If you watch apocalyptic movies or TV shows, there are three kinds of people after the zombies show up or a giant angry space rock smashes into North America:
- Unprepared people who get nom-nom-nommed by the zombies in the first sixteen hours;
- Heroes who are nimble nomads, wandering the wasteland as they grow a scruffy beard, reluctantly help the helpless and say a grand total of five lines of dialogue; and
- Lone Wolfs who built backyard bunkers packed to the gills with MRE’s and AK-47’s.
It feels comforting to think you can hop out the back door and duck into a safe, secure bunker. Yet there’s a crazy amount of trouble with this Lone Wolf in a Bunker theory of survival, and a completely separate crazy amount of reasons why Nimble Nomad with Friends is a better option.
Fatal flaws lurking inside the concept of Lone Wolf in a Bunker
The price tag. Entire reality shows are dedicated to companies that build giant, custom-made bunkers which cost as much as a house. These bunkers have living rooms with televisions and couches, full bathrooms, kitchens, generators to provide electricity and enough fresh water and food to last six months.
Most people don’t have a spare $100,000 to $300,000 to spend on something like this. Even if you go cheap and snag a free shipping container, then spend every weekend welding and fixing it up, any true bunker will take a real investment.
We’re aiming for cheap here, in both time and money, and a bunker is neither.
When things go radically wrong, you may be nowhere near the bunker. Most people spend their waking hours driving to the job, doing the job, or driving home from that job. If you’re a working mom or dad like me, you also have soccer games and All the Things.
Also, many people travel for work, or even hop on aeroplanes to take these things called vacations. I have heard of them.
Bottom line, you can’t predict what sort of natural disaster or apocalypse will strike, and you can’t predict when it will happen.
So even if you build the perfect bunker for cheap, there’s just a good chance you’ll be 40 miles away, compiling TPM reports. Think the traffic is bad when you’re driving to work? Wait until the zombies get started or the giant asteroid hits. Hope your neighbors enjoy all those MRE’s you carefully collected.
Six months is not enough. Say you have the money to spend on a fully equipped and stocked bunker with six months of food, water and fuel for your generator. Assume that nobody finds you bunker for six entire months and you don’t need to venture out for fresh food, water, medicine or supplies. Great. When those six months are done, so are you. Because you are fresh out of fuel, water and munchies. Which means you have to head outside of that comfy bunker to the cold, cruel, nasty world, and that’s a tough adjustment after lounging around in watching John Wick on a 84″ television.
Your secret bunker is not so secret. Say you have the cash and time to build a backyard bunker. Say you’re sleeping at home when things go south. Bam, you hustle right into that bunker, close the hatch and everything’s good, right?
The neighbors and everyone else in town are now wandering the streets, and you can bet that (a) 99.9 percent of them did not built a backyard bunker and (b) they all remember Jimmy, the dude up the street who’s into Mad Max movies and actually brought a backhoe to dig up his backyard and install a bunker full of food and guns. Except you’re Jimmy, and they know exactly where you live.
You can’t Rambo your way out of this. When your neighbors do knock on your hatch, or the six months of food and water run out, sure, it completely makes sense to have weapons for self-defense and hunting. Absolutely.
Yet the Lone Wolf theory runs into trouble once you’re up against the hungry masses. Even if you have the best gear and guns in the world, and the training to go with them, you can’t hold out against persistent numbers. You will run out of ammo—and even Rambo has to sleep sometime. The hungry masses will win.
Advantages of a Nimble Nomad with Friends
Food, water and supplies. There is this thing called Seasons, with all the birds and animals migrating north and south to chase the sun and the food when the weather turns and frozen water falls from the sky.
For bazillions of years, our ancestors were nomads who migrated along with the sun and the best food sources. They only took what they could carry. That’s our model.
Read the brilliant GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL by Jared Diamond, who explains how permanent villages and civilizations didn’t really happen until people domesticated plants and animals. Making a permanent civilization, though, requires a lot of people who specialize in different things.
A more practical strategy is copying what worked for our nomadic ancestors for eons: migrate in search of the easiest food, water and supplies. Because winter will be a killer. Let’s avoid that if possible.
What this truly means: A big part of our fitness regimen has to be (a) hiking far, (b) through all sort of terrain, while (c) carrying all that we own.
In sickness and in health. You won’t suddenly become immune to disease after the zombies or aliens show up.
A cold or flu is guaranteed, and instead of taking a few days off work, a Lone Wolf will have to take a few days off, which could easily be fatal unless you have a friend or three to nurse you back to health.
The same thing is true of getting injured, whether it’s while hunting, fighting or simply foraging. There’s an old saying: “The loser of a knife fight dies in the street. The winner dies in the hospital.” It’ll be ten times worse in whatever flavor of apocalypse you favor, because without doctors and modern medicine, a simple scratch or cut could lead to a nasty infection or gangrene.
Same thing with spraining your ankle or breaking a bone: no big deal today, but fatal if you’re a Lone Wolf.
What this truly means: Unless you have the healing factor of Wolverine, you’ll need friends.
Teamwork makes the dream work. Even if you buy into the notion that training and firepower is all that matters, six average people with a motley collection of weapons will beat the next coming of Bruce Lee, mostly because only in the movies to people circle a hero and wait their turn to fight him one-on-one. No. We will shoot such a man from far away with a crossbow, stab him from semi-far away with a spear and, if he’s still sort-of moving, let the wolves chew on the body until we decide he’s truly dead and move on.
It’s a myth that training turns you into an invincible fighting machine who can’t miss whenever you pull the trigger. Another myth: tons of talent and training lets you take on armies of people with guns and knives with your bare fists. Also, you should never, never stroll away from an explosion. Dive behind something, genius. Take cover.
Having friends also makes it easier to hunt as a pack, create shelters and tools as a group and divide up the labor. A Lone Wolf has to sleep sometime, which means he’s super vulnerable eight hours a day, every day. A group of Nimble Nomads can always have somebody on watch while you rest up. That’s invaluable.
Friends also matter when it comes to skills and gear. One person can’t possibly train in every valuable skill and carry all the useful items on the planet. No backpack is that big. For every friend you add, that’s a person with special skills you don’t need to have and special equipment you don’t need to carry, like bolt cutters. And wouldn’t it be great if you had one person who was a nurse or doctor, one person who knew how to hunt and fish, then another person who was a wizard when it came to patching up clothes and hiking boots?
What this truly means: Figure out what friends and family you’d want to take along. Plan as a group, which could mean something as simple as taking group hikes, then long hikes with backpacks. Then a long hike with backpacks ending with a camping trip.
Minimum prep for maximum results
This series is mostly a fun thought exercise, but it’s also a smart alternative for everyday people.
How can you get max results with minimum effort and money, even if the worst happened?
Our role model here is Bear Grylls, who parachutes into insanely tough environments with only the clothes on his back and a knife. He crosses rough terrain, makes shelter anywhere and lives off the land.
Bear doesn’t have giant muscles or fancy gear. All he carries is that knife, which doesn’t look fancy or magical at all.
Instead, he has practical fitness and skills. While he’s in good shape, he brings random celebrities onto a new show, people who aren’t in great shape and know nothing about survival. But they make it.
The finest piece of gear Bear owns is something that can never be lost or stolen. Because it’s between his ears.
Here’s the best part is this style of preparation: it’s cheap, fast and works for people of all ages.
Plus you can teach others how to do it, and turn a band of random people into a skilled pack of stealthy rangers, though we are talking about unpowered rangers. No neon suits or robot dinosaurs.
The Laws of Survival
There are three legs to your rugged and primitive Survival Stool, which is made out of knotty pine and not sanded down one bit.
Those three legs are Fitness, Skills and Gear.
So what are our goals for each leg?
Leg # 1: Fitness
You don’t need giant gym muscles or 4 percent body fat. What you need is basic, practical fitness to climb walls, carry food or supplies, hike for miles and sprint short distances.
Whatever ideas show up here can’t only apply to 26-year-olds who used to be Navy Seals.
These tips need to apply to all ages, all genders and all fitness levels.
And the exercises here can’t (a) require any equipment, (b) take hours and hours or (c) be intricate or complicated.
They need to be sustainable, the kind of stuff you can do in the middle of a forest or in a tiny prison cell with alien zombie guards right outside.
Leg # 2: Skills
Skills apply whether you have a backpack of gear, an entire Home Depot to loot or nothing but the clothes on your back.
Primary skills include (a) making fire from scratch a dozen different ways, (b) building a shelter whether you’re in icy mountains, the desert or the woods, (c) hunting, gathering and scavenging, (d) hiding and camouflage, plus (e) parkour and evasion.
Secondary skills are (f) fighting only when you have to and (e) patching up other humans and your gear. Why secondary? Because camo, parkour and evasion are a much better option than turning every encounter into a death match. You’ll want to avoid fights whenever possible.
Say you win 7 out of 10 fights, by luck or skill. Each battle will deplete your ammo, damage your weapons and expose you to injuries. Even if you win a fight with only have a few minor injuries, what seems minor today—broken bones, scratches and cuts—could turn fatal if you get infected, or if the wound makes it so you’re limping around intead of scampering and running.
The goal here is to thrive in any environment without anyone knowing you were there.
Leg # 3: Gear
Here’s where we give birth to The One Backpack Rule.
It’s easy to go overboard with gear, to start gathering supplies and wind up with a garage full of tents, sleeping bags, generators, flashlights, food, water, ammo and extra wool socks, because who thinks they can wear the same pair of stinky wool socks for years and years?
This is the thing: you can’t count on staying in the same spot for months or years. There’s no such thing as an impregnable fortress, a happy home for hundreds of pounds of gear, which also happens to be full of the food and supplies you’ll need forever.
You’ll have to go out there and fish, hunt, find blackberries and scrounge for supplies. And no matter how well you plan, cars and trucks will run out of fuel and break down.
You’ll be hoofing it. A lot.
The One Backpack Rule says the only gear you can gather is what fits in a backpack. That backpack can’t be overstuffed. It has to be light enough that you can hike with it, maybe for 20 hours straight, day after day.
It means this solitary backpack can’t be so heavy that you’re so overburdened that nobody has to fight you to the death to steal your supplies, because they just need to tip you over and grab what they want as you flail on the ground like a turtle who’s been flipped upside down.
The One Backpack can’t weigh you down. The lighter, the better.
And while you might start out with good, modern gear, eventually that stuff will wear out. Then you’ll have to switch to scavenged gear.
When scavenged gear gets hard to find, the last stage will be living off the land.
And that will take the most practice and skill of all.
Next week: Chapter 3—All the Ways of Getting Around