The difference between a survivalist and a prepper and someone who bugs out
In the old days, say 1970 or so, a lot of returning veterans saw that there were issues in this country. Their military service was discounted. They were considered evil and tools of a branch of capitalism that exported military armaments around the world. It was shocking to them, but understandable since they'd become enmeshed in limited warfare in Vietnam and Cambodia. It was an idea of opposing communism in 3rd world nations by the intervention of democratic forces from Western nations but supporting brutal dictatorships. It polarized the nation of the United States and was a dismal failure.
In a world that had created nuclear weapons, no one could reasonably use them. The superpowers of the USSR, China, and the USA had them, and so even though the weapons were supremely powerful, to begin an exchange of nuclear weapons would lead to Mutually Assured Destruction. At the time, many military folks felt a deep distrust of any communist, a feeling equally expressed by the other side. It was a stalemate. Some felt that eventually “dominoes” would tumble, a metaphor for foreign nations that accepted communism as an economic system. Since those nations intervened in far flung places, just like the United States, it was inevitable that attrition would eventually mean world-wide communism.
Since many Western nations (NATO) had accepted socialism, and since there were similarities with that economic system and communism, it was felt that they too were prey to eventually becoming communist nations. Of course that's not entirely logical, but bear with me. In addition, these nations also had nuclear weapons, and so the USSR and China began supplying nuclear weapons to Warsaw Pact nations under their aegis. Other nations like Israel and India had nuclear weapons, later Pakistan, and so at some point some of those nations might also begin a nuclear exchange.
Since nuclear exchange was most probably fatal to both sides, other weapons of mass destruction were also invented. Biological weapons which infected the opposing side had been used since medieval days. At that time, trebuchets, which were early siege weapons which hurls rocks as artillery, could also throw diseased cows or dead bodies to either side, and hence cause a plague. Biological weapons could infect the opposite side, but then how could anyone reasonably invade post-attack? Chemical weapons were also invented which released nerve agents to paralyze and permanently cripple or kill the enemy, but of course would create a toxic soup lying around and decontamination would be an ecological nightmare.
Because of that, some military folks felt that it was best to prepare for their survival. The primary concern was nuclear. They termed themselves “survivalists”. They planned ways to live in a post-apocalyptic world that probably was dismal at best even if only a few weapons were launched on either side. Since all computer wargaming proved that once an exchange began, it probably would cascade by allies becoming involved with secondary targets, it seemed improbable that any nation would be left unscathed. The air and water would ultimately be inundated with radioactive isotopes, and what few people didn't die in initial hits to urban areas, would probably die in subsequent pollution as it circled the globe.
Some felt that there would be safer zones away from the primary areas, and so there might be pockets of humanity that would survive. It was terribly grim, but only a means of clinging to life by the most tenuous means.
At the same time, many books were written which dealt with ecology. There was a renewal of people interested in agricultural practices since people felt that “getting back to the land” would solve a lot of society's ills. It became a world-wide phenomena. Some were interested in biodynamic intensive farming(Alan Chadwick). Some felt that not tilling the soil would result in higher yields long-term (Masanobu Fukuoka).
In the USA, many people became attracted to the idea. Some were ex-hippies, who had embraced the ideas of peace and love (by great over-generalization). They originally attempted to use organic gardening to produce their food, a radical idea that proposed not using chemical fertilizers since it caused hard-pan in the soil, but to use long term rock dusts to slowly create strong root systems. They also proposed strengthening the soil by using composts and green manure, an idea of tilling under organic vegetable matter. In addition, they composted their own manure as well.
The idea spread to religious communities. Others were children of farmers, and became attracted to the positive ideas of the movement, and took the ideas and combined the ideas of their ancestors synthesizing this into a homestead movement. All of them experimented with both traditional and organic methods to find a balanced approach.
Magazines like Mother Earth News came into being because there were enough people interested in the ideas. It made sense since there was so much doom and gloom from the idea of mutually assured destruction that an opposite idea of Hope began to bloom.
Simultaneously, there were many people interested in bushcraft. These people were often interested in history, and wanted to learn how people lived long ago during the pioneer and tribal era. Many were already hunters or fisherman. Many were country boys or farmers. How did people start fires? How did they forage for plants and herbs? How did they trap or hunt or fish? How did they build shelters. People interested in preparing, either those who worried about doom or those who wanted to learn more skills and were more optimistic, decided to learn some bushcraft too. See Tom Brown or later Dave Canterbury.
Likewise, some people rejected modern medicine. They saw a lot of people not getting healthier by technology, only living longer into decrepitude. They wondered about how medicine used to be in ancient times. They studied herbalism like Kampo in the East, or simply Native American tribal lore in the West or Ayurveda in India (Chopra). Some preppers decided that in the event of a collapse or disaster, they might become their own doctors and therefore learned medicine and herbalism as new skillsets.
In life, people will take ideas and begin to pick and choose from what's available as an ethos and form their own new philosophy. This became the basis for the modern preppers of today.
They began to see that world governments were not really working for their best interest. Economic intervention by the Federal Reserve meant that all countries were tied together mostly to help a handful of corporations. Because centralized governments spend more than they can ever hope to bring in through taxes, great concern was raised about the eventual stability of nations.
While it was possible for a plague to accidentally be released, or chemical weapons accidentally leaked, or a limited nuclear exchange, the more likely issue would be a global economic issue similar to a Great Depression. This would only concentrate the power of the global corporations similar to the increased power of the elite in the US just prior to the Great Depression. In that event, the rich had sold assets prior to the Crash, and then repurchased assets as bargain prices. Then they'd invested in military armaments as World War II came about.
Some preppers were more concerned with doom. They worried about weather changes which seemed to either be happening cyclically or by design or by “global warming”. They worried about technological issues like Y2K. They saw odd coincidences in the spread of disease like H1N1 and worried about pandemics. Since we'd had major pandemics in history and they seem to go in cycles, then it was felt that another was inevitable. Other increases in earthquakes worried some preppers. Areas like the New Madrid zone and its history made them consider the cyclical issue of another serious quake. The same was true about EMP and the Carrington Event.
As more and more people began to prep for any of the above reasons, others mostly mocked the ideas. Still, there were persuasive and very real historical precedents for the concern.
Some began to see that half-measures might be necessary in order to cope with a disaster. Any of the issues might cause a need to bugout from their locations, and so if they purchased a few items, and placed them in a bag which could easily be carried, then they might be able to move from their urban areas. Since those urban areas might be most affected, and since those areas were the least likely to be sustainable, then they'd buggout to a rural area. Most had a minimum of equipment and skills. They'd synthesized their own thinking of survival to making it for 72 hours longer. Of course this meant ultimately relying upon the grace of rural folks.
This is where we are today. People who prepare, fit somewhere along this long continuum. You have to decide where you are mentally, physically, and spiritually.
To me, the most beneficial place is be optimistic and hopeful and learn deeply with skills and supplies. Becoming this way is not about doom, it's about saving money since times are tough and storing up materials in case things get worse. It's a long term investment of time, talent, and treasure to make my life more rich and full. It's about getting closer to God (the Source) and Nature and trying to get back to living in the Garden of Eden. It's mainly about building community in order to be balanced and live within a better kind of civilization.
Preppers who fit into this ethos also prepare by having offensive/defensive weapons. It's not all benign and Kum Ba Ya. It a reasonable approach to living life to the fullest but protecting your family pragmatically long term.
If all you think you need is to bugout, then make an alcohol stove (for which you probably can't synthesize the fuel), but then don't come and try to live in my neighborhood and forage on my land.