Selco’s SHTF Survival Lessons – Part 1 – ‘A’ to ‘B’

Reading time: 4,810 words, 10 pages, 11 to 18 minutes.

Selco Begovic is the most credible source for prepping and survival advice that I have ever read. He survived the Balkan war of the 90s and one year in a besieged city with no electricity, water, sewage, food distribution, medical system, police, etc. As well, they experienced a brutal civil war, shelling, and snipers. Unlike many keyboard warriors, he tells us what works and what doesn’t under the harshest conditions. Throughout his articles, Selco addresses the “mental” side of everything because that is the foundation for survival when the S**t Hits The Fan. (SHTF)

My original purpose in writing these ‘Coles Notes’ of Selco’s 200 articles was simply for my own use. I’m a slow learner. It forced me to study his advice carefully and put them into my own words to help remember the information. Then a friend suggested I share them.

After reading about a quarter of Selco’s almost 200 articles, I felt drained and depressed, so I stopped for a few weeks. However, I soldiered on because I knew it would train me mentally and help prepare me for the brutality of the real thing if and when it happens.

I wrote 56 pages of notes in total. No one will read that many all at once, nor do I recommend it. I suggest reading them in bite-size amounts, so you’re not tempted to slit your wrists. I divided them into five parts. This is Part 1.

I arranged Selco’s lessons in alphabetical order to make it easier to search and review because Selco provides such an abundance of experience. However, doing this loses the chronological order, and as a result, the narrative may seem disjointed. Get used to it. That’s a fraction of what our minds will endure in an actual SHTF. Consider this part of your mental training.

If you think “it can’t happen here” then, in his own words (italicized throughout my articles) are the things that Selco experienced. How many do you recognize?
“Things that make differences between people are more and more problematic (race, religion, political opinion).
“Polarization is getting obviously stronger.
“People want to come to your country, but they do not want to “assimilate” or contribute to greater good. They want to preserve their way of life which is often absolutely contradictory to the way that your country (society) works.
“The political way of solving those problems often fails, because, in essence, those problems are hard to solve in a democratic way (in the spirit of democracy).
“Your freedoms are “shrinking” as a result of that.
“Calls for “radical solutions“ for the problems are stronger and stronger.
“The media is absolutely working a dirty job, and it is hard to find out what is the truth anymore.”

As you can see, English is not Selco’s first language. You can almost hear his accent when you read him. I included some of his reader’s comments and a few of my own although I kept them to a minimum preferring to let Selco’s experience speak for itself.

Selco faced a long-term survival situation where people behaved a lot differently than short-term events like earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, fires, etc. And, it goes without saying that no two SHTF situations are ever the same.

Don’t get overwhelmed by the vast scope of this. No one can do everything nor prepare for every possible event. Learn little by little. Take it one step at a time, stay flexible and hope we never have to use this knowledge, but if we do it’s better to learn now than the hard way later.

Selco writes, “… I know how I survived SHTF and how real SHTF looks like, and the real problem is that it definitely does not look like majority of preppers imagine it.” Many macho armchair survivalists won’t like what Selco writes because it goes against their preconceived ideas, but like it or not, he is the voice of experience.

It’s fortunate I saved his articles because they are no longer available on his blog, however, his later ones are on Daisy Luther’s The Organic Prepper.

As well, I highly recommend Selco’s online course that I’ve been taking because it goes into a lot more detail: It costs $147 U.S. and it’s worth every penny. Disclosure: I have no financial interest to bias my judgment.


1ST AID – see “MEDICINE” – Part 4

1ST AID – see ‘MEDICINE’ – Part 4

ABNORMAL. Nothing goes as expected in an SHTF situation. Selco writes, “You need to understand that each and every skill you have will be ‘disrupted’ someway in real SHTF, so you will be forced simply to ‘shorten’ procedures… every one of your skills will be performed in a different way in real settings, when you do not eat well, do not sleep good, with a lot of fear from the known and unknown.”

A woman Selco interviewed said, “You cannot expect too much when you find yourself in a completely new situation, deadly situation. I lived day by day without too much hope or expectation, at some point you stop caring.”

Change is constant. One day the house next door is safe; the next day someone in it is trying to kill you. Selco writes, “you get to the point that you never know anything for sure.” A friend one day may be the enemy the next day.

Selco writes, “the ‘Enemy’ will look, sound and speak like you,” but ‘sides’ were continually changing. “The fact that the people want to harm you were people who you use to know does not make it easier… you will be forced to fight with your neighbors, fellow countrymen for resources.”

“Randomness of everything is something that i want to show to folks who read my posts. We can be prepared in a way that we can have skills and things but to be prepared for everything is impossible because there are gonna be so many things in “motion” that simply brings lot of chaos there, lot of changing variables if you understand me. Very often things will just roll on without our influence, it is like that.”

Selco says that sleep cycles changed. One reason they were more active at night was to avoid snipers. Another reason was to hide their resource-gathering activities to avoid unwelcome attention. Activities at home could be done in daylight, but anything that made them visible (working on the roof, gathering firewood, etc.) was done at night. The most violence happened at night. Selco had between 10 and 15 people in his group, so someone was always on guard. He writes, “Messing up with normal sleep cycle was a problem alone, and it contributed to the stress, feeling tired and stressed because you did not have enough sleep or enough quality sleep was a normal thing.”

Meal schedules also changed. “It was very rare when we could all sit together to have dinner or breakfast, simply because someone was sleeping or someone else was busy with something… We ate when we had the chance, and we ate what was available in the moment.”

He writes, “People do not understand how much hard work is needed to get done things like water, food, heat, security… there were days when we were good, we would have enough water, food, and wood… But usually, we were always missing something. When the system is out, way too much time is needed to take care of everyday needs.”

Personal hygiene was almost non-existent with the occasional sponge bath and a rare bucket shower. He writes, “the biggest problem was not having enough water for all our needs… When you live for a prolonged period of time in those circumstances you kinda get used to the lack of hygiene. You do not like it but you live with it, and even make fun out of it. Psychologically people tend to get used to the lack of hygiene, especially when everybody around you is in the same state like you.”

Children had no schools. “There were some attempts from family members to try to keep up some level of homeschooling, but pretty soon it was clear that we all had much bigger and more serious problems than homeschooling. Kids simply lost that period when it came to school.”

Scavenging became important and time-consuming because they were always missing something. “Simple things like a multi-tool (Gerber or Leatherman style) would make life so much easier in those days.”

Selco says that after a long period of SHTF, to stay sane a person needs small bits of normality whether it’s a book or a game or music or chatting with a friend.

AGE need not be a handicap for a group. A 60-year old with experience and skills is preferable to a 20-year old who thinks he knows everything. However, just because we know that, other people will still make judgments based on age. Selco says that after the SHTF people with the experience of age became more valuable. He regrets not listening to old people’s experiences before SHTF as it would have helped him afterward.

ALCOHOL. SHTF produced many emotions; fear, anxiety, courage. Alcohol usage increased to deal with these mixed emotions. It was also useful for hygiene or barter. To eat on the run, sometimes the only way to clean hands was with alcohol.

AMMO. We can’t have enough ammo. It’s not just for shooting at someone. It’s also to scare off opponents and to communicate with each other. In an SHTF situation, we develop an itchy trigger-finger (spray and pray) because it’s better to waste bullets than die.

APPEARANCE. Be prepared, but look desperate. If we look prepared or healthy or well-fed, it’ll attract attention and get unwelcome visitors. Be unobtrusive. Selco’s ‘gray man’ does not stand out, but blends in. Avoid sports team logos or any logo that might offend someone. See “GRAY MAN” – Part 3.

APARTMENT SURVIVAL. Even if we live in an apartment and plan to ‘bug-out’ before the SHTF, it’s wise to prepare for apartment survival as ‘Plan B’ in case we cannot leave. In an SHTF, few things work as planned so stockpile food, water, and other essentials. There are numerous storage ideas on the web, one of which is Apartment Prepper although he doesn’t have Selco’s first-hand experience.

Get to know your neighbors before the SHTF. Without being too nosy, we should observe and find out what they do, what they drive, their views, hobbies, skills, worries, medical issues, whether they fish or hunt or have a cottage or cabin elsewhere. Do they have weaknesses, addictions or ‘interesting’ habits? This will help us decide whether to trust them or include them in our survival group or not.

For our security, we must keep our preparations secret and not visible through windows or doorways. Be an ordinary person and be discrete with solar panels to avoid attracting attention.

Cold weather heating an apartment is problematic unless we have a wood-burning heater or fireplace. Consider cobbling a metal burner together and stockpiling small stovepipe to allow smoke to escape through the balcony, window or hole in the wall. Smoke may attract trouble, but Selco writes, “in real SHTF there will be lot of smoke (and smell) in cities anyway, but if you see that it could be problem try to use fire by night, or “hide” the exhaust little bit, so it does not look obvious from where the smoke is coming, try to disperse it a little bit so it does not look too „controlled“ and more like regular burning apartment.” A “Rocket Stove” is an efficient and low-smoke alternative for cooking. Whatever system we use, it’s wise to have a fire extinguisher, a carbon monoxide alarm, spare batteries and be aware of the dangers of indoor combustion.

ARMED & DANGEROUS. It’s debatable if looking well-armed is good or not. A lot of ‘gun-nuts’ won’t like to hear this, but Selco says if we have a ‘nice’ or sexy gun we’ll be targeted. It’s better to travel incognito and look poor and scraggly.

ATTITUDE is more important than stuff! Selco says that survivors had a “mentality that worked.” After SHTF, many people just gave up. Their will was crushed because there were no signs that things would get better. He writes, “Good ‘cure’ for it was that you need to find use or task for that person, you need to bring back a sense of purpose to them… You just need to operate in your small circles and push day by day.”

[Gerold comment:] From my training in wilderness and winter survival, the three most essential elements of survival are:
1) Attitude
2) Attitude
3) Attitude
And, the right attitude is NEVER GIVE UP!

Selco uses the word ‘resilience’ by which he means perseverance and adaptability. He writes, “Survival is about resilience, to move on and on, to overcome difficult situations and come back again. Do not get attached on physical things, no matter how expensive they are, or how fancy they are, or even if people promised that you’ll “survive and thrive” if you own that things when SHTF. Life is precious, things are just things.”

BAD GUYS. There are two types. One was bad (likely criminal) before the SHTF who are now free to do as they always wanted once societal restrictions disappear. The other appeared normal when times were good but now shows their true nature. Both bad guys can be brutal and mean. The point of keeping a low profile is we don’t know which ‘normal’ people go bad. Assume everyone is bad until they prove otherwise.

BARTER. There is much survival advice available, but few with Selco’s experience discuss barter; how to do it and what to avoid. We need to be careful where, how, and who we barter with (Selco calls it ‘trading’) because it is dangerous.

Selco writes, “Trade is probably the survival topic with largest number of myths.It is partly because we like to think that somehow the world will collapse but the majority of people will live by the rules from normal times, and partly because we are influenced by movies, shows, and fiction books.”

He also writes, “… nothing was pre-set, nothing was constant and that include basic factors like values of items, security of trade, rules of particular trade etc.”

Every SHTF situation is unique and continually changing. Here are some of Selco’s recommendations.
1) Carefully plan barter. Selco writes, “It starts with information about who has something that you need, then checking that information, and rechecking, and then sending information to him that you want to trade, then setting the terms about the place and number of people where you’re gonna do the trade.”
2) Don’t stockpile things commonly available.
3) Go small to be mobile. ½ liter (qt.) alcohol, not 5. Flints, not fuel.
4) Stay low profile. Becoming a prominent trader attracts attention.
5) Be the ‘middleman.’ Pretend we know who has some stuff so carry little.
6) Never barter in or close to home as it gives away valuable info.
7) Never barter in another trader’s home (unknown terrain.) Chose neutral ground.
8) Watch if someone is following us home: use different routes.
9) Don’t often trade with the same person or in the same street.
10) Trade large quantities only in other parts of the city away from home.
11) Don’t trade away food: trade stuff for food.
12) Have light & energy: batteries, candles, flints, solar chargers, etc.
13) Addictions don’t die, so people need coffee, tea, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, etc.
14) NEVER do charity; it makes it look like we have lots to spare and word gets around. See ‘CHARITY’ – Part 2.
15) Beware scams. Trust only unopened containers.
16) Obtain a digital battery tester before SHTF to test dry cell batteries.
17) Values change. Flour value increases, but candles become cheaper as people find other forms of light.
18) Distrust rumors.
19) Never trade our guns or ammo; it could be used against us.
20) Avoid trading for ammo; it could be reloaded or under-loaded (.22s are ok.)
21) We can never have enough duct tape.
22) If using a “middleman” to trade, expect about 25% fee.
23) Stockpile long shelf-life items like lamp oil, Vaseline, matches, lamp wicks, sugar, salt, honey, tin foil, hard candy, toilet paper, etc.
24) Dress down for bartering: the rich pay more — no rings, earrings, wallet, bling.
25) Don’t cheat or short-change when bartering because rumors about us spread.
26) Don’t stockpile everything in one spot. “Official” confiscation or robbers grab the easy stuff they find.
27) We can never have enough small containers or Zip-Lock bags.
28) Spread garbage far and wide otherwise we advertise our stockpile.
29) Stockpile, but DON’T barter unless we absolutely have to, otherwise we look like we have lots of stuff and that attracts unwanted attention.
30) Don’t put all our money/valuables/items in one pocket. Spread it in different pockets, so we don’t look rich.
31) Selco writes, “Do not ever give a reason for someone to take the risk of attacking you because you have way too cool stuff (or way too much stuff) with you.”
32) Similarly, “Never give info how much of the goods you actually have at home.”
33) The price goes up if you look desperate. “Never act like you really need the thing you want to buy (let it be your second choice for example.”)
34) Never go to an enclosed place where we don’t know what or who to expect.
35) Never risk our lives for luxury items, only necessities.
36) Never let emotions show. Look calm, but tough.
37) Never trade alone. 3 is a good number.
38) If we smoke but don’t plan to trade them, don’t show them.
39) Trading a gold coin means we likely have more and it makes us a target. It’s better to have gold rings, wear one and offer to sell it like it’s the only one we have. See ‘GOLD & SILVER’ Part 3.
40) “… folks who are thinking ‘I’ll do that’ or ‘I’ll never do that.’ Instead ‘I’ll do what has to be done (adapt to situation.)’”
41) After SHTF in Selco’s situation, the local currency was used for a while, then U.S dollars and German marks, then prices went up, and people resorted to barter.
42) Skills are more valuable than things to trade, i.e. repairing, gardening, home remedies, sewing, fighting, security, etc. “Skills were also more safe to trade simply because by attacking and killing you, the attacker cannot take away your skills…” See ‘SKILLS’ Part 5.
43) Don’t expect a civilized barterers ‘farmers’ market.’

Summing up, Selco writes, “In reality, one of the points of careful preparing is to delay the moment when you need to go out and trade as long as you can.
“Because you’re gonna need time to scan what is going on and who is who in the new collapsed world. You need to gather information about who is good and who is not, who is trusted and who is a scammer, what area is safe… If you need to go out on the 10th day in order to trade something maybe you are doing something wrong?”

BOMB BLAST. Everyone reacts differently whether a victim or a responder. Selco says it’s traumatic dealing with blast victims. He writes, “Be ready to be overwhelmed by emotions and be ready to cope with stress.” In dealing with victims, give 1st Aid, calm reassurances, honesty; ask questions and listen.

BRAVERY. In the beginning, people acted brave and got killed because they didn’t know anything about war, fighting or tactics — those who survived initially learned the hard way.

BREAKDOWN. The SHTF did not happen all at once. It was gradual. At first, people pulled together. Selco writes, “Team spirit was gone in second month after we got cut off from supplies and that is when pillaging, raping, torturing start to become common.”


BRUTALITY. When Selco’s SHTF hit it was gradual, not sudden and it took people time to recognize what was happening. They thought the rioting, looting, and shootings were temporary. A lot of people died before realizing that things aren’t the same anymore nor were they getting better. For most people, the Normalcy Bias prevents them from coming to grips with reality. However, nature and violence are random and brutal.

To survive, people will do crazy, cruel and terrible things they never thought possible. Afterward, few people will talk about it, and if they do, they usually lie. Violence affects everyone differently. Selco writes, “Every one of us had own small breaking point, most of the time violence was easy part …”

BUGGING-IN is preferable to ‘bugging out’ (below) because in the open we’re a vulnerable target. However, we must be flexible and ready to evacuate if necessary. Be prepared for mobility and be mentally prepared to leave EVERYTHING behind and not get too attached to our stuff. We can get more stuff, but we cannot get another life. As much as we plan to Bug-Out, we may be unable, so we must be prepared to bug-in as an alternative.

BUGGING-OUT is contentious. WHEN do we go? We’ll only know that with certainty when it’s already too late so we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if we fail to bug-out in time. Selco says there were signs, but he didn’t notice until it was too late. Be adaptable and expect little to work as planned. A failure to plan is a plan for failure. Have multiple plans in case one doesn’t work, but expect them to change.

In addition to the question ‘when’ do we go is the question ‘where’ do we go. A refugee is ‘easy pickings’ for the bad guys. Generally speaking, it is wise to leave a highly populated area to one of lower density because there will be more resources to support fewer people. However, Selco writes “that does not mean that I would blindly run from my home out to the unknown just because I am in the city.” We must have a destination.

Selco says much of the chaos and panic of SHTF is because people cannot accept the reality of the situation. Also, many people trying to evacuate with roads jammed and empty fuel tanks. Most people will fail. It’s best to stay in, stay low and wait. There comes a brief period of peace as people are shocked and terrified as they accept the new reality. The final stage is hell when people realize there are no more rules. If we don’t bug out before the SHTF, we might have a small window of opportunity during the brief period of peace a week or two after SHTF.

When to bug out is a tough call to make. We may bug out for nothing. Selco says his friend Jay bugged out to avoid martial law in Bangkok, Thailand but nothing terrible happened. We’ll know it was time to bug out when it’s too late to do so.

[Gerold comment:] I heard the story of a Frenchman who, sensing the onslaught of WW II moved his family to the South Sea island of Guadalcanal which became the site of some of the heaviest fighting in the war. Another family relocated to the peaceful Falkland Islands just before the Falklands War.

Leaving everything behind is tough, especially if we have a lot of preps, but life is more important.

Whether to display weapons when Bugging-Out depends on circumstances. Selco writes, “If you really need to use weapon then use it to completely terminate threat, usually it will not be time to just “show the muscle“ it will rather be time to quickly and efficiently “use the muscle“.

Expect problems along the way. We may need to bargain with money or stuff so we should organize it, so it looks like we don’t have a lot. Don’t peal $50 from a large wad of cash or have multiple jerry cans of fuel visible in the back of the truck. Selco writes, “Use common sense, usually people will avoid trouble if there is no gain from it, if they see good opportunity they might take chance… You need to look like ordinary guy, not like experienced prepper with lot of fancy stuff. You need to be grey.”

What if we need to ditch the vehicle and walk? Organize high priority stuff so we can quickly evacuate the vehicle and leave low priority stuff behind rather than fumbling around in a panic. Ensure we have proper clothing for the weather. Expect desperate people along the way. Have alternate routes planned and possible danger spots marked on a map. Selco suggests walking the route once per year to get familiar with it.

We don’t know where we’ll be when the SHTF. Prepare and stash a ‘Get Home’ bag in the vehicle in case we need to trek home (see ‘Bugging-In’ above.) The longer the distance, the more difficult and dangerous it’ll be. Adjust contents according to the anticipated distance, danger and the season. See ‘BUG-OUT LOCATION’ below

BUG-OUT BAG (BOB) is not a Survival Bag. A Bug-Out Bag is small and light (maneuverable so we can run, jump, duck) for ‘evasion’ to get to our Bug-Out Location (BOL.) If we don’t have a BOL, then we’re better off Bugging-In. For Survival Bag, see “HEADING FOR THE HILLS” – Part 3. Hint: most people are not skilled, equipped or prepared for long-term wilderness survival. It’s not like camping.

Preppers may not like this, but Selco sarcastically calls bug-out bags the “holy grail of survival.” They are only useful immediately after the SHTF when we might look like an ordinary hiker. After the SHTF they draw attention, and we become a target to desperate people. A sports bag might “make more sense than a camping backpack or military type backpack.” And, a concealed weapon is less obtrusive than openly carrying an assault rifle.

There is no ‘perfect’ or one-size-fits-all BOB as it depends on the individual’s lifestyle, locality, distance, probable threats and season. Selco suggested some BOB contents: garbage bags to keep stuff dry, space blankets for warmth, cheap plastic poncho to keep us dry, toilet paper, tin foil, hand sanitizer, antiseptic wipes, energy bars or trail mix or MREs, BIC lighters, matches (cold weather), fire starter or vaseline soaked cotton balls (or dryer lint), water purification tablets or mini-filter, canteen or water bottle, multi-tool, folding knife, small flashlight, map & compass, 1st aid kit, quality hand crank radio (cheap ones break), paracord, duct tape, appropriate clothes for layering, extra socks and moleskin, proper and broken-in footwear. Avoid too much weight in the event we need to run for our lives or swim a river or relinquish it for safe passage.

Selco suggests ‘layering’ our BOB to avoid having all essentials deep inside because at some point we may lose it or need to discard it. First, items need to be organized to be easy to find“when you are in a hurry, in danger, in the dark, or simply when you are very tired… Some things need to be available in a split second, your field dressing for example, or your allergy medication, extra ammo or food.” Second, they need to be organized to grab life-saving essentials if you need to discard the bag.

Layer One: This is the equipment that will stay with you even in very extreme situations. It is equipment that is directly ‘on your body.’ For example on paracord around your neck, or your wrist.” See EVERY DAY CARRY (EDC) ITEMS – Part 2 for carrying essentials on yourself.

Layer Two: This is the equipment that is on your belt, inside your pockets, small waist bag or similar.

Layer Three: This is the equipment that you carry actually inside your bug out bag.

BUG-OUT LOCATION (BOL) is any secondary shelter we’ve prepared in advance in case we need to evacuate our primary shelter. Depending on distance and circumstances, we cannot assume we can get there. Be prepared to Bug-In if necessary. In other words, don’t put all our eggs in one basket, but be flexible.

Selco advises caching some preps along the way, but this sounds easier said than done. Plan on them being found and plundered before we get there. He also suggests having a friendly ‘safe’ house along the way for assistance. Remember, that too could change.

What happens when we arrive at your BOL, and it’s occupied? Now, what do we do? Have a plan.

Most people cannot afford a ‘strategic relocation’ property, so most of us should plan to Bug-In unless we’re forced to evacuate to save our lives.

As I said, many preppers won’t like Selco’s advice, but he is the voice of experience.

Click HERE for Part 2.


November 28, 2018

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About gerold

I have a bit of financial experience having invested in stocks in the 1960s & 70s, commodities in the 80s & commercial real estate in the 90s (I sold in 2005.) I'm back in stocks. I am appalled at our rapidly deteriorating global condition so I've written articles for family, friends & colleagues since 2007; warning them and doing my best to explain what's happening, what we can expect in the future and what you can do to prepare and mitigate the worst of the economic, social, political and nuclear fallout. As a public service in 2010 I decided to create a blog accessible to a larger number of people because I believe that knowledge not shared is wasted.
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3 Responses to Selco’s SHTF Survival Lessons – Part 1 – ‘A’ to ‘B’

  1. Pingback: Alternative Communications - PARTISAN COMMS GROUP, LLC

  2. GBV says:

    Probably worth mentioning that Selco’s experiences occurred in a Bosnian warzone?
    Collapse in rural, suburban and urban North America would likely look a lot different… at least until we get to the point that current nation-states (e.g. Canada, US, Mexico) have broken up and small-scale civil wars start to break out?


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