Survival Debate (Rewind): Team Up or Go It Alone

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By John J. Woods •  11 min read

When a natural or man-made event triggers a SHTF condition or a TEOTWAWKI apocalypse, are you planning to survive on your own or with other people?  Will you be a Lone Wolf or a Groupie?  Revisiting the Debate of Teaming Up or Going It Alone.

The Debate

For many folks the idea of being independent – able to stand alone and meet any challenge and not having to rely on others – is a romantic notion.  Hollywood has made a fortunate off of films that have a lone hero who is capable of doing it all and succeeding on their own.  Characters like Snake Plissken in “Escape from New York“, Rambo in “First Blood”, Jeremiah in “Jeremiah Johnson”, Robert Neville in “I Am Legend” and Eli in “The Book of Eli”, all portray individuals who are rough and tough enough to survive going it alone.  The term “groupie” has a negative connotation, inferring one might be clingy, dependent and a “sheeple.”  But, the reality and the truth is that going it alone is risky and the odds are really not in favor of the lone wolf.

This article provides an update to one of the SC’s original survival debates entitled “Solo or Group”, which was posted June 2010.  It expands upon this somewhat controversial topic, which yielded over 92 comments by readers of SurvivalCache since first appearing on the website.

Reviewing the Pros and Cons

Chuck’s “Solo or Group” survival debate provided a brief listing of the pros and cons about surviving as an individual versus being a part of a group.  Here’s a quick review of each of the advantages and disadvantages of these two options, with some devil’s advocate comments provided for balance.

Going Solo

The Pros:

A. You can move faster alone.  This is true to a point if you are traveling on foot across open, easy terrain and you don’t have to wait on others who are slower.  However, if you are in mountainous or heavily wooded or swampy terrain; or in an urban setting with lots of damage, rumble and barriers; extra people can work to overcome obstacles faster and easier – where as an individual you don’t have helping hands to get up or down over obstacles.  In groups, folks can take turns carrying heavier loads, allowing members to have a “break” while on the march.

B. You need less supplies.  This can be a misnomer.  Food and water-wise, as adults we need about the same daily caloric and fluid intake depending on the activity we are doing.  So the amount of supplies needed for an individual versus a group is really a question of mathematics.  If each person carries their own supplies, this is a moot point.  As an individual, when foraging for edible plants, game and fish in areas with scarce resources – you may do better to collect the calories you need.  However, you may also expend more calories than you collect in your search, especially covering more area.  Groups can divide up and search over a larger area, and if one group is not successful, the others may find enough to make up the difference.  All for one and one for all.

C. Less noise and quieter.  True.  An individual also generates less dust and a smaller trail when traveling, leaves a smaller camp footprint and produces less waste to find if being tracked by others.  An individual can hide easier and can be harder to detect.  However, there are other security considerations that are just as important as noise discipline – which will be discussed more below.

D. No disagreements.  No argument about this point.  It can be good not having to put up with some kook questioning everything you do.  However, the solo survivor is responsible for determining all courses of action or figuring solutions to whatever challenges arise.  When fatigued, sick or mentally drained – you can make bad decisions that can have fatal consequences.  Sometimes it is good to have someone to argue against a decision that you might not consider as dumb.

The Cons:

A. Loneliness.  This can be a killer.  Long term studies indicate that people who are in a solo survival situation only have about a 20 percent success rate compared to individuals in a group.  In other words, you have an 80 percent chance of surviving when in a group.  Psychologically, humans are social animals that fare better with others.  We need others to help encourage and motivate us when times are tough.  While many folks live alone in nice comfortable residences with plenty of food, water, electricity and modern conveniences; few of us are mentally equipped to survive off the land by ourselves.

B. No way to take turns on watch; No full perimeter security.  Basically, these two relate to security and safety.  When solo, you have no one covering your back.  You are vulnerable to attack 24/7 by others or predatory animals – whether traveling, foraging, bathing or taking a dump, and especially when sleeping (which we all must do).  You’ll need to be very adept at camouflage and concealment if you plan to sleep.  No fires, the light and smoke may give away your position since you have no security.

In a Group

The listed pros are: an overall better support system, boarder range of carried gear and shared equipment, more ideas and solutions to problems, divided work effort, companionship, greater security and more people to share watch.  Of these, better support system, boarder range of gear/equipment and security are probably the most important.  Within any group you’ll probably have varying skill sets for each of the members – ranging from medical and dental professionals, to mechanics and carpenters, to hunters and farmers, to military and police – which would be the first benefit for all banding together.

With more people, you get a better cross mix of gear and equipment being carried within the group.  Some examples of gear that can be carried by varies individuals and shared by the group are: axes, entrenching tools, ham radio, trauma kit, cook set (pots/pans), tents, stoves, etc.  If you attempted to carry one of each item above, the weight and bulk would prove over whelming.  For defense, a group can carry a variety of firearms in various calibers (i.e. long range rifles, shotguns, assault rifles) and low-acoustic weapons such as cross bows and hunting bows, spears, machetes and tomahawks – providing for better defensive tactics or stealthy hunting.

The most important advantage of banding together is protection and group security.  In long-term survival, it will be essential to be a part of a group or collective for protection against roving looters and bands of armed foragers, as well as for mutual support for medical and health situations and procurement of food, water and other resources.

The presented cons for being in a group included: more supplies needed, arguments between people, finding a way to go after bug out, need leadership, noise and group security considerations. But do the cons really outweigh the pros?

A Good Example

The Army’s Special Forces operational detachment is a great example for demonstrating the concept of group survival.  A 12-man detachment has two officers and ten NCOs trained in five specialties: weapons, engineer, medical, communications, and operations and intelligence; as well as across-trained in different skills and being multilingual.  One thing that makes the detachment a formidable force is its redundancy of skills, cross carrying of equipment to support the team, and the ability to break into 2 six-man teams that can operate separately for pro-long periods of time.  Six people is about the ideal minimum number that allows for quiet moment, self sustainment when living off the land, and for providing self-defense.  If necessary, the smaller team can split into two 3-man teams.

A six-person team allows for multiple options to provide security and perform tasks that support the overall survival of the group.  One or two members can be used to secure the packs or the camp while others form a party for a forage or resource run.  A four-person forage party can further break down into a security and a gathering team.  As an example, a four-man forage party travels to a small town to gather goods from an abandon store.  One person can remain on the edge of the town to provide over watch and security along the ex-filtration route the team will use to withdraw.  The other three proceed to store and one waits outside to provide security and early warning for the other two who enter, search and gather goods.  If the team carries radios  for communications, the level of security and safety is significantly enhanced and allows for near instant warnings and updates.  If something does go wrong and hostiles try to stop or rob the forage team, security members can help to provide warning shots or covering fire as they withdraw.  For the soloist, who may attempt to do the same forage mission in this scenario, the risks are significantly higher for failure if hostiles appear and trap or ambush the soloist.

Is There a Middle Ground?

Yes!  If you have a family, consider banding together with other relatives or another family you know well and are compatible with in your area, town or neighborhood – the closer the better.  Determine where you will hold up (if in place) or if you will bug out to a primary or an alternate location.  Discuss survival plans in detail – write down who is responsible for what and how and when.  Preparedness planning early can eliminate about 90 percent of the arguments from occurring later.

If you are single or don’t have a family, consider joining up with other relatives, friends or co-workers who might be good and compatible choices in a crisis.  It may not be possible for you to travel a long distance by foot depending on where your members live in order to link up, so you should plan some secluded rendezvous points where you can safely wait several hours to a couple of days for members to arrive.  At these locations you may want to preposition a cache of extra food and water so everyone can restock after arriving and before moving on to your final destination.  Again, discuss survival preparations in detail and build a detailed plan that can be shared among each member.  Remember that operational security is an important part of your planning and later survival – be sure everyone understands what OPSEC (Operational Security) is and the ramifications of not protecting information.  In a grid down power loss situation that impacts cellular, internet and land line telephone communications, you’ll need to arrange in advance some type of plan or protocol for your group members to rally at your bug-in/out location or rally points.  You may need to consider back-up survival communications methods (i.e. CB radios or handheld radios) to get the word to your group members.

If a SHTF event occurs that maybe of a short-term duration just lasting for several days, or a couple weeks, or maybe a month or two – going solo could be a viable option.  However, if it is a long-term SHTF or a worst-case TEOTWAWKI situation with long lasting consequences – the group option will probably be your best long-term survival solution.  If you are still considering going solo, consider getting a dog.  A dog provides you with companionship, a level of protection and early warning, and in a worst case scenario – a walking MRE (meal ready to eat).  Depending upon the type of dog you get, it can be trained for hunting or personal defense.  SurvivalCache has another good debate on which dog is the King of Survival with over 115 comments by readers.  If you plan to bug-in, a dog can be a force multiplier for defending your refuge; especially helping to provide you with early warning of someone in your area or attempting to enter your refuge.


This posting is not intended to justify which is better – going it alone or as a group – but serves to provide additional information to both sides of the debate.  The important take-away is having more knowledge for you to consider your preparations and planning.

About the Author: Bama Bull is an Army veteran and lives in southeastern Alabama.  His interest in survival preparedness are based on the threats associated with hurricanes, tornadoes, coronal mass ejections, pandemic diseases, and financial collapse.

John J. Woods

John J. Woods, PhD, has been outdoor writing for over 35 years with over 3000 articles, and columns published on firearms, gun history, collecting, appraising, product reviews and hunting. Dr. Woods is currently the Vice President of Economic Development at a College in the Southern United States. Read his full interview here.