SELCO: Why I’m NOT Giving You a List of 10 Things to Do When the SHTF

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Author of  SHTF Survival Bootcamp, SHTF Survival Stories, and The Dark Secrets of Survival here.

So, top ten things to do when SHTF.

First, lets be sure what we are talking about here, because articles like “top ten things to do” or “ top 20,100,1000 things to have when SHTF” are usually going into endless and pointless lists that look like grocery shop list. “Top ten things that will be missing when SHTF” -yeah, if shops are gone, you gonna miss everything from it.

I mean, if first advice in article about “top ten things to do when SHTF” is to “get fit” I do not want to read it because, obviously, I will have more important things to do in the first moment when SHTF other than to get fit. I should get fit long time before that moment.


You have smart articles written by ex-soldiers about what to do when SHTF, and article is full of military gear, team buddies, particular weapon, military cool acronyms, fast movement and so on and so on.

I am ex-soldier, and guess what? My knees are not like they use to be, I do not have range of weapons, buddies, will, brain-mind (or absence of it), back, strength like I had it when I was soldier, and most of the people who will read article will not be soldiers neither. So why in the world I would write it as a soldier for soldiers? Just because it look smart and cool? Where is that smart ass who concluded that once when SHTF everyone will be able to march 100 miles with 40 kilos backpack with team of highly trained and equally capable friends?

From my experience, most of people end up surviving with old mother, sick wife, grumpy mother-in-law, high-pressure problems, etc.

So this is not gonna be another “top ten things to do when SHTF” list.

Anyway, something happen, and what next?

The first question when SHTF: What is going on?

The first and most important thing is to actually figure out what’s going on.

Now, what that mean?

Since there is no generic advice for every situation (no matter what some authors are trying to tell you), and there is no one article that will help you in every situation I need to explain bit this “what’s going on” thing.

Your first task should be to gather information, but in a way, and only in a way, to give you an idea what your next step should be.

So, for example, if you woken in the middle of night with strong explosion-this step of gathering information is NOT to dress up and go out into direction of explosion to check up what’s going on.

For example, your step should be to check is there still electricity in your apartment, to check radio, news, or TV, to ask guy on the street from your window (yes, there will be people in the street checking what’s going on). Try to gather info right from your immediate position.

Do not end up dead looking heavily for the information. Sometimes lack of information is actually only information that you going to get, and you will act based on that.

At this moment, you do not necessarily need to know (if not safe) what exactly happened. You need to know is it dangerous for you immediately.

The second question when SHTF: What I am going to do?

After you gather information on what just happen, or after you realized that you do not have a clue what is going on, your next question should be, “What I am going to do?”

Many survival authors at this second “What I am going to do?” step takes for granted that you need to go, move, leave your home.

Folks, without proper information, and if your life, safety, and security is not immediate in danger, it is absolutely ridiculous to leave your home immediately.

Why would you change your known settings (home) for unknown settings (outside of your home)?

Is it just because you heavily planned to bug out?

At this step and moment forget for a minute what you planned. There are only two things important in this moment:

  1. Are you in danger in your immediate setting (home)?
  2. Do you have information about what’s going on outside that tell you you might be soon in danger in your immediate setting (gang of looters going in your direction, poisonous cloud coming, enemy army, terrorist, etc.)?

Do not fall under the influence of a whole bunch of nonsense, and do not act based on someone else advice and plans that are absolutely not working for your situation, or even worse not working for any situation because man who written advice do not know s..t about anything.

Equally, if you conclude based on info that you gather that it is smart to leave home, you should leave it as soon as possible.

That does not mean running in sheer panic.

It means that because you are a prepper, you already (hopefully) have prepared a plan and things about what you are carrying with you, how you are doing that, where you are going, and how you are doing that.

(For more information on how to plan your emergency evacuation, check out our free QUICKSTART Guide on the subject.)

I do not have specific advice here, not because I do not know it, it is because I do not know your specific settings. So, if I tell you you need to have 4×4 vehicle, I might be wrong because you living in dense populated urban area that will be completely blocked in case of any bigger problem. So for you as a mean of transport it is much better to have E-bike or good pair of walking boots.

You as a prepper should have plans and details ready long time ago about everything based on your own specific settings.

Whoever gives you specific advice without knowing your settings in depth is not doing too much good.

For beginners, there is generic advice preppers should know.

These can be summed up into two rules:

  • Your life, and life of your family is important. Physical things are not important at this moment. Those can be obtained, earned, bought again. So, if you have to leave everything behind just with backpack on your back because your life is in danger – do not hesitate.
  • If you are not sure what to do, simply go to safety. However this may sound lame, it is good advice. If your home is not safe and building across the street is safe, then go there. Or if park is safe at the moment, you ll go there. In other words, if you are not sure, just think in terms of safety or where is your life in danger and where it is safe at the moment.

Cover the basics. ALWAYS.

Always go back to basics, and think about layers.

It can be terrorist attack, it can be third world war, it can be a tornado, but basics MUST be there with you all the time.

Fire, shelter, water, medical, food, comms, defense. Those are basics that you have to be aware of, and basics that you have to cover in any moment and in any situation. Always.

How hard and deep and in what layers you will cover it is up to you and up to given situation. For example, shelter can be your van, and also it can be only plastic tarp. It depends on many factors, but do not allow yourself to end up in SHTF without covering all fields above to some possible extent (depth).

For example, if you are forced to run in one minute from your apartment, you need to have covered all fields, even if that means power bar for food, alcohol pads for medical, cell phone for comms, kitchen knife for defense, Bic lighter for fire, emergency blanket for shelter, bottle of water for water.

It is first and most simplest layer, but you cover it all, and it is worst case situation, but you covered it.

In real life and in real preppers it should be covered much more in-depth, but you get the idea. These are the basics of survival. Cover these rules, and you have much higher chance of survive.

Tell me your thinking. Are you in agreement with what I have to say? Post your opinions in the below part.

About Selco:

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 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.

Picture of Selco


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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  • Selco: probably the best article I have seen on what to do when SHTF. It’s honest, and I like that. Bugging out! Bugging in! Really nice catch phrases, but circumstances can change overnight – as has been seen in the Ukraine. Flexibility is the most important thing. Being able to change your priorities as the circumstances change. And being able to make do with what you have on hand – even if it’s a bic lighter, a tarp, and a can of beans.

    Like you, my knees aren’t what they used to be. I can’t run for miles with a 40 pound pack. And to be honest, I can’t carry everything that I need for an extended stay on my back. So I’m going to do what I can, while I can, to try and make sure that I don’t have to do those things. AND I’m not going to go running blindly into the fire, rather than away from it.

    If you are depending on a hardened bunker, unlimited supplies, and a team of highly trained navy seals for your survival you’re living in a Hollywood movie. You are probably more likely to die in SHTF from an appendicitis or drinking bad water than you are from gunfire. (Not that you shouldn’t plan for the gunfire option). Look at the people around you, cause chances are those are the people you are going to try surviving with. Assess their strengths and weaknesses, and your own, in a brutally honest manner – and form a loose plan from there. I say a loose plan, because we both know it will need to change as circumstances change.

  • Yep…right on the money…sounds like a bunch of common sense.

    My situation may not be the same for someone else…therefore square peg round hole.

    I have “A” plan. Going with it first. Semper Gumby (Always Flexible).

    The title of your article could be “Common Sense in Uncertain Times”

    I actually laughed when I read this because you really have to tell people to use “Common Sense” today.

    Especially the explosion part!

  • Thank you so very much for your article. I have read and heard from so many ‘experts’ about what to do,where to go what to have,etc. Makes me ill. I have a plan,which mainly is staying where I am,in a rural area, and rolling with the flow whatever happens next. Articles written by former ‘special ops ‘ has zero relevance for me,for the most part. If it’s OK I would like to download the article.

  • Yes, this is solid advice,
    100% of everything relative to “step one”, depends on what is happening. Is you neighborhood on fire, and burning to the ground, then haul ass. Is it a protracted black-out with no explanation, hunker down.
    I’d say that ideally, only in the most severe cases should you “bug out”, and that depends on where you live. If you are in a dense urban area, a few days of the system not functioning, is cause to leave, but if you are in suburbia, semi-rural, or rural, “bugging-out” should be viewed as a last resort.
    Let’s face it, the safest place for anyone is at home. They have everything, know the neighborhood, know the neighbors, will recognize a stranger, instantly, etc.
    The moment you bug-out, you are now in survivalist territory, and to succeed, you need more than prepping, you need REAL survival skills, and even then, it’s a dice roll on every task.
    One good twisted ankle or tweaked knee, is a calamity.
    My first rule, is make every effort to stay in my home, with more food and water than I can carry, even in a vehicle (which I will always have for later), more guns and ammo than I can carry, and more medical supplies, radios, clothing for all seasons, etc., etc.
    Bugging out makes what you have very finite, and once you are on the road, anything can happen. Hell, one real vehicle malfunction, even something as minor as a flat tire, while you have your family, and all of your stuff, but before you get to your destination, is an instant disaster. Do you want to change a tire, in an unknown area, with a vehicle full of family and supplies, when the whole world is losing their minds, with your wife doing armed over-watch, and on over-stuffed SUV?

    So, yes, prepare for every reasonable contingency, but do not be too quick to bug out. First, try like Hell to stay home and stay secure!
    You can almost always still bug out later, but doing so too soon, changes the entire equation, forever after.

  • Down to earth and relevant. Thank you for an honest approach to a SHTF scenario. My husband would be the one running out into the street trying to find out what happened. I’ll be sure to share your article with him and encourage him to open a window instead…

  • Great article Selco!
    That, “We have to do something!” can be dangerous without proper intel.
    “Like, do what?”
    “I don’t know! Something! Anything! Anything is better than just sitting here doing nothing!”
    Yeah, may cooler heads prevail.

    The early days of COVID, when lockdowns were first enacted, I recall standing atop the hill behind the house, overlooking the road.
    A whole hour went by without so much as the sound of a vehicle passing by. It was eerily quiet.
    I wondered if this was “it.” A real, SHTF event unfolding before our very eyes.
    How many people bailed out for their BOL? Headed for the hills to live off the land? There may have been a few. (Note: I do not call those urban/suburban elites, buying houses sight unseen for tens of thousands over asking price, in small, rural communities as bugging out to their BOL. I put them up there with people who panic buy a pallet of TP.)
    Point is, unless a wildfire is coming down on your neighborhood, or some other obvious calamity, most will likely stay home where it is familiar. Familiar feels safe. (It may not be.) People tend to fear the unknown.

    • Reminds me of something once said to me -Nothing will change until the fear of staying the same is more than the fear of change.

      • Barnabas,
        I like it.
        Well said.

        I often see people say something like, “The devil you know!” As if that makes the situation better rather than take the chance on change for the better.

  • Fear is the great mind killer! Long live the fighters!

    – Dune. (Still would have not put my hand in that box)

    • Ayup. Putting your hand in that box means trusting the Bene Gesserits’, and I most certainly would not trust them as far as I could throw them… As in not a snowballs’ chance. Very much appreciate your reference to that (in)famous line in Dune! “Fear is the mind killer.” Ayup.

  • One of the things I find disconcerting about most of the disaster advice I see is the common inclusion of food as a vital prep. Long term, sure, food will be essential. And you certainly aren’t going to carry enough for such a period in a bug out situation. Short term, food is actually an obstacle to other, truly vital short-term requirements.
    Selco states: “Fire, shelter, water, medical, food, comms, defense. Those are basics that you have to be aware of, and basics that you have to cover in any moment and in any situation. Always.”
    First of all, where is safe, breathable air in this list of vitals? Then there are still priorities to be concerned with. Food? Really just a luxury in the near term of any crisis.
    For basics regarding flexibility preparing for any situation, I find that the rule of threes provides more interesting guidance, though they are relative assessments rather than precise values:
    A man (or insert “person” here if you’re too ignorant or bigoted to understand the grammatical gender-inclusivity of this term in such applications as this; the English term is derived from “human”)
    A man can live:
    3 minutes without safe, oxygenated air
    3 hours without protection from climate extremes
    3 days without adequate hydration
    3 weeks without food
    The other concepts, self-defense, etc. can also be very important. But I’m flabbergasted that so much attention is paid to food, when its principal functions in emergency escape situations are two: attracting the greedy, selfish attention of others (which could be yet another reason to need self-defense supplies), and to increase one’s burden during desperate flight to avoid whatever issue is driving one out. To be fair, having snacks might offer some emotional relief. But as a central requirement for short-term survival, it’s misapplied.
    And, of course, if the problem is long term, then the requirements are considerably more complex, and would certainly include not only food, but quite likely the ability to produce, harvest, preserver, and protect your gustatory needs. (Hunting and gathering are unlikely to be provident when everyone is desperately engaged in the same searches.)
    Perhaps I’m wrong, though. My wife always says so, and she’s always right.

    • That 3 weeks without food is 3 weeks until you are pushing up daisies. You will hit useless and utterly vulnerable much quicker than that without sufficient calories to burn. Those calories are what fuels your decision making and reaction time. Is an emergency really the right time to have a head stuffed full of wet cotton along with sluggish muscle movement? While we don’t need a normal prosperous calorie count in a shtf assuming you will functioning anywhere near normal under duress while your body digests itself is medically ignorant at best but most likely a death sentence for yourself and anyone relying on you.

      • While there is some loss of abilities as fasting continues, numerous examinations of food deprivation impact suggest that the body initially adapts to food deprivation by more efficiently utilizing the metabolites already inside. And, as I said in my posting, “…the rule of threes provides more interesting guidance, though they are relative assessments rather than precise values”. In establishing priorities for short-term escape/evasion survival, food can be an obstacle to retaining the more vital items essential to short-term survival. Long term presents a whole host of additional problems, of which food is clearly a major one.
        Examinations of life expectancy during starvation show that some folks have lived up to two months without any food at all… individual food deprivation durability has numerous variables impacting it, but certainly going a few days without food can be expected to be harmless if you are otherwise healthy. And excluding food from short-term planning could significantly reduce burdens and allow more effective management, carry, and control of the absolutely essential survival items, which is what I’m more concerned about. In a crisis, less can be better, so long as it includes the essential stuff.
        Some documentation of the consequences of starvation:

        • Twenty some years ago I did a forty day fast with a spiritual purpose. But I’d worked up to it. If someone already has a discipline of intermittent fasting and is aware of the sensations, they can get to a productive level of going without food sooner. Otherwise, it makes sense to me to have several small protein meals per day if someone is on the move. This is for a calming comfort as well as fuel for clear thinking and good blood sugar levels. Food provides psychological normalcy. The body needs to be taught to go without ahead of time. Otherwise, food should be planned into the first layer. There are some people who really should not go without food for medical reasons. Having the every day carry on hand as the first layer is good prepper sense.

          Thank you Selco for your sound thinking at a time when we’re all a bit edgy.

    • “where is safe, breathable air in this list of vitals?”

      people just don’t think about that, until it’s not there. during the catalina island fires, people had to line up on the docks to evacuate, but the whole bay was filled with heavy smoke. some people wrapped damped towels around their heads, but most people had nothing. same problem occurred during the recent mass fires in california, people being overcome by ubiquitous smoke because they had no filter of any kind. similar thing happens during high wind conditions that kick up a lot of dirt – can’t breath, can’t open your eyes.

      one of the most likely reason’s you’ll have to “bug out” immediately is fire accompanied by heavy smoke. should include goggles and at least a towel in your bag.

  • I’m going to break from Selco’s advice and offer a “list” of three things to do, and three traits I think are important to have.
    1. Assess
    2. Plan
    3. Act
    Doesn’t matter what the situation is – whether good or bad – doing those three things will most likely put you in the best position to handle it.

    Three traits that I believe to be important in a crisis or even in good times for that matter
    1. be adaptable
    2. be imaginative – use critical outside the box thinking
    3. be able to utilize resources to their fullest

  • Well, that was a breath of fresh air! When I run across an article about a ‘ten list’ I move on. Any usable information to be gleaned can best be described as “skinny”.

    Thank you Selco for sharing your real-world experiences with us. Having “been there, done that” carries a lot of weight.

  • In MOST cases, you’ll have a 4 hour window of ‘normalcy.’ That is when you can top off fuel and other things before the chaos starts. If you act like you have no idea what’s going on, others won’t notice you. If you are all jittery and panicked, that will panic everyone else and then Katy bar the door. Again, this is in MOST circumstances. So, IMO, if others come in all flustered, I’ll be the fly on the wall and gather as much info from their conversations as I calmly do my thing. That’s my plan. I’m very rural but I’m sure I’ll have a gas can or two or propane bottles that need a refill.

    When the crazy dies down (however long that takes) if there’s no real rule of law, we’ll make trips to the lumber/hardware store and the fabric store next door to it. Looters rarely hit those type places when the free for all starts. I’ll drop by the two schools in the area as well to check for food and meds and let the nutters take the stores and pharmacies.

    But, like Selco said, that’s MY area. The entire county has less than 8K people. The largest city has less than 3K. There is one food store, one Dollar General, one pharmacy, two schools, lumber/hardware store, quilting store and Main street has the usual little shops for hair cutting, gifts, etc. There is a Sonic and another little cafe’ as well a couple of doctor’s, an ophthalmologist and all. You know, the usual tiny town stuff. I don’t live there. It’s simply the closest to me …17 miles. But even that may be a no go as the town is only 3 miles off the freeway. And, even though the closest bigger town (over 100K) is nearly an hour’s drive, that doesn’t necessarily mean ‘they’ won’t come. Flexibility and plan A, B, C and even D.

    • Backwoods Squirrel,
      Where do you get the “a 4 hour window of ‘normalcy.’”
      Not being snarky, asking.

      • I don’t know much about “normalcy” these days but a lot of people freeze & wait to see what other folks do & their TV “authorities” show. Only then do they decide if they should jump to react on their fears that their “normalcy bias” has been shattered. That’s why after a pause, highways get jammed all at once with fleeing vehicles etc.

        As Selco shows us:
        What counts is if folks have PREPARED MENTALLY & practically for various big bad what-if’s. So they don’t have to figure it out “from scratch” once adrenaline swamps their brains & they run around the house like Sylvester hunting for a hiding Tweety Bird to stuff in their go-bags..

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