10 Military Skills to Help You Survive Emergencies and SHTF

It is wise to learn from the experience of others. We can look to the trials, tribulations, and lived experience of others who persevered through challenging circumstances that we ourselves may yet face.

Their choices, skills, training and attitudes should inform our own. It is no stretch to say that there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to survival; everything that we might potentially endure has already been endured before, over and over.

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Considering the subject of survival, there is one group of people that inculcate readiness, tenacity, self-reliance and survival skills as both a way of life and professional trade. That group is the Armed Forces, both our military and militaries around the world.

Every soldier, sailor, airman, and marine will be drilled to proficiency in a variety of basic skills to help them survive in any environment and do their job, whether that job is preparing meals for their fellows, operating heavy equipment or taking the fight to the enemy as a direct combatant.

The situation and environment they might be called to do their job in will likely be anything but pleasant or forgiving, and when both their lives and the lives of their fellows depends on surviving and getting it done at any cost, you had better believe a high value is placed on endurance and survival skills.

In today’s article we will have a look at 10 military skillsets that we can endeavor to learn in order to survive whenever and wherever disaster strikes.

Surviving In or Out of Uniform

Much of the time it is a bad idea to imitate or learn from someone for your own purposes if you don’t take into account the context they operate in, or why they do things the way that they do them.

After all, their objectives might be very different from yours, and the objective, or mission, is what should dictate all of the choices made in pursuit of it.

With that being said, this is one of the times where we can actually learn much when it comes to general purpose survival skills as civilians by looking at the way that the military does things in a general sense.

Though the chances are pretty good that we as civilians will not be facing a proper battlefield situation when the time comes for us to deal with an SHTF event, that event will still have much in common with the stresses and uncertainty present on a battlefield.

Like what? For one, the attendant chaos, stressors and time pressures that are endemic to life in and around a conflict zone will be very much present for us. To say that, the emergency we are preparing for will not be a good day is an understatement!

We will have to think quickly, decide correctly, prioritize properly, and execute swiftly in the face of obstacles and constantly changing conditions if we are to prevail and attain our objective.

In our case, our objective is simply to survive, and keep our family members, friends and loved ones alive as well. If everybody gets to walk away with as many holes and limbs as they came into the event with, so much the better.

It is the high degree of variability, uncertainty and stress inherent to such events that allows us to inform our own choices, basing them on the military’s standard for basic competency regardless of occupation or training.

10 Military Skills to Help You Survive Emergencies and SHTF

First-Aid and Basic Trauma Care

This should not be a surprise to anyone, but as it turns out the business of conducting war, even if your business is in the rear areas, is pretty dangerous. Active battlefields and the areas around them are full of hazards that can reap a terrible cost in both lives and limbs.

Anybody with a brain who’s going to be working around a battlefield or directly on it should know first aid skills at the minimum, and preferably some basic trauma care skills to go with it.

But consider, though, that the things that are liable to hurt us are not necessarily the things that are going to hurt an infantryman.

We are not predominantly concerned with bombs, bullets and shrapnel; though we might yet get a hole put in us by a bullet we also need to be wary of, and know how to treat burns, breaks, sprains, contusions, concussions, and a whole host of illnesses.

Incidentally, many of these same elements will also be hazards for servicemen and servicewomen for conducting intensive training or just extended maneuvers far away from any base or camp.

But while these mundane injuries are certainly the most common we must not neglect developing the skills that can allow us to intervene when someone is grievously injured, by violence or accident makes no difference.

All kinds of emergencies, from the destructive might of a powerful tornado, and its wind-driven debris to the blink-and-you-miss-it carnage inflicted by an automobile accident, can levy gruesome injuries upon victims.

These are blood-and-guts, oh-God-I’m-gonna-die injuries, ones where seconds count, and keeping rapidly leaking blood inside the body is paramount.

Even rough and ready competency in first aid and basic trauma care can greatly increase your own chances of survival or someone else’s when disaster strikes.

Make sure you put together a proper medical kit to complement your skills. You don’t want to be forced to improvise materials when someone’s life is on the line.

Land Navigation

A significant fraction of basic military training is spent on teaching members how to read a map, how to utilize a compass, above everything how to know where they are at all times, know where they are going, and know how to get there.

While it is true that modern militaries show a heavy reliance and preference for sophisticated GPS and other technological navigation aids, nothing, absolutely nothing, will ever supplant skill at reading a map, utilizing a compass, and employing basic land navigation skills that have served mankind for ages.

This is one skillset we would do well to learn and practice ourselves…

If there is one thing you’ll be able to count on in a disaster is that all of our fancy technology will probably let us down, and if that is what you are depending on to get you and your family to safety or just out of the way of danger you might be setting yourself up for a bad time.

Learning how to read various types of maps at various scales, from the humble road atlas to intricate topographical maps, and learning how to establish and maintain a heading using a compass while tracking your progress, detouring or changing course as necessary is absolutely essential for any kind of cross-country movement.

This may prove valuable even when sticking to well-traveled roads in case signs and other navigational landmarks have been eliminated in the aftermath of some major event.

In an emergency, getting lost is not just an embarrassment or a delay; it might mean death for you and yours, so learn to love making use of a map and compass!


Being in the military is not like camping, though you might be doing plenty of camping. Any member of any armed forces will be able to regale you with plenty of times they were chest deep in “The Suck”: typically some variation of extremely inhospitable or rough terrain compounded by nasty and unrelenting weather conditions.

Most members of the military do not get to conduct operations in an office environment as it turns out, and that means learning how to deal with all of the hazards attendant with existence in a hostile biome is a big part of their day-to-day life when deployed.

You’ll be dealing with much the same when you are in the middle of a survival situation. Chances are pretty good that you could be driven from your home. You might not even have your vehicle to rely upon for shelter.

If you are fortunate, you will have your bug-out bag or some other supply cache that you can make use of, but whether you do or not it will be up to you to keep yourself safe from exposure.

Learning how to get warm in cold conditions, prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke in hot conditions, and create shelters from all kinds of materials no matter the environment will be essential, as will be dealing with all kinds of natural hazards, from water crossings and bad weather to dangerous or annoying wildlife of all kinds, be it mammalian, reptilian or insectile.

Mother Nature will always get a vote in the outcome, so you better make sure your vote counts for more than hers!

Hand-to-Hand Combat

Hand-to-hand, face-to-face combat is the most basic kind of combat there is, and the foundation from which all other defensive and offensive techniques derive.

Even when stripped of all weapons, a member of the military is expected to show basic competency in hand-to-hand combat techniques if only for the most rudimentary self-defense.

Though hand-to-hand encounters are a rarity on today’s battlefields except during low-intensity police actions where interactions with civilians require the most judicious use of the minimum amount of force needed, it is still taught as part of the basic training of every trooper across the world.

Solid hand-to-hand combat skills are especially important for civilians, as the vast majority of defensive encounters, we’re likely to deal with are best solved by something other than lethal force. Put another way, you should not be dealing with most problems by shooting or stabbing them.

Though the members of the armed forces are expected to comply with the rules of war and have their own legal precedents they have to deal with, the consequences of any use of force is especially onerous for civilians, and even if done during an emergency it should be expected that it will have a legal component in the aftermath.

Knowing how to defend yourself with fists, feet and grappling should be high on your list of priorities. The skills you develop and the lessons you learn during your hand-to-hand combat training will serve you well when the time comes to apply and master armed combat skills.


The other side of the self-defense coin, the ability to hit a target with a firearm on demand, or marksmanship, is perhaps the skill most stereotypically associated with military service by civilians. After all, why does any military exist if not to do battle against an enemy in one form or another?

There is a lot of truth to this and every member of the military will become intimately familiar with basic weapons like rifles and pistols as an essential part of their training, even if their occupation is not combat-centric.

When the chips are down and the pressure is on, even cooks and bakers will be expected to pick up arms in order to defend themselves and their comrades from danger, and the same is true for us! There will not always be police or even the military itself around to protect us when we need them.

One of the most essential elements of self-reliance is the ability to protect yourself and your family from danger, from direct threats, be that threat a dangerous animal or just a two-legged critter like a violent human.

The firearm is the weapon of our era, and has been foremost among personal weapons for many generations now. The ability of a firearm to deliver pinpoint power on demand at a distance is a capability you would be foolish to pass up.

But making use of this capability effectively and safely without posing a danger to yourself or others that don’t deserve to get shot requires a considerable amount of investment on your part. Training, practice and skill maintenance will set the marksman apart from the duffer, just like in the military.


Many members of the military, but especially infantrymen, are expected to haul the supplies and equipment they need to accomplish their mission on their backs.

The site of ranks and rows of uniformed, camouflage troops hauling gargantuan rucksacks all over creation is a common one on and near military bases around the country, and more than almost anyone else these men and women know just how grueling a trial this can be.

If you’re serious about prepping you have probably developed a bug-out plan, and central to that bug-out plan is the bug-out bag, your own rucksack full of “mission-essential” goodies you will need to help ensure your survival.

Unfortunately, most preppers have not put themselves truly to the test and tried their own field exercises consisting of hiking their bug-out routes with a fully laden bug-out bag on their backs.

While the average bug-out bag does not weigh nearly as much as an infantryman full combat load, this is still a substantial amount of weight to be hauling on your back cross uneven terrain.

Rucking is a skill, one that requires development and consistent practice if you want to prime your body and your mind for the trial. This is not something you want to be attempting for the first time in a live event.

That way lies injury and total failure, failure you cannot afford under the circumstances. Many members of the military endure these ruck marches as just another day in the life, and if you aren’t doing the same you aren’t getting prepared for that eventuality!


Everything the military does that is related to the actual business of doing war revolves around doing the job while keeping the enemy from seeing what you are doing. This means camouflage in all kinds, from the electromagnetic to the visual.

If you can avoid being seen, you’ll avoid attracting attention, and if you can avoid attracting attention chances are you won’t have any bullets or bombshells heading your way, a great thing if you are in the middle of a warzone sure to extend your life expectancy.

Members of the military will camouflage absolutely everything, from their clothing and armor to their vehicles and weapons.

They even learn how to camouflage their fighting positions, camps and more, going so far as to employ the use of decoys to convince the enemy they are seeing what they are looking for when they actually aren’t. A clever deception.

When things go completely to shit, and the world is falling apart around you, believe there will be opportunistic predators of all stripes, out prowling and growling, looking for easy prey in the form of new acquisitions or just their next meal

Either might come from you and yours and for that reason whether you are on the move or sitting tight you want to do everything you can to avoid detection by these people. That means camouflage is going to be a watchword in many situations.

You can always make the decision to increase your profile in order to be seen more easily when the time comes, but staying as low profile as you can is almost always the better choice when you are worried about human threats.

You should take the time now to learn how to camouflage yourself and your luggage, your vehicles and even your shelter. There are many ways to do this, from employing paint or tarps in drab colors to purpose specific camouflage patterns or even natural foliage and other material.


In direct contrast to camouflage, signaling is the art of attracting attention, or communicating using visual means.

This is an important skill in the military and all kinds of circumstances, from discrete and stealth missions into enemy-held territory where any audible noise might result in discovery and subsequent death, to the alerting of aircraft that are on approach but having difficulty locating the concerned forces on the ground.

Signaling can be done via all kinds of means, simple and complex, electronic or otherwise. You might signal to someone using a visual/audible code like Morse code, conveyed via a flashlight, or you might use a visual flag code like semaphore, employed using nothing more than two colored bandanas tied onto sticks.

It could be the most rudimentary form of nonverbal communication using hand gestures. You might even employ bigger-picture signaling, alerting rescue aircraft or searchers a great distance away to your presence using smoke, a large colored tarp or some other means.

You won’t always be able to rely on electronic communication like telephones and radios but the ability to get your point across or just attract attention to yourself or to something else might be important.

Start thinking about all the various ways you can signal your intentions and your message now so you won’t have to improvise during an SHTF situation.


From their very first day in service, members of the Armed Forces are relentlessly drilled on the importance of inspecting and maintaining their equipment, because so much of their equipment is absolutely vital to mission success and to survival.

Neglecting simple inspection, cleaning and repair of boots, rifles, vehicles and even their own bodies can mean a nasty surprise when they least expect it, and the consequences can domino into even bigger problems, resulting in a total disaster. A malfunctioning rifle, broken track or even a hideous blister on a foot might mean loss of capability.

We should all strive to be similarly diligent and fanatical about inspecting and maintaining our equipment as a way of life and preventive measure, not just when it is required.

We have the luxury of getting away with things like that when life is all sunshine and rainbows, when we have the means as well as the support infrastructure to get things back on track after a parts failure or breakdown, but we will be deprived of both in an SHTF event.

This is especially important for people who work out with or practice regularly with their equipment. Everything you own, everything you use is slowly wearing out, and the more you use it, the harder you use it, the faster it wears out.

This makes preventive maintenance checks even more essential to stave off a show-stopping breakage or failure. Only by scrupulously instilling a culture of inspection and maintenance can you be close to certain that your equipment will function when you need it to.

Contingency Planning

In war, things go wrong. People break down or die, timetables get blown, equipment is lost or destroyed, the enemy pulls off something you never expected from a direction you thought impossible. It happens, things get messed up.

It is for this reason the military, for all the jabs and jives directed at its bureaucracy, is rightly famous for contingency planning. Every plan will have a back-up plan, an alternate back-up plan, a contingency to all those plans, and then an emergency plan when things go really pear-shaped.

This is a simple form of operational redundancy that tries to account for every likely variable, mishap, screw-up, accident or tragedy that could befall an operation and the people conducting it.

This is why there is a chain of command. This is why members of the Armed Forces drill constantly to overcome lapses in communication, and strive to understand not just the stated objective but their commander’s intent.

When one part breaks down, the other parts can keep on functioning, and the loss of any given component of a mission does not necessarily result in total failure.

We would be very wise to approach our own planning and preparation the exact same way. The only thing you can be sure of is that you can’t be sure of anything when it comes to surviving a major disaster or crisis.

Your plan will only survive your first step out the door, if it survives that far! True, you might be able to make a good case for improvisation if you are really good at, but improvisation is the province of the ill-prepared.

You should have seen this coming, and plan for it. Being able to switch gears smoothly whenever a situation changes or new conditions dictate that change is both highly-efficient and comforting. At least you weren’t caught flat-footed.

It is possible to over-plan, as adding detail and “what-if” scenarios to an inordinate degree only adds complexity, complexity that you might not be able to handle as a lone individual.

But even a couple of simple backup plans for every likely and anticipated pitfall will see you far better prepared than a person who assumes stupidly that everything will go according to plan.


There is much the military can teach civilian preppers about general readiness, self-reliance, and proper procedure during emergencies and all-out SHTF situations.

We should take it upon ourselves to learn these lessons, adapt them to our purposes, and practice them as strenuously and seriously as any member of the Armed Forces.

If we all took the time to do that we would greatly strengthen our nation by making our population far less susceptible to disasters of all kinds.

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