The Ultimate Urban Bug Out Bag

For preppers, one of the most central tenets of preparedness is the concept of the BOB, or bug-out bag, that one, vital piece of luggage that contains everything you need to drop what you are doing and escape to someplace safe ahead of or right behind a disaster.

The BOB becomes you home and your storeroom, a sort of survival SCUBA tank that lets you “stay under” in the unforgiving and still very hostile wilderness.

While the term “bug out” for most people calls to mind heading out with your BOB and preparing to live off the land at least temporarily until you reach your predetermined location, that is not reality for everyone.

Many preppers live in suburban or remote locations where the wilderness is never far away, but for many preppers living in cities, the urban jungle, a towering tangle of steel and concrete, is what they call home, and though they may be wild indeed when the SHTF, it is not nature in the traditional sense.

With fully three-quarters of the American population currently living in classified urban areas, it makes sense to make your bug-out preparations including your BOB and its contents centric to survival in and around the gritty cityscapes of the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

If you are one of these Americans, buckle in, this article’s for you; today, we’ll be showing you what considerations go into selecting and crafting the ultimate urban bug-out bag. will need to be more customized.

The Extra-Special Necessities of Urban Survival

Just kidding. There are no “extra-special necessities of Urban Survival.” It does not matter if you are in deep and untouched country or in the throbbing heart of the biggest city in the world, the principles of survival don’t change. In the city or in the country, you’ll still need precisely the same things to support life and keep on the mortal coil.

You’ll still need air, shelter, water, security and food in Beijing, Chicago or San Antonio. You’ll have to have clean air, at least clean-enough air, to breathe, or you’ll die in minutes.

Without the ability to regulate your body temperature, hot or cold, you can die in hours. You must have a source of clean water, or the ability to make tainted water drinkable, or you’ll be dead within days and incapacitated well before that.

You must have the means to protect yourself from predatory threats, and this goes triple in the wild concrete jungles of cities under duress. And lastly you will still need food, calories, the very fuel that produces the energy needed to keep doing all of the above.

What will change, however, is the ease and order of procuring those essentials. Air, which is the survival essential we all take for granted the most often, could become critically contaminated in very short order in most urban areas depending on the nature of the event.

Everyone remembers the cloud of dust and smoke generated by the burning and subsequent collapse of the World Trade Center Towers on September 11th. How much worse might that be in a city wide disaster?

Food, one of the things in seemingly infinite, pre-packaged supply in a city, may appear of no concern thanks to abundance. But with hundreds of thousands or millions and millions of hungry mouths drawing upon the same stores, it might very well evaporate overnight.

Consider that all of America is dependent upon the gears of commerce and industry to feed itself, and magnify that dependency a hundredfold and you’ll begin to understand the threat.

How about water? With untold numbers of faucets and outlets for clean, nominally drinkable water connected to massive water-bearing infrastructure, why would you be concerned about water gathering in a city?

I’ll tell you, reader, that that public water supply infrastructure is an incredibly vast, complex and fragile thing, and will be compromised by contamination or sabotage easily.

Security, too, is now going to be a matter of significant personal import. It seems you cannot take two steps in any major city without tripping over a law enforcement agent from some organization or another these days.

Many of them work long hours for little pay to defend and protect their communities and fellow citizens. But sadly you can count on Officer Friendly and Deputy Fife being busy doing other things in the midst of a major crisis when the chips are down, either in an official capacity or trying valiantly to save their own families.

Ultimately, you and you alone will be responsible for repelling any threats against you and yours. Never forget your fellow man is the most dangerous creature that roams the earth.

The Challenges and Trials of Urban Bug-Outs

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 one for a rural setting.

The bulk of the problems you’ll encounter in city survival stem simply from the sheer density of the population. Hundreds upon hundreds of thousands, millions and millions, all packed together.

This is not miserly complaining, just an observation; you must know what you are, potentially, up against or at least working around. In survival situations, people often mean problems for individuals at an individual level. More mouths to feed and water, more casualties, more potential threats, etc. etc.

Security jumps up to a high priority on the list of needs. The tools and skills of self-defense will be crucial. Urban zones, especially major ones, are rightly feared for their rampant criminality in kind times.

This criminal element and resulting mayhem is far likelier to erupt into widespread brigandry and mayhem when Lack and Need collide with a profound disregard for others.

Opportunists, scumbags, thieves, the merely desperate and, sadly, even organized crime outfits will use the event as cover for action in order to get what they want.

You can assume, if you want, that things will be so bad, so rough all over, that they will all be dealing with their fair share of problems like anyone else and the population will enjoy a strained and uneasy peace in the aftermath, but history furnishes many examples of that being wrong.

Consider also how you must prepare for movement through an urban environment. Count on roads and major thoroughfares becoming irrevocably clogged almost immediately.

The ubiquity of doors, windows, gates, tunnels and alleys, all of which are easily blocked, locked or barricaded means that movement to either escape, relocate or just find what you need can be difficult and hazardous.

In an extreme situation, you may have a very real and justified need to gain entry through force or guile. Items like bolt cutters, crow or halligan bars, sledgehammers and lock picks are a good idea.

Beyond merely having them, staying on the right side of the law in a major city regarding possession of B&E tools and weapons is important.

You do not want to skyline yourself to local law enforcement or neighbors as someone who is anything else besides a Trustworthy Good Guy™.

Your other item of major importance is the far greater than average chance you will have need of air filtration or portable air supply equipment.

Compared to a pastoral setting where the only plausible threat would be a tanker truck crash spilling hazardous chemicals or perhaps being downwind of a major wildfire, any fires or serious damage to an urban area will release a tremendous amount of smoke, dust, chemicals and other unmentionables into the air that you are sucking down trying to hustle out of danger.

Bugging Out in the Urban Environment

Bugging out in a city is procedurally not very different from doing it in any other environment. Upon deciding your current situation is untenable or too dangerous, you decide to abandon ship (or flat, I suppose) and make for greener, safer pastures.

This does not mean hoofing it all the way clear of your home city and making off into the mountains of upstate, though it might. It could just as easily mean setting off on foot or bicycle for the other end of town, comparatively safer and untouched.

Things are not all doom and gloom just because you are bugging out from a city. Every environment on earth furnishes its own advantages and disadvantages to survivors.

Part of the trick is to make sure you are making best use of the former while minimizing exposure to the latter. In your case as an urban dweller, your use of a backpack will raise nary an eyebrow, since people habitually carry all kinds of luggage to and fro through urban centers.

Backpacks, duffel bags, purses, briefcases and satchels, luggage is a part of urban life. This means that chosen with care, you will not stick out like the walking goody chest prepper you are.

In the following sections, we’ll talk about what kind of bags you should select for your bug-out bag and more importantly what you should stock it with.

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.

Choosing the Bag

The first thing to consider when you’re putting together your urban bug out bag is the bag itself. 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?few hours without it rubbing you raw or killing your back, or busting open to spill your precious supplies all over the filthy, ashen streets?

Appearance

Compared to more suburban and rural residential areas, there is not too much that is off limits in urban areas. Your primary considerations are to either blend in or remain duly unnoticed. This boils down to mimicry (popular, bright colors and patterns) or camouflage (evading detection and recognition).

Mimicry colorways could be almost anything that resembles what an ordinary person would carry on ordinary business on an ordinary day, but you should keep in mind two things: one, there may very well be a time you need to remain as hidden as possible and therefore squelching the eye-melting neon green hiking pack you chose could be a good idea.

Two, it must still be as rugged, durable and haul-able as a “proper” military or overlanding pack. An earth tone or dark colored rain fly or cover could take care of the former, as could a rattlecan paint job.

Camouflage colorways are not necessarily camo pattern, but are instead colors that draw no notice. In a city, tans and gray-greens reign supreme. Other colors that work are dark grays, camel/coyote browns and even black. If you are ever in doubt, choose a color on the tan/brown spectrum.

Proper Fit

Far and away one of the most crucial elements for a good BOB. The right bag for you will evenly distribute the weight of your bag between your shoulders and your hips.

Adjust 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.

A good fit will keep weight close to your body and prevent the pack from listing away from you. Aside from being hard on your back, a back that pulls away will more easily topple you and drain your strength quicker.

Weight and Strength

Your BOB will gain weight quickly, like a first-year freshman at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. Keeping weight to a minimum is a virtue all preppers aspire to, but you might be carrying quite a fair bit of gear by the time you declare it “good enough.”

One way to save weight is in the construction of the pack itself. Modern materials and advances in hiking pack construction have resulted in bags with enormous capacity that themselves weigh almost nothing.

That being said, your modern backpacks of any make will come in one of three basic flavors with varying attributes. Typically you can choose two and have to sacrifice the other.

You can get a pack that is light and cheap, but it won’t be strong. It can be strong and cheap but won’t be light. And it can be light and strong but it won’t be cheap. Choose carefully.

Many preppers mistakenly believe if they can lift the bag, put it on their back and walk around with it, then it’s okay. But over the course of hours and days both pack and carrier may fail from defects not detected previously. This is why it is so critical that you practice rucking with your BOB before you must put it through the paces for real.

Size and Layout

You want a pack that is large enough to carry what you need internally with perhaps a little room for overflow, and a pocket or two on the outside for things you need to access quickly without sorting through the interior. You definitely don’t want crap hanging all over the outside of your pack like a gypsy or Sam Gamgee.

Size also makes a difference on your overall mobility. A huge, towering rucksack will more easily unbalance you and get snagged on things when getting in and out of buildings or vehicles.

Squeezing past fences and other narrow confines can see it be ripped or tangled. This is also a concern in woodland environments, but cities as a rule will furnish more opportunities for you to get caught on things as you move about.

Keep your pack as small as possible while still doing what you need it to do.

Waterproofing

It goes without saying that your bug out bag should be water resistant. 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.This can be accomplished through a coating process or treatment applied to the material at the factory, innate to the material itself or achieved through use of a covering of drybag that sheds rain and moisture.

Internally, the contents of you BOB, especially sensitive ones like electronics and paper, can be further waterproofed by the use of heavy zipper-locking plastic bags, reusable dry bags or similar.

Backpack Recommendations

The following packs make great BOB’s for urban preppers. Which one may be best for you depends on what you want to carry and accomplish. Carefully weigh your needs against the features of these packs to see what might work best. In the section after this one, we’ll get into BOB contents for urban prepping.

Maxpedition Entity
the Maxpedition Entity

Maxpedition Entity 27L

Maxpedition is a household name among preppers and anyone else who needs tough, dependable gear at modest prices. Their newest entry into their ever growing line of packs, the Entity series, is custom designed for urban dwellers and sports a highly refined post-modern look that will blend in anywhere.

Instead of the overtly mil-tac looks of their legacy packs with bulging external pouches, we are treated to a sleek, slick unobtrusive pack with clever flush cut zippers and hidden magnetic closures.

The Entity still makes use of Maxpedition’s customary concealment pocket for CCW and multiple access points for all externally stowed and internally stowed gear.

Plenty of cable routing and power point options round out this offering for the urbane and tech-savvy prepper.

27 liters of storage is ample for all but the heaviest of travelers. It’s only downsides are it is not nearly as adaptable as previous Maxpedition packs owing to the lack of webbing and external attachment points, but this is a small tradeoff for more inconspicuous looks.

Get the Maxpedition Entity on Amazon.com.

Maxpedition Falcon III
the Maxpedition Falcon III

Maxpedition Falcon III

In some ways the polar opposite of the Entity above, the Falcon III is a classic Maxpedition pack, but one that has benefitted from continual refinement over more than a decade’s worth of production.

An expanded, hidden CCW pocket holds large pistols and spare mags with ease. Tons of external storage provides plenty of room for stashing items you might need quickly in an emergency.

Wide padded waist and shoulder straps give you all the stability you could want. And for those who desire it, miles of MOLLE webbing makes expanding and customizing your bag a snap.

35 liters of storage space means you can head out heavy, while typical Maxpedition quality means worrying over your pack failing will be the furthest thing from your thoughts. A sturdy, if slightly heavy, BOB.

Get the Falcon III from Amazon.

Vertx EDC COMMUTER XL
the Vertx EDC COMMUTER XL

Vertx Transit Commuter XL Pack

Vertx is quickly gaining notoriety as a maker of excellent low profile bags for concealed carry. Their Transit sling bag is at the top of a very short list of such great bags, but is too small for serious bugging out.

Enter the Commuter XL, an extra long and deeper pack that has all the room and adaptability you could want especially if you are carrying a long gun!

The Commuter XL is light, comfortable and adaptable thanks to a fully pile Velcro lined main compartment compatible with Vertx Tactigami pouches or other attachable pouches, and is ideal for carry of an SBR or shorty shottie.

External admin and secondary pouches are discreet and hidden, with a fold away “public” panel revealing a row of yet more Velcro and webbing.

The Commuter series of packs all feature a single shoulder strap, sling style, so you can rapidly bring the bag to your front in order to deploy your gun or access other needed equipment.

This is ideal for accessing anything else you might need from within while still wearing the pack. Armor inserts can turn these bags into impromptu ballistic shields while a supplementary wishbone strap gives you more stability when loaded heavy. Not an ideal bag if you want to carry tons of gear, but terrific if a long gun features into your plans.

You can get it on Amzon here, or you can watch this review done by Talon Sei here:

Osprey Packs Rook 50
the Osprey Packs Rook 50

Osprey Rook

One of the plank owners among technical hiking packs, the Rook provides more than ample capacity supported by a flyweight internal wire frame and completely inoffensive looks

Best in class strap and belt padding keep you comfortable while the frame keeps your load securely in place and stable. Hydration pockets make gassing up on the go a breeze, and to crown it all this is still one of the lightest packs in its class at any price.

A lack of external “admin” storage is a bummer, but a couple of hip pouches for small, needed items and a slick, low-snag profile make this a fine choice for urban or austere carry.

An integrated rain cover means you’ll always be ready for movement through foul weather. A great pack for primary loads, but not so great for carrying external subloads and admin items.

Get the Osprey Packs Rook 50 on Amazon.

5.11 Tactical Backpack Rapid Quad Zip
the 5.11 Tactical Backpack Rapid Quad Zip

5.11 Rapid Quad-zip Pack

Finding a halfway point between a tactical and everyday carry pack, the Rapid incorporates the best features of a duffel bag, a tactical assault pack and an easy-to-tote commuter pack.

A sizeable main compartment can be accessed from any of the four corners and features a 270-degree zipper opening to give you maximum access in a hurry.

A frontal field that is entirely MOLLE webbed is offset by the tasteful gray-on-black coloration, not dissimilar to what you see on many over the counter computer backpacks, so this one should not draw too much attention.

Side lashing straps compress and secure the load internally to prevent it all sloshing around and a pair of smaller admin pouches let you quickly gain access to much needed survival essentials.

Attachment points on the padded shoulder straps let you lash on anything from phone and compass holders to magazine pouches. An excellent all-purpose pack.

Get the 5.11 Tactical Backpack Rapid Quad Zip on Amazon.

Supplies and Equipment Overview

No two urban bug-outs will look the same, but based on the principals of survival above, we can always start with a core selection and then add to it as we better zero in on our needs.

We’ll start with a quick overview and break down all the choices and the selection process in the sections following.

  • Pack
    • Large and strong enough to carry everything we need.
    • Chosen based on plan and ability to blend in if necessary.
  • Water
    • Water bottle and/or hydration bladder
    • Water filter
    • Iodine tablets
  • Food
    • Ready to eat
    • Easy to prepare
    • Calorie dense
    • Snacks for on-the-move or quick rests
  • Shelter
    • Water proof lightweight tarp
      • Paracord or accessory cord for securing
      • Useful for blocking wind and rain
    • Emergency blankets
    • Noisy, but excellent way to keep in heat
  • Clothing
    • Suitable for weather
    • Appropriate for exertion and rapid movement by foot
      • Sturdy footwear
      • Hat
      • Gloves, heavy protective and thin technical pairs
      • Sunglasses
      • Extra socks/underwear
  • Mask/Air Filtration
    • At the minimum N95 or better rated disposable dust masks
    • Preferably half-face N95 better cartridge respirator
    • Full head portable hood optional
    • Gas mask with appropriate canisters not out of the question
  • Weapons
    • Pistol
    • Knife
    • Pepper spray
    • Long gun, if applicable
  • Map and Compass
    • Basic small compass or button compass is adequate.
    • Detailed map of city and surrounding area
    • Road atlas or map of region
  • Communications
    • Hand-crank radio
    • Extra cell phone + charger + extra battery
    • Walkie-talkie for short-range communications
  • Lighting
    • Powerful LED pocket flashlight
      • Bring good supply of extra batteries
      • Used for signaling, navigation and defense
    • Headlamp
      • Invaluable for nighttime hands-free navigation or task lighting
    • Chemlights
      • Safe, heatless, foolproof
      • Various colors can be used for marking and signaling
  • Tools
    • Basic Tools
      • Multitool
      • Roll of duct tape
      • Lighter and/or matches
      • Vise grips
      • Utility Keys –Gas, water, etc.
      • Super glue (CA)
      • Permanent marker and pencils
      • Notepad
      • Knife, folding or fixed blade
    • Entry tools
      • Lock picks and shims
      • Pry bar
      • Compact bolt cutters
      • Sledgehammer, small
  • Medical
    • Trauma Kit
      • Everything you need for treating serious wounds and injuries.
      • Contains gauze, gauze pads, tourniquets, etc.
      • Must have training to use it!
    • Boo-boo Kit
      • For lesser issues like illness and blisters.
      • Contains things like OTC meds, band-aids, alcohol swabs, etc.
  • Electronics Kit
    • Phone Chargers x2
    • Extra long compatible cables for all devices
    • Power bank, rated for at least 2 full recharges, preferably more
    • Compact solar charging array

The following sections will shed more light on the things you should consider about items in each of the above sections. Note that these are not necessarily The Way, just a way. Your specific needs and situation might see you discarding or adding to any of the following wholesale an entirely.

We’ll start with water and food since we covered pack selection in detail above.

Water and Food

You would be making a mistake to assume that water will not be a concern since you live in the city, with cases and cases of bottled water stretching endlessly toward the sky in every store for miles around.

You’d be making a big, possibly fatal mistake indeed. City infrastructure in the 21st century is indeed a wonder, but it is also incredibly fragile, vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters, as well as good, old fashioned malicious sabotage.

You must have the means to carry and purify your own water! You’d be a fool to not have a bottle ready to drink, but you must also take care to have a water filtration system (such as the Sawyer Mini) as well as additives that you can use to remove biological and chemical contaminants from any water you find.

Food is similarly a concern, though not as bad or as urgent as water. Chances are like most Americans you already have an auxiliary fuel supply around your middle.

Nonetheless, we should still pack good sources of calories in our BOB since you’ll be burning plenty of that fuel as you scrap and scrape your way through a blighted urban landscape.

Quick and wholesome calories will keep your mind sharp and morale high. Choose good standbys in foil pouches or bags, but avoid cans: too heavy. MREs work, but are better broken down.

Dehydrated foods save weight and space but require water from your supply to prepare. Freeze-dried foods are a little expensive but very lightweight and they need water to be rehydrated.

Things like jerky, trail mix and energy gels are good choices for calories on the go.

Shelter

While you may have plenty of nice buildings to choose from in an urban environment, you’ll need to be prepared if you need to get in out of the weather and take shelter assuming you cannot access one, or find one that will keep you warm and dry.

A quality tarp along with some cordage to hang and secure it makes for a fine multi-purpose shelter from wind, rain or sun, and can also be used as a ground cover, rain collector and more.

Toss in a couple of emergency blankets- you know, those aluminum and gold foil looking ones- and you’ll have the ability to preserve body heat and reflect fire with ease.

Yeah, it is a crinkly setup and you’ll look like a baked potato, but you’ll be warm or dry. If you are backing heavy, you might also justify bringing a light weight bedroll, or a sleeping bag and tent in colder cities.

Remember! Exposure can kill in just a couple of hours if you roll snake eyes, so don’t cop out on shelter equipment just because you are surrounded by buildings.

poncho
Dan Sullivan’s poncho can also help make shelter (among other things).

Clothing

The clothes on your back when the balloon goes up may or may not be well suited to survival in a city blasted by some unknown disaster and existing in a state of crisis. To ensure you’ll have the right stuff close at hand if not already on you, keep a couple pairs of clothes appropriate to survival in or with your BOB.

This means seasonally appropriate, easy to work in, quick drying and tough enough to give you a margin of protection from scraps, nicks, cuts and so forth.

You’ll definitely want a proper pair of trail shoes or light boots, suitable for lots and lots of walking, too if you do not already habitually wear them. Important: never, ever trust to a brand new pair of shoes or boots if you have not broken them in first!

Blisters and other foot related maladies can be “mobility kills,” meaning they’ll stop you in your tracks. If you cannot make tracks, you are in big trouble.

Always, always keep an extra set of underwear and socks in your BOB, and change both frequently so they have a chance to dry out at the minimum. Skin irritations and other gribblies can cause trouble because an area of your body stays wet and filthy in the dark.

Beyond that, a comfortable and seasonally appropriate hat along with sunglasses and two good sets of gloves will see you through.

The sunglasses should be at least ANSI safety rated and preferably Mil-Std. rated for impact and shatter resistance. Either will help keep your eyes in their sockets and functional when debris starts flying.

Regarding the gloves, you’ll want a mega-duty pair that will prevent cuts, scraps and punctures from dealing with an environment soon to be drowning in broken glass, twisted metal and sharp rebar.

But gloves of this type afford very little in the way of tactility, so you should also have a pair of light, thin, sensitive “technical” gloves, akin to the kind so popularly used by mechanics and shooters.

These will be your passive wear pair you keep on at all times and will protect you from incidental contact.

Don’t think you are such a badass with tough enough hornskin that you don’t need gloves! Cities are germ factories, and if you get a cut you can count on it getting infected during a bug out. That is something you can ill afford. Protect yourself!

Mask/Air Filtration

As mentioned above, air quality is a concern in most cities in kinder, normal, everyday times. It is going to be even worse with fires raging, buildings toppling, and probably every single engine in the county idling and revving all at once trying to get free.

The only thing that will stop you quicker than exposure is sucking in badly tainted air full of God alone knows what. To prevent bad air from slowing your roll or incapacitating you, you’ll need a way to filter out the bad stuff. Your most basic line of defense will be an N95- or better rated mask.

These cheap throwaway masks are effective so long as they get a good seal on your face and better still are cheap enough to stash almost anywhere and everywhere. They’ll give you some protection against larger particulates in the air.

An alternate is an emergency smoke or fume hood mask, a transparent bag with attached breather canister that lets you survive short term exposure to smoke and similar atmospheres.

Your next step up is something like a respirator, the half-face masks commonly worn by graffiti artists and spray booth techs. Equipped with appropriate cartridges, these ergonomic masks will filter out nearly everything in the air effectively. The cartridges don’t last forever and might fail quickly in really nasty air, so bring a few spares.

The next step up is a proper gas mask. Gas masks are like respirators but cover the entire face, protecting the eyes. This might be helpful in smoky environments.

Gas masks like respirators use replaceable, consumable cartridges rated for certain kinds of atmospheric threats. They are not all equal! Gas masks are expensive, bulky and require training to employ meaningfully. Never get a surplus gas mask! These things do wear out, and a failed seal or bad gasket could see you taking in a lungful of yuck instead of clean, sweet, filtered air.

Before you vote for a gas mask as an all-in-one solution against nasty air and airborne chemical and biological weapons, keep in mind many such agents do absorb through the skin, and without a full set of head to toe protective gear you really don’t have any protection against such things. Plan accordingly if that’s what you are worried about.

Weapons

You absolutely should have a varied set of weapons to protect yourself, especially in the city. This is made harder by the fact that many metropolises, even in pro-gun, pro-fun conservative areas are significantly restrictive of citizens’ rights to bear arms.

The acquisition and disposition of such weapons I will leave for you to make up your own mind about according to the risks and consequences entirely. As I mentioned above, you do not want to get the reputation as someone who cannot be trusted or worse actually be prosecuted over such things. But doing without might be as big a mistake should SHTF.

At any rate, when it comes to weapons you’ll want both lethal and non-lethal varieties. In the lethal category the gun is king, affording you the reach, precision and power to remove a threat without getting caught up in a nasty hand to hand fight.

If you choose a handgun, this can most obviously be your EDC pistol unless you carry something really mousy and small. In that case, upgrading to a proper fighting semi-auto or revolver will be prudent.

Larger guns have the power, capacity and handling characteristics to help you successfully get out of a prolonged fight or multiple shorter ones, unlike deep cover pocket pistols, which are really a “break contact and escape” weapon. You should endeavor to carry some extra ammo, but don’t go crazy; ammo is heavy and gobbles up room in your BOB.

A long gun, rifle or shotgun, is definitely the choice for kicking ass and taking names while looking cool doing it, but you don’t want to get sucked into a real gun battle if it is in anyway avoidable.

Either, if not completely concealed, is also a major attention getter in a city, and I mean the wrong kind of attention. Consider off-body discreet carry of a (typically) shorter gun mandatory if you will be moving through an urban environment with a long gun.

Your backup lethal weapon should be your trusty knife. Fixed blade or folding, a knife is among the best weapons when the fighting gets really close, and even in the hand of an untrained user can inflict hideous wounds. This knife can of course do double duty as your bug-out tool or bush knife.

knife handgun and pepper spray on top of bug out bag

Do not discount non-lethal defensive tools, either. Pepper spray is the first, best and only stop here, able to knock the fight out of multiple attackers reliably with some standoff distance.

If you are going to use it, get training with it, as blowback can debilitate you as well and you need to know what you are made of and capable of should you get dosed with your own juice.

Avoid tasers entirely: they are not as reliable as pepper spray, expensive and have more quirks than make them worth it for civilians, besides being single shot devices. The only reason I would consider a taser if it is the only weapon my locality said I could have.

Before you eschew less-lethal weapons, bear in mind that, even in a real-deal SHTF scenario you’ll have more confrontations that should be solved by fists, feet or pepper spray than you ever will by a gun or knife.

Map and Compass

Believe it, a map and compass aren’t just for getting through the deep woods or the desert. It will be easy to get turned around in a city that is in chaos, damaged and swarming with terrified, desperate people.

Something as simple as a button compass can save your hid by telling your which way you are heading at a glance. Same goes for maps. In the case of severe destruction, your hometown you know like your own beating heart and can navigate blindfolded may look very, very different. A map can help you get around.

It is also worthwhile to obtain maps of the surrounding area and greater region. Your best bet may be getting the hell out of the city as fast as possible and, once clear of that nonsense, making your way somewhere else. Don’t count on your GPS or phone saving the day here. Have those analog backups handy in your BOB and consult them!

small flashlights
the flashlight on the left is hand-crank while the one on the right is battery-operated

Lighting

A good, trusty flashlight will be worth its weight in gold. Even in the middle of the day in a city, you are only steps from being plunged into total darkness; enter any building with the power out or, worse and spookier, go underground into a subway and you’ll be in complete and total darkness.

Remember what I said about cities having fragile infrastructures for supply of water? That goes double for power. Anything more than the disaster equivalent of a stubbed toe will cause a total loss of power.

Your flashlight will help you navigate, defend yourself and signal help or friends. Choose a light with a good balance of power and battery life, and make sure it is LED.

Those are far tougher than older incandescent models. You should also pickup a good headlamp, which is superior to the flashlight for all kinds of tasks requiring you to go hands free.

Face it, holding a light in your teeth sucks. Your headlamp will be your chore light around camp as well as a totally suitable backup light in its own right. Be sure to have several sets of batteries to go with each, and make sure they are carried within you BOB inside an approved container so they do not drain ahead of time.

Another option for lighting is chemlights, or snaplights, those glow-in-the-dark tubes that pop up around Halloween and in clubs.

Chemlights are a perfect backup and supplementary light since they require no batteries, produce no heat, and put out a surprisingly useable amount of light for close range work. They are visible at long distances and make a perfect signaling and marking tool.

multitool
A (not-so-fancy) multitool

Tools

Speaking of tools, you should bring some with you in your BOB! We aren’t going crazy here, not talking a mechanic’s chest or anything, but you do want tools that will help you do whatever it is you need to do.

Ironically, the tools that could potentially be the most useful in an urban environment are also the heaviest and most likely to be left behind.

For the basics, you’ll want a good utility knife, a multitool for tackling all those odd jobs, vise grips fro clamping and wrangling stubborn fasteners, a small or medium pry bar for levering open containers, light doors and shifting heavy items, a big permanent marker, a notepad, a big roll of duct tape (compressed to save space) and a tube of super glue for repairs and all kinds of creative purposes.

A lighter and matches for fire starting is mandatory for obvious reasons. A ferro rod or a magnesium fire-starter, can help solve your redundancy issues should your lighter and matches fail you:

fire starter
fire starter

Now, the entry tools: bolt cutters, lock picks and a small sledgehammer. The bolt cutters are large and awkward to carry, but can make short work of all kinds of chain, padlocks, wire, cable and the like.

All commonly employed in urban environments to lockdown portals and restrict movement. The lock picks combined with some skill will let you bypass all kinds of locks to get where you are going or, in a case of extreme urgency, get what you need.

In the case of the sledgehammer, it is useful for battering open doors, popping reinforced window frames and all kinds of other brute force and destructive work. But that is pretty much all it does.

Evan a small five pound model is a serious weight commitment, and worse with the bolt cutters and pry bar, but all together you will find few barriers you cannot defeat using them. Think about it and make the call.

first aid items
first aid items

Medical

You can safely resume the danger level will be high if you are bugging out, and since you very likely won’t have speedy or reliable access to medical care you’ll need to be your own doctor.

Your medical bag will comprise two modules, your trauma module and the boo-boo module. The trauma kit will include everything you need to take care of lacerating, penetrating, burn and fracture injuries. Big stuff. Show stopping stuff. Things like gauze, hemostatic agent, tourniquets, slings, chest seals, pain killers, antibiotics and the like.

Your boo-boo kit is for lesser injuries that may become worse over time or just annoy you and sap your willpower. Small cuts, blisters, burns, bites, scratches, etc.

In this kit are antiseptic swabs, normal and prescription meds, band-aids, large bandages, medical tape and moleskin. Don’t laugh: infection can be debilitating on its own, and there is no reason to suffer along in a funk because of a small, easily treatable injury. Take care of you first tool- your body!

emergency radio
This emergency radio runs on batteries but is also hand-crank. Plus, it has a built-in flashlight and lantern.

Electronics

While we never count on our electronics working for us as intended in the middle of a SHTF situation, that does not mean they won’t. They just might after all and if they do, great! Use ‘em!

GPS, smartphone and other gadgetry can certainly make your life easier and often outperform their analog counterparts. That being said, their Achilles’ heel is now, as it has always been, their need for electricity.

Lucky for you there is an entire industry dedicated to providing consumers with mobile, compact off-grid solutions for gassing up their gadgets.

You should, of course, already have at least two compatible power outlet adapters for any device you are carrying along with an extra long cord to help you position your device, on the move or otherwise.

A power bank, preferably a big one, is mandatory and try to get one that will supply no less than two whole recharges to your devices.

You should also invest in a mobile solar charger. These things have become so light, affordable and effective there is hardly an excuse not to have one.

With a good solar charger and a power bank, you can use the sun to supply most of your electrical needs anywhere you have an open view of clear skies!

urban backpack and survival gear
Dan Sullivan’s solar backpack and some of his bug out bag gear. items such as the emergency radio are kept in bubble wraps to avoid damage during potential shocks.

Considering BOB Upgrades

Any pack, no matter how nice, and any loadout, no matter how thoughtfully assembled, is just a starting point. You can upgrade your BOB and the things it carries by employing a few clever techniques.

The first one you should probably consider is waterproofing of the contents within, especially the sensitive stuff like your electronics and anything paper. As mentioned above, you can do this with drybags that you line the BOB with, or you can employ zip-loc bags to really seal up your contents.

You can add a high degree of impact and water protection by investing in heavy duty shock cases, as popularized by Pelican, OtterBox and others.

Anything truly precious or irreplaceable is worth protecting against all outcomes! You cannot anticipate what might happen while you are escaping; don’t risk your vital survival supplies to accident or mishap.

Another BOB upgrade, really a system of packing, is modularity. Modularizing your BOB means you’ll pack each section as described above inside the BOB inside its own smaller sack or container, creating modules or subloads that you can pull out all at once to access the contents and keep them organized in intelligent fashion.

You’ll give up some space and add a little weight doing this, but in return it lets you easily remove and shift BOB supplies from one bag or one person to another with nary a hiccup, affording you greater flexibility.

Find more bug out bag upgrades here.

The Urban Bug Out Bag Checklist

Here’s a checklist in table format. If you want to print just that, you can do it via this handy PDF here.

water bottleportable water filteriodine tablets
MREsdehydrated foodprotein bar
trail mixfreeze-dried foodjerky
tarpemergency blanketsponcho
trail shoes or light bootsextra set of underwearextra pair of socks
sunglassesglovesN95 respirator
gas maskhandgunsurvival knife
pepper sprayflashlight x2headlamp
chemlightsmulti-toolpermanent marker
a notepadduct tapesuper glue
first aid kitemergency radiosmartphone
solar phone chargerpower bankextra phone battery
aluminum foilfire starterwalkie-talkie
GPSbandannat-shirt
flosstoothbrushtoothpaste
pry barbug repellentmaps
compasstoilet paperearbuds
combtrash bagszipper bags
hand sanitizerwet wipesdry baby wipes
folding knife

Conclusion

A BOB is just as much a part of urban prepping as suburban or rural prepping, so long as you have an intelligent understanding of the specific threats and challenges you’ll be facing in the concrete jungles of the world.

Take the time to fine-tooth your BOB loadout and make sure it is going to support what you’ll actually be dealing with instead of what your woods-dwelling brothers and sisters will be dealing with.

What unique items are in your urban BOB? Tell us in the comments below, and feel free to pin this for later on your favorite Pinterest Board!

urban bug out bag pinterest

updated 10/21/2019 by Dan F. Sullivan

About Tom Marlowe

Tom Marlowe
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.

One comment

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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.

    https://www.amazon.com/Realistic-Bug-Out-Bag-2nd/dp/1548922994//ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&linkCode=ll1&tag=srvsullblog-20&linkId=d7edfc6d2685ead705d3ff89495c5b90

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