Different types of survivalists

I’ve received an email from a TV producer looking for candidates for a new show about preppers. In corresponding with them, and reading the types of questions they are asking people, I’ve been giving thought to the different kinds of survivalists there are out there. While there certainly is a fair amount of overlap between these categories, I thought it might be interesting to look a bit deeper into these terms.

Please note, these are my own definitions for these terms. Your opinion might differ a bit and, if that’s the case, I’m cool with that. Feel free to drop a comment below and state your case.

A prepper is someone who is interested in disaster readiness, likely has at least begun to make their own plans and preparations, but isn’t necessarily concerned with just an end of the world scenario. Instead, they are more worried about mundane emergencies, such as severe weather or long-term power outages.

A survivalist, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with one or more apocalyptic events. Whether they are looking at EMP, economic collapse, pandemic, or nuclear war, they gear their preparations for the extreme long haul. Many of them also tend to have security issues rank rather high on the list of concerns.

A homesteader is kind of a survivalist by default. They are working towards providing most or all of their needs on their own. They grow extensive gardens and many have at least some form of livestock. They can their own food, cook from scratch, and have well water for the most part. Should a major disaster occur, unless the devastation were to impact them directly, they’ll generally be mostly unaffected. They may or may not be completely off the grid but even if they have power lines coming to the house, they know how to get by without it.

The armchair survivalist is the guy who frequents all the message boards and other online forums, quick to point out flaws in everyone else’s plans, but hasn’t done much of anything in terms of actual preps himself. Many of these guys (and they are almost all male) have stated a major component of their plan is to shoot everyone and anyone who comes near them after an apocalyptic event. He’s often a major fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and has naughty dreams about saving young damsels in distress by riding in on his Harley, guns a blazin’. These guys are often easy to spot in the mall as they are usually about 100lbs overweight, haven’t shaved in a week, and are ogling all the pretty young things walking around as he wolfs down his fifth chili dog at the food court.

The raider is the one who makes mental notes about his neighbors’ preps and often talks about how great it would be to be able to just walk into a warehouse and make off with all kinds of great stuff in the absence of law and order. He figures that as long as he stocks enough ammo and guns, he will be able to take whatever he wants. If he has any food stored at all, it is probably 10 year old MREs he bought online from a Y2K prepper and hasn’t touched since. Fairly often, the raider and the armchair survivalist are one and the same.

What are your thoughts? Did I miss any major categories? Which one(s) are you? Leave a comment below to start a discussion.

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Jim Cobb

Jim Cobb has been a student of survivalism and emergency preparedness for almost thirty years. As a young child, he drove his parents nuts with stockpiling supplies in the basement every time he heard there was a tornado watch in his area. Of course, being a child, those supplies consisted of his teddy bear, a few blankets and pillows, and random canned goods he grabbed from the kitchen cabinets. Later, he was the first (and likely only) child in his fifth grade class to have bought his very own copy of Life After Doomsday by Bruce Clayton. Today, he is a freelance writer whose work has been published in national magazines such as Boy’s Life and Complete Survivalist Magazine. He is a voracious reader with a keen interest in all stories with post-apocalyptic settings. He maintains the Library at the End of the World blog and is also the Content Director for SurvivalWeekly.com. He currently resides in a fortified bunker in the upper Midwest, accompanied by his lovely wife and their three adolescent Weapons of Mass Destruction. Jim's first book, Prepper's Home Defense, was published late 2012 and his second book, tentatively titled The Prepper's Complete Guide to Disaster Readiness, will be out in mid-2013, both coming from Ulysses Press.

7 thoughts on “Different types of survivalists”

  1. Great article Jim! I would honestly have to say I’m a “homevivalraiderist”. I have enough non-MRE provisions for me and the fam to hold out for longer than most and am enough of a geek that I don’t need the grid. But if I run outta Glenfiddich… well I might have to raid yer Budweiser stash to maintain my 50 lb overweight Greek godlike physique.

    1. Greg, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for scavenging when the time is right. I posted about that a while back here on my other site. But, anyone who makes looting their primary plan is deluding themselves.

      1. I wholeheartedly agree with you Jim.

        The DOW plunged another 500 points today. This is all too reminiscent of the 70’s when our great Nation had rationing on many daily items that we take for granted like fuel which, in turn, led to some shortages on store shelves. Unless I missed the mark, this is going to be a long recovery and I’m not convinced in the least that it is going to pass quickly.

        I believe that every family should prepare on multiple levels spanning the survivalist types you’ve described in a positive light. We need to be prepared for the short term environmental as well as longer term self reliance as opposed to self indulgence. The key I believe is to take a balanced approach in preparation.

        I didn’t mean to come off as flip with my earlier comment. On the contrary, I was smiling as I saw different portions of our family preparedness plan being outlined in your various survivalist descriptions. I also find it very unfortunate that I see far too many people at the trade shows I work within the firearms industry that undoubtedly have 100k rounds of ammo but wouldn’t have a clue as to how to start a fire or for that matter prep their game.

        In response to your question about leaving any group out…that raises a question in my mind. What portion of the total population do you suppose has no innate survivalist instinct at all? The Pollyanna mentality percentage of the population that has never given any thought to self reliance. In a crisis, do you think that these types will become raiders? Or at least try to be?

        Again Jim, thanks for both a thought provoking and entertaining article. I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future.

        1. Greg, I think a fair percentage of the population has little to no practical survival knowledge and/or poor instincts. These are the people who, in a crisis, look to be led rather than even attempt to make their own decisions. Some may well turn out to be raiders of some sort but I’d guess most of them will just sit around until someone else tells them what to do.

  2. I have lived on a forty acre farm for the past 60 years so I am a homesteader who became a prepper after being a Red Cross Volunteer and saw what can happen in a matter of minutes to your home ,town and life. Now I am becoming somewhat of a Armchair Survivalist. I do like military SF but I sold my Harley and am only 60lb. overweight shaved off my beard 20 years ago and don’t eat out anymore.But I Will never BE a RAIDER and I hope he doesn’t come to my Homestead and make me shoot him.

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