If a disaster strikes, a city is arguably the worst place to be. Not only do you have to worry about issues like rubble and downed power lines, but crowds of panicking people who didn’t have the foresight to stockpile basic supplies pose a huge threat.
At lot of prepper websites will tell you to move the heck out of the city. Yes – that’s good advice, but not all of us are in a situation where we can pick up and move.
What you can do is pack an urban Bug Out Bag.
What is an Urban Bug Out Bag?
There are a lot of different definitions of Bug Out Bag. In general though, a BOB is defined as a kit containing everything you need to survive through disaster conditions for 3 days.
So, an urban Bug Out Bag will contain everything you need to survive a disaster in a city or other urban environment.
Why You Need an Urban Bug Out Bag
You might not think you need an urban BOB. After all, you could just go home – right?
You might even keep a Get Home Bag in your car in case a disaster strikes while you are away.
The truth is that there are many situations where you could end up stuck wandering the city through a SHTF disaster.
When planning any BOB, I encourage you to think about items in categories based on what goal they achieve.
For example, to survive in any situation we need Shelter, Food, Warmth, and Medical Supplies. You can read more about these categories in our post 3-Day Bug Out Bag Packing List.
Most Bug Out Bag lists are created with the notion that you’ll be escaping into the wilderness. You’ll find items on these lists like a portable saw and fishing kits.
These items can be virtually useless in an urban environment!
Here, I want to go over some of the survival considerations which are unique to urban environments.
1. Shelter Considerations
The great thing about bugging out in a city is that there are plenty of pre-made shelters available. The issue is how you are going to access them.
This is where survival gear like bolt cutters and crowbars can come in very handy. You might also want a plastic tarp and some duct tape so you can weather-proof a damaged shelter.
I’d also recommend mapping out some locations in your city which would make a good survival shelter.
Abandoned buildings like factories might be a good choice, though plenty of other people will probably have this idea.
Dilapidated buildings might be better as fewer people will think of going there, and they are less likely to be targeted by looters.
One of our readers recommended this ripping bar.
It doesn’t have a “gooseneck” on it, so it can be driven farther into a doorframe, it also has a nail puller hole you can lash through for carrying.
When bugging out in the wilderness, you have to worry about bacteria and protozoa in water. However, viruses usually aren’t a concern in backcountry. Neither are chemicals. So, a standard backpacking water filter like the Sawyer Mini will do the job.
This is NOT the case in cities!
Even the water from your tap usually isn’t safe to drink during an emergency (read about Boil Alerts here). You’ll need a water purification method that can remove viruses and chemicals.
Another issue is where will you even find water in the city?
If you are reduced to collecting water from puddles or sewers, you can bet that there is a lot of toxic waste in it.
To solve these issues, you may want to pack gear like:
This activated charcoal can be used to remove chemicals from toxic water.
Note that you'll still need to filter or boil the water first to kill bacteria and viruses. However, the activated charcoal is crucial for securing safe drinking water in the city.
3. The Need to Be Discreet
In a total SHTF situation, the last thing you want is to draw attention to yourself. Walking around with a camo-style backpack loaded with supplies is likely to do that!
You’ll have to choose a bug out backpack which is very discreet. One of the best tips I’ve heard is to use a baby bag as your BOB. No one will suspect that the bag is loaded with necessary gear.
You can read more tips on How to Prevent Your BOB from Getting Stolen.
As far as tactical backpacks go, this is one of the most discreet designs you'll find.
You get all the benefits that come with a tactical pack, such as loads of room and sturdy material, but without sticking out and making yourself a target.
In cities, you are more likely to encounter gangs. The need for self-defense items becomes critical.
Most people would recommend a firearm for urban survival self-defense.
However, I want to be clear that a firearm is only useful if:
- You know how to use it
- You are prepared to use it.
Firearms can draw unnecessary attention to yourself, such as by alerting other people of your presence.
I personally think that every urban Bug Out Bag should include pepper spray. It is a great non-lethal self defense tool.
This brand of pepper spray can shoot up to 10 feet and has 35 shots in it (which is a lot more than most other brands have).
The quick-release mechanism means you won't accidentally release a spray, but you'll be able to react quickly if necessary.
5. Rubble, Debris and Toxic Pollutants
September 11th was a big awakening to the dangers of toxic pollutants. People are still dying today because of respiratory diseases they got from exposure to flaming toxic materials like asbestos.
Even relatively-minor disasters like hurricanes can cause a lot of toxic pollution to be released. And then there is all of the broken glass, crumbling buildings, and rubble.
To stay safe, you’ll need the following gear:
- Sturdy boots
- Heavy duty gloves
- Face mask (read about respirator masks here)
- Eye protection
- Ear plugs (don’t underestimate how much damage loud noises can cause!)
- Fire extinguisher*
*You probably aren’t going to carry a fire extinguisher in your urban BOB. However, you should definitely have one in your home, vehicle, and at work.
6. Medical Needs
Just like with a wilderness BOB, you’ll need to build a personalized first aid kit for your urban BOB.
This should include any medications you take, as well as basics for treating wounds and common ailments.
For an urban Bug Out Bag, you might want to add a few extras.
Firstly, plan on increased likelihood of wounds. Burns, abrasions, and deep cuts are more likely due to all of the flaming rubble. You’ll need extra sterile gauze, antibiotic salve, and burn cream.
Another thing to consider is potassium iodide tablets for treating exposure to radiation. If you live anywhere near a nuclear facility, these should definitely be in your urban BOB.
In an urban survival scenario, your need for communication increases.
For example, part of your group might stay hunkered in your shelter while some go scouting for supplies.
You’ll want 2-way radios to stay in contact. Make sure they are NOAA approved so you can get disaster updates.
In a major disaster, phone signals probably won’t work. However, in case they are, you’ll want to have a means of charging your phone.
Permanent markers are great to have in case you need to leave messages written on buildings.
Midland makes some of the best emergency radios.
Not all two-way radios come with NOAA alerts, so these are really one of the best emergency radios you could get for your urban BOB.
Urban Bug Out Bag Packing List
*Everyone’s needs are different! You might not need or be able to carry every single item on this list.
This list is meant to serve as a starting point for all of the different types of gear you’d need to survive a complete SHTF situation in the city.
For Securing Shelter:
- Small sleeping bag or bivvy. We like the Tact Bivvy.
- Lock picking set
- Crowbar. Recommended: Stanley Ripping Bar.
- Bolt cutters. Recommended: Tecton Bolt Cutters
- Plastic tarp
- Duct tape
Food and Water:
- Bottled water: Ideally 6 quarts per person, but this can weigh down your pack
- Water treatment method suitable for toxic water (such as filter or water purification tabs PLUS activated charcoal)
- Sillcock water valve key
- Hydrant wrench
- Food: Such as protein bars
- Small camping stove. We like this super cheap and simple one.
- Mess kit - this one is awesome comes with stove and can opener thus saving weight in your BOB.
- Can opener
- Change of clothes
- Rain jacket or poncho
- Hygiene kit
- First aid kit (with extra sterile bandages, antibiotic salve, and burn cream)
- Potassium iodine tablets (if you live near a nuclear zone)
Communication and Navigation:
Tools and Other Gear:
- Multi-tool: Guide to the Best Multi Tool
- Two ways of starting a fire (such as a lighter, stormproof matches, or ferro rod)
- Paracord: Read our guide to Pararcord
- Vital documents
- Cash, at least $50 in small bills
- Personal comfort items, such as toys for kids or playing cards
Do you have an urban BOB? Anything else that you think should make the list? Let us know in the comments!