As we get engulfed more and more by this modern world, I wanted to review 30 survival skills that might have been lost in the last 50 years and what they meant for survival. Only a few individuals are still holding onto such skills and passing them on becomes difficult.
Although we live in a digital era and there are a lot of books providing information about the survival skills of our grandparents, I feel we aren’t celebrating their legacy enough. Most of these survival skills provide us with warmth, comfort, food and the knowledge to use sustainable resources in an environment that allows us to be ourselves. And yet, kids no longer learn about the old ways of living as they are handed everything they need and the system doesn’t allow room for self-sufficiency or off-grid living.
I wish that these survival skills would be passed on and I consider them as part of my own “bucket list” of survival skills. People should stop for a minute and look back at the old ways of doing things as this world we live in doesn’t provide you with opportunities to discover your true potential. If you’re spoon-fed constantly, you will never completely understand what you’re capable of and if you could survive when this modern society falls.
30 survival kills everyone knew 50 years ago:
- Light a fire with the bow drill technique. This has to be the absolute skill of bushcraft and it requires a lot of practice in order to master it. You need to have the proper stance, the right materials and you have to learn how to read your powder.
- Building the right shelter for the appropriate environment. People back then didn’t rely on Gore-Tex and all sorts of high-tech materials in order to stay warm and they had to use their knowledge and survival skills. Tents weren’t as complex as they are today and few could afford them. You had to learn about the huge variety of shelters you could make for your environment during the different seasons. They experimented with various designs and their long-term shelters allowed them to cook, eat and sleep inside.
Related reading: Planning a shelter in the wild
- Start a fire in any conditions. The wilderness environment has its own rules and having the ability to start a fire when the odds are against you, meant the difference between life and death. Nature doesn’t play by your rules and it’s neutral to your sufferance or your survival skills. It may provide you with the resources to survive, but you need to carry emergency fire lighting equipment with you and know how to use it.
- Learning to use an axe. If you spend a lot of time in the wilderness, an axe is one of the most satisfying tools to have and use. However, it is also a dangerous tool in the wrong hands and it can become lethal. Learning how to use an axe requires proper training and not only from books. Even more you need to learn how to look after it as it may become your main survival tool.
- Calculate your position using the sun and stars. You can calculate your longitude and latitude with a simple solar compass, the angle of the North Star and an equation of time table.
- Finding North without a compass. You can find your sense of direction by learning the path of celestial objects, but also by paying attention to what’s on the ground. The shapes, shadows, sound and natural formation can all be used for various natural navigation techniques.
- Navigate using a map and compass. Long before the invention of the GPS, people were teaching their kids how to navigate by using a map and compass. This is the cornerstone of wilderness travel and learning how to follow a compass bearing was one of the survival skills passed on from one generation to another.
- Provide food for yourself. This should be on every survival skills list and it requires all your concentration as it brings together all your field craft, tracking, hunting and practical skills. It doesn’t matter if you hunt and fish for meat or if you forage for edible plants. This is one of the survival skills that is hard, both physically and emotionally since failure is more present than success.
- Make water safe to drink. Drinking dirty water from an unknown environment can get you very sick. Back then Lifestraw filters were an unimaginable option and making water safe to drink was an essential survival skill.
- Build and understand the right type of fire. Making the right type of fire is more than creating the essential heat source and you must consider the use, the duration and other various particularities of fire making. When it comes to survival skills, you should master how to make more than one type of fire.
Suggested article: Eight Fire types you can make in the wild
- Using a flint and steel. Creating sparks with a flint and steel to start a fire may seem like a no-brainer for some, but things are never that simple. You must first make sure you have a good quality steel striker and a good sharp edge to your flint. You need a downward motion to shave off tiny shards of iron from your steel that combust and hopefully, will ignite your tinder.
- Our forefathers used many survival skills to subsist and tracking or “reading sign” is one of the ancient skills they left us. Tracking requires a keen sense of observation and it involves looking for deviation in the way things are supposed to look in their natural environment. If you spot something that looks out of place, you should stop and examine it further.
- Move silently. Although we now live in an environment controlled by speed and noise, learning to move silently in order to observe the world around you is one of the survival skills often overlooked. If you need to hunt or if you have to travel undetected, you should learn how to move without disturbing the environment around you and attract attention on yourself.
- Make a snare. This is one of the survival skills that our grandparents learned to master as it helped them catch small game, but also to get rid of rodents and other pests. Start with Youtube videos and practice every time you get the chance.
- How to prepare a mammal. Every hunter knows that game preparation is an important skill as you might not have the luxury of keeping your prey in proper condition. In the field, most mammal preparation is very similar; it’s mostly a matter of scale.
- Using animal tendons. This is one of the survival skills left to us by the Native Americans and using as much as possible of the animal was a way of showing respect to nature and the animal itself. Sinew makes a strong binding and it was used when cordage was not available.
- Fishing. When it comes to survival skills, fishing is seen mostly as a hobby due to all these modern fishing tools that make life easier for us. However, improvised fishing is another thing all together. Once you struggle with improvising bait, setting up the line and playing the waiting game, you will truly discover what survival fishing is all about.
- Using fish traps. While visiting a friend in the UK, I had the pleasure of seeing him build some fish traps, following the know-how he acquired during a survival course. As he puts it, using fish traps is a labor intensive method of acquiring fish as you need to build the trap, place it in the right spot and wait. But on the other hand, you can’t go wrong with this method if you traditional fishing is not for you.
Related article: Survival improvised fishing
- How to prepare a fish. Knowing how to fillet a fish and how to use the guts and all the other parts as bait or for other purposes is becoming a forgotten skill. If you catch your fish in the wilderness you need to know how to prepare it and how to make the most of it.
- How to prepare a bird. This is one of the survival skills that you need to master as you have much better chances of trapping or hunting birds rather than big game. The young generations fail to make the connection between a chicken and their KFC meal, but there are still some people out there who can remove the meat from a bird using just the hands.
- Improvised cooking. During wartime or a natural disaster, food shortages and lack of natural gas or electricity for cooking requires a great deal of improvisation. You will have to rely on your survival skills and upon back-to-basics cooking techniques used by your forefathers in order to survive.
- Make a variety of cordage. This is another one of the survival skills we lost to history and few people know that you can make string from stinging nettle or longer fibers. It’s not a complicated skill once you understand and master the learning curve. This video will show you how easy it is to make rope from grass.
- Learning different knots. While there are entire books on how to make various knots, in order to have a good start on your survival skills, you should learn by making the clove hitch. Go further with a couple of tensioning knots for tarps, the figure eight, bowline, the timber hitch and prusik knot.
- Identify the right tree for your needs. When it comes to tree identification you should start locally and learn which trees are useful for your needs and which could be dangerous if not handled properly. Start by paying attention to the general shape of the tree, the leaf structure and growth pattern. The bark details will also help you remember trees easily and establish their uses.
- Plant knowledge. As with trees, being able to tell plants apart will provide you with both food and medicine in the wilderness. Foraging includes not only using the plant, but also being able to transplant it or protect it for future generations.
- Making glues. Making glue in the wilderness can be as simple as mixing pine resin with a bit of bees wax. This is another one of the survival skills that would have been lost to time if it wasn’t for survivalists and bushcraft enthusiasts keeping it alive.
- Drill a hole without electricity. The pump drill was often used to drill holes and this technique has been used for almost everything. Although it can be difficult to master by beginners, once you spend enough time with it, you will be able to use it when there is no electricity.
- Wilderness first aid. As long as you look after yourself in an unknown environment, you should be able to prevent accidents and medical emergencies from happening. However, the more you are out, the higher the chance of getting injured or ill. Having first aid training should be basic knowledge for today’s generations, but you can take things even further. If you want to become a real survivalists you should attend to a wilderness first aid course. You will be able to learn how to treat various medical emergencies, but most importantly, you will learn how to improvise when resources are scarce.
- Training yourself mentally and physically. Our ancestors had the right type of fitness and a positive mental attitude that is hard to find these days. All because living and working outside makes it tough on you and teaches you to appreciate things more.
- Respect nature. I’ve always heard people say that if the brown stuff hits the fan, they will hunt and fish or get anything they require from nature. While this may be true for certain cases, the vast majority of people are trained to only consume. We are already destroying nature at a fast pace right now, when we have all the things we could possibly want. Imagine what would happen if people become desperate for food, or wood to cook their food or heat their homes. Our grandparents learned that you can’t exploit nature without consequences, but what about us?
The skills listed here are more of a personal reflection of what the teachings of my grandparents offered me. We live in a world that changes at such a rapid pace it is easy to see why most people forgot about the old ways of living. I honestly think we should take a step back and look at how people back then lived and see what’s left of their legacy. Maybe then we will start living life again.
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