Realistic survival scenarios will not involve primitive fire-making or building shelter out of mud, but rather having enough supplies on hand to get you through temporary interruptions to utilities and food supply, including disruptions that persist into the beginning stages of the destabilization of society.
The simplest and cheapest anyone can do for short term disruptions is get a couple cases of bottled water, a first aid kit refill, low-cost LED headlamp with some extra batteries, battery-powered radio, extra toiletries and meds, and some canned and ready-to-eat foods with decent shelf life. That’s good enough for one week and light enough to quickly load into your vehicle if necessary. You can get all these things in one day, put it away in your closet, and go on with your life. Having spare cash on hand is recommended: enough for food, gas, and motel covering 2-3 days of travel.
Doesn’t take much time or effort to get the basics. Occasionally check the clearance section at stores; good deals on useful items appear there sometimes. And if something jumps out at you, is on sale, and seems like a good idea, maybe that’s a hint. Years ago I had an intuitive nudge, and a synchronistic opportunity, to get some nice Walkie-Talkies with a 5-mile range. Later they became absolutely essential when my girlfriend and I evacuated Florida in separate cars during one of the 2004 hurricanes. Had I ignored my intuition and the opportunity, it would have been a logistical nightmare.
For a longer term situation, these preparations and more would be necessary. Basic needs in order of urgency: water, food, medical, energy/lighting, shelter/clothing, defense, and tools. Suggested options, with links to Amazon:
If there is only one item to get, it is a high quality portable water filter. I cannot stress this enough because water is the first and most essential thing to go after any disaster, and portable filters are so compact yet good for hundreds to thousands of gallons. That Sawyer water filter uses new technology that makes it 5x more affordable than previous filters.
Mountain House freeze dried meal pouches or cans, or granola bars, protein bars, peanut butter, bags of enriched rice, instant potatoes and oatmeal, canned beans, canned or jarred fruits and vegetables, canned/pouched meat, powdered eggs, powdered milk, salt and honey, pasta and jarred pasta sauces, sunflower/safflower/coconut oil, vitamins (especially Vitamin B and C, keep them fresh in the freezer if desired), or military meal packs. Or you can go all-out and get one of those 3/6/12 month supplies of freeze dried foods in cans; the Mountain House brand has the longest proven shelf life.
For cooking, most convenient for short term use: the Sterno or Esbit folding stove and fuel. To use wood as fuel, which is great for long term if you’re on foot, a biofuel stove works but takes longer to light and smoke disallows indoor use. For emergency preparations, I generally recommend an alcohol stove and quart-sized canisters of denatured alcohol (found in the paint thinner section of hardware stores, and is also known as marine stove fuel) because you can store up gallons of fuel for months of smoke-free cooking; an ounce of alcohol boils 2 cups of water. The alcohol stove is an easy and cost-effective setup for home or in between travel-by-car.
Or make your own kit: anti-bacterial ointment (most important), anti-fungal ointment, cortisone cream, anti-diarrheal, laxative, SAM splints for sprains and breaks, assorted band-aids, buffered aspirin, vaseline, rubbing alcohol, iodine liquid, medical tape, gauze rolls, elastic bandage wrap, wound dressing pads, butterfly sutures, superglue for cuts, burn gel or burn pad, moleskin for blisters, bandage scissors, tweezers, latex-free gloves, plastic syringe for wound washing, Bic lighter, sturdy drinking straws, Gold Bond medicated powder, scissors, digital thermometer. Additional anti-microbials: oregano oil and colloidal silver.
For dealing with deep gashes, stabbing wounds, or gunshot wounds, you would need a trauma kit. Celox for wound blood clotting, SOFTT Wide tourniquet, Israeli or OLAES compression bandage, trauma scissors, nasophyringial airways, chest decompression needle, HALO chest seals. Some of these require medical training to use and are mostly meant to stabilize someone long enough to get to a hospital.
LED headlamp (essential for keeping hands free), rechargeable batteries and portable charger, good LED flashlight, 20W solar panel with USB output, 100W Solar Power Kit with AC inverter and 12V battery.
3M Respirator mask (also very important, for smoke, chemicals, fallout, dust storms, volcanic ash, mold, rotting, disease, etc.), Swiss Army Knife, pocket chain saw, mechanics gloves, Motorola 2-way radios (walkie talkies), AM/FM/Shortwave radio. And of course the common sense items like clothing, sunglasses, hats, socks, shoes etc.
It may be helpful to get a radio scanner to listen to local police, fire, and ambulance services but some districts use digital trunking systems so you might need a pricier scanner to pick up those communications.
You’re more likely to be sleeping in cars, buildings, or your own home than in the wilderness. Preparing for on-foot or woods survival requires a different approach focusing on minimalism and lightweight. Since you can only take what you can carry, that limits how prepared you can be. Further, cold weather and questionable availability of food, not to mention running into hostile people, further reduce chances of survival in the wild. Therefore roughing it out in nature or wandering around as a hobo is ill advised.
Regardless, even if you don’t plan on bugging out on foot, it can’t hurt to have a sleeping bag appropriate to your climate since even at home or in cars, heat may not be available during utility or gas outages. Keep in mind that when a sleeping bag says 15F they’re exaggerating and it’s really only good down to 35F, and that two sleeping bags can be nested for colder conditions. For warmer weather, a jungle blanket or jungle bag may be sufficient and is a good idea to have anyway. Another essential item for everyone is an inflatable sleeping pad, which will conserve body heat and let you sleep comfortably in more places including the floors of buildings, hard soil and gravel, and cots that lack padding.
For outdoor shelter, a lightweight tent or tarp and a military thermal casualty blanket as a ground sheet suffices. And carrying all this requires a good backpack, either a hiking backpack in the 45-100 liter range or a bergen style rucksack with the side pouches. Remember to keep the total weight under 30% of your healthy bodyweight or you won’t be walking far.
Research hiking, mountaineering, bushcraft, and orienteering to get accustomed with the types of variables involved in traversing the land. If your main aim is to travel while avoiding people and ambushes, then investing in a portable infrared thermal scope can be of value since it lets you detect body heat signatures from hundreds of yards away even at night.
Gear aside, keep in mind that like in combat, physical fitness is of paramount importance when surviving on foot. The more fit you are, the longer and more swiftly you can move and thus evade danger. Such fitness would be centered around endurance and mobility under load, meaning resistance cardio and rucking moreso than bodybuilding and weight lifting. Physical fitness is also an asset toward disaster-related activities like clearing fallen trees, filling sandbags, boarding up windows, carrying food and water, and so on.
For those concerned about self-defense, the most legal option (check local laws) is pepper/bear spray and a baseball bat; anything beyond that is up to you. Firearms carry a legal risk and require safety, proficiency, and integrity to use responsibly and effectively; nevertheless they are tools that protect innocent life when alternatives are unavailable, such as when law enforcement cannot respond quickly enough, is overwhelmed or absent during a societal breakdown situation, or has turned corrupt and predatory.
If you’re dead set on a firearm, then a Glock 19 pistol is probably the best all-around option for its durability, portability, and commonality of spare parts and aftermarket accessories. Use 124 grain hollow-point ammunition such as Federal HST or Remington Golden Saber. If you’re on a tight budget, have a look at the Walther PPX or Canik TP9SF. If a handgun is not permitted, other options include:
1) AR15 style rifles. Good: M&P15 Sport or Ruger AR556. Better: Colt LE6920 MPS. Best: BCM complete upper with a BCM or PSA complete lower. Ammunition: Wolf Gold 223 for bulk storage and training, Fusion MSR 223 for defense. Advantages to the AR15 are precision, accuracy, range, maneuverability, and light weight. Downside is needing regular lubrication to remain functional. Have backup iron sights and a red dot optic such as the Mepro Tru Dot RDS, Aimpoint Micro, Primary Arms MD-ADS, or Trijicon MRO.
2) AKM style rifles. Good: WASR-10. Better: DDI Stamped AK47. Best: Arsenal SLR-107. These are hard hitting, durable, reliable, low maintenance, low hassle, simple to operate, and can take a folding stock for compact storage. On the downside, compared to an AR15 they are cruder, clunkier, and heavier (by 1-2 lbs), have greater recoil, are slightly less accurate, and the ammo weighs more. Ultimak Rail upgrade recommended for mounting a small red dot optic (Trijicon MRO, Primary Arms ADS, or Aimpoint Micro) for faster and easier aiming.
3) Pistol caliber carbines. Fair: Hi-Point 995 or 4595. Better: Kel Tec Sub 2000 Gen 2, or Beretta CX4 Storm. Best: Sig MPX. These look like rifles but fire pistol ammunition. Compared to rifles they are lighter, handier, and not as loud or concussive. Thus they are ideal for indoor defense and smaller framed women. Downside is that their effective range is under 100 yards whereas rifles can typically reach 200-400 yards with ease.
These are all commonly recommended choices for their specified budget range and purpose. Note that ammo, upgrades, and accessories can together equal the cost of the firearm, so budget accordingly. Don’t forget hearing protection. And you can/should also install a weapon light to avoid misidentifications, the specific light type depending on the firearm’s mounting options. Streamlight and Surefire are the top brands.
Shotguns aren’t recommended. They may be cheap but are just too long, heavy, lack range, only hold a few shells, have high recoil, are slow to reload, and the manual pump operated ones are difficult to run properly under stress. Similarly, a revolver is also not recommended since it has low ammo capacity, is slower to reload, and not necessarily more reliable than a Glock. However, revolvers are simpler to use and require no hand strength to rack a slide, and pump shotguns are still legal in places other firearms are not, so there are specific cases and places where they make sense.
If you’re serious about defense, consider buying body armor. It’s a form of insurance and no different than wearing a helmet or seat belt. Even a pacifist should have no moral qualms about owning and wearing it since it harms no one. The only downsides to armor are cost, reduced mobility, and alarm or suspicion in public if too visible.
Soft armor (level IIIa) is lightweight and protects against pistol and shotgun but not rifle. Soft armor weighs around 5 lbs for a vest and offers greater coverage of the torso, is somewhat concealable, and can be worn all day every day aside from being a bit hot.
Hard armor (level III+ or IV) is really heavy and thick but stops AR and AK rounds as well. Hard armor weighs 10-20 lbs for a complete system. There are lightweight hard armor options like the ceramic/poly armor that come as front and back plates that slip inside a plate carrier vest like the Grey Ghost Gear Minimalist or other plate carriers. Avoid hard armor plates weighing over 7lbs each since they will drain your stamina and hurt your spine; anything 5lbs and under is fine and is worth the money.
Goes without saying that if you are at risk for theft, or have kids, or if kids ever so much as step a foot in your house, keep your firearms locked up in a safe place. Educate yourself on safety procedures and take courses or watch videos to train correctly on firearm use until it becomes automatic, because only automatic motions can be relied upon in high stress situations.
Books like the SAS Survival Handbook that focus on bushcraft and short term survival in the woods are useful but not adequate for emergency preparedness since we’re more likely to be in our homes, offices, or vehicles than lost in the forest or stranded on a desert island. For the more immediate and likely disruptions, you’re better off with the natural disaster preparation advice from sites like ready.gov.
Economic collapse without complete societal collapse is the more realistic scenario that warrants serious foresight and preparation, for which you can cautiously read FerFal’s book The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse.
And if you’re concerned about the more tactical aspects of survival in the face of widespread violence and desperation, then study Max Velocity’s book Contact! A Tactical Manual for Post Collapse Survival. The book covers subjects far beyond the scope of bushcraft or disaster preparation books, but things would have to get pretty extreme to ever reach that point.
Studying and applying this stuff can take its mental and spiritual toll, so be careful and weigh the risk of that versus the risk of not being prepared.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
1) You can only prepare for a limited set of scenarios. A point comes in your attempt to prepare for everything, where you’ve just thrown away your life, your destiny, your mission if you have one, all for the sake of surviving. Then you would be surviving for the sake of existing, not for the sake of living. Life would be meaningless and you just defeated your very purpose for coming here. Therefore, no amount of preparation warrants throwing your life away and heading into the hills, shutting yourself off from the world until doomsday comes. All preparations should be done in parallel with your regular life and not infringe upon it. If your main life is Plan A (nothing happens) then keep that open while you simultaneously have Plan B (S.H.T.F. = shit hits the fan, meaning a condition of survival amidst social chaos and civil breakdown).
2) Do not become obsessed, preoccupied, or emotionally invested in this. If you get some survival item, know how to use it and put it away until time for maintenance, training, and use. Don’t dress up in ninja gear like you have some kind of survivalism fetish, don’t be turning over post-apocalyptic fantasies in your mind hours upon hours a day, and don’t keep gloating over your advantage over the other poor suckers who are asleep and unprepared. Reason being that holding onto an extreme survivalism mentality, beyond what’s needed to actually do it and be proficient at it, is highly detrimental to your spiritual balance. Have the knowledge and supplies, but be very cautious of aligning your heart and thought-train completely and exclusively with the mere idea of physical survivalism. Making it your life goal will kill your soul, and you need your soul and a spiritual connection to gain the synchronistic and intuitive protection needed to keep you safe in all scenarios, not just the ones you can physically prepare for.
3) To an extent, spiritual balance, good intuition (honed through past trial and error), and sharp awareness (observe and think several steps ahead) will get you farther than any physical survival dwelling or supplies. Why? Because then you can respond flexibly to whatever comes, as it comes. By spiritual balance I mean keeping a leash on your ego, your jealousies, contempt and hatred, desperate materialism, greed, and other base impulses… and instead, striving for equanimity, gratitude to the Creator, devotion to truth and beauty and fairness, and consideration for others. Then you acquire divine blessing that increases the luck factor in your life. In the midst of calamity you can get an intuitive or synchronistic helping hand.
Of course, spiritual versus physical preparation are not mutually exclusive; just avoid physical obsession that infringes on spiritual balance; that’s the most important thing I can say. Same goes for looking toward the future and getting apprehensive. Don’t lose hope or optimism, as you need these to carve out a pathway to heaven through times of hell.