What’s Your Survival Skill Level REALLY? Selco Explains How to Find Out

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Author of The Dark Secrets of SHTF Survival and the online course SHTF Survival Boot Camp

After many years of teaching survival courses, I never know what kind of students I might get on course. But just like most of the people around, I also fall into the trap of feeling like, “Oh, I know how this person will perform” after reading the precourse questionnaires, or after spending that first hour or two with them.

And yes, I often make mistakes there.

While teaching people on the courses I like to learn from them too, because there is always a lesson. Sometimes it is a reminder of the mere fact that preconception about people may kill you. And sometimes there are other lessons too.

You never know

People are full of surprises on courses, and that is also how people work and act in real SHTF also. They may be full of surprises, and you never know actually who may be really dangerous or skilled or prepared, even if he (or she) does not look like they would be.

We are being conditioned from society to act in certain patterns which are accepted in that same society.

So, most of us are trying to “play the game“ because that is how modern society works.

In essence, you do not know as much as you think about people around you, because people act and look based on their roles in that society (mostly). We are forming our opinions about people based on what we see, but we often forget to remember the fact that people are blending to society.

For example, there are norms of behavior that are accepted in society and people follow this in order to live “normally“ in it.

Once when you take people out of their normal life, you will see their real faces.

You can notice that on courses, since courses are to some extent an imitation of SHTF, but the point here is that you can not take anything for granted about people once when SHTF. When “normal“ is gone, they may show a different face.

Your preparedness level

If I asked you to tell me your physical preparedness score on a scale from 1 to 10, you will think about it and you may say to me that your score is, for example, 7.

So now you and I may think that your physical preparedness is pretty good – it is 7! But, of course, it does not mean anything until you explain to me on what events and scoring system you are basing your score system

For example, you may say that you walk every day for a couple of miles, you are pretty active, you are doing some yoga classes, etc., etc., and based on how people around you are physically fit. You are number 7 in your opinion.

In someone s else case number 7 means that he or she runs 10 miles per day, does krav maga classes, and lifts weights.

A scoring system and your opinion about yourself does not mean too much before comparing it to someone or someone.

Things get complicated even more if we are talking about mental resilience levels.

The point here is that your own scoring and opinions about yourself do not mean anything until you test yourself. Usually, most of the people after testing themselves need to reset their score numbers, and usually because of the fact that they were not even aware of how many levels up (or down) existed.

The prepping world is full of “level 7” tough guys (and girls), simply because they are operating with the wrong scale.

It is not about bragging about who is better and who is not, it is about understanding correctly where you are on that scale preferably before SHTF. Not to mention knowing where the other folks are in your group – if you have one are at.

For a start, it is good to have the right scoring scale.

You need to go OUT ( in the field) to see the correct scale.

When you will learn things

Very connected to topics above is the topic of when you will learn the most – or to put it most precisely when you will get it what is important and what is not.

The answer is easy- while you are having difficult times during the learning!

Examples are numerous, but  I will use the lamest one (and simplest):

You will not learn about pressure, shooting and fighting a lot while you are at the shooting range.

You may think “OK, I will learn to shoot, and basic about shooting on shooting range” and you may be right to some extent, but think for a moment that we are mostly learning to shoot because we want to use it effectively during SHTF.

In its very core, it means that in most of the situation you will shoot while you are under tremendous pressure, both physical and mental.

You are missing that in a shooting range.

SHTF is not shooting range.

So as an example it makes more sense to go to some tactical shooting exercises after running a few miles, without eating and drinking for last 12 hrs, and while you are in a very bad mood, or under the stress.

It is an example only but you got the point.

Things are the same with a lot of other topics in survival.  For example, you are learning how to make a shelter in the wilderness but not learning when to NOT make shelter (Reasons could be because it is dangerous, or you do not have time, or you have more important things to do, etc.)

Or you are learning how to start a fire with flint but not how to make it less visible, or how to survive for days without fire because it is dangerous to start it (by having food that doesn’t need to be cooked, sleeping systems, etc.)

It is about context always.

I will paraphrase one of my very dear students to make it more clear.

After explaining what our next class exercise was gonna be she said: “Oh can we do it in the afternoon because I am not a morning person?”


It is exactly that time – in the morning – when you should do it!

Because only then you will realize where you are on that scoring scale.

What about you?

What level do you think you’re at when it comes to survival? Did your opinion change when you read this article? Do you think most people are realistic about their skills? Why or why not? How do you think we can accurately test ourselves?

Let’s discuss it in the comments section.

About Selco:

Selco survived the Balkan war of the 90s in a city under siege, without electricity, running water, or food distribution. He is currently accepting students for his next physical course here.

In his online works, he gives an inside view of the reality of survival under the harshest conditions. He reviews what works and what doesn’t, tells you the hard lessons he learned, and shares how he prepares today.

He never stopped learning about survival and preparedness since the war. Regardless of what happens, chances are you will never experience extreme situations as Selco did. But you have the chance to learn from him and how he faced death for months.

Real survival is not romantic or idealistic. It is brutal, hard and unfair. Let Selco take you into that world.



Selco survived the Balkan war of the 90s in a city under siege, without electricity, running water, or food distribution. In his online works, he gives an inside view of the reality of survival under the harshest conditions. He reviews what works and what doesn’t, tells you the hard lessons he learned, and shares how he prepares today. He never stopped learning about survival and preparedness since the war. Regardless what happens, chances are you will never experience extreme situations as Selco did. But you have the chance to learn from him and how he faced death for months. Read more of Selco's articles here. Buy his PDF books here. Take advantage of a deep and profound insight into his knowledge by signing up for his unrivaled online course. Real survival is not romantic or idealistic. It is brutal, hard and unfair. Let Selco take you into that world.

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  • Ok, that got me thinking. Great points. I’m sure I feel exactly as Selco described: healthy, in shape, prepped up, some knowledge, but haven’t applied it all… especially under pressure. And then, continually testing myself. And my life changed almost 3yrs ago when I became widowed at 63. Now I feel more vulnerable. Hence, my training in real-feel scenarios MUST ramp up. Thanks for a great article!

    • So true Barbara. The older I get the better I was. Maintaining overall fitness is important, but I have a question for you. Despite admitting to feeling more vulnerable, do you think you have developed a mental toughness that comes with age? Have you found you have a strength to lean into a problem and push through?

      • I like to think I’m much more of a critical thinker. I’ve adopted the realization that there are two ways for me to process: logically and emotionally. I have allowed myself the emotional first response (grace), but only quickly, then onto the logical approach. I think I’m more quickly hitting the logical response now that I’ve been “practicing” this approach. I also realize that I can only control my attitude and my actions. “Stuff” is gonna happen and people are gonna do their junk; how I respond (not react) is up to me. I’m training my brain to respond with quicker critical thinking. An increased awareness of what is going on around me. It bugs me when I didn’t pick up on a detail while I’m out and about. I’m a strong Christian and I believe that has helped me immensely as I go through the grieving. We were married 27 years and he was so logical, the critical thinker, etc. He taught me alot! The vulnerability I feel has alot to do with not having that person to discuss the strategies with, the person to lean on, the one to give the leadership and direction to all our prepping…. how we’d handle different scenarios. I moved in March to a new home and am now trying to connect up with other like-minded folks. It’s definitely tricky! And it takes sooo long to discern who is legit and who is blowing smoke. I must lean on me to protect my self and stuff. So many have swallowed the Blue Pill and just keep their head in the sand. Sigh….

      • Barnabas,
        I know you asked Barbara about the mental toughness with age question and I wanted to jump in. Absolutely, with age comes wisdom. Just as the bible says youth have knowledge, but wisdom comes with age. Us older folks have been through alot more life situations and particularly the lows, and know few people will be there when you really need them. When your older fewer things rock your boat, but when you’re young it’s easy to get emotionally sucker punched. Lean on those who have been around the block in life. My advice is cultivate older friends & family for advice to navigate what’s coming ahead in the future.

  • Instinct shooting or Point shooting is the SHTF skill that needs developed more than range or stress shooting. It uses the subconcious part of your brain. Letting go, in order to access it when needed can be quite a challenge.
    When your logical brain is overtired, stressed, etc, it will not be accurate or focused. Trying to rely only upon it, is folly.

    Most pistol shooting encounters are at very short ranges, 15 ft or less and happen in a few seconds. About half the amount of time it actually takes to produce a pistol, raise it to eye level, aquire the sight picture, breathe, shoot and hit a target. No amount of training will ever get you to be quick enough.
    Luck and hoping the “other Guy”, has less training and is “slower on the draw” is your only hope.
    The one who hits the target first has an advantage. You might not feel being shot, but you body will react to it, making it harder, if not impossible to accurately return fire.

    With most “tactical’ training” you walk around with your gun in hand. This is not something that is feasable 24/7, post SHTF.
    These trainings have value in some circumstances, just not in most everyday encounters.
    These trainings are based upon the concept of meeting a “known threat or threatening situation”. However SHTF will be 24/7/365; a threating situation and a threat filled enviroment. You will not be able to be on alert 24/7/365, you will burn out quickly. Besides that it is impractable. At times you will need both hands free to do things, carry things, etc.

    So beware that you are training for the right things and that you actually are at the level you think you are at. Deluding yourself both Now and after SHTF, thinking you can do more or do it better than you actually can, is a real problem.

    • Deluding yourself thinking you are going to use a handgun in a SHTF situation is a real problem. You are going to find yourself quickly outgunned by all the long guns around you even a 10/22 in .22LR at 100yrds will have you outgunned.

  • Very good point about using what scale to measure ourselves with.
    I use my old Marine Corps standard: 3 mile run, 100 sit ups/crunches in 2 minutes, and as many pull ups as I can do.
    Am I ever going to see a 18:00 3 mile like in my prime (17:56 was my best)? Nope! But I can still crank out a 25 minute one.
    I have also added a hour long “ruck” or a power walk over uneven terrain, some hills with a 30lbs pack on my back. Fast enough I would find it difficult to carry on a conversation.

    In the Marines we have a saying, Train as you fight, fight as you train. Train. Train. And then train some more to the point it becomes second nature to you. That way, even when tried and stressed your brain is hardwired to fight as you trained without second thought. Will you be as effective when tried are stressed? Likely not. But a lot better than those who have not trained.

    Once at an indoor range, a .22LR spent brass bounced off the partition and went down the back of my shirt, getting lodged just below the collar. It was hot. But I did not stop and continued to shoot until the magazine was empty. Once empty, I removed the magazine, placed the pistol on the table and then removed the brass. It stuck to my skin and left a welt.

    Another time I was at an outdoor range shooting a Ruger 10/22T at golf balls at 100yrds from the unsupported prone.
    A guy next to me, shooting a AR15 with a bipod off a concrete bench. His brass was raining down on and around me. Once he realized what was happening he stopped shooting. I finished my magazine, made safe and sat up. He apologized profusely and I said it was fine. I would not be much of a Marine if I let some brass hitting me distract from my shooting.

    People’s behavior during social norms pre-SHTF and then how they behave during or after. No one really knows until they are in that situation.
    However, to a degree we can have some insight to ourselves based off what stressful situations we have been ourselves. Does not have to be a combat situation. Could be something as enduring some kind of physical stress test, like bicycling 100 miles in a day, running a half marathon or a three day camping trip in a national forest covering 26miles over rugged terrain.
    Another thing to consider which I touched on in another OP article: Having a support network. Over a long deployment we (senior NCOs) played close attention to others around us for what I called the “funk.” Depression. It was most obvious when we had to “hurry up and wait.” That is when making jokes, playful banter, even singing could help relieve the stress, lift spirits. Times like that, the simple things like a chocolate bar, hot coffee or a hot meal could really raise morale.
    If you find yourself in a leadership position, it is your responsibility to keep an eye on the others from falling into the “funk” or acting badly. Even in war, there are some societal norms we must keep or lose ourselves to the dark.

    • Try getting hot brass in your bra! I barely flinched because I was still “hot.” And I know I get grumpy a little when I’ve hit that 100 mile bike ride end, or a couple nights into camping on unforgiving ground, etc.

  • I have found that people absolutely new to prepping for ‘real’ and not just for the more mundane that they see on the Weather Channel, some Youtube videos, the common disasters that occur in their location that they have experienced the broad aspects of the disaster but not necessarily the boots on the ground in the middle of it tend to under-rate many of their abilities.

    They begin to see the realities of major disasters, such as the more recent tsunamis that were captured in the news and in videos. How can someone without any real experience survive something like that? Or a couple of towns over a person in a mall just starts shooting. How will someone that knows very little about guns, maybe shooting a twenty-two with their father or mother when they were a kid, content with and protect themselves from something like that?

    They forget about many of the things that they have experienced or done in their life that has a great deal of prepping related aspects and uses. They just do not see it as going into major, real prepping looks so daunting and it seems everyone else in a video or class seems to know so much more than they do.

    They might actually be a five in some of the aspects of a scale, but believe they are only a 3, if that.

    On the other hand, there are preppers that have been prepping for a year or two after coming off military service or other similar jobs, and not necessarily ones that involve close combat that believe they are certainly a hard 7 and in reality an 8 since they are taking some train just the next month that will elevate them on the scale. Some I have worked with have barely been a soft 6 on some of the ability scales. They believe that any experience adds several points to a scale, whether the experience is relevant or not.

    Then there are long-term preppers that went through the newbie phase thinking they were way down on all the scales, and then, after a few years of good training and multiple exercises and someone new comes along, they will tend to inflate their levels on the scale simply because they are higher than the newbie. They do quickly come to realize that yes, they are higher on the scale than the newbie, but that does not up their level. Their level is the same as it was before so they put the real level back to where it was and then continue to try to learn more while helping the newbie.

    Personally, my numbers are all way lower now than several years ago. Primarily due to a multitude of health issues. I do still have a few higher levels in a few things, but the physical, the stamina, the continuing under poor conditions, in extreme weather… Well, lets just say a 3 might be overestimating my abilities in those categories.

    However, I do know, because others in the groups I work with want me around, that the skills in which I have higher numbers are worth something to some people.

    The higher your numbers (the real numbers) across the board the more well rounded you will be. That does not mean a lower number in some few categories will not immediately sign your death warrant. Do not let scales scare you off any more than one of the disasters might scare you off.

    Learn and train, attend available classes and practice the information learned there. Keep plugging away and keep an accurate eye on your skill levels, but do not let them rule you.

    Just my opinion.

  • Selco, I always liked your articles. And on a day like today, when I’m feeling pretty low and wondering whether I’ve screwed up recently in a big way, it’s a pick-me-up.

    I think scales are useful when comparing specific skills. When it comes to general prepping level, well, I think you can’t really make a comparison between two people. It depends on the task at hand.

    And I agree completely that you don’t know what you are going to do till the moment comes and then you do it, or don’t do it. It’s happened a few times, I’ve had a plan, I thought it was a good plan, and when the time came, I either jumped the gun or abandoned the plan.

    But one thing I know for sure, that even half-assed preps are better than no preps at all. As long as you put some effort yourself and you don’t just expect that the books or courses are going to tell you everything, because that just isn’t possible, I think you are a prepper.

    I think on-going commitments is where it gets harder. Something as easy as keep watering the tomato plants. So easy if you are feeling well, but if you aren’t and you stop watering them for too long, you’ll have no tomato plants. And if you are going to stop doing one of the things you have been doing, most people will just drop it when they are stressed out. And I so hate being that person, because that person is most people. I want to be the person that can leave things as gracefully as possible, under the circumstances, to the next person. Because I’ve been sometimes the one that had to deal with the broken pieces of somebody else just dropping everything. But it can be so hard when you are stressed out, and nobody is going to say thank you or anything because everybody else have their own problems.

    • Doly, you expressed exactly how I feel! I’m old, damaged and tired, but not going down without a fight. If you’re good at helping others, that’s a skill to be proud of. Some of them may thank you by protecting or helping you in some way. I know I would.

    • I noticed during lockdown that most people said they ate more. This a response to an emergency and tells us how important it is to look after our upset selves. Thinking of the next step to take and doing what it takes to feel better. I live alone and have illness and old injuries to deal with. Pacing myself and staying focused on necessary tasks is vital. Dont laugh but reading childrens books help calm me before I sleep or if Im going through a stressful time. I heard this later suggested my a psychiatrist on the radio as a good method. A good attitude towards adaption and a resistance to panic are good traits to grow.

  • My thoughts on preparedness are always a little off of the norm. I am fit as can be for a 73 year old with cancer and heart problems. I train/condition myself for my circumstances. One can be prepared if confined to a wheelchair as long as we are honest with ourselves.
    I have had the pleasure to have lived a full and hearty life. I know what it is like to sit out in the freezing cold with no heat and no chance for relief. I have gone for extended periods without food or sleep out of necessity of the moment. I have found that the one thing that is a must is keeping one’s wits about you. If you are freezing cold and exhausted, know that your ability to react to a situation will be long and slow. Prepare for it. Can’t run anymore due to a life of injuries, prepare for it. Prepare for what you can with what you have where and how you are.
    Few if any will be able to do what is needed when the SHTF in spite of being able to run 10K and do 100 pushups because they never trained to act with one arm in a sling and one leg in a cast. How many have actually taken a life? Even the life of a woodchuck? That moment that you hesitate considering what you are about to do may be your last moment on earth.
    Tactical training has its uses but still does not present the individual with live or die conditions. The environment is safe, the people are safe, the program is laid out.
    As noted above, you must become intuitively connected to your present state of health and well being and your immediate surroundings. Not an easy lesson to learn.

  • Selco uses physical fitness and firearms training as examples.
    But we need to expand on that as Selco point out about building a shelter or when to light a fire or not to.
    That is when real world experience, even simulated, comes into play.
    Take multi-day camping vs having to bug out to your BOL.
    Are the the same? Of course not.
    However, they do have some things in common, namely the logistics and economic aspects of it. And both will test your equipment and yourself.
    Where I live, I will not have MZBs raping and pillaging the country side as I camp in a multi-day camping trip non-SHTF. But I do have things like black bears and reportedly big cats in my area. I have about a 15 second video on a game cam of a young black bear weighing in at about 200lbs.
    Think about the stress of a growing season to feed not only you, but your entire family. One thing goes wrong and you could be in dire straits. The weather, mold, insects, deer or rabbits.

  • A big lesson from my delving into SHTF scenarios is that you can’t do it alone long term…especially after a solar flare or EMP. Develop like minded multi skilled teams…

  • I do try my scoring points when I am sick. Not frequently, though. Being sick is a totally different state of mind.
    I would say, I would give an average 5 out of 10. Not too bad, but there is room to learn.

  • If you are prepped for grid down and the grid goes down, you will likely do fairly well. But if there is a forest fire instead, you’ll be lucky to get out alive.
    Survival is partly, but not exclusively physical fitness. Weapons are not the whole of it. “Stuff” can make a huge difference–or not if it is stolen or you are flooded out, etc.
    Op Sec could be life and death–but you will probably need friends to make it through.
    A flexible mindset is the life-and-death edge in the books I have about real people whose ferry boat turned upside down in the North Sea, or faced a sudden blizzard while mountain climbing.
    Given our crazy times, one should always be getting better.

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