Scavenging for Survival

Posted on: January 22, 2018

Should a major collapse occur, whether prompted by economic failure, natural disaster, or something else, we hope that we’ve taken all the precautions we can to provide for ourselves and our families. After all, many of us have spent years working on our preps, from food storage to bug out plans and more.

The thing is, we’re all (presumably) human and therefore we’re not perfect. We’re going to make mistakes. We might run out of something or the supply we have gets ruined.

The longer the crisis goes on, the more likely we are to be presented with opportunities for scavenging. Businesses will fold and end up abandoned. People will perish or flee, leaving behind homes and their belongings.

In addition, there will likely be all sorts of backpacks and gear scattered in forests from coast to coast, left there by ill-prepared “survivalists” who bugged out after graduating from YouTube University with degrees in “I watched a guy do it and it didn’t look hard at all.” After a few days, the prepared and patient survivor might very well have their pick of all sorts of high-end packs, knives, and other gear.

The question becomes is it scavenging or looting? This might be an important distinction. Many of us have seen the homemade signs that crop up in the wake of disasters that indicate the fate of looters in the area.

Here’s how I look at it. If items of value have no clear ownership, such as stuff found in the back of an abandoned and burnt out convenience store, and those items will serve to keep you and yours alive, it is scavenging. If the items are clearly owned by someone else and/or they serve little purpose aside from being inherently valuable, it is looting.

In the event of a complete societal breakdown, activities that today are viewed as unacceptable may become necessary. I mean, let’s say you got home today and were told, “Hey, we’ve decided to cut back on water usage. From now on, we’re all crapping in buckets and then hauling it outside to be dumped.” For many of us, that’s not acceptable and if water conservation is a concern, we’ll find other ways to accomplish it. But, after a disaster, poop buckets will probably become commonplace.

Scavenging for survival might very well become just as common, at least in some areas. Let’s take a look at some locations where you could find supplies that others might overlook. Please do not take this as any sort of encouragement to go out and pillage the countryside like drunken Vikings on shore leave. Instead, this is merely some advice as to where you might find items critical to survival after a complete and total breakdown of society and order.

Also, bear in mind — just because you have your own definition of scavenging doesn’t mean everyone else might agree with it. Be alert at all times.

These will be a prime target for looters and scavengers but they might miss something. Check through all cabinets, cupboards, and shelves. Be aware that some restaurants have a separate room or area for storing dry goods.

Think beyond food items, too. Many restaurants will have cans of gelled fuel, commonly referred to by the brand name Sterno. While these cans don’t generate enough heat to actually cook many things, they work well for heating up cans of soup or stew, thus saving your stove fuel or firewood for later.

If they did much catering, they will probably have paper plates and cups, plastic utensils, and related items. These are good to have as they will decrease the water needed to wash dishes. Any of the paper goods can just be burned. Plastic items can be trashed or washed for reuse.

Naturally, these will be a target due to the alcoholic beverages inside. Many taverns also serve food. If people are too focused on ransacking for the booze, they may overlook other supplies. Look for canned or jarred fruits and other drink garnishes. A few candied cherries might be a nice treat after living off of Chef Boyardee for the last few weeks. Look for vending machines that might not have been pried open yet.

Cafeteria kitchens might have some canned goods that were left behind. Check in the teachers’ desks, too, for snacks and such. Take a peek in the home economics classroom, if there is one, as they might have some food stored there. If they had shop classes, you can probably find tools and possibly some sorts of building materials. Be careful, though. Schools can be rambling structures with lots of nooks and crannies where survivors can hide. If they feel they’ve laid claim to the school, they might not be happy with intruders taking what they feel is rightfully theirs.

Honestly, these are probably better avoided if you have the choice. Odds are they will not be fun places to visit after a collapse. They will have been looted several times over as people search for drugs. That said, if you end up working your way through a hospital in search of supplies, look in every single cupboard, drawer, and cabinet you see. Each one will have been stocked with one thing or another. The cafeteria might have been spared at least some of the chaos and thus you might find some food and water there.

These are precious resources and should be protected if at all possible. They don’t house food, water, or supplies but the knowledge residing therein may prove critical to the community at large.

Office buildings
Look in desk drawers for snacks and bottled water. There are likely vending machines in break rooms, too. Who knows, you might find someone’s workplace emergency kit that they left behind. There should also be numerous fire extinguishers on the premises. Never know when one of them might come in handy.

Obviously, whatever the factory made will probably be in abundance, along with whatever materials and supplies are used in the process. These may include sheet metal, lumber, various chemicals, tools, and such. There should be at least some amount of first aid supplies on hand, too, along with fire extinguishers. Look for safety equipment like eye protection and gloves as these could come in handy when you’re working on projects. Most break rooms will have vending machines, too.

These will be another prime target, especially the ones that act as distribution centers for grocery stores and other big box retailers. But, they tend to be so massive odds are good even one that has been picked over a few times will still have some goodies inside. Like factories, they will also have fire extinguishers, safety gear, first aid kits, and break rooms.

When embarking on a scavenging trip, be sure to bring with you empty packs or other sorts of bags you can use to bring back your treasures. On top of that, never leave home without a survival kit, defense weapon, and a basic plan that you’ve communicated to those involved that includes where you’re headed and when you plan to be back.

Will you ever really need any of this information? Probably not. But, like anything else in the survival arsenal, it is better to have it and never need it than to need it and not have it.

In future installments, we’ll look at what you stand to gain from abandoned vehicles as well as some tips on searching vacant home.

1 thought on “Scavenging for Survival

  1. Good article. I think the key to your distinction between looting and scavenging is the word “abandoned,” which can be defined as leaving or giving up without intent to reclaim. In that context, a burned out store may still have an owner that is fully intent on preserving what remains of his/her property. If you attempt to remove items from such a location, the owner will almost certainly deal with you as a looter. I’m sure that there are important legal definitions regarding abandonment, as well as legal distinctions between scavenging and looting.

    In the absence of a functioning government, local communities are likely to scavenge supplies for the common good of their community, while punishing looters – most likely with a rope or bullet.

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