First steps shopping list

If you’re just starting to think about getting prepared for household emergencies, you might be bewildered by all the advice out there on the net already. The trouble is, most of it is US-centric. The US is a very different place to the UK. Most of their ‘preppers’ are really just wilderness survivalists. We don’t have vast areas of wilderness in the UK, and even if we did I don’t think bugging out to the lake district is going to help much if you have a 3 day power cut. Most people in the UK live in flats or terraced houses in cities and towns. If you own an old farmhouse with 3 fields, this is probably not for you. If you live in a flat in Croydon or a terrace in Kettering, it probably is.

So I’ve written this as a disaster preparedness shopping list for the UK. It’s designed to help get you started on your journey towards greater self-reliance. If you follow the steps here, you’ll be better prepared to deal with power cuts, having the water cut off, being too poorly to do much shopping for a little while, or any number of common small scale inconveniences. It might help a bit if everything goes Mad Max, but that’s not at the forefront of my mind. I think it’s sensible to be reasonably prepared, not a doomsday prepper. Here goes!

The Household List

While most people are probably thinking about water and food as their first step to preparedness, I’d like to highlight the importance of storing some simple household items first. My full household backup article has more detail on all these and more.

Camping Stove. A cheap camping stove and a gas bottle will see you through a powercut. It’s also there if you need to evacuate for any reason. Get one.

Candles. Wilko and Ikea sell huge packs of tealights cheap. They come with their own holder and won’t topple over like the longer ’emergency candles’. Buy plenty of matches too.

Baby Wipes. Great for all manner of cleaning tasks. You can wash yourself with them too in a pinch. Don’t flush them, or even the ‘flushable’ toilet wipes as even they clog sewers.

Soap. Buy a load of the cheapest handgels. It’s important to keep hygiene levels up. You can also use them as fire starters. If hand gel is unavailable, as it was during the Coronavirus pandemic, bars of soap are actually more effective at killing viruses, though a little less convenient. 

Medicines. Stock up on aspirin, paracetamol, ibuprofen, tablets for allergies, diarrhoea, constipation, calpol if you have kids, dioralyte, and cold & flu relief capsules (I find the ones with a mix of Guaifenesin, Paracetamol & Phenylephrine hydrochloride are the best). Lemsip also useful. Try to get any prescription meds you need, by any possible means legally. Stock up on occasional-use meds too, like migraleve, hydrocortisone cream, worming tablets, or whatever you’ve used in the last few years. You’ll have to ask at the counter for many of these so stagger your trips between a few outlets.

Loo Roll. I don’t have a huge store of loo roll, but it’s useful to have a buffer so you’re never down to the last roll.

Washing Liquid & Dishcloths. While we currently use disposable sponges because we hate the planet, in a prolonged emergency we’d switch to reusable dishcloths. Having plenty of washing up liquid is a good idea too.

Foil, Cling film, tupperware. All essential for re-using food. Foil also good for reflecting heat from tealights and all manner of other uses.

Tools. I strongly recommend you invest in a toolbox with basic DIY tools: At a minimum: Claw hammer, nails, pliers, screwdrivers, screws, wallplugs, polyfiller, superglue, a power drill with wood and HSS bits, bow saw, hacksaw, handsaw. I also have a crowbar for pulling pallets apart, and a proper oldschool hand drill for precise work, in case you want to be quiet, or if there’s no power and something needs drilling. Silicone sealant’s also useful to have on hand. A Swiss Army knife is also an excellent thing to have handy and most are legal to carry in the UK. The cheaper brands are not worth buying, but Victorinox ones are high quality. I recommend the Climber or Huntsman model (the latter adds a woodsaw).

Lightbulbs. I’ve upgraded most of the house to LED bulbs so we *shouldn’t* have any lights go ever again, but even so I have a few spare lightbulbs stashed away. The LED ones are a lot brighter; we went for 470 lumen which is apparently equivalent to a 40W bulb, but they’re still really bright. My recommendation is to get the lowest light output to start with and see how you get on.

Period Products. Try a mooncup to see how you get on with it, but failing that keep a good supply of tampons, pads, etc in the house.

Pet Food. This is a hard one; it’s really expensive to buy lots in advance, but 2 things; 1) the price only goes up, and 2) if you give them human food you’re just setting yourself up for a hefty vet bill in years to come.

The Food List

Pasta. The king of carbs! It’s cheap, lasts forever, and versatile. You can never have too much dried pasta. I store spaghetti, penne (tubes) and conchiglie (shells). Farfalle (bows) sometimes don’t cook evenly but that can add a quite nice texture. Try to make sure you store one brand per shape, as I’ve found that mixing for example Morrisons Penne with Asda’s doesn’t work well as one brand sometimes takes drastically longer to cook, even though they’re the same shape.

Rice. We don’t eat much rice because frankly we suck at cooking it and it’s messy to wash up, but it’s still worth having a few kilos stashed away. I prefer basmati for the taste.

Passata. We love passata! It’s one of our staple ingredients. Ten boxes for £3.50? Yes please! It stacks really well too.

Tinned Tomatoes. When you want a bit more texture, adding some tintoms to the pan helps a lot. Buying plum and chopping them yourself is more cost-effective than pre-chopped, but nowadays I value the convenience of being able to just whack them in. Remember, we’re not just prepping for disaster, we’re prepping for “I can’t be bothered to make anything tonight” as well. Sometimes mashing plum tomatoes is too much to manage.

Dried Herbs. When my wife and I moved into our first flat, we quickly became extremely poor due mainly to drinking all our wages away as soon as we got paid. We were 18 at the time. Now in our mid thirties, we still remember the day the dried herbs ran out and our dinner was literally dried pasta and a tin of tomatoes. Trust me when I say seasoning makes all the difference.

Water. Buy as much as you can store. Huge bottles, little bottles, whatever’s most cost-effective. I find that little bottles tend to get pilfered and suddenly you realise you’ve only one left. Then again, if you need to evacuate or quickly pack an overnight bag, those 5 litre bottles are not helpful. So store both. Maybe keep the little bottles less accessible so they don’t get pinched as much.

Tuna. It’s not the cheapest option, but it’s a good protein source that is edible cold or hot and can be added to a number of simple recipes. We buy it when it’s on offer.

Pulses. The ideal budget protein source. Kidney beans, chickpeas, butter beans, all that good stuff. There are tonnes of really easy recipes where you can substitute fresh meat for tinned pulses; our favourites are curries and chillis. Pro tip: Make a huge batch of bean chilli and serve with rice one day, then jackets, then on a bed of lightly salted tortilla chips. Add sour cream or cheese if you have it. Variety is key. Mix it up as dinner one day and lunch the next so it doesn’t feel like you’re eating the same meal twice.

Coconut Milk. Yeah, coconut milk! It lasts ages and gives you the option to make some really good curries at home without having to resort to jars of sauce. Coconut milk and accompanying spice blends are a great stockpile ingredient. Won’t you feel fancy having veg green thai curry with jasmine rice when everyone else is living off fray bentos. Also good for soups. We also keep a stock of the cheapest possible supernoodles.

Flour and Yeast. When the heavy snow of the ‘beast from east’ hit in 2017, the shops ran out of bread for days. Having flour and yeast in our stock cupboard meant we could still feed our fussy eater his marmite toast breakfast. It made us feel better about being snowed-in too. If you don’t have a loaf tin, you can make rolls with just a baking tray.

Stock Cubes. They’re cheap, last ages, and add flavour. We keep chicken, beef and veg cubes as we find we don’t go through the fish or lamb ones as much.

Tinned veg. You can buy tinned onions and they do work, but you never use a whole can, so we don’t stock them personally. Other than that though, there’s carrots, peas, potatoes and whatever else you like!

Tinned Fruit. Grapefruit, peaches, and pineapple are all great tinned. We buy them in juice rather than syrup to make them a bit less sickly.

Soups. Really quick and easy. Can be eaten cold in a pinch (but you won’t need to because you have prepared an emergency camping stove, right?). I just look for whatever has the highest calorie value, but that’s probably more because I take tinned soups with my when wild camping.

Squash. (as in juice). If you end up having to clean water with bleach / steri tabs, a bit of orange squash will help mask the taste. Also it’s tastier than plain water. Again; variety.

Orange Juice Cartons. From concentrate. It lasts ages. We also store unsweetened cranberry juice and mix the two together for a really tasty breakfast drink.

Misc: Jars of black olives for tuna pasta bake, stuffing and dumpling mixes. Sparkling water as a post-Brexit prosecco substitute. Just kidding.