22 Primitive Skills You Need to Master


Imagine, a massive solar flare blasts out from the sun causing an electromagnetic storm that fries the grid and any electronics along with it. All un-shielded digital information, late model vehicles, and communications down for good. Even systems and machinery that rely on basic circuitry would be rendered inoperable by such an event.

How long does it take to rebuild a power plant? Or to rewire an entire electrical grid? How does society react and adjust? In any massive disaster scenario the variables are almost to numerous to consider. The only sure preparation for these types of scenarios, is the acquisition of skills and knowledge that will keep your world turning.

striker sparks from ferro rod in fatwood shavings
striker sparks from ferro rod in fatwood shavings

The “Primitive” skills listed below are primitive in relation to modern technology, not as far back the stone age. Whether for disaster or collapse survival, or simply to reconnect with your roots, you should have a grasp on these skills that were once necessities.

#1. Starting a Fire

For cooking, warmth, and lighting a fire is needed. You’ll want a few ways to make flame without access to matches or a lighter. Knowledge of alternative methods such as flint and steel or using a lens are good, but knowing a few friction methods as well will round out this category .

Sparking a flame is not the only factor in having a good fire, you need fuel for it also. Finding good tinder, or knowing how to improvise it will accelerate the process.

When making a fire, finding the right kindling gets you started, but finding dry, dense logs will keep your fire going through the night. Look for dead wood and downed trees and branches. Keep in mind anything still growing will be wet, hard to burn, and produce heavy smoke..

#2. How to Find Food

Hunting, fishing, and foraging are skills that were essential to our distant ancestors.

Whether with a bow and arrow, sling, spear, gun, or anything else, hunting has been part of the human experience for over 100,000 years. To take down big game or small, there is a significant amount of knowledge and practice involved in the process, which is why you may want to consider making your own archery target to practice.

You’ll want to know where to find game, what it eats, and how to track it. Hunting is more than simply killing an animal and eating it. A good hunter kills his prey with mercy, and respects it as a source of food. Becoming adept at hunting can take years in some cases.

Fishing can be so much more than using a fishing pole. Cast-net fishing, fish trapping, and spearfishing are just a few other alternatives to this.

Foraging will be slightly different depending on your location. Knowing what vegetation is available in your area, or better yet a few areas, and how to identify them is a skill that can keep you from starving. Herbs, spices, and other goodies you find can also turn a bland dinner into a delicious one.

#3. Outdoor Cooking

This may seem like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people lack this skill. Knowing how to cook is not merely understanding how long to keep food over fire, it means understanding how to prepare food that is nutritional and satisfying.

peach cobbler cooking in cast iron Dutch oven over outdoor fire
peach cobbler cooking in cast iron Dutch oven over outdoor fire

Cooking with open flame is much different then your standard oven or stovetop. The spit roast will likely be your go to method for roasting game over an open fire. Having a Dutch oven or solid clay pot will do wonders for your ability to make good food without a proper kitchen.

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Knowing how to use roast, bake, make soups, and just get the most out of your available ingredients is essential when supplies are scarce.

Learn more about outdoor cooking here.

#4. How to Cultivate A Food Source

Agriculture and cultivation of livestock are what allowed our ancestors to move from being hunter-gatherers to having cities. Moderate gardening skills can turn even a small amount of land into a harvest that can feed you and your family through the seasons.

For growing a garden, you need to know what to plant for your climate, how to fertilize, water, and keep it free of pests, as well as the best times to harvest your crop and preserve seeds for the next year. Gardening is a skill, and agriculture requires a bit of knowledge and some care.

Cattle, sheep, chickens, goats, pigs, even fish can be farmed and maintained to provide you with not only a protein source, but several byproducts as well. Leather, wool, and milk can come from your farmed animals, and the water from farmed fish can be used to water your garden.

#5. Identify of Animal Tracks

In order to successfully hunt animals for food and to help identify any potential predators in your area that could put your family in danger, you need to be able to identify animal tracks.

This is a primitive survival skill that will serve you well, especially if you are in an area you don’t know well.

#6. How to Clean and Process Your Food

If you’re going to raise your own livestock, grow your own food, and hunt for small or large game to feed your family, you need to learn proper butchering and cleaning of game and livestock.

This primitive skill is just as important as learning to hunt, fish, and trap because improper cleaning or processing can make you and family sick.

#7. How to Store Your Food Long Term without Refrigeration

Before refrigerators, freezers, packaged goods, and all that people were able to store their excess food for emergencies or hard times. Knowing how to cure and smoke meats, dry vegetables, and preserve and can other food supplies is another way to keep the worry of hunger at bay.

#8. Making Shelter

If you were had no other options, could you make a shelter from your surroundings? Knowing how to protect yourself from the elements when necessary is essential to survival, in any scenario.

a lean-to shelter in the woods
a lean-to shelter in the woods

Learn a few concepts, and then practice applying them on an outing just to gauge your success.

#9. Find, Filter, and Purify Water

The average human can only survive about 3 days without fresh drinking water. Your ability to find, filter, and then properly purify water will be critical in a grid down or survival situation.

This basic primitive skill is one that can literally be the difference between life and death. Even if you have access to a fresh water source on or near your property, it could be contaminated.

In a wilderness survival situation, knowing how to find water and then filter and purify it for drinking could save your life.

#10. Hiking Ability

This may seem as easy as putting one foot in front of the other, but most people are used to walking up and down steps, and getting to and from their destinations on paved ground. Trekking into the wild, especially long distances, with gear and supplies is indeed a skill in itself.

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Aside from the physical activity itself, identifying trails, traversing various terrain, and even deciding where to camp are all skills. For those who have spent most of their time indoors, hiking 5 miles through the hills in a day can seem like an insurmountable task.

#11. Navigation

GPS, knife, map compass, and ruler over a topo map
GPS, knife, map compass, and ruler over a topo map

Know how to read a map and be able to find a path without a trail. Learn to use a compass, and be able to maneuver and plot routes with it. A compass is fairly easy to come by nowadays, but knowing how to use the stars and sun to get your bearings is a good idea also.

#12. First Aid

Standard Wilderness First Aid is a good start, and it also doesn’t hurt to have some knowledge of a few natural remedies, along with some medicinal herbs.

There are plenty of things out there that got us by prior to modern medicine. Know how to clean and suture wounds, prevent infections, and even set broken bones.

Preventing and treating infection, cold remedies, digestive remedies, and even pain relief can be accomplished with the right herbal remedies and knowledge.

#13. How to Reuse and Repurpose

Today we throw away more than we keep it seems like. In times of scarcity, our ancestors used and re-used things as often and in as many ways as they could.

Know how to repair or re-engineer your broken or damaged gear, as well as salvage what you might find along the way. In the event of a societal meltdown, there will still be plenty of our junk lying around for the taking.

Some examples of re-purposing and salvaging are:

  • Sewing an old piece of tarp on to stitch up a damaged backpack.
  • Recycling or reloading bullets
  • Re-using old glass jars and lids
  • Using building remnants to construct shelter

#14. How to Run

I mean to say running, not jogging. There may be times when escape is your best option, even in our current day and age. If you do need to flee danger, you don’t want to roll your ankle or blow out your knees because you haven’t prepared or run in years.

Start off with light jogging, but understand what it will take to break into a full sprint , just in case you ever need to.

#15. How to Hide

Another age-old skill is knowing how to hide. Much of humankind’s history has been dangerous, so knowing how to stay out of sight came in handy. Knowing how to hide involves more than just being out of direct line of sight, and a good hiding spot could keep you safe when you need it most.

Ideally,whether in the wilderness or not, your hiding place will have more than one entrance so you can make a break for it if you need to.

#16. How to Fight

This is as primitive as it gets. Knowing how to fight does not necessarily mean knowing martial arts, it simply means knowing, and being willing to use physical violence to protect yourself or those you care about.

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For those who have never experienced an actual physical confrontation or contact sports, the experience is often jarring and unexpected. At the very least hitting a punching bag a few times to get the physics down would be a good idea.

#17. Limit Dependence on Electronics

Learn how to live a life unplugged from the digital world, not just for entertainment but for communication, directions, and other tasks as well.

Turn off the power to your home for a weekend, a week, or longer. Make notes about what you still need in order to survive a long-term power outage and then stockpile those things.

Turn the water off to your home for a weekend, see what tasks become difficult and stockpile items to make it easier.

#18. Making Primitive Technology

Clubs, spoons, mortar and pestle, bows, arrows, hoko knives, wooden spoons and many, many more can be made with only a good knife. Sure, in order to make something of quality, you’ll need more than that but, nevertheless, “primitive woodworking” is a great skill to learn.

#19. Knife Sharpening

In today’s day and age, most of us take our use of knives for granted. We buy them at the store, use them, perhaps sharpen them occasionally with an electric knife sharpener.

In an extended grid down situation or in a survival situation, the ability to keep your knife sharp can be critical to accomplishing survival tasks quickly and safely.

#20. Making Cordage

As a prepper, you likely have paracord and other cordage stockpiled which is a good thing to do. You’ll need cordage for a wide variety of everyday tasks in a grid down situation around your home.

But if you find yourself stranded without your supplies or if you run out of what you’ve stockpiled, knowing how to create the cordage you need from natural or found materials can prove invaluable.

#21. Estimating Daylight

Many of the everyday tasks you need to accomplish in a grid down situation will be infinitely easier during the daylight hours. In a long-term power outage situation, digital clocks and other time telling devices may become inoperable.

In a survival situation, you could find yourself stranded without a watch or digital device to tell you how much daylight you have left to accomplish essential survival tasks, such as building shelter or finding water.

Knowing how to reliably estimate the amount of daylight hours left, without relying on technology, is an essential primitive skill.

#22. Identifying Weather Patterns

So many people rely on television, radio, or internet for weather predictions today. But in a grid down or survival situation, where you don’t have access to that technology, your ability to observe and predict the weather will be critical.

Exposure to the severe weather can be a life-threatening issue, especially if you are stranded outside and unprotected when a storm or natural disaster occurs. Identifying weather patterns, without reliance on technology, is an essential primitive skill that just may save your life.


‘Primitive skills’ are not to be viewed simply as a remedy for the “apocalypse but should be a testament to our own self- reliance. Having these skills and passing them on to future generations is humanity’s insurance policy.

It’s how we can ensure that people will not only be able to survive, but they will continue to have a working relationship with the planet that we inhabit.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>