Despite being prepared, there's always a chance that a crisis has left you in a situation where scavenging is your only option. Perhaps you were caught unawares in an unfamiliar city, or a natural disaster has cut you off from your supplies and your home. To me, a survivalist mentality means being adaptable and always having a plan B. Or C. Because in a crisis you never know what could happen, there are literally too many what if scenarios to prepare for.

Which means you're probably going to need to scavenge for supplies.

But remember. Scavenging isn't looting. I understand of course that "stealing is stealing" but for me, I'm not planning to rob people who have had their homes devastated by the crisis. Looters are after cash, jewelry, and may even walk off with your big-screen television. That's not ok. But I do believe things get a little grey here. You are technically stealing, but I justify it by only taking the things I need to keep my family alive. I simply want to increase our chances of survival. With two caveats.

  • Only ever take as much as you need.
  • Only ever take what won't be missed.

Make a plan for scavenging

This is critical. You can't simply wander into people's homes, so before you do anything consider what supplies you actually need, where you're most likely to find them, and make a plan for getting them out. Otherwise you'll waste time and put your survival group at unnecessary risk.

In a crisis many people will be scared, frightened, and more apt to shoot first and ask questions later. They've seen looters come and go, and in their eyes, you look much the same. So, take a cautious approach. Send a scout to sit and watch what's happening in the building you plan to scavenge. Are there people? Are there defenses? Are there any obstacles that could cause a problem in getting in and out fast?

Once you've decided it's worth the risk, send in at least two people. They should have backpacks to carry out the supplies you've scavenged, but also ensure they're armed, just in case. You never know what kind of trouble you're walking into, even if it's been scouted. I'd also recommend having a tactical flashlight, and a small pry bar to open any locked doors. Then it's just a matter of getting what you came for and getting back to the safety of your base as fast as possible.

Where to actually start scavenging?

The list of places you can scavenge is almost endless, but there's a few I'd be starting with.

The Marina. Boats are usually well-equipped with a few days food and water, and any that have been left abandoned may not yet have been picked over yet. You can find emergency rations, water, communications gear, batteries and spare gas. Most will also have fishing gear, and if you're lucky you will also find some flares and perhaps even a gun.

Schools. In the office you'll find well-equipped first aid supplies and depending on the classes available in the school there'll be good tools in the shop classes. If the cafeteria hasn't already been cleaned out check there for any long-life products and do some exploring in the janitor's cupboards as you may find a hidden stash of food. Oh, and while you're at it pop open the lockers for snacks, and don't forget to check all the offices and drawers in the teacher's lounge.

Self-storage yards. If you need gear and you can't get to a mall or a retail shop, this is a potential lottery. I say lottery, as your success will depend on your ability to open and rummage through each storage unit fast, and it has a lot to do with luck. You never know what's inside each. Of course, it's unlikely you'll find food here, instead look for camping gear and equipment, hunting gear, and perhaps even old rifles or guns.

Churches. I may go to hell for writing this but there's many potential supplies inside, especially if the church has a program of donating to the needy. You could find blankets and donated clothes, tinned food and non-perishables, and much more, depending on your church. Mine has a kitchen that's pretty well stocked with things like UHT milk and biscuits, and there's a garage with a generator and some small pieces of equipment from the events we host there.

Warehouses and distribution centers. I'd almost recommend skipping local grocers and supermarkets entirely, as you'll be fighting with the crowds and (in my experience) the shelves will be stripped bare in a day or two. So, unless you get in fast, you want to be heading out to the industrial estates. Warehouses and distribution centers that load and send the trucks into the supermarket is where you'll find the motherload of food and perishables, I'd be checking the trucks as well as the pallets in the warehouse to see what's what.

Scavenging after a crisis is a highly touchy subject. Some people believe it's completely wrong, while others are actively seeking to use this in their disaster planning. In my opinion I see it as a risky endeavor, that you should only ever use as a last resort. It's far better to be organized now and not have to do supply runs for basic things in a crisis. But remember that it's a crisis. Things will not go as planned and you may find yourself needing to venture out to scavenge. Do it smart, and only ever take what you need, nothing more.

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