Survivalism is approached by its adherents in different ways, depending on their circumstances, mindsets, and particular concerns for the future. The following are characterizations, although most (if not all) survivalists fit into more than one category:
While survivalists accept the long-term viability of Western civilization, they learn principles and techniques needed for surviving life-threatening situations that can occur at any time and place. They prepare for such calamities that could result in physical harm or requiring immediate attention or defense from threats. These disasters could be biotic or abiotic. Survivalists combat disasters by attempting to prevent and mitigate damage caused by these factors.
Wilderness Survival Emphasis
This group stresses being able to stay alive for indefinite periods in life-threatening wilderness scenarios, including plane crashes, shipwrecks, and being lost in the woods. Concerns are: thirst, hunger, climate, terrain, health, stress, and fear. The rule of 3 is often emphasized as common practice for wilderness survival. The rule states that a human can survive: 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food.
This group focuses on surviving brief encounters of violent activity, including personal protection and its legal ramifications, danger awareness, John Boyd’s cycle (also known as the OODA loop—observe, orient, decide and act), martial arts, self-defense tactics and tools (both lethal and non-lethal). These survivalist tactics are often firearm-oriented, in order to ensure a method of defense against attackers or home invasion.
Natural Disaster, Brief
This group consists of people who live in tornado, hurricane, flood, wildfire, earthquake or heavy snowfall-prone areas and want to be prepared for possible emergencies. They invest in material for fortifying structures and tools for rebuilding and constructing temporary shelters. While assuming the long-term continuity of society, some may have invested in a custom-built shelter, food, water, medicine, and enough supplies to get by until contact with the rest of the world resumes following a natural emergency.
Natural Disaster, Prolonged
This group is concerned with weather cycles of 2–10 years, which have happened historically and can cause crop failures. They might stock several tons of food per family member and have a heavy-duty greenhouse with canned non-hybrid seeds.
Natural Disaster, Indefinite/Multi-Generational
This group considers an end to society as it exists today under possible scenarios including global warming, global cooling, environmental degradation, warming or cooling of gulf stream waters, or a period of severely cold winters caused by a supervolcano, an asteroid strike, or large-scale nuclear proliferation.
This group is concerned with the spread of fatal diseases, biological agents, and nerve gases, including swine flu, E. coli 0157, botulism, dengue fever, Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, SARS, rabies, Hantavirus, anthrax, plague, cholera, HIV, ebola, Marburg virus, Lassa virus, sarin, and VX. In response, they might own NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) full-face respirators, polyethylene coveralls, PVC boots, nitrile gloves, plastic sheeting and duct tape.
Some marketers of survivalism literature and supplies argue that an increase in human population affects available fresh water, food, health-care, environment, economics, consumerism, and spread of diseases. These marketers seek to prompt sales of items that would respond to a Malthusian population crash.
Monetary Disaster Investors
Crowd at New York City American Union Bank during a 1931 bank run early in the Great Depression Monetary disaster investors believe the Federal Reserve system is fundamentally flawed. Newsletters suggest hard assets of gold and silver bullion, coins, and other precious-metal-oriented investments such as mining shares. Survivalists prepare for paper money to become worthless through hyperinflation. As of late 2009 this is a popular scenario. Many will stockpile bullion in preparation for a market crash that would destroy the value of global currencies.
These individuals study End Times prophecy and believe that one of various scenarios might occur in their lifetime. While some Christians (and even people of other religions) believe that the Rapture will follow a period of Tribulation, others believe that the Rapture is imminent and will precede the Tribulation (“Pre-Trib Rapture “). There is a wide range of beliefs and attitudes in this group. They run the gamut from pacifist to armed camp, and from having no food stockpiles (leaving their sustenance up to God’s providence) to storing decades’ worth of food.
Although there is a general public policy debate over whether the world’s supply of oil reserves has peaked and the need for alternative fuels, this group believes that peak oil is a near term threat to Western civilization, and take appropriate measures, usually involving relocation to an agriculturally self-sufficient survival retreat.
Followers of James Wesley Rawles often prepare for multiple scenarios with fortified and well-equipped rural survival retreats. This group anticipates a near-term crisis and seek to be well-armed as well as ready to dispense charity in the event of a disaster. Most take a “deep larder” approach and store food to last years, and a central tenet is geographic seclusion in the northern US intermountain region. They emphasize practical self-sufficiency and homesteading skills.
This group has a complete medical pack in house and car and donates blood and is active in the Red Cross. They are concerned with vehicle accidents and emergencies involving injuries. Their focus is on helping family, friends, and community survive medical emergencies.
This group has a primary concern with maintaining some form of legal system and social cohesion after a breakdown in the technical infrastructure of society. They are interested in works like The Postman by David Brin, Lewis Dartnell’s The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch, or Marcus B. Hatfield’s The American Common Law: The Customary Law of the American Nation.