Places on the internet like http://www.doomsdayprepperforums.com are as busy as ever, and contrary to my own initial assumptions, much cooler heads seem to prevail on most online prepping communities. Members work to be helpful to one another and offer a wealth of good advice. Though the common refrain among preppers is that once SHTF (prepper shorthand for when the Shit Hits The Fan) the general mood will be every man for himself, doomsday preppers and survivalists believe that well-meaning people who want to protect themselves, their property and their families deserve some level of support, and they strive to provide that to each other.
Canned meat, veggies, or fruit. Storage life in excess of 20 years (regardless of "best by" dates). Tasty, relatively cheap (~200-300 kcal per dollar), and the choice is pretty broad. Fruits, veggies, and soups are not very energy-dense (~200 kcal per pound), making them impractical for hiking or bugging out; on the flip side, the syrup may provide some additional hydration. Meats fare much better, tipping the scales at around 1,500 kcal per pound. Canned foods are a good option for longer-term planning, provided that you have enough shelf space.
Those impulses are not as contradictory as they seem. Technology rewards the ability to imagine wildly different futures, Roy Bahat, the head of Bloomberg Beta, a San Francisco-based venture-capital firm, told me. “When you do that, it’s pretty common that you take things ad infinitum, and that leads you to utopias and dystopias,” he said. It can inspire radical optimism—such as the cryonics movement, which calls for freezing bodies at death in the hope that science will one day revive them—or bleak scenarios. Tim Chang, the venture capitalist who keeps his bags packed, told me, “My current state of mind is oscillating between optimism and sheer terror.”
In the mid to late 20th century, prepping was born in the wake of Cold War fears. People learned about strategies from books and in-person meetings and communicated in Ham radio chains across the country. Since the turn of the century, though, the internet and the rise of reality television that glorifies survival challenges have contributed to a nationwide surge in prepping. The base of hardcore preppers has grown considerably, but the businesses that have traditionally supported them are seeing massive growth as large proportions of average people buy supplies from outdoor and camping stores, freeze-dried food suppliers, and gun and self-defense companies. There is even a new class of retailers, like Emergency Essentials, that have been able to thrive solely due to the “prep-shopper” category.