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 considerable threat.
A 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.
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What is an Urban Bug Out Bag?
There are a lot of different definitions of Bug Out Bag. In general, 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.
- Your home becomes completely unsafe (ask the people of Syria about that one!).
- The city is put on lockdown, and you are unable to leave.
- You have a disability or illness, making it impossible to get out of the city.
- There are no rural/wilderness areas around you, such as in large cities on the East Coast.
- It will take several days of trekking through the city to reach the nearest safe, remote location.
When planning any BOB, I encourage you to think about items in categories based on what goal they achieve.
For example, we need Shelter, Food, Warmth, and Medical Supplies to survive in any situation. You can read more about this in our bug-out bag items list post.
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 portable saws and fishing kits.
These items can be virtually useless in an urban environment!
Here, I want to review some survival considerations unique to urban environments.
1. Shelter Considerations
The great thing about bugging out in a city is that plenty of pre-made shelters are available. The issue is how you are going to access them.
This is where survival gear like bolt cutters and crowbars can come in handy. You might also want a plastic tarp and some duct tape to weatherproof 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 many others 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.
When bugging out in the wilderness, you have to worry about bacteria and protozoa in water. However, viruses usually aren’t a concern in the 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:
- Extra bottles of safe water
- Water filter + activated charcoal (for removing chemicals from water)
- Sillcock key (for opening water valves on commercial buildings)
- A hydrant wrench (for opening hydrants to get water)
Recommended Reading: The 5 Best Survival Water Filters
3. The Need to Be Discreet.
In an actual 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 gear.
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.
Recommended Reading: Guide to Choosing the Best Survival Backpack
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 helpful if:
- You know how to use it
- You are prepared to use it.
Firearms can draw unnecessary attention to yourself by alerting other people of your presence.
5. Rubble, Debris, and Toxic Pollutants
September 11th was a big awakening to the dangers of toxic pollutants. People are still dying from respiratory diseases from exposure to flaming poisonous materials like asbestos.
Even relatively minor disasters like hurricanes can cause a lot of toxic pollution. And then there is all of the broken glass, crumbling buildings, and rubble.
To stay safe, you’ll need the following gear:
- Sturdy boots (read about survival boots here)
- Heavy-duty gloves
- Face mask (read about respirator masks here)
- Eye protection
- Earplugs (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 have one in your home, vehicle, and work.
6. Medical Needs
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 and the basics for treating wounds and common ailments.
Recommended Reading: BOB First Aid Kit
You might want to add a few extras for an urban Bug Out Bag.
Firstly, plan on the increased likelihood of wounds. Burns, abrasions, and deep cuts are more likely due to the flaming rubble. You’ll need extra sterile gauze, antibiotic salve, and burn cream.
Another thing to consider is potassium iodide tablets for treating radiation exposure. These should be in your urban BOB if you live anywhere near a nuclear facility.
Recommended Reading: Nuclear Survival Kit – Preparing for the Worst
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, if 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.
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 the different 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
- 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 a filter or water purification tabs PLUS activated charcoal)
- Sillcock water valve key
- Hydrant wrench
- Food: Such as protein bars
- Small camping stove. More on the best camping stoves.
- Mess kit
- Can opener
- Change of clothes
- Rain jacket or poncho
- Hygiene kit
- First aid kit (with extra sterile bandages, antibiotic salve, and burn cream)
- Potassium iodide tablets (if you live near a nuclear zone)
- Pepper spray.
- N95 mask
- Heavy-duty gloves
- Eye protection
Communication and Navigation:
- Two-way NOAA radios
- Phone and solar charger
- Permanent marker
Tools and Other Gear:
- Multi-tool: Guide to the Best Multi-Tool
- Two ways of starting a fire (such as a lighter, stormproof match, 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!