Can You Bug In if You Live in the City?

Can you bug in if you live in the city? Absolutely you can. There are just some adjustments you need to make to your planning so that you can increase your chance of survival. Although most experts may recommend that you get out of the city if possible during a SHTF event, that just isn’t a possibility for some people.

a busy street in Berlin

Perhaps you have extremely limited resources, a family member for whom travel would be life-threatening, or other extenuating circumstances that mean leaving the city just isn’t a viable solution for you.

Since you’re in the city and planning to bug in, the key difference that you have to account for compared to more sparsely populated rural areas and suburbs, is that people will be everywhere around you.

This will introduce a fair share of challenges all by itself, not the least of which is obtaining supplies when the gears of commerce stop turning, and of course fending off the threat posed by throngs of the desperate, the criminal and the crazy.

And you will no doubt have more confrontations with other people so you will definitely need to be more prepared to defend yourself.

Stockpiling Supplies

Preppers know that their stockpile is like gold during a SHTF event. Your food, water, and other supplies can be the factor that determines if your family lives or dies.

If you are bugging in in an urban location, (a real metropolis, not a large town) consider that space in your dwelling is almost certainly at a huge premium. You will likely struggle to find places to store your preps.

This is even more difficult if you want to keep your supplies hidden from casual observation by visitors, passersby, and so on. Triple the difficulty if you live in a tiny apartment.

Your major point of concern for survival, water, is especially vital to have on hand in a city since cities are almost completely dependent (beyond the norm) on municipal water supply and treatment to provide it safely.

You let something happen to that supply, be it contamination or just breakdown, and you will see all potable water sources in a city disappear quite literally overnight.

There might be millions and millions of bottles of water scattered throughout your town, but millions and millions of thirsty people will blow through that in an eye blink.

The solution is to either stock more water than most people or you will need to rely on crafty ways to get it. An obvious solution is a bathtub basin liner, a sterile bag that folds up to nearly nothing, but allows you to keep at least 50 gallons of clean water in your bathtub at a moment’s notice.

One suggestion if you have the space is to have a swimming to keep tabs on swimming pools nearby at gyms, schools and other places.

Sure, it is “public” water, and you might skeeve out at the idea of drinking it, but it is chlorinated and at any rate a whole lot easier to further purify than water you find in a puddle!

The fearful and the untrained will flock to any place that allows them to get water “off the shelf” you can beat the crowds, and dehydration, by making use of alternate methods and a little prepper know-how. Just make sure you have safe, clean containers to store it in.


In the city, the number of people around you will be greater and so the simple odds that you will be made a victim of violence are correspondingly higher.

In a serious SHTF event, or worse, a proper collapse of society resulting in a WROL condition, you will almost certainly, at some point, be confronted by people demanding your supplies.

Self-defense items will be mandatory, but this is not as easy to prepare for as most places since the obvious crown jewel of the modern armory, the firearm, is likely to be restricted in any given city.

Assuming you can get one easily enough, you might be confounded by throttling on ammunition or secondary firearm purchase for a certain amount of time. Nonetheless, if you can get a gun, you should.

You will definitely want to stock up on ammunition as well, too, since a city that sees itself survive a collapse will quickly turn violent from lack of essential provisions and the unchecked rise of criminal and rogue elements.

You more than most preppers will have both cause and chance to use your firearm against someone else, as sad as that is to contemplate. In fact, if your plan is to bug in within the city, I recommend that you become an expert on home and personal defense.

But, not every problem is solved with a firearm. Even in a SHTF scenario you’ll have need of less-than-lethal force. Not every problem can be solved appropriately with a gun or knife.

Items like pepper spray afford you ranged standoff capability, and contrary to detractors, are statistically 90% effective at knocking the fight right out of someone (assuming you land a good dose on their face and use a good, high-intensity brand like Sabre Red or POM).

Other options abound for weapons of opportunity, and you can learn more here with a free report.

Of course, sometimes a good punch in the mouth or kidney is all some people will understand. If you don’t have access to a ranged tool and self-defense force is warranted, you will need to resort to good, old fashioned fisticuffs.

Escaping holds is also essential, especially when confronted with a mugging, so take the time to learn basic grappling as well.

Your best defense is to avoid other people who may want to take your supplies and/or harm you or your family, but in the city, chances are you will have to fight to defend yourself. Make sure you are absolutely ready to do that often if you bug in within the city.

Stealth and Cover

When you bug-in within the city, people will be everywhere. They will desperate, and they will be nearby, all the time. Every time you leave your home, or don’t, you will be putting yourself at risk.

You could be jumped by a lurking attacker, or worse, they could follow you back to your home which puts your family and your stockpile in danger. One of the first things you want to learn is how to be a gray man so that you can move about undetected.

The “gray man” concept is the art of being as inconspicuous as possible. While simple in premise, it is far harder to execute well than you might be thinking.

Fools have taken gray man appearance to mean drab, bland, or muted, but no amount of “discreet” dress is going to fool anyone or keep you off the radars of hungry predators.

In fact, it might have the opposite effect. Imagine dressing like some manatee gray “operator lite” guy in the middle of Miami. You’d look highly irregular and out of place, yes? Same thing anywhere else, anytime else.

Becoming the gray man has more to do with reading and closely matching the standards, tone and pace of a place, in as many ways as possible, so you only appear as someone who is utterly uninteresting and not worth hassling. While it sounds simple, screwing it up can have serious consequences.

To go “gray”, you’ll need to dress, look and act as close to the native baseline, or rhythm of a place as possible.

As a an easy “for instance,” if you travel to a southeast Asian country, one where most of the people are naturally brown skinned, short and dress distinctly different from Americans, and you just so happen to be a 6’ 4”, bald-headed, blue-eyed white American, fresh off the plane in a Hawaiian shirt, jeans and cowboy boots, there is nothing you can do to truly fit the “profile” of a local.

On the other hand, if you were to go to Berlin, Germany, and take pains to walk, dress, and behave as Germans do in Berlin you’d have a much easier time fitting in and avoiding detection…

At least until you opened your mouth! Compare and contrast this with survival in a city existing in the aftermath of some major disaster. What will the people living there look like, what will they act like? Well, most won’t look like jocked-up 5.11 models, I can tell you that.

Cops and military personnel, if they are around, will have a degree of that look, but they’ll also have buddies and the vehicles to back up the dress code. You’ll just look like some lone tactical guy.

Most survivors that continue to live and exist in these places will lose weight, be dirty and probably not smell great. Yes, even your scent can tip off a predator, and predators are always hunting with their noses, including people.

If you are well fed and clean where most people are haggard, dirty and stinky, you’ll attract the wrong kind of attention.

Best bets? Stay inside and stay hidden as much as possible. Only go out when absolutely necessary. The safest place will typically be inside your home if you can remain undetected. For that reason, you will need to plan ahead so that you can keep your activity invisible.

Use blackout curtains on your windows so that your lights are not seen by others. Practice moving about quietly within your home and make sure you practice with your children too.

Develop a system of hand signals and cues that are non-verbal so that you can talk to one another without making a sound in case someone is within earshot.

Urban Scavenging and Foraging

Even if you have stockpiled as much as your home can possibly hold, at some point your supplies will run low and you will need to go outside to get more

Scavenging for usable items and supplies and foraging for edible food within the city is a learned skill; it’s something you need to know and practice before SHTF, so you can get what you need quickly and efficiently.

The first thing you can do is to pay attention on a daily basis now. Keep a notebook with you and write down all the places within the city where there could be supplies and food that other people might not think about, such as the small, local hardware store, vending machines, airports, etc.

If you have a prepared list of places to scavenge, you can quickly move from one place to the next, and you will get to supplies ahead of anyone who is just roaming around without a plan.

The second thing you want to track in your notebook is where you can find wild edible food growing or living. Again, keep track now and write down places where fruit and nut trees are planted around the city.

Does your city have a duck pond? Or any stocked fishing ponds? These will be great places for you to get additional food that others may not know about.

Knowing where these plants grow in advance means you will be outside your home for less time and that reduces the likelihood that someone will confront you.

Fire and Cooking

Be it for warmth or for cooking, you’ll need a way to produce heat in the aftermath of a major disaster, and the easiest way to do that is with fire. Unfortunately, building, tending and managing the second and third order effects of a fire in an urban survival scenario is very challenging.

The sign of smoke and the odors associated with fire and cooking food will be a dead give-away of your location if anyone is in the area, and can be detected a very long way off.

You will need to find a method of cooking and heating your home that won’t act like a beacon to every desperate person nearby that there is potential food around.

While these risks can be mitigated if you cook indoors, you can’t just build a fire in your living room.

Even in a fireplace, the rising chimney smoke, odor and light from a fire can be easily detected. You might consider a butane or propane camp stove for indoor cooking, but the fumes of combustion contain dangerous carbon monoxide, undetectable without a specialized detector.

Alcohol stoves create nearly no waste gases that are dangerous, but are not foolproof, and no matter what type of stove you choose it will require fuel.

You could stockpile mostly foods that do not have to be cooked or heated, but I’m sure you will tire quickly of cold pork and beans. So another good option would be solar cooking. You will have to cook outdoors but there won’t be any smoke and your food will be contained inside your solar oven.

It is essential, regardless of how you choose to heat your home and/or cook your food, to make sure that you have the proper ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide build-up.

It won’t do any good to cook without being detected if the carbon monoxide fills your home and kills you while you are sleeping.

carbon monoxide detector
carbon monoxide detector

If you can, install CO and smoke detectors in each room of your apartment, but their shrill alarms could cause issues with nosy looters if they go off, or start chirping from a low battery.

Finally, you must also consider the risk of open fires in a city. Fire has ever been the nemesis and bane of built-up areas, and there have been many conflagrations in cities throughout history that have turned into outright firestorms.

You do not want to make a bad situation even worse by starting, or restarting, a fire that burns down half the city. You must always take maximal care wielding fire in an urban environment,

Flexibility and Back-up Plans

Your plan is to hole up inside your home with all your supplies and your family and only go out when necessary. While this is admirable and may be your best option initially, you absolutely must be prepared for the fact that you may be forced at some point to leave your home, temporarily or permanently.

It’s a good idea to have some alternative locations nearby where you and your family could get to if needed and stay temporarily, if only to get your bearings or rest.

These areas should have friendly people you know and trust waiting to receive you, if possible, or be out of the way, easily secured, and easily escaped from if not.

Other locations should be as isolated as possible and should not be a place that other people might consider a shelter.

Consider abandoned factories, old warehouses, or even shipyards and junkyards. Also potentially you might gain access to maintenance tunnels, service passages and even certain sewers. You want a place that will have some kind of shelter but won’t be a popular place for people to seek shelter.

Now that you realize that you may have to leave your home, understand that you may have to leave very quickly. For that reason, each family member should not only have EDC kits, but also keep bug out bags packed and ready for a quick departure.

In the event that you need to leave your home quickly, either for several days or for a longer time, it’s good to have several planned evacuation routes in place.

Hold frequent drills with your group now. Here are some things to consider so that you can be ready for whatever comes your way:

  • Can you and your family members get out of the house without using the main door and get to an alternative location quickly and without being seen?
  • When you get to that alternate location, are the supplies in your bug out bags enough to sustain you for several days or a week?
  • What if one or more of your family members couldn’t bring their bug out bag?
  • What if someone in your family got separated from the group, do you have a way to meet up or communicate?
  • Who else knows about your alternative location and what will you do if someone else is already there when you arrive with your family?
  • Do you have anything that could be used as a bug out vehicle? In the city, a car or truck might not be the best option. You may have to think about silent modes of transportation that don’t require fuel such as a bicycle.
  • If you had to leave the city, what routes would you consider and what things do you need to plan for so that everyone can get out quickly and safely? If someone is disabled, you may need a wheelchair or some other way to carry them.
  • Consider alternative routes such as railroad tracks or following a creek or river out of town instead of the highway.

Regardless of what type of situation you are preparing for, if you plan to bug in within the city there are definitely many things you need to learn and practice. You need to be physically fit, prepared to defend yourself and your home.

You need to be prepared to bug out into another area of the city or into the woods if your home is compromised. You need to be on a never-ending journey to find as many urban tips and tricks as possible, because you never know which one(s) will make the difference when it finally hits.

Do you plan to bug out or bug in? Let us know below.

urban bugging in Pinterest image

9 thoughts on “Can You Bug In if You Live in the City?”

  1. You asked for a comment if I will be Bugging on or out. Hoping this never has to happen, but I will have to bug-in. I am 77 at this time and am really not able to do much moving out. but I have enough food and supplies for a while. Although I may be one of the 9 out of ten who will die the first year at least I will leave something for others.

  2. People definitely need to bug in unless they have a planed place to go with people to receive them. You will not be allowed to come into the rural areas that you think you can bug out to without that and may be stopped even if you have that advantage. Don’t think you will be welcome in these area as to the people that live there you are just another drain on their food and water sources. You may think ” well I have property there” in a SHTF situation property right are going out the window and the locals will band together to make that so.

  3. Like Lois above, I’m a “little ole lady” who lives alone. However, unlike Lois, I live in a small community that is about 9 miles from a medium sized town. The nearest big city is across a big bridge and so should expect an influx of people fleeing the city. I’m planning to bug in as I can’t walk far and riding my bike isn’t really an option since I have no place to go that is more secure than where I now live. Therefore, I have stocked supplies, built a water collection system, developed a garden, and have the means and skill to protect myself up to a point. I have also met with selected neighbors to discuss the possibilities of forming a defensive plan. Beyond trying to keep myself as fit as possible, I’m not sure what more I can do. Any suggestions?

  4. i am 70 and live in a small urban apartment. i have been prepping for a long time and will take care of myself for as long as possible. i have nowhere to go so staying is the only option. i have a middle school behind the property and could start a garden. within 1 mile are 3 different retention ponds, 2 are big enough to be full all the time, one does go dry during the dry season. it is what it is. i will do what i can for as long as i can. good article.

  5. If you live on the upper floors of a high rise building you might have the water tank on top intended for use by the fire service
    If so then be sure you have the tools to open the valve and fill your tub as soon as you can in case others have the same idea

  6. We’re 73 & almost 82. Husband has Alzheimer’s so bugging out is pretty much out of the question. Wild fire might be the only exception. We do have bags packed if we must leave in the truck. Camping gear is stored by bug out bags. Can be loaded in under 10 minutes including copies of important papers. We have food and water stored up for quite awhile. We have medical supplies to cover emergencies.
    We live in a very small rural unincorporated community. It’s 15 miles to a small town and under two hours to a larger city.
    Fresh water is in the two wells on my property. One has a manual winch ready to be put in place. I plan to order a well bucket soon. I can use a pasta can in an emergency. We have 7 large caged water totes, 5 , 55 gallon metal drums that contained food grade oils, 10, 35 gallon plastic barrels that held powdered milk. Also have ducks, chickens, and rabbits. Glass doors for hotbeds. Plastic covered frame for greenhouse. 2 different sizes of generators. Stored but frequently rotated gas and diesel. Lots of seeds both mylar sealed and heirloom saved. A lifetime of gathered experience and knowledge. Stacks of trimmed branches and a homemade bbq to use them for cooking outside or heating with the rocket stove inside.
    Didn’t plan to be a prepper. Just living as my family has forever. Grow, can and dry to store it. Live without a lot of purchases. Then in spring repeat the process.
    This isn’t lush green growing land. It’s high mountain desert. Over 6500 ft elevation. Harsh dry climate with infrequent heavy rains for a few minutes then nothing more for awhile. 12 in precipitation is the normal average per year. So rain needs to be caught and used carefully. No sprinkler on the garden. Use soaker hoses to stop loosing water too quickly to evaporation. No green grass yard. Live carefully. Plan carefully. Husband only gets out for medical appointments. I wear a mask and use hand sanitizer when a neighbor takes me shopping. When I was sick he shopped for my list of things.
    Bugging in is the plan and preps.

  7. I plan to bug-in during the next shtf event. I live in the middle of a 10,000 population urban cluster along the east coast. There is plenty of game and fish in the area. Even though I am within city limits, the 1.5 acre property has a well/septic and is bordered on two sides by a marsh and creek. My biggest concern is security. When people run out of supplies they will want yours. I am looking for articles to improve security through passive means

  8. I live in a 7th floor penthouse, with a much younger wife who is disabled by bad knee surgery + psycological issues ( BPD ). Her longtime male friend is the only one with casual knowledge of our preps, but he is like a brother to me so im not worried about him. Its his wife, and her roomate that i worry about, being needy. The good friend has helped us out a lot, doing things the landlord evades doing. Good friend is very hand and has the right mindset for surviving SHTF. I feel i can depend on him, he’s not just another mouth to feed when things get tough

  9. When I comes to pepper spray I like “Bear Spray”. Used it once on someone that was high on PCP and it put him on the ground. Law Enforcement was impressed since what they carry will not always do that.
    Try this brand; Counter Assault Bear Deterrent Spray.
    At 66 I expect I will shelter in my apartment till some of the dust settles then decide if I want to stay around here or go to some friends place. Both have good points and draw backs.

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