The Difference Between A Survivalist and a Prepper

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People often throw around the term’s prepper and survivalist interchangeably, and that is quite inaccurate. I will admit that the goal of both a survivalist and a prepper is ultimately the same. The way they approach that goal is what differs considerably. If you want to know what category you fall into, then it’s your lucky day; because I’m here to help with that. 

The goal of both survivalists and preppers is to make it through a socio-economic collapse of society. A survivalist hones his or her base survival skills to be ready for such an event. While a prepper stocks up on resources to survive an event like that.

Being in this lifestyle means taking your fate into your own hands. Whether you are a prepper or a survivalist, it is very important to know the objectives each of the types focus on. You need to know the perks and drawbacks of either side too. Stay with me; as I explain everything about the prepper vs. survivalist lifestyles; and which of them is ultimately better. 

Objectives of Survivalists and Preppers

On a base level, preppers and survivalists are very similar. They also share a common goal, which is to survive. It could be a large-scale collapse of our economic and social system. It could be a natural disaster with a prolonged effect, or it could be an unfortunate situation where someone is stranded. All of this is a part of the survivalism movement.

Survivalists: As you can already guess, the name of the game is survival. And survivalists are extremely good at it. Experienced survivalists are skilled people, and the novices of the art are skill learning the literal ropes. 

Survivalists have a simple yet effective method. They train themselves in the art of survival. They know how to forage, how to hunt, and how to provide for themselves. They do not need the help of the system to gather their resources.

They hone their skills to the point that they are confident in their ability to stay alive and thrive during an apocalyptic scenario. Survivalists are so sure of their skills that they believe they can find and maintain resources should the need arise. Based on this fact, you could say that a survivalist has a minimalist personality.

Preppers: Preppers approach the eventual apocalyptic scenario very differently than a survivalist. Preppers are all about preparing for a disaster. The thing about preppers is that they will kill squirreling away resources over a large amount of time. They have a cleanly defined advantage over survivalists in their superior resource management.

When I say resource, I do not mean financial ones. The very idea of survivalism is based on the prediction that the economy would face a systematic collapse or otherwise be unavailable. Therefore, it would make very little sense to hoard something like money. 

In a sense, preppers are hoarders. They will gather a lot of resources from a functional society, at least enough to survive a long-term system breakdown. There are different types of preppers based on the level of resources they have managed to stockpile.

  • Casuals: There are casual preppers who have a small number of resources stashed away for emergencies. It’s basic things that a human would need for physical consumption such as canned food and everyday essentials. 

But many newbie preppers like to believe they do not have enough finance for gathering enough materials. Casuals are also usually less knowledgeable about the basics of survival. They only think that they have to hoard as much stuff as possible, without considering what they might really need.

  • Serious Preppers: Then there are serious preppers who managed to secure an emergency shelter. Most of them have enough resources to survive in the said shelter should an apocalyptic scenario were to occur. 

Their resources include food, daily necessities, medicines, and other basic things that a person needs to survive in the modern world.

  • Hardcore Preppers: Since I mentioned casual and serious preppers that implies the possibility of there being hardcore competitive preppers. There are several preppers out there who try to prepare for every possible kind of apocalyptic scenario.

These sorts of preppers usually have a very secure emergency shelter. Sometimes they tend to ditch the system entirely and live off-grid. They may even start their farm or homestead to be self-reliant. 

No matter what kind of prepper you are, the key to survival for this particular lifestyle is to always have enough resources for anything. What that mostly means is having a larger than average stockpile of non-perishables in a secure location.

Whatever their methods may be, both survivalists and preppers have the same thing in mind, and that is to survive any adverse situation safely. If you have a family, you can divide the tasks between each member, and have an easier time enduring a catastrophe.

Survivalist VS Prepper: How Do They Differ?

As I said earlier, survivalists and preppers want the same thing. But the way they try to get it is fundamentally different. Both methods have their merits and demerits, and they can even have far-reaching effects on society. 

One of the first and prominent differences between a prepper and a survivalist is flexibility. Survivalists are a lot more flexible than preppers because preppers rely on their stockpile for survival. If the stockpile is compromised or otherwise outside of the prepper’s reach, he basically cannot rely on anything else for surviving.

In a sense, preppers are shackled to their stockpile, while the survivalists are more versatile as they can find resources anywhere.

Survivalists are minimalists, but that does not mean they will go headfirst into a storm with only a pair of trousers on. Similarly, preppers may be hoarders, but that does not mean they can’t do anything when their stockpile of resource runs out. Both of the types have their sweet spots.

A survivalist differs from a prepper in terms of proper survival skills. They have superior skills in gathering resources from the wild. They know how to find food and shelter in an unexpected situation. They often have better combat skills. 

A prepper may gather a lot of material and non-perishable resources during a favorable situation. They do it while the system is still in effect, and they can get easy access to a lot of things in exchange for money. They usually do not have the necessary skills to find basic food and shelter outside of their comfort zone, in an unpredictable environment. 

A survivalist is often capable of using and making their hunting weapons from scratch. They may know how to use a gun or shoot a bow. But without ammo, a gun is virtually useless. Unless they stash away a lot of ammo, they cannot use it long term. So they usually learn to use other, more sustainable weapons for self-defense. 

Preppers may be a poor-shot with a bow or not that good at using a knife or a machete. But they almost always have a decent gun with them. And since they are hoarders, they also have enough ammo to last a considerable amount of time, bypassing the need to learn and use other weapons entirely.

A survivalist knows what they need to survive in certain situations. And they trust in their ability to find those things when the need arises. On the other hand, a prepper only knows what sort of things he or she will need to survive in certain situations, they do not think they can acquire all the resources when the time comes, so they start stockpiling for them predicting a disaster.

Drawbacks of Being A Pure Survivalist

Survivalists usually have superior hunting and foraging skills. They know how to get out of unfavorable situations. They can find shelter and food in a hostile environment. But being a purist in anything has to have drawbacks. That is also the case with survivalists. 

You could categorize it as overconfidence. They trained very hard to hone their skills. That is why they are confident that they do not need to hoard resources beforehand, which is understandable to some extent. Because with their skill they can usually find the necessary things to get through a tough situation.

They can, however, fall victim to unexpected situations. If they don’t have enough resources gathered yet, an unexpected injury or sickness can leave them crippled. That will pretty much lower their chances of survival close to zero.

Just think about it, no matter how skilled you are. If you need to fend for yourself in the wild, your survival depends on your health. If you fall sick gathering resources becomes a challenging thing to do, if you did not stock up on enough food and medicine beforehand.

Thankfully, most survivalists know how to avoid that sort of situation. And it is probably one of the first basics you’ll learn if you are thinking of walking this path.

Being a survivalist is much better if you want to survive short-term disasters. That also means accidents and being stranded in an isolated area. 

If you have a habit of traveling too much, it is probably better for you to be a survivalist than a prepper. Preppers are grounded to their property, and they can be quite helpless when stranded too far from their property. 

Being a survivalist is also cost-efficient. You don’t need to stock up by spending a considerable amount of money for a predicted disaster that might not even happen. You can instead survive much cheaper on a short-term basis. If the disaster starts to last long, you will eventually need to find long-term shelter. Hopefully, by that time, you will have gathered enough materials for it.

Drawbacks of Being a Pure Prepper

I think the only major drawback a prepper has is their inability to easily relocate. Most preppers are very thorough in their preparation. They make a secure shelter; they stock on a lot of clean drinking water. They keep all sorts of non-perishable goods, dried food, and other necessities in their designated shelter. 

This overaccumulation means if the shelter is compromised, then a prepper becomes helpless because they do not have the fine-tuned survival skills of a survivalist. They can’t forage and survive off of nature. That’s the whole reason they became preppers in the first place.

Most preppers don’t just stop at gathering drinking water. They would often have a full-scale rainwater catcher and a very sustainable homestead. If a socio-economic collapse happened, most preppers would be the first ones that people target. People would do that because of the prepper’s resources.

They usually compensate for that by carrying firearms, but guns are only as useful as their wielder. Preppers have a ton of resources. That’s why they need to invest a dedicated amount of resources for protecting their other resources.

This is especially true in the case of people who don’t have additional survival skills. They might need to invest in a few guard dogs to protect their property. That comes with the additional cost of pet food. They would need to put up fences around their property to keep most of the annoying intruders out.

Some dedicated preppers even need to find their off-grid electricity source. As you can guess from all of this, a perfectly stocked up prepper needs to spend a lot of money. Most of these resources are not cheap, and you would need to invest a considerable amount of your paychecks to get started. I guess you could count this as a drawback.

That said, being a prepper is probably the better option over a pure survivalist in terms of long-term accommodation. If your property is large enough and you know the basic cultivating skills, you can easily sustain off the land for a considerable amount of time. And finding materials for an off-grid sustainable property is probably important now more than ever.

But if you like city life, being a prepper may be more detrimental than helpful because most of the prepper style is based on the long-term disaster. For small and short-term disasters, being a prepper may be more financially draining and troublesome than it’s worth.

Should You Do Both? 

Now that you know what a prepper and a survivalist is, you must be wondering which one of them is the best choice overall. The answer to that is none. 

A pure prepper is crippled if he loses his resources; that has a high possibility of happening during extended economic unrest. On the other hand, a pure survivalist has the necessary skills to fend for himself, but it depends heavily on his health and body. If either of those gets compromised, his survival becomes a guessing game.

The best thing to do would be to learn both ways. Survivalists have amazing survival skills, while preppers have amazing resources for survival. If you pair these two together, you would be the safest person on the planet. 

The survivalist and prepper mentality may be different, but they complement each other perfectly. This synergy is so good that nowadays, there are very few pure survivalists or pure preppers left. The benefit of having survival skills, along with a sufficient number of resources, is the best thing you can do to ensure your survival. 

That also makes it so that you don’t have to learn all the survival skills to the maximum extent. You can compensate for a slight lack of skills with superior resource manipulation. Likewise, if you do not have the funds to stock up for a long time, you can compensate for that by having more survival skills.

If people start to dabble into both skills and resources simultaneously, it also becomes less strenuous for the existing economy. If too many people started hoarding resources, that in itself could be the cause of an economic collapse. That’s also why most preppers prefer to be secretive about their activities and their location.

I think that’s the wrong thing to do. Having more people aware of these activities and having a connection of people you can trust is the best way to ensure everyone survives. We are sociable animals. A solitary lifestyle does not suit us very well. So having friends around when shit hits the fan is the best way to increase your chances of survival.


When it comes to Prepper vs. survivalist, they are just different methods for reaching a common goal. As such, I don’t think preferring one over the other is a good thing. In a way, it is good that people change the terms interchangeably because that way, they can learn from both methods and develop a better strategy for surviving a disaster. 

Whichever path you choose, you should always cover the basic objectives and prepare for any unexpected situations. It is also a good idea to have your friends with you. That way you can divide certain roles among yourselves. It makes the whole thing a lot easier.


Shanna is the 2nd half of Top Outdoor Survival. Like Forest, she has a passion for guns and knives. They love to go on a survival trip at least once a year. They love to go camping, hiking, and traveling.

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