Prepper v. Survivalist? How About Using the Term Smart Instead

If you had one week to prepare for a major disaster, what would you do? Would you buy food, water and batteries? Or would you make a plan to get out of Dodge? On October 22, 2012, a tropical depression formed in the Caribbean Sea, quickly gaining strength, it formed into a hurricane in just six hours. As the hurricane made landfall in Kingston, Jamaica, meteorologists, weather experts and the National Hurricane Center monitored the storm closely. They knew the Eastern Coast of the United States had a 90% chance of being hit by Hurricane Sandy. Experts from John Hopkins University forecast 10 million people would be without power. It did not take long for the government to take action.

On October 26, 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard recommended people evacuate, the USDA encouraged people to secure food and National Guard deployed 61,000 members along the Eastern Seaboard. On October 28, 2012, President Obama signed an emergency declaration for the Eastern states before Hurricane Sandy hit.

Leading up to the storm, New Jersey advised citizens to evacuate and closed schools. New York City cancelled flights, closed the subway and stock exchange and evacuated people. Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey and New York on October 29, 2012, resulting in extreme damage and flooding—including 10 billion gallons of raw sewage flowing into the city. Over 50 people in New York died directly due to Hurricane Sandy.

The city did what it could; shelters opened before the hurricane hit. Three days after, the city handed out fresh food and water to people. People stood in lines 20 blocks long waiting to receive gasoline from the government.

An East Coast friend of mine told me she stocked up with food, wine, candles, and batteries for three days before she could purchase gas to bug out. She says, “Gas was damn near impossible to come by.” Delivery of gas was organized according to license plate numbers and the day of the week.

“We volunteered since we weren’t able to go to work. We packed lunches for people who were land and water locked. It was incredibly sad.”

Another friend who lives in New York City—a Texas transplant—told me “growing up in Texas, we were used to planning for tornadoes, storms and loss of power. I tried to rent a car to go to Maryland, but they wanted an absurd amount of money. So, I knew I’d be riding it out. It was funny seeing what other people were buying at the store before the storm, frozen items and things that needed refrigeration. I stocked up on canned soup, tuna and non-perishables just in case. We filled all our empty growlers and bathtubs with water.” People had a week to prepare. Was stocking up on fresh water, food, alternative cooking methods, flashlights and batteries crazy? Not at all. I think we can all agree on calling it smart.

There is quite a bit of contention in the world of prepping and survival on whether or not one considers themselves a prepper or a survivalist. Some even argue that the other is crazy; peppers are eagerly awaiting a non-existent zombie apocalypse or lazy. While the other argues that survivalists won’t have enough resources to live. Case in point—the following two comments on a past Cheaper Than Dirt! blog post: “Those of us who practice being prepared for emergencies prefer to be called preppers, not survivalists.” And this one: “Prepper is a high-vis media and advertising buzzword, portrayed by popular reality shows. You got sucked in. The author is correct in saying survivalist. The fact is, most so-called Preppers are just impulsive consumers who desperately needed a new group to belong to.” Wow! Let’s look at the media. Popular TV shows separate themselves into two different categories: shows depicting preppers and shows depicting survivalists. Survivor-based shows follow someone going it alone without tools and sometimes without clothes, living off the land. While prepper shows follow families or groups stocking up on survival gear and making plans for a worldwide major disaster.

Google can’t seem to decide. When I look up definitions of each, they are almost interchangeable. The word prepping is used in the definition of survivalist.

The word survivalist got a bad rap in the media. When used to describe Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Media powerhouses such as CNN and the Washington Post described McVeigh as a survivalist. The word quickly conjured ideas of someone reclusive, anti-government and certainly crazy. No wonder anyone was reluctance to label himself or herself a survivalist. However, the term prepper may be seen in the same light. The now infamous story of David Sarti may make some squirm when called a prepper.

Webster’s Dictionary defines preparing as, “To make ready beforehand for some purpose, use or activity” and survival as, “The state or fact of continuing to live or exist especially in spite of difficult conditions.” So, isn’t a prepper then also a survivalist and vice versa? Both of those definitions seem reasonable to me. Personally, I don’t think you can really have one without the other. Stocking up on enough fresh water to drink and clean makes sense. Having food to sustain you and your family also makes sense. Having the skills and knowledge to acquire more fresh water and food when your supplies run out also makes sense. Regardless of what you label it, being ready incorporates preparedness and survival skills. Can’t we ditch the labels, stop arguing about it and just realize that one without the other is useless and that both together are smart?

Do you consider yourself a prepper or a survivalist? Which term do you prefer and why? Tell us in the comment section.


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Comments (9)

  1. Be Prepared, thats all that really has to happen.
    Preppers are Prepared, Survivalist are prepared ..WHO really cares what you call yourselves..You can not really be one with out the other and be successful in surviving a long running disaster…..
    Preppers get a bad rap because some appear a bit odd in their reasons for being prepared.
    Survivalist know what to do once the prepped food is gone.
    Its always a great Idea to have extra supplies and food stored in case of an Emergency if you have the money and room to store it. Reasons aside.
    Also awesome to know how to get more of it and what to eat when rations are gone.

  2. Suzanne, like your articles and your subject matter. I’m jealous of your position. You and other readers may want to do more reading on the subject of prepping or surviving as we need to approach this as not just smart, but plain old common sense. has some interesting insights for the Christian desiring a Biblical perspective on the subject. Keep up the good work and keep the articles coming.

  3. Another great post, Suzanne. You’re exactly right. As Sitting Bull told William F Cody and Buffalo Bill, “You can not kill each other boys, you’re both already dead.”
    Those darned Zombies!

  4. I consider myself a survivalist. Grew up and spent much time in the mountains of Pa. at my Grandfather’s cabin.
    Water is the MOST important thing to have, since you can dehydrate in 7 days and die. Food is something you can get by with little for 49 days. It’s a 7X7 rule. Woods across from my home are loaded with deer, rabbits and turkey so there also has to be a potable water supply for them.
    I routinely stock up on tuna, baked beans, salmon, canned vegetables, bottled water and ammo. Can live for many weeks without leaving home, in case of problems.

  5. I’m asking for help in the forms of experiences and opinions from others. I find little difference between the terms survivalist and preper except in simantics since I’m interested in surviving what ever mother nature or society has in store for me. The Boy Scouts and the United States Marine Corps made it clear there’s no substitute for being prepared.
    A couple of years ago the TV show, “DOOMSDAY PREPPERS” got me thinking seriously about my survival and that of my wife and friends in our urban jungle for the first time since I left the Marine Corps forty-eight years ago. Uncle Sam spent a lot of money to help insure my survival but I’ve been a city dweller since. My wife and I are seriously intending to leave my native southern California because of what I fear could truly become a doomsday scenario here with the collapse of the social structure during and after any natural disaster.
    I’ve started accumulating enough: water, food, ammo and supplies to probably insure our independent survival here for at least a few weeks maybe a month if we happened to be lucky enough to be home when something happens. But I can’t help but think we’d have a better chance in less socially dependent environment. We’d like to relocate to and area with more room, available independent natural resources like: water, timber and game. We have property in northern Michigan and we’re being lured by retired friends to places like Idaho and Montana to name a few. I’d like a chance to compare what I’m thinking of doing with those of you who are already in place living in those areas and what you’re already doing.
    I’ve already anticipated the need for enough land for a substantial subsistence garden. I presently have a small hobby green house and thriving year around vegetable and fruit gardens here but I’d like enough room for a pair of larger greenhouses to stretch out the growing season. My wife would like a few domesticated animals. I want an independent water supply like a well if a year around free running stream isn’t available. I see solar energy and the availability of timber for firewood, just in case, are a must.
    I would appreciate your ideas.
    Hank Alvarez

  6. I agree with Franco, there is a breakdown in society. As he stated, a handshake was as good as a contract. The original handshakes were to check if one had a weapon. So, while getting prepared for the unexpected, we stock up on water and food. But at the same time we should remember to stock up on ammo as well.

  7. I think Websters has it right.Prepping is a necessary precursor to survival. It would be extremely difficult to survive without prepping. Watch Les Stroud (Survivorman) sometime. I would consider him to be an ultimate survivalist. Very few have the skill set that he does. Nevertheless one of his ventures required his rescue-even he would not have made it.

    I have lived in New England for all of my life. Yet, every time a snowstorm is predicted the stores are virtually emptied. Gas stations have lines. I historically kept adequate (a couple of weeks of normal eating) food supplies in the house and as matter of course if, for no other reason, to have a variety on hand. I almost always tend to keep at least 1/2 tank of gas in the cars. It costs the same to fill it from 1/2 full twice as it does from empty once. It is a matter of convenience and one less thing to worry about-watching the needle creep toward empty. I keep them pretty full so I don’t worry about low fuel. The extra few minutes it takes to fill more often far offsets the stress of needle watching.

    Certainly there are a lot more things to be concerned about in the last 5 years than there used to be. For me “prepping” is little more than an extension of what I always thought was a common sense approach to daily life and contingency planning. However, recently new factors require one to be prepared for certain things that were inconceivable for the first 60 years of my life. As a kid we were always worried about “the bomb”. We were not concerned about our neighbors killing us for our supplies.

    I think one of the biggest factors is the loss of humanity in human beings. Family values are not valued any more by a constantly growing segment of the population. Neighborhoods and neighbors are disappearing. My Dad, a member of Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation”, always told me a man’s word was his bond. A handshake was a contract. That is all passe these days. Handshakes are little more then a social custom for greeting. Yeah, I know-social values are eroding, Blah, Blah, Blah. I can’t fix it, I can only do what I believe to be the “right things” for myself.

    So what is prepping really about? In my mind it is first and foremost realizing what humans are and are not these days, in all aspects. I get it. So, I prepare to survive for the possibility that food, water, fuel, medical supplies, electricity, etc., etc. may shut off for a number of reasons. The new twist for me is further to prepare for the consequences of what I consider to be the loss of humanity from mankind. We are still “Homo Sapiens”, but “human”-not so much any more in the traditional sense. The real threat I believe is the loss of human compassion, respect, and integrity. I can’t fix that. The best (and only) alternative for me to to anticipate a breakdown of society and the consequences thereof. Civility and humanity are now the exception and no longer the rule. Sad, but true. Even Les Stroud has to fight only the elements and an occasional wild animal. Imagine his show if he had to fight people to survive. We would learn a lot more about improvised weapons, booby traps, tactical evasion, and the like.

    Forewarned is forearmed….

  8. I just wonder if what I consider myself, a ‘Bush-crafter’, should be mentioned when discussing being prepared and survival. Owning bush-crafting skills seems to me to be an important part of being prepared to survive any situation no mater where you find yourself.IMHO.

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