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Skills Might Not Always be Better than Stuff

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In the Prepping community there are some topics that draw familiar responses from people of all walks of life. Naturally I am guilty of throwing out my own clichéd responses to these core concepts from time to time – hopefully with enough of my own opinion in there, also hopefully unique enough to warrant someone spending five minutes to read or share what I have written. This either draws a lot of comments or none. You can tell how controversial your post is by looking at the comments section and we have some great readers who are very experienced and just as opinionated if not more than I am. When an issue is drawing a lot of comments there is a great debate going on that is usually pretty civil and always interesting.

One of the debate threads or concepts that I frequently see has to do with this prepper mantra that Skills are better than stuff. For those who haven’t heard of that phrase before, it is simply the idea that you can have all of the supplies in the world but if you lack the knowledge of either A) how to use those supplies or B) alternative ways of accomplishing the same thing without those supplies, you are in a worse position.

On the surface this makes perfect sense. Let’s take a firearm for example. You can spend $1200 on the best AR-15 in the world, tricked out with the best weapon light, laser guided night sights, the best AR-15 scope, complete with the best camo paintjob. In the end, that AR-15 might be the most awesome weapon in the world and end up costing you more than most of our first cars. That Rifle represents “Stuff”.  But, if you don’t know how to hit the broad side of a barn with that expensive piece of metal and plastic, are you better off? If you can’t effectively clear a jam, reload under high-stress environments and accurately engage targets out to at least 100 yards (Skills), what good is it? What good are you?

Skills are an important part of being prepared for any situation.

In the example above, you would be much better off with a relatively cheap, hand me down .22 rifle and the skills to shoot a target and hit it accurately in a variety of situations. The prepper who can do that will spend less and be better off relatively than the prepper who spent thousands in this case. Additionally, if you can effectively shoot that .22 you would probably be able to use any weapon to a better degree than the prepper who simply bought their way to the highest levels of tactical nirvana.

Are Skills better than Stuff

In many cases it is clear to see how having skill is a particular area is highly advantageous over simply having the means to buy stuff. We use this argument all of the time to temper the thoughts of some preppers that feel compelled to wear out their credit card to get the latest prepper gear and supplies and go from zero to prepped in a single Amazon.com transaction. Skills are better than stuff in many cases, but is that a universal truth like some preppers seem to rely on when admonishing their fellow preppers?

Before I get into that side of the argument let’s take a look at a few skills that I believe we can universally agree are wise for any prepper to have in a TEOTWAWKI scenario. Todd Walker over at Survival Sherpa exemplifies the best part of the Skills mindset for me and his articles are full of amazingly creative and practical tips for making do without many of the conveniences we rely on. Our “Stuff”.

The bottom line is that if we did go through TEOTWAWKI, I would want a guy like Todd on my side. He has great articles that speak directly to skills such as:

Daisy Luther is another blogger you likely already know over at her site, The Organic Prepper and she also has great skills based articles like:

And there are hundreds more skills based articles out there in the world of Prepper Websites. You can find other great sources for information on our Prepper Resources page. There are millions of them. How to make a fire, how to forage for wild berries and how to tan hides, build shelter or create your own water filtration system to homeopathic medicine. Skills are important and some skills can’t be easily replaced, but I maintain that some “Stuff” isn’t easily replaced by skills either, so we should find a balance.

Living with nothing more than the essentials for survival is tough. Not impossible, but tough. It is called Survival for a reason.

Living with nothing more than the essentials for survival is tough.

When Stuff is better than skills

If you strip any “Survival Expert” naked and throw them into the woods on their own – I imagine most will be able to “Survive” but unless you are planning on being naked in the woods, why wouldn’t you try to increase your advantages in any place you can?

Canning is a skill that is handy even now when the grid is still up.

Going back to my earlier example with firearms. The Skills purist might say that you don’t need a modern firearm if you have the skills to build a bow. You don’t need to stock up ammo if you can make arrows, a spear or a flint knife. I will concede that knowing how to do that is valuable, but limited knowledge in a lot of scenarios. The average person isn’t Robin Hood so the idea that you will easily defend your family from marauders with guns while you are hiding in your debris shelter doesn’t seem realistic to me. Could it be done by some? Sure, I guess but we are talking about millions of people who read Prepping blogs like the Prepper Journal. Do you think we should all take a wilderness survival course and not put away any provisions?

“Your supplies will run out”! and I completely understand that argument too. Even if you have stored years’ worth of Freeze-Dried foods in your underground bunker, eventually it will run out. Wouldn’t the person who can forage for wild food, trap animals with snares and “live off the land” be better suited for a TEOTWAWKI world? It sounds compelling, but I don’t necessarily agree completely with that line of thinking in all cases.

I know food, ammo, batteries etc. are finite and they will run out, but living off the land is hard, prone to injury and leaves you exposed to more (elements, people, fallout?) bad things than the person who is trying to hunker down and live off their supplies for as long as possible. You may survive off the land if you walk out there in good weather, with nothing but your 10 C’s for survival,  in good health – provided there aren’t millions of others trying to do the same thing. Surviving isn’t the same as thriving. I know we humans have been on this planet for a long time, most of that time has been without any of the stuff we rely on now. However, we didn’t live as long, had much harder lives and there weren’t as many people on our big blue dot as there are now.

Skills also can’t replace communication like radios, at least not in anywhere near the same effectiveness. Sure you can learn how to train carrier pigeons, but C’mon! Who is going to do that? Skills are also not going to help you whittle a power supply out of a piece of Hickory so wouldn’t Solar panels be a good use of Stuff in a survival situation? What about light? Sure you can make a fire with your bow saw and create a nice torch with pine resin but is that better than a tactical flashlight with rechargeable batteries and a solar charger?

Just my thoughts and I am always curious to hear yours. I believe there is a balance to be found between skills and stuff. I think you need to have both in good measure. What do you think?

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  • LWJ

    When you live on the ice planet Hoth for about a good six to seven months out of the year, having alot of stuff is more important than having skills. I don’t spend much time trying to learn the latest and greatest farming and gardening techniques, because the growing season here is pretty short to say the least. I would rather invest that time and money into building up my food and ammo preps then buying seeds etc.

    Even those with survival skills know that you have to stockpile for the lean times. Stuff and Skills go hand in hand, you really should not have one without the other. Knowing how to do things when the time is right will be vital. You never know when you might get the chance to pop two Elk and score big, because it might be three or four months before you get lucky again.

    • EgbertThrockmorton1

      I can see the need for BOTH skills and stuff. However, I try to accomplish both for the area we currently live in. Like LWJ, one has to take advantage of their native terrain to secure what is best for their particular situation. I’ve not ever SEEN an elk in season, much lesson gotten lucky to harvest one! Seems like I’m not skilled at hunting them enough! Have seen plenty of them before and after the season starts and ends though. I agree, we have to stockpile for the lean times that DO come to all of us, all the time, with regularity. We can only control our small sphere of influence, then we are at the mercy of the “market manipulators”.

      • LWJ

        Post apoc hunting will be both easier in some aspects and much harder in others. You won’t have as much human competition or regulations from game and fish to worry about. On the other hand you won’t have the benefit of as much technolgy to help out either. No GPS as a savior, and no electronic sausage grinder to save time. On the other hand processing the kill will turn into a family affair vs three guys in a garage pulling an all nighter with a case of beer…..

    • That is the second Star Wars reference this week! Thanks for the comments LWJ and I agree with you. It takes a good bit of both I think and each has their strengths. I just don’t want to die on a high-horse.

  • Survival Sherpa

    First off, thank you for the mention and kind words, Patrick!

    Secondly, very thought provoking article. I’m finding the deeper I go into self-reliance there is indeed a balance that must be found. Heck, even the mountain men and fur traders of the 18th century developed trade relations with Native Americans and restocked often at outposts.

    I like to buy the best stuff I can afford and learn as many skills as possible to be able to replace the stuff I’ve bought. The thing about stuff is that it wears out. Building skills that put us in the producer category and makes us less dependent is something I strive for. Plus, I love and enjoy doing this stuff… especially the doing part!

    Great article, brother!!

    • You are very welcome and thank you very much Todd! I really enjoy your articles and learn something every time.

      Pat

  • Adam

    Interesting thoughts. It would seem that skill vs stuff is indeed complimentary and occasionally situational. Someone who just woke up from the video game and Facebook trance might be screwed if they decided to go pure Daniel Boone and learn hand to hand combat, water filter construction, and to make lutefisk but the next day teotwawki comes and our subject doesn’t have a shotgun or knife, a functional filter, or a barrel of fish to dry or pickle. You need some stuff. Then become skilled in it’s use and learn alternative methods. Two is one and one is none, and it seems that having both skills and supplies is the ideal.

    • They would be doomed for sure Adam. I think supplies gets you to a point of being self-sufficient for a short period of time that hopefully buys you time to polish up the other areas you have been lacking or at least try to learn quickly.

      • Adam

        Agreed. It seems that prepping is ultimately about winning a war of attrition, siege warfare from global interconnection to a fault. I think few of us are as well skilled or supplied as we would like unfortunately.

  • BobW

    An interesting point was brought up in this discussion. The idea that stuff does break, and will need to be repaired or replaced. Its not a new concept, but the idea that survival skills means finding grubs in fallen logs (or whatever) is silly. Survival skills to me means adaptation. The ability to overcome inconvenience and ‘make it work.’

    Maybe the paradigm needs to change. I think its safe to say that everyone here agrees that skills with no stuff, and stuff with no skill are near death sentences. You cannot expect to walk away with your bowie knife and a loin cloth and survive, just like you can’t expect a massive larder to keep you alive indefinitely. To survive, each must eventually come to the middle of this Sith vs Jedi continuum, and develop complementary skills and stores.

    There are two very distinct sets of skills that must identified. The first is the much discussed ‘survival skills.’ These are the skills Les Stroud relies upon to survive his adventures in the wild. The second group of skills are practical skills, which I’ll call the ‘farm hand’ skills. These are focused on repairing, and rebuilding existing items or systems. From whittling a new axe handle to mending fences, to digging a well by hand. One will not thrive after the event if one is not handy.

    Skills like basic woodworking, leatherworking, plumbing, electronics (yes, electronics), irrigation, and electronics could mean the difference between bugging out, and making it work at home. If the world stabilizes later, these will also be regarded as desireable skills to possess.

    This isn’t to say that learning to building shelter, starting fire, and locating natural food is not valuable. True outdoors skills an infinitely valuable. Its the idea that those are the only skills everyone should devote their time to that is not quite so valuable.

    • Adam

      Good points. The Sith v Jedi point was particularly enjoyable.

    • And that makes three, three Star Wars references. Ah Ah Ah! (that was my Count from Sesame Street impression. Thank you very much)

      I think you are right Bob, it is really in how we look at the idea. Maybe I was taking things too literally, but it is almost as though Prepping or Prepper is too limiting in the same way as Survivalist. Those who are really trying to be prepared are doing that to survive. Survivalists prepare in their own way too.

  • Lawrence Black

    I think this has the potential to be one of the more lively discussions, Pat.

    I agree with all the comments thus far but there is one other slant I haven’t seen referenced yet and that is the truism that “skills can get/earn you stuff”.

    If/when things go south people with the skills to keep the lights on and the water flowing will be nearly invaluable. Perhaps even to the point that if you’re a member of a survival group or compound, someone with these skills would be a much greater asset than just another warrior with weapons and a few thousand rounds (stuff).

    • I completely agree Larry and that is a subject I have written down on my master list of article ideas. Learning skills now gives you more advantages, makes you more valuable and gives you more options than someone who for example can only pull a trigger or watch the kids.

  • Bolofia

    Pat,
    The only problem with carrier pigeons is that they’re edible. It sort of bring brings a new wrinkle to the old saying “don’t shoot the messenger!” Seriously though, I really agree with you and other commenters on the notion that survival chances are enhanced if you have skills associated with operating/maintaining/repairing the “stuff” that people would need in a post TEOTWAWKI situation. Mechanics who can make an engine run without the dozens of computer chips that are now in cars, the ability to rig up or repair photo-voltaic systems, or run a short wave radio station are all skills based upon modern technology and would be in great demand. There are undoubtedly many other crafts and skills that would be highly valued. One easy example would be the ability to construct efficient brick ovens for baking bread.

    I think that industry will, of necessity, become localized. Thus, anyone who possesses knowledge of basic industrial techniques will be welcomed in any community. The last thing a post TEOTWAWKI society will need is real estate agents.

    • BobW

      I like the brick oven thought. Taking it one step back, a person who can make brick ovens can hawk his wares one at a time. The person who makes bricks will have business come to him. Who makes bricks anymore? Or cement for that matter? The person that can make one or both will be rich by any sense of the word post TEOTWAWKI.

    • Very true Bolo! Lawyers, Philosophers and Social Workers might be lumped into that same boat.

      The car mechanics reference reminded me of One Second After where they did just that. Mechanically inclined people will always have value I think.

  • Mike Lashewitz

    I have skills AND stuff but even I cannot carry it all. There is an other aspect to consider. If one has never really needed to used their skills or stuff. When time comes will they be able to?

    • Bolofia

      Mike, you have a really good point. I basically consider my truck to be my bug-out bag. I removed the back seats within two weeks of purchase and have used the space to store basic survival gear, food and cooking supplies, three back packs and assorted bug out “stuff.” Even on regular tactical outings the truck bed is loaded to the brim, and none of it is what I would consider frivolous. If I ever had to abandon my truck, my hope is that there will be other folks available to help tote the stuff, since all of it is useful and/or vital.

      • Mike Lashewitz

        Sounds like you have the right idea. I can deal with a hurricane and get most my stuff. I need a security forged truck cap that cannot be broken in to. I have a 5×8 enclosed trailer that I can fill but there is so much that even with both filled there will still be things left.
        I do not like the term “shelter in place” especially when criminal “authority” shows it’s ugly head.
        I am looking for land in south Georgia.

  • fettemama

    >homeopathic medicine

    MUAHAHAHAHHAAHHAAHA

  • big paul

    skills and the knowledge to use those skills will last a lifetime, much longer than any store of canned food or any other “stuff”, once these are used up, eaten, consumed, worn out or broken where will you be without skills or knowledge. dead, that’s what.

  • bigpaul

    oh very nice, don’t like my comment so you delete it. nice attitude!!!!

    • I rarely ever delete comments bigpaul and I have not deleted anything from you. It has to be pretty bad or a link to another site before it gets caught in the first place. Maybe something happened on your end?

      Pat

  • FredFarkel

    It’s clear we need both skills and stuff. With my extended family included in my survival plans, it is also clearly beyond my ability to tote all that stuff. We have stocked our retreat with most of the stuff, thereby reducing the quantity of stuff to be taken with us. There are many positive aspects to our place and some negatives. It is too small, but is hard to approach against any opposition, the house has poured concrete walls, solar power system, well and septic tank. Wood heat and a large supply of firewood. Also dual fuel generator. Our family includes a RN and a certified EMT. We have a fairly extensive medical kit so I consider that box checked, but I still think of things which need to be done. I think the message is that we are “preparing”, not “prepared”.

    • Good point Fred. We are all, or should be in the continuous process of preparing.