Survivalists and preppers have a lot of great ideas. While others are ignoring possible signs that our world might be on the brink of significant change, there is a growing community of people who are determined to survive whatever happens.
Unfortunately, some of these great ideas are just that — ideas. It is easy to become so enthusiastic about preparedness that crucial steps get skipped.
If I could give one sentence of advice to those new to the preparedness community, it would be this: TRY IT NOW.
That seems like a simple enough tenet, but it often gets overlooked — and it becomes a huge mistake. Preppers talk about plans for living in the forest, cooking food on an open fire, shooting animals for meat, growing their own vegetables, getting by without power or running water, and walking 30 miles to a bug-out location carrying sixty pounds of supplies.Those things are all absolutely possible. Most of them are good ideas in the right circumstances, and many of them are activities which have been done since the dawn of humanity. However, it is valuable to bear in mind that successful execution of these theories requires some practice.
Cooking over an open fire, hunting for meat, and walking 30 miles in a day were part of the daily routine for many of our ancestors, and it is tempting to assure ourselves that if they could do it, we can, too. And indeed we can. But they lived very different lives than we do. To a society accustomed to motorized transportation, fully equipped kitchens, readily available groceries, and flush toilets, the things our predecessors did might be challenging for us.
If your preparedness plan includes relocating to a remote forest, consider this question: Have you and your family ever spent any real time in the forest? I’m not talking about an afternoon stroll in the city park, wearing pearly white sneakers and carrying a bottle of Evian and posting regular Facebook statuses as you go. I don’t even mean a two-mile hike into the foothills of a national forest for an overnight at a bed-and-breakfast hostel.
I mean the down-and-dirty forest, with not a single cushy bunk in sight, no Wi-Fi, not even an outhouse. A forest where the only beaten path was made by four-legged creatures, and the only sounds are the raucous calls of crows and the rustle of leaves. And the only food available is what you carried in yourself and can cook on a portable stove.
If it still sounds easy, spend a week there. You might love it even if it’s your first such experience, but you will very likely want to tweak your survival plan afterwards.
Many post-disaster plans include at least some components of homesteading. Raising vegetables and keeping livestock for meat, dairy and eggs are the most common directions people intend to go, and with good reason. Growing your own food is the best possible way to feed your family long term.
But again, consider the question. Have you tried it? Have you actually grown food and eaten it? Not just a little window box full of lettuce, but a real, full-sized garden with a wide variety of crops that will truly keep your family out of the grocery store produce aisle for the whole season?
Many people garden for a hobby, but I recommend trying to garden like your life depends on it. If it ever happens that your life does depend on what food you can grow for yourself, you will be glad you worked out the kinks in that plan ahead of time.
Try eating primarily what you have grown and raised and harvested and preserved yourself for a season, or even a year, and see how you do. Like many homesteading practices, it is likely to be a rewarding endeavor, but there will be challenges you did not anticipate.
Shooting animals for meat and processing the carcass looks easy enough on YouTube videos, but it is not something you will want to put off actually trying until it is the only thing between you and starvation. There will be that inevitable moment when you encounter something that wasn’t in the how-tos, or the overwhelming emotion or yuck factor that you didn’t see coming.
If you Google specific homesteading skills, you are likely to find plenty of people waxing nostalgic about how their grandparents  used to do it, but there might not be a lot of people actually doing it now. Nostalgia is nice, but actual experience will serve you better if you ever need to do those kinds of things.
Plenty of people think of their physical abilities in nostalgic terms, too. They might have been a track star in high school or bagged mountain peaks in their youth, but that was a couple of decades ago. Today’s reality might include a lot more pounds of body weight and a lot less stamina. This is one area in which nobody can rest on his or her laurels. If you think you are going to walk a long distance carrying heavy loads, set down the TV remote and strap on your hiking boots now.
Another important thing to try now is deprivation. How will you and your family actually cope in a scenario devoid of social media, hot showers, television and a comfortable couch? If your spouse and children have never spent a day without modern amenities, their performance could be compromised in the event of an emergency. Instead of focusing on the tasks at hand, they might be anxious and distracted in a world without comforts.
I am not suggesting you sell your house, quit your job, and go live in the woods today. Many people do so without regrets, but that lifestyle is not for everyone.The good news: You don’t have to. You can take up gardening anywhere — even if you live in a city apartment, you can seek a community growing space. If you can’t keep livestock, then volunteer on a farm near your home. If you don’t know anything about hunting, then hire a guide to take you. Try charcuterie with someone who’s done it. Spend time doing things outside in all kinds of weather.
How about a weekend without electronics? Turn off the phone, the television, and the computer. Maybe even take it a step further and go without modern conveniences completely.
If you want to experience life outdoors and without amenities, try it. You can start off small by pitching a tent in the backyard, and gradually move up to a weekend in the backcountry in a homemade shelter.
And by all means, get fit. There is no post-apocalyptic scenario in which couch potatoes will be better off than active people. Unhealthy people who plan human-powered travel will certainly suffer when that happens.
In these uncertain times, it is good to prepare for harder days ahead, and good to have a handful of excellent ideas that will keep you alive and safe during a man-made or natural disaster. But don’t stop at ideas. Try it now.
Do you agree or disagree? What advice would you add? Share your thoughts in the section below: