Here are 21 survival skills to learn now ... as well as several ways to apply these skills ... when all Hell breaks loose.
That's one reason why Army Green Berets and other Special Forces units around the world are so skilled at what they do -- they have put their time in, gotten the practice, and acquired the skills. So what makes a Green Beret different from a Navy SEAL, or other special forces commando unit from somewhere else in the world?
This leads to: Training the locals in unconventional warfare (guerilla warfare and resistance fighters), coalition support, humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping duties. To summarize all these actions, Green Berets are expected to be skilled at diplomacy. Diplomacy is the keyword here. If you can get any survival skill from the Green Berets, diplomacy is a survival skill that can make you or break you in a post-collapse world. You'll see why in a moment.
Bug In - This means to essentially barricade yourself into your home and or just your neighborhood with your neighbors and subsist on supplies you and or your neighbors have stockpiled for an extended emergency.
Evacuate - A disaster or impending disaster or threat has made your neighborhood or region no longer safe to live, even if only for a short period of time. On short notice, you flee town to an official evacuation zone for disaster refugees; or you break off from the pack of evacuees and take your chances on your own (which may be a better choice than staying with the pack, depending on the situation). The open road lies before you...
Bug Out - You have a solid plan for leaving your home behind (permanently), packing up your car or truck -- or just an oversized backpack (a bug out bag) and heading out on foot -- packed with survival supplies to help you get by for the next few weeks until you arrive somewhere where you can resettle. Some people who plan to bug out currently possess survival skills for living off the land -- for hunting, fishing, and foraging, while others who bug out have a planned remote retreat, whether that's a cabin or a small area of wilderness off the beaten track, where they have pre-stocked survival supplies, food, water, etc. waiting just for this day.
Once you learn those survival skills, you'll be able to tackle just about anything.
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Building shelter in a post-collapse world means more than just sheltering from the weather; it means sheltering from bad people that may be combing the landscape. Think like a hermit and hide yourself somewhere on a hillside or dense growth of trees, using moss, grass, twigs, and even dirt or mud to create insulation if needed. The best shelter in a post-collapse world, while traveling, is a shelter that no one knows is there. Remember that.
When you poke your head up to look around and do some recon, have your head covered in brush, as the shape of a human head is easy to recognize; remember, sometimes you want to avoid being seen at all costs.
If you have binoculars don't be looking in the direction of the sun as the glint of the sun on your binoculars can be seen from a far distance away, potentially alerting someone to your position.
As far as getting a fire started, you shouldn't rely only on the bow drill method. Though it's a good survival skill to have, it's also time consuming and not dependable for a wet environment. Make sure you have at least 3 quick DIY methods of making fire in your bug out bag, including having lighters (in a waterproof container -- pill bottles are great for carrying lighters), cotton balls or cloth soaked in a container of rubbing alcohol (another use for those pill bottles), waterproof matches, flint and steel, petroleum jelly cotton balls or even a 9V battery and steel wool.
While there are several DIY methods to use as fire starters, nowadays there are also several proven survival tools that should be considered as backup methods (that way all your bases are covered): BlastMatch Firestarter, Gerber Bear Grylls Fire Starter, and WetFire Tinder just to name a few.
Here's why: At some point you'll run out of water purification tablets and then a few weeks later that portable water filter will have used all it's life. The good news about water purification tablets is that you can pack a lot of them; they don't weigh very much or take up much space. You can also have a back up portable water filter if you use one of the smaller brands on the market, such as Lifestraw (mentioned in other articles), giving you several more weeks of water filtration.
Finding sources for fresh water:A good Green Beret will have done their homework themselves or have been thoroughly briefed on locations that exist in a region they will be operating in. For us, that means we should acquire the best maps in advance and then study each map so that we can create routes that take us near sources of fresh water -- lakes, rivers and streams. This is how desert nomads of the vast deserts of the Middle East and Africa and also the Native Americans who lived in the desert southwest states of the U.S. could survive and travel through areas that would otherwise be inhospitable to humans. Desert nomads and Native Americans both knew where water could be found in remote areas and then chose their routes accordingly.
Choosing a Route in a Post-Collapse World - At the same time, the routes we create from our maps should avoid populated areas where gangs may be operating in the cities, rogue militias may be operating in the suburbs (I'm talking about the ruthless ones -- some militias have good intentions and can use your help if you're willing and able). Finally, avoid run ins with bad people roaming the countryside outside of populated areas (bandits, rapists, and psychopaths). Ultimately, not only will you want to detour around cities and towns you don't have information on, but make wide detours that take you through remote and rough country where bandits are a lot less likely to be lurking. Remember, bandits are a lot like hunters going after prey. Bandits will seek their prey (people to rob and murder) where they think they are most likely to find prey -- that will be near populated areas -- and so those will be wilderness areas to avoid. This is repeated further down.
Which brings us to an extremely important survival skill for a post collapse world:
And this is where the deadly challenge of survival happens in a post-collapse.
When chaos breaks loose, a lot of things can go wrong that can deviate you from your original route. This is where your navigation skills as well as your preparedness come into play:
GPS (if it's available)
Offline maps on your phone (if you can download numerous, terrain specific maps beforehand)
Finally, knowing how to navigate using a compass or the stars.
When it's all said and done, printed maps and a good compass are going to be your best bet. Navigating by the stars doesn't work during cloudy weather, and depending on GPS or a smartphone to store maps is a bad idea for a long term situation. At some point, the batteries in your phone are going to die or those satellites that make GPS possible may become inaccessible. Map and compass are a proven and reliable long term survival tool and can work for you in a post collapse world.
Topographic Maps: A useful and necessary skill is knowing how to read topographic maps; knowing what those contour lines represent on a topographic map, as well as the different colors, will help you understand elevation changes and the types of terrain you can encounter in a region. You'll be able to see the elevation of the terrain, the vegetation and, of course, the bodies of water, lakes, rivers, streams, coastline, etc. With a topographic map, you can determine a route that will help you avoid populated areas, reduce the chances of a robbery out on a trail (by helping you avoid trails all together), and also determine whether or not you'll encounter a ridge, canyon, valley, or mountain too steep to climb.
A few things to remember: Most post-collapse robberies in the first few weeks are going to take place in the countryside surrounding major cities where many people are likely to evacuate to. If you want to avoid a robbery and possible murder and or rape (females are most at risk), understand that most "bandits" lurk in areas they believe people are likely to be found -- if the cities are uninhabitable, they will look for victims outside cities in the surrounding wilderness. Though these bandits may have fled a disaster themselves, like many people in the region, they are not likely to travel far into the wilderness due to the fact that they have no wilderness survival skills and can not comprehend the idea of "living off the land". They believe they are most likely to survive by robbing and or killing people.
To avoid becoming a victim, detour wide around any cities and towns, and ,as much as possible, create routes through remote wilderness that are far off the beaten track, far from major roads, and far from popular hiking trails. Some bandits will have maps and many will likely lurk around areas on maps that look like places people travel along and where they can be ambushed.
Two good books to read and learn from are The Trapper's Bible: Traps, Snares & Pathguards and Trapping North American Furbearers: A Complete Guide.
Here are the kind of things that can go wrong with a plan for bugging out: Your bug out may take longer than expected so you might have to spend a week or more out in the wild. Your bug out location can be compromised by the time you get there. Your food stockpile may be spoiled due to one of the five food storage enemies: light, oxygen, moisture, temperature and the aforementioned rodents. You just never know what could go wrong and force you to find alternate food sources. For some people, those capable, that means hunting and trapping.
Since learning key survival skills that help make the Green Berets so adept at what they do, you should also learn one of the traits a true Green Beret is known for: overcoming fear. If you have a fear of bears, for example, in a post collapse world it's time to overcome that fear and start seeing black bears and grizzlies as food to feed you and your family.
Depending on where you are in the country, realize that a bear can be easier to hunt for than other sought after game like deer or elk. If you're truly concerned at all about wanting to feed your family in a bug out situation, read the SecretsofSurvival.com article on hunting black bears and grizzlies (you'll find it under "Wilderness Survival" in the site menu), which, worth repeating, anyone thinking about bugging out should read and take serious consideration to. In fact, a hunter (who knows how to shoot) with no previous experience hunting can be successful hunting bears on the first go.
Why is that? It's easy to use bait or even just garbage to draw a bear to where you lie in wait. Not only can you feed your family with hundreds of pounds of bear meat for several weeks, but you also reduce the chances of a future bear encounter by reducing the number of bears in your region. Let me restate that: Bear hunting, especially in the first few weeks of a bug out, can both feed your family and also eliminate the number of bears in your region that could otherwise prove to be a threat to your family's safety in the long run.
In a post-collapse world, traveling trails made by humans can be dangerous as the more popular trails are more likely to be ambushed by crooks looking for someone to rob or murder. Being able to travel using game trails can take you through the wilderness and even mountainous terrain on paths that a lot of people do not know exist.
Game trails can also work as great places for trapping, and of course, spot and stalk techniques for big game hunting (read the article on Elk Hunting / Big Game for all the expert tips on our "Wilderness Survival" page) and even give you places to set up treestands (where you sit and wait for game to come down trail -- this works on "secondary" game trails; game trails not used as commonly as primary game trails; source).
Trapping works for small game but what if you can't find any? Spotting and stalking game is a hard skill to get down; in other words before you shoot any big game, you have to see it ("spot" game), and then you have to get close to it ("stalk" game); you have to "stalk" close enough for your rifle or bow (if bow hunting) to have a good shot.
Game trails can lead you to water -- Keep in mind that where there are game trails, there may also be water close by as most animals will need it at least 2 times a day. In many wilderness areas, all you have to do is follow game trails downhill and you might be lucky enough to find food and water at the same time.
If looking for food, follow game trails facing the wind - Hunters call this being downwind. If the wind is at your back (you are "upwind"), your scent will be blown in the direction you are hunting and the wildlife you're after is likely to catch your scent; startled by your scent, that wildlife is now likely to flee.
Plus, during a collapse, there's a good chance that there's a psychopath in just about every community who will now become a threat. Right now, your local psychopath works his nine to five job, and the threat of the police and a long prison sentence keeps a lot of people from going out and breaking the law.
Whether it's a psychopath, or a rapist, you never know who could end up breaking into your home one night or even tackling and making an attempt to turn you into another basement sex slave (greatest risk of course is to women and children).
Or maybe it's just a neighbor who knows you were prepping and decides to pay you a visit, holds you at gun point, ties you up, steals all your supplies and then leaves you to die, duct taped to a chair, as he then sets the house on fire and walks out.
In short, you get out of zip ties by either breaking them or by picking the locking blade with something really thin, you get out of single-lock handcuffs using a paper clip and you get out of duct tape by raising both your arms up and then bringing them down in a quick motion while spreading your elbows apart. This needs, practice, of course, but it'll be fun to do with your kids.
It's one thing for us to put these escape maneuvers into a paragraph; they'll never work for you unless you first believe how easy these techniques can be to use. Former CIA operative Jason Hanson reveals how to do these techniques in his book, Spy Secrets that Can Save Your Life, which we highly recommend to anyone who wants to know how to escape duct tape (what most criminals use most often to bind a victim), as well as how to escape zip ties, and even how to pick a lock on a set of handcuffs in order to free yourself.
He is known and respected for his skills in teaching spy secrets like these methods to your average Joe or Jane and even had a spot on ABC Shark Tank as a guest commentator; his evasion methods are the real deal and even made it into this article in Forbes Magazine.
Wear colors that allow you to really blend in with your surroundings.
Using ash or mud to cover your face and hands
Securing vegetation such as grass and branches to your body
Covering your head and shelter with a variety of brush to avoid being detected from above
You don't really need to pack anything special inside your bug out bag for this (you do need to limit how much weight you're carrying; you can't bring everything on a bug out) but do make sure the extra change of clothes you put inside doesn't have any bold colors.
Realize that medicinal plants can be an essential component of survival first aid, can take the place of a doctor's care (if there are no doctors around and you know what you're doing), and can even provide daily necessary nutrients for optimal health (common herbs like parsley, cilantro, and even rosemary have specific health properties and there are several other herbs as well to know about).
Sometimes though you may want a weapon that works a lot more like a spear, such as a pitchfork.
What it comes down to is this: A bow and arrow or even a machete can be a weapon for last resort -- if you're cornered, and if you're capable, and you have no other options for self defense.
If you've got a good throwing arm and decent aim, a small rock can knock a person out cold.
While we hope that none of our readers is ever in a situation where life or death comes down defending yourself with a bow and arrow, machete or a pitchfork for that matter, realize that the best method of self defense in several situations may simply be to run and leave your attacker in the dust.
Speaking of dust, a handful of dirt or sand thrown in your attacker's face just before you move forward to strike can be what turns the tables on your attacker and helps bring the attack to a sudden end. Attacker is down for the count. You live to see another day.
First, try to work with your immediate neighbors on keeping a "neighborhood watch" along with a way to notify each other about any approaching threats. That may be three fast bursts on a whistle, or a really long drawn out whistle blast that repeats.
In some inner cities, gangs have been known to whistle repeatedly to notify others that someone is in their territory. Consider adapting that same tactic for your own neighborhood.
Reconnaissance on factions and militants - With several factions possibly fighting for territorial control in some areas, you should at least know who's claiming "influence" over your territory. That's just one example of why you need to scout the surroundings to gather valuable information about what's happening around you. Some of the things you might want to notice:
What is happening in surrounding neighborhoods?
What is going on at the local municipal airport or train station, if there's one nearby?
Are there any factions or militants that have claimed local buildings, and if so, can you tell what their intentions are from a safe distance away (preferably where no one knows you're "spying" on their activities)?
Schools ... Are they being used as refugee centers and to provide emergency first aid and or emergency housing? Or has a faction or militant group moved on to school grounds and claimed it as their own?
Patrols ... Are factions or militants going neighborhood to neighborhood and are they well intentioned? ... Or ... are they just scouting the neighborhoods during the day to see which houses would be an easy target for a robbery later that evening?)
Some good scouting and working with your neighbors to recon what other neighborhoods are doing nearby can help spot trouble before it shows up unexpectedly and catches you all by surprise.
A few pairs of good binoculars could go a long way.
Stationing a couple look outs (helpful teenagers, who can rotate in shifts) in the tallest trees in your neighborhood is also recommended.
While we don't recommend stealing an automobile, if your life is on the line then the day may come where you should know how to hot wire one and get on the road in a hurry. It's easier than it sounds. Rather than detail the specifics, and plagiarize a good book on the subject, it is one more thing that is covered in the book "Spy Secrets that Can Save Your Life" mentioned earlier.
Older cars are the ones that work for hot wiring; newer cars have complex electronic systems that are almost impossible to start unless you really know what you're doing and have the right tools.
On the other hand, many preppers prefer having older cars for fear of EMP events. Some of these cars are really easy to start, all you need to do is jam a flat head screwdriver, hit it with a hammer a couple of times and then twist it as you would the key. You may want to look into "EMP proof cars", that is to say, any older vehicle that has little or no electrical wiring.
The two main benefits are that you don't need to cook them and that you can find a few as you grow. The fact that some of these plants can be found in cities or even your own back yard is all the more reason why you need to learn to recognize them. Some of the wild edibles that are safe to eat:
This is another topic covered in greater detail on our website. Refer to 15 Top Wild Edibles That Can Save You in the Wild
One other service that will be in high demand: Fortifications. People will be smart to fortify their homes using any means possible if a collapse takes place.
Windows can be boarded up, doors and porches can have defensive measures added that can either scare off an intruder or make it extremely difficult to enter your home without first having broken through your defensive measures. Which of course would make a lot of noise. Those defensive measures can include lots of barbed wire, every door on your home can be nailed shut with braces in place (except for one door, which you would use to enter and exit your residence), and any brush surrounding your home can be dug up and removed (making it harder for an evening prowler to make a late night home invasion. Shallow trenches can be dug around your yard and even sandbags piled up in front of your doorway -- making it look like you are a bit extreme when it comes to home security.
Many a would-be robber might easily decide that you're a homeowner he probably shouldn't mess with.
You should make your BOB and get home bags lighter but, really, the most important thing is to get those knee problems handled or find a set of really good knee braces worn by runners, which can make a difference for some people, and lessen or eliminate knee pain all together. What if you can't run, even with those knee braces? Just like a deaf person compensates with better eyesight, you too will have to compensate for your lack of mobility with other skills such as being able to disappear into the crowd and become a "gray man" as it's said.
What about your bug out bag? Take everything out of your BOB and roll it up, placing both your bag and its contents into a couple black pillow cases, rub some dirt and grease on the pillow cases, put some garbage at the top, and just attempt to walk on by. You and or your family can look like a gang of gypsies out foraging for trash with the hope that you don't look like some well off folks who have anything worth taking. An extreme step, sure -- but if it gets you through a bad area of town or by a group of militants or bandits out in the countryside then it was worth it. (Don't just look homeless -- you need to smell homeless also; you need that dirt and grease on your hands, and in your hair, and the dirtier your teeth, the better. These are little details not too overlook in your "disguise", when it's life or death we're talking about).
If you're out in the woods and there's a river nearby, consider getting within range of the river before going up a tree; if it's flowing fast enough, the sound of the river can help hide any noise you make as you climb tree branches. Be sure to pick a tree with several low branches and one that can get you up high off the ground, the higher the better; at the same time, you want a tree that will be difficult to spot you in if someone on the ground suspects you went up in a tree nearby. Good camouflage for both you and your pack can go a long way in helping you stay hidden.
Like the Green Berets, definitely get a handle on diplomacy as a necessary survival skill; and then, like the Green Berets again, when diplomacy doesn't work -- or simply isn't an option -- either be able to make a run for it -- or, if able -- hit the enemy hard and fast, using speed, surprise, and overwhelming aggression in your favor.