I will probably craft a number of these posts, not on this exact subject per se, but on the myriad of writing opportunities the wilderness and wilderness skills world offer me… I may even create a new category, makes sense.
It occurred to me recently that many of the preppers I come across on the internet* may be better served with a different utilisation of time. So many of them seem to be unfit (important note here — size and weight are NOT indicators of fitness**), wheezing whilst showing off the latest survival gizmo on youtube, or even smoking. A good proportion of them put things above skills. Both these points will kill you, should your (hoped for?) disaster/TEOTWAWKI actually happen.
They will kill you fast.
If you want to be prepared, as Baden Powell taught, then the best preparation you can practice is skill-acquisition. Nothing comes close to knowledge (second important note here — knowledge is NOT the same as information***), not the “best” rifle, not the “sharpest” knife, nor the “longest lasting” MREs.
Any fool can buy a knife. It takes time and patience to learn to use it properly. Using an axe takes perhaps even more time. I know I still have a healthy fear and respect of my axes, and I have been using them for many years.
Small amusing axe aside here…
When I was younger I had knives, including the big and hefty British army knife, which I used for chopping. I did not get my own axe for some years. I would occasionally chop kindling for a fire, using a fairly small and standard hatchet. I remember the moment when I thought “I’m really going to have to learn this skill properly”.
One of the things I picked up on quickly was the smaller the axe, the safer it is to kneel to split wood. So there I was, kneeling in front of a small chopping block, kindling positioned carefully. Down I swung, and the edge caught in the block. I jerked and pulled quickly, my strength behind this tug.
The hatchet came free instantly, no longer trapped in the block, but bouncing off my skull. It hurt, but what hurt more was the gale of laughter I heard behind me. Unbeknownst to me, my Mum had been standing at the kitchen window watching whilst washing up the dishes. She laughed and laughed. Fortunately I wasn’t too badly injured, more a bashing of pride than anything else. I have a thick skull, and it has survived several knocks so far in my life.
At that point I resolved to buy myself a proper axe, learn to sharpen it, and learn to use it correctly and safely. I now have three axes — and I know how to use each (and when it is not safe to use them at all).
Not entirely coincidentally, the skills and practice you need to be able to survive the apocalypse will also get you into shape, and fast. But the first part of the body you need to exercise is your mind. You need that brain of yours sending the right messages — get off your backside and stop surfing youtube looking for the next thing which will save your life, and get out there into the woods, or the desert, or the coast, or suburbia, or the farmland.
Learn skills, truly commit them to memory — both grey-matter and muscle memory, both are crucial. Then test them, and yourself, in as many different environments as you can get to.
This latter point is perhaps the main one. Too many people learn to use a bow drill, as an example, in their back garden, sheltered and on a lovely day, using a set they have painstakingly put together over time, carefully crafted and even decorated. This is good in some ways — it shows a step in the correct direction.
The next step is to try and use that same set in the same place when it is raining. Or snowing. Or dark. Or windy.
Then mix it up — take the set out into those places I listed above, first on a lovely sunny and still day, then try again in all weathers.
Then retire your set. Hang it on a wall. Decorate it even more. Or pass it on.
Head out into strange country and build another from the material available. Can you find the right trees? Are they dry and seasoned enough? Will that bootlace actually work as a bowstring? Left your knife at home? Can you improvise a splitting and carving tool? Can you do it in every season and weather? If not, can you learn and practice an alternative? And another alternative?
If something terrible did occur, and society as we know it did crumble, then it is likely those who have hoarded supplies and tools and materials will quickly be robbed bare by those who want their stuff — and have the will to do something violent to survive. If someone (or more than one someone) has that instinctive fear of death, no amount of shiny shotguns will stop them. Eventually they, or the next lot, will defeat you — because of their mindset, not their things. Which leads to a brief, but important conclusion.
You cannot steal knowledge, only be given it, to later share and pass along to those you deem worthy.
*Bushcrafters, wilderness lovers, survivalists, preppers — at times all inhabit a shared internet space. Often youtube.
**This is a personal annoyance — that the media (and many others) simply see a larger person as unfit. I have known big people who were incredibly unfit. I have known thin and small people who were incredibly unfit. Size is a poor judge of fitness.
***This is also a personal annoyance — I become irate when people suggest information is the same as knowledge. Wikipedia is full of information, the internet overflows with it. But it is not knowledge, finding a fact is not the same as understanding it, memorising it, placing it in context and researching around said fact. Not the same at all.