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Natural & Eco Living

10 Important & Essential Skills For Self Sufficient Living

Being self sufficient and living self sustainably is on the rise. However, some skills have become lost due to the rise in supermarkets and disconnect from nature. If you’re thinking about switching up your lifestyle to be more self sufficient, then this is the blog for you! Here are 10 Important & Essential Skills For Self Sufficient Living, covered in great depth.


Feel free to quick jump to each heading!



1. Finding Water and Making It Safe To Drink

The single most important thing you need to live is water, but its also the most vital step in self sufficient living. If you’re resourceful, you can find or collect good drinking water in just about any environment.

You need to make sure you purify it wherever you find water. Clear rivers and lakes may look clean, but there are millions of organisms in fresh water. If you don’t purify it, you can get extremely sick, or even die, from the bacteria, parasites or viruses in water.

Freshwater springs can be safe to drink from without filtering, but in a survival situation you should always err on the side of caution.


Finding Water and Making It Safe To Drink

Animals Know Best

The most obvious sources of water are streams, rivers and lakes. However, finding a spring as it emerges from the ground is always the best source.

Animals always know where the water is, so look out for wildlife or animal tracks. In arid regions look for lush green vegetation, as it is a sign that water is nearby. Swarms of insects may be a hassle, but they also show that a water source is nearby.

Listen carefully, rivers can be heard in the quiet woods from a great distance. Remember, water will always flow downhill, so low-lying areas and valleys are the best places to look.


Finding Water and Making It Safe To Drink

Rainwater Is A Great Source

Rainwater can be a life saver. If it rains, use any containers you can get your hands on to collect it.

If you have any plastic sheeting, or a Poncho, spread it out and tie the corners to trees a few feet off the ground. Find a container and tie the poncho on a slant with slight sag. This will allow the rain to collect and drain into your containers. If you can’t find a container, tie it level on all four corners and give it even more of a sag. It will work as a makeshift water bag.

If the rainwater tastes a little different, it’s probably because it lacks certain minerals that are found in groundwater or streams. In most rural areas it will probably be safe to drink, but if possible try to purify it before drinking.


Finding Water and Making It Safe To Drink

Don’t Eat Snow

In a cold environment, snow and ice can both be used. Don’t ever eat it frozen though. It will reduce your body temperature and can lead to dehydration. Remember, the melted snow and ice should always be purified.

Vegetation can also help supply you with water. Fruits, coconuts, cacti, vines, palm trees and bamboo can all be good sources of water. If no surface water can be found try to make plants. Plants can reach water deep underground that you can’t.


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Finding Water and Making It Safe To Drink

A Solar Still Could Be Your Answer

A solar still is an amazing piece of kit if you have the time and space to make one. You will find all the information you need to build one online, but I do always still advise to purify the water afterwards.


Finding Water and Making It Safe To Drink

Filtering and Purifying

There are many commercial water filters and purifiers on the market, but they all basically work the same.

Water goes in one end, through a series of filters and treatments and then out the other end. Some of them work by hanging a bag from a tree and letting gravity do its work. Some have hand pumps. You can also find battery operated ones and some are built into the centre of a water bottle. Making a simple filter.


Finding Water and Making It Safe To Drink

Make Your Own DIY Water Filter

Making a water filter couldn’t be simpler, and its a vital part of creating a self sufficient lifestyle.

Size is determined by whatever container you use. A 2 Litre bottle turned upside down with the bottom cut off, will give you an easily portable filter funnel. A 1 gallon container will give you more capacity, it really is that simple.


How To Make Your Own Filter

All you will need is charcoal from your fire and ideally some fairly close woven material. A sock is ideal, but any close woven material can be used.

First fill the sock with the finest granules of charcoal and push the sealed end into the neck of the bottle.

Then pack more charcoal around and on top of it, pressing down firmly. A 2nd layer of material is good if you have one.

Then cover again with more crushed charcoal, several thinner layers will work better than 1 thicker layer, but use what you have to hand.


Let Gravity Do The Work

Hang the bottle upside down and pour water into the cut end, allowing it to soak into the charcoal and gradually through the upturned bottle.

Gravity will pull the water down through the layers of charcoal and material until it emerges filtered at the bottom. Here it can be collected, cleaned of all the major particulate matter and ready to sterilise.

This will remove many bacteria, parasites and larger particles, but not smaller viruses and some smaller parasitic organisms.


Finding Water and Making It Safe To Drink


The difference between filters and purifiers is that purifiers get rid of viruses. Purifiers use chemical agents in addition to the filtration. Most filters use a core made from ceramic, carbon or fibreglass. Purifiers have an additional chemical layer usually of iodine resin.

Even when using water filters, you should avoid water from areas where there’s been obvious human or animal traffic if possible.

Personally, I rarely use a purifier. I take the filtered water and go straight to the sterilisation. This is the only sure fire way you have of making sure your water is truly safe.


Finding Water and Making It Safe To Drink


Commercial Chemical sterilisation tablets are available everywhere, but this adds unwanted chemicals into the water, and that is not what I want. I will use them in an emergency, but in general I prefer simply boiling the water.


Finding Water and Making It Safe To Drink

Boiling Is The Best

If you can, boil the water thoroughly for 10 minutes. This will kill any bacteria remaining as well as the viruses and parasites making the water safe to drink.

Once it has boiled and cooled, store it wherever you can. Sealed containers are preferable to keep it safe, but if not fill and cover an open container.

If you have followed each step here, the water you now have is safe to drink, clean wounds, or cook anything you have. It may sound dramatic, but it may mean the difference between survival and death.


Finding Water and Making It Safe To Drink

The Lifestraw

The Lifestraw is a portable filtration device that lets you safely drink directly from any fresh water source. A great device to help you live a self sufficient lifestyle!


It’s about 11 inches long, less than 1 inch around, and looks like a jumbo drinking straw. One end has the narrow mouthpiece, the other goes directly into the water source. Each Lifestraw lasts 700 litres, roughly the amount of water needed for one person per year.

The filter gets rid of nearly 100 percent of waterborne bacteria, 98.7 percent of viruses and removes particles as small as 15 microns. Five million people per year die from waterborne illness, mostly children. More than a billion people worldwide have no access to safe drinking water.

The makers of Lifestraw have been working with Charities to reduce this. You can donate money through two organizations to help provide Lifestraws to people in need all over the world at

Lifestraw is also a great item for any outdoor enthusiast to have in his or her emergency survival kit. It weighs only 140 grams and it just might make the difference in your chances of survival.



2. Gardening

Gardening is a useful skill for anyone, but for the people striving a self sufficient lifestyle, it’s vital. Not only will it reward you with amazingly good food throughout most of the year, but it can give you vital products to trade with neighbours.

Until fairly recently gardening was an integral part of everyday life for most. A way to make the weekly budget go further and put quality food on the table. Most families had at least 1 avid gardener, and their skills were passed down from Father and Mother to son and daughter.



Make The Most Of Your Space

Making the most of even the smallest plot can be an art form, especially today. With the advent of vertical gardening, bio-dynamics and even hydroponics systems, the modern garden can take on many forms.

Finding the right method for you is something very personal. A lack of ground may mean the only way for you to grow is in a vertical, hydroponic garden.

Your climate will also mean different approaches for different people in different places.



Local and Specialist Knowledge Is Invaluable

To cover even the start here would be impossible, but a short visit to the many dedicated gardening sites on the internet will point you in the right direction.

Why not visit your local gardeners club? Local knowledge can be more useful than anything else, and gardeners, as most other groups of people, will be glad to share their tales of success and failure.



3. Foraging

Before gardening and the domestication of plants, foraging was the single most important source of food for most people.

In most modern societies most of this knowledge has been lost, but careful research can help give you a rounded knowledge of your local environment.



Using What Is Available

In our consumer age a lack of choice is seen as a negative, but choosing the plants that are at the peak of health, at the right time of year, often reveals a taste never achieved by domesticated plants. You will also find wild plants have a much more balanced nutritional content than most farmed varieties.

Being able to use what’s available to you is a key step in self sufficient living. Why waste when you can just forage enough for many different uses.



Berries and Seeds

Berries and seeds are nature’s most concentrated food source. All the compounds needed to allow the plant to grow have to be contained within its seed. This gives them an unparalleled place in any self sufficient larder.

Storing seeds is easy. Berries will have to be preserved, but will help you in those times when few other foods are available. This is where the line between foraging and gardening blurs, because any good forager will always encourage the plants that provide the best sustenance.



The Magic Of Mushrooms

Mushrooms and other fungus can provide an amazing addition to any diet, but safety should be paramount.

Some fungus produces or contains some of the most poisonous compounds on the planet.

Also, many poisonous varieties are remarkably similar looking to their edible counterparts. This is again an area where local knowledge is vital.



Don’t Be Shellfish

Shellfish can also be sourced if you are a carnivore. On the seashore and in rivers and lakes, molluscs and crustaceans can provide a welcome source of protein.

Always remember the environment though. If you find a healthy cockle or mussel bed and you are hungry it is easy to think just gather as many as possible, but in self sufficient terms this destroys your food source. Gather responsibly. Always leave at least half of what you find, to allow the colony to rebuild.



4. Choosing, Sawing, Storing and Chopping Wood

Woodcraft is one of the forgotten arts of the modern world. We often see wood as simply wood. To the experienced woodsman each tree will have specific uses.

Here I will be talking about its use as a fuel. There are other natural fuel sources, from dried cow pat’s to geothermal vents, but wood is the most common source.

An old friend once observed, each piece of wood warms you 3 times. Once when you collect it, once when you saw or chop it, and again when you actually light the fire. Few fuel sources can boast such bountiful reward.


Choosing, Sawing, Storing and Chopping Wood

Be Responsible

Responsible use of your resources is central to any drive for self sufficient living. Wood is no exception.

Wood that is rotten is the food of the forest. It is of little value as a fuel source, so leave it in place. Let it feed the insects and be turned into the nutrients that the remaining plants and trees need.

‘Live’ wood can be used in some circumstances, but what you really want are the dead branches that are still attached to the trees. These will always provide the best, most reliable fuel.


Choosing, Sawing, Storing and Chopping Wood

Learn The Differences

In most woodland there will be several tree species. All have their uses.

In general hardwood will burn longer and hotter than softwoods, save these to cook, or keep the fire in overnight if the supply is limited. The bark from Silver Birch trees makes perfect kindling, and the resin from Larch trees is flammable to help start a fire. Thick branches of Oak will not produce as much heat, but will hold that heat and keep the fire burning for a long time.


Basic tools you will need are a bow saw and a hand axe, but even without these fire is achievable.

Collect a range of material. Dry grasses or some mosses and lichens are great to start a fire, and you want small thin sticks for kindling. Branches about the thickness of your wrist will be perfect for most cooking, and large thick branches will help you keep the fire in at night or if you are away foraging.

Choosing, Sawing, Storing and Chopping Wood

Keeping The Rain Off

If you have a covered store for the wood, that is brilliant. If not, don’t despair.

Use some longer branches laid parallel in a row to raise the stacks off the ground. Lay the first layer of wood at 90 degrees to these supports, and then just repeat this process to create a stable stack. As you reach the top, try to arrange the upper layers so that a slope is formed. This will mean any rain will run down the top layer, leaving the layers underneath drier.

Try to keep some kindling in the most sheltered place so you always have some dry kindling in an emergency.


Choosing, Sawing, Storing and Chopping Wood

The Psychological Impact of Fire

Remember, fire not only gives you heat. It helps you sterilise your water and cook the food you have. Psychologically it can fulfil many roles.

There are few more reassuring sights than a nice, warm fire. So if it is to raise your mood after a challenging day, or to bring people together to discuss a solution. Fire creates a safe, reassuring environment for everyone when used properly.



5. Starting a Fire

Learning how to start a fire safely is a vital step in self sufficient living.

When lighting a fire the first thing to consider is creating a safe space. If you are outside, overhanging branches from the surrounding trees should be avoided. Digging a fire pit is best in most environments and will help you contain the fire.

It also helps hold the heat in the embers as the fire dies down. Surrounding the pit with rocks will achieve similar results, also allowing air in to feed the fire.


Starting a Fire

Take It Slowly

Start with a bed of dry grass, as you build it you can twist some handfuls together to hold the flame longer.

Add small sticks, preferably placed pointing diagonally upwards to encourage the flames. As these sticks begin to burn add some slightly larger ones. Gradually build it up, don’t add too much wood at once.


As the fire grows, you can add a short log or larger piece of wood on one side of the fire, but be careful not to block the flow of air. Air feeds the fire, without it even the best dry wood will not burn.

Once you have a large log on one side if you need more heat for cooking, you can simply add some smaller branches on one side for extra heat.


Starting a Fire

Put It Out

If you are moving camp, when you are ready to leave make sure the fire is out.

Ideally douse it with water. If you can’t, spread any embers and ashes left around the fire pit, use the ashes to smother any embers to keep air out, and turn the stones surrounding the pit to let them cool. A fire can re-ignite from the smallest ember. Make sure none are left burning.



6. Cooking and Preserving

Cooking from scratch is an art and skill that many have forgotten. In today’s throw away world it is all too easy to simply grab a pre-prepared meal of some sort.

Learning to use and preserve the fruit and vegetables you have grown and collected will become second nature in time. Enjoy the journey to self sufficient living. Watching people enjoy a meal you have prepared entirely from your own ingredients is more fulfilling than most things in this world.

Start simply if you aren’t sure. Simple food prepared well is great, and using fresh ingredients will always give you great results.


Cooking and Preserving

Make The Most Of Your Resources

There will be times during the year where you have an abundance of certain foods. Storing them so they last as long as possible is really important for long term self sufficiency.

It is not so long ago that most people knew what a potato clamp was. Today it is a different story, but building one isn’t hard and will help you extend the life of your potato harvest.

All root vegetables can be stored, and there are tricks to extend the life of most produce.


Cooking and Preserving

Making Jam

During Harvest time you will find an incredible amount of fruit in the hedgerows. Pick as much as you can, within reason. They can be preserved as jams.

Safe practice is essential. Sugar melts at a very high temperature and can cause serious skin injuries if it is spilled. You will need as many air-tight glass jars as possible. Ask your friends to save you the jars they use rather than throwing them away. Every time they are re-used you are reducing the impact on the planet. A good book is an invaluable resource to provide your family and friends with safe preserved foods.


To start with I would suggest preserving fruits separately, but as you become more experienced you can experiment. Crab apples make great jelly, and can be an exciting addition to many jams.


Cooking and Preserving

Special Skills

Learning how to dry cure, smoke and salt food are all means of preserving without refrigeration. They will all help in your journey towards self sufficiency.

As awareness increases these skills are on the rise again. As a natural alternative to the chemical preservatives in many foods they are now becoming more and more popular.



7. Animal Husbandry

While animal husbandry is nothing to take lightly, and may not be the way you want to proceed. It is something you can learn.

Volunteering somewhere locally can be a great starting point. Learn what you can from locals who have experience. Grab a few good books, look on the internet and read up on how to properly care for your animals.

Please don’t try to learn by trial and error. This is one subject that really isn’t appropriate. Not only will your animals potentially suffer and die, it can be very costly. Once you gain some basic knowledge you will be able to care for a variety of animals in a humane and sustainable way.


Animal Husbandry

Choosing The Right Animals For You

Chickens are often people’s first step into the world of animal husbandry. Ducks can be an alternative. They provide everything a chicken can, and watching them waddle around can provide hours of entertainment.

Goats too can be great, and an excellent source of milk, butter and cheese.


Even as a vegetarian I would make space for a pig too. Pigs are amazingly intelligent animals, easily trained, just like a dog. Their natural instinct to root will save you time and effort, and their ability to turn any vegetables into instant manure means you can use them to prepare any area needed for planting.

Move them to the next area before you plant, and you will always have a highly productive nutrient rich soil for your next crop of plants.

Whatever animal you choose, just know that it will help you move forward a step towards living a self sufficient lifestyle.



8. Using Natural Remedies

Foraging and the intimate knowledge of plants it will bring, leads us into the wonderful world of natural remedies. Natural remedies are great because they teach you about and how to use the plants around you. Knowing what plants can help with what aliments is yet another skill in self sufficient living.

Central to this is the idea that the person should be treated as a whole, not simply treating the symptoms. Getting rid of a cold-sore may be good, but getting rid of the virus that causes them and improving the overall resistance of the person is much more important.

Making sure your diet contains adequate amounts of all the vitamins, minerals and trace elements is vital. It will improve your resistance to all disease.

Charcoal has the amazing ability to soak up toxins. It can be used to calm stomach upsets, but also as a toothpaste replacement.

Using Natural Remedies

Speed Up The Healing Process

In most areas you will find specific plants to help with all sorts of health problems and injuries. You can also plant and nurture plants that you know will be useful.

Calendula (pot marigolds) and ribwort plantain are both easily grown in most environments and will provide an incredible way of speeding up the healing of skin abrasions and open wounds.

Clove oil has long been used for tooth ache and any infections in the mouth.

Many modern medicines are derived from natural compounds. These can be used just as effectively in their natural form.

The inner bark of the willow tree contains Salicylic Acid, the active compound used to make Aspirin. As well as a pain killer its ability to lower blood pressure can be invaluable.


Using Natural Remedies

Herbs For Health

Parsley and Basil to name just 2 herbs can provide an incredible array of nutrients and health benefits. Most ailments can be treated by some herb or spice.

You will need to research the plants that grow locally and the ones you will find most useful to grow. You may still find local experts who know some old secrets, but there are a myriad of books, articles and even university courses dedicated to Herbalism, Homeopathy, Dr Bach’s flower remedies and many other natural healing techniques.


Using Natural Remedies

Safety Is Paramount

Many people see herbs as inherently safe to use. In general they are, but there are exceptions. Know your herbs.

Some common flowers contain huge amounts of very powerful compounds. Using even a small amount can be seriously detrimental to health. Plants can contain deadly poisons, if in doubt, leave it out!



9. First Aid

In addition to natural remedies you will need to learn some of the basic skills you would normally expect a doctor to perform. Learning at least the basics of first aid and dental care can mean the difference between life and death pain and comfort.

Learning how to perform CPR in an emergency can save lives. Understanding how to use the Heimlich manoeuvre and things like basic wound care, splinting, infection control methods, stitching, and effectively using each and every tool contained in your first aid kit are all incredibly important.


First Aid

Basic Training

There are several great books to help you provide these skills at a basic level.

Doing a first aid course will help, and the further you take this training the more skills you will attain. Learn how to best use the plants and natural remedies in conjunction with these skills. Cleaning and dressing a wound well is great, but cleaning it with salt water and dressing it with ribwort plantain will help it heal much faster.

Adding some garlic or tea tree oil to a dressing on an infected wound can help kill the infection. These are all skills that can prevent a lot of pain and heart-ache for your friends, family and loved ones.

Let’s face it; there may not always be a specialist to provide this care for us and our families when we most need it.



10. Sewing, Knitting and Crocheting

It isn’t so long ago that most people, men and women, had some sewing skills. The make do and mend philosophy meant peoples first reaction was to repair their clothes. Replacing a button, repairing a hole or darning a pair of socks was just “what you did”.

Now, not many people have even a basic knowledge of how to mend a rip in a shirt, let alone take some fabric and turn it into a bag, blanket, or dress.


Sewing, Knitting and Crocheting

Learning The Basics

Sewing, knitting, and crocheting used to be passed down from generation to generation. Most people had a least a basic understanding of how to repair ripped articles of clothing.

There are so many tutorials available on YouTube and other places on the internet that show you, step by step, how to do basic sewing, knitting, and crocheting that anyone can learn. Even much more complex things like quilting are achievable with some effort.


Sewing, Knitting and Crocheting

Making Your Own Clothes

Making your own clothes can seem daunting, but you will be amazed how easy it can be and it’s a great skill to have for self sufficient living.

Find people to learn from. Most of the people with these skills will be glad to pass them on. It may be you can teach them something? Or help them with a job they find difficult?


Self sufficient living is all about the relationships we have with both our environment, and the other people in it. Nurture those relationships. Help in the most dire circumstances can come from the most surprising places.



As you will see from much of what I have written, this article could only ever scratch the surface of this huge subject.

Whether you are just beginning your journey, or are years into it. There will never be a time when you can’t learn more. Use your time wisely. An hour spent researching a subject can save days of work, and a lot of money.

Simple solutions are always the best in my opinion. Don’t be afraid to think “out of the box”. It may make a difference, but don’t too proud to accept help or advice. That advice may just mean the difference between success and failure in your journey to self sufficient living.



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