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What exactly are “preppers” prepping for?

What exactly are “preppers” prepping for? thumbnail

“Prepping,” or getting ready to live without societal support, is apparently a largely American activity, and a recent one. Companies that cater to people who want to be self-reliant for food, water, and power have grown their revenue by about 700 percent over the last decade, and prepper products are now offered in places like Costco, Kmart, and Bed Bath & Beyond.

But it’s not at all clear what’s driving this growth—why are more people getting ready for society’s collapse? Some explanations focus on a tendency toward paranoia in American society or fears of terrorism or natural disaster. But actual evidence that directly supports any of these ideas as the main reason is pretty sparse.

So Michael Mills at the UK’s University of Kent decided to correct this gap in our knowledge. Mills went on an American road trip, spending time talking to (and butchering animals with) 39 preppers in 18 different US states. Rather than rampant paranoia, Mills suggests, preppers are motivated by non stop media coverage of natural disasters, as well as a government that encourages them to prepare for the worst.

The sum of all fears

To the extent that one exists, the public image of a prepper is of someone who’s getting ready for the collapse of society, at which point money and electric grids, along with all the things that depend on them, will become unavailable. Preppers are ready to purify water to drink, hunt and butcher for meals, and scare off anyone who tries to get a piece of their post-apocalyptic bliss, possibly via gunfire. There may be bunkers involved.

But that image is fostered in part by the public’s biggest route to being made aware of preppers: Doomsday Preppers, which aired on the National Geographic channel. (The show has also infiltrated the academic literature, as Mills cites a study that analyzed the psychology of people who appeared on the show.) Although Mills doesn’t explicitly say it, it’s reasonable to wonder whether one can get an accurate cross-section of the prepper community purely from watching people who were chosen to appear on the show based on whether they make for good television.

To find out, Mills placed ads on some popular prepper websites, recruited his cohort, and started his road trip. His goal wasn’t a quantitative study; it was ethnography, which is largely talking to people, spending time with them, and seeing whether there are commonalities in how they think. It’s important to note that regardless of how popular these prepper sites are, they probably won’t produce a full cross-section of the prepper community, either, nor will selecting people based on willingness to talk to a researcher. That said, you’ll still probably get more depth than you would by selecting for great TV.

In fact, one of the subjects specifically told Mills that “it’s not like on [National Geographic’s] Doomsday Preppers.” They weren’t preparing for the total collapse of society. They were getting ready to deal with a local collapse of services that might last a few months. It’s less Armageddon and more Hurricane Irma—which hadn’t hit yet while Mills was doing his interviews but has since suggested that preparing for a couple of months without key services may be badly underestimating needs. Prepper supplies would typically be enough to only hold out that long, and Mills said they often referred to these caches as “more than they’d ever need.”

Another key difference is that the preppers didn’t have any specific expectations for a particular disaster that’s likely to happen. Some of them lived in flood-prone areas but would invariably mention additional fears like terrorism or outbreaks of new diseases. And for many of them, those risks didn’t produce a sense that disaster was inevitable. Preparing was more a just-in-case activity. As Mills concluded, “Their concerns tend to emerge in response to numerous disaster risks that are widely reported and recognized in wider American culture.”

Media and government

Tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, earthquakes—there are few areas of the country with no natural disaster risks, and terrorism and disease outbreaks could happen nearly anywhere. So what factors drive some people to respond to those risks by being ready to do without both private and government services or any sort of emergency support?

One factor, Mills argues, is that the organizations responsible for coordinating that emergency support tell them they should be ready to deal without it. “Federal agencies have recently encouraged American citizens to contemplate surviving disasters without their assistance,” Mills writes, citing a previous study. And the government also warns people to be ready for risks that have never materialized. Since 2003, a group within the Department of Homeland Security has advocated that people “have a ‘safe room’, duct tape, and plastic sheets on-hand to secure their home against (unprecedented) chemical terrorist attacks.”

A second motivation comes from the media, which tends to provide nonstop coverage of natural disasters and their aftermath. Mills said nearly every subject mentioned Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, or both. Mills’ road trip took place in 2014, and Ebola and ISIS both made frequent appearances in the risks mentioned by the preppers (as they might again today).

His conclusion, then, is that preppers are responding to what they’re hearing: “prepping is a phenomenon with clear, previously unacknowledged links to broader risk communications and concerns in the twenty-first century United States.” In other words, prepping might be an unusual response to the challenges everyone faces when trying to communicate risks to the public, but it’s on a spectrum of responses, rather than being a distinct phenomenon.

That, as Mills notes, still leaves a couple of key questions, like why the response is so prevalent in the US, and why plenty of US citizens face the same risks but can’t even be bothered to store some jugs of water or pack a go-bag.


41 Comments on "What exactly are “preppers” prepping for?"

  1. Manila1 on Mon, 28th May 2018 1:13 pm 

    My grandparents were”preppers” and didn’t know it. They always has a well stocked pantry (garden and canning), alternate heat (coal furnace), water (hand pump on the well), alternate septic (outhouse), financial freedom (zero loans or debt), etc. They always lived below their income and my grandmother never worked after my grandfather returned from WW1.

    I am trying to emulate that lifestyle in the Ps. Preparing for emergencies, loss of commercial support/services, etc., is just common sense. That is why I say that the pain of collapse is going to be so much more acute* in the Us. Spoiled, coddled, American serfs are not prepared for reality.

    *..severe, critical, drastic, dire, dreadful, terrible, awful, grave, bad, serious, desperate, dangerous.

  2. Outcast_Searcher on Mon, 28th May 2018 1:40 pm 

    Staying out of debt is just common sense, if you want financial freedom and a good retirement age.

    Having some water and a little extra food around in case of a utility service outage, etc. makes a lot of sense.

    But if, against all odds, some kind of fast crash “collapse” occurs — what good is having a “go bag” going to do when there are hundreds of millions of people clamoring for food that will feed under ten percent of that?

    I don’t think the doomers are thinking things through, either in terms of how likely the supposed “fast collapse” is, or how to actually deal with it when the zombie hordes show up in response.

    But hey, everyone needs a hobby. If they’d just ADMIT it’s a hobby, that would make far more sense.

  3. onlooker on Mon, 28th May 2018 1:49 pm 

    This gets to the heart of the issues we discuss on this site. I find that while many of us disagree on the timing of disaterous events to come, we largely agree they are coming. This is because this site like similar have correctly identified the unsustainable nature of human civilization and human numbers relative to what nature can and will provide

  4. Cloggie on Mon, 28th May 2018 2:03 pm 

    “What exactly are “preppers” prepping for?”


    Angry, white and American (UK television 2017 documentary):

    Alt-right defends Southern Heritage:

    The Richard Spencer

  5. Cloggie on Mon, 28th May 2018 2:09 pm 

    This month of May will probably the warmest one in recorded history in Holland, since 3 centuries (1706).

    So far only 1889 was warmer.

  6. Cloggie on Mon, 28th May 2018 2:12 pm 


    IMF has adjusted economic growth forecast for Holland for 2018 from 3.2% to 3.1%

  7. jef on Mon, 28th May 2018 2:12 pm 

    Why are preppers prepping?
    Why are record numbers of young people killing themselves…and others?
    Why is inequality increasing everywhere at an exponential rate?
    Why are there more and more refugees in the world?
    Why is about a thousand other things getting worse?

    Why the hell is nobody doing anything about anything other than figuring out how to make more money?

  8. MASTERMIND on Mon, 28th May 2018 2:12 pm 

    Prepping is futile..Without a prosperous society and the rule of law in place..You are dead meat..try being a prepper in a place like Syria..this is why preppers are usually fundamentalist religious people, because they are whack job stupid people.. its basic math..You are going to be outnumbered by a thousand to one by the unprepared..

  9. deadly on Mon, 28th May 2018 2:25 pm 

    You have a bugout bag to survive for a week, maybe less. The time it will take for the collapse to occur is how you prepare. You leave the city that is collapsing all around you and you can’t help it. You just go somewhere for a few days until you hear the fat lady sing.

    I was prepping in the early 80s when Gaddafi was ruling Libya and the terror threat was huge. It was gonna be awful, just terrible. Didn’t happen, but these days, it all looks more precarious.

    980 CE to 1980 CE, a return of the Thousand Year war were the words I was reading.

    I was reading a publication called the Duck Book back then. It was all about collapse and doom back then too. Silver was going to go higher than gold, it did go to fifty dollars and gold climbed to 800 usd. Any day might have meant collapse back then.

    It is always that way. eventually, you just start living and forget about prepping.

    The prepping is over, you have everything in place to survive, come what may.

    What I am doing these days is planting.

    You have to plan for that, not much else until harvest, then you have the plan that succeeds.

    Nothing else really matters anymore and you don’t have to pay attention to the doomers and the gov making life miserable for everybody, so they all start prepping.

    Not a dumb thing to do. Not being prepared is worse.

  10. Manila1 on Mon, 28th May 2018 2:33 pm 

    ” America’s soul is at war with its vaunted way-of-life. … Few are fooled these days by the “land of opportunity” trope when so many young people are lucky to get a part-time gig on the Walmart loading dock along with three nights a week of slinging Seaside Shrimp Trios for the local Red Lobster. … Did you know that since 2009 the National Football League has been under contract with the US military to stage on-field patriotic tributes and warplane flyovers — and how much do these displays cost (taxpayer alert)? … There’s a macabre equivalency between our various overseas war operations and the school shootings that are now a routine feature of American daily life. … It’s hard to think of one facet of American life that’s not insane now.”

    3rd world America…

  11. onlooker on Mon, 28th May 2018 2:39 pm 

    MM, why do you say it is futile?
    Do you think, nobody will survive?
    It seems to me that those totally unprepared will be the ones falling like flies. While a thoroughly prepared person will making provisions for all eventualities and thus giving themselves the best chance of survival. And lone wolf is not what I mean. More like a Resilient – Transition Community

  12. Davy on Mon, 28th May 2018 2:49 pm 

    3rd world, I thought you admired the 3rd world. America has always been part 3rd world where has your head been? Up your ass?

  13. Manila1 on Mon, 28th May 2018 3:09 pm 

    “America has always been part 3rd world” Yep Davy! Now it is 99% 3rd world. I am comparing the Us to Bangladesh, an extreme 3rd world country, not the Ps. I enjoy living in a “3rd world” country like the Ps. Much nicer and less stressful than the Us.

    BTW: Your potty mouth and mind only makes your comments unimportant and immaterial to the discussion.

  14. MASTERMIND on Mon, 28th May 2018 3:36 pm 

    It’s hard to think of one facet of American life that’s not insane now.

    LOL So true..

  15. Davy on Mon, 28th May 2018 3:40 pm 

    3rd world, my state of Missouri has a GDP similar to the P’s with 16 times less population. Get a grip what 3rd world is. BTW, don’t play your stupid games of whining about being called names. If you show respect to others you will not be called names, besides you name call all the time and worse. You advocate death and war you slim bag.

  16. MASTERMIND on Mon, 28th May 2018 3:41 pm 


    The only way you can survive post collapse..Is if you hit the road and forage along the way..If you stay put anywhere the zombies will get you..Based on the logic you can run, but can’t hide..if the nuke plants all meltdown and will likely die from inhaling radiation, no matter where you are.. Personally I think this is an extinction event..

  17. Davy on Mon, 28th May 2018 3:48 pm 

    There are many reasons to prep.

    “Brazil Trucker Strike Worsens As Petrobras Workers Plan Walkout”

    “Brazil’s crippling trucker strike entered its eight day on Monday, affecting virtually all aspects of the country’s economy as vital resources have been unable to reach their destinations.”

    “Now, after deploying the military to physically unblock roads and several last-ditch measures to seek a resolution Sunday night, President Michel Temer has a new problem on his hands; Petrobras workers are about to go on strike starting May 30 – demanding that the company fire CEO Pedro Parente and permanently lower fuel prices. The company said on Friday that they have no plans to remove Parente.”

  18. MASTERMIND on Mon, 28th May 2018 3:56 pm 


    They just ended that stupid strike..And its only been a week long..You can survive that long without food if you have to…Stop spamming with fake news from zerohedge..You make doomers look like imbeciles.

  19. Davy on Mon, 28th May 2018 4:26 pm 

    Where are your sources loud mouth? LMFAO. Mm, you prep for these things stupid. Who cares if he strike is over or not.

  20. Estamos Jodidos on Mon, 28th May 2018 5:08 pm 

    70 miles from the nearest 4 lane highway, nearest town population 125, homestead set in a 7000 foot elevation valley surrounded by 11,000 foot mountains, and we grow and store all of our own food. We have mules and horses for transportation, cows, sheep and goats for meat, milk and cheese, chickens for eggs, and a stream out back for trout, if we’re in the mood. That said, our plan is to share what we have with whoever comes along, unless that doesn’t work and then we have our high points, and good rifles with good scopes. But, we have no illusions about holding out down here forever. The great big elephant in the room, in my opinion, is the very real possibility of crop failure in the midwest, Canada, Russia, and Asia because of climate change and climate instability. I really don’t care if the seas rise 25 feet, or the hurricanes and tornadoes, tear up the coasts and the midwest; we’d be just fine. Crop failure on a massive scale is another story. Grocery stores would empty rather quickly without our “usual” corn and wheat harvests. A lot of folks would be highly ticked off and hungry besides.

  21. ben on Mon, 28th May 2018 5:13 pm 

    interesting article usually I just comment in the peak oil forum section,… guess I’m a “prepper” because I’m taking active steps to learn old school skills like how to grow fruits and vegetables, as well as how to cook healthy meals

    as I see things (in my neck of the woods) there is too much dependence upon just in time delivery to supermarkets of “unhealthy” processed foods,… hence my interest to learn old school skills

    also as I see things, the economic system isn’t built on a sold foundation,… in my home town for example,… seems DISHONEST

    and DUMB

    behavior is the norm WRT managing a pension portfolio,… AND sadly this isn’t an isolated case,… just read a news brief that “some public pensions funds could run dry in downturn”

    so figure being a “prepper” is just old school common sense!

  22. Manila1 on Mon, 28th May 2018 7:06 pm 

    Davy, your Missouri is full of uneducated, narrow minded school dropouts with nothing to brag about. You are a perfect example.

    I show respect for those who deserve it, not a delusional hillbilly or those who live in mom’s basement and pretend to intelligence and maturity. Respect must be earned. And, BTW, I have no need of respect from you. You are nothing to me but entertainment.

  23. LetStupidPeopleDie on Mon, 28th May 2018 7:31 pm 

    The question that preppers don’t seem to ask themselves is : is life worth living. I am 50 yo now and I just finish changing the spark plug and checking the front brakes on my ford Ranger. My back hurts, my arm hurt, my whole body hurt. What is life other the just pain and misery. Genetic entropy is now aging my body and I have only pain to look forward because of genetic entropy. What is life going to be once electricity dispear. What fun is there to be alive when you live in country then looks like Brazil and Venezuela where violence and misery is your daily bread.

    I am starting to think that people that are killing them self with opioids are the bright ones. They know there is no future other then pain, violence and misery. So they bail out right now instead of being bailout by violence.

    The real question that nobody is asking, is life worth living.
    The response is no without abundant energy.

    The planet is so populated now that we have to use farming technics such as fish farms.

    I also believe like MM the we are looking at the total extinciton of the human specie. It happen to dinosaur why not human

  24. MASTERMIND on Mon, 28th May 2018 7:54 pm 


    And the stupid dinosaurs lasted for millions of years..we have only been around a few hundred thousands..

  25. Davy on Mon, 28th May 2018 8:08 pm 

    “Davy, your Missouri is full of uneducated, narrow minded school dropouts.”
    Yea, there are quite a few to be honest but plenty of hardworking types that are good members of the community. It is a mixed bag 3rd world.

    “I show respect for those who deserve it”
    Yea, your groupies that stroke you and flank you from the neutering you deserve.

    “Respect must be earned.”
    Exactly, why do you think I don’t show you any?

    “ And, BTW, I have no need of respect from you. You are nothing to me but entertainment.”
    I think you are full of shit 3rd world. There was a time when you ignored me I guess I got to be too much to take. All those lies being exposed and all.

  26. Wolfie52 on Mon, 28th May 2018 8:12 pm 

    You can find the “preppers” commenting endlessly on this blog, as I often point out.
    Same people, same sh@t. Thinks will NOT work out the way you think they will. Be prepared for things out of the ordinary, but you will NEVER be prepared for EOTW as we know it.

    Get out of mom’s basement and start living LIFE then you won’t need to be on here arguing with Mastermind or Davy or whoever about which EOTW scenario is correct.

    If you don’t start LIVING you are already dying.

  27. MASTERMIND on Mon, 28th May 2018 8:36 pm 


    Philippines warns China of ‘red lines’ in S. China Sea feud – Foreign Secretary

    Jina! is going to kick your shit hole countries ass! LOL

  28. Hawkcreek on Mon, 28th May 2018 8:44 pm 

    It is easy to have a couple of years of “survival” food stored. I’m not talking about the freeze dried Glamping rations, but just the basics that would keep you alive.
    Almost as easy to have a solar powered water pump if you have a well.
    If insurance is easy, and fairly cheap, why not buy it?
    I’ve had all that for years and don’t regret a penny of the money I spent on it.
    I don’t spend any time or money on it now because I don’t have to. It will be good for another 20 years or so.
    Trying to talk other people out of buying insurance is silly.

  29. DMyers on Mon, 28th May 2018 9:59 pm 

    We are vulnerable due to our dependence on modern civilization. When you stop to think that civilization can become toast for a number of reasons, the precariousness of it all might cause one to prepare for the worst.

    The argument that the prepper is doomed by the more prevalent un-prepped has merit. Many preppers, but not all, will probably realize the truth of that prediction.

    I’m not sold on extinction, but I’m certainly not an optimist when it comes to these things. There will be survivors

    Some preppers will survive and some will not. Same is true for the un-prepped. The critical difference is that preppers will emerge from the situation with a better quality of life. I’m sure that counts for something, even in a world of desperate savages.

  30. Dooma on Mon, 28th May 2018 11:50 pm 

    What is better to hoard? antibiotics or bullets. In a world where it may be possible to die from an infected toe.

    Prepping may get you killed as those who have not prepared may not feel like sticking to a gentlemen’s agreement.

  31. baha on Tue, 29th May 2018 6:53 am 

    Sure is nice to have all the bills paid, power flowing freely, healthy home cooked meals, and time to sit around and type on the internet.

    If I had known this is what prepping is all about I would have started sooner 🙂

  32. Davy on Tue, 29th May 2018 7:19 am 

    amen baha

  33. Manila1 on Tue, 29th May 2018 12:23 pm 

    3rd world America:

    “So many people are using opioids in Seattle and the surrounding area that even the mussels in the Puget Sound are testing positive,… Of the 18 locations scientists used, three showed traces of oxycodone. … the fact that mussels are testing positive indicates that the opioid problem in the area is getting worse, not better.”

    Slip slidin’ down the slope to the 3rd world, or worse.

  34. Dredd on Tue, 29th May 2018 1:51 pm 

    The Boy Scout motto should be changed from “be prepared” to “be a prepper upper.”

    That goes with scientific gyrations too (Let’s Not Be Too Dense).

  35. dave thompson on Tue, 29th May 2018 2:32 pm 

    On the surface prepping might make lots of sense. The reality however is rather sad and disjointed. Thinking one would survive for very long with a stash of supplies and a safe place to get away from the zombie hordes is delusional. All of us in modern industrial civ are dependent on a system. Once the system breaks down none of us will long survive. The reasons are many. 440 nukes melting down many.

  36. Manila1 on Tue, 29th May 2018 2:54 pm 

    dave, a real preppier has resources other than just a stash. They have gardens, animals, and the means keep going after the SHTF. Not something you can do at the last minute. It takes years to build up a permaculture lifestyle.

    We started over four years ago, here in the Philippines, and are still not finished. It will be several more years until some of the fruit and nut trees are producing. We just had the hole dug for the spring fed Tilapia pond. It will be another year or so before it produces. Gotta plan well ahead if you want to really prep and be independent, not just a chaos refugee.

  37. Manila1 on Tue, 29th May 2018 3:05 pm 

    Mm, I’m more educated about China and the Philippine current events and activities than you can ever be. You have little idea what the real situation is.

    I have more fear that the Us will start something here than that the Chinese will. I am safer here than you will ever be in the Us. But keep your delusions if they make you happy.

  38. dave thompson on Tue, 29th May 2018 3:07 pm 

    Manila 1, Yes I sound very doomerish, no amount of farming, gardening, animal husbandry, well digging or rooftop water harvesting will save any of us once the nukes are no longer minded. Once the grid goes down, so occurs meltdown X 440 world wide. No one survives for long.

  39. Manila1 on Tue, 29th May 2018 3:48 pm 

    Urban vs Rural. Food for thought:

    “People in rural settings here still lived partly from their land. Yes, they did have modern houses, electricity, hot water, etc. A lot of them lived in villages but worked in cities. But the important thing was that they had a connection with their land and their surroundings.

    A lot of them had chickens, crops, and vegetables. A majority of them were hunters. So, when SHTF yes, they did lose connection with the outside world, electricity, water maybe, and regular transport of goods, but they still had resources around them in huge quantity, and most of them did have knowledge of how to use that resources.

    They had woods around them with animals that they could hunt, rivers and creeks for water sources, and their land. I think when the SHTF they were using maybe 30% of their land for food growing, and of course, they switched very fast to using all of it for growing.
    They had the opportunity to grow everything, including tobacco, and of course, homemade alcohol.

    Life became much harder than in normal times, but compared to urban areas, it was paradise.

    One thing that was important and good there was that they had a much better generational knowledge and preparedness for a hard life. No matter how modern they were, they lived a harder life in normal times than city folks, and getting used to SHTF situation was much easier to them than for city folks.

    Also, their knowledge about natural remedies, home medicines, or simply about delivering babies at their homes was much better and still fresh.”

    Exactly what I have been saying.

  40. Davy on Tue, 29th May 2018 4:05 pm 

    You have been saying it now going on 6 years and you are still not there.

  41. rocco on Wed, 30th May 2018 6:26 pm 

    I joined our volunteer fire department at 40, to help community and any prepping ideas, when I learned about the huge variety of chemical storage tanks, plus our local nuclear power plant being 30 miles away, that when the grid went down a variety of these containers would explode, release large amounts of toxic clouds, so now I just prep for winter storms, and mild month long interruptions, because the big crash will take us all.

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