The Positive Difference between being a Prepper and being a Survivalist

The Unabomber was portrayed as a 'survivalist' - and vice versa, alas.  Make sure people understand the huge difference between people like that and preppers like yourself.
The Unabomber was portrayed as a ‘survivalist’ – and vice versa, alas. Make sure people understand the huge difference between people like that and preppers like yourself.

It is hard to know what exactly to call ourselves, isn’t it.  And the name we use has been largely chosen for us, and in some cases, has been stolen away from us again.

It is probably fair to agree that we used to consider ourselves – and I hesitate to use this word now – as survivalists.  That was our whole shtick, wasn’t it – we wanted to be sure we could survive whatever adverse situations occurred.

But somehow, the media took over the term whether through ignorance, laziness, or wilfulness (probably equal measures of all three) started using it to describe people very different to ourselves.  White supremacists were now labeled survivalists, as were religious groups, gun lovers, people seeking off-grid lifestyles, and anyone strange and non-mainstream.

Survivalist became increasingly a negative term and concept, via this ‘guilt by association’ trend.  Some people and businesses have found themselves trapped with the name – for example, the very popular site can not easily rename itself now.

However, the community of people-formerly-known-as-survivalists cast around for another term, and it seems the most common term now is to describe oneself as a prepper – one who prepares for future challenges and problems.  That’s a fine term, and one which hopefully can’t be so easily taken from us and twisted to mean something negative again.

While we now know we are preppers, not survivalists, the general public and the media don’t.  So we need to now help educate them and explain that we are very different to people who are now commonly termed survivalists.  Rather than fight the confusion in the term survivalist, we need to now use it to our own advantage, we should turn a negative into a positive.

The basic concept you want to share is ‘Oh, no, we aren’t survivalists.  We are preppers.  That is a whole different thing!’

Here are some differences between preppers and survivalists.

  • Survivalists reject society, and even encourage and possibly seek its downfall.  Preppers enjoy and like our present society, and hope it never fails.
  • Survivalists choose to live a life outside society.  Preppers are happily integrated into the societies they belong to.
  • Survivalists feel less constrained by the rule of law and normal social convention.  Preppers accept and follow normal social conventions and legal obligations.
  • Survivalists are happy with the most basic of existences.  Preppers realize that our current lifestyles probably can’t be supported or sustained after a major collapse in society, but do the best they can to make their future as comfortable and convenient as possible.
  • Survivalists might happily live in unlined earthen caves and cramped underground bunkers (and sometimes even before a collapse in society).  Preppers seek to create sustainable ongoing positive lives above ground, and will transition to growing their own food rather than living off canned rations as quickly as they can.
  • Survivalists have transitioned to their alternate lifestyle already.  Preppers generally remain leading ‘normal’ lives, but are ready to adapt to future challenges and constraints when and if necessary.
  • Survivalists probably don’t have large inventories of supplies and stores over and above basic food items.  Preppers, probably, do.
  • Both preppers and survivalists probably have guns.  But a prepper lawfully owns the guns he has, and does not seek out fully auto weapons, and owns his guns only for hunting and defensive rather than aggressive reasons.
  • Survivalists generally tend to be more solitary.  Preppers, ideally, would prefer to be part of a larger community of like-minded folk.

You can probably think of more differences too between being a survivalist and being a prepper.  But these preceding eight points should get you started if you ever need to differentiate between being a survivalist and a prepper, and to explain to friends (or media) what it is you are and what it is you aren’t.

In other words, being a prepper is all about positively preparing to succeed in an uncertain future.  That’s a good thing, not a bad thing, right?  While people might be anxious at having a survivalist next door, they should welcome the presence of a prepper.

3 Replies to “The Positive Difference between being a Prepper and being a Survivalist”

  1. OTS Preparedness

    Tagging all survivalist as bad individuals is a not a fair association.

    Most preppers are nothing more than survivalist under a different word of the day. The media has done the same with gun owners – now if you’re a gun owner you’re considered a crazy right wing extremist that’s a ticking time bomb waiting to shoot someone up. Both are unfair labels to normally good people. A few insane mislabeled survivalist/ gun owners have made a mass majority of good people portrayed as criminals or extremist thanks to the media clowns.

    Regardless survivalist/preppers are still one in the same regardless what name you decide to be called.

    • David Spero


      I’ll agree that much of this might seem like a pointless argument over words that essentially mean exactly the same thing, but there are some fine shades of difference – and some glaringly obvious ones too, as listed in the article.

      Another possible distinction appeared in some comments to another article recently – In that case, the distinction seems to be that preppers prepare for an uncertain future and hope to be able to use their preparations to continue to live with a reasonable level of lifestyle. Survivalists, on the other hand, don’t necessarily prepare at all, and are even perversely proud of their ability to ‘live off the land’ and to not need a pre-existing retreat and supply of food, etc.

      Most of all though, you miss the point. Maybe it is not fair to tag all survivalists as bad. But, guess what? The world isn’t fair, and that tagging has already occurred in the media. We need to do some ‘image/perception judo’ – rather than fight that unfair labeling head on, we need to simply accept it, rename ourselves, and move on from there.

      So, I’m a prepper. What are you? 🙂

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