When Prepping for Survival, Put a Low Priority on High-Tech

By Melissa

Joe and his group thought they were prepared for anything.  Their provisions included three shiny new SUVs parked in a secure garage and guarded by a sophisticated alarm.  Each member communicated with the others using military-style hand-held radios.  Their communal bunker was outfitted with scanners, CB transceivers, and signal boosting antennas.

The armory held 20 weapons, including sniper rifles, tactical shotguns, and several 9mm pistols.  Most were equipped with laser sights.  Night vision goggles were stored nearby.  A locked vault held 10,000 rounds of ammo for each firearm, along with multiple high-capacity magazines.  In one building was a miniature clinic stocked with antibiotics, pain killers, and electronic diagnostic equipment.  There was even a medical library stored on CDs.

The compound’s exterior was monitored by wireless cameras that fed images to a server set deep in the compound.  The pantry held enough rations to provide each member with 2,000 calories a day for 18 months.  Solar battery banks and a generator fed by a local stream stood ready to provide the compound’s power needs, should the electrical grid go out.

To pass the time, Joe and his group had stocked high-definition televisions, hundreds of DVDs, and two gaming consoles.  When the poop finally hit the fan, they thought they would be living high off the hog for at least a year without breaking a sweat.

They were wrong.  When the crisis finally occurred, it came in the form of a massive solar flare, one that fried the electronics in every piece of equipment they owned.  The SUVs would take them nowhere.  The radios and scanners were useless, the medical library was inaccessible, and the TVs and gaming devices wouldn’t play.  Even the solar array/generator setup was useless; its circuits were burnt to a crisp by the sun’s temper tantrum.  Want to guess how long Joe and his buddies made it without any of their fancy gadgets?

This sad story illustrates a critical error many survivalists commit when planning for the big day.  They forget how incredibly fragile modern technology is, and how much it depends on the infrastructure set up by corporations and the government.  Without the Internet, centralized telecommunications, and an electrical grid, most devices made in the last few decades would be little more than paperweights.

Given these sad facts, what is the average prepper to do?  Here are some guidelines that should underlie any realistic approach to staying alive in truly tough times:

  • Minimize your dependence on technology.  Use smoke signals and stones arranged in patterns to send messages.  Buy vintage autos, ones that are free of onboard computers and other high-tech junk.  In a true survival situation, a VW Bug from the 60s will do you a lot more good than a modern truck with a dead computer chip.  Even better, get a bicycle or a horse.  Forget TV; read paperbound books instead.  Play cards or board games rather than video games.  Do as much as possible while the sun is up, because when it sets you’ll be hitting the sack.   Learn to appreciate silence, because the natural world is a quiet place.
  • Add a black powder weapon to your preps, like the venerable Kentucky rifle, and use it like the pioneers did theirs.  Learn to cast your own bullets and make powder from bat guano and other natural sources.  While you’re at it, make sure you know how to set traps, make compost, and grow vegetables from seeds found in nature, not the kind you buy in the store.
  • Keep some sort of currency around for barter purposes, one that will carry some weight in the post-apocalyptic world.  Hard chocolates, tobacco products, and even coffee beans will be more precious than gold in such a society.  Use these to trade for the items you truly need, like a metal pot to boil water in or a shot of penicillin.

This may not sound like much fun, but following these tips will keep you alive while others are floundering helplessly.  And, if you live long enough to see the return of technology, then you will appreciate its comforts more than ever before.


  1. axelsteve says:

    I 100 percent agree! A modern gps system is not worth a bag of potting soil if you have no juice for it.You have a new solar system for your bol? That may be nice ,but how long does a solar system live? Even without a emp how long does a battery live? How long does a panel live? The sun may be forever but the solar array won`t.I won`t even start with the bov.

  2. Donna in MN says:

    This is a good study about man-made and solar emps-


    I don’t rely on electronics much except a radio, and have a plan if the grid goes down. Been there, done that.

  3. I have some basic electronics – crank emergency-weather radios, crank flashlights, 2-way radios, extra batteries, rechargeable batteries, 2 small solar battery rechargers, & an electronic muscle stim unit for my back, & maybe something I’m not thinking of right now. I hope to eventually get a medium sized solar unit.

    BUT for now, I’m focussing on increasing our water & food -for me, water & food are the highest priorities. & then medicines & first aid & self defense.
    Some of the stuff in this article -antibiotics, scanners, CB’s, night-vision -could be very useful, but it’s a matter of PRIORITIES & getting your BASICS covered first, & then adding as is possible.

    • OlderCowGirl says:

      I would suggest that security be your first priority. Food and water won’t help you at all if you can’t keep it.

      Beware of friends and neighbors in addition to strangers looking to take your stuff. Nice people do crazy things when thirsty and hungry.

  4. Low tech is also cheaper. You can get more “bang for your buck” by focusing on low tech solutions. I have some “high tech” stuff, but most of it is redundant. I have back ups of back ups.

  5. When that bad day comes, and if it is not a solar flare or an EMP, high tech replacement parts will be hard to come by. having simple transportation, and simple tools will save your butt.

  6. Even if it isn’t a solar flare/EMP/whatever that directly takes out the power grid – any prolonged instability can cause enough disruption that the grid would go down. And if the grid goes down, do you really want to put a big target on yourself by using/depending on/flaunting electrical items? Not to mention that any solar/wind generation setup is going to be stressed enough to provide the minimum power needed – depending on a solar generating unit to power your HDTV strikes me as not going to be reliable.

    Sure – keep electronic copies of everything and have some things, but don’t let that be your only method of prepping. Paper copies of books and non-electric tools will always work, no matter the situation.

  7. Big Bear says:

    Great article. Even though I’ve posted articles about solar powered battery chargers and the Power Panel I have always realized that these things are at best fragile and may be nothing more than door stops after an EMP or CME.

    From the beginning our prepping philosophy has been low tech and centered around being able to live similar to those hearty folks that settled the west with nothing more than their determination and whatever they could carry in their covered wagon. There is a tremendous reservoir of survival knowledge available to us if we only look for it.

    Every time I read something that I figure will be valuable information in an off-grid/SHTF world I print it out and save it in a binder. The binder goes on our library shelf with other reference books. I’ve got binders for weapons, farming, raising farm animals, herbal medicine, gardening and hydroponics, etc. We also thought about what we might find when scavenging, especially drugs. This prompted us to buy a 2014 PDR (Physicians Drug Reference) through Amazon. If we find abandoned drugs we’ll be able to research and use them appropriately.

    Get your low-tech preps in order and then branch out to those higher tech items you feel you might need.

  8. tommy2rs says:

    High tech might not be such a good thing even before TSHTF. I read this article yesterday, the picture about a 1/4 of the way down says it all.

    Me, I’ve never owned or even used a GPS, I’ve got a compass and maps. One compass even has a sundial built into it. For that matter I can use a stick and the sun to find my way. Still got my old sliderule and even remember how to use it. I do need an abacus or two to teach the grandkids with.

  9. I know so many preppers who are totally relying on their Kindles, whatevers, to store all needed info for post apocalyptic skills. They just don’t get it that paper doesn’t need regular charging nor has batteries to wear out. And one or two good drops will wreck your unit faster than an EMP/CME.
    And I’m sure many have electronic watches and clocks that will become tomorrow’s dodos.

    • Chuck Findlay says:

      I am looking for an old working wind-up watch. But finding one in working condition is hard to do. I talked to a jeweler and he said that mechanical watches are not nearly as reliable as people think they are. He said that people use to have watches worked on all the time because they had a lot of moving parts and were prone to breakage.

      I still want one, but the more I look for one, the more I see that everyone I find is not working. To me this confirms his statement that they do have a reliability problem.


      • Old USAF Nurse says:

        The Casio Eco-Drive is probably good for 20 post-apocalyptic years. No batteries to replace.

    • I print out the critical articles & file. & most of my survival books are in paper form.
      However, there are numerous ways to recharge something w/ a USB port used to recharge kindles & other electronics, that involve a small solar recharger & a faraday cage will protect electronics from EMP. I made my faraday cage at almost no cost; it’s double-layered (double protected) & insulated.

  10. Good one .while I have a solar system and am working on a hydro power system I also have maps and compasses ,spring box ,a library and the ability to move water without power.
    Hi tech tends to be high price and/or high maintanates . Low tech tends to the I can fix or patch that and make it work .

  11. What is hard chocolate? Does this something like a dark chocolate, baker’s chocolate, or something entirely different?

  12. Prep with low key preps first! Then, if you still have the money. Start prepping with the more fancier stuff.

    Course, backup fancy equipment can be buried deep, but who knows if yet another EMP event may or may not happen again?

  13. Chuck Findlay says:

    I’ve read that EMP can be hit or miss, one item will be dead and another a few feet away will work OK. I’ve also heard that most autos will just be able to restart and drive off. But who knows what will happen? I keep several extra things in a metal cabinet in the basement for just-in-case. But it’s (EMP) not high on my list of things I worry about..

    Also be careful taking advice from a fiction story, the story above is just as much a work of fiction as JWR’s Patriots is. Reason things out and plan, but don’t jump into the idea that every prepper-fiction story is going to come true.


  14. LittleAnniePrepper says:

    I agree as much as possible get low tech gadgets. It will be more physical effort, but at least you’ll have something that works! One idea my husband came up with was purchasing 2 small motors that will cause your bicycles to run off gasoline. He bought them probably 6-7 years ago when he saw how things were going. I hate to admit I only came on board with prepping about 1 1/2 year ago. The motors weren’t cheap, but we figured if the vehicles go down we can siphon the gas and have something (we don’t have quads or anything like that – probably won’t ever) that runs. I think the only thing we’d have to worry about in a SHTF situation is someone deciding they like the idea and stealing them!

  15. Chuck Findlay says:

    It’s fairly easy to protect electronic item by putting them in a metal container. And while I do have hand tools, I like the ease of use, production and things power tools do that hand tools don’t. Also radios, computers and other electronic items make life better. Why not protect them so you will have them to use?

    Most powered devices be it tools, radios, lights, computers are force-multipliers. They allow you to do more, better things then you normally could without them. A solar motion sensor light works to protect you without your direct input. Motion sensing radio transmitters can alert you when there is movement in an area you can’t directly see. You can sleep and have the radio receiver next to you to wake you up. You can’t watch everything all the time, but motion sensor electronics can watch all the time 24/7. All you need is some solar power to keep them topped off. And they are inexpensive enough to have spares put away in a metal box. The same thing with small solar panels, you can find them at good prices so they can be stocked up.

    I want all these things as they increase my chance of survival.
    Also you can get a lot more work done with power tools then just hand tools. As an example I have a log splitter (sp?) and it makes short work of a log pile. I can split in 2 or 3 hours what would take 2-days with an ax. And swinging an ax for 2 days is very hard on the body and could leave you sore for days, making other work even harder. I do have several axes but I hardly use them any more.

    My suggestion is to have hand powered ways of doing things, but mostly as a backup to battery powered devices. And also put up spare electronic items.



  16. A CME will generally not damage anything that is not plugged in to the power grid, since it does not generate the high current pulse like the E1 ad E2 outputs of an EMP. This part of the fictional story is truly fictional, and pretty much all of the technology would survive unscathed.

    As for your suggestions on minimizing dependence on technology, I assume you meant high technology, since everything we used short of a rock and a stick is technology. This is not a bad suggestion, since hand tools are generally not going to fail you in most cases.

    Your suggestion on use of black powder firearms has some merit, but only for the low tech flintlock. Modern cartridge ammunition will store indefinitely, and loading components will do the same. You can cast bullets for modern firearms, but the problem is that you would eventually run out of powder and primers. For black powder the powder can be made from scratch as can the bullets; however, unless you use a flintlock and know how to maintain the hardness of the frizzen, you will eventually run out of percussion caps, which is the equivalent of running out of primers. This is a case of only the low tech being sustainable, and only if you have the skill and knowledge to extract the chemicals and make the powder from scratch.

    On currency and barter, your list looks pretty good; however, something like .22 RF ammunition might be even more valuable in some cases, being careful of course that you do not trade them to someone who will use them on you.

    • Ohio Prepper

      I agree with your analysis. I have .308 ammo made in 1979, Israeli 147gr ball. Just shot some recently; it all went bang. I don’t think we need to go back to black powder guns, just store and keep dry your modern guns and ammo. But don’t have guns only with electronic sights. Have good old iron sights and back up scopes. This stuff is common sense if an EMP or CME doesn’t ever happen. Too much reliance on any power tech product is not good.

      • Just to expand on this comment… there are some great offset iron sights available for AR-pattern rifles, which will serve as a great backup for electronic sights, and/or may prove to add versatility if you’ve got a longer-range geared optic already mounted. Also, the Bushnell Firefly illuminated scope reticule can be recharged via light exposure(flashlight, candle, etc.) if that’s your poison.

        There’s a reason we moved away from black powder firearms. I’m not saying they aren’t any fun to go out and shoot, but when it’s time to put food on the table or defend you and yours, they don’t offer the same level of practicality as a modern firearm. I would suggest that someone spend more time stocking ammunition(and supplies and equipment to reload ammunition). If you stock appropriately and refrain from giving in to your Rambo fantasies after the world goes to hell, even a moderate stock will last a long time. I personally would suggest that you put the money you’d spend on a black powder setup into stocking ammunition for your existing firearms and getting some range time to train with them(if you don’t know how to use it, you may as well not have it).

      • Bwhntr59,
        Ammo made in 1979, eh? Shooting the new stuff I see, LOL. I’ve shot .30-06 through CMP at Camp Perry a while back that was pre WW II surplus. The one fact about modern cartridge ammunition that we know to be true, is that it has not been around long enough to determine a shelf life. I suspect that at some point, someone may find old ammo that doesn’t work due to age; but, properly stored, we just haven’t found that age requirement yet.

  17. My personal thoughts regarding high-tech preps:

    1) Every significant shred of literature should be on paper, with an electronic backup available. I like the idea of keeping binders/notebooks of Internet-gathered material(just use that material as a jumping-off point to learn about a subject – beware the self-made experts occupying every corner of cyberspace).

    2) GPS is great and any dummy can pick it up and use it. But a map and compass doesn’t need batteries, isn’t reliant on outside technology, and takes time and practice to learn. Practice with the classics. If the opportunity presents itself, you’ll figure the GPS out no problem anyway, but the money spent to buy one is better spent elsewhere.

    3) A generator is a valuable tool to have. Non-prepping uses aside, a generator can keep your refrigerator/freezer running through a blackout that results from a bad storm, or related short-term off-grid scenarios(everyone has experienced a couple – I did three weeks last year). And in the event of a large-scale societal collapse, one of the first things I’ll do when the looting starts is sticking my generator out on my front lawn. Those first two guys who look at looting my house will be busy wrestling that big heavy generator away, and hopefully some other looters will be more interested in competing for it than trying their luck at my door.

    4) Cordless power tools are handy. Again, they offer lots of pre-world collapse uses, and after the fact, you can keep them running for awhile off of a little solar charger. You should have manual backups for them(or at least some of them), but I don’t know many people that have much for power tools without a good collection of hand tools.

    5) A bicycle is an excellent post-collapse vehicle. You can carry a lot of stuff on a properly laid-out bike, you can move quickly and quietly, and you can go a lot of places that a car can’t. A horse is another reasonable choice. You have to keep a horse fed and watered, and a horse is plenty of work to properly look after(which may be time better spent elsewhere after a collapse), but you can eat a horse, if it comes down to it(note: horse doesn’t taste bad, and is much more enjoyable than bicycle tires and seat stuffing). I’ll take the bike, myself.

    6) Most high-tech medical gear isn’t going to do a lot of people a lot of good. Medicine is a difficult field to gain practical experience in unless you do it for a living. My considerations to medicine doesn’t reach very far beyond typical first-aid and treatment of common viruses/bacterial infections. None of my group suffers from any significant chronic conditions, and the few allergies are noted. I will admit that so far as medical preps are concerned, my collection is full of basics, but I don’t keep any drugs outside of basic shelf-stocked pharmaceuticals and a couple Epi-Pens, and absolutely none of my stuff requires any form of power.

    7) For those super-useful items that do need power(flashlights, for example), I keep everything “commonly supportable”. I limit things to requiring as few battery types as possible, and I avoid specialty battery types like the plague. I should be able to go into any drugstore, convenience store, grocer, or electronics outlet and find batteries for my gadget, not have to order replacements from someone on the Internet. In the event I’m scavenging, I should be able to take the batteries out of an old TV remote, battery-powered toothbrush, or similar to stick them in my device.

    There’s nothing wrong with including high-tech in your preps. But you’d be extremely remiss if you focused on the high-tech without building a foundation for them to sit on. “Joe” and his group are a classic(if a little over-simplified) example of “more money than brains”, and regardless of how well they are or aren’t prepared, people suffering from that particular mentality probably aren’t going to last long anyway.

  18. riverrider says:

    just remember, cme or emp or not, gps is normally encrypted. the .gov lets us use it to make it cheaper by scale on them. the moment anything really bad happens, it goes back to encrypted. additionally, it must have super accurate time relayed to it. one millisecond off and you wind up in the ocean instead of home. many countries and even individuals have or are perfecting “spoofing”, which sends a faulty time signal to the gps constellation which basically makes it useless. when i retired the army was taking up all the compasses, going all-in on gps. i hope this changed but i doubt it. ancient chinese proverb paraphrased: use the enemies strength as his weakness. blind our sats, spoof our gps, crash the net, we’re done. blind,lost,and mute.

    • RR,
      The spoofing only works in a small area by sending stronger signals to the GPS receivers. Spoofing through the actual satellites in the constellation would be nearly impossible, since all of those links are heavily encrypted.
      The satellites have onboard atomic clocks (three I think) but do have to have ephemeras orbital data updated on occasion, since the orbits vary over time.
      Also, I don’t think the selective availability SA) mode was encrypted; but, did have an error added to the signal, which made the position data inaccurate unless you had the encryption keys for the error data. SA was turned off “permanently” (whatever that means) by Pres Clinton, but the SA had already been made obsolete by Differential GPS, so it really didn’t hurt most applications.
      Finally, just having a GPS without a map is kind of useless anyway. In our hunter education classes we briefly discuss land navigation with map and compass and quite often someone will bring up GPS making a compass unnecessary. What I do then is show them a poster with Long Lat coordinates on it, and ask them where this coordinate set is located. Generally no one knows, although it’s actually the coordinates of the building we are in. I also ask them what to do if the batteries run out. This usually makes the point.

  19. Generally no one knows, although it’s actually the coordinates of the building we are in

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