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Leon's Blog

10 essential survival skills you need to know

10 essential survival skills you need to know

What skills do you need to survive a disaster or emergency situation? Well, some of that depends on the nature of the situation. Here are 10 essential long term survival skills.

by Leon Pantenburg

Probably the most-asked question about wilderness survival and preparedness is: “Where do I start?” and/or “What are the most important skills I need to learn?”

I taught a wilderness survival class last week to a group of high school students at Cascades Academy in Bend, Oregon. Each student came up with a list of 10 things they would need in a survival situation, and what skills they might need.  The lists ranged from very practical to semi-silly.

Talk to any survival-type and they’ll probably have a list of essential skills. Here’s mine – take these ideas, and refine them to make your own list.

Psychological preparation: Without this, you don’t need the rest.

Dr. John leach in his groundbreaking book “Survival Psychology” wrote that in any survival situation only 10 to 15 percent of any group involved will react appropriately. Another 10 to 15 percent will behave totally inappropriately and the remaining 70 to 80 percent will need to be told what to do. The most common reaction at the onset of an emergency is disbelief and denial.

Do some reading and study about actual survivors of emergency situations. Then get trained in first aid, firemaking, shelter building or the other skills you might be lacking. Don’t be among the 80 percent who don’t have a clue about what to do.

Now, in no particular order of importance, are nine more.

Firemaking: Wilderness survival guru Mors Kocheski ranks fire as the most important skill for surviving in the wilderness. I agree. The ability to make a fire can save your life. The inability can cost it. (I’ve been preaching this for years!) If firemaking isn’t one of your strong suits, move it up the ladder.

This plastic bag captures water that transpires through tree leaves. (Peter Kummerfeldt photo)

This plastic bag captures water that transpires through tree leaves. (Peter Kummerfeldt photo)

Water gathering and purification: Dehydration can kill you in about three days. In the desert heat, you may be in trouble much sooner. Learn where to look for water, and carry the tools or know the techniques to purify it before drinking.

Knife work: A knife is the most important survival tool, IMO, and knowing how to use it is a really, really important skill. This includes safe handling and use, wood carving, field dressing game and cleaning fish etc. Get a good knife and learn how to maintain and sharpen it. Then practice.

Shelter building: If you follow any of the survival shows, it would seem that making a shelter out of natural materials is quick and easy. In reality, it is neither.

Survival expert Peter Kummerfeldt writes:

It is impossible for the typical survivor to build a waterproof, wind proof shelter from natural materials,” he claims.

The best way to prove or disprove this is to take the tools you usually carry into a wooded area, and build a natural materials shelter.

The timber hitch is a friction knot that is easy to tie and untie (Pantenburg photo)

The timber hitch is a friction knot that is easy to tie and untie (Pantenburg photo)

Knots: Knots are survival tools. And there are hundreds of different kinds, all designed to do something different. Here are three that you need to set up a hasty tarp shelter.

First aid: Take a first aid class from the Red Cross, or someplace. You never know when you’ll be the one who has to deal with some medical crisis. And you don’t want to try on-the-job training.

Since taking the Wilderness First Aid class required by the Boy Scouts three years ago, I’ve used my training twice. In one instance, that training saved a life. Mine.

These three long guns are good, reliable choices for the beginner with no experience.

The Ruger 10/22 (top), Remington 870 pump action shotgun and Remington 700 bolt action rifle are good choices for the beginner. (Leon Pantenburg photo)

Firearms: You may need a firearm for hunting or self defense. Even if you’re opposed to firearms in general, take a hunter safety class to learn basic gun handling and safety. Make sure your kids are trained so they don’t get injured or injure someone else.

Suppose you’re new to the preparedness game, and are considering getting your first firearm. What should you start with? Here are three best guns for beginners.

Gardening: Growing your own food may be the only way to stay fed over the long term. If you don’t know how to garden, take a class at your local community college, or learn from an experienced gardener. Get seeds appropriate to your area, and learn what plants will grow in your area.

Food preservation: Assume no electricity, and no way to freeze or refrigerate food. You may have a bumper crop from the garden, or meat from a large animal to preserve. Learning how to can food is not rocket science, and chances are your local county extension agent can direct you to classes that teach the basics. Otherwise, find someone in your community who cans, and get them to teach you.

 Soap making: Staying clean is essential for long term health, and your cleaning supplies may soon run out. Making soap is not hard, and is a skill anyone can learn. Here’s how to make a simple hand soap with four ingredients.

A major benefit of deer and elk hunting is the superb meat. (Pantenburg photo)

A major benefit of deer and elk hunting is the superb meat. (Pantenburg photo)

Hunting and fishing: This is at the bottom of my list, even though I’m an avid hunter and fisherman. Fact is, even an expert outdoorsperson who hunts and fish frequently gets skunked. It’s all part of the experience, but if you’re going to depend on hunting to feed the family, you might go hungry.

Also, after a disaster, the game populations will be rapidly depleted by scumbag poachers, or people who would dynamite schools of fish. And where can you go where there will be lots of game animals?

Hunting and fishing skills could be critical, but don’t base your survival plans on them.

That’s my list, and it may not work for you. And my list continues to evolve as I learn more.

Take these thoughts, and make your own list, based on your unique situation and what you might expect during an emergency.  The important idea here, is to start thinking about it, and come up with a plan..

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Leon's Blog

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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