Drowning in data? Start with shoe-box prepping

By Pat McLene


The Mailbox


This week’s mail maintains one of the themes from last week concerning the futility of prepping, to wit: “Millions will die from lack of water and food. The others who do survive will be murdered, raped and pillaged by their fellow Americans. It isn’t going to be the ‘Walking Dead,’ it’s going to be murder nation on planet Earth. …”

This same poster suggests his arsenal will consist of only a gun and three bullets so that he can take out his family when it all hits the fan.

Two thoughts: One, what an interesting survival strategy; and two, let’s hope you weren’t listening to a replay of Orson Wells’ “War of the Worlds” when you decide to go for it, or won’t you be embarrassed.

Folks, I just finished attending an amazing seminar on threat assessment and local intelligence development. I was surrounded by a bunch of long-time serious prepper experts with years of police, military and governmental experience between them. The instructor, a guy with an impressive military intel background, took us through an exercise where we listed all of the potential disasters that we could imagine and plotted them against their likelihood of occurrence.

We were all pretty amazed to discover that a lot of the popular “end of the world” scenarios were actually very unlikely when analyzed by a bunch of experts. I mean, we all recognized the various threats. But when you actually plot them out, it’s the regional and transient disasters that really demand the most planning. But “end of the world” prepping has become a big business. As one person said in a comment, “It’s all snake oil to make money off the panicked masses.”

It didn’t used to be this way. Most of us old-timers began with the idea of simply being more self-sufficient and, since info on the subject was limited, we made do or did without. Today, however, the freshman prepper can type a few words on Google and immediately drown in the ocean of prepper data, opinion and products. As an example see this link from a respected company called Ready Nutrition.

Old tires

Now please understand Ready Nutrition is a great site. But when their top “Prepper 101” article titles include “How to retread your old shoes with a car tire,” – well, that’s a bit esoteric for the average person who just wants to be able to feed his family if the power goes out.

And it’s that “lights out” condition that most freshman preppers should prepare for first.

According to a Congressional research report, roughly 80 percent of all power outages are weather-related, and fully 95 percent of power outages nationwide are over within four hours or less. To be prepared for the remaining 5 percent (and other disasters of relatively short interval), FEMA recommends that every person keep a three-day (72 hour) supply supply of food and water.

So where does the freshman prepper get this 72-hour kit? Once again, the internet can crush you with its bounty. Every self-sufficiency site out there seems to be selling a 72-hour kit. One gourmet kit (food only) costs about $50 per person and consists of freeze dried meals like Savory Stroganoff, Pasta Alfredo, and Veg Rotini, all packed in Mylar bags that require you to simply add water and heat (which you may not be able to do if the power is out).

Let’s face it, in the kind of emergency situation that will reasonably be over in three days during which you don’t have to do anything but stay put, don’t waste your money. For one-third of the cost or less of these pricey pre-assembled units, you can put together a three-day kit that will be custom-tailored to your family’s food preferences (just in case Veg Rotini doesn’t tickle your palate) and can still be enjoyed even if you have no water nor any way to heat it.

I call this the “Shoebox 72 hour emergency home kit” and it goes like this:

To survive a three day in-house emergency, the average human requires only three things:

  • Water
  • Food
  • Shelter (includes clothing)

To help with the visualization of the space needed for your three-day kit, I will use a highly scientific measurement of volume, the shoe box. The shoe box I used came with a pair of woman’s sneakers size 7 1/2 (352 cubic inches or 0.2 cubic feet). Your shoe box may vary.


So let’s start with water. You should store some water. It doesn’t matter if you think your water supply is independent of the power supply. An earthquake can damage lines. A flood can contaminate water sources. A freeze can break pipes. You need to make sure you have water. So how much?

To get an idea of how much water you need based on your circumstances, try this great plug-in website. To further save you the trouble, let’s figure the water needs for a family of four for three days. A 150-pound individual doing no more than 20 minutes of hard work in very cold conditions will need 0.65 gallons of water a day. A family of four, all weighing an average of 150 pounds, will need a total of 7.8 gallons for three days. A cubic foot of water is about 7.5 gallons, so using our volume measure you would need about five shoe boxes to store all the water a family of four would need in cold weather conditions.

5 box water

(Important safety tip: Do not store water in shoe boxes. Use previously acquired food-grade plastic containers with lids, such as used soda bottles. To each gallon of clean drinking water to be stored, add six drops of liquid household chlorine bleach that contains 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite. Do not use bleach with soaps or scents added.)

7 box water

But what about a situation where the weather is very hot? Probably need a whole lot more water, right? Nope. How about 11 ounces more per person per day. Yes, really. The numbers go up with exercise, but if you are stuck somewhere for three days waiting for the power to come back on, you might as well chill anyway. Now, I could calculate it all out again but I hate numbers, so let’s splurge and have a water party! We’ll put aside 12 gallons of water or roughly 1.5 cubic feet of water. Just how big an volume is that? Now we’re up to 7.5 shoe boxes.


Now on to the the food, the best part of the shoe box system.

Daily caloric needs for men, women and children obviously differ. But as an approximation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends men consume between 2,000 to 2,600 calories per day if they’re sedentary. So, since men need the greater number of calories, we will use 2300 calories per day for each of our four family members.

Thinking about getting prepared? Check out the WND Superstore for all your needs – from informational books, movies to shovels, water purifiers, and food from soup to nuts!

So what does the beginning prepper store in his 72-hour food supply? Anything he wants … with certain provisos:

  • The food must store long term
  • The food must be edible without cooking
  • The food must be something the family members will eat

So what magical food will fulfill these requirements? Plain old commercial canned food.

A lot of people don’t realize that prepared commercial canned food is already cooked and can be eaten right out of the can. Sure, we all “cook” a can of soup again before we eat it, but it’s not actually necessary.

So what types of canned foods does your family like? Chili con carne? Buy it up! Mini ravioli? Get a case! Chunky clam chowder? Chow down!

The important thing here is what you’re willing to eat and how many calories it will provide. If you still have a means of heating it up, so much the better. But if not, so what? It’s food that comes with its own bowl. No dishes to wash.

Now some may say, “Pat! What about nutrition?” And I say, “It’s three days. You can worry about eating healthy on the fourth.” However, do include some cans of fruits or vegetables. Not for nutritional reasons but for “regularity” issues – otherwise Day Three may be more of a trial then it should be.


So how many shoe boxes are we talking about for food? Well, a can of Dinty Moore beef stew contains 400 calories. My kids like SpaghettiOs (360 calories per can). Let’s just work with the stew for ease of calculation. Six cans of stew equals 2400 calories or one day’s worth of calories for one person. Therefore if all we had was beef stew (the horrors!), we’d need 72 cans of stew for the four family members for three days. I can fit about eight cans in my shoe box, therefore nine shoe boxes will feed four people for three days.

What I’m saying here is that calories are king. Later on we’ll address nutrition when we cover your three-month or one-year supply of food.


Finally, let’s talk shelter. In any short-term emergency, sheltering in place is always your best bet. But if the power goes out in the cold of winter and you don’t have any way to heat your surroundings (such as a fireplace, wood stove or certified gas heat), then your best bet is a community shelter or a friend with a heat source. Whatever you do, please please don’t rig up a DIY gas heater or a charcoal briquet grill in your home. It will kill you and those you love from carbon monoxide poisoning. But if you can’t get to a shelter, then you need to layer up and bag down.

We’ll discuss more about prepper clothing in a later column.

Oh, and one last thing. Your food and water should be used up and replaced at least once a year – and you don’t have to store everything in shoe boxes. But do keep everything together and make sure you have a can opener. The whole system kind of falls apart if you can’t open the cans.

Bon Appétit!

prepper math

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