Bartering And Medical Supplies

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Every so often, people ask me about the importance of precious metals for barter purposes in a societal collapse.  There’s no reason not to have some silver or gold if you can afford it, but there’s something you should know if you’re counting on it in a post-apocalyptic economy: Precious metals would be useful as barter in the earliest stages of a long-term disaster. Later on, not so much. Other items, like food and medical supplies, have more long-term trading power. Skilled services, like medical care, will also be valuable in the long haul.

In the early days after civilization has gone over the brink, people haven’t yet realized that “money” may be worthless. In these circumstances, your paper money may have value, but you can expect more and more will be needed to buy just a loaf of bread. Although crimes are committed daily in “normal” times to obtain it, currency is only paper, as evidenced by the government’s apparent ease of printing it whenever desired. Wise survivors will realize this before long (you could, I suppose, use a nice wad of it to get a fire started or for hygienic purposes).

Then, for a while, silver and gold will replace paper money. The amount of time you’ll be able to use your coinage will vary with the rapidity of the collapse, but, soon enough, even gold and silver will just be pretty hunks of metal. Time to bury it in the hopes of a more stable future.

Food, defensive items, and medical supplies will eventually become the most valuable surplus items you can have for successful trading. If you live in an arid climate, add water to the list.


Face it, once the supermarket shelves are empty, food will be on everyone’s mind. Those who have experienced food shortages tell stories about how they couldn’t think of anything else.

The answer is to grow your own food. Few, however, have the seeds or the know-how to grow their own vegetables through gardening. Even fewer have success producing enough regularly even for their own families.

Gardening has a learning curve and is subject to the whims of the weather such as the amount of rainfall, storms, and extremes in temperature. Soil conditions and pests will also be a factor. Learn how to be successful growing food, and you have some real bartering power.

Although we happen to be fortunate to live near sources of fresh water, its availability isn’t the only issue. Untreated water could be a death sentence from disease-causing organisms like cholera. Materials to purify it, even just sodium hypochlorite (household bleach), could be highly useful for bartering with knowledgeable survivors. Unfortunately, it loses potency in 6-12 months. A supply of 70% calcium hypochlorite crystals used in pool additives will last longer and is easier to portion out. Properly stored, calcium hypochlorite has a shelf life of over 5 years.

How to disinfect water with calcium hypochlorite:

  • Add one heaping teaspoon to two gallons of water and stir. This makes a “bleach” solution.
  • Add one pint of the “bleach” solution to 12 ½ gallons of water or a half liter to every 50 liters of water to make it potable. Essentially, you’re making drinkable water by adding one part of chlorine mixture to each 100 parts of water.
  • Pouring the water from one container to another seems to help decrease the chlorine taste.
  • Wait a good 30 minutes before using.


Items for defense will be important for protection in survival settings. In fact, some have stored extra ammunition specifically for barter purposes. If you’re planning on accumulating ammo for barter, try to figure out what calibers are popular in your area. In most states, 9mm is the most popular handgun round. For statistics by state, go here:

Encounters for bartering ammunition can be especially risky, however, as someone can simply complete the transaction by loading their firearm with your items and…well, you know the rest. This will always be a possibility. Indeed, it’s naïve to believe you wouldn’t be a target for the desperate or unscrupulous. Therefore, any barter meetings should be undertaken in different locations and only with plenty of what we call “backup.” If the product to be traded is ammunition, it should be packaged so solidly that it can’t be accessed until you’re far away.


Food and ammunition seem like natural barter items.  So, why would medical supplies have trade value? The reason is simple: You can easily make a wound with a weapon, but few will have the items necessary to heal a wound. Bandages, antibiotics, blood clotting agents, and other medical materials are unique and irreplaceable goods in a world without hospitals and emergency rooms. These items and the knowledge to use them will become important materials and services both in the short and the long term.

You can never have too many medical supplies in your survival storage. You’d be surprised how many dressings one major bleed will consume. Don’t forget that you won’t be dealing with wound care just until you can get the patient to the hospital. In survival, there are no hospitals. There’s you. You’ll be in charge from beginning to end in a true survival scenario. For any lengthy event, that means you’ll use up a lot of medical supplies.

Bandaging materials, antiseptics, and other wound care items will be highly valuable. Antibiotics will be as well. I’ve written for over a decade on the importance of antibiotics to avoid unnecessary deaths in survival settings. Veterinary antibiotic equivalents are not as easily found these days, but are still available.

It’s not just medical items. Let’s consider the value of your medical knowledge as a trade item: Not everyone knows how to stop bleeding, splint an orthopedic injury, perform long-term wound care, or treat infection. If you’re the medic, your services have a value. What do you think that value would be in circumstances where a family has a child who’s sick or an injured loved one? This is a compelling argument for taking the time and effort needed to learn these skills, even in normal times.

This doesn’t mean that you should expect something in return every time you help someone in medical need. The value of good will in a survival community shouldn’t be underestimated. Grateful parents, if they’re able, will want to reward you in some way for saving a child’s life. In this way, volunteering your services may increase the chances for your own family’s survival. Indeed, your skills may be deemed so valuable that you become an important asset to a community; one whose members will expend resources to protect.

Of course, spend enough time off the grid and all the commercial supplies will run out. Some knowledge of herbalism will come in especially handy here. An understanding of what plants in your area may have medicinal value will help cement your long-term value to the group.

Food, water, and shelter are the most important things to have if things go south, but medical supplies and the knowledge of how to use them are a strong second. Keep this in mind as you put together your stockpile. I’ll bet you have your own ideas on what would be useful barter items in a post-apocalyptic world. Let us know your thoughts.

Joe Alton MD

If you’re looking for medical supplies in quantity, look no further than our entire line of medical kits and individual supplies, most available in bulk, at And don’t forget our brand new 4th Edition of the Survival Medicine Handbook is better than ever, with more topics covered and everything revised in greater detail!

Hey, don’t forget to check out our entire line of quality medical kits and individual supplies at Also, our Book Excellence Award-winning 700-page SURVIVAL MEDICINE HANDBOOK: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE FOR WHEN HELP IS NOT ON THE WAY is now available in black and white on Amazon and in color and color spiral-bound versions at

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