Because the traditional Lak lands are mountainous and very dry, agriculture was of secondary importance in the traditional economy. In the mountainous regions, the economy was dominated by the raising of sheep and goats, and also some horses, cattle, and mules. Meat and milk products were major components of the Lak diet, although they also grew barley, peas, wheat and some potatoes. Most animal husbandry was the responsibility of males, whereas agriculture was mostly that of women. The Lak territory had no forests, and there was a chronic shortage of wood for building and fuel. Wheat and fruits and vegetables were grown in the lower areas, especially in the new Lak areas in northern Daghestan. The practice of transhumant sheepherding required that for several months each year, males migrate to the lowlands to pasture their animals. Here they came into contact with different Daghestani peoples. Other Daghestani mountaineers grazed their sheep along with those of the Laks in the lands of the Kumyks. This is the reason most Lak males were multilingual. Many villages specialized in artisanry and crafts. Kumukh was famed for its jewelers and coppersmiths; Kaya was known for its merchants and markets; Unchukatl for saddle and harness makers; Ubra for masons and tinsmiths; Kuma for candy makers; Shovkra for shoe- and bootmakers; Tsovkra for acrobats; and Balkar for ceramics and jug makers. Lak women also engaged in cottage industries such as rug weaving, spinning, textile making, and ceramics, whereas the men engaged in leather working and tool making.
Many of these traditions survived during the Soviet period because it was difficult to develop the Lak territories, which are isolated and have few resources. Textiles and clothing, leather working and shoe making, and the production of meat, cheese, and butter are still the dominant industries in this region. Many Laks continue to migrate (both permanently and seasonally) to other areas of Daghestan (and in particular to the cities) and to other surrounding areas to find employment. Whereas in the traditional pattern of transhumant animal husbandry Lak males and their animals walked over the treacherous mountain passes and forded rivers, the herds are now taken by truck to their winter pastures in the lowlands and similarly brought back in the spring. Traditionally, extended families held the limited amount of agricultural land, the pastures, and the herds in common and did not have a strong sense of individual ownership. The Laks nevertheless resisted Soviet collectivization policies.