What is Survivalism? An Actual Survivalist Explains


After the end of a hostage standoff this week in Alabama involving an alleged "survivalist," and news that a group in Idaho wants to construct a giant walled fortress in the panhandle of Idaho, many are beginning to wonder what survivalism is. Like any other lifestyle or practice, there are varying degrees of survivalism.

To better understand the matter, I reached out to Robert Richardson, who is the owner and editor of Off Grid Survival, a website dedicated to helping people learn how to survive in just about every situation. He is a licensed HAM radio operator, and an avid hiker and backpacker with over 20 years of wilderness survival experience.

Rosa Heyman: How did you become interested in the survivalist movement?

Robert Richardson: I don’t know that I ever became “interested” in the movement. I think it’s just how I grew up. From a young age I loved the outdoors, I loved spending time hiking, fishing, and doing just about any outdoor activity. I think those activities helped prepare me to talk about the topics that I write about.

RH: Do survivalists anticipate some sort of apocalyptic or disruptive world event in which they would need to use their skills, or is it more about being prepared for the worst case scenario? 

RR: I like to tell people that it’s not about preparing for some apocalyptic end of the world event; it’s about preparing for those small events that can feel like the end of the world when you’re in the middle of the crisis. Remember the earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand? What about tsunamis that hit Hawaii, Japan, and Thailand? What about the numerous hurricanes that hit every single year? These are the types of events that people should worry about. The fact is, bad things happen and being prepared for bad things just makes sense. It’s no different from buying home, life or car insurance. We all hope that we will never have to use them, but when something bad happens it’s sure nice when it’s there.

RH: Do survivalists align themselves with any political party or particular social movement?

RR: I don’t think you can really paint “survivalists” with that broad of a brush. While a good many of them may consider themselves to be conservative or libertarian, they really come from so many different backgrounds and political belief systems that it’s hard to align them with any one political party.

RH: Are there any survival skills in particular that you think everyone should know, regardless of where they live?

RR: Yes, I think the most important skill that anyone can possess is knowledge. Oftentimes people focus on things like emergency supplies and gear, but without knowledge that gear quickly becomes useless in a survival situation. Knowledge is really the key to being able to survive in just about any situation.

As far as specific skills, if you’re just starting I would tell you to focus on the basics. Food, water, shelter, and protection.

Even the government says you should have enough food and water on hand to make it through a 72 hour emergency. I would suggest a lot longer than that; but my main point is bad things happen, and you need to be prepared. If you look at events like Hurricane Sandy and Katrina, most people were without food, power, and supplies for over a week.  If you know how to secure all of these things during an emergency, you have a much better chance of making through that emergency situation than the person who relies on the government for protection.

RH: Do you use any of your survival skills on a daily basis?

RR: Of course; I think we all use certain “survival skills” on a daily basis. While they may not be the exact skills that our ancestors used, those primal instincts still live inside us and alert us to the dangers in our modern environment. From being aware of your surrounding when walking in a dark parking lot, to keeping an eye on what’s going on in your neighborhood, we all have instincts that can protect us if we listen. But again this all goes back to knowledge; the knowledge of what to look out for, and the ability to be able to know when something is not right.