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Survivalist vs. Prepper: Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other



What is the difference between a Survivalist and a Prepper?

No, this isn’t a trick question and I do think there are very big differences between someone who calls themselves a survivalist and someone who prefers to use the term Prepper.

Regardless of what I think though these two terms are interchangeably used to describe a wide swath of people.

These people all have different motivations and philosophies on what they are doing and why. Survivalists and Prepper are just labels.

Labels like this though can pigeon-hole people into thinking they need to act a certain way or it can cause assumptions from others based upon their own perceptions of what these words mean.

How are Survivalists and Preppers alike?

Let’s start with the easy stuff first. What do people who call themselves Survivalists have in common with a Prepper? I think at their core, Survivalists and Preppers both have a deep desire to live. This is not a fear of dying but rather a strong yearning to live life on their own terms.

You will find tenacity in both Preppers and Survivalists to try to see the options they have before them. If you give up easily or become defeated too quickly you probably don’t deserve to call yourself a member of either team just yet.

Both Survivalists and Preppers like to prepare for unforeseen events, but I do believe Survivalists have a slightly more cavalier attitude about their chances for survival.

Survivalists may give more weight to learning how to forage in the woods and eat grubs while their Prepper cousins might be more comfortable storing food to last as long as possible or creating a garden with heirloom seeds. The grub worms and fiddle-head fern salads can wait as long as possible, thank you.

Along with the desire to live I think Preppers and Survivalists both have a positive mental attitude towards overcoming obstacles when it comes to survival. They both hold a belief that with the right training, mental outlook and circumstances, no situation is ever more than they can bear.

I have spoken to a lot of people who seem to want to shut down in the face of adversity or impending doom. Their response to my questions about prepping are usually something like “well we are all gonna die anyway, so what’s the point?” and this is 180 degrees from how I think we as humans should be.

What if the early settlers of our country just said, “I quit.”? They faced starvation, disease, death on a daily basis and still managed to carve a country out of the wilderness with zero government assistance, WIC vouchers, National Healthcare, MRE’s, GPS, Bug Out vehicles or smart phones.

Do you think they had a desire to live and a positive mental attitude? We come from those same people who braved the elements, sailed across seas for months and landed in a foreign land with not much more than the clothes on their backs. They were the original Survivalists and Preppers and their blood runs through our veins.

How are they different?

As I said above, I think these terms get used interchangeably all of the time and in certain context the meaning may be blurred. For instance, there are a lot of websites that have Survival in the name that I look up to and respect greatly.

They offer a ton of useful information on Survival, and I have linked to several of them on our resources page. I am not referring to the word Survival here because I think we all want to survive something.

When I speak of “Survivalists” with a capital S I am referring to people who will label themselves as such. I think Survivalists lean more toward the ideal that Bear Grylls and Les Stroud have promoted with their respective TV shows showing how they both can survive in the wilderness on all manner of strange tricks and skills that the normal person would never be in a place to use.

I think some Survivalists see themselves as being deserted in a jungle somewhere with only a rusty coke can and a bandana to survive. Now, if this happens to you, would all of those Bear Grylls skills come in handy? Absolutely, but to base your entire understanding of the possibilities of what this life can throw at you on a couple of reality shows seems to miss the point to me.

To quote our current President, “Now, let me be clear” I love watching Bear Grylls and Les Stroud and other shows I can’t remember.

Those shows do pass along knowledge that you can use and this applies just as much to the suburban prepper as it does to the Survivalist. I just prefer to take that knowledge and try to apply it to a different potential reality.

Preppers on the other hand do not seem to have most of the same scenarios in mind when they are preparing for an uncertain future. Preppers typically have one or more situations they view as inevitable and they make plans to mitigate the bad effects you could be faced with in that situation.

For example, if a Prepper lived in Tornado alley, they would rightfully be concerned and their preps would almost certainly start with safety should a Tornado strike. They could go one past that and plan for survival after the tornado with food, water and shelter options that could help them and their neighbors in the days and weeks after any type of natural disaster like that.

Preppers also do not seem to make plans with only themselves involved. Preppers like to form groups and communities and try to get others involved, engaged and on-board when it is prudent to do so. I know there are survivalist groups as well, but they still seem to be more likely to want to be away from people before there is any actual need to.

Survivalists that I have run across definitely have a different way they present themselves when the subject of hypothetical grid-down scenarios are presented. I do get the sense that in some cases, they seem to have a “let them go to hell” mentality and I don’t think that is what Preppers would agree with on the surface.

Now, I will freely admit that I haven’t met everyone, don’t know what is in anyone’s heart but mine and I could be very guilty of gross stereotyping here. If that is the case I apologize and I would love to hear your side in the comments below. I am not trying to pick a fight, just comparing and contrasting some people/themes based upon my observations.

Lastly, Preppers seem to be looking for a lifestyle change on top of their preparations. Eating more Organic food, living healthier lives, becoming more self-sufficient are common themes and this transcends any natural disaster. It shows a desire to have a better life and that is something I think we could all use.

Which one is best?

I don’t think it is as black and white as I have made it out to be in the paragraphs above. I certainly think that if the SHTF we would all be in for a huge reality check and there is no telling how we each might act. Who knows what type of situations we may be faced with and what will be necessary in order to live and keep our families safe. We might all end up being in the same boat, bashing each other over the head with the last broken oar. I hope not.

I like to identify with Preppers, but I do know that if faced with certain triggers, I might fall squarely into the Survivalist camp that I was painting with a broad brush a little earlier. I guess we are just two sides of the same coin, but we are both made of the same mettle. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that at all.

Read the original article.

What do you think?

Are Preppers and Survivalists different?

Or are they one and the same?

Read more with these related articles from our site:

Are you a True Survivalist? Take the Quiz to Find Out

Why Are You a Prepper?

10 Traits Successful Preppers Have

Continue Reading


  1. Lon

    June 13, 2013 at 7:56 AM

    I view these “labels” as definition of a process of what to do when normal life is disrupted. Prep(aring) for the disaster (abrupt change) is the 1st step in the process of survival. Then if things really go “sh…t storm”, survival HAS to kick in as a more advanced stage with different (added – advanced) skill sets.

  2. Robin Roderick

    June 13, 2013 at 8:08 AM

    Wow, great summary. I definitely fall into the ‘prepper’ category. Having experienced an earthquake in Coalinga, California, I immediately learned the value of my mother’s well-stocked pantry! In fact, most Coalingans were dubbed ‘stay at homes’ by the media, because we didn’t show up for the meals kindly provided by the National Guard.

  3. Greg Pasden

    June 13, 2013 at 8:52 AM

    I’d say we are a combination of both.
    I am a 22 year military veteran married to a woman who grew up in the Philippine jungles. Together we live on our organic farm on a small island where we network with others, and prepare (because we are a community).
    We take the best from both definitions and try not to lock ourselves into a limited box.
    “Chance favors the prepared mind” is our motto.
    Good Luck in all you do and prepare for.
    Sincerely Greg Pasden

  4. Rattlerjake

    June 13, 2013 at 9:15 AM

    Let’s not forget that these labels only really became popular when Americans finally became aware of government’s tyranny and the eventual civil disruption. Liberal politicians immediately jumped up and started labeling. Mormons have been preppers their whole lives, the Boy Scouts used to teach survival, there are many who practice both in their normal lives, but as with all the other labels, like tea partiers, tea baggers, patriots, racists, birthers, etc. they didn’t become ‘popular’ until the libturds made them derogatory.

    • Dawn

      June 21, 2013 at 9:51 AM

      Ditto, Jake!

  5. Reid

    June 13, 2013 at 9:59 AM

    I believe that “Preppers” and “Survivalist” are, and need to be, different sides of the same coin. When we are taught defensive skills in Firearms training, the one consistent, proven fact, is that we lose fine motor skills. Loading a weapon can become a Herculean task even though you have done it a hundred times. The same will be true in a “SHTF” scenario only on a much larger scale especially in the beginning few day’s of the crisis. Prepper/Survivalist must first and foremost, be a comfortable mindset. Stockpiling food etc. and thinking that you are ready is at best poor judgement. By the same token, only being “Weaponed Up” and having a good knife and fire making tools thinking you are ready for whatever comes is also myopic.One must hybridize the two paradigms and live the mindset. Imagine as many variables as you can, prepare. Then, know that it is never going to be enough!

  6. ron

    June 13, 2013 at 11:42 AM

    how about we start using prervivalists or servivalpers

  7. Peyton

    June 13, 2013 at 1:01 PM

    I suppose I am mostly a ‘Survivalist’. I am 63 in good shape and live high in the Rocky Mountains in the National forest. I have no real neighbors and large creek runs through my property. But since I was a out of my teens I have always stored non perishable food and water and kept firearms and ammo handy.

    But like a “prepper” I can imagine a few specific threats (Forest Fire, Economic Collapse, EMP from a solar flare, Plagues, Nuclear terrorism etc.)

    Here though is a psychological difference I see between Preppers and Survivalist and it has been touched on here by others.

    Having seen collapse of a social fabric in Latin American countries etc, and civil war I see Mankind as my central threat itself. In other words roving gangs or paramilitary groups feeding of others through armed violence. This could be is difference between the Preppers and Survivalists though they both exist on a continuum.

    Yet I see what occurred in the Sandy storm in NJ and NY and how surprisingly people helped each other and there was no really significant looting either.

    But would it be that way in a truly pandemic disaster where there is no real “outside help” available to anyone? After all though they stuck together the Sandy Storm victims got very little help and that which they did was slow to show up.

    I do not take the attitude “let the unprepared go to Hell” though. At the same time my survival and my wife’s is the first priority.

    The underlying common denominator between Preppers and Survivalist is simply SELF-RELIANCE. They are not going to rely on government or anyone else for their fate in a disaster of any kind, they will be ready to forge their own fatethemselves as best they can. and so they prepare for that eventuality

  8. richard1941

    June 13, 2013 at 1:08 PM

    A raw survivalist is a guy like Cody Lundin, who can go naked into the wilderness and survive (if the police don’t catch him naked, of course). The rest of us prepare for disasters that are less than total.

    For example, your solar power plant will get you buy for a while. But if there is a total global collapse of civilization, where are you going to get it repaired? Nothing lasts forever. Even your axe will wear out. Where are you going to get steel to make a new one? Do you know how to make your own steel in a backyard smelter? (They can do this in China.)

    I don’t see why we can not fall back to the technology of 100 years ago. Even better, we know about things like lasers and antibiotics, so it would be a very different world… although it would be a while before we are making VHSIC chips again. Computing might take a temporary setback.

    Once technology is out of the bag, it is hard to put it back. I think I could achieve global communications naked in the wilderness with a supply of copper wire, an intact ionosphere, and various common hardware items that are easily made by hand tools. Can anybody out there make a lathe? A drill press? A milling machine? A power plant? Surely there are a few of you who can. That is all it takes to rebuild from ground zero.

    The bottom line is that when people come together and form commuunities and individuals are able to specialize in technical skills, everybody lives a better life. I think THAT is the key to survival and is the ultimate form of prepping. Learn to work with your neighbors and help each other. I guess that makes me a mad-dog foaming-at-the-mouth terrorist.

    May god bless the hard working underpaid heroic agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who are monitoring these postings. May they live long and prosper.

    • GentleMiant

      June 13, 2013 at 6:01 PM

      Hi Richard,
      Were you born in ’41? So was I.
      Milling machines require rotary cutters, of which the first ones would be difficult to make. Shapers would be easier to tool.

  9. Gary

    June 13, 2013 at 3:04 PM

    When I started to “Prep” back in the early 1980’s, the term Prepper didn’t even exist. You were a Survivalist that prepared, you prepared to survive for whatever happened.

    In fact the term Prepper is actually rather new and when I first heard it I didn’t know what it was or who made this word up. Personally I think it was made up for marketing purposes like that show “Doomsday Preppers” (people who want their 5 minutes of fame and want the govt. closely watching them, dumb) or maybe just to not sound as harsh as the term Survivalist. It also may have been made up as a simple catch word for people who just basically prepare for an emergency.

    I’m not sure who made up the word Prepper or why but it sounds more like a politically correct term for a Survivalist who is prepared, kinda like a garbage man now being called a sanitation engineer.

    After all these years I’m not going to change and now call myself a Prepper because someone made a new trendy term up for a person who prepares to survive a SHTF scenario.

  10. TpC

    June 13, 2013 at 4:44 PM

    Always good comes out of a bad (or potentially bad) situation.

    For all the sky-is-falling chicken littles and fearmongering, which to me is just annoying negativity, there is the challenge to rethink how we live.

    I am all for self reliance and self sufficiency. As more people learn how to fish for themselves so to speak, the welfare mentality will begin to decline.
    That’s probably the best thing that can come out of WTSHTF possibilities.
    People learning to do things for themselves and decentralize things. The way our country’s power grid is set up I have learned is very susceptible to catastrophic failure.
    Wouldn’t it be nice if every town or neighborhood or home didn’t have to count on some far away power plant to supply their electricity? Yup.
    If great minds work on problems like this instead of spending time building new weapons or other such things, then we will have such technology before you know it.

  11. Jan

    June 13, 2013 at 5:38 PM

    I hope I remain free enough to lick the morning dew off of the leaves when there is no water. I hope I will survive to see that trees have remained after any global holocaust. And I hope I am prepared mentally, physically and spiritually when it all comes tumbling down.

    I do not know what I am but I have had to do without a lot of the basic necessities that humans have — for the last seven years — including water for days on end except for what I could drag home and 9 months no running water in my shack (borrowed). I watch the animals and think like the wild ones. Learning all of the time and praying all of the time for better. And to think I was a girly-girl for 50 years. You don’t know what you are when you hit 59 and have to go it alone with no family or friends or money. Or need a ride from those you have helped and they wouldn’t even come 1 block to 10 miles to take you to a doctor or store with a broken arm or just because you want to go do laundry and your car has been stolen and down for months and you have no money, and you are doing without any running water, heat, decent facilities in winter 4 degrees for months and windows out. I’ll ask but I won’t grovel, beg, steal or sell out! I still have some dignity!

    You do what you have to when you have to — with what you know. Still dealing with it by myself. Me, the phone and my computer and barely electricity (but no TV). What is that called?

    • Shawn

      November 22, 2018 at 7:03 PM

      Need a friend? 25 and want to be a “prepper” but poor with some martial art knowledge.

  12. Jan

    June 13, 2013 at 5:46 PM

    I hope to my comment above that I don’t hear “stupid” — because I am not. And I get along with neighbors as long as I don’t ask them for anything because I have tried and it was always no or I don’t have time. If you call me “unfortunate” would be kind. I know I have tried to help myself working over 45 years and lots of others. I just hope I live long enough to not feel so misfortunate or so un-free.

    • GentleMiant

      June 13, 2013 at 6:19 PM

      Hi Jan,
      Maybe you could find some more ways to help the most promising neighbors and work out barters with some of them.
      When you’re down on your luck sometimes people get the wrong idea. Maybe you could analyze ways to avoid them doing that.
      Anyway, I certainly hope you can find a way to improve your luck.

  13. Jan

    June 13, 2013 at 5:51 PM

    Oh, I meant to just write that there are great articles here. And on the wheat — you can make fry-bread or just chew it raw like the Roman soldiers.

  14. susan hagen

    June 13, 2013 at 6:40 PM

    Nice article. People, that are dipshits, tend to make fun, of me. But go figure, everytime, they are out of something, they know they can come to susie. (this is only my family, and close friends). when my best friend, lost her job/her house, her pride, she realized, i was onto something, on just be prepared. When I was on the phone with my sister, on are we crazy? I reminded her, that we were taught, by our parents, and our grandparents(south dakota farmers, back in the 30’s) Not more than 3 weeks later, my sister’s town got ravaged by tornado! . She lives in Joplin. Go figure. She does not feel like a crazy lady, anymore. Her house, did not get wiped out. She, was able to help! It happens. in regards to our GOVT. I say effem, and feed em fish heads. The rest of us, will fish! lol

  15. ALAN18

    June 18, 2013 at 3:07 PM

    In my opinion a “prepper” is a “survivalist” but with more stuff!!!! I just hope that ALL the peppers out there are learning all the survival tricks and tips now before SHTF! Eventually the Spam and beans are going to run out, gardens can die, and pooh happens!

  16. Daniel Nawcewicz

    June 20, 2013 at 7:37 AM

    The end of the article is interesting. Although we would like to believe that we will all come together as one, my experience suggests that when TSHTF happens, it is always every man for himself. That prepper idea of all getting together may apply to small family groups or other established groups such as law enforcement, bikers, criminal organizations, etc. but, the worst things get, history has shown these too will turncoat against one another. Prepper or survivalist be unknown, survival will mean every man for himself. Trust no one at that point.

  17. RON

    June 27, 2013 at 4:36 PM

    oh dan I realy hope you are wrong.because I thank we are going to need GOD and friend and family to make it.and if we cant count on that we are all an real truble

  18. Ken

    July 1, 2013 at 8:16 AM

    I was a journalist a number of years ago and had the opportunity to visit a “survivalist” camp in the Ozarks of Arkansas as part of an investigative report. This group of people lived in the wilderness, had stockpiled food, and had lots of weapons and ammo which they stored in caves. They possessed the fundamental belief the Federal government was going to fail the American people and trigger a complete meltdown of our national infrastructure. They believed social chaos would someday ensue and that they had to be ready to survive in an environment where there is no law and order, where food supply chains were interrupted and where fellow Americans would come foraging for or stealing food from their neighbors. One survivalist told me, “He who has the guns and ammo will survive” in what he believed would be a long-term existence in a Mad Max-type of world. The survivalists group planned to defend itself against all outside intruders.

    While I agree with the basic tenets of your article, I would contend true “survivalists” are more often motivated by potential negative political events and have more of a doom and gloom outlook on the future of America, rooted in a lack of faith in governmental leadership. “Preppers” more often than not are looking to prepare and help others with interim existence after a natural disaster or for temporary interruptions in the national supply chain. Some of those interruptions may be caused by the government, some may not. The key difference between survivalists and preppers seems to be what the perceived cause of social chaos will be and who they will help if it happens.

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