“Next thing I see is, they hanged the colored boy, ’cause they caught him stealing. And they had established, I think, about 1,000 trees in the forest out in Mark Twain to hang people from if they catch them stealing or whatever. And I had a big dog—my dog died of bone cancer of all things two years ago. Buddy was half-Rottweiler, half-German shepherd. He was a dog, and he was with me in this. And I also have a police riot gun, a 12-gauge, that holds eight magnum shells. So I’m seeing all this stuff happening, and then I look around, and my dog’s gone. So I picked up my shotgun and went to look for my dog, and I found five men, and they were already skinning him to eat.”
Robyn Gershon, a public-health professor at N.Y.U. who specializes in disaster preparedness, concedes that, in the age of global warming, it is not so outlandish to be thinking about the apocalypse. Per the “push-pulse theory of extinction”—a theory devised to explain the mass death of the dinosaurs—any strain on an ecosystem leaves the species in it far more vulnerable to cataclysm. Today, climate change and rising sea levels put us at greater risk of being wiped out by a disastrous event, such as a pandemic or a supervolcano.
Zombie Squads make up a small portion of the overarching prepper movement—people devoted to learning how to survive any disaster, from a house fire to a zombie attack. The movement, says Huddleston, an anthropologist at Saint Louis University and Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, has grown “a ton” in recent years. “Because one, people are afraid of things in the world,” he explains. “And two, I think many people have had experiences with different kinds of small-scale or even large-scale disasters, be it Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy, and they see that there is some practical value in knowing a little bit or having a little bit”—such as knowing how to do first aid or having enough food on hand.
I found this practicality attractive. I liked how Preppers were given to debate (bear spray or baseball bats? Water purification or water filtration?) and how they were versed in esoteric areas of knowledge (fish antibiotics, New York City knife laws). I was especially enamored of the jargon: “GOOD” (Get Out of Dodge) or “TEOTWAWKI” (The End of the World as We Know It). And yet, I must confess, there were moments that gave me pause.
Expert advice isn’t always as expert as we’d like to believe. There have been many times when I tried to follow how-to advice, only to get frustrated that I can’t seem to do what they did, or I sometimes figure out a more efficient method on my own anyway. This is especially true for the prepper lifestyle. When the internet started exploding with prepper advice a few years ago, most of the bloggers and self-proclaimed experts were learning as they go along with their readers.
What’s the bare minimum you need to navigate across land? For most people, that would be a compass and map. A basic road map is sufficient to get a rough approximation of the lay of the land. More detailed relief maps can help plan for elevation and estimate possible water sources but they also take up more room in your pack. Waterproofed or laminated maps are also extremely helpful. Lensatic compasses are the most reliable for little money. If possible, a compass and protractor are also extremely helpful for route planning. Obviously, not as essential but nonetheless useful.