27 Lost Survival Skills Your Ancestors Had

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

27 Lost Survival Skills Your Ancestors Had

It’s one thing to prepare for a temporary disaster like an earthquake or hurricane. It’s a whole other thing to prepare for a long-term disaster that cripples the power grid, communication systems, and transportation networks. Without those, we’d basically be living in the 1800s again.

Back then things were very different. People were more hands-on. To get through day-to-day life, they needed all sorts of skills that many people have never even heard of. These skills were so commonplace that they were often taken for granted. The average pioneer may have thought, “How could anyone not know how to make soap?”

The modern world has made life so easy that there’s simply no need to learn pioneer skills. But if we face a big enough disaster, that will change fast. Below is a list of 17 lost survival skills that are worth learning if you really want to be prepared for the end of the world as we know it. If your ancestors were able to learn these skills, then so are you.

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1. Basket Weaving

Crafting baskets from natural materials such as vines, reeds, or even branches can serve various purposes like collecting foraged items, carrying water, or storing food. Basket weaving is a practical skill that allows you to create essential tools for everyday survival.

Here’s how to weave a basket.

2. Blacksmithing

Blacksmithing is a trade that is extremely outdated, but it will come back when large manufacturing companies are no longer around. Iron and steel will need to be forged the old-fashioned way. And because it involves extreme heat, you will definitely need to know what you are doing.

Here’s an article on blacksmithing for beginners.

3. Butchering

Butchering is something you will have to learn one way or another. You need to know how to properly cut and hang an animal so you don’t contaminate the meat. There is an art to the process of butchering an animal you have taken from the wild.

Here is an excellent article about slaughtering and butchering.

Butchering Meat

4. Candle Making

Candle making that uses animal fats or beeswax will ensure you always have light. Your candle making ability will also give you plenty of candles to barter with.

Here’s how to make emergency candles with beeswax.

5. Construction

Construction knowledge that includes how to frame a house or build log cabins will be very useful. Very few people know how to make a home that is structurally sound. You’ll want to know how to make trusses, how to make foundations from stones, and the best kinds of wood to use.

Here’s how to build a log cabin for $100.

6. Fishing

Learning how to catch fish, whether by using a fishing rod, nets, or even primitive methods like spearfishing, can provide a reliable source of protein when other food options are scarce. Understanding different fishing techniques and identifying edible aquatic species will be invaluable.

Here’s a beginner’s guide to survival fishing.

7. Fire Starting

Fire starting without matches or a lighter is one of the most important skills you can learn. Lighters and matches are going to run out eventually, so you need to know how to start a fire without them.

Start learning some of the primitive methods for starting a fire and how to keep it burning for hours without going out.

8. First Aid

In a true survival situation, you may find yourself suffering a bad infection or a physical injury without access to professional medical help. The most important first aid skills include knowing how to treat a snake bite (and no, don’t suck and spit out the poison), how to fashion a splint for a fractured limb, and how to treat an open flesh wound to avoid the risk of infection.

Plantain Leaf for Wound Treatment

9. Food Preservation

Food preservation without the luxury of electricity is going to be a necessity. You need to learn how to build a solar dehydrator and how to preserve meat in order to store it for months at a time without putting it in a freezer or refrigerator. Learn how to make a smoker to preserve the meat you harvest as well.

Check out the food storage archives for more info.

10. Foraging for Wild Edibles

Knowing how to identify, gather, and prepare wild edible plants is crucial for obtaining nutrition from natural sources. This skill involves understanding which plants are safe to eat, how to cook or process them, and their nutritional value.

Here’s a guide to finding wild edibles.

11. Gardening

Gardening is something many people dabble in, but you need to have a very firm grasp on how to till fields, when to plant, how to combat plant diseases, and when to harvest.

Gardening will be one of the main food sources after TEOTWAWKI and you won’t have time to practice when your life depends on it. You need to learn how to grow in bulk and how to raise crops you wouldn’t typically grow like wheat, oats, and pinto beans.

For this, I highly recommend the book, Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre.

12. Gunsmithing

Gunsmithing is a skill that will not only ensure your guns are kept in good working order, but could also become your trade in a post-collapse world. Learn the inner workings of various types of guns and what it takes to repair them.

If you’re interested in learning this skill, check out the American Gunsmithing Institute.

13. Hand Washing Clothes

Most people know how to operate a washer and dryer, but far fewer people know how to actually hand wash clothes.

Challenge yourself to learn how to hand wash your own clothes and do it for at least one week. You don’t have to abandon your luxurious washer and dryer for the rest of your life, but you should teach yourself how to hand wash clothes, and this can only come through experience.

Check out our guide to washing clothes without a washing machine.

14. Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine will help you take care of yourself and your family members in a world without drug stores. That’s why you should learn how to identify medicinal plants that are found in the wild and how to use them to cure your ailments.

For more info, check out The Herbal Apothecary. It has full-color pictures of medicinal herbs and explains how to use them.

15. Horse Care

Horse care could become a necessary skill if horses come back into fashion due to a lack of fuel for vehicles. Few people know how to ride horses, which was the main method of transportation up until 100 years ago. Learning how to ride a horse and care for one will be critical to your survival.

Since this sort of thing is hard to learn from a book, I recommend you start by learning from a local horse-riding instructor.

16. Hunting

Hunting is extremely regulated today, but when it’s the only way to put food on the table, you better know how to do it. It requires some skill and knowledge of animal tracking and how they move. You also need to know the best times to go hunting and where to shoot an animal to kill it with one shot without contaminating the meat.

If you’re interested in hunting, here’s how to get started.

17. Knitting

Knitting is another useful skill you’ll want to have. Without clothing stores, you’ll need to know how to knit socks, hats and fluffy sweaters. Especially in the winter. Another benefit of knitting is the ability to make clothes that you can barter for the things you need.

This guide to knitting is full of animated images that make it easy to follow along.

18. Knot Tying

Most people know how to tie their shoelaces, and that’s about it. But knowing how to properly tie knots is essential for everything from setting snares to building shelters to rappelling down cliffs or steep ravines. Teach yourself three new knots this week. The bowline knot is a good place to start.

Here are five survival knots every prepper should know.

19. Making Soap

Making soap will come in handy when your supply of soap runs out or is destroyed. You don’t want to risk your health by not being able to wash your hands regularly. Plus, you’ll feel much more comfortable if you can clean yourself every now and then.

Handmade Soap

Fortunately, soap making is a skill that anyone can learn.

20. Navigation

Another crucial skill is the ability to navigate without the aid of a GPS. Our ancestors had to use the stars to navigate, or otherwise rely on natural landmarks, use the wind, or know how to keep their sense of direction.

For more information, read this guide to wilderness navigation techniques.

21. Predicting The Weather

Our ancestors had the ability to read the weather and predict what it would look like in a few hours or the next day. Many people today can predict a storm is coming when they feel aches and pains in their bodies. This is because air pressure begins to lower before a storm, which can cause people with arthritis or joint pain to feel when a storm is coming.

There are also methods you can use that involve looking into the sky and at the clouds, how animals react, how the air smells, and the color of the sky at dawn or dusk to predict upcoming weather patterns.

Check out this guide on how to read the sky.

22. Sewing

Sewing clothing by hand is going to be the norm after shopping malls and department stores become a thing of the past. You’ll need to know how to use a needle and thread and make patterns. Additionally, you’ll need to know how to sew buttons and apply patches to clothing as needed.

If you’re new to all this, here’s a guide on how to sew.

23. Shoemaking

Shoemaking isn’t something anybody thinks about anymore, but when their shoes are worn out and they can’t buy new ones, they’ll be thinking about it a lot. You’ll want to learn how to cut soles and use leather to cover your feet. Shoes will be an absolute necessity to protect your feet when you’re outside.

24. Tanning Hides

Tanning hides isn’t too difficult, but there is certainly a learning curve. Learning how to scrape away the fat on the hide without tearing it will ensure every hide you harvest will be in good shape. Hides can be used in your own home, shelter, as clothing, or for barter.

Here’s how to tan rabbit hides.

25. Trap Setting

Setting traps for small game can supplement your food supply in a survival situation. Learning how to construct and position traps effectively to catch animals like rabbits, squirrels, or birds can make a significant difference in your long-term survival.

26. Water Purification

The ability to filter and purify dirty water is one of the most critical survival skills. Read up on and practice water purification methods such as making your own water filter out of natural materials or boiling water to ensure it’s safe to drink.

Here are the easiest ways to purify water.

Hiker Gathering Water

27. Woodworking

Woodworking used to be a common hobby up until 50 or 60 years ago. Unfortunately, technology has pushed out skills that were more hands on. Woodworking will be vital for making beds, dressers, cabinets, and anything else made of wood. It isn’t technically one of the most necessary skills, but it will be a valuable trade once things settle down a bit.

Here is the first woodworking book you should read.

Bonus: Entertaining Yourself

I almost didn’t include this one, but honestly, being able to entertain yourself following a major grid-down disaster scenario is critical. It helps to not only pass the time but also to boost morale.

You could read a book, play a board game, play a musical instrument. Look for other ways to entertain yourself that don’t involve the internet or anything electronic. You may be surprised by what you come up with.

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