10 Great Bartering Items for When the SHTF

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Editor’s Note: This post has been generously contributed by Troy Hallewell.

Say what you will about paper money, but it sure has made the process of buying things convenient. And plastic credit cards… well, perhaps they make purchasing a little TOO convenient. But what will happen when the day comes when paper money is no longer issued or backed by the government? What will happen when our credit and debit cards slide for the last time? Commerce and industry will never disappear, there will always be people buying, trading and selling. The only difference will be how they will be doing it once today’s money looses its value. So, below we’ve put together a list of 10 bartering items that will be worthy of trading for those days ahead, on the other side of that moment we call when the SHTF…


If you know how to do something and another person doesn’t, and the other person needs to know how to do that thing, then you have something of value. Some examples of knowledge that would be valuable for those days after the SHTF could be things such as an understanding of gardening and growing foods, basic medical knowledge, an understanding of herbs and medicines, skill in animal husbandry, skill in midwifery, skill in hunting, tracking or defense. Even a skill in storytelling might help you come out ahead at times. I mean, everyone wants someone fun to sit around the fire with!

So, while you’re preparing for those days ahead and storing your food and water, don’t neglect yourself or your brain. With the right decisions and knowledge what you see when you look in the mirror might be the most valuable bartering object you have!



Everyone needs fabric to keep themselves and their loved ones protected and warm and if the factories aren’t running eventually there will be a shortage. What fabrics you would want to save depend on where you live and what your lifestyle is. Lighter fabrics might be somewhat valuable in warmer climates, but in the cold and the mountains thick wool fabric can be a literal lifesaver. Whether it’s mending a ripped coat, or stitching a new pair of pants for a growing child, sometimes a thin layer of fabric is the only thing we have between us and a cold death.

Precious Metals


We humans have used precious metals like gold and silver for trading for tens of thousands of years. Usually precious metal is traded in coin form. Gold and silver coins are considered valuable due to their scarcity (there is not a lot of it and it’s hard to mine) and their how small and easily transportable they are.

While gold and silver coins will likely always have some degree of value you still can’t eat them or wear them, they won’t keep you warm and they won’t keep you out of the rain. Because of that gold and silver coins won’t likely have much value in the days immediately after the SHTF because people will be more worried about more immediate needs (like food and protection). But, once things start to calm down and an economy begins to reform it’s more than likely that gold and silver coins will once again claim value.



When I say “shoes” I don’t mean only shoes. What I really mean is any type of item that is both necessary and that also wears out with regular and sustained use. Shoes are simply a good example of this sort of item. This doesn’t mean I suggest you clear out the back portion of your garage and stock up on shoes the next time the shoe store has a sale. I’m simply reminding you that people aren’t going to want to have bare feet. And if you have shoes… well then…

Survival Gear

Yes, I know this is a huge category. It’s spans everything from knives to tents, from water purifiers to binoculars. But there is no denying that when things go south objects and items that help people stay alive will be in great demand and any item in great demand has trading value. With this in mind, when you upgrade to new equipment you might not want to throw out the old stuff. That old pair of binocs, while perhaps not something you’ll be using anytime soon, might be worth a week (or a month) worth of food to the right person.

Canned Food

This is an obvious one. We humans need food every day, but every day lots of food spoils or goes bad. Canned and bottled food is the answer to this problem. When properly stored some canned and bottled food can last for decades or more. That’s a lot of flexibility in food storage. And, if after a couple years you’re sick of your bottled green beans then perhaps you can find someone else who’s sick of their bottled beets and boom! You’ve got a trade (and thankful taste buds).



Another obvious one. Guns, guns and more guns. Whether it’s a .22 or a .306, a pistol or a shotgun, few things will be more valuable than guns for when the SHTF. Guns can be used to provide food for yourself and your family, they can be used to protect your loved ones and to defend your own food. Perhaps one of the most valuable thing about guns isn’t shooting them at all, but simply the knowledge that you could shoot if you needed to.

One caveat that comes with bartering guns, make sure you trust who you’re trading the gun(s) to. A gun doesn’t care who’s holding it, it’s a tool, nothing more. And a gun in the wrong hand can do immense degrees of harm to you and the ones you love. So, if you have enough guns and see a value in trading feel free to do so, but don’t hand a gun over to a man or woman who will be likely to simply turn the gun around and use it on you.



Even if you don’t drink it, chances are there will be someone nearby you that does, and they might be willing to trade you quite a bit for the chance to taste a bit of alcohol again.

Plus, alcohol can be used for more than just drinking. It can be used as a cleaning liquid, as a solvent, as a fuel and even as a preservative! And as long as the bottles are kept closed alcohol will store for basically forever. If you’ve got shelves full of canned and bottled food then you might want to consider adding a bottle or two, or twenty, of alcohol to your collection. You just never know when it will come in handy, and you never know just how much someone else will be willing to trade for it.

Dried Foods

Dried foods are in the same category as canned and bottled foods. The only difference is that the fact that they are dried means they are lighter and easier to transport. Because of this, dried foods will find their greatest value in a society or world that is moving and transitory. If you live in a cabin in the woods then you might want to invest in bottled foods. If you’re living in a tent and moving around then dried foods will be your best caloric value.



And here we are, item #1, what some might argue could, at the end of the day, be the most valuable trading item for those days on the far side of that moment where the SHTF. Bullets. Bullets? You might ask. Why would bullets be so valuable?

Read More: How many bullets do you need I need for SHTF?

A handful of reasons. First, like precious metals, bullets are both difficult to manufacture and they are small and easily transported. Plus, like food or fabric, bullets have a utility value since they can be used to keep you and your loved ones alive. Like canned or bottled food, bullets have a very long “shelf life”. In addition, guns are mostly worthless without bullets so, if your neighbor is the guy with all the guns, and you are the one with all the bullets then chances are you’ll have a lot to talk about.

Many different types of bullets can also be reloaded and used multiple times as well. Due to all these elements, bullets will always have a great value in a post SHTF world.

At the end of the day, intelligence should be used while you prepare for the future and when you are preparing and prepping be sure you make the best purchases, especially with the goal of being able to barter in that strange new world.


About the Author: Troy Hallewell is a novelist and storyteller. His most recent series, “RazorWire: After Civilization” is about what the world has become 100 years after a great destructive event and how the people in that world live and survive. His books can be downloaded as eBooks, audiobooks or even as podcasts! Find more information, or download the first book (RazorWire) free at his website at http://www.TroyHallewell.com or at http://www.StorymanTroy.com

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  • Linda S.

    I would never trade guns or ammo – too easy to be used against you. Also, I’ve never known anyone who made better decisions while drinking; I have known several who grew ten foot tall & bulletproof. I’ll stick with bartering food, water, medicine & skills.

    • FollowDaMoney

      Matches and lighters will increase in value. They will be better than gold.

    • L. A. McDonough

      I would have tins of mints like Altoids, and otc cold and pain pills, etc. No liquor and would not trade guns or ammo either. Canned meats which I have stockpiled are a good one to trade along with hand tools and kitchen utensils, etc.

  • Cbt_Engr

    I completely agree with Linda about trading guns or ammo — not gonna happen! If an “event” is short in duration, most folks will do just fine. If the “event” turns out to be long-term, then you’re gonna need all you have for both hunting and personal defense. Those who don’t have firearms and ammo are going to be looking for anyone who does and you are going to become a “target” for them. If you’ve got close family and really good friends, you’ll be sharing — you won’t need to “barter”. If it gets to the point where you need to barter, a can of soup is a lot smarter than letting folks know that you have “extra” guns or ammo ….

  • Bolofia

    I would be willing to barter ammo under three circumstances:
    1. I know and trust the individual with my life. That is non-negotiable and is a pre-requisite for #2 and #3.
    2. The ammo that I provide will be used for a common defense. We both win.
    3. The ammo is used to secure food that will be shared in a common pot. We both win.

    I wouldn’t have a problem trading ammo that I don’t use, but that I have a supply of. For example, I would barter 357 magnum ammo because I have it, but no longer use that caliber. Rule #1 is always the overriding condition.

    • L. A. McDonough

      357 mag. is a good caliber to have. I alternate ammo with .38 in the .357 revolver. I also would trade ammo I had too much of, but real picky who I’d trade with.

    • That sounds like a wise strategy to me Bolo. I have various odd calibers that I can’t see anyone even wanting that I obtained via an estate of a relative. None of my stores now are for calibers I don’t use but I have some quantities.

  • Arcangel911

    I would like to add the cigarettes portion. Granted most will go cold turkey, but since I don’t smoke and no one else I hang with does, this could be a good barter trade. I know it isn’t the healthiest option but…. sometimes a item one you don’t need maybe something to trade for something you do need.

    • skeptical1

      I agree. When TSHTF and smokers are out of cigs, I’m betting some would trade just about anything in the first couple days. I quit smoking 6 years ago, but still have a number of packs I found that my ex hid from me. Last year, a neighbor came by looking for a cigarette. She didn’t care how old they were.

    • R. Ann

      I see that theory here and there. On one hand it’s similar to alcohol, but alcohol does have other uses and an indefinite shelf life. Cigarettes are expensive enough, even if somebody’s desperate enough for stale smoke, there are other things that people will want and need besides tobacco.

      If it’s not something you or a family member will use, maybe concentrate on something else.

      One of the nice things about this list, regardless of whether we agree about the guns and ammo, is that everything on it is either a skill or supplies that are common to generic preparedness goals. There’s no loss associated, nothing that will sit on a shelf and really haunt while “I wish” runs through minds during a job layoff, tornado/hurricane outage, or larger crisis.

      Other non-smokers have mentioned cigarettes – you’re not alone. I just can’t imagine really and truly having enough long-term crisis supplies, retirement and big-bill investments and savings, skills, and continuing education and training that I start stocking things I won’t/can’t eventually use (or unload elsewhere) as barter supplies.

      Depending on what you’re expecting, some cigarette-pack and carton priced items to consider might be those little pocket USB or AA/AAA solar trickle chargers and rechargable batteries, solar lawn stakes that have the turn-off buttons, canning lids for regular and wide-mouth jars, diatomaceous earth and-or Epsom salts for their many uses, baking powder, and even feel-goods like hot tea bags, cough drops, sugar, cocoa powder, and those inexpensive meltaway dinner mints (those things store great for years in a canning jar).

      Have a good one! – R. Ann

  • EgbertThrockmorton1

    We are stocking small bars, Hershey bars, by the case, as we feel that chocolate bars, cigarrettes, will be a prime barter commodity. As for ammunition, I also prefer Bolo’s Rules, for bartering ammo. Good counsel, and yeah, I would trade/barter with Bolo and those HE trusts with his life, and I’m sure the very few I trust would be comfortable with that endorsement.

  • poloi

    i dunno if this is relevant but who knows they might be:

    playing cards
    pencils (writing materials)

  • Steve LaFontaine

    i have actually studied barter situations spanning over 100 years. from sieges of our civil war to the seiges of ww1 & 2 to the collapse of countries economies like the USSR, BOSINIA Sarajevo Argentina etc. as well as natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes
    while the lists of valued barter goods varied i identified trade goods EVERY SITUATION valued.
    this is a list of trade goods i have gleaned from reports spanning the american civil war to bosnia. these are the COMMON goods that appeared in ALL reports. not a complete list of all trade goods. the main one, across the board is



















    sewing needle kits

    • Steve

      Good list and as I was reading comments I was looking for when coffee would come up… So many people don’t know what to do without there morning cup (or 5) definitely a great comfort item … Instant coffee packets could be good for trade with sugar

  • Chuck Findlay

    I have numerous friends from 2 local gun clubs that I have known for years and these guys are the only ones I would trade guns or ammo with. Everyone else is not on the gun / ammo trade list as you just don’t know how it could turn out.

    As far as what I would barter it’s my repair / building skills that I would plan on using. I can repair almost anything and or build almost anything. I have all the tools and supplies to support my skills.

    I do some bartering today so I am already set up to do it. Bartering itself is a skill that one needs to learn. You won’t be too good at it the first time you try it. Both people need to get something out of the exchange that they feel was a fair trade. If one of the people feels taken advantage of it could turn bad for the other person as resentment will build and could boil over. But with a mutually fair trade both people walk away happy and probably willing to deal with the other person at some future time.

  • Dan

    I guess you have never been hungery or watch one of your family members suffer for food medical care.. I hope you never do.. It may be to you atvantage to assets the situations before you say never..

  • Jay Morgan

    I like your story. I agree guns and bullets are always risky unless you are trading a caliber you don’t use for one you need but that begs the question Why did you have a caliber you don’t use?
    What I would like to add to your list is a quantity of Pool shock (Calcium hypochlorite) crystals and the recipe for making bleach for water purification and other sanitization.
    I fear that before the economy settles down to using gold and silver coins you will be able to trade quite a bit for a bar of soap which has an infinite shelf life.
    As for alcohol, except for my own stash, I will only be storing ever clear. ~~90 to 95%.On top of all the other reasons for alcohol, this will make serious molotov cocktail.