Pense invites me to imagine a world turned lawless when the ninth transformer blows. Fifteen percent of the New Orleans Police Department deserted during Hurricane Katrina—imagine if the entire force lived where the levees broke. Big box stores killed off regional food distribution centers years ago; all we’ve got is what’s inside Walmart and Sam’s Club, and if you thought Black Friday was bad, imagine the crowds when it’s life or death. Drivers fleeing Springfield will hit roadblocks, where mobs will pull people from their vehicles like the LA rioters did to Reginald Denny. You might commit vehicular manslaughter, the preppers tell me, just to get out alive.
After a few decades of being obsessed with collecting survival and primitive skills techniques, I am putting out these videos to demonstrate the skills and excursions found at my school, Wild Survival (wildsurvivalskills.com). Videos are focused on primitive skills, rewilding, tracking and nature awareness, living off the land, off grid living, indigenous skills, shelter building, primitive fire, water purification, trapping, hunting, bow making, flint knapping, primitive pottery, basketry, edible and medicinal plant preparation and numerous indigenous skills. I began studying wilderness survival when I was 17 in order to have the ability to spend extensive periods of time in nature, seeking out empowerment without the need for external sources. I began studying in 1993 under Tom Brown Jr eventually teaching for Tracker Inc. I sought-out every old Native American teacher I could and eventually traveled the world living in very remote indigenous villages in the Amazon, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Peru. My school teaches survival and primitive skills, nature awareness, how to live off the land, re-wilding and how to prepare for disasters. I strongly believe that experiencing survival living changes the way people approach their entire lives.
Auckland is a thirteen-hour flight from San Francisco. I arrived in early December, the beginning of New Zealand’s summer: blue skies, mid-seventies, no humidity. Top to bottom, the island chain runs roughly the distance between Maine and Florida, with half the population of New York City. Sheep outnumber people seven to one. In global rankings, New Zealand is in the top ten for democracy, clean government, and security. (Its last encounter with terrorism was in 1985, when French spies bombed a Greenpeace ship.) In a recent World Bank report, New Zealand had supplanted Singapore as the best country in the world to do business.
PSM once reported on a Cornish family’s two week experimental stay in their own fallout shelter – cut off from the outside world, role-playing a new life after the annihilation of civilisation. Robert and Margaret Farmer, along with their 11 year-old daughter Sarah, emerged triumphantly at the end of the experiment, which PSM described as a “complete success”. It did record, however, that “Sarah was a little bored around day three”.
“Methamphetamine is 95 percent addictive the first time you try it,” Pense likes to say. “My gardening system is 100 percent addictive.” Pense gardened all his life, but when he moved to Springfield, the rocky Ozarks soil stumped him. “I discovered that you can buy land here and not get any dirt with it,” he says. So he experimented with gardening out of an 8-by-8 foot sandbox, mixing sand, compost and fertilizer. The plants grew, and with them, the idea for a raised-bed gardening system complete with top-notch soil that would enable people around the world to grow their own food.
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Built for the Kill (2001–04) Taboo (2002–13) Explorations (2003–04) Be the Creature (2003–04) Seven Deadly Arts with Akshay Kumar (2004) Interpol Investigates (2004–05) Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan (2004–11) Megastructures (2004–11) Naked Science (2004–11) In the Womb (2005–10) Hunter Hunted (2005–08) Is It Real? (2005–07) Extraterrestrial (2005) Paranormal? (2005) I Didn't Know That (2006) Ultimate Factories (2006–13) Wild (2006–12) Prehistoric Predators (2007–09) Trapped (2007) Critical Situation (2007–08) Lockdown (2007) DogTown (2008–10) Big, Bigger, Biggest (2008–11) Planet Mechanics (2008) Perilous Journeys (2008–13) World's Toughest Fixes (2008–10) Rescue Ink Unleashed (2009) Alaska State Troopers (2009–15)
Adherents of the back-to-the-land movement inspired by Helen and Scott Nearing, sporadically popular in the United States in the 1930s and 1970s (exemplified by The Mother Earth News magazine), share many of the same interests in self-sufficiency and preparedness. Back-to-the-landers differ from most survivalists in that they have a greater interest in ecology and counterculture. Despite these differences, The Mother Earth News was widely read by survivalists as well as back-to-the-landers during that magazine's early years, and there was some overlap between the two movements.
That doesn’t mean that some companies aren’t marketing freeze-dried food as an innovation. After eating the Wise Company meals for three days, I switched to Thrive Life’s Simple Plate program, a Blue Apron–esque service that teaches you how to cook from the company’s store of freeze-dried ingredients, which customers can also get mailed to them in recurring shipments. Unlike Wise Company, Thrive Life’s website makes no mention of emergency preparedness, instead emphasizing the sorts of qualities, like saving money and avoiding waste, that might have appealed to Lydia Maria Child in her time: “These foods won’t spoil in a few days... You won’t be thawing, degreasing, or cutting raw meat. You won’t be chopping veggies or washing and peeling fruit.” I reached out to Thrive Life’s founders to hear more about their rationale for marketing freeze-dried food for everyday use, but didn’t hear back.
A: Any items that might be affected by moisture should be placed in waterproof bags, this includes first aid items not mentioned in this review but which are essential for anyone venturing into the woods for any reason. Other survival kit should be packed together based on application (food prep, fire starter, shelter related) and distributed in MOLLE pouches or exterior pockets of the backpack. It’s important that everything be well-secured and that things like shovels and mess kits not be allowed to jangle about while you’re hiking.
The increased inflation rate in the 1960s, the US monetary devaluation, the continued concern over a possible nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union, and perceived increasing vulnerability of urban centers to supply shortages and other systems failures caused a number of primarily conservative and libertarian thinkers to promote individual preparations. Harry Browne began offering seminars on how to survive a monetary collapse in 1967, with Don Stephens (an architect) providing input on how to build and equip a remote survival retreat. He gave a copy of his original Retreater's Bibliography to each seminar participant.
No one thinks they’re going to be trapped by whiteout conditions or separated from their group as night falls but it happens with alarming regularity. Don’t make things worse by being unprepared. These advanced Mylar blankets cost less than 4 bucks each and weigh virtually nothing and yet can and do save lives. They’re waterproof, tear-resistant survival gear that comes in a pack of 5. As such there’s no excuse for not having them tucked away in your backpack or daypack when you set out. The very definition of essential survival gear for outdoorsmen of all stripes.
I emerged around eight the next morning to find Hall and Menosky in the common area, drinking coffee and watching a campaign-news brief on “Fox & Friends.” It was five days before the election, and Hall, who is a Republican, described himself as a cautious Trump supporter. “Of the two running, I’m hoping that his business acumen will override some of his knee-jerk stuff.” Watching Trump and Clinton rallies on television, he was struck by how large and enthusiastic Trump’s crowds appeared. “I just don’t believe the polls,” he said.
What’s a bivvy? Glad you asked. The modern term refers to a weatherproof bag that is used in the wilderness or in an emergency setting to provide shelter (typically for one person, like a sleeping bag). We get the word from the UK (where they spell it with two “V”s), and it’s based on the more familiar word bivouac (meaning a temporary encampment). A bivy can be used in conjunction with a sleeping bag, to create a more weather resistant shell, or a heat reflecting liner. Or the bag can be used as a standalone shelter. Items like these have been on the market for years, but as materials improve – their weight keeps dropping and their effectiveness is increasing. Enter the TACT Bivvy Emergency Sleeping Bag from Survival Frog. This tight-packing bivy is made from our HeatEcho™ thermal reflective material to hold in your precious body heat. Like a space blanket, these remarkable materials can reflect back as much as 90% of your body heat. The bag is also windproof, waterproof and reinforced with taped seams. These are a great survival resource for your vehicle (particularly in the winter), but they’re a great fit in your survival kit or bug out bag too. Each one packs down small into nylon stuff sack provided, and they weigh less than 5 ounces each. There is a bright orange version, perfect for assisting SAR crews in finding you. You can also get a green version, for a lower profile in the wild. Either way, it’s a feather-weight shelter that fits in the palm of your hand!
Last spring, as the Presidential campaign exposed increasingly toxic divisions in America, Antonio García Martínez, a forty-year-old former Facebook product manager living in San Francisco, bought five wooded acres on an island in the Pacific Northwest and brought in generators, solar panels, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. “When society loses a healthy founding myth, it descends into chaos,” he told me. The author of “Chaos Monkeys,” an acerbic Silicon Valley memoir, García Martínez wanted a refuge that would be far from cities but not entirely isolated. “All these dudes think that one guy alone could somehow withstand the roving mob,” he said. “No, you’re going to need to form a local militia. You just need so many things to actually ride out the apocalypse.” Once he started telling peers in the Bay Area about his “little island project,” they came “out of the woodwork” to describe their own preparations, he said. “I think people who are particularly attuned to the levers by which society actually works understand that we are skating on really thin cultural ice right now.”
He ushered me through, and, in the darkness, I could see the outline of a vast concrete dome, with a metal blast door partly ajar. I was greeted by Larry Hall, the C.E.O. of the Survival Condo Project, a fifteen-story luxury apartment complex built in an underground Atlas missile silo. The facility housed a nuclear warhead from 1961 to 1965, when it was decommissioned. At a site conceived for the Soviet nuclear threat, Hall has erected a defense against the fears of a new era. “It’s true relaxation for the ultra-wealthy,” he said. “They can come out here, they know there are armed guards outside. The kids can run around.”
Those impulses are not as contradictory as they seem. Technology rewards the ability to imagine wildly different futures, Roy Bahat, the head of Bloomberg Beta, a San Francisco-based venture-capital firm, told me. “When you do that, it’s pretty common that you take things ad infinitum, and that leads you to utopias and dystopias,” he said. It can inspire radical optimism—such as the cryonics movement, which calls for freezing bodies at death in the hope that science will one day revive them—or bleak scenarios. Tim Chang, the venture capitalist who keeps his bags packed, told me, “My current state of mind is oscillating between optimism and sheer terror.”
Yishan Wong, an early Facebook employee, was the C.E.O. of Reddit from 2012 to 2014. He, too, had eye surgery for survival purposes, eliminating his dependence, as he put it, “on a nonsustainable external aid for perfect vision.” In an e-mail, Wong told me, “Most people just assume improbable events don’t happen, but technical people tend to view risk very mathematically.” He continued, “The tech preppers do not necessarily think a collapse is likely. They consider it a remote event, but one with a very severe downside, so, given how much money they have, spending a fraction of their net worth to hedge against this . . . is a logical thing to do.”
Before my trip, I had wondered if I was going to be spending more time in luxury bunkers. But Peter Campbell, the managing director of Triple Star Management, a New Zealand construction firm, told me that, by and large, once his American clients arrive, they decide that underground shelters are gratuitous. “It’s not like you need to build a bunker under your front lawn, because you’re several thousand miles away from the White House,” he said. Americans have other requests. “Definitely, helipads are a big one,” he said. “You can fly a private jet into Queenstown or a private jet into Wanaka, and then you can grab a helicopter and it can take you and land you at your property.” American clients have also sought strategic advice. “They’re asking, ‘Where in New Zealand is not going to be long-term affected by rising sea levels?’ ”
Experts worry most about the grid’s nervous system: 2,000 extra-high voltage transformers. They’re 200- and 300-ton behemoths, individually engineered to meet specific power demands, and on average, they’re 40 years old. Notwithstanding the fact that 85 percent of transformers are imported, the U.S. Department of Energy says it takes between 5 and 16 months to replace a single one. According to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, an attack that destroyed nine of the 2,000 transformers would “cause a protracted nationwide blackout.” There’s no national cache of spare transformers.
Firearms instructor and survivalist Colonel Jeff Cooper wrote on hardening retreats against small arms fire. In an article titled "Notes on Tactical Residential Architecture" in Issue #30 of P.S. Letter (April, 1982), Cooper suggested using the "Vauban Principle", whereby projecting bastion corners would prevent miscreants from being able to approach a retreat's exterior walls in any blind spots. Corners with this simplified implementation of a Vauban Star are now called "Cooper Corners" by James Wesley Rawles, in honor of Jeff Cooper. Depending on the size of the group needing shelter, design elements of traditional European castle architecture, as well as Chinese Fujian Tulou and Mexican walled courtyard houses have been suggested for survival retreats.
Bombs rain from the skies, alien ships descend with lasers ablaze, improbably proportioned, irradiated sea monsters tear through essential infrastructure. You'd think that running, screaming, and finding clean underwear would top the list of activities likely to improve your chances of living, followed closely by finding a sustainable food source and offering sexual favors to the person with the most impressive arsenal. Unless you were a prepper, in which case you'd be worrying more about the safety of your cigarette stockpile.
As public institutions deteriorate, élite anxiety has emerged as a gauge of our national predicament. “Why do people who are envied for being so powerful appear to be so afraid?” Johnson asked. “What does that really tell us about our system?” He added, “It’s a very odd thing. You’re basically seeing that the people who’ve been the best at reading the tea leaves—the ones with the most resources, because that’s how they made their money—are now the ones most preparing to pull the rip cord and jump out of the plane.”
Before fire season, move combustibles away from your house. Fences and dry vegetation give fires a place to grow, says Jonathan Cox at Cal Fire, California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Hosing down your house won’t help much, either, he says: “The way a lot of these homes burn is through something called ember cast, when embers from the fire fly over and drop little fires everywhere. With a huge ember cast, hosing down your house doesn’t do much.”