Why urban survival, and in particular, why urban survival gear? There’s a lot of material out there regarding wilderness survival and bushcraft skills with less focus on urban activities. While you can find some information on urban survival, there’s always room for more.
More importantly, why should we focus on urban survival at all? Let’s look at some numbers.
As you can see in the line graph above, the rate of urbanization in the United States has been quite rapid from 1970 to 2018. I can only assume it’s higher as of today, but as of 2018, 82.86% of the total population in the U.S. lived in urban areas.
Worldwide, there is still a still majority at 54% of the total global population living in urban areas.
So, it’s safe to say, a healthy majority of folks live in areas where urban “survival” may be a concern. At least for those who pay attention and have a mindset of preparedness. This includes people who are just now opening their eyes to the concept.
What is Urban Survival?
Urban Survival is having the mindset, physical capability, skills, and equipment to survive natural or manmade events or disasters. Basically, it is “making it” when bad things happen within urban environments.
With urban areas becoming more and more congested, disasters affecting those areas are becoming more deadly and are having more impact on lives. Some things are unavoidable, and only so much can be done. Why not be prepared for the parts we can influence in our favor?
However, there is a portion of people who ignore what is going on around them, refuse to accept reality, and refuse to prepare for anything outside of their normal, protected life.
Why Urban Survival Gear?
As mentioned above, gear and equipment are part of what it takes to survive. Some items may not be absolute necessities, but they can make things a lot easier.
If you need to build a fire in an emergency situation, you don’t get bonus points for using a Ferro rod. Pull out your Bic lighter and start the fire.
However, keep in mind, you need to balance out what you are carrying with how much space it takes up and how much it weighs. It is easy to get overloaded.
Being lightweight and mobile can be the difference between being successful or not. You need to be able to move. Movement is paramount. When you are loaded up, can you cover a lot of miles, can you run, can you climb, can you navigate narrows corridors? You get the picture.
Has it happened?
This is nothing new and everyone knows about what happened on 9/11. Some experiencing it and some only reading about it.
The results of this attack were horrible and there are too many to count. Outside of the deaths, public transportation was shut down, emergency services were overloaded, and communication came to a grinding halt.
The dust and debris made it nearly impossible to see and breathe. Street signs were coated and unreadable, making navigation extremely difficult. That was combined with the chaos and panic that ensued.
There have been many deaths attributed to the toxic dust from 9/11. There is a belief, and some studies to support it, that the dust has been causing cancer in a lot of the victims to include first responders. This is due to inhalation.
Time has been ticking along since that horrible day, but the lessons learned still remain.
In 2015, passengers were trapped inside a DC subway for an hour in thick black smoke. One person died and 80 were injured.
On a much smaller scale, let’s go back to 2017, when a power outage disabled a New York MTA train. It was hot, and dark due to a lack of power.
Imagine a scenario like 9/11 unfolding on a larger scale over a city. For whatever reason, you have to navigate this urban environment and cover quite a distance to get to a certain location. Your best estimate is it will take you 2-3 days to traverse the chaos.
A lot of what you will come across is unknown. However, time is of the essence and you have to move as quickly as possible. This limits the amount of gear you are going to be able to take.
Areas of Focus
There are four core areas I am going to focus on. They are:
I’m going to try my best to categorize the gear choices where it fits. However, some may fit in other categories as well. That’s okay. Don’t give me any grief.
For the sake of this article, I’m limiting essentials to food, water, shelter, and fire. Again, we are talking about 2-3 days max for this scenario. We are not planning for an extended trip or being in the field for an elongate amount of time.
Security will be focused on personal security and personal defense. Of course, this can also extend to a third party if needed.
Navigation is an often overlooked component. We rely on our phones primarily and they be problematic when networks are down. Have multiple ways to get from point A to point B. Be prepared to adapt.
The attacks on 9/11 knocked out 300,000 voice access lines and 4.5 million data circuits while leaving 10 cell towers inactive. The active cell towers were overloaded with the enormous amounts of people trying to make calls.
This isn’t unique to 9/11. Disasters have played havoc on our communication systems repeatedly over the years. Even in the few years after that event, there were issues. A major blackout in the Northeast in 2003, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Minneapolis bridge collapse in 2007, and the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013, all put strains on local networks.
Providers simply cannot handle the influx of users during concentrated time periods immediately following disasters. You need to have alternatives or plan on doing without cellular service.
Urban Survival Gear List
A handful of the items listed below will already be part of your EDC. I understand that. We are simply listing out some of the gear you should consider.
How you carry it is up to you. Some will be on your body, some in a bag, etc. You will need to optimize it to suit your needs. However, there are some important considerations.
You want your kit to be lightweight. This should be a driving factor in your gear choices and how you choose to carry it. I can’t say it enough…you have to be mobile. I’m not just talking about agility, but I’m also talking about the ability to cover some miles.
Also, our gear choices are not focusing on redundancy for this scenario. Meaning, we are not worried about having backups to the backups. Normally we would have quite a bit of redundancy built into a system like this, but you aren’t going to see a lot of it.
While some of my choices may offer redundancy, that’s not my number one goal for this setup. Some essentials like water will get some extra attention.
Have I mentioned this is built with movement in mind?
Backpack or Sling Bag
How you carry your gear is just as important as what you carry. Early on in my backpacking and mountaineering exploits, I had no idea how to properly pack and carry gear. This translated to heavy loads, back pain, and failed trips.
Fortunately, I’ve come a long way. I’ve also come to appreciate quality gear and proper packing and carrying techniques. The ability to effectively carry what you need is paramount.
So, it makes sense that you need to put a little time and effort into how you carry what you are carrying.
I’m okay with either a backpack or sling bag, and you will ultimately need to pick what works for you. Most of the time, my choice is going to be a backpack.
I feel like it has better weight distribution and I can usually “secure” it to my body in a much better fashion. Depending on how your backpack is set up, you may have a waist belt and sternum strap in addition to the shoulder straps. These really aid in tightening the pack against your pack.
While some sling packs do have a waist strap, I still find the “flop” around during heavy movement. I’m not saying they are bad, just not quite as good.
When it comes to padding and other features related to comfort, the heavier the loadout, the better they need to be. Conversely, the lighter the load, the more you can get away with in terms of features.
So, with all of that being said, I’m going with a backpack for this scenario.
As I mentioned above, the essentials category is going to consist of food, water, shelter, and fire. As important as these are, they are going to be covered from a mostly minimalist approach.
I’m carrying 2 Bic Lighters for this kit. One will be in a pocket and one will be in my pack. It’s never a bad idea to wrap some tape around the body of your Bic so you can have it just in case. I’ve also included some tinder tabs to aid in fire starting. This is my only traditional source of fire.
Aluminum Water Bottle
In this scenario, I’m going with a single-wall aluminum bottle. I like the option to boil water if I need to. It’s also lightweight and easy to use.
A Life Straw will give me quick, on-the-go water. I can easily remove bacteria and parasites without adding a lot of weight.
I’m going with an old Camelbak bladder and hydration tube that I’ve had for years. I will give me water on the go and allow me to stay hydrated as I’m moving.
A small collapsible water bladder can also be a great addition if you come across a safe water source. You can simply fill it up, throw it in your bag and go. When not in use it collapses down to take up little space. It also weighs next to nothing.
4-Way Sillcock Key
A Sillcock Key will allow me to open sillcock valves and spigots, which are found on the exterior of a lot of commercial buildings. It could provide an easy way to source water while on the move.
Two SOS Emergency Food packs. Each one equals 3,600 calories, so two of these packages will provide 7,200 calories. This isn’t gourmet dining, it’s just meant to sustain me for the duration at hand. A couple of my go-to crunchy peanut butter Cliff Bars will also be in the bag. Mainly because they are my favorite “energy” bar to eat.
I’m also adding a few Alpine Start coffee packets in the mix. If time allows, coffee will add a little morale boost as well as the benefits of some caffeine. Not to mention, I just really like coffee.
A large contractor bag can be used for a lot of things like a makeshift poncho, improvised shelter, etc. It’s not the best at anything, but for the weight and space it takes up it’s a good add-on.
Mylar Space Blanket
Again, this is another one of those items that is super lightweight and takes up little space. It can be used to make shelter, maintain body heat, and numerous other things. Here’s a good breakdown of a few of the uses.
More realistically you can floss. In addition to flossing, you can use it to set up perimeter alarms, gear repair, improvised stitches.
A necessity in any kit, paracord has tons of uses. I’m throwing in about 100 feet on a paracord spool.
Wet wipes are good for maintaining a little hygiene, cleaning up, or going to the bathroom. I prefer them over toilet paper due to their multiple uses.
As mentioned above, we are going to focus on personal security for this category. Several of these items are what I would normally carry for a Defensive EDC, but I have also added some things.
I was on the fence in this category, but I settled on a Glock 19. Keep in mind, you will have to decide how to carry this in conjunction with a pack. Depending on your pack, you may have an issue with the waist/hip belt. It could conflict with an OWB or IWB holster. Just something to think about.
My primary flashlight is the Surefire EDCL2-T. I really like the size and it fits well in the hand in case I have to use it as an impact weapon. The option to have a 5-lumen output is nice for times where I need minimal light to perform a task.
It has a high output making it effective as a defensive option in that regard as well. Check out our article on “How to Use a Flashlight for Self-Defense“.
The Emerson CQC-7 is my go-to for this excursion. I like the overall size, blade profile, and G10 scales. The knife is extremely durable and can handle some pretty heavy work.
My old faithful Leatherman Wave will be on my hip in its nylon sheath. I like the fact that the tools lock into place and that none of the blades will open when the pliers are deployed. It’s awesome and just comfortable for me to use.
My medical capabilities are going to be pretty limited. I’m carrying the Pocket Medical Kit from Tactical Medical Solutions, which includes a Gen4 SOFTT Tourniquet, an Esmark Bandage, combat gauze, a chest seal, and a pair of gloves.
I will also have a TQ in a PHLSTER FlatPack on the beltline for quick and easy access.
I’m also throwing in an Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight .5 for minor issues that may pop up. It’s lightweight, compact, and I’ve supplemented with a few add-ons that fit my needs.
I’m keeping it simple here and my personal choice in this category is Sabre Red Pepper Spray. I like Sabre Red’s 1/2 oz. Key Case Pepper Spray mainly for the compact size and the concealability it affords.
Door wedges are just handy to have. Outside of the obvious uses, they work pretty well at keeping doors closed as well. I have these carry overs from my “active shooter” bag from a previous life.
They now get carried for various other applications and will come in useful here.
Tons of uses from attaching gear to your bag to gear repair to securing doors. They are lightweight, easy to pack/store, and you won’t even know they’re there.
Particulate Mask (N95 or better)
I’m using the TRIOSYN T-5000V Respirator, which is a NIOSH approved P95. I’ve left it in its original packaging to offer a little protection. Keep in mind, facial hair can reduce the effectiveness of keeping particulate aerosols out.
I prefer something like the Uvex Stealth OTG for safety goggles. I want eye protection with clear lenses that seal off around my eyes. Think of the aftermath of 9/11. The number of airborne particles was overwhelming.
I want to minimize the potential for contaminants to get into my eyes. While I may not win any fashion shows, I should be able to navigate those environments a little easier.
There are multiple uses for bandanas in all environments. Outside of a survival application, they just have a lot of practical uses. However, in a pinch, you can use a bandana for a water pre-filter, an improvised dust mask, and more.
Chemlights are a great addition you can use for navigating lowlight areas, signaling, marking hazards, marking routes, and more.
There is something to be said about having light and both hands free at the same time. A quality headlamp is one of those things that I use all the time. Personally, it’s almost mandatory in all of my kits.
A paper map of the city you are in is mandatory. You will never know your city well enough to forgo this piece of kit.
All around handy to have. You never know when you may need to write something, leave instructions, directions, or more.
Again, this is mandatory. Finding your bearing in limited visibility can be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Make it easy on yourself. At a minimum, grab a small button compass which won’t take up and space and will perform the bare minimum.
I always carry a Bogota Pi Entry toolset in my wallet for those just in case scenarios. However, they are small and be a little more difficult to use with cold hands, etc.
In addition, I’m going to throw a set of Bogota Titanium Flats in my bag. I find them easier for me to use in most cases because of their larger size. Again, they take up little space and the titanium weighs almost nothing.
The CountyComm CERT Bar made the cut for a multi-purpose tool of sorts. Due to weight concerns, I didn’t want to carry anything bigger. It’s beefy enough to handle a lot of prying jobs, you can chop with it, and as a bonus, it has a “wrench” opening for residential gas shut off valves.
Price gouging could be an issue, so make sure you have enough. Also, carry plenty of small bills for handling exchanges where you don’t want to display the larger stuff.
Having some change is not a bad idea either. Take an M&M’s Tube and fill it with quarters as a quick and easy way to carry them. In addition, wrap a little more duct tape around the tube. It never hurts to have a little extra.
We are going basic in this category as well. I’m forgoing multiple means of communication and just taking the items below.
As far as primary comm goes, I will be carrying my cell phone. Yes, cell service may down or the networks could be overloaded.
The idea is that I won’t be in communication with folks for the most part. This is intentional travel with an endpoint in mind. I will use my phone to navigate if possible and if not, I will use a map.
I generally find my phone easier to use for normal nav, but for alternate routes and bypassing certain areas, I find it easier to do using a paper map.
I almost talked myself out of carrying a HAM, but I ultimately decided I would. The extra weight and bulk will be worth the ability to monitor and communicate if other means are failing.
A power bank will allow me to grab a charge when I need it. The Anker PowerCore 10000 made the cut and will find a place in the bag.
In case my phone goes down and there is a need and opportunity to contact someone, I will have a list of emergency contact numbers in a paper notebook as a backup. My choice for this is the FieldNotes Expedition.
One of my buddies turned me on to these lately and I’ve found a lot of uses for them. In this scenario they could be used to signal, start a fire, and more. They are small enough to carry without greatly affecting the total weight of your loadout.
I’m not getting into the specific pieces of clothing I will be wearing, but there are some attributes or requirements they will have to meet. My footwear will have to be comfortable, broken-in, and able to handle a load while covering some miles.
Pants and shirt need to allow mobility while being as nondescript as possible. Gloves, extra layers, and rain gear are important as well (if that’s a foreseeable issue).
Extra layers and socks can be vacuum sealed to take up way less space. Remember, we want things to be as compact as possible.
There were a few honorable mentions that didn’t make the cut. Space, weight, and practicality, just didn’t allow for them. However, they are nice to have on hand if you ever need to use them.
- Siphon Fuel Transfer Pump Kit
- Breath of Life Mask
- Rappelling “Kit” (harness, rope, belay device, locking carabiners)
You can’t carry everything and you will have to make sacrifices. The more you carry the less mobile you are. Movement is key.
No solution will be ideal. Where you live, safety/security considerations, training, skills, physical ability, and more come into play when putting this gear together.
My goal is to be as lightweight and mobile as possible, while mitigating ‘most’ of the issues that may pop up. There will always be a hypothetical that I won’t be prepared for. That’s the nature of the beast. However, addressing the most common issues you are likely to face before moving on to the least likely threats is a logical approach.
How probable is an event like this? Not very likely for most people. Is that a reason not to prepare for it? That’s for you to decide.
What items would be must-haves in your kit?