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Overlooked Survival Item You Need to Learn to Make

In the vast universe of prepping and survival strategies, certain items and skills are often heralded as indispensable.

Water purification, food storage, and first aid are routinely discussed and rightly emphasized. However, one critical item frequently slips under the radar: homemade charcoal.

This article, informed by lessons from my time as a soldier and experiences in various survival scenarios, explores the essential role of charcoal in prepping, especially in light of the increasing risk of global conflicts.

Key Takeaways

  1. Homemade Charcoal’s Versatility: Charcoal is a multifunctional survival item, crucial for water purification, cooking, and as a heat source.
  2. Preparedness Empowers: Learning to make and utilize charcoal is an empowering skill that enhances your resilience in various survival scenarios.
  3. War’s Impact on Resources: In times of war, supply chains are disrupted, making self-sufficiency in basic necessities like fuel and water purification imperative.
  4. Sustainable Practices: Charcoal can be produced sustainably with minimal resources, making it an ideal skill for long-term survival planning.

The Underrated Champion: Charcoal in Survival Situations

During my deployment, one of the first lessons I learned was the importance of being prepared for any situation, often in ways you might not expect.

Charcoal, a substance so simple yet powerful, became a symbol of self-reliance and ingenuity. Its value extends far beyond the barbecue grills of peaceful backyard gatherings; it becomes a lifeline in the direst circumstances.

How to Make Charcoal

Making your own charcoal involves burning wood or other organic materials in a low-oxygen environment, a process known as pyrolysis. Here’s a simple method:

  • Material Gathering: Collect wood scraps and small branches. Hardwoods are preferred due to their dense composition.
  • Constructing the Kiln: Using a metal drum, create a controlled environment where the wood can smolder without catching fire. Drill several small holes around the base to control airflow.
  • Burning Process: Fill the drum with wood, light it, and then cover it with a metal lid. This limits oxygen and prevents the wood from burning completely.
  • Cooling and Storage: After several hours, the fire will die out. Allow the charcoal to cool completely in the sealed drum to prevent accidental ignition.

Applying Military Lessons to Civilian Prepping

In the military, adaptability and resourcefulness are as vital as any piece of equipment. Charcoal production epitomizes these traits. It’s not just about having supplies; it’s about knowing how to create what you need from what you have. Here are some of the most crucial applications of charcoal in survival situations:

  • Water Purification: Charcoal can remove contaminants and odors from water, making it safer to drink. This is done by incorporating charcoal into a filtration system, a technique I learned during survival training in arid environments.
  • Heat and Cooking Fuel: In environments where leaving a visible smoke trail is hazardous, charcoal provides a low-smoke heat source for cooking, crucial in evading detection in conflict zones.
  • Medical Uses: Charcoal has medicinal properties, especially in treating poisonings or digestive issues, a common challenge when access to conventional medicine is blocked during conflicts.

The Reality of War and Prepping

The specter of war looms large for survivalists, not as a distant, abstract fear, but as a practical reality to prepare against. War can disrupt or completely halt supply chains, making everyday items scarce. In such times, the ability to produce essential goods like charcoal becomes not just valuable but potentially life-saving.

Sustainable Survival

A key component of survival, especially under threat of war, is sustainability. Relying on pre-stocked items can only get you so far; true preparedness means being able to sustain yourself. Producing your own charcoal is a step towards self-sufficiency, reducing dependence on external supplies that may be cut off in times of crisis.

Empowerment Through Preparedness

Beyond its practical applications, the act of learning to make charcoal and other survival skills is empowering. It transforms the fear of the unknown into confidence, knowing you have the skills to tackle unforeseen challenges. This empowerment is central to the philosophy of prepping: it’s not just about surviving; it’s about thriving in adversity.


Homemade charcoal is more than just a survival item; it is a symbol of the resilience and adaptability that are core to the prepping ethos. As we consider the potential impacts of war and other crises, integrating such overlooked items into our preparedness strategies enhances not only our chances of survival but also our ability to maintain a semblance of normalcy in the face of adversity.

Understanding the full scope of what charcoal can do is a reminder of a broader truth in prepping: it’s often the simplest skills that prove the most vital. Whether it’s through water purification, providing warmth, or aiding in medical emergencies, charcoal is a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness that survival situations demand.


Q: Is making charcoal safe? A: Yes, when done cautiously. Ensure the kiln is in a safe, open area and monitor the process closely to manage risks.

Q: How long can homemade charcoal be stored? A: If kept dry and in airtight containers, homemade charcoal can be stored indefinitely, making it an excellent resource for long-term prepping.

Q: Can charcoal be used for signaling rescuers? A: Yes, in addition to its other uses, charcoal can create a controlled, smoky fire that is visible for miles, useful for signaling in rescue situations.