Prior to the point in my story when the nature of the looming apocalypse becomes known, my main character acquires a large (6-foot) air-tight freezer chest, puts it (unplugged) in his basement, fills it with treasures, then pumps it full of nitrogen gas and padlocks it shut. Later in the story, he passes the key and location on to his children. My intension is that the children will re-equip themselves from this treasure chest during the sequel.

The treasures include a rifle with ammo, several handguns with ammo, knives & whetting stones, camping supplies, various chemistry/engineering/architectural text-books, local maps, and fruit/vegetable seeds. My main character is not very wealthy, so this cache can only contain items that can be acquired by an average current-day American.

My question is... What else should he put in the chest?

What every day available items would have extraordinary value in a post-apocalyptic world, regardless of the nature of the cataclysm which destroyed civilization?

---- Edit ---- The creator of the treasure chest has no idea when or if it will ever be opened, so anything perishable (unfortunately including medications) will not be included. No parent wants to give their child a worthless/expired gift.

As it turns out, in this particular story, the chest will be opened after about five years. It is mainly a tool for connecting the two stories together, allowing me to recap the previous events in the early pages of the sequel.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @IStanley: Most medications still have 90% effectiveness even a decade after the expiration date. The problem is more with the bad taste that decaying drugs and filler materials produce. For instance, aspirin (much better than paracetamol and safer) decays into vinegar, which has an unpleasant oder and taste. But the drug is still effective and safe to use. $\endgroup$
    – dotancohen
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 12:25
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @IStanley: Then you need to consult a pharmacist, not a community of armchair thinkers! In fact, if you mention that you are writing a story, many professionals will be happy to advise and to even provide suggestions to realistically achieve your goal. $\endgroup$
    – dotancohen
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 13:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @dotancohen, totally agree! However it's not me that's writing the story or asking the question, I'm just making sure that the right questions get asked :) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 13:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @dotancohen Vinegar has an unpleasant odor and taste? There are millions of people who use it in food on a daily basis who would disagree with that statement... $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 15:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @dotancohen: If I have to swallow a pill that's not explicitly chewable, I just take it with a gulp of water and don't taste anything anyway. :P $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 16:35

11 Answers 11


I'm surprised nobody has mentioned reloading dies and materials. Spent brass casings from firearms can be collected and re-used anywhere from a few times (high-pressure cartridges like 9mm, .223 Remington/5.56 NATO .300 Winchester Magnum) to hundreds of times or more (lower pressure rounds like .30-06, .45 ACP, and .38 special).

A reloading press is is comparable in size to a bicycle pump and uses easily interchangeable dies for each caliber, and the components for reloading take up far less space than fully assembled cartridges.

Projectiles can be cast in bullet molds, using melted lead and antimony from wheel-balancing weights and other sources. Rifle and pistol primers typically come in packs of 1000, in a space about the size of a stick of butter, and a jug of powder the size of a quart of milk will reload anywhere from 500-1000 rounds of ammo.

A few things you can play with if your characters reload their own ammo:

  • Being able to reload spent casings lets you create your own load recipes. Characters can carry hot magnum loads for hunting mutant elk and stealthy subsonic rounds for close range encounters where the sound of gunfire could attract unwanted attention.

  • Swapping powders can be dangerous! I've heard at least one story of sabotage from the Vietnam War, where US operatives would find Vietcong ammo caches, pull the bullets from the rifle rounds, and replace the slower-burning rifle powder with a hefty dose of fast-burning pistol powder, before replacing the bullet. When the round was later fired, the round would detonate violently and destroy the rifle in the user's hands rather than send a projectile downrange.

  • Your characters can pick up spent casings from the field and re-pack them as a trade-able good. If ammo is valuable as currency, a reloading press is like a mint!

  • Larger rifle casings could be used as waterproof containers for any manner of tiny things. Do your characters need to deliver secret information? Write it on a scrap of paper and roll it up inside a rifle round! They could even "fire" the round, using the primer's ignition to destroy the information to keep it from getting into enemy hands.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 Awesome Answer! I will definitely be including some balancing weight harvesting and reloading in the book. Thanks! And welcome to the site! Keep up the great work! $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 20:14
  • $\begingroup$ I'm surprised the accepted answer is the one solely about guns. A lot better answers were suggested IMO. $\endgroup$
    – evilscary
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 11:01

No or few consumables

Basically food, drink, booze, etc. provide no real long-term advantage. The few items I can think of that would violate this principal would be multivitamins and/or commonly needed drugs (e.g. antibiotics & pain killers).


Engineering, chemistry, physics texts are nice but the protagonists problems will be more mundane than the theory discussed in those texts. For instance, engineering texts will often discuss alloys and grades of steel for use in different structure. How in the heck are the survivors going to know what steel alloys and grade of alloy they have access to?

So field guides would be more practical for acquiring and manufacturing the basic materials. For instance, instead of providing lots of bullets (still a good idea, btw), instructions for finding and refining lead, potassium nitrate, etc. would be even better. Additional instructions on how to make gun cotton will be beneficial too.

Nutrition is another area in which information would be very valuable. Provide hardy heritage seeds and instructions for growing the plants, harvesting them, and preserving the very important seeds. Additional field guides on how to find food in wilderness areas would be beneficial.

The Rosetta Project has >13,000 pages of information on the world's languages.

Rosetta Project Disk
Rosetta Project Disk

The Rosetta Disk fits in the palm of your hand, yet it contains over 13,000 pages of information on over 1,500 human languages. The pages are microscopically etched and then electroformed in solid nickel, a process that raises the text very slightly - about 100 nanometers - off of the surface of the disk. Each page is only 400 microns across - about the width of 5 human hairs - and can be read through a microscope at 650X as clearly as you would from print in a book. Individual pages are visible at a much lower magnification of 100X. The outer ring of text reads "Languages of the World" in eight major world languages.

It turns out the Rosetta Project just archives languages, however, a similar effort should be made for recording and possibly rescuing civilization too. The technology it uses (analog data storage) should be used to record a critical set of information designed to help "soften the landing" of a civilization collapse.

Some people are looking into this at the Survivor Library and elsewhere.

Long-term investments/treasures

Instructions for redeveloping the technological base in many areas will help. There's a group trying to figure out what the minimum set of equipment machinery might be needed to colonize a planet would be.

This group would benefit from the brain power involved in developing that list. Both identifying the most important pieces of equipment to make in redeveloping a technological society but also the instructions for how they might be made.

The Global Village Construction Set is a set of 50 interlinked pieces of industrial equipment that should allow a small civilization to live with modern comforts (and bootstrap to a larger civilization).

The GVCS in itself consists of many other Construction Sets – as we build not individual machines, but construction sets of machines. As an example, the Fabrication Construction Set component can be used to build any of the other machines. Our goal is lifetime design, and low maintenance so only a few hours of maintenance per year are required to keep any machine alive.


We have achieved a landmark One Day production time of the Compressed Earth Brick Press in 2012, and we intend to bring down the production time down to 1 day for each of the other machines.

The Global Village Construction Set (a work in progress)
The Global Village Construction Set

Some type of 3d printer

Current 3d printer technologies typically restrict the material types each type of printer can use (e.g. some can do plastics, others can do metals, most can't do materials dissimilar to what they were designed to use). If the benefactor had access to one of the more advanced machines as well as feed stock, this would be a wonderful thing to put into the treasure chest.

This is included in The Global Village Construction Set.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Warning, to access their pdf, they want personal information about you. I first read about this project in a news article but I can find that initial story. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 4:34
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Re: 3D printers, it's important to remember that you need a computer with the right software to design and send the models to the printer. Imagine the irony of having thought of everything except for a licence key! Your children would have to be very frugal with that 30-day free trial :P $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 10:21
  • 21
    $\begingroup$ Give a man a bullet and he'll shot another man. Teach a man how to make bullets and he'll be the chieftain of a tribe of post-apocalyptic bandits. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 13:19
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @IStanley: More than that, the 3D printer and the computer both require electricity, something that's not guaranteed to be available after the apocalypse. The computer might be a laptop, and possibly with multiple batteries and a solar charger, but I don't know of any 3D printers thus equipped. Possibly a general purpose solar-powered charger would be useful as a source to power whatever devices you might need. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 15:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman, there's another answer which postulates an alternator hooked up to a bike. Power in itself isn't that much of a sticking point. Electricity in small amounts is remarkably simple to produce if you know how (which is what all the books would be for), especially in a post-apocalyptic landscape packed with magnets that aren't being used for anything else. It was figuring it out in the first place that took a long time! $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 15:20

Since much of our technology is based on electrical energy, some sort of electrical generator is a must. Unlike most of the other items, there is less need to put this in the freezer; an alternator and a stationary bicycle can provide some power to charge batteries (such as battery powered tools or a laptop computer). If the issue is safe storage, the alternator and some spare bicycle chains gives you a start, there should be lots of bikes to salvage after the apocalypse.

WRT edged weapons/tools, a hatchet is probably the best compromise, since it can be a utility tool for cutting wood, brush and other light to medium things, and a good close quarter weapon to protect your stash/deal with zombies or whatever other threats you might have.

A compact set of tools including jewellers screwdrivers, an adjustable wrench, adjustable pliers and a saw for cutting wood, and another for cutting metal. Two items you should never forget to pack are WD-40 (for when it doesn't move and you need it to) and duct tape (for when it moves and you don't want it to).

This might be considered cheating, but cover the chest freezer with a good quality tarp, since the tarp itself can be very useful for things like improvised shelter and carrying things.

The SAS survival guide has a "combat survival tin", and various editions of the book have more or less the same basics inside a small waterproof "tin" which fits into a pocket or belt pouch:

Contents and Specs:

Water resistant tin with:

 - Button compass
 - Matches
 - Purification tablets
 - Candle/Night Light
 - Survival instructions
 - Whistle
 - Safety pins
 - Accident eval  form
 - Vinyl tape
 - Cutter
 - Pencil
 - Snare wire
 - Flint & striker
 - Fishing kit
 - Sewing kit 
 - NATO Wire saw

Wt: 6 oz
Size: 4.5" x 3.3" x 1.2" (approx)

Assemble and store one for for each person (min). It is probably a good idea to give each child one now and have them practice carrying it with them at all times and becoming proficient with the use of them now, rather than trying to learn in a post apocalyptic landscape.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ +1 for survival tin, the tarp and the tools. How did I forget duct tape? Thanks! $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 5:36
  • $\begingroup$ At times, there is a difference between combat survival (get to friendly lines) and postapocalyptic survival (rebuild civilization). $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 6:26
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Now imagining the post apocalyptic survivors filling out their accident eval forms... $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 16:30

TL;DR: Don't give your kids everything they need, but give them the tools to craft whatever they need! The most value stuff you can give them, is info.

As always: it depends.

  • How large is the freezer exactly? I'll assume circa 2 cubic meters.
  • Is the treasure meant as start equipment for a settlement, or for a journey? I'll assume first, with some equipment for looting tours.

General definition of what is needed. This has not necessarily to be included in the treasure. I'll try to sort the things, depending on how quickly the lack of these things will affect your survival. It does not mean, that lower stuff in this list, is less essential.

  • Food/Water supplies
  • Medical treadments
  • Fire
  • Clothes, depending on the area
  • Orientation
  • Crafting tools
  • Info / how-to guides / ...
  • Self defense

In general, dad has to give his kids the ability to craft what they need, instead of giving him the stuff directly.

Food/Water supplies

Situation overview:

There is plenty food for, at least, a few days. Depending on the kind of apocalypse (how many people are left?) it might be enough for days, for weeks, for years. In any case, there is enough food for some days. The fridge isn't big enough to store food for years, so this is no topic. But is there anything, which doesn't require as much space as actual food, which helps getting food or making stuff save to eat/drink?

What stuff should be inside for this topic:

  • Water purification tablets. In general, it's better to filter(@Info) and cook(@Fire) the water, due it doesn't waste tables. But in some situations, cooking is not possible.

  • A few cans of some food with really high calories. Pure butter or such. This is meant for really(!) bad days, just to prevent starvation. This should not taste good, to prevent the kids from eating it without really need.

  • Bottles aren't needed. There are plenty polyethylene bottles in the world which can be used.

  • A small pod for cooking(@Fire).

Medical treadment

Situation overview:

Medical threads are various. They cannot be foreknown. But there are some, that are relatively common and which can be prepared. Problem is: Most medical equipment is one use, like antibiotics. These will be rare in some time and hard to find. Due this, they will be very expensive in trading. Due they don't need much space, a relatively large stock is a good idea. Even if their effect lowers over storage time, ineffective antibiotics are better than none at all. Due their high value, they will also be perfect trading goods if anything is really needed to buy.

What stuff should be inside for this topic:

At least a shoe box full of:

  • Antibiotics
  • Painkillers which do not affect ones perception (Not opium or such)
  • some hollow needle and scalpels
  • A few (not much) dressings
  • tourniquet
  • surgical mask and gloves nd to prevent infection while threading someone who is ill
  • Hydrogen peroxide as universal desinfection for wounds, surfaces, hands,...

Dressings should be multi use ones. After use, cook them. A belt can perform as a tourniquet as well, if none is there. Never throw the gloves away, unless they're broken. Reuse them after desinfection. If you have to desinfect something heat resistant, save the hydrogen peroxid. Better use fire for desinfection then. Some red poppey seeds to grow own painkillers (opium).


Not much to say here, ugh? Several lighters, matches and flints don't need a lot of space. Having 100 lighters in spare is not a problem and should be enough for a livetime, unless the kids smoke, which should barely be possible in this situation.

It's not a problem to craft a cooking place out of scrap, so actually, nothing else is needed.

Clothing, depending on the area

Situation overview:

Clothes have several purposes. They keep the kids warm in cold condition, dry in rain, camouflaged if they have to hide or good visible if needet. Clothes tend to break while in use. It won't be too hard to find replacement. However, the kids have to be able to repair their broken clothing.

What stuff should be inside for this topic:

  • Sewing equipment. This needs nearly no space at all, so put a lot of spare (thick)needles inside.
  • Buttons are multi use, however, they can break. Some spare buttons are a good idea.
  • Tough yarn. It doesn't have to look fancy, but to hold the stuff together.


Situation overview:

It's impossible to have everything needed on stock. It will be necessary to go on journeys or maybe to move. However, it will come to a situation, where the own knowledge of the area will not be enough. Are satellites affected? Hope no, due they're completely independent.

What stuff should be inside for this topic:

  • GPS-Devices. No kidding! If the satellites are working, there are no better alternatives for orientation then GPS + map.
  • Maps, of course. Several ones. The local area, the region, nearby regions, the state,.. and so on.
  • Mark known fruit trees on the maps, your kids will thank you for that info.


Situation overview:

This topic is too obvious to think about everything included. What will your kids need to craft? Which tools are useful, which are not?

Any tool whit batteries, which is also available without, should be taken in the "no-batteries"-version. For example an electric screwdriver, better give an normal one. Tools might be needed on looting tours, to open doors, boxes, and so on. So for some tools, there should be a second one which might not be as durable, but lighter.

For each tool, you should ask yourself: Can my kids repair them if they break? Can they craft new ones? For example: The stick of an axe will brake eventually. But the blade of an axe is one of the toughest tools you can imagine. It's almost impossible to break it, without purpose.

What stuff should be inside for this topic:

  • One axe + 2-3 blaces (Without stick, to save space. Sticks can be crafted easily)
  • Shovel. Same as with axes, it's hard to break the shovel itself but the stick will break.
  • Pickaxe
  • Knives, several.
  • Grindstone
  • Woodsaw
  • Metalsaw + spare blades
  • Files in several cuts, can be used to craft new tools out of scrap. Files are some of the highest value tools of all due you can use them to craft almost any tool with them.
  • Wire. Universal reuse material.

Self defense

Situation overview:

People will try to raid your kids. While some people say a gun + ammo is not a good idea due ammo uses up, I think a gun is a very good idea. You kids should not use the gun for hunting or raiding, because ammo really uses up. But as self defense tool, a few hundred rounds will be enough. There is simply nothing else, that can defend you from raiders as good as a gun.

Also, setting up some traps and signs which say "Do not enter, we have guns and use them!" are a good idea.

What stuff should be inside for this topic:

  • Some pistols
  • Some hundred cartridges
  • Axes are already mentioned in tools
  • Some wire to set up traps

Info / How-to guides / ...

Situation overview:

Well, this is one of the biggest topics of all. Your kids will have to know how to plant crops, how to craft this or that, how to fish, how to build a shelter, how to repair stuff, ... Actually everything you can think about can be usefull and it's almost 100% sure that you can not think about everything they will need.

What stuff should be inside for this topic.

How to:

  • cultivate plants
  • craft tools
  • generate electricity to recharge the batteries (GPS)
  • craft gunpowder
  • build a shelter
  • sew
  • build traps for animals ...

Can't list it all and as I already wrote, you probably can't think about everything. Tell your kids, where they can get info. Where are libraries nearby?

And one point which is not be mentioned often enough, in my opinion:

  • Elaborate a chiffre. The kids will have to place some reminders for themselves, like the location of stuff they buried. No one else should be able to read these information.

But the most essential part of all:

Tell your kids how to behave!

To be stingy with everything that uses up.

To avoid conflict with other people whenever possible.

Hide stuff at several positions.

Set up honey pots. Dig holes and close them again, without putting something in. People will open some of these stashes and eventually give up and search somewhere else.

Don't trust others, unless you know them for at least several weeks or months.

  • $\begingroup$ Your TLDR was great - eg guns, instead of ammo, use guns that you can create your own ammo for, like old wild-west revolvers. Not modern fancy ones that need all kinds of precision tooling $\endgroup$
    – gbjbaanb
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 11:24
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I believe crafting tools section lacks an stitching awl. Being able to sew leather, rawhide, canvas, tarps and whatever is huge benefit hardly anyone realizes. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 0:05
  • $\begingroup$ Info/guides: How about a copy of the survivor library? ;) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 20:52

An axe. Lots of them, actually. I am serious. Axes are essential; one may survive having nothing else but. They are next best thing after a sliced bread fire. All the rest is like a fish instead of fishing pole. Well, handguns may support them for a while. Seeds will most likely perish, unless your character taught kids to farm for last 20 years.

As of books, I don't think they'd matter much. Kids wouldn't care, they have more immediate problems to attend. Lacking the greater cultural and educational context, their next generation just wouldn't understand what they are about.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ +1 for axes and (inadvertantly) fishing poles. @user58697, can an axe totally replace a bowey knife? Or would having one of each be better than having two axes? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 4:32
  • $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor (NP-)hard to explain. You essentially posed a knapsack problem (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knapsack_problem), which is NP-hard. I'd prefer two axes. A knife utility is very limited, while an axe is a most versatile tool I know. A knife is like a luxury; I can skin and part a game with an axe even though a knife makes it simpler. I could pack a knife if there were some spare space. $\endgroup$
    – user58697
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 4:54
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Better don't include "a lot" of axes, due they're very heavy and take a lot of space in the fridge. Better include "a lot" of axeblates, only 1-2 with stick. Additional some large nails. With an axe, several axeblades and some nails, you only have to find some sticks to build as many axes as you have blades. $\endgroup$
    – jawo
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 7:44
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Entrenching tools? Like a shovel-axe hybrid... $\endgroup$
    – SeanR
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 12:11

@Jim2B's answer is awesome so I'm just adding more thoughts. I've mentioned written material a lot and @user58697 is right that a book might not be the first thing someone with a problem picks up. That said, you can end up a lot of time on your hands waiting for the weather to change so in time I think they'll be useful. I'd hunt down low reading age texts and maybe include some children's books. I've got no idea whether it's practical to consider someone teaching themselves to read but at least give them a chance. A freezer chest is a good amount of space so you might as well plan for the long haul.

  • I'd skip the handguns, especially if they need different ammo to the rifle. Two identical rifles seems more useful. If you want to shoot someone and they're close enough that a handgun will work and a rifle won't then you're already in trouble. For that matter, a good hunting bow and instructions on making arrows will last you a lot longer and can be easier to hunt with (if you miss the first shot you haven't spooked your prey with the noise). Maybe lots of arrowheads.

  • Jim2B's point about field manuals reminds me of a post-apocalyptic story where a medical character had put away instructions for manufacturing his diabetic medicine from a sheep. Don't know if it was true or not but some basic emergency medical information intended for outback / military survival would be useful.

  • Include basic instructions with the whet stones.

  • Some medical supplies with instructions. Unfortunately what's really useful you probably can't get hold of over the counter and can be dangerous. That said, stuff like serious painkillers is always going to have value to someone and is going to disappear very quickly.

  • As well as general medical guides include some short manuals on pregnancy and caring for infants. What are the signs of serious problems, what can you ignore, what do you do about it. It will be tough to find guides written for amateurs but I assume that your character has time to hunt this stuff down.

  • A good set of binoculars?

  • Guides on what local plants are poisonous and what are edible. If you've got some foresight about how the apocalypse will change foraging behaviour (i.e., wind-borne radiation will make some foraging more harmful than others)

  • Instructions on how to skin and gut an animal and why some of the gross-looking bits are good for you. Include details like burying waste so as not to attract predators.

  • Hand tools. All of those garages full of power tools aren't going to be any good to you when you want to make something but a hand drill, chisel, handsaw, etc can make the job a lot easier. That depends on whether you'd expect to be able to forage those tools from the surrounding properties (all of this is strongly influenced by the setting of the story).

  • A net and some pictures on how to set it in a river. Fish hooks and line (good fishing line can serve many purposes).

  • A manual on servicing small motors? I'm thinking outboard motors for boats, motorcycle motors, generators, etc. I know it won't get read in a hurry but when something stops working having a manual you can hardly read is better than no manual.

  • I'm trying to work out if high-tech stuff like a GPS and a hand charger is useful or a hindrance. If you don't know how to navigate then a GPS with simple map-based path tracing can make it much easier to get home again. That said, a compass is harder to break and easier to use. On the same note a pair of radios can make it easier to coordinate but only really matter when you need two things to happen at the same time and if you've never seen one before you're most likely not to even know how to turn it on.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think the book you remember was "Lucifer's Hammer" by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle $\endgroup$
    – Alchymist
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 10:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ GPS - no guarantee it'd work after an apocalypse - It relies on satellites that are not guaranteed to work after an apocalyptic event. $\endgroup$
    – Miller86
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 12:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Miller86. Yes, I understand GPS (I used to write software for navigation devices) so remember that those satellites have a life time but no ground-based infrastructure. There's nothing about a zombie apocalypse, black plague or wide-spread ground war that will break the satellites. Nuclear war is probably the biggest satellite-killing possibility. That's the strange thing about the kind of self-powered, self managing technology we're starting to build now: it has more chance of surviving us than technology a decade or two older. $\endgroup$
    – christutty
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 3:18
  • $\begingroup$ I had no idea tat there was no ground based element to it! GPS is far more robust than I thought. $\endgroup$
    – Miller86
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 9:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Miller86 - Damn, now I've got to check my facts. There is definitely ground-based monitoring and control technology but my understanding was without that the satellites would continue to function but would gradually lose accuracy. However I can't find a reference to confirm this one way or the other. My bad $\endgroup$
    – christutty
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 7:03

I won't try to be exhaustive, just try to highlight some useful things I think have been overlooked.


I'd include the "guts" for one of these: Belt driven saw.

And here's a video of it in action

Maybe with a picture of the frame. Throw in a couple extra belts. Belt driven machinery has the advantage of being easy to implement with practically any power source that uses a flywheel - from a small engine to water wheel, and probably even nuclear fusion or zombies on a treadmill. Lumber can be traded easily. Watercraft other than rafts, for example, will require lumber of some type. Lumber makes better houses than logs, and is cheaper to produce. These old sawblades can also be hand sharpened many times, much like a chainsaw.

By providing a "template" machine, others could be made along the same principle. Most machines and factories 100 years ago ran on these devices. A couple examples: The blade could be replaced with a whetstone, or even a pair of grindstones for making various flours. Sure, it's not necessary, but after you dig a pit for a manual 2-man crosscut saw and use it for a while, you're going to wish your daddy had given you one of these.


Initially, survivors of a real apocalypse will forage for food stores. Once that runs out, they will be hunter-gatherers, so think of things that give them an edge.

Distance weapons with easily acquired ammunition: I think a compound bow. They can make arrows if the carbon-fiber broadheads get lost.

Provide a game cookbook. Seriously, spices will be available - and knowing how to cook a delicious armadillo will make other people value you more.

Traps and guides as discussed elsewhere would be useful. Maybe throw in a few calls for local wildlife.

Long term survival

For seeds, I'd suggest looking at what the native crops were in your area. Here (Vermont, USA), it was corn and squash. You know what does well in my garden? Corn and Squash.

Corn: Take your favorite GMO variety that's resistant to everything, grows in 2 months, and doesn't need water (or whatever grows well in your area). Make it an heirloom variety by saving the seeds from the parents with the characteristics you want for 7 generations. This process will help you to become intimately familiar with how your variety works, and you'll be able to provide detailed instructions on soil conditions and tips.

Squash: This is another place where a cookbook would be handy. 500lbs of zucchini later, you'll want as many recipes as you can find. I wouldn't bother with producing heirloom seeds for these, unless there's a particular blight or bug you need to resist. Sqampkins (squash-pumpkin hybrids) grow just fine on the compost pile. You might even give these a head start by planting a patch in an out-of-the-way area and letting them grow. Mark it on one of your maps.

Wild fruits: We have a blueberry mountain up here that has acres of wild blueberries. The only maintenance needed is to burn off the cover every few years. Mark such locations on your map, and plant a few hardy apple trees for good measure.

Medicine: Include a good wilderness medicine manual - while mentioned by others, I've read these two, and they're both good (and helpful even before the apocalypse). 1: Wilderness Medicine, Forgey, 2: Field Guide to Wilderness Medicine, Auerbach

  • $\begingroup$ Q said nitrogen gas, not liquid nitrogen. The idea being to prevent oxidization, not cooling. Strongly agree on the machinery. And at least diagrams for: lathe, drill press, router, mechanical hammer & anvil. Ideally parts too, though these could probably be left outside the freezer with no real problems. Diagrams of snares, and lots of good flexible wire for making them. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ Good catch Re: nitrogen. Editing. And I agree, it seemed that prep outside the freezer was likely more helpful than anything inside. I know of a nice stand of old apple trees near a road I used to live on. If there's an apocalypse, I'm going there in the fall and making buckets of apple sauce for my root cellar, along with some hard cider for trade. $\endgroup$
    – Josiah
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 22:41

Is this a "stay put and survive" cache or a "walk away and survive" cache? Or a bit of both?

  • No firearms. You won't be able to include enough ammo for training to use them in a high-stress situation.
  • Perhaps a steel crossbow? Or two?
  • Seeds? Including medical marijuana.
  • Compression firestarter. Perhaps an old-fashioned lighter that will take alcohol as fuel.
  • $\begingroup$ Of course. How could we forget the zippo lighter? $\endgroup$
    – christutty
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 7:20
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ What exactly shall the marijuana be good for? Painkiller? Better use optium. Long term threadement for cancer or such? You won't be able to determinate of you have cancer, at all. Useless. Best of what I can think about: Drugs should be awesome trading goods. For myself: Not useful. I'm not capable of handling situation while on marijuana. Same with opium of course, but opium kills any pain for sure, while marijuana does not. $\endgroup$
    – jawo
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 7:48
  • $\begingroup$ Good point @Sempie about trade. I was trying to think of useful trade goods and Maryjane fits the bill although, of course, not medical marijuana as that's designed to not get you high. $\endgroup$
    – christutty
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 8:39
  • $\begingroup$ Too late for edit; I meant "opium" of course, not "optimum". red poppy seeds are better I think. Opium is the better painkiller, and poppy is easier to cultivate then hemp. You don't have to select the female plants. If you miss to cut the male plants before they can mate, your entire yield is waste. However, seeds don't need a lot of space, so why not both? $\endgroup$
    – jawo
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 9:59

I would focus on items which will be impossible to manufacture post-apocalypse, because the industrial infrastructure will be gone. Interestingly, this does not include, for example, a hatchet or a knife; those can be manually manufactured from scrap iron which will be abundant. Also, if the chest is found the kitchen remains are found with it anyway. Knives (at least their blades) will survive being nuked.

Which tools are most valuable? Some precision tools; probably a generator (to be connected to a windmill built post-apocalypse), possibly some copper wire.

Edit: These days, probably a sturdy foldable camping solar panel. No moving parts, minimal maintenance, life time of decades if you can live with performance degradation and nobody breaks or steals it.

A few select items which need power. Which ones? Not sure. Possibly walky-talkies. The strategic advantage in a defense (or attack!) situation will be immeasurable. If taken good care of they may last for decades. What fails first are the batteries, but slower when cool and unused -- store replacements. Possibly provide means (lead, acid, acid production means) to produce car style batteries post apocalypse. It may also be wise stocking a few electronic parts (especially capacitors since these fail fastest).

Edit: Antibiotics will be invaluable and not only protect you yourself and yours, but also give you power over others (if you keep the stash location secret). Unfortunately most antibiotics have a limited shelf time (some years when kept cool). There doesn't seem to be a consensus out there how difficult it is to grow your own. You can always eat moldy bread and hope for the best, but that may just be your lynch pin if you are very sick already. I'd do test runs and self experiments, possibly with bought lab penicillium cultures. If I found a nice one I'd try to put spores in the stash. They may save lives even generations later.


In addition to some of the very good suggestions here are some overlooked items that would also be of high value in a near post-apocalyptic society:

Iodised salt - useful for bartering, preservation, flavouring, sterilisation, curing, and nutrition.

Sugar, tea and coffee - historically these have been highly desirable items in pre modern western societies (eg colonial America) and would be useful for bartering, flavouring or nutrition.

Anti-diarrhoea medication and worming tablets - diarrhoea is a major killer in third world countries, and worms another major problem.

Birth control pills - would be extremely valuable in a world where pregnancy is suddenly a lot more dangerous or undesirable.

Tampons / pads - not just convenient, but potentially life saving for women, and can substitute as bandages as well.

Sex education literature that is sex-positive and feminist - every teenager needs a proper sex educated! Imagine how much scarier and deranged sexuality is likely to be in a violent post apocalyptic society, A traumatised world is unlikely to spontaneously become a kinder more egalitarian one left to its own.

Books - require no technology to operate and preserve extremely well. Tomes should cover foundational topics including organic gardening and permaculture, bush survival skills, human anatomy, medicine, first aid, cooking basics, some highly valuable crafts (like carpentry, sewing, and leatherwork) general science books, general encyclopaedias, some history books, books on psychology covering trauma, group dynamics, and negotiation, general philosophy and law books.

An atlas and maps - seems self evident.

Some contemporary news magazines or newspapers to preserve the truth of what was happening in the lead up to events for future generations,

Paper, blank journals or notebooks, pencils and stationary including a compass and slide ruler - for note taking, documentation, and problem solving.

Family memorabilia - photos or family heirlooms to provide a sense of continuity and belonging for your children.

And some additional tools to consider - first priority would be a pair of decent steel scissors; a thermometer, Swiss Army Knives, backpacks, shoulder bags, pencil cases (essentialy purses), pins, pedal-powered sewing machine, trowels, tweezers...

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks @Womblet! Awesome additions. I've already written part of the story where the children find the treasure trove, but several of your ideas are too good to ignore, so I will be going back and making some changes. I especially like the family memorabilia. I currently have a nicely tear-jerking letter for the children, but some pictures and maybe a locket or grandfather's watch would really hammer the sentiment home. Thanks! $\endgroup$ Commented May 6, 2018 at 14:19

An important item no one seems to have mentioned is sturdy backpacks/hiking packs or other bags to carry all this equipment around in.

Books are heavy! But they are useless if they can't be easily carried away - can't guarantee the area around the chest will be safe.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .