Why you should acquire skills as well as ‘stuff’
Your basement is stuffed full of food, gear and water. Your bug-out bag is packed, and hangs ready to go next to your bug-out vehicle. You've got maps highlighting several different ways you can reach your little cabin in the woods, and you've also trekked each path so you've got a good idea on how to get there should you not have a map. So what's next? Our team of experts at APE Survival was a little divided on this issue. Some believe you should be able to survive anything, without even the clothes on your back, while others see rational sense in stockpiling supplies to ensure you're not living meal-to-meal in the aftermath of a disaster. Personally, I believe the ‘sweet-spot’ lies somewhere in between, meaning you've got the gear and stores you need, but you've got the skills and abilities to use these effectively. Today, we're going to cover the core skills that our team believe everyone needs to survive after the SHTF, so you can start getting yourself ready, today.
First Aid Top of our list is the ability to take care of yourself, and the people around you. Most community colleges, and some charities offer courses on first aid, so sign up and learn the fundamentals. Of course, what you learn is not going to be able to replace a doctor or the hospital for anything that's seriously life threatening, but what you learn could help to keep a family member alive until help comes. You should (at a minimum) know how to take care of a wound, treat burns, be able to suture a deep cut, and have a working knowledge of the right medicine to give for a number of common illnesses. I'd also recommend having a First Aid Handbook in your kit, so you can check and confirm any techniques before you begin. Remember, being off the grid is great, but the further you are from a hospital (or the city), the longer it will take for the paramedics to reach your home. In a crisis, they might not come at all, and everything you learn will help when something goes wrong.
Gardening If you've not yet got a working garden, now is the time to start learning. Developing the soil, figuring out the best plants for your area, and seeing results all takes time. Without much space you can still grow a few greens in a small backyard plot, or you can go all-out and start up a mini-farm spread over a couple of acres. Everything you grow acts as a supplement to your stores in your pantry, and if you're finding yourself drowning in fresh produce you can always can/preserve the excess, or use it for barter once the SHTF and everyone is going hungry. Aim to keep your garden organic, so you're able to keep it producing long after 'Garden World' has closed its doors because you never relied on harmful pesticides or fertilizers anyway.
DIY Repairs One of the best things my dad taught me was how to be 'handy' around the home. As a kid we renovated many houses that I lived in, and now that I own my own home, I'm comfortable installing lights, repairing plumbing, re-sealing my roof, and any number of small repairs around my home that just pop-up throughout everyday life. This skill takes time to develop, but you need to be comfortable fixing things yourself. Even if you're living 'off-the-grid,' things can (and often will) go wrong. Your flash new solar system is great, but do you know how to replace one of the elements should a tree break a panel during a storm? What about when your water pump seizes up and needs a new set of bearings? Each time something in your home needs to be fixed, instead of reaching for the phone to call a tradesman, see if it's something you can fix yourself. Of course, use common sense and never start fiddling with something (e.g. power) that is potentially lethal, but the more you can learn now the better you will be once the SHTF.
Housework Many of the guys I know scoff at this, but there are many domestic skills we've all forgotten because of our reliance on store bought items. What if the store wasn't there? Do you know how to make a meal from scratch, or preserve the oversupply of fresh produce your garden is pumping out? How about making butter, or cheese? I'd even include learning how to perform basic repairs on your clothing, as well as ways you can make soap at home in your kitchen. My wife takes care of most of this aspect of our prepping, but I've also made sure I've got a working knowledge of these skills so no matter what situation I'm in, I can make the best of it.
Defense Whatever weapon you choose to arm yourself with, you need to be practiced in its use, and so proficient that you're able to hit a moving target safely (and securely), under a whole range of different stressors. Keep your firearms well maintained, and practice with it on a regular basis so you're confident in both your skills and its ability to function. Unfortunately, there are people out there who aren't making these preparations to survive, and when the SHTF they're going to be out looking for easy scores. Now, you can call 911, but in a crisis they can't be relied on so you need to ensure you have the skills to defend your family, your home, and your supplies from any would-be marauders.
Woodcraft This one I left for last on the list, but it can prove vital should you ever find yourself in a true doomsday scenario and need to survive off the land. Again, these skills are best learnt with practice, so spend your weekends in the great outdoors, camping with your family. You should know how to make a waterproof shelter from items sourced locally, and how to trap, fish and hunt. Watching survivalists rub two sticks together to make fire looks simple on YouTube, but have you ever done it? What if you need to find water, signal for help, butcher and field dress an animal, or store the meat? The best way to learn these last set of skills is to get off the computer and go try, and the more practice you get the easier it all becomes. Personally, I find learning these types of skills to be a nice respite from the almost obsessive nature with which I am acquiring food, gear and supplies. The knowledge and skills you learn will stay with you always, and will keep you moving towards a better quality of life once the SHTF, so you're not just surviving - you're thriving.