(Originally published December 10, 2019. Survival seems currently relevant.) I’ve written about survivalism vs. preparedness before. Today I want to talk about a major difference between the two.
- In one discipline, you can focus on the small details.
- In the other, you could die if you do that.
Preparedness is like getting a meal ready in the slow cooker. Survivalism is like the deep fryer. If you take too long to deal with things in a survival situation, you’re going to get burned.
Something I see far too often is people who focus on preparedness confusing these two things. In a survival situation, there is no time at all to deal with irrelevant details. The speed at which you act can mean the difference between life and death. And I’m not talking about slow death by eating processed food. I’m talking about immediate death, injury, or peril.
Your state of readiness needs to be able to adapt to this.
It never fails.
I write an article about an extreme situation without appropriate sanitation and someone comments, “We don’t use hand sanitizer or bleach. It’s bad for you.”
Or I write about building a fast kit for an extreme emergency when you’re at a tourist attraction and I suggest peanut M&Ms. Someone says smugly, “That’s not very organic.”
When you’re on the run for your very life, you’re probably not going to care about a little bit of high-fructose corn syrup.
The same can be said for articles about using Narwhal tusks to defeat a terrorist or breaking down an event that may or may not be a false flag. While I appreciate guns, organic food, fancy hand cleansers made from essential oils, and discussing conspiracy theories as much as the next health-conscious, red-blooded American, I also know that there are situations in which getting bogged down in these irrelevant details could be deadly.
If you’re caught up in a mass shooting, you won’t suddenly be immune to bullets if you spontaneously realize, “Oh wait. This is a false flag organized by the government!” Those bullets are still flying around you no matter who is shooting them at you.
In a survival scenario, you have to work with the parameters you’re given. When seconds count, fretting over the non-organic applesauce or the sunscreen with parabens is downright ridiculous. In survival situations, you have to focus on what will immediately kill you, not what might give you cancer in 30 years.
For the sake of survival…
Sure, in your day to day life you should make the best choices possible to support your health. You should eat whole foods that are free of pesticides and toxic additives. You should be a savvy consumer of media, thinking critically about what you’re being told and not just soaking up the propaganda.
But for the love of all things cute and fluffy, stop trying to make emergency survival fit in with your ideal world. Emergency survival is not prepping.
If you’re in a situation where the S has truly hit the Fan, you’re going to have to eat things that may not be up to your standards. You’re going to have to push yourself when you’re exhausted. You’re going to have to sleep in places that do not have freshly laundered sheets. You may need to use bleach to clean up an infectious mess made by a person who is ill. You’re going to have to push yourself far beyond your comfort zone.
(Need more information on emergency evacuations? Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide.)
You have to cover your basics in the most efficient way possible.
If you are in a survival situation, you don’t have time to putter around Whole Foods seeking out some delightful, raw vegan snacks for your backpack. You don’t get to select a nice sleeping bag stuffed with goose down with literally 40 pounds of feathers. You aren’t going to have a trail guide or a pack mule to carry all your stuff.
You want to have lightweight essentials. And forget two is one, one is none. This is survival. You’re either moving fast or you’re hunkering down and staying hidden. One is plenty in most cases. And with a lot of things you think you need, you don’t even need one. (Here are some survival products that we field-tested that worked and some that did not.)
If you’re bugging out, you are most likely not going to sit down and cook a nice meal at the end of a long day of evading zombies. You’re going to gnaw on some jerky and eat a granola bar and wash it down with water you filtered from a mud puddle. Then you’ll take turns sleeping and standing watch.
Survival is like prepping’s redneck cousin.
Efficiency is everything. You want the most efficient way to stay warm enough and dry enough to function, to communicate, to stay hydrated, to eat enough to keep your energy level up, to treat any wounds or illnesses you encounter, to navigate to your destination, and to stay clean enough not to get sick.
This doesn’t take 50 pounds of gear.
As much as I’d love to write a list of the perfect survival bag and recommend all sorts of expensive things every prepper should have, after taking Selco’s courses, I don’t believe that’s how it works.
I believe in having good basic tools that you know how to use, and the flexibility to use other things if your ideal tools aren’t available.
I want the highest level of germ-killing products available to me. I want sturdy tools. I want to stay dry. I want to have water that won’t kill me. I want something – anything that won’t make me immediately sick – to eat. Check out the urban bug-out kit that I put together at a foreign flea market in about 15 minutes.
Focusing on irrelevant details is another kind of cognitive dissonance.
I’ve written before about cognitive dissonance. In short, it’s the way your mind protects itself from something horrific. Your brain will stretch pretty far not to believe the evidence it is being faced with if that evidence flies in the face of one of your deeply held beliefs. Your brain will distract you and try to let you think about more pleasant things. Your brain will lie to you about the things that are right in front of your very eyes. “No, that can’t be true.”
I think focusing on irrelevant details is the same thing. If I’m telling you that you’re faced with the choice of running away with only what you can carry or putting plastic bags over the windows so no one can tell you’re home, which of these things seems more desirable to you?
If you’re like most people, hunkering down with your carefully collected supplies will. Heck, I’d rather do that too if all hell broke loose.
But there comes a time when, unfortunately, the more comfortable route is not an option. In fact, it’s a death sentence.
Bugging out is not a camp-out during which you’ll sit around a blazing fire and roast marshmallows. In truth, it is an exhausting journey, often made under the cover of darkness in complete silence. Resting means sitting down someplace with your back protected for a few moments while you shovel some food into your mouth and wash it down with water you filtered. You are in maintenance mode – you will be uncomfortable. Learning to embrace being uncomfortable can make this an easier adjustment.
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Training your mind for survival situations
The next time you read about a survival situation, let go of your thoughts about preps. Think about survival. Mentally put yourself through that situation in two ways – with your everyday carry kit and with nothing except what you can gather up.
- How could the person have used things in his or her environment to survive?
- What things in your EDC kit would have helped?
- What could you improvise from the environment?
- What are the most efficient things the person could gather up quickly for the scenario?
As much as we love being prepped, there’s a world of difference between prepping and survival scenarios. It’s essential that you stop confusing the two. If you’re a prepper, you’re halfway there. You already have the mindset that allows you to understand that things can go wrong. Now, just take that a step further and begin to work on the flexibility necessary to survive that thing without your stockpile, your basement full of tools, and your reference materials.
I know some of you are shaking your heads and saying, “Nope, I’ll never be without my supplies.” If that is you, re-read this article and then keep reading it until you comprehend that survival situations are completely outside the realm of everything you’ve considered. You’re being unrealistic and unwise to deny these possibilities. You are putting at risk your own life and the lives of the people for whom you’re responsible.
This is the biggest difference between prepping and survival.
Prepping is for the far more common events like bad weather, losing your job, having financial problems, or some reason you need to hunker down until the dust settles. Your preps can see you through a very long-term situation. I once went for 6 months spending less than $10 a week on groceries because I had plenty of preps for my daughters and me.
Survival is for something that is going to kill you immediately. It’s for bugging out due to a sudden, unforeseen event. It’s for evading the people who will want the things you have. It’s for figuring out a way not to die when something is coming at you fast.
In the prepping world, you want to go with the best choices. You can research them, save up your money for them, and store them away carefully.
In the survival world, you want to go with whatever you can get your hands on fast. Good enough is good enough.
Please stop trying to apply the prepping perfectionist mindset to survival situations. It’s dangerous and delusional.
Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger who writes about current events, preparedness, frugality, voluntaryism, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. She is widely republished across alternative media and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, PreppersDailyNews.com. Daisy is the best-selling author of 4 books and runs a small digital publishing company. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.