When you take up prepping as a lifestyle, you’ll find there is always something you need. It seems like that shopping list grows and grows until it stretches to the horizon: equipment, provisions, training, land, gear, weapons.
There is always some weakness you can shore up, some vulnerability you can eliminate or some scenario you can better prepare yourself for. If you are doing it right, that means a never ending cycle of self-improvement and self-investment.
One teeny, tiny little problem though – all of this costs money! Since most of us are not lottery winners, trust fund babies, or completely and utterly financially independent, it means you have to watch your nickels, and constantly keep your eyes peeled for a good deal.
It is easy to drop two or even three mortgage payments worth of cash on carts full of brand new, out of the box survival gear at your local big box store, but clever preppers know that money is a resource unto itself and will work to stretch their dollars as far as they can.
For that reason, you’d be wise to look at alternative venues for acquiring worthwhile survival gear. One place that is chronically overlooked, in my estimation, is the humble garage sale.
You never know what people are holding on until they are getting rid of it, and anytime you see that sign on the corner or in the driveway it is worth pulling over to take a quick look.
You might find some like-new gear or gently used items that are entirely serviceable. In this article we’ll be sharing with you 10 survival items you can score at garage sales.
At least where I live it is a rarity you’ll ever go to a garage sale where there is not a tent up for grabs.
For most Americans, the tent represents a strange sort of recreational passage.
Invariably, after a visit from the Good Idea fairy, one member of the family thinks that a camping trip will be the very summit of outdoor fun, and are quickly bitten by the romantic notion of camping out in the middle of pristine wildlands to take in some fresh air and scenic sights.
The reality of camping will usually brutally stamp out these romantic notions in fairly short order. Commercialized, high-volume campgrounds are often even noisier and less pleasant than the suburbs or apartments these poor people have fled.
Actually camping, really heading out into the wilderness to camp, involves a fair bit of skill, ingenuity and more than a little bravery, all of which typically find themselves in short supply after the first, aborted attempt.
After one or perhaps two of these misadventures, the family relegates the tent to an out of the way closet or some nook or cranny in the garage where it will languish until they invariably conduct spring cleaning to get rid of it.
That is where you will find it, dusty and disused, laying out in the driveway ready to be picked up. It is possible to get a good deal on surprisingly serviceable tents at garage sales, but take pains that you verify all of the necessary parts are included in the frame of the tent, if applicable.
Missing even one of them could make it unusable, and you definitely don’t want to go looking for an OEM part for an older but otherwise serviceable tent.
#2. Cold Weather Gear
Cold weather clothing is another perennial item at most garage sales, assuming of course you live in a place that regularly endures harsh winter weather.
There are all kinds of reasons people sell their old cold weather gear, including aging, fluctuating weight, changing styles or just clearing out the old and cobwebby part of their wardrobe that they no longer use.
Whatever the case, this wardrobe redo is your gain when it comes to warm clothing and you should definitely expect to score some sweaters, coats and even parkas at local garage sales.
If you are really lucky, they might even have some awesome military surplus items for sale, like the fantastic U.S. M68 series coat.
Don’t forget to keep an eye out for more specialized winter gear also, like overalls, mittens and things like that.
You don’t need to worry too much about the overall state of the clothing so long as it is in obviously good repair and it fits you.
If it is seriously grungy or smelly, negotiate the price even lower and then you can give it a good wash with some OxiClean or similar detergent additive to beat the stench.
I have never been to one, single garage sale that did not feature a small mountain of cookware as the marquee item. You’ll find everything from vintage cast iron to Grandma’s hideously ugly mustard yellow casserole pan, and everything in between.
You would be well served to check out the aforementioned cast iron as dependable “kitchen to field” ware but also keep an eye out for lightweight, portable vessels that are suitable for inclusion into your field or bug-out cutlery kit.
As always, check it over for condition and don’t be afraid to haggle. Most people are having a garage sale to free up space, not to make a fortune, and they’ll be happy to see you leave with it.
Your biggest problem and looking for cookware at a garage sale well actually be beating the legion of old ladies to the drop.
Cast iron, earthenware, and other similar pieces are high on their priority list when they are cruising weekend garage sales, so you’ll need to get up early and get there before they do if you want the choice picks.
Every prepper understands the value of a reliable and reusable ranged weapon, not only for self-defense but also as a tool for bagging animals in order to add fresh, wild caught fair to their pantries during a survival situation.
A great tool for the task, so long as you’ve got the skills to use it, is a bow and it just so happens that bows often turn up at garage sales.
It might seem like a strange inclusion, but it makes sense in context.
Bows regularly appear after a member of the family, or members, that hunt get over or give up on using bows as a regular part of the hunting season. Sometimes, a child or adult takes up archery as a fulfilling pastime, and then moves on to other endeavors.
Whatever the reason, these bows are not typically taken to an archery shop and traded or consigned, so they wind up hanging out in the closet or in the garage until one day far in the future they are put out for sale at the garage sale you are now visiting.
Like any complex tool, it pays to know what you are looking at when considering a bow at a garage sale, and if you don’t have the necessary know-how phone up a friend or relative that does and take them along or just call them.
You might score a great deal on a bow of any kind, but if it needs substantial repairs, adjustment or parts replacement it will have eaten up any savings that you netted. Crossbows especially require a skilled and nuanced appraisal before you pull the trigger- literally!
For many garage sale goers, especially men, the single greatest prizes that might be on offer are the hand tools. Saws, pliers, hammers, vise grips, screwdrivers, ratchets, sockets, wrenches, shovels and so, so much more.
Especially garage sales hosted by older folks are likely to have a goodly selection of these hand tools because they can no longer use them. If they don’t have any relatives, or just any relatives that want them, they’ll be ready and waiting for a new home.
This is a great way to save a literal fortune on tools, and even better you will regularly find tools of surpassing quality compared to the cheap, imported junk we are forced to endure today.
Vintage sledgehammers, axes, hammers and other tools made 60, 70 or even 80 or more years ago were made to last, literal heirloom grade, and once you restore and use one of these beauties you’ll understand what you have been missing all this time.
Even better, it is possible to obtain these tools for pennies on the dollar, and even if you are unlucky and don’t run into any of these prestigious versions you are still likely to save a pretty penny on more mundane versions, so mission accomplished either way.
Also, if you don’t notice any tools out for sale, don’t be afraid to ask the proprietor for any that you might be looking for. Many tools languish in the garage or shed tucked away out of sight and out of mind, and it is possible that they simply forgot about them in the interim.
Everybody that has ever visited a garage sale has seen the ranks of shoes and boots sitting lonely, waiting for their new owners to come by. Among the skanky lawn care sneakers, children’s shoes, ill-advised fashion footwear and others you are likely to find a few sets of boots.
With a little luck, you’ll find a set of old-school, heavy duty work or field boots (the kind that can be resoled) cowboy boots or perhaps even a pair of technical hiking boots.
Any and all of them certainly have merit for preppers, for various reasons and in various situations and any quality pair of boots is usually made to a standard where you can depend on them to last, and last and last despite how scuffed up or rugged they may look.
Considering the cost of new boots, especially new boots made in the “old ways”, with a little luck, if you find a garage sale pair in your size, you might have a new set of kicks that can take you all the way to and through the Apocalypse.
Remember; don’t despair if your prospective boot purchase looks a little thin on tread so long as it has a sole that can be replaced.
A quick trip to the cobbler, a few bucks for new soles and inserts, and an easy shine job and your “new” boots will probably look spectacular and feel even better!
#7. Bags and Packs
If there is one thing that every prepper could be said to have a fetish for it is luggage. Backpacks, rucksacks, bags, totes, satchels, pouches, and all the rest.
Preppers love things that you can put other things in. This is with good reason, of course, and I am speaking in jest.
Sturdy bags play a huge part in most prepper’s overall state of readiness, serving as the core of the quintessential bug-out bag system, and also helping them to stay ready and organized for other situations and contexts.
Much like tents mentioned above, many folks get a hiking backpack or some other large and ungainly pack only to see it fall out of service after a relatively short period of time before winding up on the yard sale table.
This is a great opportunity to nab a pack at a bargain price, especially if you are otherwise unconcerned with color.
But even if you aren’t looking for your next bug-out bag there are other bags and packs that regularly crop up at garage sales you might make use of for different purposes.
A small backpack, or satchel, could serve admirably as your everyday carry pack, or go-bag, a sort of miniaturized BOB that accompanies you whenever you leave the house or take off in your vehicle. Even duffel bags, tool bags and the like all have their place in a prepper’s repertoire.
#8. Fishing Gear
Fishing gear is often an excellent addition to your contingency preps since fish, of all kinds, are an excellent and comparatively easy to catch food source compared to much other wild game so long as you have the right tools and a little bit of skill.
It is a happy coincidence then that fishing poles, reels, tackle boxes, lures and all the other accoutrement required for a day on the water are virtually ubiquitous at most garage sales.
Even if you aren’t much of a fisherman, you can make a great argument for adding a fishing pole and functioning real to your stash since you never know when you might have to depend on it.
Who knows, in the meantime you might develop a new and rewarding hobby and develop your angling skills at the same time? Hard to argue with that proposition, and time spent on or near the water is usually extremely enjoyable, even when the fish aren’t biting.
Fishing poles, assorted lures, tackle boxes, and the like are usually obviously functional or defective even to the untrained eye, but a little more expertise is required to assess the functionality of a given reel.
If in doubt, make sure you get a good deal or bring along a friend who knows their way around a fishing rod.
You don’t need me to tell you what you’ll need blankets for in a survival situation, and you’ll be able to find plenty of them at garage sales.
However, we are actually on the prowl for a very specific kind of blanket, one that is not entirely common these days, and if you do manage to track them down, they always cost several hundred dollars. I am talking about old fashioned wool blankets.
Even if you hate them because they are perceived to be scratchy, wool is an amazing survival fabric, one that is able to keep you warm even when it is soaking wet.
Blankets made from wool used to be entirely common way back, but as time, textiles and technology have marched on, they have been rendered into something of a novelty, if not an outright dinosaur.
The fact of the matter is, wool provides performance that scarce few modern fabrics can match.
You should be on the lookout for wool or mostly-wool blend blankets. This could take the form of a family heirloom that somebody’s grandma painstakingly made, or army or even hospital/sanitarium surplus.
If you can get these for anything approximating a good price, grab them and run. Make sure you look them over really good before you pull the trigger, because the wool is now, as always, vulnerable to moths and certain other creepy crawlies.
Classic camping lanterns are another excellent prep, and they hold up well even today up against battery powered flashlights and headlamps. Liquid-fueled lanterns are adaptable, provide plenty of light, and can be easily dialed down to save fuel or provide only as much light as you need.
Especially keep your eye out for kerosene fueled lanterns, as kerosene is a versatile, stable and useful survival fuel even if it is not particularly common in most urban and suburban areas these days.
You might be banking on electric powered lights and lanterns for the duration, but you’d be wise to have a backup option that utilizes a different fuel source just in case.
Many times, lanterns of this type will be sort of a knock-around family “heirloom” that has migrated from place to place until being relegated to the bottom of the closet or the back of the garage, but sometimes they are an accompaniment to various other sorts of camping and outdoor gear as described throughout this article.
Give the lantern a once-over, and see if the proprietor can demonstrate that it works before you commit, but generally you’ll find these things so cheap you’ll rarely go wrong on them.
As a prepper you’ll always have plenty of gear to buy, and if you want to save a few bucks on your acquisitions you might try your luck at any local garage sales you pass.
There are plenty of survival items that can be had cheaply and often in surprisingly good condition if you are willing to put in just a little bit of extra time looking around.
Remember that one person’s old junk could be your new and treasured crap! Have a gander at your local garage sales and see what you come up with.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.
6 thoughts on “10 Survival Items You Can Score at Garage Sales”
I have an extra “little” tent I added to gear just kept in a car. In the past two years I’ve picked up free fishing poles and accessories, 2 bowsaws and one extra blade, two beat up mess kits and enameled plates and cups, a small welding kit, a bench grinder, a 5lb vise still “new” in the box, and assorted tools including 2 axes, maul, wedges, 2 sledgehammer, wood, a battery charger, and other camp gear. Then much more picked up at little cost including 2 fiberglass long bows. One needs a new bow string. A treadle sewing machine needing some repairs to the drawers and the long leather strap put back on. I ordered a new one cheap on ebay as a spare.
There are few yardsales out here but when I have to go to town I look for adds or Craigslist items. Always check the free things first. It’s not unusual to get more that just the one free listed item.
Great advice. Items we’ve already been gathering, but with a big family, more could always be necessary.
Along with the kerosene lamps, may I suggest candles and of course a couple of candle holders. Where I live I sometimes find the long taper kind very cheap, as low as ten for $1 and their holder $.50 . The fat ones of course are a little more.
My Dad talked about growing up along the jim river in sd in the 30’s, and he remembers his folks going to town 1928 with a pocket full of cash ( Dad’s version ) and coming home with a wheelbarrow full of grocies and then after the crash of 1929, he would tell about going to town for grocies and his folks would be paying with a wheelbarrow full of cash and getting a bag of grocies in return. This is or was my Dad’s version of how things were. But back then there were more people living in the country and less in the towns and cities. Now it is just the opposite. What is it going to be like now, good question, only time will tell.
#1 Tip for any newbie garage sale pickers >>> don’t be shy about asking if there’s more – if you see the tangent telltale signs of prepper items – there could be a whole lot more that is available but didn’t make the sale – happens ALLLL the time ….
I likely would never go for the “cheap” water filter that you bought at a low price. As we all know, water is very important for survival! No water, limited capabilities and illness/death in a few days! A water filter is surely one thing you shouldn’t buy cheap. Your life depends on it!