What is the Difference Between a Prepper and a Survivalist?

Back in the 1990s when Captain Dave bought his first 5-gallon bucket of wheat, there was no such thing as a prepper. You were a survivalist and you practiced survivalism.

The problem was that the public had a bad impression of survivalists, just like they had a bad impression of people who joined a militia. Most every prepper Captain Dave ever met was a person worried about keeping their family safe in an unsafe world, but the media lumped us into a pot with people like Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber, and Eric Rudolph. Medi coverage of Randy Weaver, used the term survivalist, as if that somehow justified the FBI shooting his wife.

It got bad enough that people wouldn’t want to admit to being a survivalist. But somewhere after 9/11 and the anthrax attack, people started saying things like: “I’m not a survivalist, but I think it’s a good idea to prepare for the unexpected.” And then Hurricane Katrina came along in 2005 and it became clear that the government could not rescue everyone, the idea of preparing became more universally accepted. Thus, the prepper was born, and in the last decade, “prepping” pushed “survival” out of our lexicon. Thankfully, prepping has none of the negative connotations associated with survivalist, despite all the TV shows showing what may be some extreme approaches to prepping.

Today, prepping is simply the term for people who are prepared – or are preparing, as some would argue that it is a never-ending journey – for the large scale disruptions that might accompany an economic collapse, nuclear war, an explosion of the Yellowstone Caldera, an EMP attack, or other significant socio-economic disruption.

“Survival” is making a comeback as a term as well, thanks to TV shows like Dual Survival and Ultimate Survival Alaska. These shows emphasize wilderness survival and primitive living skills, which has probably done more to rehabilitate the term “survivalist” than any PR campaign could hope to achieve. In a sense, we’ve come full circle, where we can all be survivalists again.

If there is a difference between a prepper and a survivalist, it is that a prepper is more reliant on their preps, while a survivalist may have a greater ability to survive in the wilderness with little hardware. Captain Dave believes your best bet at surviving a natural or man-made disaster lies in prepping and having the skills of a survivalist. While you may be able to survive in the wilderness with nothing but a knife and a piece of flint, wouldn’t you rather grab your fully loaded bug out bag?