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What is “prepping” and is it for me?

Greg Wilburn


Oftentimes, friends, family and referrals ask me how to get started in prepping.  Before answering, I always dig into why they feel the need to “prep”.  What usually happens is a discovery of some life event or of some exposure to information, which has that person concerned that we are at a tipping point, the beginning of TEOTWAWKI or “The End of the World as We Know It”.

The first priority is to talk them off of the ledge and to point out that in recorded history, we have not faced a true lights-out scenario, either globally or even nationally.  Yes, we have faced economic civil unrest, foreign invasion, despot rulers, and even pandemic scenarios, which have disrupted, and even severely disrupted, daily societal life; but we have not experienced a scenario where mass chaos sends us back into the dark ages.      

Once that is out of the way, the next talking point is to address government conspiracy theories and its impact on how one should prep.  There are the “truthers”, “birthers”, “the UN has 368K troops in the US”, and of course “Obama is a foreign agent”, etc., etc., etc.  None of these things have anything to do with prepping, what skills to learn or gear to buy, yet they do have one thing in common.  Nobody can provide any proof…none, zilch, nada.  That isn’t to say that they can’t be true or that they aren’t true, it’s just that it is irrelevant to the Organized Prepper.

The first real topic about prepping is to define the types of events to prepare for, the scale of potential events, and how these two variables affect someone’s planning and response.  The most common event type which people should prepare for are natural disasters.  Statistically, we are much more likely to face a natural disaster, either locally or regionally.  Recent examples are easy to come by. Katrina, Sandy, Arizona fires, Colorado floods, Oklahoma tornados, Florida hurricanes, California earthquakes, and the list really does go on.  Losing power at the worst possible moment can mean the difference between life and death.  The full list of variables are:


·         Scale of Event

o   Local

o   Regional

o   National

o   Global

·         Disaster Types

o   Natural Disaster

§  Tornado

§  Hurricane

§  Snow/Ice

§  Flood

§  Tsunami

§  Fire

o   Astrological

§  Solar Flares

§  Asteroid/Meteor

o   Terrorist

§  Nuclear/Radiological

§  Biological

§  Chemical

§  EMP

§  Pandemic

§  Conventional explosive

o   Industrial Accident

§  Chemical

§  Biological

§  Nuclear/Radiological

§  Explosive

o   Civil Unrest

o   Economic Collapse

o   War

o   Pandemic


The average big box supermarket has 2-3 days worth of food on the shelf, but that doesn’t account for emergency shopping due to a disaster, where the store usually has about 6-12 hours worth of essentials.  The skills, plans, and gear needed to survive one event are very similar to what is needed to survive other events.

Next on the priority list is setting realistic expectations on surviving a real “Sh** Hits The Fan” (SHTF), apocalyptic, TEOTWAWKI event.  Hollywood has done a wonderful job of portraying the romantic notion of the hero saving the day but a horrendous job of illustrating the seriousness and lethality of true survival scenarios, with very few exceptions.  (More on this later.)  If we ever find ourselves in a true large-scale disaster, access to food and water, or lack thereof, will cause major problems for a large portion of the population.  Having 12 weeks of food and a way to get clean water is highly recommended to increasing your odds of survival.  The Japanese Fukushima nuclear event clearly illustrated how one event, the tsunami, can cause an industrial accident, the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, and how it can affect a local population where access to food and water was a real issue.  Survival is predicated on your level of preparedness, which requires training, supplies, equipment, and prior planning.  Without hard work and a good plan, the ability to survive is greatly reduced.

Once the basic idea of food and water storage is covered, the discussion turns to the last two major topics, skill development and gear acquisition, as well as how to develop a plan to deal with and define real world events.  Let’s address the events first as they map directly to skill development and gear acquisition.  After a lifetime of studying this topic, starting with Cub Scouts, then Boy Scouts, joining the military at age 18 during Desert Storm I, and continuing my education as an adult, I have settled on a two-category system.  The two categories are fixed time events and variable time events.  Fixed time events are given a higher priority for planning purposes due to their critical nature, time to terminal event, or more bluntly, how long until you die.  Variable time categories are much more complicated to define.  If you have just lost an arm or leg, you are in a time-0 event.  If you are soaking wet and it is 30 below zero, with a 30 mile an hour wind, you are in a 2-5 minute survival scenario.  Similar scenarios exist for each category below, but as a whole their order is correct.

Below are the high level topics.  In order of importance, they are:


1.       Fixed Time

1.1.    Self Defense – Time zero

1.2.    Water – Time 2-3 days

1.3.    Food – Time 7-14 days

The importance of each of the following topics cannot be stressed enough, but due to their variable nature, I have assigned them a spot of importance based on my experiences. 

2.       Variable Time

2.1.    Medical

2.2.    Cover

2.3.    Fire

2.4.    Technology

2.5.    Engineering

2.6.    Survival


There are a lot of sub categories and individual topics assigned to the above main topics. Over the next few months I will be addressing and expanding each topic in greater detail.

This brings us to the last topic, skill development and gear acquisition.  Skills trump gear, but good or great gear is an important investment.  Good skills are hard to come by.  You must not be afraid to vet the instructor.  If the instructor is prior military, ask for a DD-214.  If the instructor is a civilian, do they work as a full time teacher or is this a side job?  There is nothing wrong with learning from people that love teaching, yet have another full time job, but learn from true professionals whenever possible.  Don’t be afraid to ask for references and be sure to call those references.  Ask them if they belong to any forums where they actively post, and search those forums for people’s comments and experiences.  Prior military is not necessarily an advantage.  Military doctrine relies on strength in numbers and prior planning.  Disasters rarely facilitate this mentality.  Special forces members are unique people.  Don’t expect that the training they have is transferable to the average citizen.  Seek out instructors that have a well thought-out process for educating average citizens with critical life saving skills.  There are a number of well established schools in the United States.  It is important to seek out training for the climate and environment that will be most encountered.  In the southwest, Tony Nester’s Ancient Pathways school is highly recommended.  On the east coast, it is Tom Brown’s Tracker School.  There are many other reputable schools; these are just the two I happen to know well.

Equipment acquisition is a never-ending game and a costly one.  The things to remember are ounces count and no one needs as much gear as they think they do in a disaster.  Also, you typically get what you pay for.  Over the coming months we will be talking about specific important items like backpacks, boots, socks, pack saw, water purification, water pasteurization devices, etc.  I recommend building a personal bag, or working with your bushcraft instructor in putting together a pack, rather than buying a pre-configured “survival” pack from Costco, Walmart, REI, or other places.  These things rarely have the things one actually needs to survive.  Everyone should carry an EDC (every day carry) bag in their vehicle and have a BOB (bug out bag) pre-packed at home. 

Lastly, mental preparedness may be the most important overall skill someone needs to develop or strengthen.  This is where most people fall down.  Jeff Cooper, founder of Gunsite, developed a very handy method of defining awareness called The Color Code of Awareness[1].  It defines the various states of awareness a person can be in and how they respond to the continuum of stress or exposure to violence.  The categories are: Condition White: the Unaware Masses, Condition Yellow: Relaxed Alertness, Condition Orange: Focused Alertness, and Condition Red: Ready to Act.  What we find is that as people become interested in prepping or start down the road of prepping they do so from a position of stress, typically condition orange or condition red.  This cannot be maintained.  Prepping is something you do, and should become a part of who you are.  It can’t be done out of fear or paranoia.  As the costs mount from participating in bushcraft, self-defense, navigation/geocaching, and firearms training, not to mention the acquisition of quality backpacks, boots, clothing, tools, firearms and the necessary food and survival gear needed, most people lose interest in preparing, or worse, never start.  However, I leave you with one last question.  If you knew that a major disaster were to happen in your region tomorrow, are you prepared to provide a secure environment for yourself and your family, and do you have a plan to survive?

Greg Wilburn


The Organized Prepper, LLC

twitter: @gwilburn