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12 Survival Skills to Learn and Master for SHTF

Avatar for Jodie Weston Jodie Weston  |  Updated: August 1, 2022
12 Survival Skills to Learn and Master for SHTF

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When it comes to survival, having a stockpile of stuff is not enough.

All too often people concentrate on the gear they need rather than the skills that will serve them well in a true SHTF situation.

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 important to think about what is best for your unique situation.

Your skills will mean you have value even if most everything is stripped away from you. Gaining skills during good or at least better times is the way to go because although you can learn during a long emergency or SHTF, it is best to have a few things you do well and that you learned under less stressful circumstances.

I believe that basically everyone has something to offer. Oh there are a few that would always choose not to offer anything of value but that is a choice and not because they really have no skills at all.

Some people intend on growing their own food but that is easier said than done. Without proper soil, light, and growing conditions, you are going to waste considerable time and effort and not have enough to make it.

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.

12 Skills That Belong in Your Survival Bucket List

1.  Put together a first class first aid kit, learn first aid, and a good bedside manner

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

There are a lot of things wrong with the medical system in the United States but one thing that can be assured is that hospitals and Urgent Care Centers have to offer you a certain level of care even if you can’t pay right then. During a long emergency or SHTF scenario, running to the doctor or getting major modern medical care will be hard or impossible. There is also the cruel reality that even if some is available, it will go to those that are considered the most important or even more likely, those with enough money to be able to make people jump when they want to.

These facts mean that you those that can offer some medical care to others during a long emergency will be considered some of the most valuable people in the community.

A kind bedside manner is another skill that will make you stand out as a medical worker during SHTF. A lot of people will feel scared and hopeless if things are bad and the availability of painkillers may be low or nonexistent which will make some things harder to get through for everyone involved.

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

Knowing how to make good use of food that is out there for the picking is a skill that doesn’t cost much more than some time and a guidebook of edibles in your area. There are classes and groups in many areas. Look for classes at community colleges, hiking and nature groups, and community centers. It may be easier for some to gain confidence by learning in a group or class. There are a lot of stories out there about eating the wrong thing that leads to irrational fears of all the food out there if you just start looking around.

Being able to supplement any diet with some extra protein is very helpful. Hunting and fishing is not as easy as it may look on Outdoor Life Channel and in some areas it is even more challenging because the game and fish are just not that plentiful near any habitations. I know that when we trout fish we hike in for an hour and a half to get a good hole because any closer and people have fished it out. You literally have to go the extra mile.

While shooting is usually the preferred means of hunting, some are skilled enough with bows to make a good go of it. Trapping is another option. You could make traps or buy some to put back for SHTF. My biggest issue with traps is that there is a chance you will trap something that you don’t want to or the fact that some people forget to check their traps and that leads to pain and suffering.

James did an article on the pros and cons of trapping that goes into more detail.

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

Tactical and strategic defense is different in town and country. Some of the principles are the same but there are some stark differences as well. Another skill is to learn to adapt lessons learned in the military to civilian situations. My article “Rules Of Engagement 101” goes into this in more detail on these concepts. People that are in charge of tactics and defense need to be good enough with people to take on a more leadership role while exercising some level of patience with beginners.

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 and how to preserve food

There was a time when most meals were prepared at home. Eating out at a restaurant was something many people only did if they were traveling or on a weekend. It was definitely not common for people to eat out every day.

Younger people often do not know how to cook anything beyond a quick box of something that you boil and add a packet or two of stuff to and mix.

Scratch cooking is a fun and delicious skill to learn if one stops always looking at meals as drudgery at the end of a long day. There are plenty of meals during good times that are nutritious and can be fixed in less than an hour total prep and cooking time. There are tons of books dedicated to 20-30 minute meals that are healthy.

There will be a lot of foods that require extensive preparation. Have you ever cooked beans without a pressure cooker? It takes a long time even if you soak them some.

If you want to get in depth on good dishes you can make with commonly stashed prepper foods, you should look at my article “Best Prepper Recipe Ideas: What To Do with Stockpiled Foods”

Anyone can cook if they want to do so. I learned on old cookbooks I found laying around. You may find that learning to cook more variety saves you money too because you eat out less. Losing weight is also easier when you have control over the ingredients and method of cooking.

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

A long time ago almost all the food people consumed over the winter was food they had put back during the Spring and Summer. Food preservation will always be a valuable skill to know. Don’t limit yourself to a single method or two either. Fermentation, canning, pickling, drying, smoking, and curing should all be learned. Check out these articles to get started on your career in food preservation during a long emergency.

Be an all around handy person. Know how to fix things using some of the more common hand and battery powered tools available

I sometimes think about what a hassle it would be to have our place if Matt didn’t seem to know how to fix as much as he does. You may want to consider building up a decent tool kit now because as those in the handy person business know, having the right tools will often get you the job.

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, bushcraft and more.

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.

The Final Word

The ability to adapt to the new reality of SHTF is one of the most important skills and concepts because it will allow you to do a better job at everything discussed in this post.

I have Selco to thank for pointing out this concept that sums up a lot of the survival mindset used to get through some very dire circumstances. You can know a lot of things but if you cannot get your mind to accept the new rules then you are endangering yourself and those around you. Being in denial about the terrible things going on means you cannot react fast enough or plan ahead.

What else should you learn? Here is a master list with 75 more skills.

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7 Responses to “12 Survival Skills to Learn and Master for SHTF”

  1. Nice article. I’m happy to say I’m reasonably good at all you listed. Whew! No one is ever totally ready for the unexpected long term. Hopefully I’ll never have to put it to the test.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    • 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 Blessings and always be safe from Rebecca

  6. 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 🙂

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