What could be a more elegant and poetic ending to a world laid low by cataclysm than a lone survivor- rugged, experienced, skilled- surviving on their own against the odds in stark defiance of the apocalypse that has blasted the rest of civilized society into cinders and echoes?
The idea is deeply engrained in our cultural society: mountain men, pioneers, lone wanderers, all are beloved characters. But does the ideal live up to the mythology? Does the world suffer such romantic notions?
The answer is “rarely.” But it is possible. What the myths and stories fail to show is the creeping loneliness, the paranoia, the endless toil, the lack and the scurvy among dozens of other hardships that await and befall the lone survivalist prepper.
Nonetheless, it has before and can today be done if one has the will and is also possessed of the right wiring. But plenty of preppers don’t put in the introspective due diligence.
Another cool character once said, “A man has got to know his limitations.” Before you go all in on a plan that has you surviving all alone in some remote or hidden area, give this article a read to make sure you are considering all the angles.
Table of Contents
The Perils of Surviving Alone
Survival is not likely to be pleasant in the aftermath of a major disaster. If it is, you are either phenomenally lucky or just crazy prepared. There will always be work to do when the stakes are high.
If you are sitting around simply enjoying what spoils you can and not looking for ways to actively improve your situation and future-proof yourself against an even worse turn, your post-apocalyptic vacation will not last long or end well.
Survival isn’t fun, at least it isn’t fun for the sane and well-adjusted. It isn’t camping, that’s for sure, and though some people will be better suited to the perils and hazards of living alone during hard times, either from plenty of prior experience as a loner or from natural predilection, you should not assume you will have their success rate.
As I said, survival isn’t easy or fun, and you can triple that for anyone going it all alone. Sure, if you are a proper misanthrope or simply a major bear to get along with you might be going that route whether you want to or not.
Consider what a solo prepper will be up against:
No cavalry coming – you will not be able to rely on anyone to bail you out in a pinch, or even in really dire straits. If you get stuck, crippled or lost, there will not be anyone you can count on to even know you are missing or overdue.
Sure, you might luck out if providence smiles on you and a Good Samaritan survivor finds you, but you know what they say about hope and strategy: it isn’t one.
And as the saying goes, the Mountain only cares if you can measure up. If you fall behind, get tired, get hurt or get sick, with not one person to tend to you or cover your tasks, your goose might be cooked.
One pair of hands makes for hard work – There are always innumerable tasks great and small to be done when surviving a major SHTF event. Bring in water, treat the water, dispense with waste, watch the perimeter, check traps, lay traps, plan your next route, fix the tent, mend the pack, scavenge for food, find supplies, chop fire wood, cook food, and on and on and on.
If you are doing all of this yourself, it can make for very, very busy days. In pitched situations where you have a handful of 5-alarm emergencies and attendant needs breathing down your neck it can mean it is time to triage or die.
Reduced Capability – True, surviving on your own means you only have one belly to keep full, one ass to risk and one person to deal with, but it also means you can only do the work of one man and what machines he can muster.
You will not have any assistance when the time comes to move something really heavy, or you need someone to help stabilize the ladder or rope when entering a building or crossing a river.
Yes, you can make use of all kinds of simple machines, from carts and handtrucks to pulleys and levers to exert far more force than you might with your own muscle and bone, but these still often fall short of a team of people working in unison.
Isolation may equal madness – History provides plenty of examples of people in desperate and uncertain times that simply capsized under the quiet enormity of being truly alone.
There are accounts of well-equipped and unhurt survivors of societal collapse and disasters both man-made and natural who started off in far better straits than most of us simply collapsing mentally or emotionally from the stress, or went mad from the uncertainty.
Some of them committed suicide. Some quite literally lay down and died. It is a sad phenomenon, but not a mystery. People are social, all of us. Even the grouchiest grump looks forward to and needs interaction with other human beings. It is an itch we have to scratch. If you can’t, it might take a severe toll on you.
Vulnerability – Frankly, an isolated prepper’s best defense against violence is remaining hidden. If that fails, and you get looters, marauders and pillagers sniffing around, you’ll have your work cut out for you.
Let’s get real: you aren’t John Rambo, or Jason Bourne. And even if you are, it won’t be a movie. A single defender always has the odds stacked way against him in a fight.
If you get two, three or God forbid four or more armed attackers closing in you, you will have to be extremely good or have a massive tactical advantage to win, or maybe both.
With no one to back you up in a fight, you’ll be even more vulnerable to flanking, ambushes and other tactics that can take a human apart with ease. If you get wounded, which is highly likely in a standup fight, you will have no one to render aid, likely dooming you.
Decreased Situation Awareness – With fewer eyes and ears working on detection, more will get missed. You can only be in one place at one time.
Even with the aid of any camera systems or listening devices you have managed to employ, there will always be gaps in your perception; if you are not manning the monitoring station, what good does it do?
While you can rely on simple traps and signals for the early warning of people or animals moving around an area it won’t work as well as a group of people being able to look, listen, observe and smell in different places at different times.
These are just a few of the major concerns for lone preppers. And not just dedicated solo preppers; preppers who start out in groups and wind up on their own are just as if not more vulnerable.
In the rest of the article, we’ll talk about things you can do and questions you should ask yourself to make sure you are ready, willing and able to really go it alone.
Considerations for Prospective Solo Preppers
There is no surefire, One True Benchmark for assessing whether or not you can survive and endure the long solitude as a solo prepper, but you can have a serious, no-shit, honest heart to heart with yourself and put yourself through some exercises and experiences to see if you have what it takes.
Start by asking yourself this list of questions, and answer them honestly! You aren’t fooling anyone but yourself, and you damn sure will not be able to fool the Mountain.
Do you get generally get along with people? If the answer is yes, you should plan on surviving as part of a group if at all possible. However much you might passingly bicker, that is not true misanthropy.
If you honestly know yourself to be completely unable to get along with most folks, you should consider working on your people skills. If that fails, then perhaps prepping solo is for you.
Do you ever want the advice or affirmation of others? If you answered yes, you are probably too nominally socialized to ever be truly at home and comfortable surviving by yourself, really by yourself.
This is not some stiff upper lip machismo thing; again, you are human. Most of us are. It does not make you weak when the alternative is to become, much, much weaker.
When things turn chaotic and uncertain, and there is no one to answer your questions, or bounce ideas off of, instead there being the only the empty quietness in your head and the beating of your heart, you will start to feel very stressed indeed.
Do you have an easy time discussing and negotiating things? If you don’t, perhaps you are better off alone.
Groups of survivors are not typically run by committee, but even for ones with a more authoritarian bent or a designated leader, there will always be discussions of plans, potential “refinements” to suggestions and of course good old fashioned bitching and bellyaching.
If you turn into a surly troll when enduring any of the above, especially concerning your actions, consider ditching humanity to go solo.
Do you tend to seek the companionship of people for recreation? If you do, that is called a sign.
You aren’t much for the solo life, chances are, and definitely not much for surviving solo, when the walls will close in and you will never have even the breathing of another human being to keep you company.
It is easy to tell yourself ‘I don’t like people,’ when you have people just a phone call or knock away should you change your mind.
It is another to have them beyond all recall save by a dangerous and lengthy journey, especially when whatever crisis has befallen you scatters them to the four winds or claims their lives.
Are you more interested in people than in things? If yes, you are not particularly introverted and ergo not a good candidate for bugging out and surviving solo.
A strong interest in people means you need interaction with other humans to fulfill your curiosity and need to discover, or just to get affirmation and companionship.
If the idea of being all alone with nothing but your tasks and labors to fill your time fills you with dread or apprehension, you can forget bugging out alone unless you have no other choice.
Try Before You Commit
While there is no much you can do to truly simulate the stress, isolation and impact on your psyche a real SHTF event will inflict, you can embark on some adventures and implement some life decisions that will give you a taste.
If you are seriously considering doing any kind of solo survival in isolation, try the following exercises first.
Go on an extended camping foray alone. If you start getting wigged out after five days or a week in the woods or desert alone, you are either going to have terrible “growing pains” surviving solo or you are going to crack.
Lots of preppers talk about dealing with other people long term and still keeping yourself mentally healthy, but have you considered dealing with yourself long term?
It isn’t the easiest thing in the world if you have never spent a lot of time with yourself, relying on yourself, and no one but… yourself. Some people just don’t cohabitate well with that voice in their head.
You know the one I am talking about. Your thoughts will start to control your words, or at least your words to yourself and where your words go your body and action will follow.
If your little “copilot” up there is a demonic little shit and constantly on a negative bent or blowing up and compromising your ability to assess, rationalize and think, then you might be headed for a case of disaster dominoes at the first bad turn.
Disaster dominoes are what happens when a small, or small but significant curveball or mishap gets you knocked so out of frame that you fail to correct it, and it snowballs into bigger and worse problems. Don’t let it happen to you.
Go for a month without contacting your friends or family. Sound excessive? Are you serious about this or not? If you cannot take a social sabbatical to test your limits, how do you think you’ll do in the live event, when they are dead or missing
Even embarking on this minor foray, it won’t quite simulate being really alone. Nonetheless, monitor how you feel and how your feelings change after being withdrawn from the people you care about the most for 30 days.
If you start to descend into gloom, distraction and agitation, that is a major clue that going solo long term is going to be hard on you. Real hard.
Live in a remote area. And I mean remote. Out there alone. If you don’t have to drive into town to get gas it isn’t far enough. If you have neighbors that can hear gunshots, it isn’t remote enough.
Being 100% truly dependent on yourself and no one else for all your needs around the property is a good test, and a further benchmark of your ability to “cohabitate” with you and you alone.
If you feel vulnerable, or isolated, and that feeling starts to inspire some creeping dread or paranoia, good, it should. But furthermore you must find out how long you can deal with that feeling before you start to crack up.
If the walls start to close in after a few months of pastoral life on Green Acres, what makes you think you’ll fare any better when the chips are down?
You should be able to complete all three of the above exercises before you even consider making a go of it, willfully, solo.
If you are unable or unwilling to attempt any of the above, well, you had better be really, really sure of yourself, else you might be committing suicide in slow motion.
Beware the Wolf
Reader, I must tell you of one of the single, biggest risks of living in isolation before you decide that that is the path you will take.
Above all, the risks attendant with the many tasks you’ll have to do just to survive, beyond the threat of a broken bone, of starvation, of debilitating illness, and of a hundred other mishaps.
I am talking about the threat of rampaging and conscienceless people invading your little hideaway and killing you or worse. If you are lucky, they will kill you before they do anything else to you.
Folks, you can read up on the people who have actually survived the collapse of societies and rule of law in such places as Bosnia, Venezuela, Argentina and South Africa.
There is no romance to their accounts. Universally, some of the first people to suffer in the wake of collapse are those who live in remote areas.
Think about it. There is no one around.
If you were bent on looting and killings, who would you target: a crèche of armed and organized people living together in a structure or group of structures allowing for multiple ways in and out of each, or a lonely, small group or individual far, far away from any conceivable help?
You bet your ass you’d take the sure thing every day and twice on Sunday.
The predator-prey dynamic rarely changes unless the predator is a highly trained specialist or a frothing psychopath disconnected with reality. Predators go where the food is.
In this case, you are food. Food that is the easiest to get is always more attractive; predators don’t want to spend too much energy or risk injury to get it. That means going after the weak, the slow, the injured- and the isolated.
You see, humans are social animals for good cause. Alone, we are vulnerable to all manner of beasts, whether they slither or walk on four legs or on two. Together, though, we have a chance.
Together we build walls. Walls keep the wolves out. Guards and sentries will keep the wolves from scaling them. Without either, the wolves get to the people quickly and quietly.
Think you are some badass lone gunslinger? Really? You ever sleep? You ever get sick? You ever distracted picking turnips or washing your filthy body in the creek with your gun 10 paces away?
Are you good enough, cold bore, strung out and throwing up to tackle 10 bastards with rifles and do so without a scratch?
If you hesitated, you’re definitely not up to the task. If you said yes, well, I’m not saying you are a liar, but you might be suicidally overconfident.
Never, ever, underestimate how vulnerable you are as a lone and isolated survivor. History has shown us time and time again that isolated people are extremely vulnerable to all kinds of evils.
Think About This. Twice.
Trying to live in isolation, much less survive, is an incredible test of both physical and mental fortitude, and few are up to the task.
The combination of emotional isolation and the stress of being only one mishap away from disaster and death will deter all but the extraordinarily brave or foolish.
Nonetheless some try. If you think you are one of the rare preppers up to the task, read and understand everything contained in this article before you commit.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.