Could a self-storage unit help you survive the end of the world?

Doomsday “preppers,” as survivalists call themselves today, certainly think so. And while much of their planning has less to do with “Walking Dead”-style zombie apocalypses than gathering resources to withstand the all-too-real possibility of natural disasters and infrastructure collapses, the pros and cons of off-site storage units keep prepper websites buzzing these days.

“Some preppers do rent them for storage,” said Lisa Bedford, author of “Survival Mom: How to Prepare Your Family for Everyday Disasters and Worst-Case Scenarios.” “A lot of preppers have what they term a ‘bug out’ vehicle, or BOV, such as a tricked-out Humvee or an RV to use as an emergency dwelling, that may not be a good fit for their neighborhood. A storage unit could be practical for them.”

Michelle Ronco, manager of Bach Self Storage in Twin Falls, ID, counts preppers among her more conscientious customers.

“They come to us and want to know exactly what they can and can’t store,” Ronco said. “We’re the only climate-controlled facility around here, so a lot of them choose us for that reason.”

But as with most things prepping-related, survival depends on the details.

Here’s how four prominent preppers would incorporate self-storage into their survival planning.

lisa bedford

Lisa Bedford, aka “The Survival Mom”

Define Your Needs
Patty Hahne, author of “Doomsday Prepping Crash Course” and owner of the PreppersIllustrated website, said preppers rent off-site storage for two reasons.

“The first is, you don’t have enough space at home to store everything you think you might need to survive in an emergency. In this case, you want a unit that is close to your home,” Hahne said. “The second is because you want to have a cache of supplies stored off-site in the event you ever have to bug out and leave your home. In this case, you want a unit that is near your pre-planned bug-out location or along the route to get there.”

Bernie Carr, author of “The Prepper’s Pocket Guide” and the ApartmentPrepper website, recommends a facility in a safe neighborhood with an on-site manager, 24-hour security monitoring, frequent pest control and after-hours access.

Medical Must-Haves
Dr. James Hubbard, a Colorado physician whose survival guides and website promote first-aid readiness, said climate control is crucial for storing medical supplies.

“You have to make sure that medications are stored in a cool, dry site with no extremes of temperature,” he says. “If a unit is above 85 or 90 degrees, that’s not a good place to store extra prescription or over-the-counter medications.”

Dr. James Hubbard

Dr. James Hubbard, aka “The Survival Doctor”

In addition to storing the usual medical kit with gauze, bandages, finger splints and adhesive tape, Hubbard recommends a blood pressure cuff, suture supplies, and a small device called an oximeter that clips on the finger to measure pulse and blood oxygen levels.

“That would be handy in air quality or toxic airborne situations, as well as pneumonias and infections,” he said. “Even if you don’t know how to use them, chances are someone near you will.”

Food Storage Precautions
Long-term food storage always presents a challenge. Add the heat, humidity and the possibility of insects or rodents in a self-storage environment, and stockpiling suddenly seems like an endless task.

Michelle Ronco, the Idaho storage manager, has seen the downside of improper food storage.

“We had somebody put sacks of potatoes in their unit, and they rotted. It was horrible!” she recalled. “I don’t know what they were thinking.”

While big-box stores market survivalist-size caches of nonperishable food, Hubbard said their success might be limited in a storage unit. “Extremes of temperature may decrease the expiration dates on canned foods,” the physician said.

canned food

Climate control is critical for food storage.

Avoid Water Torture
Water is perhaps the most common prepper item stored off-site, and for good reason: It’s bulky for home storage, essential for survival and commercially bottled for ease of handling.

“Be sure to rotate it out and use it before the expiration dates,” said Patty Hahne, the PreppersIllustrated owner.

Hubbard added that, once again, climate control is key.

“If a unit gets real hot, those chemicals in the plastic bottles can leach out into the water,” he warned.

Store With Permission
Two prepper mainstays can prove problematic in storage: gasoline and firearms.

Lindsey, manager of Red Mountain Storage in Mesa, AZ, who requested anonymity, said her facility prohibits both.

firearms storage

Storage of firearms can pose a problem.

“We do restrict things like firearms, as well as anything that would be flammable, hazardous or toxic,” she said.

But Ronco said her facility welcomes firearms. “We have lots of people who put firearms safes in their units, and they typically ask us if it’s OK,” she said.

Best advice? “”Flammable items such as gasoline, diesel, lamp oil, camp fuel and propane are generally not allowed,” Hahne said. “Be sure to follow all of their rules.”

An Inhospitable Shelter
Properly protected nonperishable items such as camping gear, clothing, blankets and tarps are good candidates for long-term storage.

But most preppers shy away from preparing to use their storage units as even temporary shelter. In addition to lacking toilets and running water—and even lighting and electronic access if the power goes out—a doomsday-era storage unit might not be safe.

“In a doomsday scenario, these facilities will quickly be targeted by looters who haven’t prepared and are looking to steal things they need to survive,” Hahne said. “Your safety could be at risk if you are in a locker when the looters arrive.”

Jay MacDonald