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A Prepper’s Guide on How, Where, and What to Scavenge

Last Updated: September 11, 2022

Time-tested and durable, some things just weather the times. They’re out there, waiting for you to find.

Lasting through the elements and disasters, materials and spare parts can be salvaged from a wide range of sources.

Recycling good stuff is just practical. In a consumer society, there’s a surplus of goods available in every shape and size. Sometimes, industrial designers just end up putting together something wonderful, made of wonderful parts & materials.

In 2022, the salvage and recycling of useful items is the past’s “scavenging.” Sure, in every post-apocalyptic thriller novel, there’s always a Macgyver-ish character rummaging through stuff to survive. But, the practicality of DIY measures coupled with savings from your creations and builds, make for a great way to prepare for any type of situation. Not only can you survive in an emergency scenario better from your efforts in salvage, but also you can optimize your homestead and daily life in creative ways.

In the years following 2022, if there are indeed greater global impacts from the war in Ukraine and impending effects of global warming, we believe it’s just smart to be ready. Weather patterns are the first to be affected by rising ocean levels. Later, with the melting of polar ice caps, the ancient viruses held within, for which we have little immunity and protection, are unmasked to all organisms.

From the environment around us, with smart intel, and prior planning, the resources we would be able to find are a boon and benefit to whatever survival needs come up, challenges for you to surpass.

For those of us in natural or rural areas, our supply runs need to be practically planned, and efficient in the case of exposure. If our homestead is 20 miles from the most centralized human habitation areas (urban), then you’ll need to plan for both supply and defense for the wandering group.

Some things we’ll be able to create for ourselves, are sustainable measures in a long-term survival scenario, but like a frictionless machine, everything eventually needs repair.

Perhaps there’s a freak snowstorm while driving home from dinner with your family. Your car slides out on black ice into the shoulder, over a particularly sharp rock. You’re out a tire…and stuck in a snowstorm.

Or perhaps you slid down a ravine while camping, and you’re caught without any camping or survival equipment, unable to return to your site by the way you fell?

What are you supposed to do now?

In your growing preparedness, you’ll start to separate your needs into the basic needs for survival: water, food, shelter, and sleep. If these needs aren’t met, a risk to your mortal life ensues, i.e. we die.

When you have no gear or supplies, improvisation is key to survival.

Even when all of your hope placed in your gear, kits, and stock is gone, you will still be left with your mind. The creativity and improvisation that stems from your adaptation become part of why it’s easier to decide what to do in a survival scenario. Both in the split seconds of a real-time event, or for the long, potentially hopeless days ahead with limited resources.

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


The Value of Recycling, Reusing, and Repurposing

The three R’s of environmentally long-term sustainability for a prepper are:

  1. Recycle
  2. Reuse
  3. Repurpose


Recycling in a prepping scenario consists of finding reusable plastic, metal, and other materials for practical purposes. Plastic water bottle containers, cardboard for your ongoing firestarter, and containers of every sort help you in your organization. An organized, easy-to-access stockpile is a good stockpile with relevant recycled materials ready to go.


When you reuse a container, a box, or metal from another source, you’re saving yourself the time and effort it takes to get the raw material. Whatever your DIY project or build you have going, you’ll never know when a few snips from your trusty scissors provide you with just the piece you needed.



What if your shelter is damaged by a windy storm?

You are going to need replacement materials.

What if you dropped your screwdriver, never to be found again?

You will need another trusted tool.

What if you need to protect your garden from vermin?

All of those materials you’ve carefully organized mean you don’t have to go to the hardware store to buy them.

Or, when the hardware store isn’t an option anymore, you can just look through your inventory.

Scavenging Versus Looting

During Hurricane Katrina, people ran down streets with armfuls of jewelry and electronics. In the Los Angeles Riots, protestors and looters alike dashes through broken windows of stores, grabbing all they could while the law was elsewhere. There is a clear difference between looting and scavenging.

In looting, looters seek to take advantage of a situation where the authorities are busy with all hell breaking loose in a SHTF disaster. When fires spread, police try to maintain order, and the army’s still mobilizing, that’s when some people look at what they can get away with. A looter steals from others for personal gain.

These are the precursors to the lawless times ahead because some people will do whatever they want to get whatever they want.

In the salvage of useful materials and items, scavenging is being an active observer of the environment around you. Mentally, you take stock of what is in your 20-mile radius. Now, in your searches on Google Maps, you have already started building a geographically sound, mental map of what resources are a supply run away. Scavengers know where useful items are abundant; then know how to plan when to go, and dip in quietly to secure their objective. And return back to home base safely.

A scavenger takes items that others have left behind. Neglected and unused, discarded, certain property gets abandoned. The original owners aren’t here. They’re dead or they’ve moved on.

In a rush of events on a disaster timeline, a gray area surfaces.

What if they’re coming back?

What if I need this for my kid right now or else he won’t survive?

That’s when you have to make a judgment call between your moral standards and the real-time needs of the now.

While it is a moral compass to never take anything that you have not physically purchased, most items have an owner, be it a person or a corporation. Some salvage requires entry into restricted areas, and you have to make sure you haven’t crossed any lines into vigilantism. Refer to the stages of desperation in your judgment calls and try to uphold a moral standard no matter the survival scenario.

At the end of the day, those decisions will be the difference in how your story is shared after you just can’t survive anymore. They will also be the decisions that either keep you up at night or enable you to sleep soundly. Finally, those decisions will mean the difference in the life or death of you or your loved one.



Planning & Preparation Prevent Piss Poor Performance

The six P’s of success are:

Planning and Preparation Prevent Piss-Poor Performance in any range of scenarios.

If you’re in need of food, remember that the most common places you think of will have already been picked clean. Finding food in a grocery market long after the initial cataclysm has hit will depend on your timing and intel. Your scavenging kits should always be kitted out to fit the purpose of your supply/scavenging run.

Are you looking for kits, medicine, or spare surgical supplies? Whatever you’re looking for, that pinpoints the location you’re scouting ahead of time before going in to resupply.

Do you at the very least have a partner who can function as a lookout and a pair of extra hands? In teams, the success rate of any mission is almost always improved.

#1 Make a List

List and prioritize your needs by Food & Water, Medical, Transportation, Tools, Garden, Clothing, and Livestock. Add additional categories to customize based on your local needs & resources.

#2 Be Organized

If your storage is already neatly organized, you’ll have a much better idea of what you’re going after in your scavenging run. Food expiration dates and the condition of your tools & gear all determine when and how you will go out.

#3 Bartering Value

Always be on the lookout for addictive substances, small containers, and small items with immense bartering value. Sometimes, if you can’t find what you need, you can find something of value to trade for it.

The Pre-Supply Run Checklist

Your scavenging kit comes in three components: (1) what you can carry on your person and still maneuver, (2) what you can personally transport without a powered vehicle, and (3) with motorized transport.

(1) On Your Person

Cargo pants and a pocketed jacket make up a standard excursion uniform. You can add a toolbelt and vest for more compartments. Your pack should be the length of your torso and no longer. Ensure you have full mobility with your neck, arms, legs, and waist in crouching, walking, and running positions.

Survival Knife

A standard and holstered on your dominant side: left or right. Tactical sheathes tend to offer the most protection and mobility.


Useful for “jimmying” open containers and doors, the crowbar doubles as a self-defense weapon.


Another standard carry-on useful for disassembling parts on the fly, the multi-tool is always on the right side of my belt.


The knowledge to use a lockpick vastly broadens your options in scavenging post-apocalypse. People, when in a hurry and in danger, do not act logically. When ill-prepared and on the run, locked containers and areas are largely initially dismissed.

Learn how to use lockpicks, practice doing it in a pinch, and you’ll access places of sweet, sweet inventory.

Portable Tool Set

Remember, when scavenging, you’re always looking to downsize what you’re going to carry because mobility and stealth are your highest priorities. With a target for those solar panels you spotted, a toolset that can fit in your backpack makes for easy disassembly.

Bolt Cutters

Bolt cutters make for quick work in snipping, clipping, and cutting metal or plastic. In combination with your newly found lockpicking skills, most areas will be open to you. Note trespassing laws, consequences, and other scavengers. For cutting through heavy chains, cables, and common padlocks, bolt cutters are the tool of choice.

Useful around the garden and around the homestead, heavy-duty wire cutters aka bolt cutters are great for working with wire fencing or makeshift barriers.


You’ll need two types of lighting when scavenging: a device you can use handsfree, and a temporary light source to be able to set aside at a different angle. A headlamp and solar battery/USB-powered flashlight make for a very light set.


Your lookout partner needs a way to let you know if you need to move. A set of walkie-talkies makes that possible. Solo scavenging is for grizzled veteran survivalists, less than 10% of people.

This set of walkie-talkies also replaces the need for a ham radio. If you want to have silent communication when texts don’t work, you can try pagers.

Locks and Steel Cabling/Chains

Once you’ve marked your areas and made your initial supply runs, understand that you can never get everything. Multiple trips to resourceful locations represent a wise way to know if the location has been disturbed…or even compromised. In line with your planning, get what you need, lock up, and get back to safety.

Protective Eyewear and Masks

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are masks, gloves, goggles, and disposable and reusable environmental suits. Use these items depending on your location and whatever disaster made the people leave in the first place.

Water Spigot, Tap & Siphon

Whether it’s water or gasoline you’re after, a spigot and siphon (with tubing) make for classically ingenious ways to get liquids. The harder it is to get into storage containing life-saving liquids or fuel for your vehicle, the better your chances you’ve hit paydirt.

They could be replacements or workarounds for when you come across a busted water tower, noting that the original spigot’s been removed.

Or, you just found an untapped keg of beer. Still good.


If you like looking at the “exploded” view of how machines dissemble into parts, then that’s the skill you’re taking with you into scavenging. The mindset that anything can be used for something else is helpful in deciding what to take with you on your survival journey. Weightless, creativity and the ability to adapt are always with you.

(2) Extended Transportation

Wheel Barrow, Shopping Cart, or Dolly (All Types)

The Wheel was invented over 16,000 years ago. Integrate your version of it in terms of what you can push or pull. There are three common versions that are common sense to have around the house regardless of if you’re in a survival situation or not.

Around your garden and greenhouse, a wheelbarrow makes for the best rolling options for heavy transport in duties both in gardening and scavenging.

When you’re going out shopping, a shopping cart is always a useful option. If you can get one of your own, the sturdy structure and wheels will serve you well. If you need something more lowkey, brands of personal shopping cards on two and four wheels are great new options instead of your standard grocery-store-shopping cart.

The dolly is another one of mankind’s greatest inventions. One dolly can quadruple the weight of what you can carry with a tenth of the effort. At least six different types exist and keep at least one type in your garage for whenever you need it.

Portable Ladder

Made to last and hold a 200-lbs person and more, portable ladder technology has become extremely accessible for a reasonable price. On your “flatbed” dolly, the kind used in restaurants and warehouses, you can bring your ladder with you to reach hard-to-reach areas.


Extended containers beyond your backpack could be separated into two categories: liquid and bagged.

A rolled-up duffel bag or a repurposed camping bag with a higher weight capacity can carry almost anything you plan to salvage.

A canteen tends to be a bit heavy, and along with the normal water bottle a prepper carries on their person off-site, a rollable water pouch would be the best packable choice in transporting salvaged liquids.

Larger liquid containers can be packed with your scavenging kit: 5-gallon containers on to 55-gallon capacity containers. Note that you’ll have to pack and transport your larger bag, ladder, and containers on your dolly. With more to carry, manage it all line keeping an eye out no matter what you’re doing.

Getty Images

(3) Motorized Transport & Scavenging

Your trusty “end of days” rig — practically. If you have gasoline and a trusty vehicle, you start to maximize the extent of your scavenging runs. There are more levels after this that involve vans, buses, trucks, and other specialized vehicles, but this guide is meant to be both practical and in preparation for the stages of desperation.

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The 1997 Toyota Landcruiser is widely hailed as the best SUV ever designed. Over 23 years old, this vehicle drives for over 300,000 miles with easily replaceable, fixable components. As the official vehicle for the United Nations for over 20 years, this time-tested vehicle is but one example of some of the greatest products humans have designed.

Get Intel & Scout Before


Having planned exactly what you’re after, what’s the best time to go to the location?

Who’s going to be there when you arrive? How long will it take you and what angles do you need your scout to cover?

All the answers to these questions make up your “intel” on your scavenging mission.

Save all the map data you can, and when traveling on road trips, keep an eye out for those old great topical maps for sale in gas stations. Those maps, once the grid is down, are your greatest asset in intel, scouting, and scavenging those areas. With the overlay of highways and national parks, you can get a clear sense of where you want to be at all times.

GIS Datasets | The Map Archive | The Library of Congress Maps | National Geographic’s Map Archives


  • Walkie-talkies for communication (and/or silent coms)
  • Zooming capabilities (smartphone, camera, binoculars)
  • A pistol, rifle, or other means of self-defense and protective fire
1988 | Strum, Ruger & Co.

Scouting prevents you and your group from being in the wrong place at the wrong time…in the first place. Preemptively, always take time to understand CLEARLY the potential attackers in any proximity while offsite. Prevent robbery or death by planning and always being a step ahead.

When surveying a potential salvage site, a scout prepares the scavenging “team” to bypass obstacles.

Some examples include barbed wire fences, high walls, ditches, locked doors, gates, or streams. A scout should also judge the structural integrity of buildings, comings and goings, and all things related to tracking. Rule #1 of reentering a building after a disaster is to check (from the outside) and see if the building might collapse on you.

Before and after scouting, a scout is your preemptive protection against danger. While onsite, a scout is your vanguard — the team member watching your back, with protection as their priority.

Where to Look: High-Probability Scavenging Locations

With your maps, plans, and scouts, as well as being outfitted in line with your key objective, here are some suggestions for where to look after a SHTF event for potential stockpiling goods.


If you have the fortune to find an abandoned automotive shop, this place could function not only as a place for scavenging but also as a safe location. Tires, gasoline, car fluids, spare parts, tools, and old vehicles are your targets at an automotive shop, store, garage, car rental center, or dealership.


Check the glove box, under the seats, and in the trunk. See how much gas remains if you can get the car started. Cars represent storage for snacks, tools, and other useful items, abandoned in a hurry.

Parts of the car itself might prove useful, too. The mirrors could be used for signaling, the wiring for cordage, the upholstery for bedding and insulation, the battery for power, and engine parts for your own vehicle.

Cemeteries and Groundskeeper Sheds

Mortuaries and cemeteries tend to be generally deserted during times of cataclysm and normally. Most communities only have a few of them, and over time, it seems just the right number of them are around to keep up with funerals. Therefore, they make for excellent places where work with tools is done, and not many people are around.

Well-tended, and maintained cemeteries frequently contain a keeper’s rigs, tools, and sheds — places where you can find incredibly valuable and useful equipment.

Along with power tools and gas, you might be lucky enough to find small tractors, four-wheel drive ATVs, or even an excavator.

Condos, Apartment Buildings, and Common Areas

Side offices and side storage in large condominium complexes represent areas with limited access and by default a potentially untouched source of supplies. See lockpicking, trespassing, and bolt cutters above.

The common areas of apartment buildings and condos alike generally tend to be stocked with items and supplies that are mostly unnoticed.

Commercial / Industrial Locations

Aim to have checked off every pantry in a 25-mile radius of your home base. The cafeterias, food storage, and surrounding warehouses should all be carefully searched over time with the full awareness that everyone is looking for food too.

Employee cafeterias tend to be neglected amid a large disaster; huge industrial or commercial campuses or large office buildings may provide you with a lot of ready-to-eat food or basic necessities that you can add to your own survival pantry.

Cookware, kitchenware, and boxed supplies proliferate these locations, keep an eye out for whatever’s useful.

Check off each vending machine, knowing that you’ve emptied it and added those items to your bartering stock, as well as a treat when all is well on the homefront.


Churches, temples, and religious centers tend to be centers of survival after an earth-shaking event; shy away from these places and leave these supplies alone for anyone else who’s got the same idea: that place should be sacred in terms of safety and resources at the very least. Whether you believe in God or not, in a survival scenario, you’re just leaving what’s there for whoever’s going to be there.

Because most people have the idea that a church is a place of sanctuary in times of fear, avoid high-potential locations for meeting other parties. Scavenging is done with one team only. Not two or more with different goals.

Distribution Centers, Grocery Stores, and “Big” Stores

Pre-disaster, all of these locations are fantastic places to get your gear, food, and equipment. During and after an event, these places will be constantly combed through on a regular basis. Timing is paramount. Plan for these locations carefully pre, during, and post-SHTF.

Fire & Police Stations

If completely abandoned, you’ll find fire stations and police stations as securely, strongly-built structures. Search these areas carefully and if you’ve gotten there before someone else has, you’ve got a full emergency survival set, food, and a potential new base.

Government Buildings

Most federal, state and local buildings are stocked with inventory long before they plan on using it. As part of budgets and the ease of stocking, these locations tend to have longer-term supplies of stock.

Stationery supplies are aplenty and a range of cafeterias, storage rooms, and custodial maintenance, you can find anything from lighting to mops.


Hospitals, unless completely abandoned, should be treated the same as churches and other religious areas. Keep the supplies there because someone else’s definitely going to come looking. They may need it more than you do.


Check everywhere. The items with which people have created their storage over the past 40 years is simply incredible. Every nook and cranny inside homes could potentially be filled with random products of every use and purpose.

Each room — the kitchen, living room, bedroom, garage, shed, basement, attic, backyard, storage room, — could contain exactly what you were after. Mark the house as checked for other wanderers or yourself to prevent unnecessary encounters.


The prime locations for scrap metal and spare parts, junkyards, and waste areas can be searched for custom projects, or when all other locations have been emptied.

Whole components and tools can be reused, recycled, and repurposed for any number of goals in survival.

Manufacturing Facilities

As locations of heavy machinery, enter these locations with knowledge beforehand of what you need, and what you’re going to do with it. Chances are these last vestiges of mass production already have wisened survivalists holed up inside. Strike up offers to barter under terms of non-violence, and manufacturing facilities (and the people who stay there) may give you access to precious fuel, batteries, tools, first aid supplies, and food.


A general rule of thumb in choosing a scavenging location is to analyze what type of work is done at said location. At a marina, people fish, care for marine animals and maintain heavy machinery. As with all places that include these activities, they’re solid places to find fuel, fishing gear, and boats.

With plenty of rope, nets, and other supplies that can be used for fishing and other structural improvements at home, marinas are also another great secondary safehouse or permanent location to grow some roots in.

Pawn Shops

Look for places where all random items are welcome. Pawn shops, secondhand stores, and antique shops can contain weapons, ammo, electronics, and useful appliances/tools.

Pet Stores

If your pets are still okay, a pet store run to stock up on their feed might be a smart choice. As most people generally don’t take ALL the pet feed upon scavenging, there stands a strong chance that you’ll find dog food for your pets. Long-term, note that people WILL eat dog food in a pinch. Calories are calories.

Sports Complexes, Gyms, and Community Centers

Any center where people used to gather for activities will be a place with stuff for you to use for survival. Water, sports drinks, and energy bars are great finds. Consider that some gym gear or equipment has pounds and pounds of near-tool grade steel.

Pads and protective gear can be found, as well as your classic baseball bat. These centers, with astroturf and an assortment of equipment, can be ingenious locations where you build up your skills and inventory.

Schools, Universities, Community Colleges

Any place where people used to spend more than four hours a day holds items for daily life — survival.

Schools, universities, and any learning center, in general, will have a wide range of supplies in all survival categories: medical, nutritional, hydration, and survival. As places where you can find information on your next big survival decision, every library will still have something useful for you.

Retail Stores and Shopping Malls

Depending on when in a timeline you’ve chosen to take from these types of locations, note that your safety and likelihood of a clean supply run are slim in shopping malls, stores, and other places where consumerism was the main objective. The same as limiting discussion about your current prepping plans with those around you, these places are the first people think of when gearing up after a SHTF or TEOTWAWKI event.

Theme Parks

The vision of a dilapidated and abandoned amusement park invokes feelings of excitement and dread in Preppers, as it is such an iconic image in both post-apocalyptic fiction and reality.

Survivalist Sulivan

Amusement parks are places where only the staff knew exactly where everything was stored. And, that’s what you’re going to end up trying to find when on the massive grounds of a theme park. Canned goods, simple machines you can repurpose, and spare parts can be scavenged.

Warehouses and Storage Units

The dusty abandoned personal storage unit sometimes houses hoards that took decades to build. Security tends to be generally easy to bypass and you can check each storage unit one by one.

On warehouses, depending on the main types of items stocked in it, will be in varying stages of being picked clean. If you’re aiming to solidify your long-term stores at your home base, these locations take motorized means of transporting your haul elsewhere.

Related read: 15 Stocking Stuffers For Preppers Under $10

What to Salvage

Think big picture when scavenging things to survive both during and after an SHTF scenario.

Your goals in what you need get differentiated based on if you’re trying to survive for three days, a month, or for years. If you need to rebuild, then you’re after items completely different than if you’re out of food and water, with no shelter to turn to.

As events happen in any string of global impacts, more and more people will die. Their items and stock will become, unfortunately, available. When it comes to survival, it truly is the fittest and most prepared that survive.

Remember minimalism in 2022 and after the end of the world as we know it: you only need the necessities — everything else weighs you down.

Be they blacksmithing & forging, mechanics, or rebuilding your sources of information & communication; build out your customized skills in line with what you naturally have an aptitude for.

Scavenging Item Category Table

Scavenged ItemNote
First-aid suppliesAim to complete your kit & a few extra for spares & bartering
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicinesGood for bartering and medicine checklists
ToolsHand-operated, powered, and/or durable
Kitchenware, appliances, and kitchen toolsComplete your home, camping, and bug-out sets
WoodScrap, firewood, or building
BicyclesRuns on foot power!
Carts & DolliesMaximizes what you can carry easily; baby carriages & children’s wagons for hauling items
Camping gearAlways useful
Seeds & PlantsCreate a range of vegetables and useful plants around your homestead and area
Spices and seasoningsBland food is a quick way to hopelessness 3x per day in a survival scenario
Books, games, toysYou’re always going to need something to do
GasolineEvery cup is precious as a fossil fuel
ClothingAim for a full set for every climate for every member of your group, with spares for growth
Tires101+ uses for tires
Paper, Junk Mail, and CardboardCan be made into kindling or paper logs for fire needs when no wood is accessible
TVs & MicrowavesTurn a Junk Television into a Solar Oven

There are several useful materials in a TV, but you can also make a Fresnel lens. As a giant magnifying glass, you can create a solar oven.
Glass JarsUndamaged and with a secure seal, the glass jar is one of the best food containers for the long term.
Corrugated SteelGreat for lean-to structures, steel has so many purposes in a survival and construction scope
Corrugated MetalThe corrugated metal can be used to build a temporary or permanent shelter for humans or livestock. Useful in creating barriers and repairing roof leaks, keep what you need around. Depending on its thickness, you can create bulletproof areas.
Metal or Plastic 55-Gallon DrumsDrums are useful as food-grade containers, for chemicals, and for overall storage and waste management. Use for one purpose only upon salvage and note some drums can never be used for food or consumable liquids.
Metal CansCan be used as seed starters. Reflective, aluminum cans can be used for signaling.
PVC and Metal PipesPiping creates automated systems. Have a healthy supply of them for whatever your sustainability needs around the homestead.

The Six Simple Machines

The six simple machines are just that, simple. As ways to multiply the effort you have to use to move something, you can apply these principles while scavenging & in the selection of your objective item(s).

A Final Word

Whatever you find, ends up saving you money. Another man’s trash is another man’s treasure. What another person drops and discards as valuable, you can shrewdly repurpose for your needs. Every “good” product or material can be dissected and rebuilt into a useful item.

Michael Reeves, Self-Proclaimed Engineer aka Mad Scientist

“Always Be Ready” Max

Before SHTF or TEOTWAWKI “Gear UP” Sources

  • College campus rental neighborhoods at the change of the quarter or semester
  • The side of the road
  • Craigslist Farm, Barter, and Garden Sections
  • Facebook local auction and online trading posts
  • Flea Markets, Pawn Shops, and Secondhand Stores
  • Yard Sales
  • Farm Auctions
  • Estate Auctions
  • Local or Regional Recycling Groups

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