The Difference Between Prepping and Survivalism (And Why You Need Both Skill Sets)

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by Daisy Luther, The Organic Prepper:

If there’s one thing I learned in Croatia a couple of years ago when I took Selco’s Urban Survival Course for Women, it’s that survivalism and preparedness are two entirely different animals. If there are two things I’ve learned, it’s that I have mad skills in one of these disciplines and I was a complete novice in the other.

There is absolutely some crossover between the two worlds. And although they have the same destination in mind, they’re also very different disciplines.

So, what’s the difference between prepping and survival? And do you really need both skillsets? Here are some of the things I learned in the Balkans about being more thoroughly prepared.

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What is prepping?

Prepping is the act of getting ready for emergencies large and small. Those of us who do this are called preppers.

Preppers prepare by gathering supplies, gear, food, and skills to see us through a crisis. That crisis can be anything from a job loss to a natural disaster to the end of the world.

Preppers are usually heavily focused on supplies. Many times, preppers plan to stay home or go to a designated bug out retreat if things go sideways. Preppers tend to spend a great deal of time repackaging food to last for the long term, gardening, and preserving. Preppers like to remain aware of current events and are ready to batten down the hatches fast if the situation warrants it. Quite often, the goal is to defend the homestead/retreat and stay put, so guns and ammo are often an expensive and large part of the prepper package.

Preppers have plans in place for dealing with things like power outages, localized civil unrest, and long-term production of necessities like hygiene items and food. Many also plan to thrive in a barter economy. They tend to plan to be comfortable during an emergency and its aftermath.

What is survivalism?

Survivalism focuses more on skills than supplies. A survivalist can generally hunt, forage, fish, and snare. Survivalists are good at moving stealthily through a variety of environments.

Survivalism is quite minimalist because most of the time, during an emergency, a survivalist will keep moving. You won’t see a bunch of camp stoves and generators at the home of a survivalist because he or she will use items in the environment for their needs. A survivalist values high-quality basics like knives, lighters, and first aid necessities.

Survivalists aren’t focused on comfort. Instead, they work toward being comfortable in a spartan environment. Survivalists focus on the lean basics that they can acquire on the move in different settings: food, shelter, heat, and water.

How are survivalism and prepping the same?

Survivalism and prepping are different roads to the same end – getting through a disaster. So the similarity lies in the goal. Preppers and survivalists are determined to survive whatever may come.

Another similarity is their commitment to independence. You won’t see either a survivalist or a prepper standing in line for a government handout or signing up for a cot at Camp FEMA. Both of these people fully intend to look after themselves, their families, and possibly look after others, too. They will be long gone or hunkered down well before the government convoy rolls into town.

Long story short – preppers and survivalists both intend to be here to pick up the pieces after all hell breaks loose.

How are survivalism and prepping different?

The biggest difference, in my opinion, is the primary focus: stuff or skills?

Survivalists don’t have a lot of stuff. They’re the ones who could head out to the woods and actually live off the land. No, I’m not talking about the coach potatoes whose last trip to the woods was taken in the comfort of an air-conditioned car. I’m talking about the folks who really get out there every chance they get. The ones who hunt. The ones who hike. The ones who camp. (In a tent, not an RV.)

Preppers do have a lot of stuff. Their primary plan is hunkering down and bugging in. They could live for a long time off the supplies they have stashed away in their closets. And usually, they have a self-reliance plan to supplement those supplies. Most preppers rely on stuff and staying in one place to use that stuff.

We can throw a couple of other labels in here, too. A lot of preppers are also homesteaders, but not all homesteaders are preppers. In the modern sense of the word, a homesteader has a property they use to produce food. Most of this food is raised for their own families, although some homesteaders produce enough to sell some of the surplus to others.

As well, with the confidence I gained in Croatia, I began traveling extensively. Due to that, I’ve become extremely adaptable and resilient in different urban environments.

Do you need to be a prepper and a survivalist?

If you want the best of both worlds, you will expand your skills beyond the basics of only one category. One of the things I learned from Selco’s course is that while I know a lot about prepping and homesteading, most of my survival skills are based on being home to use my supplies.  Drop me off in a remote area with my everyday carry kit and I’m far less confident.

Sure, I know how to filter water and start a fire (finally). I have a good sense of direction and can get around well in urban environments, but I don’t know a whole lot about navigating with a compass and topographical map. I’d much rather pee inside than outside. And sneaking around the woods without sounding like a herd of elephants performing a series of grand jetes isn’t my strong point. I never really considered whether someone else could see my fire or the smoke from it, and I didn’t think too much about threats from wildlife because I was going to be safe at home.

When it all hits the fan, sure, Plan A is to stay in the comfort of my home and use my preps.  But if Plan A isn’t viable for a wide variety of reasons, then Plan B could include using my the survival skills I learned from Selco and Toby.  And heck, in many situations, you could start out the emergency in Plan B mode while trying to get to the safety of your home and family.

  • Everyone has a get-home bag in the trunk of their car but has everyone walked home from their regular weekday locations carrying that bag?
  • Has everyone used all the gear from their bag? I mean every single piece, not just “something similar.”
  • Have you tried going for a full day on the food you keep in your bag?
  • What would you do if you had to lay low in a remote area with only the gear you have in your bag?
  • What if you were so far from home, getting back was completely unrealistic and you had to start from scratch using only what you had on hand?

Could you survive in the situations above?

If not, you have a serious weak point in your plan. And you’re not alone. A lot of the preppers I know have focused so much of their attention on gathering supplies, learning to garden, preserving food, and setting up off-grid systems that they’ve totally neglected their survival skills.

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