12 Old-School Survival Skills You Should Never Forget

Remember when people actually had to grow produce, hunt game or cook from scratch just to have something to eat?

How about the time when mending clothes was considered a basic life skill and throwing out old ones was a mortal sin?

Or hey, can you recall the last time you went somewhere without relying on your GPS?

As a modern society, we’ve forgotten a lot of survival skills that our forefathers couldn’t have lived without back in their day. Technology has made us dependent on just about every little thing, from food to clothing to transportation to money.

So what happens when SHTF and life as we know it ceases to exist?

Why You Need to Brush Up On These “Forgotten” Survival Skills

These survival skills may belong to a time capsule, but they can save your life when disaster hits and modern society goes to the dogs.

Remember, the system will fall like dominoes when SHTF. The grid will be the first one to go, taking with it power and communication lines, including the internet and the use of debit and credit cards. Food supply, clean water, sewage, gas for cooking, and heat will follow sooner than later.

Without our modern comforts, it will be like the 1800s all over again.

Society will inevitably fall into chaos because it’s heavily dependent on an insanely fragile system in the first place. As a prepper, you have to make sure that you don’t go down with it. Brush up on the following survival skills before it’s too late:

Growing Your Own Food

This sounds easy as pie, but can you remember the last time you planted and harvested your own produce?

Back in the day, when the world was young, agriculture was the way to go. If our great-grandparents didn’t plant something in the spring and summer, they’d starve come winter. They tended vegetable gardens and fruit trees to keep them fed. They knew how to rotate crops and save seeds for the next planting season.

The rise of commerce and technology has virtually eliminated these practices, at least in the urban setting. These days, you can get whatever kind of food whenever you feel like it. All it takes is a trip to the grocery store or supermarket. In fact, statistics show that the average American household goes to the grocery store at least 1.6 times a week. The stats for food delivery services are even higher.

Now, what would you do when the grocery stores shut down and the pizza delivery guy stops coming around?

This is why you should always try to grow your own food, just like our forefathers did when grocery stores were basically non-existent. Growing your own produce makes you self-reliant and helps you gain other useful survival skills like:

  • Crop rotation
  • Knowing soil conditions
  • Fertilization

Knowing where your food is coming from and how it’s processed also gives you a sense of security— you’re sure that they’re not GMOs or sprayed with harmful insecticides.

What You Can Do About It

Start a survival garden
one of the most important survival skills to learn is growing a survival garden

A survival garden is a sustainable solution to augment your survival stockpile and is a great way to keep fresh food in stock.

It’s relatively easy to start, too. You don’t need acres of land to grow one—you can start your garden from your own backyard or even with small containers indoors.

The best part about a survival garden is that you can hide it from plain sight by planting edible “weeds.” Check out this comprehensive guide to know more about growing a survival garden.

Identifying Plants for Food and Medicine

How well do you know your medicinal plants and wild edibles? Back in the day, people used to set out for the woods to forage wild edibles during the milder months.

They knew how to find edible berries, nuts, plants, and tubers just by knowing the lay of the land. It wasn’t uncommon for young kids to know which berries or mushrooms were edible and which were poisonous.

More importantly, our forefathers also knew the medicinal properties of most plants around them. They could easily make tea from mint leaves or chamomile flowers to ease an upset stomach. They also took advantage of the healing properties of plants like nettle, feverfew, basil, and lavender, to name a few.

If SHTF and you were left in the woods to forage for food, can you rely on your foraging skills to survive?

What You Can Do About It

The best way to cultivate your knowledge of plants is to surround yourself with them.

If you’re a beginner, you can check out these basic guides to wild edibles and common poisonous plants.

These lists aren’t exhaustive, of course, so you gotta do some extra leg work.

Study a colored guidebook and put your skills to the test on your next camping trip. Don’t go eating the plants unless you’re a hundred percent sure, though. Remember: all plants are edible, but some are only edible once.

Another option is to sign up for a wilderness class or to go on a foraging trip with an expert.

Wilderness classes help you brush up on your bushcraft survival skills, including plant identification. A foraging trip with an expert is also much safer than trying to go at it alone. Experienced foragers can give you first-hand information on how to identify plants, especially the tricky ones like mushrooms.

First Aid and Home Remedies

There was a time when people didn’t rely on over-the-counter medications for every little ache or pain. Back in the day, doctors were pretty scarce, so our great-grandparents had to make do with what they had. Most of them grew up between two World Wars, so they also knew how to make splints, set bones, and even stitch wounds together on their own.

It’s really astounding how easily we’ve forgotten these survival skills just because we can buy some pain relievers in the pharmacy or drive to a nearby emergency room.

When SHTF, emergency medical services will be overwhelmed, if not absent altogether. What will save you will be your knowledge of first aid and home remedies until you can ask for help.

What You Can Do About It

First things first: build a well-stocked first aid kit. And don’t stop with just one—make sure you’ve got a first aid kit for your house, your EDC bag, your BOB, and your car kit. You’ll never really know when you’ll need one.

Next: make sure you and your family members know how to use the contents of your first aid kit. There are tons of first aid and basic life support courses and certifications out there. These can teach you survival skills like basic wound dressing, splinting, and CPR.

Lastly, keep emergency medications on hand. Natural remedies like poultices, teas, and tonics are well and good, but they’re little help if you’re suffering from, say, an anaphylactic shock. In cases like these, it’s best to stock up on supplies like EpiPens and other medications.

Food Preservation

When was the last time you canned some fruit or smoked some meat?

People scarcely had refrigerators or freezers back in the day. Food preservation was considered one of the most essential survival skills for every household. Some even had their own smokehouses to cure and smoke meat like pork, beef, or venison.

The rise of artificial food preservatives and commercially processed food has basically eradicated the need for people to do their own canning and curing. But while you can buy tons of canned meat, buckets of dried eggs, and packs of bouillon cubes, don’t discount the benefits of preserving your own food, either.

For one, it’s a cheaper alternative. This can save you thousands of dollars in the long run. For another, it can help you save resources, especially if you’ve got a farm or off-grid homestead. Instead of letting your excess produce rot, you can extend their shelf life through food preservation and add them to your survival pantry.

What You Can Do About It

Put your best apron on. Start sterilizing your cans. Fire up that dehydrator. Food preservation only sounds complicated, but it’s actually one of the easiest survival skills you can learn.

Take dehydration, for example. This food preservation method is used to make some tasty jerky. All you have to do is prepare thin strips of lean meat like beef and place them in the oven or dehydrator. Wait a few hours, and boom—you get some pretty good old jerky, which can last for weeks.

Other methods of food preservation, like canning, curing, smoking, and fermentation, involve more steps but are quite easy to learn, too.

Start simple: try your hand at making your own jams and jellies from fruits and berries. Once you got that covered, you can do some simple fermentation. If you’re growing cabbages or lettuce, you can make some really good sauerkraut or kimchi. Once you’ve mastered that, you can have a go at canning and curing meat. Trust us—preserving your own food is one of the most rewarding survival skills to learn.

Making Food from Scratch

The art of cooking from scratch has been waging a losing battle against instant food since the ‘30s…and it’s just getting worse.

Recent surveys show that the average American spends thousands of dollars eating out. Another more alarming survey reveals that 90% of Americans actually despise cooking.

Imagine your grandma’s reaction when she hears those numbers.

What You Can Do About It

Here’s the thing: some raw ingredients are easier and cheaper to store. Take flour versus bread, for example. White bread will only last a couple of days in your pantry, while flour can last years when stored properly. The same goes for rice, corn, and legumes, among others.

If you’re keen on saving some serious bucks, you have to know how to cook from scratch. In the case of flour, you gotta know how to make bread, pasta, and other meals from it. Prepare to store other necessities like salt, spices, and leaveners as well.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Your gas supply and electricity might be compromised when SHTF, so you also have to prepare the right equipment to process these food products. And no, we’re not talking about a KitchenAid mixer or a food processor. Think more along the lines of hand-crank grinders, baking pins, and dough rollers.

For instance, if you’re keeping wheat berries and other grains, a hand-crank grinder will come in handy. You might need to cook over an open fire, so keep a Dutch oven. It will be pretty useful when it comes to cooking and baking over some hot coals.

Raising Animals for Food and Supplies

While raising livestock is alive and well in rural areas, it’s practically dead in most parts of the country. Thanks to rapid urbanization and the regulations that come with it, people have forgotten what it’s like to raise animals for food and other supplies.

People in farms and homesteads raised animals like pigs primarily for meat, while cows were raised for both meat and dairy. Poultry, obviously, was there to provide eggs.

What You Can Do About It

To be fair, it’s not easy to keep animals, whether you’re in an urban or rural setting. It takes a lot of time, effort, and dedication. Some animals, like pigs, cattle, and horses, take more space and maintenance than others. Still, if you put in the leg work, you’ll be rewarded with a sustainable source of food and income—two things you definitely need for survival after a major catastrophe.

If you’re already raising animals, good for you. If you’re still figuring it out, though, don’t sweat. As long as raising livestock is allowed in your area, you can start with small animals like chickens. These birds don’t need a lot of upkeep and aren’t picky with food. They can also supply you with lots of eggs, which you can either sell, keep, or barter.

Rabbits are also great for beginners. They take up little space and are quite easy to maintain. The upside is that since these animals reproduce rapidly, they can supply you with a lot of meat and fur in a relatively short period of time.

You might also consider a hive of bees. Beehives can give you useful and profitable products like honey and beeswax. Keeping bees can significantly help the flora and fauna in your area through pollination, too, so it’s really like hitting two birds with one stone. Check your local laws for the needed permits and regulations before purchasing a hive, though.

Natural Navigation

As a culture, we rely way too much on GPS. Your great-grandparents would probably turn in their graves if they found out you depend on a small talking machine for directions.

Global Positioning System or GPS didn’t exist until the 70s. Before then, people used maps to get around. As in, they knew how to read them. Most folks also knew how to use a compass and could find their way using the position of the sun in the sky.

Today, most folks probably would get lost in their own cities without GPS. All it would take is a powerful EMP attack to wipe that out, and then what? Society will be back to square one. Don’t be among the lost when that happens.

What You Can Do About It

Learning how to read a map and compass is one of the most basic survival skills to know. Take a small compass with you whenever you go out camping or hiking—and, more importantly, make sure you know how to use it.

Now, you need a backup plan in case you lose your compass.

The answer lies in sharpening your natural navigation skills. Know the general direction just by looking at the sun or by making a sun compass using shadow sticks.

When it’s dark out and you’re lost, learn how to find Polaris—the North Star—to find your bearings. But don’t just limit your celestial navigation skills to the North Star. You can also use the position of other constellations, like Orion or the Summer Triangle, to find your way.

Sewing and Mending

Sewing and mending clothes was one of the most common survival skills women knew back in the day. Ready-made clothes were hard to come by and were expensive, so the ladies were in charge of sewing and mending the household’s garments.

During the Great Depression, families would save flour sacks and turn them into clothing. Nothing got thrown out or wasted. Clothes were mended and passed on from one kid to another. When they were too worn out or too small to wear, they were used as rags for cleaning.

Can you say the same for today’s generation?

What You Can Do About It

Be more conscious of what you wear. Toss “fast fashion” out of the window—trends won’t save your butt when the apocalypse comes. Go for sturdy, functional clothes, and don’t toss them out the window when you lose a button or rip a sleeve.

Learn how to sew and mend your own clothes. In extreme survival situations, you can even use your sewing survival skills to suture wounds.

If you want to take it to the next level, learn how to weave. Weaving isn’t only good for making clothes—you can use that skill to make traps from leaves and natural cordage. You can also weave all kinds of useful projects from a length of 550 paracord.

Keeping the Home Warm for Winter

The polar vortex of 2019 took dozens of people’s lives. While most of the fatalities occurred outdoors, there were awful cases of people freezing to death in their homes.

What’s your game plan when the thermostat fails during a cold snap?

What You Can Do About It

Start prepping way, way ahead. When your thermostat fails, you gotta have some old-school backup and alternative fuel sources.

Stock up on some firewood way before the winter, just like how they did back in the day. The quality of your fire will depend on the type of wood you’re burning, so be specific about the firewood you wanna store. In general, hardwood will burn longer, but fires from softwood will burn hotter.

You can gather and chop your own firewood, or you can buy them by the cord. Just make sure to dry, stack, and store them properly so you can use them right away.

In addition to collecting firewood for fuel, make sure that your home is properly insulated to keep the drafts out.

Basic Repair Work and Carpentry

There was a time when almost everybody knew how to fix a pipe, go under the hood of a car, or hold a hammer. Sadly, like most of the survival skills in this list, basic mechanic work and carpentry skills are pretty much dwindling.

What You Can Do About It

Take on a DIY project. And no, we aren’t talking about assembling IKEA furniture. We’re thinking more along the lines of learning how to make shelves for your prepper pantry or rigging your kitchen cabinets with pull-out FIFO storage spaces. You can try your hand at fortifying your home against looters and zombies. Tune up your bug out vehicle. You can even try building your own bushcraft shelter just for the heck of it.

Hunting, Trapping, and Butchering

Hunting these days is a bit different from how people did it back in the day.

Today, we can just leave some bait out, wait for the animal to take it, and shoot from our deer stands. Then, we take it to the butcher so they can clean and process it.

In contrast, folks from way back actually tracked and stalked their quarry before taking the shot. Knowing how to read signs like a disturbance in vegetation or hoof prints was a must. Every old-school hunter was familiar with the animal’s behavior and feeding patterns and also knew how to lay traps based on this information.

On top of that, they also had sharp butchering skills and knew how to dress the animals—oftentimes right there on the field.

What You Can Do About It

Look, we’re not saying that you should forego your deer stand outright. It’s just that it would be pretty useful if we knew how to hunt, trap, and butcher as they did back in the day. The SAS Survival Handbook by Lofty Wiseman has some solid tips on tracking, hunting, and trapping animals for food. We highly recommend you read it if your skills need some brushing up.

Frugal Living

Having lived through two World Wars and the Great Depression, our forebears knew a thing or two about living frugally. Because resources were scarce, they didn’t throw anything out. Instead, they learned how to fix it. They unwittingly reused and recycled virtually anything that they could get their hands on.

The “hacks” and “survival tips” that we know today were simply a way of life for them back then.

What You Can Do About It

There are so many ways to start living frugally. Here are a few of them:

  • Instead of buying Windex, you can use some vinegar and baking soda to clean your windows and surfaces.
  • Start buying food by the bulk and just ration them accordingly. Skip buying lunch and pack your own.
  • Start using rags instead of paper towels.
  • Use the library instead of buying books.
  • Learn how to color and dye your hair.
  • Invest in reusable cloth nappies for your kids instead of buying disposable diapers.

These may sound super simple, but they can save you some serious cash in the long run. They’re also helpful for the environment. Check out the video above for more tips on living frugally.

Final Thoughts

Modern technology has brought about comforts that the past generations didn’t have. This doesn’t mean that you should forego the survival skills mentioned above, though. If anything, you should double your efforts to keep these skills sharp. Modern society is built on top of a very fragile system, after all.

Any other old-school survival skills we missed? Sound off in the comments below, and don’t forget to share this with your fellow preppers!

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