The 21st Century American Survival Guide

James Walton James Walton  |  Updated: July 23, 2019
The 21st Century American Survival Guide

This site contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a commission from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you. Full Disclosure Here.

There is a lot of confusion in the prepping and survival world.

Might it be time for a new American Survival Guide?

I was interviewing Nicollette Louissaint, a woman doing great work at Healthcare Ready, and she brought up the confusion in vocabulary when it comes to describing the need for emergency preparedness in the general population.

Humor me for a moment. What’s the difference between these four words?

  • Emergency Preparedness
  • Disaster Preparedness
  • Prepping
  • Emergency Response

It’s very hard to find a bunch of concrete differences. If we were to prepare a survival manual for the average person, what areas should we focus on? More importantly, what vocabulary should we use to convey the message in this survival guide?

In an effort to create a simple preparedness survival guide that meets the needs of our readers, I thought it best to break the layout up into healthy nuggets of information based on a variety of survival basics.

We are going to cover basic survival skills, bugout procedures, and even security protocols. This will be a simple survival resource that can be referred to at your leisure.

What are we surviving?

With all this talk about disasters and emergencies, you might be wondering, “What is so bent on killing or hurting us?”

We live in a very interesting time where things are very soft and cushy and convenient until they aren’t. Then real life comes crashing into the picture like a brutish child crushing his younger brother’s sandcastle.

The world around us is changing in many ways. We are experiencing a very different threat portfolio than that which was presented just 20 years ago. Let’s look at some of the things we might need a survival guide for.

  • Terrorism
  • More Frequent and Destructive Natural Disasters
  • Food Supply Disruptions
  • International Tensions and War
  • Civil and Political Discourse
  • The Collapse of the Immigration Process
  • Personal Tragedy

Take note of that last issue on the list. We all see personal tragedy in our lives. That could come in the form of losing a loved one or being laid off. It’s never fun but we can level the suffering off with a little preparedness.

Having an emergency fund and food for lean times can go a long way if you lose your job or if the breadwinner in your family dies or leaves. These things happen every day in America.

While you might think a survival manual is about radical SHTF scenarios, zombie survival, and tactical gear, it can be just about weathering your own personal apocalypse, until the sun shines again.

Survival Guide Basics

In this section, we are going to focus on surviving in the wilderness or without a home or serious shelter.

The survival basics part of this survival guide is going to be about the rules of three.

We are going to play around with two concepts around the number three. You might know the first concept but the second is just important.

Rules of Three


This is one of those strange rules of three that helps you understand the frailty of the human condition. Be mindful, you will die without air for three minutes but you can go unconscious within seconds if you don’t have oxygenated blood to the brain.

This is a painful lesson I learned on the Jiu Jitsu mat. When another strong person gets a good squeeze around your neck in something like a rear-naked choke or a head arm choke, you go fuzzy almost immediately and you can pass out in a few more seconds.


In extreme conditions, particularly cold weather and precipitation, you can succumb to hypothermia in a matter of three hours. That is a serious situation. If you have ever tried to create a camp and a fire in bad conditions, you know that three hours can go by quick.

Packing serious shelter options is vital. If you add one thing to your pack, make it a reliable waterproof tarp. These can insulate you and protect you from the weather. If you have some simple cordage and a few plastic stakes, you have a shelter in minutes.

Tarps can be ugly to set up in high winds but so can tents.


Water is the biggest priority if we are talking about wilderness survival and survival basics. You will see it twice in this one section of our preparedness survival guide.

Three days go by fast if you are lost in the woods. They can also be miserable! While many people focus on the three days, in terms of water, dehydration becomes a serious issue after the first full day. This is particularly true if you are hiking in the warmer months.

Day two without water is going to be an absolute nightmare and you will be feeling the effects in a big way.

To combat this you should carry water, travel downhill to attempt to find water, scout from high places to see water and if it rains we need to be prepared to catch that water.

This is another great use for that survival tarp I mentioned earlier.

Beyond just having access to it, we also need to be able to filter that water and boil it. For me, that means a Katadyn Hiker Pro and a small backpacking stove powered by propane. This is the emergency water combo. We can filter and boil water in a matter of minutes with this setup.

Survival Rules of Three in Action

Now that you understand the rules of three, what about prioritization of them? Survival prioritization can be a tough thing for people to grasp because they want to dive into their bag or worse panic when they realize they are lost.


Maybe you have a small canteen of water, maybe you have nothing. Address your water needs ASAP. You don’t necessarily start gathering water immediately but find a water source, make a water plan, at the very least start rationing the water you have.


Once you have a plan for water now you need to create the most versatile survival tool of them all, fire.

Build your fire in a place where plenty of wood fuel is available. Consider your camp nearby as well. Just understand that fire does it all!

  • Heat
  • Protection from Animals
  • Cooking
  • Bending and Shaping wood
  • Making Charcloth for your Next Fire
  • Sanitizing Water


If you have answers for fire and water than you should begin considering shelter. Shelter might mean your tent or it might mean a tarp and a hammock. It might even mean building a lean-to.

My friend and Creator of the Prepper Broadcasting Network, Glenn, got turned around on a trail once and knew he could get back on track but he was out of sunlight.

Glen had no pack as he is a mountain man who lives in and amongst the Rockies. He sat his back against a tree and went to sleep. He even slept through some rain. You can do a lot with a little natural shelter.

This is why shelter is last on my priority list. If you are dealing with cold and deadly conditions, shelter might be of a higher priority.

6 Principles of Emergency Preparedness

At the Prepper Broadcasting Network, we worked on the 6 principals of preparedness to address the average American when it comes to outfitting a home to deal with disasters.

What are the 6 needs that any American can address and understand?


You need to store, catch, source and have a way to sanitize water.

Rain barrels or cisterns are great ways to catch water. Rain barrels are easy to find and affordable but cisterns can carry thousands of gallons of water.

Storing water can happen from the tap or from purchased spring water or bottled or however, you prefer to buy it.

Sourcing is about finding a water source nearby that can work for you. This might be a mile or more from the home but if you know where the water is you can go get it, filter and sanitize it as needed.

I like the Hydroblu Pressurized Jerry can for dealing with whole family water needs. It’s a powerful filter and the jerry can holds lots of water. It’s ideal for sourcing water and bringing it back to camp or home.

3 gallons of water per person per day. Sure it’s more than what most people recommend. Trust me on this. You wanna bathe and cook and drink! These are all good things.

1 gallon per person per day just doesn’t cut it.


There is a magic feeling that comes from bucketing up food.

There is freedom in it.

Food storage means a lot of things to people. This is specifically about long term food storage for your family, in your home. Instead of depending on premade freeze-dried meals you should store the staples.

You need 2000 calories per person per day in your family.

How long are you preparing for?

If you want my advice, just keep stacking the food.


We have to understand what an important role power plays in how we live. While you might think you can jump into the woods and be a survivalist the moment there is a disaster. The reality is that most people just worry about how to keep the food in the fridge from going bad.

The average person wants to have an answer for power when the lights go out after that hurricane or storm. It’s not always about the end of all things to come.

Solar rechargeable USB power packs, gas generators, and solar generators are all great options for backup power solutions. They all have their benefits and drawbacks. However, nothing powers a home like a gas generator.


For the prepper, you might subscribe to the idea of having 5-gallon buckets of rolled gauze, medical tape, and nitrile gloves. It is a good place to be, if you have some first aid basics.

Again, the average person is going to have a very different approach. The 21st Century American is not thinking about bullet wounds in a TEOTWAWKI situation.

CERT courses are worth taking. Every person should know how to render simple first aid in an emergency. We should also have access to an effective first aid kit. I prefer the Survival First Aid Kits out of Australia.

I know, I know it is not American made. Well, to be honest, these guys sent me a kit for free and it was absolutely awesome. I am gonna talk about it.

With those two basic things, you can build a great base of first aid. If you wanna become more of a force in first aid and medical you can build on this base with advanced training and great books like “The Doomsday Book of Medicine“.


This is a touchy subject for many people in America today. However, the reality is that bad people come to life in bad times.

After a disaster, we see the very best of humanity but we also see the worst of humanity stealing and burning.

Do you have an answer for that?

What happens if bad people come to your home after a disaster and they are intent on taking what is yours?

Instead of beating around the bush let me just say it, you need a gun. You don’t need the mythical prepper arsenal that was made popular by prepper television and media.

A simple firearm that you know how to operate will give you the ability to deter bad guys and defend against them.


No matter how prepared you are, the time to evacuate could come. A category 4 hurricane that is dropping inches of rain an hour is always something you run from.

Losing your home and your car is rough but drowning in the street is much worse.

Take some first aid, take your security measures, take some food and clean water preps. Isolate a few locations that you are going to evacuate to. These could be family or even a hotel, outside the danger, for a few days.

Don’t forget your important documents. Things like IDs, licenses, deeds, and insurance are all going to need to come with you in an evacuation.

Evacuation is something that we should be much better at as a nation. Give it some space in your brain and be prepared to go.

Urban Survival Security Protocol

While this section is on urban survival security protocol, this method can be used in rural areas, as well. These things are easier to implement in an urban or suburban environment because you have access to more people.

People live closer together and thus these areas are easier to look after with a larger group.

Of course, the rural folks will face exponentially fewer threats. That’s a no brainer. Apply this to your situation and it will help you with understanding security after a disaster.

This is an honest survival guide for security. You need people to secure something properly and you need a process, otherwise, you are just looking out your window between naps.


There are many ways that you can deter bad guys from even considering your home or community as a place to terrorize or rob. This is the act of using deterrents.

The most common deterrent in modern society is the use of the old neighborhood watch sign. Many communities put these signs up in their communities and these are used to deter crime. Not sure if they work or not but that is the purpose.

Simple deterrents after a disaster could be the parking of cars at entrances to your community. Also having active patrols in your community could work, as well.

In its essence, you are looking to make your community less desirable than the next one.


Having active patrols, cameras or lookouts will give you the ability to detect a security threat. Detection is the next piece of the urban survival security protocol.

When you detect a person or people approaching, be it on a camera or with others, you need a means of alerting everyone. This could be a horn, whistle or even a collection of two-way radios.

From here its time to respond.


If you couldn’t deter them and now you’ve detected them, well, you have to respond to the security threat. This could be as simple as telling the person to go the other way or it might be worse.

The most important part about security response is rehearsal of the response. When the horn goes off everyone should know exactly what to do and where to be. This takes some training.

If you hear the horn and no one knows what it means, well, that response is going to be sloppy or ineffective.

Following something like a serious hurricane this type of security may not be necessary but its at least worth talking about in the early stages of recovery.

People behave much better when they are fed and feel safe.


Another important aspect of the 21st Century American Survival Guide is the bugout. There are numerous resources for building a great bugout bag. We have one of our own here at Backdoor Survival.

However, it’s hard to find a survival manual that details when you should throw that bag on your back and start heading towards the bugout location.

We have defined that in our use of the bugout acronym REDOUT.


If you have reached a point where your resources are either running out or have run out. Without things like food and water, you are beholden to those who have these things. That is the opposite of being prepared. That is dependence.


If the environment has become a danger to your life and your family’s safety. This could be floodwaters, fires or even the threat of a dangerous storm. Environments change and in a days time things can get radically worse.


If you have a bugout location. This is not the case for everyone and just wondering around in dangerous conditions is not a great way to survive. While bugging in might have risks, without a destination you could be putting yourself at greater risk.


If you are facing a force that is greater than your own. This could be a force of humans with guns or a force of rushing water! This could be an invading force or a storm system that has already spawned off 200 tornadoes in your area.


If you are unprepared for the current situation or the change in threat. Like it or not, there are some things we just aren’t prepared for. Even as preppers we have to admit it so.


If the threat is manageable but looks to be increasing. Rivers and lakes crest and wildfires spread, the threat you are dealing with can easily increase to a level that you can no longer sustain.

Sometimes there is no other answer but to get out of dodge.


There are so many things to consider when you are putting together a simple survival guide. It is easy to start building something that winds up being 500 pages long. However, there is a very small audience that is interested in reading something like that.

Here we have distilled some of the more timeless concepts like wilderness survival and included some of the more modern concepts like security protocols in modern communities.

I hope all of this adds up to create a sort of philosophy on survival and prepping that can help all Americans better understand their options in disaster. This is undoubtedly a collection of my own philosophies.

Because this survival guide is so personal and born of my own convictions and experience, I would love to get your thoughts in the comments below.

What did you like? What did you hate? Give us a little of your own survival philosophy or just play devil’s advocate to some of the ideas presented. I have spent the better part of eight years learning and growing into this preparedness world and I feel like I have hardly left the starting gate.

Aff | Emergency Blanket

[DEAL] Emergency Survival Blanket

Pocket-size survival blanket could save a life - throw in your bag or car.

Get Cheap Security
Aff | Emergency Blanket
[DEAL] Emergency Survival Blanket Get Cheap Security

6 Responses to “The 21st Century American Survival Guide”

  1. where I live, I can weather through most ‘natural’ disasters in-place. For ‘human’ caused disaster, my criteria for bugout is uncontrolled riots. Cause does not really mater.

  2. Metal tent pegs ‘might’ work a bit better ‘all round’ than plastic ones. Consider what ‘might’ work in a frozen ground situation. Rope tied to trees or fixed steady by rocks, come to mind (from experience). Pegs usually require a pounding/extraction tool of some sort.
    A tent can be ‘heavy’ to carry. A lean-to might be constructed in areas where the materials are available.
    A sierra style saw is lighter than a tent.

    A question I always ponder when winter is looming is how to shelter ‘people in place’ (in their homes) when the power is out and there are no other means to heat the dwelling. I live in a location where winter temperatures can (on occasion) go from +10C to -30C in a few hours. No kidding! The temperature can go the other way as well!

  3. Like the REDOUT criteria. Jeff Anderson says if you have to ask the question “to bug out or not” there’s only one answer. Do it.

  4. There was no mention of sanitation / hygeine…in my mind, at least, kind of critical for ‘long-term’ survival. I think everyone might want to avoid pestilence and disease as well as starvation. In any major catastrophe (flood, earthquake, fire, etc.) there will be dead bodies. Do you simply avoid them? Do you wait for emergency personnel to arrive to deal with it? What if NO one comes??? Please give this ‘hard’ subject at least some cursory thought.

    • Good point ROG. Hygiene is huge. I carry something called Combat One. That’s my short term solution when I am on the trail. Soap making is not tough if you have access to fat. Of course, hygiene is much deeper than just cleaning your skin.

Leave a Reply