12 Survival Skills to Learn and Master for SHTF

When it comes to survival, having a stockpile of stuff is not enough.  You need to have skills, too.  And yet, when it comes to preparedness skills, there is no hard and fast set of rules.  There are simply too many variables for a one size fits all list of things you must know and things you must learn if living conditions and economic realities become dire.  It is for that reason I often write in generalities.  That way you can pick and chose those skills and those items that fit your lifestyle.

A case in point is that I no longer insist that you grow your own food.  Some of you may consider this blasphemous but let us get real here.  Without proper soil, light, and growing conditions, you are going to waste considerable time and effort and end up with squat.  You will starve!

12 Survival Skills to Learn and Master for SHTF | Backdoor Survival

Wouldn’t it be better to learn how to cultivate a few herbs in pots and become proficient at using herbs for health and first aid?  You will still learn how to work the soil a bit, so when and if the time comes, you can lend a helping hand to others that do have proper growing conditions.

That is just one example and I am certain you can think of others.

Lately I have been falling in love with lists which is why I am sharing them more frequently.  Today’s list is a bucket list of survival and preparedness skills that almost anyone, living anywhere, can learn and master. 

12 Skills That Belong in Your Survival Bucket List

1.  Put together a first class first aid kit and learn first aid

You can have the best gear in the world and three years of stored food but if you are hurt or sick, you will may not live long enough to see you way through.  Put together a first class first aid kit and know how to use it.  Get a good book on survival medicine (like this one) and turn to it for advice as various ailments come up in day to day life.  Learn how to heal with herbs and essential oils and put that knowledge into practice.

Additional Reading:  How to Create an Emergency Ammo Can First Aid Kit

2.  Learn to forage, fish, or hunt (or all three)

While growing your own food or raising farm animals may not be possible, you can still seek out food to forage (even backyard dandelions!) as well as seafood to fish, or game to hunt.  There are very few places where at least on of these options is not available.

Additional Reading:  Should You Eat Roadkill? 8 Important Rules to Consider First

3.  Learn multiple ways to start a fire and keep it going

A lot of preparedness sites promote learning how to start a fire.  Indeed, fire making is important, but so is keeping the fire going.  Practice keeping your fire going for hours at a time and in all sorts of weather conditions.  Trust me, starting the fire is often the easiest part.

Additional Reading:  The Easy Way to Start a Wood Fire

4.  Locate local sources of water and learn to filter and purify that water

You may have to think outside the box when it comes to sourcing water, especially in the desert.  There are no simple answers so get creative.  Remember that canned goods are a source of water so in some areas, you may be better off storing canned goods than bulk foods.  Whatever the source, make sure you know how to purify the water so it is safe to drink.

Additional Reading:  Emergency Water for Preppers Part 2: Purification

5.  Put together a sewing kit and become proficient at sewing and mending by hand

For one reason or another, this skill is often missing from lists of survival skills.  You will be surprised at how well a hand-mended garment will hold, even when performing arduous physical labor.  Keep in mind that you are going to need needles large and small, thread in various weights, and scissors.  Need some practice?  Cut up a shirt or a pair of pants that are headed for the rag bag and mend them.  Then, the next time you are cleaning house or working in the yard, wear them.  How did you do?

Additional Reading:  5 Uncommon Skills That Will Be Useful After the SHTF

6.  Train yourself in self defense using your weapon of choice

Choose a weapon that are you comfortable with and learn how to use it.  For some that will be a firearm, and for others it will be knives, batons, tasers, or martial arts.  Whatever you choose, become comfortable with your choice of weapon and master how to use it.

Additional Reading: 13 Steps to Prepare for Civil Unrest

7.  Develop a survival mindset

If there is one thing that I preach (although I hate that word), it is developing your survival mindset in such a manner that prepping becomes a way a life without overcoming your life.  Being aware of your surroundings is a big part of your survival mindset as is learning coping mechanisms for dealing with disasters, sickness, and pretty much anything else that does not go right in your life or the world.  I still maintain that having the proper frame of mind and the will to live will trump everything else when the SHTF. 

Additional Reading:  12 Tips for Coping When Life Gets the Best of You

8.  Learn to shelter in place

Wilderness survival will become a last ditch effort for many, if not most of us.  That is why it is important to learn how to hunker down and wait out the disruptive event in the shelter of your own home.  Learn how to board up windows, seal your home from a pandemic, and create a livable environment that will be at least modestly comfortable when conditions on the outside are austere, or worse.

Additional Reading:  Preparing to Hunker Down in Place

9.  Learn to cook from scratch using simple ingredients

I can’t tell you how many eBooks on scratch cooking I preview only to set them aside because they include fancy pants recipes with a laundry list of 10 or more ingredients.  Learn to cook from scratch using simple foods that everyone will eat.  With simple food items and a pantry full of condiments, you can eat well and save money too.  For years I have preferred simple foods, prepared well.  That should be your goal.

Additional Reading:  Simple Comforts: How and Why You Should Make Your Own Bread

10.  Put together a robust tool kit and learn to fix things with common tools

Everyone needs to become a MacGyver wanna be.  Master carpentry or plumbing or become a mechanic.  Use odd bits of this and that to fix things that are broken to make them useable again.  But first, gather around your tools and make sure they are set aside in one place so that you can get to them when you need them.

Additional Reading:  14 Essentials to Help You Fix and Clean Almost Anything

11.  Build a library of books that you can turn to as a reference when the grid is down

Regardless of the size of your digital library, also build a modestly sized library of print books.  My choice includes books on survival medicine, foraging in the wild, using herbs, old-timey cooking, country living (even though I don’t live in the country), and basic repairs. 

Additional Reading:  Every Survival Community Needs a Town Library

12.  Think outside the box

Finally, think outside the box.  Need to get something done and don’t know how to do it?  Barter skills with someone who does.  Seek out uncommon uses for things you already own.  Stock your survival cupboard with multi-tasking items that perform more than one function.

Additional Reading:  7 More Skills You Need to Survive SHTF

The Final Word

There is one skill I did not include in this list because it is a given.  The very most important skill is to use the grey matter between your ears.  Practice critical thinking as well as the art of making quick, decisive, decisions then carrying through with a plan of action.  Be flexible.  If something does not work out, have a plan “B”.

And finally, recognize that there are both leaders and followers and one is not better than the other.  As preppers we are a team that needs to work together toward the common goal of survival.  I am convinced we can do it.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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Bargain Bin:  Below you will find links to the items in the article Finding Your Way Back Home Without a Map and Compass as well as the items shown my personal Survival Key Ring.

Survival Key Ring - Backdoor Survival

Military Prismatic Sighting Compass & Pouch:  I have owned this compass for a long time.  This is why Hiking is Important!

Original Fox 40 Classic Whistle:  This pea-less whistle was my choice for my key ring.  It is smaller than the Windstorm (still a favorite) with no "pea" to stick and impede sound. The harder you blow, the louder the sound.

Streamlight Nano Light Keychain LED Flashlight:  This little flashlight is extremely small and light weight yet it will throw off a decent amount of super-bright light. At just .36 ounces and 1.47 inches long, it will take up a minimum of space in your pocket or bag.  It is the #1 bestseller on Amazon in the category Key Chain Flashlights.

Victorinox Swiss Army Climber II Pocket Knife: This is the Swiss army knife that both Shelly and I carry.  It includes the following: large and small blades, two standard screwdrivers, bottle and can openers, a corkscrew, a wire stripper, scissors, key ring, reamer, and parcel hook. In addition, there is a tweezers and a toothpick that pull out of the end.

Kingston Digital DataTraveler Flash Drive: I much prefer these metalized flash drives because the ring will not break.  Been there, done that.  These flash/thumb drives have really come down in price and are great for storing important documents.

Nite Ize DoohicKey Multi-Tool: This little tool comes in handy for all sorts of things. You can use it to pry things, screw or unscrew things, and as a measure.  It is well worth the $5 and weighs almost nothing on your key ring.

Compass and Thermometer: This is the compass I carry with me.  It is tossed around in my handbag and has suffered a lot of abuse along the way.  That said, nary a crack or scratch in the casing.

Bundle of 2 Premium 350 lb. Paracord Key Chains: The paracord key ring I own is no longer available on Amazon but here is a good alternative.  Pricewise, you get 2 for the price I paid for one.

Shop Emergency Essentials Sales for Fantastic Deals!

Emergency Essentials | Backdoor Survival


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Third Edition:  The SURVIVAL MEDICINE Handbook

A frequent question I get on Backdoor Survival has to do with healthcare matters when there is no doctor around. This is the definite source of survival medical information for all Prepper’s and is my go-to bible for survival medicine.

Survival Medicine Handbook 2016

  1. Gaye,

    I really appreciate your down-to-earth, realistic appraisal of so many things. And I had not seen your survival key ring before – nice! Now my Amazon cart is full again 🙂

  2. When you started up the website, we started thinking more about what we could do. My son planted mesquite trees which have matured enough that be have sweet mesquite pods from the trees we can harvest and grind up for a flour. He also planted an edible variety of cactus, nopal, so we could harvest nopales, cactus pads. This is the first year we also have “prickly pears” from his cactus. The cactus pads and prickly pears are both edible. We have jack rabbits and birds, plenty of wild life. I leave water out for the wild life in the same place, everyday. I hope I am training my dinner to come to me if it ever gets to that. Thank you for all you do. We tried to think about a survival landscape.

    1. merle, I live in texas on acers of mesquite trees there are two seasons of harvest the spring and fall. The fall has to come in before the first rain if the beans get wet they grow a mold that has pharmacologic effects.I found out the hard way and as we do not take medications the cold sweats rapid heart and full on halucinations were an unwelcome situation. I found the most helpful lnfo on mesquite comes from http://www.desertharvesters.org. Blessings and always be safe from Rebecca

  3. Great article, Gaye. Top drawer. I’m a big believer in point #11, building a library of survival and/or reference books. And IMHO they should be paper books, not Kindle. An EMF event could conceivably scramble your electronic library in a heartbeat. Why take the chance?

    For World War II-era technology, the Audels series of books is unsurpassed. You can find them on eBay. “Audels Carpenters and Builders Guide” (4 volumes); “Audels Masons and Builders Guide” (4 volumes); “Audels New Electric Library” (10 volumes) . . . Hundreds of topics, hundreds of books. For pre-transistor how-to technology, nothing equals Audels. I have a shelf full.

  4. I have found a new way of spending money. I have found an online auction in Evansville In, about 40 miles away. It seems that some folks are cleaning out their grandparents houses and outer buildings. When they are posted online for bidding they are laid out on a table and a photo is taken and all the items are put into a lot number. There are so many items that young people dont even know what they are. I feel I have “stolen” many items that will be needed when the power goes out. How many people know what a “brace and bit” is? I bought 4 of these with bits for $18. A hand operated ax sharpener for a song. A hand operated do-dad that takes the kernels off of the corn cob. So many pressure cookers for $5. Most people of this generation don’t even cook, let alone know how to use a pressure cooker. When the wood for the cooking is scarce, a pressure cooker is king. Camping eq goes very cheeply. Coleman lanterns, cook stoves, and sleeping begs go cheaply. There had to be a prepper out there that died and their grandkids didn’t know what anyone would do with 2 cases of number 10 cans of “hard red winter wheat”. $5. (minimum bid)
    These online auctions are all over. Pass the word.

  5. I see so many times where people have a compass on a key ring. Any metal close to a compass will make it give a false reading. Have on a para cord around your neck. or tied to your BOB for easy reading. But make sure that there are metal pieces around it. If you will have metal around a compass, try to make it stainless or other none magnetic material.

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