Before we can really talk about where we stand today, we need to first take a brief jaunt through the last few decades.
Back when I first became interested in disaster planning, no one had ever heard of the term prepper. Like YouTube, MP3 players, and deep-fried Snickers bars, it just didn’t exist. In those days, harkening way back to the early 1980s, you had survivalists. These were people, predominantly men, who for various and sundry reasons thought it prudent to invest money and energy into amassing large quantities of firearms and ammunition as well as building some sort of survival retreat. In the movies and in all sorts of novels, those retreats were often carved into mountains or sometimes hundreds of feet below ground level.
While there certainly were, and still are, retreats like that today, the vast majority of survivalists didn’t have the means to build such elaborate shelters. Instead, they relied on smaller bunkers built in basements or they acquired land out in the middle of nowhere where they planned to hunker down if the excrement hit the rotary air movement device.
By and large, these survivalists were the butt of many jokes among the mainstream population. They were seen as paranoid whack jobs who didn’t have the sense God gave a turnip. And truth be told, that was an apt description for more than a few of them.
Flash forward a couple of decades and a new breed of survivalist began to arise. A warmer, gentler survivalist. One more concerned about power outages and natural disasters than nuclear holocaust or martial law. One for whom firearms were first and foremost intended for hunting and home defense rather than for engaging in running gun battles with bands of mutant zombie bikers. While I’ve seen a few different claims of origination, the fact is the term prepper came to refer to a more politically correct version of the traditional survivalist.
As time went on, the mainstream media took the term prepper and sort of twisted it around a bit. Shows like Doomsday Preppers didn’t help, either. Within a relatively short period of time, prepper became synonymous with survivalist, at least as far as the media was concerned. At the same time, though, FEMA and other agencies went all in with promoting disaster readiness. Even the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) got into the act, using a fictional zombie apocalypse as a way to get people interested in disaster planning.
The end result is sort of a Catch-22. We have the media and Hollywood telling us that only the weirdos and nutjobs get involved with prepping. At the same time, various and sundry official agencies are encouraging the average citizen to put together emergency kits and set aside supplies, just in case.
This leads to an interesting dichotomy. Lots of people are preppers but many are reluctant to admit it. Various sources estimate there are 3-4 million people in America who will ‘fess up to being preppers. No doubt there are countless others who actively prepare for disasters, to one degree or another, but don’t think of themselves as falling under the whack job umbrella.
So, with all of that said, who are today’s preppers? They are an incredible cross-section of the population. In our ranks we have doctors, attorneys, nurses, construction workers, engineers, scientists, cashiers, students, teachers, waiters, waitresses, hostesses, athletes, celebrities, accountants, stay at home moms and dads, and more. Preppers are everywhere, in all walks of life and throughout each socio-economic strata. Like we see on board game boxes, prepping is “suitable for ages 9 to 99.” I’ve met preppers who aren’t old enough to vote and preppers who are old enough to remember when automobiles were but a novelty.
We have gun nuts and primitive bow hunters. Bushcrafters and weekend campers. Urban office workers and rural farmers. And literally everything in between.
Prepping isn’t about a return to the “old ways” and a longing for burlap. Rather, it is a true melding of the old and the new. We embrace traditional values and skill sets, for the most part, but we’re not afraid to put a modern spin on them, too. Most preppers I know want to learn traditional skills like home canning but are intimidated by stereotypes. They’re afraid that if their friends find out, they’ll be sizing them up for a homemade gingham dress.
As survival instructors and educators, a big part of our job is to assure our students that the knowledge they seek isn’t anything shameful or embarrassing. Showing them that preppers come in all stripes, from all backgrounds and lifestyles goes a long way.