The difference between a “Prepper” and a “Survivalist”

There are several more detailed accounts ( of varying levels of wing-nut-ery ) of the etymologies of both of these labels than what I am putting down here; this post just describes in general terms what I feel the differences in connotation the two terms bring.

First and most objective, the term “Prepper” is newer, and used more in current ( 2010 ) pop culture to describe someone who prepares for a disaster of some kind. By “prepares”, usually it’s meant that the Prepper stores consumables, supplies and other goods that would make a short to medium duration of a grid-down scenario easier to handle. Usually more than just stocking up, the Prepper also increases knowledge and skill to stack the odds in their favor, given a disaster.

A Prepper could sometimes be said to be engaging in a hobby, a pastime that will yield dividends not only at some unspecified time when disaster strikes, but also in the here and now in the form of greater confidence and awareness.

Also, the Prepper might live in a suburban or urban environment, and likely retains and nourishes a lifestyle that does not sacrifice much perceived quality of life while he or she Preps.

“Survivalist” is an older term, originating in the 70s in the middle of the Cold War, when the threat of mutual assured destruction from a nuclear exchange was an ever-present possibility.

Survivalists were people who took serious steps to redefine their lives so that they and their loved ones might have a better chance of survival in such a scenario. Survivalists changed their lifestyle to embrace these better odds by moving to remote locations, and embracing stocking up on goods for the long term a way of life, and the gathering and training in necessary skills an avocation.

Weapon proficiencies and strong political and/or religious affiliations also characterized many Survivalists’ ethos ( though certainly not all ), and many of these connotations continue through today. The term “casual Survivalist” seems to be an oxymoron.

While both groups have made a commitment, broadly similar, there are differences.

A Prepper could possibly be viewed as a “Survivalist-light”, a term coined in a recent ( Dec ’09 ) Newsweek article, though both Preppers and Survivalists might take exception to this, both groups for different reasons.

A difference between the two is intensity. It is possible to be a casual Prepper, perhaps just learning a skill or two that might come in handy if the SHTF, or perhaps just getting a week’s worth of food and water together for the family. It would probably not be accurate to call such people “Survivalists”.

In contrast, the person who unplugs from the grid, relocates to a remote wilderness and endeavors to live self-sufficiently off the land is more accurately a Survivalist, and might bristle at being called a “Prepper”.

Another difference would likely be the length of time a person could survive in a grid-down scenario. A Prepper might be good for a week or two, while a Survivalist could be good for six months to a year, or perhaps indefinitely when the grid goes down.

To some extent, the terms can be used to describe the same person, and perhaps a bit of middle ground. A Prepper that has sufficiently prepared for an extended emergency could be called a Prepper or a Survivalist.

More subjective seems to be the social connotations of these terms; the Prepper might be a hobbyist who is unwilling to drastically redefine the lives of their family but who has awoken to the idea that society is very fragile, and that preparing of trouble in some way might not be a bad idea. The Survivalist on the other hand has made a lifestyle commitment, and generally sees themselves outside the mainstream of society.

I’ve read discussions that drew gender differences between the two terms; I found these largely sexist,  silly, and easily dismissed. There are many women who self-identify as Survivalists, and would take great issue with being labeled a “Prepper” based solely on their gender. It is also equally foolish to call men who Prep Survivalists simply because they are male.

It is entirely possible to be a Prepper who holds deep religious conviction, or a Survivalist who does not.

We write this blog with Preppers in mind, people adopting the idea of preparing for the worst, perhaps starting down the path to Survivalism.

  1. well to start off I was looking for an answer to my question and the line just got blurred even more.
    I went on line and joined a Prepper group but was working graveyard shift and could not attend any of the functions they were hosting all functions had a minimal cost but a cost none the less. I received an email stating since I have not attended any of the functions I was no longer part of the group. (Great bunch in a pinch) so I did noticed a man had posted some comment in their web site about combat and 3 or 4 members jumped all over him stating we are not Survivalist we are Preppers! thus the question? Do Both groups learn and train with weapons? is the Preppers considered Horders, and Survivalist considered Malisha? unknown? and if you do both can we call it Survivalist Prepping?

  2. Heya, John… there are no hard and fast rules. It’s like the debate between people who call themselves “geeks” and those who prefer “nerds”. Are they really, truly nerds? Hard to say. Let’s go in reverse order, here. For me “survivalist prepping” sounds redundant, somehow. Like “nerdy geek”, maybe. In my own experience, people who label themselves “survivalists” tend to put guns/weapons/security pretty close to the top of their personal lists. Preppers… not as much. This isn’t to say the peeps who call themselves preppers don’t have guns; but they don’t seem to identify as strongly with weapons. As to what individual groups are doing… or charging ( charging? ) I couldn’t say. The group that I belong to doesn’t charge anything. I imagine if you all jointly owned property or were organized in such a way that there was a central larder or magazine, some sort of dues might be appropriate. But I’d personally be leery of the group that asked you to be a member, as long as you’d pay some sort of fee. As to being tossed out for not participating… well, again that goes to the flavor of your given group. But if there are reindeer games to play in your group, I guess it’s a good idea to play them. Or find another group that has activities you’d like to do, when your schedule allows. Also, joining a group online sounds a little… something. Sketchy, maybe. Cool to find out about a group online, but get to know them in person before you “join”, and definitely before you send anyone cash for the priviledge of being a “member”.

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