What is Survivalism?
By: Douglas Good of Project EPSILON

This is a commonly asked question, with no easy answer. Survivalism has many facets, and takes many forms. It means something different to everyone. Keep this in mind as I attempt to give you my best answer to this famous question.

The Survival Mindset

At its most basic level, survivalism is a mindset with the goal of keeping an individual alive through adverse circumstances. These circumstances could be lots of things, from a devastating flood or earthquake to a nuclear attack or civil war.

Each survivalist has a mental list of "risk situations" which he or she has determined to be a possible threat. These situations could be very imminent threats, or only slight threats. In any case, there is a chance of the risk situation occurring. The difference between a survivalist and any other person is that the survivalist has considered the threatening situations and is taking steps to prepare in case they occur, whereas others have chosen to ignore the situations, or don't perceive them as threatening.

It's probably easier to give examples to illustrate my point. Let's say I live in Iraq. With only a few moments of thought, I can come up with a list of things that threaten my survival. They would be war, famine, drought, terrorism, and earthquakes. (No, I don't know if earthquakes are common occurrences in Iraq, but we'll assume they are for this example)

Now that I've determined the risk situations, I need to figure out which are most likely to occur, and which are less likely. So, I choose to order them like so:


Understand, the above list is in order of chance of occurring, not in order of severity of the threat. In other words, I would be more afraid if my country broke out in a war than if we had a drought, but I believe the chances of a drought occurring are far greater than chances of a war breaking out.

Now that I have a list of risk situations, in order of probability of occurrence, I can make plans to prepare in case one or more of them occurs.

Once you understand the thought process that the above example shows, you understand the "survival mindset". You've assessed your risks and are now ready to prepare for them. How you prepare is up to you. The fact that you are preparing makes you a survivalist.

Material Preparation

One motto of the survivalist is "Prepare for the worst, pray for the best". Each person has to determine how they will prepare, and must decide what lengths and expense they will go to with their preparation.

For some people, keeping a weeks worth of canned goods and a kerosene heater around the house may be their way of preparing for a blizzard. For others, they may want not only the food and the heater, but a snowmobile as well. Still others may decide that if it looks like a terrible snowstorm, they'll take a trip to their house in a warmer climate before it hits. In each example above, the person perceived the blizzard as a threat. The lengths they went to to prepare were all different. The first person decided extra food and a second heat source was enough, while the last person wanted a place to escape to.

No one can tell you how you should prepare for a disaster, because all of us have different situations we must take into account. The important thing is that you assess your threats, and determine how you can prepare for them if they occur. You need to do what you feel is necessary. If you feel comfortable knowing that a week's worth of food and water is stocked up in your kitchen, you're prepared. If you buy a house in Florida to fly off to, you're prepared.

Many survivalists pick the worst possible scenario to prepare for. Others choose to prepare for moderate occurrences of their risk situations. Often times, preparing for the worst involves a lot of time and money. As with all other aspects of survivalism, to what level each individual prepares is up to them. I may feel comfortable with a weeks supply of food on hand, you may want enough for a month. Or a year. It's an individual choice that only you can make.

Skill Assessment and Acquisition

Preparation doesn't only involve acquiring material items, it means acquiring the skills you need to survive. Anyone can buy material goods and "survival gear". But if you don't have the skills and knowledge necessary to use that gear your chances of survival in any type of crisis lessen substantially. Let me make two examples to illustrate my point:

We'll say one man lives in the city, and feels that one of his risk situations is rioting. In order for him to survive, he feels he'll have to leave his apartment and get to his "safe house", which is a friend's place in the country 75 miles away. Our second person lives in the country, and feels his primary risk situation is loss of electricity during a storm or blizzard.

In the first case, the city dweller may need to travel on foot for those 75 miles if the streets are blocked with traffic and such. The skills he'll need are navigation, hiking, outdoor cooking, stealth, and possibly caching for storing food along the way. He'll also need to plan several travel routes to his destination, in case one is in a particularly bad state. He'll need to consider that the riot could happen at any time of the year, so cold weather survival skills could come into play.

Our second example has a different situation. He feels that a power loss is his biggest threat, so the skills he'll need revolve around that. He should know how to cook over a fire, how to preserve food without a refrigerator, how to use oil lamps and kerosene heaters to keep warm during winter, and he should have an alternate water supply set up so he can get water into his home without using an electric pump.

In these two examples, both survivalists need to have knowledge and skills which are unique to their situations. After you determine what your risk situations are, and begin stocking up on supplies for them, you need to assess your skills and learn what you feel you need to know.


Survivalism, as I see it, is made up of three basic elements - the survival mindset, material preparation, and skill assessment and acquisition. You must have all three in order to be properly prepared for a crisis situation. You, as an individual need to determine what your risk situations are, and how to prepare for them. You must consider what skills and materials you'll need to survive each of your risk situations, then you'll need to work to acquire them.

The next logical question people ask is "when am I prepared enough"? The answer is never the same, because each of us have different situations. You're the only one who can determine when you've prepared enough. Others can help you assess your situations, or recommend goods and gear for a particular risk situation, but only you can determine when you're ready to survive. One way you can make this determination is to test yourself. If you feel you'll need camping skills to make it through a time of crisis, go camping for a few days and see how you make out. Or, if you believe you'll need to pack the car and leave in a hurry, try it. See if you can fit everything in the car you thought you'd be able to, and see how long it takes. If you're happy with the result, then you're prepared. If not, keep working at it until you are.

Survivalism is a mindset that must become a part of your life. It shouldn't dominate everything you do, but it should always be in the back of your head. You should approach each situation in life with a few questions, two of which are "What are the possible risks involved?" and "What information, skills, or materials can I gain from this which will help me get by in risk situations?". Once you begin to look at life from a survivalists point of view, you'll view many situations differently then you do now. Only after you've practiced using the survival mindset will you truly understand what I'm referring to. But always remember to keep reading, keep learning, and keep stocking up. Prepare for the worst, pray for the best.

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