9 Essential Off Grid Skills Every Homesteader Should Know
Updated: Jan 4, 2022
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Thinking of moving off the grid and becoming more self-reliant?
Living in a remote location and providing for yourself is different from living in town and having the ability to go to the store or out to eat when you need something or don’t want to cook. And there are many things on a homestead that can break or need repairs.
Just how far you live from town can help determine how self-sufficient you need to be, but even if you’re only a few miles from a small town, you will still need some basic skills to get by when help isn’t immediately available.
You might not be able to get a repair person to fix something in your home—like your well pump—for days.
You’ll want to be able to harvest food and preserve it for the lean months.
You need to know some basic survival skills—like how to start a fire—in case you have days with particularly bad weather.
And learning some basic first aid skills is a definite must.
Thankfully, most people who want to build an off grid life are avid learners and do-it-yourselfers, so learning new skills and honing old ones is more of an adventure than another chore on the to-do list.
If you’re dreaming of living an off grid lifestyle but don’t know how to get started—or you’re waiting to find the perfect piece of property and want something to do in the meantime—you can always start by learning new skills or improving the skills you already have.
This is the first article in a series to help you gain the essential skills you need to live off grid. We’ll go over the basic ideas here and delve into more details on each topic in future posts.
What skills do you need to live off grid?
You don’t need a degree or a certificate in off grid living to build a sustainable lifestyle. But you should have a few basic skills under your belt to see you through day-to-day chores and hard times alike.
Here are a few essential off grid skills every homesteader should have.
Stuff breaks, and when it does, someone has to fix it. Learning to spot problems early can save money in the long run.
If you use solar energy for electricity, regularly inspect your solar panel and batteries, and keep them clean so you’ll spot any irregularities early on. Make sure the wires are intact and firmly attached, and check your inverter to make sure it’s working properly.
If you live where it snows, you’ll need to clean snow off your solar panel array using a soft brush to maintain your system’s efficiency.
Wind systems also need regular maintenance and cleaning. Check the concrete foundation under your wind turbine so you can catch small cracks and fill them before they grow into a problem that compromises the foundation’s integrity during the next freeze-thaw cycle.
You should also check the bolts and blades on your small wind turbine. Tighten bolts that have started to work loose, and make sure the leading edge of the turbine’s blades are free from damage, like cracks and erosion.
Your water source and pump will also need regular maintenance. You may be able to fix small issues yourself, like replacing a switch or repairing a pipe. But bigger issues with the submersible pump require a call to your local well company.
A septic system needs to be professionally inspected every one to three years, depending on the recommendation from your septic installer and the type of septic system you own. Regular maintenance—like keeping trees and shrubs away from the drain field and using septic-friendly cleaning products—can lengthen the timespan between pumping the system.
Rain catchment systems, including gutters and the rain barrel you use for water storage, must be kept free of leaves and debris. And although you might not have a sprinkler system to blow out before the first deep freeze of the year, you’ll need to drain your rain barrel and detach the garden hose to avoid splitting or busting the barrel, pipes, or hoses when the weather turns cold.
You can learn to do minor household repairs, like fixing a leaky faucet, touching up paint, and cleaning sink drains. Find detailed information on basic repairs in books such as The Encyclopedia of Country Living and Beginner's Guide to DIY & Home Repair: Essential DIY Techniques for the First Timer or through searching online resources.
Build a fire
If you enjoy off grid living, then you probably also love the smell of a warm, crackling campfire. But when you live off the grid full time, fires are not just for camping trips. You depend on them to warm your home and cook your food, and a steady fire can be a lifesaver.
Building a fire is an essential bushcraft skill, but it comes in handy at home, too. Learn how to build a fire without matches or a lighter, and you’ll immediately feel a renewed sense of security and self-sufficiency.
One of the main reasons people begin homesteading is to grow and harvest food. I feel such a sense of accomplishment when I watch seedlings grow from seeds I saved from last year’s harvest—and filling my pantry shelves with jars of home-canned, homegrown goodness? No trip to the grocery store can match that feeling of self-sufficiency and preparedness.
Grow heirloom, non-GMO and non-hybrid varieties for hardier plants with seeds you can save to grow again and again.
Whether you’re harvesting fruit from your orchard or wild, native trees and shrubs, learning to watch the seasons and harvest fruits in their prime is an essential skill. If you’re used to grabbing fruit from bins in the grocery store, you may think harvesting food from the wild is something you can do on demand.
But that isn’t how nature works. Plants that grow in a natural environment in sync with the seasons can have fruit ripening over a span of time—and the date range can vary slightly from year to year depending on rainfall, hours of sunlight, and soil conditions.
Spend time in nature watching plants grow and see how they change with the seasons. Soon, you’ll be telling the weather by the way leaves turn or by the activity of the birds in your area instead of tuning in to the local news.
Along with learning to grow and harvest food comes food preservation. Food preservation is an essential homesteading skill when you’re living off grid.
Building a root cellar and learning to dehydrate and can foods will stretch your harvest into the lean months of winter. How reassuring is it to know that you have your very own healthy grocery store equivalent in your at-home food storage?
Shelves lined with jars of fruits and vegetables in every color of the rainbow are a comforting sight to behold. Follow safe canning precautions when you learn to preserve food, and you’ll be able to feed your family all year long.
I particularly love the Ball canning books, like the Ball Complete Book of Home Canning, as a reference for how long to water-bath can and pressure can specific recipes.
Wildcrafting is the art of using wild plants for medicine and food (although some refer to food harvesting strictly as foraging). If you live in an area with any kind of plant life, some of those plants can be made into herbal medicines or used as supplemental food sources.
I recommend consulting with an herbal expert in your area and using several sources to verify which plants grow locally. You can sign up to go on an herb walk and read books such as Wild Edibles: A Practical Guide to Foraging, with Easy Identification of 60 Edible Plants and 67 Recipes and other edible and medicinal plant field guides to gain knowledge.
Sewing and mending
I’m not going to suggest that you have to start sewing all of your family’s clothing when you live off grid. But it is important to learn how to do some basic sewing and mending to save money and trips into town.
Sewing a button on a shirt and mending the hem on a pair of pants requires minimal skills, and the only tools you need are a needle, thread, and scissors. Nicki Callahan has a wonderfully simple video on YouTube that shows hand-sewing techniques, such as sewing on a button.
If you already know some basic hand sewing techniques but need ideas for upcycling used clothes, try Wear, Repair, Repurpose by Lily Fulop for fresh, new ideas.
I’m always amazed when I realize that not everyone learns to cook when they’re growing up. My mom turned the holiday baking over to me by the time I was twelve years old, and when I was sixteen, I had to start cooking dinner one night per week.
One of my daughters loves to cook anything and everything. Another one learned to love baking at an early age and is now the cupcake and brownie master of the family.
But some of my other children had no interest in learning to cook while growing up. They’re learning these skills as adults, and that’s okay, too!
Cooking is part of food preservation and another one of the essential homesteading skills. After all, you probably won’t be able to get pizza delivery to your remote off grid home.
Learn to boil water, and you’ll be able to make pasta and soup. Learn to make basic bread (like tortillas and flatbread), and then expand your skills so you can maintain your very own sourdough starter and bake fresh rolls for the holidays.
If you already have basic cooking skills but need some hacks to make life a little easier, click here to read my post on 15 Off Grid Cooking Hacks to Save Time and Fuel.
Animal husbandry is another piece of the sustainable living puzzle. Knowing how to raise chickens for eggs, a backyard cow for milk, and sheep for wool is a skill that most modern Americans lack today. Yet as our society turns more toward sustainable living and moves away from mass production, these skills are being relearned and recognized for the value they hold.
One quick look and you’ll see how the bright, orange yolks of home-raised chickens are so vividly different from the pale yellow centers in eggs from chickens raised in confinement.
And the only cooking oil that’s practical to raise at home is butter from the family cow. (You need a lot of equipment to make your own vegetable oils, but butter churning is a super-easy skill to master.)
Another benefit of raising livestock? Organic fertilizer for your garden!
Goats and rabbits produce dry pellets that you can put in the garden right away. Cow, horse, and chicken manure are considered “hot” and should be aged before application to avoid burning your plants with a high concentration of nutrients.
I think first aid is the skill that worries me the most. What do you do if there’s an accident, but the closest hospital is an hour away?
I’m CPR certified and I’ve taken basic first aid certification classes, but the advanced wilderness survival first-aid course I planned to take was canceled (thanks to the pandemic). I need to add it back to my to-do list!
If you’re not a doctor, nurse, or EMT, you could probably polish up your emergency first aid skills. Take a class from the Red Cross, buy a how-to book, and put together a first aid kit or two. (How about one for the house, one for the car, and one for the barn?)
One more thing you should know …
Whatever your current skill level is, there is always more to learn.
If you yearn for a sustainable lifestyle and plan to move off the grid, begin gaining skills now. You’ll be so much better prepared when you finally start living your off grid life!