Lock Picking: An Underrated Survival Skill

Oct 14, 2016

Lock Picking: An Underrated Survival Skill

Every skill set we attain has its uses. Some of these uses are of course very apparent and often the reason we develop the skill in the first place.

But more times than not do skill sets have a hidden potential and purpose that is obscured by a lack of necessity, until one day they are called upon in the most unusual of circumstances.

It is in such circumstances that we discover the true value in these skills and the pettiness in others.

One such circumstance is that of survival or a SHTF situation. In such an event the skills and knowledge that we have collected throughout our entire lives are put to the ultimate test and our failures to utilize the correct skills in the correct manner could be of great consequence.

And while there is a vast variety of skill sets easily associated with that of survival, there are also those whose usefulness have yet to be determined.

Among these unknowns is the elaborate art of lock picking.

Lock picking is often regarded as a malicious activity, performed only by those with criminal intent. But this, in all actuality, couldn’t be further from the truth.

Not every lock picker is a criminal. The vast majority of those who practice this skill are generally enthusiasts who, like chess-players, enjoy the puzzle and challenge it provides.

Very few develop lock picking skills with malicious or criminal intent as those who generally fall towards thievery are usually too indolent as to spend the time required to develop this skill when simpler, more aggressive means of entry could be utilized.

So why then should we as survivalists learn this craft? Why should we allocate time away from learning and developing other useful skills?

To answer this question, let us take a look at a few of the advantages associated with this skill starting with the most valuable; an enlightened sense of security. 

Achieve Enlightenment

Regardless of whether we are trying to survive in a post-societal urban environment, or even in a family home smack dab in the middle of a suburban community, our ability to fortify and take confidence in our physical security is among our top priorities. This is where the lock picking skill shines brightest.

Something strange will occur when we successfully pick our first lock... your entire perception of locks and security will be destroyed.

These tiny devices that require a trained, professional locksmith to make and that we have relied on our entire lives become nothing more than an illusion. Nothing but a fabrication that gives us that feeling of “safety” we all crave.

Our perception is destroyed in a sense that we no longer acknowledge the concept of something being secure. The term “secure” itself is no longer a static term, nor a term at all.

You realize, there is no “secure,” only varying degrees of “insecure.” No lock is impervious to exploits from a combination lock to a padlock, and most certainly not the simple locks we commonly utilize on our front doors.

If there was but one reason to learn lock picking, it would be to experience this enlightenment and more precisely gauge your own personal security to better protect the things you value most in this world.

Our very survival, in any environment, depends not upon how difficult it is for us to bypass our security, but how difficult it is for our enemy.

Every exploit we remove is but one less opportunity for another. 

Standard pin tumbler locks which you're surrounded with in your everyday life can and have been conquered by use of a couple paperclips, rather than professional lock pick tools, in the hands of those of who had no clue what they were doing.

Understanding the basics of locks and how to exploit them is a proactive measure that can make all the difference, whether it be fortifying your shelter or simply buying a new lock for your front door.

Live in confidence that your establishment is not of meager security and can only be accessed with the correct key, not a lock picking tool.

Pick the High Hanging Fruit

Fortune will always favor the resourceful, and even more so in a SHTF situation.

It is more than natural for the low hanging fruit to be the first to be plucked. Grocery stores will be raided and behind the counter guns will seemingly evaporate.

Only the quick and lucky will relish in collecting the early goods and live past the chaos to utilize them. But what about the fruit lingering above? Who then will acquire these gems?

The only option can be the skilled.

With lock picking in our arsenal you may reach and acquire resources that most individuals will be forced to pass by.

While many places can be accessed by more aggressive means, not all doors can be kicked in, nor all locks breached through brute force.

There are always those places that are designed to stand up against forceful attacks, so why not use them to our advantage? 

On the vanguard of any survivalist's checklist is the acquisition of safe locations. Whether it be a place to spend the night, store our resources, or take up a more permanent residence, safe locations are of vital importance.

Imagine for a second, having the ability to not only gain access to locations that others cannot, but to be able to use these already constructed locations to our advantage.

With lock picking, you are not only granted the ability to enter these types of locations, but you are able to enter them in a subtle and non-destructive manner by simply picking a door lock.

This gentle means of entry allows you to turn around and once again secure that location, with whatever it is that you want to protect sitting safely inside. 

Additionally, there is a unique skill that falls under the scope of lock picking called “key impressioning.” This skill allows us to create a working key of basically any pin tumbler lock, a lock mechanism that uses pins, without disassembling the lock.

Having the means to access your shelters and storehouses quickly and easily could be quite luxurious.  So whether it be something as simple as accessing a safe, pulling the trigger lock off a gun, or finding a secure place to sleep at night, lock picking always has your back.

Plus, carrying around a lock pick set will always be easier than lugging around bolt cutters, a hacksaw, or a wrench, and will always be a more subtle means of entry in a world where secretiveness and discretion could be critically important.

The edge that you as a lock picker will acquire could easily be the difference between life and death.

Acquiring the Skill

To most, the skill of lock picking is extremely intimidating. How could one ever hope to manipulate a device that you cannot even see? What insane amounts of patience and self-discipline must you gather to ever hope to learn such a skill? Even more so, to learn the skill in a way that your success in picking is not reliant upon luck, but skill. The answer: not very much at all.

Lock picking is an extraordinarily simple skill to pick up, whose core techniques can be learned and applied within hours.

And to further the case of simplicity and expel your worries of learning how to pick each different lock, most locks you encounter are of the same type, the pin tumbler lock.

Of all the types of locks, the pin tumbler is among both the simplest in design and most commonly utilized locking mechanism today.

To prove their simplicity, let us take a quick look at how these locks actually work.

Pin Tumbler Lock

In a nutshell, the pin tumbler lock utilizes two stacks of pins: key pins and driver pins. These pins are allowed to slide between the housing of the lock and a rotatable plug. At rest these pins sit between the housing and the plug, restricting the lock from rotating as illustrated below.


When the correct key is inserted into the lock, every key pin will push the corresponding driver pin out of the plug just enough to be flush with the top of the plug. This line between the plug and the housing is what lock pickers refer to as the shear line.

Once the key is inserted and the gap between each key pin and driver pin is equal to exactly that of the shear line, the plug can be rotated and the lock disengaged.

This here is the goal of pin tumbler lock picking, to bring each pin up and out of the lock's plug so that we can rotate and disengage the lock.

Picking a Lock

Now that you understand the simplicity of the pin tumbler lock and what it is that you as a picker are trying to accomplish, it is time to start actually developing lock picking skills. You will need only two things, a set of lock picks and of course a lock to pick.

Acquiring a set of picks is both an easy and relatively cheap investment. The average price of a quality beginner lock pick set is roughly $20.

While you can of course make do in some situations with a bobby pin, or similar items, a set of lock pick tools that are designed for the task at hand are invaluable. I would highly recommend picking up a small set as the appropriate tools, like a tension wrench, will not only help you with your success at picking, but also immensely aid with the development of your skills.

Once you have your picks you can at last begin the process of defeating your first lock. As the theory and techniques of lock picking are best received supplemented with the corrected illustrations and details, I recommend visiting my extensive beginners guide on how to pick a lock at Art of Lock Picking.

On a final note, I would like to visit upon the importance of practice. Lock picking, like any skill, requires a level of practice and patience to master. You will see success in an extremely short amount of time, but this should be no cause to disregard continuing to practice lock picking. The difference between the novice and the seasoned in a time of need could easily be the difference between life and death.

To conclude this little article, I hope that you can now see the importance of lock picking as a survival skill and know that the scope of its practicality goes far beyond that of criminal activity or being a locksmith. Furthermore, I hope you choose to integrate it into your arsenal of skills and move forward with confidence that if the need ever arises, locks will not be your enemy. Open up your world and definitively define your security with the craft that is lock picking.

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