What is a Prepper 3: Important Prepper Skills

Preppers not only gather tools and supplies, they also prepare themselves by learning vital survival skills. It is often said the more skills you have the less gear you need to survive. Preppers double down by acquiring as many supplies and skills as they can during times of calm for when they will be needed during times of stress. There is a myriad of useful skills and no one can learn them all, but here is a list of the most useful and obvious ones that preppers aim to develop. This plethora of skills is why it is much better to prepare and survive in a group rather than alone. In a group, people can specialize their skills to do what they do best, and even if you lack some skills, hopefully, others in your group do have them. So, here are the top skills a prepper needs. (The first five skills are the same as the five vital preparations in the last post on how preppers prepare.)



Ken and Randy at Compton?

The most exciting of skills involves weapon handling and combat. If you have a firearm, you need to know how to use it under stress, as well as how to maintain it in good condition. The same is true for knives and non-lethal weapons. You need to spend time and likely money training for the “real thing” because under stress we default to our level of mastery. Combat skills also include when to run and when to hide because the name of the game is Survival not King of the hill.

First Aid/Medical: This is the natural correlate of combat. If wounds are left untreated they become can worse and lead to death. First Aid is a basic skill that everyone should have. But some people should specialize in deeper medical skill and knowledge, such as dentistry, surgery, herbal remedies, nursing, and more. People with practiced medical skills will be incredibly valuable the longer trouble lasts in a community. It is likely that in worst case scenarios more people will die from bad hygiene than bullets.

Fire-starting/Shelter Building: This skill is useful for keeping warm (security) as well as boiling water, cooking and even for hygiene (wood ash + animal fat = soap) Fire can even be used for communication (smoke signals, signal fires) and transportation (Steam Engine!), plus a host of other skills. Unfortunately, making and maintaining a fire can be difficult in a survival situation, so this is a vital skill that wilderness preppers often practice. If you are outdoors, shelter building is a companion skill, often using the same basic materials and tools as fire building.

Leadership: This is a vital long-term skill. A group is always stronger than the individual (even Navy Seals have to eat and sleep, letting their guard down) and leadership is what keeps the group knit together, sacrificing, and working for the common good. Leadership is a skill that you can learn and continuously improve.

2. Waterdrought

In an emergency getting enough safe water may be difficult and store-bought supplies can only last so long. Preppers need to know how to collect and store water from varied sources in both urban and wilderness environments. They need to know how to purify the water. Some preppers acquire the scientific skills of testing water to understand if and how it can be made safe to use.

3. Food

Cooking: Preparing food from scratch is a vital skill, that fewer and fewer people have today. Remember the saying, “An army marches on its stomach”. In a long-term crisis, you may have to correctly prepare all manner of novel foods to survive. A mistake like under-cooking bule-bulak oying (rat stew) could leave your group sick and vulnerable.

Gardening/Farming: There are a myriad of skills under this category. Just as with water, store-bought food can only last so long. Sooner or later, you are going to have to grow your own. You need to develop your crop and animal management skills now, in order to be able to benefit from them when food is scarce.

Hunting/Scavenging: These skills are still useful today, even in the city. Acquiring useful plants and animals in the vicinity of your home is a high risk- high reward skill because it requires the ability to travel quietly with minimal security. Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you. Other than combat, this is probably the most dangerous skill to use in a survival situation, so start practicing now.

4. Transportation/Navigation:

Can you not only use but also maintain a car, motorcycle, boat, bike, horse? These skills are quite varied and can be quite technical. But if you have want transportation in a survival situation, you can’t call the repair shop and have them take a look next week. Often you have to do things for yourself. Scavenging for fuel and spare parts can occupy a lot of time, so travel is often limited. Navigation always accompanies transportation, you need the skill of knowing the best way to get where you want to go. Getting lost or even taking a wrong turn could be disastrous.

5. Communication:

Sometimes in a crisis people can become very tribal. If you can talk their native language, whether English, Spanish or Chinese, you will likely get more help from them and less trouble. Consider the learning the languages spoken where you live and as well as any place that you would bug out to. Additionally, if you want to use walkie-talkies or other communication devices, practice with them first so that you know their limitations. Everyone knows that ham radio is useful in emergencies, but this device takes real skill and practice to use. It even requires a ham radio operator’s license.

6. Bartering:

This is a skill that is useful all the time, all over the world, but most people in the US prefer not to develop it. Just as survival depends on a group, multiple groups trading together can meet each other’s needs. If you can strongly develop your bartering skill, you can create win-win situations where everyone benefits and people are waiting in line to do your favors. Even when the financial system is stable there are times where it is preferable to barter. You need this skill.

7. Repair/Building:

In the long run, everything breaks down and needs repair or replacement, even clothes. As much as you can, learn to repair the equipment that you use. If you can’t repair it, then maybe you can build another from scavenged parts. Building things quickly, cheaply and safely is one of the most needed long-term skills.

8. Manufacturing:

This is not large scale factories, rather this skill to make small items for trade and self-use, such as home medicines and refilling cigarette lighters, or making your own alcohol. This takes insight and ingenuity as well as mechanical skills. If you can create small items that everyone needs but few can produce, then you will always be able to trade for other things you need.

9. Teaching/Spiritual Guidance:

This role is filled by teachers, pastors, priests, gurus, and generally older, wiser people. Over the years they have gained much experience in the ways of the world and can help survivors find meaning in their situation. These people may not help in an immediate crisis and in fact seem like a useless mouth to feed, but in the long term and sometimes the short term they offer hope, comfort, and guidance to a group or even the entire community. If you are older and relatively unskilled, this is an area you can develop, learn to help others and set a good example of how to behave under duress.

10. Entertainment:

Modern people have largely lost the ability to entertain themselves and instead rely on highly skilled experts for music, stories, and games. But in a survival situation, or even just being trapped in an elevator during a blackout, people need to entertain themselves. This is another way to bring hope and comfort as well as ease boredom. So, learn to tell stories, sing songs, play simple instruments. These are also vital group skills that can encourage people to keep going in the face of troubled times.


This large list of skills is hardly complete, but it’s a good start. First, decide what you want to prepare for, then see which supplies and skills are most appropriate for your situation. After you have that situation covered, identify a new threat and prepare for that. Improving your skills is an investment in yourself and the surest way to keep a sharp mind and body. Even if disaster never comes, you will face life with more confidence and solid hope than those who entrust their fate to the unknown.

Please comment in the section below.

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2 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Hi Peter,

    wow, that’s a great blog post! I was really surprised by #10, to be honest. But it’s actually a really important skill when you think about it!

    When I started to read your post, I immediately felt reminded of all those dooms day tv shows, like The Walking Dead and such. Sure thing, the scenario is pretty unrealistic, but it’s really interesting how you can see the main characters there develop and make use of all the skills you have mentioned in your post. Be it security-related skills, bartering (english is not my native language, so I had to look the word up to see what it actually means; learned something new, thanks) to leadership: Mastering these skills is really what sets the survivers apart from those who don’t make it (or at least suffer).

    That was really an intersting read! Thank you so much for putting the work into this post. I really enjoyed it!


    • Peter Barban says:

      Thanks.  Yes, entertainment is an incredibly important skill. Every tribal culture has its story tellers, songs and dances. My dad was in the Korean War and he told me that the entire time he was either scared or bored, That’s the way things are in a crisis. Alleviating our boredom keeps our spirits up when the time comes for maximum effort. 

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