Change gives rise to ‘preppers’ and their product lines

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Editor’s note: This story pairs with another titled “‘Prepping’ and religion ‘fit hand in hand.’

Preparing for emergencies has become a hobby and lifestyle for an increasing number of people throughout the U.S. who call themselves “preppers.”

Preppers are enthusiasts of all things emergency preparedness, ranging from interests in survivalist techniques and homesteading to food storage and first aid. The term “prepper,” popularized by National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers series, refers to people who put time, money and effort into learning skills and collecting items that will help them become more self-reliant.

The prepper world has experienced exponential growth in recent years, according to preppers throughout the U.S.

“It’s really hard to identify exactly how many preppers there are, but since 2007, we’ve gone from a $10 million market to a $40 billion market space (nationally),” said Scott Stallings, founder and CEO of PrepperCon.

Stallings said the up-and-coming prepper market has also caused companies like Wal-Mart to begin selling more survival gear and large-quantity food storage items in the past two years.

In a 2011 survey of 13,000 people, 40 percent reported they directly knew a prepper, according to Stallings. But he said it’s hard to track the number of preppers in the U.S., since they are often hesitant to admit they are preppers.

“In the world of preppers, we joke that the first rule of prepping is that we don’t talk about prepping,” Stallings said. “The reason they do that is because there’s a concern that if you start talking about it, you’ll become a target.”

Stallings said preppers are often faced with the concern that talking about their surplus items and preparation will cause those who surround them to depend on their supply during an emergency.

He said there also tends to be a negative connotation associated with the term prepper due to the extreme nature of the way preppers have been portrayed in the media.

Stallings said he suspects there are several factors that could have influenced an increased prepping interest in recent years. These factors include the Y2K scare, Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters, government trust hitting an all-time low in 2007-2008, and a desire to become more independent.

Many people, Christians in particular, are also motivated by religious beliefs to become preppers, according to Stallings.

“They’re expecting Christ to come back soon, and so they’re doing everything they can to be prepared and ready to serve when that day comes,” Stallings said.

Pat Henry, pen name for the editor of the Prepper Journal, said he has also seen the prepper world change in recent years. The Prepper Journal is a survival blog that posts daily about preparedness, survival and self-reliance.

“Since starting the Prepper Journal, we have published over 1,000 articles which have been viewed more than 11.5 million times,” Henry said in an email. “We have had visitors from over 180 countries and over 16,000 subscribers to our email newsletter.”

Henry said he started prepping around 2005 when he had a “gut feeling” that he needed to take extra steps to protect his family.

“It was my perspective on life and what I was seeing that was stirring a sense of urgency to learn more about what other aspects of life there were that perhaps I wasn’t aware of,” Henry said. “It was the urgency to protect my family that led me to research a wide variety of subjects, which eventually led me to prepping even before it was a cool term on National Geographic.”

Henry said he has seen the prepper world become more socially acceptable and ‘mainstream’ over the years.

“We are less likely to be derided for what we do because so many people have seen the destruction possible; the riots, food shortages and inflation all around the world,” Henry said. “We aren’t viewed as quite as out there as we were.”

Practical Preppers owner Scott Hunt said that for some reason, he notices an increased interest in prepping every fall. His business is currently booked through December with prepper installations and events.

“For me, it’s been a hobby to be sustainable,” Hunt said. “We (preppers) consider ourselves homesteaders really. We have a small farm and we try to be sustainable and try to produce our own food and water and power, just as a hobby.”

Hunt said he regularly attends prepper conferences and shows that take place all over the country.

“I just got back from a prepper camp, which was a four-day event where people came from all over the country to learn certain skills and ways of doing things from basic fire starting to how to trap and how to sew,” Hunt said.

Stallings started PrepperCon in Salt Lake City in 2015, hoping to provide anyone with an interest in emergency preparedness with an opportunity to learn how to become more self-reliant.

(Courtesy PrepperCon, LLC)
The first ever Salt Lake City PrepperCon in 2015 hosted several venders and workshops, including those relating to guns and gun safety. PrepperCon founder Scott Stallings said although prepping interests vary depending on the prepper, men tend to be more concerned with protection and shelter, whereas women are usually more interested in things like food storage and medicine. (PrepperCon, LLC)

Stallings said PrepperCon attendance increased from about 11,500 in 2015 to more than 13,000 in 2016. PrepperCon hosted 192 vendors in 2016, showcasing everything from food storage items to foam clothing for extreme winter weather survival.

The convention also hosts between 80 and 100 classes each year giving training on a wide variety of topics including concealed carry weapon permits, homesteading, gardening, first aid, self defense and even birthing in the wild.

PrepperCon is now preparing for its third Salt Lake City show, scheduled for April 2017. Stallings said he is planning next year to expand PrepperCon beyond Salt Lake City to the entire U.S.

“We are still working on identifying which areas we want to go to first, but there’s a pocket in every state that’s good for this, surprisingly,” Stallings said. “Because our program is a little more diverse than is traditional, we tend to draw a much bigger crowd than anybody else.”

The prepper demographic spans a wide variety of people from many different backgrounds. However, Stallings said the prepper age group is pretty consistent and tends to favor married people ages 34 to 65.

Henry said preppers come from all backgrounds and ideologies. He said the prepper reach even expands beyond the U.S.

“Preppers come from all social statuses, geographic locations, religions, age ranges and ethnic backgrounds,” Henry said. “Prepping is not solely an American concept and we Americans are not the only ones who are concerned enough to take steps to protect ourselves and our families.”

A common thread that describes the motivation of many preppers is the internal sense of duty they feel to become self-sufficient and protect their families.

“When people are prepared, everyone is better off,” Hunt said.

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