As many as 3.7 million Americans are classified as preppers or survivalists. Being a "doomsday prepper" is not easy -- or cheap. These people prepare for different disasters for different reasons. Most think that natural, financial or other disasters will destroy our infrastructure or tear society apart.
Whether they prepare for long or short-term emergencies, at the very least survivalists plan to have the basic necessities: food, clothing and shelter. Many prepare for much more than the basics with self-defense and security measures, power systems, water filtration, communications and bunkers. Given their numbers and their willingness to spend money, catering to doomsday preppers has become a multibillion dollar business. Regardless of which item is being considered, each $1,000 of expenses for just 1 million people comes to $1 billion.
Click here to see who is making money on doomsday preppers
To identify the industries that benefit the most from doomsday preppers, 24/7 Wall St. focused on key spending categories. Many items are actually impossible to flag as "prepper supplies" because they are ordinary household items bought by consumers every day. Other items are more specific and can run into the thousands of dollars or more.
The costs of basic needs -- food, clothing and shelter -- can be enormous for preppers as they plan for disaster. Food cannot just be a few cans of beans and rice with some bottled water, but months or even years worth of prepackaged goods. It can include water filtration and purification systems and thousands of gallons of bottled water. Shelter may translate to a defendable urban shelter or a remote refuge away from cities. Clothing may be extreme weather gear and may include hazardous material suits, warfare and hunting gear. Backup medicines and first aid kits are also basic needs.
For the more extreme survivalists, there is “bugout gear” that goes way beyond a suitcase, backpack and tent. Some preppers keep gold and silver stashes to barter with when paper money will be worthless. Guns, knives and ammunition are also common among preppers. Many go so far as to have generators or at least rudimentary cooking supplies and candles to last for months. Hand-crank emergency radios, specialty tools and equipment are also considered essentials.
Being a doomsday prepper is not actually that new. During the 1950s and 1960s, houses were built with bomb shelters, from the very basic to quite elaborate. Shelters were also not unheard of in the 1970s and 1980s during the height of the Cold War. Congress had a plan to relocate the government to an alternative site in The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.
These are the industries making the most money on doomsday preppers.
TheReadyStore.com started out selling 72-hour emergency kits, but quickly realized customers were looking for much more. Now, the company sells its READYprep-2000 Food Storage Supply Kit, a 12-month supply of balanced nutrition from freeze-dried foods that are reconstituted with water. The average shelf life: 27 years. The cost: $3,683.25. Even Costco Wholesale Inc. (COST) sells the Chef's Banquet All-Purpose Readiness Kits for $149.99, with more than 600 servings of premium "just add water" meal options. Its shelf life is 20 years. WiseFoodStorage advertises on the Doomsday Preppers TV show a $2,595 kit of one-year’s worth of supplies for two adults. It boasts a 25-year shelf life.
Other options besides freeze-dried foods are canned and packaged goods. You can even can your own foods, but this may require some extra knowledge. Canned and soft-packaged foods can last for years, too, but they require more space and create more waste than freeze-dried meals. And, at $1 to $3 a can, their cost can add up quickly.
Another option is the Meal Ready-to-Eat, or MRE, that is used by the armed forces. TheReadyStore sells a three-month supply of MREs for more than $1,900, and the shelf life is listed as being up to five years.
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Preppers may have lots of water stored, but it is likely the bulk of their expenses will come from filtration and cleaning supplies. For preppers, a few of the iodine tablets commonly used by hikers will not be enough. They have stockpiled huge quantities of tablets or concentrated forms of additives to make water potable. Most preppers expect to rely more on water filtration and purification systems than on hoarding endless supplies of bottled water, according to the Mountain Valley Water's press department. Gallons of bottled water soon become difficult to store and transport.
Water purification systems vary widely in price. The Berkey Light System can be bought for around $200 or $300, while other water filtration and purification systems can cost much more than that. Some preppers just opt for low-tech filtration and purification systems, like ones from Brita or similar manufacturers, which cost less than $50, with replacement filters about $7 a pair.
Buying large water collection vats is fairly cheap, sometimes less than $100, depending on the size. Larger rainwater collection systems can cost hundreds of dollars or more. Rooftop rainwater collection systems are even more expensive.
While this section is about clothes, it is not for the fashion minded -- or the price-conscious. End-of-days survival wear can cost as much as an Armani suit. A hazardous materials (hazmat) suit can cost anywhere from under $1,000 to $3,000 or more. Gas masks and other protective equipment are considered essential by many preppers, and a lot of them have been sold over the years.
For basic clothing and footwear, many put aside gear similar to that used by hunters. While simple shirts and pants can be bought on the cheap, they can get into the hundreds of dollars if they are specialized or have certain designs. Survivalists often include several of these clothing items, as well as undergarments, socks and the like. Each pair of pants and shirt combined is likely more than $75 and can go much higher.
Shoes and boots can be purchased in a wide range of prices. Rocky sells lightweight military-grade boots for $135 per pair. Rocky's hunting boots run from $100 to $200 on average, and its hiking boots run from $90 to $150. Outdoor Life gave a review of the best hunting boots in 2012, and most of these range from $150 to $200, although the price can easily be double that.
4. Shelter and Power, Tents to Fortresses
Shelter is a broad topic. In doomsday prepper terms, a shelter might refer to a country house; a large, ship storage container configured for living; or it can be a concrete bunker. Some preppers have decided to live in the rough -- off the grid as far as electricity and life's normal amenities are concerned. While others have gone the luxury route, with multimillion dollar facilities. Former missile silos are one example, one with a $3+ million plan shown here.
While many preppers buy their supplies from places like Home Depot or Lowe's, others have gone to much more expensive sources for power generation, insulation and power supplies. To power their shelters, some preppers plan to use generators from companies likes Generac Holdings Inc. (GNRC), but these may be more appropriate for shorter periods of power outage rather than long-term solutions because of the fuel needed to power them could run out.
While many preppers own generators, renewable and self-reliant power solutions are better options for longer-term power needs. Solar panels and the battery systems attached to them can help maintain basic electricity needs, but they will not be able to power every household seamlessly. They require converters and can cost up to tens of thousands of dollars for full systems. Smaller solar power charging devices or packs can be purchased for as little as $200 to $300. Other power sources that run easily into the thousands of dollars are smaller wind turbine systems, hydroelectric systems and even biomass power systems.
The cheaper prepper options would be simple camping gear. Millions of tents, sleeping bags, bug nets and other camping items have been sold each year. Cheap tents can be bought for $40 or $50 and sleeping bags can cost as little as $20, but campers and preppers also can spend exponentially higher amounts for more durable and specialized gear.
Cargo shipping containers are abundant and can provide the bare bones for a sturdy structure. Mobile Mini Inc. (MINI) storage containers can be used for storage as rentals. Larger shipping containers from other sources can be used as living structures and can be purchased for as little as $1,000, or for more than $5,000, before delivery costs.
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5. Media, Books, Events
The media certainly has been a beneficiary of people who are preparing for the end of the world. The National Geographic channel has a show called “Doomsday Preppers,” which just kicked off a new season in August. Men's Journal forecasts that some 1.3 million people watched the first episode of Season 2.
Advertising agencies and preproduction outfits also make commercials that market goods and services to preppers. They pay to place these commercials on TV and all over the Internet, especially on conservative talk shows and websites about guns.
There are also many books and magazines for survivalists. Amazon.com lists hundreds of titles around the theme. There is even a Preppers magazine website, as well as Geared magazine. Mother Earth News and Backwoods Home magazine could even be included in the prepper’s economy because they have many tips about remote living and self-reliance.
At gun shows, too, freeze-dried food and other prepper items are sold. There are actual "prepper conventions," such as Survival Preppers Expo and PrepCon.
There are many websites for extreme survivalism. Some are doomsday prepper websites, some are middle-of-the-road survival information sites. Many have online stores. One site, SHTFplan.com, ranks the 50 top websites and blogs for preppers.
6. Security: Guns, Knives and Surveillance
Security will be key for any prepper who expects a doomsday scenario. Gun stores went down to bare shelves after the Sandy Hook massacre, and that was over gun control fears rather than a doomsday scare. Preppers may not just have a few guns, but dozens of them. Gun sales have been strong for years now, as evidenced by the financial results and guidance of Smith & Wesson Holdings Corp. (SWHC) and Sturm, Ruger & Co. (RGR).
Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK) may say that its business from hoarders and preppers is small, considering that it sells to law enforcement and military, but it is the largest munitions maker in America. Gun store workers have told us that part of the recent demand for bullets is hoarding. Some families have in excess of 10,000 rounds of ammunition, depending on how many different types of weapons they own. This stockpiling likely is considered essential by preppers for hunting as well as for self-defense.
Entry-level rifles can be purchased for just under $1,000, while shotguns, pistols and other rifles can be purchased for less. Just keep in mind that many advanced or specialized guns and items like scopes and sound-suppression devices can cost several thousand dollars. Basic ammunition can be purchased for $0.20 to $0.75 per round, with a very wide price range based on bullet type. A $2,000 gun and ammo stash is unlikely to satisfy a serious prepper.
Security and surveillance systems might not seem that important if power systems are down, but those who take their prepping seriously have security systems already in place. Some have Web-monitored video surveillance. For now, these systems can monitor the thousands of dollars of stored food, supplies and equipment. Entry-level security camera systems can be bought for a couple hundred dollars, but also can go much higher.
7. Basic Supplies, Bugout Bags and Commerce
A “bugout bag” is a backpack full of goodies and necessities a person can take immediately to survive for a few days. There are many basic supplies that are good to keep around, whether or not someone is worried about the future. The basics include food, water, clothing, medicine, first aid supplies, vitamins or supplements and all the other basic supplies. Tape, tools, rags, glue, candles, flashlights, batteries and baggies can be added to the bugout bag, as well as knives, guns or other defense items. Considering such supplies should last months or more, the cost can be large and difficult to estimate. Hundreds of dollars for a simple restock of basic goods could easily become thousands if someone is buying enough to live off of for months or years.
Many people, not just preppers, own bugout bags or evacuation kits. This is especially true in areas where residents might be forced to leave their homes at a moment's notice because of severe weather -- storm or natural (or manmade) disaster. The cost for a basic bugout bag, including the backpack or satchel, could easily run well over $100 and exponentially higher, even before adding the self-defense costs. The Red Cross has a checklist for emergency survival kits. TheReadyStore sells a 72-hour two-person kit for less than $120.
If things deteriorate quickly, many preppers would rather have gold, silver and other barter materials than paper money. History suggests that these metals can be exchanged for food, shelter and other supplies. No formal estimate exists about how many preppers keep gold and silver stashes -- or how much they might have -- but ten ounces of silver costs more than $200 and an ounce of gold is worth more than $1,300 at current prices. In a disaster, neither $200 nor $1,300 would last very long.
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8. Communication, Computing and Electronics
If the power grids are gone or cell towers and communications lines are down, smartphones, TV and Internet obviously will not work, even for solar-powered devices. In such a case, there are other basic tools for communications (and computing) already on the market today.
Communication is important to get news and information, if there is any to be had. What most preppers have as a communications device with the outside world in disaster areas are hand-crank or solar emergency radios. These cost less than $75, some significantly less.
Two other systems can be used, but how they will work depends on many "doomsday" variables. One is ham radio and another is satellite phones. Ham radio equipment varies widely and requires knowledgeable people to use. Satellite phones are tricky because the satellite communications stations keeping them in orbit have to be operated, and eventually all satellite and orbiting systems will fail without ground personnel running them.
Walkie-talkie or two-way radio systems are also available on the market very cheaply. Many basic systems cost less than $50, and some better systems are under $100. Those radio distances of 15, 20 or more miles are all based on perfect conditions, without signal interruption from trees, buildings and the like, and they will need power sources of some sort. Satellite phones cost up to $1,000 or more from Iridium Communications Inc. (IRDM) and as low as $500 from from Globalstar. Buying minutes, however, may be hard to do if the infrastructure has crumbled.
The doomsday prepping economy is vast. We did not assign any value to how much would be spent on all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes or backup cars or trucks. What about tallying up the cost of firearms training or survival and self-defense classes and workshops? Or the cost of greenhouses to grow foods? The list can go on and on, with preppers effectively spending as much as it would cost to replicate their entire lives on a minimalist and survivalist scale.
Do you believe yet that prepping is a multibillion business? When you start considering the costs for 3 million or more people, each category we have outlined can run into the billions of dollars, and that is without many big-ticket items.
Want to find out how long you would survive in a doomsday scenario? National Geographic has a test for you that will give you a Prepper Score.
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