DIY Skills: the Best Survival Tool

Introduction: DIY Skills: the Best Survival Tool

Knowledge increases your chances of survival.

I am a big fan of having BOB (bug out bag) in the trunk of my car for emergencies both big and small, but I hesitate to rely upon it too heavily. Underground nuclear fall-out shelters, shotguns and AK-47s, freeze-dried food, bug-out bags, Altoid tins of fishing line, rolls of duct-tape, and solar battery chargers all have one thing in common: they are physical items that can be lost, destroyed or stolen.

Knowledge of DIY skills is the best survival tool. It works underwater, on land, in the desert, at home, and in a hijacked plane. It does not rust, mold, or break. It cannot be stolen or destroyed. Knowledge does not accidentally get left behind, when Armageddon hits during your day at the office, twenty miles from home. Here are the steps to gaining survival knowledge.

Step 1: Reality Check.

The Apocalypse is coming soon! The sky is falling! Aliens are invading! The economy is about to collapse! An unnamed third world virus is going to wipe out humanity! EMPs are being caused by the next sunspot! Bruce Willis didn’t blow up that planet-killing asteroid! Plagues of locusts are darkening the horizon. Chubby orange AI robots take over the world! And let’s don’t forget the midnight “B” movie classic, Zombie Attack!

How likely is it that any of these scenarios will really happen? We all know the answer is… not very likely. It is fun to talk about “prepping”, but Zombies are not real. Sure, wide spread disasters can happen, but the most likely apocalyptic events to strike you personally will be limited duration, regional events. An unexpected tornado, a mugging attempt, or a flat tire is much more likely to occur than a worldwide alien invasion. On a personal level, a flat tire in a rural cell phone dead zone, on a cold winter night, can be just as frightening as coming face to face with a Zombie, and much more likely!

Based on the premise that the most likely personal apocalyptic events are short-term, not long-term, I prefer to spend my resources to physically prep for events that will only last for a few hours. What personal apocalyptic events are you at risk to experience? Your personal risk will be very different than the author of that random survivalist blog that you were reading last night. After personally experiencing one of the scenarios in the first paragraph, my unique list will rank an unlikely event shockingly high. Take our quiz to identify your most likely personal apocalyptic events, and prioritize your studying and preparations.

Apocalyptic Quiz

Rate each event 1-10, with a “10” being almost certain to happen, and “1” being extremely unlikely. After taking the quiz, make a short list of scenarios that are the “most likely” to happen, to guide your studying and preparations.

1) ___You arrive home, and find see signs of a break-in

2) ___Non-earthly Alien Invasion

3) ___A burglar breaks into your home while you are at home alone

4) ___You house catches on fire while you are sleeping

5) ___You are driving alone in a remote area, and both your car and phone are not working

6) ___A hurricane or flood sends water around or into your home

7) ___You would be in extreme medical distress without your medications

8) ___You would be in extreme medical distress without medical equipment or treatments

9) ___A wildfire gets close to your house with little warning

10) ___A tornado goes across your property

11) ___Your home or office shakes from an earthquake

12) ___A worldwide killer virus attacks your country

13) ___A large percentage of local residents are suffering with bad case of a contagious flu virus

14) ___Trucks stop delivering groceries to your local stores for a few days or weeks

15) ___A locust plague kills all the crops worldwide

16) ___An asteroid, large enough to block out the sun worldwide, strikes the earth

17) ___You stay alone for long periods of time, and often fall

18) ___You have a medical condition that may suddenly be life-threatening

19) ___Losing electricity could be a life threatening event for you

20) ___You might be inconvenienced by not having electricity for a few hours or days

21) ___Due to illness, broken car, or weather, you might be isolated at home for a few days

22) ___You are dependent on others to take care of you

23) ___Your bank may close for several days, leaving you with no access to your accounts or an ATM

24) ___The dollar (fiat paper money) becomes worthless within a few days

25) ___You have no access to a working computer (including smart phones) for a week

26) ___Your phones stop working for several days

27) ___You must defend yourself at home from looters, with advance warning

28) ___You are randomly the victim of a physical crime, while away from home, walking on a street

29) ___You have a sudden and severe medical crisis while shopping in a mall

30) ___You are in a car accident, with minor injuries to you and your car

31) ___You are in a serious car accident, and unable to communicate your needs or concerns

32) ___You are in a car accident in a remote location, and limited help is slow to arrive

33) ___You have no running water for several days or weeks

34) ___You cannot flush your toilets, or pour water down a drain for several days or weeks.

35) ___Your heater does not work for several days

36) ___Your air conditioner does not work for several days

37) ___You fear that a family member might kill or physically harm you

38) ___You fear that friend or roommate might kill or physically harm you

39) ___You might need to go to the ER for an unexpected medical event, and stay overnight

40) ___The public transportation breaks, and you must walk several blocks

41) ___A virus or bad hard drive causes you to lose all your computer files, with no hope of recovery

42) ___Your refrigerator breaks or loses power, and all the food spoils

43) ___You need to put out a caution light for motorists, after some unexpected event

44) ___A child is choking, or grandma is having a heart attack, and the EMT will not arrive in time

45) ___Someone is pointing a loaded gun at you, and will pull the trigger in the next 30 seconds

46) ___Someone is threatening you, while holding a knife

47) ___Your stove and oven are not working for the next few days

48) ___The lights in your house are off for the next 24 hours

49) ___Your home security system stops working for several days

50) ___Your garage door opener (which you use instead of a house key) does not work

51) ___Your car catches on fire

52) ___You have a flat tire

53) ___A giant rat humanoid jumps out of a manhole

54) ___Your purse/wallet is stolen

55) ___Your identity is stolen

56) ___An airplane falls out of the sky, and crashes into your house

57) ___You must leave town suddenly, and not return for at least a week

58) ___You are a passenger on a plane, which is hijacked

59) ___Your plane crashes, but you survive in a remote area

60) ___While in a public place, office, or school, you hear nearby gunfire

61) ___While in a public place, office, or school, you hear a nearby explosion

62) ___You are driving alone in a remote area, lost, and your GPS is not working

63) ___You are in a building, and smell natural gas

64) ___You faint while shopping at a mall, and wake up in a hospital

65) ___Someone has threatened you, and you are frightened

66) ___You are being followed

67) ___A scary person is standing between you, and your safe haven

68) ___A car tries to run your car off the road

69) ___Chubby orange robots, in a failed attempt to protect mankind, hold you hostage

70) ___You saw someone killed or severely injured

71) ___You are hungry, and there are no stores open

72) ___The water coming out of your faucet is brown and smells funny

73) ___Your house is on fire, and someone is inside

74) ___Your house is on fire, and the family pet is inside

75) ___There is a green alien with big eyes, sitting in your recliner, eating your last chocolate bar

76) ___Your spouse is exhibiting early Zombie symptoms

77) ___There is a small fire in the kitchen

78) ___There is water in your basement

79) ___You think that the person that you live with is suicidal

80) ___A tree fell on you, and you are trapped with a broken leg

81) ___You are locked out of your house, and no one else has a key

82) ___A stray/wild animal has attacked you outdoors

83) ___A piece of a satellite falls into your backyard

84) ___You hear an explosion, and see a mushroom cloud a few miles away

85) ___The local news says that toxic chemicals are leaking from a nearby train wreck

86) ___You get food poisoning while away on vacation

87) ___A toddler is sitting on the floor, amidst empty pill bottles

88) ___The outside of your home is vandalized

89) ___A angry crowd of looters is walking toward your business

90) ___A police roadblock prevents you from returning home

91) ___The entire governmental system collapses, and anarchy ensues

92) ___While taking an afternoon stroll, you fall, and are too injured to walk back home

93) ___The bargain priced cruise ship has stopped moving, and the engines won’t restart

94) ___While vacationing in another country, there is a surprise coup

95) ___A foreign army invades your city

96) ___You are bleeding heavily from a large cut or injury

97) ___You have a head injury

98) ___A mudslide has partially engulfed your home

99) ___Tsunami!


Step 2: Learn How to Be Healthy.

Probably the best way to survive a crisis is to be physically healthy. Learn how you can improve your overall health, and minimize the impact of your chronic health problems. Do you have a potentially life-threatening medical condition? Take your doctor’s advice to limit salt, lose weight, manage stress, exercise more, or whatever is recommended by your doctor to increase your physical viability without dependence on prescription drugs.

If you make lifestyle changes, but still must take medications, do you always have an adequate supply? Or do you wait until you take that last pill before running to the corner drug store for a refill? Time your refills so that you always have a week or two of your medications available. Even if Zombies don’t attack, drug stores do occasionally run out of pills, and bad weather or transportation issues may prevent you from making the trip. Think about other ways to obtain your pills. Would a hospital have the pills? Would a military base or fire station have an emergency supply? Could home remedies be an emergency substitute? Do you have all the different names of your pills (name brand and various generics) memorized?

Do you have a way to store your medications properly without electricity? Research ways to keep your temperature sensitive medications cool without a refrigerator. Are you particularly sensitive to extremes of weather? Learn how to keep warm without blankets or fire.

Read books about homeopathic remedies. Learn how to make simple teas and poultices from plants. Know how to cure minor ailments without depending on a trip to a nearby drug store. Take a yoga or Thai Chi class to learn how to stretch muscles, improve flexibility, and reduce stress. Sign up for a first aid class.

Get off the couch and move. Hiking several miles in a survival situation, and chopping firewood, will be quite a shock to your body, if you are not accustomed to doing a least light exercise.

Step 3: Learn How to Protect Yourself.

Surprisingly, the first technique taught by a self defense course will be how to avoid a fight. Learn how to blend into your surroundings. Make your house look like it was already been looted, so burglars will pass it by. Do not draw attention to yourself, when in urban environments. Dress in a manner that does not draw attention (brightly colored or tightly fitting clothes).

Learn how to avoid confrontations. Be aware of your surroundings, to avoid trouble. Criminals do not like to be noticed, and may be deterred from attacking, when they know that it will not be a surprise attack. Travel in small groups, and avoid large crowds of strangers. Take a psychology course, and learn how to verbally disarm an angry person. Always, indoors and out, have several exit plans. Use your mind to think or talk your way out of a bad situation.

Take a class on handling firearms, but do not rely on having a firearm to use. Learn to recognize the sounds of gunfire and explosions, so that you can react quickly. Know how to load, unload, use the safety, and fire a gun, but also know how to defend yourself without a weapon. Take a martial arts or self defense class. Learn how to make your own weapons from found objects: bow and arrow, bo staff, knives, and fire.

Find resolution to any spiritual or emotional problems before the crisis. Survival depends on your desire to live. Do not avoid taking classes due to a fear that they teach “violence”. Many of these classes will teach you defensive, not offensive moves, such as how to remove yourself from the grip of an attacker so that you can run away.

BTW: The street scene shown in the photo above was the filming location for a recent alien invasion movie!

Step 4: Learn When to Stay, When to Move, and How to Move.

Should you stay where you are or relocate? Think about the answers to this question before the crisis hits. If you live in a dense urban area, would it be better to leave for the countryside which has more natural resources and fewer people, or stay and hope that your location will be a better magnet for relief efforts to find you?

If you move, how will you get there? Do you know where the emergency stairs are to escape a high rise building, if the elevators no longer work? Do you own a bike, if your car isn’t working? Do you know how to ride a bike? How to ride a motorcycle? How to drive a stick shift? You may not have the luxury of using your own vehicle.

If you decide to leave, will the roads be hopelessly impassable with broken vehicles? Are you familiar with alternate routes? Do you know how to do simple car repairs, or siphon gas out of an abandoned vehicle? Find a basic car care class. Know how to watch and listen to a malfunctioning car (gauges showing overheating, unusual noises). Learn how to do simple repairs (dead battery, broken hoses, or flat tires). Never wait until your car gauge hits empty to get gas. Always keep at least a half tank of gas in your car.

Have you exercised enough to be able to walk several miles? Do you have a pair of walking shoes stashed at the office? If you need shoes, how will you make or find a pair? Do you know how to trade and barter without money? Practice your skills at garage sales. How can you protect yourself from bad weather conditions, if your raincoat was left in a rush to escape? Do you know how to get places without a GPS? Get a map, and memorize as much of it as possible. Search for a satellite view of your area. Where are nearby lakes and creeks?

Step 5: Learn Living Skills of Previous Generations.

On Friday afternoon, leave work and go straight to a park, without a detour to your home. Hike a wooded trail for an hour or so. What made your hike miserable? Did your dressy office shoes hurt your feet, and make you reconsider your workday wardrobe? Would you like to research natural bug repellants? How could you make that creek water safe to drink? Pretend that you have time warped back to the 1800s. Get a book, and start reading. Learn how to hunt, fish, clean, cook, purify water, build shelters, and preserve food.

Do you know how to build a fire? Don’t just nod, “yes”. Do you REALLY know how to build a fire? It is not as easy as just throwing a lighted match on a green log of wood. Actually practice your skills, instead of just watching a video. Survival blogs say that a thin tarp and piece of rope makes a great shelter. Do you know how to make that shelter? Suppose that you get lucky, and manage to catch a chicken. What do you do with it? How to you kill it? How do you remove the intestines, pluck the feathers, and cook it? If you have too much food, how can you safely save the leftovers without refrigeration?

It is unlikely that an urban dweller will be truly proficient in all the skills a typical 1800s person would process. I suggest that you start by learning how to find and purify water. Learn which wild plants are edible in your local area. Common lawn weeds are often served in salads at expensive restaurants. Fishing is an easy skill that can be practiced on an occasional Saturday without expensive gear. Be sure to clean your own fish, too. Learn what bugs are edible. Canning is an advanced cooking topic, so learn how to dehydrate first. Dehydrating is easy, and requires no special equipment, such as canning jars and seals.

Step 6: Practice Looking at the World in a Different Manner.

In a previous post, I turned the plastic packaging for a child’s toy into a survival ring. Clear your mind of preconceived thinking about the purpose of items that are around you. Residents of the southern United States are particularly talented at this skill. I have always believed that if Armageddon strikes, rednecks will be the last two-legged cock roaches left alive.

You do not need to know calculus or have an engineering diploma on the wall to be an inventor. When your eyeglasses break, look around the house for a paper clip, instead of buying a new pair. Go out to your garage, hammer, nail, and glue a new creation. Learn about how motors work to power your inventions. Learn how to make things without power tools. Learn about using pulleys for lifting heavy loads without an electric wrench, windmills to power wells, homemade batteries, and hand powered drills for construction projects.

All photos in this post (including the frightening main photo) are original photos taken of actual events, and copyrighted by cheapDIYprojects. For more musings on a variety of topics, visit our blog at

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    6 years ago

    super. thanks

    This post won a finalist position in the Apocalapse Preparedness Contest. We enjoyed eating our prize (a big box of Twinkies, "for when all hope is lost"), while watching a zombie flick. Thank you Instructibles, and our loyal voters!

    Tecwyn Twmffat
    Tecwyn Twmffat

    7 years ago

    That thing with the chubby orange robots seems to happen to me on a regular basis.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    You should add some nanites to BOB to fight VIKI's chubby orange cousin.

    Tecwyn Twmffat
    Tecwyn Twmffat

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Yes good idea I will make some now. Next Instructable – how to make nanites!


    7 years ago on Step 6

    It was amazing, and you deserve to win!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Sorry. We are still new at doing this. I cut and pasted the content directly into the step and removed the link to the file. You should be able to see it now. Thank you for telling us about the problem.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I just read the whole thing, this is great. Really good!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is really great. You're right, building kits and talking about prepping is fun, but it's only the first step. You ask good questions to get people thinking about what they're actually capable of, and if their plans are thought out all the way. It's an eye opener! Definitely saving this -- thanks!


    7 years ago

    I'll be honest, I only clicked this because I couldn't read all of the title. I wish this was up when I was 18... back then I learned the hard way.


    7 years ago on Step 6

    Fantastic. All of what you said is something I try and practice, but never thought to write an instructable. Good, it was definitely needed.