The Prepper Continuum

I’ve been doing this prepper thing for a long time now, roughly thirty years and counting. While I missed the heyday of people like Kurt Saxon and Mel Tappan, I did get started right around the time Ragnar Benson’s books became wildly popular. We’re talking the mid 1980s or so.

This was back when the Cold War was still at its height and survivalists near and far were concerned about the Soviets finally pushing the button. There was a lot of talk about underground bunkers and fallout protection.

Flash forward a little less than two decades and the concern became Y2K. Oh no! All the computers are going to crash because some nitwit forgot to account for the year 2000 in the electronics and programs.

Today, the threats have changed a little. Now, for end of the world type threats, we talk about EMP, the Yellowstone caldera, increasingly severe weather, the New Madrid fault, and yes, even nuclear war, primarily thanks to the window licker currently in charge of North Korea.

At the same time these threats have morphed into other concerns, my own prepping style has changed. In talking to other preppers and survivalists, I’ve learned many of them have gone through the same developmental process, at least to one degree or another.

We’ll call it the Prepping Continuum.

It all starts with building a survival kit. Call it a bug out bag, a Get Out Of Dodge (GOOD) kit, or an I’m Never Coming Home (INCH) bag, it all amounts to the same basic thing — a collection of gear and supplies to keep you alive. From there, the plan becomes focused on bugging out. Head for the hills and live in a debris hut, eating food you’ve caught or hunted.

As the prepper gets older, and hopefully wiser, he begins to think, Y’know, I’m not 20 years old anymore. Living in a grass hut just doesn’t appeal, at least not as a long-term solution. By this time, the survivalist may have a wife and children in tow as well, which obviously complicates things. So, the focus shifts to more of a shelter in place plan. After all, that’s where all the gear is, right? Better to be ensconced at home than become a well-equipped refugee.

Go a little further down the Prepper Continuum and you’ll see things change even more. Now, instead of just thinking about hunkering down at home, the prepper is looking to connect with others and maybe set up a group of sorts. Many hands make light work, y’know? By coming together, the group may be better able to meet everyone’s needs, especially when it comes to someone watching your six while you zonk out for a few hours.

Eventually, at the far end, opposite the bugging out forever stage, you come to the idea of living in a settled and established village or small town. One that already has a doctor’s office or two, a dentist, and a whole ton of rural folks who know how to do more with less and make do or do without. In other words, a community of preppers, though they might think of themselves as homesteaders if anything at all.

Where are you in the Prepper Continuum?

What a post-collapse world may be like

[The following is taken from my upcoming book, THE PREPPER’S COMPLETE BOOK OF DISASTER READINESS. In this section of the book, we’re discussing how daily routines will be different after a total societal collapse.]

Prepper's Complete Guide cover

In the wake of a collapse, you likely won’t be commuting to and from a day job. Gone will be your morning latte and the daily newspaper. No more hour-long lunch breaks sitting on Facebook, making plans for the weekend. Instead, it will be a much harder schedule. Sun up to sun down will probably involve demanding physical work doing one thing or another.

Many of the chores that are made so much easier today by appliances and electricity will need to be done by hand. Laundry, for example, won’t be nearly as simple as tossing the clothes into a metal box and spinning a dial. Instead, it could take the better part of a day with two people working together just to do the laundry for a week. Waste from toilets will need to be disposed of in some fashion. Meals won’t be just a matter of heating something up in the microwave but instead require a fair amount of planning as well as preparation.

As chores are performed, people will need to be very diligent and careful so as to avoid injuries. Even the smallest cut could become infected and, with a lack of medical resources, any infection could easily have serious consequences.

Forget all about daily showers or baths. You’ll want to conserve water as best you can so unless you happen to be near a lake or river, it’ll be sponge baths most of the time. Clothes will be worn multiple times before washing, with the possible exception of underwear and socks. People will dress much more for comfort and utility rather than fashion. Short skirts, ties, and dress shoes will gather dust in closets.

In the winter months, families will likely sleep all in one room to take advantage of body heat. There will be little to no privacy, save perhaps for sheets hung from the ceiling to create makeshift walls.

Assuming the disaster causes a permanent or at least long-term power outage, people will eventually turn to candles and oil lamps for illumination. Odds are pretty good this will lead to an increase in home fires and with a distinct absence of well-equipped fire departments, many of these homes will be total losses as a result.

Boy, all that sounds like a heap of no fun, doesn’t it? No, it sure doesn’t sound like a good time but the fact is, that’s probably pretty close to what reality will be like during a prolonged crisis. In my experience, there are entirely too many preppers and survivalists who have sort of a romanticized notion of what a post-collapse world will be like. Sure, it’ll be awesome to not have to worry any more about those credit card bills and the mortgage or rent payment. But, like anything else in life, it comes at a price.

The advantage you have now though is you can work to mitigate some of these negative aspects. You can learn the skills you’ll need, you can stockpile supplies, and you can make plans for the future.

Urban Caches

There are two main reasons why you’d want to set up a cache or two. First, it is to hide items you want reasonably accessible but not in the home. For example, you have a few firearms you want to keep out of reach of young children. The second reason is to set up locations where you can resupply yourself if you’re on the move, such as during a bug out.

Caches are a great idea, if they are located properly.

If you’re out in a rural area, setting up a cache can be as easy as digging a hole. As long as you’re off the beaten path, the odds of someone stumbling across it even with a metal detector are fairly remote. Caching in an urban area though requires some creative thinking. It can be more difficult than rural caching in that there is a higher degree of risk of you either being seen planting the cache or that someone else may happen across it.

One suggestion would be to install a fake utility box on the outside of a building and use it for a cache. Add a padlock and your stuff should be reasonably safe.

If you work in an office environment, what about stashing some stuff in the drop ceiling of the bathroom?

Burying caches at a public park is possible but probably illegal, keep that in mind.

If you’re looking to keep the cache closer to home, you could bury it under your rain barrel or even your sidewalk.

Urban caching may be a bit more difficult but it certainly isn’t impossible.

The Importance of Cordage in Survival Kits

Cordage is one of those things you could make in the field, at least theoretically and provided you found the right plants. But, honestly, it is so much easier to just pack some in each of your survival kits.

In my opinion, I feel cordage is second only to a good blade in terms of usefulness in a survival kit.

There are just so many tasks that are made infinitely easier with even a shoelace, let alone several feet of good quality paracord.

–Lashing together an expedient shelter.
–Hanging food from a tree to keep it away from animals.
–Tying gear to your pack.
–Replacing broken boot laces.
–Bow drill for starting fires.


As you might guess, I recommend paracord over other forms of cordage. For those not familiar with it, paracord is a truly wonderful invention. I liken it to duct tape in terms of usefulness. Paracord consists of several strands of nylon cord, with each of them made of 2 or 3 even smaller strands woven together. These inner strands are then covered by a sheath, itself made of nylon. The end result is you conceivably have seventy or more feet of total cordage with just ten feet of paracord.

What I think is one of the coolest features of paracord is that in spite of the incredible strength, it is much thinner than you might expect. Seriously, I have shoelaces that are thicker. What this means is you can easily fit a dozen feet or more in even a very small survival kit.

Coupled with having cordage is knowing how to use it effectively. I highly encourage preppers to head to their local library and find a book or two on knots, then practice some of the more useful ones like the square knot, the bowline, and the clove hitch.

Prepping For Lockdowns

What with almost all of Boston being placed on lockdown as authorities hunt for the second bomber, as well as countless lockdown situations occurring recently from coast to coast, I thought it might be a good idea to review preps you want in place in case you find yourself in a similar situation.

There are several types of incidents that can cause a lockdown. Most commonly though, it is due to some sort of manhunt. Could be someone with a possible firearm was seen walking near a school, for example, which has happened at least a couple times locally. (Turned out, in one case it was a pellet gun and in the other it was an Airsoft pistol, with neither incident involving any sort of malicious intent.) Often, these lockdowns last maybe an hour or two, but obviously there is no way to reliably predict how long it could go on. Therefore, it is a great idea to prepare ahead of time. After all, if I were a betting man, I’d lay pretty good money that as we go forward, we’re going to see more rather than less lockdowns.

There are only a few real priorities you should keep in mind when prepping for a lockdown.

Food and water top the list. While you probably won’t be hunkered down for a day or two, it could be that it happens just as you were planning to go out for lunch, you missed breakfast, and the vending machines at work are too far away to get to easily. Keep a bottle or two of water in your cubicle or workspace, as well as a couple granola bars or something similar. If you feel particularly generous, keep enough on hand to feed your co-workers as well.

Another priority is a way to communicate, or at least get information. For most people, they count on their cell phones more than they probably should. As we saw in the aftermath of the bombings in Boston, as well as in previous disasters, cell towers get overwhelmed and the service becomes unreliable at best. A simple battery operated radio will help you keep abreast of developments in the area.


A lockdown kit is something I also suggest parents put together to send with their kids to school. Just some snacks and a couple bottles of water in a plastic bag will suffice. The child should keep this in their desk or locker. While many elementary school teachers often try to keep a stash of snacks, Murphy’s Law says the day they forgot to stock up will be the day they need them the most.

Lockdowns can be very stressful but by planning ahead you can mitigate the anxiety at least a little.

Guerrilla Gardening

Guerrilla gardening refers to planting food crops on land you don’t strictly own or in places that don’t look like gardens.

I like to think of guerrilla gardens as sort of like hidden caches of food, in a way.

Guerrilla gardening can be used in both the city and in rural areas. The basic idea is to plant vegetables or fruits in out of the way areas, where hopefully there is little chance of discovery. Abandoned city lots are sometimes used, as are edges of farm fields.

Obviously, you don’t want to use plants that need a lot of upkeep. Stick with things like potatoes, berries, onions, and squash. Sunflowers are another good one. No, you likely won’t be able to grow enough food to sustain you, let alone an entire family, through guerrilla gardening. But it is a great way to help augment your normal gardens.

guerrilla gardening

This is also a way to grow food at your offsite retreat if you are unable to be there full-time to tend to things.

What you might consider doing, if you expect a lengthy trip should you need to bug out, is plant some stuff along your route. Of course, there are no guarantees that things will be ready to eat, or even still present, during your bug out. But, I can guarantee nothing will be there if you don’t plant it ahead of time.

Dealing with crowds

As I write this, news reports are just now filtering in about the explosions at the Boston marathon. I can only imagine how chaotic the scene must be. I pray those injured heal quickly and that the person or people behind the explosions are caught soon.

Being trapped in a panic-stricken crowd can be deadly. Here’s what to do.

The first order of business is to get out of the crowd. Trying to fight your way in the opposite direction is a recipe for failure. Instead, move across the crowd. Walk at an angle, moving toward one side of the group. If you are with family or friends, lock arms to try and stay together. Holding hands may not be sufficient. Small children should be carried if at all possible.


If you stumble and fall, do everything you can to get back to your feet immediately. If this proves impossible, curl up and cover your head with your arms to protect it.

Once you reach the sidelines of the crowd, keep going. If possible, head down side streets that may be less traveled. If there are storefronts, consider ducking inside and ask to use the back door to get away from the crowd.

Don’t stop moving until you get far away from the crowd. Then, assess any injuries and make plans for how to get back home.

Scary things are afoot in NY

Let’s say you received a letter in the mail from your state level law enforcement agency and said letter commands you to surrender any and all firearms in your possession to your local police department. You have no criminal record whatsoever and nothing, as far as you know, inhibits your legal right to own any firearms. What do you do? Well, one guy in NY found out what is going on. Upon receiving his letter, he contacted his attorney.

Apparently, the New York State Police have access to at least some citizens’ medical records. What they are doing is making a list of those people who have ever undergone some form of psychiatric care that included prescriptions for certain medications relating to the treatment of depression and anxiety.

I wish I was making this up. I wish this was the plot in some novel.

Some of you, no doubt, are thinking these medical records should be protected by HIPAA. However, again according to the story, this is the key part of that privacy law that applies.

A major goal of the Privacy Rule is to assure that individuals’ health information is properly protected while allowing the flow of health information needed to provide and promote high quality health care and to protect the public’s health and well being.

The emphasis on that last part is mine. See, the argument appears to be that the public’s health and well being may be in jeopardy if someone who was treated for depression or anxiety in the past now has access to firearms. Also, there is this portion of the New York SAFE Act.

The NY SAFE Act is designed to remove firearms from those who seek to do harm to themselves or others. This means keeping the minority of individuals with serious mental illness who may be dangerous away from access to firearms. This law should not dissuade any individual from seeking mental health services they need.

The question is, though, who determines which individuals are at risk for doing harm to themselves or others? Well, apparently, the answer in this case at least is the New York State Police.

Now, this doesn’t affect me because 1) I don’t live in New York and 2) I lost all my firearms in a tragic riverboat accident years ago. But, is this a sign of things to come in other states?

How fast can you travel?

As part of your survival planning, you need to take into account how quickly you’d be able to travel from point A to point B. While this will differ for everyone, there are some common guidelines to bear in mind.

First, a group can only travel as fast as the slowest member. If you have children, this is a key point to remember. Trying to force them to keep up with an adult pace is not only unrealistic, it is actually rather mean-spirited. Younger children might be able to be carried for short distances but trying to lug around a 35lb child along with a 40lb pack is going to wear you out pretty darn quickly.

Second, while we try to stress the ideal of getting out ahead of the crowd, this just may not happen for a variety of reasons. You might be at work or just visiting a well populated area when an event happens. Suddenly, everyone is trying to flee and there really was no opportunity to get out first. Or, you were laid out at home with the flu or recovering from surgery and by the time you’re able to move about the masses have made the decision to head for the proverbial hills. Think back to the news footage of the traffic snarls ahead of Katrina’s landfall.


If you end up on foot, how far can you realistically plan on traveling in a day? 20 miles? 10? 5? As you plot your routes, remember that you may need to circle around towns and potential roadblocks. You could easily travel for several hours and only move a few miles toward your goal.

Walking a leisurely pace on a nice spring or fall day is one thing, bugging out in the middle of summer or winter is another thing entirely. What do you want to bet that, should the time come you need to bug out for real, good old Murphy is going to show up with a thunderstorm or blizzard?

Do some practicing now and figure out how fast you can realistically travel, as well as how long you can keep up that pace. This is information better learned now than later.

Cutting Costs to Increase Preps Budget

A common refrain I hear is how prepping is expensive and folks just don’t have much wiggle room in the budget. No doubt about it, costs keep going up and up and few people are seeing increases on their paychecks (provided they are getting any) to offset it. I know I haven’t seen any sort of raise or merit increase on my day job paycheck for about five years now.

Absent some sort of financial windfall, the best way to increase the budget for preps is to cut costs elsewhere.


Look first at what we might call luxury items in the overall budget. Cable TV is one example. While the cost of such service varies depending on location and provider, I can tell you that by eliminating that service, my wife and I are now saving close to $100/month. Honestly, we rarely ever watched TV anyway and relied more often on Netflix and DVDs from the library for entertainment. We get all our news from the daily paper and from online sources.

I’ll admit we eat out far more often than we really should. With a family of five, hitting a local fast food joint for burgers and fries costs us about $40. If we just eliminated two fast food meals a month, that’s $80 back in our pockets.

Most of us are, at best, casually energy-conscious. Sure, we try to turn off lights here and there when they’re not being used but I’d bet you could be more vigilant about it. Pay attention also to energy leeches like microwave ovens and DVD players. Even when they aren’t being used, they still use electricity to keep the clock running and such. You can save a couple bucks a month on your energy bill by putting appliances like these on power strips and turning off the juice completely when they aren’t being used. Keeping your thermostat turned up higher in the summer and lower in the winter will help as well. If you get very conservative with energy usage, you can easily save about $20 on your monthly bills, if not more.

Looking at the above, that’s about $200/month we can add to our preps budget. That’s a pretty substantial shot in the arm, isn’t it?