When Is It Okay to Join the Looters?

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Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from Benjamin Burns. Benjamin discusses a subject that I have written about in the past and it always creates controversy. Most of us view looting from the lens of a society that is largely still functional. We see images of real-life looting (theft) on TV fairly often and almost universally, these actions are not necessary to preserve life. People steal items of convenience or luxury for no reason other than to take and use the chaos as an excuse to enrich themselves at the expense of someone else. I can draw a distinction between stealing TV’s when my sports team loses and stealing food from a grocery store after an earthquake has leveled the town but anyway you look at it, you are stealing. There are many arguments on both sides of this issue and I am sure readers will share their thoughts in the comments below on whether or not you feel it is ever okay to join the looters.


Disclaimer. I am not telling you to go out and steal! This article is simply theoretical. I have not stolen, rioted or looted. I am only basing this article on research I have done. I think that looting is the worst way to survive a disaster and should be only done as a last resort!

Looting has played a factor after almost every disaster. We’ve all seen the videos of looters running out of big name stores with TVs. The picture of a New Orleans police officer stealing boxes of shoes or of stores that are completely cleaned out after a disaster. If you do a simple internet search, you can find pictures of shop owners holding guns, machetes or sticks and staring down crowds. Have you ever stopped to think about being one of the looters?

I want to make something very clear. I’m not talking about protesters or rioters. However you exercise your freedom of speech or show your disagreement with a situation is none of my concern. (Unless you’re an idiot that likes to block the road during protest, in that case you can go to hell) I’m talking about plain and simple looting. I define looting as using a disaster to steal things. The people who steal during riots, like in Missouri are nothing more than thugs.

If you look at most disaster related looting, you will see that people take stuff that they want, not what they need. People want flat screen TVs, liquor, high dollar clothes and narcotics. You see some people getting diapers and food but not a lot. Most people plan on getting food from the government, churches and volunteer groups. They don’t even think about the possibility that people won’t help them out. They assume that food, water and medicine will always be provided. If you’re reading this, you know that isn’t the case. You know that you may be the only person that you can count on to provide the things you truly NEED to stay alive.

In the past I’ve watched looters, on TV, and wondered what I would do in that situation. Honestly, my plan is to stay inside and ride it out. I keep enough supplies that I don’t have to go out. We’re going to assume that you are caught off guard with no supplies at all and no hope of any help. What are the things you need? Where should you go for supplies? What situations will you face?

The most important things are food and water. Once people realize that help isn’t coming, grocery stores will be empty within a few hours. That is where you should start. If you’re going to loot, go all in. Get a shopping cart and fill it with ESSENTIALS! Pile it as high as you can. Remember, looting one loaf of bread won’t do you any good. You’re looting to survive for possibly a few months. Stay away from the frozen crap. I love a good T-bone steak but those won’t last without refrigeration and might already be spoiled. Get the dry stuff. Stuff cans and drinks into the cart. Fill your pockets with hard candy and lighters from around the registers. Carry your biggest backpack and fill it up. If you have to ditch your cart, you can at least get away with a full backpack. Make your looting worth the risk you will be taking.

A father with starving children will not play by the rules in a collapse.

A father with starving children will not play by the rules in a collapse. Will you?

You’ve got food and water, now what? Do you have medicine? Are you or someone in your home dependent on a certain daily prescription? If so, that needs to be next on your list. What about medical supplies? Do you want to fight the flu, without medicine, while trying to survive? Grab all of the bandages, braces and iodine that you can carry. Get migraine medicine. Do you get heartburn? You better get antacid. Now for the hard part. It may sound wrong but you need some narcotics. Have you ever suffered from a toothache? What about a broken bone or a severe burn. Imagine having no pain medication. Do you have a supply of antibiotics? These are things that you will need and that you should loot.

Now you have looted a few months of food and hopefully all of the medical supplies that you will need. Next you can focus on long-term supplies. It’s time to go to your local hardware store. Seeds will be worth their weight in gold and most people will realize that after it’s too late. While you’re there, throw a generator in your cart. You might as well loot a way to run some power. Some hardware stores will have home defense items that you should gladly loot. Once again, grab a cart and fill it up.

Do you have enough ammo? Before you get too excited about the thought of looting your local gun store, stop and think about it. Gun store owners are most likely going to be guarding their store, with guns. Do you really want to run into a place that probably has a trained and heavily armed staff? That owner might have his whole family in there, armed to the teeth. If you need to get weapons, loot from a large chain store. Those employees are more likely to have less loyalty to their company and might even be looting there as well.

That last part brings up a great point to consider. Looting will never be safe. Everyone around you will be committing a crime, just like you are. The people around you may be desperate. They may be armed. They very well may shoot you for the stuff you have. Think before you loot. If you see crowds running in and out of a store, it’s probably safe. If you see a pile of bodies outside the doors and hear gunshots from inside, it’s probably not that safe. You never want to be the first person through the door. It may look dark and empty but that doesn’t mean that someone isn’t waiting inside to ambush you. Avoid mom and pop places, pop will most likely have a gun. Stick with chains.

No matter what you end up doing, looting is still illegal and will never be safe. I cannot stress that last part enough. You are putting your life at risk if you loot! You should prepare BEFORE some disaster happens and you are caught unprepared. Don’t wait until something happens, buy some supplies now!

Other places to loot:

  • Restaurants. They should all have a large stock of dry goods and liquor.
  • Gas stations. They will have all kinds of stuff that can help you and will probably be deserted.
  • Nurseries/Green houses. Depending on the time of year and what they grow, you might end up with a full garden to help you survive.

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  • keebler

    at Present; I do not trespass, Nor steal any thing from any one, desperate times would change me I assume. this is why I prep, to be able to last as long as I can.

  • Tom

    Looting to me is stealing if what is looted belongs to someone else. If somethings so catastrophic happens that items are forever abandoned that is a different situation. Otherwise, you owe it to the owners to make some sort of compensation. This could be in trade for other items, or for labor etc. If the owners are not present, then it is ones responsibility to record what was taken, and compensate the owner at a later time. we must maintain fair trade. I believe this because, if we do not uphold our traditional values, we bring upon ourselves the loss of our civilization ( as we know it). If we abandon these values and principles, we’ve lowered out quality of life and any hope of ever returning to a fair and just society.

    • Poorman

      I agree that looting is stealing. Unless we are in a Mad Max situation all this is doing is justifying taking what does not belong to you. The author seems to think it is wrong to steal a flat screen but ok to steal food and / or medicine. Stealing is stealing


    First rule is that private property is off limits unless that it is clear that the property is abandoned. and if others are using it as shelter they would have ownership rights. We would have no law enforcement so our our own conscience must rule. WTSHTF it will be survival of the fittest or the most secure. The family is the first line of defence and the organised community will be the survivors. The looting will happen anyway and the question is moot if you should join in for you would be the target if not defending what you have. Surviving beyond the times where all the others fight and consume and kill each other will be the goals It is easer to gather up what is left from the dead than to defend what you have. The question is how long will the food last? In the large cities not long and the survivors with the guns will start moving out to the rural areas to consume what they have. The small animals that could provide food would be the first thing I would try to protect. The chickens and rabbit could provide the protein needed for they can reproduce quickly and eat the things we dont. they also provide good source of fertiliser for gardens. So looting I would say no for it puts you in harms way if you run into someone who is also trying to defend what is theirs. What I would suggest is make friends with the store owners and if you have warning of impending disaster where you could prepare then work to secure the buildings for a share of what is saved. A community that stands together survives.

  • Illini Warrior

    You’re an armed store/home owner away from either being dead or going from looter to murdering raider ….

    I personally shoot both – that’s why I prep plenty of 00Buck ….

    • DaveM

      I will staqnd by your side and watch your back! I aim well and waste no ammunition!

    • RAPTOR 555

      I have only enough 00 for about 2500 looters and will then have to start on the 300+ slugs and 500+ #6 shot.

      • LWJ

        Sounds like a waste of resouces, that much 00 won’t do you much good, when you get picked off at 300 meters.

        • RAPTOR 555

          I never got into the .223 and 30-06. I just thought the subject matter was 00 Buck.

          • LWJ

            2500 is a bit much, unless your going to arm a squad.

            • RAPTOR 555

              Just think about your statement when you’re in a bind and run out of ammo. You can never have too much but you can always have too little. BTW, my family is a squad and it is OUR ammo not to mention being a great barter item should the need arise. There are only two things better and that is food and clean water which I intend to protect at all costs. You may want to change your mindset before it’s too late.

              • LWJ

                I am trying to imagine how many fire fights you intend to get in. Or how much your going to take with you, in an emergency bug out. Alas I don’t stockpile that many shotgun shells, even for hunting. Do remember 30 rounds of MK262, and an accurate rifle will be worth more at 300 meters then your shotgun….

                You have one zone covered, which is out to 100 meters. Past that your in trouble.

                The high powered rifle is a must, and instead of wasting money on 00 buck, you should cover that gap.

              • RAPTOR 555

                We have our long-distance covered if needed. When we’re protecting our family and supplies it will be within 100 yards (our safety zone) and we’re not worried about anybody past that unless it becomes necessary and bugging out is not an option or necessary in our case. Getting home is more important and we have that covered as much as humanly possible. One thing you must remember is that everybody’s situation is different so their prepping and security will also be different. It is definitely not a one-size-fits-all.

              • LWJ

                100 yards is not much of a safety zone Raptor. Depending on the emergency home might not be an
                option. So your stash will be useless. I would suggest a trunk gun/guns with a modest amount of ammo. An Ar/AK is damn near a must.

              • RAPTOR 555

                Bye, have a great day.

              • LWJ

                You to! Don’t forget to pick up more OO today!

      • BigGaySteve

        Better get a slingshot or a mosin.

        • RAPTOR 555

          I’ve got the rifles an ammo covered. Evidently LWJ failed to read my replies about that so I had to give up on him. Evidently he hasn’t got a clue what a .223 or 30-06 is. LOL

  • Kristin Mcgeehan

    I would add a strange store that I doubt anyone has thought of as a “prepper haven”. Your local fabric and/or craft store. They have needles, thread, fabrics of all kinds (including denim, vinyl (make a tent if needed), parachute type nylon), patches for any rips that might occur, duct tape, paracord, etc.) I know my 2 main local stores even include items like flashlights, candles, soap, batteries, you name it, they probably have it. And if it’s long-enough (aka ‘forever’) term SHTF, you can also find yarn, knitting needles and looms, and books on how to make things like hats, sweaters, socks etc.

    I would suggest going in to your local craft stores, find out where they keep items like these, make notes on what aisles they’re in so you can get in and out quickly. Maybe I only think if these stores as vast prepper warehouses because in current/pre-SHTF life I am a crafter, but I still shop with a prepper’s eye.

    • Huples

      Totally agree. I would also add Vets. Antibiotics, dressings, and cat/dog kibble.
      One thing is have lots of small bills. Why loot if you can pay? Be a lot safer.
      Also looting of chain stores would only be worth it in the opening phase. It would put you in with a lot of crazed idiots and in the way of remaining law. Not worth it in my opinion.
      Later on looting is scavenging.
      If you have to loot early on hit safer targets- vets, schools, gas stations, small restaurants, etc. Still I think early looting is a sign you’ve messed up prepping

      • Kristin Mcgeehan

        I agree. I was just adding to the list for places, not advocating looting. I also agree at a later time (after SHTF turns into “no power left to turn fan on”) it becomes scavenging. Either way if law still applies to situation, it’s wrong.

  • O.M. Knutson


    First, HAPPY NEW YEAR and may God bless you and yours in the difficult coming year.

    We are about the most moral and law abiding person and defender against criminals as you will ever meet. We prep so we don’t have to become a predator to save our family.

    That being said, we make no bones about becoming a “poacher” when hung up in survival mode or harvesting free ranging domestic pets and livestock, which is definitely going to make us an outlaw, too.

    As for us joining into the throng of looters and predators early on is not going to happen. We will cold bloodily defend against them, first!!!

    For us the whole of civilization around us would have to have totally collapsed and been down long enough that we had NO OTHER OPTIONS LEFT, before we would become just another “zombie”!!!

    Looking in the mirror right this moment, truth be told, I doubt seriously anyone in our family or team would stoop that low, even then.

    God Save America,
    Orrin M. Knutson
    Peace Officer Retired
    Survival author and trainer

    • RAPTOR 555

      I agree completely. My family is well prepared to defend ourselves and our supplies against these very people; also retired LE of 40+ years and survivalist.

  • Christian Gains

    WELL, this entire potentiality is precariously balanced on one’s MORAL and ETHICAL values.

    I say PRECARIOUSLY, because there ARE legitimate times to “take what is, nor has been, yours”. And, those times are: #1] FEW and (hopefully), FAR between. and, #2] MUST BE based upon “Legitimate NEED”, which is the PRIME DIRECTIVE here. AND, #3] “UTTERLY SELFLESS MOTIVE” is the other PRIME DIRECTIVE.

    When you find yourself in a situation, condition, or location, that endangers not ONLY you, but, MORE SIGNIFICANTLY, others, who are NOT as able as you to (A) Defend themselves, & (B) Provide for themselves, THEN, (and ONLY THEN), should any type, (call it “looting” or “stealing”, or WHAT ever), normally “ILLEGAL” activity even be an OPTION! Much less an ACTION! WHY? Simple: :Do unto others, as you would that they do unto you!” To elaborate:…”KARMA’s a B*tch!” Or…in other words: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked, whatsoever a person soweth, that shall they ALSO REAP”! It’s a simple principle, but Historically ESSENTIAL to maintaining a decent societal standard.

    What would YOU want others to do, if it were YOUR goods being taken?

  • Linda Smith

    Most looters we observe on tv are in short-term emergency situations & there is no excuse to steal. I can’t imagine a situation in which I would resort to stealing in the short-term. Of course, I have carefully prepped & I realize homeless folks would be in a much different situation. If enough time passed & I ran out of, say, medicine, I think Tom below has the right idea; keep a record & find a way to pay. Of course, by that time everything would probably be gone. Prepare, folks! If I can afford it, you can.

  • Arcangel911

    When the power is out, no police around and no one is shooting at you…..

  • DaveM

    I will not steal! I will not trespass….I will kill to protect my family, myself and anyone who threatens in any form….those whom I love! I will not be ashamed to state…I will kill you and survivors will be shot a second time!

  • Mike Lashewitz

    “Looters” today steal CRAP. Or they are simply criminals. The only time it is acceptable is for survival and not wealth. It is also not acceptable to take (steal) from others. UNLESS they are trying to do it to you. Survival of the fittest you know. “Just remember the wealthy Elite have stolen from you for your entire lifetime. And I do not mean the local millionaire, I mean the blood suckers who have enslaved us our entire life times and those who have spilled our blood on foreign battle fields for their own personal gain.

    Oh and their political puppet lackies too…

  • RAPTOR 555

    Be prepared. “Thou shalt not steal.” I agree with Tom about compensating businesses and one should never steal from individuals.

  • Super Steve

    Big difference between looting ( for personal gain) and salvage ( to preserve life NOT at the cost of the original owners) To me there are boundaries such as I will take stuff providing (1) If I don’t it will spoil (2) Reasonable efforts have been made to identify the owner and pay for the goods (3) Essentials only ( food, fuel, medicine) (4) There is little likelihood of any official agency laying claim to the supplies (5) I will not try and use force or violence to separate supplies from the LAWFUL owners eg I wont rob a store at gun point, I wont bushwhack a neighbour, I wont attack another prepper. But abandoned stores /farms/depots are fair game if they are clearly abandoned. If its a full on societal collapse providing there are no STAFF / SECURITY on hand I would raid a large chain store for essential supplies but I would leave a promissory note offering payment at a later date if possible

  • Bobcat-Prepper

    Looting has to be one of the most dangerous activities you would volunteer to do; it puts your life at risk, and thus your family’s lives too. Avoid it by preparing now!

  • Illini Warrior

    In regard to “salvaging” or “re-prepping” or any of the excuse type wordings …. hate to bust your dream bubble but there’s not going to much to loot after the dust settles ….

    Very good chance that there’ll be a good period of run up prior to the actual SHTF hitting – think advanced weather warning of a hurricane – the stores will be bought out by the legit paying customers – good chance the warehouses will be emptied out of the SHTF desirable goods as well ….

    When the SHTF does hits the looter and arsonists will take over – it’ll be a race between getting the remaining goods out the door and the arsonists burning the Wally World down to a few walls ….

    Prep accordingly – little chance that it’ll be a Walking Dead fantasy world ….

  • Jay_Sherman

    Wait….wait…. I thought one of the big tenets of “prepping” was to protect one’s self from the looting hordes- now it’s O-K to join them, as long as they’re looting someone other than us?

    And as a practical matter, if you’re joining the masses where the Walmarts and restaurants are (Which is where the masses will go), you are putting yourself in the gravest danger, because these are the most dangerous people; and also likely to be the first places where the government goons will do round-ups/shoot to kill.

    Other than being the survivor of a neutron bomb, if you have the opportunity and time to stop at Walmart…..you are in the wrong place, and will not be going anywhere.

    Anyone else think that these crazy preppers (as portrayed in these articles) are really the people we need to protect ourselves from? (Thankfully, most of ’em will never make it out of the cities to the remote rural areas, such as where I live).

    If these crazy articles are any indication, preppers are at the least, unrealistic- and at more likely, totally insane. Definitely not the people i want to be around when things go bad!

    • kate

      Did you read all the posts? Every one states that looting is a bad idea, unethical, unsafe, etc. The common thread is essentially to prep well in order to avoid going out amidst the looting hordes, or any armed owners or LEOs that may be shooting looters. If, and only if, society has completely collapsed, help is not ever going to be on the way, and stuff is abandoned, you can get what you can, leave an IOU, and NEVER take from another, unless they are killed trying to steal from you.
      On another note, you are absolutely right,…if you are at Walmart, you’ve gone in the wrong direction. Shelter in place, or BUG OUT, and stay away from shopping centers.

      • Jay_Sherman

        You are absotively correct, Kate- My beef is with the authors of such articles/whacko websites/etc. I didn’t mean to castigate all preppers…..but from what I have encountered in real-life, it does seem like a lot of these types of articles do represent the actual views of many. I guess it’s like anything else- never follow the majority- including the majority even within a small segment. (And in a real SHTF situation, I can just picture the highways being littered with all the products one sees advertised on these types of sites! )

        All this reminds me of this crazy lady who put me on her mailing list when I responded her Craigslist ad for a vehicle for sale- She advocated that everyone not pay their credit card bills, since the doody was going to hit the fan any day now. It just makes me think that there are as many crooks and looters among the preppers as among the general rabble…… (Why even have credit cards?!)

  • NRP

    Rape is a crime
    Murder is a crime
    Burglary is a crime
    Lying is a crime
    Looting is a crime
    Rioting is a crime
    Burning someone’s store/home is a crime
    Where the crapo did these feel good liberals shit-heads get the idea the CRIME is no longer a CRIME and not prosecute for the crime? Example; those criminals/cowards that riot, loot, and burn stores/homes in Ferguson (and they have video) are only “expressing their feelings” THATS BS!!!!!!
    Ohhhh that’s right, “the .gov people get away with it, so why cant we”

    • Jay_Sherman

      I’ll never forget videos during hurricane Katrina, of stinking cops looting Walmart!

      • BigGaySteve

        But 22 cops that did their jobs got brought up on charges like getting in a shoot out with a guy with a stolen truck full of big screen TVs.

        • Jay_Sherman

          Yeah…but just think of it as karma payback for all the crap they’ve done to civilians. Like they say- “Payback’ a bitch!”. Work as an enforcer for the corrupt system, you’ll be a victim just like those whom you victimized. (Not YOU, you… “You” as in “whoever”)

    • BigGaySteve

      Don’t commit crimes that’s what black people do,

  • BigGaySteve

    Don’t loot its what black people do.

  • Jay_Sherman

    When is it O-K to join the looters? When they start coming apart. Then again, I think I’ll just leave them be.

  • freebird4533@yahoo.com

    What role will theU.S. army play? Will the UN bust my door open and take my weapon s? Heaven help us all.