Survivalist vs. Prepper

Survivalist or prepper – is it just a matter of terminology? What’s the difference? Does it matter?

For a long time, the term “survivalist” has had a distinctively negative connotation in the media. The stereotype is perhaps best exemplified by the character Burt Gummer in the Tremors movies. Armed to the teeth but not very bright, stockpiled food consisting of mostly surplus military rations, waiting with bated breath for the day he can unleash his armory on commies, terrorists, and/or little green men from Mars, whichever comes first.

The term “preppers” is more recent. A friend of mine calls it “survivalist-lite” and that seems to me to be fairly accurate. Preppers aren’t necessarily planning for a complete and total societal collapse. They are concerned about being snowbound by blizzards for days at a time. Or power outages due to storms. If they are planning for “the end of the world,” they aren’t as concerned about ravaging bands of bikers as they are about putting food on the table for their families.

In various discussions I’ve had and heard, the dividing line seems to be the role firearms plays in preps. If you’re stocking up on guns and ammo for hunting, then you’re a prepper. On the other hand, if you’re stocking up on bang sticks to hunt two legged prey, then you’re a survivalist.

Naturally, there is a rather large overlap between the two. I know many people who are doing both, which isn’t a bad thing. (Personally, I lost all my guns in a tragic riverboat accident some years ago so it is a non-issue for me.)

At the end of the day, does it really matter which term you use? Probably not. But how you self-identify might lead you to take a hard look at how you’re prepping and make sure you’re on the track you feel you should be.

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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 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.

4 thoughts on “Survivalist vs. Prepper”

  1. hmm.. I suppose that’s true. I haven’t seen the Tremors movies in a while, lol, but I do remember that character and now, come to think of it, I have known a few people like that… they just seem kind of ridiculous to me.

  2. I don’t know where I would fall really, I don’t really want to be called a Holnist after all. May he and his ilk burn. But I think I am a bit to aggressive in my thinking to be called a prepper. In the end I don’t think it matter’s what you call yourself, just what you do if it actually happens.

  3. Definitely, KOTW. If nothing else, I believe in always having a rifle or shotgun with you, IF you can. Would suck to save yourself from, say, a riotous populous, just to get mauled by a bear, lol. If ya know what I mean.

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