5 Survival Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Survival is rarely a matter of having the perfect plan that will magically make all of your problems go away, but planning is nonetheless an essential factor in surviving the complexities of major crisis events.

One element of planning that you can lift directly from military planning and tactics is the implementation in your own life of SOPs: Standard Operating Procedures.

Using standard operating procedures in your life will reduce your mental workload, ease more intricate planning and boost your confidence.

Well designed SOPs by themselves will help you stay perpetually ready for a variety of lesser emergencies with seemingly no extra effort on your part.

In this article, I’ll offer several SOP’s that I use in my own life for maintaining a high state of general preparedness that I am sure will be of use to you no matter who you are, where you live and what you are already planning for.

What is a Standard Operating Procedure?

While commonly thought to be the province of military and police operations, a Standard Operating Procedure, abbreviated SOP, is simply a “set in stone” set of instructions that allow a person to execute complex operations or intricate tasks more efficiently and uniformly.

In short, you might say an SOP is the “way we always do it” minus any unusual circumstances. Think of an SOP as your default method of execution or preparation.

SOP’s are not standardized, however. An SOP for the exact same operation or task might be different, even drastically so depending on a person’s capabilities, where they live and a dozen other factors.

You can use SOP preventatively to reduce the likelihood of something happening or actively to reduce the chances of a negative outcome when an event has already occurred or is in progress.

Think of SOP’s as a sort of “If this, then that” logic system that will save you valuable mental bandwidth when it comes to dealing with all kinds of tasks and problems great and small.

A Concrete SOP Example

While “standard operating procedure” sounds very official, even a little ominous, it does not have to be. You can have SOP’s for literally anything!

Big problems, small problems, all can have SOP’s applied to them. SOP after using the bathroom is washing your hands.

SOP when driving a car is to keep both hands on the wheel, your eyes down the road a ways, and check your mirrors regularly. SOP when flying a plane… Well, I’m not a pilot but you take my meaning.

Further, each of those SOP’s is broken down into small, discrete steps. It is here that an SOP looks like a huge mess of instructions.

But the beauty of an SOP is that with practice and application you just “live it”: you won’t need to walk through the steps mentally, since you’ll have so thoroughly ingrained them and created habits of them that it will happen seemingly on autopilot.

Here is an example I will break down in detail. Let’s take getting your car ready for a long trip. This is not a hop-and-pop down to the corner store or into town for a burger and milkshake.

It pays to fine-tooth comb the vehicle over to ensure you head off any particular problems before they strike when you are at highway speed and far from home.

First, you give the vehicle a walk around inspection. Missing parts? Leaking fluids? Rust?

Check the tires next. Inflated? Plenty of tread? Lug nuts tight? Bulbs next. Headlights, taillights, break lights, side lights, turn signals. Check wipers.

Check all fluids- oil, brake, transmission, wiper, etc. Next, go fill up gas tank. Reset mile tracker if applicable. Ensure tires are inflated properly. Clean windshields/windows.

Check supply kit and contents- emergency medical, recovery gear, food, water, blankets, etc. Finally, ensure GHB is intact and in vehicle. Done.

Whew! If I wanted to, I could break down each of those discrete steps into a “how-to” and this article would be ten times longer.

But since, I’m guessing, 90% of you know how to perform all of the above operations I will spare you all that.

And that is the point of having SOP’s: once practiced to a “second-nature” you won’t have to think your way through what you are doing.

You have done it a hundred times a hundred times over, it’s standard procedure. SOP’s let you mentally “compress” complex, intricate lists of steps into tiny, easy to remember and easy to execute steps.

In the next section, we’ll dig into the real nuts and bolts of my favorite SOPs for preparedness.

Practical S.O.P.s You Should Have

If you get down to it, you can say almost anything is a survival SOP so I want to take a moment to define what they mean to me. A survival SOP is one that I use to mitigate a threat, preemptively or actively.

A threat could be a hostile human, a disaster, or just an emergency situation with serious risk of loss of life or limb, my own or someone else’s. My own SOP’s will either be in place and active to preclude such an occurrence or will activate to reduce the severity of such an occurrence.

So on my list you won’t find any SOP’s about how many, what color and what kinds of marks to make on a bug-out map; instead I will reference actually having a bug-out map as SOP for bugging out. Does that make sense? Good.

Another note: you may not be able to implement an SOP exactly the same way I do, nor should you want to out of hand! Your situation, skills, condition and even something like the laws where you live will all have an effect on both the “why” and “how” of your own SOPs.

While I believe you’ll find this list quite universal and applicable for almost anyone, anywhere, you should definitely feel free to add, remove or ditch entirely any of these depending on your needs.

Onward to the list, presented in no particular order!

SOP #1 – Always Go Forth Armed

Threats from human predators are a constant, in times of peace or crisis. If you leave the house, and you are travelling in a place where you can be armed, you should be armed!

If you have access to weapons, have the training to use them and don’t carry them, you are not doing what you should be doing to keep you and yours safe against any eventuality.

SOP for defense against two- and some four-legged creatures is the carry of weapons, lethal and ideally a less-lethal weapon as well. Not every threat that needs solving is solved with lethal force.

Pepper spray is a chronically neglected and under-used tool in a civilian’s arsenal, and affords both range and excellent “stopping power” against most assailants.

Of course, a lethal solution is also mandatory when the situation turns grim and you face a lethal threat against you.

A pistol, almost any kind of pistol, is adequate for halting an attack and neutralizing or driving off an attacker, but for long-term survival purposes a proper fighting handgun should be sought.

Lastly, and more of an emergency tool than a go-to weapon, a small knife should be carried. I say tool rather than a dedicated weapon, because I predominately carry a dedicated knife for such emergency tasks as slashing away stuck seat-belts, laces, cord and webbing, and so forth.

But in a pinch, it will serve just as well in a defensive capacity if I cannot access or lose my pistol.

My SOP for carrying weapons:

  1. Pistol, carried IWB at 3 o’clock (strongside) or 1 o’clock (appendix).
  2. Pistol reload, carried appropriately depending on pistol (pocket, carrier, etc.)
  3. Knife, small fixed blade, carried opposite pistol for support hand access.
  4. Pepper spray, clipped on pocket shield in front left pants pocket or in jacket as appropriate.

SOP #2 – Always Carry Medical Gear

Far and away the most glaring failure point in your average prepared civilian’s readiness plan is the total lack of both training in the use of and carry of medical equipment.

An average Joe will carry no less than two or three ways to make holes in people, but nary a band-aid for the patching thereof.

This is a failure to prioritize or a frame of reference failure and nothing else; you are orders of magnitude more likely to need medical training and equipment to reduce a bad outcome from any source than you are to need weapons for the same.

The reason is that injury can come from so, so many places out in the world, not the least of which is your own weapons!

As sad as it is to say, accidents do happen, and complacency works its way into the minds of even the dedicated.

You are more likely to need your med gear to fix a self-inflicted wound from one of your own weapons than to render aid on someone injured by someone else’s.

This is also not intended to discount the carnage resulting from incredibly common car crashes and workplace accidents.

Med gear does no good if it is not at hand. You should carry at least the bare minimum on your person to treat a gunshot wound if you carry a gun, and should further carry as much as you can reasonably.

Additionally, a comprehensive kit should be in your pack whether or not you carry it with you or it rides in your car as a “go bag” or GHB.

My SOP for carrying medical gear:

  1. Maintain skill level through continual improvement and implementation of best practices.
  2. Minimum First Line Gear:
    • Tourniquet – carried in pocket or in carrier on belt.
    • Hemostatic gauze – typically carried in pocket or jacket
  3. Enhanced Kit Includes:
    • Additional gauze
    • Additional TQ
    • Chest seals
    • Nasal airway
    • Decompression needle
    • Gloves
  4. Enhanced kit carried on person, in pack or in vehicle, situation dictating

SOP #3 – Keep Your Bug-Out Plans Updated

One of the easiest sins to commit as a person living a life of preparation is to assume.

In this instance, going to all the trouble of concocting a proper bug-out plan (figuring destinations, bug-out locations, mapping, hazards, contingency plans, etc.), and then dusting your hands off, patting yourself on the back and then consigning it to your “just in case” drawer is problematic.

Those plans are not set in stone. They will change, whether you want them to or not and more vitally whether you know about it or not. Routes can be closed or shift due to construction, seasonal changes or other factors.

Your bug-out locations may likewise be compromised due to new activity, a changing landscape, urban or suburban fill-on or new intel revealing that your location may just be a choice for plenty of other folks you’d rather not have as neighbors in a crisis.

Be they drivable, walkable or hikeable routes, you have a duty to yourself and the people you care about to verify the status, conditions and ongoing viability of your bug-out routes in all seasons.

This is typically accomplished by periodic inspections. That means you need to get out there and do it on the regular.

In general, routes that are more heavily traveled, like highways and roads in or near major population centers need more frequent inspection than those that are remote or even hidden from your typical passersby.

My SOP for keeping my bug-out plans up to date:

  1. Quarterly: Check all BOLs for continuing viability; inspect immediate surroundings, rotate and refresh any emplaced supplies and check on region to ensure no surprises.
  2. Biannually: Travel entire length of all vehicular paths; pay close attention to any potential hazards, obstacles and choke points; take proactive measures to reduce any of the above that you can.
  3. Annually: Travel entire length of all foot paths; pay attention to seasonal and weather effects that might impede mobility or increase risk of transit.
  4. On Demand: Amend all maps with new pathing information and notes; remove old routes if erasable or print new maps and apply new markup if not.

SOP #4 – Maintain Prep-Related PERSEC at all times.

This might seem a little disingenuous since I write often and at length about survival and readiness related issues, but hear me out.

PERSEC is another term handily borrowed from the military and stands for “PERsonal SECurity,” meaning protecting any and all personal information pertaining to your activities, equipage, whereabouts and plans.

Information like this is ammunition to be used against you in the wrong hands.

Now, before you tell your neighbor, your pal, a workplace acquaintance or anyone else you don’t truly have real trust established with about you interest in survival and preparation, including your elaborate underground hideout, six month food supply and so forth, consider how far and how fast seemingly innocuous information can travel.

You might not think there any harm in telling this or that person about your interests, and indeed they might not care at all or intend you any harm.

But someone they tell might care, or know someone who does, and it is an easy thing to run down the rest of the details on you in this day and age.

“Loose lips sink ships” is how it was said back in our grandparents’ day, in wartime, and that wisdom certainly applies here. If you are a trusty, chatty sort, stop.

Tell no one else about these activities unless you have real trust with them and they are within your “circle” of fellow minutemen who you can put your back up against.

My SOP for maintaining PERSEC looks like this:

  1. No discussion of any readiness related activities with those outside your circle of trust. Period!
  2. Never post or talk about travel plans- vacation, work related, or otherwise- with anyone outside the circle of trust.
  3. Minimize posting of personal details on social media. Anything on the internet will stay there forever, and seemingly innocuous personal details can be used against you with social engineering techniques.
  4. Make a note of anyone who seems a little too interested in your plans, especially concerning work and play; a fairly detailed construction of your schedule can be ascertained with very little work
  5. Sanitize all clothing and personal vehicles: no bumper stickers, window decals or vanity plates that are 2nd Amendment, survivor or similarly related. Again, such things can easily get you targeted for robbery or your home or vehicle for theft.

SOP #5 – Always Have an Immediate Escape Plan

An immediate escape plan will save you from the majority of events that might harm you, if you can react and implement it in time.

An immediate escape plan is distinctly different from your bug-out plan, since a bug-out plan covers an in-depth response to an ongoing persistent threat.

An immediate escape plan is a quick reaction to an emergency situation or emergent threat.

For instance, you are driving down the road and the loaded dump truck a few lengths ahead of you spills its load. Think fast and execute!

If you didn’t have a plan, you might react, you might not, and if you reacted, you might have implemented the wrong fix.

Slamming on the brakes, might have worked, but if you failed to account for the tractor truck tailgating you you might be in a worse situation- run over or pushed into the debris ahead.

If you were planning presently, and that includes your immediate escape plan, moment to moment, you’d know you could have easily swerved hard to the right, the generous shoulder and flat, level ground beyond it providing you plenty of wiggle room for safely maneuvering around the debris tumbling toward you.

Another situation might be a trip to the mall or going out to eat. If someone walked in and started shooting, do you have a plan for that? Will you grab you and yours and escape?

Where’s the nearest exit? Is it likely to be overwhelmed with people? What if the threat is very close? What if you or your loved ones or companions are wounded?

Having even a coarsely rehearsed plan will give your reactions a jump and prevent you from freezing. As the circumstances and surroundings change you need to update this immediate escape plan accordingly.

It is actually the immediate escape plan methodology that will help keep you on your toes, and furnish action when everyone else is staring in slack-mouthed horror.

My immediate escape plan SOP

  1. Always be aware of and verify your nearest “exit”: this could be an open slot or path in traffic, or one of several doors you can or cannot see when out in public.
  2. Be aware of the most likely threat and where it will come from: travelling by vehicle, this is usually something ahead of you that you’ll slam into. On foot, it could be an environmental hazard or a person bent on causing mayhem or committing a bad deed.
  3. Constantly update your plan. As you move about, your exit will change. Keep in mind the best exit may not be the nearest or might be out of sight.
  4. Think two steps ahead: a move that puts you in greater danger for temporary avoidance or safety is rarely worth it. You may need to go with an alternate exit or even opt to “take the hit” if your plan leads to a potentially worse outcome.


Standard Operating Procedure is your baseline, default level of readiness. It should never diminish or change so long as circumstances permit it.

If you set your SOP’s against the most common threats you are likely to face, you can achieve a sort of zen-state where you are venturing forth in a high state of overall readiness that does not require much in the way of extra thought and mental bandwidth.

Take the time to really think through your SOP’s and implement them in a way that makes sense for your life and overall SHTF plan.

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1 thought on “5 Survival Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)”

  1. When I was very young, my older brother physically tormented me, so I learned to watch my back. When I got older and started school, I frequently got beat up on the playground because I was an A student. When I got my first job, co-workers made life difficult because I was a goody-two-shoes. So I always watch out for ppl around me, sit with my back to a wall and near the exit, drive defensively, and carry my firearm.


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