Survival Scavenging When SHTF

In some historical instances extraordinary measures have been taken against looters during times of crisis. It’s not uncommon in some countries for looters to be shot, either by police, army, or business owners. Some governments will justify the shooting of looters with the excuse of “preventing further damage to the economy”. I want to make clear that this article is not about looting, it’s about scavenging supplies essential to survival!

Survival Scavening and Looting

Looting Vs. Scavenging?

Looting is essentially the act of stealing goods during a catastrophe, riot, war, or WROL (without rule of law) situation and can also be referred to as sacking, plundering or pillaging. Looting is almost always opportunistic and usually occurs during a collapse in authority. Some people may feel that if the goods are not stolen, they will be wasted. Another common belief is that if they don’t steal the goods, it will be stolen by someone else. Don’t ever loot just because there’s no authority! What if looting is required to feed your children? Is it justified? Scavenging on the other hand is to legally take or gather something usable from discarded refuse. In the event of a large catastrophe like a flood, massive amount of useful material will be swept away and essentially be up for grabs.


As with any endeavor, preparation is the key to success. In order to take optimal advantage of the situation and scavenge effectively you’ll want to get several things handled ahead of time. We’ll cover all the information you need to get what you NEED.

Just to be Clear

We at advocate being properly prepared so you don’t need to loot. We would also like to be very clear that looting/scavenging can be dangerous (especially if you choose to enter what you think is an abandoned building). This article isn’t about being able to commit a crime and getting away with it, what we’re talking about in this article is doing what might be required in order to survive in an apocalyptic like scenario.

Make a Scavenging Kit

There are a few items that will make scavenging a lot easier. You’ll want to keep these items ready and on hand for when shit hits the fan. They should be kept together in the location for easy access so you just pick them up and go when it’s time.

  • Crow bar: The ultimate urban survival tool! A nice, heavy crowbar can be used to break into stores, clear your way through rubble and it can be used as a weapon! Don’t underestimate the crowbar. There are a million things you can do with a crowbar, just use your imagination.
  • Bump keys: These are keys that have been grinded down in such a way that they can be used to open almost any lock. Bump keys are used by locksmiths and they’re relatively easy to use. A crowbar will get you through any door or window but a bump key will get you through without making a mess.
  • Laundry bag: A strong, large drawstring bag is a definite must for scavenging. Laundry bags are great for the purpose of scavenging. They have a large carrying capacity and when empty they can be folded to fit in your pocket. You can always go for a large backpack, duffle bag or rucksack but they’re cumbersome, expensive and made for looks more then anything else.
  • A dollar coin or quarter: You may be wondering… a dollar coin or quarter? What the hell for? Well the answer may be a lot simpler then you imagine. The coin is for a shopping cart! Just make sure you get one before the other scavengers! If you don’t want to use a coin, you can always use the crowbar to break the chains holding them together.
  • Flash light / Lantern: It’s very likely that if the situation permits scavenging, the power is probably out. Good luck getting over fallen shelves and getting food in the dark. Scavenging with one hand will also be difficult but there are a few methods around that. I suggest placing the lantern or flash light in the shopping cart, get a head lamp, or just bring someone along to shine the light and push the cart.

Make a Scavenging Team

Find several friends or family members and make a plan! It’s all about leverage, you can get a lot more done if your work as team. Get everyone together in a room and discuss a plan of action. Here are the questions you’ll want to have answered:

  • Under what circumstances is “looting” justified? (medicine for a dying person? Should we die/let loved ones die for the greater good?)
  • Where will the goods be kept?
  • Who has a vehicle for transportation?
  • What are the best locations for scavenging?
  • Should each individual go to a different location?
  • Should everyone go as team?
  • What goods have priority?

If each person focuses on acquiring a certain type of item, you’ll collectively save a lot of time and effort. What I mean by this is that one person will collect water filters, one person will collect rice and beans, and the other person will collect fuel. That’s just an example and should be customized to fit your team needs.

Mapping and Creating a List of Target Addresses

Get a detailed map of your city and mark off potentially high yield scavenging locations. Make a legend with symbols to represent different types of locations, for instance, use a circle for food stores, triangles for hunting/outdoor stores, squares for hospitals and pharmacies etc. A good resource for finding addresses and locations is Google maps, just type in a store name and Google will give you all the addresses for that store in your area. Copy and paste the results into a .txt file and print it out for future use. This map is extremely important and should be kept in a safe area. The map should be copied and distributed among friends and family. Here’s a list of some locations to keep in mind:

  • Hospitals
  • Restaurants
  • Grocery stores
  • Large stores and warehouses
  • Police stations
  • Fire stations
  • Factories
  • Shipyards
  • Pharmacies
  • Liquor stores
  • Malls
  • Schools
  • Sporting good stores
  • Outdoor living stores
  • Garden stores
  • Hardware stores
  • Military/Armory bases
  • Gas stations
  • Air ports
  • Shipping container sites
  • Hotels

What to Scavenge

Some items are important to scavenge and some aren’t. A wide screen TV for instance will not contribute to your chances of survival so the highest priority should be on food and water but depending on location, finding water may be a problem. Water is too heavy to move around so instead of scavenging water bottles the focus should be on buckets and water filters. The value of money may be worthless in a disaster situation and therefore should not be a high priority. The most important items to scavenge are as follows:

  • Personal medicine (if required)
  • Water filters and water
  • Rice
  • Dried lentils, legumes, beans
  • Salt
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Cooking oil
  • Coffee
  • Money (preferably in change)
  • Alcohol
  • Cigarettes
  • Energy bars
  • Electrolytes
  • Fuel/oil

Scavenging When Shit Hits the Fan

You have a plan and you know what to do but now we’ll going into the details of what happens next. It’s my personal belief that violence will not break out in the first stages of a disaster since food and supplies are still in relative abundance and people have what they need to survive. This has been proven during hurricane Katrina and many other disasters. The first few weeks of a disaster should be spent scavenging and acquiring resources through bartering/trade. Everyone in your team should scavenge the area and acquire as much as a possible because things will soon get rough. It’s only after several weeks of scavenging/looting that gangs and groups will have formed and violence will erupt. Fighting will most likely occur over food and resources. All scavenging from that time on should be executed with extreme caution.