A Knowledge Pantry Gives You a Library on the Move

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By Zachary Mentz

Having a diverse set of skills is perhaps one of the most important ways to prepare for an unpredictable future. But which skills are the most useful to learn? How can you predict what you’ll need to know?

These were the questions that haunted me when I started taking prepping seriously.

I love learning how to do new things and picking up new skills.

And the internet has been my best teacher. Whenever I need to learn how to do something specific, like changing an electrical outlet or canning leftovers from my garden, I immediately open my phone and either turn to Youtube or some online guide that can walk me through it. It seems like I’m far from alone, too, if you consider about a quarter of Youtube’s 800+ million hosted videos are dedicated to DIYers like me.

However, with all the supply-chain disruptions in our country, outages, and threats to infrastructure encountered since the pandemic, I’ve personally become a little fearful that I might not be able to get online to teach myself those specific things when it might matter most.

How-to books have been a great resource, but they aren’t all that portable if I need to have access to knowledge on the move. Instead, my solution has been to stock up on how-to resources in a “knowledge pantry” that I could access offline.

My “pantry” is just a low-cost tablet with a solar charger (solar chargers go for around $20 online) that I can fit in a bug-out bag and take with me. The tablet makes it portable, and the solar charger makes it usable without grid-powered electricity. I also keep my tablet in a low-cost (also around $20 online) Faraday sleeve, which protects it from EMPs and moisture—maybe a bit overkill, but who knows what disaster I may encounter?

The tablet is loaded with hundreds of downloaded DIY videos, how-to guides, maps, and eBooks that can be referenced without access to the internet – everything I’d need to teach myself a new skill at the time I’d need it. What’s extra nice about having it on a tablet is that it’s affordable (something I’ve been given out as gifts to my family), has a long battery life, and is something I can use as a visual aid right next to whatever project I’m working on.

(A good item to add to your knowledge pantry is our free QUICKSTART Guide to home canning.)

The knowledge stored on the tablet covers a slew of topics, too, including:

  • How to treat a medical condition (e.g., performing CPR, treating hypothermia, stabilizing fractures, etc.)
  • What to do in a natural disaster (I’ve stored all the FEMA disaster guides on mine).
  • How to find/collect drinkable water.
  • How to forage for food.
  • How to build emergency shelters.
  • How to find/signal for help.

I’ve also personalized my knowledge pantry with favorite recipes, music, contact info of my friends/family, owner’s manuals for my (and my extended family’s) vehicles, and WebMD information on the prescriptions my family takes (just in case there are ever side effects I’d want to research while unable to reach a doctor).

In addition to files, though, I’ve also loaded up my tablet with apps that are designed to work offline. For instance, https://osmand.net/ has a free app that will give you near google-maps-like detail of your state offline. “Seek” by iNaturalist will identify any plant/animal/mushroom that you point the tablet’s camera at (completely offline), which can be useful for a number of scenarios, such as identifying edible plants or even identifying threatening animals like venomous snakes. And kiwix.com allows you to download and browse all of Wikipedia and Wikihow’s articles in a searchable format.

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Here’s a demo of my rig.

At first, I stored all my information on a thumb drive. I thought that would be good because it works on most devices, is easy to copy, and it’s portable. However, a thumb drive would always need another device to read it, and I thought I’d be better off with some kind of “all in one” solution so things couldn’t get lost or separated. What I ultimately did instead was put all my information on a small SD card and load the card into a tablet. It won’t get lost that way, and even if something happens to damage the tablet, I can pop out the SD card and reuse it elsewhere.

Should you decide to build your own knowledge pantry of your own, a good idea is to keep it all together and keep it portable. My tablet and accessories (the faraday bag and solar charger) are stored in a durable bright-orange case. I know I’ll be able to quickly identify it and grab it along with my bug-out bag in an emergency.

Even though I don’t know what kind of crisis I might encounter, having a pantry of knowledge that’s not vulnerable to outages and can teach me some quick skills in a pinch is reassuring and something I wanted to share. Whether you are just printing out a few articles or going whole-hog digital like me, it’s important to ask yourself what information you want to keep accessible offline so you, too, can be better prepared for a SHTF situation.

It’s best to go broad when you don’t know what you might need, so tips for creating your own pantry—including links to downloads—are available on TheKnowledgePantry.com.

What do you think about prepping with information?

What do you think about this idea of prepping for a long-term disaster with digital information? Is it something you’re already doing or something you’d consider? Let’s discuss the concept of a knowledge pantry in the comments.

About Zachary Mentz

Zachary is the creator of TheKnowledgePantry.com, a site dedicated to helping people to build a compact form of survival/preparedness knowledge that they can easily grab and take with them should they have to evacuate in a hurry.

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  • Soooo what happens if there is no power or internet to retrieve these? This is why I am reluctant to storing so much electronically but I am a clutter phobe too which can be problematic. 🙂

    • A small solar power panel solves the issue of no electricity. An adapter plug for a vehicle cigarette lighter/power point makes a good backup power option. With a little added wiring/adaptation they can tap power
      directly from any 12v battery.

      In My personal opinion, anything internet based would be unusable. So I have mostly PDF guides stored on USB drives. Although they are not easily adapted to use on a tablet, they are usable on almost any windows laptop or desktop computer you might come across. (After a grid down scenario, most of those will be abandoned by their owners.)
      I also have a 12v to 120v converter, packed in my truck. Just in case I need to use power tools in a remote location for work or camping.
      Which would run most any electrical equipment, that I might need.

      So as long as there are working batteries, I would have electrical power.
      Also I have some of the PDF’s deal with building small off grid power systems for electrical, bio fuel and bio gas. Thus allowing me to build a system or systems for my future power needs.
      Plus I have a lot of medical, gardening, animal husbandry and other topics on PDF’s, a whole library of info.

    • If you download it and store it on your device, you don’t need the internet. As for power, a tablet is really easy to charge with a small solar device. I use one for my phone sometimes and it just takes a few hours to get to full charge. My tablet lasts for several days on one charge if I’m just reading and not watching videos.

  • SD cards and thumb drives are not good for long term storage because they only actually last about 5 years. For portable storage, better to use DVD or, if there’s too much information, redundant portable hard drives. If portability is not an issue, good ol’ paper books (preferably non-acid paper) will last for decades, even if the storage environment is not ideal.

  • Recently, I have read that in the event of an EMP or CME, that a pulse is sent out which takes out the electrical grid and ANYTHING that is plugged into the grid. So here is my question: does anyone really know if an electric/electronic device will fry if it is not plugged in at the time of an EMP/CME?
    Is there any new evidence that supports the use of a Faraday cage?
    BTW – good article. I have a portable external hard drive (that is not plugged in to the system, except to upload files from my laptop) to grab and go, if ever needed.

    • Nope. There are lots of “experts” out there claiming one thing or the other, but in reality it’s all theory. Even a device that’s not plugged in, if it has an antenna, or wiring of any length can accumulate an electrical charge and fry the equipment. There is a lot of talk about whether solid state devices (microchips) would be affected, some say yes, some say no. But again it’s still all calculations, simulations, and hypotheses. I don’t think anybody knows for sure. So much depends on the size of the EMP/CME, distance from the surface of the earth, atmospheric conditions, etc. etc.

      I’m going to keep this really simple, because that’s the only way I understand it, and I don’t know that I’ll use all the right terms, but bare with me. An EMP can basically induce excessive voltage in anything that will hold a current. The Carrington Event saw overvoltage in telegraph lines to the point of creating shocks in operators and caused fires in telegraph offices. So, if you have a 12volt (car) or 120 volt (household) appliance that is subjected to more voltage than it can handle the circuits will fry. Now, most electronics will handle more than they are rated for, but how much? If 1000 volts was induced would they withstand it? What about 10,000, or 50,000? That’s the problem with theories and calculations – you have to input a value that the EMP will create. I read an article a while back that unequivocally stated that new cars, with solid state electronics would not be affected by EMP. Great headline, but if you actually read the article they used a ridiculously low threshold of EMP. If the EMP was larger than that who knows. And that’s the problem. We don’t know how large of EMP would/can be created if it was to be used as a weapon.

      Faraday cages/bags are definitely the answer. But! The device has to be inside when the EMP happens. And there are no warning, no telltale signs of EMP. You are not going to get a heads up that an EMP is on the way, it just happens….instantly. And of course you don’t know if a second or third one is about to occur, so even if your electronics are saved from the first one, if you remove them, they then become susceptible to a second or even third. Always remember that governments are vindictive, and attacks are normally planned in multiples.

  • Well, yep there is that power thing.
    I do have a small solar panel. But we also can go days without any appreciable sunlight. Usually in the winter.
    Then there is if the unit you are reading on is rugged or not. Dropped a brake caliper on a smart phone. Busted the screen.
    Another one got wet. Wont turn on.
    Wife was doing dishes and was on the phone. See where this one is going?
    Panasonic does make Toughbooks, if you dont mind spending that kind of money.
    There are some ruggdized phones and tablets. I have a phone that is supposedly ruggdized. I have my doubts.

    • Dell now makes rugged laptops and tablets comparable to Panasonic Toughbook. Toughbooks are not sold directly to the public, although you can buy used one on ebay. You CAN buy a Dell Rugged laptop or tablet right off the Dell.com website. Just search for “rugged laptop”. They are half or less than the Toughbook. Operate from -40 to 140. Optional rubberized keyboard so sweat and rain won’t get inside. All ports have a tight door on them. Has solid state drives, two batteries and a very rugged case. Only real problem is it comes with Windows 11.

  • While no solution is perfect, I find my tablet a wonderful way to carry many books and apps without undue weight. It charges easily via solar, although this can take some time. The charge will last quite awhile depending upon usage, just as it would if charged from an electrical source. I find this an absolutely viable option and will look into that Faraday sleeve! Thanks!

  • Keep references in folder on your grampa box computer. Set a schedule to update to thumb drive and your android phone internal SD card (or tablet SD card).

  • This is, I believe, a great idea! I believe that because I started years ago downloading articles to multiple thumb drives, so that even without internet, I could access information that I felt that I might find useful. Let’s face it, if I was doing it, it must be a great idea! LOL

    Now for a reality check. Will I be able to access the information after an EMP……I really don’t know. Possibly. But this again brings up another point that I often find with DIY info on the interweb. Once you actually try to use the info, you find you either need special tools and equipment, or specialized skills to make it work. “If your chickens have mites, dust them with …….., or make your own from these ingredients: 1……2…..”.

    Having the information doesn’t necessarily give you the skills or the materials to put it into practice. That’s why we always stress skills and practicing them ahead of time – so that you actually learn the skill. A good example would be first aid/medical supplies. Like many preppers I have a pretty good stock of supplies – even to the point of picking up one of those U.S. military surgical kits. Have I ever done stitches on a human – nope! But I watched Rambo stitch up his own arm in “First Blood”. Does that count? Actually, being raised on a farm I’ve done stitches a couple times on livestock, so I guess I’m ahead of the game. But it doesn’t matter how many books I have stored, with pictures, and instructions, if you get an appendicitis, I don’t have a chance of helping you out.

  • Be sure that info will be at your fingertips when you really need it fast: go old-school and buy ‘how-to’ books. Other devices are just a nice back up when conditions are optimal.

  • Though I have downloaded files and stored them on Zip Drives, they’re secondary to the Printed Hard Copies. Should an EMP or a long term Power Outage occur, e-files will be pretty worthless as they’ll do little good if you can’t access them.
    Yes, I’ve a generator and solar, but an EMP would/could destroy those as well. A lot of the info can be condensed by trimming any excessive verbiage.

    Redundancy will be a virtue when SHTF.

    • Zip Drives? Dude, get high capacity cards. I understand that if that
      is all ya got, then that’s all ya got. Better than nothing.

  • I have be saving pdf prepper articles from the internet in 32 different prepper categories for a few years on my mac. There is about 19 gig of info that I keep on flash drives and make available to those who attend my Essentials4Emergencies seminars essentially for the cost of the flashdrive.

    I also have two different 1TB hard drive mac backups that I switch every couple weeks. I keep one in a metalized coffee bag, + an old mac laptop in a metal garbage can “faraday cage.”

    I also download free prepper oriented ebooks daily. There is a guy that finds 18 ebooks that are free for a few hours or a few days and lists them from Amazon Kindle. I scan through these daily, save those that interest me. I have about 3000 ebooks on prepper items that interest me. (No time to read them now, but they will be a treasure if we lose the grid.)

    • Hey Howard, any chance you’re willing to share some of those with me? I’d gladly buy a thumb drive from you if you’re willing to ship it to me in Kansas.

  • Some thoughts about Faraday “cages”

    Almost any electrically conductive metal container that can be completely sealed ought to work once its contents are insulated from touching the inner surface. While bubble wrap can work … it’s too easy for holes or rips to cause a problem. My favorite (and often free) insulation are coroplast sheets that are cut to fit all of a container’s inside surfaces. While some big box stores like Home Depot, eg., will sell you 4′ by 8′ coroplast sheets, political campaign signs often made of coroplast are usually free the day after election (like tomorrow). Coroplast is durable and long lasting — much more so than bubble wrap.

    While all kinds of metal containers have the potential to be used as Faraday cages, one of the most unusual suggestions I heard recently was to use large old (and highly portable) pressure cookers for which replacement rubber seals were no longer available. To use newer pressure cookers, be sure to remove the rubber seals. In either situation, plug any holes with something made of metal.

    A final thought: while we assume that an EMP event will not come with any warning, it’s probably not safe to assume that after a first strike there will be no more. If I was a bad guy and wanted to maximize damage from an EMP, I’d wait a little time after the first strike to give people some time to pull out their gadgets from Faraday protection so my second strike could take out more stuff.


  • Put that, and a few spare cables, thumb drives with those same books & PDF’s and maybe another solar charger inside an ammo can. Sealed with chrome tape, and lined inside with non-conductors like Mylar anti-static bags, and this Faraday cage will protect against CME/EMP.
    Worried about losing that eReader (Kindle, Kobo, Nook, etc)? Just put your last-generation device inside the sealed electromagnetic safe, and keep the current device up to date. Bring out the backup device every 6 months and update that library, before stashing it again. Add at least one paperback preps book just in case. For this last item I love DiY Fix-It manuals with pictures & practical instructions from used book stores never actually get old.
    Pro-Tip; toss in a silicate desiccant to keep them dry.

  • Nothing is perfect. Paper burns. Paper gets wet. And an armload of paper books is heavy to carry. On the other hand, a strong magnetic field can wipe out your e-book collection in a heartbeat.
    Plus the CONTENT of what it is you’re trying to save deserves as much or more thought than the format. For example, check out my Non-Electric Lighting Series (available in both paper and Kindle). I think you’ll find it worthwhile. https://www.amazon.com/Ron-Brown/e/B08LB1R7L8/ref=aufs_dp_fta_dsk

  • Dear Zachary,
    Just for the record, a lightning falling down on a tree nearby could wipe down our electronics. I don´t think that a Faraday sleeve is an overkill, at all.
    Stay safe people!

  • Books … lots of page filled books. (My rather large collection goes back to the mid 1800’s. And all I need to do is open them and read. Batteries not needed)

  • Suggestion:

    Also, if you have good PDF software, try to compress some of your larger files.

  • The most important PDF, a 300+ page collection of home made wine recipes from a wine blogger that died in 2020:


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