- Doomsday preppers are people who are preparing for the end of days, whether it be by natural disaster, nuclear attack, or a breakdown of society as we know it.
- I spent 3 days with over 1,000 American survivalists at their annual Prepper Camp, an event that’s typically off-limits to journalists.
- Preppers crave tools of self-reliance, including rifles, fermented cabbage, and solar panels. The annual meetup is a chance to commune with their fellow survivalists.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
SALUDA, North Carolina – I’m starting to feel paranoid on day two of Prepper Camp. Night has fallen over the campground and dew is forming on the grass.
My mind races to all the things that could go wrong. What if my car doesn’t start? What if it does, but then I break down on the deserted road back in to town? I don’t have any jumper cables. There’s little food or water in the car. How will I survive?
It’s official: I’m starting to think like a prepper.
After spending two full days chatting with preppers and attending back-to-back classes about how to stockpile meals, install solar panels, and even prevent mass shootings, my mind has turned to thoughts of “SHTF,” as they call it here – when the “sh** hits the fan.”
Here’s what it was like to spend a long weekend in the midst of preppers, and a glimpse into how they’re preparing for whatever comes next, which is not entirely different from the strategies eco-conscious liberals employ.
Since 2014, Prepper Camp has been an annual meetup for survivalists, who come here to shop, relax, meet friends new and old, and most of all, learn new and better ways to prep.
There are 55 different classes to attend every day, with titles like “How to Reload Ammunition,” “Growing Elderberries,” and “Simple Quick Shelters.”
I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect at camp, but I was warned early on that not every one of the 1,200 attendees would want to speak with me.
Before I arrived in Saluda, Prepper Camp founder Rick Austin issued me a stark warning over email.
“We have refused to allow many media people at our event in the past,” he said, cautioning me that not everyone at camp wants to talk to reporters about what they’re up to.
“Our attendees guard their privacy, particularly in these times of liberal insanity,” he added.
Austin makes it clear that he fears a “dependency mindset” is setting in on the left, and a dangerous “socialist agenda” is taking hold of the country, but many of the things I learn at camp seem like useful survival tools and tricks that anyone could use, and skills that “libtards,” as Austin called them, would appreciate too.
Austin started Prepper Camp in 2014 after being featured on the show “Doomsday Preppers.” He was touted as a speaker at prepping shows around the country.
Frustrated with how many shows were being run like giant merchandise expos, Austin said he started Prepper Camp in Saluda six years ago because he felt that “people want to learn stuff,” and not only buy things.
In the parking lot at camp, I met Ron Kidwell, a volunteer who was happy to chat as he directed traffic. He said part of the reason he left New Jersey for North Carolina in the 1980s was so he could open carry a gun.
“I had been followed home twice,” Kidwell said. “I thought people were going to start carrying, and start shooting each other up in Jersey. That’s what it felt like to me, that kind of pressure. So I was like, ‘Yeah, I wanna get outta here.'”
Still, there are things he misses about life in the Northeast.
“I know my kids probably would have had more fun,” he said, describing an ethnically diverse area where he said Roman Catholics, Jews, and Polish families mixed it up.
“I have to admit, it was wonderful being able to get around,” Kidwell said. “And they fed me well, which was good.”
Survivor Jane, Austin’s wife, said that she was motivated to move from the city life in Florida to the Appalachian Mountains and live off-grid raising goats, rabbits, chickens and bees with her husband after a series of unfortunate events.
Frequent hurricanes, a housing and stock market crash, and finally, being car-jacked at gunpoint brought Jane into the prepper fold with “the old goat,” as she refers to her husband Rick.
Now, she teaches a Prepper Camp class on the biggest mistakes new preppers make, informed by what she’s learned over the years. Saving seeds, knowing how to properly treat drinking water, and practicing your defence skills are just three of more than 30 prepper musts on her list.
Jane said she uses a dummy at home to stay ready for action, and “I will beat the tar out of it.”
People often think preppers hoard canned food in tightly-controlled bunkers. The Austins said they do have this kind of “root storage” at home, but glass containers are not always a prepper’s favourite tools.
Granny Pam taught a class on “meals in jars” at camp, but told the crowd that she has actually switched to stowing most of her emergency meals in plastic bags, because “glass jars are beautiful, but they break.”
Brian and Angela Adams came with four other members of their North Carolina prepping group. The Adamses live on a two acre “micro farm,” with 70 chickens, two piglets, three guineas, a turkey, and greenhouses.
“We can, we dehydrate, we do a lot of food preservation, but there’s always something to learn,” Angela said.
Austin shared a tip with the preppers in his class for how to set up passive solar hot water in a greenhouse, using a simple black hose system. That not only saves him money on energy bills, but is also a more environmentally-conscious and relatively maintenance-free way to take hot showers.
“Prepping is really just everyday life,” Jordan Smith, who hosts a prepping podcast called “Family Affair” tells me. “Tornadoes, floods, fires, loss of work. If it hadn’t been for prepping, my husband and I may not be able to still reside in the house we’re in, if it hadn’t been for the extra food and money put up.”
“Really, all we’re trying to do is keep a lifestyle of self-sustainability,” Smith said. “It’s being country. It’s an old way of living.”
Preppers tend to be into guns, and proud of it. Firearms instructor Dave Stutts says if he’s awake, he’s armed. Smith showed me a tiny knife she carries on her necklace, and she had another larger blade holstered to her pants.
But perhaps just as essential as being armed is carrying a “bug out bag” at all times. Stutts keeps a go-bag stashed in his truck, and it’s filled with what he estimated is about $US250 in emergency preparedness supplies.
The go bag includes bare-bones prepper essentials: different kinds of fire starters, water and water purifiers, ropes, knives, emergency food rations, and diaper rash cream for any eventual long-distance hikes.
Stutts has lots of redundant supplies in his pack, just in case something breaks or he needs more than one of an item.
In many ways, preppers are not so different from other people who like to camp, hike, mountaineer, and survive outdoors. The key difference is that they tend to consider any weekend away from home in the woods as an essential training mission.
Many preppers even maintain what they call “Mutual Assistance Groups,” which have a common action plan and destination in mind in case of emergency.
Preppers also tend to have some things on hand that other campers may not — like explosives and extra ammunition.
Stutts strives to be ready for a world without power, and without power tools, either.
I definitely do not recommend trying to cut or hack your way through a log with this sawback machete. A wood axe would have been a better choice.
Preppers who took Richard Cleveland’s “Wild Edible Survival” class at camp learned to identify several edible plants that were hiding out in plain sight around us.
“All of you should be eating dandelions every chance you get,” Cleveland told the crowd, which eagerly took notes and picked up plants for inspection.
Plant-based diets are also generally better for the Earth.
A report from the EAT Lancet commission out earlier this year suggested that people around the globe should double their portions of “fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes ” while cutting red meat and sugar intake by at least 50% in order for the globe to remain healthy and well-fed.
“When you pick a plant and you eat it right then and there, you are getting the peak nutrition of that plant,” Cleveland told the crowd, as he scouted for yard weeds that make for good salad ingredients.
“These plants are around us all the time, but we don’t see them,” he said.
Fermenting foods like cabbage and making cheese and wine were also on the prepping agenda.
“You do not need anything but salt, water, and the vegetable,” instructor Suzanne Upton told the crowd at her class. She massaged salt and spices into thick chunks of white-green cabbage, demonstrating a self-brining technique.
Aside from all the coursework, Prepper Camp was also a place to unwind.
Complete with a zipline …
And a horseshoe pit.
There were plenty of things to buy at Prepper Camp too, including ready-to-eat military food rations, gold and silver coins, books, batteries, medical supplies, and these solar ovens which were roasting at over 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
But on Saturday, under persistent cloud cover, the solar ovens were completely out of commission.
Even though he sells radiation detectors for nuclear attacks, Craig Douglas still maintains that nuclear power is safe, and that we should be using more of it.
Nuclear reactors only supply about one-fifth of US power today, but they’re incredibly safe, and emit no carbon, making them a remarkably Earth-friendly energy source. They are still far more reliable than solar, or wind.
Vendor Mary Elizabeth, who was attending her first prepper camp said she wrongly thought the camp “would be more fear-based and people would be really focused on protecting themselves.”
There is an aspect of conspiracy theory-driven paranoia to the camp, which was particularly pronounced on Saturday evening, when the keynote speaker arrived on the scene to warn of the dark communist forces he said are trying to take over the US.
But Mary Elizabeth said she was surprised that most preppers she met “just want to love life.”
“It’s really about being self-reliant, being a contributing member of your community, and creating something, not just consuming things,” she said.
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