On a cool evening in early November, I rented a car in Wichita, Kansas, and drove north from the city through slanting sunlight, across the suburbs and out beyond the last shopping center, where the horizon settles into farmland. After a couple of hours, just before the town of Concordia, I headed west, down a dirt track flanked by corn and soybean fields, winding through darkness until my lights settled on a large steel gate. A guard, dressed in camouflage, held a semiautomatic rifle.
Still, these extraterrestrial-looking foodstuffs seem to be having something of a moment: For the past four years, Costco has been selling pallets of shriveled vegetables, fruits, grains, and meats that promise to feed a single family for up to a year—and if you’re not a member, you can purchase similar survival kits, many of which boast a 20- to 30-year shelf life, at Walmart and Target. One top seller, Wise Company, saw its sales nearly double over the past four years, reaching around $75 million, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story last November. The company’s CEO, Jack Shields, told me he estimates the industry as a whole generates between $400 and $450 million annually in retail.
And why shouldn’t they? National Geographic Channel’s Doomsday Preppers doesn’t exactly help viewers understand the plight of the average prepper, the one without 60 guns, scuba diving equipment, a bunker and an armored personnel carrier. “I knew going into it that they would try to sensationalize a lot of stuff,” says Allen, a Springfield, Missouri survivalist who refused to divulge his last name; he appeared on the show in 2012 showing off his aquaponics setup. “If Doomsday Preppers had shown typical preppers on a typical day, it would’ve been pretty boring.”
There is, however, a pretty solid list of people you should be on the lookout for. If through your long-game recruiting process you come across one of these, snag them up, because they’ll be assets to your group and your cause. Many of these are merely the opposite of the “who you do not want” list, but they are worth specifically talking about. Keep in mind that you won’t generally find these guys from an internet forum or comment pool; then again, you shouldn’t be recruiting from the internet anyway, right?
Lindsay, a radio host and a supporter of the back-to-the-land movement is preparing for a total failure of the agricultural and food system with her family and some friends. Meanwhile Jim D and his daughter is preparing for a cyber-terrorist attack which can shut down today's technology and even cause the power grid to shut down. He is using his bug-out vehicle called The Behemoth.
In the beginning, you might decide to buy food a bit at a time when you make your weekly trip to the grocery store. If you think your budget is just too tight to spend extra money building your reserves, consider this: Skipping the morning latte or the on-the-go-breakfast at the drive-thru can save you $100 a month if you're only spending $5 a day, five days a week. That's about $1,200 a year—plenty to get your emergency supply built up and invest in essential equipment and gear.
Further interest in the survivalist movement peaked in the early 1980s, with Howard Ruff's book How to Prosper During the Coming Bad Years and the publication in 1980 of Life After Doomsday by Bruce D. Clayton. Clayton's book, coinciding with a renewed arms race between the United States and Soviet Union, marked a shift in emphasis in preparations made by survivalists away from economic collapse, famine, and energy shortages—which were concerns in the 1970s—to nuclear war. In the early 1980s, science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle was an editor and columnist for Survive, a survivalist magazine, and was influential in the survivalist movement. Ragnar Benson's 1982 book Live Off The Land In The City And Country suggested rural survival retreats as both a preparedness measure and conscious lifestyle change.
Another concern when you’re lost in the wild is where to procure potable water. Sometimes there will be bubbling streams of crystal clear water rolling down wooded hillsides to fill your water bottle and sometimes you’ll have little more than a stagnant pool standing between you and dehydration. The LifeStraw Personal Water Filter is survival gear that can turn that stagnant pool into a lifesaver.
When bands of marauders start roaming the streets, how are you going to keep them out? Tear down a few walls, says Timothy Ferraro, a twenty-five-year construction veteran who's thought about this situation plenty while watching The Walking Dead. "Assuming the attackers don't have a battering ram, you should be able to keep them out using the lumber and drywall already in your home," he says.