Selco’s SHTF Survival Lessons – Part 3 – ‘G’ to ‘L’

Reading time: 4,280 words, 10 pages, 10 to 17 minutes.

If you haven’t read the first two introductory pages in Part 1, I recommend you do so. Among the things I wrote was that Selco 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. I arranged Selco’s lessons in alphabetical order to make it easier to search and review because Selco provides such an abundance of experience.

If you haven’t read it, here is Part 2.


GUNS – see “FIREARMS” – Part 2
KNIVES – see “WEAPONS” – Part 5

GANGS were a major problem. After the SHTF, gangs formed quickly. Ordinary people joined gangs because it was easier to steal than acquire honestly. Gang leaders were the worst kind of people. If they want what we have, they’ll eventually get it, so we need to be invisible or part of a group so tough and well-armed it wasn’t worth the gang attacking us. “If you expecting some kind of fair fight or honor in SHTF, forget it right now.” Selco also said that gangs “even had their own prisons, houses for fun, sometimes they abducted people for ransom, sometimes just for fun, there was no rule.”

At first, gangs will look for traditional valuables like money, jewelry, etc. and if we make it difficult, they’ll likely look elsewhere. Later, once they realize the SHTF, they’ll look for food, water, ammo, etc. and they’ll be more desperate and won’t let obstacles stop them. Well organized gangs will control the looting and the food supply.

Gangs will go for the easiest targets so; we stand a better chance of surviving if we make it difficult for them. This requires manpower, guns, ammo, and training. The larger our group, the better are our chances for survival. See ‘LONE WOLF’ – below.

Gangs, either drunk or high on drugs, usually attacked early in the morning around 3:00 or 4:00. It was tough resisting 10 or 20 armed guys. Selco says if they overwhelmed you and you didn’t offer much resistance they might just beat you and take what they wanted. Or, they could rape, torture and kill. You never knew how it would turn out.

GEAR isn’t nearly as important as skills, abilities, stamina, mental and physical conditioning. Most preppers don’t want to hear this because it contradicts their preconceived notions perpetuated by relentless marketing like “The Only Thing You’ll Need to Survive” and endless discussions about which caliber kills the best. However, mental preparation is more important than stockpiling stuff that will only serve someone else when we flee or die.

GENDER ROLES. With Selco’s extended family under one roof, what were the gender roles? He writes, “the roles were back like 100 years ago. Women staying at home (in our group). But that was luxury because we had enough men go out and get stuff. Other woman had to do men’s job to survive.”

GOLD & SILVER. In an SHTF situation, essentials that have an immediate use and value like food, medicine, coffee & cigarettes are more valuable and tradeable than gold & silver. In Selco’s case, only people with connections to the ‘outside’ could use gold & silver to buy things through their connections. Ordinary people were easier to trade with (barter) than people with connections who were accustomed to just taking what they wanted.

Selco says the value of gold & silver is a matter of timing. “There are some early stages of SHTF when money is already not good, but immediately valuable things (food, ammo, meds…) have not yet jumped in as a priorities. At that time, precious metals can work for bribing, paying for small things, solving problems etc.”

In a global SHTF there is no ‘outside,’ so useful things will have more value than gold. Selco writes, “When collapse happens, basically you have two options (when it comes to precious metals) either to give them up for food (or ammo, water filters, antibiotics or whatever) at very low rates (bad rates for you) or to wait for some kind of system to return and then use precious metals (at good exchange rates).” In other words, the value of gold & silver drops a lot during SHTF.

If we offer to trade our gold coin, they might realize we have more, and that puts us at risk. We must remain low key. Offering the wife’s gold ring for barter or bribery is better as it makes us look as desperate as everyone else that has failed to prep. Also, anyone accepting our gold for food means he has a surplus of food, and that’s not low key on their part. Gold & silver are only useful for the, i.e. preserving our wealth after (if) peace and civilization is restored. See ‘MONEY’ – in Part 4.

GRAY MAN. Selco says that in an SHTF situation, we must BLEND IN and not stand out. Differences will be noted as suspicious if we’re healthier, cleaner, or look well-fed compared to everyone else. Do not argue with people or try to prove them wrong or our ego could get us killed. We must not make predictions publicly or seem to know what’s going on as that also makes us stand out. There’s no point in being correct and dead.

Differences can get us killed like wearing a logo or flag or ball cap from the ‘wrong’ team. [Gerold comment:] I saw an ad for a T-shirt that looked like two holstered handguns and a bandolier of bullets. I wouldn’t wear that BEFORE the SHTF for fear of someone calling 9-1-1 or shot by the cops, let alone after SHTF.

Selco writes, “Sad truth is when SHTF first one who are going to be in danger are people who are different from the ‘majority’ in that moment and particular place… DO NOT attract attention by being different… Learn about people that you will have to deal with when SHTF. This does not mean that you need to ‘love’ or ‘hate’ them, not even like them, BUT know what will help or hurt you when dealing with them.”

Some readers’ comments include:
– Don’t wear jewelry.
– Never wear highly desirable items like new Nikes.
– Don’t display our smartphone.
– Carry a ‘throw-away’ wallet with some cash, photos and outdated credit cards in case we’re mugged.
– Stoop or slouch like everyone else, but don’t walk erect or proudly.
– Leave our principles and beliefs at home.

In other words, stay ‘uninteresting’ and look and act like everyone else. The time to start being ‘Gray’ is before the SHTF to learn and become comfortable with it. That also means keeping quiet about our preps before the SHTF otherwise people may remember we have a stockpile and demand we share. If you haven’t read about the dangers of charity in an SHTF situation in Part 2, read SHTF charity is for fools.

Our homes should look ordinary, not like a fortress with something to hide. Reinforce from the inside, or make our home look abandoned or already looted and burned. If it’s a military situation, consider signs that say “Warning: Mines” or if it’s a pandemic situation, have a few biohazard signs saying “Beware of Bodies Inside” or worded correctly for our area.

Selco says to think in defense layers; the first line of defense is the neighbor’s house, second is our yard, and third is our door. Arrange obstacles to reduce the number of approaches. Using a weapon should be a last resort. Create unobtrusive alarms; something that blocks entry, but makes noise when it’s moved. Use OpSec (Operational Security) to look at ourselves through the eyes of an adversary.

Selco writes, “There is no universal advice. In case of prolonged collapse, different tactics will work for different regions, based on the situation.”

GRIEF. In a total SHTF like Selco experienced, expect children, family, and friends to die. Most people will go through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Selco confirms it, but he says everyone reacts differently. He writes, “It can change your whole perspective of life. It can put lots of RAGE in you.”

He says he’s seen extremes. One fellow who lost his whole family spent his entire life preparing for revenge. Another spent his entire life devoted to peace. Both extremes are dangerous. Too much love and faith can be as crippling as too much hate if we allow our emotions to control us.

GUNS – see “WEAPONS” – in Part 5.

HATE can be a tactic used by governments to manipulate us. It’s usually used in wartime to provoke us into killing whoever the government claims are the ‘enemy.’ Selco writes that influential people use “hate to take my freedoms away from me, by saying they are doing that in order to protect me … Do not allow someone to cloud your judgment by fear and hate, so they can rule you and take your freedoms … Fear and hate are a very contageous disease, watch for yourself and your family, use your brain and common sense.”

HEADING FOR THE HILLS sounds cool or romantic, but it’s highly impractical. If we’re bugging out, we need an established and prepared destination and not just show up unexpectedly. We need a secure and stocked location before the SHTF. See ‘BUG-OUT LOCATION (BOL) – in Part 1.

First, there aren’t enough hills for everyone. And second, the ‘hill people’ who already live there won’t welcome us because we’re intruders unless we’ve previously made arrangements with them.

Long-term wilderness survival takes more skills than most people have. It’s best to ‘Bug-In’ (Part 1) unless we’re forced to evacuate in which case we’re much more vulnerable; we become refugees, sniper targets or ‘easy pickings’ for criminals.

HEAT and staying warm is critical in cold weather. Wind is more dangerous than cold temperatures because it lowers body temperature faster.

Once electricity or natural gas was cut off, Selco says that homes were heated by shrinking the living space, so less firewood was needed to heat and cook. Rooms were selected to avoid bullets and shelling and for defensive reasons.

Many modern fireplaces are more for decoration than home heating and cooking as they burn a lot of wood. People made small stoves out of pressure cookers, large tin cans, or drums. Holes were cut in walls for exhaust pipes and bricks placed around stoves to retain heat. Thick stove material on top was replaced with thin to heat faster and use less fuel. The more stove pipe inside the home radiated more heat. We must protect walls, floors, and drapes, so they don’t catch on fire

Selco writes, “Most of these homemade stoves made lot of smoke inside the home, they smelled a lot.” Modern airtight houses could be a problem because burning fuel requires an air intake. Selco suggests acquiring a small stove and piping before we need it in a SHTF.

In cold weather, they cooked indoors to combine cooking with heating because wood for fuel was difficult to find. In warm weather, they cooked outdoors.

Warm clothing was another necessity. People made do with what they had by ‘layering’ several garments over another. Unless they had heavy work clothes, regular clothing deteriorated fast. Dry socks were a necessity to avoid trench foot. Knitting and crocheting became very useful.

Selco talks about ‘urban hypothermia’ produced by prolonged cold temperatures, poor diet, dampness, stress, compromised immune systems, lack of sleep and old age. He reminds us that everything we do is twice as hard when we’re cold. He recommends stockpiling lighters, matches, kindling, candles, fuel cubes, ax, duct tape, tarps or plastic sheeting and spray-foam insulation.

[Gerold comment:] Based on my own winter camping experience:
– Our heads lose 40% of our body heat, so a warm hat is a necessity. “If your feet are cold, wear a hat.”
– Mitts are warmer than gloves.
– Perspiration is dangerous because wet clothes do not insulate well. Avoid overheating during physical exertion.
– The layering of clothes is better than a parka that “does it all.” Outer garment needs to be wind-proof yet breathable to allow moisture to escape. Remove layers if over-heating.
– Silk or synthetics next to the skin ‘wicks’ moisture away to the next layer of material. – Cotton kills because it is poor insulation when dry and cools when wet which is why it’s used as a summer fabric.
– Hydration is important because we need to drink more water in dry, cold weather.
– A thin layer of petroleum jelly prevents exposed face and lips from drying and cracking. Wipe it off with a paper towel; it still leaves a thin protective layer, and the paper makes excellent kindling.

HELPLESSNESS. The feeling of helplessness and not being in control was worse than all the other fears.

HELP THE DYING. Selco came across people who were severely injured and dying. He stressed the importance of something as simple as holding their hands and talking to them. Although some people want to be left alone, most welcome fellowship as they’re dying. The human touch is more important than wearing gloves for personal protection. Also, we must be careful what we say because hearing is often the last sense to go.

HEROES. Selco says he knew a few so-called ‘heroes,’ but “they end up dead pretty fast.” One of the best ways to survive is stay out of trouble which is not always easy to do. Selco writes, “Stay out of the trouble and simply do not believe everything, especially if the message is coming ‘packaged’ and in ‘big words’ (Students in USA should take special note of this now…)”

HOME is no longer a secure, cozy place after SHTF. It’s where we choose to defend ourselves and loved ones. Don’t expect to feel the same about home after that. See ‘SHELTER’ – in Part 5.

HONOR. In a long-term SHTF survival situation, there is NONE. There is only survival. We can be right, but we can also be dead right.

To survive an SHTF, we must do things we wouldn’t consider if times were normal. Selco writes about a gang who imprisoned a guitarist who “become something like their member, he played for them while they drank and beat and tortured other folks… It was hard for him to focus while other people suffered but he played encouraging songs that made some men beat others in frenzy…” People will do shameful things to survive. Selco writes, “You never know how far you are going to go with some things in order to survive. There is no way to know that before SHTF.”

HOPE IS DANGEROUS. Selco says they were disappointed so many times that people lost hope. In one sense, losing hope has survival advantages. He writes that hope “may blur your vision. It may push you to pay attention to things that are not so relevant for your immediate attention… you fail to protect your family or obtain food or similar… It was weird but not hoping may help you to operate better every and each day by taking care of things that need your immediate attention (food, safety, security…)”

On the other hand, losing all hope took a toll on mental health. He writes, “Life without hope is not much of a quality life. So when peace came, there were whole bunch of people who forgot to feel things. They were conditioned to operate with a certain mental attitude in order to have the best chances of survival and no peace could change that, at least in the short term. For a lot of people, it did not change ever.” See ‘SHTF’ – in Part 5.

HYGIENE. In an SHTF, personal hygiene became less important than food and water. However, poor hygiene increases the risk of infections when wounded or lead to fungus or athlete’s foot and immobility which is particularly dangerous in an SHTF. Another concern is Cholera, dysentery and other debilitating gastrointestinal diseases caused by bad water, feces-contaminated food or improper sanitation that lead to severe cases of diarrhea and dehydration. Stock up on Immodium or Kaopectate to treat diarrhea. Death was more common in the very young and the very old.

Use Gatorade to restore electrolytes lost from dehydration or make our own.
2 quarts (liters) Water
5-10 Tsp. Sugar (to taste)
1 Tsp. Salt
1 Tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 Tsp. Salt Substitute (Potassium Chloride)
1 Pack unsweetened drink mix (Kool-Aid) optional for flavoring

See more details at the WHO PDF.

Proper hand washing is essential and challenging when water is in short supply. Consider stocking up on Wet-Naps or Baby-Naps. Wrap the top of the container in plastic wrap held by elastics or tie-wraps to prevent drying out for long-term storage.

Don’t forget to brush teeth and floss (STOCKPILE) because Dentists aren’t available in an SHTF. And, watch our feet to avoid ingrown toenails and infection. Stockpile nail clippers and keep toenails well clipped especially for walking downhill to prevent infection caused by toenails impacting the front of footwear. Also, remember to tighten shoelaces walking downhill.

Change wet socks. If we can’t wash all our clothes, at least wash underwear and socks. Keep hair short and if we have lice, cut it all off. One reader commented, “in an SHTF world, our immune systems will be stressed and therefore unable to protect us from even simple illnesses.”

Also, we can save water by using a spray bottle as a ‘shower’ in addition to a sponge or washcloth rather than a whole basin of water. Boil contaminated clothing using some bleach and air dry in (disinfecting) sunlight, but we must be discrete to avoid giving away our location.

Stockpile ahead of SHTF disposable trash bags for human waste, doggie bags, plastic grocery bags, face masks (a good emergency mask is made by, disposable gloves (avoid touching the face), goggles, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol and colloidal silver solution. Stockpile lots of disposable plates, cups, and utensils to save on wash water. Paper plates, once dried after use makes excellent kindling.

Avoid large groups of people like tent cities with their poor sanitation. Nearby ponds and streams will be contaminated. The wide area around toilets, porta-potties and poop trenches will be covered in a thin film by people with diarrhea losing control that is then tracked home on shoes. Whenever possible, remove footwear when returning home.

Selco writes, “Everybody was at least once really sick from diseases that probably were caused by lack of hygiene, bad water and bad food… Diarrhea, vomiting, exhaustion… A lot of people had a couple of times heavy episodes of that, because simply, the whole chain of hygiene was really bad and broken… Either you had problems with waste disposal, or bad water, or bad food, or simply you lacked personal hygiene. It was a constant problem.”

JUDGING. People will do what’s necessary to survive SHTF, so we must avoid judging people about what they do. However, we still need to rely on instincts and be careful. Peaceful or friendly people can be dangerous, and dangerous-looking people can become allies.

KEYBOARD WARRIORS. Selco writes, “I think a lot of writing about survival today is about gear reviews and buying another gun…” Few survival blogs or courses cover endurance and mental conditioning. In preparation for SHTF, he says we need to practice things “where you can push your limits is time very well spent … Do not expect to “overcome” all of them. Some things always get you, but knowing about this and being mentally prepared for it, makes big difference in stressful survival scenarios when many things at the same time test your limits.”

He realizes most people won’t prepare, but reading Selco’s blog posts and taking his survival course helps people begin to prepare mentally. As for myself, I admit to becoming depressed for a few weeks after reading only a quarter of his posts. I waited a while, then soldiered on and kept reading.

Selco says that braggarts with a “let them come” attitude need to change to “let them NOT come” because those with the BIG guns and BIG trucks will be among the first to die.

KILLING. Selco says once we kill another human, we are never the same. Selco writes, “It can also destroy relationships of people close to you because it changes you and changes how people see you.”

Killing with a gun is not like in the movies. Unless a lucky shot hits a vital organ, we may need to shoot (and hit) several times. The human body can take a lot of damage and still be dangerous before it finally dies.

Killing, especially inside our shelter, is also very messy and especially if we use a shotgun because there is organic matter everywhere. Hydrogen Peroxide in a spray bottle works better than bleach for clean-up. If it foams, it’s organic. Consider stockpiling, but realize it has a limited shelf life. [Gerold comment:] I ‘rotate’ my stockpile by using half a cup for laundry. It’s better than bleach (albeit more expensive) and doesn’t harm clothing or the washer.

LAUNDRY. A ‘mop bucket’ that the janitor uses can wring clothes fairly dry before hanging to speed up the drying process.

LEADERSHIP and authority are required when other people lose control. We cannot reason with them or be ‘nice.’ Most people in stressful situations seek authority. Selco writes “some yelling and giving orders helps, even using some force too … And panic can be easily spread from man to man. So to act timely is important.”

LIGHT indoors is important. Not only does it help us see when the windows are covered, but it’s psychologically uplifting. Selco wasn’t prepped with candles and flashlights/batteries so they improvised as best they could by burning cooking oil, resin, or diesel fuel using rope or shoelaces as wicks, all of which stank and coated everything in grimy soot.

LOCATION is important. Large cities are death traps; too many people fighting over too few resources which increase the level of violence. Selco thinks rural is best. [Gerold comment;] other survivors say rural means neighbors are unable to help because they’re too distant to hear screams as marauders take their time raping and murdering. Small towns by default offer the best survival scenarios as most people know one another. See “CITY VS RURAL” – in Part 2.

LONE WOLF is not impossible, but VERY difficult. Who guards while sleeping or are sick or away foraging? A small group is best. Ideally, we’d form a group before the SHTF because it takes time for preparation and building confidence, but how likely is that to happen? Care must be taken to avoid exposing ourselves as preppers. Alternatively, forming a group after SHTF means people we’re not acquainted with, and we never know when they’ll turn against us. Expect betrayal.

SHTF is so different than what we’re accustomed to that it makes it difficult to survive alone. One woman Selco interviewed said, “Being in family or group makes you part of something, if other depend on you and you have other who go through same unreal situation it makes you fight harder. I understand those people who gave up and locked themselves in to die.” Going it alone means going without the emotional or psychological support that a group provides. What if we find our self alone whether we want to or not? Selco writes, “Find yourself a cause and purpose in the chaos that will unfold around you. If you are believer, a religious man (or woman) you may have an advantage… you are going to be alone with your fears and doubts.” He also suggests keeping a journal.

We also need to be prepared to be much more mobile and leave at a moment’s notice. It will be more difficult to defend our shelter by our self so we’re more likely to need to bug-out to save our lives. That means more than one shelter pre-planned and preps cached there.

Also, no one has all the necessary survival skills. A group is more likely to have people with different skills that can complement one another. It takes longer for one person to complete a task than a team does. In an urban SHTF, one person dealing with other people is more vulnerable than with partners who can watch each other’s backs. According to Selco’s experience, a lone wolf who manages to survive is more likely to be a mental mess.

This all leads to a conundrum. On the one hand, Selco says it’s difficult to form a group after the SHTF, so it’s best to create one before (preferably one person at a time to avoid the entire group betraying us.) On the other hand, before SHTF we likely won’t find many like-minded people to form a group. And, the more people who know of our preps before SHTF, the higher the likelihood one person will betray us or sell us out to the ‘warlord’ (local gang leader) or divulge under torture. There are no easy answers. See ‘SURVIVAL GROUP’ – Part 5.


It’s fortunate I saved Selco’s 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 here: It costs $147 U.S., and it’s worth every penny. Disclosure: I have no financial interest to bias my judgment.


December 12, 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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