Emergency preparedness from a Counterintelligence Agent

Get prepared physically for survival or face the consequences

Deployed from USS Bataan and arriving in Afghanistan with a heavy backpack, a Marine with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), dons his backpack by laying his back on it -- the next steps are to roll to one side and rise up from all fours. Bivera's notes: "I feel this guy's pain. For some of us, this is the only way to get this pack on when there's no one around to help. It's a strange photo, but for those that work with heavy packs, we understand."

Photo by Chief Petty Officer Johnny Bivera, USN.

There are many things that will influence your chances of survival in combat, wilderness survival, or a SHTF scenario – some of them you can control directly and some of them you can’t. A lot of increasing your chances of survival begins at home.

Being in shape is one of the most critical things you can do to prepare for survival and yet it’s one of the most ignored. You need to read this.

Carrying your bug out equipment

How many of you have actually pulled out everything you’re planning on taking if you had to bug out due to a fire, earthquake, flood – or even worse: a regional collapse of society such as has happened many times in history? A lot of you are planning on throwing what you have into your bug out vehicle and driving to your bug out location, but what happens if you can’t get out? Having a good bug out route plan will absolutely lessen the likelihood that you won’t make it but you can’t throw all your eggs into one basket.

Let’s just go with the assumption that there’s a full-on zombie apocalypse and there are no government resources available such as police, fire, medical, or even military. Ok, maybe some of these may still be functioning on some level but they’re WAY too overwhelmed to be able to help someone like you. Just look at a simple example of Katrina, where it was an isolated incident that had the benefit of having the entire federal government that could be brought on to bear. If you were there, you know that there was a long wait before things were restored. What would have happened if it would have been something more wide-spread than a flood, such as the power grid going down?

In something as large as this, it’s very likely that there will be riots and fires all over, and roads blocked in pretty much every direction. With thieves running rampant and no one to stop them, you may walk out to your car to load it and find out it’s gone – especially if you chose a large, capable zombie-mobile instead of an understated OPSEC-friendly vehicle. If you don’t get out immediately, you may not be getting out – at least with your car.

Of course, it doesn’t even have to be something quite so complicated. You could walk out and Murphy hits and it won’t start. Maybe your tires are slashed. Maybe something like an EMP took out all vehicles. Maybe you just haven’t driven it enough and even though you put in something like STA-BIL Fuel Stabilizer to stabilize your fuel, it won’t start (such as when I came back from Afghanistan this time with two of my vehicles). Don’t get me wrong, STA-BIL is a great product, and one you definitely need if you want to be prepared for emergencies, but that stuff only works for so long. I was gone for 18 months total, and even had people drive them around the block on occasion.

Even if you do manage to make it out of town, if it’s a wide-spread problem, you’ll have to stay off the roads. I’m sure you calculated how much fuel it’ll take to get from home to where you’re going but did you calculate it with a route completely off-road? Did you know that driving off-road will take a LOT more gas than you’d planned? It’s not unrealistic to expect that you’ll only get between one and four miles per gallon. Did you factor that in? Do you have cache locations with fuel that you can top up your tank? You could easily run out of fuel, leaving you without a vehicle.

So now here’s your scenario – for whatever reason, you can’t use a vehicle, and you can’t stay where you’re at. You’re gonna have to grab what you can, throw it on your back, and hoof it like a Soldier to shelter. Hopefully you’ve planned for that scenario in your bug out bag list or you could be in serious trouble.

Sit down and figure out exactly what you’d need to survive in those scenarios, whether it’s leaving home without a car or having to leave it on the side of the road, and how you’d carry it.

Now carry it.

Unless you’re in the military, you’ll probably find that it’s a LOT more work than you think it is. Your gear is a lot heavier than you thought it was. When’s the last time you hiked for several miles – even without your gear?

If you’re not in shape, you may find that you’ll be dropping gear on the side of the road that you needed. At best, you just wasted all that time and money spent in collecting that gear. At worst, you now won’t have enough to survive.

Also, if you’re thinking of using a weapon such as a rifle to defend yourself, do you have any idea how hard it is to hold something like that for hours? You might not live in a place where you can jog with a backpack and a weapon without getting interrupted every time you want to work out but try to find a steel rod or something with the same weight as a loaded weapon and run with it. Heck, just try to hold it in front of you with your arms straight out for just five minutes. It’s a lot harder than you think.

Getting in shape to fight

So far, you’re just trying to move with your gear. You haven’t actually done anything hard yet. What happens how if someone attacks you or your family to either defend against what they see is a threat or to take what you have? You may think that you’re trusty AR-15 or .45 is going to take care of that problem, but lemme tell you – a gunfight isn’t anything like a polite duel that you watched in old cowboy movies. It’s a LOT more strenuous. You’re gonna run – and roll – and dive – and crawl – and run some more; all while carrying all your stuff (unless you just drop it and hope someone doesn’t just run off with it). Multiply that a bunch if you have to get into hand-to-hand combat.

Combat is the most physically- and mentally-strenuous activity you can do. Even if you’re not in a full-on extended gunfight – or even fighting against someone intent on killing you, survival in a harsh environment takes a LOT more physical stamina and strength than most people realize. The military doesn’t just make people do exercise to keep them busy, they do it because they know it has a major effect on survivability in a combat environment – and performance overall in a non-combat environment.

Let’s say you’re not even in a real man-vs-man shooting scenario. If you’re planning on heading out to nature, nature usually has hills, swamps, rivers, cliffs, brush, and animals. Walking with a backpack on the sidewalk in your neighborhood is one thing – walking through swamps and up hills is entirely different. You’re going to have to fight through this environment in order to survive.

Let’s say you’ve made it to an area that you can set up camp. Unless you’ve brought an ultralight backpackable tent, you’re gonna have to make a shelter. A tent that you can actually manage to carry is gonna be hella expensive, too.

Setting  up camp is no joke. You’ve already hiked for who-knows-how-long and it’s starting to get dark. Now you have to gather shelter materials. Hopefully you have thick branches and leaves, etc to make something like a debris shelter at least. Here’s a quick video on one way to do that.

If you don’t have a way to cut down those branches, you’ll have a LOT of work to do, even for something as simple as a debris shelter. How strong are your hands? Don’t forget you’ll need firewood as well.

Ideally, your water and food sources will be close to your shelter but they may not be. You may be walking quite a bit through some tough stuff, even after you’ve found something.

The mental aspect of being in shape

One of the most deleterious effects of not being in shape is on your attitude and motivation. Unfortunately, your attitude and motivation is one of the most critical indicators of survival.

When you’re hungry and tired, you not only get snippy with everyone, you can’t think straight as easily. Your brain gets fuzzy. You have a hard time focusing on the task at hand. You also just don’t quite feel like doing what needs to be done to survive, so you take shortcuts. Those shortcuts lessen your chance of survival. What’s more: you make more mistakes.

If you have two people of equal skill and ability and you exhaust one of them, they’ll have less of a chance to survive than the one that’s still perky. Those two people are you. At least the possible future you.

If you start now and get into shape, you’ll be able to carry more equipment. You’ll be able to carry it farther. You’ll be able to function once you’ve carried it to where you need to go. You’ll also be more likely to survive a fight.

If you don’t – you’ll run out of steam, give up, and die.

The added benefits of being in shape

Look, prepping isn’t just about the zombie apocalypse. It’s about surviving – and thriving – in whatever environment you find yourself. Obviously, it’s a bad thing if you die because you can’t make it up the hill with your equipment and you really needed to make it up the hill.

Here are just a few key points that the Surgeon General’s study on physical fitness says about getting in shape:

  • Physical activity has numerous beneficial physiologic effects. Most widely appreciated are its effects on the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems, but benefits on the functioning of metabolic, endocrine, and immune systems are
    also considerable.
  • People of all ages, both male and female, undergo beneficial physiologic adaptations to physical activity.
  • Higher levels of regular physical activity are associated with lower mortality rates for both older and younger adults.
  • Regular physical activity or cardiorespiratory fitness decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in general and of coronary heart disease mortality in particular.
  • Physical activity appears to relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve mood.
  • Physical activity appears to improve health-related quality of life by enhancing psychological well-being and by improving physical functioning in persons compromised by poor health.

Also, according to an article in the National Library of Medicine (and many others):

Exercise not only helps your immune system fight off simple bacterial and viral infections, it decreases your chances of developing heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer.

Think those could help you in a survival situation? Getting sick when you have no doctor is no joke. You can spend time learning things about medicine and even keep books on hand to help but it’d be much better if you just didn’t get sick in the first place. Exercise can help with that.

How to get into top physical condition

Get yourself to a gym and get a personal trainer – or work out with someone who’s more advanced than you are. If you don’t want to go that route, get yourself some kind of in-shape DVD set that you can follow along. I’m not saying that you need to run out and get a copy of something like Shaun T’s FOCUS T25 workout, unless you’re already in shape. As strange as it may seem, just a workout regimen like Jillian Michaels has can start getting you there. A lot of the same things that will get you to lose weight will help you to be stronger and have more endurance. Just remember that if it’s not something advanced like the T25 workout, you’ll have to add some strength exercises in as well.

As you’re working out, make sure that you practice the exact exercises that you may be facing. To build stamina and strength to carry a heavy backpack for miles, you need to carry a backpack for miles. To get faster running, you need to run faster. This is exactly why the Army is going through an entire transition in its physical program. Doing push-ups, sit-ups, and running is somewhat of an indicator of strength and stamina but not a great one. You do a CRAPLOAD of push-ups in the Army. As such, if you had a team of random Army Soldiers and a team of Marines in a push-up competition, I guarantee that the Army team would easily beat them. Think that means that the Marines can’t fight? Not a chance. They just don’t do push-ups nearly as much.

So why wouldn’t you just do things like carry a backpack or run? Because you don’t know what you’ll be facing. The whole point of an overall workout program is that you work out your whole body, and not just the parts that work on a specific task. Remember the wood-gathering thing? You may be in shape enough to not be breathing hard after hiking to your location but just a few minutes of twisting branches off to gather them for shelter or firewood will make your arms burn. Then try to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together. You need to work out your whole body. Only a whole-body system is going to do that.

So what you need to do is come up with a plan. Figure out what things you’ll need to do to face whatever scenarios you want to survive as well as any physical obstacles that you personally face. Then spend some time each week on working on exercises that will help you in those areas. Spend the rest of the week in an overall workout regimen. You may just start with walking, but don’t keep just walking. You need to run, you need to swim, and you need strength training. If for some reason you can’t do some of these things, you need to come up with a way to compensate for that.

But the first step to do as you figure out your plan is to just get off your ass and do something physical. Your life may depend on it.

About graywolfsurvival.com

I am a former federal agent and military veteran who has deployed to combat theaters in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan and have almost three decades of military and military contracting experience.

My goal is to help families to understand how to intelligently protect their family and their way of life against real threats, without all the end-of-the-world doomsday crap.


  1. This is a great article, and something that does get overlooked a lot. It’s so easy to get out of shape, too!

    After I went to college, I would come back on winter break and go hunting on my family’s ranch or the nearby prairie, and all I’d be carrying was a rifle or shotgun, maybe a little extra ammo depending on what I was hunting, possibly a liter of water and a snack if I was gonna be out a long time. I would feel like I was dying after just a few hours out there, carrying a gun that I could walk all day with when I was in elementary school. I would have hella blisters, too, from my boots (needed them for going through rice fields).

    To add insult to injury, I’ve done a fair amount of long-distance hiking in my day (like, several week trips, hundreds of miles), so it was extra embarrassing and surprising. Anyway, my point is, you can’t rest on your laurels–just because you have at one point in your life been in great shape does not mean you are currently in great shape (say, if you have been using your campus meal card to buy Krispy Kremes every day and your longest walk is from your dorm to the campus library) or can instantly, painlessly get back into condition on the fly.

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