Many may equate a lifestyle lived entirely self-contained or self-sufficiently with preppers, rural communities, on farmlands, or due to location such as in the Alaskan bush. Actually, it may be by choice to downsize, seek a healthier lifestyle, or live fully self-contained.
The lifestyle of bypassing modern conveniences to be a modern pioneer or homesteader can be in any setting, as it’s a mindset.
Many 21st century people, who may be seeking independence from government interference, or just want to free themselves from any dependence on their supplies coming from the bigbox and commercial chain stores, do not have to be off grid to use traditional pioneer skills to live a healthy and simple kind of life.
Here are some traditional skills that any modern day homesteader can utilize in making themselves more self-sufficient and in control of their materials, supplies, workmanship, and food sources, and in some cases ultimate survival.
We will look at a quick overview of how each old-time skill was used by the pioneers for clean living, homemade quality, and satisfying craftsmanship in their day-to-day survival.
There is no greater sense of accomplishment than making or providing for your family by hands-on know-how. When it comes down to survival situations, these are 35 pioneer skills that will help you survive.
1. Being your own blacksmith
For pioneers, the blacksmith was essential. Blacksmiths fashioned and repaired everything from the farm equipment, carriage equipment, cooking implements, household items like irons, fishing equipment, wheels, and most important: the horseshoe. He was valued by farmers, shop owners, and business that needed transporters alike.
During any long-term survival situation, the ability to rework and repurpose metal will be essential, since there will not be modern factories turning out an endless supply of metal goods.
Using surprisingly basic equipment and material it is possible to put old-world blacksmithing skills to use today. The goods you can produce with a blazing hot forge, a hammer and anvil, and some old-fashioned sweat equity remain impressive and useful.
Like many things, this is one skill set that will be very difficult to develop when under a serious time constraint, so if this sounds like a good option for your survival group, put together your blacksmithing setup now and start practicing.
2. Planting a garden
A garden was the biggest source of food besides hunting, and each pioneer needed a garden. The garden and its care were tantamount for survival, as it produced food, medicine, dyes, herbs, spices, fragrances, animal feed and even bedding for animal and human alike.
The key to successful pioneer living, and living well was often a well-tended garden; pioneers studied European and even Native American methods to ensure a bountiful and reliable output.
Lucky for us, we have pretty much all the knowledge in the world when it comes to growing plants and crops of all kinds available at our fingertips today.
Gardening is an essential part of long-term sustainment in serious unknown duration survival situations, and therefore it is essential to get your green thumb in gear today.
No matter where you live and what’s your living arrangements are it is possible to practice these skills. If you cannot install a proper outdoor garden, you can make use of raised beds, large containers or even small countertop pots.
3. Milking your own cows
The pioneers raised many breeds of cattle. The males could be worked with plows and used to pull wagons if necessary, and the cows could be used for milk, cream, or meat. Actually, pioneers drank little milk due to lack of pasteurization, generally poor storage, and weather, so most of the cream was used for butter.
Raising dairy cattle can provide you and your family or survival group with a nearly limitless supply of dairy products so long as your herd remains healthy and viable. Using a little bit of modern know how, you can enjoy milk and butter as mentioned above, but also yogurt and a variety of cheeses.
Raising any sizable amount of livestock always requires a significant investment in skill development to care for the animals correctly, but so long as you have the room it is a great idea.
4. Tending your own chickens
Chickens are cheap to feed and keep, require far less room than larger livestock, and are a fast resource of valuable protein and meat.
Optimizing egg output through care and feeding would help the pioneers in daily food output and using their bedding and waste helped keep the gardens fresh with compost. Older hens not producing can be used for the cookpot.
We are seeing a resurgence in the popularity of yardbirds today, and so long as you are not already in conflict with your neighbors or facing the wrath of an overactive HOA it is an inexpensive and easy matter to get yourself a small flock going in your own backyard using nothing more than a compact coop or a chicken tractor.
You need to be alert for predators even in suburbia and chickens require care as any other living thing does, but they are generally hardy and self-sufficient animals. This small investment that will constantly reward you with high-quality protein is an excellent trade off.
5. Make your own drinks
Besides water, you had to brew or mix any drinks from raw materials. Even simple tea was a process. When soda shops popped up, it was a novelty and only available at the shop by a soda jerk.
Coffee was enjoyed as it is today, but the process was quite different, often being coarsely ground and boiled freely in a pot of water. The grounds would then be filtered out sip-by-sip “cowboy style”; they would drink it through gritted teeth.
With a little proper planning and some adjusted expectations, you can still likely enjoy many similar drinks that you do today, although only a few will be a good trade in terms of time investment and use of resources.
Is it good idea to start preparing yourself for enjoying austere environment beverages by preparing them in a way that is similar to the conditions you’ll be working through in a post-SHTF environment.
6. Handling your own waste
With people and animals producing pounds of “it” every day, knowing how to manage waste, and make it work for you on a farm is a good skill to have. It is a nasty business, but proper disposal or even re-use of waste products is essential.
Failing to do this could lead to a collapse of sanitary conditions that can see awful diseases burn up your camp or burgeoning settlement. The pioneers had to live in places without established plumbing and resorted to using cat holes, slit trenches and other primitive “toilets”.
You should and will indeed have to do the same assuming you are trying to survive and one of the undeveloped and remote places of the world.
Even if you are living in the remains of what was once polite society, knowing how to handle waste inside buildings that no longer have functioning plumbing will be an essential skill.
The digging of cat holes and slit trenches as well as the treatment of the grounds used for containing the leavings is a skill you should master now before you are forced to later.
Also a supply of heavy duty containers, equally heavy duty can liners, absorbent media and plenty of disinfectant can make the smelly business of doing your business without indoor plumbing much more tolerable when you are unable to bury it.
7. Making your own candles
Most pioneers were out doing their thing in an era well before the advent of electricity and the light bulb. The most reliable source of light was fire, and even though fire is capricious and always dangerous there was no substitute for it at night.
One of the most predictable and useful sources of light inside a structure that pioneers would typically rely on would be simple candles, typically made from beeswax or tallow.
While candles were typically purchased in towns or from traders who might happen to be passing by with a supply, many pioneers were fairly accomplished chandlers, as the materials needed for making them were fairly easy to come by and most settings.
You might not have to source your own materials right now if you want to make your own candles, with the supplies for doing so available at nearly any hobby store, but it is a good idea to at least start practicing using those materials so you can craft a safer and more controllable, not to mention portable, light source in case you ever need it.
In pioneer times, furniture and fixtures were often made of hewn logs and with no nails, as they used wooden pins to hold them in place, and special cuts and joinery in the wood to lock them together.
This is an old world skill taken for granted today, since the prevalence, affordability and availability of metal and plastic fasteners of all kinds handmade traditional wooden joinery all but a hobby.
Only those who desire bespoke craftsmanship will seek out furniture and other things made with these methods, and pay the oftentimes premium prices associated with the time needed to craft them.
But even if you aren’t turning out gleaming and impressive furniture using these techniques, you would do well to learn basic, wood-only joinery since it will make good use of one of the most common natural materials you will have access to.
Using nothing more than one or two cutting tools, it will be possible to fashion furniture, fixtures and other items there are considerably more sturdy then simply stacking them, propping them or lashing them together.
9. Build a Canoe
As a rule, travelling without cars, for pioneers traveling by canoe was faster and more certain than going via horses in many ways. Knowing how to construct a canoe from branches and hides, or do a dug-out canoe provided transportation for one to four people, maybe more.
Obviously, construction of a canoe of any type required a fairly significant investment in time and energy, but that was a great pioneer-centric skill because of the ready availability of trees and the typical preponderance of rivers.
This could result in dramatic savings of both time and effort when traveling over great distances.
You might think you would have no particular need of this old world skill as part of your survival repertoire, but when you consider that rivers have ever been the super highways of the world prior to the advent of the automobile and the airplane, it starts to make more sense.
Canoes can provide for controllable, repeatable and rapid travel when fossil fuels are only a distant memory.
Sewing was and remains a vital part of making clothing and other goods from fabric. When you wove your cloth, the next step after cutting it to size was sewing it into a useful garment. Any clothing for work or daily wear was made using sewing.
A seamstress, or just a practiced sewer of clothing, was a highly valued person and for many pioneer expeditions, the only presentable way to make a living if a widow or unmarried maid.
But no matter who you are and what you are preparing for you need not think that sewing is some sissy or “girly” hobby. It is a repair and replacement skill like any other, and will be absolutely vital for keeping clothing, luggage and even gear like tents, bivys and hammocks in serviceable shape.
One of the great things about sewing is that the necessary equipment for making field repairs is extremely compact in the form of a needle set, thread and a few other highly compact tools.
No, you will not nearly be making the headway you would using a sewing machine, but you also won’t be reliant on electricity either.
11. Knowing how to barter
You might think it’s strange that the people we expect to push back the boundaries of the unknown would have any use for bartering skills, since there is probably not too many people you can barter with way out yonder!
That has a kernel of truth to it but the reality for the pioneers, and for us, is much different.
The pioneers might have had cause to trade with other traveling bands of explorers, trappers, hunters and even indigenous tribes or their counterpart pioneers from other cultures but more importantly they would certainly have to deal with merchants of all stripes when they made the long trek back to civilization in order to obtain some much-needed goods or tools.
You will have cause to barter also if society happens to collapse or you just don’t have much in the way of money. Since bartering is one of the oldest known forms of commerce and is the de facto standard in every human interaction it stands to reason that you should become good at it.
You cannot afford to make too many bad deals, because somebody is going to win and somebody is going to lose in every interaction. You want to make sure your goods are going as far as they can and getting what you want in exchange, and to do that you’ll need to know how to barter.
12. Knowing how to can your foods
Canning of foods was a main preparation for making it through the winter and food storage. This was one of the only ways to have fruit and vegetables off season.
Canning food is a popular pastime and hobby these days, but not too awfully long ago it was an essential skill for the preservation of food that was never guaranteed to last or even be available.
Pioneers that had at least a little bit of infrastructure going for them we certainly make use of canning to preserve the fruits of all of their labors, be at plant, vegetable or animal.
Canning is deceptively complex, but with a little practice it is a reliable way to store a readily usable quantity of food in a good state of preservation for lean times.
It was certainly a viable skill for the pioneers, and is definitely a viable skill for us. This is another skill that is easy to practice today since it is so easy to do in a modern kitchen.
And while trying to do it in austere conditions will never be as easy as doing it in the comfort of your own home it is still absolutely achievable with a little bit of extra effort.
Glass mason jars and sealing lids are not the most commonplace items in the world, but it is easy to lay in a good supply ahead of time so you can reliably can your food for years to come.
13. Knowing how to preserve your meat
Canning is not the only way to preserve meat for the winter or lean times. Salting, drying, pickling, curing, making pemmican, jerky, and sausages are forms of preserving meat that the pioneers would rely on.
Salting, jerking and turning into other survival trail food like pemmican were probably the most popular as they ensured great longevity while maintaining at least a nominal amount of palatability.
All of these methods would keep meat, one of the most essential sources of protein for the pioneers, viable for a long time and ready to be eaten and pretty much any conditions.
You are probably already acquainted with preserved meats as part of your camping and trail food, so you should take the extra time and steps to learn how to create your own preserve meat as part of an overall survival plan.
Many of these techniques are comparatively simple, especially compared to canning, and they certainly work better for making travel ready rations than canning does with very little extra needed in the way of equipment.
14. Knowing how to set snares
The cheapest and easiest way to trap animals, snares have been around since the cave dwellers. To get fur and meat for the table or trade, snares helped immensely.
The setting of snares and other traps would allow pioneers a great return on an initial investment of time and energy when it came to bagging animals.
Unlike a human hunting party, a snare does not get tired, does not fall asleep, get distracted or generally make mistakes that can result in lost quarry.
Yes, a trap can fail; either being triggered inadvertently or by accident, or just missing the animal entirely. But the beauty of a trap is it is always ready to activate, and can let one person do the work of many over a wide area.
There is no reason you should not also learn how to set snares and other traps especially if you plan on making hunting an essential part of your survival provision plan.
Modern traps come in all kinds of configurations, sizes and capabilities but you can always make use of snares using lightweight and easily carried wire along with some prefabricated trap toggles and triggers.
If worse comes to worse, it is entirely possible to fashion your own out of wood and make you some other materials like correctly shaped rocks.
15. Knowing how to bake
Bread is a main sustenance even today in many countries, and baking helped feed pioneers by adding grains and a variety of food to the table.
Baking today is about as convenient as can be, but the pioneers of old had to use a little bit more ingenuity to ensure that their baked goods are properly prepared and edible.
Baking over an open fire in something like a dutch oven or even an open iron pan requires a little more care when it comes to heat control. It might surprise you, but many of the pioneers would bake rudimentary breads directly on the hot coals of a fire, no vessel needed!
Almost everyone has some baking experience today, and you are probably among them, but if you are smart you will start flexing your muscles when it comes to baking by including some items in your camping meals when you were out on the trail or practicing your bug-outs.
It definitely won’t be as easy as it is when all you have to do is tear the top off of a box of bread mix, stir it up and then poured into a pan before sliding it into a hot, preheated oven.
16. Knowing how to start a fire
When there were no matches, fire making, and starting fires was a life skill for survival. Pioneers would borrow fire from a neighbor if theirs ran out, but that was to be avoided at all costs in all but the driest and most temperate climates.
Starting a fire using a flint and steel is a far sight more difficult than striking a match or clicking a lighter, but the pioneers would definitely employ this method along with the more primitive, friction-starting methods that most of us are familiar with.
What we are probably not familiar with is just how difficult those primitive methods are. It never fails that movies and TV depict friction starting as a modestly difficult task that requires just a little bit of exertion, when in reality it requires a thorough understanding of the wood you are using, ambient conditions and a willingness to suffer until you get a hot coal going.
Even then the outcome is not certain, as any errant gust of wind can snuff the coal out and getting it on to the tinder before moving it to the kindling requires steady hands.
17. Knowing how to harvest seeds
Seed saving and making selective choices by the pioneers insured the next harvest and garden, and has been the traditional way farms have been maintained for over 12,000 years. Pioneers bartered and traded seeds for biodiversity to keep strains strong.
This is an element of permaculture that many people forget about, or omit entirely from their plans.
It is assumed that your plants will grow and grow again year after year after year, but choosing the best seeds to preserve for the next planting as well as rotating them and interbreeding them to ensure the viability of the crop is an important part of any kind of farming, on a large or small scale.
Make sure you account for this before you literally bet the farm on your cropping skills!
18. Knowing how to catch fish
The knowledge in catching fish to boost protein stores meant knowing how to snare, trap, spear, and hook them. The pioneers used cleaning with proper preservation to store fish, add to their food supply, and as a bartering material.
Having a fishing kit is pretty much a default part of any survival stash, but don’t limit yourself to traditional line and hook fishing. Learn from the pioneers and employ netting, trapping, damming and other methods of bagging fish and you’ll be enjoying plenty of succulent meals anytime you’re surviving near a sizable body of water.
19. Doing your own gathering of fruit
The pioneers had to hunt and collect berries and fruits for jams, jellies, dyes, drying, storage, and baking needs.
Knowing where to find the fruit was only part of the task, and the other part was knowing when the best fruit was in season and where are the healthiest plants were likely to grow.
You might be well served learning from this old pioneer skill by planning and plotting your bug-out routes and locations around areas or wild growing fruits are bountiful and in season.
There is hardly anything better than getting free and delicious calories right off of the plant or vine when facing a survival situation!
20. Working on leather
Leatherworking was an essential skill for pioneers as leather was one of the only renewable crafting components that was durable, long wearing and practical for shaping into useful garments, luggage, and animal tack.
Quality leather goods also made for good trading fodder and could be made to order for regular trading partners to increase its value.
Leatherworking from animal hides was needed for clothing and gear. Working items like harnesses needed proper preparation, sewing, and tanning for it to have quality, longevity, and value.
Tanning and leather working is absolutely achievable in primitive conditions but you should be warned that it is smelly and oftentimes disgusting work.
Nonetheless, if you can keep the stomach for it this will provide you an even better return on the resources netted from the harvesting of any given animal, and combined with some other skills on this list can ensure that you were always able to craft the things you need.
21. Knowing how to weave
Colonial America introduced spinning, dyeing, and weaving to Indians who traditionally finger wove. Learning to weave a variety of materials would ensure did all kinds of goods can be crafted with the investment of a little bit of time.
Soft goods like blankets, rugs, placemats and others along with hard goods like baskets, containers, cages and more.
Pioneers might not always have had the time to engage in weaving depending on the nature of their expedition, but you can believe when they started to set down roots weaving began in earnest.
Weaving will fulfill a similar role for preppers, being less useful during highly fluid and chaotic situations and more useful as things settle into a new normal.
Is capable of producing some items that simply cannot be made by human hands in any other way, and considering it needs minimal equipment and predominately relies on skill and raw materials that makes it a valuable if niche addition to your survival skill set.
22. Being able to plant an orchard
The pioneers and colonists reconstituted the fruit and apple orchards of England for fresh use, culinary preparations, drying, ciders, meads, and alcohols.
Planting an organized and tidy orchard would make the best possible use of the land as with any other sort of institutionalized agriculture, and would also allow the effective and efficient gathering of the produce.
Obviously you will not be able to plant an orchard and expect a return on your investment overnight, but when the time comes to rebuild society literally from the ground up, and it will, those saplings you planted a decade ago when the trials first began will produce a bounty of delicious fruit that can be used as ingredients for all kinds of food and drink.
23. Being able to raise livestock
Animals meant the difference between survival or starvation in pioneer times. They could work, be bartered, or even slaughtered. Being able to raise them from breeding and fattening a herd meant success and wealth.
The keeping of any species of livestock was seen as one of the surest ways to ensure you always had both food and a steady supply of raw materials of other kinds close to hand.
The pioneers knew what they were getting into, as raising any kind of sizable herd of large animal requires an enormous investment and land, time and effort but very few endeavors would produce as consistently good results as the rearing of livestock.
Animal husbandry skills are entirely accessible to you today, but if you were not raised on a farm where ever worked a summer job on a farm you might not know where to start.
Two of the best ways are simply learning online to get the basics down and then volunteering or picking up a part-time job at an actual working farm. In the case of some animals like chickens and smaller breeds of goat, it is entirely possible for you to raise a flock in an average suburban backyard.
24. Caring for your livestock
Knowing how to properly care for the animals meant your survival, as that was your wealth and your workforce in pioneer times. Proper feed, care, rest and medical care is required for any living thing, and your livestock are no exception.
Learning to properly diagnose, treat, medicate and isolate animals that have become injured or taken ill is an entirely separate set of skills from raising them and getting products from them. You don’t necessarily have to become a veterinarian, but you will be learning some veterinary skills.
Lucky for us, there are plenty of manuals and other detailed guides they can afford the layman some advanced understanding of animal biology, enough to make a difference and, potentially, save your herd or flock.
25. Doing your own beekeeping
Bees are crucial to pollinate crops, produce wax, and provide a high energy, natural sweetener in honey. Phoenicians kept bees, but the pioneers started making movable comb hives so they could better protect and relocate their bees.
Even way back then people had already learned to make use of the bounty provided by these important and diligent insects!
You can do the same today and will benefit from a much-improved understanding insect ecology and also proper protective garments and handling techniques. Learning to raise bees and harvest both their honey and their wax does not have to be an excruciating ordeal involving pain tolerance alone.
By conquering your fear of these generally benign but stinging critters you will be rewarded with a virtually endless supply of delicious and calorie-dense honey as well as plenty of wax for candle making, rain proofing and medicine.
26. Making your own soap
Soap was of great value to colonial people from peasant to peddler for its versatility, cleaning properties, and bartering value.
Using animal fat from butchering, usually once a year as an event in fall, the early colonists and pioneers revolutionized the potash soap and lye recipe brought from England.
Soap is an essential commodity because it can help you keep your possessions and your body clean. Cleanliness, as we have already learned on this list of skills, is absolutely essential for keeping disease at bay.
Soap making is another labor intensive and seemingly arcane skill, but the science is easily understood and once you have the raw materials at hand, along with plenty of time for saponification to occur, you’ll be rolling in suds. Also don’t underestimate soap’s trade value in times of lack!
27. Making your own beer
Native Americans were the first to brew beer by using corn, teaching the early European settlers and Virginian colonists. Almost every culture in civilization used some form of beer to drink, celebrate, and barter with.
The pioneers certainly brought this cherished skill with them on their travels, and would be eager to try new brewing recipes with found ingredients.
You will probably be wanting a drink yourself when surviving a SHTF event, especially one that sees society toppled for an indeterminate period of time.
If you can brew your own beer you can definitely drink your troubles away at least for a time, but you can also whip up an extremely valuable trade commodity for yourself.
Brewing beer is an ancient technique that can be accomplished with rudimentary equipment, but you must know what you are doing.
28. Building your own well
Instead of being primitive, many hand-dug wells are considered works of amazing engineering and have reached over 80 feet deep to supply cool, fresh water.
Pioneers also used materials such as stones and wood, brick and early mortar to install wells that would provide clean and convenient water for permanent or semi-permanent settlements.
Installation of a well using hand tools or even primitive, animal powered equipment is no easy task and is a significant commitment in both time, energy and resources.
There is always a chance that you will wind up with a “dry hole”, and for that reason an understanding of correct theory when it comes to locating and siting a well is essential.
That being said, despite the toil necessary installation of a functional well can be the beginning of a proper village.
29. Being able to butcher your own meat
Knowing how to use every part of an animal, its fat, and hide were crucial to the pioneers. Waste, as always, was anathema as replacements were never guaranteed.
They all pitched in to help, and saved every scrap for sausages, pemmican, and kidney pie. Hides, fat, bones, tallow, brains to tan with, even the sinew were collected.
Correct butchering of any animal will ensure that you gained the most resources for the initial effort, and also produce convenient and delicious cuts of meat for any purpose.
Sloppy handling of the carcass and the meat will only produce waste, frustrate you and potentially even spoil your catch.
No one wants that and this is definitely not a skill you want to figure out on the fly in the middle of a crisis when bellies are grumbling, so make sure you toughen up and put into practice now.
Making your own pemmican from meat 18th century style:
30. Knowing how to forage
An important pioneer skill since it enabled one a better chance of collecting food, medicine, herbs, moss, and berries, especially for winter stores, and was a low-impact skill passed down generationally and often tended to by the less physically able members of the party.
A good forager had a keen eye for terrain and conditions likely to produce a bountiful haul.
You should start practicing foraging now so you’ll be both confident and competent later. Foraging sounds like one of those can’t-fail enterprises so long as you don’t give up, but one must have a thorough knowledge of the area you are forging in, the species of flora that grow there and which ones are potentially dangerous or even deadly.
You wouldn’t dream of picking mushrooms willy-nilly, and you shouldn’t do that was Moss, berries or anything else for that matter, either.
31. Knowing how to compost
Composting is the art of turning organic matter and food scraps into rich fertilizer that will produce bumper crops and planted fields, small gardens and potted plants alike.
This is yet another way that the pioneers would minimize waste and maximize gains from every single resource. They had to if they wanted to survive, and no Advantage was too laborious or too small to ignore.
Composting today works very much like it did in years passed only we have a much better understanding of the process and what contributes to a successful compost pile.
You should endeavor to become a comfortable and competent with composting now so you can easily set up a compost pile at your new settlement or bug-out location if you plan on staying for the foreseeable future.
32. Knowing the best ways to hunt
Hunting was the single best source of protein for the pioneers and the biggest food producer prior to the raising of livestock for food being implemented at a settlement.
Fur and leather were big trade items during the winter for survival. Most pioneers were at least capable hunters, and had a working knowledge of their quarry and the weapon they would use to take them.
You should aspire to be no less capable a hunter, and hopefully become one who does not rely too much on advanced modern technology of any kind outside of a firearm and a sighting system.
A thorough knowledge of animal behavior, the environment they inhabit and primitive camouflage and stalking techniques will take you much farther in the latest and greatest multi hundred dollar camouflage suit, state-of-the-art decoys and other wondrous but ultimately superfluous trickery.
33. Knowing how to use the sun to collect water
Clean, safe water is so vital to survival it comes in second only to air in importance when considering material resources.
No source of this precious liquid was too meager to pass up, and for that reason the pioneers would make use of any source of water they could get their hands on, including dew and condensation gained from evaporative distillation.
These are challenging techniques to master even for modern-day preppers, but we have a big advantage thanks to some modern-day materials like clear plastic sheeting.
Especially in drier climates, this evaporative condensation method might be the only certain if meager source of fresh drinking water available to you.
34. Being able to identify edible plants
Pioneers passed identification skills down so each generation could collect food, medicine, remedies, animal feed, and barter materials to survive.
A thorough knowledge of plants and their fruit is critical since any deadly lookalike mistaken for a benign plant intended for eating or medicine could spell certain death.
35. Being able to make primitive weapons
Hunting with bows, arrows, spears, bolos, atlatls, gigs, slings, slingshots and clubs enabled the pioneers to collect meat and also provided for self-defense against man and beast.
Nothing beats a trusty gun at a distance but guns’ general expense, complexity and utter dependence on ammunition that might be in very short supply means you’ll always have room for primitive weapons.
Crafted with care and some expertise, you might be surprised just how effective some “scratch built” weapons can be! Trying your hand at crafting your own now is certainly an interesting project, and could prove instrumental in your survival later on.
36. Repairing and Maintaining Firearms
Much of the time for pioneers the chief tool they had for ensuring their own survival against human or animal threats as well as their best chance of bagging a variety of game was a firearm of some type, typically a musket or a rifle.
As it turns out, not much has changed today, and folks living way out on the fringes of civilization relying disproportionately on their firearms for safety and stuffing the pantry compared to us city slickers and suburbanites.
With firearms being so important to those who are existing without a societal safety-net, it is imperative that they stay operational and dependable. As you might have guessed, that means you need to be an amateur gunsmith in addition to all the other hats you are going to wear as a modern prepper.
Knowing how to maintain your firearms and prevent degradation is essential, but also essential is knowing how to perform the most common repairs and simple parts replacements.
37. Performing Austere First-Aid
Unless a party of pioneers was extremely fortunate or quite large, there was not likely to be any proper doctor among them.
The onus was on each of them to be reasonably proficient in performing first-aid in field conditions, and in particular austere situations where one could not even access the proper supplies.
This was an especially important skill back then and remains important today, because what would otherwise be trivial wounds or injuries to deal with in civilization can easily become deadly when far from society.
Knowing how to splint a broken arm or leg, create a crutch from branches, salve a wound, use fishing hooks as suturing needles and more might spell the difference between survival and an agonizing demise in a typical frontier setting.
If all you had was what was lying on the ground around you and the shirt on your back could you intervene and save or stabilize someone who was injured, hopefully getting them back to civilization?
38. Burying a Body
It is an unfortunate fact of life that, removed from the safety and relative certainty of civilization, people are going to die under the rigors, hazards and challenges of frontier living.
The pioneers all certainly knew that going into their endeavors, and had to deal with it accordingly since there was no undertaker coming to tend to the body of the departed and perform last rites.
Aside from improving morale as much as can be expected under the circumstances, proper burial of a body is essential to maintain sanitary conditions in and around camp or the settlement.
You don’t have to properly preserve a body in order to bury someone, but knowing how to fit them with a shroud and even whip together a simple coffin (if time allows it) is a good idea, as is knowing how to efficiently and effectively dig a grave of the proper size and depth.
Failing to do this could lead to such terrible eventualities as animals digging up the departed for food or the body bobbing to the surface during the first serious flood at the burial site.
39. Making Observational Sketches
Sketching is mostly just a way to while away time or banish boredom today, but in an era before camera phones or even cameras at all, for that matter, were portable or ubiquitous, sketching was essential for quickly and accurately rendering detailed representations of any observations made in the field for transmission to other people or simply for the benefit of your own memory.
It does not take much imagination to see how effective and how useful sketching is in all kinds of situations.
Making detailed, rapid drawings of plants, tracks, animals, faces, landscapes and more is all extremely valuable and the ability to hand it off to someone else and be instantly understood is important versus relying on the vagaries of language and someone else’s imagination.
40. Understanding Land Navigation
The pioneers were often among the very first individuals in a given civilization to enter into wholly unknown and uncharted lands, and oftentimes had to rely on the most primitive and inaccurate maps or even no maps at all.
Quite a few initial maps and pathways in an area were charted by the pioneers who were struggling to settle it.
They could not rely on GPSs, obviously, and sometimes lacked even compasses. They had to rely on dead reckoning, keen observation and what notes or drawings they could to find their way to and fro.
It is essential for you to do the same thing, and preferably be able to do so without the benefit of modern technology.
Learning how to navigate off of roads and through the wilderness using nothing more than a map, pace count and a field compass is an important hedge against getting lost and also for getting where you need to go in good order.
41. Tying Knots
Knot tying is the art of doing work with rope and cordage. You can bet your bottom dollar that any pioneer worth their salt was at least passingly handy with knots, and knowing what knot to use in which situation with the rope or cord at hand to do the job can mean the difference between an easy and efficient task or a frustrating and dangerous nightmare.
Knot tying is one of those deceptively easy skills and that it is easy to learn but takes considerable practice until one can do it automatically and certainly, especially under pressure. But when the chips are down and things need to get underway there is nothing more satisfying than slapping on a knot seemingly by sleight of hand.
42. Sharpening an Axe
The axe is one of Mankind’s oldest and most useful tools and it remains useful right up until our present day. It was certainly a tool of momentous importance to the pioneers, being one that was constantly called on.
For chopping, limbing and bucking trees to impromptu self-defense in brutal close quarters combat an axe reigns supreme.
Even though axes are not as completely dependent upon a razor sharp edge as knives and other cutting implements they still must be maintained to do work efficiently and safely.
An aged tool in a good state of repair is less fatiguing to use and more efficient, and it will also last longer than one that is neglected. When your life and the outcome of an endeavor may hang in the balance, ensure that you keep your essential tools in good repair- especially your axe!
43. Sharpening a Saw
Second perhaps only to the axe the saw in all its many varieties was one of the most relied upon tools by pioneers.
Able to cleanly and quickly cross-cut wood and even bone, a good saw was essential for making accurate and square cuts under control, which made it a companion and counterpart to the axe, and remained close and hand and cared for in all major endeavors.
I have already made the point that edged tools must be kept sharp to function, but you can hand a saw to even a seasoned sharpener of knives and upon asking him to touch it up expect nothing but a bemused or even bewildered glance in return.
Sharpening a saw is fundamentally the same as sharpening any other edged tool, but practically is far more involved, significantly more difficult and time-consuming without the proper technique and the correct sharpening tools.
You won’t be able to throw away an old junky, dull saw and get a new one if you are living the pioneer life! Best to learn now.
44. Finding or Making Shelter
Pioneers were expected to get things done no matter what difficulties they encountered, and no matter what surprises and curveballs lay in wait for them.
Then as now, exposure remains one of the single biggest and most consistent killers of anybody exposed to the outdoors anywhere on Earth.
You had better believe the pioneers understood this fact all too well and always had to be ready to react to inclement weather conditions and plain old bad luck. This meant they certainly knew how to construct the best possible shelter out of the materials at hand in any setting.
You should be able to do the same thing in any environment, from the frozen climates of the far north to the deep and mysterious woods of the deep south.
There are multiple shelters suitable in any environment that can be constructed entirely from natural materials for warmth, shade and protection from the wind.
45. Building a House
Pioneers who were truly settling an area would not be content to live in some shabby shelter or lean-to made from sticks and dried grass, or exist solely out of their tents or wagons. remember that they were expanding the borders of their civilization, and part of civilization is having proper structures.
For pioneers, this meant houses, even if they were simple cabins. When pioneers were ready to go all-in for the long haul, they started laying down foundations, literally.
Even if you are the sort of prepper who is well-versed in field sustainment and shelter techniques, you should spend some of your time learning the basics of proper, rudimentary construction.
Ruff hewn timbers, chinking (the stuff that fills the gaps between logs) and a locally-sourced stone fireplace will feel like a mansion after you have been roughing it in a tent. And not for nothing, your burgeoning tiny village might wind up being the single cell from which civilization regrows.
46. Improving Roads and Trails
Once pioneers settled into a groove and figured out the best ways to get to and from an area for resources, trade or just further exploration, they would try to set themselves up for success (if they were smart) by improving the road or trail that they had invariably bushwhacked through the untamed wilderness.
This could save them time and energy if moving on foot, or potentially even make it passable for wagons, to say nothing of safer for pack animals and other beasts of burden.
There are many ways to improve a natural surface that you are traveling on, and might be something as simple as cutting back grass or knocking down shrubs to laying down rock, gravel or timbers in the soil to strengthen and stabilize it.
Naturally, this will all have to be done without the benefit of modern earth-moving or excavating equipment so you will need to rely on your intelligence, hand tools and sheer grit to get it done if it proves worthwhile.
47. Making a Torch
You know the pioneers already had to rely almost totally on fire for light at night, but there were many a time where they could not even depend upon a simple oil lantern or portable light when gamboling off into the inky darkness.
Sure, clear skies and a full moon might be nearly as good as daylight, but what if you didn’t have clear skies and a full moon?
What if you were exploring a cave or deep into the woods? A simple, reliable portable light-source was an absolute necessity. And the simpler the better!
Enter the torch, probably the second or third runner-up for Mankind’s oldest tool that is still viable today.
A torch can be made from all kinds of materials, but one of the simplest and most reliable would be a green branch that was unlikely to burn wrapped on the forked end with cloth soaked in flammable pitch, oil, fat or resin before being set alight.
These primitive torches can last a surprisingly long time, often around 15 minutes if properly constructed.
One of Mankind’s oldest skills and still one that is frequently practiced by primitive cultures around the world, knapping is the art of sharpening a suitable stone or other material into a usable edge by breaking off small pieces using nothing but another stone as a striking tool.
Pioneers would certainly have made use of this intricate and interesting skill for crafting arrowheads, knives and potentially even triggers for snares or other traps.
Capable of being employed anywhere on Earth that suitable stone can be found, this is one of the ultimate austere environment skills.
But for all its usefulness, it is one that you will have to practice extensively in order to be able to rely on, and also requires a fair bit of geological knowledge so you can reliably identify material suitable for napping into a usable edge but also for a correctly sized striking tool that will afford you the control to produce the desired edge.
Despite these shortcomings, the ability to spend a little bit of time and attention using nothing more than two pieces of stone and produce a sharp cutting implement is incredibly cool and useful.
49. Making Cord from Sinew
Every prepper knows that strong and supple cordage is one of the most vital field survival tools because it is incredibly versatile.
When it came time to mend clothing, secure an arrowhead or a spear point just knapped to a sturdy branch, or lash together logs to make a raft, improvised bridge or stretcher for carrying a wounded companion, strong cordage was essential to the pioneers.
Since they could not reliably access processed materials for the making of proper twine or rope, they had to rely on a more primitive version made from the sinews of butchered animals.
This is a fascinating and sometimes nasty process by which the tendons, ligaments and other tissues of an animal could be harvested carefully without damage and then processed through a variety of means to produce cord that was stronger than the sum of its parts, quite literally.
This is just one more way to make maximum use of the resources you take from the environment, and in a long-term survival situation might be the only way you can replace that old hank of paracord that is on its last legs.
50. Making Glue
Sometimes there is just no other way to mend a broken item or hold two items together besides using glue.
With all of the wonderful modern adhesives available to us in every size, composition and application today, is easy to forget the pioneers themselves made extensive use of glue for all kinds of things, and many of them knew multiple recipes so no matter where they were there was always a good chance they could brew up a batch in reasonably short order.
You might also be surprised to learn that several varieties of primitive glue are portable, since they have to be re-melted over low heat before they become sticky!
You be wise to learn from the pioneers of yesteryear and commit to memory (and practice) brewing your own primitive glue.
Done properly with careful attention to mixing ratios and preparation these primitive glues can be surprisingly strong and effective at mending even modern equipment.
Unfortunately, and there is no two ways about it, many primitive glue recipes are foul to prepare and include such ingredients as pine tar, animal dung and charcoal ground into a fine powder.
The resulting concoction is then typically heated over very low heat and stirred until it combines into a sticky paste.
While we will probably never push out the boundaries of civilization as our pioneer ancestors did, we can still learn from them and just as importantly honor their memory by committing the vital skills they relied on in everyday life to our survival skill repertoire.
Much of what the pioneers did can serve as a blueprint for successfully surviving in the most wild and remote places on Earth.
Growing up in the Bluegrass State, it was a point of familial pride to be able to shoot, trap, identify plants and track animals. Summer camps helped us be well versed in camping, weapons, and survival skills from a young age. We were surrounded by such a lush environment, and we used the resources we had.
I met my soulmate in my happiest place to be- a seemingly enchanted winding trail next to a beautiful wooded glen- where I spent as much time exploring as I could during daylight hours with my trusty four-legged friends.
The bucket list includes living the days painting and writing on a fully self-sufficient homestead, off-grid with our animals and family and plenty of land for the significant other (who I think is a true artist at weapons and living that way) to shoot to his heart’s content. Naturally organic living for us and the animals is a goal.
2 thoughts on “50 Pioneer Skills That Will Help You Survive”
Another good one girl 🙂 I’m starting to wonder, why we ever had beef? Regardless, I would like to include a few trades not mentioned in your article.
Plumbing. It may not seem like a necessary skill and is definitely not one the pioneers would have known but in today’s modern world with pipes being everywhere a plumber is a good choice for a survival group.
Electrician. Although it’s likely that any disaster can bring the grid down, solar and wind as well hydro electrics and generators will be used post disaster. The more technology available post collapse the better life will be. Just remember the movie “Thunderdome” to realize how a whole city can be built on energy 😉
Mechanic. Cars and other forms of conveyance will also be useful in the dark days but in addition to vehicles, mechanics are like jack of all trades and can usually figure stuff out that is beyond most tradesman.
I also saw no mention of doctors and nurses and while herbalists will be the most consulted of healers for basic health needs doctors and nurses will still be needed. Specialist like surgeons and even therapists have a place in survival groups.
Lastly and (definitely not least) while you mentioned woodworking skills and I agree totally, a carpenter is like a mechanic in their ability to make something out of nothing and are a must in any survival group.
Now I know that these suggestions, don’t exactly follow the theme of your article exactly but I’m considering the total aftermath, in a progressive sorta way. Yes much of our learning, will have to go back to the days of our forefathers but much of how our societies will rebuild are forged in forward thinking. Not by any means a condemnation of your article, simply an inclusion.
Yes, I kind of miss arguing with you, like a big brother! Maybe we are more alike than I thought haha
Oh sure, you are right, I was geared more towards Pioneer skills that would carry over. but you are right that mechanics (the Pioneer farrier), doctors and nurses (pioneer midwives, herbalists, and apothecary, tribes that offered their cures), and definitely carpenters will have their value in any post collapse community more than ever. It will/could be like medieval times in the trade sense, as skills and bartering goods will be currency.
Thanks for the nice note!