The Ultimate Urban Bug Out Bag

There are currently over 3 million people in the world who are “prepping” for some type of major disaster or SHTF scenario. I’d be willing to bet that number is much higher when you include those people who may not define themselves as a prepper but who are quietly preparing for the next natural disaster in their area.

The term “bug out” for most people calls to mind heading out with your standard bug out bag and preparing to live off the land at least temporarily until you reach your predetermined location. Rural locations have fewer people and therefore many rural families may even choose to hunker down at home.

But, more than three-quarters of the American population currently live in an urban area. If you are one of those Americans, your ultimate urban bug out bag will need to be more customized.

Population Density and Security

In an urban setting, there are quite simply, more people packed tightly together. Population density alone requires that you prepare your urban bug out bag differently than for a rural bug out. The likelihood that you will interact with other desperate survivors is much greater. Thus, your bag needs to include more self-defense weapons and bartering supplies to aid your negotiations or interactions.

The need for self-defense in an urban area will be greater because of the population density. There will be people all around you. While not all are criminals, many will be forced to take desperate action in order to feed their own family and survive.

Make sure you have several guns along with as much ammo as you can stockpile. Consider non-lethal self-defense weapons such as pepper sprays, palm-held weapons like tactical pens, tactical flashlights, stun devices, and even projectile weapons.

The need for stealth and camouflage techniques will be greater. You will need to scavenge for supplies, cook, dispose of trash, and remove toilet waste from your shelter. All without alerting people nearby to your presence.

Environmental and situational awareness become even more crucial. Blueprints for nearby buildings as well as city sewers or utility tunnels, could give you a way to move within the city without being detected.

In the event that you can’t avoid detection and you are confronted or attacked, it may help to learn some simple ways to get out of handcuffs and other restraints and some of the simple self-defense moves outlined in this free report and as demonstrated here.


A rural bug out means you must carry items to create some type of shelter. Even tried and true survivalists carry at least a tarp or poncho and cordage. Many people carry some type of tent and sleeping bags to stay warm and get out of the weather.

In an urban environment, abandoned buildings where you could feasibly seek shelter, will be plentiful. This fact alone means you have more space in your bug out bag for other things.

The biggest issue with taking shelter in abandoned buildings will be your ability to avoid being detected by other desperate survivors who may not have your best interests at heart. Thus, you may need to carry some type of black-out curtains or minimally some spray paint to black out windows.

Debris and Other Hazards

The one thing about an urban environment that is unique is the debris and other hazards that you will have to deal with as you move about. Buildings may be unstable, partially or even completely collapsed. There is more potential for gas leaks to compromise the air.

A dust mask or bandanna to filter out dust and smoke or a will be crucial. The only way to filter out chemicals and other gasses is a gas mask along with the appropriate filters for each type of contaminant.

smoke and tear gas riotIn addition, there will be a lot more broken glass, trash, and potentially raw sewage. You will need to customize your bug out bag to include first aid for cuts and for infection. You will need a solid pair of boots or sturdy shoes and thick socks as well as work gloves to protect your feet and hands from being punctured.

Scavenging for Food and Supplies

In an urban environment, you may not have access to a fresh water source and there won’t be as many gardens around to scavenge from. It will be important that you make plans in advance to grow your own food via a rooftop, container, or vertical gardening. Your bug out bag should definitely include some heritage seeds and also a booklet or kindle and e-book on edible plants.

Other Items

Most new preppers pack plastic utensils, paper cups, or bowls because they are lightweight and disposable. They figure they’ll just burn them when they build their fire. But for an urban bug out bag, you should pack one set of metal eating utensils including a cup and maybe a bowl. In an urban setting, you won’t be able to build a fire outside every night because it will draw too much attention to your location.

You may have a fire for cooking or a small one for warmth when it gets really cold but it will need to be kept very small and smokeless.  Your best bet is to carry a small camp stove or rocket stove. Burning trash would be a sure way to bring desperate neighbors down upon you and your family.

Multiple Light Sources

Let’s face it, if you’re in an urban area, you will have to go into unfamiliar buildings, you may have to travel through the underground subway tunnels or even the underground sewer or utility pipes. Those places will be very dark. In addition, other areas such as office buildings, store buildings, warehouses, etc. may have supplies that you need or may become your main shelter area.

Finding the supplies that you need, traveling within the city, and accomplishing needed everyday tasks to care for yourself and your family will be 10x more difficult if you cannot see where you’re going. For this reason, include several flashlights and batteries, solar powered lights, and even light sticks in your urban bug out bag.

Lock picking Tools

In an urban setting, there will be many, many abandoned apartments, houses, and businesses. Many of them will have been abandoned quickly and by people who weren’t prepared and didn’t plan. They will have left things behind that may be useful to you as you try to survive. Having lock picking tools and knowing how to use them means you can quickly and quietly search for more supplies when you need them.

Pry bar or Crowbar

There will be many uses for a pry bar or crowbar during a post-SHTF scenario. If you are unable to pick a lock, you can use the pry bar to get the door to an apartment or home open. You can use the pry bar to break a window so you can get inside. It may also save your life if you are trapped inside a building by debris during a natural disaster where you need to move something heavy to get out.

Gas/Water Main Tools

In the city, many homes and businesses will be abandoned by people who are panicked and not thinking clearly. If you live in an apartment building, you will want to make sure the gas main has been turned off to prevent any of the apartments surrounding your home from exploding. You may also need to turn a water main on so you can access fresh water or turn it off to prevent your building from flooding. An emergency shutoff tool is definitely something to include in your BOB.

Permanent Marker

One thing about the city is there will be plenty of concrete, brick buildings, various metal objects, and structures. Carrying a permanent marker in your bug out bag gives you a way to communicate through hidden written messages with other people in your family or group. If one of you is separated from the others, you can leave a trail for your group to find you. While on a supply run into an unfamiliar area, you can “mark a trail” so that you can find your back to your home base.

Rope Ladder

The many apartment buildings and high-rise buildings in the city make it likely you could be trapped above ground level during a disaster. If you are searching for supplies in a building post-SHTF and think you have been followed or detected, you’ll need an escape route. Having a sturdy rope ladder in your bug out bag gives you a quick and reliable way to get out of a building without using the ground floor exits.

A Personal Water Filter

Many people like the LifeStraw, but we recommend the Sawyer Mini because it’s half the size, purifies 380 times more water and it comes with useful accessories.

Can Opener

In an urban area where many people will panic and flee their homes, there will be some canned food that you’ll be able to scavenge for at least initially. Make sure you have a good sturdy can opener and even a backup one if you can. Yes, you can open cans with a knife or by rubbing them on cement but a good can opener in your bug out bag will keep you from expending energy needlessly.

Want Even More Items?

Of course, you’ll include all the bug out bag essentials but here are just a few more you’ll want to include, depending on what you’re prepping for and on your unique situation.:

Choosing the Bag

The final thing to consider when you’re putting together your urban bug out bag is the bag itself. To avoid looking too tactical and drawing attention to yourself in the city, go with a gray or black color rather than camouflage. The right bag is nearly as crucial as the items that you pack into it. After all, what good will it be to have the ultimate bug out bag if you can’t carry it for more than a day or so?

Proper Fit: The right bag for you will evenly distribute the weight of your bag between your shoulders and your hip. Address the straps so that the bag sits up against your back without bouncing around. In most cases, you will want padded straps to help protect your shoulders.

Weight & Supports: Your bug out bag, once it’s completely packed up, should not be more than one-quarter of your own total body weight. One common mistake new preppers make is to pack their bag too heavy. Many preppers mistakenly believe if they can lift the bag, put it on their back and walk around with it, then it’s okay. Remember you may need to carry this bag for many hours at a time over a span of several days.

There also may be times you need to run with it on. For this reason, it’s crucial that you select a bag that fits you correctly and provides proper support. It should lay tight against your body to prevent it from bouncing around if you have to run. Remember, if you can’t carry it for more than 500 or 1,000 feet without stopping to catch your breath, then it does you no good at all.

Compartments and Space: The ultimate urban bug out bag should have adequate space to carry all the supplies that you may need in order bug out in an urban environment. Multiple compartments and/or attachment points for accessories are beneficial. You may need to reach items quickly while bugging out so the more organized your bag is, the better off you will be.

Durable and Waterproof: It goes without saying that your bug out bag should be durable and waterproof. Durability is important because you will be carrying all your supplies, the last you need is for the bag to tear or rip during your bug out trip. Check seams, zippers, and straps to ensure they won’t rip or break easily.

In addition, you want your supplies to stay usable so that when you need them, they are at the ready. If your bag is not watertight or you have any doubt about its waterproof capabilities, use plastic bags inside each compartment and tie them shut.

Here are some backpack suggestions:

And if you’re looking for something bigger, you can read our other article on the topic, where we go in-depth with this.

Surviving a SHTF event in an urban environment won’t be easy and it certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. But if you find yourself with no other choice but to bug out, make sure your ultimate urban bug out bag is of the highest quality and is packed with the supplies you will need to make sure you can survive in the concrete jungle.

What unique items are in your urban BOB? Tell us in the comments below.

urban bug out bag pinterest

About Megan Stewart

Megan Stewart
Born and raised in NE Ohio, with early memories that include grandpa teaching her to bait a hook and watching her mom, aunts, and grandmothers garden, sew, and can food, Megan is a true farm girl at heart. For Megan, the 2003 blackout, the events of 911, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, spurred a desire to be more prepared for whatever may come along. Soon to be living off-grid, this mother of four and grandmother of nine grandsons and one granddaughter, is learning everything she can about preparedness, basic survival, and self-sufficient homesteading. She is passionate about sharing that knowledge so that others can be increasingly prepared to protect their families.

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    An excellent resource I have found on bug out bags is a book called, “Realistic Bug Out Bag, 2nd Edition: Prepared to Survive” by Max Cooper. This book is huge (620 pages) and covers a very wide range of topics to include 30 scenarios and 10 drills to increase your chances of survival. Well worth checking out. I found it complete and insightful.

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