10 Must Have Prepper Skills for Survival

Do you have these must have prepper skills?
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Preppers have become known for a lot of things in the media, but until recently it wasn’t for any prepper skills. We are known for underground bunkers, stockpiling tons of freeze-dried food and weapons. Preppers are frequently portrayed as preparing for the end of the world (on more than one occasion) and we generally get lumped into a very large classification of people who seemly panic and overreact to everything. For many years, if you were someone who considered themselves a prepper you could expect to be the butt of many jokes.

But somewhere along the way, that perspective started to change and for the most part, preppers aren’t viewed quite as harshly as we used to be. In fact, I don’t believe Prepper is such a bad word anymore.

Oh, sure there are still sarcastic remarks you will hear occasionally from intellectual hipsters. “You’re one of those Doomsday Preppers, aren’t you?” Some people even write articles about how they just wish preppers would all die so they could eat their stored foods. Even some preppers complain about other preppers and question their motivations for preparing or argue over what is really going to happen and what is fantasy in their opinion.

There will always be arguments over style, but it seems that the ideas behind the motivation to prepare are catching on. News reports actually reference preppers from time to time and soberly relate advice we have all been saying for years. Even the president gets in on the action every September which has been designated National Preparedness Month. So the idea has gained some validation, but if you had to boil it down to some generic survival skills, what would those be?

I started to think about what were the must have Prepper skills that I thought each person could try to master in order to give themselves the best chance of survival. We dig much deeper into each of these areas below on the Prepper Journal blog, but people love lists so here it goes.

What are the must have prepper skills?

The ability to create or find shelter

There is a saying in survival circles about the rule of 3’s. The Rule of 3’s states that you can live for 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. Naturally, there are exceptions to the rule, but is a good baseline to look at when we talk about surviving. Assuming you are able to breathe, the first prepper skill revolves around shelter because exposure to the elements can kill you more quickly than most other non-human involved situations.

When we think of shelter that usually means heat or cold in the extremes. Sure having a dry roof over your head is nice but the important factor is keeping your core temperature in the healthy range. If you can’t keep warm and your body temperature drops too low (hypothermia), you die. If you can’t keep cool and your body temperature rises too high (hyperthermia) you die. There have been many people who died in the dry cold of abandoned buildings.

A simple debris shelter can insulate you from the cold and if done properly, conceal your location.

A simple debris shelter can insulate you from the cold and if done properly, conceal your location.

Shelter includes wearing the proper clothing, regulating your body temperature and augmenting your environment to keep yourself alive. It is one of my main concerns when faced with the thought of bugging out and that is why I do pay attention to the supplies my family has for their bug out bags. Additionally, I know ways to create shelter out of natural elements like the traditional debris shelter in the picture above.

Some additional information:

The ability to find water and make it safe to drink

Following the next most important aspect of the survival paradigm of the rule of 3’s is the ability to keep yourself hydrated. If you don’t have good clean water to drink and pretty regularly, you will die. You might think this isn’t really a skill, but I consider the acquisition of water in a grid down situation very important to your survival. Finding it, carrying it and disinfecting it can prove to be a challenge for many people. Our reality is that clean water flows from the taps. When that stops what will you do?

If you only have to worry about yourself, you might be thinking that all you need is a LifeStraw and you are all set. That may help you survive, but in order to thrive you need to plan for much more water for daily use. Every person adds to that total which makes finding a reliable source of water a mandatory first step. Yes, you can find water in the woods, but you can also walk around a long time without finding any.

Some additional information:

The ability to obtain food

A good edible plant guide makes a great addition to the prepper bookshelf.

How can finding food be a prepper skill you ask? Assume for a minute that none of the regular places you go to now for food are available? How will you eat? We assume that the grocery stores will always be open or we will simply walk out in the woods and shoot a deer while we eat a nice salad from our garden with dressing made from the apple trees in our orchard and herbs from the back porch. That may happen, but what if all of those other methods were out of reach for you? What if you weren’t in your home anymore and you were on the run? I think to survive we are all going to have to rely on as many methods for obtaining food as possible.

Foraging – Yes, there are edible plants all around us but do you know what they are? Do you know how to prepare them so your children will eat them? Do you know how many stalks of that green vegetable you will have to eat to actually have a full stomach? What will you eat in the winter when nothing is growing outside?

Fishing – Fishing seems like a great fall back idea. If you have access to a lake or a river it would be easy to think that you will simply walk down to the bank with your trusty rod and reel and fill up a bucket of fish. All ponds and lakes have a maximum amount of fish they can support and they can be over-fished. If you figure about 50 lbs. of fish per acre per year, that really isn’t even enough to keep one person alive if you consider the approximate average of about 400 calories per pound of fish. Fishing can certainly augment your food stores but unless you have an insane amount of water that nobody else is using, you can’t plan on this as your only source. Obviously, if you are out on the ocean, this is not the same problem but us landlocked people have to consider that.

Hunting – We will all be hunting for our meals when the grid goes down and this is one of these myths that so many preppers believe in. If you live in the woods and have successfully hunted every year of your life, you could still starve in some catastrophe where the amount of hunters increases exponentially. Let’s assume you have 1000 hunters around where you live and each hunter where you live can shoot 10 deer per year. What happens when the number of hunters goes up to 10,000? How many deer will that leave you? Assuming you are lucky and are able to get your 10 deer, what happens the next year? All of the deer will be hunted to extinction.

Trapping – Setting snares for animals can get you a great amount of protein for your table, but that also assumes animals find them and fall for the trap. You can set all the hunting snares in the world, but if the animals don’t find your traps or there are no animals left in your area, you will still starve if you are only relying on trapping. I watched an episode last night of Mountain Men on TV. One character was in Alaska, himself a very experienced trapper and he barely caught anything after many weeks on end. Certainly he was alone in the wilderness so you would assume there wasn’t any competition for food, but if he was counting on those traps to eat, he would have starved. The animals simply didn’t appear.


Snares can catch a meal if you are lucky, patient and in the right place at the right time.

Having a plan to provide yourself and your family with food should be multi-dimensional; it should change with the seasons and should consider times when food is scarce. That is one reason to have plenty of long-term storable food, several months’ worth of food you already eat everyday as well as a garden you tend and put back extra for the winter months. Hunting, fishing, trapping and foraging are all great activities too, but they take practice, luck and materials. Don’t expect to simply pull out your book on wild edibles and feed your family if the grid goes down.

The ability to make a fire

You need fire to keep warm and burning wood is one of the best alternatives to not having a furnace powered by electricity or fuel. There is an art to starting a fire and this is something that requires a little practice. Once you have a fire going, it needs to be maintained. In a grid down situation, it is highly likely that you will be cooking over an open fire so mastering this seemly simple task can give you a means for surviving.

Starting a fire is something you can easily practice now and I am frequently amazed at people who have never in their life started a fire. The basics are covered in the video below.

Some additional information:


The ability to provide for your security – Defend this house

Defensive needs will vary by the person, location and situation. What is right for you?

So far we have covered keeping yourself protected from the elements, obtaining and either filtering or disinfecting a source of water, planning for finding different sources of food and creating fire to help you stay warm or cook that big caribou you just shot with your favorite survival rifle. There are other risks to your health and safety though and in my mind one of the biggest threats to your life in a grid down scenario where the basics of society have been lost, are other people.

People are going to be one of the biggest considerations you have to plan for eventually. If you are able to keep yourself alive, someone could come along who wants what you have. Defending your life or the lives of your family could be a real possibility in a collapse. There are many options depending on your principles, values, physical limitations, legal realities or preferences.

For me, I try to have redundancy as much as possible. For security, my default position is that I have firearms in several different configurations for different needs. Hopefully I won’t have to use them but if the world has gone to hell and somebody is trying to separate me and my family from food, I won’t be wrestling with him. He will get the business end of one of my different weapons.

That sounds well and good but what if your gun jams Pat? Fair enough question and you have to be ready and willing to get physical too. The world of combat has many disciplines and I am no expert on which is the best. Krav Maga has been put forth as an effective fighting style that can save your life. Is it better than boxing or judo or Brazilian grappling or any one of hundreds of other styles? I don’t know and I can’t say what will work best for you, but investigate self-defense from as many angles as you feel comfortable with. Your life might depend on it.

The ability to heal yourself – First Aid

People get hurt every day and in a survival situation you should have basic skills to stop bleeding, care for wounds, fight infection and prevent further injury. Would it be great if you were a brain surgeon? Absolutely, but not many of us have the time or money for school and I don’t know if brain surgery would be the best investment of your time if you are only doing this to prepare for some emergency situation.

Basic first aid on the other hand is very valuable. I don’t expect many of us will be conducting surgery but for many injuries our body has an amazing ability to heal itself. All we can do is help it and having some basic medical supplies and a little know how never hurts. Good medical reference materials are great to acquire now so that you have them on hand if something were to happen before you could get back to Amazon.com.

The ability to pull your own weight – Physical Fitness

When I was in the Army we had PT every morning. I would be lying if I said I jumped up at the sound of my alarm and bounded outside to wait in formation for PT to start with a big cheery grin on my ugly mug. PT for was luckily forced on me and I was in pretty decent shape back then. Motivating yourself to be physically healthy is hard for some people, but the better shape you are in now, the more able you will be to take the stress and physical requirements of a much harder life.

We sit around a major part of the day largely because of the conveniences we have. We don’t have to go very far for water or to use the bathroom. We purchase food by the trunk load and rely on cars to get us where we want to go, engines till our soil and we purchase anything we need instead of making it. Take away electricity, vehicles and engines and life just got much harder. Many people who are so sedentary now that they rarely get out of the house, will likely die shortly in a world gone dark when they are suddenly required to move more than they are used to. Sure, there will be a good portion of people who soldier through it, lose weight and regain muscle like they did in Wall-E, but many more will not.

Nobody expects you to be a weight lifter or a marathon runner, but how much weight can you lift? Can you do 20 push ups without slowing down? How about 5? How far can you walk with that 50 pound Bug Out Bag? How far do you walk each day now? Can you run? Act now to get in better shape. You don’t have to have zero body fat, but you need to be physically able to perform tasks to simply stay alive. Can you garden all day and defend your home too? Are you able to haul water from that stream 1 mile downhill?

Some additional information:

The ability to read a map – Land Navigation

I use my GPS on my phone more times than I want to admit. Remember the good old days when you had to know street names and before you would go somewhere new you had to ask for directions? OK, it doesn’t sound like it was better, but we were conditioned to get around in a different way that wasn’t reliant upon technology. Everyone had maps in their glove compartment. You watched for street names before blindly turning and ending up going the wrong way.

Even if the grid doesn’t go down and satellites aren’t falling from the sky you may have to rely on something besides your phone to get around. Want to get off the grid? Leave that phone behind and walk into the woods. You may need to map alternate routes to your bug out location or navigate around cities that have descended into chaos. Knowing how to read a map to get where you are going could be a much-needed prepper skill.

Some additional information:

The ability to read the future – Situational Awareness

OK, technically you wont be able to tell the future, but having a good sense of situational awareness and practicing your observation skills could help you in ways that may seem to the uniformed that you knew what was coming ahead of time. Currently in the news there are daily fluctuations in the markets, saber-rattling with different countries, military exercises and protests that seemingly erupt overnight. Make sure you know what is going on in your immediate area by getting your face out of your phone. Make sure you know what is happening in your city by paying attention to the news, observing the people around you and what they are doing. Follow regional and state-wide events usual alternate media and radio programs as well as keeping tabs on international news. What happens in other nations could wind its way to your neck of the woods. Will you have a plan in place ready to act or will you be caught off guard?

The ability to keep your eye on the prize – Kill complacency and the normalcy bias

I mentioned in the beginning of this article that preppers have occasionally been linked to people who predicted the end of the world, somewhat prematurely. Time after time, preppers have focused on an impending event that rallied them into action only to suffer a form of let down when nothing came to pass. Imagine being disappointed that the world didn’t stop on 1.1.2000 or the end of the world didn’t materialize when the Mayan calendar said it was supposed to.

Prepping is about surviving anything that comes your way. We diversify our prepping focus and plan for what we need to live so that we have the tools, gear, knowledge and plans to stay alive regardless of the evil creeping down the street. Just because the economy doesn’t collapse on the day they said it would, you can’t give up and sell all of your prepper supplies to your neighbor for pennies on the dollar. If there never is a military coup, don’t give up prepping and ignore that garden. You have to stay focused because the people who give up, the people who think everything is fine are the ones hit first during tragedy. Instead of believing that you are impervious and nothing bad will ever happen, continue to scan the horizon for threats and take comfort in knowing you are prepared even if on your deathbed you have been proven wrong.

Prepping is often compared to life insurance and I can’t think of a better example. I spend money on insuring the things I do not want to lose. Prepping is my personal insurance plan that I hope I never need, but if I do I want to have all the prepper skills mentioned above to help me survive.

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  • Bobcat-Prepper

    Under “Ability to Find Food”, you mention gardening a few times, but it’s really the only way you could “find” enough calories to keep alive. You need enough land (ideally 1/2 ac or more for a family), enough seeds (e.g. 30# corn/acre, with beans to match), the right tools (hoes, trowels, a rototiller or tractor sure would be nice…) and finally the skill and experience to be able to keep it alive with limited inputs (no running down to the hardware store for bug spray or fertilizer).

    BTW, I’ve been thinking about the viability of living off one’s garden/farm long-term, and you would need a lot of food stored up to make it that way. For example, if SHTF in July or August (worst-case scenario), it’s too late for corn or most other grains to grow to maturity. You would be unable to harvest substantial calories until the following Oct/Nov, meaning you need to store up 15-17 months of food AND be able to grow enough to feed your whole family through until next harvest, AND grow enough to account for disease, pestilence, and theft.

    Man, is that sobering…

    • Agreed. One reason why I want to ideally have 2 years worth of food to get me over the hump. If it all does go to pot, the garden will likely encompass most of my suburban yard. Right now it is only about 1000 square feet, but that can quickly change.

    • Macssurvivalkits

      I know I’m late to the discussion, but I recently watched a show on a family in California that has a standard .33 acre lot. They were able to grow amazing amounts of food using non traditional means like containers, hanging baskets and elevated platforms (ladder type). They essentially fed a family of four for the year, excluding meat of course. Thanks.

  • Bolofia

    Great article.

    A worthy addition to your discussion on defense/security is making a proper selection of ammo for firearms. Using full metal jacket (FMJ) rounds at the range is fine if your only objective is to put holes in paper targets; but they may be less effective if you have to stop a group of intruders that are determined to break into your home. It might be worthwhile to post a companion article that addresses the type of ammo that is properly suited for personal defense for shotguns, mid-range rifles (such as 5.56m NATO/.223 Remington) and pistols (9mm and up). Long range rifle calibers probably don’t need to enter into that discussion, since they are less likely to be used at close range and the target is going to be eliminated regardless of the type of round that was chambered.

    I realize that there is a wide range of personal preference and potential bias for certain calibers and ammo brands (I have my own biases, too). But that’s not the point. I’m talking about the selection of personal defense ammo that will be most likely to put down a threat.

    • LWJ

      I would also suggest learning how to deal with stress shooting. We won’t be going to the range, where things are nice and relaxed. Your going to have to deal with the weather, not feeling well, being afraid. These factors will affect your ability to put steel on target. If you screw it up, you might not get a 2nd chance.

      • Excellent point LWJ. Most ranges won’t even allow you to draw from a holster, shoot from behind cover so the best you can do is imagine the bad guy running towards you.

        • LWJ

          Oh you can do a lot of not so fun things, to learn how to cope with less than ideal conditions. I call it Goose hunting or Coyote hunting when it is -30 below!!!

          • Bolofia

            Another good exercise at stress management is clearing a mountaintop occupied by cartel drug scouts when it’s +110F…

            • LWJ

              You and your love for the oppressive heat. It hurts me.

    • Thank you very much Bolo!

      Yes, that would make a good post and you are certainly right that everyone has their own opinion. One the the most commented articles is the debate over Ak47 vs AR-15. A post with any caliber recommendations or ammo suggestions would ignite some controversy.

      Sounds like a perfect idea….

    • BobW

      I’m not sure I prescribe to the JHP only philosophy so many preach. I understand the terminal balistics alright. While I would certainly prefer JHP rounds if something ever went down, I’m pretty sure that all but the most hopped up PCP head will notice the 9mm/.40 cal/.45 cal hole in their chest and out their back.

      Economically, most simply can’t afford the price of 500 JHP rounds for their preferred hand gun. The price of 20-25 round boxes has gotten ridiculous.

      I can buy 1,000 rounds of FMJ ($175) for the price of 140 JHP rounds @$25/20ea.

      If I was buying ammo (don’t do it, guns are dangerous), I’d invest in a brick of 1,000 FMJ rounds before I started shopping for JHP ammo. Sure its just my take on things, but I try to focus on balancing priorities, and not spending several months of preparation funds on a cost prohibitive item like getting to 500 rounds of JHP ammo.


      Also, anyone heard about cut shells? I’ve seen some very interesting things done with regular old 12 gauge #7 rounds. Accurate out 50yds, and hit like a slug for a fraction of the price.

      • Bolofia

        Terrific comment and, I actually agree with you 100%; but with one caveat – that everyone is as competent with a firearm under hyper-stressful situations (aiming, firing, cover, evasion, etc.) as you or I might be. Without specifying calibers, I have far more FMJ than JHP, but the latter type of ammo still numbers in the high hundreds.

        What I am more specifically referring to are ammo rounds that produce maximum expansion and foot pounds of energy at ranges within 50 yards. There are countless reports of drugged-up individuals who could not be put down with a full magazine of FMJ rounds. Any police department can provide the details.

        By way of example, Hornady’s “Critical Duty” ammo provides impressive penetration and expansion for all of the common pistol calibers. Other ammo manufacturers sell comparable products. Are those rounds more expensive? Certainly; but that doesn’t mean that you need a ton of it.

        One of my sidearms is a .357 magnum. The ammo for this gun is 158 grain semi wadcutter, which is capable of taking out an engine block. All I am suggesting is that Peppers maintain a suitable quantity of self-defense ammo for use in critical situations. Can I put down a threat at 250+ yards with a rifle using iron sights? Yes. But I am more concerned about the perp that is 15 feet from my wife or son.

        The way I look at it, you don’t get any mulligans for loosing your family. If high expansion rounds will give you an edge, then get some.

      • LWJ

        FMJ handgun rounds have a good chance, of just doing a through and through. Which many people will survive, and will still have the capability to resist. Unless you hit the T-Box, they are still in the fight.

        My go to war pistol ammo is the Hornady critical defense stuff. I want a JHP that will create massive wound cavaties, and cause people to bleed out quickly. Most of my shots will be center mass/pelvis shots, esp at ten yards plus.

        The same thing can be said with my rifle rounds. My go to war mix, consists of the MK855, MK 262, and MK 318 SOST. They are much more effective then the 55 grain FMJ.

        Your right about the cost, but if you buy a box or two a month that will add up over time. Given a year you could have a decent basic load .However my go to war ammo, will be three times as effective as yours. You won’t see a price tag in combat, when you have to shoot a guy ten times to drop him.

      • I agree with a lot of what you are saying BobW. For me personally I have a good mixture of both but the ball outnumbers the JHP by probably two to one. I do have like Bolo says several hundred of each caliber in JHP though and those would be my first choice for load out and is usually my preferred purchase in 9mm. When it comes to 45 I have been buying more ball because I figure the hole a 45 will leave would be the same as a HP 9mm although I don’t have any first hand experience with that assumption.

        I have both just in case.

  • markww

    If anyone goes online and or goes to a Academy store There are more options than the life straw for water. Everything from a UV device to a 10,000 gallon straw type system you can put in your pocket which is heavy duty. Even on Amazon there are water systems you can use in bad times. Mark

    • BobW

      Mark, Water has been a topic of conversation numerous times here at TPJ. Pat was inferring that a lifestraw is a substandard filtration method.

      Searching the site, you should find several good articles with discussion on finding a filtration system that meets your needs.

      Personally, I’m a big fan of the Platypus filtration bladder systems. Easy, and effective for groups bigger than 1.

      • Thanks BobW,

        Yes, that is exactly what I meant, or more correctly feel about the LifeStraw. That was my sarcasm which doesn’t always convert well.

        It is a novel idea and certainly better than nothing, but I don’t think it is a good solution. I also carry the Platypus filter in my Bug Out Bag. So much capacity and it filters quickly! I love it. Granted, it is very much more expensive than the LifeStraw, but I am confident I can keep my entire family in water if needed with the Platypus.

  • EgbertThrockmorton1

    Another great and thought provoking article Pat. Well done. Where we live at present, “normalcy bias” seems to be the most mind-numbing threat to our neighbors, Nobody it seems (at times) wants to work to prevent themselves from becoming a “statistic”, they plod along firmly HUA, and refusing to believe anything”bad” could ever happen to “them”.
    I am working hard to upgrade my physical fitness and endurance. taking the GSDs, “walkies” (one each time-can’t handle both at once yet) about 4 miles round trip, has made a difference. It’s hard, but I make it happen daily. Helps the whole cardio system as well. I don’t want to be an old man statistic, would much rather be able to kick butt and take names….still. (working on the still)

    • Thank you so much Egbert!

      Your mental attitude is commendable and shows your positive outlook which will carry the day eventually I believe. You recognize threats and are working to negate them which is what we all should be doing in our own way.