By the author of Be Ready for Anything and the online course Bloom Where You’re Planted
If you’re involved in the preparedness lifestyle, you’re probably into planning. Most likely, you research and study the excellent preparedness strategies put out by experts. Whether we prepare for incidents small or large, we all ponder what we’d do if something world-as-we-know-it-ending went down.
The trouble is, a lot of the plans that get made are more likely to get you killed than to save you. And people post these plans online, then new preppers read them and think, “Wow, what a great idea.”
I really love being involved in the preparedness lifestyle. I get to meet and correspond with lots of like-minded, down-to-earth people. We have those awesome conversations that you just can’t have with the checker at the grocery store cash register. I get to engage in email and social media discussions too, the likes of which would never occur with my second cousin who thinks that missing a pedicure appointment is a disaster worthy of government intervention.
But sometimes, I kind of cringe. Not all preparedness plans are well-thought out and practiced. In fact, there are several recurring themes that I hear or read that are not good ideas for most preppers, and I bet that many of you reading have also privately rolled eyes at one of the following strategies. (Or maybe even publicly.)
I’m truly not trying to be mean when I share them with you here, nor am I trying to say that I’m the Queen Prepper of the Universe, who knows absolutely everything. I’d just like you to consider the variables if one of these plans happens to be your default strategy.
Note: Some people really are ultramarathoners, expert hunters, ex-special forces, and super-farmers. If you are one of those folks, this article may not be for you. If you already regularly practice these skills, this article may not be for you. If you do nothing but talk about these ideas and daydream about your action-hero future, this article IS for you.
Bad Strategy #1: “I’ll just hunt and live off the land.”
Oh my gosh. No, you probably won’t. You might try to hunt, but guess what? Loads of other people have this same idea. Unless you live hundreds of miles from civilization, the population of deer and wild turkeys will be quickly decimated in an event that renders the food delivery system inoperable.
Furthermore, hunting is not as easy as simply wandering into the woods, taking aim with a rifle, and popping a wandering buck in the head. Have you ever hunted? Have you done so recently, and by recently I mean within the past year? Have you ever field dressed an animal? Can you hit a moving target? Do you know how to set up snares? Do you know how to butcher and preserve meat? Are you in good enough shape to drag a 200-pound carcass through the woods?
If you can’t say yes to every single question listed here, hunting should probably not be your go-to plan for feeding your family.
Bad Strategy #2: “I’ll go into the woods and live there.”
This is closely related to Bad Strategy #1.
But it’s worse. Living in the wilderness is not going to be a marshmallow roast. First off, there are no marshmallows out there. Just lots of predators and food that has to be killed and skinned before you can eat it.
In this strategy, people like to talk about their proximities to a national forest. “There are thousands of acres, just on the other side of my fence.”
Okay. But when is the last time you went into that forest more than a few miles on foot? Did you spend more than a couple of nights there? Was the weather inclement? What are your local predators (not including the human variety)? Do you have a camping kit that you can carry in on foot? Will your children and spouse be able to also carry supplies? Are you planning to build a house with some tarps and a Swiss Army knife? What will you eat and drink? Are you adept at foraging in your area? For how long can you actually survive on what you can carry? How are your First Aid skills and what supplies will you have? Can you handle the loneliness? And what about the other, perhaps less than moral, individuals that have the same idea? Have you ever lit a fire with wet wood? Have you ever camped, outside of a campground area? What if it rains? In many climates, getting wet is a death sentence.
Bad Strategy #3: “I’ll bug out on foot for 73 miles through the mountains, even though I don’t regularly exercise.”
If bugging out on foot is one of your plans, I’d like to suggest you pick a clear day, put on a loaded backpack and some hiking boots, and go for a practice hike to your location. Go ahead. I’ll wait here.
This one really bothers me. There is a large contingent of armchair preppers who have this idea. However, they don’t exercise regularly. They look back 20-30 years to their high school or military glory days, when they played football, ran track, or had a drill sergeant screaming right behind them as they ran. Just because you were once very physically fit, that doesn’t mean you are still able to hike up a mountain in bad weather with a 50 pound kit on your back.
This is a classic recipe for a heart attack, by the way. Extreme over-exertion. High-stress situation. High-sodium, easily packable food. Out-of-shape person. A few miles into the journey, particularly if it includes a steep climb, the person will experience a pounding heart, dizziness, and faintness, as the body tries to shut down to protect itself from the unaccustomed demands. If the physical stress continues, the heart won’t be able to keep up with the demand to pump blood. Game. Over.
Embarking on an overly ambitious bug-out journey can endanger not only you, but the people making the trek with you. What if you have a heart attack halfway up the mountain? What if you have an asthma attack? What if you injure your out-of-shape self? Who is going to help you? If the situation is bad enough that you’re bugging out, you aren’t likely to be airlifted to a hospital for medical care. Will someone put their own safety at risk to hang out with you while you recover, thus forcing the family to divert to Bad Strategy #2?
I’m not trying to talk anyone into staying in a bad situation when bugging out ould be the wiser course of action (like in Bad Strategy #11). But if your bug out route is a long distance or over difficult terrain, you need to get out there and start training before you put the lives of everyone in your team or family at risk.
Bad Strategy #4: “I don’t need a group. I’m going to go it alone.”
Ah, the rugged loner.
This is not a winning plan for many reasons. Being with a group, even a small one, has many benefits. As Scott, from Graywolf Survival, wrote:
Humans started banding together to survive millions of years ago. They did this for one thing: because there’s safety in numbers. If you live by yourself, you can’t collect food, improve your fighting position, patrol the area, chop wood, filter water, and be on all sides of your property – all at once. Plus, you have to devote a large amount of your day to sleeping each night. And besides, who are you gonna bitch to about your day if you’re all alone?
…Even a small group of 12 has a HUGE advantage to defending an area and continuing on with other operations at the same time. With an adequate number of personnel, not only can you have a rotation of assignments to support 24 hour operations, you can afford people to specialize in certain tasks. This specialization increases the efficiency of the group overall (synergy) and was one of the largest reasons why we developed into a society.
It isn’t just enough to have a team, either. You need to train with your team, tactically, with an expert if possible. And by training, I’m not talking about going out to play paintball in the woods. Max Velocity, author and founder of a combat school in West Virginia explains:
‘Tacticool’ training is not only designed to simply make you look and feel good, but more insidiously it will give you the idea that you are tactically trained and proficient, when you are not. It is the sort of training that will give you enough to really get yourself in trouble. For example, basic marksmanship and square range training have a solid place in the training progression, but you must move beyond the static range to tactical field firing training in order to be tactically trained. You have to understand how to operate your weapons ‘out in the wild,’ and to maneuver in real environments. Often the problem with ‘tacticool’ training is that among the instructors there is not the experience or facility to move beyond the square range, and there is only so much you can do, so instructors make stuff up that may in fact be disadvantageous to your heath. At Max Velocity Tactical the tactical ranges have been designed out in the woods and utilize electronic pop-up targets, bunkers and other such training aids to bring a realistic tactical environment, This allows a certain amount of stress and battle inoculation to be brought to the students in training. And critically, this is all done in a safe and practical manner. (You can read the rest of his interview HERE)
Maybe you only have a handful of people you trust. Maybe you only want to be with other military dudes. Keep in mind that there are things that you will need in an SHTF scenario that are a bit kinder and gentler. It’s not just about brute force and protecting the camp or retreat. It’s about food, building a future, farming, sitting down, and even relaxing from time to time. Not every moment in a situation like that will be like a scene from an action-adventure movie. We’ll still eat dinner, read a book, talk with others, sleep, and have relationships.
Bad Strategy #5: “I don’t need to store food, I’ll just take everyone else’s because I’m a bad-ass.”
Who can forget that episode of Doomsday Preppers that was shared all over preparedness social media and websites, in which a redneck and his team of merry marauders discussed their plans to take everything that preppers living nearby had stored away?
I wrote about Tyler Smith and his plan a couple of years ago:
Most preppers, Smith says, are concerned with marauders taking their supplies. It’s not an unfounded fear, he says.
“We are those people,” he says. “We’ll kick your door in and take your supplies. … We are the marauders.”
We’re not in it to stockpile. We’re in it to take what you have and there’s nothing you can do to stop us,” Tyler Smith says. “We are your worst nightmare, and we are coming.”
Smith, 29, is the leader of Spartan Survival. The group has more than 80 dues-paying members. Smith founded the organization in 2005 to train and prepare others on survivalism.
Smith (a paroled felon who incidentally went back to jail shortly after his televised waving around of firearms) might be a joke, but you can’t ignore the danger of groups with similar plans. This yahoo had 80 people on board with him, for crying out loud. And if you happen to have such a plan, you should probably realize that those of us who are really prepared won’t stand around wringing our hands and crying when you come to attempt to relieve us of our supplies. We’ve prepared for people like you, too. The post-SHTF life expectancy of those who plan to survive using Bad Strategy #5 will probably be a short one. You might manage to raid a few people’s retreats (particularly those using Bad Strategy #4, but if the situations is WROL (without rule of law), it’s pretty much a given that the justice which will be meted out by the intended victims will be swift and final.
Bad Strategy #6: “I have lots of weapons and tools. I’ve never used them. But I have them.”
Do you have prepper tools that are still in the box? How often do you make it to the shooting range? When’s the last time you actually felled a tree then chopped firewood? When did you do it without a chainsaw?
There are loads of different examples that I could give about tools that just sit there in their boxes, awaiting their moment of glory when it all hits the fan. For the purposes of Bad Strategy #6, I’m including firearms as a tool. Skill with an axe is not a given. Accurate aim doesn’t stay with you if you don’t practice. Have you ever attempted to pressure can over an open fire? Even building a fire is not easy if you’ve only done it once or twice. (See Bad Strategy #9 for details.)
Not only is it vital to practice using your tools during good times, when you have back-up options available, but you need to test your tools to be sure that they operate as intended. I once purchased a water filtration system for use during off-grid situations. It was missing an essential gasket. Without that gasket, it would be totally useless. Sure, I could have tried to MacGuyver something, but the point of buying all of this stuff is to save your MacGuyvering for things you don’t have. Because I checked out my tool before I needed it, I was able to send it back and get a replacement.
Bad Strategy #7: “I don’t store food. I store seeds.”
I really love gardening and have stored an abundance of seeds. Seeds are a very important thing to store. However, if you store them to the exclusion of food, you’re going to have a really bad time.
The problem with depending on seeds for your food supply is that Stuff Happens. Stuff like droughts. Stuff like aphids. Stuff like blossom-end rot. Stuff like the thrice-damned deer that managed to get past your fence.
Furthermore, if this is your plan, have you grown a garden recently? Have you produced food on your current property or your retreat property? Do you have a compost system? Have you developed your soil? First year gardens almost never produce what you expect them to. Do you know how much produce your family will consume in a year? How are you at food preservation? What about off-grid food preservation?
Because of these concerns, a garden should not be a stand-alone survival plan. It is a vital part of a long-term preparedness scenario, but you must also be prepared for the potential of failure.
Bad Strategy #8: “I’ll just run a generator and continue on like nothing ever happened.”
Generators are loud, smelly, and finite.
If you want to bring attention to yourself in the midst of a down-grid scenario, the surest way to do it is to be the only house in the area with lights blazing in every window. Generators are commonly stolen, because they’re impossible to hide, rumbling away beside your house. A person following Bad Strategy #5 would be likely to think that if you have a generator with extra fuel, you might have some other awesome stuff that they’d want too.
It goes further than simply drawing attention to yourself though. Gas, diesel, and propane generators can be dangerous. They can produce high levels of carbon monoxide very quickly, so if the plan were to enclose it to deter thieves, it could be deadly. Trying to power your entire house by backfeeding while still hooked up to local utilities could endanger the lives of neighbors or utility workers. Refilling a generator that has not completely cooled is a fire hazard. Make sure that your generator doesn’t fall into the category of Bad Strategy #6. There’s more to it than simply flipping a switch and having power. You need to learn to operate and maintain the generator long before you have to rely on it.
Keep in mind, if you do opt to use a generator, that this is not a long-term solution. There’s only so much fuel that anyone can store. Eventually, it’s going to run out, and if your plan was completely dependent on being able to run a generator, what will you do then? My personal preparedness plan is to revert to a low-tech lifestyle that doesn’t require electricity.
Bad Strategy #9: “I’ll just use my fireplace for cooking and heating.”
This is one that I learned about the hard way, myself. A few years ago, my daughter and I moved from the city to a cabin in the north woods of Ontario, Canada. I figured that with a giant lake at our disposal, a well, our supplies, and a woodstove, we’d have all we needed to surive an extended power outage.
Unfortunately for us, born and raised in the city, lighting a fire and keeping it going was not that easy. The mere presence of a fireplace or woodstove does not warmth create. It took me an entire month of daily trial, error, and frustration to master a fire that would warm the house. I also learned that cooking on a woodstove was not as easy as sitting a pot on top of it. Dampers had to be adjusted, heat had to be increased, and the food required far more monitoring than expected. The year we spent there taught us more than we ever imagined about what we didn’t know.
If using your fireplace or woodstove is part of your survival plan, how much wood do you have? Is it seasoneed and dry? Can you acquire more? Have you actually chopped wood before? Recently? When is the last time you prepared food using your stove or fireplace?
The good news is, you can make this strategy work, as long as you don’t go all Bad Strategy #6. Ramp up your wood supply and begin using your fireplace or woodstove on a regular basis to work out the bugs in your plan now.
Bad Strategy #10: “I’m going to hunker down in the city and scavenge what I need.”
This is a terrible idea on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start.
First of all, when utilities are interrupted, those in large metropolitan areas are left with few options. It’s hard to dig a latrine in the concrete jungle. Remeber when New York was hit by Superstorm Sandy? People were defecating in the halls of apartment buildings to try and keep their own apartments moderately sanitary. Unfortunately, sewage built up in the pipes and spewed into apartments, filling them with deadly human waste.
Store shelves will quickly be emptied before and after disasters, leaving little to scavenge. If you happen across the wrong place, you’re likely to be shot by a property owner defending his or her goods. If you wait too long to evacuate, roadways will be blocked, and you can end up being a refugee, with no option but camps. Cities will be populated with desperate people, some of whom were criminals before the disaster struck. Even those who were friendly neighbors before the disaster can turn on you, because desperation can turn anyone into a criminal in order to feed their families.
Highly populated areas without outdoor space will quickly become death traps in the wake of a disaster.
Bad Strategy #11: “I’ve got my supplies, and now I don’t need to think about gloom and doom.”
Some people like to stock their goods and then forget about preparedness. They don’t like to consider the threats they might face. But mentally preparing for disasters is a very important step. I recently made a list of prepper movies (you can find it here) and suggested that they be used to run scenarios in your head.
This very vital step can help you to do the most important thing when a disaster occurs: accept that it has actually happened. The prepper mindset is one of problem-solving and flexibility.
It’s a unique way of looking at a situation, assessing the options, and acting that defines the prepper mindset. Think about any stressful situation that has ever happened to you. Once you accepted the fact that it had happened you were able to set a course of action. Once you had definitive steps to take, you probably felt much calmer. You took control of the things you could, and you executed your plan. Only by taking that first step – accepting that this mishap had indeed occurred – could you take the next two.
By refusing to consider the things that could happen, you run the risk of being unable to immediately accept it when it does happen. This sets you up for a very dangerous period of hesitation that could mean a death sentence for you and those who depend on you.
Bad Strategy #12: We’ll set up a perimeter and shoot anyone who breaches it.
With folks like the ones who intend to practice Bad Strategy #5 around, it’s no wonder that some people intend to practice Bad Strategy #12.
However, there are a few reasons that this is a bad idea.
First, instead of just protecting you, this can actually make you a target. Less than ethical people may start to wonder what you are protecting so stringently, and may work to develop a plan to overtake you. Alternatively, more ethical people may decide they don’t want a group like yours in the area and plan to forcibly evict you. If the situation doesn’t start off like the wild west, people who adhere to this Bad Strategy will turn it into that scenario.
And finally, the real kicker: those who survive some life-changing event will be the new founders of our society. Do you really want to live in a place where people have to shoot first and ask questions later? How we choose to live will set the course for how we continue to live.
There’s time to adjust your plan.
There’s good news, though, if I just peed all over your favorite plan.
There’s still time to make adjustments to make your plan more workable. You can brush up on your hunting and foraging skills. You can start an exercise plan so you don’t die when hiking. You can test out your tools and find your weak points. You can adjust your plan to be more ethical. You may not need to chuck the plan altogether but merely test and modify it.
The key with all things preparedness is to practice, to drill, and to make it your lifestyle. Work out the bugs now, while back-up is as close as the hardware store or grocery store. Get yourself mentally prepared to accept the situation and change your plans on a dime if necessary.
Finally, consider the kind of world you want to live in. If there was a giant reset, those who survive would pave the path for a different society. By our plans and actions, we can create a different type of world. One with justice, kindness, ethics, and freedom.
Right now, our society is led by criminal corporations, sell-out politicians, and thugs, both in and out of uniform. I’d like to believe that we can do better.