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Scrapyard Scavenging: Prioritizing Value in an Urban Wasteland

Posted by on 2012/05/08

We’ve all played the game where people use bottlecaps as currency, seen the movie where they kill each other over a few quarts of gasoline, watched the TV show where a flattened out paperclip and a stick of gum prevented a disaster, and read the book where you know everyone is going to die but they keep walking south anyway.

If you’re wandering the cracked earth wasteland, while the remains of a collapsed civilization collect dust at the edges of the horizon, breathing in toxic dust and humping all your worldly shit; you’d probably rather not be a hoarder. If you’re dodging through the shattered asphalt nightmare that used to be Atlanta or Chicago, or wherever, hiding from the mutant cannibals, or the werewolf ninjas, you can’t be clanging and jangling with keys, chains, riot gear, and a full toolbox.

Since we have to combine being well prepared with maintaining our agility, we want to restrain ourselves from picking up everything that looks remotely useful and concentrate on consolidation. The more functions a single tool can serve, the more valuable the tool. Obviously, the most valuable tool you have is the time at your disposal at this very minute that can be safely spent preparing, training, and learning new skills. Your most effective tools will change depending on how well you know how to use them.

Most of us might see a flathead screwdriver as a potential weapon or a prybar, but those of us who used to drive a 1988 cutlass sierra know that it can also be used as a key for most pre-2000 cars, and few things are better for opening cans of paint, or spreading pistons while changing brake pads, popping caps off beer bottles, or spearing cork out of a wine bottle, actually, flathead screwdrivers are kind of handy, huh? I’m getting off subject.

The reason why I limit the SWK to 5 unique items is because it’s an exercise in prioritization, which is as valuable a skill as water filtration and fire starting.

Ideally, your tools will fulfill one or more of five needs, 1 being the least important, and 5 being the most.
1. Self Defense (knife, gun, crowbar, mannequin torso)
2. Gaining access to structures (Crowbar, lock-pick, grappling hook)
3. Fabrication (Duct tape, pliers, green lantern ring)
4. Primal need (water filtration/storage, thermal underwear, pornography)
5. Indispensable reliance (Antibiotics, cigarette lighter, salt tablets)

For example, a crowbar is both a good self defense tool, and a good access tool so it is more valuable than a tool that might only fulfill one need, but as it cannot be considered an indespensible reliance, you’d toss it to make room for a bottle of penicillin. The reason that self defense is prioritized so low is because a variety of sturdy tools can be used for self defense, and the most reliable self defense tool you have is your ability to avoid conflict. With the right fabrication tool, you could improvise a deadly weapon; but most of the time improvising a tool using a weapon will damage the integrity of the weapon.

Breaking it down to its simplest measure of utility, here are three questions you can ask yourself about a potential addition to your pack while rummaging through an urban junkyard. If your find scores 2/3, you should probably pick it up.

1. Does this tool fulfill a need that none of my other equipment can replicate?
If you’re constantly running into obstacles that you could overcome using the tool, and none of the other tools in your pack can do the job, then you can add a ‘point’ to the keep category.

2. Does this tool justify the weight it adds to my pack?
While a sledgehammer makes a handy fabrication tool, weapon, and door-buster; it’s 15 pounds you don’t want to be lugging around on a 5 mile hike; unless you’re in a world populated by basalt-boned zombies that can only be overcome by a crushed cranium. If it’s heavier than it is useful, add a point to the ditch category.

3. Does this tool have added value beyond it’s intended use?
A bottle of painkillers is going to be useful when you’re trying to make distance and you’ve got a bruised foot, but it’s going to be a great bartering tool as well. If the tool has a variety of auxiliary uses, then definitely stick a point in the keep category (i’m looking at you, fixed blade knife).

In an urban wasteland, you’re going to be bombarded by the availability of consumer goods, knowing how to decide what to keep and what to ditch is almost as important as knowing how to use the crap you’ve got.

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