When people read and talk about survival and preparedness, there is a great focus on rural locations, bugging out, and surviving in the wilderness.
However, over 80% of the population in the U.S. lives in urban areas and a large majority of those people don’t have anywhere to go outside of the city, such as another property or a family member’s or friend’s rural location.
Not only that, but when disaster strikes, it is very likely to hit the major cities first, particularly if it is an act of war or terrorism.
For this reason, this article is going to focus on the best survival gear you need for urban situations, because when disaster strikes, you won’t have time to go and purchase it.
You will be stunned, possibly in a state of shock, and so will the people around you. I know just watching the footage from 9/11, watching the horror and the events unfold on a screen so many years after the event still causes a sense of disbelief and shock at what people went through.
To be as prepared as possible, you need to plan ahead and have the right gear on-hand.
Table of Contents
You Could Be Anywhere
One thing about urban survival is that you could be literally anywhere in the city when disaster strikes. This is different than bugging out and either going to a bugout location or surviving while on the move.
When you go to your bugout location, you are going to stay put for the most part. You have prepared in advance and everything you need for a long period of time is right there with you.
If you are surviving on the move, then everything you need will be with you (in your BOB) or you will find it as you go.
It’s different when you are in an urban center when disaster strikes. You could be at work and your kids at school or daycare. You could be at your son’s soccer game or watching your daughter’s ballet performance.
You could be shopping in one part of the city with one of your kids, while your spouse is across town with your other kids. If you are lucky, you will all be home together when disaster strikes, but this is not likely.
For this reason, you don’t just need to be ready to bug in at home; you need to be prepared to get home no matter the situation and survive on the streets of the city for as long as you need to.
This type of survival is unique and requires special gear that will help you no matter where you are in an urban center. You need to consider what you will have on you at all times and what you will have to help you get home.
Level of Preparation
First, I want to point out that I am not going to talk about basic preps. I am assuming that in your home (bug-in location) you have your survival kit preps set up in terms of food, water, and basic supplies.
What I am talking about here is the gear you will need to help you get to that bug-in location, should you be away from it when disaster strikes. This is the gear you will need to stay alive and to reach your kids if you need to in order to get them home safely.
So what do you need? You need the following categories:
EDC (everyday carry): The everyday carry, or EDC, kit represents your most basic level of equipage. For normal people, these are the things you have to have on you to conduct life and business when you are away from your home; think keys, wallet, phone, sunglasses etc.
For preppers, and especially urban-dwelling preppers, this will be a rudimentary level of survival equipment in addition to the above.
It might be no more than adding a trusty pocket knife or multi-tool along with an ultra-low profile set of lock picks or shims in addition to a few other choice items like a compact flashlight.
This is the bare minimum you’ll need to find your way either back home or to a place where you can better equip yourself when trouble strikes.
GHB (get home bag): The GHB is similar to a BOB, below, but it’s focused on helping you go in the opposite direction: getting home (as opposed to getting away from home).
It sounds like the two might be interchangeable, but the get-home bag is even more tightly focused on mobility, short-term sustainment and protection.
This is the bag you should have in your vehicle at all times or even stashed at the office or a secure location near your workplace in case you can’t keep it there.
Items that should be included in the GHB include seasonally appropriate clothing, sturdy footwear suited for moving quickly, rations, water and weapons.
The GHB should be kept as light and lean as conceivable in order to further expedite your movement home where your BOB and hopefully more supplies await you.
BOB (bug-out bag): The prime item for many preppers, the bug-out bag is just as important for urban preppers.
Even if you are planning to bug in, damn the torpedoes, you still need a bug-out bag because things can always get worse and you might wind up facing a situation that is so grave you have no choice but to flee.
The bug-out bag is to provide everything you need at least in the near term for survival, sustainment, shelter and mobility both in the city and outside the city.
Most bug-out bags trend towards being large and heavy packs because of the sheer amount of gear and provisions you’ll need when bugging out, especially on foot.
It is critical that the BOB be thoroughly tested for strength and also for comfort because this is the one that will wear you down the most if ill-fitted.
Vehicle Kit: If you live in an urban environment, and have a personally owned vehicle it is critical that you equip that vehicle for contingencies the same as you equip yourself.
For some of us, this entails simply keeping a get home bag or even our bug out bags in our vehicles.
Whether you do or not you must add supplies specific to the vehicle, including a complete blowout kit with full size spare tire, basic tools and parts suitable for taking care of breakdowns, fluids, light bulbs and other accoutrement.
Depending on where your vehicle is stored and your typical commute or daily routine, you might need to take pains to camouflage or otherwise conceal the supplies you keep in your vehicle in order to prevent or reduce the risk of theft.
In each of these setups, you will need the basics. The GHB should have enough food and water to last a day, enough to get you home. The BOB should have at least 72 hours’ worth of food and water. Other than food and water, you will also have items such as:
- A blade
- At least two ways to start a fire
- Medical gloves
- N95, N99 or, N100 respirator mask
- Water purification tablets
- First aid kit with trauma supplies
Now let’s talk about some additional gear that is specifically important for urban survival.
Critical Urban Survival Gear
When you are surviving in an urban setting, you will have resources around you that you can take advantage of if you know where to look and you have the right tools for the job. But these tools are different from those you need in a rural or wilderness setting.
Rather than hunting and foraging and managing to make do with whatever you can find in nature, in the city you might potentially have to be able to break into buildings, steal from locked cars and other locations, and scrounge for whatever you can find.
From accessing water, food, and shelter to protecting yourself, you will need tools that will help you survive in the city.
A Regular Backpack
I will put this in here because I think it’s important. For your BOB, you might very well have a camo backpack, or something that can blend in when in the wilderness.
This isn’t what you want in the city because in the city it will stand out. Instead, you want as normal looking backpack as you can get. Even a fanny pack or laptop pack or bag would be great, as long as whatever you choose is durable.
The point is you don’t want your GHB or EDC to stand out and be noticed simply because of the bag in which you are carrying it.
Water Access Tool
Water is heavy and bulky. You just can’t haul it around with you all day every day. However, provided it’s not contaminated, there is always water all around you in the city. Every building, commercial or residential, has a water supply.
Cities represent something of a unique environment when it comes to the survival challenge of obtaining water because, on one hand, you’ll be completely surrounded by water, water that is trapped in pipes waiting for a turn of the tap, in pools and in other reservoirs.
You’ll also have literal mountains of bottled water around every corner. At least, at first…
Unfortunately, major disasters that take place in urban settings often result and a domino effect that will see public water sources seriously contaminated. At best, public works might be shut down or otherwise inaccessible.
Even if public water supplies are shut down, certain sources might remain safe and viable for drinking if only you have the right tool to manipulate their valves.
These utility and commercial valves often rely on specialized tools that interface with the valve itself, not having handles of their own in order to prevent theft of the water.
If you are wise, you will carry one of these four-way water keys with every kit that you have so that no matter what happens and what water source you have access to you’ll be able to draw a little for yourself.
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Though you might be surrounded by water in an urban environment, it might not be safe to drink as mentioned above. Those mountains of bottled water will disappear in hours or days destined for the millions of thirsty mouths searching for it.
You’ll need alternate means to both procure found water sources and render it safe for drinking. Just like any other environment on Earth and any survival kit intended for those environments, you should include in your kit a portable, high efficiency water filter.
If you need to draw water out of a public swimming pool, the back of a toilet tank or just questionable runoff water coming out of a downspout or sitting in a puddle you’ll be glad you have one of these.
More so than the vast majority of natural environments found water sources in urban environments could be contaminated with various chemicals and biological threats that you wouldn’t necessarily expect out in the woods or on the plains.
One unique tool crucial for success in urban environments is the extrication tool. That is the charitable name, as some of us will immediately recognize it as a breaking and entering or “B&E” tool.
This tool is designed to smash, pound, pry and rake in order to help us open doors or other containers that are intended to remain closed.
Urban areas are literally made up of such barriers, and these barriers could prove fatal in certain circumstances if you don’t have the means to bypass them. Instead of attacking these fruitlessly with your hands or with an improvised tool use something that is purpose made for demolition.
There are all sorts of tools that can fit the bill here, from the old school classic crowbar to modern all-in-one tools designed for construction or even law enforcement service.
Stanley makes their FUBAR line of utility and forced entry bars that are ideal for the purpose, and the latter model even includes such urban-specific upgrades as hydrant wrenches and attachment points for a sling.
These tools don’t need to be massive or heavy to provide you with considerable capability in an urban environment.
Lock picks are another tool with a dodgy reputation that may, nonetheless, save your bacon in an urban survival situation so long as you have the proficiency to employ them.
There will be many barriers in your way when attempting to move around an urban environment, especially one that is embroiled in the middle of a major SHTF scenario.
Padlocks, common door locks and others will be in place to protect the places and things beyond them. I’m not advocating you turn into an outright brigade, but desperate times call for desperate measures when your life is on the line.
Lock picks afford a skilled user a fast, sure and most importantly discrete way to defeat common locks.
Most places do not care to invest in anything close to a high security locking system and, after you put in a little practice, you will probably be astounded to discover just how insecure most places take note, that many jurisdictions consider possession of lock picks by anyone other than law enforcement or licensed locksmiths to be possession of burglary tools.
As such, if you do decide to obtain these without official dispensation make sure you keep them hidden and safe until you need them.
Door Stops and Zip Ties
Door stops and zip ties are chronically forgotten components in urban survival kits. They are incredibly useful in a variety of situations, both for enhancing ease of movement for yourself and others, as well as increasing security when it is time to bunker down.
Door stops work to keep doors open or closed depending on which way the door is facing, and can ensure that one-way doors do not accidentally close and latch behind you one moment, and in the next moment greatly increase the amount of force needed to open a door even when the lock and latch are defeated.
Consider seeking out and purchasing tactical grade door stops which have aggressive carbide teeth for biting into any flooring surface.
Heavy-duty zip ties, on the other hand, are used for restraining door handles or the self-closing or arresting mechanism at the top of other doors to further impair opening or closing.
Both of these solutions are lightweight, compact, and incredibly fast to put into action and that means they deserve a spot in any prepper’s kit.
There is no nice way to say it: In urban environments your most significant and prevalent threats are likely to come from your fellow residents.
Cities are known for higher than average crime rates at best during the kindest times, and you can depend on that skyrocketing during any crisis where police and other first responders are either out of action or busy with bigger problems.
Long-term survival scenarios in urban environments in particular will see rise to properly organized or loosely organized criminal enterprises increasing their stakes and their acquisitions, and that could mean trouble for you.
Accordingly, you’ll need to arm yourself. Firearms are the order of the day but once again typical big city nannyism means you are unlikely to have unfettered access to weapons and ammunition.
Depend on the bad guys having all they can stand and then some, though. If you do choose a firearm you’ll only want to carry something you can reliably conceal until you need it.
Long guns are going to draw a considerable amount of negative attention, and don’t kid yourself that they won’t. A concealed handgun will allow you to blend in while you move about.
Beyond firearms, close-quarters weapons like knives, axes, machetes and the like will make for effective if high-stakes weapons. Also do not discount the usefulness of less-lethal weapons like pepper spray.
Pepper spray is, ounce for ounce, one of the most effective defensive implements that anyone can carry, and has a high probability of shutting someone down or eliminating their will to fight if you get a good dose on them.
Considering how restrictive most big cities are when it comes to the possession and carry of weapons, it is in your best interest to become highly familiar with various improvised and handcrafted weapons.
Two of the best are fistload “knuckles” made from driving long nails through a roll of coins before being grasped in the hand and the infamous “Millwall brick”, a wad of tightly rolled and tightly folded newspaper that forms a dense, powerful truncheon capable of cracking someone’s skull.
Many of these implements have long been employed by the criminal underworld, but that does not mean you should not make use of them to save yourself when the time comes.
Urban environments are veritable mazes of towering, concrete beehives, subterranean passageways and intricately connecting back alleys and smaller streets. It is easy to get lost in a city and surprisingly easy to get cornered or otherwise caught up in some out of the way place.
For that reason, communications are essential, so you can let people know where you are, even if it is only authorities that may or may not be there.
You have several options for communications, with the first that most people reach for being their trusty smartphone.
Cell phone networks are, surprisingly, somewhat more durable during disaster situations than you might think.
However, even if the networks are operational and being tended to, traffic is likely to explode geometrically during the event, making it difficult to get your calls to go through. In this case, you can still rely on “blurt” signals like text messages, email and so on.
Beyond cell phones you should definitely consider a proper handheld radio or even something as simple as a quality walkie-talkie.
Tall buildings play block radio signals in urban environments, but they are still an excellent way to maintain communications with others in your group, family members or any potential Good Samaritans.
Radio sets have the advantage of being completely self-contained and do not have to rely on any base station or separate tower for functionality.
As with any electronic device, make sure you are committed to keeping plenty of batteries or other recharging solutions on hand in order to feed them. They won’t do you any good without power!
A multi-tool is something no urban prepper should be without. A multi-tool combines your blade with several other tools in one compact, easy-to-carry unit. Depending on which multi-tool you choose, you can have some or all of the following:
- Fire starter
- Can opener
- Hex wrenches
- Wire cutters
A solar charger is important during an emergency. It might take you some time to get home and you might lose power in your cell phone, emergency radio, or GPS. Having a solar charger on you is important in this technological age.
Whether you don’t have access to a power source or the power grid is down, you can charge your much-needed devices with ease.
Your ultimate goal in an urban disaster situation is to get home as quickly as possible.
If you have to spend any time surviving in an urban center, then you need to be prepared to do whatever it takes to forage and steal (only in the most desperate situations) from the buildings and vehicles around you.
In order to do this, you need to have the right gear. Consider the options provided above and create yourself an EDC and GHB you can count on no matter how bad the urban survival situation becomes.
An urban prepper and rural wannabe, Karen has been working as a freelance writer for a decade and prepping for about half that time. She has gathered a wealth of knowledge on preparing for SHTF, but there is always more to learn and she has a passion for gathering and sharing that knowledge with other like-minded folk. Karen lives in London, Canada with her two children and plethora of cats.