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Quick: what do you do if you’re in the city, the grid is down, and the toilet won’t flush? Break out the cat litter, contractor bags, and a trusty 5 gallon bucket, of course!

But how long is that single tub of cat litter in the back of the garage going to last your family? Is your pallet of fifty pound bags actually a year’s supply? We know “one gallon of water per person per day,” but how much litter is needed to clump it all up afterwards?

The role of cat litter in sanitation is to bind up the moisture in the gloppy mess of sewage making it easier to handle, inhibiting bacterial growth, and thus reducing odor. We need enough to bind the moisture and cut the smell to acceptable levels. As you cannot measure smell, this estimation will be based on the amount of water we need to bind.

Why do you need cat litter?

The average human produces about 4.5oz of solid waste per day of which 3.5oz is water [1]. We also produce about 1.5 quarts (3lbs) of liquid waste per day [2]. In total, there is about 3.25lbs of water in our waste per person per day.

There are several kinds of cat litter on the market: clay, clumping clay, silica crystal, and natural litters like pine and paper. What we’re concerned with is how much water an amount of litter can absorb per pound.

Silica-crystal based litters can absorb about 40 times their weight in water [3]. Sodium bentonite clay (‘clumping’ litter) is good for 10-15 times its weight [4], and other clay (non-clumping) is good for half of that – about 6 times its weight [4]. Pine litter can absorb 3 times its weight [5] and cellulose (paper) litter can handle 1.5 times its weight [6].

Read More: Importance of Sanitation after SHTF

Note that a lot of manufacturers give “x times more absorbent than clay” ratings, but don’t tell which clay, per volume or per weight, and so on, so I stuck to claims of “absorbs x times its weight in water” to have a better common point of reference. This could also vary by manufacturer, so read up on your litter of choice to get the most accurate estimate.

These are maximum ratings reported by the sellers, so they are likely spruced up. We have to keep surface area in mind as well: even if you can technically dry your daily solid waste with 0.1oz of silica litter, if that’s not enough to cover the leavings, the litter is not going reach everything without stirring. Gross!

Reliance Products Luggable Loo Portable 5 Gallon Toilet

In a stressful emergency situation, no one is going to have the patience to scientifically ration the litter by weight, either. Litter absorbs by the pound, but you will use it by the scoop. Even if you get a scoop sized to your litter’s absorbency (you do have your custom titanium grid-down scoop, right?), you might scoop a level scoop while junior uses heaping scoops.

All this suggests we should build in some wiggle room. Silica is powerful, but also likely to be surface-area restricted. I would estimate silica litter can easily handle 20x of its weight in water, clumping clay litters 10x, clay 3x, pine 2x, and paper 1x. Given that in a sanitation emergency you will need to account for drinking extra water if it is hot or you get sick, we should also round-up the amount of liquids to 4lbs to be safe.

Thus, a fast and loose estimate of the amount of litter you need per person per day is going to be 4lbs divided by the absorbency number above. For instance, silica litter is 20x, so 4lbs divided by 20 is going to be 0.2lbs per person per day. A standard clay litter is 3x. 4lbs divided by 3 is 1.33lbs of clay litter per person per day, or a family of four using a whole 20lb bag of litter in 4 days!

If you’re in a hi-rise where the grid going down will take the sewer pumps with it, it might not be unreasonable to have a week supply of litter, so that family of 4 will need close to 40lbs of standard clay litter! I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to drag that much cat litter up the stairs or find a place to store it. Thankfully, with a bit of planning we can reduce this number by a factor of 8.

Liquid waste is the bigger problem – 3lbs vs 0.25lb of solid. Liquid waste is also sterile, and an airtight lid keeps the smell down, so you could separate solid from liquid and use litter on the solids only without creating too much of a health risk. Even doubling for wiggle room would leave us with 0.5lbs of water in solid waste per person per day. That 20lb bag now lasts a family of four for a whole month!

In practice, this means putting an airtight jar or jug next to your waste receptacle to be emptied into an airtight bucket away from the living space such as in the far corner of your balcony or just outside your door. Keep in mind small children may need instruction and prompting to make sure they’re with the program. The ladies may also appreciate certain accommodations. Talk to them for ideas.

What to do with all that mess?

But what do you do with a full bucket? Depending on fluid intake, you might be dealing with around 1.5 quarts of liquid waste per person per day or 1.5 gallons for four people.

Though liquid waste is sterile, I would not recommend dumping. Venturing outside your apartment in a densely populated area sans utilities is a bad idea to start with, and would you just let someone dump 5 gallons of waste on your lawn? The city might fine you when order is restored as well. You have to do what you have to do, but don’t plan on being that guy!

Eliminate the worry of #2 with this simple makeshift toilet.

I would also avoid depending on your garden, especially a container garden which has no subsoil for the waste to leach into. Liquid waste has high concentrations of salt and nitrates, which most plants can’t handle without dilution. This requires water, which is precious in a grid-down situation. It also risks exposing your food supply to any medications or supplements you’re taking, and if you’re eating heavily preserved foods like MREs, all those chemicals are going into your plants too. Yuck!

Buckets are cheap and stack-able, so it is feasible to maintain 1.5 quarts of bucket per person per day, or 9-10 five gallon buckets per month for a family of four. 15 three gallon buckets would also work if you would rather lug 24lbs at a time rather than 40lbs. Figure out a place to store full buckets and you’ll be all set.

Remember kitty litter and buckets will run out. A week’s supply is a good idea, and a two-week supply will probably be enough for most circumstances. If you’re planning for a month, you would be better off figuring out the logistics for a longer term solution such as a latrine or leach well dug deep into a nearby flower bed.

So there you have it – a “gallon per day” rule of thumb for a cat litter sanitation solution:

First check what type of litter you are buying to figure out its absorbency. Silica crystals: 20x, sodium bentonite clay: 10x. Other clay: 3x. Pine: 2x. Cellulose: 1x.

Divide 4lbs of waste per person per day by the absorbency number above to get a ballpark estimate of how much litter you need. Just like with water, multiply by 2 or 3 if you want to be cautious.

If you have a plan to deal with liquid waste separately, you can get away with replacing the 4lbs above with 0.5lbs, but remember to add extra in case of illness.

Remember that people won’t weigh litter scientifically each time they need to go, so get a grid-down scoop sized for your litter at the dollar store and make sure everyone in your household understands your litter strategy. And don’t forget the needs of your actual cats!


[1] Average human solid waste production:
[2] Average human liquid waste production:
[3] Silica litter absorbency:
[4] Clumping and non-clumping litter absorbency:
[5] Pine cat litter absorbency:
[6] Paper cat litter absorbency:

Quick: what do you do if you’re in the city, the grid is down, and the toilet won’t flush? Break out the cat litter, contractor bags, and a trusty 5

In almost every post we talk of preparing for disasters or emergencies and the simple steps you can take ahead of time to become prepared. Being prepared for specific or even general instances is a worthy goal, but once you get beyond the basics of survival what else is needed? The basics of survival are food, water, shelter and security and we lay out a lot of ideas and recommendations for how to cover those four bases in our how to start prepping article. But does that advice make sense for you in your situation when someone asks you the question what are you prepping for? In some cases, are the basics really basic? What constitutes a disaster to you and is there only one path to becoming “prepared” for anyone and everyone?

What are you prepping for?

There are some really great prepping checklists out there and the general idea is that you can print out these lists of items to purchase or gather together and when you have completely checked off everything on the checklist, you will be all set. It’s so simple when you look at it this way, but the problem or at least something to consider with any checklist is how it pertains to you and your situation. Does this checklist make sense and more importantly, will it help you get prepared for what you think is coming down the road?

I think the answer could be no in certain situations and that is what I wanted to discuss today. Just because you have a list of survival items, it doesn’t mean that you will survive. Having gear doesn’t guarantee you will make it through anything better than anyone else, but they can be useful tools that could assist you in a survival scenario. I could have all the mountain climbing gear that the professionals own and still not possess the skills to make it up or down a mountain if I had to rely on the gear I didn’t know how to use. Could I use the rope somehow to help me down a sheer face? Possibly, but is getting that type of gear going to help me in my home in suburbia?

I think before you start compiling lists of items and wearing out your credit card on Amazon.com or the local camping store it is important to frame your efforts by getting a general picture of your end destination prior to jumping in and going in directions that might not help you get there in the fastest way. Before you start gathering a ton of gear for your bug out bag, ask yourself the question, what am I prepping for? Doomsday preppers does this every week and they let the preppers state what they are preparing for. You will hear in their own words everything from super tornadoes to massive earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear war, economic collapse, government tyranny, global pandemic and dozens of others. These preppers have all put a figurative face on what it is they are preparing for and they can state what that is.

It’s important to have something you can visualize I believe because every decision after that can be viewed from the standpoint of is this going to help me prepare for X. Is this box of MRE’s going to help me prepare for an EMP attack from North Korea? Will this shotgun protect me from a super volcano? Will these heirloom seeds protect me from an earthquake? You aren’t limited to one thing either and for a lot of us, we see a few different scenarios that could happen and we prepare accordingly for both. Knowing what you are preparing for will help you identify what you need to do and putting these into a priority order will assist you when you ask yourself the next question of what to do first. The priority is up to you based upon what you know.

What will you need to be able to survive that threat?

After you know what it is you are prepping for, the next step is to make those lists that will help you cope with whatever disaster you are envisioning. If you could lay out everything you think you need on the floor to deal with that disaster you identified above, what would that list of items be? I will say that the four basics of Food, Water, Shelter and Security would be at the top of any list for the simple reason that you have to have all of those to live. You must have food or you will die in three weeks. You must have clean water or you will die in three days and you must have shelter from the elements or you could die in three hours. Those are pretty universal and should be at the top of anyone’s prepper list of supplies if you plan on any disaster that will prevent you from easily accessing these items for some duration.

I include security in my 4 basics because history shows again and again that in bad times, bad people will do bad things. Even some good people will do bad things out of desperation. I don’t want to have to defend my home with a can of green beans so I have firearms to protect my family.

But what else? The other items on your list begin after you have taken care of the basics. What does your disaster scenario tell you about your preps? What are the gaps between what you have and what you believe you need to survive a disaster?

Inventory what you currently have

When people ask me how to start prepping, there are a lot of things you could potentially need to take care of but in most cases, you already have some supplies.

One of the misconceptions about being a prepper is that the first thing you need to do is run out and get some camouflage pants and buy a gas mask, hop on your 4-wheeler and go tearing through the woods. Leave that to the people who are on Doomsday Preppers. The average family doesn’t do anything like that but again it goes back to what you are prepping for and if those camo pants or that gas mask could help you with your envisioned disaster. Let’s say you are prepping for something that happens every year in every state and that is a temporary loss of electrical power due to storms. What items would you need to deal with a blackout? What items on your lists do you already have and what do you need to consider acquiring?

For starters you should consider light. Most people already have flashlights, some may have lanterns and almost everyone can scrounge up a candle from somewhere. Do you have any way to prepare the food you have stored? Can you cook if the power has gone out? What about backup power? Do you have a generator or solar panels and batteries? Do you have a car? If so, an easy way to provide power in a blackout is to run an inverter off your car into your home. This will give you enough juice to power small electronics and charge things like cell phones and laptops. The only thing you would need really is the inverter and plenty of fuel that has been stored properly to run your car. For my lists, I write down everything I have as well as everything I need so that all items can be considered as part of my plan. This way I can identify where I have some redundancy built in.

Who are you prepping for?

Many of you are prepping for families and most of the items you would need to consider for any type of disaster could benefit everyone in your home, but there are some items you will need to be specific about. Do you have small children who are still in diapers or are drinking formula? Do you have pets that will need to be fed if the disaster prevents you from making it out to the store? What about taking your pets with you during a disaster? Do you have elderly relatives that may need to stay with you? Does anyone have medications that need to be kept cool? Do you have enough of these medications to last the duration of the disaster?

One thing I have tried to balance is my family’s needs versus their fashion sense. In my family, I am the only guy so it isn’t easy getting the women in my life to buy rugged 5.11 tactical pants. I can’t convince them that their trendy footwear is all but worthless and they should buy more substantial shoes that could actually last if we had to walk a hundred miles. I already know that any thoughts of us bugging out into the woods would not go as smoothly as I hope, even if I thought that was a good idea. The amount of gear they can handle, the intensity of work they might be asked to do and their general morale needs have to be considered in a disaster or else you could have meltdowns when you are already stressed to the breaking point. If you are planning to survive, you have to plan for everyone’s needs and their limitations as well. This will further help you know what you need to focus on and what should get priority.

What skills do you have to survive?

Thinking about your disaster that you are planning for, visualize what life will be like in the immediate aftermath. What situations can you see happening to your family that you would be relied upon to deal with since you are the one who was ‘into prepping’ in the first place. Could you offer basic first aid? Do you know how to properly use the firearms you want to purchase? Do you already have a garden for those heirloom seeds? Do you know how to address sanitation issues and keep your family healthy so that an easily preventable bug doesn’t kill them?

In our society that has everything functioning, we stopped worrying about all the things we used to worry about. Clean (relatively) water comes out of the tap and washes our waste away never to be seen again. We have washers and driers to get our clothes clean and dishwashers to clean our dishes. Warm showers keep us clean and if we get injured we have ambulances and hospitals. What if you take all of that away?

Skills in living without the conveniences of life might trump knowing how to start a fire with a fire plough if you have plenty of lighters. You might need to figure out how to take care of everyone’s bathroom needs sooner than you think so don’t assume you need to be a ninja medic and that’s it. Survival isn’t always Rambo running through the woods of Washington state making booby traps. Survival is the small but important things too and knowing how to deal with number 2 might be more practical to know than how to make a booby trap.

How long?

Lastly, once I have all the supplies listed that I think I need, start adding time to the duration. Are you planning for a power outage that lasts 3 days? What if it lasted 3 weeks? We have had that before with winter storms so it is certainly possible. That global pandemic? What if you had to stay in your home for 6 months? How would that affect your supplies?

You can start off small and cover the basics and build as you go. As you build out your supplies, you should be able to weather longer durations of the disaster. How long do you plan for? That is really up to you and your resources. FEMA recommends being able to live in your home for 3 days. I think a wiser goal that should account for 98% of all events would be more like 6 months. Do your supplies allow you to do this?

Hopefully this helps any of you who are trying to formulate a disaster plan. If you have any questions or suggestions please let me know in the comment below and good luck!

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In almost every post we talk of preparing for disasters or emergencies and the simple steps you can take ahead of time to become prepared. Being prepared for specific or

If you are reading this article, I would imagine that you have never eaten an MRE before. Why do I say that? Well, for anyone who has eaten MREs you probably already have a strong opinion about them or at the very least, your experience might be based upon military service years ago. I had eaten more than my fair share of MREs when I was in the Army, but things have changed as you would expect with the passage of more years than I want to think about so I decided to take them up on the offer and while I was at it, share my opinion on what if any place MREs have in the food storage plan for preppers.

My military experience was let’s just say in the last century and MREs have gone through some pretty decent changes and updates since the time I was chowing down. For those who don’t know what an MRE is, the Acronym stands for Meal Ready to Eat and this is what is given to our soldiers when they aren’t near a mess hall. When I was in the field we would usually get an MRE for lunch. Breakfast and dinners would be a hot meal, or it started out as hot when we crowded around the mess tent or the insulated containers they drove out to us on the back of a jeep. By the time you got somewhere to eat your meal it was usually cold. We would only go to the field in the winter time naturally.

MREs at the time were pretty much like they are now, but the menus have improved and some minor details have made this meal in a bag much more palatable if you can believe that. I served before they had things like M&M’s or skittles for dessert and hot sauce to flavor your food. We also didn’t have a built-in heater like they do now. If you wanted your MRE warm you were limited only by your creativity. MRE food packets are foil so they are both waterproof and allow you to heat them on almost anything. We would use the heater vents in our trucks, lay them on our stoves in the tent or on the block of our engines.

MREs come in boxes of 12 and each MRE is a different meal. You quickly learn which meals you like and which ones you don’t. If you were unfortunate enough to be the last one to the box you got what everyone else passed over. When I was in the service I think the worst meal was the beef patty. There are some similarities between the meals. They all come with an entrée, some side and a dessert. You get crackers and peanut butter or cheese, a condiment packet and usually a drink mix. We would even come up with our own names for meals that displayed our disdain for the contents. One meal, Meatballs with barbecue sauce was affectionately called ‘Meat nuts with Barf A Shoe’ sauce by myself and the guys in my unit. I am sure there are millions of other creative renames. I actually liked that MRE and I think it was pretty much my go-to meal as long as I could beat everyone to the box.

I opened up a box looking for some differences in the contents on the bag and searching for my old favorites because I was definitely getting the best MRE and I wouldn’t be stuck with the Beef patty. I was surprised at the options. For starters we didn’t have anything vegetarian when I was in the service, but this box had Vegetarian Ratatouille, Vegetarian Lasagna and Apple Maple Rolled Oats. Breakfast?? They also had the old standbys of Pork Sausage Patty and it looked like my Meatballs with Barbecue sauce was changed to Meatballs in Marinara sauce. That is what I decided to taste first.

What do MREs taste like?

Before I get into what the MREs from Meal Kit Supply tasted like, I wanted to set expectations here. When you tear open a bag like this, you aren’t getting fresh ingredients from the garden prepared by a classically trained French chef. You are getting food that was designed for the military to pack enough calories in there to keep them alive, be waterproof, tolerate being mistreated and last for 5 years sitting in a warehouse most likely. If you are expecting Ruth’s Chris here or maybe even Golden Corral, you might be in for a surprise.

Everything in the bag.

I opened my MRE and noticed that everything was still pretty much the same. You have food in foil packets although my packets weren’t in separate boxes. They did include the nutritional insert though and I never understood why they had the extra boxes anyway. Another thing we didn’t have when I was in was the handy ration heater. The ration heater is activated by placing a little water in a bag. The water mixes with an element and causes a chemical reaction that generates heat. You wrap your entrée in the bag,  and in 10 minutes you are supposed to have a hot meal. It didn’t work that way for me.

Everything you need plus a big long spoon to reach the bottom of the bag.

I followed the instructions or so I thought but my heater didn’t warm up. I waited the 10 minutes but finally decided to eat my meatballs cold. They weren’t bad at all, but I know they would have been so much better warm. My survival dog certainly loved the taste too when I gave her one of the small meatballs to taste. When I finished eating, I noticed that the warmer was finally getting warm so I placed my Au gratin potatoes in there. Yes, they had Au gratin potatoes and although they didn’t have the slightly burnt edges from being in the oven but they were cheesy and filling. They only needed a little salt and pepper to doctor them up. The heater worked just fine after-all.

The Ration Heater instructions say that it works best if you place a heavy object on the packet.

So far so good. I broke out the crackers; literally because they came apart in my hands. This wasn’t the fault of the manufacturer I don’t think. I was just clumsy. Regardless, once I had my peanut butter on them they were great. I finished up with the dessert, Vanilla pudding which to prepare you needed to mix a little water in the bag and shake the bag for 60 seconds before it was ready. This was definitely good!

How do MRE’s fit into a Prepper Plan?

Any prepper plan has to take into consideration what food options will be best in various situations. Usually we recommend different types of food for different scenarios. If the power goes out you look for food that doesn’t need to be cooked. Canned tuna, MRE’s and snack bars fall into this category of course so do a lot of other foods. You want to store foods that your family will eat but there is also a need to have long-term storable food that you can take with you in a bug out bag. Frequently I will recommend freeze-dried foods for bug out bags, but those do require some preparation. For starters they need hot water or else you are eating rocks. MREs do not need water (except the pudding) and you don’t even need to heat them up.

My dog was a big fan of the Meatballs.

There are some weight considerations in that MREs weigh more than freeze dried food but they do have their advantages. I have a few boxes stored as part of my food storage plan because they are an easy way to get the calories you need for survival. I also have food stored in buckets, canned food and freeze-dried food. I am an equal opportunity food storage person and there is something to be said for having variety. Are MREs the the best prepper food? I don’t think there is ever a single best food for all prepper situations, but MREs are proven reliable. If our military uses them you can bet that you could find reasons to use them too. They are more expensive than other options but you don’t have to prepare anything, they even throw in the salt, pepper and a little moist towelette to wipe your face and hands when you are done. They used to come with toilet paper and chewing gum but apparently that is not part of these MREs.

You can get a box of 12 MRE’s yourself and try them out or just place them aside for an emergency. MRE’s are another good food option that will store for a long time and could save your life.

If you are reading this article, I would imagine that you have never eaten an MRE before. Why do I say that? Well, for anyone who has eaten MREs you