Yes, the world is clearly coming to an end. But is there anything you can do to prepare?
That is not a philosophical question, or a theological one. And if it is a question that seems to beg any explication, you may stop reading now.
But if you are among the swelling class of weekend paranoiacs of affluent means who are starting to mull fantasies of urban escape following the endless headlines about disasters, both natural and manufactured, you may be starting to see a different image in your mind when think “survivalist.” You may no longer see the wild-eyed cave dweller in camouflage fatigues, hoarding canned goods. You may even see one in the mirror.
In a world where the bombproof bunker has replaced the Tesla as the hot status symbol for young Silicon Valley plutocrats, everyone, it seems, is a “prepper,” even if the “prep” in question just means he is stashing a well-stocked “bug-out bag” alongside his Louis Vuitton luggage in a Range Rover pointed toward Litchfield County, Conn. Here is a checklist for the neo-survivalist preparing for the apocalypse.
1. Satchels for Survival
The power grid has collapsed. Supermarkets are looted. With the city teetering on the brink of collapse, the first thing you want to reach for — after the Xanax — is a well-stocked “bug out” bag.
These suddenly chic survival satchels, also known as go bags, are typically lightweight military-grade backpacks stocked with provisions for at least 72 hours. Ready-made bug-out bags containing staples like water purification tablets, a 20-hour body warmer and a multifunction shovel are available on Amazon for under than $200.
Hard-core preppers, however, would never leave their survival up to a mouse click, which is why some sites suggest endless creative tweaks to the standard equipment. Graywolf Survival recommends a chain-saw blade stashed in an Altoids tin to harvest firewood. Survival Life touts feminine hygiene products, even for men, to soak up blood from wounds.
“As long as the gear gets the job done, that’s what matters,” said Andrew Pontius, a marketing consultant and disaster preparedness instructor in Kansas City, Mo., who helps run a site called Bug Out Bag Academy.
2. Go for the Silver
Two years ago, Greece was forced to shutter banks and limit A.T.M. withdrawals to 60 euros a day during a debt crisis that threatened to shatter Europe’s currency union. In the United States, prominent authors like James Rickards, a hedge fund veteran, and David Stockman, once the budget director for the Reagan administration, insist that an even bigger crisis will soon tank Wall Street and torpedo the dollar.
No wonder so many preppers, some of them wearing pinstriped suits, consider gold and silver to be a crucial hedge against a crisis.
While Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies make news, many preppers are quietly packing their bug-out bags with rolls of pre-1965 American dimes, quarters or half-dollars, which are 90 percent silver and available from coin dealers and precious-metals websites (silver is currently about $17 an ounce). “My preferred form of precious metal post-financial collapse, that is, besides high-speed lead,” wrote one prepper on SurvivalistBoards.com.
Unlike gold, which is hovering around $1,300 an ounce, these old silver coins come in small enough denominations to barter for a loaf of bread or a socket wrench in an economic “Mad Max” scenario. Even so, some survivalists remain silver skeptics. “For $100, let’s say you get five silver coins,” said an urban preparedness expert who goes by the nom de guerre Selco. “Why not buy 100 cans of soup?”
3. Alt-Currencies for the Apocalypse
Imagine a true economic apocalypse, one that makes the German hyperinflation of the 1920s, with its wheelbarrows of near-worthless paper currency, look like a hiccup. To prepare for the worst worst-case scenario, some doomers prefer daily staples like tampons, vegetable seeds and cigarettes (that timeless prison medium of exchange) to silver or gold as an alt-currency.
Liquor, too — particularly in easy-to-swap airline bottles — would likely prove a hot commodity, since it not only deadens the pain of surviving in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but, as a blogger named Survival Mom points out, also provides useful off-label functions as a disinfectant or an ingredient in herbal remedy tinctures.
Visions of a barter economy are not necessarily the stuff of doomer fever dreams, said Xavier Thomas, who runs the British site MoreThanJustSurviving.com with his wife, Elise.
“If we look at examples of systematic social breakdowns, like Argentina in 2001, or the war in the Balkans, goods that people understood on an intrinsic level clearly carried the most value when trading — cans of food, gas, batteries, cheap Bic lighters,” he said. “A good rule of thumb: If you’d find it useful in an emergency, you’ll be able to find someone who will trade for it in an emergency.”
4. Beyond “Duck and Cover”
When President Trump issued his threat to North Korea at the United Nations, many preppers had an almost Pavlovian response: to check their nuclear survival kit. Ever since the backyard bomb shelter went the way of tail fins, survival in the face of mushroom clouds has seemed highly relative.
Some preppers place their faith in unproven home remedies, like bedsheets dusted with baby powder, which they hope will block X-rays, or generous helpings of turmeric mixed with black pepper, to inhibit tumor formation. Others turn to basics, like Geiger counters, wallet-size RAD badges, potassium iodide tablets or a Seychelle radiological family water pitcher, which the manufacturer claims will filter out “99.99 percent of the major contaminants that can be found after a nuclear event.”
Or people may just want to stock up on Snuggies, chocolate Easter bunnies, Hummel figurines or vintage Backstreet Boys paraphernalia, which will do about as much good in the event of a direct strike.
5. The Other Bug-Out Bag
In the event of apocalypse, bring condoms. This may sound like a slogan from a fraternity party T-shirt, but survivalists absolutely adore condoms. Featherweight, ultracompact and durable, condoms (nonlubricated, please) can be used as a makeshift canteen to store water, a fire starter or as elastic bands for an improvised slingshot to hunt small game, according to Creek Stewart, a survival instructor and television host.
6. Armed to the Teeth, but With What?
Credit Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
Should law and order on the streets break down after, say, a massive hurricane or nuclear-reactor meltdown, that condom slingshot might come in handy in New York, where possession of the most fundamental survivalist self-defense staple — the gun — is highly restricted by law. (The same goes for brass knuckles, nunchucks, ninja stars, switchblade knives, wrist-brace slingshots and, that D.I.Y. prepper favorite, a paint ball pistol loaded with ghost-chili-powder balls.)
So what is a defenseless, law-abiding survivalist to do? Prepper bibles like “100 Deadly Skills,” by Clint Emerson, a former Navy SEAL, are filled with improvised alternative weapons, like a collapsible umbrella lined with wrenches, which is “not illegal to possess,” a New York City Police Department spokesman said, but “would be considered a weapon if you used it on someone.”
Sure, you could master jiu-jitsu. “But if it’s really on, hand-to-hand self-defense will only take you so far,” said Jason Charles, a firefighter and organizer of the New York City Prepper’s Network. To balance legality with lethality in a bug-out bag, he said, “you have to go simpler — hammers, hatchets, certain heavy tools.” That roll of old silver quarters might come in handy, too.
7. Paddling to Safety
Manhattanites face challenges unknown to their Western counterparts hunkering in remote desert bunkers. Their home turf, after all, is not only a prime target, but an island. In the event of a cataclysmic emergency, bridges and tunnels may be closed, or choked off by marauding mobs, forcing survivors to consider waterborne escape.
A lightweight, folding kayak like the Oru Beach LT is a savvy, albeit expensive option ($1,299), since it weighs 30 pounds (easy enough to tote to the Hudson River if Lyft is offline) and collapses to the size of a suitcase — perfect for those tiny Upper West Side closets.
Sure, kayak pros counsel against newbies attempting a Hudson crossing. “There are strong tidal currents, few places to safely launch or land, and an abundance of commercial and ferry transit traffic,” said Randall Henriksen of the New York Kayak Company. But if the choice is armed mobs or choppy waters, many New Yorkers may reach for a paddle.
8. Deliverance From Above
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, many cubicle dwellers have been haunted by fears of being stuck in a skyscraper when disaster strikes. In fact, tragic images from the World Trade Center inspired a micro-industry of high-rise-escape options. There are now escape chutes (basically, giant collapsible fabric tubes for shinnying down) and small parachutes.
The SOS Parachute (about $2,400) is compact enough to store in a cubicle, opens in about two seconds and is designed to work for the 11th floor and higher. Granted, the parachute is exactly not 82nd Airborne-grade, and a 200-pound man might find the landing a little rough. “You may twist an ankle,” said Nicolas Havett, a company executive. But in a situation serious enough to warrant a parachute, that’s a deal that many would take.
9. Who Are You Calling “Rocket Man”?
They were a science-fiction fantasy in the Bond movie “Thunderball,” a space-age gag in “Gilligan’s Island.” But a half-century later, jet packs actually exist. A California company called JetPack Aviation unveiled a functioning turbojet version two years ago, capable of staying aloft for 10 minutes, traveling at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. Current models are available only to the military, but David Mayman, the company’s founder, said he plans to introduce a commercial version within 18 months.
Hard-core doomers need not drain their airplane-liquor-bottle stash to envision the potential: Imagine New York after, say, an electromagnetic pulse attack that wipes out the power grid (like the kind North Korea recently threatened). The bridges and streets resemble a scene from the old John Carpenter movie “Escape From New York,” but the privileged few can soar across the Hudson to safety (or at least New Jersey). “From the time you push the button, you could be in the air in less than 30 seconds,” Mr. Mayman said.
Sure, there is the cost — about $250,000, which the company is hoping to bring down “to the price of a luxury car.” For now, just think of it as the survivalists’ Maybach.
10. No Place Like Dome
Sandy was not the first hurricane to devastate entire sections of New York. In 1893, a hurricane blew through the city with such force that it wiped an entire island — Hog Island, a glittering resort near the Rockaways — off the map. In the event of a megadisaster that leaves parts of the city uninhabitable, survivors might require cheap, stormproof shelter to start a new life.
In the best of times, prefabricated dome shelters receive high marks from environmentalists and penny pinchers alike because of their low cost and minimal environmental impact.
A company called Intershelter sells igloo-shape pleasure domes that call to mind Luke Skywalker’s old pad on Tatooine, but cost only $12,000 for one big enough to include a kitchen; it can be thrown together in a few hours, to make an instant hunting or fishing lodge. But in the worst of times, this dome, “built to sustain hurricane strength winds or earthquakes,” makes great relief housing for disaster victims and, in theory, would make great bug-out bunkers for urbanites looking to build a survivalist compound on the fly.
The dome houses are so rugged, according the company’s founder, Don Kubley, “you could buy one today and your grandkids will be playing in it.” One can only hope.
Should disaster not strike? They make a great man cave or backyard cabana.
11. Pets or Meat
In the event of a breakdown of the food supply that leaves the shelves of Fairway bare and Le Coucou a ghost town on a Saturday night, you will still have to eat. Often.
That is why many survivalists are placing their hopes of sustenance in rabbit, a high-protein, low-fat meat that is also being embraced as “the new chicken” by sustainable food types including Michael Pollan. “Raising meat rabbits is one of the most space-efficient means of growing livestock for meat,” according to the site Survivalist 101.
By livestock standards, rabbits are relatively clean and quiet, too. They can survive on table-scrap vegetables or even grass, and as a bonus, yield valuable fur for improvised winter clothing. And boy do they breed. A doe can produce up to 50 kits a year, yielding 250 pounds of meat, according to researchers at the Penn State Extension.
12. Beyond Medieval Times
To master archery and broadsword combat; to learn to manufacture fabric, bread, ceramic cookware and wood furniture by hand; to perfect the preindustrial arts of iron craft and tanning: Yes, there are worse things to carry into a post-apocalyptic world than a membership card to the Society for Creative Anachronism.
In normal times, this international historical-re-enactment organization seems like little more than a harmless bunch of Renaissance Faire types playing dress up on weekends and celebrating the arts, skills and costumes of pre-17th-century Europe.
But should Armageddon arrive — say, in the form of a limited nuclear exchange, global pandemic or cyber mega-attack — these hobbies could mean your survival. In other words, chivalry may not be dead after all.
13. The Final Frontier
There is bugging out, and then there is really bugging out. In a scorched-earth scenario where even a jet pack is not enough to escape harm’s way, preppers with deep pockets and a taste for Arthur C. Clarke might consider the ultimate escape: launching their DNA into space.
Celestis, a company specializing in “memorial spaceflights” (sending cremated remains into space), recently introduced “genetic spaceflight.” For $12,500, for example, the cosmologically minded can send their DNA (a mouth swab or hair sample) into space on a “true mission of exploration,” aboard a spacecraft on a “permanent celestial journey well beyond the moon.”
Who knows — some ultra-intelligent alien being may discover it in the future, and use your genetic code to reanimate a race of humans on a distant planet. Let’s just hope those humans don’t choose to blow themselves up.