Prepping for SHTF and life: skills vs stuff

knowledgeA lot of people make list after list of all the items they carry in their bugout bag or EDC (Every Day Carry) bag. Then they go out and buy a year’s worth of food, tons of ammo, dozens of weapons and so on. The problem is that buying means storing, protecting, repairing, maintaining, and several other ‘ings. The precept of knowledge weighing nothing has been a long-term idea in my thinking. I love learning how to do things and how to adapt my surroundings by adapting what I have available for new purposes. I also recently came across a new (new to me but not really new) website that is completely focused on this point. It’s a great website if you’re a prepper. It’s called Knowledge Weighs Nothing (sound familiar?) and they just recently picked up one of my articles on archery vs firearms for SHTF weapons and posted it on their site.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t go out and buy stuff in advance of something happening. There are many things that would be a lot easier to buy and store than would be to learn how to fabricate from scratch, like a Jeep. You may be able to find some pseudo-suitable substitute but that’s not always feasible.

What I am saying though is that sometimes it’s better to learn than to buy. Let’s look at some examples.


In every part of the world and culture, alcohol plays a major part. Sometimes it’s hidden but even in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was very easy to find it if you wanted it. During hard times, alcohol gets even more popular. People throughout the ages have risked their lives to either drink it or sell it. It’s used to run vehicles, sterilize wounds and supplies, give you a buzz or just used as a form of underground currency. With it you can trade directly for other things or use it’s barrier-dropping abilities to help you get other things in trade. Alcohol will always have value.

What you may think then is that you should stock up on gallons of alcohol so you’ll have it if SHTF. No doubt it may be a good investment (plus you can just drink it if you want to while you wait for the world to end).

borulargeSo you go out and buy two cases of Boru vodka (My favorite vodka of all time and hella cheap at Total Wine) and store it. Then the economy collapses one day and you have to bug out. Can you really carry 2 cases of vodka with all the other stuff you’re taking? Maybe you can. Let’s say you decide you’re bugging out with three vehicles so you have plenty of room. Now you can drink it or trade it, but once it’s gone baby, it’s gone.

Instead, what if you learned how to make vodka. Now you could just bring the equipment you’d need and then collect the items necessary. With vodka, you just need something with starch: sugar beet, molasses, rye, potatoes, wheat and other grains for example, as a base for carbs. You add yeast to ferment, and then you find a way to evaporate the mash above the temperature where alcohol turns to a gas (88 degrees Celcius) but below where water does (100 degrees Celcius). This gas goes through a cooling tube that is cooler on the outside than inside so the gas condenses back into a liquid. This liquid is dripped into a container. If you want to make it stronger, just take that liquid and run it through the evap stuff again. It’s not too difficult to do but it can be stinky (we did it in college and it was awesome).

Now, as long as you can find something to give you the carbs (which will be pretty easy and cheap pretty much everywhere) and can either find or make yeast, and can either find or make the equipment to distill, you’ll have an unending supply of liquidy goodness. What’s that? You say that sounds way too complicated for you to figure out? No shit. That’s because you haven’t learned how to do it. But, if you’d invest some time into learning how to make alcohol instead of just buying it, it won’t seem all that difficult anymore. And you’ll have a great new hobby that you can share with your friends or help you make new friends.

The biggest thing here is that if you ended up leaving your home without your alcohol, or it gets taken or broken, so what? You don’t have to pack anything. It’s in your head. You just figure out how to procure or make whatever you need and then voila!. Also, the more you invest into learning how to do it, the easier it’ll be for you to either make what you need or adapt what you have available. And they can’t take that from you.

Vodka is just one example. Even with that, you could expand to make other forms of alcohol like beer or whiskey.


What about medicine? It’s all well and good that you have an Elite Large Fully Stocked GI Issue Medic First Aid Kit Bagbut do you know how to use anything in it more than the bandaids? Do you know how to recognize the symptoms of internal injury? Would you know when to use the veterinary antibiotics that you stocked up on this last year? By medicine, I don’t just mean pills and stuff but how to fix people.

Obviously medicine is a HUGE thing to look into but one of the things I’d suggest you start looking into (after some basic First Aid) is how to make  your own medicine. Just like alcohol, if you can make medicine, you won’t have to carry or stock it, and you can use that knowledge to either barter for goods you don’t have or use yourself.

Hunting and gathering

Sure it helps if you pack a gun with ammo and your fishing pole with string and hooks with all the smelly stuff etc but do you know how to use all that stuff? Tracking animals takes some skill. Trapping them can take even more.

And if you got yourself a deer in the woods, do you know how to skin it, butcher it and store the meat, tan the hide, and all that jazz? There are things to learn about what to do once you actually manage to grab or kill something you’re gonna eat. There are also a lot of uses for animals outside of just eating them.


Let’s say you got yourself a dandy cabin in the woods and have a month’s worth of food stocked up there. What’re you gonna do the next month? Tracking, trapping and fishing take time and energy. One thing that can provide even more food per ounce of effort is gardening/farming/homesteading. You may not be able to carry or store 1,000 pounds of potatoes but you can sure grow them.

People who lived throughout the U.S. a hundred years ago and longer knew how to do this stuff because they grew up doing this stuff. A lot of us have lost this knowledge but it’s still available to be learned. Homesteading is the essence of self-sufficiency. In fact, there are so many useful things you can learn if you get into homesteading knowledge that it could easily deserve its own post on the benefits. Divining the knowledge within will bestow upon you the ability to do such things as: make soap, raise and butcher farm animals, grow crops, store food, make food such as butter and cheese out of basic components, make clothing, get energy off the land, and a LOT more.

Self defense

If you find yourself in a disaster or SHTF scenario, it won’t be enough just to know how to get stuff, fix stuff or store stuff. There are always gonna be people out there who’ve learned the TOPS method of survival – Taking Other People’s Shit. Even having a gun is pretty useless if you don’t know how to use it. Take some time to learn how to defend yourself. Learn how to fight, how to shoot, how to take care of your weapons, how to make ammo, all that stuff. Figure out what you’d need to know that you can learn now. You may not be able to learn it in time then.

Also take some time learning how to defend your home and family. There are things you can do to set up your homestead and family to be protected, even if you’re not there to protect them. There are also things that you can learn that’ll make you be able to fight like a larger group (called a combat multiplier). The Army doesn’t just teach us to shoot, they teach us what to shoot, how to move, and how to communicate. You should learn that stuff too.

Mechanical stuff

It’s awesome that you brought a $100,000 tricked-out, lifted, blown and badass F350 turbo diesel all EMP-proofed and stuff but if you went out one morning and it wouldn’t start, would you know how to get it running or does it instantly become a really expensive radio and extra storage for stuff you don’t wanna keep in the cabin? There are a lot of basic things you can learn abouthow to troubleshoot and fix a car to get it running even if you don’t have replacement parts.

In my lifetime so far, I’ve used kite string and vice grips to get home at least 5 times in two different cars and a Harley. You may not have the luxury of having a mechanic around, or even parts. Plus, learning the basics of how to fix a car can help you if other mechanical things break like your swamp cooler orportable power system. Learn this now or be prepared to junk your stuff later.

The big thing about mechanical ability that you also need to keep in mind is that you need to learn how to fabricate things and use things in ways they weren’t designed for. If you were in the woods, would you be able to have hot water for showers? Could you make an evaporative cooler running off solar or water power? The more you learn about how things work, the easier it’ll be to make it work yourself, or even make one from scrap. Here’s a quick example of how you could make a hand-pump for a water well. With some experience, you could adapt something like this to work without you having to pump it.

Basic survival

This is one that preppers usually do spend some time on. There are literally thousands of websites out there that can teach you call manner of bushcraft, as well as schools. I’d suggest that you get off your computer and get out actually into the woods and try it. There are many ways to start a fire with wood and friction, and you may know ten methods off the top of your head but have you ever tried to do it? It’s not nearly as easy as it sounds. It’s a little like learning how to play pool. You can read all the books on the subject you want, and sit in lecture halls taught by the leading experts but that’s all crap until you get yourself to a table and hit some balls.

You may not think so but learning how to tie knots can be an important survival skill too. When I was going through the Warrant Officer course we had a leadership obstacle course that made us have to figure out how to do all kinds of stuff with random crap that was laying at the station. Luckily, one of the guys on my team was an 18C dude with a lot of knot-tying experience. It made a few things work that wouldn’t have normally.

In basic survival, you also need to learn things like how to build a shelter, how to find and filter water, how to signal for help and how to protect yourself from the elements. There are many ways to do these things but if you know enough of them, you can just look at what you have available to you and adapt it to your needs without having to only be able to do it like they taught you on TV. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things you can learn from those shows, and they’re a lot more fun than sitting in front of the computer, but some of it you see is bullshit. One show you should be looking out for is Survival Trek Escape with my friend Dan Shrigley, a retired Cav Scout with real-world knowledge.

Electronics and communication

I spent decades in electronics. It’s one of those things that’s easily transferred to other things. Getting started in it was difficult. Lucky for me, My first couple of jobs in the Army were in electronics and back then they taught you all the basic theory and then how to troubleshoot things down to the component level. I moved on from there to computer systems and even now use it with my ham radio. And, don’t be an idiot and say there won’t be any electricity so there’s no reason to learn it now. You can make a lot of things out of other things, and electricity is no exception. Here’s a quick video to show you a simple way to make a battery from a lemon, a nail and copper.

See what I did there? Now, not only do you know how to make a battery out of a lemon, you also know a little more about how it works. Once you learn the basics, you can grow from there. You could, for example, change the lemon to a potato (the ones you learned how to grow, remember?) and with a little more knowledge, stack them in series to add up the voltage and in parallel to add up the current. With enough of them, you could do things like charge your electronics. You could also take that basic knowledge and learn how to make batteries that are in a box instead of a spud.

Just like electronics in general, ham radio is a very broad topic. It may seem like all you have to do is buy a Yaesu 857d like I have, hook it up to an antenna with a coax cable, and power it. That just sets you up. You have to be able to reach someone on the other end and have them reach you. That can be very difficult at times. Learn it now and you can use it later. Learning it by yourself later is very hard. If you want to start, first get your license and then pick up something cheap like this handheld that you can learn on and keep in your bugout bag. It’s SUPER cheap but works. The best upgrade for any handheld btw is a new antenna. Just keep in mind that this one has a different post at the top than others.

Where to learn

Since you’re reading this website, you obviously have access to the internet. The internet has MUCH more information about how to do things than any other source. There are countless youtube videos that you can see how things are done and other websites that cater to specifically what you want to know. Here are a few I suggest but holy crap there are a lot more:

Prepper Website – Prepper website is what I call a filter site. Filter sites comb through the internet and tell you what posts are worth reading. These sites are only as good as the one filtering through the content but if you find a good one like this one is, it can save you a lot of time reading crap.

Survivalist Daily – This is another filter site. Good choice.

Knowledge Weighs Nothing – So good I mention it twice.

The Homestead Survival – As I said, homesteading is the bee’s knees. Check this one out.

Common Sense Homesteading – Man, I could spend hours and hours on this one.

reThink Survival – I like this one because it goes outside the box with the choices but has a knack for finding things that are useful.

Before It’s News – This one has a LOT of different filters. It’s the Self-Sufficiency one that you’ll like.

The Survival Doctor – If you want to learn about medical stuff, this is the guy.

ePlaya – This is actually the forum for the Burning Man. They have some great articles peppered throughout that discuss in detail things that people have invented or adapted to survive out in the desert during the festival every year.

Off Grid Survival – In addition to off-grid topics, there are survival, tactics and outdoor articles.

Modern Survival Online – Lots of good information about a lot of different things you’ll find useful.

The Survivalist Blog – Lots of articles written both by the owner and several guest posts. Updated frequently.

There are a lot of other things that you could learn. It all depends on what you know now and what you’ll face later. The real thing you have to do is focus on what’s gonna help you directly and also learn how to be adaptable. I’ll take a back street Harley mechanic shop owner over an ASE-certified BMW mechanic  to be my SHTF fix-it dude anyday.

Also, prepping should involve your life as it is currently as well as in the future. And that future shouldn’t be limited to just a TEOTWAWKI kind of life. That life is probably not gonna happen so while you’re planning in case it does, learn skills that will help you in the meantime. If the world ends the day after you die, all your preps will be wasted otherwise. Also remember that you should be prepping your current and possible future lives for a better quality of life, not just for basic survival.

Remember, learn how things work so you can make them on your own instead of just being a copycat monkey-see, monkey-do kind of prepper. For example, if you have an idea how a solar cooker works, and you have some knowledge of how a satellite dish is made (or optics using a parabolic arc), you could adapt one by putting aluminum foil on the reflector and a pot at the focal point and cook without having to start a fire.

Theory is as important as application and practice but always remember: In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not. Learn the theory, apply the knowledge and adapt it until it works.


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