Being prepared means acquiring a certain amount of gear. But all of this gear that we buy as preppers gets expensive, and quickly!
Tools, weapons, equipment, shelter supplies, clothing- it adds up fast and you could be looking at a small mountain of debt if you are buying high-end gear brand new from your local big-box outdoor or camping store.
So what is a prepper to do, caught between this financial rock and budgetary hard place? You don’t want to forgo essential supplies or equipment, but taking care of your finances is a necessary prep all unto itself.
You might be tempted to put it all on a credit card and brace yourself for that first payment or even pawn a lesser used organ. You could try a gun show or swap meet, but too many owners are too proud of their stuff and price it accordingly. It seems to be a dilemma.
But I have a solution, one that has worked for me time and time again. Check out garage sales. chances are you haven’t thought to investigate garage sales in and around your town for survival gear, but you would be surprised what kind of gear you can pick up for pennies on the dollar. This article will show you my top 10 picks for garage sale survival gear finds.
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Not New, But New to You!
Garage sales are a great way to pick up new gear. Well, not new new, but new to you! You might be wary of snagging any equipment or supplies that you plan on using in a life or death context in used condition, but don’t be.
Most of the things being sold at a garage sale are items that people barely used and no longer care to see accumulate dust in their garages, attics or closets, not stuff that has been beat the crap and they are trying to throw away while getting paid in the bargain.
This means that your typical garage sale find will likely be a little dusty and musty, but otherwise in good repair, or at least good enough repair that you can gain valuable capability while saving a bundle over a new item.
Furthermore, many of the things that we are searching for happened to have very long service lives if they have been given even a modicum of care.
That means you can usually buy with confidence so long as something isn’t obviously defective. A little TLC and it will be as good as new!
However, for certain items it definitely pays to know a little bit about what you are dealing with. Naturally, you shouldn’t expect any kind of return policy on anything you buy at a garage sale and though most people will inform you of any glaring defects, there’s always one or two Slick Willys out there who will try to dupe unwitting buyers. Caveat emptor!
With all that out of the way, let us get to our list.
10 Survival Items to Get at a Garage Sale
Hiking Packs and Rucksacks
Backpacks and other survival- or camping-centric luggage are some of my favorite items to nab from garage sales. Don’t be afraid to ask if the owners have any they are looking to get rid of aside from the usual assortment of moldy old gym bags and kids’ book bags.
It is easy to find quality army surplus, or even serious technical hiking packs with frames and all at garage sales. I once picked up an osprey backpack in mint condition for pennies on the dollar.
This is a great item to look for at garage sales because, like so many other things, the seller or even the entire family might decide to go whole hog into a hobby before giving it the old try and see.
Much of this gear will be in gently used or even like new condition as mentioned because, as it turns out, they just weren’t as into it as they were hoping. Their loss is your gain, and you can save hundreds of dollars on your luggage by acquiring it in this way.
If you have been out shopping for quality, rugged outdoor capable footwear here lately then you might still be suffering from a case of sticker shock.
Technical hiking boots and even lightweight trail shoes seem to have experienced precipitously climbing prices in these past few years and that means grabbing a pair for yourself could set you back several hundred dollars.
Even worse, depending on where and how you acquire them there might not be any recourse if it turns out they just don’t get along with your feet after you wear them a couple of times. That is money down the drain!
Happily, it is easy to find rugged, high quality boots at garage sales. Many folks will have hunting, hiking or camping boots that only have a little seasoning on them before they were resigned to the closet to live ever after.
So long as you can find a size that works for you and try them on you shouldn’t be afraid to get some used boots, assuming they aren’t too battered.
Even if they look a little worse for the wear, look closer. Many traditional boots that have replaceable soles or lugs can be refreshed by a skilled cobbler very cheaply, making them effectively like new for you!
Another one of my favorite buys at a garage sale are blankets, specifically wool blankets like our great grandparents used to use and that many militaries still issue to their troops for keeping warm in the field.
We aren’t looking for traditional comforters or thin, wimpy blankets that women are so fond of draping artistically and haphazardly over one arm of the couch. We want heavy, thick genuine wool!
Though these blankets used to be a dime a dozen back when more textiles used wool for a variety of purposes, they have started to go the way of the dodo and are turning into what is basically a bespoke item with prices to match.
I don’t much like the idea of shelling out a couple hundred dollars on a wool blanket, even though I will if I have to. That’s because wool is incredibly insulating and will keep you warm even when it is soaking wet.
You’ll be thrilled to get this kind of performance far cheaper if you cruise the garage sales in your town looking for these old fashioned but still eminently useful blankets
Living, working and surviving outdoors or in the aftermath of any event that takes away our climate control systems means that protecting yourself from the effects of exposure is Paramount.
If you are fortunate enough to live in one of the relatively few places that enjoys balmy warm weather around the clock year in and year out, I’m happy for you.
But for the rest of us regular Earth people we probably live in a place that is either cold or a place that gets cold in the appropriate seasons. Adding some wind and wet weather and the stage is set for rapid onset hypothermia.
Your first line of defense against exposure is warm clothing. There is no shortage of frankly miraculous technical garments that are incredibly light, durable and very warm in all sorts of weather conditions but they cost a pretty penny.
Large, warm parkas, weatherproof shells, sweaters and more are commonly up for grabs at garage sales and will work just as well when purchased used for a quarter of the price as they will fresh out of the package with that weird factory smell.
As always, try it on before you take it home but if you can grab some quality cold weather clothing at a garage sale, rejoice!
Tents and Camping Gear
Tense and other associated camping items are perennial offerings at garage sales from coast to coast.
Plenty of folks by tents and other camping gear with big, pie in the sky dreams of idyllic family outings at various parks and beautiful wilderness vistas. Trips full of storytelling, roasting marshmallows and bird watching.
After the first few miserable forays full of frayed nerves, mysterious sounds, terrible sleep and legions of biting insects the romance is stone, cold dead and the tent goes up for sale.
Modern tents specially are one of those items that is an excellent option for snagging at a garage sale since quality examples are getting so gosh darn expensive at retailers.
Whatever tent you have available, it pays to give it a thorough going over to make sure it is not moldy, suffering from torn or pop stitching or missing those ever critical components of the frame.
So long as you know a little bit about these systems in general, you should be able to grab your new tent for a song and the owner will thank you for it.
Cast Iron Cookware
Surviving isn’t all about shelter and weaponry. Other basic needs must be met, like procuring and preparing food.
Preparing food especially can be challenging since most survival situations will not allow you the use of a fully equipped and energized modern kitchen. However, many of your kitchen tools that don’t rely on electricity will still be useful, and perhaps none more than any cast iron cookware you might have.
Cast iron cookware is durable, adaptable and supremely versatile, capable of being used in the oven, on the stove top, on the grill or over a campfire with equal ease.
One of the best sources of high quality, used cast iron cookware is garage and yard sales. most folks, even folks who don’t do a lot of their own cooking or disdain the use of these heavy, brutish implements will still have a supply of it, usually handed down lovingly from grandparent, to parent and finally to child.
Cast iron is surprisingly expensive when purchased new, and obtaining it from antique stores means you’ll be paying prices according to what the proprietor knows it is worth, but you can get it for a song at a garage sale.
Fishing Poles and Tackle
Fishing is a time-honored recreational activity and a useful survival skill in equal measure. It is unfortunate, then, that so much fishing tackle and especially reels and rods have gotten so expensive and oftentimes don’t measure up against older stuff that your granddad used.
Also, like so many hobbies, many people jump in with both feet only to lose enthusiasm or discover that it just isn’t for them.
Many more have to regretfully give up the hobby when other responsibilities take precedence and they don’t have as much time to get out on the shore or out on the water like they used to.
Naturally, fishing rods, reels and entire crates full of lures and other tackle will be up for sale at the neighborhood garage sale. This is the perfect time to completely get yourself out for a fraction of the cost that you could expect at a direct retailer.
Fishing is not that complicated on the equipment side, but it definitely pays to know what you are looking at and understand the condition of the rod and reel.
You don’t want to buy a piece of junk on its last legs at any price, so bring someone with you who knows their stuff if you are uncertain.
Battery powered personal light sources are great, but they are limited by your ability to recharge them. This necessitates access to a functioning electrical grid or the use of slow, cumbersome solar chargers in the case of a rechargeable.
If you want dependable, on demand lighting that is free from dependence upon electricity, it is time to look into liquid fueled lanterns. kerosene and alcohol fueled lanterns have been around for a very long time, and are indeed the primary light source in many places around the world to this very day.
You can buy modern iterations for a pretty penny, or save yourself a bundle by picking up vintage but still entirely useful models by the cart load at your average garage sale.
Especially prevalent in the American South and Midwest, many such lanterns are family heirlooms, handed down from generation to generation until somebody gets tired of watching them collect dust in the garage.
A little bit of sprucing up, a new wick or element and a load of fuel and they are ready to push back the shadows once again.
Another one of my favorite garage sale finds are tools of all description. It is funny how people accumulate tools over time.
Professional tool users will completely festoon their garages and personal workshops with them for professional or hobby related reasons, while the rest of us slowly, surely seem to acquire a collection over time that fills up that one junk drawer in our kitchen or a toolbox placed haphazardly under the sink.
Eventually, there must be a reckoning and these surplus tools are invariably laid out for sale in garages and on driveways across America.
Lucky for you it is possible to score some real bargains on high quality options. Especially hand tools like axes, hatchets, hammers and saws can be found as antique contrivances that are really high performance implements in waiting.
Compared to buying modern, mass produced options made from pig iron out of such places as china, you’d be far better off getting an heirloom quality version and doing a little restoration.
Bows and Crossbows
Conventional bows and crossbows are excellent weapons for discreetly procuring big game, and can even be handy for self-defense in a pinch when firearms are unavailable or just too loud.
Modern examples of either are especially effective at impressive ranges and crossbows in particular can produce genuinely frightening penetration and accuracy. Trust me when I say these are survival tools that everyone should embrace and learn to use.
As you might expect, this performance comes at a price tag, at least it does if you buy new. But like so many other recreational and outdoor items that are on this list many such weapons will wind up looking for a new home at a local garage sale once the spell woven by the “Good Idea fairy” wears off.
Similar to fishing rods and other tackle, it is beneficial if you know at least a little bit about what you are shopping for and what you are looking at before acquiring a garage sale bow or crossbow. Be sure to bring an expert friend or relative with you if you don’t!
Buying survival gear can get really expensive, really fast. But you don’t have to drop a fortune and you don’t have to settle for cheap, inadequate equipment if you know how to find bargains at your local garage and yard sales.
Quite a few survival centric tools and other items can be had at these sales and for pennies on the dollar compared to the cost of new items.
Next time you see one of those tacky little signs on the corner, take the time to spin by and browse the selection. You’ll probably be glad you did.
In addition to being a huge knife-nut, and good at shooting a bow, Greg has been farming ever since he was a little kid. He’s also a camping and hiking enthusiast.