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12 actually-useful survival skills – and how to learn them

Written by

Polly Barks
12 actually-useful survival skills - and how to learn them (first aid) -

As the world changes, so will our society. The things we once considered niche or old fashioned will become essential survival skills, critical ways to help your community thrive in the new normal.

Secure your place in the new world with these survival skills for the climate revolution!

Practical skills

Practical. Basic. Vital. These are the survival skills you should have at least a basic understanding of before the world ends!

12 actually-useful survival skills - and how to learn them (first aid) -

First aid/natural remedies

Why: Duh. Being healthy and… alive is pretty much the first step to getting by when the world ends. I think it’s important to learn both modern and traditional methods. I assume at the end of the world we may not always have access to all the modern trappings of medicine. Best to be as prepared as possible.

How: I’d highly suggest finding a local first aid trainer and get to know some basics. Most trainings last a few hours to a few days – they can be a bit pricey, but it may be worth asking if your company might cover it. As for natural remedies, I start with books, then work my way towards finding a more hands-on class/guide. (Weirdly, if you don’t know where to start I’d recommend Groupon – they have an interesting array of master herbalism courses on offer!) Here are a few book recommendations:

Carpentry/general handiness

Why: Know how to fix up a chair with a broken leg or a rotting bit of frame around your window? Could you rewire a bit of electric? Fix a plumbing issue? Me neither! We probably should! Because even without the threat of the end of the world as we know it, having handy skills like electric, plumbing, basic maintenance, etc. can help us save money and resources!

How: Check out your local community college! Lots of them offer the chance to take one-off classes and there’s often a variety of practical skill options. There’s also a plethora of YouTube videos that can teach you just about anything you want to know.

12 actually-useful survival skills - and how to learn them (mending) -


Why: Honestly, sewing and mending is such a key money- and resource-saving skill even now! When the world ends and the global elite is no longer able to exploit the rest of the planet for cheap fabrics and exploitative labor, we’ll need to treasure the pieces of clothing and fabrics that remain.

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How: Like a lot of this, Skillshare is a great place to start and get your basic survival skills taken care of. If you prefer – and can – learning in person, check out your local sewing shops or somewhere like Joann or Michaels – they often have guided sewing lessons with experts!

General survival skills

Why: While I guess some of this might include stuff above, I consider this to be a catchall for that cool stuff you feel like you should know, but don’t. Think starting a fire, knot-tying, navigation, etc. You know, all the knowledge that we’d be desperate if someone snapped their fingers and every bit of societal structure disappeared.

How: I highly suggest using part of your skill-building time as relaxation by watching some incredible YouTube channels:

  • My Self Reliance doesn’t talk much but shows what living alone off-grid really looks like.
  • Primitive Technology shows off a ton of incredible ways to create tools and shelter from the nature around you.

Food systems

It’s a no duh that we need food – and a safe water supply – to survive. Our reliance on delicate systems to provide them for us could be dangerous when those systems are disrupted. Be prepared!

12 actually-useful survival skills - and how to learn them (water purifying) -

Water purification

Why: if you can’t trust the water coming out of the tap (spoiler alert: like much of the world already), how are you getting water and making sure it’s safe to drink? We can live without food for a while, but not water.

How: For something more portable, the Life Straw and their bottles are really cool! You just stick them in water/fill them up and drink – thousands of gallons can be filtered through just one! There are also so many ancient water filtration systems used that could be repurposed based on your needs.

12 actually-useful survival skills - and how to learn them (growing food) -

Growing food/cultivating green spaces

Why: duh. Food is good and necessary and the best way to ensure you’ve got access to it is by growing some of it yourself. Our global food supply chains are weak, so doing everything we can to provide local alternatives is key! Don’t worry – we don’t all have to be off-grid homesteaders. Community gardening is one of the essential survival skills after the world ends.

How: aside from taking these survival skills classes from local experts and organizations, you can get started right away with a whole range of practical classes from Skillshare or more theoretical like this fascinating class on urban civic ecology.

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12 actually-useful survival skills - and how to learn them (seed saving) -

Seed saving

Why: modern seeds are losing their variety – by saving seeds you can ensure increased variety (AKA better lucky harvesting crops that won’t all be killed by the same pest/weather event) and have your own steady supply of food. What happens if we can’t buy seeds from the store anymore? Save your own!

How: if you don’t know anyone super-knowledgable locally, there are a ton of online seed-saving classes to take. Here’s one from Kait’s Garden ($35) or Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance ($97). There’s also plenty of free information from organizations like the Seed Alliance.

Foraging/plant ID

Why: what happens when you’re low on food and can’t make it to the store? Or in less dire circumstances, just don’t have some of the flavorful herbs you need to make a basic dish more interesting? Knowing what’s growing outside your home – whether it’s a forest, lawn, or a park in the neighborhood – can open up a world of hyper-local food!

How: For foraging, there are plenty of online or book resources. (Check out the huge range on Amazon and then find an Amazon alternative to buy from!) I went through this Skillshare class – basic and helpful. Of course, ideally you’d focus on local resources when possible. What’s a simple forage for you might be an exotic no-go for me!

12 actually-useful survival skills - and how to learn them (canning) -

Cooking, canning, and fermenting

Why: so once you’ve grown all that food… now what? How will it last through the non-growing season? We rely so much on manufacturers packaging our food, access to refrigeration, and the assumption that food will always be available in the store. When we don’t have that access anymore, we need to be ready with some serious skills.

How: For cooking, I recommend picking up a few solid cookbooks you can rely on that cook with food locally available. Fermenting is fairly simple, so I recommend checking out this YouTube channel for the basics. Canning, on the other hand, is a bit more tricky. Check out your local extension program (US-only) and see what’s available locally.

Soft skills

Not to be underestimated, soft skills are a critical part of creating a safe and functioning community when our traditional social safety net structures are gone.

12 actually-useful survival skills - and how to learn them -


Why: As much as we have this vision of people isolated and alone, locked up in a house with a million guns and piles of dried beans… the fact is that the only way that we’ll be able to survive the impending crisis is by building community. Having the skills of community organizing, understanding mutual aid, and being able to build relationships is a must.

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How: I’m taking an EdX class on community organizing – for free! – to better understand the theory behind the ways in which we organize effectively. It’s also important to get active with organizations and people already doing this well. Help them out and learn on the ground!


Why: the white supremacist, individualist structures of care most of us exist in won’t work for the end of the world. (Hell, the idea of a single family unit struggling through everything alone and devaluing caregiving doesn’t work now!) Community will be key – and sharing the burden of caregiving will be critical. If someone loves hanging out with kids all day and a mom is really great at gardening, why not let everyone play to their skills and redistribute care away from traditional family structures?

How: my worst nightmare is someone else’s expertise! Caregiving simply requires the desire to help and learn what skills you need to effectively care, whether it’s for a child, elderly community member, or someone with a disability. It probably doesn’t hurt to take a CPR/First Aid class while the world’s still tenuously held together!

12 actually-useful survival skills - and how to learn them (community organizing) -

Conflict resolution/mediation

Why: the end of the world doesn’t have to be all bad. With the collapse of society as we know it, we can embrace the abolitionist vision of a police-free world. But! What goes in its place? People trained in conflict resolution and mediation who are deeply engaged in their communities and can use their relationship to offer guidance toward resolution. It’s the end of the world – everyone’s going to be tense!

How: start here with a free PDF on the basics with the CR Abolition Organizing Toolkit. There are also classes from many organizations from the traditional to the more radically-minded. Follow along with your favorite social justice/abolition organization, too; they often provide basic trainings on just this topic!

Hopefully you see yourself thriving in one or more of these survival skills. We definitely don’t have to do it all, but find your niche and then get to know the rest of the survival skills on a basic level!

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