If you’re relatively new to survivalism and prepping, you’ve probably come across a few terms and abbreviations that you’re not entirely sure about. Maybe you have a general sense of what they mean but you’re not 100% sure, or maybe you’re clueless and feeling excluded and overwhelmed.
That’s we’ve put together this survival and prepping glossary – if you’re not sure what a particular abbreviation, acronym, or phrase means, this is where you’ll find it.
You should also keep in mind that these terms aren’t a deliberate attempt to keep people away from survivalism or prepping – it’s simply that every community has its own shorthand and lingo for easier communication. Don’t ever feel like you can’t start learning survival skills or prepping stockpiles because you don’t know the terminology – at the end of the day, it’s your actions that will make a difference, not words.
We’ve split this glossary up by outlining the most common terms first (including the meaning of SHTF). Then there’s a more comprehensive section with phrases and abbreviations that are more specific and not quite so common (but still in usage by some sections of the larger survivalism/prepping community).
A Glossary of Common Survival Terms
Alpha Strategy: This term refers to a book by the same name. While the book itself isn’t technically a book about survivalism or prepping, the mindset it takes is similar to the mindset that many survivalists have. The book is primarily about how the average person can prepare for hyperinflation – it encourages investing in hard goods by buying gold and silver as a “survival” tactic that will preserve their value in hyper inflationary times. These days the term alpha strategy can also be used to describe the act of purchasing of hard goods as barterable commodities that will be useful when my no longer has value (i.e after the breakdown of existing societal structures)
Bugging In: The act of hunkering down (usually in your home) to ride out a disaster, hopefully with a large stockpile of resources and some decent home security. Bugging in should be your first choice in most cases. Bugging out should be reserved for situations where there’s a localized danger or where the main danger is other people (e.g post apocalyptic urban chaos and lawlessness). In these situations bugging out will take you away from high density areas.
Bugging Out: The act of evacuating or escaping the place where you live due to danger. Ideally to a safe location in the wilderness that’s preplanned, but fleeing to somewhere in the backcountry with the intent of setting up camp also counts as bugging out.
BOB: Bug Out Bag – A bag (normally a backpack) that contains supplies and equipment that can help you survive for at least 72 hours while on the run or escaping from a dangerous situations or disaster.
BOL: Bug Out Location – A pre-planned place that you’re aiming to travel to if you ever need to bug out. Ideally somewhere remote that’s off grid that you can disappear to where you can’t be tracked. Could be a cabin, an RV, or just a campsite depending on your level of resources and preparation.
BOV: Bug Out Vehicle – The vehicle that you plan to use to bug out. Sometimes also the place that you store your bug out bag so that if disaster strikes, you can just hop in the vehicle and get going. Ideally a vehicle that won’t attract attention, that can also handle tougher terrain if needed.
CB: Citizen’s Band Radio – A high frequency transmission band. This is a “two-way” band, allowing for back and forth communication. Set at or near 27 MHz (11 meters), CB Radio requires no license to operate (in the US). CB has 40 channels, and is primarily a short distance system that allows person to person communication. Often used by truckers. Depending on the level of obstruction in the terrain, the range can vary from 3 miles to 20 miles. A likely candidate for the type of communication that might be used in an off-grid post-disaster scenario where telecommunications infrastructure is damaged or destroyed.
CCW: Concealed Carry Weapon – A firearm that you are allowed to have on your person while it is hidden/concealed (as opposed to open carry). Often requires a license.
CQC: Close Quarters Combat – A term for any violent confrontation that is happening within striking distance. Similar to hand to hand combat, but CQC also includes combat with melee weapons like knives. See our section on Survival Self Defense.
EDC: Everyday Carry – A shorthand for the list of gear that you carry on you all the time. Often used to describe a small knife suitable for having with you at all times, but can also describe gear like small multi tools, flashlights, survival watches, etc. basically anything that you choose to have with you at all times, particularly in urban environments, can be considered EDC.
E&E: Escape and Evasion – The methods and actions that can help soldiers (or other relevant persons) escape enemy territory and other hostile areas, avoid getting caught, and return to friendly areas. See this article about Escape and Evasion for more details.
ELE: Extinction Level Event – Any disaster or catastrophe that has a chance of wiping out the human race entirely (or coming close to it).
EMP: Electromagnetic Pulse – Can be used to describe a specific kind of weapon, or one of the side effects of a nuclear weapon going off. The effects of an EMP, depending on its strength, is either the temporary or permanent disabling of all electronic devices in the range of the EMP. You can protect electronics with a Faraday Cage (explained further down this list). See this article about surviving an EMP attack.
EOTW: End of the World – Used to describe potentially apocalyptic events (e.g major asteroid impact, supervolcano eruption, extinction by artificial intelligence).
E-Tool: Entrenching Tool – A military digging tool. The modern version of the e-tool was first used in WW1 during trench warfare. The current e-tool used by the US army is a tri-fold e tool that has a wide range of possible applications. Sometimes also called a survival shovel. Nowadays e-tools are also popular among survivalists and outdoorsmen. See our article where we recommend the best e tool.
FAK: First Aid Kit – Self explanatory. First aid kits suitable for one person are sometimes called IFAKs or PFAKs (Individual/Personal First Aid Kits) See our article about the best survival first aid kits.
Faraday Cage: A device that can help protect your electronic devices from EMPs, either in a direct attack or as a side effect of a nuclear detonation. There are a variety of ways to create homemade Faraday Cages.
FUBAR: F**cked Up Beyond All Recognition– When a piece of equipment is damaged beyond repair, or when a situation has gotten so bad that it cannot be saved or redeemed in any way.
FUD: Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt – Fear that is intentionally caused to elicit a certain kind of reaction from people. FUD is a term often used in the context of financial markets, when big players stoke fear so they can buy assets more cheaply. Can be applied to certain kinds of media or political strategy as well – for example, it can be argued that the Bush administration used FUD about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in order to justify the Iraq War.
GHB: Get Home Bag – The conceptual opposite to a bug out bag. Get Home Bags are designed to get you to the safety of your home if you encounter a crisis or danger when outside (e.g at work). Designed to account for the fact that your normal routes of travel will be disrupted. Get home bags should allow you to survive for 72 hours, but need to be small and light enough that you can travel with them on foot over long distances. Imagine if you had to walk home from your workplace through the wilderness (because the roads and population centers are unsafe). See our full article about the essential things you need in your get home bag.
GOOD: Get Out Of Dodge – Another way of saying “bug out”. A term used to describe the action of picking up and escaping rapidly due to an incoming catastrophe. In particular, it used to describe bugging out of an urban area to somewhere that is much more rural/unpopulated.
Grid Down: Means that the electrical grid has gone down (and is likely to stay down for an extended period of time). This is a separate/distinct idea from a regular power outage due to a storm. When it happens, grid down will likely be caused by a EMP, a Solar Flare (also known as CME), or attack/sabotage by terrorists or foreign agents.
Hard Money: “Money” that can be exchanged for gold or other precious metals (e.g money backed by a gold standard). Alternatively, Hard money is sometimes also used to describe precious metals themselves (e.g coins made from silver or gold).
INCH: I’m Never Coming Home – An INCH bag or kit is basically the gear you have packed to take with you in the event of a catastrophe where you’ll never be able (or want to) go home. E.g if a small scale nuclear missile was aimed at your city or town, and you had prior warning – that would be a very clear case where you would want an INCH bag. The idea is that it is separate from a BOB because an INCH bag should have everything you need such that you’d be comfortable never returning home again. Generally INCH bags will be larger than both Bug Out Bags and Get Home Bags. See our INCH bag checklist for more details.
MIL-SPEC: Military Specification – Used to describe products that are up to the specific standards of military gear.
MOLLE: Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment – A standardized system of webbing attached to things like backpacks/tactical vests and other equipment. When paired with MOLLE compatible equipment, it allows for a set of gear that is highly modular. The idea is that you can use molle webbing, attach things you need and detach things you don’t need in a very straightforward manner depending on what you plan to do. Used by the military and increasingly popular with civilians, particularly among preppers and survivalists.
MRE: Meal Ready To Eat – MREs are self contained military rations meant for individuals in the field. Generally meant for use by soldiers in combat or on other field missions. MREs are shelf stable and don’t require refrigeration, and have a minimum shelf life of 3 years. Typically meant to provide 1200 calories. Contrary to common belief, MREs are not freeze dried and do not require the addition of water to be eaten. MREs aren’t actually the best type of survival food – they are subject to various limitations (including budget, potential dietary restrictions, environmental conditions, etc) – particularly for bugging in. Check out our article about the survival food if you want to learn more.
NBC: Nuclear Biological Chemical – A shorthand for the three most dangerous threats in terms of an attack on a civilian population. Can be used to describe both the terrorist attacks and attacks made by foreign nations during a war.
Off Grid: Used to describe something that is unconnected to the power grid (usually a house or cabin). Sometimes used more broadly, to describe the ability to disconnect from societal infrastructures – e.g if you grow your own food supply, you are “off-grid” from the food supply system. If you can go about your life without using money if needed (cash/credit card, etc) then you are “off-grid” from the monetary system.
Paracord: A shorthand for parachute cord (literally the stuff they use to attach the “backpack” part of a parachute to the “balloon” part. Because it’s used for parachutes, it’s obviously a very heavy duty type of cord (made of nylon). Paracord has a wide range of applications and can be broken down into individual threads that have their own applications as well (e.g fishing lines). Also called 550 cord. Paracord is an essential piece of survival gear and is the favored form of cordage for survivalists. See our list of the best paracord bracelets.
Preppers: Preppers are folks who prepare now for the possibility of disaster later, generally by stockpiling food and other essential supplies, developing their survival skills and knowledge, and so forth. The media often paints preppers as paranoid or crazy, but most preppers are just regular folks who want to keep their families safe and are buying themselves a different kind of “insurance” for the future. See our article about prepping.
Prep: The action of preparing for disaster or catastrophe.
Preps: Another way of saying “stockpile” or “prepared supplies”. E.g “We have preps that will last us 3 months”.
Rule of Threes: You can live for three minutes without oxygen, three hours without shelter in harsh environments, three days without water, and three weeks without food. Here’s some more info about the survival rule of threes,
SHTF: S**t Hits The Fan – The term used to describe when a bad situation spirals out of control, or when tensions boil over in a situation and erupt in chaos. For example, if we were to see the current cultural/political conflict in the USA develop into widespread factional violence, that would be a SHTF situation. We have a section about surviving SHTF situations.
SERE: Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape – SERE is a training program, used by the military and other relevant institutions to prepare people so that they can deal with survival situations and get back home with “honor” intact. Essentially, SERE is a program that aims to help captured soldiers resist torture, escape captivity, survive the environments that they escape into with minimal resources, and escape back into friendly territory – all without giving up any information to the enemy.
Survivalist: Someone who prepares themselves to survive a potentially dangerous/disastrous future. Generally speaking, we find “survivalist” is used more frequently in the context of wilderness survival and survival skills, and “prepper” focuses more on the stockpiling of resources and the preparation of homes, cabins, and other places you can either Bug In or Bug Out to. See our article fully explaining what survivalism is.
TEOTWAWKI: The End of the World as We Know It – A term used to describe any situation that would alter what we consider”normal life”. Could be used to describe natural disasters like a major earthquake or a hurricane with the effects of Katrina (or bigger). Can also be used to describe something like a biological or chemical attack by terrorists, or a civil war or martial law situation domestically.
WROL: Without Rule of Law – In a scenario where society has collapsed, law enforcement likely won’t exist (or would be the arm of a tyrannical government), meaning we would be living in a situation WROL.
YOYO: You’re On Your Own – The idea that in a big enough disaster, nobody is going to come and help you. For example, see how the government was woefully ineffective in its response to hurricane Katrina. The idea that you’ll be YOYO in a major catastrophe is why so many preppers and survivalists emphasize self sufficiency. Also used to describe a situation where society has collapsed and “basic services” like water, electricity or the fire department are no longer available to you.
The terms and abbreviations above are the most common and useful ones that survivalists and preppers use. If you understand most of those listed above, you probably won’t ever feel lost or “left-out” of any survivalism/prepping discussion going forward.
However, there are actually a good deal more terms and phrases that occasionally get used. These ones are more uncommon, and most of them come from one specific “type” of prepper – e.g ex-military, or religious preppers, or financial preppers for example. For the sake of completeness, we’ve decided to include these terms in the list below just in case you run into an abbreviation that you’re not familiar with and you want to look it up. Again, these aren’t as common as those in the list above, so you’re unlikely to hear or see them being used either on this site or in other survivalism/prepping contexts.
Additional Survival and Prepping Terminology (Less Commonly Used)
ABAO: All Bets Are Off – A situation where chaos reigns and it’s hard to predict what will happen.
ABC: Airway, Breathing, and Circulation – An easy way to remember your priorities in first aid when treating someone, particularly someone unconscious – a clear airway is required to breath, and breathing is required for proper circulation.
ARK: Armed Response Kit – A kit of ammunition and weaponry put together with the intention of being able to respond to an attack of some sort, particularly an attack shooter situation (e.g a school shooter or terrorist assault). Generally the goal with an ARK is to be able to take part in a sustained stand off with an armed shooter without running out of ammunition.
Arm Chair Commando: Generally derogatory term used to describe people who are obsessed with guns, but don’t do anything else to prepare for disaster. They tend to be “wannabe” tough guys who don’t have any level of fitness, training, or skills to be able to survive a genuine disaster.
Ballistic Wampum: A stockpile of ammo that can be used for either defense or bartering in a preparedness scenario.
Black Swan: A low probability event that has a large impact. Popularized by the book of the same name. The idea behind the book is that people are bad at actually understanding the potential impacts of very low probability risks. This may be due to normalcy bias.
BOLO: Be on the Lookout – Used by law enforcement.
BSTS: Better Safe than Sorry
BUG: Backup Gun
CBRNE: Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive – Can be used to describe either materials, events, or attacks. An extension of the term NBC described in the section above. Pronounced “seaburn”.
CCL: Concealed Carry License
CCW: Carrying a Concealed Weapon
CHL: Concealed Handgun License
Civie: Military slang for a civilian.
CME: Coronal Mass Ejection – CMEs often occur simultaneously with solar flares. CMEs are ejections from the sun containing a mass of magnetized particles that can travel through the earth’s atmosphere. These magnetized particles have the possible effect of overloading and disabling electronics on Earth, including the electrical grid itself. Often when people talk about the EMP-like effects of solar flares, they are actually talking about CMEs.
DLP: Defense of Life and Property
Doomer: A person who believes some kind of worst case scenario is on its way, and we all need to prepare for it. More recently, used to describe people who predict extremely bad consequences relating to the Coronavirus pandemic.
EOD: End of Days
EOF: Escalation of Force – Military and Law Enforcement terminology
EOT: End of Times
Food Insurance: A term used to describe someone who has an ample food stockpile, enough to last somewhere between 3 months and 1 year (or longer). Used as a way to make a comparison between stockpiling food and buying other kinds of insurance (e.g flood insurance).
Free Band: The transmission bands just above and below the frequencies used by CB radios. Technically illegal to use.
HEMP: High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse – The effect of a nuclear weapon that has been detonated very high up in the atmosphere, theoretically with the specific purpose of disrupting electronics.
HIPS: Hide in Plain Sight (or Hidden in Plain Sight)
JIC: Just In Case.
KSAs: Knowledge, Skills and Abilities
KYPD: Keep Your Powder Dry – A term of reminder for actual gunowners, not just with regards to powder but also to generally make sure their firearms are well maintained and functional. More broadly, a term to encourage people to make sure that their preparations will actually be functional in the event of a disaster.
LBE: Load Bearing Equipment – A generic term for tactical/military style equipment that has the ability to have other pieces of gear attached to it (ammunition pouches, holsters, etc).
MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction – The term used during the Cold war to describe what would happen if a nuclear war broke out between the USSR and USA. This term can be used to describe any two countries that are nuclear powers. In the future, this might also grow to encompass the consequences of other WMDS like biological weapons.
Military Crest: Near the top of a mountain or a hill, that’s near the peak, but far down enough such that you won’t be silhouetted against the sun (also known as “skylined”). A position of tactical advantage.
NEO: Near Earth Object – e.g Asteroids that are close to Earth or are on trajectories that will fly close to Earth (or will hit Earth).
NOAA: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – A government agency that provides weather data, particularly data relating to hurricanes and other high danger weather events.
PACE: Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency – A military term used to describe the order of priority when going through communications channels. Can also be used to describe the necessity of having redundancies in your survival gear (e.g you have a “main” option and a “backup” or “alternate” option.)
PGP: Pretty Good Privacy – A (free) form of encryption
Pollyanna: Somebody who lives in blissful ignorance of the dangers and fragility of the world.
PPE: Personal Protective Equipment – The gear that helps protect people at their jobs. E.g doctors might wear masks, gloves, goggles, and so forth when dealing with infectious disease. In some situations, PPE might be a hazmat suit and a gas mask.
PSK: Personal Survival Kit
RBMA: Reality-Based Martial Arts
SBS: Special Boat Service – The British equivalent of Navy SEALS.
SLLS: Stop, Look, Listen, and Smell – A reminder of the ways you can assess a potentially dangerous environment. Used by trained snipers as a way to hone and focus situational awareness. A skill that should be used frequently in almost any survival or disaster situation.
SOL: Sh*t Out of Luck
Survival Cache: A hidden collection of survival gear and supplies. A “secret stash” of survival stuff that you can access either when you decide to bug-in or when you bug out.
TCCC: Tactical Combat Casualty Care – A first aid course taught to soldiers in the US army.
TOR: The Onion Router – A way to access the internet privately in a way that cannot be easily traced.
TPTB: The Powers That Be – Used to describe large institutions – massive corporations, the government, the media, and so forth.
Two is One, One is None: A phrase used to describe the idea that it’s always good to have a backup because something will likely go wrong. E.g, in a wilderness scenario, you want to have both a ferro rod and lighters, because one of the two might not work, get lost, get wet, etc.
VPN: Virtual Private Network – A way to browse the internet that better protects your privacy.
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