Your Smartbooks and Battlebooks, by G.P.

During in-processing to Army Basic Training many years ago, my fellow trainees and I were issued two little books. They were cheaply-made and thin, about 3” x 5” with the longer dimension being their width. One had an orange paper cover, which was for all basic trainees. The other had a white cover, that was for trainees in the specialty of combat engineer. These were always to be carried in our pockets over the next three months.

The contents of these pocket-sized books were cram sheets for the material we were supposed to be learning. They were the condensed and most crucial items that could otherwise be found scattered in a shelf full of military manuals. The little books had diagrams and sketches to illustrate the minimal texts. During any idle time, the drill sergeants expected us to at least be pretending to review the material in the books. Sometimes we would be quizzed on the information, and almost all of it was material that we would be tested on sooner or later. These little books were called smartbooks. The U.S. Army still uses that term, and at least one civilian publisher does, as well. The more recent iterations are thicker and published under the title Soldier’s Manual of Common Tasks (SMCT.)

The intent was always to convey needed information as economically and conveniently as possible. The information is usually technical in nature: arming and disarming landmines, specifications of US weapons, diagrams of tactics, how to install barbed wire obstacles, and so forth. Smartbooks are still being produced by the U.S. Army. For example, there is now a doctrine smartbook that provides a 120-page summary of official training and operational doctrine.

Civilian equivalents exist, of course, such as Glover’s Pocket Reference or the Ugly’s Plumbing and Ugly’s Electrical references. And there are lots of examples exist in the academic world of test prep and study aids, naturally. Many of us will remember using flashcards to improve our recall and understanding of different subjects.

A Smartbook for Preppers

What would a smartbook for preppers look like? It would contain all kinds of handy information for review and reference. Like our pocketbooks from basic training, it would need to be “All killer, no filler.”

  1. Specifications and maintenance procedures for vehicles, equipment, and weapons. If it’s normal for you to have work done by someone else, you’ll want a backup. Tune-up guide for a compound bow? How to make a bowstring, or a rowboat? Construction guide for basic structures.
  2. Area maps, with information attached or included; i.e., vegetation, topography, population densities, land use, groundwater and drainage, transportation networks. Understanding your physical location is huge. Where can you see the farthest? Where is the nearest open water? Nearest powerline right-of-way? What highways and railways are nearby?
  3. Industrial parks, shipping terminals, or mechanical or construction shop areas near you. It would be very valuable to have information about a coal pile or a hydraulic press nearby as just two examples.
  4. Foraging guides, perhaps with butchering diagrams. Recognize what foods are available around you instead of passing them by. How does someone set snares, footholds, live traps, and juglines? How do you prepare acorns or cook a turtle?
  5. Year-round weather data for your area. If there’s a nearby area that is notably different because of altitude or water availability, that microclimate info might be valuable too.
  6. Medical guides for first aid and trauma care. Not a whole set of books – procedures that might be likely to be needed. Care for the sick and injured.
  7. Calorie and nutrition information on various common foods. This will help decide where to spend limited resources.
  8. Tree recognition and BTU table for various woods. What is the best return for your effort in locally available firewood?
  9. Important administrative material: deeds and titles, passport title pages, insurance information, creditors & debtors, utilities, pensions, bank and/or brokerage accounts, maybe key points of your medical history.
  10. Gardening data on growing seasons, pests, soil amendments. A half-dozen tables of planting time, growing seasons, pest control, propagation etc. could make the difference for your gardening efforts. Same for animal care: veterinary info, special feed tips, breeding, and the like. How do you shell and grind corn, season cast iron, etc.
  11. Communications: radio frequencies for various emergency services, commercial vehicles, weather stations, and much more. Situational awareness is a huge key.
  12. All types of special considerations that might apply to you: mountaineering procedures if you live in mountains, border crossing procedures if you live near a frontier, transferring fuels, basic facts about ships and aircraft – the possibilities are too numerous to list.

A smartbook for my refuge location includes local government and utilities contacts, topographic maps, frequencies for emergency services, barge and air traffic routes, a fishing map for a large nearby lake, vehicle service procedures, and some preparation ideas for corn, soybeans and winter wheat – the three major food crops that are grown and stored locally. Foraging guides for medical and food plants would be a good addition. Procedures for processing hides would be good, too.

Assembling Local Want Lists

In practice, one might build a list of “wants” for foraging and barter. It would not be good to trade for something you couldn’t use or to miss the chance to get something that you could use. If one is already out and about, why not be in a position to make trades. If foot patrols are part of your future, that is an opportunity as well, if you know what to look for:

  • “Wilson Road from Pepper Road. Thompson place, 2d on right. Use driveway and call out from wood line. Morning is best. Trades eggs for firewood or chicken feed. He’s looking for a wheelbarrow.
  • Morris place, 3d on right. Slap branch against tree outside fence to get attention. Has good German Shepherd pups, not sure what he’ll take for them.

And so on.

Trade info might look like this: “Someone with a herd of goats needs a tractor tire size ___”, or “I have an M9 with no magazines and someone I know has plenty of magazines but is only willing to trade for certain medications, and now someone tells me that their aunt just passed away and left a drawerful of meds”. Every supply room scrounger knows the importance of this kind of knowledge.

Action Plan = Battlebook

If you are thinking that this is getting more into the area of a working notebook and not a reference and self-teaching resource, then you’re right. Somewhere in here our information becomes specific and prescriptive. We are not feeding our minds anymore; we’re following some kind of action plan. This is a different kind of reference. At the Army Officer Basic Course, my fellow lieutenants and I put together these books, called battlebooks.

A battlebook contains all kinds of specific information related to whatever operation you’re involved in. It starts with the actual operations order, then includes a list of tasks that you’re trying to accomplish, what resources you have to get things done, the needed data, communication plans, how to get support, etc.

Here is a summary example: “Your platoon is acting in support of _____ as they set up a helicopter refueling point. At this date/time group you will move from location A to phase line AA. When supporting fires end, move forward on this azimuth. Medevac is called in on frequency ____. Call battalion HQ on freq ___ to get artillery or close air support. At FARP Lima Quebec, perform perimeter guard for the Forward Support Company as they set up the fuel point.”

Everything in the battlebook supports this operation: commo plans, various supplies for the platoon, maps of the operational phases, plans for the units two levels up, what kind of reports you’ll be making upward, and all the rest of it. You can see company commanders walking around in the middle of an operation checking the 5 x 7 cards that they have in a little accordion file on their chest.

A Prepper’s Equivalent

For a prepper’s purposes, maybe it’s an exact plan to get from location A to a more secure location B. Where is resupply possible along the way? Where can the group rest? Where is medical support if needed? Who needs to be notified when we leave? Alternate routes? How do we get info on conditions ahead?

If you’ll be moving into a borrowed boat or RV or cottage, then you need to know how the utilities work. What kind of supplies do you need to get together? Do you plan to conceal the place? Maybe you’ll want to make up a range card to plan your defenses. Where will help be, if you need it?

Do you see the value of this detailed planning? When you’re tired, stressed, hungry, children are crying, you’re not clear on what’s going on around you – check your instructions. The fact that your orders are self-generated makes them more valuable, not less. Don’t underestimate your ability to forget key steps or even simple information. If you were a soldier given orders to secure a property or to move to a different location or to provide emergency help to someone nearby – what would those orders look like?

These books can take different forms, maybe just a folder on your laptop or a note set on your smartphone. You could put together a pretty good battlebook by just writing out a set of steps on numbered 3″ x 5″ cards. My smartbook is mostly a set of documents in an old office accordion file, with a couple of topographic atlases and a bunch of data in a computer file. A basic presentation folder could be all that you need. Office and school supply stores will provide whatever you need.

Documents protectors can preserve important papers. Backpackers and infantrymen use a product called Map Seal to waterproof paper sheets. It’s a clear liquid that’s brushed onto the surface and left to dry. The sheet will get a little wrinkled, you can iron it flat again if it bothers you.

In Review

The smartbook is a collection of information that you don’t normally need but want to have handy in case things get squishy. The battlebook is a specific set of procedures and plans with supporting technical information, meant to answer the needs of various scenarios. Schedules, contact lists, battle drills, supply checklists and Standard Operating Procedures (here’s how we do this…) can all be parts of this book.

There’s nothing complicated about any of the foregoing. It is just working through the questions of what kind of information do I want to have “just in case” and what kind of plans do I want to put together ahead of time. They are an essential library and a basic plan for various contingencies, and you’re the one who decides what’s in there. Just remember our rule:  “All killer, no filler.”


  1. Very good info. I would also stress that readers should de connect from so much tech reliance for access to necessary subject matter expertise information. Hard copies, able to be referenced grid down, is like stored gold in value. In essence an old timer’s personal library chocked full of reference manual types of knowledge will have as much “necessary” value as a gun boy’s foot locker. Being a Luddite is the new cool kid.

    1. Frosty- excellent point and you know what else you get with books? People’s experiences written in the margins- like use more salt, or do “x” first. Funny I was just thinking yesterday about luddites.

    2. According to Martin Armstrong, there will be no tech companies at all in 2032, and no online shopping either. So assuming that he is correct, or rather that his computer is, electronic equipment and information has about eleven years of life left, unless it is completely separate from the grid and you have long term independent power. Even then, no replacements.

      So yes, hard copies will be best. Fire up your printer for the best of the online information.

      Armstrong has a way of dropping very brief comments in the middle of his posts that are extremely significant. His comment on why China will be the new world economic power after 2032 is that the west will be in even worse shape than they are.

  2. Written/Printed resource libraries & references are invaluable, especially when based on your own experience/trials and errors. You know what works and what doesn’t. Family cooking recipes, instructions how Grandpa did things, Dad’s tricks of fixing the well pump, tuning the truck, sharpening blades,etc. All priceless information to document while you can. Three ring binders, purchased books and a terrabyte vault.

    Remember in Lucifer’s Hammer, the Scientist hid the library in the septic tank to protect it from looters & destroyers for the future generation who would rebuild.

  3. Various online dealers are offering used 120 mm mortar metal containers…..same principle as 30 and 50 cal ammo cans……they will hold a 30 inch and under battle rifle and ammo/ mags they are very very nice air and water proof. Many uses, books, food, supplies, etc. I also use old paint cans once dry they are a very useful and stacked together a intruder would probably not give them a second glance. Would enjoy hearing your ideas on unique storage items.

  4. I have 2 moleskin notebooks with this type of information in them. My daughter calls them “Dad’s books of Apocalyptic Knowledge”. I Find “knowledge nuggets” often a chart or diagram on-line and will cut a screen shot and past it into “Paint” and resize and crop so as to fit in my book. I print them, cut them out of the paper and then use an Elmer’s glue stick and paste them onto the pages. The books do get thicker with this. I have really bad hand writing (where I can’t read my own sometimes) and printing information was important so my wife or kids could read it if I wasn’t around. Not all the information is cut and paste- sometimes I write stuff down while watching a YouTube video. Something else I do is I try to reference where I got the information, probably won’t be useful in the apocalypse but in the mean time. I have a ton of info on common uses for common chemicals like baking soda and vinegar. Information on common herbs/plants that are around my homestead, information on some common “pet” anabiotic’s and their uses.

  5. Great article. I would be a little vague on locations, where my location is. And where the “Thompson and Morris farms” are. Remember your OPSEC and that of your extended group, or folks you barter with.
    When the world we live in goes sideways we will all be living and breathing OPSEC. Once again wonderful article, lots of thought. God bless

  6. I still have my smartbook, range coach card and armory card that says a single burst fire M16A1 rifle is assigned to me and waiting in the armorer’s vault at Fort Dix, NJ…..Ha! After 34 years, I doubt it.
    We can dream though .

  7. Great article. Thanks! There’s a lot to think over.
    Does anyone have any good ideas on how to organize a notebook (not computer program) on how to inventory where preps are stored? For instance by room, by items, a cross reference? I’ve gotten everything where it’s supposed to go, but need to let everyone else know how to easily access “stuff” and know how much of it there is. Thanks in advance.

    1. Try a three ring binder notebook. You can swap out pages easily as needed, and you cannot do that with any bound notebook.

      You can use index inserts for each room and location, or else for type of supply.

    2. I keep my storage information on an Excel spreadsheet which I -print out- every time I update it and keep in my purse. This way, when I spot a sale on something, I know how much I need to round out this or that supply, and also have a paper backup if my computer goes all flooey. I keep similar spreadsheets on my in-home library, my DVD movie collection, and various acquisition wish-lists so that I’ve always got them in my purse (folded in 1/4, and then kept in a little 4×5″ notebook with a rubber band around it). It’s not elegant, but I’ve always got a paper copy on hand.

      Not as nice as a 3-ring binder with sheet dividers, but the binders were too big to bring with me, so I discovered that I tended not to use them as they’re too big and clunky to have on-hand, while it wasn’t convenient to hand-write stuff out into another notebook. Fold in 1/4, stick in the little notebook, and I always have it.

      I keep my preps fairly well-organized by class of item, so I usually know the general ballpark of where I can lay my hands on stuff.

  8. Great reminder article. Thanks for pinging our work completion.

    I labeled my smart book End Times Instructions. But I need a collection box for the critical items so thumb drives and things can be co-located.

    One very useful aspect is to have instruction sheets laminated for the workers who show up to help, as in relatives or friends could take it and correctly do the complete step by step generator setup with light set and phone recharger with slow cooker, etc., etc.

  9. Can anyone provide more links to examples. PDF examples are good because you can download them and study and compare them. Examples are good even if they are for a location different from your own. It is often that I read someone else’s notes and discover ‘gems’ and things I never thought of.

  10. Hey G.P., excellent article, lots to think about and a big help for getting better organized. thanks for taking the time to put this together.

    It’s pretty difficult to be overorganized and I think we can all benefit from getting more organized than we are. In addition to having accessible books, and putting together our own in the way you point out, it’s also important in some areas to keep a “journal” for lack of a better word, where we write down what we’re doing so we can reference back to it. I have journals for my gardening and one for my beekeeping. I can write down planting dates, frost dates, bee swarming dates, all the things I can’t remember from year to year but which we need to help us imporve and do a better job. After the SHTF, we don’t want to be wasting time trying to figure out which bean varieties produce the most dry beans, we want that figured out ahead of time and written in our journals, logbook, whatever you want to call them.

    The main thing I like about your smartbook idea with its 12 points is that we’ll not only learn a lot just putting one together, but it’ll be a quick reference when we need it instead of going into panic mode trying to find information. Just knowing we have it will help keep us, and our loved ones, reassured that we’re going to be okay, we’ve got a plan, and this is not all bad, just something we’re prepared to deal with.

    I’m old enough that I’ve never trusted electrons and wonder what books will be worth in a TEOTWAWKI situation. Those old sets of encyclopedias I see at auctions that they can’t GIVE away will be worth their weight in gold some day.

  11. In reference to your statement about the “13th Amendment” Jim, that’s a fine amendment, used to be the preamble to the original amendment now known as the 14th amendment. But do some research sir, the actual 13th amendment, and the original is here:

    I was part of a team that put in a lt of time and $$ to uncover the coverup … the ramifications of which we are paying dearly for today. “My people perish for lack of knowledge…”

  12. Excellent article!!! You know what would be great? a Smart Book for Our Elected employees”. . . OH WAIT its called the Constitution of the United States!

  13. G.P., great ideas.

    I also include a list of financial information, accounts and passwords for my wife if she suddenly needed to do some of the things I usually do. We have recently been reminded that your lifestyle can change in an instant due to injury, sickness, death or politics.

    Always have a plan B, I guess being a Boy Scout in the 60s and ” Be prepared, is the moto of the true scout” really influenced me.

    Reassess your plans for grown children to join you in TEOTWAWKI because they may be in the other camp now. Suddenly the help you thought would be there may be gone. As we enter our later years we slowly realize can’t do it all any more.

    Lessons learned from the last several months of covid-19 isolation.

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