What are Survival Skills?

Definition of Survival Skills

The core definition of survival skills is the ability to remain alive. However, I would expand on that definition… the combined knowledge and abilities of methods and techniques that will be used in situations where modern conveniences and infrastructures don’t exist, or have been damaged.

Survival skills are typically thought of in the context of wilderness survival. However, the term (in my opinion) is a very broad and general one. Although central to survival such as attitude, shelter, water, food, first-aid, and security (for example) — one’s survival skills may go well beyond just the basics.

It may apply to many ‘levels’ of survival. From the simple ability to cook your own food, make your own bread, shut off the electricity-gas-water to your home, successfully build a fire, build your own shelter, purify drinking water, all the way to identifying outdoor wild edible plants, trapping, hunting, field dressing game, growing a successful garden, building a fence, preserving foods, tactics and evasion, and on and on…

There is an underlying theme though…


The underlying theme is that of self-reliance. To rely on yourself. The know-how and ability to survive via specific skills that pertain to a situation. The situation? That’s a wide range of circumstance and scenarios indeed!

A few thoughts:

Survival skills hinge on the survival scenario. There are seemingly a bazillion things you could plan for, and adapt skills towards.

Everyone has their own unique interests and abilities. And really – no one person can know, or do it all. People will usually gravitate towards the skill sets that they find interesting or enjoyable for them. However, it is also a very good thing to challenge yourself and get outside of your comfort zone too. People usually need to be pushed to get into that (somewhat uncomfortable) zone, but the end result is often very rewarding after having conquered a new skill.

The thought of being able to survive and make it on your own, is just that — a thought. In reality, it would be highly unlikely that you could survive entirely on your own for very long (depends how long “long” is, right?). Okay, maybe the best could — but you get the idea. We will need support from others eventually. After all, this is how a civilization is built.

Valuable Commodity During Times of Disaster

Having survival skills will enable you some peace-of-mind. Survival skills will also enable you to better adapt to situations without panicking and enable better decisions during times of crisis. Survival skills are a valuable commodity during times of disaster.

Having survival skills, although not necessary in our modern world of support systems, will shape you into a more self-reliant person – one who knows that he/she doesn’t necessarily need to rely upon all of our modern systems of infrastructure to survive.

Beyond Just The Primitive Skills

Most people associate bushcraft or wilderness skills when you say “survival skills”. Some of those wilderness skills may include the following…

  • Building a fire (in dry or wet conditions)
  • Making a shelter
  • Navigation with or without a map & compass
  • Finding food
  • Identifying animal tracks and tracking
  • Finding (and filtering) water
  • Building traps
  • Knot tying
  • Making rope
  • Crafting tools and weapons
  • Fishing (and hunting)
  • Cooking

Survival skills also include those that aren’t necessarily primitive (e.g. Bushcraft / Wilderness survival).


Having an open mind, a logical mind, a critical-thinking mind, a mind with practical experiences – will better enable you to adapt.

Adapting is probably the greatest survival skill of all. It’s a very general term (to adapt-adaptability-adapting). But the ability to do, to change, to make something beneficial with the resources that you currently have on hand – is a great asset! Adapt and Overcome.

Modern Survival Skills

To have survival skills doesn’t necessarily require that you learn how to go off and live by yourself in the woods.

You might say that ‘modern survival skills’ could be defined a little differently – perhaps having the skills to work and survive outside of the system (to varying extents) while still functioning in the modern world.

Start small. Examine what it is that you are ‘chained to’, the things that are holding you down. Figure out ways to break the chains. What are some of the systems around you that you depend on? Figure out alternatives or another way.

Become slightly more reliant upon your self, and more self-sufficient by growing some of your own food – even if it is only seasonal. Learn some of the basics like how to do home canning and preserve foods (it’s pretty easy). Think about the skills that you believe would help you to be more self-reliant and more self-sufficient. Start learning some of these skills in your spare time – part time on weekends. That’s where it starts…

Survival skills… think about what you can learn and do yourself as it pertains to any situation that you are preparing for.

The Bushcraft Boxed Set
(Dave Canterbury via amzn)

[ Read: Practical Skills That People Once Knew ]

[ Read: Survival Traits – What Qualities Help Us Survive ]


  1. I sometimes wonder if there is a generational aspect to bush and urban survival skill. Being of a certain age, over 60 for example, means that you probably took shop, or mechanics, home economics or drafting at some point in school and had a full level of physical Ed classes on a regular basis. You may have walked or ridden your bike to school, sometimes up hill both ways lol!

    In your off time you may have been a girl or boy scout, farm club or similar or at least approached something like a free range childhood. It would have been possible for you to be on the leading edge of the into of computers for everything from the military, logistics, fabrication accounting etc. You were essentially familiar with and , probably skilled in, a number of areas.

    Younger folks have probably not been exposed to as much as older folks unless their parents or extended family took an interest or allowed for time from busy schedules. We have a lot of specialists these days and unfortunately seem to need them in many areas.

    If I was in a tough spot I would feel better trusting an older person or younger blue collar person. This is a blanket statement but I feel it holds some truth and is an explanation of how many have a tough time thinking outside the box these days.

  2. Unless one can live like “Jeremiah Johnson”. We need to use all the financial tools available to us. The globalists and socialist are coming at us from all sides to make us a third world country. You may not agree with some of the list I have started and hope more readers can add to the financial survival skills.

    Keep some investments in the market as the corporations and inflation push it higher

    Only have thirty day credit that has no interest fees

    Make only necessary purchases, and try to use any cash back offers available in store or on credit cards.

    Keep shopping trips to a minimum frequency like once every two weeks or once a month, for health reasons, fuel saving, and to reduce impulse spending.

    Make a list before you go shopping and stick to it.

    Find out when car lot/bulk sales are on at the stores.

    Avoid prepared foods.

    Pleas add your suggestions …..

  3. Reply to Jack Frost: I read your reply and I have to fully agree with your statement about older people having more experiences than younger folks just starting out. I am one of the older folk that was able to experience a lot and, at this point in my life, I choose to share some of what I have learned with others because I was lucky enough to have good teachers and mentors when I was a child and a teenager. Most of my mentors and teachers are now gone but there is much to be learned out there on formats that did not exist when I was 20: u-tube videos on the internet. There is a lot of information out on the internet. Sad fact is there is a lot of BS and bad information out on the net as well. One must be careful of content that is watched and posted out there. From what I have seen and read: most of the info posted on this site is pretty solid if not time-tested because Ken does a good job of being the editor and minimizing the activity of trolls and putting out the flame-wars that can occur.

    My advice for a young person reading this article beyond retaining the ability to adapt is to get outside and practice some of those manual skills in order to get some muscle memory going there. U.S. Marines are good shots with a rifle because they are the only branch of the military that requires actual target practice and passing marksmanship with a minimal qualifying score. I got real good with axe and chainsaw after living off grid and cutting my own wood for a few years. I am a big advocate for learning by doing these days. I hope young folk reading this blog will not pass up an opportunity to learn in the future.

  4. The survival scenario I’m prepping toward is catastrophic collapse – via GSM or some act of warfare. Ken sort of skirted around an issue without landing on it. “We will need support from others eventually.” My opinion is different. The “system” upon which we rely most is our network of relationships — immediate family, extended family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, neighbors, the people all over who we interact with directly, and those who do the unseen work to maintain the other systems (like commerce, health care, utilities, infrastructure, law enforcement) we rely on. The time is now to implement critical survival skills with respect to our relationships. Those skills/abilities are leadership, courage, persuasion, encouragement, the ability to comfort and calm others, and dependability. If one does not have these skills yet just look around — there are lots of opportunities to acquire them. My intention is to be at the center of a community made up of concentric rings of mutual support and protection. To this end I’ve come to know my family, friends, and neighbors well enough to understand who has listened to the voice on the wind and in their hearts telling them to get ready. I encourage them to think about possible scenarios and imagine their needs should they find themselves in one. I give away copies of One Second After to those who are curious about what a total collapse might bring. We talk about the resources here in our neighborhood. Within the core group, we talk what the farm will be able to provide them. Certain of us strategize and lay in protective supplies and hone protective skills. Because, my goal is not just my survival but the survival of the ones I love.

  5. Jack Frost,
    honestly, i believe that cell phones have ruined this world. people and kids use to would go outside and do things to have fun, get their knees dirty and skinned up. climb a tree. make things.
    i have neighbors who have two good boys that would literally run the tires off of their bikes, parents got them each a phone two yrs ago and they have not been outside since. no joke.
    when was the last time you saw kids outside playing in their yards, a bike rack at an elementary school ?
    about half of the population now have apps on how to wipe their butts. without that they wouldn’t know how.
    i was lucky to have grown up in a time when men were men and women were glad of it, and everyone knew the difference.
    three channels on a black and white TV and news that just told the news without opinions or commentaries. Saturday morning cartoons until 11 then outside for the rest of the weekend until supper and then out again.
    i’m old now and i just throw my hands up at it all and stay to myself for the most part. i feel fortunate to have grown up when and where i did in the 60’s and 70’s in Nevada and the Arizona high deserts.
    I’m going home soon! this spring when the snow melts, the rivers are running good and the desert blooms.
    i don’t feel optimistic for this world and civilization, i pray i’m wrong again. but things seem to be wrong to me.
    i’m just old and reminiscing, forgive me. and good luck to all.
    rant over

    1. NY scout,

      You sound depressed, and im sorry for that. Dont! You and everyone here hold the keys to re-making this world. This is the most interesting time in history that i can remember. We all have a chance to witness it and be a positive part of it.

    2. NYscout
      I agree about the phones! My grandkids are great hikers, love building forts climbing etc but they get their daily dose of “tech time”. I am glad to have raised independent, self thinking and motivated kids that are passing on the lifestyle that they grew up with.
      I agree about passing on knowledge and skills but I have found for many there was no interest or for those interested there is no depth of skill or knowledge to work with. I tried to walk a neighbor through replacing a light switch years ago and it was like rocket science to him. I am lucky enough to have a volunteer SAR tech down the street who is happy for knowledge and skills and is willing to try new things if guided to a certain extent.

    3. nyscout, you are absolutely spot on. The cell phones stole their soul.

  6. At age 74, I have pretty much seen the elephant. My survival skills are numerous, thanks to the Boy Scouts, the US Army, and 30 years as a Peace Officer. What scares me the most about the coming collapse, if you will, is us old folks will be the targets. I do believe the greatest dangers to me and my family exist within five miles of our home. One only has to go to Wal Mart, the local supermarket, Costco, or any other big box venue to witness legions of shambling, texting, slack-jawed, mouth-breathing, brain-dead, clueless Mall Zombies. When they can no longer obtain their Pepsi, Nacho Cheese Doritos, Keystone Light, and happy meals, they will go berserk. Therefore, my plans are in place. I hope yours are, also. Bleib ubrig.

    1. DTW – right on the mark. Same age, same target. Yes, the cyber media is the down fall of those younger than us. If the entire system went down I won’t be effected at all. All I use the net for is research & this website. The mistake most will make involving a crisis is the we older folks would not, could not defend ourselves. MHO, nothing should be more frightening than an scared old po woman with a long range boomer in hand, short range on her hip & a scatter 12 w/.00 on a sling crossing her back. Only thing missing is a blade between her teeth and a eye patch, thinking about that. Now that’s a mental picture worth a thousand words – no?

      1. GGM
        When you have that photo blown up into a poster/billboard, I will take a few copies to strategically place on this property. Thank you for the great laugh, I can see it now.

        1. Forgot the war paint and need to locate brother’s army boots and no, I wii not shave off my beautiful white hair. However might put some hair goop in my short hair and spike it, seems to be in fashion nowadays. Got some co2 pineapples to hang from my vest, dang it’ll look like a invasion of the crazy wee little peoples. Need to practice my growling. Billboard’s a great idea, I’ll look taller and totally Bitchen, ooops, I mean BA, nope maybe just loco. If I could just fall back 40yrs bet I pull this off. Oh well, g-nite.

    one important lesson i learned early in life was not to make an old person mad. they are the ones who would and will hurt you. they didn’t take stuff off of anyone. to old to fight. they would shoot the crap out of someone first.
    and they were all armed even back in the day. forget CCW, that was EDC for those oldtimers : )
    still true today.

    1. NYScout,
      The author Steinbeck summed up what you just said nicely in one of his books, one of his characters said,” Don’t ever pick a fight with an old man, ’cause if that old man don’t wanna fight, he’ll just kill you.” Many older folks just lose the patience they have gained through their lives and won’t take any more crap. Good reminder to watch ourselves as we get older and not fall into this trap.

  8. Some of the things us old geezers have in common is that our parents lived thru the Great Depression and for that matter WW2 rationing as well. And passed what they learned on to us.

    Back in the ’50’s most of my Boy Scout leaders were WW2 combat veterans… Weekend campouts likely included shooting competitions — .22 and bow & arrow. And foraging, etc.
    As an aside, they impressed upon us scouts that you could tell how experienced an outdoors person was by the length/size of the knife they carried. The smaller the knife the more experienced. “Survival knives” yeah right!

    If we weren’t out fishing, we were watching Gadabout Gaddis the Flying Fisherman. Always carried a fishing line wrapped around a short piece of arrow shaft in my pocket. If the opportunity to fish came along I was ready.

    nyscout — another thing about cell phones is people no longer know how to write the English language.

  9. Far north thats correct , plus walking behind fathers while hunting learning safety , I grew up doing everything you pointed out plus going camping by myself when all my chores were done , teaching myself to run traplines . Spent many years building BP rifles and learning to live the old way , and oh the books in the school library in the fifties were full of information . The books on the subjects written today are only repeats of yesteryear , my most read was ” Wildwood Wisdom ” lol still have a copy

  10. Just rolled to 70, old geezer status, made it this far, plan on going further, no sense letting some dimwit try to screw it up.

  11. Survival Skills ?
    Just 2 : 1. The Will to Survive.
    2. Necessity is the Mother of Invention.

  12. if you people REALLY want to learn survival skills,
    get a shopping cart, a tent a sleeping bag and ten dollars and live on the street for a month- no cheating !
    it would be a hard lesson, but one well learned. i double dare you.
    you will come across every aspect of a poo hitting the prop situation.
    and you’ll be better for it.

  13. Survival is about planning for the worst and hopefully never have to use your supplies. That’s what the sheep doesn’t understand. You prep for the emergency, but hope it never happens.
    Survival is a mindset. You are either geared mentally for the emergency or your not. Some people just can’t handle stress and lose it, thus fail. Most people doesn’t even know where there is a fresh water spring in there location.

  14. SoulSurvivor,

    Don’t forget sense of humor…sometimes you just have to laugh some things off and move on…

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