SHTF: Primitive Skills and Modern Resources

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

There seems to be two schools of thought on survival after an TEOTWAWKI(The end of the world as we know it) scenario. One is primitive survival, the other is based on stocking up enough “stuff” to “weather the storm.”

While preppers themselves represent a broad spectrum, from the minimalist nature survival type all the way through the doomsday hoarder, I’ve noticed an interesting disruption between these two philosophies that might add some diversity to the idea of survival in general, and how one should prepare.

Being Prepared

There is nothing out of the ordinary about having some extra stocks on hand. People who have weathered hurricanes and tornadoes have known this for years. When I was a kid, we all knew where the flashlights and candles were located in case of a power outage.

“Preppers” take this idea a step further, ensuring that they have food, water, and financial security established for a defined period of time. Usually this is anywhere from a weeks supply for the emergency plan all the way out to two years (with a seed bank) for the “serious prepper,” whatever the hell that is.

Bug-out bags, vehicle upgrades, radio equipment, Faraday cages, etc. are all on the list. The longer the supply list, typically the more “prepared” a person feels to face a long-lasting catastrophe like an economic meltdown, EMP, Solar CME, or some other society crushing emergency that’ll drop us into another dark age.

Problem is, this still fosters dependence on mass-produced goods. Neighbors and close friends are going to find themselves in need, and you’d be a jerk not to help them out. There’s also a threat of making yourself a target, but we won’t go there in this post.

Enter the Wilderness Survival Expert

Image by Michal Renčo from Pixabay

This guy doesn’t need canned goods or toilet paper. He can hunt, fish, skin animals, make a fire from nothing, and do just about anything you might expect a caveman to do. No problem eating bugs or bark, filter water from a stream, have a grub before naptime in your homemade well-furnished shelter, and you are dug in for the long haul. Typically he’ll carry a hatchet and a bowie knife, but there’s almost no dependence.

While these skills are great for wilderness survival, we often find ourselves in places far from the wilderness. If the plan is to bug-out and camp through the apocalypse, then it’s a faulty plan in at least a few ways. Every plan is faulty, of course, but…yeah, you get the point. Often times wilderness survival means cutting off communication with the rest of the population.

Sometimes the survivalist forgets that humans have always depended on other humans for survival. We’re social creatures, and do better in small groups than on our own. While a lone wolf can technically survive without anyone, this isn’t exactly the best way to do things, and case studies from various collapses from the fall of Rome to the conflict in Bosnia demonstrate that people have a tendency to thrive with other people around, even if there is a little bloodshed from time to time.

Combining the Two

On my little quest out here in the woods, I’ve aimed for some degree of self-sufficiency, but I also try to use the resources I have available. More and more I realize that primitive survival skills aren’t just for the woods. They’re for the city as well.

Yes, the plants may be poisoned and the water sources a bit scarce, but city survival in such an event often depends on the same things as country survival. But easier, with the proper mindset.

People in Bosnia needed to leave town to cut firewood, for instance, but even the people isolated in their villages during the dark ages survived using tools that were available to them, even if they didn’t know how to make their own at first. Roman swords become machetes and axes, for instance.

The TEOTWAWKI scenario isn’t going to strip away the things we already have available. So use what is available. Cordage in the woods means gathering roots or bark or other fibers and then twining them into cords and rope. This can also be accomplished with flexible plastic, using the exact same technique! I’ve started recycling my Walmart bags into a piece of rope that gets longer every time I come home from the supermarket. It’s something that would otherwise be “trash,” but it makes a pretty decent little cord.

I’ve been melting down aluminum cans, going through several prototypes based on ancient forges and kilns made from mud, the same type that are used for firing pottery. Aluminum is in abundance in society and it seems a waste to simply toss it when there are several possible items that it can be used to cast. I’ve recently looked into “smelting” my tin cans by simple using them as “iron ore” in a clay smelter. I’ve just started on this project but it struck me so easily that I had another “why didn’t I think of this before” moments. The idea is cemented, just need to build the smelter, collect some charcoal, and figure out some kind of bellows.

Glass can become a scalpel. Plastic can be remelted and reformed into just about anything. Stainless steel utensils can be sharpened into makeshift knives or bend into fairly strong parts for traps, pins, nails, or just about any other simple thing that you would use metal for. Don’t get me started on fence wire.

Image by RitaE from Pixabay

A New Type of Preparedness

Whether you are stocking up for the apocalypse, hoarding toilet paper for the next wave of COVID-19, building fires with a stick and a board, or just sitting around the house bored, there are a million little skills out there that can be developed in a novel niche.

Think of this a jury-rigging 2.0. Take an ancient skill, apply it to modern materials (especially “junk” materials), and see what you can come up with. I’m not talking about making bird feeders, trinkets, mason bee homes, and shit like that, but truly useful stuff that you will put to work immediately. It’s cool to carve a spoon from a block of wood, or to make other stuff from other “natural” resources, but what resources do we have immediately available in an emergency that could come in handy to save your life when SHTF and all you see is trash?

Be sure to list some ideas in the comments if you’ve done stuff like this. I’ll put some basics here:

  • Trash bags for rain gear or weatherproofing
  • Any sturdy food container is a storage compartment
  • Sheet steel from “tin cans” is only a snip away, and these were used for shingles during the Great Depression
  • Candle wax can be used for waxing thread, lubricating (greasing) surfaces, or making models for lost-wax casting.
  • Aluminum cans can be melted in open air and poured much like lead was, the temp is higher (about 600C), but it can be done. Check out my youtube channel to see the kiln in action.
  • Plastics of various kinds can be softened with heat and worked into just about any imaginable shape. Some can also be cast like lead, though it’s probably better to press them. Any plastic will work, but sort them by their recycling number to ensure consistency.
  • Paper towels can be used as air filters.
  • Twist flimsy shopping sacks the same way you do twine to make a sturdy rope, or cut them into strips for making a smaller plastic twine.
  • You can make a blow-gun from PVC pipe, ammunition from pins or small nails with feathering (think shredded fabric or plastic) attached.
  • Small knives: think prison shank. Not just for jabbing people.

Ancient people used what they had available, which was rocks and trees. The modern city is full of all kinds of useless junk just waiting to be repurposed. It’s literally a gold-mine of resources if you are clever enough to turn them into tools.


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