It’s Time for a Prepper Reality Check

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You may have enough weapons and ammo stashed away to fight the next World War all by yourself…

You may have fortified your home and have 3 different routes mapped out to get to your bug-out retreat…

You may have a food stockpile that will see you, your family, heck, the whole darned neighborhood, through until the Second Coming…

You may tirelessly watch militant YouTube videos that show you how to take down your opponent in 3 easy maneuvers…


If you aren’t realistic about your skills and your physical abilities, you are likely to be just as dead as the guy down the road who considers the two extra bags of Doritos in his pantry to be a food stockpile.

You need to know enough to realize just how much you don’t know.

It’s time for a prepper reality check. Be warned. You may not like it. And if you’re offended by this article, that could mean that you are one of the people I’m talking about.

#1 Have you practiced your skills?

It’s all well and good to understand the principles behind different skills. Heck, nearly everything I know, I learned from YouTube or by reading about it in a book. However, I didn’t TRULY know how to do any of those things until I actually did them, failed at them, and did them again until I was successful.

My first garden was an abject failure. It was truly awful.  I worked so hard, digging it up by hand, planting seeds, and pulling weeds. And pulling weeds. And pulling even more weeds.

And that darned garden gave me 2 slightly shriveled cucumbers, some half rotten tomatoes, and more green onions than we could possibly consume before they spoiled. Half the seeds I planted didn’t sprout. There was a dreadful case of blossom end rot, and I only figured out 5 years later what went wrong with my cucumbers.

Furthermore, I hadn’t properly prepared my soil and had just expected things to magically grow in my regular backyard dirt. That was many, many years ago, and I’ve had lots of successful gardens since then. I don’t have a naturally green thumb, though, so I have to learn by trial and error, diligent research, and vast amounts of practice.

Now, I can grow a substantial amount of food in a variety of climates, using a number of different gardening techniques. I don’t have to look up how to do it because, after years of practice, it’s natural. I have experienced enough failures to be able to diagnose an issue early on in the season, and most of the time, I can correct it and still have a good harvest.

I’ve written several times about our experiences when my daughter and I spent a year in a remote cabin in Northern Ontario. One of our major challenges there was learning to heat with wood.  It took a solid month before I could successfully light a fire and keep it going. I feared that we were going to have to give up or face an icy death or missing fingers from frostbite in that bitterly cold climate. However, after almost 30 days of trying and failing on each and every attempt, despite the mockery of the internet, I mastered it, and clearly, we lived through the winter, and even have all of our digits intact.

Now, imagine I’d never done either of those things and suddenly, our survival was reliant upon my ability to raise all of our food and keep us warm with a wood stove. We’d most likely be in big trouble. A life-or-death situation is not the time to figure out how to do something. You need to have basic skills before that. And if you don’t test those skills, you have no idea whether you actually have them or not. Reading about how to tell whether a certain berry in the woods is poisonous is not enough. You have to go out, find the berries, perhaps talk to someone in the know, and learn to forage for real, by actually doing it.

Most people greatly overestimate their survival skills. They assume that since people have been building fires since the beginning of recorded time, that it is some innate thing that anyone can do. They believe that growing food is as simple as sowing seeds into any old plot of land. Likewise, they think that harvesting water, building shelter, fighting off the enemy, and hunting are all skills that they magically possess because they read about it on a website, participated in Cub Scouts, or went shooting that one time with that guy…you know – the one from the office who goes hunting.

Even if you actually do possess a skill, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Just because you know how to shoot, that doesn’t mean you’ll be accurate if you aren’t going to the range frequently and staying in practice.

Overconfidence in unpracticed skills has a very big chance of getting a person killed in an SHTF scenario.

#2 Is your plan actually realistic?

One of my favorite quotes is by Mike Tyson.

Everyone’s got a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.

Seriously. I want to cross-stitch that on a pillow because it’s so incredibly true. It could be a prepper mantra.  Plans nearly always go awry, and then you have to roll with it.

I read about a lot of people’s plans, and I can tell you that from where I’m standing, there are quite a few plans that don’t seem like they’ll hold up once put into action. Especially the plans you make with a beer in hand in front of the video game console with your buddies. Those tend to be especially unrealistic. Here are a few in particular that make me cringe.

When it hits the fan, I’ll just hunt and live off the land.

Cool.  Can I assume that you hunt every year and bag the maximum amount of game permitted each and every time? That you do all of the skinning and butchering yourself and manage not to taint the meat by hitting the wrong spot with your knife? Oh – and that you also know how to preserve that meat, off-grid? That you can keep from poisoning yourself when you forage for wild greens, mushrooms, and berries?

I’m not stockpiling ammo because I plan to just take the guns and ammo I need off of all the bodies.

See #4.  Unless you do this all the time, there are no guarantees that bodies will be dropping at your hands, or that those bodies will be carrying the supplies you need. And since we don’t live in the Wild West, the chances are pretty good that you do NOT do this all the time.

I don’t need food. I’ll just come to your house.

As a prepper, how many times have you heard that from someone unwilling to put for the time, money, and effort to get prepared on their own? If this is legitimately your plan, then *Cringe*. You should know that you really may not be assured of a warm welcome in an SHTF scenario, particularly if you’re bringing nothing to the table except your winning personality.

And if it is a threat, as in the case of that chubby fellow who was on Doomsday Preppers, well, I can almost guarantee it isn’t going to work. People will have your number well before disaster strikes, and you’ll be the first one to go as the guys with real tactical experience reduce the local threat level.  In your arrogance, you talk too much and by doing so have sealed your own fate.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make plans. It simply means that your plan needs to be grounded in reality, and not taken from the script of one of those post-apocalyptic movies
starring the people with artfully matted hair that still manage to look really hot even though they’re dirty.

#3 Are you physically fit?

The next thing people greatly overestimate is their physical ability.

I hear this all the time: “I played football in high school and (list former accomplishments of athletic prowess here).”



If, since your athletic glory days, all you’ve done is work at a desk job and play around at some occasional weekend warrioring, you are most likely going to collapse with a heart attack when bugging out with your family over a mountain. Unless you are regularly active…and by “active” I don’t mean going to the kitchen 6 times per evening to get another beer…you will not be able to withstand the physical rigors of SHTF.

This puts not only you at risk, but also your family. Is your spouse going to leave your panting, exhausted self on the side of the trail and march on with the kids? Or is he or she going to stay with you, try to help you up the mountain, and possibly put everyone in harm’s way Getting (and staying) in shape is not just something you do to save your own skin – it’s something you do to keep your family safe.

Here’s an example. Every year when the snow flies, lots of people drop dead from shoveling it.

“Shoveling snow is a significant physical effort,” said John G. Harold, president of the American College of Cardiology. “Patients who have known coronary disease under management and treatment are obviously a group that would be advised not to shovel snow.”

A second group consists of people with a variety of risk factors but no history of coronary disease. Smokers, anyone with a strong family history of heart disease and those with high blood pressure are some examples, Harold said. If you fit those categories and are middle-aged or older, take particular caution, he said. Across the population, more heart attacks occur in winter than in summer. (source)

Now replace “shoveling snow” with “bugging out with a 50-pound backpack” or “chopping a cord of firewood”. Heck, even stacking firewood is very hard work, especially if your lifestyle is sedentary.

Here’s another example. When I was in my early 20s, I used to cycle long-distance. A normal day was no less than 35 miles, and weekends often included 50-100 mile rides. After a 100 miler, I’d be a little bit sore, and kind of tired, but I’d be ready to go again after a day or so of rest. However, to say that I could ride a hundred miles in a day right now just because I used to do so, would be ridiculous. If I tried to do that now, 20 years later, I’d keel over trying to ride a hundred miles. I physically couldn’t do it, because I did not maintain that extreme level of fitness.

There’s a very good reason that the military not only requires a certain level of physical fitness but tests its members frequently. At least twice per year, most active duty military members are required to pass a fitness test.

The backpack is another issue. If you haven’t gone hiking – and I mean for a long and rugged hike – with your bag, you probably think you can carry a lot more than you can actually carry. Lots of people load up their bug out bags with all sorts of gadgets, then tie on a bedroll and tent, then add some water and a weapon. Next thing you know, you’re at 75 pounds of gear. In his article on tactical fitness, Max Velocity pointed out how much some members of the military are carrying. He isn’t recommending that YOU carry all of this weight – this is just to give you an idea of how much very fit, active people can carry. Graywolf Survival gives some excellent guidelines on amounts of weight that are reasonable for the rest of us to carry – and those weights are a fraction of the active-duty military guys’ packs.

All of the formulas in the world won’t help you if you aren’t practicing with the amounts that you intend to lug in a bug-out situation. There is no substitute for building and maintaining your fitness levels. If you used to be super fit, maybe you would have survived like Mad Max if the S had HTF then. But if you aren’t fit now, you can’t rest on your laurel and expect the same outcome. You’re dangerously deluding yourself if you believe this to be true.

The bottom line is this: If you aren’t testing your own fitness levels regularly, you are probably vastly overestimating your current level of fitness and athletic ability. If you are out of shape, don’t despair. You can develop a fitness plan to get yourself bug-out ready. Start out with walking and work your way up to carrying a load.

#4 Do you have combat experience?

Life is nothing whatsoever like an action-adventure movie. Furthermore, you are not an Arnold Schwarzenegger character, able to take on entire battalions and throw out a couple of witty one-liners while the bullets fly.

The only way you can be absolutely certain of how you’d react in a battle is if you’ve actually been in a combat situation. Without that background, you’re just guessing.

So you can plan your defense and believe confidently that you, all alone, can engage with the Golden Horde outside your spiked gates. But your victory may not be in the bag.

There’s bravery, and there’s stupidity. Sometimes there is far more wisdom in retreat, especially for the inexperienced and untrained person. If there’s a battle that I’m unlikely to win, I’d much prefer to live to fight the battle on better terms – on my terms – another day. I have absolutely no issue with taking off out the back and retreating to safety. We could debate all day long whether this is cowardly or stupid, but I have kids to raise, and keeping them safe is my number one priority, not defending my property in a dramatic Alamo-style last stand.

Here are some legitimate questions:

Do you shoot on a regular basis?

Do you shoot at things that move on a regular basis?

Do you shoot at things that shoot back on a regular basis?

Are you physically fit? (see above)

Are you trained in hand to hand combat or martial arts?

Do you have recent experience fighting?

Please understand that I’m not talking about a situation where you’re backed into a corner with no way out. When safe retreat is out of the question, there’s no option but to take as many out as you can and pray that luck is with you. But making it your Plan A is not the wisest course of action for every person.

There is much more to defending your home against a siege of invaders than having an endless supply of ammo and a few booby traps. People much wiser than I have written books about making this kind of tactical stand, and I certainly don’t have the knowledge or experience to give advice. (Max Velocity’s tactical manual for post-collapse survival is highly reviewed, and it’s by an author with a background of battlefield experience.)

The only advice I can give is this: Don’t overestimate your ability to fight off people intent on taking your goods or seizing your home. Don’t think that you and you alone will be able to take down a unit that intends, under the authority of government, to seize your preps and dole them out to the unprepared.

Instead of being tough, be smart. Don’t keep all of your preps in one place. Set up caches and retreats. In the famous words of The Gambler, “Know when to hold ’em, Know When to fold ’em.”

Other Unrealistic Expectations of SHTF

Your survival depends upon your accurate assessment of your skills, the viability of your plans, and your physical ability to implement those plans. I’m sure we’ve all read or heard many other unrealistic expectations of a post-collapse world. We all know folks who refuse to to build a stockpile or just flat-out refuse to believe that disaster will inevitably strike. What are some examples that make you roll your eyes when you hear them?


The Prepper’s Blueprint: The Step-By-Step Guide To Help You Through Any Disaster

The Pantry Primer: How to Build a One Year Food Supply in Three Months

8 Weeks to SEALFIT: A Navy SEAL’s Guide to Unconventional Training for Physical and Mental Toughness

Contact! A Tactical Manual for Post Collapse Survival

Rapid Fire!: Tactics for High Threat, Protection and Combat Operations

Prepper’s Home Defense: Security Strategies to Protect Your Family by Any Means Necessary

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

Leave a Reply

  • Another excellent packet of advice from Daisy. The way I see it, if you’re not constantly fretting over your preparedness, you’re probably overestimating your capabilities. Isn’t practicing techniques part of the fun of prepping? It is for me. Having fun makes it easier to stick with it, too. For me the exception is shooting. Although I know practice is key, every time I fire off 100 rounds somewhere, all I can think about is my dwindling ammo supply. It’s really a fix – you can either shoot a ton and sharpen your skills, or you can have plenty of ammo on hand and hope you’ll be ready when you need it. I envy the people who can buy ammo in bulk, because they won’t feel this conflict so painfully. Great stuff, Daisy. I’m going to go out and build a few tarp shelters this very afternoon, or maybe set some stuff on fire with a Ferro rod and some Q-tips.

  • We recently had a good drill for SHTF with the hurricane that brushed up to us and fizzled, we got real lucky, but was a good drill as to preparedness, theres a lot to consider and then when you think its figured out theres more to think about and figure out,

  • We had our tests during weird storm Sandy (grid down for two weeks) and from January 2014 through the beginning of June, 2014 (no income and protracted cold temperatures that wreaked havoc on our farm.

    We would not consider ourselves “preppers,” but just consider it common sense to put enough food by to get through the next twelve months.

    A proper skill base is essential.

  • Awesome stuff here, Daisy! Mike’s quote is a classic and so true. Now I know what my next tat might be…

    “Everyone’s got a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”

    That’s when the S hits the fan for sure. Working on skills is important, but experience, as you pointed out, is even more valuable. Information is not knowledge. The true source of knowledge is experience. 🙂

  • Excellent article! If we’re gonna talk the talk, we better walk the walk!

    I need to get in better shape. I know if life were much harder, I would be in trouble. Thank you for inspiring me to get with the program!

  • Very good post focusing on perception vs reality. I am currentlyfine tuning my fitness level from my fifties back to the thirties. The body is the engine and without it all plans are fiction.

  • Excellent and thought provoking article. A number of practical considerations challenged me. While I shoot on a regular basis… and am an experienced hunter and woodsman; preserving meat without modern refrigeration is something needed in my skillset. The mention of initial gardening failures and trial and error brought back my own fledgling attempts to raise a life-sustaining crop. I wholeheartedly agree with the emphasis on physical abilities. While closing in on the age of 50; my physical strength and conditioning gives me an added confidence knowing that I can walk miles while weight bearing necessary supplies; I can lift and do lift, over 500 pounds on a weekly basis as an amateur powerlifter. And with over ten years of competitive fighting sports ranging from boxing to MMA; I have a reasonable confidence in my ability to handle myself… and, I have been tested both domestically and on foreign soil. All boasting aside; the bottom line is that I am not as prepared as I initially perceived myself to be. And having read this article, I realize that I have much room for further preparedness. Thank you!

  • Ouch. Truth and reality hurt. Better though to get your ego hurt than your family or yourself. Thanks man for the healthy dose of reality

  • I agree, but it really hurts because I would learn and practice skills if I could! My dh mocks my prepping, so the best I can do is stash supplies and continue to develop a secret library of how-to books.

    • You can still ‘do’ and be in secret. Just getting out there and walking, growing something, even if it is just tomatoes on the patio, herbs in a kitchen window, getting your family out to primitive camp. YOU can do this! You can do MORE!

    • Why not suggest a camping/ fishing trip for your next vacation? Point out that hotels and resorts are expensive and talk up the great outdoors. If he won’t go, maybe you could do a weekend trip with some good friends.

  • Another bit about storage food. If you do not eat what you store, and store what you eat, there can be serious medical problems if you suddenly switch exclusively to your storage food.

  • Hmm, I’m not sure where I stand. I have the fitness level of a dead ferret and guns are no option where I live. Due to some faulty wiring in my brain, any weapon that requires depth perception is probably a bad idea anyway. I am quite adept with knives though (as long as I don’t have to throw them!), so hopefully that will be enough to convince the baddies to find a target that sucks more than me. I’ll work on my fitness!

  • Very good article. It is about time someone injected a little reality into the prepper movement. Even with experience gardening can an iffy proposition. It requires the co-operation of the weather and timely rains to produce crops. Farmers are the greatest gamblers of all. The physical condition of many Americans is so bad that they would suffer greatly and possibly die in the summer’s heat with no air conditioning. Unless you have a secure bug out location and a safe way to get there bugging out is more likely to get you killed for your supplies and your wife and daughters raped or worse. People need to think realistically before they make what could be fatal mistakes for themselves and their families. You have stated the situation well.

  • my favorite eye-roller is “well, if that (shtf) ever happened i couldn’t live with it, so i would be dead anyway.” that’s from my neighbor/best friend, who has absolutely no clue how hard people will fight to stay alive no matter how bad things are. so i’ve made up a get-home bag and a shelter bag (we live in a wildfire zone) for her and her cat, mostly from extra things she already had, and she’s slowly developing an interest. she’s even stashed a little food and water lately. i’ve learned to be patient and not push it. now the only problem is that the shelters require pets to have a crate or cage big enough for a litter box, bed, etc–and neither of us can afford to buy one. no luck on craigslist. any diy ideas?

  • Daisy,
    You sound like a nice lady. But your blog is mainly BULLSH*T!
    Why? Because you have gathered a readership of people who are blindly following attitudes that they cannot possibly integrate — especially in areas like self-defense — from an URBAN PERSPECTIVE.

    I grew up in a large urban, Eastern city, in the suburbs. But I have been hunting for 30 years, reload ammunition, cast bullets, and shoot adequately with flint as with cartridge guns. Even with basic experience with military rifles and adequate storeage of ammo, I do not think that I am an Warrior.
    Your “flock” has been watching so much DVD, television, Youtube that their minds are unclear for how to assess real danger.

    As a city boy, I have been a registered, functioning farmer for 12 years (livestock and some horse breeding). I live remote. but have maintained full-time employment in a commutable city. We homeschooled children for 15 years in spite of my being a professional researcher.

    No way am I going to repeat the mantra that your underlings spew out about
    “when the SHTF…” use of firearms from a combat-real perspective. It’s just another “reality-show” type of mentality that you are fostering. However, you advise on the bits-and-pieces of daily living can be helpful when and if they ever leave the condos.

    THE REAL REALITY IS: your readership and you need to surrender your life to the true Lord of life, Jesus of Nazareth. Be present in his guiding presence and the skills you seem to want to impart will modify to serve others and seek to obediently follow the God of history.

    My place is not a fortress unto itself in the spirit of an action movie. This is a place of refuge for God’s people–for a time yet to come. So, my wife and I also … need to leave the BULLSH*T at the door and follow Him!

    Best wishes,

  • RE: You Gambler comment, I would add, “Know when to walk away, and when to run like hell”. There is nothing I have stock piled in one place that I likewise do not have in several others, and by that same token 90% can be replace within a few weeks if you now where to look on any military base. In the event of a true and complete systems failure (government destroyed) then no-one more than likely is going to be patrolling some of the smaller and outlying Military Bases and they all have supply rooms and armories as well as places where certain replacement items are hidden and if you are former military with more then a few years of service you more then likely know where to look and what to look for that will give those locations away. I am a former Military Police and I also have done duty as a Light Weapons Infantry NCO, and MI. So I just happen to be one that knows what to look for and where to look for the goodies.

  • I like your article content, except I am getting tired of Selco articles. I usually like the comments too, except today, Heming-Stein got on my nerves with his follow Jesus diatribe.
    Heming-Stein needs to understand that not everybody is going to face the same challenges. There will be places where bad guys are on every stair well in every building. Then there will be pockets of rural America where people will hardly notice any difference in life.
    My approach to prepping for actuality is to learn 2 or 3 new things per year. One year it was canning meat. I had only done vegetables and fruits. I also tried my hand at making candles. One year I raised chickens from chicks. Two years ago, I dry-canned saltine crackers and the grandchildren’s favorite cereal (and tested out the product a year later….still fresh). Last summer the grandchildren and I made a rocket stove out of tin cans and cooked supper outside on it (they can already make fire in several ways). This year, I am growing a garden in Grow Bags since my back wont hold up to prepare the soil in a real garden. I am growing some different veggies I have not tried before, and I started growing healing herbs. For the entire past year, I have been studying essential oils and buying them. If you make a goal of accomplishing just a couple of new skills per year, it is not as daunting a task.

  • Two of my boys are Marines. They have a motto that every Marine is a rifleman. So, though one is infantry and one has the MOS of electrician, they both have to qualify yearly, in a variety of situations and at night. They also have not just personal fitness reviews but corporate fitness where they have to do physically demanding tasks as a group. The last is difficult to do for skill preps but could be very important in prepper situation

  • #2 Is your plan actually realistic?
    If your plan is “I’m coming to your house”, that’s not a plan.
    It is more than likely a death sentence.
    And likely before you even get anywhere near here.

  • In all likelihood, I’m going to be one of the people who die off in the first few months of a shtf situation, but I’m also really stubborn and I can think outside the box. I plan to do the best I can with what I’ve got and hope for the best. Doesn’t hurt to try.

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