Apocalypse survival (Updated)

Some of the folks on the not-driving thread seem to think that driving a car is an essential skill come the apocalypse. I think they are wrong. Even if the apocalypse isn’t caused by a petrol-eating bacteria, the days of oil-fuled cars are numbered. And once civilization breaks down there will be no more drilling for the little oil that’s left. Cars will only be useful to sleep in or to scavenge for spare parts to make something that’s actually useful.

I reckon genuine survival skills include:

  • Being fit and strong
  • Knowing first aid and/or being a doctor
  • Knowing how to find food (i.e. knowing what’s edible) and water in even the least promising circumstances
  • Being good at making and fixing stuff

I’m also unconvinced about the usefulness of guns. For starters they’re really really really LOUD. If things turn heap big awful bad, keeping a low profile to prevent the marauding nasties from finding you will be a high priority. One shotgun blast and that’s your low profile gone. It’s much more useful to know a martial art. It keeps you fit and teaches you how to look after yourself. It’d also be useful to know how to use quiet weapons like knives, or bow and arrow or, best of all, the mighty crossbow. Similar range to many guns but much much quieter.

By my own critieria, I’m pretty much buggered. All I got is that I’m reasonably strong and fit, but I fail on everything else even if my surname does mean “crossbower.” Unless there’s a big demand for storytellers, someone with a lot of Elvis trivia, and the ability to roll their tongue.

How about youse mob?

Update: I has added related poll. Look to right hand sidebar. Top of page.


  1. veejane on #

    Knowing how to drive may or may not be useful, come the apocalypse; but it’s a skill that is one part “action causes machine to react” and one part “and I do not freak out when reaction causes results.” It’s not the driving that’s the important part of that, but the willingness to climb into/onto an unfamiliar machine and not pee your pants when you find the gas pedal.

  2. Seth Christenfeld on #

    I’m pretty well doomed–nobody will need to find books (or know musical theatre trivia) after the apocalypse.

  3. robin on #

    i don’t know what’s sadder. the fact that i have absolutely no useful skills and am clearly doomed come doomsday…or the fact that I’m too lazy to acquire any in the meantime.

  4. Leahr on #

    I think it would depend on the situation. If the maurading nasties have guns themselves, one might be necessary more than karate chops would be.
    And if wilderness skills are what’s required, you will not be alone in being doomed. Us urbanites know a lot less than we think about the woods. Most people know not to eat funny-looking mushrooms or too-bright shiny berries, but there must be some that are edible. And I don’t think I could ever manage to kill and skin an animal. I can barely squish spiders. Would cockroaches survive this apocalypse of yours?

  5. Phil on #

    I think what we nerdy types have in our arsenal that is frequently undervalued is a reservoir of knowledge gleaned from endless books and movies about how to survive apocalypses.
    For example, should a zombie apocalypse occur, I’d know what to do, what to avoid, and consequently stand a greater chance to survive than somebody who’s unprepared, has no strategy or understanding of the risks involved. Would I be scared silly? Of course–but I’d know not to wade into a crowd of zombies shooting randomly, or to hole myself up in a basement, or any other number of such tactics that are doomed to failure.

    So–chins up! If everything goes to pot, we can at least consider ourselves trained for what comes next!

  6. Alma Alexander on #

    Funny you should bring up this topic right now. I just laid down “life as we knew it”, the apocalyptic YA novel everyone’s talking about, and I just KNOW that if there’s ever a civilization collapse of that magntiude – or hell, even lesser magnitude – I’m so screwed that you wouldn’t believe it. I’m childless (and probably too old to consider having any or surviving the experience if I do; I am utterly dependent on electricity (we have a fireplace where we live but no firewood and the chimney is permanently blocked up and there’s trees leaning ON the chimney so if we tried using the thing we’d probably set off a major fire and burn ourselves down); even if I had something to cook on or boil water on I have no idea how to forage in the wild, hunt things, or prepare for dinner things that don’t come from a supermarket; we have no water supply other than municipal and we already tasted THAT when our pipes froze a few winters back. I have no medical skills except basic first aid, we have no stockpiled ANYTHING at all beyond a few days, and I can’t even wear shoes on bare feet for more than an hour before getting raw blisters so walking somewhere farther than a couple of blocks would be disastrous. And yes, I can drive, but how far can I get on a tankful of gas? Not very…

    So come the apocalypse… goodbye cruel world, I guess.

  7. Lauren on #

    My only potentially apocalypse-defying skill is the ability to untangle almost any knot. If anyone else can provide other skills (like food acquisition or medical care) I’ll be open to bartering.

  8. David Moles on #

    I’m seeing a great future for you as the matriarch of an Elvis cult.

  9. Diana Peterfreund on #

    I’m not discounting the knowledge of driving, but I think knowing how to drive a tank/plane/helicopter might prove more useful in apocalyptic circumstances. Heck, even a mack truck. Or a Hummer. If all you can drive is your automatic transmission hatchback, you’re no better than a taxi-taker.

    Still, my money is on the first aid hunter-gatherer types.

    Thank god my husband can sail.

  10. carrie on #

    In the event of zombie apocalypse, I doubt how *well* you drive will matter. Who’s going to pull you over and ticket you? Will it really be a big deal if you swerve a lot, or drive on the sidewalk? Anyone can turn the key, stomp on the gas and go. As long as you avoid driving headfirst into trees, buildings or telephone poles, you should be fine.

  11. Suzie on #

    Oh, but you forgot, “Being so awesome that you’re saved by the will of divine forces.”

    One can only hope!

  12. Deb on #

    It might be a good idea to make friends with people we (at least I) made fun of a few years ago. You know the ones…those Y2K maniacs who were so sure the world as we knew it would end at midnight of 12-31-99. They would know how to prepare and survive…if only they weren’t so crazy.

    Failing to make those friendships, I can make a fire, I can build shelter (or at least I could as a kid) and I can make furniture from sticks (did it for a class a couple years ago) I can cook, but can’t kill. I also have a bit of a sense of direction.

  13. Karen on #

    Have we set a date? Should I start stealing the outdoor survival books from my library (which I run so I’d have to overcome my librarian tendency of returning them by the due date)? We are a family that loves camping and we live in a rural area. We’d fare better than some, especially those living in large cities.

  14. the dragonfly on #

    I think my reading of adventure books/watching of disaster movies will be of service to me.

    I hope.

    I’ve also done a lot of camping/hiking. I don’t know everything, but I think I could do okay in the woods or mountains.

    I hope.


  15. Evan on #

    I would not want to be using anything melee-ranged against zombies. If they adhere to normal zombie conventions, they would be extremely contagious, so I would very definitely NOT be using martial arts against them unless I had on a biohazard suit. The same goes for knives, clubs, swords, and to a lesser extent, shotguns. Pikes or other long-range weapons are too susceptible to getting a corpse stuck on them, as well as being unwieldy in emergency close-range usage. Therefore, I would prefer a bow above everything else, assuming adequate arrow supply and that the zombies can be killed by an arrow through the brain. A crossbow is overkill and too slow to reload, so I would rather have a good gun than a crossbow, despite the noise.

  16. Brent on #

    Personally I have no desire to survive an apocalypse. Any type of life that involves the lack of flush toilets and hot showers has little appeal (note, some people regularly train for such a life… I think they call it “camping”). Given a choice, I’d rather know the date in advance and throw a serious kicker of a party at ground zero the night before.

  17. Chris S. on #

    Funny, my staff and I have this discussion on occasion. Many of them have useful skills (blacksmithing; knitting; fighting with swords, etc). Me? Not so much. But I figure there’s got to be a place for someone who will dig ditches/gather firewood/catelogue resources. I could do that.

    Although like Brent, above, I have no overwhelming desire to live in a world devoid of working plumbing, fair trade chocolate and evolving libraries. I mean, what’d be the point?

  18. Patrick on #

    My house is fortified for zombie defense. As soon as I get the solar panels, I should be all set.

  19. Aden on #

    SCORE. Martial artist here. I have one skill that will keep me alive! Aside from the willingness to use one first grader as a weapon against other first graders. Which I learned from some online quiz or another, and is really neither here nor there. Still, this gives me a leg up on starting a crazy survivor’s enclave in the postapocalyptic wild.

  20. lisa on #

    I agree that cars will be out. The transport of choice will no doubt be bicycles… so I suggest learning to ride now if you haven’t already done so.

    I think being fit and strong for sure. I think being practical, logical and sensible will also be essential… unfortunately I am none of those things. I am doomed!

  21. allreb on #

    I know a teensy-tiny bit of first aid and enough about sewing to make/repair clothes (uh… from a pattern…I’m SURE there will still be sewing patterns after the apocalypse, right?). But I’m sure if I can someone journey from the city to my parents’ home upstate, I’ll be fine. They know how to, like, wood work and build stuff, and my mom actually spins and weaves. Like, on a spindle and a loom. They will totally be prepared for the end times.

  22. Gabrielle on #

    Rolling your tongue as in speaking Spanish? Huh. I was wondering what was the expression for that in English. My legs are reasonably strong but my arms are two useless things. I SUPPOSE I sorta know first aid, at least nothing too serious. Conclusion? We’re screwed.

  23. Amber on #

    A winter in NZ has enabled me to be a wicked fire-maker with damp wood and no form of petroleum-based material. And I can knit. But there are a lot of steps between the sheep and the jumper that I’m hazy on; effectively the changing it from fat and greasy and daggy to thin and spinny and yarny. I’m screwed with the rest of all y’all.

  24. Herenya on #

    Ouch. Why can’t driving a car be on the list of survival skills? Because otherwise all I have going for me is what I remember from high school first aid classes. And what one learns from watching too much Robin Hood, and that really says something, doesn’t it? Thankfully my family would be a more useful, so I might not be completely doomed.

    I’m personally hoping if anything goes terribly wrong, it’ll be a flood, since I live on a hill…

  25. Mary Elizabeth S. on #

    I know which bits of a prickly pear cactus are edible! That’s a little double-sided, though, seeing as it means the only place I can find my own food is in the desert, which is also one of the places I’d be least likely to survive, what with the heat and lack of water…


  26. Justine on #

    Gabrielle: Nope, that’s rolling your “r”s which I can also do. I meant like curling it. It’s something that only people with the correct gene for it can do. My mum can’t do it but my dad and sister can. It is useful for NOTHING.

  27. Liset on #

    I think survival for a small girl like me would be acting like a mouse. You know, all sneaky and able to hide in small places. I would steal food from run down grocery stores and have a little nest under ground or in a tree. Eventually I would grow all feral, and meet other feral mouse people. We’d be some of the only survivors and some where along the line spawn a population that can co-exist with the zombies, or what have you. This new population would be smaller than the normal human, around 4 feet, and would learn to live underground…kinda like a hobbit!
    So yeah, I’m so ready!

  28. cuileann on #

    My first thought was, Doomed. Am definitely doomed. But then I remembered I can still recall some edible plant identification jiggery from Oregon Trail, version 3. Yes!

  29. Justine on #

    Liset: I think yours is the best plan of all.

  30. mattw on #

    I think guns would be usefull to some extent. They could always be used as a last resort. Even if it was for intimidation, you could have a gun that’s out of ammo and point it at someone, but they wouldn’t know it’s empty.

    Personally, I don’t think I would last long, unless someone’s needed to build a campfire. I know a little bit about the outdoors, but probably not enough to survive for a long time.

  31. alys on #

    Guns would be about as useful as cars, because for modern ones, you can’t make your own ammunition. (Yes, you can assemble it, but you still get the parts from a catalogue. And it’s kind of tricky and possibly fatal if you do it wrong.)

    Crossbows are really easy to fire, and I can make flint arrowheads (yes! The archaeology would finally be useful!) but I don’t know how to build a crossbow. I do, however, have woodworking (with hand-tools yet!) and blacksmithing skillz, so given a book on crossbow construction…

    I can also spin (badly, but I’d get better with more practice,) knit and weave, but someone else has to shear the sheep. (Washing, carding, dyeing with natural dyes, also covered. And dressmaking.)

    And I can make pottery. Including knowing which bit of that riverbank is useable clay.

    So I guess I’d be a bit good to have around, really.

  32. doselle on #


    Leave the internet for a few days and what happens. 🙂

  33. doselle on #

    I know you’re at peace with being Apocalypse-fodder, Justine, but if my Neutrino-powered Hypersonic Scramjet with VTOL (patent pending) is ready in time and there IS an apocalypse, I’ll happily move you and your loved ones to a comfortable, car-free place of safety after I stop off to pick up Scalzi and a few others on the way.

    Escrow closes Sunday* on an island fortress where you can continue to write in the lap of luxury while being served high-end food by a small army of gourmet chef from Per Se who will be otherwise out of work because most people will only want to eat BRAINS!

    You pick the wine. 🙂

    p.s. Yes, I really do have a predetermined Apocalypse pick up list. Doesn’t everyone?!? I mean, come on. No one wants to survive these thing alone, right?

    p.p.s. * That’s Sunday, September 10, 2017.

  34. Merrie Haskell on #

    I already have plans to run a Vitamin C supply service by growing cranberries, come the apocalypse.

    I think you just need to find a niche! My niche = Vitamin Overlord.

  35. Leahr on #

    I know I commented before, but I just finished The Last Days by you know who and my new conclusion on apocalypse survival is:
    start a band to kill the zombie monsters who come to listen to it! Now we’re all saved.

    btw, Justine- is there a reason the driver in that book is named Elvis? Just a thought. 😉

  36. doselle on #

    All hail The Vitamin Overlord! Hurrah! Hurrah!

    How may I do your bidding?As for world saving band, that’s awesome! I just want to drive the tour bus and sing ‘Tiny Dancer’. 🙂

  37. doselle on #

    Just curious, Justine.

    What do you think are the top 5 currently well-paying professions rendered MOST useless in an apocalypse?

    Day traders? Corporate lawyers? Non-Zombie Killing Rock Star? There are tons to choose from, I am sure.


  38. Patrick on #

    Seriously, there’s no such thing as a Non-Zombie Killing Rock Star…

  39. allreb on #

    Only those rockstars that haven’t killed zombies yet…

  40. doselle on #

    Who kills zombies better:

    Ozzy Osbourne or Alice Cooper? Vince Neil or Brett Michaels?
    Mick Jagger or Pete Townsend? Bono or Michael Stipe?
    Marilyn Manson or Trent Reznor?John Melloncamp or Tom Petty? Madonna or Gwen Stefani? Prince or Kanye?

    I sense a zombie-killing super group in the offing.

  41. Patrick on #

    Prince does not kill zombies. Prince does not need to kill zombies. Prince has girls who kill zombies for Prince.

  42. doselle on #

    Facts suggest Prince may indeed kill zombies in a more hands on fashion–not because he needs to–but because he may enjoy the athleticism involved.

    ‘Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories” suggests that Prince has been known to play a mean game of b-ball in addition to being an excellent maker of pancakes. Two skill we know, when combined, make for mean zombie fightin’ ability. 🙂

    Of course, there’s no argument that zombie-fighting chicks are cooler because, well, you know?

    Chicks are awesome!

  43. Gabrielle on #

    Justine: Haha, that’s even more useless than rolling your “r”s. XD It is a great talent though. Also, “rolling your r’s” is the exact translation of what we say in French. Which is unusual and kinda weird.

  44. allreb on #

    I feel much better about my survival chances after reading this. Actually, apocalypse survival has come up a lot on blogs I read in the last few weeks. Huh.

  45. Benjamin Rosenbaum on #

    Well, I think it depends what kind of “apocalypse” we’re talking about, and whether we’re talking about short-term or long-term survival.

    I mean in a proper apocalypse, like a major asteroid impact, all skills are useless. Whereas in a “bird flu outbreak with a two-week wave of infection with 95% fatality” mini-apocalypse, the important factors are 1) hypochondria and 2) a well-stocked larder.

    Driving a car could be useful in certain initial short-term get-the-hell-out-of-dodge scenarios, depending on where you live, whether the roads are jammed, and whether you correctly guess which way the wind is blowing the fallout plume…

    However in a worldwide apocalypse, car-driving definitely has limited utility.

    If by “apocalypse” you mean something potentially survivable but unpleasant like “losing all the fancy technological toys we’ve developed in the past 500 years”, and you happen to be lucky enough to survive the inital cull, then I think being a storytelling extrovert could be highly useful. That and subsistence farming.

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