Prepper Camp: A Review by a Preparedness Newbie

An honest review of how "Prepper Camp" went from a newbie prepper

By E.R. 

I’m a planner. Below you will find my checklist for Prepper Camp 2018-Orchard Lake Campground. I do this for all of my organized trips.

Planning for events like Prepper Camp isn’t something that takes an effort for me. I enjoy it. If I were tailgating on a cool fall Saturday, I would make a similar list even if I wasn’t hosting. Logistics are part of my life, my system. There are many reasons why I’ve traveled to Saluda, NC.

Most importantly, I feel like I belong here. They billed it as “a total immersive event in preparedness, survival, and homesteading skills.”

Oh, hell ya, I’m ready. Besides, I was Cub Scout and a Boy Scout for a little while. I’ve even been selected for my Community Emergency Response Team. Regardless, I’m ready. I stocked my coolers with beer and wine, deli meat, and all the condiments. I have Vitamin C packets, a case of water, a gallon of water, extra flashlights, a lantern, an AM/FM radio, a two-way radio (that I’ve never used), and gloves for gathering wood. In the grunts of Tim “The Tool Man,” Taylor, “Oh uh uh ahhhh!!!!”

I balance the time on my trek to Orchard Lake between urgent fourth-quarter sales emergencies and daydreaming about a weekend in the woods. I have my schedule of classes all picked out. I’m heading into the mid-Friday afternoon, and I’ll leave mid-Sunday afternoon. My wife is flying back into Atlanta, and I plan to pick her up, refreshed, rejuvenated, with new skills that I’ll proudly discuss during our evening dinner at the table. She’s confident in me. She knows I always prepare around the house.

Prepper Camp, Here I Come!

The generator is ready; check. Every tool is in its proper place, extra gas containers in the shed, guns, and ammo, security system, the bug-out bags we got for Christmas in both of our trunks. Shoot, I grew up in the Northeast in a house without consistent heat and food. We drank evaporated milk, ate free cheese, and dressed for school in the morning in front of the exposed dryer vent. I know I’m an amateur, but I’m seasoned. I’ve been uncomfortable before. I’m ready.

I arrive at the campground and unpack. Although I took a personal day, I was distracted by work calls when I left home and haven’t paid enough attention to the weather. At least I grabbed a shovel, just in case I have to dig a trench and protect my tent. I must have paid some attention to the weather. It turns out that was helpful.

Local Wood

About five miles out, I stop at what seems to be either an abandoned used car lot or a car repair shop with a pile of wood as big as a whale for sale. I flashed back to playing king of the mountain in our backyard as a kid. For some, unknown to me reason, we had a large pile of dirt in our yard growing up. We also always had at least one broken-down car. When you’re poor, those broken-down cars become a homemade jungle gym. I digress.

I like the idea of buying wood from the locals. It’s an opportunity to meet someone and get a quick glimpse into their lives. This one didn’t disappoint. I walk past the abandoned cars for sale and into a repair shop that has more crap piled into it than a Hoarders episode.

A grizzled older man that seems cast for the moment greets me. I surprised him as he appeared to be taking the plugs out of an old Harley in the back. I tell him I’m here for some firewood, and I’m not sure if he’s pissed or just focusing intently on what he needs to step over and dodge so that he can get to me.

Simultaneously, his wife (at least she seems to be) greets me from a different direction. Quickly, I can tell by their hospitality and concern for the moisture in the logs that they’re good people. They sort through to try and limit the wet from the dry, help me load up more wood than I deserve for $20, and the woman informs me that there have been many bear sightings recently in the area. Be aware. That’s the first time I’ve considered the wildlife.

Orchard Lake Campground

Arriving at the campground, I see what appears to be a small city of tents. Extremely organized, and even the rain and mud won’t stop this group. Check-in is a breeze, and I’m off to my campsite. As I set up my tent, I’m greeted by a friend of a friend (we’ll call him Mike), and he helps me set up camp and unload my wet firewood. I’m grateful for the comradery. That will come in handy as the weekend progresses. I’m fully set up and ready to experience Prepper Camp 2018.

The vendors and classes are well prepared and engaging. As I stroll from one to the next, I’m learning. I didn’t come into this with visions of turning into Survivor Man. I came here to learn a few new things and see what the experience is like.

Going to Prepper Camp Class

In the Primitive Wilderness course, I picked up some helpful hints about clean water. We are also taught how to look for salamanders, use a cloth or a sponge to wipe morning dew from the grass, and how to look for water dripping from a vertical surface and dripping down. The chances are that I will still be on the grid tomorrow, but maybe my car will leave me stranded sometimes, so I may need these skills.

Simple Quick Shelters is another great class; I learn how to make a shelter from my poncho and how to tie a new knot when securing it between the trees.

I’m enjoying my experience, and it’s an interesting blend of personalities and backgrounds. It’s an eclectic mix of paramilitary, environmentalists, survivalists, naturalists, and hipster hikers. Some seem to have a strong affinity for Batman and superheroes. To each his own.

Prepper Camp Expectations

I’m only surprised because it’s not what I expected. The common theme between everyone is that there’s going to be a moment when it’s time to bug out, and some are more prepared than others. Some are ready now.

Bug-Out Bags and Hierarchy

There seems to be a hierarchy of bug-out bags that I’ve noticed. Men and women wear them like a badge of honor. The sophistication of the radio attached to a bag appears to set one apart from the next. They’re prepared to go right now! I’m going to have to learn a lot more if I’m going to understand where they go and what they’ve prepared out there to go to. I’ll save that for another time.

Prepper Camp Fire

Meanwhile, I head back to camp. It’s getting dark, and it’s wet, with a fall chill in the air. I’d better get a fire going. Good thing I planned! I have a lighter and wood. Instant fire, right? Wrong! The wood and surrounding ground and small twigs are wet. Damn, I forgot the headlamp. It’s in my trusty travel toolbox, which I removed because it wasn’t on my list. I try shaving some dry pieces off the logs with my ax that I brought. I just got it as a hand-me-down. It may be an ax, but it’s dull, and the head falls off the handle about 20 minutes into my wood shaving strategy. The good thing is, I find a piece of cord to fasten the head back on the ax. It’s not ideal, but it seems to work.

Where did I get the cord? Well, remember that list I started with? Yes, I brought all that stuff, and then I started throwing everything that was possibly useful in my garage into my vehicle at the last moment. I have so much stuff in there; it’s a junk pile.

After shaving as much dry tinder as possible, I try to light it. Very long story short, even the paper plates wrapped in paper towels, soaked in OFF mosquito repellant, won’t get a sustainable fire going. If anyone were watching, I certainly would have made the bloopers reel.

Fire: Plan B

What do I have? I have a lot of wood. I’m not out here alone; there’s plenty of campsites (with fires lit). I’ll barter. And I’ll swallow my pride and dignity. I grab three large pieces of wood, and I walk down the path to another campsite. Two older gentlemen, well prepared, have a great fire going. “Guys, I’m embarrassed to ask, but can I trade three damp pieces of wood for some hot coals from your fire?”

They were happy to help, and I used a food grate to carry the coals back to my site. They didn’t want the wood, but I left it with them anyway. It made me feel like I’d contributed something to this transaction. I learned an unintended lesson; when you can’t do… trade.

Even after the hot coals arrived, it took just about every piece of dry paper and spray of “OFF” I had to get something going. After what seemed like hours, I got the thing going. And then I got drunk and listened to the local high school football game on my AM radio.

The Great People of Prepper Camp

Between the two nights I spent out there, I met a lot of great people. On the second night, I was joined again by Mike. As he arrived at my site, he could see me once again fumbling with fire. Mosquito repellant and toilet paper aren’t getting this thing started. Mike can tell that I’m an amateur.

His background and position with a government agency have prepared him well for these conditions. He shows me places to find dry pine needles and twigs. After a short battle, he gets the fire going. Later, people from the neighboring sites join us.

They’re going to be recording a podcast, and they invite us over for food, drink, and to participate. They’re great hosts, and I’m learning a lot about the prepper community. Coming into the weekend, I expected to learn new skills in class; I underestimated the experience back at the sites and the people I’d meet. I’m very grateful to be welcomed into it, even as green as I am.

My Prepper Camp Experience

I came to take part in the experience and learn some new things. As far as my concern goes, I achieved my goals and met some welcoming people along the way. I learned that there’s a difference between preparing and being a prepper. I’m always prepared. I’m a planner. However, when it comes to planning and prepping, “X” does not equal “Y.” Being a planner does not mean you’re a prepper.

Much more to learn, but I’m excited to have started somewhere.


Until next time, 


M4S Contributer

M4S Contributer


  1. Darron Taylor on December 24, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    Great article!! Do another one..

  2. Ellis Pawson on June 22, 2019 at 6:25 am

    Great read. Thanks for the article.

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