How To Survive After Catastrophic Events (SHTF)

How To Survive After Catastrophic Events (SHTF)

The odds of surviving an event known as Survival in Hostile Terrain Following catastrophic events (SHTF) are decisively weighed towards those who are prepared. A SHTF event can be man-made; nuclear, biological, and/or chemical warfare (NBC), civil unrest, coup de tat, etc. It can also be natural: earthquakes, hurricanes, drought, etc. There can also be a combination thereof since a severe storm can cause the cessation of public infrastructure and civil unrest can ensue. It takes more than being well supplied or armed to survive; it also requires an objective. Almost everything I have written here is based on my direct experience as a US Marine Corps infantryman and infantry officer. I believe that most military terminology, planning methodologies and material considerations are applicable to civilian SHTF situations and I mention often that the “wheel need not be reinvented.” It is wiser to learn from the mistakes and lessons of others than to discover them on your own.

Related: How To Know Before It Hits And Steps To Consider 2 hours Before SHTF

Objective Driven

Your objective in a SHTF scenario becomes your mission in life. By no means does it have to be singular either. You will most likely have multiple objectives in an event-driven sequence. For example; (1) Pick up girlfriend from work, (2) Stop by Radio Shack to buy all DL123 batteries in stock, & (3) Begin entrenching patrol base. You must decide your mission, enemy, terrain, & time available (METT). The METT for someone in Los Angeles, California will be far different than for someone in Boise, Idaho.

Plan your objective; a place to go where you and/or your friends and family can assemble. In military vocabulary this is known as a rally point. A rally point is defined as a terrain feature that is easily recognizable by all members of your team, provides cover and concealment, and is defendable for a short period of time. A SHTF scenario can last anywhere from one day due to a blackout or 55,000 years due to nuclear fallout. If there is anything I have learned, it’s that there are no guarantees in life. It’s best to be prepared for the worst with as much as you can reasonably afford.

Danger Areas

Danger Areas can be any areas of high traffic and can include roads, streets, highways, freeways, waterways, main supply routes (MSRs) etc. In the event of a SHTF scenario, all avenues of approach will be negated by other like-minded people who are attempting the very thing you are doing. In short, freeways will become parking lots and streets will become like demolition derbies. Road transportation will become extremely hazardous and perhaps even deadly. Every avoidance of a danger area will increase your chances of arriving at your rally point.

Situational Awareness

Generally, the people you meet down the street or your neighbors are friendly people who in normal times are benevolent. However, in a SHTF scenario you have no way of knowing how anyone will react. The food you would never consider eating during normal occasions may be the crème de la crème after two weeks of starvation. Others might think so too, that can of lima beans you have in the back seat of your car may become a prime rib dinner in the eyes of others who have fasted like you have. There is no certainty as to the extreme of human conditions and desperate circumstances can induce desperate measures. Being aware of your surroundings is situational awareness; it is also scrutinizing your general area and those around you. Here are some situational awareness tips:

Stay away from large groups of people; remember what I said about that can of lima beans.

Don’t let any individual get too close to you without ensuring they mean no harm. >25 meters is a good standard since it is well outside knife or hand-to-hand distance range and just outside of the distance of all but the trained pistol shooters. The >25-meter rule is also useful in an NBC environment where spread of contagion is a possibility.

Warning shots become useful as legal/moral ramifications become blurred.

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Beans, Bullets, Band Aids, and Bad Guys

Your objectives are only made possible by your logistics. Napoleon stated, ”an army travels on its stomach.” Each aspect of logistics will be broken down into the four above-mentioned categories:

Beans – Foods, rations, supplements, etal. The average household will have a stock of canned foods that serve as the basis of any emergency rations. Canned foods will last for years, are easily stored, and will be worth their weight in gold under the wrong circumstances. Though it is more expensive, smaller cans of food will be of more use since they can be eaten in one serving where as a 60-ounce can of tomatoes will prove problematic after it is opened. MREs (Meals-Ready-to-Eat) are standard US military rations and therefore the ideal SHTF ration. Each MRE contains over 2000 calories and supplies almost a full day’s nutrition. The drawbacks of MREs are that they are expensive, bulky, and their shelf life is dependant on temperature constraints. Dried pasta or noodles are ideal because of their lightweight and high carbohydrates, if kept properly they will almost last indefinitely. The popular varieties of freeze-dried camping foods are second only to MREs in their SHTF applicability. They are lightweight, nutritious, and are actually tasty. The only drawback to freeze-dried rations is their necessity for hot water for reconstitution, thus they would not be suitable for “on the go” eating. Regardless of how well thought out your logistics are, one cannot carry enough food to last any extended amount of time. Eventually you will have to either resort to hunting game, fishing, growing your own crops, or foraging.

Bullets – Fodder for your firearms becomes a co-dependent factor with your food supply. With ammunition you can hunt game to eat. If you have food and supplies you better be willing to defend it. This section coincides with the armaments section and there will always be controversy in selecting the pieces of your battery. Logic would dictate that your caliber choices be of the most popular selection so that you may supplement your supply quantities with outside sources. 5.56mm/.223 caliber would be the obvious choice for a rifle or carbine since it is the standard NATO and US rifle caliber. 9x19mm would also be an obvious choice for a pistol caliber for the same reasons and it is ever popular amongst other civilian shooters. Be mindful of what your local law enforcement agency uses, but also understand that most local law enforcement agencies also rely on commercial vendors or even retail stores for their ammunition stocks. Having a large stock of ammunition is an obvious benefit and you can use some of your stock to train with so long as you replenish it with further purchases. Keep in mind of an absolute reserve limit that should be your X Days of Supply (DOS). A simple standard would be an amount that could fill every magazine you have to maximum capacity (minus downloading for spring relief). Modern ammunition is very stable and will last for years if properly contained. Military ammunition cans are exactly designed with this purpose and are inexpensive. Silica gel packs, which are available from electronic stores, can be thrown in with your ammo to ensure moisture absorption. If you envision yourself performing a lot of boat, amphibious operations, or simply live in wet areas it would be wise to water proof each round of ammunition. Simply applying nail polish to each primer will ensure a measure of waterproofing. The small amount of nail polish should have no effect on your weapon’s reliability.

Band Aids – At some point in a SHTF scenario you will become injured to some degree. Your injury may be as simple as an abrasion or as extensive as a broken bone. It is imperative to maintain a first aid kit and know how to use it. Take CPR and first aid classes, take lessons from those in the medical field, and know where any doctors, nurses or EMTs live. In fact, the company of a doctor, nurse, or EMT is well worth the burden in your supply train. Bona fide medical care will become almost an impossible premium in a SHTF environment.

Bad Guys – This becomes the challenging aspect of a SHTF scenario. As mentioned before your neighbors are generally kind, benevolent people during “normal” times but take away electricity, food, and infrastructure and you have a situation with very little anticipated boundaries. Those gangs of street hoodlums down the street were kept in check by the threat of police detainment but what if the police were too busy with more important problem? What would street thugs do without law enforcement? You know as well as I do.

Armaments – One of the most important pieces of your kit is a weapon or battery of weapons. With it you can defend yourself, your property, and take down game for food. The decision to use Deadly Force is a serious one. You will face all legal/moral repercussions in the application of Deadly Force so it is prudent to use it justifiably and righteously.

Mission of the Rifle – The mission of the rifle is to engage point targets from 0-500+ meters with single or rapid rates of fire.

The rifle’s range enables it as being the most effective firearm in a SHTF battery. A semi-automatic, magazine-fed capability only makes it more so. Being that the standard service rifle of the US military is the M-16/M-4 series, it would be the most logical to use an AR-15 derivative in terms of ammunition, magazine, and spare parts compatibility.

Mission of the Shotgun – The mission of the shotgun is to engage point and area targets from 0-50+ meters primarily with multiple projectiles (buckshot). Secondary and tertiary missions can include firing less-than lethal projectiles and anti-materiel rounds.

The shotgun is one of America’s oldest and dependable firearms. Its advantages include the ability to fire a varying suite of shells; buckshot, slug, less-lethal, lock-buster C, incendiary, flechette, etc. A pump-action shotgun is as reliable a machine as humans can design. Though no one knowledgeable in the firearms arena would ever fault the shotgun, there are obvious disadvantages when compared to a rifle:

  • A rifle weighs less or equal to a shotgun.
  • A rifle has up to 10 times the range of a shotgun.
  • A magazine fed rifle can be reloaded much faster than the standard shotgun
  • An AR-15 type carbine with a 30 round magazine is smaller and lighter than a shotgun and can theoretically hit 30 targets out to 500 meters.
  • Even a shotgun with an extended magazine tube can only engage 8 targets out to ~50 meters before being completely empty.

Mission of the Pistol – The mission of the pistol is to supplement either the rifle or shotgun in case either one is absent or non-functioning. The pistol is a defensive weapon in nature and is used to engage point targets from 0-50 meters.

One could not find a harder argument than the choice of a SHTF pistol in the United States. The choices are wide and varied; 9mm, .40 caliber, .45 caliber, double-action, single-action, single-stack, double-stack, etc, etc. I will tell you what pistol I prefer and why. In my humble opinion it fits my objectives in a SHTF scenario and does so remarkably well.

I have chosen the Glock 17 9mm pistol as my SHTF pistol because:

  • Legendary reliability as proven by numerous firearm publications
  • Combat accuracy. Ability to hit human silhouettes consistently out to 50 meters.
  • Tenifer finish and polymer frame render the Glock virtually rustproof.
  • 17+2 magazine capacity theoretically allows me to engage 19 targets before reloading.
  • Very little maintenance is required to keep the Glock functioning.
  • Integral accessory rail to accept tactical light.
  • 34 total parts=1/2 the number in other pistols.
  • No gunsmithing necessary to replace parts. All drop-in.
  • 9mm ammunition is currently the NATO and US standard and is available worldwide.
  • 9mm is inexpensive which means that I can train more.
  • 9mm ammunition produces low recoil, which means that I can engage multiple targets faster.
  • The Glock 17 is smaller and lighter than either the Colt 1911 or the Beretta M-9.
  • A Glock 17 can be easily bought for ~$500.

See the Light

From my direct experience in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the one firearm addition I would suggest above all other things is a tactical light. Building and vehicle interiors are dark whether it is daylight outside. Without a tactical light your weapon is only effective for less than half of the time. The brand I took with me to Iraq was Surefire and it is the world standard for over 15 years. There are others to choose from but I know for a fact that surefire lights work.

Firearm considerations in SHTF

Though being armed is a major step to success in a SHTF scenario, it does no good if your firearm is rendered inoperable due to the environment, time, and the elements.

  • Weapons maintenance: Do you have enough lubrication and cleaning supplies to keep your firearms operational? Are your firearms maintenance intensive?
  • Material corrosion: Are your firearms protected against rust, oxidation, etc.?
  • Most modern firearms will outlive their owners but longevity is also a factor.
  • Spare parts: Do you have spare recoil springs, firing pins, etc.?
  • Magazines: Down loading your magazines will increase spring life. Have some spares and rotate them to give them a break.
  • Bulbs for your tactical lights: Your bulb won’t last forever, have some spares.


This deserves its own paragraph. Today’s firearm enthusiast can have an ultra sophisticated AR-15 carbine complete with tactical lights and holographic sights. In an ideal situation it is the crème de la crème of tactical weapons. Without batteries is it just another AR-15 carbine with added weight and bulk. Based upon your mission, enemy, terrain, and time (METT) you must decide how many days of supply (DOS) of batteries you can afford to maintain. 3-volt DL123 batteries for Surefire lights can be expensive and hard to find but searching online through various tactical-type institutions can lead you to quantity discounts. I know for sure that after the SHTF has started you WILL NOT be able to buy or find any at the local store. The majority of the dot sights today are battery powered and they usually don’t use the DL123 types that the surefire lights use. This causes a great logistical burden as your sophisticated carbine now requires two completely different power sources. You can either be prepared to stock X DOS of Y & Z batteries or take out part of the equation by using an optic that doesn’t require batteries. Tritium-powered optics are also popular on the tactical market and do not require batteries whatsoever. Their tritium-powered sources can last up to 12 years and can be recharged at the factory. New models of optics even have redundant energy sources like the Trijicon Tripower and Zeiss Z-point. The Tripower uses a lithium battery, tritium, and a fiber optic. The Zeiss Z-point is battery powered but also has an integral solar panel that automatically recharges the battery during the day. These two optics appear very attractive when it comes to the inherent challenges of maintaining a stock of batteries.

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Carrying Your Load

As previously mentioned, the danger areas of your community may make road travel difficult or even impossible. You might have to carry everything you want on you. Luckily the wheel need not be reinvented as the military and commercial back packing industries already produce a myriad of load bearing vests, load bearing equipment, rucks, packs, etc. With the military load bearing equipment you have a plethora of gear to choose from. The price ranges can be from less than $20 to the thousands. Your budget and METT will decide what you need. Though I could go on for pages, your eminent survival load should be worn at all times and could be in the form of a load bearing vest (LBV) or harness. LBVs have the advantage of better weight distribution and make use of space on your chest and abdomen. LBVs however, tend to be warmer as they cover more of your body. Harnesses are better if you envision a lot of foot movement or patrolling. They are cooler, lighter, and tend to be more comfortable though typically carry less. The typical layout of a harness includes ammunition pouches, canteens, and a butt pack. This arrangement uses all areas on the hips and thus makes it almost impossible to drive a vehicle while wearing. The choice of which arrangement you choose will depend on your METT. After careful thought, I have concluded what works best for me and it might work for you as well.

LBV-type vest with a combat load of ammunition.

Trouser belt or pistol belt worn separately from the vest with drop holster on strong side, double magazine pouches on left & right front (in case injury is sustained to either hand). Knife in drop kydex sheath on weak side.

Camelbak hydration bladder attached to LBV, no canteens or buttpack so that vehicle driving is not impaired.

With the above arrangement I can effectively drive a vehicle because the back is relatively clear and the camelbak will compact. If for some reason I needed to remove or discard the LBV I will still have my pistol belt with pistol, four magazines, and knife. Currently en vogue, chest harnesses are the rage amongst our American Special Forces operators in Afghanistan and Iraq. Chest harnesses are convenient because they leave the back uncluttered for vehicle driving/riding and wearing a pack.

The one problem of wearing a military-style LBE, LBV, or chest harness is that they are very aggressive looking and are provocative. In many situations one may not want attention yet still be prepared. The 5-11 tactical vests from Royal Robbins are made with heavy weight cotton canvas and have enough pockets for four (4) M-16 magazines, two (2) water bottles, pistol magazines and whatever else you may want to put in its many pockets. This may the ideal load-bearing vest when in populated areas where public scrutiny is to be avoided.


BDUs, Utilities, Cammies, etc – The proper attire for a SHTF scenario can range from what you have on your back that day or dedicated outdoors wear. Though it would be logical to choose US military issue BDUs (Battle Dress Utilities) for their inherent durability and utility, it would be wise to be selective in their use. The wearing of any military-style camouflage uniform can have severe consequences; (1) people will assume you are a member of a radical militia group and will treat you indifferently or even with hostility, (2) people may assume you are in fact a member of the US military and those of anti-government stance will treat you indifferently or with hostility, (3) members of an actual US military unit may believe assumption #1 and detain you, (4) members of a US military unit may believe you are in a U/A (unauthorized absence) status and then detain you. (5) Being under the scrutiny of a US military unit and/or law enforcement is something you may want to avoid. With these reasons alone, the wearing of any camouflage uniform is obviously a questionable choice unless you are in an isolated area with minimal contact from outsiders. It would be to your advantage to maintain a non-provocative profile and blend in with the general populous. One good alternative to US military issue camouflage uniforms are utilities constructed of solid colors. Propper Inc. markets utility trousers and blouses in solid olive drab and solid tan. These are completely identical to US military utilities in their function, cut, rip-stop materials and pocket layout and appear far less provocative than either the woodland camouflage or desert camouflage pattern. In fact, from a distance they appear like the popular “cargo pants” which are currently in fashion. Other good choices are hiking pants as available from outlets like REI, North Face, etc. These are lightweight and offer utility but are less durable and more expensive than the Propper Inc. solid color utilities. Royal Robbins also market 5-11 tactical trousers and shirts which are extremely durable and functional though don’t come cheap.

Boots – Your feet will become your major mode of transportation so it is imperative to put the best protection on them. Your METT will determine what type of foot wear is the most appropriate but most likely a pair of comfortable boots for hiking will be your best choice. I have worn the gamut of military issue boots; black all leather, green jungle, black jungle, Danner Ft Lewis’s, Bates Lites, Desert, and the new Marine Corps Jungle/Desert boot. Boots are a very subjective piece of clothing but I will offer my opinion on the following: the old style black or green jungle boots are good for wet terrain in mild to hot weather in wooded areas. They are terrible for walking long distances in flat areas or road marches, in fact they will carve your feet after prolonged marching. All leather boots are comfortable for most terrain but require high maintenance and are heavy. The Danner Ft Lewis boots are comfortable but heavy and bulky, they will keep your feet warm in all but the most freezing weather, they also require heavy maintenance. Bates Lites are the most comfortable boots I have worn but their only drawback is their lack of traction. The issue Desert boot and the new Marine Corps Jungle/Desert boot are comfortable boots and their rough side out construction makes them low maintenance. I favor the last two boots as my choice for the majority of terrain and climates.

In relation to boots, socks are an important issue. Like anything else, not all socks are created equally. The issue GI wool sock is adequate but marginally at that. GI socks are not durable and will wear out within months of hard use. They are also very thin and offer little cushioning. Thorlo boot socks are very comfortable and will last a year before wearing out at the toe. They will keep your feet warm in all but the coldest of temperatures but have poor wicking ability; hence they retain sweat and must be changed regularly. The best socks I have worn and served me during Operation Iraqi Freedom are the Fox River coolmax boot socks. They wick moisture away, are comfortable, and are very durable; in fact, I still wear the same four pairs a year later.


Your pack is basically your home away from home; it is a survival necessity for all but the best trained. As previously mentioned, the wheel need not be reinvented for this piece of equipment. The standard field pack for the US military for the past thirty years has been the ALICE (All Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment) pack. It is simple, rugged, affordable, and adequately comfortable. They are offered in two sizes; a medium and large. For those living in colder winter climates the large ALICE pack is recommended since it will hold a sleeping bag and warming layers with space to spare. The medium ALICE pack with frame usually markets for ~$50 and a large will ask for ~$80. The commercial backpacking industry is flooded with backpacks of cutting edge technology and space age ergonomics. They make great sense for a “bug out bag” if you are an avid backpacker and do not care to own an ALICE or military-style pack. Commercial packs are considerably more expensive and complex than the ALICE type packs and this should be a consideration since your pack could be ditched in the event of dire circumstances and also survive repeated abuse. Which ever you choose, your SHTF pack or BOB (bug out bag) should be dedicated to task, meaning that it should be loaded for the SHTF mission and permanently maintained as such should its purpose arise. Having to unload/load your pack when you need it will be a hectic task at best and dangerously time inefficient.


Once you have your METT envisioned based upon your most probably SHTF situation you can immediately begin planning. You should have a written inventory of your logistics. You and your family should go over your SHTF plan periodically. Role play “what if” situations with each other. Keep a SHTF binder with all pertinent information in one place so that it can be easily reviewed and updated. Maps, routes, rally points and objectives should be easily memorized.

For the sake of you, your family and loved ones, I hope you never have to use any of this knowledge.


By: Hunter Gatherer

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