Living in a city when disaster strikes presents a unique survival situation. It’s a common misconception that “bugging out” means heading straight for the woods. Many of us live in major cities where it’s not possible to simply head for the hills. Events like extreme traffic congestion, rioting, martial law and other scenarios can limit your ability to leave the city. Including gear that takes this into consideration is crucial to building a practical and reliable urban survival kit.
Urban survival kit considerations
The contents of an urban survival kit are unique. The gear you include will be specific to surviving in an urban environment. An urban survival kit will have less of a need for shelter gear because of readily available buildings and structures. Because you will be surrounded by people you need gear for self protection. You will need tools to manipulate locks, break into buildings and access the city water supply. There is a good chance you will be on foot so keeping your kit as light as possible is recommended.
Backpack – You will need to store your gear in a backpack for mobility. Backpacks are easy to throw on and go. Your urban survival backpack should blend in. You don’t want to look like you’re loaded to the teeth with useful items. People get violently robbed for less in normal conditions. Packing your gear into a tactical military bag screams that you have tools and equipment made to survive. Blend in the best you can by packing your gear into a civilian backpack. The 5.11 72 hour rush bag is my backpack of choice:
Smart Phone – If the cell towers are still up you can call for help. There is no reason to stay in the city unless you have to. Your Smart Phone also has access to maps, emergency updates and many of them have a built in flashlight. There’s a good chance you will already have yours on you.
Multi-tool – A good Leatherman multi-tool is a very versatile piece of equipment that should be included in any urban survival kit. The built in tools can be used in many scenarios: Cutting up cardboard for shelter, opening food canisters, removing secured items, cutting cordage, etc. Don’t leave home without one boys.
Sillcock key – Ever seen a water faucet with no handle to turn it on? These water sources are on every commercial building and are accessed with a tool called a sillcock key. Even if the power was offline there’s a good chance there is enough pressure left to fill your water bottle. On large buildings these sources could amount to hundreds of gallons of water. This tool is easily acquired at any hardware store.
Water Bottle – A good water bottle will store any water you come across in the city. Using the sillcock key above you can easily keep your bottle filled for a good while. Opt for the stainless steel varieties to boil water in a fire. Stainless steel containers will add extra weight to your pack but are more versatile than a plastic bottle.
Knife / glass breaker – In the event of a complete system breakdown everything will be up for grabs. You can easily escape the streets by breaking into buildings or abandoned cars for shelter. When you start running low on supplies you will need to access the resources around you to resupply and continue surviving. There are many tactical solutions that fit the bill for this application. A highly regarded solution is the Smith and Wesson SWMP4LS tactical knife. See my guide to choosing the best survival knife.
Gloves – You want to protect your hands from all the sharp edges and glass you will be handling. A good set of gloves will give you a better grip if you need to climb structures and prevent cuts and scrapes. Your hands are too important not to protect. Pick up a pair at your local Home Depot or hardware store to get ones with a good fit.
Tactical Flashlight – The city is going to be ungodly dark at night. A solid flashlight will be crucial to navigate streets, dig through dumpsters (with your gloves), traverse catwalks and search buildings with the cover of night. Tactical flashlights are waterproof, extremely durable and designed for military and police use. You don’t have to worry about these flashlights breaking if you drop them. They are also high-powered enough to temporarily blind an assailant. Some of them come with a serrated bezel for breaking glass and self-defense purposes. The Fenix PD35 tactical flashlight is currently the industry standard.
Spare batteries – You’re going to need spare batteries for all of your electronic gear. This includes your tactical flashlight and your communications gear. Granted that most of these devices will hold you over for 72 hours but they will become dead weight if you are caught in an extended survival situation and they run out of juice. Pack spare batteries to recharge these crucial pieces of gear.
Pepper spray – If you aren’t trained to take down an assailant with your bare hands then pepper spray is a great tool to include in your urban survival kit. In desperate situations you can’t rely on people being civil. A face-full of pepper spray will stop an attacker right in their tracks.
Food and Water – Keep 72 hours worth of food and water in your kit. This will hold you over until normalcy is restored or until you get to an area where food and water is readily available. Go for high calorie foods like nuts and seeds. Foods with high fat and protein will keep you satiated. High calorie ration bars can be purchased and easily stowed or you can make your own trail mix. Ideally you won’t bring anything that you need to cook and nothing that will perish.
Water purification tablets – Use water purification tablets to purify any water source that might be contaminated with bacteria. You might come across pooled up water in the street from a recent rain or catch some run-off from a building that might be dubious. The water purification tablets will purify these sources of water so you can stay hydrated and keep moving.
Plastic Spork – Use the spork to eat any food you find along the way.
BIC Lighter – Having a lighter in your kit gives you the ability to make fire. This becomes very important in cold weather. Fire can also cook any food you that you find. Natural food sources for hunting will be scarce but other sources will be available. BIC lighters are high quality and continue to spark even when they run out of fluid.
Basic Toiletries – Toilet paper, sanitary wipes, and a small toothbrush and tube of toothpaste will cover your basic hygienic needs during a survival situation in the city.
Dust Mask – Put on the dust mask if you’re going to be exploring abandoned buildings for shelter. The dust mask will help protect your lungs from inhaling harmful particles. This becomes more important if you’re surrounded by collapsed structures or buildings that have recently been destroyed. They are also useful in the event of an influenza outbreak. The dust mask is a very light piece of gear and extremely affordable.
Cash and Cigarettes – These items are great for bartering. The cash can be used to purchase items at stores that can’t electronically process your credit card because of power failure. Cigarettes can be traded for useful items. Sometimes individuals addicted to cigarettes will part with very valuable gear to satisfy their cravings.
Garbage Bags – Industrial strength garbage bags are versatile pieces of gear. They are waterproof so you can use them as a make-shift rain coat. Garbage bags can be laid flat to create a dry sleeping system and they are durable enough to collect and hold water.
Communications Equipment – Having a way to receive transmissions that alert you to the current state of the situation is important. Hand-cranked radios will you keep you in the know and allow you to make an informed decision about your next move. Radio scanners can loop through emergency broadcast frequencies and HAM radios allow you to access and transmit over radio frequencies. Communications gear is essential for communicating with family who might be hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Note that you would need a HAM radio license to do this normally.
Learning to use the kit
These are the basic items you need in your urban survival kit. Unfortunately most of these items will be useless to you unless you learn how to properly use the gear. You can’t expect to whip out your radio and easily communicate with your family if you have no experience operating it. Spending quality time with your gear gives you the advantage of knowledge – and knowledge weighs and costs nothing. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the entire kit to maximize your chances of survival.
What would you include in an urban survival kit?
Leave a comment below and tell me if I missed anything or suggest a piece of gear that you think would be helpful. Thanks for reading!