Your complete guide to surviving the zombie apocalypse

Pro tip: Get yourself some steel-toed boots

With the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization pretty darn preoccupied with Ebola these days, you might be tempted to anxiously imagine than an infamous zombie virus might, just might, slip through the cracks and devastate the World As We Know It.

Are you prepared? In honor of the premiere of season five of AMC's The Walking Dead, we've created a handy zombie apocalypse survival guide. By following these five simple steps, you can dramatically increase your chances of coming through the upcoming drama — if not unscathed — then at least uneaten, and perhaps even with your dignity intact.

1. Choose your weapon

Everyone knows the only way to kill a zombie is to destroy its brain. But not everyone shares the same preferred method for accomplishing this important task. Do you have good eyesight and steady hands? Then a firearm or crossbow might be a good choice for you. Most of us would prefer to dispatch with zombies at a distance.

However, should you be taken by a surprise close encounter with a hidden zombie, it may be hard to fire a shot. You should always be prepared to use the butt of your gun to smash the cranium of your unwanted undead … and to cope with the resulting mess. Zombie shooters must also remember that you will eventually run out of ammunition and need to take a risky run into an abandoned sporting goods store or police station to restock. And those places are inevitably always crawling with zombies.

Other zombie slayers prefer more hands-on methods of zombie extermination, such as broadswords, knives, and katana. These weapons are certainly quieter — zombies are attracted to noise — and offer a higher degree of personal satisfaction during the act. Take that, biter!

But because these stabbing weapons require a great deal of skill and training — and one mistake in a close encounter with a zombie will cost you dearly — you should begin (safely and carefully!) practicing now. This kind of close-combat training has the additional benefit of imparting discipline and physical strength, which are extremely desirable qualities during the zombie apocalypse. Every band of zombie survivors should include at least one person who is handy with a blade.

Of course, it is quite likely that you will, on occasion, find yourself needing to deal with an errant zombie without easy access to your weapon of choice. It's good to remember, in a pinch, you can always grab a handy bat, garden implement, or heavy rock and just have at it. Zombies, for all their horrifying habits, are remarkably easy to kill.

2. Assemble your team

While the occasional loner can and does wander the post-apocalyptic landscape without being taken down by lurching hordes of brain-cravers, most people make it through the zombie apocalypse by creating structured and diverse social units. While television and movie depictions of the apocalypse would have us believe these resourceful people just sort of fell together in the aftermath of the initial wave of the zombie virus, in real life, you're more likely to get stuck with your whiny relatives or co-workers… unless you plan ahead.

Consider the people you know in light of their personalities, skill sets, and will to live, and invite them to join your Zombie Survival Team. A few suggested archetypes to consider:

  • Determined leader: A calm, steady type who's not afraid to take charge and make decisions. You might look to folks in law enforcement or some other form of public service. Just be aware that the stress of leadership during the zombie apocalypse can bring out the worst in people, so try to avoid megalomaniacs and psychopaths.
  • Medical professional: Even without the threat of the zombie virus, life in the apocalypse is a medical minefield. Survivors tend to get hurt a lot, and with no running water or sanitation, disease can run rampant. Try to include a doctor, nurse, or even a veterinarian in your hardy band of survivors. You won't be sorry, especially if and when somebody does get a zombie bite.
  • Wise counsel: When the leader needs advice, she must have someone intelligent and reliable to whom she can turn. Enter the Wise Counsel, often someone a little older, perhaps an academic or cleric, who can help solve problems without threatening the authority of the leader.
  • Wild warrior: Every group needs a fighter, that half-crazed but fearless guy or gal in camo who will take one for the team and still keep going, even when it seems all is lost. Navy SEALS, SWAT team members, and roller derby queens are all good candidates for this role.
  • Kind caregiver: The zombie apocalypse can really get you down. This is why you might want to consider including a nurturing, optimistic soul with a sympathetic ear and ability to cheer up even the bleakest of situations. This role is often filled by elementary school teachers, psychologists, and prostitutes-with-hearts-of-gold. Know any of those?

Of course, it is entirely possible that there will be some crossover between these types, and that is only to your benefit. Odds are you will lose one or more of your team members before the zombie apocalypse plays itself out, and it's good to have utility players who can fill the breach.

Consider physical attractiveness of individual team members only after you've ensured their other contributions to the group. With personal hygiene and fashion a low priority, it's nice to be around people who can still look good with greasy hair and zombie blood on their (often shredded) clothing. Besides, as Walking Dead producer Gale Ann Hurd recently reflected: "There is always love within the zombie apocalypse."

3. Scout a location

Once you've assembled a respectable Zombie Survival Team, agree to rendezvous as quickly as possible at a pre-selected site which will provide ample shelter, food, water, and other supplies for what might end up being months — even years. Shopping malls are popular zombie-defying spots, as are school cafeterias, jails, and big box warehouse stores (causing some quipsters to note an added layer of protection: zombies can't get in without a membership card.) Places to avoid include hospitals and law enforcement agencies, since everyone else (and the zombies) will go there first and wreak havoc on the place.

The first team member who arrives at the selected site should say "claimed," loudly and audibly. Then hunker down for a fight, because as sure as zombies, you will be defending your new home against other survivors. While some might seem nice and ready to contribute to your survival efforts, others will probably want to take over your fortress, kill you, and possibly even eat you. Don't let that happen.

4. Pack a bag

Survivors need clothing that will stand up to long treks in search of food and shelter, all kinds of weather, and fierce battles. Pack a sturdy, easy-to-carry backpack before the apocalypse actually begins. That way, like a woman in labor, you won't even have to think as you run out the door two steps ahead of the zombies.

What to pack? You'll be living in these same clothes for a long time (hopefully), so think of comfortable, well-fitting layers that won't chafe or be easily grabbed by grasping zombies or bad guys. Tight, long-sleeved shirts and cargo pants are an excellent choice. In addition to providing extra warmth and protection, pocketed vests are handy for storing all those little goodies you might come across while scavenging for survival, like sunscreen, chewing gum, and zombie antiserum.

Stain resistance is a plus. Sturdy boots are a must. If they have heels, you'd better be darned sure you can run in them. Steel toes might be a better idea — you can always use as a weapon of last resort!

Don't forget plenty of extra socks and underwear.

5. Hang on to your humanity

The zombie apocalypse, like oversold coach seating on an intercontinental flight, will at times make even the kindest, most gracious person on the planet want to lose her cool. When the zombies have breached your walls, when a rogue band of villains has stolen your weapons and kidnapped your lover, when there is no food, little water, and your fellow survivors are stretching your every last nerve, it will be tempting to steal someone's else's candy bar or be mean to the one member of your team who doesn't seem to be pulling his weight.

Fight this urge with every fiber of your being.

Courtesy and good manners could be the last relic of civilized society. Is it really worth throwing them away just because you are being threatened by legions of the undead? It is precisely during such times of inordinate stress and danger that humanity's greatness has broken through and triumphed over evil. Think of the Queen Mother during World War II Blitz of London. Think of Nelson Mandela. Think of "the helpers," as noted psychologist Fred Rogers called them, who emerge in the midst of every calamity to overpower and overshadow the bad actors. The good guys will always win. Always. So be good.

Then go out and kill those zombies.


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