How to Pick a Lock in a Survival Situation

Lockpicking is a skill that is sometimes associated with criminals. But when we have to pay a hefty sum to a locksmith when we lose our keys or they no longer work, we realise how important this skill really is. During and after a crisis, the importance of lockpicking could be tremendous – for example, finding food and crucial equipment that may be hidden behind a lock.

In this post we’ll learn how to lockpick a simple tumbler lock, which is the most commonly used lock in the USA (used in most doors, padlocks, lockers and many more). This lock’s mechanism uses double pins (top and bottom) with a small space between them. This space is located in varying heights to prevent the cylinder from turning, and thus it prevents the lock from opening. The correct key has specific ridges that raise the pins so that the space between the pins aligns with the cylinder, allowing it to turn and release the mechanism, which allows the lock to open.

Disclaimer: this skill is for emergency use only, when saving lives depend on opening a lock. DO NOT use this skill at any other times!

The key has two functions – it raises the pins to the correct place, and turns the mechanism. We’ll use two lockpicking tools to accommodate these functions:

  1. Lockpick (looks like a dentist’s instrument)
  2. Tension wrench (also called an L wrench for its L shape)

Click the image below to watch the video:
How to Pick a Lock in a Survival Situation








How to Lockpick a Pin Tumbler Lock

We’ll try to mimic the key with the lockpick and tension wrench:

  1. Place the tension wrench all the way through into the lock and turn it about 5-10 degrees to the direction it moves easily (the handle should be resting opposite to the side of the pins) – make sure to use moderate force. This will slightly turn the cylinder and allow the pins to “rest” on it when we raise them into place.

  2. Insert the lockpick all the way through into the lock with the bent side facing the pins – you may need to loosen the pressure on the tension wrench in order to insert the pick. Bump each pin into place, moving from the last one to the first one, until the lock simply opens. You’ll need to find the sweet spot of turning the tension wrench, which will allow you to move the lockpick, while still providing the pins a place to “rest” on the cylinder.

    Note: this skill requires a lot of sensitivity and practice – it’s recommended to start with a clear training lock so you can see the mechanism while practicing.

Most locks are created randomly by a machine, but some locks are more difficult to pick – here are some of the exceptions and how to overcome them:

  1. “Dummy pin” – if you push this pin even a little, it will lock the mechanism – there may be more than one and they may be placed in succession. Moreover some locks only require bumping one or two pins. Usually, when you bump a pin, you will hear a “click”. If you spot pins that don’t click, they may be dummy ones – if you hit these, start over and try to avoid them.

  2. Some locks only require to insert the lockpick and turn the tension wrench in order to open them – so trying to be too clever may jam them.

Cheap Locks

Some locks are made from relatively soft metal (like nickel), so using a little bit of force with your picking tools will bend them – usually these are the very cheap chinese knockoffs. The way to open these locks is by literally breaking them – place two wrenches on the lock arms and press them inward until they snap open. Any two wrenches will do, even a multitool!

Alternative Methods

When push comes to shove, you can use a bolt cutter to open most common locks, or a heavy hammer to bash the door’s bolts or hinges. Some shotgun rounds, or explosives can also be used as breaching tools, but these methods may attract a lot of unwanted attention and thus are not recommended.


To sum up:

Lockpicking is a very useful skill to have in a bind, but an absolute asset in any post-catastrophe situation, where picking a lock may be the difference between surviving or not! This skill requires a lot of practice, finesse and sometimes more advanced tools, especially when dealing with complex locks like double-sided locks or modern locks that use electromagnets. At the end of the day, all locks can be picked, so start practicing now that you have the time!

Now it’s your turn:

Have you ever been locked in or out anywhere?
Have you ever tried lockpicking?
Do you have any tips or tricks you can share with us?

Please leave a comment below – I love getting your feedback and I read each and every single comment!

What’s next:

From active shooters to violent rampages, we’ve seen some disturbing events lately right in the heart of the USA! Our next posts’ series will be dedicated to dangerous current events, how to prepare for them and how to avoid or survive them if worse comes to worst.

I can’t wait to share all of this with you,

So until then – Stay Safe!!

Your friend always,

Roy Shepard

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