Selco’s SHTF Reality Check: 5 Deadly Mistakes That Preppers Are Making

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Author of The Dark Secrets of SHTF Survival and the online course SHTF Survival Boot Camp

It is hard to bring the mindset of survival to the people who have not experienced a hard situation of at least some kind of survival event. Over the many years of being connected with people who are into survival, I realize there are the same topics for discussion and people actually become fixated on those topics. But some make mistakes.

Inside those topics over the years “rules” are set and it is hard to change them. Opinions are formed and if you jump in with a different opinion, you are going to be ridiculed.

The survival community has turned in into a parody of itself. Something that should be free from the mainstream has turned into a very mainstream thing.


Intentional false information.

The survival industry.

We are living in a society where we want it and we want it now, and what is most important we want it the easy way without effort and sweat.

This is true for the survival community, too.

That is the way survival myths (and mistakes) are born. Here are the 5 biggest mistakes that preppers make. Mistakes that can get them killed.

1) Making too specific a plan (and sticking to it)

Because of tons of information, we are being “funneled” into forming opinions about survival and especially about the reasons of possible bad events in future, possible SHTF situations, collapses or whatever you call it.

So we have preppers who are getting ready for an EMP, or an economic collapse, or an immigrant crisis, or a war, or simply a bad weather event.

In essence, there is nothing wrong with it, except some people stick so hard to one imagined” possible scenario that they do complete planning based on that scenario only.

As a result, if that scenario happens they could be good, but if any other scenario happens they are in deep trouble.

There are numerous reasons, possible scenarios, and outcomes. We do not have a clue what exactly might happen.

In an urban survival scenario I like to think that there are a few common things in any event:

The disruption of society that leads to the system not working properly (or collapsing completely) which leads to a situation where people “sharing ” resources in a different way. And that way includes violence.

In other words, if you are preparing for a serious storm event, and you forget the possibility that after a really serious weather event (loss of electricity, floods, contamination) and prolonged time, violence simply has to be a factor, you are missing the point.

It does not have to be a civil war.

2) Overlooking the basics.

As the opposite of the above-mentioned, if you are preparing for a really tough time, like for a full outbreak of violence (Mad Max-style) there is a danger that in the tons of information and equipment that includes weapons, martial arts, and similar. you simply forget the basics.

Here is an example:

In this region, where it is still fragile and always close to rioting, turmoil and where word war is never too far, whenever there is some disruption (news about possible riots or riots on streets) the first thing that most people are checking and getting prepared is not their stash of weapons (and every house has that, a lot).

It is water.

On even the smallest disruption here, people get up and fill the bathtub and water containers.


Because it is one of the basic and usually the most needed thing. And one of the first things that are gonna go away if something happens. You can not live too long without it, we know that from experience. You can never have enough water.

It is one example, but the point is that you can not go into the “high end” if you did not cover the basics.

Not covering the basics will get you dead long before you reach the need to use high-end equipment and plans.

During the course, I met out in the field a person that asked me a question that was very important to him in his prepping philosophy: Do you have any idea how to hide from a helicopter with thermal imaging and similar high technology that is chasing you?”

At the same time, that person could not start a fire in a field in the middle of the woods during perfect weather with a lighter. His level of fitness was so good that after one night in an abandoned building (sleeping on the floor, with a sleeping mat) and one day of walking he was unable to continue at all.

He failed in map reading, water collecting, fire-making…he did not see that as important.

He did not see that as a big problems in his prepping philosophy.

All he was interested in was how to run from the helicopter that will chase him (with modern seeking devices).

First, nothing is wrong with the fact that his performances and knowledge were low, as long as he realizes the importance of that. (He did not).

Two things are wrong:

He is choosing “running away from a helicopter” as his biggest worry and likely scenario when SHTF. He is an average young man, college student. But he is not at all worried about fire, shelter, water, fitness…

Nothing worries him in basic things.

But being chased by a helicopter simply sounds cool to him. He wants to be prepared for that.

He chooses (like a lot of preppers) to prepare “from the end,” not from the beginning. He chose to prepare for what looks cool to him, not what is likely. He forgets the basics.

And second thing is that he does not realize very probable fact that if he is going to be so important (good or bad) , so not “gray” that a helicopter with sophisticated equipment must chase him, he is missing something in the prepping philosophy. He is probably dead anyway.

Often the best thing in order not to be found is not to give reason to be looked for, not to be interesting. Blend in.

A helicopter chase is not so probable. A bad rash because of poor hygiene or pests in your food are more probable issues.

But they are not cool topics to prepare for, right? 

(What do you do when it’s time to evacuate in a hurry? Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to find out.)

3) Underestimating the violence

I am not some violence expert.

I do know some judo, and I know how to operate with several different weapons in a real situation. From handgun to mine thrower.

There are no real violence experts as you imagine it because it is personal.

There are people who can teach you techniques, skills, and how to use it in an efficient way.

They may be experts in teaching, which is different.

How you are gonna use it in real life SHTF is a completely different thing. You do not have a clue how it is gonna be until you find yourself in that situation.

And based on my experience it is different from imagined.

One thing is for sure, SHTF violence is a combination of a lot of things. Pressure, both physical and mental. And you will test your “violence skills” under different circumstances.

There are good reasons why war veterans are not so happy to tell stories that are let us say “most interesting” when it comes to violence.

It is intense and confusing. And real.

The best advice here that you need to train your “violence skills” while you are under pressure. You must push your self to the limits and learn to operate as best as possible in those conditions.

Tired, sleepy, angry, hungry, terrified…

4) Refusing to think in terms of “new world, new rules”

I remember a man, my friend from peacetime, who shot another guy, a prisoner. He shot him in the face from a close distance. An unarmed man.

And I asked him, “Why did you do that?”

He said, “Why not?”

And that was it. I was looking at him, I thought I knew him but obviously, I did not.

I thought he was “normal” (whatever that mean), a normal guy. He worked before all that in a travel agency. An average guy, a bit shy with girls.

But I did not know him actually.

People talk about the end of the world, complete chaos and disorder. And then they say something like. “Oh, it is not gonna be like that. It cannot be like that because it is wrong, not fair…” or similar.

You cannot prepare for very bad times and while preparing for it still think in terms of normal times.

In normal times, people are neighbors, teachers, truck drivers.  They say hello to you because they know you. The system is working and holding things together, including most of the people.

When the system goes out (seriously goes out) people are a possible threat until you rule out differently.

It is like that because sooner or later, people realize there are not enough resources for all of us.

And then real “fun” starts.

You do not know what kind of people are around you before times gets real hard.

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5) Thinking, “It can not happen here.”

Trust me. It can.

You can see a glimpse of that in football rioting, or during Black Friday sales, or in gang wars sometimes.

It can happen anywhere, no matter how many people are there (per square mile) or how well-armed you are, or how modern your society is or how democratic your country is or how many rights you have.

I am sorry, but the more modern your society is, the worse it will be. The fall is going to be bigger and longer if something serious happens, and people are going to have a harder time adapting to the new reality.

About Selco:

Selco survived the Balkan war of the 90s in a city under siege, without electricity, running water, or food distribution. He is currently accepting students for his next physical course here.

In his online works, he gives an inside view of the reality of survival under the harshest conditions. He reviews what works and what doesn’t, tells you the hard lessons he learned, and shares how he prepares today.

He never stopped learning about survival and preparedness since the war. Regardless of what happens, chances are you will never experience extreme situations as Selco did. But you have the chance to learn from him and how he faced death for months.

Real survival is not romantic or idealistic. It is brutal, hard and unfair. Let Selco take you into that world.



Selco survived the Balkan war of the 90s in a city under siege, without electricity, running water, or food distribution. In his online works, he gives an inside view of the reality of survival under the harshest conditions. He reviews what works and what doesn’t, tells you the hard lessons he learned, and shares how he prepares today. He never stopped learning about survival and preparedness since the war. Regardless what happens, chances are you will never experience extreme situations as Selco did. But you have the chance to learn from him and how he faced death for months. Read more of Selco's articles here. Buy his PDF books here. Take advantage of a deep and profound insight into his knowledge by signing up for his unrivaled online course. Real survival is not romantic or idealistic. It is brutal, hard and unfair. Let Selco take you into that world.

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  • Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insights with us. We owe you a debt of gratitude we cannot pay.

  • Really good article. Maybe still doesn’t cover enough in the violence sector. Too many people too conditioned by political correctness to grasp what WILL come in the event of SHTF. The US is already experiencing record lows in the social cohesion department and record highs in the violence department.

    Being in a demographically homogeneous area will improve your odds of survival considerably for those demographics that are not already drowning in infighting problems. When things get tough, self-segregation along racial/ethnic lines WILL occur. This is because everyone will have a much easier time coping with the reality of killing people and taking what they need for survival if they can latch on to an ‘us or them’ mentality. Tribalism is evolution, a baser instinct, a survival instinct. Like is drawn to like. Resting on the notion that your super liberal and diverse community will come together and unite to solve their problems peacefully, when they already demonstrably incapable that (just go to YT and watch some best of footage from Trump’s campaign rallies), is suicide for you and anyone dependent on you.

    Chinatown won’t be friendly territory for non-Chinese, much of the south west will be very hostile to non-Hispanic/Latino demographics, Chicago will be the same black gangland it is today, just with no law enforcement whatsoever, and so on and so forth. Lots of groups will also be looking to use the disarray as cover for politically motivated acts of violence. Hate groups like the BLM, or the ‘reconquista’ mexs. Louis Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam. ANTIFA. Groups that already use violence and already routinely call for revolution in one (usually violent) form or another.

    All this is to say, don’t be in a metropolitan area. Don’t be in an area that can be reached by foot from a metropolitan area. Those are areas with high population density, high diversity, low survival skills, hordes of government dependents and NOT COINCIDENTALLY they are also the epicenters of violence in the nation already.

    Also, consider this: if there are 1,000,000 people in your city, most of whom don’t know how to cook without power, will need to cook regularly without power all the same, who is going to rescue you when they set your surroundings on fire? If just .001% of those people screw up and cause a fire, that’s 1000 fires that no fire department is going to respond to. And resources like water and fire extinguishers will be few and far between, while flammables like trash will be scattered about everywhere. Add unfavorable winds and dry climate conditions and you may as well be a forest.

    Mastery of the fundamentals, like you said, water especially, are critical. More than 60% of lakes and rivers in the US are not potable. Best to learn that now and not after contracting Giardia or worse in a SHTF situation.

    “Long periods of peace and quiet favor certain optical illusions. Among them is the assumption that the invulnerability of the home is founded upon the constitution and safeguarded by it. In reality, it rests upon the father of the family who, along with his sons, appears with the ax on the threshold of his dwelling.”
    -Ernst Jünger

  • Great article. Though I’ve read Selco before I will refresh my memory. A couple of the prepper sites I read have themselves become clickish and critical of “outsiders”, believing they have the answers. Being aware and tuned in to your surroundings is utmost important. Thanks for the reminder.

  • You really don’t know someone till you had a row with them. You never had a “row” with him Selco, that is why you didn’t know your “Travel Agent” friend.

  • I would add:

    1) for those prepping for an emp…keep in mind that at any given time there are 30,000 assorted planes in the air over America, which will all at once become incendiary missles falling in major cities, urban areas and in Forrest. Choose your bug in/bug out location very carefully.

    2) perhaps the hardest part early on, will be hardening your heart to ignore those crying within earshot who truly need help, and those being used as decoys by looters looking for people to kill and rob. Maintain your “grey man” status at all times.

    3) if someone within your circle/community (After the SHTF) decides to leave (especially if on bad terms) they must be eliminated. You cannot risk that they might be grabbed by looters or a road gang, and trade your location (And inventory, defensive capabilities, etc.) For their lives.

    4) Big boom = giving away location. These weekend warriors that think they’ll snipe at intruders in a city/urban scenario with a .308 cannon, when there is no reason to suspect they ALREADY know your location…might as well start a huge fire in the front yard or stand outside waving a flag. True, it won’t be fun engaging them on your front porch…but if you prep the block to appear to have already been burned out and looted they might just bypass you. Depending on the nature of the SHTF, you can steer them away (hopefully) by learning the military coding spray painted on doors declaring how many dead, how many alive, etc…perhaps noting disease encountered.

  • Selco,

    Thank you for your articles.

    While all your articles are reality based (well, o.k., the end-of-year gift giving ones are for fun) this one hit closer to home. My chances are not good in SHTF being used to the conveniences of a large city. I do know there are city people that would enjoy finishing off anyone, out of past frustrations or just for pure excitement. While other people would throw-up for days afterwards. Trivial compared to a day to day SHTF situation, as a kid having been mugged, robbed*, on the street, guns, it’s embedded in my mind how a few seconds can seem like a life time when reality drops. And it doesn’t matter a bit what you think should be happening. Like my parents regarding WWII, people don’t talk about larger traumatic events since it’s still too real. Maybe, when they work it out after decades they might say a little at a time. Until then, all you’ll get is a blank “No (don’t want to talk about it).” when asking what occurred.

    *Hint: Don’t beg or pled as that will get the stuff beat out of you. Carrying a false wallet used to help until they started cutting thru your clothing with razors. I found out later the gentlemen I encountered did kill so as not to have any witnesses. It didn’t matter if you had five cents or fifty dollars. Doing the unexpected did throw them off. So much for being the grey person.

    I heard having a prisoner on patrol gave one two choices, taking care of them, sharing your food or doing what your “friend” did. I read the WWII German Youth Corp would carry one bullet around their neck rather than being captured by the advancing Russians. Your second article amongst other things mentioned gang-prisons. Theoretical questions: Would the necklace become a last resort during a firefight in SHTF if you knew what could happen to you or others? Would that realization make the average person get their head out of the ground faster? And to avoid getting to that point if possible, what could be done? (For one, read and reread Selco’s articles.)

    It’s kinda amusing with all the survival information relatively very little is said regarding #2 except to use Mullein leaves in a pinch and don’t shake someone’s left hand. As Col. Dave Grossman wrote, in a gunfight it’ll be the first thing to occur.

  • Great article.

    My take on his 5 deadly mistakes:

    1) Semper Gumby, aka, always flexible. No one has a crystal ball, to say how exactly it is all going to go down. Anyone who does claim it is going to be like this, or like that, best to smile, nod, and walk away . . . quickly.

    2) Amazing how many people take water for granted. I have a co-worker who has a particular water filtration system that he insists on as the best and arrogantly dismisses anything else.
    His set up did not allow for carrying additional water. He did not want to carry the extra weight when he could just use his little tube and get water from the source.
    Then we had a drought.
    A lot of the water sources he would of been dependent on if a SHTF situation happened, dried up.
    I am a fan of those water filtration systems that double as a water bladder.

    3) It will be ugly. No one knows how they will react until the time comes.

    4) Like to believe the best of human nature would remain intact, but I know that is unlikely. I will do my best to maintain my humanity, knowing that I may fail.

    5) It can happen anywhere.

  • But, what if I am being chased by a helicopter? Kidding. Glad you wrote on this – it has the advantage of being applicable in a lot of localized bad situations. We don’t think much about what’re because it’s always just there…until it isn’t, then Walmart runs out of water, then what does one do? We had over 2 months no rain recently, so what would I have done if shtf and I only had a couple of weeks worth of stored water? How would I store enough for 4 for two months, that is… well, a lot of water. So, thanks for the reminder.

    • Buy an above ground pool. Set it up in your garage with the doors closed. Now that you know how to set it up, take it down and store back in the original box. When the SHTF, first secure your family and your home, then setup the pool in your garage with the doors closed, and fill it up. Also, hope its not winter and will freeze.

  • This article nailed it.
    This is why you should have a generalized Plan A and a Plan B (at least), because you can just about expect plan A to go wrong. And both plans should allow for as much flexibility in the possible scenarios that they can be applied to as you can make them.

    As humans we crave a certain amount of structure and routine, even those who think they don’t.
    Our lives (and societies) are based in it, so recognizing that all of that could disappear is very hard for some people.
    Selco touched upon the reality of his “friend” changing during SHTF and that he did not really know him.
    This goes much deeper than this one aspect.
    Many would be serial killers, murders, rapists and worse Arsonists or serial arsonists will emerge during SHTF. Society and it’s laws keep them in check, but remove that and their true natures will show themselves.
    You may not know them,but their actions will be a problem come SHTF. Dealing with these people and others who are just disruptive, should be part of your survival plan.

    An often overlooked area of prepping is restraints.
    From handcuffs to plastic restraints to rope and knot tying, you may need some of these things, until you decide the fate of these people.
    Then there are others who might need to be temporarily restrained, like drunks, suicidal family members, people who are having trouble coping with the loss of a loved one and get upset and violent.
    This is especially true in group settings. Not every one will be able to easily cope with the new reality and many may have trouble adjusting to it. Not that they are that bad, but they just might need time to adjust.
    You yourself might fall into this category at some point.

    Unless you study and understand how people react under pressure and how they deal with loss and raw emotions, you are not fully prepped. This is probably one of the most overlooked areas in prepping.

  • And then there are those who will appear to offer you something in order to take what you have as well as those who appear to be in trouble or need in order to take you off guard? This is where you need to be asking questions and observing before making your presence known

  • I’m not happy knowing I am probably going to have to apply this knowledge in the near future.

    It makes me appreciate who and what I have now.

    Not looking forward to living “Lord Of The Flies”…

  • Yeah, it is true. You never know anybody till you get them roused or mad I use to say.

    There was a story about Daniel Boone (I think it was) and I don’t know if it is true or not but it is said that before he married this girl he really liked he tore (an area) of her favorite dress she was wearing. (No not wape or anything like that) but he wanted to see how she would react.

    She just looked at him and said, “why’d you do that for?” In a surprised but calm manner. Well, he married her. 😉

  • Oh, I know how to hide from the helicopter with its heat seeking sensors. That knowledge may come in handy, not because the helicopter is looking specifically for you, but just generally to flush out those who are hiding out in the woods from SHTF.

    But first things first—you need to be able to survive in the woods. You don’t need to hide from the helicopters if you’re dead. Can you set up a camp? Can you cook your food? Can you find potable water, or make water potable? Can you get food? What if it starts raining, can you keep dry? Can you make a shelter that can keep you warm should your bug out be in winter? Can you hunt or trap small game? Can you hike long distances in the woods?

    What if your bug out is in the desert? That one really scares me because of the lack of water.

    If you bug in, how to make your house uninviting? Especially when it looks as if your neighborhood appears almost impossible to defend against a mob?

    Unfortunately for me, my plan A has been decided by my responsibility for an elderly person who lacks the strength to do strenuous activity. Therefore my plan A is to bug in. Plan B is to have her sleep in her SUV. She doesn’t believe that it can happen here, so she has done no prepping. Plan C is to get to my sister’s place in the country. To be honest, none of those plans may work. I hope never to have to shoot a gun in anger but practice my marksmanship in case I need to. I hope more likely it would just be for hunting.

    I expect war to be the SHTF trigger event. How that goes down is anybody’s guess.

    The thoughts and more that went through my mind as I read this article.

  • I’m literally dealing with one of the expensive equipment but no basics right now.
    Drop 3K on something no problem. Fill a water barrel nope.
    Makes zero sense

    • This reminds me of a little story. When I lived in California, I used to teach occasional in-person classes. I lived about halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. There were always students from Sac who had decided to bug out to Tahoe if things went sideways. This is the same Lake Tahoe that regularly gets 6-foot snowfalls, up through extremely steep mountain passes. Many of these people are not hikers and just driving to Tahoe in a 4×4 the winter takes hours to cover 35 miles. There was nothing whatsoever I could say to deter them from their extremely ill-advised plan, not even a reference to the infamous Donner Party, who were stranded not terribly far from this particular area.

  • I agree 100%, and it was a trap I fell into when I started prepping 9 years ago.
    I became so focused on the gadgetry, that the basics went out the window for a period.
    Spent a lot of money buying things I don’t need and probably will never use.
    Getting involved in forums like this and listening brought me back to reality.
    I’m 60, with a chronic declining health issue that won’t go away, therefore, bugging out on foot, is the last ditch effort for me. The distance to our BO location is only 70 miles, but what would once have taken me 3 – 4 days afoot, will take a lot longer than that now, and I would be very restricted as to what I can carry. I doubt I could hit 10 miles/day now, and it’s questionable if I’d survive the trip.
    So my focus is on surviving in place rather than away from home. Making sure we’ve enough food, water and other essentials, that it’s not necessary to run to the store to try and find what’s needed.
    Fortifying and hardening our residence, so we’re not an easy target for mobs or looters, or at the very least, it will cost them to take us out.
    The best advice is to read, research and rehearse what you can. Selco’s given valuable advice from someone who’s lived through a crisis. There are others as well who’ve shared their experiences and strategies that helped them overcome.
    The situation in the US we’re facing right now is one that I first suspected might/would occur in the years following 9/11. The Civil Unrest is high and will get worse, simply because there’s no civility between the sides of our government. They can’t find common ground across the aisle over any issues. Our Civil Rights and Liberties are under attack in an unprecedented way, by the very government that was elected, and their only promise, is to expect more. Freedom of Speech, the Right To Keep And Bear Arms, are just the tip of the iceberg that’s being chipped at every hour of every day, and there’s no end in sight, because once a right is gone, we’ll never get it back.
    Will this end in Civil War? It’s highly probable, as one side of the political spectrum feels that their slight majority is a mandate to change that won’t have repercussions. They’ll find that there are a lot more willing to fight “their change.”

    • Like yourself, I too was a gear junkie. I remember in the years running up to Y2K buying every cool survival gadget I could find, bearing in mind that “one is none and two Is one”. Then I bought this HUGE milsurp internal frame backpack with accompanying smaller pack. Attached my 4 season milsurp sleeping bag system, Goretex Bivvy and Katadyn water filter and discovered that although in pretty good shape, I could barely lift the entire rig to shoulder height. Once I did get it on using a chair, found I couldn’t walk any meaningful distance without becoming wobbly in the legs and especially lower back. I should have known better, having grown up camping out with my family every weekend in the AZ desert and forests–my parents were minimalist in their approach to camping. Guess I thought “survival” required a lot more “stuff”. An older, somewhat wiser guy approaching his 7th decade on this nasty little planet, I’ve decided to bug in if at all possible…

  • It reminds me of people spending hundreds of dollars customizing their weapons yet are not close to proficient with the stock ones.

  • We in the Western World are already in a SHTF event. It didn’t just happen recently. It was a true “boiling the frog” strategy and its worked.
    Here in the US we no longer have a representative republic. We have maybe a corprotocracy, with the large corporations firmly embedded in what once was the “people’s government”. Isn’t our’s any longer. Just look at whats transpired over the past 100 days with a puppet illegitimate president doing the bidding for those really in control. In the meantime many are prepping for some SHTF event always seemingly in the future. Well, its here… right now in real time. Only question is when will it affect each of us if it hadn’t already and to what degree?
    Its critical to prepare for the basics as Selco says. Cover for the basics and you are well on your way to being able to survive various possible hardships. But one important element I seldom ever hear mentioned in making preparations is staying abreast of current events that could have a direct or indirect negative impact on us as individuals and as a society. I actually have been told by friends that they don’t even bother to read or listen to news any longer! I’ve asked, “What do you think about whats going on in the Ukraine and the possible slide into a war?” and I get a blank look. Collecting intelligence is a critical planning function. I don’t think it gets the respect it deserves.

  • the reality of violence is the worst of all of these to overcome. most normal people dont have the experience to process mentally or emotionally

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