Skill vs Tools

Gear Versus Skills

Getting By Now Versus Surviving

“We shape our tools, and thereafter they shape us.” –Father John Culkin. 

More than a few preppers have stocks of food, water, and gear bulging out of their garages, basements, and bug out locations.  Depending on the situation, serious preppers have multiple bug out bags, and they’re packed, heavy, and ready to go.  We love reviewing solar generators and solar panels, and we have more than we could use right now.  We have water storage and water filtration systems, but the most important thing we have is the knowledge of how to build a filter in the wild from materials we can forage, gather, and salvage.  We also know how to use chemicals others wouldn’t see the practical use of to kill off microorganisms and parasites in the water we collect in the wild.  While an earthquake could wipe out my stored water in seconds, we can still collect and render drinkable water from the wild.  One is gear; the other is skills.

In the argument of which is better–gear or skills–skills always win out.  Still, we wouldn’t want to try and light a fire after a disaster if all we had was wet wood.  Some gear in that situation would certainly be helpful.   This blog will examine four criteria you should apply to all your gear and five of the top skills you should make some effort to know a bit about.  After this blog, you may want to take it further by putting these skills into occasional practice or pressing your gear into use.  Both gear and skills have their place.  When we say gear, we mean any equipment or tool you have that can be purposed toward your survival.  Gear will often get you through the immediate crisis, but as we will see here, it’s the skills that will get you through the long haul of surviving.  Let’s talk about it.

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Let’s start off by discussing the 4 criteria you should apply to all of your gear and tools.


Man Camping In The WoodsSkills and knowledge travel with you.  Memories and thinking have no weight.  Some of my equipment is heavy.  Even carrying a backpack full of food, water, and gear will wear you down and slow your progress.  We don’t know what you can regularly lift, but we put our heavy gas generator on wheels.  Sure, we could lift it in and out of my bug out vehicle and take it with us if we had to, but it’s not something we’re going to want to do if we’re also worried about our personal safety at the same time.  It’s not something we will want to do if we don’t want to risk a minor muscle strain that could hamper my ability to get to safety.  Our Solar Generators will be far lighter and more practical in a grid-down situation, and they will provide me limitless energy in small amounts.

With any gear, consider its portability.  Can you take it with you, or is it tied to your home, bug out location, or encampment?


SewingIf you know how to do it once, you can do it again.  Someone might even supply the raw materials for you or go and get the raw materials for you in exchange for your work.  In this way, skills are a commodity.  If money were to become completely worthless, skills would hold their value.  If you have a sewing needle and some thread, but you lose the needle, you will wish you knew the Bushcraft skill of fashioning a bone needle.  If your fire rod falls in the fire or you lose it out of your pocket, you will wish that you knew what flint looks like in its rock state.  If you lose your only fish hook, and if you have ever fished, you know how often that happens; you will wish you learned how to fashion a hook out of a can pull tab, wood, or bone.  The fact is that tools and gear have a single lifetime of utility.  Knowing how to make tools, having that skill allows you to replicate and fashion tools out of nature.  You will never be without the components of fire.  You will never be without a fishhook, a spear tip, a length of rope, a shelter, and so forth.  

So, consider with any gear how long its usable life is.  If it’s super critical to you, remember the adage “two is one and one is none.”  If it’s that good, you might want to get two in your inventory.  You might also want to learn the skill to make from the wild whatever tool it is that’s so critical to your survival. 


TheftSkills cannot be stolen, but gear can be.  Gear will make you a target for some during desperate times.  After a disaster, start up that gas generator of yours or fire up your barbeque and see how many people start peering over your fence or heading your way, following their ears and nose.  Desperate people will take desperate measures and won’t give a second thought about taking from you when they are in survival mode.  On this fact alone, many approach security solely from the perspective of having more weapons and bigger weapons than those around them.  Many of those armed survivors are also the ones who don’t holistically look at their gear.  In the aftermath of a large-scale disaster, yes, they are pretty secure, but they might also become a marauder to stay alive and get the things they overlooked in their prepping inventory.

Beyond getting your gear stolen and making yourself a target for those who would steal it, you do need to approach security as keeping yourself safe.  This is where skills are better than gear.  Knowing self-defense, knowing how to wield a knife, even knowing how to shoot a gun are essential skills.  A weapon in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use it is randomly dangerous to the user and everyone around the user, including allies.  If someone grabs you or is coming at you with a weapon, you may not survive the attack, but your chances of survival go way up with just a little training and learning of some basic skills and techniques.  So when you look at security and gear, examine how secure you are with your gear and what gear you have to keep you safe.  Also, can you properly use it?


GeneratorOur gas generator is only good as long as we have gas.  Our knives are only good if they’re sharp.  Ropes are great, but knowing how to make a rope in the wild, that’s a bushcraft skill that you can genuinely use. Learning how to tie knots takes a rope from just a long piece of string to a useful tool.  Usability is the most significant factor when it comes to gear.  Will your gear function?  Do you know how to use it?  Will it save you more calories than it expends?  How long of a life expectancy does the gear have?  Matches or flint and steel are only as good as they last.  You need to stretch the tool that is a match or Ferro rod by knowing how to create a good kindle and tinder.  If your gear has just one application, is it that good?  Is it worth the weight?  

When it comes to usability, it’s part skills anyways.  Do you know how it works?  Sure, you have a great, high-quality knife, but have you ever used it in the wild?  We have taught knife skills to Cub Scouts, and believe me, there’s a lot to learn to keep from cutting yourself or others.  One deep cut can drop your chances of survival to zero.  With any gear or tool, you have to take it out and press it into service.  Make sure it isn’t going to break or malfunction on you.  Learn how to use it and under what conditions you can get the best performance from it.  Consider usability when you consider your gear and not just the online reviews.

So consider the portability, replication, security, and usability of your gear now and before you commit to purchase anymore.  When you build in redundancy to your gear, make that redundancy a skill in your prepping inventory.  Both gear and skills will get you through, so long as you have enough knowledge to use your gear and leverage your environment.  That said, here are the top five skills that we think are the most important to you in a prolonged grid-down situation.  You may disagree, and we would invite you to let us know the top skill you think is most important in the comments below, but if you learn a little from each of these five skills, your odds of long-term survival are exponentially higher.



Gears In The WildEven in an urban metropolis, you walk by hundreds, if not thousands of edible plants.  Many plants have edible roots.  Do you admire your neighbor’s Canna Lilies?  Did you know the rhizomes can be eaten raw, boiled, or baked and have a taste similar to a water chestnut?  That would be great to know if there were no other food sources available to you.  It would also be great to know your neighbor’s Hydrangea flowers have a small amount of cyanide in them and will kill you if you eat them.  There are many plants you can eat and more than a few that will make you sick or kill you.  Get in the habit and mindset of learning the plants around you, on your walks, in your neighborhood, and your region.  Learn how to grow and how to replant.  It’s now understood that the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest took plants they foraged from and planted them around their settlements.  Foraging and gardening are logically related to each other.  Know what you can eat and even do a little foraging where you can to try out a few recipes.  Plant a piece of your yard or your balcony with some sunchokes.  Just avoid areas that may be sprayed with pesticides or weed killers, and maybe leave your neighbor’s flowers alone for now.


FermentationWhether it’s beer, pickling, or kombucha, understanding the basics of fermentation will allow you to make food edible and preserve it over the long haul.  A fermented drink is its own microcosm, and it doesn’t like foreign bacteria.  A beer that has been properly bottled will keep for a year or more because of its pH and alcohol content.  That is commercial beer.  We have drunk homebrews far older than that.  A really strong mead or wine will keep for decades if kept cool and in a dark place.  The oldest wine in existence today is from 325 AD.  The Speyer Wine Bottle was found in 1867 in the tomb of a Roman soldier.  While that one probably isn’t drinkable, some over 200 years old wine is still quite drinkable.  Fermentation is taken to the next level through distillation, and alcohol can provide you with combustion, sterilization, and just a good stiff drink now and again.

Even if alcohol isn’t your thing, learning to ferment foods can be a lifesaver.  The Dust Bowl hit at the same time as the Great Depression, which left many throughout middle America desperately starving for food as crops failed.  Seemingly biblical plagues of jackrabbits and grasshoppers descended on the Plains and destroyed whatever meager crops could grow.  This led to “rabbit drives,” where thousands of jackrabbits were killed by the thousands.  Food scarcity was real, but tumbleweeds were in abundance.  Almost nothing would grow in the Dust Bowl, but weeds like lamb’s quarters and tumbleweeds continued to thrive.  Families resorted to brining the weeds and storing them to eat during the winter.  If you didn’t know, brining is not necessarily the same as fermentation.  Fermentation in brine would require the brine to be an environment conducive to active lactobacillus bacteria growth.  But, if you didn’t know, that’s a good reason you should learn the skill of fermentation.  Understanding how yeast and bacteria work on our foods and harnessing their power can mean the difference between starvation and bounty.  It certainly beats having to eat an entire crop of cucumbers the day before they spoil.


BushcraftOne of the first lessons you learn when it comes to building a bug out bag is that the less skills you have, the more gear you will need to compensate.  As you develop skills, the gear you once deemed as necessary begins to decrease.  Learning how to build a shelter in the wild, hunt, fish, forage, start a fire, process a kill, are all skills you should aspire to learn by hands on experience.  The average person in the wilderness would be dead from dehydration, starvation, or exposure in mere days.  Bushcraft is merely the skills needed to live in the wild.  Think primitive and rugged camping.  Knowing how to tie a knot, build a lean-to, or turn a tarp into a tarp tent all fit that category.  Being able to start a fire or a smokehouse fits this category.  When it comes to bushcraft, there’s theory and practice.  Even if it works and you are reading about it, it is still a theory until you put it into practice, at least once.  Bushcraft skills will get you home after a disaster.  They will help you get out of a disaster zone.  They will keep you alive.  Hopefully, you won’t ever get to the point where you are naked, afraid, and lost in the wild, but if you do, you will be glad you spent the time learning some bushcraft skills.  And please, don’t mistake watching a bushcraft video on YouTube as actually knowing how to do it.  Learn from it for sure and actually get out and do it.

Fiber Arts

Fiber ArtsFiber arts is a broad term that includes rope-making, spinning of thread, sewing, needlepoint, knitting, macrame, weaving, felting, rug-making, crocheting, basket-making, knot tying, and all those kinds of entanglements.  Before you could catch fish effectively, you needed someone to make a net or tie a line.  Before you could keep warm, you needed someone who could stitch together animal pelts or weave a tunic out of smashed hemp or papyrus fibers.  The ancient Egyptians used papyrus to make paper, baskets, sandals, mats, rope, blankets, tables, chairs, mattresses, medicine, perfume, food, and clothes.  Most indigenous people in North America made their clothing from agave plant fiber.  Ancient cultures from subtropical regions worldwide, including the Americas, Africa, Egypt, and India, gave the world cotton.  Whether stitching a wound or making paper, knowing how to work with fibers provides you with unlimited possibilities.

Medical Arts

Medical ArtsKnowing how to administer first-aid is crucial. Learning how to stitch a laceration takes that a step further.  Knowing what plants can form an anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory poultice to keep the wound from getting infected takes it all a step further.  Medical care after a disaster or in the aftermath of an SHTF situation isn’t going to be reliably available.  You will also probably need to do much more than band-aid a child’s skinned knee.  Any study done in this field, from formal CPR training to the medicinal uses of plants, is time well spent.  You don’t have to be a doctor, but understanding how to lower a fever or fight infection could be a lifesaver to you.  That doctor would be more apt to exclaim, “if I only had the proper medicines and tools.”  I’m not saying that you should forego medical care now to try out some herbal, folksy remedies.  Many of us live at a time where medicine is highly advanced, albeit pricey, but you would be well-served to know little things like the fact that white willow bark contains Salicylic Acid.  Do you know that we get Aspirin from that?  Do you know what a white willow tree looks like?  Combine your learning with a bit of foraging now and again, and you will have the skills you need when you need them.


A combination of good gear that you know how to use and good skills that will never be subject to getting lost or stolen will get you through even the worst disasters.  Skills are the most essential piece of equipment in your prepping supplies.  Your gear will undoubtedly make things easier for you in the short term, but your skills will serve you long after your tools have failed.  Commit to reviewing your gear.  Put it into service to know how it works, develop skills using it, and commit to learning a new skill.  Maybe learn a little of each of the five outlined here.  Out of the five mentioned, do any of them interest you?  Personally, we’re going to proactively work on developing medical skills next year.  Our background in college as we’ve mentioned before was Microbiology.  We did our undergrad in this with plans to go to medical school.  We even went as far as taking the MCAT and applying to medical school but ultimately went a different direction when it came to our career.  We’re very interested in taking EMT training next year through a local Junior College in order to get the knowledge and learn from practical experience on the job.  It’s always nice to get paid to learn, right?

What do you think?  Is there a piece of gear you absolutely couldn’t survive without?  Is there a skill we didn’t cover here that you deem essential?

As always, stay safe out there.


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