, almost like we’re immune. But things happen, power goes out, floods wash out roads, grocery stores can’t get supplies, gas stations run out of gas. And even though most of the time these events aren’t long-term or life threatening, they often serve as a wake-up call to get prepared. Living in Colorado, up in the mountains, we had a month where it took twice as long to get to a larger town (Boulder or Denver) because flooding washed out our roads. We weren’t stranded, per se, but had trouble getting deliveries of food and gas into town until new routes could be established. If nothing else, it serves to remind us that even if you live in a city, being prepared with a stash of winter survival supplies can make a bad situation not so bad.
You don’t need to build a bomb shelter or stock up a year’s worth of supplies to be prepared, but taking a little time to think about what you’d need and buy some basics could save your life in a pinch. The primary categories of winter survival supplies to consider are food/water (which are vital to life), heat/power and unique needs like medications. Based on where you live, what you have for heat, etc., your list will be different, but here is a basic list to get you started:
Create a stash of nonperishable foods to be used in case of emergencies. Attempt to keep at least a week’s worth of food on hand at all times, but if you have minimal space, plan for at least a couple days. The hard part with food is finding healthy stuff. Often packaged foods are full of questionable ingredients, so do your best, but if you need that food, it means it’s a matter of eating or not, so something is better than nothing. With that said, in times of difficulty, you are going to need your strength and mental clarity, so attempt to have healthy foods available. Veggies like carrots and potatoes and fruits like apples have a long shelf life and don’t need to be refrigerated. That is the type of stuff you want around. Also think about how you will cook without power. If you have a wood stove, you might need to use that or purchase a small camp stove. Keep in mind that foods might take longer to cook this way. I like to keep some canned soup and pasta around for when we’re snowed in.
Outside of the basic nonperishables, walk around your kitchen and think about other needs. Make sure you have a hand-powered can opener and other non-electric gadgets. Then, look in your fridge. Take note of anything that would spoil without refrigeration and attempt to find alternatives. I like canned coconut milk for a non-dairy alternative. In the winter, you could use a snowbank to keep things cool, but don’t rely on that should something happen during warmer weather.
Water can be a major concern and the stuff coming from your faucet may not always be available or safe to drink. Keep a stash of water on hand, either in the form of jugs or bottles and save it for emergency situations. During the flooding, many wells were compromised, and that can become a serious situation, especially if all the stores are sold out of water. Find a safe water source and store that information away for a later date. Is there a natural spring nearby? Could you buy a filtering system? Is there a nearby town with a different water source? Think ahead, just like with food, because clean water is a need, not a luxury.
Batteries and Gas
Easy to forget when you don’t need them, but great if you are stocked when you need to be. Make sure you have batteries to satisfy all your needs, including flashlights, smoke detectors, radios, etc. If you have the space, like a storage shed, keep some gas on hand for emergencies
If you’re without power for days, especially in the winter when the nights are long, you are going to need some sort of light source. Keep a supply of big candles on hand and enough flashlights to fit your needs. For reading or cooking, get a light that clips onto the bill of a baseball cap or find a headlamp. This frees up your hands for getting stuff done. Also make sure you have a good supply of matches and/or lighters.
Make sure you understand what heat sources you have available and alternatives. Electric heat would not be an option without power, but propane or natural gas might still work without it, depending on your system. If you have propane, attempt to keep your tank at least half full so you have enough to last should there be a situation. Heat could be an important factor, especially in the winter. If you burn wood, make sure you have a good supply of dry firewood, kindling and fire starters.
Any medications that are necessary to live, be sure you have a healthy supply at all times or be sure to identify the closest place to get more. It doesn’t hurt to develop an emergency plan with your doctor, especially if you live in the country or an area that could become cut off from the nearest town. Also be sure to have supplies for any situation, like bandages and any health or beauty product you find to be necessary.
This category will be unique to your family. For example, do you need diapers, contact lenses, dog food, etc.? Take some time to consider what you need or could need in an emergency and don’t leave any stones unturned.
While it’s possible you won’t really ever need your winter survival supplies, none of us are invincible. Take this information and do what you think is best for your situation. Where I live, having emergency supplies isn’t just a good idea, it’s almost necessary. Feet of snow happen and that means being snowed in for a couple days. Taking basic precautions and stocking up on a few simple supplies may not mean life or death, but it does determine how comfortable or how scary the situation becomes.
Did I miss anything on this list? Share your emergency supply must-haves in the comments.