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11 Best Skills to Learn for Homesteading, Survival, and Self-Sufficiency

Do you know how to bake your own bread? Plant and grow a garden? Can your own food?

These are essential skills that our ancestors simply took for granted; you had to know how to do these things in order to survive daily life. Today, however, many of these skills might seem like a lost art from a bygone era. However, learning how to be more self-sufficient can save you a lot of money throughout the year.

Whether you want to live off the grid, start a homestead, or prepare for a long-term emergency, there are plenty of interesting and important skills that will help you be more independent. The New York Times reports that Google searches using terms like “prepper” and “survivalism” have reached all-time highs. And with global tensions as high as they are, it’s no wonder. People are increasingly feeling the need to be more prepared and in control.

Becoming more self-sufficient starts with knowledge. Let’s take a look at some of the essential life skills you need to learn.

Top 11 Skills to Be More Self-Sufficient

Centuries ago, our ancestors had to face hardships and obstacles that are, for most of us, unthinkable today. So, how did they do it? What did they know that we don’t?

1. Store Water Long-Term

When a disaster strikes, water service is one of the first necessities that’s interrupted. We can’t survive without water, which is why knowing how to treat and store water long-term is such an important skill.

Stop and think about how much drinking water you have in your home right now. If you suddenly lost your water supply, how long could your family last with your current stores? Chances are, not too long. While it’s important to have plenty of water put back for emergencies (on average, one gallon per person, per day for drinking and hygiene,) it’s even more important to have a plan for getting clean water if service goes out for an extended period of time.

Think about where you live. Is there a lake, creek, or stream nearby that could supply you with water in the event of an emergency? Do you have a rain barrel you could use to collect it?

You also need to think about how you would treat any water you collect during an emergency. Some commercial purifiers, such as the Berkey Water Filtration System, will remove 99% of contaminants and pathogens. Simple methods like boiling and purifying with bleach are also effective if disaster strikes. If you’re short on space, consider purchasing some stackable water bricks. Each brick holds 3.5 gallons of water, and they are easy to slide under your bed or stack in the closet.

2. Build a Fire

Know How Start Fire

Do you know how to start a fire?

This is one of those skills that could very easily save your life someday. Fire not only keeps you warm and allows you to cook food, but it can also help ward off dangerous animals and keep your spirits up if you’re lost. It’s something everyone should know how to do.

Starting a fire might sound relatively simple – until you go out and do it. For example, do you know how to find dry wood when it’s raining or snowing? How to start a fire if you don’t have a lighter? Which trees provide the hottest-burning firewood? What you should use as tinder?

The best way to learn how to start a fire is to watch someone do it and then practice. You should learn how to start a fire using a piece of flint and steel, a magnifying lens, as well as learn how to light a fire on a wet day.

3. Plant and Grow a Garden

Starting a home vegetable garden is one of the best ways to save money on groceries. It’s also a practical way to insulate yourself from rising food prices. After all, every bit of food you put on the table that you grew yourself is food you don’t have to buy from someone else.

A home garden gives you a reliable, independent food source. If you lose your job, you know you will have free, fresh fruit and vegetables until you get back on your feet. In addition, gardening is a great way to get outdoors and get some exercise.

It can feel a bit overwhelming to start a garden, especially if you’ve never grown your own food. The best way to begin is to start small. Consider starting a container garden, or tilling a small garden in your yard with just a few fruits and vegetables. As you become more comfortable planting and tending your garden, you can expand.

4. Preserve Your Own Food

Home canning has seen a resurgence in recent years as more people, especially young people, discover the joys of processing their own food. Home canning is one of the best ways to preserve fruits and vegetables from your garden. It also saves you quite a bit of money on groceries, with the added benefit of allowing you to eat healthy, home-grown food all year.

Home canning isn’t the only way to preserve the food from your garden, however. You can also learn how to dehydrate food, either with a commercial food dehydrator or by simply using your oven. An excellent book to get you started with food preservation is “Preserving Everything,” by Leda Meredith.

5. Compost

Learn Start Composting

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), food and yard waste make up 20% to 30% of what we throw away. Organic material creates an enormous amount of methane gas, a key component contributing to global warming.

Compost is green waste (such as leaves, grass clippings, and fruit and vegetable trimmings) that has been allowed to naturally decompose instead of being thrown away. When the decomposition process is complete, you’re left with a nutrient-rich soil that can dramatically improve your garden. Compost is often called “black gold” because of the long list of benefits it provides for fruits and vegetables. If you decide to start a garden, you’ll need to learn how to start composting, or vermicomposting (which is the process of using worms to naturally decompose your green waste).

6. Organize and Rotate a Long-Term Food Pantry

One of the first things I did when we moved up into the mountains was start a long-term food pantry. During the winter, there are many days (sometimes a week or more) when we can’t get down our steep road due to snow and ice. So, having plenty of food and supplies on hand is a necessity. Having an organized, long-term food pantry is essential for any family in the event that you can’t get to the store. This could be due to a natural disaster, civil unrest, or even a family illness.

Building a long-term food pantry can be expensive if you try to stock up on everything all at once. You’ll save money by going slowly, picking up items as they go on sale at the grocery store or bulk food warehouse. So, what should you stock up on? Here are some foods that store well long-term:

  • Peanut butter
  • Canned vegetables, such as canned tomatoes, carrots, peas, and green beans
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Summer sausage
  • Sugar and honey
  • Canned meat (such as chicken, tuna, salmon, or even SPAM)
  • Nuts and trail mix
  • Pancake mix
  • Oatmeal
  • Pasta and pasta sauce
  • Rice
  • Granola bars
  • Dehydrated milk (especially important if you have young children)
  • Beef jerky
  • Instant coffee or tea
  • Fruit juices
  • Powdered drink mixes (such as Gatorade)
  • Comfort foods, such as chocolate or cookies
  • Cooking oils (such as vegetable oil or shortening, olive oil, or coconut oil)

Another way to save money when you build a long-term pantry is to process more of the food yourself. For example, dehydrated fruits are a great addition to your emergency pantry; they’re a delicious and nutritious snack food, and you can also rehydrate them to use in oatmeal or baked goods. However, some dehydrated fruit, especially strawberries, can be very expensive.

One option is to buy a food dehydrator and do it yourself. I purchased the Presto Snackmaster for $60 off Amazon. It works great, and it was very affordable considering all I’m getting out of it. I use our dehydrator to dry fruit like strawberries, mangoes, and bananas. I also use it to dehydrate vegetables, such as carrots, celery, onions, and mushrooms; all of these can be used to make soup or other entrees. I simply stock up when these items go on sale (and especially when I can get them at my local farmers’ market) and dry them slowly at home. If stored correctly, home-dried fruits and vegetables will keep for a year or two; if they’re properly vacuum-sealed, they will keep for 10 or even 20 years.


7. Cook Without Electricity

Power outages are fairly common during summer and winter storms. However, there’s a chance that one day you could experience a power outage that lasts for days or even weeks. This is why it’s so important to prepare for a long-term power outage. If the power does go out, do you have other means to prepare a meal? Do you know how to cook without electricity?

Your options for electricity-free meal-prep are going to depend on your living situation. For example, do you have a gas stove? An outdoor gas grill? A wood stove? A commercial smoker? A camp stove? A solar oven? Do you have a yard or open space where you could build an outdoor fire?

If you’re short on space, consider purchasing a rocket stove. These tiny stoves are fueled with small sticks and twigs, but their design allows them to reach very high temperatures. And, many rocket stoves are very affordable. For example, you can purchase a tiny Ohuhu Camp Stove for around $17. I have the Solo Titan, which is much larger and a better fit for our family of four.

You’ll also need to look at your cooking tools. Many of the pots and pans you use on your stove top won’t work well over an open flame. You’ll need to have a Dutch oven or cast-iron skillet on hand in order to prepare food over a fire.

8. Learn Basic First Aid and CPR

Learn First Aid Basics

Imagine that you and your family are hunkered down during a hurricane and someone gets severely hurt. Perhaps someone has a heart attack, or one of your children is cut by flying glass. Do you know how to administer CPR, or stop traumatic bleeding?

One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to learn basic first aid and CPR is to watch YouTube. Watching trained first responders perform CPR is a quick way to learn how to do it yourself. SkinnyMedic, a paramedic based in the Southeast, has an excellent series of medical training videos on YouTube that will teach you how to apply a tourniquet, stop an infant choking, and everything in between. You can also take first aid and CPR classes through the Red Cross.

It’s also important to have some reference books on hand in case you find yourself cut off from medical help for an extended period of time. Two of my favorite medical reference books are “The Survival Medicine Handbook,” and “Where There Is No Doctor.” Both of these books are incredibly comprehensive and will help you get your family through most medical emergencies.

9. Heal Yourself Naturally

Our ancestors knew how to use herbal and natural remedies to heal wounds and stay healthy. After all, they had to in order to survive. Doctors were expensive and, sometimes, unavailable. Pharmacies were often only found in bigger towns and cities, which meant they were a long walk or buggy ride away for many families.

Today, it’s relatively easy to pick up a prescription or buy over-the-counter medication to soothe our aches and pains. But just because these options are available doesn’t mean they always will be. Knowing how to treat yourself and your family naturally is not only less expensive than buying conventional medicine, but it also instills the confidence that you can keep everyone well in the event of an emergency.

There are so many ways to heal common illnesses using natural remedies. You can use them to cure morning sickness, keep your kids healthy, treat colds and the flu, fight insomnia, and treat chronic back pain. It’s also important to know the various healing uses for some common household items. For example, baking soda has many health benefits; you can use it to treat cold and flu symptoms, as well as bladder infections. Other household staples, such as lemonsapple cider vinegar, and witch hazel, are workhorses when it comes to natural healing.

Natural healing is another area where it’s helpful to have a few books on hand to reference when you need them. Some of my favorites include “Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use,” and “Do-It-Yourself Herbal Medicine.” 

10. Forage

Some people might be a bit turned off at the thought of foraging for wild, edible plants. However, this is an essential skill that is becoming more popular as people look for ways to eat healthy, locally grown produce. For example, there are many health benefits to eating dandelions. They’re one of the most nutrient-dense plants you can eat, and they pop up free for the taking every March. Other plants, such Wood Sorrel, Japanese Knotweed, and Lamb’s Quarters can be found easily in most states and make a healthy and delicious addition to your diet.

Learning how to forage for edible wild plants can be a fun activity for your entire family. However, equip yourself with a reliable field guide, such as “Backyard Foraging,” to ensure you’re picking the right plants. Some species have poisonous look-alikes that must be avoided. Remember, if you’re not 100% sure that you’re picking the right plant, leave it alone.

11. Raise Small Animals

Raise Small Animals

It’s hard to think of homesteading without thinking of animals. Most homesteads in centuries past had at least a cow and some chickens for a reliable source of milk and eggs. Today, however, many people don’t have the space to have a full-fledged homestead with a barn full of animals. Not only that, most people don’t have the time it takes to tend to so many animals. But if you have even a small, fenced-in yard, you might be able to raise chickens, keep rabbits, or start urban beekeeping.

There are many advantages to raising at least a few small animals at home. First, these animals can supply you with a ready source of food. Chickens can provide eggs on a daily basis, which will help save you money at the grocery store. Plus, you’ll know exactly where your food is coming from because you raised it yourself. If you’d like to learn more about raising animals in your backyard, check out “The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals.”

Final Word

One of the best things about learning to be more self-reliant is the confidence you gain. These skills give you the ability to take care of your family if unforeseen circumstances strike, which can be a great comfort in uncertain times. Many of these skills will also help you save money and live a more frugal lifestyle.

Since moving up into the mountains, my husband and I have focused on learning a wide variety of skills to increase our self-sufficiency. Between us, we’ve learned how to fell trees and process firewood, start fires in many different conditions, set up and organize a long-term food pantry, tie dozens of knots, administer emergency first aid and stop traumatic bleeding, collect and store water from our spring, bake our own bread, preserve foods through dehydration, fermentation, and canning, and much more.

Learning these skills has been fun and incredibly empowering – and there are still many more skills we want to learn. This spring, I’ll be taking classes to learn how to administer wilderness first aid, forage for wild foods, and make herbal tinctures.

What are some survival or homesteading skills you would add to this list? What have you recently learned how to do to become more self-sufficient?

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.

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