Scavenging: The Art Of Survival And Resourcefulness When The SHTF

 Many preppers are well-prepared for the first 72 hours of a bad situation. This is because most crises are resolved within that window. However, many of us are unprepared for what might happen in the days or weeks after a major incident. James Ryan will discuss how a prepper can resource themselves in the weeks after the shit has hit the fan through scavenging.


  • Scavenging and looting are different. Scavenging is a moral and situationally aware method for survival.
  • Scavengers should consider the journey products take from creation to use to waste.
  • Scavengers should also think beyond short-term situations and needs.

Prepping requires meticulous planning. This planning is often limited by the prepper’s budget. Most of this budget is rightly spent on the preservation of life for the first 72 hours after their most likely shit-hits-the-fan situation. It’s why we have the idea of a 72-hour survival kit. For example, preppers on flood plains generally prepare for flooding; preppers in areas of great fire risk, center their prepping around fire management. While this series discusses what one could do in a range of specific situations, the basis for every stage two prepper should be scavenging.

Scavenging vs Looting: There is a difference

First, it is important to define scavenging. Many people use the two interchangeably, but in all reality, looting and scavenging are quite different.

After every disaster, many people opportunistically seek to improve their financial position by the looting of houses whose security has been compromised by the disaster. We have seen this happen in floods, as well as parts of the world affected by financial breakdowns. Media reports on a range of natural disasters are littered with news of looters targeting compromised jewelry, electronics and cash.

However, scavenging is different to looting, because it is a context-specific and morally-guided process where a person seeks to improve their chances of survival. As a result, those about to engage in scavenging need to be situationally aware, and clear about their morals.

How to scavenge for supplies

Situational-awareness and morals are key factors. The consequences of your actions could directly or indirectly lead to the loss of life. Morals could be described as a standard of right and wrong. Regardless of how much shit hits the fan, it is a temporary experience and you your inner circle will spend the rest of your lives analyzing those difficult, heat-of-the-moment choices. These moral standards need to be clarified with your inner circle before any doomsday event.

Our morals set us apart from our enemies, domestic and abroad.

You also need to set yourself apart through situational awareness. When the shit hits the fan, you have to consider how long the situation is likely to last, and what the broader consequences of a decision might be.

If you come into contact with some food supplies, it is important for you to minimize waste, only take what is needed, and redistribute the excess where possible. There is no point having a cache of canned food when less-prepared people are starving. An ignorant decision could compromise society’s ability to consolidate and repair. A fractured society is destined to be ruled by a greater, more organized power; therefore, scavenging should not compromise social cohesion.

Things to Consider When Planning Your Scavenge Approach

Scavenging for supplies

Furthermore, you shouldn’t limit yourself to scavenging for the short term. The scavenging phase is a temporary phase, but there may be a situation where certain stores start to run out. It goes without saying, the things that catch preppers off guard are more likely to destroy them than things that they are prepared for. Therefore, while you are undertaking the scavenging phase, you should also be planning for the next phases.

Preppers should think about the needs of the inner circle, natural threats (e.g.: seasonal weather), and internal and external forces.

For example, scavengers who foresee a food shortage should look out for seeds and hunting equipment. Therefore, scavenging should involve strategic planning. Questions should be considered when planning what you are scavenging for, such as:

  • ’What do we need?’
  • ‘Why do we need it?’
  • ‘Where can we find it?’
  • ‘How are we going to store or carry it?’

These questions should include survival needs such as food, water, equipment, communication, and logistics.

In the case of a nuclear or EMP attack, where there a country’s ability to supply its population with products (including food) can be destabilized, scavengers should consider the journey those products take from origin to disposal.

Most of our products follow similar journeys. If we think about this journey, we can get a good idea of where to look when the supermarket runs out of food, the pharmacy runs out of medical supplies, and more.

If we think of the journey our food needs to take to go from farmer or production line and waste bin, we will find quite a number of places that scavengers should target. So where are these places? Some prime scavenger resource spots would be:

  • Farms
  • Supply lines (trucks, ships, train, and autos)
  • Distribution centers (warehouses)
  • Marketplaces
  • Abandoned stores
  • Processing factories
  • Homes
  • Rubbish gathering areas
  • Waste areas.

Be creative, even fresh compost is often rich in seeds.

It is important to remember that scavenging is a temporary phase that may facilitate further survival phases. We need to be careful not to compromise society’s ability to rebound and drive off other threats. Therefore, scavenging needs to target precise needs, their locations and avoid waste.

Scavenging: The Art Of Survival And Resourcefulness When The SHTF

11 thoughts on “Scavenging: The Art Of Survival And Resourcefulness When The SHTF”

  1. “It is important to remember that scavenging is a temporary phase that may facilitate further survival phases. We need to be careful not to compromise society’s ability to rebound and drive off other threats. Therefore, scavenging needs to target precise needs, their locations and avoid waste.”

    I’ll take a 180 stance on your “scavenging” – only excusable for a TEOTWAKI situation when society won’t be rebounding … looking to the long term of several generations to follow – you’re one of survivors that are gathering and protecting resources to allow those generations to survive and possibly re-build …

  2. I’m strongly inclined to agree with Illini Warrior. As long as there is a functioning government (that is, able to provide services and exert authority) at the national and/or state level, there would be an exceedingly slim difference of interpretation between scavenging and looting. If you take food, tools, fuel or other useful property from a business or dwelling that is only temporarily vacant, I would see that as looting. Particularly if I am the property owner. A would-be scavenger has no pre-existing knowledge that the owner will return, or that he/she is a mere 10 minutes away.

    Absent any form of effective and ‘assertable’ government, where communications, transportation, manufacturing, commercial agriculture and financial systems have collapsed, you have arrived at what can be called TEOTWAWKI. When the restoration of these vital systems has become a years-long or generational process, then scavenging will be recognized as a legitimate and necessary activity. If that ever happens there will be more bodies than grave diggers.

    • You raise a very relevant point Ben, as long as there is an ordered system and a structured society, the margin between scavenging and looting will remain thin.

      Even in this day and age, with the crumbled economy and social system we are seeing in Venezuela at the moment, both looting and savenging are considered immoral (and considerably illegal) acts. I know of one resident who keeps a generator for the sole purpose of ensuring he runs lights in his home 24/7. This is to let those looters and scavengers know that his place is not, as you termed it, ‘a business or dwelling that is temporarily vacant’. Funnily enough, even in that collapsed system, individuals who resort to scavenging and looting are considered to be citizens with a much lower threshhold of morals.

      I personally think looting and scavenging isn’t so much a question to the scenario (of course it would be more likely to happen in a TEOTWAWKI scenario) but more the moral alignment of the individual. Perhaps this is why most people prepare for a disaster, so as to not have to readjust their moral compass, should times get tough.

  3. Scavenging and looting are different. Looting is stealing goods, typically during a war or riot. What is stolen, the quantity taken, or the intended purpose for the loot idoesn’t alter the definition. Scavenging is searching for and collecting something usuable from refuse or discarded items. Taking items from trashcans or dumpsters is scavenging, taking items from homes, farms, factories, or vehicles is not.

    That is my chief complaint with articles such as these – not the discussion of stealing in a disaster, but the attempt to subjectively redefine what looting or stealing is based on the looter’s motives or reasoning for doing it. In the most kind interpretation of the author’s intent, this is simply an attempt to rationalize some rightful claim of ownership over the property of another based solely on his perceived need for it. He has a need, or can put them to better use than the owner, so he has the right to take them. He could instead argue or debate the morality of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family for example, but instead decides to argue that taking the bread isn’t even stealing in the first place. Personally, I think this is just an attempt to create a loophole in the “U loot, We shoot” law of disaster survivors, and it’s the property owner that decides whether someone is a looter or not.

    • Hi SamIAm, I agree with most of what you said, especially the part about the moral distinction between looting and scavenging. However, the author did mention that “it is a context-specific and morally-guided process” and that a person about to engage in scavenging needs to be “clear about their morals”. While I agree that perhaps there could be more developed on this subject, but in a prime situation where scavenging and looting is required, social laws and morals are likely to change as the status of society shifts to a more basic and fundamental version. In that case, where there is no real judgment upon us, other than what we believe is right or wrong, scavenging and looting becomes a contextual argument, with the right or wrong settled by personal morals.

      I will say though, it’s questions like this that involve personal morals and desperate circumstances that stimulate a great space for conversation.

    • I’m afraid that your definition of scavenging offers a rather limited and relatively naïve interpretation. In the case of looting there is always a victim (individual or business) as well as a recognition of the violation of law. However, to say that a property owner decides whether someone is a looter implies that there is a property owner. What if, for example, 90% of the population was wiped out by disease, war or EMP? For the foreseeable future (years or decades) there would be no national government, no military or law enforcement on any scale beyond small survivor communities. In that case, 90% of residences and virtually all commercial enterprises would be unoccupied. The owners would be dead. In that case, scavenging would be morally justified and entirely essential to the few survivors left. Scavenging doesn’t violate property rights because there would be no victims.

      • Words have meanings, and that’s my definition but Merriam Websters. If each of us wants to create our own definitions for what a word means it’s difficult to have a discussion. The author is trying to redefine “scavenging” to remove the requirement that the items collected have been previously discarded by their owner or found in refuse/trash. Why not just call it “borrowing” then, and decide that borrowing no longer requires the permission of the owner before taking his property?

        Or, I suppose, use your line of reasoning and just arbitrarily decide the owner is probably dead (and no spouse, heirs, or will) and declare his property now ours.

        That’s the only point I was trying to make, if we want to discuss taking items that don’t belong to us and without the owner’s permission during some disaster or EOTW aftermath, then let’s first acknowledge it for what it is – stealing or looting. I don’t claim any moral high-ground on the subject either, consider my comments more of a public service message from a business owner and owner of multiple homes and properties that might appear to be unoccupied or deserted.

  4. “Thou shall not steal” is never a quandary. If you take something that is not discarded it is steeling no matter what you want to call it. You are a criminal. When you do this you force me to break the rule “thou shall not kill” which I will do and now I have to live with this.
    Thank You,

  5. I see Farms is the number 1 prime target for taking what one wants or thinks he needs. This is a quick way to get shot in farm country.

    • Well said RB! There should have been a warning following the first “Resource”!!! Most farmers have been generationally accustomed to providing for their families and are generous folks by nature, but if you approach a “Farm” with the intent to “Scavenge” (STEAL), you will more than likely end up fodder for the hogs!!!

  6. start now by making a list of what sites will be the most productive where they are the travel routs the amount you are able to carry or what you would need to transport it. keeping in mind that others will wait until you do all the work and then take it from you——-Grampa


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