35 Survival Skills You Must Know Before SHFT

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survival skills for shtf

Are you prepared for the unexpected? In a disaster, everything you own can be wiped out in a matter of moments, but there’s one thing that can’t be taken away. Your knowledge and the skills you’ve already developed are always with you. Here are 35 survival skills you must know before SHFT.

Wilderness Survival Skills

1. Fire Building

Having the knowledge and ability to make a fire can mean the difference between life and death. Fire can keep you warm, purify water, cook food and keep predators away. You can make your own tinder from found objects or materials. Use different campfire lays to keep you warm, cook your food and keep you hidden from sight.

Know how to create a spark and start a fire from friction fire starting methods, flint and steel, ferro rods or other fire starters.

Learn different ways to cook with fire from roasting on a spit, fashioning your own cookware and using heated stones to boil water.

2. Water

Whether you’re looking for urban water or water in the wilderness, you need to know how to locate the water source and collect it. It’s also important to filter and purify water before use.

3. Shelter

Shelter can be as simple as clothing or a rock overhang to something as complex as a roof and four walls. Learn how to find a good location for a shelter, a naturally occurring shelter and how to make your own survival shelter from found or manmade items.

4. Orienteering and Navigation

You never know when you’re going to need to find your way in an unexpectedly changed or unfamiliar environment. Learn how to use different maps, including road maps and topographic maps. Using a GPS is great if you have one handy, not so much if you don’t.

Learn to navigate with a compass. If you don’t have a compass, learn how to make a DIY compass.

It also helps to be able to navigate without a compass, in case you find yourself without one. Learn how to navigate from the sun and the stars.  

In addition to basic navigation, develop the skills to orient yourself in case you get lost and know how to find your way out (by identifying landmarks, estimating distances and heading downhill, for starters).  

navigation compass

5. Track Time by the Sun

You won’t always have a watch or charged cell phone nearby so learn how to track time by the sun and stars. Estimating the time left before sundown helps you set up your camp before dark. Tracking time helps you determine how far and how fast you’re traveling and how far you still have to go.

6. Meteorology and Weather Forecasting

Weather can change in an instant. Recognizing the signs of approaching storms, temperature fluctuations and threatening conditions help you to prepare for and survive the worst Mother Nature can throw at you.

7. Cordage and Knot Tying

You never know when you’ll need a rope or even a string. From a broken shoelace or strap to a climbing rope, know how to make your own cordage and ropes from available materials. And, a rope or cord doesn’t help much without a good knot, so learn how to tie the best survival knots.

8. Use tools and weapons safely

Tools and weapons can help you survive and keep you safe as long as you know how to use them properly. Some of the basics to learn are how to use a survival knife, split firewood with a hatchet, and use a slingshot, bow and arrow, and gun.

Mental Survival Skills

9. Gray Man Techniques

Gray Man Techniques allow you to move unnoticed through a crowd and hide in plain sight, useful skills when all you want to do is get home safe and not be a target.

10. Situational Awareness

Situational awareness trains you to know what is going on around you as well as plan and be prepared for any situation. It helps you to keep your cool and think clearly no matter where you are and what you face.

11. Mental Toughness

Mental toughness is a skill that can save your life and give you the grit to carry on even in the worst situations.

survival skills

First Aid Survival Skills

12. Basic first aid

Basic first aid knowledge is important for everyone, not just survivalists and preppers. But just knowing about it is not enough. Make sure to practice basic first aid skills, too. The Red Cross offers first aid training both in class and online.

For more in-depth information, check out Survival MD from Survivopedia. It’s a comprehensive guide to medical preparedness in a crisis when there’s no doctor around and no medical care available.  

13. Herbal Medicine

For centuries, people have used medicinal plants to treat illness and injury. In a SHTF situation, medical supplies may be scarce or nonexistent. Having a knowledge of medicinal plants as well as how to use them is a valuable and potentially lifesaving skill.

14. Hygiene & Sanitation

Improper hygiene and sanitation are one of the leading causes of illness and infection in a crisis or disaster. From keeping cooking utensils sanitized to basic personal hygiene with limited water, keeping clean keeps you healthy as well as reasonably comfortable in uncomfortable situations.

Dealing with human waste is another important skill. From portable camping toilets to DIY bucket toilets, know how to properly dispose of human waste.

Hunting & Foraging Survival Skills

When the grocery store shelves are bare and the pantry is too, you’ll need the skills to obtain your own food. Foraging, hunting, fishing, and trapping provide plants and meat when food is scarce.

However, be aware of your local laws before you start. In many cases, there are laws determining protected plants, what you can and cannot forage, animals that can and cannot be hunted or trapped, fishing and hunting limits, and the weapons, snares, nets or other gear used.

15. Foraging

Know how to identify, forage and prepare edible plants, roots, tubers, and herbs. It’s important to be able to identify which plants are native to your area and most importantly, know how to tell the difference between edible and poisonous look-a-like plants.

16. Hunting

While a single deer can keep a family fed for quite some time, don’t depend on an abundant supply of wildlife when the SHTF. After all, you won’t be the only hungry hunter in the woods.

During the depression, most hunters fed their families on a variety of small animals, such as squirrels, rabbit, opossum, and other small animals. Develop your hunting skills and taste buds to survive on a more varied wild diet.

17. Tracking and Moving Silently In the Woods

This skill applies to hunting, fishing, and trapping. You need to know how to track your prey without scaring it away by your presence, including your smell, sudden movements and any noise you might make.

18. Fishing

Know how to fish with regular fishing gear, as well as traps, nets and other techniques as well as which types of fish and seafood to eat and what to throw back.

19. Trapping

Learn how to use and make traps and snares.

20. Processing and Preparing Wild Food

From gutting and scaling fish to skinning and tanning hides, learn how to process your game. Use as much of the animal as possible. Bone marrow can provide nutrients, hides can be made into clothing and antlers can be carved into tools and handles for tools.  

survival skills 2

Self-Defense Survival Skills

When the SHTF, you may not have the luxury of a close and responsive police force. You’ll need to know how to protect yourself and your family on your own. Self-defense skills, including avoiding the problem to start with, are necessary survival skills.

21. Hand-to-hand combat

If you haven’t been in a fight since grade school, you might want to develop basic hand-to-hand combat skills. Take a self-defense class and learn and practice the basic moves. The best classes allow you to practice against someone in a padded suit, (rather than gentle sparring where you pull your punches) so that you know just how hard you need to hit someone to bring them down.

22. Self-Defense weapons

Self-defense weapons can be used to level the playing field when you are outnumbered or facing someone with greater strength, malicious intention or capacity for violence. Know and practice with any weapon so you understand how to handle it as well as how to handle a situation without it. Know your local laws regarding weapons and self-defense before using any weapons.

23. Escape and Evasion

The best way to stay safe is to avoid the problem before it happens. Learn what to look for, how to avoid it and how to escape from a bad situation if you find yourself captured by someone with bad intentions. A great guide to this is Survival Life’s Spy Escape and Evasion Training.  

24. Camouflage

Have the skills to disguise yourself, whether it’s being the Gray Man, a quick change, urban camouflage or wilderness camouflage.  


Physical Survival Skills

The healthier you are, the better your chances for survival. Physical fitness and ability are your best assets in dealing with the emotional and physical stresses of a SHTF scenario. Here are just a few physical skills that you may need during a disaster.

25. Hike with a pack

If you had to bug out on foot, how far could you hike with a bug out bag on your back? If you’re new to hiking, start out with short walks, then steadily move up to longer hikes in different terrain.

Also, start without a pack, then slowly add more weight until you are comfortable carrying your full bug out bag for several miles.

26. Run away from danger

One of the best ways to protect yourself is to be able to run away from a threat. Whether it’s a mugger, an animal or a speeding car, being able to run far enough fast enough to get away can save your life.  

27. Climbing

Can you pull up your body weight with your arms? Whether you’re climbing out a window to escape a burning house, climbing up a tree to navigate, climbing to a roof to escape rising flood waters or just getting over a wall to get away from an attacking dog, having the strength and dexterity to climb is a useful survival skill.

28. Row and steer a kayak, rowboat or canoe

While it may not help much if you are in a desert area, knowing how to row and steer a kayak, rowboat or canoe can come in handy for fishing, travel when roads are impassable or escaping flood waters.

29. Swimming

Likewise, knowing how to swim can keep you afloat if you find yourself overboard or caught in deep water.

30. Ride a bicycle

When fuel is scarce or nonexistent, a bicycle allows you to move faster than walking and cover greater distances while using fewer resources.


When the cell towers are down and your battery is too, it helps to know other forms of communication.

31. Trail marking

Trail marking can help you to track where you left your snares, help you to backtrack your location if you get lost and help you to find others as well.

32. Morse code

Morse code has been used since 1844. With a simple ham radio transmitter, you can send a message over very long distances. Check out this video for how to build your own Ham Radio QRPp CW transmitter:


33. Distress Signals

Know how to send distress signals such as smoke signals, mirror signals (using Morse code) and other signs.

34. Basic Sign Language

Basic sign language is an interesting skill to have. It allows you to speak with people who don’t speak your language (but who know how to sign). It can also be used at a distance, for example, across a crowded room. And few people know it, so you can hold a private conversation with a friend even in a public place.

Homesteading Survival Skills

Some of the most practical survival skills are the ones used closest to home. Homesteading prepares you for any crisis by being self-reliant on your basic needs and necessities. Knowing basic homesteading skills are the best survival skills to have.

35. Basic Homesteading Skills

Here are just a few:

  • Growing food
  • Raising livestock
  • Food Preservation & Storage
  • Cooking from Scratch
  • Homemade cleaning and personal care products
  • Sewing, Knitting, Weaving, Crocheting
  • Woodworking


When a disaster strikes, having well-practiced survival skills can mean the difference between not just life and death, but making the best of a bad situation and coming out on top or allowing it to drag you down. A little bit of practice and preparation is all it takes.

35 SHTF survival skills

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