When civilization crumbles, you might need iodine tablets to counteract radiation poisoning, flint for starting fires, a stun gun to defend yourself, or traps for catching tasty animals.
Those are a few items that BattlBox, a subscription box service for doomsday preppers, has mailed to the doorsteps of its customers in handsome cardboard packages since launching in 2015. And BattlBox isn’t alone: though subscription boxes like Trunk Club and Birchbox started by shipping swank clothing and skincare supplies, there are now a striking number that instead cater to rugged survivalists—which is striking, since a subscription box relies on the internet, payment processors, the postal system and many other things that don’t exist off the grid.
There’s Apocabox, for instance, as well as Prepper Box, Survival Boxes, Bug Out Box, Never Enough Tactical, and SHTF Survival—that’s short for “shit hits the fan,” a common expression in the doomsday prepper scene that refers to the collapse of civil order—the latter of which advertises itself as ”The Last Subscription Box You’ll Ever Need!”
Doomsday preppers, who gather online and in real life to discuss tactics for surviving the breakdown of society with bomb shelters and caches of supplies, have gained prominence in recent years through shows like the National Geographic Channel’s "Doomsday Preppers” and Discovery’s “Doomsday Bunkers.”
Something about that ethos of radical paranoia and preparedness clashes with the aesthetic of subscription boxes, which struck a consumer gold mine in the 2010s by combining web commerce with recurring payments. And reading through lists of goods the survival box services have mailed out, the whole concept starts to seem unintentionally silly. If you really believe that law and order could melt down at any moment, after all, it seems risky to mete out crucial survival goods on a month-by-month basis.
I reached out to a half dozen doomsday prepper subscription box companies to ask whether they saw their offerings as a legitimate way to prepare for an imminent apocalypse or if it was more a tongue-in-cheek way to provide camping enthusiasts with outdoor gear. Most didn’t reply, but an SHTF Survival Box representative—who for reasons she didn’t elaborate on insisted that she not be identified by name or job description—assured me that the project was dead serious.
“These boxes are intended mainly for the purpose of preparing for all out war or an apocalypse,” she wrote in an email. “We want people to be prepared. Of course, these items may never even be needed in this lifetime, but as you could imagine, if something was to happen suddenly, this gear would be extremely hard to come by and may possibly mean the difference in life and death at some point.”
A Survival Boxes spokesperson, who also didn’t identify themselves by name, was more circumspect. “We see it both ways,” they wrote. “It serves a dual purpose for outdoor adventures and preparing for emergencies and disasters.”
The contents of the kits can come off more Dwight Schrute than Jack Bauer: most seem to contain variations on first aid supplies, far-fetched gadgets and an endless stream of knives, hatchets and machetes. BattlBox, for one, has sent out the “Nuclear-Biological-Chemical” box with a gas mask, iodine tablets, a dongle that transforms an iPhone into a Geiger counter, and a folding knife; the “Action Shooter/Mass Casualty Response Kit,” with bandages, chest seals, trauma shears, and another folding knife; “Urban Survival” with a fuel siphon, a backpack, a folding shovel, a “survival axe” and another knife; and the “Jungle Survival” with insect repellent, a hammock, a “sniper veil,” and yet another knife.
Marketing copy for the boxes, which is often drenched in machismo, is also difficult to take seriously. “This is not your girlfriend’s box!” assures the Battlbox homepage, in a message that advises visitors to visit an online “man-cave” for “tips & tricks from other guys who’ve been around the block.”
The editor of The Prepper Website, which publishes guides on doomsday survival, advised against using a subscription box to prepare for the end times.
“A beginner would be better off assessing their needs and then adding skills and gear to meet those needs,” said the editor, who also declined to be identified by name. “Although these boxes are fun and you get some cool gear, you don't usually get a choice of what gear you are going to get.”
All told, you get a sneaking suspicion that some of the boxes are more of a role-playing game, or a tongue-in-cheek way of providing outdoorsy types with camping supplies, than a serious gambit to survive the end times.
But maybe, when disaster strikes and the rest of us are fighting over rat carcasses in the ruins of civilization, we’ll plead with the doomsday preppers to help us with the supplies they hoarded from subscription boxes.
And they’ll look down at us, their hiking backpacks bulging with extra knives and machetes, and whisper: “no.”