Prepper Prep: The 9 Skills You Need for Real Disaster Preparedness

A large part of the discussion about “survival after a disaster” revolves around what to have, what to store, and how to stay financially solvent in challenging times. What often gets lost in the discussion is the human factor: what skills should a person acquire in order to be as safe and comfortable as possible in any kind of emergency situation.

For instance, knowing how to make bread and how to sew are two essential skills for any serious-minded prepper or survivalist. There is, in fact, a long list of simple crafts and skills that should be on everyone’s agenda, but nine of them are considered to be the core of survivalism.

What are the nine skills that you should learn before a flood, tornado, hurricane or worse? It’s a common prepper/survivalist truism that “The more you know how to do, the less things you need to store and carry.” That’s a very clever way of saying that knowledge is power, especially in crisis situations.

If you know how to purify water, for example, then you are freed of the burden of storing hundreds of gallons in jugs and canisters in your survival space. If you know how to garden, then you automatically reduce your reliance on stored foodstuffs. In fact, the bigger the crisis, the more helpful personal skills will be.

Here is a list of the essential nine, with comments about the best way to learn each one.

Nine Skills for Proud Preppers and Serious Survivalists:

Water purification

There are many different water purification kits and filters that are easy to use. Buy one that you can afford and get familiar with it. Most are rather simple and it helps to “learn by doing” for this skill in particular.

A related skill is being able to locate water. This is a bit more complicated but involves learning how to “read” terrain and landmarks. Out of the scope of this quick list, water location can be learned by reading online and practicing in your local area. Some people actually have the ability to smell lakes, streams and ponds up to a mile away.

What happens if you lose your purification filters? You will be forced to purify water the old-fashioned way, by boiling it, which brings us to the next topic.

Fire starting

There are plenty of ways to start a fire, and most of them are a challenge for people who have never had to do so. There is a good article for beginners here. Many survivalists recommend the Everstryke match, which is sold in camping stores. The best way to approach this skill is to read up on it and practice a few of the methods until you are comfortable knowing how to start and maintain a fire.


Learn how to use basic nav gear like compasses and terrain maps. There are dozens of wonderful books on the subject of land navigation, The Essential Wilderness Navigator being one of the best. You can get a used copy for about $5. Knowing how to find your way in the wilderness can be a frightening, even terrifying challenge for those who have never spent much time in the woods. Learning this skill takes time and patience, but will serve you well for many years, even if there are no disasters!



This is one of those categories where you really need to be honest with yourself. If your self-defense skills are not up to snuff (most people’s aren’t), then take a basic course. Most community centers offer a bare-bones class for adults either for free or at a minimal fee. For a more advanced challenge, check with local police departments and ask about their offerings.

Maintaining good health and fitness

It should go without saying, but have regular medical checkups and exercise regularly. A moderate mix of strength and aerobic training will pay huge dividends in the event of a disaster.

Knowledge of plants

Learn how to identify some of the edible plants in your area. There are hundreds of free online resources for learning this interesting and fun skill. Here is a good article for starting out.


If you don’t know how to fish, ask someone to teach you. Watch a few online videos and go on a few outings with a group of people. Even young children can learn the basics of baiting a hook, catching a fish, and cleaning it. If possible, try to pick up a few hunting and trapping skills along the way, or have someone teach you the basics of hunting and trapping game animals.

First aid

Purchase a basic first aid kit and take a course at the local Red Cross or fire department. Most beginner first aid classes cost less than $20.

Building a Shelter

Learn how to put up a simple backpack tent. There are many kinds for sale online, both new and used. Purchase an inexpensive one to practice with until you master the skill or putting it up quickly.

Putting it All Together

There are hundreds of books and videos on each of the nine topics above, and it is always free to do research on the Internet. Everyone who is serious about survival and disaster preparation should start at the top and assess their own skill level in each of the nine categories.

After re-listing the nine, with your best skill at the top and worst at the bottom, begin at the top again, learning more about the skills you already are pretty comfortable with. For each item, take notes, watch videos, attend free community courses, webinars, whatever it takes to get up to speed on each area.

Truly diligent survivalists will keep a hard-copy or cyber notebook with a page or two of notes on each skill, to be used as a brush-up reference book from time to time, and especially when a disaster hits.

Plan to keep two hard-copies and two cyber copies of your custom-made “textbook” for permanent reference. If you learn how to do all nine things well, perhaps you’ll never need to look at the notebook again. But it is smart to keep it handy in case a few of your skills get rusty, or if you need to teach them to someone else; they can use your notes as a text.

Make a List of Your Own

The above list is by no means inclusive, as most everyone has a couple of additions that make sense for their particular situation. Those who reside in very cold areas, for example, might want to add wood chopping, while warm-weather dwellers might need to learn about treating sun exposure and heat stroke.

Be sure to use the original nine only as a starting point, add you own items, and then get to work learning each skill on your custom-made list. Survival in difficult times is about much more than having enough water and stored food; it’s also a matter of being educated and properly trained for long-term health and safety.

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