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Survival Skills List: 75 Important Skills From Basic To Advanced

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: October 31, 2022
Survival Skills List: 75 Important Skills From Basic To Advanced

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Free PDF Download: “The Ultimate 75 Item Checklist of Survival Skills.”

A checklist of survival items and skills is useful because it allows you to figure out what you know, what you have, and what you need to learn or acquire.

That being said, some things on these lists may not apply to your situation. Remember that what you need and what skills are most important to you depend on your own unique situation. Thus it is good to have some general idea of what is needed and then change or add to the list to suit your needs. Some skills and gear are universal no matter where you are but you still may need more or less of something.

This list is lengthy but I will not say it is complete. I believe it is more comprehensive than many you will find but I guarantee you that I will be adding to and updating this list as I learn more and think about different situations. If after going over this list, you feel something is missing, please say what it is in the comments section or email me at [email protected].

Factors To Consider

How close are you to town?

What types of natural disasters are most likely where I live?

How many people do I need to plan for? Think long and hard about this one. Do you have loved ones that may show up? Will they bring skills and supplies with them? If not you may want to talk to them about that now.

What skills do I already know?

What skills do others in my household know?

Are there any special concerns?

Basic Skills

[checkbox check=”empty”]How to sterilize water and build an emergency water filter[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Starting a fire using different methods and under different conditions[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Construct a basic wilderness shelter for an unexpected night out and how to improve it if you must stay longer [/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Hunting and trapping[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Cooking [/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Map reading and navigation[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]How to tie useful knots[/checkbox]

Water is your first line of survival. Without water the rest quickly doesn’t matter. A good water filter is one of the first things that any beginning prepper should buy.

Samantha Biggers
Backdoor Survival Editor In Chief

Advanced Skills

[checkbox check=”empty”]Defense and traps[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Fishing[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Carpentry[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Medical Skills[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Butchering[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Food Preservation[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”] Edible Plant and Mushroom Identification [/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”] Make a solar still to purify water or desalinate waterproof [/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Make glue and other adhesives[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Build a comfortable place to sleep using materials on hand or those found in the wilderness. Sleep is important for health and survival during good times and bad.[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”] Render animal fats. Tallow comes from beef fat, lard from pig fat, and bear makes its own tallow like product that can be used for many things [/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Animal husbandry[/checkbox]

To me, there is one survival skill that rules them all and its starting fire in the cold and rainy weather. Firecraft is awesome but practicing it under duress is real survival training. If you can get a fire going when the world around you is soaked, your hands are cold and the night is approaching, that’s a survival skill!

James Walton
Prepper Broadcasting Network

General Skills

[checkbox check=”empty”]Safely use an axe or hatchet[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Shooting[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Sewing[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Teaching[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Swimming[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Entertaining [/checkbox]

Navigation Skills

[checkbox check=”empty”]Rowing and steering different types of water craft[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Operate a motor boat[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Use and sharpen a pocket knife or other sharp edges[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Select the best spot to build a shelter or for a camp. This means considering the direction that weather tends to come from and typical winds[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Choosing a tree to climb and how to climb a tree safely[/checkbox]

Communication Skills

[checkbox check=”empty”]If you live in some areas, knowing a second language will be a very valuable survival and work skill to have. [/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Ham radio operation[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Walkie talkie use[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Simple radio repairs[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Signaling with cloth, smoke, hands, and more[/checkbox]

Identification Skills

[checkbox check=”empty”]Identifying tracks and tracking other people and animals[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Tree identification is an important skill because it allows you to pick the best wood for a given purpose. Hardwoods are stronger than pine for example and they make much better firewood. Pine and softwoods make better kindling for starting fires or for when lightweight is desirable.[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Identification of common poisonous or toxic plants in your area and any areas or regions that you regularly spend time in. If you spend winters one place and summers in another region, know your way around the plants and animals in both[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”] How to find water in the wilderness [/checkbox]

Prepping Skills

[checkbox check=”empty”]Concealment[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Caching supplies[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]How to make a cache out of everyday items [/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Packing food items for long term storage [/checkbox]

Defense Skills

[checkbox check=”empty”]Make a weapon[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”] Use everyday objects for weapons [/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Situation Awareness[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Moving with stealth and patience [/checkbox]

Medical Skills

[checkbox check=”empty”] Waterproof items using what you have on hand including pine resin or sap [/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Tie a torniquet[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Administer CPR[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Basic veterinary care skills[/checkbox]


[checkbox check=”empty”]Accepting the new reality[/checkbox]

I know that I am guilty of sometimes moping about what I should have done or how I could have changed the outcome of something. Well, that is a mistake and just wastes time. When you accept the new reality and figure out how to deal with it the best way you can, your chances of survival are greater. It can be very hard for people to admit that they do not have much control over major things in their life. In fact, this is a strong enough emotion that some people do simply give up on living during an emergency or SHTF moment. Mindset is so important to your survival.

[checkbox check=”empty”]Thinking before you speak[/checkbox]

Some things that come out of your mouth can be more damaging than you might realize. As someone that writes 40,000 words a month, I never know how far my words will go. I have to consider the consequences of what I am saying. It can be impossible to totally undo the damage of some things you say. Consider if what you are saying is actually going to have the effect you want it too and if you are just speaking out of frustration or anger.

[checkbox check=”empty”]Teaching Kids and Teens[/checkbox]

Very young kids can learn some skills. Children and teens learn at different rates based on natural ability, interest, opportunity, and quality of instruction and supplies. Start with basic things and see how it goes. If a kid or teen catches on fast and shows interest, you may be able to move faster or learn faster together than you expected.

[checkbox check=”empty”]Temper control[/checkbox]

Some people get set off quicker than others. Having a fiery temper doesn’t make you a bad person or even unpleasant most of the time but over time it can have a big impact on your life. In a survival situation, things can be very stressful so it can be hard to control your anger, especially if you are scared, tired, hurt, or mourning over a variety of things. Extreme loss of temper can lead to severe consequences that cannot be undone and lead to lost opportunities. People may not want to help you that much in a survival situation and you may get a reputation for acting on your feelings and for your own personal gain more often than not.

[checkbox check=”empty”]Looking at both sides of an issue regardless of your own beliefs [/checkbox]

I am putting this here because it is important to know both sides in order to make good decisions and understand your own stance a lot better. It also shows others that you don’t just care about your own opinions and values and you have respect for them as human beings even if you have entirely different opinions on almost everything. This is an increasingly rare skill to see in practice in modern society. If you are in a leadership role in a group in a survival or SHTF situation, it is even more important if you want to be the best leader you can be. You may have to work with people that are not 100% like you during a major situation.

[checkbox check=”empty”]Sleeping under unusual circumstances [/checkbox]

This is a skill that I really need to learn to do better. If you are like me and the least little thing wakes you or you have a hard time getting to sleep, now is the time to develop a strategy to get used to sleeping with some level of noise or discomfort. This can be very hard if you have PTSD or other trauma that makes you more paranoid or on guard. While a healthy level of paranoia and being on guard can help at times during an emergency, everyone needs to get some level of quality rest in order to stay healthy and on top of things. Some studies show that going without sleep for even a night or getting very little sleep in a night can have the same mental effect as being intoxicated.

[checkbox check=”empty”]Planning before acting[/checkbox]

Even just thinking and planning for a few seconds or minutes can make all the difference in many cases. Having a clear strategy or possibly even an alternative plan can be a good idea.

Urban Survival Skills

My #1 survival skill is to evaluate quickly the situation I am in, and react accordingly. This has been useful in four occasions to avoid armed robbery. Two in my youth in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, and other two in the last city we were living in. This reactions included two flights (I was young and unarmed, but very fast running even wearing cowboy boots), and two very aggressive reactions, one driving my SUV and another on my heavy motorcycle that dissolved any bad intention of the thugs. Old wolves get stronger as time goes by, I guess.

Jose Martinez de Munck
“Jose from Venezuela”

[checkbox check=”empty”]Moving in crowds[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”]Keeping as much distance as possible in crowds[/checkbox]

[checkbox check=”empty”] Finding food from non-traditional sources [/checkbox]

When regular supplies run out would you know how to source wildlife in an urban environment and prepare it for consumption?

[checkbox check=”empty”] Shooting a handgun or shotgun [/checkbox]

Handguns require practice to use with accuracy. Shotguns are a popular urban defense weapon because the shot is not as likely to travel far enough to hurt people in the apartment or room next door.

[checkbox check=”empty”] Growing food in an urban environment [/checkbox]

If you get stuck in a city or plan on riding out a long emergency, you will be better off if you can grow some food. Any additional calories and nutrition you can add is a good thing.

[checkbox check=”empty”] Being patient and stealthy when you move [/checkbox]

Selco talks about how it could take hours to accomplish a journey that would have taken 10-15 minutes during good times. You will need to practice how to be silent and patient. If you don’t then you are an easy target for your enemies.

[checkbox check=”empty”]Scavenging for supplies[/checkbox]

The most obvious places will get looted for supplies first. At the same time, it is amazing how much people will leave behind at the beginning of the situation. Think outside the box when it comes to scavenging. You may be able to put together something highly useful out of things you gather.

During times of war or major SHTF, there will be homes that are abandoned that contain a lot of stuff. At some point, they are going to get looted. While you don’t want to go around just stealing and breaking into people’s homes, there is a point where it is inevitable that someone is going to do it.

[checkbox check=”empty”] Assessing threats and scouting out dangers [/checkbox]

When scavenging or traveling you need to make the most use of your time and you want to avoid conflict and confrontations with others if at all possible. During a major situation, there will be times when people become very desperate for some things and they will be willing to do more for them. They will also be on guard to the point of acting first and thinking later if you surprise them.

[checkbox check=”empty”] At least know how to avoid standing out even if you like to dress a certain way or look a certain way most of the time.[/checkbox]

I know that some people say that they are always in Gray Man mode. Personally I don’t think that is a realistic or even healthy way to live all the time. You also cannot expect kids and teens to embrace this philosophy all the time. That being said, you should think about how much you stand out compared to everyone else.

Also if times start getting weird or tougher, it may be time to adopt more of that Gray Man philosophy. Have some nondescript clothing and if you like to have bright neon hair, have a way to change it to a natural color if SHTF.

How to check things off this list without being overwhelmed or spending too much.

Start out a little at a time.

Trying to learn too much at once can not only be overwhelming but can lead to not learning any skill adequately. It is better to take the time to learn how to do things well then try to do too many at once and feel like you are failing.

Add gear as you can afford it and don’t get caught up in thinking you have to spend a fortune.

While buying really cheap or off-brand gear is not a good idea, it is important to understand that the sky is the limit when it comes to survival and what to buy. We live in a world where people are spending over a million dollars for someone else to outfit a survival condo for them. A good rule of thumb is to not buy the cheapest but don’t buy the most expensive version either. A good mid-priced piece of gear is a good idea. If your budget is small, then save what you can until you have enough to buy mid-priced gear. I just cannot advise people to buy cheap stuff when it comes to items that their life or that of their family may be dependent on, nor can I recommend using resources to buy a ton of expensive gear.

Consider if you really need something or not.

Hey, I get it, there is so much cool survival gear out there that I would love to test out. Sometimes I even get sent some gear to review so I get some things that I normally would not buy due to how much they cost and me considering what Matt and I really need the most at the time. It may be that it is an item that I would plan on buying later but not right at that moment. I just want to say this so readers understand that when they see me with things like high-end solar panels or power centers, that it is a perk of my job, not because I am spending a lot.

Keeping yourself entertained is a skill that you can practice with what you have on hand. Take your test to a different level by seeing how long you can stay entertained without the internet and major social interaction.

A lot of us are used to being entertained via electronic devices. You need to learn how to provide yourself and your family with some means of entertainment even during hard times. While it may seem like that is the last thing to worry about, morale and a positive mindset are incredibly important during a long emergency or SHTF scenario. Small simple electronics like an e-reader may be possible to keep going during an emergency but you should plan some entertainment options that do not rely on electricity just in case.

Practice the art of staying in place.

This may sound extreme but there are plenty of people that go a little nutty when they have to stay at home or not be social. Learning how to deal with that during good times is better than being thrown into it.

Practice your skills occasionally even if you are really good at them.

It is easy to get out of practice when it comes to some skills. Shooting guns is a good example. I know that if I do not do that for a while it takes a few magazines to get into the groove again. If I am not feeling 100% or really tired it can be more challenging.

To work with others and survive you are going to have to give up a little of yourself and realize that some things just have to be done. It is not all about you.

People are too caught up on gender. Yes, I said it. The truth is that things have to be done and that may mean that some folks have to do things that they either don’t want to do or find “beneath them”. In a survival situation tasks need to be divided based on who is the best person for the job. If someone else is going out to get supplies, you may have to do a little cooking, cleaning, or standing guard.

Learning Skills

One of the advantages of the internet age is that we have easy access to a lot of different ways to learn. Another bonus is that these skills and classes are more affordable than you might realize. Here is a list of resources for learning skills.

  • Community colleges or centers
  • Private Special Interest Groups such as Hiking Groups
  • Libraries- My local library system has a ton of courses that you can take online free of charge whenever your schedule allows.
  • History We can learn a lot from the early pioneers.
  • Preparedness Events such as Prepper Camp or Heritage Life Skills. These offer a good value and the opportunity to meet others that want to learn too.

Test out your survival gear and your skills before you experience a long emergency.

The concept of the “dry run”.

If you want to test out what it would be like at your house in a grid-down situation, consider doing a dry-run where you shut off the power for a weekend. I am not saying that you should do this without preparing but it is a good chance to get your preps in order and then see how it goes.

Everyone in your house should take notes on what was the hardest and what went well. It is better to notice during regular times what you are lacking in the various areas of preparedness and survival so you can take steps now to correct them.

After a dry run, you may look at your list and be disheartened if it is long or if it seems like people didn’t handle it so well. You should not allow yourself or others to feel that way. No one gets everything right or knows everything. We learn by experience and by practicing now, you are showing more foresight and willingness to be prepared than most people ever achieve.

Take a look at your list and start making improvements one at a time. Talk to the other people in your household as you plan out how to achieve these new goals. If everyone is on the same page it will go smoother. You may find that your family is willing to make some cuts in some areas to achieve goals faster and you will have time to discuss the skills and strengths that everyone brings to the table. This can be very encouraging. At the same time, it is crucial to offer constructive criticism too. Just be sure to not just concentrate on what everyone did wrong and barely mention what people did quite well.

What skills did we miss? What is the next skill is on your list to learn? Let us know in the comments below!

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15 Responses to “Survival Skills List: 75 Important Skills From Basic To Advanced”

  1. Great list.

    Any SHTF event will result in an increase in the number of deaths.

    However, world-wide catastrophic events would affect everyone. I have no ‘likely’ order, but some major events would be:
    1) Volcanic eruptions which could fill the skies with ash thus blocking out the sun world-wide could precipitate another ice age.
    2) An asteroid impact which could also precipitate a new ice age.
    3) World-wide collapse of nations economies. (YES, the ENTIRE developed world is on unsound financial footing–it is not a matter of IF, but WHEN.)

    And, of course, regional disasters are also likely: earthquakes (overdue in my area), more Katrina-sized hurricanes, regional tsunamis, etc.

    Any of the above would be very stressful, and exacerbate health effects, AND lead to accidents/death.

    Other stressful considerations might be: depression, suicides (2nd leading cause of death in 10-34 year-olds); lack of medications (critical for diabetics); overflowing hospitals (plague, pandemic, etc.; and depending on the event, possibly lack of power for critical infrastructure, hospitals, etc.

    Maintaining one’s mental health as well as eating healthy and physical exercise could become limited in many scenarios.

    A LOT depends on the type of event. I’d highly rate: medical capabilities, shelter/adequate clothing, water availability, situational awareness, pre-set defensive plans, noise discipline, caching, skill in using tools (to prevent accidents), AND trust factor (can you fully rely on every member of your group?)

    Items that I personally would take for granted (and some of them made me laugh that they made your list) were: waterproofing, solar still, choosing woods and climbing trees, and use of a tourniquet.

    Of course, it depends on the SHTF event, but I also believe it would be foolish to ASSUME that you’d continue to have electricity, or the ability to move about freely, or the ability to transport yourself and your preps, or the ability to continue to use powered tools, or the ability to cook and have a fire (smoke and smells travel far–tempting others), or entertaining oneself–this isn’t a CAMPING trip, is it?

    When the Golden Horde arrives with an overwhelming force, you’d better be concealed and able to stay that way for days or weeks on end, unless you travel with your own army.

    Don’t arrive in MY countryside. I cannot take care of you. You’d NOT be welcome. That bit of advice would likely apply to everyone considering bugging out. Unless you can make it to a currently uninhabited wilderness, you’ll likely die along the way or become a murderer.

  2. Please send me the email download link. Really appreciate your time and effort in writing these articles.

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