19 Prepping and Survival Terms You Need to Know

Prepping and Survival Terms You Need to Know

If you’re interested in becoming prepared for the next major disaster and have spent any length of time researching this topic, you may have come across some fairly unusual terms or acronyms that you don’t fully understand. That’s ok! All us preppers have been there, and it’s normal when you’re just getting started. That’s why I have taken the time to compile this simple list of the most common prepping and survival terms you need to know.

The Language of Survivalists and Preppers

When disaster strikes, the time for lengthy discussions or explanations is at an end. Every second counts. Preppers and survivalists have come up with creative survival terms and acronyms to get information out quickly and efficiently so they can get back to staying alive.

While the full list of terms is rather exhausting to read, you’ll eventually want to check it out. For now, here are the 19 most important prepper terms you should know.


It stands for “Sh*t’s Hit The Fan.” When SHTF, all hell has broken loose and you’re either in the middle of a disaster or about to be. This is the time to either get out and head toward your safe location or stay where you are and ride it out. Either way, life is about to get much more complicated—or much less complicated, depending on your perspective. Similar terms include EOTW (End Of The World) and TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It). I don’t much care for that super long one, but you’ll probably see it in a few articles so I mentioned it here. I think it takes too long to type, so I’ll stick with SHTF.

2. Prepper

That’s you! Preppers are survivalists who have thought about potential dangers and have prepared in advance. They keep food, water, medical supplies, and bartering goods in a safe location until SHTF. Whether it’s an angry Mother Nature destroying the world or tyrant governments throwing tantrums that cause the collapse of civilization, preppers will be ready to survive.

3. Bug Out

When you bug out, it means you leave your current location and get to safer ground. You don’t want to bug out unless you have a safe location to go to, so don’t just run out the door when SHTF. You wouldn’t be much of a prepper if you did.

Survival terms that can prepare you for this
This might be the view from your shelter when SHTF.

4. Bug In

I hope it’s obvious that bugging in is the opposite of bugging out. If you bug in, it means you’re staying right where you are. Presumably, you’re bugging in because it’s safer to stay than it is to go. Only you can decide if you should bug in or bug out.

5. BOB

This isn’t you dear uncle Bob, though I’m sure he’s a great guy. BOB stands for “Bug Out Bag” and it is your lifeline to survival when SHTF. If you have to bug out, you better have enough supplies on hand to last at least three days. Your BOB will have enough food, water, shelter, and medical supplies to get you to a safer location. If you anticipate trouble getting to a safe spot, you might want to consider a bigger BOB or a closer bug out location (BOL). A similar term is GOOD Kit, which means “Get Out Of Dodge” Kit, but I think it’s too long so I don’t use it.

6. BOL

Your BOL is your “Bug Out Location.” It’s the safe place you’ll be heading to when you bug out. Many preppers only have one of these. I think that’s shortsighted. Personally, I have several BOLs I can choose from, each within a reasonable distance of the places I visit most often in everyday life. Paranoid or prepared? You decide!

7. BOV

A BOV is a “Bug Out Vehicle.” This is any vehicle that you plan to use to get you safely out of the danger area once disaster strikes. It can be your daily driver or a fully custom made, 4-wheel drive, end-of-the-world machine! It should be a fast and reliable way to get to your BOL. Here’s a fun phrase: Grab your BOB, hit your BOV, and head to your BOL because SHTF. By now, that sentence should make sense, and maybe it even get you a little excited. If it does, congratulations, you’re a prepper at heart!

8. Cache or Stash

“Cache” and “Stash” both refer to any supplies that you’ve stored in a safe location. These stashes can also be buried along your route to your various BOLs.

9. EDC

“Everyday Cary” is any item that you have with you every single day so you are never left unprepared. This can be anything, but generally means a pocket knife, compass, multi-tool, flashlight, or weapon.

10. YOYO

“YOYO” means You’re On Your Own, and that can spell trouble. Despite sharing a name with an exciting childhood toy, this acronym isn’t much fun. You might see or hear this when you’ve missed a call to bug out on time and you missed your ride. You may see this scrawled on the wall of your BOL when someone’s taken your stash. Whatever the situation, if YOYO, you better have a backup plan.

Survival terms make communication simple
When SHTF, grab your BOB and your BOV and get to your BOL.

11. MRE

Meals Ready to Eat are calorie-dense meals in lightweight, sealed packages that are easy to store and require no preparation in the field. They are generally found in military surplus stores, but you can often find them for sale on prepper websites.

13. ELE

ELE stands for “Extinction Level Event.” If you hear someone shout this, the world is about to end and you better bug in. This would be a global catastrophic event like supervolcano eruptions, magnetic pole reversal, or massive meteor showers. It’s not likely anyone would survive an ELE, but preppers have a better chance than Pollyannas.

13. Pollyanna

The dictionary defines Pollyanna as “an excessively cheerful or optimistic person.”  In the prepping world, Pollyannas are people who don’t believe that disasters will strike and they don’t think people should waste time getting prepared. Ignorance is bliss. Or so they say. They’re clearly in denial, but that’s okay. There isn’t much room in the wasteland for people who don’t believe bad things can happen and aren’t prepared to deal with them.

14. Sheeple

While not as clueless as a Pollyanna, a Sheeple isn’t much better. These are the people who follow their government or the media with no questions asked. They may believe that bad things can happen, but they don’t prep because they think the government will save them.

15. EMP

EMP stands for “Electromagnetic Pulse.” If you’ve been paying attention to the news over the last few years, you’ve probably heard this term a time or two. The ones to worry about come from a nuclear detonation. An EMP has the potential to knock out every electronic device without warning. Even worse, an EMP is likely to take out all communications and cause the collapse of our country’s infrastructure.

16. Grid Down

This term refers to the power grid. It may be as simple as a localized blackout or as serious as an EMP taking out the power grid of an entire country. In either situation, there is no power so you’d better be prepared with your own heat and light.

17. Off-Grid

When someone goes Off-Grid, they have chosen a life without traditional power and water supplied by the community. These folks are usually Super Preppers that already have everything they need to survive and no longer need to suckle the government’s teats. If anyone survives an ELE, they’ll end up Off-Grid, too. Might as well be prepared in advance!

18. Rule of 3

The Rule of 3 is a simple way to remember that you can generally go 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter in dangerous conditions, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. It’s not perfect, of course, but it’s a general rule to help you decide which of your basic needs should get your attention first.

19. Zombie

Sometimes called the Golden Horde, Zombies are the unprepared people who survived the disaster but are now after your stash. They will be aggressive, devious, and dangerous, so make sure you have adequate protection before SHTF.

Video: A Crash Course on Prepping Terms and Acronyms


Preppers have a whole language that helps them stay connected and prepared, even when the grid goes down. Some make sense and will be easy to guess, while others will take some time to get used to. For now, these 19 terms should get you started so you can understand the lingo and concentrate on learning how to be prepared for the next big disaster.

Have you heard any strange prepper terms that you don’t understand? Share in the comments and let’s see how strange we can get!

John Walter

John Walter is an emergency preparedness consultant with eight years of experience and training in related fields. He is a passionate prepper living in the Sacramento area of California.

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