There are many definitions of “survivalist” (or “prepper”) on the internet, but essentially it is someone who makes preparations so that any emergency such as a hurricane, economic collapse, nuclear war, etc. will have a minimal impact on his or her lifestyle. There are also many types of survivalists who all focus on different things depending on their situation and what they expect to happen. Here are the most common scenarios that concern survivalists:
Biochemical. The concern here is with fatal diseases and chemicals such as anthrax, cholera, HIV, SARS, swine flu, etc. An outbreak of one of these could happen by accident or on purpose by a group of terrorists. This means purchasing respirators, gloves, sanitizers, plastic sheeting and other related items and learning about sanitation and hygiene.
Economic. This is a very popular concern right now, and for good reason. Overspending and monetary manipulation by the government and central banks could lead to a new deflationary depression like in the 1930’s United States or a hyperinflationary scenario like in modern-day Zimbabwe. Preparing for this means converting your wealth from money into things that maintain their value such as food, water, guns and ammunition, precious metals, and other things that could become rare or too expensive.
Eschatological. Many Christians believe that current events are the fulfillment of prophecies such as those made in the Book of Revelation and that they will live to see the return of Jesus Christ. Most believe their savior will rescue them before the period of time known as the Tribulation (when the anti-christ turns Earth into a worldwide dictatorship). Others believe they will have to survive through these days before Jesus returns and are focused on long-term food storage and self-sufficiency.
Malthusian. This movement goes back to Thomas Malthus who believed exponential population growth would eventually lead to limited resources such as food, water and energy. Many advocates believe widespread famine and disease will bring the population back into balance with Earth’s resources. Again, food, water storage and self-sufficiency is the way to prepare for this scenario.
Medical. Has to do with preparing for more common medical emergencies such as car accidents, choking, drowning, etc. These people are typically know the Heimlick Maneuver or how to perform CPR and understand the basics of the human body and healthy vital signs. They stockpile first aid kits, medicine, and books on medical treatment and often donate blood or volunteer for the Red Cross.
Natural Disaster, brief. There are multiple brief disasters: earthquakes, blizzards, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and so on. The focus here is on reinforcing doors and windows and stocking up on enough food and other supplies to last until help arrives. This usually involves getting or putting together a bug out bag.
Natural Disaster, long-term. A long natural disaster could be something like a multi-year weather cycle that kills crops with heat, cold, too much or too little rain, etc. People preparing for this stock up on several tons of food and likely have greenhouse and non-hybrid seeds.
Natural Disaster, permanent. Something that could last for generations—perhaps forever—such as global warming, a new ice age or a large meteor strike. You have to be a pretty hardcore survivalist to prepare for this. To survive it would take a bunker with enough food, water and supplies to last a lifetime.
Peak Oil. Peak oil doomers, like Malthusians, believe the exponential function will be our downfall. The idea is that humans are using too much oil and that over the next several decades oil will become more scarce and more expensive. And since our society relies on oil, it will have devastating consequences on the economy and infrastructure. To survive this, people would have to learn to live with very little, if any, electricity and possessions.
Rawlesian. Followers of James Wesley Rawles who has written several books on survivalism and runs the site, SurvivalBlog.com. These people are usually conservative gun-owners who prepare for all types of disasters and have a homestead (a piece of land where they can be self reliant).
Safety. Involves preparing for and avoiding life-threatening situations such as fires, home invasions, lightning strikes, plane crashes, snake bites and other such emergencies. For example, a safety survivalist usually owns a fire extinguisher. A good book for this is The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook.
Self Defense. The focus here is on surviving violent encounters with dangerous people and usually requires training in danger awareness, martial arts and use of weapons such as knives and guns, and home defense.
Technological. Possible scenarios include indefinite power outages, computer viruses that bring commerce to a standstill, nano-technology run amok, and other technological disasters. The focus is on learning to survive and thrive without electricity and technology by practicing skills such as cooking without power.
Wilderness. This has to do with surviving on your own when lost/stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash, shipwreck, camping trip, etc. These people carry survival kits with food, water purifiers, medical gear and navigation equipment and have learned skills such as how to start a fire.
World War. The threat of nuclear war was a major concern during the Cold War, but it is still relevant today due to entanglements in the Middle East and rogue states such as North Korea. People worried about war usually have a bomb shelter and all types of food and supplies.
Zombies. Most people don’t actually believe the dead are going to rise from the grave. However, many fear that humans could become infected with an extremely contagious form of rabies. Preparing for these possibilities means stocking up on lots of guns and ammunition and having either a safe retreat or a great BOV with all the necessary supplies.
If you’re new to all this, the number of potential disasters can be very overwhelming and it might be hard to decide where to begin. I suggest you do your own research, decide which of the above scenarios concerns you the most and start preparing accordingly. For example, I began with a focus on what I think is the most likely scenario: an economic meltdown. I started by stocking up on food, water and items I can trade in case there is a new Great Depression. Since then I’ve expanded into preps for natural disasters and world war.
Decide which type of survivalist you are and start from there.
What to read next: Why The World Needs Survivalists