What is Survivalism?
by Douglas Good
This is a commonly asked question, with no easy answer.
Survivalism has many facets, and takes many forms. It means
something different to everyone. Keep this in mind as I
attempt to give you my best answer to this famous question.
The Survival Mindset
At its most basic level, survivalism is a mindset with
the goal of keeping an individual alive through adverse
circumstances. These circumstances could be lots of things,
from a devastating flood or earthquake to a nuclear attack
or civil war.
Each survivalist has a mental list of "risk situations"
which he or she has determined to be a possible threat.
These situations could be very imminent threats, or only
slight threats. In any case, there is a chance of the risk
situation occurring. The difference between a survivalist
and any other person is that the survivalist has considered
the threatening situations and is taking steps to prepare
in case they occur, whereas others have chosen to ignore
the situations, or don't perceive them as threatening.
It's probably easier to give examples to illustrate my
point. Let's say I live in Iraq. With only a few moments
of thought, I can come up with a list of things that threaten
my survival. They would be war, famine, drought, terrorism,
and earthquakes. (No, I don't know if earthquakes are common
occurrences in Iraq, but we'll assume they are for this
Now that I've determined the risk situations, I need to
figure out which are most likely to occur, and which are
less likely. So, I choose to order them like so:
Understand, the above list is in order of chance
of occurring, not in order of severity of the threat.
In other words, I would be more afraid if my country broke
out in a war than if we had a drought, but I believe the
chances of a drought occurring are far greater than chances
of a war breaking out.
Now that I have a list of risk situations, in order of
probability of occurrence, I can make plans to prepare in
case one or more of them occurs.
Once you understand the thought process that the above
example shows, you understand the "survival mindset".
You've assessed your risks and are now ready to prepare
for them. How you prepare is up to you. The fact that you
are preparing makes you a survivalist.
One motto of the survivalist is "Prepare for the worst,
pray for the best". Each person has to determine how
they will prepare, and must decide what lengths and expense
they will go to with their preparation.
For some people, keeping a weeks worth of canned goods
and a kerosene heater around the house may be their way
of preparing for a blizzard. For others, they may want not
only the food and the heater, but a snowmobile as well.
Still others may decide that if it looks like a terrible
snowstorm, they'll take a trip to their house in a warmer
climate before it hits. In each example above, the person
perceived the blizzard as a threat. The lengths they went
to to prepare were all different. The first person decided
extra food and a second heat source was enough, while the
last person wanted a place to escape to.
No one can tell you how you should prepare for a disaster,
because all of us have different situations we must take
into account. The important thing is that you assess your
threats, and determine how you can prepare for them if they
occur. You need to do what you feel is necessary. If you
feel comfortable knowing that a week's worth of food and
water is stocked up in your kitchen, you're prepared. If
you buy a house in Florida to fly off to, you're prepared.
Many survivalists pick the worst possible scenario to prepare
for. Others choose to prepare for moderate occurrences of
their risk situations. Often times, preparing for the worst
involves a lot of time and money. As with all other aspects
of survivalism, to what level each individual prepares is
up to them. I may feel comfortable with a weeks supply of
food on hand, you may want enough for a month. Or a year.
It's an individual choice that only you can make.
Skill Assessment and Acquisition
Preparation doesn't only involve acquiring material items,
it means acquiring the skills you need to survive. Anyone
can buy material goods and "survival gear". But
if you don't have the skills and knowledge necessary to
use that gear your chances of survival in any type of crisis
lessen substantially. Let me make two examples to illustrate
We'll say one man lives in the city, and feels that one
of his risk situations is rioting. In order for him to survive,
he feels he'll have to leave his apartment and get to his
"safe house", which is a friend's place in the
country 75 miles away. Our second person lives in the country,
and feels his primary risk situation is loss of electricity
during a storm or blizzard.
In the first case, the city dweller may need to travel
on foot for those 75 miles if the streets are blocked with
traffic and such. The skills he'll need are navigation,
hiking, outdoor cooking, stealth, and possibly caching for
storing food along the way. He'll also need to plan several
travel routes to his destination, in case one is in a particularly
bad state. He'll need to consider that the riot could happen
at any time of the year, so cold weather survival skills
could come into play.
Our second example has a different situation. He feels
that a power loss is his biggest threat, so the skills he'll
need revolve around that. He should know how to cook over
a fire, how to preserve food without a refrigerator, how
to use oil lamps and kerosene heaters to keep warm during
winter, and he should have an alternate water supply set
up so he can get water into his home without using an electric
In these two examples, both survivalists need to have knowledge
and skills which are unique to their situations. After you
determine what your risk situations are, and begin stocking
up on supplies for them, you need to assess your skills
and learn what you feel you need to know.
Survivalism, as I see it, is made up of three basic elements
- the survival mindset, material preparation, and skill
assessment and acquisition. You must have all three in order
to be properly prepared for a crisis situation. You, as
an individual need to determine what your risk situations
are, and how to prepare for them. You must consider what
skills and materials you'll need to survive each of your
risk situations, then you'll need to work to acquire them.
The next logical question people ask is "when am I
prepared enough"? The answer is never the same, because
each of us have different situations. You're the only one
who can determine when you've prepared enough. Others can
help you assess your situations, or recommend goods and
gear for a particular risk situation, but only you can determine
when you're ready to survive. One way you can make this
determination is to test yourself. If you feel you'll need
camping skills to make it through a time of crisis, go camping
for a few days and see how you make out. Or, if you believe
you'll need to pack the car and leave in a hurry, try it.
See if you can fit everything in the car you thought you'd
be able to, and see how long it takes. If you're happy with
the result, then you're prepared. If not, keep working at
it until you are.
Survivalism is a mindset that must become a part of your
life. It shouldn't dominate everything you do, but it should
always be in the back of your head. You should approach
each situation in life with a few questions, two of which
are "What are the possible risks involved?" and
"What information, skills, or materials can I gain
from this which will help me get by in risk situations?".
Once you begin to look at life from a survivalists point
of view, you'll view many situations differently then you
do now. Only after you've practiced using the survival mindset
will you truly understand what I'm referring to. But always
remember to keep reading, keep learning, and keep stocking
up. Prepare for the worst, pray for the best.