Survival Groups: Is There Such A Thing As Too Big?

Avatar Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: January 11, 2020
Survival Groups: Is There Such A Thing As Too Big?

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A lot of people are of the opinion that one should have a group for a long emergency. Indeed there is are many reasons why this may be to someone’s advantage. Groups can provide support and protection during a long event. At the same time with more people there then becomes other issues and possible problems. This article is going to explore the topic of group size and the resulting considerations that must be made the larger a group is.

This post is going to discuss some aspects of groups. I am not going to promise you the exact answers for your group. That is impossible since all situations are different and there are various needs of individuals within a group to consider. This post is an exploration of various factors related to group size and intended to get you and others thinking about these aspects as related to your situation.

During regular times, how spread out is your group geographically?

It is a lot easier to get more members if you are drawing from a bigger area but that can lead to some sense of false comfort. Groups can seem large on paper or online so to speak but in a true emergency, it might be very difficult or impossible for a lot of members to do much of anything to help one another. A distance of 20 miles is more problematic when roads are hazardous or impossible to navigate or fuel is scarce.

That doesn’t mean you cannot have some connections and contacts further out that you are on friendly terms with. Your core group though should be from an area as close as possible to you so that it is easier to help one another out.


Leadership of a larger group becomes more complicated. Just look at how vast governments are and the different roles. While one can easily just say that the government has gotten too big for its britches, the fact is that some type of leadership system must be in place for any group to function.

It may be minimal but it must be there in some form or things just won’t work. When I was in college I saw first hand what happened when too many people tried to have a leadership role in a group and there was no structure. Nothing got done and when it did it did not get done as quickly or as well as it could have.

Groups need a leader but that person needs to be chosen carefully.

A group doesn’t function well if the main leader of a group never seems to listen and consider the needs and thoughts of others in the group. Leaders that are only in charge because they use excessive force are not somebody you want in charge.

If this occurs, at some point people are going to start to tire of it and trouble will raise its head. While there is nothing wrong with having a strong leader, there must be a system in place for others to have a fair say in how things get done within the group. The larger the group, the more complicated this can become.


A well-fed group is going to be happier regardless of what else is going on around them. It is hard to think of other things when you are hungry. The advantages of a larger group are that you can more easily farm and hunt. The disadvantage is that it takes more food for each and every meal. There is also the issue that some in a group may not be able to do the more physical tasks of food procurement.


I am going to say something harsh here. There are a lot of people that want to do the fun and easy stuff or see themselves as a character with a role to play. This can be a hard mindset to get out of.

While I don’t like to stereotype, generally speaking, it has been clear to me for quite some time that there are plenty of people that are very unrealistic about their skills or they have chosen to specialize in one that is useful, but not something they should rely on to be their major skill set to get them through hard times.

I am going to use homeopathic medicine and tincture making as one example.

I know Backdoor Survival has many great articles on essential oils and natural remedies. There is wisdom in knowing how to use oils and plants but I have noticed a lot of people that seem to think they are going to survive SHTF based on knowing how to put together herbal remedies.

Sorry but you are going to need more than a desire to be Dr. Quinn, medicine woman to get by. These are modern times and there are a lot of people that simply do not believe in herbal medicines. Would you trade valuable goods for what may be snake oil?

The same thing can be said for the tactical types that think they are going to be Mr. or Mrs. Super Defense. Knowing how to shoot and defend is not enough.

Those with a variety of skills are who you want in a group. If someone seems to have specialized too much or sees themselves in a single role then they need to be encouraged to expand their skill sets and if necessary, be told that they cannot just anticipate having a single role to play at all times.

Men need to learn some of the traditional female skills and women need to learn how to do some traditional male skills based upon their abilities levels in both cases.

When putting together your group, try to seek out those with a variety of skill sets. This is one argument for having a larger group.

The more willing someone is to teach others what they know, the better. Just because people have specialized more in one area than they should, doesn’t mean the issue cannot be addressed by each person teaching the others how to do other things.

Willingness to take on unknown tasks is important.

In the beginning of a survival situation, some may even flat out refuse or say they are incapable of some tasks even if they are only incapable on a perceived emotional level. This can be frustrating to others but usually, people will come around to realizing that the future means they are going to have to deal with participating in unpleasant tasks that they previously had the privilege of outsourcing to other people.

For everyone’s sake it may be best to start these people out with more basic tasks but be clear that eventually as they gain skill and experience they will be expected to do more. If this is not possible then they may need to be given other tasks that allow them to contribute their fair share of work to the group. While group members need to be considerate of age, ability, and handicaps, there must also be a good distribution of workload or people may become disgruntled over time.


I am always amazed at how so many groups are full of people that have not spent that much time around one another or did more than go on a few camping trips together during good times. While that is better than nothing, I have my doubts that such a low level of interaction and working together is enough to develop the level of trust that should be present among a group that is planning to ride out SHTF or a long emergency together.

How do you know that the people in your group are not a lot of talk? Larger groups are going to have more trust issues and various levels of trust between different members. This can lead to problems or at the very least, cliques withing a larger group much like you might have seen during high school.


Larger groups may have a harder time keeping things hygienic or preventing a disease from spreading if it finds its way into the group at any time. Sharing space and supplies during good times is the source of a lot of illness. Think about how easily kids in daycare or school get sick and how easily it spreads to your home sometimes.

While some groups may be isolated enough to prevent a lot of diseases, the fact remains that if something does find its way into the group, it may spread quickly or hang around a bit longer than anyone would like.

For more information on setting up a sick room or imposing a quarantine, please have a look at my article “Quarantine: Establishing A Sick Room and Boundaries In The Event of A Pandemic or Brief Illness.”

Customs and Religion

While some groups may be of largely like-minded people, it is still likely that some ways and customs are going to vary. During good times this may not be as noticeable because everyone can hide within the privacy of their own domicile. During hard times, these differences may be downright annoying or reprehensible to some. This is one reason why it may be in some people’s interest to keep groups smaller and get to know everyone as well as possible.

I also think that anyone that is even remotely considering starting or joining a survival group should ask themselves just how open-minded and accommodating they are actually capable of being. Are you the type of person that adheres to a pretty strict moral code? Are you naturally a loner? If that describes you then you should find a small and like-minded group or come to terms with the fact that you will be around some people that differ significantly from you.

Housing and Shelter

One thing that a lot of people are starting to deal with more often is not having a private house and yard all to themselves. As housing costs have soared, people are already having to live more densely. During SHTF or a long emergency, this will be even more common. Each kid is not going to have the luxury of their own bedroom.

One should remember that not that long ago, 6-8 people would live in a home the size of the house Matt and I built. Just for the record, our house is 480 sq ft with a 160 sq ft loft. Having private spaces was a luxury of the wealthy in the past. It is only in recent history in the USA that people in the average to lower economic classes have enjoyed this level of privacy.

Bigger groups can be better for those that are single or have kids and teens.

During a long emergency, there may not exactly be a bustling singles scene outside of your group. In the case of an extreme TEOTWAWKI situation, a larger group of people that are not related is going to have some major advantages when it comes to dating and relationships.

Some disasters may make it dangerous or even practically impossible to seek out others for future companionship. There have been a lot of disasters and wars over the years but that has not stopped people from wanting to find someone and maybe have a family or at least someone that has their back.

Teens are still going to want to date too. Going through puberty in an isolated group where you are related to practically everyone would just seem weird and awkward.


Theoretically the bigger the group the more people you have to form a formidable defense. At the same time, it is not quite that simple. For example, if a group is made up of a disproportionate amount of people that cannot be expected to fight or that doesn’t have weapons that help make up for this, the advantage of a larger group may not be as much as you think.

Also if there are a lot of children and few adults, the adults will be responsible for almost all the defensive actions. Some adults that could be defending, may have to do more child care duties that take away from how effective they may be as fighters. You can only concentrate on so many things at once.

Stealth and Hiding

There is no question that it is harder to hide the larger a group happens to be. People are going to make noise and if groups have babies, kids, and teens, it is going to be especially difficult to keep everyone quiet and on the down-low if needed.

Smells of smoke, food cooking, sounds from any livestock, talking, crying, laughing, music, etc are all part of life and the more people, the louder it is going to be.

Going too big all at once can be hard.

Building anything up takes time and sometimes if you try to do that too fast, it can be hard to do a good job. Governing a larger group is possible but if a group expands to include a lot of people suddenly where there was just a core smaller group, things can be very chaotic. This is why it is important to consider before it happens. Let’s say you have an SHTF group of 20 but suddenly you have 20 more people that want to join. How would your group handle that? I cannot tell you the exact answers because all situations are different but I think that considering the things discussed in this post is a good start.


Larger groups that are well organized, with balanced skill sets and a good proportion of capable fighters will definitely have an advantage. Organization and training are very important when planning the defensives of a larger group. Anyone that has been in the military can attest to that I am sure.

At the same time, a large group is not the best choice for everyone. A smaller group may be the best choice for those that are living in isolated areas or that simply don’t do well with a lot of people. A smaller group may be part of a larger mutual assistance group that could come together if circumstances get very bad or there is a known short term threat that can be planned for.

This is more realistic than thinking a huge group that is spread out will be able to get together quickly or offer regular help during a long emergency.

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7 Responses to “Survival Groups: Is There Such A Thing As Too Big?”

  1. Let’s be brutally honest, shall we? Most groups are highly dysfunctional. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t have some hang-up or other. It could be a result of poor parenting, life circumstances, whatever…but it WILL cause friction in ANY group eventually. Biggest problem I foresee is the question: “who’s our leader?” No one is perfect for THAT job. And leadership is a tremendous burden that WILL take its toll over time. Small unresolved problems often fester and then blow up at the worst possible moment. Is every member of the team 100% disciplined 100% of the time???

    For instance, stealth and the ability to remain quiet for (perhaps) hours at a time. Know anyone in any-sized group setting like that? I don’t either. But an individual, with adrenalin pounding in their brain just might be able to pull it off…and live. The ONLY group situation where that could be possible is a military unit.

    Without proper training, people will always default to their own ideas based upon their own personal experience. People without military discipline will ‘question’ authority. I’ve seen it. You’ve seen it. It is pretty obvious to anyone who actually plans and thinks through any given scenario. Unless you’ve tested the ‘what ifs’ and have either earned ‘group trust’ or decided to give your complete trust to another person, you’re gonna be toast. And what happens when the leader is unable to lead? Is there a chain of command with someone else ready, willing, and able (most important) to take up the leadership mantle? Not likely, when you consider that “24.6 million US citizens are veterans of military service which is less than 10% of the US population. The number of combat veterans is harder to find but probably less than 25% of the veterans ever saw combat so probably 2 to 3 percent maximum of the US population has seen combat in the military.” This is just ONE example and it pertains ONLY to the defensive capabilities/training of ‘the group’. Until you’ve faced an armed enemy, you have NO clue how you’ll react.

    You could ask the same question about medical ability, growing crops ability, constructing shelter ability, etc., etc.

    Right now, my ‘group’ is my wife and myself…and I already know that I’ll likely die if SHTF because I’ll be trying to preserve her life along with my own. That burden will affect my thinking, affect my plan of action, affect my ability to move quickly, and affect every other aspect of our survival. Should we be so lucky as to remain out of sight, we’ll likely eventually die from something simple…an impacted tooth, an infected cut, an injury to arm or leg that prevents our dodging incoming or our ability to return fire, etc., etc. Even though we’ve been married a long time, I know that she’ll question my ‘orders’ …and even a half second delay can result in death. I can’t train her to be like me any more than she can train me to be like her.

    You simply do the best you can with what you have and you try to go down fighting.

    To quote from someone with the absolute best intel possible: “Outside is the sword, inside are plague and famine; those in the country will die by the sword, and those in the city will be devoured by famine and plague. All who survive and escape will be in the mountains, moaning like doves of the valleys, each because of his sins. Every hand will go limp, and every knee will become as weak as water. They will put on sackcloth and be clothed with terror.” Words of God to the prophet Ezekiel in chapter 7, verses 15-18a.

  2. large groups can be TOO large.
    the more people you have the more land you need to grow food, the more land you have the more people you need to do the labour, its almost self perpetuating.
    small groups are usually more manageable, where I live all groups will be family units and family only-no outsiders.
    most non family groups usually collapse long before TSHTF due to other commitments-family, work, moving house etc.etc.

  3. One problem that larger groups face (regardless of the reason the group exists) is anonymity. The bigger the group, the easier it is to hide in the crowd and coast. The 80/20 rule starts to apply. Matt seemed to be describing that, with many members joining with a ‘what can you all do for ME’ attitude, not ‘how can we survive together’.

  4. I don’t know why every article I’ve read on this topic always assumes that every group has to be set up as a socialist commune. that is the worst possible choice. You are just begging for resentment and laziness in a socialist group. You need the incentive of self preservation. Each person/family needs to have their own plot of land to garden. Front or back yard works. A place to trap, fish, hunt whatever. You make your own food, clothing, bullets, fetch your own water and firewood, etc. You get together for community defense. Everyone must serve on picket, patrol, guard, gate, defense, etc., including medical and teachers and leaders. No exceptions. If you are better at making reloads than trapping, you can trade bullets for meat or whatever. Learn from the Pilgrims experiment and all other attempts and avoid socialism. It fails every time it is tried.
    Building on what Matt in OK said. If your “group” is all spread out in a metro area, you have a loose net of learners, not a survival group. When the fan gets messy, your survival group is going to be the people living around you. For better or worse. Mostly worse, as a vast majority of people in any given neighborhood are woefully unprepared for even a modest thunderstorm knocking out the lights for an evening.
    Smart Preppers don’t advertise. Therefore, most preppers are lone wolves. We may find each other later after medications run out, store bought food runs out and a lot of home invasions against unarmed folks or they have gone to the fema camps. Until then it is OP SEC.

  5. Finding serious people is really hard. The skills thing is even harder. I’ve tried to put groups together and I’ve had training set at monthly then dropped it back to quarterly and it’s always excuses. Nothing like the same 3 folks showing up and no one else to include those who were supposed to be leading a session. I’ve tried joining groups and it’s the same. I joined one that was supposed to be real and trained and the first training session I went that I was to lead a session I told everyone to go get their go bags and come back in and 3 outta 23 had them. Only 4 had firearms on them in an open and concealed carry state that you can even carry the mag in a long gun. Yeah they weren’t real and I was real gone.
    Like you stated: In the skill set strive to be rounded because if all you have is tacticians then all you have is a militia and not a survival group. If all you have is farmers then you just have a community and not a survival group. And EVERYONE has something they can offer IF they choose to.
    The small one I have now is well rounded and I’m trying to add other skills sets in like carpenters, child care, mechanics etc. I doubt I’ll ever have the issue of being too big as too many folks just don’t want to attend anything. You don’t come you ain’t in.
    Everyone wants to be a gangster till it’s time to do gangster stuff LOL

  6. I’ve been a loaner my whole life. I just can’t stand the mess of lots of people. I know I won’t last long surviving alone. I’m old, so that’s OK. I will be missed by few.

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