Letter: Question on the Size of Your Prepping Group


I recently came across a book called the 150-Strong: A Pathway To A Different Future written by a “Subsistence Engineer”– Rob O’Grady. The book author’s thesis is that there is a threshold in which human beings can maintain good relationships.

I believe that this holds some importance in a post-collapse civilization. For example, in my military unit of less than 150 members, I am able to personally connect with every member. Rank becomes somewhat irrelevant. At times we are friends unified towards a common cause. Most of the times we speak to each other on a first name basis. Things get done in a military manner. We talk of our families and our lives. There is something deeper to our bonds, regardless of rank.

In larger units, I have to rely on rank in entirety on building relationships for the majority. In past times I have become so out of touch with some of the officers that sometimes I only see them at special events. Despite the fact that many of these officers share much commonality with myself, in these units I feel you sometimes seem to need to pick and choose your friends, because of the sheer number of people. The situation becomes predatory for some, all about increasing your rank to get your voice heard.

I have no problem with a rank structure, especially when it corresponds with my value system. However, ultimately, I share the closest bonds to those who believe what I believe in. When I am in larger groups, I feel I need to trigger what the common bonds of the group is. However, in this situation it becomes difficult to address every individual. The problem arises that by seeking to placate the masses, I may become out of touch with those individuals whom I share the most in common.

Again, I wonder how this post-Shumer Hits The Fan (SHTF) scenario plays out. I personally believe that smaller farming-based communities are the way of the future. I also like to add that I believe every member of a smaller society should possess at least the very basics of every essential skill set. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) should impart their knowledge to allow members to survive on their own in any eventuality.

I look forward to the responses, Sheepdog and Son


  1. Effective leadership is really the key to group size. The more effective the leadership, the greater the group size can be. It follows then that a military based structure will be able to grow much larger than a civilian one. Rank simply does not translate well in a system where each person is considered more or less equal. In the military this is not the case, by simple necessity. There are designated leaders and followers generally accepted by the group as a whole. Privates do not lead, and Generals never follow. In civilian life, everyone is simultaneously a private and a general, at least in our society. There may be some natural consensus to designate the more capable at certain functions as leading, but that is temporal at best. Social interaction in a free society is simply too dynamic for a static leadership on anything much more than a family or perhaps work environment. Our society does not foster tribal attributes, so encountering tribal groups is rare. You may find it in some church settings or smaller communities. But even then, there are limits on chain of command. I’d say in the real world, finding a well regimented social group greater than maybe 25 individuals outside of the military would be uncommon.

    Familiarity breeds contempt.

  2. So what you are saying I agree with fully.
    I worked at a larger company about 200 employees for 15 years and the bosses were ” the enemy ” but I had about 20 real good friends there. We still are friends in fact. Then for 12 years I worked at a company that had 25 employees and we all went to lunch frequently and it was a whole different atmosphere not alot of back stabbing.

  3. Heres the way I see it working: a family unit with trusted friends bugs out to the family farm, this is about 12 people and that pod of people has the basic skills to produce food and maintain a decent living standard. Of the twelve 2-4 have military experience and produce the bulk of the security for the pod.
    In the area are 11 additional pods of farmers and the leader of the pods get together frequently in mutual support and planning. Some pods will have skills or supplies that others lack, some may not farm at all but forage for supplies the farmers need. Foraging might be tractor fuel, firewood, fish, medical supplies, etc.
    There you have it, about 150 people working together for a common good. With a little coordination they can field a platoon of trained fighters for protection.

    I think a person could have a relationship with 8-14 people in their pod, and the small footprint would result in a cooperative effort that would make up for the eventual short comings of 1-2 of the members of each pod. Lets face it every group will have a share of people in poor health or just plain free loaders.

    The next logical step is working out relationships with the surrounding groups of pods in your area.

  4. To complement the above, the limit in an Urban setting for a high-rise apartment is fifty people per floor that can be recognized by their neighbors. In the older brownstones buildings while there were less people per floor security was provided for the whole tenement by people sitting on the front entrance “stoop”, usually a three-step stone stairway, who would ask a stranger who they were looking for or why they were there. The older organized crime gangs had crews of about eleven while the ones who succeeded them had three free agents that got together for a job and then disbanded. It seems in the world there is a tendency towards cells. See the movie “The Battle of Algiers”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Battle_of_Algiers , where the French had twenty-four hours to trace down a three “man” cell before they reorganized. Note Algiers was finally won by the women as it was taboo to for an infidel to touch or search an indigenous woman. One hundred fifty personnel in the military may be due what used to be an all-male organization. In a battalion you could relate to a company of ninety personnel while it was more who you worked with. While mustang officers were very good the West Point/Annapolis officer culture was a foreign entity. Didn’t they once try to secede from the Colonial states? Viet Nam was an example of inept top-down control. Contract law where long both parties respect and serve each other works better in a free state or even a war situation. Compare the effectiveness between Mike Hoare’s 5th Commando and the UN troops.

    I believe in Fourth-Generational Warfare where alliances are more fluid and are not based on a state that doesn’t exist anymore. Someone way back said you don’t ally with a ‘third-world’ unit as much as you rent them. Blood ties still rule.

    For an civilian agricultural society you might be interested in “A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction” a “1977 book on architecture, urban design, and community livability. It was authored by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein of the Center for Environmental Structure of Berkeley, California”,
    Granted Berkeley, California pops up it still worth looking at, even though when I hear the word “sustainability” I reach for my gun. The book is based on European culture in a close-packed environment, a combination of farm and city by proximity.

    Btw, Selco od SHTF School has a good article SELCO: What to Do If Unwanted People Show Up at Your Door When the SHTF” https://www.theorganicprepper.com/if-people-show-up-shtf/ .

    1. The book recommended above, A Pattern Language, is probably the best single book on all aspects of community and home design that has ever been written. Many top design schools, and top designers, treat it like a cross between an encyclopedia and a Bible.

      I have read the second half (on home design) many times, and have designed my own house based on it. The author looked at the most beautiful and most livable houses in the world, and analyzed what they had in common, whether they were palaces or cottages.

      It is a wonderful book. If you are planning on building a living structure, you will kick yourself from here to Georgia if you don’t get it first.

  5. NASA did extensive studies on this and concluded there was only one group size that would not devolve into social disarray. That number is 2. The concluded that 3 or more people would always divide into two or more “camps” each opposed to the other and actively working against the other camp to the detriment of the mission goals.

  6. The group is too large if:

    ►You cannot adequately feed and water each member with stores on hand, either stockpiled or produced. Consequence: rationing, stress, possibly illness and starvation.

    ►You cannot adequately protect yourself and each member, with either physical defenses or firearms on hand. Consequence: Robbed, beaten or murdered, all to get what you have, by those that would take it by force.

    ►You cannot adequately move each member quickly, quietly and efficiently. Consequence: Weather, loss of crops/animals, threat of violence all become possible life threatening issues if you cannot relocate.

    ►A functional consensus on authority and responsibility is not established and maintained, because of divergent beliefs/purposes. Consequence: distrust, in-fighting, all leading to internal stress and failure.

    Group size is dictated by the risk-to-success factors above, and will be affected by several other internal and external dynamics. Too small, you have an unsustainable work/stress load that will decrease survivability, or a lack of comprehensive skills to address all the demands on a self-sustaining group. Too large, you will be unwieldy, and exposed.

    It might be best, to first consider what skills are universally needed by any group member (e.g. firearms proficiency, first aid, communications, etc.), what skills are added benefits (e.g. engineering, medicine, carpentry, metal working, etc.) and then the intangible “gets along, even when its tough” capacity.

    Emotional and psychological maturity, along with personalities that are flexible and adaptable may be more important in the long run. Everyone will be hungry, lose weight, experience stress and generally have to work much harder then they have before, when “something bad happens (SBH)”. As such, team/group members that can handle the situation and stress, may be far more valuable than the “Rambo” that crumbles when it gets tough.

    Lastly, there is no magic number that can be rationalized using pre-SBH criteria, that can effectively guide any of us into deciding what the best group size might be. Rather, recognize that even too many good people will be an issue, and have a plan to reduce a large group of good people, into functional smaller groups of great people, that as a unit can be self-reliant and self-sufficient.

  7. Thank you for writing your letter because it is a very important subject (In addition I have ordered the book you referenced which looks fascinating).

    In “Cold Times: How to Prepare for the Mini Ice Age” Anita Bailey, PhD, (which is advertised on this site), says about Support on page 9,

    “When times get hard, families, whether blood relatives or simply like-minded individuals, will come together for mutual support. And, your group will interact with other groups. This is what humans have done since the beginning of time.

    Historically, the largest group of people who can live together in self-supplying mutual assurance, before bureaucratic social systems start developing, is about 140 individuals. Hutterite religious communities keep this as the cap number, and when they reach this size, the communities divides. In a group this size, there is generally sufficient labor and ability to cover all the basic needs of everyone. Each person will recognize all other members. Each person will have close friends and relations, and more distant ones – but everyone will know everyone else, as well as everyone else’s personal details, skills, quirks, and talents.

    There’s good sides to this: it tends to keep everyone honest, and strangers stand out. The downside is that there is reduced privacy. Almost everything becomes public knowledge, eventually, That’s why it promotes honesty.”

    She goes on to say that everyone will have their own special skills but over time everyone becomes a generalist with “multiple duties” that contribute to the groups survival and specialist skills are taught to the next generation.

    Let’s hope we are lucky enough to be or become that group when the SHTF truly arrives.
    Since we need food we will be lucky if it is a farming community, but remember it won’t belong to you unless you can defend it, so pick your leaders carefully, preferably with a military or LE background, and keep your group within the 140-150 number.

    This is really a neglected subject yet extremely important. Thank you for sharing.

  8. I think it would depend on many variables, such as personalities, amount of land, knowledge of practical skills, raw resources, animal resources, scenario to plan for, etc. I don’t think there is one set answer.

  9. Jesus did a research study on this, I’m joking of course. But the number is 12 or so total with 3 or so inner circle. All answers to human relationships are in the bible.

    Montana Rancher has the idea. “Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:”

    So starting with small groups of 10 or so loosely affiliated and “judged” by their own leaders is the optimal model. Remember, this was before the second dumbest decision mankind ever made which was asking God for a king. This is God ordained Republicanism by the way.

    A human can only actually know, really know about a dozen folks simultaneously.

  10. To me this is one of the most important aspects of prepping: Group size, trust, dependability, group destruction via disagreements in procedures or personality. The very nature of many preppers is that they are independent minded.

  11. If the entire group is not based upon GOD(love, principles, values, mercy, grace, swift judgement, and freedom), then it is eventually going to split. Being human is being different. Only Jesus in the center, will keep ciaos out of the group/community. Personal relationships are a bond that goes beyond LIFE!

  12. J.W. (from a post above),

    Good to hear your use of ‘Pattern Language’.

    Caveat emptor: It would be pragmatic if elements of defense/force multiplier construction could be blended into C. Alexander’s design ranging from catastrophic blast and fire-resistant building design with an escape tunnel system to “grey” design, a low sloping profile or underground structure along with a low energy signature incorporated with an edible indigenous silviculture landscape and water supply that appear as weeds … say what?

    Perhaps “Pattern Language’ could be updated with a the usual token sampling of the following and/or more,

    Any book or novel by James Wesley, Rawles,
    FM-15 Field Fortifications or any FM manuals, free PDF, for example the following,
    Nuclear War Survival Skills by Cresson H. Kearny, free PDF, http://nuclearwarsurvivalskills.com/
    The Owner-Built Home by Ken Kern, an oldie but goldie.

    The above addresses conventional weapons. Of course, paraphrased from Pastor J. Fox, “If the enemy is at your mailbox, it’s too late.”.

  13. going back to Roman times, practical experience showed that a commander could actually control about 100 soldiers, hence they had a centurion over 100 men. Even today an army company commander will have about 100 in his company. More than that is hard to control, command, direct. This is based on my reading not actual experience.

  14. Ideally, you’d have a patrol force of 12-16 and at least 1/2 that many security personnel left at your home. For core family, you’re probably looking at 50 folks, and with any uninvited additions another at least 25. They don’t all have to be under the same roof, but definitely the same or mutually supporting defensive perimeter(s)

  15. *Keep your group as small as is tactically sound. Logistics and your wallet, pre SHTF, will thank you. Build relationships w/ separate but supporting groups in your area, or next door if you’re that lucky.

    The logistics and supply needs for 50 folks in order to support even a platoon-sized fighting/defensive force are substantial. And to survive SHTF, you do need to scout and observe movements far beyond your perimeter.

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