I stay prepped pretty much all year long, but I like to turn things up a notch during winter. Where I live, the nearest major store is an hour and a half round trip. The distance to town is merely an inconvenience in summer, but winter weather can turn the commute into something stressful and even potentially dangerous.
As with many situations in life, it is the little things that can make or break the success of stockpiling for winter. Sure, whole-house generators are a nice perk—and are understandably crucial in some circumstances—but it works for me to concern myself first with the small items. The problem is that small everyday needs can be all too easily overlooked. Here is a short list of must-haves to help you start your own winter stockpile, and a few hints about fine-tuning the list for the needs of your own household.
First, remember that it is about the basics: water, food, shelter, heat, safety, hygiene and comfort for the entire household. Humans, pets and livestock will need to eat, drink and be safe and healthy. Additionally, your location or relationships might mean that neighbors and relatives will be looking to you in the event of a winter emergency, and you will want to be prepared for whatever level of sharing you are willing and able to accept.
For me, winter stockpiles are at least as much about not having to go out when the roads are slippery as it is being ready for a catastrophic event. I focus most of my preparedness efforts on the occurrences that are likely to happen. My winter supplies are usually planned around the likelihood of inclement weather or finding stores sold out of what I need, or even run-of-the-mill unrelated emergencies such as a last-minute work deadline or having a sick animal.
1. Water. You will need some for drinking, some for cooking, and some for your animals. Additionally, you will need water for sanitation and hygiene—brushing teeth, washing, and flushing the toilet. People often do not realize how much water they go through in a day. When considering how much water to stockpile, spend a few days being aware of every drop of water you use. Every time you turn on a faucet, imagine instead having to get that water from a jar or bucket in an emergency.
I keep between six and eight half-gallon mason jars of drinking water tucked away in my cellar pantry at all times. As winter approaches I increase my stores of drinking water, and add at least 15 gallons in lidded buckets for flushing. During winters when I am keeping large livestock, my water stockpile multiplies exponentially. Cows drink a lot.
Your water use may be more or less than mine. If you are unsure, it is better to overestimate your water needs than to underestimate them. If you end up not using the stored winter water, no harm done. Just pour it out onto the garden in spring and start over next season.
2. Food. The important thing about food is to stick with what you will eat. Sure, there might be a sale on cans of anchovies at the liquidation center. But if your family would not eat anchovies unless you were literally starving, pass them by and spend a little more to stock up on what you will eat. Tailor your food supplies to that which can be cooked on whatever equipment you will have available to you if the power goes out, or food that can be eaten cold.
“Oooooh,” my brother messaged me one day last winter, “I have a quarter inch of snow! I better run to the store to buy bread and milk and eggs!”
The joke among those of us who stay prepared all the time is that everyone seems to be in desperate need of milk, bread and eggs whenever a storm is predicted. We watch the TV news and see shelves and milk coolers stripped bare, and long lines at the registers. Don’t get caught being one of those people. Buy a loaf of bread, a package of frozen egg products, and a box of shelf-stable milk the next time you shop for food, and make room for the bread and eggs in your freezer. But plan on never using them—instead, commit right now to staying ahead on all of your grocery necessities. Pick up a gallon of fresh milk a couple of days before the current one is gone. Don’t get down to the last crust before shopping for bread. Put pasta on your shopping list ahead of time.
Do not forget food for animals. Keep pet food, grain and hay stockpiled as much as you can for the winter. If your goats go through 200 pounds of grain or 20 bales of hay a month, keep that amount as a baseline, always buying new as soon as you dip below a month’s worth.
3. Medication. Winter is not the time to run out of over-the-counter remedies for colds, headaches and minor injuries. Whatever your go-to is, from multi-symptom nighttime cold syrup to St. John’s wort tincture, stock up now.
Prescription medications can be a little more challenging to stay ahead of. There is a specific window of time during which pharmacies can legally refill medications—in other words, they cannot refill your 90-day prescription just a month after filling it the last time—but there is often a week or so of leeway. Be diligent, and do not wait until you are down to your last day to go for a refill.
4. Equipment and supplies for handling ice and snow. Depending upon your geography and needs, this might be shovels, snow scoops, roof rakes, chemical ice melt, ice creepers, car windshield scrapers, and more. Buy it now, while it is available, instead of rushing out right before a big storm only to discover that the best quality and least expensive options are sold out, leaving you only the ones nobody else wants.
5. Alternative heating. This looks different in every home. If it is not very cold outside and your house was warm before you lost power, you might be able to get by overnight and even for a few days with only heavy clothing and blankets. Other contingency plans include a wood-burning appliance or another choice of heater run by natural gas or a generator and the fuel it needs to run. Remember that equipment which is designed to run outdoors can cause carbon monoxide poisoning indoors, so whatever you use, make sure it is safe and that you know how to operate it properly. But if you are going to burn wood or propane, or rely on down-filled sleeping bags to keep you warm, stockpile what you need now.
6. Flashlights, lanterns and the batteries to run them. Have an absolute minimum of one lighting appliance per household member, and keep at least two full sets of batteries for each appliance. Always. I keep a flashlight, a small battery-operated lantern, or both, in almost every room in my house.
If the wind is howling and I think power might be interrupted, I keep a flashlight on my person so that I can use it to access other lights and necessities. I do not rely on gas lanterns or candles for power outage lighting, but I do keep a few around for absolute emergencies.
7. Basic household supplies. This varies greatly from one household to the next, but almost always includes batteries, toilet paper, tissues, diapers, and women’s hygiene products. These are the other items that are almost always sold out quickly when a storm is predicted. The way to avoid this is easy—stockpile! Keep an absolute minimum of a month’s worth on hand at all times, and you will be glad you did.
Just like you did with water, assess your needs ahead of time as you go about your daily routines. If you need kitty litter, paper towels, cigarettes or coffee, stock up now.
A lot of winter stockpiling is more about peace of mind than actual needs. Having enough of everything on hand reduces anxiety. Whether the weather forecast is calling for a blizzard of epic proportions or a few inches of slush, you will rest easy knowing you have done all you can to keep yourself and your family from falling in between a rock and a hard place.
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