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.
By his own estimate, Pense says there are a few thousand people in the Springfield area who have listened and who are ready. The preppers. Most don’t like to be called preppers because of the connotation that they’re crazy; Chicken Little wasn’t well-received by his people, either. Most don’t even like to talk about it, but a few of them do. So for three months toward the end of 2017, I sought out the doomsday survivalists to find out: Is it really crazy to live like the sky is falling?
After a few days in New Zealand, I could see why one might choose to avoid either question. Under a cerulean blue sky one morning in Auckland, I boarded a helicopter beside a thirty-eight-year-old American named Jim Rohrstaff. After college, in Michigan, Rohrstaff worked as a golf pro, and then in the marketing of luxury golf clubs and property. Upbeat and confident, with shining blue eyes, he moved to New Zealand two and a half years ago, with his wife and two children, to sell property to H.N.W.I. who want to get “far away from all the issues of the world,” he said.
The 66-year-old tried starting his own spinoff meetup. Ozarks Resilience Group was to be a pragmatic organization that ran drills on real-life scenarios like hiking out of town with a bug-out bag. After six months of nonparticipation, he gave up. Allen estimates there are several hundred “hardcore preppers” in Springfield, but at most, there’s two dozen whom he would trust in an emergency.
For Mike Mester, civil unrest is just around the corner and he aims to get everyone ready; Colorado computer programmer Preston White has collected over 11,200 types of seeds and plans for biosphere living in a Fukushima-irradiated future while friends Shane and others provide supportive help; Riley Cook spends his days working close to home and with the prepper society building underground structures.
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.’ ”
I called a Silicon Valley sage, Stewart Brand, the author and entrepreneur whom Steve Jobs credited as an inspiration. In the sixties and seventies, Brand’s “Whole Earth Catalog” attracted a cult following, with its mixture of hippie and techie advice. (The motto: “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.”) Brand told me that he explored survivalism in the seventies, but not for long. “Generally, I find the idea that ‘Oh, my God, the world’s all going to fall apart’ strange,” he said.
The wise outdoorsman always has a multitool with his survival gear just in case. They’re light, affordable, and in the case of the Leatherman OHT they’ll put the venerable Swiss Army Knife to shame. The OHT features needlenose pliers, spring action wire cutters, a high carbon blade, a serrated edge, a can opener, Phillips screwdriver, bottle opener and myriad other attachments.
Wetfire is a non-toxic product that won’t produce clouds of noxious smoke. All it takes is a tiny bit sprinkled on the camp stove to get it going even when the rain or snow is coming down in blankets. In survival situations many perish because they’re unable to create the warmth they need to counteract cold, wet conditions. Wetfire is pocket-sized survival gear that allows you to withstand nature’s worst. Wetfire has a 5 year shelf life and can be activated using any stormproof lighter or other sparking device.
“And carnal nature said, ‘I’ve got eight shots, they’re not by their weapons, I’m going to kill every damn one of them.’ And then I saw the women. Hollow-faced, it looked like you had draped skeletons with cloth. Horrible, and the children were the same way. Far, far worse than anything I had ever imagined. I could see it, I could smell it, I could taste it, I could feel it. It was real. It’s going to be an experience you don’t want to go through.”—A dream Len Pense had, circa Fall 2017.
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.
This is a very interesting premise, but the episodes get tiresome as the format is increasingly repetitive. Also, some really obvious mistakes that the preppers make are sometimes ignored: shelves full of glass bottles at eye level (no lip on shelves) in preparation for a major earthquake? Also, the one issue preparation (climate change, economic collapse, Yellowstone blowing up, etc.) seems tunnel-visioned, but apparently the shows' writers need that statement as a justification for their script. The fact is that most of the preppers and the needed preparations that each makes are very much the same in the outcomes they're working toward.
When I started putting together my first survival kit, I just collected whatever weird stuff I could find—like tablets that would protect my thyroid from nuclear fallout. My mindset changed when my first daughter was born. I realized I needed a more practical end-of-the-world plan, with equipment that would be useful for things that might actually happen. Nuclear war is probably not in store for 2018, and if it is, I’ll just open a window. I don’t want to live through that.