Preppers Are the Modern Survivalists

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Preppers and Survivalists. We throw those terms around to describe two very different groups of people. At first blush, the people who seem to align themselves with the term survivalist are seeking ways of living with virtually no assistance whatsoever. Survivalists of today and even the more distant past pride themselves on being able to make fire from primitive methods, create snares to catch small game or recognize edible plants that can be eaten or used for medicinal purposes. These are tremendously valuable skills.

Our forefathers who set out to claim virgin land for themselves in the untouched wilderness of a new country did this not as a hobby, but a necessary part of their lives. They lived with very little in the way of what we would consider modern conveniences. Sure they usually had more than a knife, but there were no camp stoves, flashlights, semi-automatic weapons, sleeping bags and plastic water bottles with built-in water filtration.

The skills our distant relatives used to carve a home out of the wilderness are still valued and taught today. Some will argue that the only way to be truly self-sufficient is to rid yourself of any modern convenience and live off the land. While I can appreciate the romantic notion of walking out the door and away from the 21st century – living like Thoreau on a lake, I don’t aspire myself to live completely like that although most of me yearns for more of that life than what I am able to get away with today. People who lived on the frontier were heartier, more self-sufficient and inventive perhaps. They also died a lot younger too.

I compare what I do to prepare with those who espouse the virtues of survivalism as if we are one in the same. Preppers are the evolution of survivalism or the development of similar concepts at least and perhaps on some level preppers are harkening back to our roots. Our ingrained thoughts that drive us to prepare could be our heritage calling to us from our subconscious. Maybe as a human species we recognize that we have gotten too far away from something so vital, something that is necessary for ensuring our survival and in a larger sense keeps the balance of the world in order somehow. Deep down, are we really all supposed to be living more self-sufficiently than our modern lives allow? Is this need inside of us to prepare, to get ready, not something we do because of outside indicators like the news, economy or politics, but something deeper within humanity?

Before you think I have been hitting the holiday cheer too early, let me explain what I mean. Preppers around the world have been learning skills they feel they need to answer a call that each of us has to get ready. Survivalists answer a similar call I believe and maybe that is not to get ready, but to learn. In both cases, preppers and survivalists are not sitting back on their laurels believing as many in our country do that all is well and you can always depend on the government to save you. For years this underground movement has grown and taken on many facets and disciplines but the heart of it all is a sense that we need to be ready to take care of ourselves. What was fringe before has become mainstream although we aren’t a majority of the population by any stretch.

The survivalist plans on being stuck in the wilderness with nothing but his mind. The prepper plans to bug out into the woods if necessary, but would rather stay somewhere safe and hopefully surrounded with family and friends. Both survivalists and preppers learn new skills that can be used to increase the likelihood of survival should the modern conveniences we rely on fail us all.

We might not have the same skills, but we prepare for similar reasons. We might not have the same ideology but our goal is self-sufficiency even though our definition of what that actually is might be slightly different and vary from location to location. So what are modern survivalists?

Becoming more self-reliant

Being self-reliant differs from being self-sufficient but they are kissing cousins. Both Preppers and Survivalists want to be more self-reliant and this is due to a lot of reasons. We often want to rely less on the power company and so we learn how to use alternative sources of energy like solar or wind power. By being able to produce your own electricity you depend less on the power company to provide you service. This has benefits in terms of cost and emergencies. If you have your own power you will likely be less affected by storm induced power outages. If you are producing your own electricity your power bill will be lower freeing resources up to purchase other things or reducing the amount of work you need to do in order to pay your bills.

Getting out of debt

Debt is probably one of the top if not the first main problems with our modern society. Debt has ruined our country and other nations as we have been signed onto debts we don’t owe yet will still be mandated to pay for them. Our country’s economics aren’t going to be changed by preppers but you can change your own economics. Getting out of debt will save you money in the long run and reduces your dependence (and liability) on and to creditors. Maybe you will say that everyone must have a credit card to get around these days and I’ll buy that. What you don’t have to have is a balance though. I have been paying down debt as quickly as I can for years and recently just closed out a couple of credit cards I had after paying them off. I still carry credit cards but the balances are shrinking and my plan is to only have one next year with a zero balance.

How will that help you ask? Well, if I lose my job during an economic collapse, it will be much easier to pay for my house if I don’t have any other bills. Instead of paying the credit card bill for shoes that I bought 3 years ago I will instead be able to buy food for my family. Having zero debt or as little as possible is one way you can prepare for shaky economic times.

Stocking up

This might be where survivalists and preppers disagree the most. Preppers will stock up food, water and supplies to last them during hard times. Survivalists will tell you that they don’t need anything and they plan to bug out into the woods if the SHTF. Who am I to say what will work for survivalists, but I just look at the numbers and common sense. Common sense tells me if millions of people are forced to walk into the countryside and try to live, a good many of them will die. I don’t want to be in that number.

So we stock up on supplies that we know will be necessary to live should some crisis happen. We purchase items to make fire, food to feed our family’s and weapons to defend ourselves. Survivalists take a different approach but again we all plan to live. We all want to survive.

Learning Skills

Skills are the great equalizer and both preppers and survivalists try to learn skills to survive. Where they differ is usually the location. Instead of planning to survive in the woods, preppers learn to survive in the cities. We learn how to use a weapon because simply having a gun won’t mean you are any better off than anyone else. I have seen missed shots at 25 yards from a trigger jerk. If you don’t know how to use the weapon you have, it won’t be of much use to you. If you don’t know how to grow food, those survival seeds will not be able to help you. If you don’t know how to treat injuries, all the fish antibiotics in the world won’t help so knowledge is key. Knowledge of how to survive is shared by both preppers and survivalists.

Maybe Preppers are the city cousins to the country survivalists. We are related, but we have different approaches. I think largely we are the same and the word survivalist has just been modified to a more PC version of Prepper. Prepper seems to be more accurate, but maybe that is just what I prefer. We both aim to survive and I think that is all that matters.

Image Credit: JustinM624


  1. Snake Plisken

    November 24, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    Another well thought out article Mr. Henry.

    Your debt paragraph is a great set up to remain debt free by paying your monthly credit card on time and avoiding massive interest.

    Let me tell you where i went wrong the CC’s. I haven’t had a credit card in twenty or more years and I have virtually no credit score because of that. I do have a debit card but that doesn’t seem to factor into the individuals credit score. In fact, my stock broker told me that persons who pay their credit card bill monthly or have no credit card at all are called ‘ deadbeats ‘ by the credit card industry which I find a bit offensive ( I’ve been called much worse!)

    Having a good credit rating does open a lot of doors for long term and appropriate purchases like cars and homes or to cover immediate emergencies as long as a person doesn’t go batsh!t crazy on CC’s.

    In my mind, debt is overall a bad thing and Credit Cards are waaay to tempting. However, if you have the fiscal awareness to contain your CC spending you are ahead of the game.

    As for myself, I pay cash for everything. Home and vehicles are paid for but I have to work 60 to 70 hours a week to save and buy what I need. Most people don’t have that luxury and I’m grateful to the industry I’m in that allows me a danged good lifestyle without CC debt. I have to admit though that I could probably live in a bigger house and drive brand new vehicles if I bowed to the system and had a good credit rating ( again, not judging you, just sayin’)but I’m one of those people who could care less about what my neighbors or co werkers think. Don’t need a big house or the new BMW even though my Dad keeps yelling at me purchase these things.

    I’m reluctant to enter into that economic slavery though. I guess my peace of mind is more important than having a great credit rating but CC’s do have their place.

    Snake Pliskin

    • Pat Henry

      November 26, 2014 at 2:13 pm

      Thank you very much Snake!

  2. SlowPoke

    November 25, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    You are so wrong. Prepper is just a new word for a Survivalist. Did you even look up the word Survivalist? Merriam-Webster.:” a person who believes that government and society will soon fail completely and who stores food, weapons, etc., in order to be prepared to survive when that happens.” Sounds like a Prepper to me. Both store food and supplies, desire a secure location to shelter and want to learn how to do things without the modern conveniences (read: primitive skills). I find most Prepper information very interesting because I am a survivalist (and have been since the mid 70’s) and the mindset is the same. What has changed the technology which will make life after an event easier, but the fragility of some of it only reinforces the need to learn “the old ways”.

    • Pat Henry

      November 26, 2014 at 1:14 pm

      Thanks for the comment slowpoke. To be honest I didn’t look up a definition. Even if I did, I don’t understand what you mean. I am wrong for saying Prepper’s are the new survivalist? When you say that definition “sounds like a prepper to me”?

      Am I missing sarcasm here?

      • SlowPoke

        November 30, 2014 at 5:47 pm

        You’re not wrong in saying that Preppers are the NEW Survivalist but you would be more right if you said that Preppers ARE Survivalist. When you say things like ‘survivalist plan to get stuck in the wilderness with nothing but his mind while preppers plan to bug out’ you make a grand separation. No survivalist in their right mind would plan any thing like that. You say that our differences are in location but, my friend, there are many survivalist in the city just as there are many preppers in the country. We’re not all like Mike Dodge (God bless him). What I’m saying is there is no difference. Maybe the term Prepper came about because of the stigma attached to the word Survivalist. Well, welcome to the club. Due to the crap cable shows and some news feeds Preppers are thought of as fringe weirdos by much of society (read sheeple). Brother, we’re all on the same page, we just want to get through whatever is thrown at the fan.

        • Pat Henry

          December 1, 2014 at 10:19 am

          I hear ya! Thanks again for the comments.

  3. Prepper Farm

    December 1, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    When I look around at my family’s preps, I have to admit debt is our weakest link. I’m glad you brought it up. Paying down the debt is a huge prep for rough times.

    • Pat

      December 2, 2014 at 9:05 am

      Thanks Prepper Farm!

  4. DrEvil007

    December 4, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    While I agree that debt is to be avoided at all costs, and that anyone who is in debt should work at digging themselves out of debt so that they control their money instead of their money (debt) controlling them. But, if one truly believes that society is on the verge of collapse it would be foolish not to take on a mountain of debt in order to acquire additional supplies, tools, property, weapons, etc. If society, the economy, the local, state and federal government all collapses and a massive die out occurs who is better off the person who had no debt before the collapse who owns half they “stuff” they need to survive or the person who piled up a mountain of debt the last six -twelve months before the collapse and because of that owns more “stuff” they could ever possibly use?

  5. Ian Carson

    April 27, 2016 at 5:55 am

    Based on my own journey you are correct in saying that prepping is a natural evolution to being a survivalist.The two have, for many of us, become a natural amalgam.
    Prepping is in many aspects about surviving in COMFORT, rather than merely existing, or to put it another way it’s about living versus existing.

    My great-grandfather had a good job, and he was able to keep his family and some neighbors in comfort where food was concerned, but food was bread and vegetables, he had to hunt and fish to put meat on the table.

    I’ve also noticed a difference in things that are discussed prepper vs survival.

    As an example I remember reading a article about trappers who lived way up in the mountains/wilds. They visited the towns during spring/summer/autumn (fall) and then disappeared once the snows came, not being seen again until the following Spring.
    This particular year they didn’t appear as expected, and as time went on, the people were concerned for them and set out to find them.
    When located it was found they had starved to death despite having PLENTY of food. The reason for this is that their diet wasn’t just exclusively meat, but more or less exclusively RABBIT. It turns out that rabbit lacks certain nutrients that we require in our diet so they can’t provide us a complete meal, and we need to add vegetables to complete the meal and meet our nutritional needs.

    For me I think survivalist and prepper are the two sides of the same coin. Many prepper articles advocate learning new skills, many survivalist articles do the actual teaching. A good example of this are the likes of the SAS Survival Handbook which actually SHOWS you how to do the things. Then you need to get out there and practice.

    • Pat Henry

      April 27, 2016 at 11:35 am

      Good points and thanks for the comments Ian!

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