Five Surprisingly Useful Skills For Surviving In A Post-apocalyptic World

5 Mar

When thinking about surviving in a post-apocalyptic world, the useful skills that usually jump into minds are things like how to use a gun and how to fix a broken engine. While I agree these skills are likely to become incredibly useful, and I’ve had them on a previous list of skills you should think about learning now to help you survive when civilisation comes crashing down, they are all relatively obvious. In this post, I want to highlight five other skills you may not have considered before but that are likely prove to be surprisingly useful.

The Ancient Art Of Knitting

Knitting: The Ancient Art Of Turning Sheep Into Clothing

The first of these is knitting. I know what you’re thinking, in the immediate aftermath of whatever caused the end of the world, you’re not exactly going to have time to sit down with a ball of wool and a couple of knitting needles so you can finish that scarf you promised your Aunt Jenny for her birthday but I’m thinking about longer-term survival here. Once the dust starts to settle and you’ve solved as many of the problems of immediate survival as possible, you will need to turn your attention to what you’re going to do in the longer term, and one of the issue here is how you’re going to stay warm and clothed. This is where skills like knitting and the related ones of sewing, spinning fibres into yarn, weaving and so on start to become invaluable. In addition, it’s only a short leap from these to making things like rope (which is really just very thick yarn made from very tough materials), matting, walls and roofs for shelters (through weaving vegetation together), baskets and even things like fishing nets. All of these use the same basic skill sets as knitting and other similar hobbies.

Next it’s fishing. In most post-apocalyptic films and stories, food is generally found in places like supermarkets or is caught through hunting. Neither of these are very good long-term survival options. Take supermarkets. Firstly, they’re going to be dangerous places. They’ll attract all sorts of people and you’ll probably have to fight for access to any food they still have in them. Such confrontations are something you should aim to avoid wherever possible as there’s no guarantee you’ll come off best. Supermarkets and other buildings that are likely to contain food will also have lots of dark nooks and crannies where anything could be hiding, just waiting for it’s moment to leap out at attack you and, again, this is a risk you should try to avoid if you want to have the best chance of surviving. All this means you’d be better off avoiding places like this in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of civilisation. Secondly, supermarkets going to run out of dry pretty damn quick as everyone scrambles to get hold of whatever they have inside. This means you can’t rely on them as a food source in the longer term either.

That’s supermarkets out the way, so what’s wrong with hunting? Well, for a start, it’s very time-consuming and uses up ammunition that could be better used elsewhere, such as for defending yourself from whatever there is you might have to defend yourself against. It’s also noisy, meaning you’ll attract the attention of anyone, or anything, that’s out there, and you don’t want to be doing that, do you? In comparison, fishing is not only quiet but if you know what you’re doing it’s highly efficient. You can set lines, nets or traps, leave them to do their job while your off doing other things and return later to collect whatever they catch. This certainly beats having to trudge through the woods for hours trying to find something worth shooting. However, fishing isn’t just a matter of throwing a baited hook in anywhere and you’ll only be successful at it if you actually know what you’re doing.

The third surprisingly useful skill is sailing. When I mention sailing, you’re probably thinking luxury yachts and Caribbean islands, and wondering what could be useful in that, but, come the apocalypse, sailing could turn out to be one of the most useful things you’ve ever learned. If you know how to sail, it gives you a way to move around that doesn’t require any fuel, and sailing isn’t only useful on water. Using a knowledge of sailing, it would be easy enough to build something that would allow you to propel land-based vehicles along with just the power of the wind (those familiar with land-sailing or kite-boarding will already have a good idea of how this can be done). This having been said, moving around on water is where sailing’s really going to come into it’s own. This is because in almost any possible post-apocalyptic situation, you’re going to be safer on the water than on the land: on the water it’ll be easier to move around, to avoid trouble, to take your base and move it somewhere else if you need to (and especially if you need to do this in a hurry) and defend your base for any attacks. This is why I’d always make sailing a key element of my post-apocalyptic survival strategy, and why I used it as the basis for my book For Those In Peril On The Sea. You can find out more about why I think sailing’s likely to be so useful when the world comes to an end here.

After sailing comes star-gazing. There’s a lot of useful information up there in the sky if you only you know what you’re looking at. Almost every human civilisation there’s ever been has relied heavily on star-gazing at one time or another. It’s been used to tell the time, to tell the seasons, to predict the tides and to navigate from point A to point B. Few of us know how to read the stars any more but come the apocalypse this information will become vital to your long-term survival. However the world comes to an end, the chances are that within a very short space of time the GPS satellites will come crashing down and the batteries on things like watches will run out. Yet, you’ll still need to be able to know where you’re going, how long you have until the sun goes down, or comes up again, and when it’s the right time to start planting food or harvesting crops. The key to being able to do this lies in the stars above our heads but you can only unlock it if you know how to read the sky.

Finally, the last surprisingly useful skill is cooking. I’m not talking about being able to microwave popcorn here, I’m talking about being able to cook something hot and tasty from whatever ingredients you have to hand so I suppose this is really as much about food preparation as cooking itself. Nothing saps morale quicker than having to live off a monotonous diet of the same tasteless pre-packed food meal after meal, day after day, week after week (unless you’re a student who’s living off pot noodles because you’ve already blown all your money for the term on beer, in which case you’re probably already well adapted to this type of diet and it won’t really bother you).

Almost anything (even pot noodles and other pre-packed food) can be made to taste a lot better with a bit of thought and some culinary knowledge. This knowledge will also open up many food sources to you that you couldn’t successfully access without it. Think bird eggs in spring, pheasants in summer, rabbits in autumn and migrating salmon in winter. These are all things going to be out there, just waiting for you to come along and eat them but before you can, you’ll need to know what to do with them before you can turn them into something that’s both edible and, possibly more importantly, unlikely to poison you. Real cooking involves a knowledge not just of how to warm things up but also how to skin animals, gut fish, pluck birds, identify edible mushrooms and prepare all things vegetable. With a good cook on your side, you’ll be able to face the apocalypse with a full belly and a nice taste in your mouth, and you’ll feel so much better for it.

The thing all these skills have in common is that at first, they don’t seem like your traditional key post-apocalyptic survival skills but this is because they won’t necessarily help you survive in immediate aftermath of everything going horribly wrong. What you have to remember, though, is that the end of civilisation isn’t something the world will recover from in a matter of days or weeks. Rather it’s going to make months or years, and that’s if it even happens at all. These skills are the ones that will become ever more useful the longer you manage to survive. They’re the ones that have the potential to make your life in a post-apocalyptic world not only easier but much, much more bearable. Yet, they are also exactly the types of skills we’re likely to lose because, when planning their post-apocalyptic survival strategies, everyone only ever concentrates on short-term survival rather than what they’re going to do as days turn into weeks, then months, then years and they find that the world still hasn’t gone back to being the way it was before.

From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK, and available as an ebook and in print in the US from the 21st March 2013. Click here or visit to find out more.

4 Responses to “Five Surprisingly Useful Skills For Surviving In A Post-apocalyptic World”

  1. Jack Flacco 07/03/2013 at 13:52 #

    Nicely done, Colin. This is a good post-apocalyptic primer for anyone looking to how to survive with little resources. I think knitting is a great skill set. I’d like to mention that although knitting is useful for the production of clothes, the needles themselves can function as weapons. I quick spike to the temple of a menacing zombie is all it takes and it’ll be out for the count.

    Just thought I throw that out there! 🙂

    • cmdrysdale 07/03/2013 at 14:32 #

      Hi Jack,

      My girlfriend (who’s current knitting project I ‘borrowed’ for the photo for this post) made the same point (no pun intended!). However, while I realise it would work, I feel it would have to be very much a weapon of last resort because I really wouldn’t want a zombie to be close enough to me to be able to use it effectively!

      All the best,


  2. michael smit 22/10/2019 at 15:40 #

    A skill that rarely gets mentioned is leadership. In these situations, individuals do worse than groups. Groups do worse than organized groups, and well-lead organized groups with enough members to be above a minimum threshold number do best of all. This is not opinion, but observation from the history of the human race – very noticeable in the conflict in Sarajevo in the 90’s.


  1. Is Being Naked Better For You? Not In A Zombie Apocalypse, It’s Not! | Colin M. Drysdale - 13/05/2015

    […] argued before that knitting is a core post-apocalyptic survival skill, but knitting is only part of the process of making fleece from sheep into something warm and […]

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