Top 13 Survival Items You’ll Want To Scavenge

Just about every post-apocalyptic survival novel you read talks about the main characters scavenging to meet their needs for supplies.

Yet this is the part of survival that is almost never discussed in the prepping and survival community. That could be because we are law-abiding citizens and scavenging is a bit too close to the looting of criminals; an act which we all condemn.

Yet, if there is a true TEOTWAWKI event, the only equipment and supplies which we will have access to are either those we own or those we can glean from the environment around us. For those of us who live in urban areas, probably the only resources we’ll find, other than water, are man-made ones.

Of course, we will be able to make some things for ourselves, even grow food for ourselves, but even that will require access to the necessary resources.

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This means either taking things that others have abandoned or taking things that others own. Either way, it boils down to property that does or did belong to others. So the first thing we have to deal with, is the moral question about when it is looting and when it is legitimate scavenging.

Looting vs. Scavenging

We’ve all seen looting, at least on television.

A disaster strikes or a riot occurs and people of questionable morals see it as an opportunity for personal enrichment, stealing big screen televisions, high dollar tennis shoes and anything else they can. These people are stealing things from the people who own them, and they are doing it to fulfill a personal desire, nothing more.

The fist difference between the two is that scavenging deals with taking things you need, not that you just want.

Needing food to eat or tools to help you survive isn’t stealing just to have something, it’s merely being done to survive. A man who breaks into your freezer to steal food for his starving children isn’t looting, even though he’s taking something that belongs to someone else.

Secondly, scavenging properly means only taking things that others don’t need. This either means that the original owners are no longer there, because they have left or are dead, or it means things that people have discarded. There’s a lot of “trash” which can be repurposed to help you survive.

This second point can be extremely tricky, simply because it can be hard to determine where the original owners of the items are. If they are dead and you know it, that’s one thing; but what if they’re trying to make their way back home in the wake of a disaster? You might not have any way of knowing that. This leaves a “grey area” where you will have to be guided by your own moral compass.

Please note that it is never okay to take things, just because everyone else is. Mob rule can take over in the wake of a disaster, with people breaking into stores to steal supplies they need. But those supplies still have an owner, the owner of the store, even if that owner is a major corporation.

Speaking of Major Corporations

Things can get even stickier when it comes to rebuilding after a disaster, especially a TEOTWAWKI event. In the case of an EMP or other grid-down event, rebuilding will most likely require equipment and materials that are locked away in warehouses which are no longer doing business after the disaster. While that equipment technically still has an owner, there may very well be a need to take their assets for the public good.

The way this is normally dealt with is that the items in question are taken by whatever government is in place, in the name of the people. While it is still stealing from the viewpoint of the person who loses those goods, doing it in the name of the government at least gives it the patina of legitimacy.

This sort of scavenging requires much more preparation than scavenging for your personal needs. First, there’s the need of figuring out what is needed; then there is the need of figuring out who has it. If you are an engineer or other technical professional who might find yourself in such a place, helping your community, you might want to add an old-fashioned printed phone book to your prepping stockpile, to help find these suppliers.

Equipping to Scavenge

Other than things that people have discarded, most scavenging requires breaking and entering in some way. This is another moral issue, as breaking and entering are clearly criminal activities, against the law in every jurisdiction I know of. Some would say that if there is nobody enforcing the law, there is no law. However, based on US history, I would say that vigilante groups will probably rise up in many communities to enforce the law.

On the flip side of this moral coin is the need to take care of your family, one of the biggest moral responsibilities there is. Each of us will ultimately have to make the decision in our own minds, which side the coin falls on.

Either way, if you’re going to do any scavenging, you need to be prepared. This means having the right equipment and knowing the right techniques to make it possible for you to get into places that you probably should be getting into, to get things that others probably don’t want you to get. So, what’s it going to take for this?

• A good crowbar

• Lock picks and the knowledge to use them

• Some sort of cart for hauling away the goods you find

• Containers to carry bulk and liquid items

• A good flashlight or “headlamp” and extra batteries

• Chain and padlocks for re-securing areas where you have scavenged

• A good imagination for figuring out how you can repurpose things

Keep in mind that as you are undertaking any scavenging activity, there will probably be others who see what you are doing. Some of these people may try to get in on what you are doing or even take what you have scavenged. So the ability to defend yourself, while in the midst of this activity is critical.

Survival scavenging is best undertaken by small groups, rather than individually, so that some can keep guard, while others do the scavenging.

Repurposing Scavenged Items

We must realize that the chances of finding food while scavenging are extremely slim. One of the first things that will happen after a disaster will be the looting and vandalism of grocery stores, cleaning out any quick supply of food. This will shortly be followed by doing the same to food warehouses and any semi tractor-trailers which might be filled with food. That will take a little longer, just because most people won’t know where to find them; but it will happen nevertheless.

Trying to scavenge food from homes will probably be futile as well, as if there is food there, the people will probably be there as well. Most people only have a few days worth of food in their homes to start with, and if they leave in the wake of a disaster, they’ll probably try and take what they have with them.

This is not to say that scavenging is not worthwhile, just that doing it to find food is probably not going to yield much in the way of results. Rather, focus your scavenging on finding other equipment and supplies that you might need. If you find food as well, that’s all for the better. But if not, you haven’t wasted a lot of time on a focused search for food.

There are many other things you might find, which could be useful in a survival situation, such as:

• First-aid supplies

• Over-the-counter medicines

• Tools, especially hand-operated ones

• Hand-operated kitchen tools

• Wood that can be used as firewood

• Bicycles

• Carts, baby carriages and children’s wagons that can be used to haul things

• Camping gear

• Seed for gardening

• Spices and seasonings to make your food more palatable

• Books with useful information

• Gasoline in abandoned cars and lawn mowers

• Clothing, especially important as your children grow

Of course, this is just a sampling of the things you could find. As time goes on, probably more and more people will die, making their goods available to scavengers. This is unfortunate for those who would die, but fortunate for those who will be left alive, as they will need the goods of those who have died to replace their own goods which have worn out over time. Living a post-disaster survival lifestyle will be much harder on our possessions, than the life we live today.

The other part of this is that we will have to develop the means to do many things by hand, which we are accustomed to doing with power tools or small appliances today. In some cases, such as a forge for working metal, we might have to make tools which we don’t use today. This will have to be out of scavenged materials, as those will be the only materials available.

Stockpiling What You Can Scavenge

Scavenging is really only worthwhile if we’re talking a long-term survival situation, such as you would encounter after a true TEOTWAWKI event. In that case, with no relief in sight, those who survive are going to have to make the best of the resources available to them, even if those resources belonged to someone else before.

One of the things that anyone who attempts to scavenge must understand is that you get what you can, when you can. You may be looking for tools, but if you find first-aid supplies you can use, you grab them. If you don’t, they may not be available when you need them.

This mean that anyone who is going to be scavenging is also going to be creating a stockpile of the oddest assortment of things you can imagine. Their homes will end up looking like a junkyard, just because of all the miscellaneous things they have found. That’s okay, if they can’t use it themselves, they can always barter it off to someone who does need that particular thing.


Written by

Bill White is the author of Conquering the Coming Collapse, and a former Army officer, manufacturing engineer and business manager. More recently, he left the business world to work as a cross-cultural missionary on the Mexico border. Bill has been a survivalist since the 1970s, when the nation was in the latter days of the Cold War. He had determined to head into the Colorado Rockies, should Washington ever decide to push the button. While those days have passed, the knowledge Bill gained during that time hasn’t. He now works to educate others on the risks that exist in our society and how to prepare to meet them. You can send Bill a message at editor [at]

Latest comments
  • Any preparedness group should have a team of Scroungers, charged with the duty of scavenging tools and materials needed for their group to survive. This team must be able to work with and understand the group’s engineer in case the scroungers find workable components for power generation of refrigeration equipment. The scroungers must also be able to identify specialized medical equipment which can be used by the group’s medical team.
    In essence, the prep group’s scroungers must be among the smartest and most educated members of the group. By educated, I mean educated in the fine art of practicality involving day-to-day usefulness of items, because a Ph.D. in Liberal Arts will only amount to a bad joke. However, an educated Microbiologist would be of some use, especially when working with the med team.

  • Bill, I have been “Scavenging” All my life . . . Source: Farm Auctions and “Post Lot” (Weekly) Auctions. Sure, you pay a minimal amount, but you can stop bidding at Any Time. I have always (with a little patience) found and acquired what I needed at (typically) 80-90% below Retail Why go anywhere else ?

  • “Keep in mind that as you are undertaking any scavenging activity, there will probably be others who see what you are doing. Some of these people may try to get in on what you are doing or even take what you have scavenged. So the ability to defend yourself, while in the midst of this activity is critical.”

    you’ll also encounter property owners – and their interpretation of salvanging will differ than yours – along with a majority of preppers …

    we prep so we aren’t out there breaking into building and fighting it out with lawful property owners – and prepping to resist the unprepared that are roaming “salvaging” from people trying to survive …

  • Thought provoking article. Old vehicles, old buildings, so many things have repurpose or repair value. We just tore down an old mobile home that was here on my property. The metal skin repaired another home. The metal roof is reroofing a work area. The salvageable trusses are flimsy as was the framework of the walls but much is being repurposed as a new home area for the new chucken and duck shelter. Its perfectly fine for supporting chicken wire for the covered daytime run area. Some may even become part of the summertime outdoor shower/bathroom near the gardens and outdoor cooking area. Just a nice convenience for our muddy selves and guests. Almost all scavenged materials from our own trash or others trash from remodels that I’ve willingly collected to work with. Even my kitchen backsplash is scraps from some one else’s new wood floor. The gray color works perfectly. Bits of spray paint from cleaning out a shop has painted the inside of my new kitchen cabinets and drawers. They are clean, fresh, and painted which helps preserves the wood. The area under the sink is lt beige, two drawers inside are mint green, two are rose… You get the idea. My exterior paint I picked out and paid for. The upper cabinets has my choice in paint including blackboard paint on the inside of the doors. Many vehicles here are kept on the road courtesy of a business named “U Pull It”. Legal scavenging at its best but you must have tools and know how!
    Many of us “shop” moving or yard sales already or pass on outgrown kids clothes. Many of my “spare” shop or kitchen hand tools have been found that way. I collect all I can of those or camping gear. Some get used now and excess tools are stored back for “if needed” times. Someday someone will clean out my shop and home and wonder “what do you use that for”? When I was selling and teaching crafts in years past I looked for the old hand cranked beaters to froth wax to look like snow or whipped cream. Folks were giving those things away. They are stored in both kitchen tools and craft supply areas and still work well. Dads old brace and bit and fire heated soldering irons are here. I must have a dozen hand planes for different purposes in woodwork. I love old and new tools.
    We just reached our long time goal of installing some solar. The newest home is totally off grid. Bit by bit the rest of the place will follow. I’m gathering parts for one of the wells to be solar. I need the load center and wire.
    I just bought a 335w solar panel that wind tore off of an array. Panel is fine. Where two mounting points tore out of the back of the frame I’ll just attach in different spots. I’d figured to go with 2, 100w panels and a lt weight 12v pump. Ill still go with that pump but just one better panel and 2, 50 amh batteries. For back up it also has a hand crank winch salvaged from an old abandoned boat trailer. My other well has a bigger pump but it’s still on grid powered.
    Being a salvager/scavenger takes seeing how things can be used in multiple ways. Being a diy gal on social security I have to use my brain to keep three homes, a church, and chickens, ducks, and rabbits going. The next major project is reroofing the church. For now I’m using paint on sealers picked up cheap from contractor leftovers. My friend living here is a hard worker so he earns rent doing things that are hard for me these days. A son with a home here is a scavenger and hard worker but he’s out of country at present. This week my husband, friend and I are getting a secondhand deck with metal railings to repurpose on my newest home. That will give us a small landing with steps for the back door, 8’x20′ front deck with stairs off both ends and railings for the edges and steps. A days work to get it and another partial day or two installing it here. Fresh paint, some sand on the steps and things are taking shape.
    Elbo grease is the other ingredient to scavenging that is a must! Its rare someone just hands you everything and loads it up for you. There were some 2″x6″x14′ boards under the deck of the mobilehome we tore down. I may add those to beef up the deck when I use it. You always have to be thinking and planning if you live by repurposing. I saved them even with some broken ends. Cut down they still have a lot of good wood in them. As we skirt the home with used Propanel, a lot of used wood will be framing but also underneath storage areas for canning jars, extra bakeware, yard care items, et. Every storage area may be colorful inside but a 5 gal bucket of extrlerior paint will unify the part everybody sees. Each box will set on used bricks to keep them off the dirt. They will be used 2×2 framing with used plywood enclosing the 5 sides and a metal door that is also siding. Building boxes into the skirting also adds to the insulation value. Easier to cool in summer or heat in winter. Some panels will be access points for maintainance.
    Yes my yard “3 acres” has piles of materials but I also have a large storage area under a roof. Things are being gathered as other things are being used. Neater than a junkyard. 🙂 I can see where if teotwawki comes, gathering more, with less definite planning, would be adventagious. For now about the only thing I have without a definite planned use is a fireplace insert in good shape. Might be a barter item or go in my son’s home as all his heat is propane. The home my friend is in has a wood stove and my home has a rocket stove with a removable pellet insert. I can even burn the chips of branches run through my wood chipper. The fireplace sitting in the yard will probably be built into the outdoor cooking area.
    The rocket stove can burn efficiently enough that once started there is no visible smoke. I’ll take that over a fireplace any day. And I can cook on top or easily heat a 3 gal pot of water. For a lot of us, this isn’t so much a prepped lifestyle as it is just living within our means and having what we need to live.
    I still have 35 gallons of paint. That will paint the skirting once its up, two wooden sheds and more. Most of it free from a commercial painter cleaning out three years of left overs. Free to me for hauling it an hour to home. Thanks Craigslist.
    I picked up a yard chair, a Bench needing a small repair and a kitchen table to refinish, after looking at the deck and agreeing to move it. Chair and bench for the yard and I’ll refinish the table to use. It’s a good soild wood table. Leftovers, free, on the side of the road. When redone it will look like a new table.
    Folks that wouldn’t touch that stuff or repair or paint something need to get over themselves or prepare to die if serious hard times come.

    • CLERGYLADY, wish I could join your team. I’m looking for good moral DIY people to neighbor with, but they are hard to find. I want to get out of Florida for various reasons. Been looking into maybe SW Missouri. Do you happen to be in this area? You can message me at [email protected] Happy Scavenging!!!

    • You are one awesome Woman, I would love to be with you when SHTF I love old stuff and learning what it is and how to use it. I do know a lot of the things you spoke of . The kids today know nothing of DIY, they want everything brand new.. If or when the time ever does come most of them won’t have a clue as how to take care of their families or how to defend themselves. GOD BLESS YOU FOR ALL YOU DO AND TEACH OTHERS.

    • I agree totally. When my husband was alive he was so embarrassed to know I was scrounging stuff from the side of the road that he wouldn’t stop to let me pick up stuff with him. I always had to go back without him. but he never complained about the money I saved when we needed things to be repaired. I still can’t believe 30 years later the amount of good stuff people just throw away. Trust me, I am going to be one of the ones hanging on to the practice of remodeling, reusing,recycling.

  • Don’t forget the usefulness of gleaning agricultural fields for discarded/unwanted produce left behind after harvest. Obviously, ask permission if the owners are still there. If the owners are long gone because of a disaster and produce/food has been left in the fields to rot or for wild animals to eat, why not salvage what you can? Under-ripe and ripe fruit can be made into cider, wine, jams and jellies or sliced and dried. Dry ears of corn/maize will store a long time if kept away from vermin. So will wheat grain that is hand-harvested from the margins of fields that already have been mechanically harvested. Even the dry seed heads of wild grasses can be harvested by hand, winnowed and ground into flour or simmered in water like brown rice.

  • On my way to work I once counted the groups of 10 houses, using the thinking that 90% will perish in a world as we know it ending event. In my 11 mile commute, just on the roads I travel there is going to be a LOT of stuff to be scavenged. I have given it a lot of thought and worry that someone might show up with a legal claim the the items I have removed….I plan to put a note on the table saying what I took and that I am willing to replace it if they come home. The instructions will be to put the note in the window and the next time I am coming past I will stop and make a deal with them regarding what I took….either giving it back or giving them something else they need instead.

    One thing I never see on scavenging list is pet food. My chickens will eat anything. In the winter it will be hard to supply their nutritional needs, so I would add “pet food” to my sought after items. IF I find a pet food they won’t eat (not likely) I will use it to grow maggot on that they WILL eat. (When you have chickens you have a LOT of flies, so growing maggots will not be a problem.)

  • Some parts of the country (especially the intermountain west) have partial-year residences that are owned by snow birds . In my particular community, up to one third of the homes are occupied for only four to five months. When the snow melts, wherever they came from, they bail out until next year. In a full blown TEOTWAWKI type of scenario, these structures (many on acreage with horse privileges, solar powered wells, small tractors, etc.) would provide resources for a recovering community. If these owners can make the 1500+ mile trip to reach their property, good for them. If they can’t, the community would make good and respectful use of their material goods.

    I prefer to think of scavenging/scrounging/salvaging as an organized effort made by and for the benefit of the community. Small towns will maintain law and order on a local basis when civilization generally goes down the toilet chute. To my way of thinking, town leaders will deputize and manage groups to locate and retrieve material that will help the effort to survive..

  • time is a big factor…taking something a half hour after the shtf is quite different than taking the same thing from the same place several years after the fat/