New york in a blackout

How to survive in a world without the power grid.

This is it, game over, man. Game over. The world has ended, or at least it might as well have, your PS4 just lost its power and you just know that it didn’t auto-save. It doesn’t matter anyway, that wasn’t your average power cut. That was the last ever power cut. You’ll never see mains electricity again.

Here is how to survive that.

The world kinda needs electricity now.

Go back a short time, even maybe within your own lifetime and that statement wasn’t true. When I was born in the early 80’s the world had become pretty dependent on power if the power went out, it would have been a disaster but for the most part, we’d probably have the ability to roll with it, however when my parents were born back in the 50’s a world without power would have been little more than an annoyance, in fact, some parts of the UK didn’t even have electricity until the 1960s!

These days, however, we’ve not only become completely dependent on power, we’re raising a generation who doesn’t even know how to manage in a world without it. At least my generation had the knowledge of our parents and grandparents to fall back on.

Not only that, the modern world doesn’t just rely on electricity for things like lighting rooms and powering gadgets. We now need it for cooking our food, washing our clothes and providing us with clean water. It also literally keeps us alive by powering flood defences and stopping nuclear reactors from going into meltdown.

Fry from Futurama, panicking.

Surviving floods and radiation is outside the scope of this article though so let’s ignore that and move on to something a little less petrifying.

Making your own power

Step one of surviving without power is to not have to survive without power. Let’s face it, electricity is awesome, I don’t know about you but I don’t want to have to live in a world with literally none of it. 

Thankfully, we can make it ourselves, it’s not even actually that hard (relatively speaking), here are your options:

1. Solar Power

Ok, this one is kinda cheating as you need to have prepared this before the power goes out (or be lucky enough to live near a solar panel merchant) but as this is a prepping website, I’d consider that par for the course.

You can pick up solar panels fairly cheaply these days, some come with handy USB ports for keeping your devices alive when you’re nowhere near a power socket but the best ones come with charge controllers and are designed to charge 12v batteries, keeping a few of these panels, a few batteries and an inverter or two around will allow you to maintain a moderate amount of electricity. You probably won’t have enough to justify booting up your PS4 again but you’ll at least be able to keep some lights running and boil the kettle.

It is possible to chain batteries together into an array. If you do this and you are able to keep the array charged then you could even power your whole house from it.

There are even all-in-one kits available, which are very handy, especially if you are fond of camping as they are very portable.

Some of the larger solar power solutions even produce so much power that you can get something called a ‘grid tie-in inverter’ which will put all the power it can into your battery array and then (depending on your power companies policies) it can sell the surplus back to the company.

2. Fossil fuel power

Similar to option one, this requires getting hold of a petrol/diesel generator and a fly lead converter, however, these are much easier to come by than solar panels and the chances are there is at least one within a few miles of your house not to mention that the set up is a lot cheaper. Depending on your budget they can drastically vary in power output but it’s entirely possible to run an entire household from a generator.

There are two main downsides to a fuel generator though, they are very loud (could be a problem if you are trying to stay off the radar) and of course, the power will only last as long as there is fuel for it and sooner or later, petrol is going to be harder to come by.

Diesel, however, is a different story, of course, and is relatively straightforward to make. Making enough to keep your generator going is going to be a full-time job by itself and assumes the ability to get hold of the raw materials.

3. Build your own generator

Building a generator isn’t easy but it’s also not beyond the reach of most practically-minded people, in fact, if you have a car or motorbike near you which can be relieved of its engine, most of the work has been done for you already!

Your new generator can be powered by anything which has rotational energy, a wind turbine, a water wheel or even a bicycle!

Once you’ve powered the generator, you can hook it up to your battery array and all of a sudden you have multiple ways to keep your batteries charged.

Living without power

OK, maybe you’re not the type to build a generator and maybe you didn’t have the time/budget/inclination to get hold of some solar panels in time, maybe the world has gone all ‘Revolution’ on you and power has suddenly become impossible to generate. For whatever the reason, there is no electricity in your future and you still want to learn how to get by. So let’s see what our options are.

Fire

Fire

It’s time to get back to our primal roots and learn how to harness the power of fire. Fire isn’t just for cooking and huddling round on a cold night, it can be used for quite a few useful things, such as purifying water, cauterising wounds (although bear in mind there are some serious downsides to this), hardening wood and just generally looking awesome.

Starting a fire is theoretically very easy, however it’s something that takes practice and definitely should be something you attempt fairly regularly. Rather than draw complex diagrams or attempt to explain it in text format. I’ll hand you over to my favourite bush-crafter, David Pearson (fair warning: this guy is adorable)

Now his video is about getting a fire going with one spark. Frankly, starting a fire in one spark, whilst a fun challenge is not something you need to concern yourself with, however, the video has some great advice and is highly worth a watch. He tends to ramble and his videos go off on tangents a lot (much of this video is about him making pine needle tea) so to get to the fire starting bit, jump to around the 7-minute mark.

As he mentions in the video, getting a big bit of wood and putting a match next to it, won’t start a fire. You need some tinder to get a fire going, tinder needs to fit the following criteria:

  • Dry enough to burn
  • Small enough to catch with a spark
  • Will allow air to move past it

He uses cattail but there are countless other things that make great tinder, here are a few I use regularly:

  • Cotton wool (add a bit of vaseline to it and it will go up really easily)
  • Birch bark trimmings (Whenever I go for a wander in the woods, I make sure I get some birch tree bark. Most dried bark will work too but birch bark acts like it’s soaked in petrol)
  • Dry grass
  • Sawdust (make sure it’s not damp or it will smoke – if it lights at all)
  • Wood shavings (especially fatwood shavings)
  • Ripped up paper or card (Note: This is good in a pinch but it won’t burn long and it will smoke something awful)
  • Powdered magnesium (Warning: This stuff burns incredibly hot and fast and practically explodes when you light it, be careful. For best results use it in combination with other tinder)
  • Hair and fur (warning: This will stink, don’t do this unless you absolutely have to)

You’ll also need something to create a spark, David uses a ferro rod and a knife (also known as a flint and steel), this is my preferred method too and I have a bunch of these ones that I keep around (they take a long time to wear out but they will eventually so keep a bunch of them around).

If you don’t have a ferro rod then you can also get a spark from a really sharp piece of flint and a bit of steel that you can strike with it. This isn’t as simple as it sounds (although there are countless tutorials out there) and I highly recommend just getting a bunch of ferro rods, if you even find yourself without one, you can always use just start a fire with sunlight (You know the old trick, tilt a bit of glass and focus the sunlight on a tiny spot until it starts to smoke and then blow on it till a flame starts).

Water

In this new world, you won’t be able to use your taps for very long, so you need to know how to get clean water for drinking and bathing. Here’s how:

Water

Rain:

This is going to be where most of your water comes from once your stocks run out (at least at first) so learning how to capture rainwater is a vital skill to learn. On a small-scale, it’s easy. Put out a bit of tarp or something waterproof, make sure there is a dip in the middle and wait for a downpour. However this isn’t about how to get through a few weeks, it’s about how to get through the rest of your life.

Important note: People think of rainwater as pure, whilst this used to be true, thanks to pollution, it is no longer the case. Plus nearly all rainwater catchment systems are exposed at least in part to the elements which can contaminate your water. Therefore it is vital that you filter and boil all caught water before you drink it.

Step 1: Get a big container

No point catching water if you’ve got nowhere to store it, I highly recommend getting the UN approved water barrels as they are massive (210 litres / 46 Gallons)  and are certified food-grade so you don’t need to worry about chemicals leeching into your water.

These barrels often don’t come with taps, so I’d also get one fitted, put this a few inches above the bottom of the tank in order to limit the changes of your tap being blocked by sediment.

Step 2: Build a rain catching system

This can be as simple as putting a large funnel over the top of your container and letting the water trickle in, you can even use your existing guttering (remember to keep them clean). Either way, you’ll want to put a mesh filter to the inlet of your container to prevent as much sediment as possible from making it into your tank.

If you are preparing a catchment system now, you can also add something called a ‘first flush diverter’ which are often used to keep sediment build up in your guttering out of your main supply. However, the use of these is an oft-argued issue so I will leave you to research that and draw your own conclusions.

Well/Pump:

Eventually, you’ll want to dig a well. This can’t be done anywhere, you’ll need to find the right spot to dig but once it’s dug, you will have a practically infinite supply of fairly clean water. To keep it that way, I recommend also fitting a hand pump as that keeps the well sealed and means you don’t need to lower a bucket down into it.

Bear in mind that well digging – although an ancient art and definitely something you can do by hand – is a LOT easier using modern technology, so if you want to feel truly prepared with your water supply and you are pretty sure your land is suitable for drilling, I’d get a well put in before the power goes out.

If you are doing it by hand though, this is how:

The obvious downside here is that you’ll still need to get a kit beforehand, however, if you are caught out after the end (but still somehow have access to YouTube) then Primitive Technology has got you covered:

Food

The last thing we need to talk about is food. We take for granted how easy it is to get food in a world with power but, take that power away and we’re back to the old ways, sure there will probably be a few trade routes established but you cannot rely on these for your survival, so here is how to get food for yourself.

Hunting

I’ve put this one first but it’s actually the least important skill to learn. Humans do not actually need meat to survive and before the rise of factory farms, we did not base our diets around it. The first thing you should do in a survival situation is to get your body used to not eating meat at every meal. There is no reason you can’t start this now, you’ll be helping your body and the environment.

Enough preaching though here is how to kill things!

Learn some combat skills

This may seem glib but there are multiple ways to get meat and one of them involves combat (albeit one-sided combat), in a post-power society, we would hope that the rule of law will still exist but if the world really has gone to hell, these skills will also help you to defend yourself against other humans.

I recommend at a minimum you learn the following:

  • Archery with a longbow (crossbows break too easily and won’t be easy to maintain without a supply chain, whereas longbows are easy to maintain and even easy to make)
  • How to make a longbow (see the brackets above)
  • How to handle a slingshot.
  • How to handle a spear (spear hunting is used for larger animals that won’t easily be killed with an arrow, if you are in the UK, you probably won’t come across this much, a strong longbow will kill pretty much anything that is alive in this country, provided you steer clear of safari parks and zoos)
  • How to handle a knife (This is less for hunting and more for what to do after the kill has been made, butchering is a large part of this process, however learning knife combat is a very useful skill anyway)
  • How to handle a gun (In any country with sensible gun control, you probably don’t need this skill against people, although an air-rifle makes a good hunting weapon, in the countries with backwards gun control laws though, it’s sadly pretty essential that you learn how to handle a gun)
Learn trapping skills

This one may sound less exciting than combat skills but despite the movie industry making us all think that we’ll need to go all Katniss Everdeen in the woods, animals are actually quite smart and are pretty good at not being hunted, even the most skilled hunters often fail to come back with a kill.

Trapping, however, is a lot more lucrative. Learning how to make a basic snare and a few kill traps will get you far more food than learning archery will.

I suggest YouTube for this topic, there are so many different types of snares and traps out there, that telling you about them all will take forever.

Note: This isn’t a skill you can easily practice as you don’t actually need to kill animals to survive in this world right now. So, before you do this check the laws in your country to make sure you are allowed and please, eat whatever you kill. If possible, don’t kill anything at all and just practice the methods for making the traps.

Gardening

If there were one skill in this section that I would recommend learning right now, it’s gardening. Gardening is hard, it’s really hard. In fact, the first time you try to grow something more complex than watercress, it is quite likely to die.

Thankfully, getting started in gardening is easy, pick a patch of your garden (or get an allotment plot, they are super cheap and come with a whole community of people who will be able to help you out) and get digging. Don’t get too ambitious, start with a small patch and build up. I’m still on this journey myself so I’m far from an expert, however, I can point you to a great YouTube channel: Claires Allotment.

Some of her older videos are not of the highest quality, however, if you start from the beginning, she will take you from an overgrown, plot of land (how most allotments are given to you) to a fertile and productive plot. (Just in case you were wondering, 100% of allotment based skills are transferable to a regular garden – also, water is wet).

She uses tools a lot, some of which won’t work in a post-power society, but we’ve been doing this for centuries so for every power tool we have, there is a hand-powered version too.

Fair warning: In summer, this will be like having a part-time job, you cannot neglect a garden in summer, not even for a week. I would recommend having someone who can help you bear the burden, this is another reason I’d recommend having an allotment even if you do have a large garden as there is always someone willing to lend a hand.

Foraging

Foraging is a great skill to learn as nature has always been a much better gardener than we’ll ever be. It’s a subject that is far too complex and filled with hidden dangers to be able to go into any great detail here and I’m afraid I don’t know of any YouTube channels that are particularly good at giving that information. However, I can recommend a few books:

I also highly recommend going on a foraging course, you can almost guarantee there will be one near you, they usually run spring to autumn.

Scavenging

We have one huge advantage over our ancestors. Even though we don’t have power anymore, we still have many of the products that power provided and they are ours for the taking.

Assuming that commerce is over and the law agrees, the word ‘looting’ no longer applies, you are now scavenging. Tinned food can last for decades and bottled water will never go bad (at least, not bad enough to make you sick – might not taste good though).

Plus there will be fuel and tools that will be usable for many years before they deteriorate past the point of use.

There are so many different places you can scavenge that it’s impossible to list them all, however here are a list of all of the obvious and not-so-obvious ones that I could think of:

  • Supermarkets and grocery stores
  • Warehouses
  • Fuel stations
  • Schools
  • Office blocks
  • Abandoned houses
  • Garden Sheds
  • Cafe’s and restaurants (Don’t forget to check out the back!)
  • Shipping yards
  • Cargo yards
  • Train stations (and trains!)
  • Airports (and planes!)
  • Garden Centres
  • Shopping Malls

Word of warning: Where there are desperate people, there are dangerous people. Whilst I’d never recommended killing someone for their food, it would be unwise to go out scavenging without the means to defend yourself. In the UK, you’ll probably be ok with a knife or a big stick most of the time, in America, you need a gun, you don’t want to be the person who brought a knife to a gun fight and there are too many in America to avoid.

 


 

With any luck, a permanent power cut won’t plunge us into a Mad Max style dystopian future, even though we have become reliant on power now, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn to live without it again, the world would have to become a lot smaller but if we organised ourselves properly and if the people in charge act in the interest of everyone, there is no reason society can’t start running again within a year or two. However, I still recommend learning the above skills as you just never know what is going to happen in the future.