What are the most important primitive survival skills you need to learn?
We’ve talked a lot about survival skills and gear here, and about how important it is to always be prepared. There’s one aspect of preparedness, however, that needs a special mention. It’s the importance of having the right skills for when you’re not prepared.
Even the most expert preppers and survivalists know that they can be caught off guard. No matter how many kits and stashes you have, a truly SHTF (shit this the fan) situation can still catch you off-guard. That’s why it’s important to have the right skills and know-how so you can always take care of yourself and your family. No gear, weapons, and tools as you’re stranded in the wilderness? With a solid grasp on these essential, age-long skills, you’ll still have the best possible chances for survival.
Below, we’ll go over the 15 most important primitive survival skills you need to learn. If you want to truly be prepared for when the SHTF, these are the skills the start practicing right now.
Why are primitive survival skills so important?
Science and technology keep propelling us forward and we – at least in the developed world – are all benefiting from that. However, a lot of people have forgotten (or never learned) the skills that got us here in the first place.
This is usually not a problem, as we have systems and institutions that are meant to help us in SHTF events. However, any good prepper and survivalist knows that you can’t rely solely on those. You need to know how to take care of yourself and your family in a time of crisis.
Learning and mastering some of the primitive survival skills below can boost your survival chances by a lot. These are the skills people used to spread through the entire plant – from the scorching deserts to the frozen tundra. Using them and surviving with them alone will be tough and unpleasant but it beats succumbing to the wilderness.
The skills you can trust to get you through most situations
You’re in the wild, alone, with no gear or tools – what do you do? Here are our 15 suggestions:
1. Making blades for tools and weapons out of flint
Almost all of the skills and actions below require a cutting tool of some kind. That’s why people usually say that a knife or an axe is the most important survival tool you must always have. What if you don’t however? It’s time to find some flint rocks.
Flint is one of the most frequently cited material for making stone blades in the wild and it’s certainly a great choice. You can use any other type of rock too, however, as long as they have a Mohs hardness of 7 or above. Quarts is a good example as are most types of volcanic glass or stone such as obsidian. Flint is a commonly found rock through most of the U.S., however, so it’s often mentioned.
Once you find a stone of a big enough size, it’s time to go to work.
First, break the stone in two in another stone. Flint being flint, chances are that the breaking point between the two pieces will be very flat. If not, try again. Once you get a nice, flat, and exposed side to a flint, you’ve essentially got “half of a blade” taken care of.
Next, get a “hammer stone”. That can be any type of solid, roundish stone that’s easy to grip. You need to break flakes off the flint with it by striking the exposed flat side of the flint. To do that, you’ll need to:
- Place the flint stone horizontally on the ground and keep it steady with one hand.
- Hand the hammer stone securely in a striking grip with your other hand.
- Strike the flint on its flat and exposed side, slightly below the horizontal midline. Make sure the strikes fall in a downward motion across the flint’s side. Several light strikes like that should break off several thin, flat flakes off the flint’s flat side. Given flint’s nature, they should be relatively sharp as well.
- If none of the stone flakes are suitable for a skinning knife, an arrowhead, or another tool – try again.
And that should be it. Be careful not to hurt your fingers as first aid in the wilderness can be a problem. If it doesn’t work and you don’t get a nice blade, try with another stone. Making tools out of nothing isn’t easy, so patience and practice are often needed.
2. Making rope or cordage
The second most important tool to have with is a rope or another type of cordage. It’s crucial for making tools with your new flint blades, building shelters, and more.
You can make cordage out of many things in the wilderness, some – a bit unintuitive. Here are a few examples:
- Your own clothes. Even if you don’t have anything with you in the wild, you probably at least have clothes on your back. Clothes like hoodies tend to have cords or bands in them, for example. Or, you can get the hem off the bottom of your pants. Anything like that can make nice cordage for your first tools.
Note: Some would recommend using your shoelaces. They can work as excellent cordage but you really need them on your shoes in the wilderness. If you do have to use your shoelaces, cut the half off of each boot only. This way, you can still use the other half of the shoelace to tie the upper part of your boot.
- Animal sinew. It will be hard to hunt for animals at first but you may stumble upon an animal’s carcass. If you do, the sinew in the bones makes for excellent cordage. It’s especially good for tools as it tends to “glue” itself together so all you need to do is wrap it.
- Animal hide. Similarly, you may find hide pieces from animals. You can then cut the hide into stripes of cordage.
- Root, grasses, dogbane, and other plants. If all else fails, you can just roll roots and grasses into cordage. It won’t be the sturdiest option but it’s better than nothing.
3. Crafting tools and weapons
Once you’ve got stone blades and ropes, it’s time to make some tools. Knives, spears, axes, arrowheads – all those are great in the wilderness. The simplest way to do that is to:
- Get a piece of wood that’s suitable for your tool’s handle.
- Split the end of the handle a bit so that you can place the stone blade in it.
- Wrap your cordage around the two tightly to secure the blade into place.
4. Finding food and water
Finding water and food is of the utmost importance in any SHTF situation, even more so that making tools. The earth is usually brimming with ample sources of both unless you’re stranded in a particularly uninhabitable place. Plenty of plants and fungi can be edible but it’s important to know which are and which are not.
That’s why you should always know your environment. Make sure you’re very familiar with the area, the flora, and water sources in your state or where you’re visiting.
5. Building and fortifying a survival shelter
We recently talked about building a survival cabin but emergency shelters are usually much simpler than that. After all, in the scenarios we’re discussing, you won’t have a steel axe with you.
Fortunately, even a simple shelter can often save your life. Taking shelter in caves is most people’s intuitive preference but suitable and empty caves aren’t always easy to come by. Instead, you may want to make a shelter out of tree branches, leaves, and dirt at first.
If you’re afraid of predators, looking for shelter on a tree may be an option. However, many North American predators are good climbers, unfortunately. So, ground shelters are usually the way to go.
For the long term, you can slowly build up your ground shelter as you craft better tools. You’ll probably start with a stone hand-axe which should be sufficient for thin, small trees only. Later on, however, with better axes (and more time) you’ll start felling bigger trees. The more and faster you can fortify your shelter with tree trunks, stones, and dirt, the better.
6. Trapping small game
Trapping is often the easiest way to catch small prey. For most traps, you’ll need to build a simple cage out of sturdy but thin sticks and cord. There are other types of traps, including large pits you can go for too. Do your research about the type of fauna in your region and determine which type of traps is best for it.
Tracking is another research-based skill you need. Make sure you know what wildlife you can encounter and what their tracks look like. This can both help you catch prey and avoid becoming one.
If you want to get back to civilization or simply orient yourself, the stars will likely be your best bet. Learning how to navigate in any area based on the stars, sun, wind, moss, and other signs is crucial. This skill takes a while to master but is a must for any survivalist.
9. Crafting a hunting bow
Bows have been the best hunting weapons for millennia and for good reasons. Crafting one is much tougher than just tying a piece of string to a stick, unfortunately. The best woods for bows to look for are willow, bamboo, lemon, and yew. For strings, look for hemp or linen. If you have Kevlar, nylon, or fish line on you, that’s even better. Don’t forget feathers for the arrows either.
Bowhunting is one skill that takes a long time to master. If you’re new to it as you get yourself in an SHTF situation, it’d be great to have another food source. As you get better at bowhunting you’ll be able to catch some big game but not at first. Still, practice makes perfect, so make sure to get a lot of it.
On the plus side, if you have time to train, archery is very fun!
11. Mastering ballistics
Speaking about shooting things down, bows are not the only way to do it. People have hunted with spears, throwing knives and axes, and even slings and throwing stones since the dawn of time. Spears, in particular, can be very effective for hunting. They can also be used for fishing.
Until you master trapping or hunting, fishing will be your best bet for proteins. Once you find a good cord for fishline and a good hook, you can fish anything out of the water. This is why survival fishing kits are so important – so you don’t have to make fishing lines out of something in the woods.
Once you’ve generated enough rope or cord, you can try netting to. This is a very effective way to fish in rivers and lakes but making the net can take a while.
13. Make a wicker basket
Weaving a wicker basket is time-consuming but it’s worth it. If you don’t have a backpack or a bag with you, you’ll soon find you need such a container. Practicing how to weave baskets at home may not be as fun as archery but it is a crucial skill to master.
14. Starting a fire
Starting a fire with no tools is a nightmare but it is necessary. The bow-drilling friction method is by far the best thing you can do in that situation. You’ll need to find the right sticks and leaves to craft your bow and drill but that’s a given anyway. Practicing the bow-drilling method before you get in an SHTF situation is a must for any prepper or survivalist.
If you’re not proficient with the bow-drill, hopefully, you’ll have glasses or another piece of a magnifying glass with you. If not, you may have to try the striking method or hand-drilling but those are very difficult to pull off.
15. Cooking meat
Once you’ve made your blades and tools, you’ve built your shelter, you’ve started a fire, and you’ve caught your first pray, it’s time to cook it! This means that you’ll need to know how to:
- Butcher the prey, be it a rabbit, bird, fish, or larger game.
- Safely and effectively cook it over a fire.
Both sound easy but both can be tricky too. Try practicing butcher game and cooking it while camping at least several times. You want to be proficient enough if you want to do it easily with nothing but a stone blade in the wilderness.
Some of these skills are indeed difficult to master while others can even seem easy and intuitive in comparison. Bowhunting, for example, can take anywhere from months to years to master to even just usable levels. Fishing, on the other hand, can be manageable even with just a little practice. In either case, however, having as much practice, know-how, and skill as possible can be life-saving. That’s especially true if you’re trying to take care of more than yourself or to build a mini-community.
Fortunately, these skills can be practiced and mastered by anyone and almost anywhere. What’s more many of them are even fun to learn and training can be turned into a bonding experience. Whether with family or friends, a weekend of camping, bow-making, and bowhunting can be great fun! Just remember to pack some food too, just to be safe.