This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I'll earn a small fee at no extra cost to you.*
If you’re interested in preparedness, flea markets and thrift stores can be goldmines. Every day, people clean out their garages or attics and give away things they don’t want, completely unaware that many of the items they donate are valuable to preppers. These items end up in secondhand stores and can often be purchased for a fraction of what they would cost new. You just have to be patient and search.
Below you’ll find a list of items you should look for, especially if you’re a prepper on a budget.
1. Boots are expensive brand new, but you can often find them for under 10 bucks a pair in thrift stores. They don’t have to be pretty, but you do want them to be water tight. Inspect the boots and look for tears in the sole. You can always buy shoelaces and waterproof spray. Having several pairs of boots stashed away ensures you’ll always have a dry pair to put on.
2. Winter gear is always readily available at secondhand stores. Hats, coats and gloves are very affordable at these places and even cheaper in the summer months. Snowsuits are also an excellent find. Keeping several pairs of gloves for each member of the household and a couple of coats and hats will ensure you are ready for anything.
3. Cookware like cast iron skillets is a boon if you can find them. It holds its value pretty well, but you can still save twenty bucks or more. Look for other cookware that can be used over a fire pit, too.
4. Candles can be found by the bag. There’s no need to get full, unused candles. It is a fairly simple project to melt the candles down and pour them into a jar with a wick for one large candle. You could also burn the half-used candles; light is light.
5. Manual kitchen tools like can openers, meat grinders and even grain mills can be found as well. The meat and grain grinders can be very expensive when bought new, but you can find them for under fifty bucks at a thrift store or even cheaper in many cases. Sometimes these things are missing crucial pieces, and you may need to go online to find them, but it will still save you a small fortune.
6. Blankets are cheap and easy to find. Look for wool blankets which are very useful in the dead of winter when you don’t have power. You can never have too many blankets. They are versatile and you can impart some goodwill by giving away a blanket to someone who doesn’t have one. If you are dealing with a pandemic, you will want to burn any blankets that were used by the ill. A nice supply ensures you have enough to go around.
7. Camping gear is another thing that people often give away while having no idea how much some people will pay for them. Tents, spare stakes, camp stoves, and on and on. This is the stuff that makes a prepper squeal with glee.
8. Lanterns are not quite as easy to come by, but you can find them. Packs of mantles are often tossed onto a shelf because the thrift store people and the folks who donated them don’t know what they are. Oil or battery-powered lanterns are a definite must-have.
9. Tools like hammers, screwdrivers and wrenches are also a necessity. As you know, these things tend to walk off so having extras is important. You will be doing a lot of hands-on work after a disaster and you need tools to get it done. Look for buckets of nails and screws as well.
10. Fishing gear is super cheap at the secondhand stores. Rods, reels, tackle boxes and various tackle can be purchased in big lots for under a buck or two. How many times have you gone fishing and come back with every hook, piece of bait and line? You can never have too much.
11. Hunting gear like camouflage clothing and such is another thing that gets kicked to the thrift stores when somebody decides they don’t want to it anymore. Oftentimes, the hunter discarding the items barely used the gear. And because it is in such high supply, you can get it super cheap in the off months.
12. Buckets and barrels can often be found sitting in backyard areas or outside the thrift stores. These items are for sale (and usually very cheap), but they don’t fit inside. Any vessel that will hold or carry water that you can add to your stash is a good thing.
13. Food preservation supplies like canning jars, dehydrators and food sealers are a must. Don’t pay new prices when you can buy them used and in good working condition. It doesn’t matter if the items are in a box or not, as long as they work.
14. Back packs are cheap and plentiful in flea markets. You can put together several go bags with inexpensive packs. You may even be able to find a nice hiking pack. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time.
15. Flashlights are another item that is easy to find at thrift stores. If you can buy several for a dollar, you are golden. You can also find some of the larger, industrial flashlights if you are lucky.
16. Radios are fairly cheap at thrift stores as well. Having a couple small, portable radios on hand is going to be a must. If there’s a disaster, you’ll need to listen to the radio to get news about what is happening around you.
17. Board games, cards and books will keep you entertained when there is no power. You can find tons of them at flea markets, and they’re very cheap. Buy plenty to make sure you always have something new and exciting to offer the kids.
18. Gardening supplies like shovels, rakes and manual tillers are a lucky find. You will absolutely need shovels for a variety of tasks, including digging latrines. Have several in case one breaks. If you find tools that are not in the best shape, a little duct tape or a new handle can make them good as new.
19. Towels or rags can be bought by the bag in most cases. Towels can be used to clean up, or you can roll them up and put them under a door to block an air draft or seal a room if needed. Towels can be used to make slings, or even a stretcher. They can be used as bandages as well. A stockpile of towels and rags is worth having. If you can get them for a couple bucks, jump at the chance.
20. Wood cutting equipment like chainsaws and axes is a good find. You may need to do a little work on the chainsaw, but if you can make it run, you are in good shape. Ax handles are often tossed on a shelf without anybody realizing what they are.
21. Yards of fabric are often donated to thrift stores after grandmothers pass away or mothers give up sewing. Fabric can be used to make clothes, make curtains for a new shelter, or repair current clothing items. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just needs to be functional.
22. Sewing supplies like needles, thread, spare buttons and even zippers are a great find. You can use the gear for fishing, making baskets, suturing wounds and repairing clothing. The more needles and thread you can collect, the better off you will be.
23. Medical equipment like crutches, a wheelchair, walkers and so on are nice to have stashed away if you have the room. Imagine trying to get around with a sprained ankle without the luxury of crutches. These are often found at the hospice thrift stores for very little money.
24. Knives are taken for granted today. In a post-apocalyptic world, you’ll need a lot of them. If they break, get too dull, or get lost, you’ll be in trouble. Having lots of backups ensures you can cut meat, defend yourself, and hunt if needed. Look for sharpening stones as well.
25. Rain gear like boots, ponchos and slickers will keep you dry on the days you have to be outside. Buy these whenever you see them if the price is right. They do tend to get torn if you are walking through heavy trees or past fences.
These are just some of the things you want to look for when hitting flea markets and thrift stores. When you are browsing the shelves, keep an open mind and think about how you can make an item work for you. You are not going to find all of these things at every store on every visit. You have to be diligent and visit often and prepare to do some digging.