Primitive Skills (The skills we’re losing in a modern world!)

If you were to crack open the 1st edition of the Boy Scouts Handbook from 1911 and give it a quick perusal, you would discover that those kids were tougher and more capable than most adults today. Over the past hundred years, we have grown used to convince, but if we want to be truly ready, it’s time to start learning what kept our ancestors alive.

Primitive skills are those skills that originated with our ancestors. The ancient skills that people first developed made a living in the world easier, more efficient, and safer. Skills like predicting the weather, making tools and clothing, food preservation, and navigating, are all primitive skills.

There are several primitive skills most people have lost to time; the below list is a good starting point.

Predicting The Weather

We have all heard the adage, “Red sun at night, sailors delight.” There is a least a little scientific basis backing it up. If the sky is clear enough to show red across the sky, the weather to the west is likely to clear.

My favorite, which I use most often, is “Mackerel skies and mares’ tails Make tall ships carry low sails,” which describes clouds and their formation in front of a low-pressure system. Look up a few of these adages and pay attention in your local area to how weather forms.

Making Your Own

Making anything, whether soap, candles, butter, cheese, or anything made from raw material, is a dying art. Even those that profess these trades often buy materials that are almost the finished product.

DIY projects are one of the best primitive skills. Find a yucca plant and make some soap or butter with a homemade churn. Beekeepers will often part with wax for free for candles that last long and burn great!

Food Preservation

How much food would the average family lose if the grid went down? More importantly, how much nutrition? Canning, pickling, smoking food on a campfire, and drying are great ways to make food last, but they have gone by the wayside with the ease of buying preserved foods.

Get out there and make yourself some salt pork, pickled onions, sun-dried tomatoes, and a nice jar of raspberry jam! Don’t forget to read about all of the reasons why food storage is important.

The book Primitive Wilderness Living is one of my favorites for anyone looking to get these primitive skills back!


The advent of Smartphones has destroyed most people’s ability to navigate. People can’t read maps anymore, much less point out the cardinal directions in their area.

Why know when you can google the fastest way to anywhere? Do yourself a favor, get a decent compass and map, and learn about the world around you, in the woods or on the streets.

Edible Plants, Herbal Medicine, and Foraging

Most people can’t tell you an Oak from a Maple, even our illustrious scouts! Even if they know Willow will treat a toothache or use Walnut for an infection, how will they know which tree is which?

Or, a worse scenario, poison hemlock looks suspiciously like wild carrot. Knowing which plants do what, how to identify them, and how to use them is a great skill!

Fire Without Matches

If you do much camping, watching someone struggle to get a fire lit with lighter and natural materials can be an amusing pastime. If they don’t have a wad of paper or a chemical starter, their chances are dubious at best!

Learn your fire lays and natural tinder sources. Then Learn to light a fire with a flint and steel and explore the challenging world of the bow drill. Never will you be more satisfied by the fire you made!


In TV shows like Forged In Fire, many people claim to be blacksmiths because they get a roughly knife-shaped object and grind it down. That isn’t blacksmithing.

Knowing your materials and how to make nails, hinges, clasps, and various tools is far more important. The blacksmith was often the most valued community member before the advent of factory machining. A simple forge is cheap and easy to set up; give it a try!


If breaking out a miter saw and power sander is your woodworking idea, you are missing the beauty of shaping wood! Hit the flea markets and antique stores and get a drawknife, scraper, and wood rasp.

Learn to work wood with your eyes and hands. While at it, take on the rewarding trial of making your self-bow and arrow. Knock out two skills at once!


Do you slice beef with the grain or across it? Did you know beef had grain? Ever notice how sometimes you cut chicken and its clean slices, and sometimes it all comes apart?

Aside from skinning and dressing an animal, removing the meat in a usable way is a fundamental skill. You can save a ton of money by getting whole sides of beef undressed if you have a deep freeze and a little skill. If you hunt, you can save even more by using primitive skills to butcher your kill.

Working With Your Hands

This may be cheating, but it’s important! A recent study showed that grip strength in 18 – 24-year-olds today is more than 20% weaker than in 1985. I am sure it is far weaker now than in the 1930s.

We don’t know how to use our bodies anymore and don’t use them enough! No matter what primitive skills you turn your mind to, you will be lost if you lack the physical ability to do it.

I don’t propose we undertake some fad workout, just that we get out and work! Use your body for what it was designed to do!


Mastering any of these skills would take years of work, but you don’t need to be a master. If you can become proficient enough to get by, you will separate yourself from most of the population. You will never be dissatisfied by learning a new skill.

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