How Learning Primitive Skills Could One Day Save Your Tail

by Erich

When it comes to preparing yourself and your family for potential disaster, all that gear that you’re storing away (tents, camping stoves, fuel, food storage etc) may not be enough. While food storage, fuel and all the other gear that goes along with survival and preparedness is crucial, the best insurance you can give your family is learning primitive skills.

I know it’s hard to believe, but there were not always shopping malls and corner markets available to our ancestors. If you go far enough back in your own family tree (ancient Europe included), you will eventually find those who were hunter/gatherers. This was before flint and steel, before farming and agriculture, back when they lived directly off the land. With the onset of agriculture and specifically the industrial revolution, your ancestors had slowly lost their place in the natural world, and lost their understanding of how to live off the land.

It’s these skills that provide the ultimate back-up plan. It’s these skills that it’s time to relearn.


Here are just some of the benefits in learning primitive skills:

  • There’s a feeling of well being knowing your skill and knowledge can save you and others. Being proficient at primitive skills provides peace of mind. I know that if I or my family were to be forced into a situation where we were stuck out in the wilderness for an extended period of time, there’s a good chance we would at least be able to come out alive. That knowledge is comforting.
  • You gain a greater connection to nature and understanding of the rhythm and flow of life. Nothing brings you closer to nature than having to live by her rules. If you ever want to survive primitively then you’re forced to surrender to the will of nature. You learn what, where, and when plants grow that you can eat and use. You learn about the animals, their habits, and how the animals relate to the plants and each other. You learn how weather and seasons relate to everything else and how all this knowledge applies to your survival and well being.
  • Ease of mobility. Knowing even a few primitive skills allows you to be less dependent upon extra gear which can weigh you down and slow you up.
  • Your ‘gear’ is all around you. The better you get at primitive skills and knowledge the more you realize that everything you need is all around you. Nature provides you with tools, shelter, food, clothing and so on.
  • Primitive skills provide a permanent solution. Your lifeline is not tethered to the gear you have or the food you carry with you. With enough skill you could stay alive indefinitely. It’s the ultimate bug-out insurance!
  • It forces you to understand the principle behind the practice. When building shelters, making fire, finding food and purifying water, many of these skills are perfected and fine-tuned with experience. And nature provides the ultimate feedback: If your fire isn’t built just right, then there’s no fire; If your shelter isn’t in the right location then you’ll be cold/wet/uncomfortable. Primitive skills do not grant as much leeway in your ability as does modern-day gear. So it forces you to understand the principles. Once these principles are understood then they can easily translate to urban areas and using modern gear can be even more effective.

Unfortunately, becoming proficient with primitive skills requires a bit of practice. They are difficult to master. In a survival situation it also can be difficult to support others who have no skill since you are the sole provider. But despite these shortcomings, primitive skills provide the ultimate insurance and backup in an emergency situation. And in combination with modern-day gear you have the ultimate complimentary pair.

Must Have Primitive Skills

Here’s my list of must-have primitive skills:

  1. Fire Making: This includes not only how to set up and build a correct fire but also how to make fire without matches.
  2. Water Purification and Collection: This involves where to find it, how to collect it and once you have it, how to purify it.
  3. Shelter Making: Understand and know how to build at least one shelter appropriate to your biosphere that provides warmth and protection from the elements.
  4. Food Procurement: One could spend a lifetime learning all the skills surrounding obtaining food primitively, but for the basics, I would learn the following:
    • The Big Four:While you should learn as many edible plants of your area as you can, if you had to learn just four I would choose these: Broad-leaf Cattail, Oak (acorns), Pine, and Grass. Most of the northern hemisphere contains these four plants and learning how to identify and use them for food can make all the difference.
    • Throwing Stick Hunting: “Rabbit sticks” (short wooden clubs) used to throw at small game such as rabbits and waterfowl have been used by our early ancestors the world over. Take some time to gather some short, hard sticks about the thickness of your wrist and as long as the tip of your elbow to your fingertips. Set up some targets in a field or in your yard and start throwing. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your skill will improve with time. When hunting, I would suggest carrying two (the first stick does not always kill them outright) you’ll need the second one to deliver the final killing blow so they don’t suffer needlessly or worse yet, turn on you (we’ve all seen what rabbits are capable of in Monty Python and the Holy Grail).


Recommended Online Resources

  • Survival Topics This is one of my favorite sites. Ron Fontaine does an excellent job at presenting survival skills in an easy to learn way.
  • Wildwood Survival A huge resource for learning primitive skills with some video
  • Primitive Ways Great collection of various primitive skills
  • Nature Skills Good resource with some great articles

Recommended Schools

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Comment by Barbara
2014-02-16 23:41:30

If I could afford it, I’d take your Prepper Academy courses, but I am a 71 year old on Social Security so it’s out of the question. This administration has seen fit to disallow us the proper amount of cost of living increase for several years now, although our rent goes up annually, food costs about 30 to 40% more since O man took office, and our health insurance has been robbed to fund his namesake disastrous health care plan. We’re doing well in putting aside dehydrated food, alternate cooking sources and other items, and will continue to do so. Wilderness survival is not something that many of we seniors could handle. We are a far more fragile group. I live in a retirement community of a bit under 1,000 homes. We have experienced a weather disaster here, so many of us are weather preppers, but I have gone much further. There is no question but that we shelter in place, and I’d like to know how you would advise us if it is any differently. Most of us do get prescriptions that last 3 months, and there’s no way to get more, so I understand that many would die if it becomes a very long term situation. We are a pragmatic lot about aging and death, but we will help each other as best we can, and we will also be able to do a lot to provide for our own defense. Most of the men in our community are Viet Nam veterans and most are able bodied, as are we wives, and we are largely a very physically active group for our age, but our needs are still far more exacting than you younger people, and there are some among us who are unable to walk more than a few yards. I am looking to protein alternatives that can be stored long term rather than having to hunt game, and am storing quinoa and dried beans among other items. I am also interested in learning more about making seitan and storing it. I can get the prepping information into the homes here via our newsletter, and would like very much to teach others how to prep for whatever is coming, if they can be made to believe that prepping for long term is not a wasted exercise. What would you advise, given our meager budgets?

Comment by Barbara
2014-02-16 23:46:42

I’d like to add something before the younger population decides that we are not worth saving because we’re elderly. It has been hypothesized that the human race evolved because of grandmothers, who stay behind to tend the children, cook the food, and take care of our quarters while the mothers and fathers of young ones are out gathering and hunting. I thought you should know that. We always earn our keep. Thank you for listening.

Comment by Melissa
2014-03-04 23:26:00

Barbara – you bring up some excellent points and I am interested in reading the response. Although I am a bit younger, I am disabled, on a fixed income, and an apartment dweller – I am in the same boat. Sounds like you have a great community and preparedness plans for your situation. Best Wishes to you and yours!

Comment by John
2014-03-25 18:42:56

Don’t plan to bug out . I will face them head on and eliminate as many as I possibly can. At 76 I don’t run but I do shoot back.

Comment by Emily Thornton
2014-04-21 18:10:16

Hey Eric, I looked at a few of those sites and they didnt really have a specific focus on just outdoors survival. IS there a book you would recommend to start looking at? (Foraging for plants/roots, fire making, using the tools around us) that kind of thing? I want to have a book nearby for a SHTF scenario…of course and learn from it beforehand.

Comment by Pat
2014-06-16 20:52:09

Barbara, there are many plants that have a good amount of protein. You can dehydrate and vacuum seal all of them for long term storage. Spinach, lamb’s quarters, broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkin seeds, just to name a few. What I like about the lamb’s quarters is they are a weed everyone pulls out of their garden, they grow everywhere, they are free and they are delicious. You can find lots of pic on line to identify them.

Comment by Lee
2014-10-26 01:53:23

Barbara: I’m 62, a vietnam vet, and disabled. I got into prepping because of my next door neighbor who in 1964 built a bomb shelter – he was the neighborhood CD warden (if you can remember those).

In the early 70’s there was a series of books published called the Foxfire series – great outdoor / wilderness skills – I have 12 of them. I would also like to recommend the Boy Scout Handbook or even better if you can find one – The Boy Scout Field Guide – great info on edible plants, firestarting, etc. Of course, there are the Army manuals and among the best is the British Army’s SAS Survival Guide.

I agree with you – staying in place is your best chance given your scenario. I carry what I call a bug in bag in my car – I work 78 miles away from home and instead of bugging out, it will be put to use to get me home.

I would plan a mix of canned goods (because most contain water sufficient to cook them), what you are already doing, and some freeze dried. Don’t get over reliant on any one. Remember that both your stored grains and beans and the freeze dried require additional water above and beyond the normal 1 gallon per person per day.

I personally rely primarily on Thrive Life foods because of the ability to cook what I want instead of prepared meals. I have a distributorship and highly recommend their products. Of course the main reason I have a distributorship is so that I can buy at wholesale. I can be found using my name PrepperLee especially on Facebook

Comment by don
2014-11-15 15:10:30

Hey barbara
I myself am of the (somewhat) younger age group
But was always taught to respect my eldars.
Just because someone is older doesn’t mean
they have nothing to add that will make
Everyone’s life easier
How many of the youngsters out there know
and i mean really know how to make the things
they will need to live comfortably after the shtf
Thats when the older Gen . will be valued as they should be

Comment by s
2015-03-02 20:40:08

besides the grandmas and grandpas ALWAYS have the best stories…….that usually end up teaching you something if you just listen

Comment by s
2015-03-02 20:44:57

Barbara thats true besides the grandmas and the grandpas ALWAYS have the best stories ……that will even usually teach you something if you really listen

Comment by Justine
2015-03-18 15:00:34

Hats off to you! I wish more thought like you do. 🙂

Comment by jeff
2015-04-19 02:10:42

Here’s a great webpage/wiki I found that tells you all about common edible plants! Really helpful:

Comment by nature lover
2015-04-21 01:37:22

Regardless of age, we all are apart of the main body, and can contribute to everyone’s ones benefit, even a child with a hug.. The older ones have a wealth of knowledge and the younger ones have the energy and strength. Be willing to share knowledge and skills. No one knows everything and everyone has something they can share. Knowledge is good, application is better. Train well, live easier.. .

Comment by Carl Weil
2015-10-19 21:52:46

One of the skills you want to develope is self medical care. We at Wilderness Medicine Outfitters have about 2 dozen toipcs you can study for free check out
Carl Weil

Comment by Bob Gibson
2015-11-12 16:55:05

First and foremost, I hope I find some Veterans and older folks nearby when things become bad. Knowledge and advice are so much more valuable than all the planning we can do.

Me and my parents have about 8.5 acres, so we are likely shelter in place though different reasons.

With respect to meds, assuming my disability check allows, I try to fill my meds about a week early every time. Over some time, I’ve accumulated a backup supply of the meds I need.

Things on my list that I think qualify as protein and store longer. Peanut butter, dry dog food (obviously a last resort), dried sausages like pepperoni, chorizo and stuff that isn’t refrigerated in the grocery, seaweed/kelp and other dried veggies (seaweed and kelp are a little weird, but you’d be surprised at the nutrients), energy bars, various jerkies (you can find lower salt ways to make it online), protein powder … might find more before I’m done with my plan.

Water, water, water … each source I read says water is the most likely issue in an emergency. (Not from toilets .. apparently toilet water is bad.)

Comment by Jose
2016-03-01 22:36:57

Hello everyone,

Been reading the comments on this article and find them very interesting. I just turned 62 and finally retired. Been prepping for several years. Unfortunately, most of the younger members of my family think I’m wasting my time. My answer to that , sadly, has been to inform them that when something happens, I’ll be the one saying “I told you so…”

I too am looking for a really good edibles reference, but, seems that the better ones are only good for certain areas. That’s fine if you staying put, but, could be an issue if you’re away from home when it goes south.

My one big suggestion for Barbara and others stockpiling food is this, make sure you are also learning how to cook with what your storing and rotate your food stores.

Lots of luck with your prepping!

Comment by Антонсfug
2016-12-18 23:50:05

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Comment by Gigi
2017-11-30 14:36:10

Beautifully said. We’ve also felt the pain of the O man’s effects and doing what we can since the internet has reduced our business significantly.

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