Here is a guide to scavenging for food and supplies during a disaster. Most of the ideas stem from me wondering what I would do during a zombie apocalypse (a thought exercise that, granted, I probably think about way too much), but as we’ve seen lately in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, these are skills that could benefit anyone, even in the most developed of the developed world.

I will talk about the tools that are needed, as well as a step-by-step guide to where and how to scavenge.


A Vehicle: A functioning vehicle is a benefit when scavenging. If you come across a place with lots of supplies, you will be able to bring a lot more goods back home. You will also be able to take multiple trips to a place and back in a much shorter time. Vehicles require fuel however, so know where the good potential targets are before hand to use your fuel as efficiently as possible.

Having someone guard the vehicle while loading is a good idea as well, to prevent someone coming by and swiping your goods.

Bags: You know all those plastic bags you’ve been storing under the sink, wondering when you would ever use them? Well, now is the time. These will allow you to carry many more items home, especially if you are on foot. Double-bag them to avoid breakage. Other bags such as backpacks or duffel bags can be used as well.

Forced Entry Tools: When scavenging during a disaster, you may need to resort to less-than-legal means to enter a building with the supplies you will need. Here at Prepared For That, we don’t condone breaking and entering, but as a thought experiment we will list some of the tools that would be needed in such an event: Bolt cutters, crow bars, a lock pick, or even a cutting torch or explosives can be used to enter a building that would otherwise be impenetrable.

A flashlight: In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, you never know when you will need a light source. Even during the day, the inside of some building may be pitch black without a supply of electricity to power their lights. Always have a flashlight on hand with an extra set of batteries.

Path Markers: When in an unknown area, it is important to have a way to mark your path. This will let you know where you have been, and allow you to escape an area quickly. Chalk arrows, duck tape, spray paint and glow sticks all work well.


Grocery stores will get cleared out fast! Hit ‘em early.

Here are your top priorities when scavenging. Obviously these depend on what you have stored beforehand (if you have a ton of food, grocery stores are less important, if you have lots of gas, gas stations are less of a need, etc)

1)      Grocery Stores: Food and water are the two most important things that need to be secured in a disaster. As such, grocery stores should be your first target (and they will clear out fast). Grab water (at least a few litres/day for each person) and food (the average adult will require 2000-2500 calories/day). You can prepare ahead of time by creating an emergency water supply and an emergency food supply.

Look for high-calorie, high-nutrient, non-perishable food that will last you a long time and give you the most bang for your buck (ie the most calories for your space they take up).

Grocery stores also often have things like first aid kits, batteries, lighters and matches and toiletries, all important items to secure.

2)      Hospitals and Medical Clinics: These can supply you with first aid kits, painkillers, antibiotics, and various medications and protective equipment. All of these would be very valuable for use or trade should society ever collapse.

3)      Gas Stations with Convenience Stores: A convenient spot during good times, these are now your best bet for securing gas, the next most valuable item once food, water and medicine are taken care of. Siphon off as much gas as you can store (these too will run dry fast).

Raid the convenience store for water, food, cigarettes (for barter, of course- we at Prepared For That don’t approve of smoking), candy (while not very healthy, it does pack a high-calorie energy punch), and anything else that can be helpful for use or trade.

4)      Military Surplus and Camping Stores: These places will have things like guns and ammo, as well as a host of other goods: fishing equipment, camping stoves, tents, animal traps, binoculars, fire starters, water purification tablets, flashlights, knives, crossbows, etc. The list goes on and on. A true gold mine.

5)      Gun Stores: These can supply you with guns and ammo. Make sure they are empty before attempting to enter though, as anyone inside would probably be the most well-armed guy in ton.

6)      Hardware Stores. Another source of valuable items. Tools for carpentry, plumbing, gardening and farming can all be found here. Gasoline and propane may be on hand as well.


Here is a step-by-step guide to scavenging a building for supplies:

1)      Reconnaissance. It’s a good idea to scope out an area before entering with your guns blazing. Are there people in there? This is good to know, so you don’t barge in and come face-to-face with the business end of a shotgun. Have many floors are there? Where are the exits

2)      Form a Plan. Create a plan with your group for the mission. Who’s going in? Who’s watching the car? Where is the meet up spot if things go bad? What are some contingency plans if certain situations arise?

3)      Enter the building. If it is locked, some of the forced entry tools may be needed (as a pure thought exercise, of course). Learning to pick locks would give you a valuable skill during the apocalypse. Consider entering through the backdoor, to draw less attention to yourself. If you set off an alarm, it’s usually best to leave immediately, unless you are particularly desperate.

4)      Gather Supplies. Once inside, quickly check the area and then start gathering your supplies. Stay in groups and never end up alone- you’ve seen the horror movies. Grab as much as you can, as you never know what will be available in the future.

5)      Be Quiet! Keep your profile as low as possible.

6)      Get Out Fast! Don’t stay for longer than you need to. Pack up and head back home as soon as you’ve finished what you came to do.

If these guide lines are followed, your scavenging missions should last much longer, and you just might get to fight another day.


Good luck and stay prepared!

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  1. Since batteries will be in short supply in the above scenario, below is what you will need to do now to have lighting then including long run time (hundreds of hours) flashlights, super capacitor flashlights (rechargeable 500,000 times and micro-solar for 24/7 lighting for years for cheap

    65 hour run time flashlight. I turn it in to a 360 hour flashlight. It’s easy:
    Or go DYI micro solar
    Emergency Led Lighting Made Ridiculously Simple:
    No batteries & no shaking or cranking:

  2. Very nice.

  3. WilliamVP says:

    The Grocery store info is completely wrong….you would be better off and wait and then go in a take what most will leave behind.. namely SALT and VINIGAR …both of these things will be needed to preserve food. The ability to keep food from spoiling is the key to surviving. Being one of those people who bum rushes a store in the first hours.days will only get you killed…THINK AHEAD

  4. OutlawSaint says:

    This is all some really good information that will generally only be seen and heard by people who are already “in the know” of how to effect survival in a SHTF scenario. I may be a little naive, but I believe that something more useful should be circulated as to how non preppers and those who lack basic survival skills can increase their chances of survival. Not everybody stockpiles food, knows how to hunt or fish, has knowledge of how to sterilize water or build basic shelter. Those who DONT know, will be the bane of those of us who do, simply because once the survival instinct kicks in, many of these people who are completely unprepared will try to take advantage of those of us “in the know.”

  5. Most of these places will already be scavanged by the time you do all the steps in part two. The best place to actually scavange would be the supply warehouses. That supply the stores. The average desparate individual at this point will be thinking like all the rest so those places above will be empty.

  6. @William: The vinegar and salt thing is a very good point. I agree people should plan ahead, and should have a water and food supply prepared before hand.

  7. @Outlaw Saint: Yes I agree, that would be a good article. Unfortunately, a non-prepper with no survival skills is very unlikely to come across my site and read it ;)

    • Non-prepper with no survival skills here. I’ve been been scared into prepping by shows like Walking Dead and Revolution and by books like Hunger Games. I got a book about MidWest wild plants that are edible for Christmas. Two weeks ago I put five growlers of water in the hall closet and four cans of food under the bed. Last week I ordered through Amazon some items to create a 72 hour bag; I now have waterproof matches, those metallic emergency blankets, and a small first aid kit. I live within 7 miles of the downtown of a huge metropolitan city. Basically, if the SHTF, I’m going to die.
      I don’t have a question, I just wanted you to know that we’re out here and finding you.

  8. @trishann: Yes, supply warehouses are a great idea as well.

  9. 911prepperchick says:

    I live a few miles away from a large train switch station. Lots of materials on the train, not sure what so it’s a crap shoot. But I shouldn’t have a lot of competition for the goods. I may be able to barter some of the items also.

    • Nice, that’s a really good spot few people would think about.

      Probably a lot of random supplies and scraps that could be used well.

  10. jhenephyr says:

    Been thinking about this since 94 when our government changed. We expect civil war sometime in the future, so I have been taking precautions. Got most of the camping, first aid and tools in my pick up. Have a kitbag top of my cupboard with toiletries, undies, jeans, warm and cool clothes etc. Food cupboard always stocked with non perishables, ready to be thrown in a cooler box, always have salt in my house (I’m a witch, we use lots of salt!!) I have checked where all the stables in my area are, when I run out of gas, at least I can ride and still be mobile! Only thing I battle with is guns.

  11. A Little note to anybody that reads this… A Little know source of water is your Hot Water Heater (if you have one) the drain valve is located on the Bottom of the tank… Remember this water is clean. Also I would shut the main water off if you live on town or city water, as you can never be sure what may happen to the source. Or you can use the water for waste and out uses except for drinking without treating it.

    I have talked with my kids (32 and 34) and if the SHTF then we are to meet at my daughters house. She lives in the Boonies Raises Hogs and Beef and Chickens and also a garden. We have her house set with a Generator, 2 freezers of food, a back shed with dry goods a generator 2 four wheelers, 2 pickups and a jeep.

    Good Luck and God Help Us All.

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