This will not be a debate about religion, but it is important to understand that survival is a religion of sorts and whether you believe in a higher power or not, you must make yourself the ultimate judge, jury and executioner of your own fate in the case of a disaster, SHTF scenario or any other unpredictable do-or-die event.
That is why I've created what I believe to be the ultimate “Survival Trinity.” These are the three components upon which all survival strategies and tactics are founded. Understanding and mastering each one to their maximum potential will do more for your ability to survive under and-and-all circumstances than any fancy tool, tip or trick.
In order of importance, The Holy Trinity of Survival is knowledge, morale and gear. When you're preparing for a disaster, it is absolutely critical that you balance your preparation across the trinity's branches. Each situation will be different, so first worry about mastering each of the three and understanding when to use each and how will become a lot easier for you.
Knowledge is the most important part of the survival trinity. Without knowledge, no amount of motivation or gear is going to save a person's life. All the gear in the world is useless if you don't know how to use it. It's interesting to point out that you can have knowledge without (some) gear and survive on improvisation. However, having gear without knowledge will not result in survival. This brings me to my first key principle of the survival trinity: knowledge trumps gear every time. Building your knowledge is a critical part of prepping. If you know how to make rope from nature, you don't need to store lots of rope. If you know how to fashion a rock into an edged weapon or spear, you'll not need to carry extra knives.
Furthermore, consider the implications of having all of your gear stolen. I know more than a couple of you are grumbling about how well you're going to protect your preps, but the truth is that you're just as vulnerable as the next man. Remember than security is just an onion – it has layers and no matter how thick and abundant they are. A sufficiently determined and equipped enemy will always get through the layers to the core. If you lose your stove, can you cook your meals? If you lose your fire kit, can you still start fires? If your weapons are stolen, how will you defend yourself? If you have the knowledge required in these areas, you'll be fine. Knowledge cannot be lost or stolen.
Actionable: Get your hands on books that cover areas you're not intimately familiar with. Before I continue, I want to point out that wilderness survival is not on this list – and stop buying book after book on the topic. If you have the SAS Survival Handbook and/or the Boy Scout Manual, you're covered. Stop focusing on wilderness survival or you're going to be screwed when you bug out in an urban setting.
Books you need to focus on are: organic farming, natural medicine and home remedies, and violence psychology. Specific titles I recommend are: The Homesteading Handbook, Country Wisdom and Know-How, Gardening Wisdom and Know-How, The Country Almanac of Home Remedies, and On Combat. You might be wondering, “can I use an e-reader, such as a Kindle?” Paper books are more reliable, but less portable, so it's up to you to decide.
Morale is a critical consideration for your bug out group and the second part of the survival trinity. Without morale among all members of the group, your group will experience frequent arguments, low productivity, and a shortened survival time. Arrogance, pride, animosity, hatred, and negative thinking and speech must all be put aside. After all, “…every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” (Jesus, Matt 12:25, NIV).
Members need to function as a cohesive team, trusting and encouraging one another, to achieve the best results. Good cohesion and morale building can include music, board games, and projects that allow each member of the group to express their expertise and creativity. My preps include an iPod loaded with my music, a decent pair of headphones, a deck of cards, and some bars of my favorite dark chocolate.
Fiction books, journals to write in, and basic art materials (such a as a coloring book) can also be positive morale-boosters, even for adults. The primary focus is to avoid depression, which can rapidly become prevalent in the post-event environment. If you're the group leader, it's your responsibility to ensure that everyone in your group is packing at least one creature comfort item to help them mentally escape and keep their morale up post-event. You need to encourage positive thinking and speech.
Everyone's favorite thing is gear, and there are tons of gear tips and tricks so I'm not going to dwell on this. Gear is an important part of the survival trinity but not the most important. Without some gear (food, water treatment, etc) the survivor likely won't make it longer than a couple of weeks post-event. However, the right gear and an intimate knowledge of how to use it can sustain a person or group indefinitely. The gear you store back in your preps is going to vary on your location in the country, city or country environment, climate, and expected disaster. Someone expecting a financial collapse is going to prepare differently than someone expecting an EMP, foreign invasion, or pandemic flu.
The best advice in the area of gear is this- ensure you absolutely need the item. Try to choose items that can function in ways other than its original purpose. Opt for portable gear, when possible. Make sure your gear doesn't restrict you to one environment (all wilderness, all urban, etc). Try to choose things with renewable expendables (a gas stove without fuel is useless, whereas an esbit stove can use wood). Make sure you have the tools to maintain your gear post-event. Test and use your gear frequently pre-event.
So that's the Survival Trinity. Make sure you're giving equal thought to the different areas of knowledge, morale, and gear. Do everything you can to ensure that your group is adequately prepared in these areas. A lot of preppers get so wrapped up in gear, they completely ignore the need to store up knowledge and morale-boosters. When the SHTF, your group is going to need a holistic solution to survival, not some pile of junk from the store that nobody can use.