The urban prepper can easily purchase food from stores, has access to clean water, and can flip a switch for electricity and heat. Before you leave all that, take the time to learn these 7 essential skills for off-grid survival!
We were prepping for several years before we moved off-grid, and we thought we were ready for it.
Then we bought a cabin deep in the woods and moved there with three small children.
For three years, we lived in an off-grid cabin deep in the woods. We learned the hard way that there’s a huge difference between an urban survivalist and one who has moved to an off-grid homestead.
When you’re in the city, prepping is done for a possible disaster or unforeseen event that can disrupt those vital amenities – heat, electricity, running water, communication.
An urban prepper stores water in case there’s a hurricane or a water main is turned off.
Food is stockpiled so you can stay out of the stores when everyone else is panic buying.
For most urban preppers, the focus is on having enough supplies to last 72 hours or up to a month until some semblance of normalcy is restored and life returns to its usual convenience and ease.
That all changes when you go off-grid.
Living off-grid means that daily life is what an urban prepper expects in an emergency. Let’s take a dive into what life was like in our off-grid cabin.
There are seven essential skills for off-grid survival.
1. Working with your hands
If you’re planning to go off-grid and be self-sufficient, you absolutely can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
We had to crawl under the cabin to find plumbing, build walls, repair windows, build a barn and chicken coop, put up fences, dig sand out of a shallow well … and all of it without power tools or conventional power.
If your carpentry and repair skills are rusty, start looking for ways to improve them.
We found that no one was really willing to drive for miles up a poorly maintained dirt road in order to repair anything that needed work, not even when we were paying them. And when they were willing to come, we paid through the nose for the assistance!
Of course there’s nothing to say you CAN’T drive an hour into town and buy overpriced vegetables from the grocery store.
But if you’re really planning to get off-grid and self-sufficient, you should be growing your own vegetables.
This means you need to know how to choose the right plot of land, how to test and analyze the soil instead of blindly adding fertilizer, how to rotate crops to avoid diseases … there are so many different skills involved in growing vegetables.
And of course, this means knowing what vegetables grow best in your climate, which are best kept in a container, and which need to be started indoors before being transplanted outside.
It also means knowing how to attract worms and pollinators to your organic garden, as well as more than a little bit about organic pest control!
3. Raising animals
We raised chickens and goats, and quickly learned that there’s a lot more to ‘raising animals’ than just sticking them in a barn!
We had baby goats die in our arms, roosters attack our children, and hawks carry off hens.
We learned to get water and food to the animals regardless of how we felt or how the weather was behaving. Even in a blizzard or summer storm, goats need to be fed, watered, and milked. Even when you have a fever and want to die from the coughing, the eggs need to be gathered and the water filled.
Raising animals also means dealing with them when they’re sick and keeping them safe from predators. It means deciding if they need to sold, too.
It’s not easy, and if you do it wrong, those money-saving animals can be the most expensive pets you’ll ever have!
4. Hunting and slaughtering
My father has always said that a person who eats meat is on the same moral level as the butcher.
Unfortunately, our society often shields us from the unpleasant ramifications of life by shunting the job off to people who are then looked down upon – the butcher, the garbage collector, the mortician.
If you eat meat, it’s important to know how to to slaughter them.
And that can be REALLY hard when you watched that goat being born, helped it nurse for the first time, and taught it to respond to its name.
There’s a skill there that a lot of people struggle with.
If you want to have off-grid meat from an animal you didn’t raise, then you’ll want to learn how to hunt.
Yes, eating deer meat off-grid means you need to shoot a deer – and Bambi can look really adorable before he’s cut up into steaks.
5. Finding water and treating it
So here’s the deal with water at our cabin … we arrived there (and remember, we were miles from anyone) and quickly realized that the water wasn’t running.
We hadn’t carted in any fresh water, we had no idea WHY the water wasn’t running, and, well … water. It’s rather vital to daily survival.
Turned out that getting water into our cabin was an ongoing struggle. Even once we got the air out of the pipes so that water flowed from the gravity-fed well, we realized it wasn’t safe to drink.
What do you do in a situation like that?
You need to know how to find water that’s safe for drinking, how to treat it to make sure no one dies, and you need to know how to store it properly.
You also need to know how much water you should have on hand. Unlike the days of opening the tap and having unlimited clean water, you are now responsible for acquiring and treating every drop.
It’s not something you want to do every day. There will be many days when the weather just doesn’t allow, and there will be days when you’re so busy you can barely find time to go pee, let alone take three hours to fetch water!
6. Chopping wood
Ever look at those pictures of your great-grandparents and wonder why the men were all so lean and muscular?
Grab an axe and start chopping firewood and you’ll quickly understand.
When you’re off-grid, you don’t have electric heaters or a nice oil furnace. A wood stove is a great way to keep your house warm. It’s still the least expensive heating option, but oh, boy, does it require some work.
Have you ever heard that burning wood for heat warms you twice? What an understatement!
To burn wood, you need to get the logs – you can either cut them down or buy logs. We did both. Then the logs must be sawed into chunks using a handsaw or chainsaw – both are work, but chainsaw is faster. After that, the chunks must be split. And then stacked to cure. And THEN carried into the house to be put in the fire.
Who needs a gym membership when you have a wood stove?
I used to joke “I’m tired and I don’t want to cook. Let’s just order out.”
Hahaha. We couldn’t get a plumber up to our cabin. Could you imagine a pizza delivery car making its way up that potholed dirt road?
Being off-grid and living far from society means that you must make every meal from scratch.
But more than that, it means that you have to get inventive. I never realized how often I’d “run to the store” to get something until I was miles from the store and that option was completely gone.
That’s one of the reasons the recipes in A Cabin Full of Food are so flexible – when you’re living without easy access to the grocery store, you quickly learn to substitute and invent.
But it also means learning to truly enjoy simple things. A snack of fresh homemade bread, butter, and strawberry jam – you made it all by hand and it tastes great! Wild rabbit stew with the last of the baby potatoes and carrots that were just pulled from the garden …
There’s more! If you have children, you probably want to learn a bit about how to teach them. And when an ambulance is an hour away, some medical training can save your life. If you want electricity, take the time to learn about solar, hydro, or wind power – how to create it and use it.
And please, don’t forget about entertainment. So many of us have no idea how to entertain ourselves without access to internet or television! When the sun goes down at 4pm in the winter, and you’re sitting around a warm fire, it’s time to rediscover books and games.
If you’ve lived in the city all your life, you’ll have realized by now that it takes time to master these skills. That means you have two options:
- learn these skills before moving off-grid, or
- jump in with both feet and risk everything.
Let me say this – I don’t regret, not for one moment, our time off-grid. It ended because complications after my last child, and black mold exposure during that pregnancy, meant I needed closer access to medical care.
Now, though, I have young children who are learning these skills so that they’re ready.