What Does Prepping Mean and What is a Prepper?

What does prepping mean? What is a prepper?

Are you prepared for an emergency or natural disaster? Many people, popularly called preppers, have turned this habit of preparedness into a lifestyle.

The dictionary defines prepping as:

  • “the action or process of preparing something, or preparing for something.” 

With additional definitions of:

  • “the practice of making active preparations for a possible catastrophic disaster or emergency, typically by stockpiling food, ammunition, and other supplies.”

Preppers have recently become a popular topic. Although many rely on a complex economic system to supply our needs, some people are opting out of this to various degrees. These people instead focus on producing many of the things they need to survive and storing these goods for possible future breaks in our system. 

Many people begin prepping on a low level and then progress to increasing levels of preparedness. Along the way, they find that there is a community of like-minded individuals with information, support, and friendship to share such as that on the SuperPrepper network. What exactly is a prepper? Why are we hearing more about this subculture? There is a huge variation in the prepping community, and a great deal of misconception, so the answers are often surprising.

What Is Prepping?

Stated simply, prepping is the process of preparing oneself to survive without a complex infrastructure such as that which exists in modern society. The term “prepping” often refers to the act of preparing oneself for life during and after an apocalyptic event.

How do you get your most basic necessities, such as food and water? Many of us are removed from how these and other goods are produced and transported because of modern technology. A quick turn of the faucet can get you clean, drinkable water. You can even choose the water temperature! Food of all sorts arrives from far-flung places to be thrown in a cart and then a cupboard with no further thought. Literally, everything we need to survive can be obtained with the swipe of a card.

Most modern people are reliant on a wide range of services and goods that hold up our society and ensure that necessary products arrive where they are needed. We assume that this infrastructure will always be there for us, that there will never be a need to provide for ourselves for even a short period of time.

However, there have been notable times even in modern history when this system has failed. Even in the United States, people have been left without food and other necessities due to natural disasters (see how likely you are to be affected by a natural disaster). In other areas, the infrastructure breaks down because of political or economic conflicts. Although many assume that they will never face such trying times, the possibility is always present.

Preppers, well, prepare for this. They learn to provide for their own needs without existing infrastructure or at least how to effectively store what they need. This can include food, water, shelter, transportation, clothing, and more.

As you can imagine, this requires a great deal of planning and expertise. Most people start small and then increase their prepping measures as they learn more. As a result, there is a great deal of variation among preppers.

Different Levels of Prepping

Like all people, every prepper is unique. However, there are a few basic “levels” of prepping that most types of preppers will fall into. Most preppers will fall into one or more of these categories.

A prepper is ready for anything.
Preppers can be anything from someone who buys a few extra groceries every month to put away to someone who has weapons, food, and supplies for multi-year long disasters.

1. Basic Preparedness

Although we hear a great deal about grocery store raids before forecasted storms, many Americans prepare for the common problems in their areas far ahead of time. They ensure that they have the food, water, first aid supplies, and other necessities that would be needed if they didn’t have access to a grocery store for several days or weeks.

This can include a stocked pantry and a case of bottled water as well as candles or battery-operated lamps. The most basic level of prepping includes the items you would take camping or for any outdoors trip.

This level of preparedness is recommended by most governments even in developed nations. We acknowledge as a society that our infrastructure may fail or that we may be trapped in our homes for short periods of time by unforeseen circumstances. This is not disputed by mainstream experts and organizations.

2. Preparing for a Disaster That Lasts a Month or More

Some people, even in the mainstream, wisely prepare for longer periods of poor weather or infrastructure failure. After all, Hurricane Katrina and other notable events have left people without access to first-world conveniences for longer than just a few days.

In this level of preparation, people will be more conscious about their preparation. They will actively consider how long they could feasibly be without services and take stock accordingly. In addition to items such as shelf-stable food and bottled water, they will keep vitamins, fuel, and other supplies that are necessary for living comfortably.

This is the level at which people begin to be considered “preppers” as opposed to normal Americans with a well-stocked pantry. Possessing one or more of the following belongings is an identifying characteristic of these people:

  • A generator.
  • Defensive weapons.
  • Extensive stock of food and water that is rotated so it is always fresh.
  • “Bug out bags” with necessities that can be easily transported in the event one must quickly leave their home.
  • Communication devices allowing one to contact others without a cell phone grid or internet access.
  • Literature and forum memberships that focus on prepping.

This level of prepping requires more forethought and planning. Although it is extreme by mainstream comparison, there are still higher levels of prepping to be achieved.

3. Preparing for a Long-Term Catastrophe

This level is similar to Level 3, except they plan for a far longer time frame of months or even years. As a result, they often have gear and supplies that are downright impressive and can consume a great deal of mental and physical space. Levels 3 and 4 are somewhat of a continuum in real life practice.

4. Off the Grid Preparation

The Meaning of Prepping, Off Grid is a Level 4 in Preparedness
Prepping doesn’t have to be a dreary concrete fallout shelter and gas masks. Living in a simple off-the-grid cabin with some self-sufficiency can make you a serious “Level 4” Prepper.

While the prior three levels have taken various steps to prepare for a lack of infrastructure, this level aims to live on a daily basis without the modern economy and transportation system. These people often are living in rural areas and producing much (if not all) of their own food. They have functioning wells, power sources that are not part of the electric company, and other means of self-support. The goal for this group is to have a major disaster produce no change in their lifestyle whatsoever, and to live indefinitely without the system.

Preppers Throughout History

What most now call prepping was once considered common sense and practiced by almost all people. People throughout history did not have access to supermarkets. They had to store food for the winter or for emergencies. A lack of this preparation led to death.

In addition, mobility required extensive preparation. Sailors embarking on a voyage had to prepare for water, sanitation, vitamin needs, medicines, and more. Similarly, anyone with passing familiarity with the Oregon Trail computer game knows that our pioneers had to be prepared. Families settling the American West had to consider how they would build their homes, farm, and protect themselves, in addition to basic physical needs both on their journey and at their destination.

Families in the early and mid-twentieth century kept up the tradition of self-reliance. Victory farms and other means of preparation helped Americans survive the world wars and dedicate as many resources as possible to keeping America safe. This was considered a viable way of protecting your family and country.

Although prepping is very much a choice now, most people had to prepare to various extents in the past. Because of the high possibility of natural disasters and economic instability, preparation is a good idea, even today. As a result, it is becoming more popular and even somewhat of a pop culture phenomenon.

Preppers in Modern Popular Culture

Although preppers are still considered somewhat of a subculture, there has been an increasing representation of different facets of the community in popular culture recently. The television show “Doomsday Preppers” features members of the prepping culture and details some of their projects, although it often sensationalizes a fairly straightforward practice of preparation. “Mountain Men” is another popular show, based on those who live fully off-the-grid.

meaning of prepping - doomsday preppers
Doomsday Preppers, a Popular National Geographic Show, gives inside looks into the meaning of prepping, and what it means to be a prepper.

Preppers have also formed visible communities on several popular social media platforms. Facebook has hundreds of active prepper communities. They also have formed networks on other social media platforms such as Pinterest.

Last, there are several popular books and magazines that help preppers of a variety of levels. Regardless of your level of preparation or your reasons for doing it, there is sure to be a great deal of literature relevant to your needs as well as a community ready to join you on your journey.

The Meaning of Prepping, National Preppers and Survivalist Expo
The National Preppers and Survivalists Expo in Jacksonville, Florida.

Common Misconceptions About Preppers

The most vocal and most unusual members of a community are generally the most noticeable. This is true of all subcultures, including that of prepping. As a result, there are several misconceptions about preppers. We are a huge and varied group of people with a variety of beliefs and practices. The following misconceptions may be true of some preppers, but not all of us.

  • Preppers are dangerous. Many people assume that preparation requires a fear of others or animosity. Many preppers own weapons to protect themselves if necessary. Some of us hunt and fish. However, dangerous people are rare and quickly ostracized by the prepping community.
  • Preppers are extremists, oddballs, and kooks. Just as most American families can’t be represented by the Kardashians, most preppers cannot be represented by those shown on television and written about in books. Our community has some much loved colorful characters, but most of us are normal people with an extra generator or two.
  • Preppers are conspiracy theorists. I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next person, but that is not my reason for prepping. I prepare because it’s wise and will ensure the safety of my family in the event of a disaster. It’s as common sense to me as purchasing auto or life insurance.
  • Prepping is expensive and time-consuming. Although there are many fancy gadgets and toys that can make prepping more fun, it also can be done on a budget. As with all hobbies, you can choose how much time and money to dedicate. Many of us are doing this with limited means, so don’t assume finances will be an obstacle.
  • Preppers are insular. Some people are friendlier than others, but you’ll find a community ready to embrace you at all levels of prepping.


In conclusion, prepping means different things to different people. Despite any minor differences, being prepared for whatever life may bring is a common trait among all preppers. If you share this passion, feel free to dip your toe into the community and find out what we are about.

What are your thoughts on the meaning of prepping? Are you a prepper? Introduce yourself in the comments section below!

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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