If there's one thing we all have to come to realize at some point in time, it's that we're all imperfect. I don't care how many years you have prepping or how much time you've spent studying survival, you're not going to get it all right. Mistakes will happen. That's a given; but we don't have to accept those mistakes as the norm.
It has been said that wisdom comes from the lessons we learn through our mistakes. It's also been said that a truly wise man will try to learn from the mistakes of others. If that's the case, we should all be looking around us, all the time, to see who is making mistakes we can learn from.
The reality is, the very act of prepping is filled with mistakes. That's mostly because everything we do is based upon our ideas of what is going to happen, rather than being based upon actual experience. When the experience comes, it comes as the test, not as the teacher. So, while we may learn from it, we have to survive the test first. That's a pretty steep grading curve to have to put up with.
So, we need to do the next best thing and learn from those who have gone before. Unfortunately, there is a lot written about prepping and survival today, which comes from people who are neither preppers or survivalists. What they are is professional writers. They find what others have had to say about it and rewrite it in their own words. Sometimes in this process, they make mistakes that get passed on to their readers.
Well, rest assured; I really do the things I talk about. I'm not just a writer, but a long-time survivalist. In fact, I was a prepper long before the term was even invented. So I guess you could say, I'm one of those who has gone before. In doing so, I've made plenty of mistakes and seen many more. Here are some of the top ones I've encountered.
1. Being a Lone-wolf Survivalist
There are a lot of legends surrounding the Mountain Men of long ago. They seemed to be bigger than life; able to do things that ordinary men couldn't, and able to survive on their own. Much of this legend has been depicted for us in the movie and television show, "The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams," based on a book by Charles Sellier of the same title. Adams, the consummate mountain man, was also a trainer of grizzly bears and other animals. He clearly seemed bigger than life.
But the Grizzly Adams we know is nothing more than a fictitious character, albeit one based on a true person. Even so, the real man wasn't your typical mountain man. Most of them were trappers, who went into the mountains in search of beaver hides. It was a purely a business deal, a way to make money; and the mountain men who survived the rigors of their life did well at it.
Those were tough men; born in a time when the average man was much tougher than today. Yet they stood head and shoulders above the others in the toughness department. Perhaps that's how they could succeed in a vocation which claimed the lives of so many others.
Survival is a dangerous game and if you're going to play it alone, then chances are, you're going to die alone. When you try to survive on your own, there's nobody to help you deal with problems, sickness or injury. You've got to be able to do it all on your own, including being your own doctor. Tell me, are you ready to amputate your own leg, if that's what it's going to take to survive?
There are four very important reasons to build a survival team:
- You don't have to know everything
- There's someone else to help with any task
- If something happens to you, there's someone to nurse you back to health
- In a defensive situation, more people mean more eyes looking for the enemy and more firepower
Unless you can handle all that on your own, maybe it would be best if you didn't try calling yourself Grizzly Adams and trying to make it on your own.
2. Planning on Living Off the Land
This one seems to go hand-in-hand with the first mistake I mentioned. There's a romance in striking out to live off the land. I know, it bit me too, once upon a time. But the reality is that living off the land is extremely difficult. You might be able to do it for a short while, but every day the deck gets stacked higher and higher against you.
The biggest problem is coming up with enough food to eat. Back in the early days of our country, game were much more abundant than today. While there really is no shortage of game in the woods, those animals aren't going to jump out and make it easy for you to hunt them. Just ask any hunter.
Even the mountain men of old didn't live off the land like legend makes them out to. They would take provisions into the wilderness with them. Once a year, they came down from their mountains to sell their furs and bought fresh supplies to get them through the next year. Yes, they hunted and trapped, but they didn't hunt for flour to make their biscuits or dried fruit to give their diet a change.
3. Ignoring OPSEC
This is a difficult one to manage; mostly because it's hard to find the balance between keeping your plans and preps secret and recruiting others to be part of your survival team. I have yet to find a perfect answer for that one, and I've been at this for a lot of years.
The fact of the matter is that you are going to have to tell some people what you're doing, or you're never going to put that team together. Not only that, but the people you're going to recruit are most likely already friends. You're going to want to at least try to convince them to become preppers themselves, because of your friendship and love for them.
But that doesn't mean that you should let anyone else know what you are doing. There's no way that you should let people you don't trust have any idea of what you're up to. Make up stories that you can use, when your neighbors ask why you have a water tank or are putting solar power on your home. Those questions will be coming, so you'd better be ready for them.
Another thing you'd better be ready for is your friends showing up at your door, when the SHTF. Those who don't decide to become preppers themselves are unlikely to forget that you are one. There's a very good chance that they'll remember that when their kids are hungry and they don't have anywhere else to go. What are you going to tell them?
4. Not Learning First-Aid
Probably one of the single most important survival skills to learn is first-aid. Yet most survival teams leave this for their team "medic." I've got nothing against a team medic, but they shouldn't be the only one who can properly splint a fracture or bandage a wound. It might be the medic who gets injured, then what are you going to do?
Learning enough first-aid to keep someone alive isn't really all that hard. A few classes, a little bit of practice, and you're going to be much more valuable to your survival team. The time you spend could save someone's life, maybe even someone that you love.
5. Not Learning What Plants are Edible
This is one of the harder bushcraft skills to acquire and one that most people put off. I've been guilty of that too. Yet, to whatever extent you end up living off the land, you're going to need to eat plants too. Even if you do nothing more than gather some plants from a nearby field to put in your soup, that's going to make your food stockpile last a little bit longer.
Not only do you need to learn this skill, but you need to learn it specifically for the area you are living in. You'll find that there are different edible plants in different parts of the country. Learning what's edible 500 miles away probably isn't going to do you much good.
The hardest part of this is recognizing the plants in their natural habitat. It's one thing to see the plant in a book and be able to recognize it; it's another thing entirely to see it in the midst of the woods or the middle of an open field, and recognize it for what it is. Many times, those pictures in the books show the plant flowering, but that's only a small percentage of the year. Can you recognize it when it's not in flower?
One last detail on this; not all parts of all edible plants are edible. In some cases, only the roots are edible or only the leaves are. In a few rare cases, one part of the plant is edible, while another part is poisonous. Be sure that you understand which parts are edible and what you have to do to make them safe to eat. Otherwise, you're better off leaving them alone.
6. Buying Survival Equipment and Never Training with It
I've seen way too many people take classes for a concealed carry license, who have never shot a gun in their lives. While I'm totally in favor of the idea of getting your concealed carry license; I have to say that the license is only the tip of the iceberg. You've got to practice and practice some more, until you are ready to use that gun correctly, hitting a moving target that's shooting back at you. Otherwise, you're dangerous.
This is just one example of not training with survival equipment which I see every day. There are countless others. It's as if some people think that just having it will magically bestow upon them the ability to survive. But that's far from the truth. The right equipment, used in the wrong way, can cause you harm or even lead to your death.
It's not enough just to familiarize yourself with that equipment either. You've got to become so comfortable with it, that you can do it in your sleep or do it with your eyes closed. In the midst of an emergency, you're not going to have time to think about what to do; let alone the mental clarity to read and follow the instructions. If you aren't an expert at using it, you might as well not have it.
7. Not Stockpiling Enough
The oldest question in prepping has to be, how much is enough? Sadly, there's really no answer to that question. You've got to build your stockpile based on what you think is enough, and then hope and pray that you are right.
One of the very few episodes of Doomsday Preppers I've seen featured a family who has a 10 year stockpile of food. Every day, they cooked six meals; three to eat and three to can. While that seems very inefficient to me, I have to commend them on their tenacity. They may just manage to be the last family in America that's still eating.
But stockpiling enough goes far beyond food. We use a wide variety of products in our day-to-day lives. While video games and such aren't really a necessity, there are a large number of those things which are; you know, the mundane things we buy all the time. They're not exciting, but we need them.
Stockpiling isn't something with a beginning and an end, it just is. You'll always find something else you need or something you need more of. That's okay. The idea is to keep building your stockpile; because the bigger it is, the more security you have for your family. When you reach your target for an item or a category of items, it's time to think about how much to raise your target.
8. Stockpiling the Wrong Types of Food
Somebody, probably somebody who isn't really a prepper, wrote an article where they said something to the effect of, "buy the foods your family likes." Unfortunately, that idea has been copied over and over again. But it's not a good idea. The food your family likes probably isn't nutritious and it probably won't keep long enough to help you through a disaster.
Rather than stockpiling foods that your family likes, you should buy foods that provide the most nutrition and calories, for the least amount of food. Then, you should work on finding recipes which will make those types of food palatable to your family. That way, you'll be giving them something that will keep their bodies going in a survival situation, while still being something that they'll eat.
I'm a big believe in stocking things that will make my family like the flavor of the foods we will have to live on in a survival situation. What kinds of things might those be? Things like:
- Our favorite spices
- Spaghetti sauce (it'll hide the flavor of anything)
- Salt (most of the foods we're used to eating are very salty)
- Beef and chicken bouillon (for making soups)
- Cream of mushroom soup (like spaghetti sauce, it hides flavors well)
- Marinades (even woodchuck tastes good when marinated properly)
- Condiments (kids like anything with ketchup or ranch salad dressing on it)
With these things at my disposal, I can make kids eat eggplant parmesan and actually think it's good. Considering what we may have available to us to eat in a crisis, adding a bit of this stuff makes a whole lot of sense.
9. Trusting Factory Food Packaging
The food we buy in the supermarket definitely isn't packaged with the prepper in mind. Much of it is packaged with the idea that it only needs to last a few months at most. After all, most people only keep enough food in the house to last a few days, so why bother investing in more complicated packaging?
Pretty much all food that preppers buy needs to be repackaged in some way or another. Whether that means putting it in five gallon buckets with oxygen absorbers or using a vacuum sealer on it, somehow we need to eliminate the possibility of that food going bad. Trusting the factory packaging is asking for trouble, and lots of it.
This seems also to be extending to canned food. In a recent check of my family's food stockpile, I encountered a number of cans of fruit that were bad. Apparently these were not canned at a high enough temperature to kill any bacteria in them. So what should have been food that would last for 20 years or more is now nothing more than garbage going to the landfill.
By the way, anything canned in a plastic jar or bottle isn't really canned. Applesauce, condiments and juice, all of which are typically "canned" in plastic, are not safe for the long term. They have not gone through a full canning process, ensuring their safety for long-term storage. Some condiments might still be okay for the long term, simply because of being acidic, but you can't count on it.
The easy solution to the problem of poorly canned foods is to rotate your food stocks. Assuming that you have a year's worth of food in your stockpile, none of that should go bad before you consume it. By eating and replacing it regularly, you ensure that your food will always be fresh.
10. Not Having a Bug-Out Plan
One of the first things on this list was the mistake of trying to live off the land. That could easily lead someone to the conclusion that I'm against bugging out. In actuality, I am; that is, I'm against the idea of bugging out when you don't have someplace to bug out too.
Ideally, we'd all have a cabin in the woods somewhere, which we could prepare to use as our survival retreat. But the reality is that few of us can afford that cabin in the woods, as much as we'd like to have it. So, that obviously can't be part of our bug-out plan. But that doesn't eliminate the need for such a plan. While bugging in is the best plan for most people in most circumstances; you have to have a plan in case you need to abandon your home.
A good bug-out plan includes where you're going to go, how you're going to get there, and how you're going to live once you get there. Oh, and, it's going to have alternates for all of that too. It's also going to require preparation, as you should probably pre-position supplies in or near your survival retreat, wherever that is, so that you'll have food and other necessities when you get there.
11. Staying Put when You Should Leave
While I'm a firm believer that most people are better off bugging in, rather than bugging out, that's not always possible. The people of New Orleans shouldn't have tried to bug in when Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on them. They would have been better off if they had evacuated, just as the government had told them.
There are times when bugging out is the only reasonable solution to a coming disaster or your home becoming untenable. You've got to be constantly evaluating the pros and cons of staying put and sheltering in place compared to leaving. The answer should always fall towards the side which offers you and your family the most safety.
In cases where there is a breakdown of society or where basic resources are unavailable, bugging out is a better option, especially for those living in the inner city. Staying put in such situations can be an invitation to attackers, who are going to assume that you have something which they need.
12. Leaving when You Should Stay Put
On the flip side of that coin, you don't want to leave early, bugging out, if you are well set up for sheltering in place. Your home provides you with shelter, access to your resources, as well as a level of emotional comfort that comes from being in familiar surroundings. Leaving, except in the case of a true emergency, is something that should not be taken lightly.
As I said before, few of us have that cabin in the woods. That means that just about any place you go is going to put your family in more hardship, than staying home. Besides, home is probably where you have your food stockpile, as well as all your survival gear. You need that if you're going to survive; so you shouldn't leave it lightly.
Once again, the equation between leaving and staying depends a lot on your personal circumstances. Those who live in an apartment in the inner city will have a much harder time sheltering in place, than those who live in suburbia. So in reality, those people have a much greater need for a solid bug out plan.
13. Not Running a Test on Your Plans, to See if they Work
Plans are just that, plans. You will never know if they are good plans or bad plans until you try to use them. Waiting until disaster strikes to try them out is never a good plan. You've got to test your plan, doing a dry-run, so that you can find the problems with it and make changes to correct those problems.
Professional planners, who work on contingency plans full-time know the need for testing their plans. That's why police, fire departments and military organizations run drills to test out their emergency response systems. Without those tests, they have no way of fine-tuning their plans to make sure that they will run smoothly when the time comes.
The trick here is to be able to run a test, while maintaining OPSEC. If the Army runs tests of their battle plans openly, other countries can find out how they will react in a given situation. So, the military combines open "training exercises" with simulations. That way, they can keep the overall strategy secret, while allowing the troops to go through the motions of actually engaging the enemy. Both are still valuable training and don't require killing any enemies.
You can adopt the same philosophy in your own testing. Some things, like whether or not you can set up a base camp out in the woods, have to be experienced. But that doesn't mean that you do so in such a way as to give away what you're doing. That can be handled as a camping trip, which simulates the same thing, while giving you an ideal cover story for what you are doing.
That camping trip can start with a loadout of the supplies you're going to take. Since you can't take all your supplies, without making it look suspicious, fill your vehicle or trailer with a bunch of empty boxes to simulate the space those supplies will take. That can be done at a remote location, before starting your loadout for the trip. As long as you keep the volume the same, it will be a fairly realistic test.
14. Poor Choice in Team Members
Developing a good survival team is an important aspect to long-term survival. You have to have a group of people who you can depend on and who are prepared to work together in a time of need. This will allow you to split-up survival chores, with each person taking on a specific area of responsibility. They are expected to be the expert in that area, training others, coordinating efforts and ensuring that the team has everything they need in that area of responsibility to survive.
But I've seen a lot of poorly-contrived teams through the years. There are a few problems that stand out rather obviously, although those teams don't usually see them.
- People with limited skills - I don't know how many teams I've run into where there is a team member whose one skill is something that is a convenience, more than a necessity. Take communications for example. They might have a team member who is their communicator, but that's it. Okay, how much time will that individual actually have to devote to their "specialty?" It seems to me that they need more skills than that.
Some skills are important enough that the experts in those areas should be allowed in, even if they don't have any other skills. Medical is one of those. But medial is a broad enough field, that it takes a lot of time and effort to learn and prepare.
- People with abrasive personalities - First and foremost, a survival team has to be able to get along with one another. That requires a lot of give and take, as well as compromise. If one team member is hard to get along with, it can destroy the whole team. Therefore, the personalities of the members have to be vetted, to ensure that they get along with everyone else.
- People who want to challenge leadership - Any survival team needs solid leadership. But there are always those who will want to challenge that leadership, thinking that they can do better themselves. If a team member doesn't feel they can serve under the team's leadership, they shouldn't be part of the team.
- People who are lazy - Survival is hard physical work. Team members who are unwilling to work will become a drain on the rest of the team. That's not to say that you shouldn't show compassion to those who have health problems, family members with disabilities or the elderly. There are still survival tasks they can do. Just make sure that they are willing to do those tasks.
- People with socio-economic status - This is a tricky one, and one that each team must decide for themselves. Clearly, not everyone in the team will have the same level of income. But if you have some team members who can't afford to stockpile or say they can't afford to, the rest of the team will have to make up for that. In other words, they will be paying for the supplies that these people don't have. In some cases, that will make sense, especially if the people who can't afford those supplies have skills that the rest of the team needs.
The best place to start, in looking for good team members, is with your friends. You'll already know if they are good workers, what their personality is like and what their economic situation is. Skills can be learned. But in order to learn them, the people learning must realize the value of knowing those skills. So, they'll have to be as committed to prepping and survival as you are.
15. Not Being Ready to Scale Up Your Food Production
I've seen way too many books and reports talking about feeding your family from a four foot square vertical garden or similar sized aquaponics setup. While you will be able to feed them something from that small a garden, there's no way you'll be able to feed them enough. To do that, you'll need a much bigger garden.
Few of us have a garden big enough to feed our families from. If you're going to do that, you'll need to turn your entire backyard into a garden. So, you'll need to have the capability of doing just that. In other words, you'll need the equipment to work the ground, materials to make planting beds, soil to fill those beds, and enough seed and fertilizer to get you going. That's a lot of stuff to have on hand.Yet without it, you're limited to the garden you have; which is by no means enough. So think this one through and be sure that you are ready to expand your gardening efforts, when the time comes.