The Survivalist's Bucket List

by Erich

There’s a lot more to being prepared than simply stockpiling a bunch of stuff. It’s knowledge and skill that often makes the difference between being a survivor or a statistic.

Just as in stockpiling goods, in a long-term crisis the more knowledge and skills that you have about how to deal with a wide variety of situations and challenges the better off you’ll be. However, unlike stockpiling. knowledge cannot be purchased. It’s gained through study, learning, and practice.

You may be saying,”Well, I have a bunch of books on how to deal with every type of situation, and if I can read it, I can learn it”. Although I do highly recommend having a Survival Library, having only books on hand — while helpful — is not ideal. You don’t want your family to be dependent upon you learning a skill for the first time in the midst of a crisis and some skills take years to develop.

With that in mind, here’s a Bucket List of skills you may want to consider. This is in no way exhaustive or in order of importance but should get you started:

  • Sewing, Clothes Making and Repair: Learn how to quilt, crochet, knit, sew, spin, weave, and how to make clothes from basic patterns. It might be a good idea to pick up an antique manual pedal driven sewing machine. Many of them sell for quite cheap through Craigslist.
  • Auto Mechanics and Engine Repair: Learn how to change oil, fix brakes, tune up engines, repair common issues (replacing water pump, alternator, etc) and so on. Included in this subject is small-engine repair/tuneups like chainsaws, generators etc.
  • Animal Husbandry: Learn how to raise rabbits, chickens, goats and other animals provided you have the space and your zoning laws allow.
  • Soap and Candle Making: This includes homemade oil lamps as well.
  • Butter, Cheese and Yogurt Making: Be sure any needed ingredients are part of your food storage.
  • Martial Arts: This could be boxing, ground fighting, knife fighting, stick fighting, and other forms of armed and unarmed hand-to-hand combat skills.
  • Marksmanship and Defensive Shooting: There are many excellent top-rate schools that teach marksmanship as well as personal and home defense with firearms. For excellent marksmanship training, I highly recommend The Appleseed Project events that are held nationwide.
  • Wilderness Survival and Primitive Skills: This includes local plant identification and use (edible, medicinal, and utilitarian); shelter building; water collection, storage and purification; fire making (using primitive and modern methods); animal snares; fishing; and much more
  • Outdoor Skills: Separate from wilderness survival (but related) is basic outdoor skills such as knot-tying, navigation, hunting, trapping, mountaineering, tracking and so on.
  • Medical Training: This should really go beyond first aid. Ideally you’ll want to take EMT or paramedic courses.
  • Radio Communication: This includes small-band, CB and other forms of radio communication. Ideally you’ll want to get your Ham operating license.
  • Metal-Working Skills: Learn welding, casting, blacksmithing. Also included in this subject is machining and other fabrication methods.
  • Food Preservation: Here’s where you’ll want to learn canning, smoking, pickling, dehydrating, and curing.
  • Food Preparation: Learn how to use all that bulk-stored food you’ve got squirreled away. Also included in this subject is food preparation off the grid — using wood/charcoal stoves, fire pit cooking, solar ovens etc.
  • Gardening: This is one of those skill you can’t simply pull a book off your shelf, read it, and expect to be very successful at. You’ll want to learn this now to fully understand how to work with your particular climate and soil type. It also takes a bit of time to work up your soil to be its most productive.
  • Bartering: This will be a very useful skill in an extended crisis situation. There are many flea markets and other local venues where you can practice this skill.
  • Entertainment: Learn to play an instrument, sing, or learn other performing art skills . During tough times, moral is low. Entertainment can otherwise lighten a heavy heart.
  • Home Repair and Maintenance: Learn the basics of carpentry, electrical wiring, painting, plumbing, masonry and so on. If you live in a remote area then being able to drill wells, clear land, surveying, and home construction techniques are also ideal.

Looking at this list you’re probably thinking that even a few of these areas would take a lifetime to really learn well — and you’re right. Don’t be so concerned about learning them all yourself. That’s the importance of community. As my friend Kevin Reeve says, “Training trumps gear, but community trumps training”. The more knowledgeable people you can gather in your circle of close friends, the better off you’ll all be. 

As far as not having enough time, start now by turning off the television. Or quit waisting time golfing and get out there and practice some skills that can really be of benefit to you and others. Many of these skills can be practiced as a family. If it’s important to you, you’ll find the time. 

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Comment by George Matheis
2010-10-11 13:58:37

Good list. I would add personal communication skills, many people just don’t have any. Being able understand and be understood is a principle survival skill set.- George

Comment by Erich
2010-10-11 15:42:27

Good point George. Thanks for the comments.

Comment by Survival Spot
2010-11-12 13:15:35

This is a really great list! It would be challenging the master many of the skills listed, but it would be worth it to do so.

@George, communication skills are hugely important! i wish they taught them in every school

Comment by Priest
2010-11-15 19:10:11

I’d also add the learning of a second language.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2010-11-16 23:39:17


Thus may be more timely than ever given the way things are going. Thanks for the comments!

Comment by ke4sky
2011-02-22 15:43:11

Our county has been conducting Disaster Survival Skills training for Citizens Corps in the Washington, DC area since shortly after 9/11. Our .ppt presentation may be downloaded at following link:

The .ppt program is a bit over 3 MB and has embedded speaker notes for most of the pages.
Many links embedded within the presentation provide ample handouts, etc. Synopsis:


Why teach “survival” in the city?
Catastrophes vs. disasters
This is about your SURVIVAL, not volunteering
Priorities for human survival
Break-out sessions:
Shelter construction
Fire making
Equipment and supplies
Social implications of disasters
Personal security concerns

Disaster V. Catastrophe
Disasters are short term
“Make do for 3-4 days until help arrives…”
Catastrophic events are long term
Katrina-scale hurricane, tsunami, earthquake
Major terror attack, nuclear detonation, dirty bomb
No help is coming soon, “you are on your own”

Complete loss of civil infrastructure
Minimal or no police, fire or EMS response
No electricity, municipal water, communications
Transport of fuel / food is severely impaired
Public safety agencies will be overwhelmed
Recovery is long term (over 30 days)

What the military survival schools teach:

Seven Priorities For Survival – “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst”
Positive mental attitude
First Aid / Sanitation

Human factors
Stress management
Security and safety

Comment by Karin
2011-03-05 11:10:01

This is an excellent list and a great idea! Do you mind if I put a link to this post in my blog?

And George makes a good point. In college one of my advisers took the time to show each of his students how to shake hands. It seemed stupid, but I’m now grateful for it.

2011-03-05 21:52:18

Not at all. Thanks for reading Karin.

Comment by Abbie
2011-08-09 00:55:04

Perhaps this goes along with communication skills, but someone in the community needs to have some serious conflict resolution and negotiation skills. If your EMT or WFR can’t stand your small engine person and walks out, or your wild edibles person chooses to poison someone they are embroiled in conflict with rather than help, then you’ve got bigger problems than who has what skills. The conflict should never reach either of those points, but under stress and in tight circumstances people find out things about themselves they never knew and can act out.

Negotiation and conflict resolution are not exactly the same as leadership. And related to but not the same as bartering. It’s ‘politics’ for lack of a better term – someone who has a natural knack for or training in organizational management under stress. Someone skilled in securing willing cooperation and airing out differences before they become problems.

And ditto on the bilingualism. It doesn’t take a lot of Spanish or any language to get to the point where you can make out what is being said around you, which is valuable in itself even if you can’t respond. You may or may not want to respond, but it’s not that hard to get to the skill level where you can figure out what is being said.

2011-09-07 07:49:27

Great points Abbie. Negotiation skills are huge in crisis management and life in general.

Comment by Anonymous
2011-09-06 22:17:30

Learn another language is good to know if you ever have to flee to another country.

Comment by Bill
2014-01-07 12:29:36

i would like to add the concept of home defense to the list under self-defense. they say fences make good neighbours, i say DEfenses make better ones. i have a large family to protect and the best way i can think of is to keep the dangers as far from them as possible. its all the better if i can stop the attackers at the edge of my property rather than grappling with them hand to hand

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2014-01-07 13:03:06


Right on brother. My thoughts exactly…

Comment by roger u
2014-01-07 15:36:33

Under entertainment: instrument repair and building is a must in post SHTF world. Not going to be any music stores!

Comment by Bob Bailey
2014-01-08 15:29:24

I spent two days in the 1992 LA riots and I noticed something interesting as we drove around in our 1962 pinkish purple Rambler sedan (the perfect urban assault vehicle0. Places with fences were not hit. Crenshaw Mall, 4 Day Tire Stores, any semi serious fence kept the rioters out. I do not know why. Across the street from the saved business everything was trashed and looted. The Armenians parked big truck trailers across at all points of entrance to their large market and got on the roof with guns and they made it through ok. They did not let anyone cross their fenced in parking lot under threat of being shot. It also provided a definite line of commitment. Once a bad person breaches the fence they are responsible for what happens next, not the property owner. I believe it would make it easier to defend a perimeter than a home or building.

Comment by laurey
2014-01-12 09:11:12

Well, I’m only missing three, but I always figure that’s what guys are for!! 🙂 I CAN change my own oil and stuff, but don’t have the patience for it.

Comment by laurey
2014-01-12 09:20:29

Aother interesting thought on conflict resolution: feed the combatants!! (Without giving away you have a storage). People are often cranky when they are hungry. That is another good reason to learn canning etc. I am in the middle of making split pea soup to can for storage. It is a good, filling meal that is cheap but would settle “the grumpies” in a bad situation. Add a slice of bread and milk, and its a full meal. (split peas, ham, potatoes).

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