Modern-day survivalists aren't generally regarded as the most sane people on the planet. A quick look at any one of the disturbingly common and frighteningly thorough shopping lists they post online drives home the fact that anyone who self-identifies as a "prepper" most likely went off the deep end a long time ago. Sure, it's fine to keep a few extra cans of food and cases of water around for an emergency, but if you start adding body armor and butt paste to your stash, you might want to tell George Miller that it's time to see other people.
“Next thing I see is, they hanged the colored boy, ’cause they caught him stealing. And they had established, I think, about 1,000 trees in the forest out in Mark Twain to hang people from if they catch them stealing or whatever. And I had a big dog—my dog died of bone cancer of all things two years ago. Buddy was half-Rottweiler, half-German shepherd. He was a dog, and he was with me in this. And I also have a police riot gun, a 12-gauge, that holds eight magnum shells. So I’m seeing all this stuff happening, and then I look around, and my dog’s gone. So I picked up my shotgun and went to look for my dog, and I found five men, and they were already skinning him to eat.”
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.”
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.
In recent years, survivalism has been edging deeper into mainstream culture. In 2012, National Geographic Channel launched “Doomsday Preppers,” a reality show featuring a series of Americans bracing for what they called S.H.T.F. (when the “shit hits the fan”). The première drew more than four million viewers, and, by the end of the first season, it was the most popular show in the channel’s history. A survey commissioned by National Geographic found that forty per cent of Americans believed that stocking up on supplies or building a bomb shelter was a wiser investment than a 401(k). Online, the prepper discussions run from folksy (“A Mom’s Guide to Preparing for Civil Unrest”) to grim (“How to Eat a Pine Tree to Survive”).
From the SpeedSafe, one hand assisted opening to the 4 position pocket clip to the uber-secure liner lock that prevents the blade from closing on your fingers the Brawler from Kershaw is the kind of safe, effective survival gear you want at your disposal when things get gnarly. The modified Tanto blade has a pointed tip for precision work, spearing or piercing and the high carbon holds an edge longer than standard carbon steel blades. An invaluable addition to your emergency supplies when the weather closes in and you’re miles from nowhere.
To Levchin, prepping for survival is a moral miscalculation; he prefers to “shut down party conversations” on the topic. “I typically ask people, ‘So you’re worried about the pitchforks. How much money have you donated to your local homeless shelter?’ This connects the most, in my mind, to the realities of the income gap. All the other forms of fear that people bring up are artificial.” In his view, this is the time to invest in solutions, not escape. “At the moment, we’re actually at a relatively benign point of the economy. When the economy heads south, you will have a bunch of people that are in really bad shape. What do we expect then?”
And what better place to prepare than the Ozarks? Strafford got 47 inches of rain last year; the mean temperature was a mild 59 degrees. The Springfield Plateau has a 200-foot-deep aquifer for when rainwater gets scarce. The region is largely insulated from natural disasters—save the odd tornado or benign rumbling from the Bootheel’s New Madrid Fault Line—and the low population density of like-minded folks means preppers, survivalists and homesteaders get left alone. A Lebanon real estate agent tells me remote acreage is an increasingly hot commodity for city dwellers eager to go native. Conversations with locals and time spent on survivalism forums reveal a religious cohort who believe the Ozarks are God’s country—sacred ground upon which one can wage a last stand against the sins of a rapidly globalizing world.
Tim Chang, a forty-four-year-old managing director at Mayfield Fund, a venture-capital firm, told me, “There’s a bunch of us in the Valley. We meet up and have these financial-hacking dinners and talk about backup plans people are doing. It runs the gamut from a lot of people stocking up on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, to figuring out how to get second passports if they need it, to having vacation homes in other countries that could be escape havens.” He said, “I’ll be candid: I’m stockpiling now on real estate to generate passive income but also to have havens to go to.” He and his wife, who is in technology, keep a set of bags packed for themselves and their four-year-old daughter. He told me, “I kind of have this terror scenario: ‘Oh, my God, if there is a civil war or a giant earthquake that cleaves off part of California, we want to be ready.’ ”
The format is fairly standard for a "reality documentary". It does go with the more extreme folks rather than the more common folks who are just putting some things aside for rougher times. But that's OK, in most of the cases. I found many of the people to be pretty ingenious in how they've approached what they perceive to be The End Of The World As We Know It. Maybe they're right, maybe they're wrong. A few might even be slightly over the top (well, there are a few that I think put a step ladder on the top and went from there...) But they have what they consider to be valid reasons for doing what they're doing, so who am I to argue?
Sometimes there just isn’t the material available to create an emergency shelter. In that case if you have the Survival Shack Emergency Survival Tent in your survival pack you’re ready. With all the heat retention ability of the Mylar emergency blanket and the ability to provide real shelter in just minutes the Survival Shack Emergency Tent is genuine survival gear.
However, a few unintentional similarities to the Quiverfull movement doesn't mean that preppers can't still care about safe sex. Hunting, canning, and digging your own latrines does nothing to make the threat of an STD less real. After all, gonorrhea and genital warts are going to be a whole lot harder to treat without reliable access to medical care. And there must be at least a few survivalists out there rational enough not to want to endure the horrors of premodern pregnancy and birth unless absolutely necessary.
Fear of disaster is healthy if it spurs action to prevent it. But élite survivalism is not a step toward prevention; it is an act of withdrawal. Philanthropy in America is still three times as large, as a share of G.D.P., as philanthropy in the next closest country, the United Kingdom. But it is now accompanied by a gesture of surrender, a quiet disinvestment by some of America’s most successful and powerful people. Faced with evidence of frailty in the American project, in the institutions and norms from which they have benefitted, some are permitting themselves to imagine failure. It is a gilded despair.
Then, for two hours, Andrew: just tells stories. The time he went after Jesse James’ buried treasure, the time he was held at gunpoint while prospecting for gold, the time an 8-inch centipede fell on him while caving in Japan—each story adorned with cliffhangers and near misses. Andrew: can talk. If he couldn’t, Darryl, a regular attendee, would’ve napped for longer than he did.
The fears were different in Silicon Valley. Around the same time that Huffman, on Reddit, was watching the advance of the financial crisis, Justin Kan heard the first inklings of survivalism among his peers. Kan co-founded Twitch, a gaming network that was later sold to Amazon for nearly a billion dollars. “Some of my friends were, like, ‘The breakdown of society is imminent. We should stockpile food,’ ” he said. “I tried to. But then we got a couple of bags of rice and five cans of tomatoes. We would have been dead if there was actually a real problem.” I asked Kan what his prepping friends had in common. “Lots of money and resources,” he said. “What are the other things I can worry about and prepare for? It’s like insurance.”
So Southwick and his wife, Kara, also 40, and their six children, ages 13-21, have stored 700 pounds of flour, 600 pounds of sugar, 800 pounds of wheat, water, gas, diesel fuel, chemical suits, coal, charcoal, 14 guns and eight chickens. They're ready to haul it in trucks and trailers to a cabin redoubt 90 minutes from their home in the West Jordan suburb of Salt Lake City if calamity hits.
Remember 2012? The Mayan calendar predicted the world would end in December. Doomsday Preppers premiered in February. The country was in an apocalypse mood, and thanks to Finelli, Springfield’s former Boy Scouts and ex–Tea Partiers came out of the shadows to mix it up with doctors and dentists. They had little else in common, but to borrow Finelli’s term, they were preparedness-minded. Springfield, MIss community was born.
SOG made their shovel practical survival gear by cutting back its length to a manageable 18 ¼” and its weight to an equally manageable 24 ½ ounces. It folds up to a mere 1 foot long and can be easily strapped to the exterior of any decent sized backpack. The SOG shovel also boasts a row of thick rugged teeth along the side for hacking and cutting underbrush or harvesting wood for your fire. The blade can also be rotated and used as a pick or a hoe to do more precise clearing. All in all this is a piece of survival gear you won’t want to do without.
For a time in the 1970s, the terms survivalist and retreater were used interchangeably. While the term retreater eventually fell into disuse, many who subscribed to it saw retreating as the more rational approach to conflict-avoidance and remote "invisibility". Survivalism, on the other hand, tended to take on a more media-sensationalized, combative, "shoot-it-out-with-the-looters" image.
Individual survivalist preparedness and survivalist groups and forums—both formal and informal—are popular worldwide, most visibly in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany (often organized under the guise of "adventuresport" clubs), Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
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.
If you have a proper survival knife with you when the weather closes in you can make an emergency shelter; if there’s the material available to do so. But it’s better just to make sure that whenever you venture into the woods for any length of time that you have the right survival gear with you and the Sundome 2 Person backpacking tent from Coleman is that survival gear.