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In a post-apocalyptic scenario a group of circa 100 people is looting houses to gather resources for their survival. They are the only ones in the region, and resulting from this have no issues with defending themselves (against other humans) or with sharing resources.

If a few members from this group would go gather resources in average households what would be the most valuable resources they can find?

Some things which come to mind are food and fuel.

I'm especially interested in some rare, although not extremely rare resources, which either are essential for surviving or can increase comfort a lot.

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    $\begingroup$ Just how post is your post-apocalyptic setting, and how much did the apocalypse destroy? $\endgroup$ – o.m. Nov 2 '15 at 19:31
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    $\begingroup$ "Valuable" in what way? Expensive to acquire in today's world, or essential to survival? Your last sentence hints at the latter, but it might be better to edit to make it explicit. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Nov 2 '15 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling: Valuable in the sense of survival, value is not per se monetary is it? What wording would you suggest? $\endgroup$ – Pacapo Nov 2 '15 at 19:40
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps something simple like changing the term "valuable" to, say, "most useful for survival". While you are at it, you might also add a bit about what your particular apocalypse looks like. As it stands, IMO this question is borderline primarily opinion-based; you are asking which resources would help, but you aren't really describing what you want these resources to help with or against. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Nov 2 '15 at 19:43
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    $\begingroup$ Instead of looting the houses, why not just move in? You get all the stuff in the house and a durable shelter fro heat, cold and wild animals. Much more sensible than scavenging and moving on. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Nov 3 '15 at 1:18

21 Answers 21

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The Obvious Essentials

Canned goods. They last for years and are likely to be more enjoyable to the modern first-world human palate than the new meals you’re going to be growing or hunting. They’ll make a good meal supplement as people adjust.

Medication and first-aid supplies. You want anything and everything you can find. Fabricating medication after the collapse of society is going to be very difficult and a functional knowledge of medicinal herbs is quite rare these days.

Gasoline. You’re less likely to find this in homes than in the cars abandoned on the roads, but finding some in a home may be a good indicator that a generator is present.

Tools. This is really a no brainer, but you’ll need cooking instruments, farming tools, construction tools, and frankly just about every tool that you might find in your typical home. Be careful about battery-powered and gas-powered tools… you shouldn’t be wasting those resources when a simple axe or screwdriver will do.

Weapons. Most tools can be used as weapons in a pinch, but to seriously survive other humans in a post-societal world you will need firearms. Guns and ammunition will be a high priority and should only ever be used in extreme defensive scenarios against other people.

The Less Obvious Essentials

Books. Particularly how-to books. Detailed information on plant identification, basic construction techniques, and farming can change a short-lived group into a long-lived one. You will only have a small subset of necessary survival skills and need to augment them wherever possible. Books, rather than purely verbal teaching, also simplify the education of future generations. Quite frankly, stumbling upon an intact library might be the best thing that could ever happen to you.

Fishing Gear. While it can be crafted without too much trouble, having some reliable gear will go a long way for a long time. Lures in particular will be a terrific tool (at least until you lose them).

Hard Liquor. Alcohol will have all kinds of critical uses from sedative to antiseptic.

Fabric. You’ll need to be careful here because of the weight, but bedding and blankets provide huge quantities of quality fabric that will be very difficult to manufacture. Even if you cannot take it all with you, there may be value in removing it from the house and hiding it where you can find it on return trips. Clothes of all shapes and sizes will be valuable, but place particular emphasis on winter clothing — it’s built to be very effective and relatively light for the amount of protection it provides.

Gold, silver, and other jewelry. Assuming you survive long enough, there will absolutely be a time when neighboring communities begin trading commodities. Precious materials that historically represent wealth or status will have value and will enable you to avoid trading away other essentials.

Soap. Cleanliness and sanitation are going to take a hit, but soap is plentiful and is effective in small quantities. This will make diplomacy easier and generally increase spirits among your group. It will also help protect you from basic illness and disease.

Toothpaste. You’re going to run out quickly, but attempting to maintain at least mild dental hygiene will increase quality of life.

Herbs and spices. You’ll be able to find and produce some of these eventually, but raiding a single spice cabinet could give you enough spices for months. Given the diets you’re about to embark on, you’re going to want some extra flavor.

Playing cards. As pointed out by @MichaelKjörling, games (in addition to reading material) are terrific for morale and good for mental stimulation and group bonding. Playing cards in particular are a common household item that are compact and easy to carry with potentially thousands of different games.

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, I've always wondered why in survival books and movies someone doesn't just break into the library and steal something like the old Foxfire books (amazon.com/The-Foxfire-Book-Dressing-Moonshining/dp/0385073534) just for the basics. $\endgroup$ – Zessa Nov 2 '15 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ Besides being great for the knowledge contained therein, books can also provide entertainment. I would probably add comics to that, too; in general, reading material of all kinds can be a great way to boost morale. And any games you can get your hands on; board games, playing cards, even dice, paper and pencils (think Yatzee). They don't even need to be complete to be useful. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Nov 2 '15 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ Less-useful books also make great kindling. Also don't forget batteries - useful in lots of ways, like powering things, and being able to be jury-rigged into firestarting things, and you can also make use of the various chemicals inside for other purposes too. $\endgroup$ – fluffy Nov 3 '15 at 4:40
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for "Hard Liquor". YOu're going to find far higher quantites of vodka or whisky for splashing on wounds than surgical spirit in the average home. I'd transfer it to jerry cans or plastic bladders though. Not quite so sophisticated round the camp fire, but much less likely to have smashed and gone when you stick your leg through a pane of glass. $\endgroup$ – Whelkaholism Nov 3 '15 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ Gasoline going 'bad' means it isn't as useful for running in modern engines - it doesn't vaporize quite as well and might form some slightly gummy substances in minute amounts which can clog delicate finicky fuel injectors. It still works great for engines of older more robust designs, and still absolutely fantastic when all you want to do is easily get something burning. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Nov 4 '15 at 20:28
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I don't know why every post apocalyptic show / movie / game misses this but

Basic Transportation

Specifically, bicycles, anything you can fashion into a cart or wagon to haul all your plundered goods and bonus if you can get an animal to pull it, shoes, rollerblades (if there is enough pavement around), sleds/sledges/skates/skis in winter.

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The first level of Maslow's Hierarchy can answer the general question.

Triangle representation of Maslow's Hierarchy

The most important things for survival that can be obtained from scavenging a house are, in order of importance:

  1. Clean Water (use is obvious, can be found in the form of bottled water in the fridge/pantry or in the reservoir of toilets).
  2. Food (packaged food of any kind for caloric needs).
  3. Medicine (treat wounds, reduce infection, etc).
  4. Clothing (stay warm and dry).
  5. Vitamins/supplements (most packaged food will be lacking in proper nutrition).

From there many things are nice to have but not strictly required for immediate survival.

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Solar Panels. These are becoming more common and small, comparatively portable ones are most likely to be in homes. These would make electrical tools far more useful. Note that it may make sense to locate in a place that already has solar panels rather than try to move them. But if you are already in a place with solar panels (or windmills) and need more power... Locating near to windmills might be better. The solar panels are going to be easier to move than the typical industrial windmill. And the two different sources will complement each other. Windmills work in the rain while solar panels work without a breeze.

I'd also like to point out that for many resources, I'd prefer stores or warehouses to houses. For example, books, lumber and other construction materials, tools, seeds, and even fishing and hunting gear might more easily be found in stores. It's possible to find scrap metal in houses but wouldn't a junkyard or hardware store make more sense?

There are two kinds of things that makes sense to scavenge: consumables and rarities. Solar panels are an example of a rarity. Unless you find the factory, most regions are more likely to have panels in houses than a store. Consumables make sense to scavenge from houses because the grocery supplies will be consumed. It will take a long time to go through all the construction materials in the stores and warehouses. Most books will last a long time. Those kinds of common durables are more easily sourced in stores than houses.

Of course, it may be that there is some individual book that is not available in stores or libraries but is available in houses. For example, my mother would like to find a sixties era version of a particular cookbook. She has the newer version of the same one, but it dropped some useful information. It seems to have shifted a bit from basic ingredients to store bought preparations--the older version being more useful post-apocalypse. Can't buy in stores, as only the new version is available. The library may also have worn through its copy if it ever had one. Or the library had one but there are more cooks than that. They might scour an older neighborhood looking for cookbooks from the right era.

Clothing is right along the border. Initially easy to find in stores. May wear out enough to be useful from houses.

Firearms are available in stores and are durable. In the right region, you may be able to buy them in Walmart. Ammunition is a consumable. Source it anywhere you can: stores, police stations, army bases, and...houses.

Board Games. Just because no one else mentioned it.

Salt. Mentioned in a comment, but I wanted to reiterate that it has uses beyond flavoring food. In particular, salt used to be used as a preservative for meat.

Oddities

These are things that are durable but may not be common enough to be found in stores. You won't necessarily go to houses looking for them, but if you go to a lot of houses, you may find them.

Home Still. Others mentioned alcohol. It's possible to brew beer or distill moonshine at home. These sets will be more appropriately sized and operated than the kind that you'll find in a brewery or distillery.

Ice Cream Maker. Non-powered ones are rare enough that you may not find them in stores but they do exist and may be found in a house. Have a mountain nearby? Send a horse drawn cart up for ice in the summer.

Solar Dehydrator. Another thing that is rare enough to be hard to find in stores but that exists and may be found in a house. Dehydrating can preserve some kinds of fruits and vegetables.

Pig roast spit. These are rare enough not to be in stores and may be found in a house rather than a separate business. If you can't find a non-powered one, try for one that runs on diesel. It's possible to run diesel motors on things like vegetable oil or motor oil (unused).

Make your own ammo. Some people make their own ammunition. This requires special tools and is likely to be at home. A setup for making gunpowder would be invaluable.

Deer butchering tools. This tends to be done part-time out of a house. May be easier to use than more professional tools.

Taxidermy. In particular, tanning supplies. Not for use in taxidermy but for tanning leather to make clothing or footwear. More home taxidermists than tanners these days. May also have relevant and specialized books.

Strawberries and other perennials Some plants live for years and grow by sending out offshoots rather than seeds. Dig up the whole plant and take it dirt and all to where you need it. May also be available in nurseries but wouldn't sell as well as plants that need to be replaced annually.

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    $\begingroup$ I would like to commend on the "making gunpowder" part. Modern ammo reloaders do NOT make their own powder. Smokeless powder is an extremely complex process with non-normal materials, large dangers, large factory level equipment needs, extremely specialized knowledge, and extremely picky results/needs which will literally kill you if your result is even so much as extruded in slightly the wrong way. Reloaders (myself included) purchase gunpowder. Only black powder (think revolutionary war era muzzle-loaders) is capable of home production. Most modern firearms cannot use black powder. $\endgroup$ – Jimbo Jonny Nov 3 '15 at 10:36
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Almost everything has value in the house and if they don't have to worry about other people then they can afford to loot everything.

  • Knives. Specifically ones with wooden handles these can be used for bayonets, spears or (obviously) knives.
  • Cloth. Mattresses, odd clothing and sheets can be used for warmth and for makeshift bandages if medical supplies have dried up (this depends on how deep into the apocalypse you are)
  • Lumber. Again depending on how deep you are into the end, most lumber will be used and you will have 2 options. Cut down tress and cut them into planks or scavenge already made planks from houses and furniture.
  • Toilet paper. Sure you may laugh but it's something that everyone will want.
  • Bleach/lime. This will be used for the latrines.
  • Gasoline. I disagree with you that they will have cars. It's unlikely that they will be stupid enough to rely on vehicles but generators will need the gas.
  • Scrap metal. This can be used to make an assortment of weapons and armor
  • Jewelry. Again this is a creature comfort but people will take jewelry because it looks nice.
  • Medicine. If I need to explain to you why medicine is necessary then you won't last long anyway

These are things that will be commonly looted but each group is unique. If there is a baby(or pregnant person) in the group then they will loot baby food and diapers. If someone has a limp they will loot walker or wheelchairs. If there is a sick person then they will loot more specific medicines. Not to mention that the kind of apocalypse will effect what they loot.

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    $\begingroup$ "If I need to explain to you why medicine is necessary then you won't last long anyway." - Lost it! $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Nov 4 '15 at 16:09
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Depends on how soon they start the looting and how much of the goods decay, one of there:

  • medicine (especially antibiotics)
  • clothing
  • hunting guns and ammunition, plus related - binoculars, sleeping bags, durable fabric
  • tools (at the beginning), an axe, saw, drills, hammer, nails etc. are priceless
  • chemicals, especially whatever can be used as a firestarter (paint cans etc.)
  • flashlights (hand cranked)
  • seeds (only a first year or so, they become useless soon)
  • alcohol

and of course, any survivalist gear they can find.

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  • $\begingroup$ Surprised how few answers mention saws. A stock of a few all purpose hand saws (sharpening them is going to be difficult, so grab a few) would be a godsend. Add a couple of chisels and a mallet and you could make a shelter far more sturdy than if you tried to do it with no tools. $\endgroup$ – Whelkaholism Nov 3 '15 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ Why would seeds "become useless soon"? I've heard of lots of seeds can be happily used years, decades later. Or do you mean seeds for immediate food, like sunflower seeds or other nuts going stale? $\endgroup$ – Xen2050 Nov 3 '15 at 14:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Xen2050 Or millennia. $\endgroup$ – user2428118 Nov 3 '15 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ @user2428118 I read about that one, along with the 31,800 year old flower seeds from the Arctic, probably buried by Arctic Ground Squirrels in Siberia but they didn't sprout - the squirrels chewed them up (?) or somehow stopped them from growing, so they "extracted the embryos and successfully germinated plants in vitro" (whole story sounds pretty crazy) And I wasn't positive of the spelling or plural usage of "Millennia" ;-) $\endgroup$ – Xen2050 Nov 3 '15 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Xen2050 I don't see anything about getting those seeds to grow, or your quote, from your wikipedia reference or the abstract it cites. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 4 '16 at 6:01
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I'm missing two things in all other answers related to two of the greatest inventions in history: writing and fire.

You are going to have to rebuild your 'civilization' and one of the greatest inventions in history was writing. So any writing materials you can find: paper (although it will quickly deteriorate if you can't keep it dry), pens, pencils, the odd mechanical typewriter with ribbons, anything that can help you distribute knowledge in your society.

You will not need these in the first phases after the apocalypse, but as soon as your primary needs are satisfied you will have to start planning for the future. You need classes to teach your children, and writing materials make a big difference there.

Fire you need directly, so anything that will light one: matches (may even work after drying when wet), lighters, glasses with positive lenses, concave shaving mirrors, and the occasional magnifying glass left behind by a stamp collector or botanist.

(And there are even other ways of making fire: read here or here. I like the suggestions with soda cans)

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Trailer tent

Trailer tent

This would be the first thing i would look for. It is a small tent trailer, it is so small it can be drawn by 2 humans easily, one horse, cow, donkey, 2 large sheeps or goats, it can be drawn from a scooter, snow scootter, motorcycle - you name it.

And here it is unfolded.

And here it is unfolded.

It has roof, heat, kitchen, easy to transport and you can load stuff on it, Even if you are tired of walking your companions can drag a tired person on it or even injured.

Add all the other amazing suggestions, 2 car batteries and a lot of solar cells. And you are off for a good start.

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  • $\begingroup$ When you loot a house, and, as suggested in the question, have no competition, would it not be a better idea to simply keep the house rather than camping elsewhere? $\endgroup$ – Burki Nov 4 '15 at 7:54
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    $\begingroup$ If you teach a man to loot a house he will loot for a day, but if you teach him to loot a village, he will loot for a life time. $\endgroup$ – Magic-Mouse Nov 4 '15 at 12:03
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Of course food is on the top of the list, different fuels, though that might be pretty easy to come by for a little while if only a few people survived in a medium sized town. Books on gardening and edible wild plants.

Hand tools and DIY books would be big. Unlikely to have any power from the grid so cordless drills and power saws are worthless. Of course if you have a generator and access to some gasoline you can make them last a little longer.

Of course the pharmacy would be a place to raid, for antibiotics and other generic but useful medical supplies. Antiseptics and bandaids etc. Medical books.

Weapons for hunting and self protection. Reloading equipment and maybe a book on how to make gun powder and where to find the ingredients.

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The largest and most significant resource that could be found in a house in your given scenario is one that not one single person on here has mentioned yet:

The house itself.

You need shelter. With this large amount of people making a small community using these houses seems like a pretty darn important first step to getting back to normal living.

Of course, there are many other great things others have mentioned that can be taken from homes in the area, whether they be the ones you decide to occupy or not. But the value of the home itself as shelter has been completely overlooked in these answers so far, so I felt the need to add it.


I'd also point out that 100 people with zero competition from other people and homes aplenty around them honestly just plain doesn't sound like any true challenge to survive. Just find a little town with a hardware store full of tools in stock and a couple dozen houses and take up residence. Between each house making a little garden, raising some chickens, and having a couple communal rifles around to take a deer every once in a while it honestly wouldn't look that different from a lot of small towns in existence right now save for the fact that you'd probably have to attach hand pumps to the wells once the generators ran out of gas.

I heat my home with wood, have deer meat still from last season (and the next season is about to begin in 2 weeks, so obviously it's easy enough to get a year's worth of meat), have a well that I could put a hand pump on should that truly become needed, a septic system, and have a garden that could pretty much fully feed me if I put the time into it instead of going to work...and honestly I'm pretty normal for rural America.

If there's some other threat to these people that makes survival harder than the annoyance of having to hand pump your own water each morning, split wood for winter, and store ice for summer then you should inform us of it because it's going to affect the answers we're giving as it pertains to what they need to be gathering to survive. Otherwise the answer is: "Go to a rural area, take over the nicest looking house, and just live as if there's a power-outage and you've taken a sudden interest in gardening, raising chickens, and hunting. It honestly might not even be interesting/challenging enough to be worth writing a story about."

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    $\begingroup$ If you look at old villages in the UK, many existing houses have been rebuilt using the remains of older houses (or churches/castles/walls), because it's massively easier to reclaim good dressed stone or bricks than to make them yourself. Post-apocalypse, there's going to be plenty of unused housing stock but very few DIY stores. $\endgroup$ – Graham Nov 3 '15 at 17:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Graham - Heck, I don't even see anything in the OP about the houses currently being in anything but perfectly usable condition. Seems to me these are perfectly good houses as is, no building from the foundations needed. I'm thinking this is the easiest post-apocalypse world ever :) That is one reason why I asked the OP if there's more threat to these people than simply being on their own. There's gotta be something...or else this is just too easy to even make for a good story! $\endgroup$ – Jimbo Jonny Nov 3 '15 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, so your answer is the obvious best. 5-10 years (or 50-100 years) down the line though, breaking old buildings for their component parts is going to be the thing. $\endgroup$ – Graham Nov 4 '15 at 11:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Graham - I would hope that by that time they've got something like civilization going again. $\endgroup$ – Jimbo Jonny Nov 4 '15 at 14:32
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Short-wave transmitters (and receivers)

Obviously in addition to the items mentioned elsewhere. In such a situation I would look for a dwelling with (remains of) ham-radio antennae, get hold of the equipment and if possible the documentation. Sooner or later you'll want to get in touch with other survivors. Power may be a problem but should be more easily solvable.

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Containers, especially fireproof metal ones. There are several ways to treat water, but only in a limited quantity which you have collected first. Good luck boiling or bleaching an entire pond. Aside from hydration, containers will also be useful for storing or preserving other valuable items mentioned in the great answers above.

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Apart from the obvious, that has been mentionned, like food, tools and clothing, i recommend taking every single book they can find. Stored knowledge, but also stories, are essential in keeping the rest of humanity human, and not just highly sophisticated animals.
Obviously, a simple and reliable way of passing on knowledge about everything is absolutely priceless.

Plus, a good read is always nice on a rainy afternoon.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 for "Sophisticated Animals", that should be on my resume ;-) $\endgroup$ – Xen2050 Nov 3 '15 at 14:29
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Mirrors. For use in sun ovens. Also to make solar panels more effective.

Since mirrors are pretty fragile, it depends on how nomadic these survivors are.

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As for a specific item, perhaps your survivors will find a compressed archive of the entire english wikipedia stored on a computer or hard drive (which apparently wont take more than 50 GB uncompressed).

I assume powering the device won't be an issue.

Others have suggested books, but an archive like this will be much more compact and contain a detailed overview of just about any subject, with references in case you do need something from the library.

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    $\begingroup$ I assume powering the device wont be an issue. This will be a somewhat cozy post-apocalyptical world. Hey, you could also assume that internet will still work and that the Wikipedia servers will continue to be online!! $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Nov 3 '15 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ @SJuan76: powering the device can happen locally, for examply using a generator. Whereas having the whole internet work will require distant servers to work. Getting the correct servers to work might also be a bit more difficult than just a single computer. $\endgroup$ – Pacapo Nov 3 '15 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ @SJuan76 Even a tiny solar panel could power a smart phone or tablet car charger, and sometimes their batteries will last for years, maybe at reduced capacity but still working. $\endgroup$ – Xen2050 Nov 3 '15 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ something like that: amazon.com/WikiReader-PANREADER-Pocket-Wikipedia/dp/B002N5521W/… $\endgroup$ – njzk2 Nov 3 '15 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ Books will last longer than computers. $\endgroup$ – Jan Doggen Nov 3 '15 at 15:08
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Duvets and blankets. Depending on the new climate of the post apocalypse this could be a life saver once winter comes round!

Other "fuel" resource is batteries. Ideally rechargeable ones so they could be topped up from other sources. Incredible how many things run on AAs

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I am surprised nobody has specified yet wiring and plumbing as part of a "long term" (once the most basics have been satisfied) looting.

Granted, an axe is more useful in the short term, but with enough resources and a little practice it should not be that difficult to build your own functional axe, even if it is far from being as efficient as one of the current ones. But, for many years, you will lack the technology to build anything closely resembling properly insulated copper wire, or pipe joints that do not leak.

Wiring would be very useful (if you get a generator working) for running a telegraph wire with other survivors locations. Plumbing will help you to ensure that the water you use is not contaminated by brown waters.

So, I do not expect those items to be the first to be picked up but, while things have settled a little more and you are in the process of slowly disassembling the houses, it will pay if you ensure to store properly both wiring and plumbing.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd imagine that wiring and pipes would be built into whatever house the group of people choose to live in. It would probably be 20+ years before most houses start to fall apart (with no utilities, assuming the roofs would be what fails first, ruining the house shortly after), and moving into another house with better pipes & wires would be easy. $\endgroup$ – Xen2050 Nov 3 '15 at 14:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Xen2050 the idea is not using the pipes and wiring for the house you are in, but for new projects. Let's say you mount a watchtower to protect your community, the wiring can provide a telegraphy cable that is more useful that smoke signals. Similarly, since there is no running water maybe you will have to tap some local reservoir (or create one) and get water from there. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Nov 3 '15 at 18:38
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Everyone has covered pretty much everything I'd have thought of, but so far no-one has mentioned rope.

Lots of rope, lots of paracord, and a decent book of knots.

I'm adding another thing; tarpaulin.

The major two problems that those of us fortunate to live in developed countries do NOT have is keeping warm and dry. Anything that will help your survivors achieve that will be incredibly useful. If they are sensible they will be in a well-made pre-existing building, but even so, unless they are good at roofing, anything that can quickly cover the inevitable leaks that will occur as time goes by will be pretty handy.

And another thing no-one has mentioned - dogs. Now, I'm not a dog owner, so some comments on the practicality of taking in dogs left to their own devices for 1-5 years would be good, but dogs are pretty useful in an apocalypse, provided they don't become telepathic and persuade you to eat your girlfriend.

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In a post-apocalyptic world, the banking system as we know it would completely collapse. The survivors would have to rely mainly on the barter system for trade in goods and services.

In a barter situation, each party will trade based on the perceived value instead of a market value as it is today. This means that potentially any household item would have some kind of value. Many household items that rely on electricity would be devalued. Computers, cell phones, electric appliances, etc. would have very little value in that world.

The survivors will most likely not be as trusting, especially if there is a lack of law enforcement. Farms and homes will be subject to the threat of attacks by groups of pillagers. There would be riots in the jails and prisons which would result in prisoner escapes. Some cities will be overrun by hundreds, if not thousands of deadly psychopaths. Any type of weapon which could be used for self defense would come at a high premium.

The long term survivors would adapt to a more agrarian lifestyle. Livestock, and farming implements would definitely be highly valued. If you look back to the pre-industrialized world, you would see that the same things which were valuable at that time, would be valuable in a post-apocalyptic world as well. Any practical hand tool that is well made would have value. There was a time when you couldn't run down to the hardware store and buy a hammer. You would have to go to the blacksmith and have one forged. These tools were often passed down as family heirlooms because of their expense. The same thing would be true in a post-apocalyptic world as well.

Some simple things that we take for granted now, were very valuable to early colonists. Nails at one time were nearly worth their weight in gold. Each nail had to be hand forged by a blacksmith, and the process was very labor intensive. When the homesteaders decided to move, they often would burn down their homes to recover the nails so they could build a new home. Since the factories that produce these items would all be shut down after the apocalypse, there would be a limited supply and would in turn be valued. The value would most likely increase over a long period of time if we do not return to an industrialized world.

In this world, most durable goods will have some value. For most people, hoarding and stockpiling these objects would not be very practical due to the fact that many people will end up living a nomadic lifestyle. I suspect many outdoor sporting goods would be very useful. Specialty items such as lightweight eating and cooking utensils, backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, blankets, and coats would be items that a survivor would not want to part with.

In the end, it would be difficult to say for sure which items would be the most valuable, but it is probably safe to say that baseball cards would never be highly valued or sought after.

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A lot of answers seem to be forgetting the second most critical element to human survival. You can go a month without food, but only 2-3 days without water, especially if you're exposed to high heat (for obvious reasons) or nuclear fallout (because it keeps your digestive and excretory systems going to help flush out radioactive fallout and damaged cells from low-grade radiation poisoning). Water is critical to the survival of any post-apocalyptic humans; the only more immediate need is breathable air (and we're assuming the earth isn't so badly trashed that this is a precious resource).

To ensure a good supply of clean water, you need:

  • A supply of safe water, to last until you can collect and safely drink other sources (and you can refill the containers for storage). Any open standing water, even in a swimming pool or water treatment plant, will have stagnated or been contaminated fairly early on and isn't safe. Look in office complexes for the five-gallon water cooler bottles, and home fridges for ice bins.
  • Diatomaceous earth. This is a common material for filtering swimming pools, so homes in formerly affluent neighborhoods should have a bag or three in addition to what's already in the pool filter (use the stuff in the filter if you have to but it will have a shorter useful life). Play sand from a backyard or a park is an acceptable alternative if you can also find charcoal.
  • Charcoal. Activated charcoal is best, but not exactly a household item. Even finely ground barbecue briquettes will have some benefit. This is optional if you have enough DE.
  • Clean trash cans or oil drums, as many as you can find. Some will house the filter, others will store the clean water.
  • Iodine, or a source of fire.
  • Coffee filters. Again, as many as you can find.
  • Metal or plastic mesh screen. This supports the coffee filters. Screen doors and solar window screens are perfect.

To build a filter, start by choosing one of the trash cans or drums and poke or drill holes in the bottom from the inside out; make as many holes as you can without compromising the strength of the bottom of the drum. Lay a window or door screen over the bottom making sure to cover all the holes, and then cover that with a layer of coffee filters over the entire bottom of the can.

If you have DE to use as the filter media, start by carefully pouring it in, keeping all the coffee filters flat, until they're all covered; then, start heaping it in, as much as you have. If you are making do with charcoal briquettes, find a rough, flat stone like a piece of sidewalk, concrete paver or brick and start rubbing down the briquettes to get powder. You'll want a good two inches of powder evenly spread over the filters. Once you have that, cover the charcoal with another layer of coffee filters, then gently cover that with the play sand until you have an even layer before heaping in as much as you have to the top of the can. Voila, one water filter.

To use it, I'd recommend using the roof of a building that's still standing as a rain catchment. Find a building near your settlement with an intact roof and gutter system. Cut back the downspout about 6-8 feet off the ground, and find some wood or metal to make a frame to hold your filter far enough off the ground that you can put water storage vessels under the filter. Clean the gutters and roof when dry to avoid too much debris going into your filter when it rains, and voila, you have a rain catchment. If it's not raining, you can still pour in any groundwater you can find.

While the filter will minimize potentially harmful particulates in the water, like nuclear fallout, depending on the nature of the apocalypse even rainwater might not be safe to drink without boiling it. Groundwater must definitely be boiled or disinfected with iodine before drinking it. In addition, there may be some chemical treatment needed; harmful chemicals may be dissolved in the atmospheric moisture which must be removed by chemically treating the water. Exactly what process you'd need depends on the pollutant, but if simple distillation (requiring a moonshiner's rig with a sealed vessel you can heat to boiling, with the steam fed into a tube that runs through a drum of cold water) won't do the trick, there's usually a fairly simple reaction with chemicals you could find in a home, hardware store or pharmacy.

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  • $\begingroup$ Does boiling help with nuclear waste in water? My assumption would be that 100 Degrees wouldn't achieve much, and if anything you would concentrate the nuclear waste by evaporating a small amount of the water. Surely you would need to distill the water? $\endgroup$ – Scott Nov 4 '15 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ Boiling doesn't remove radioactive contamination. However it does kill most biological contaminants, including things that are inert to chemical disinfectants like iodine, which may be present in the water in high concentrations if the apocalypse were a bioweapon like an airborne superbug. To remove radioactive particulates from nuclear fallout would require distilling the water by boiling it and condensing the vapor, but that's also what the filter's for; the filter's job is to remove fine particulates including radioactive fallout. $\endgroup$ – KeithS Nov 4 '15 at 1:03
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Besides the basic food and water items listed, a wise man once told me there are two things to stock up on to prepare for just such a situation. Those two items being chocolate and ammunition. Of these two items you cannot have enough. The reasons are quite simple:

  • Chocolate (or any candy for that matter) is a complete comfort food. In the event of total world collapse, chocolate could be used quite efficiently for trade or barter, as well as provide quick energy if needed. No other food would be worth its weight in gold like chocolate would be.
  • Ammunition is a simple self defense item, but once you are out of ammunition, a gun can become a great bludgeon or a tent pole, but is pretty much worthless otherwise. You may only need one gun, but you cannot have enough ammunition to fire through that gun ... (see The Walking Dead for details). Ammunition could also be used for barter or trade if need be, but I wouldn't give away ammunition in such a situation mainly because now you've armed a potential enemy with something they could potentially shoot you with and gain not only what they've traded you, but the rest of your ammunition and chocolate as well.

While the initial reasoning of these two items was originally meant for before an apocalyptic event, these would be items I would be searching for the most after some such even has occurred.

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