Urban Bug Out Bag: Checklist and Planning Guide

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

urban disaster

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 which makes 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.

Planning Considerations

urban disaster planning

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.

Recommended Kit

 Tecton Bolt cutters 

These Tecton 8" bolt cutters would be ideal for cutting through barbed wire, padlocks, and alarm cables. They are very tough but still light enough to carry in your BOB.

 Stanley 17-Inch Ripping Bar 

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.


2. Water

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:

  • Extra bottles of safe water
  • Water filter + activated charcoal (for removing chemicals from water - see below)
  • Sillcock water valve key (for opening water valves on commercial buildings)
  • A hydrant wrench (for opening hydrants to get water)

Recommended Kit

 Activated Charcoal 

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.

Recommended Kit

 Direct Action Dust Tactical Backpack 

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.


4. Self-Defense

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. 


Recommended Reading: Best Shotgun For Home Defense


However, I want to be clear that a firearm is only useful if:

  1. You know how to use it 
  2. 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.

Recommended Kit

 Sabre Pepper Spray 

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

urban disaster

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.

Recommended Kit

 N95 Face Mask 

For most disaster situations where pollution is in the air, a N95 mask is your smartest choice.  

They are affordable but highly effective at filtering out particles.

 Ironclad HUG Heavy Utility Gloves 

We like these Ironclad gloves. They are Heavy duty but still flexible enough that you can use your fingers for any tasks that require dexterity.

6. Medical Needs

wounded during war

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.


Recommended Reading: BOB First Aid Kit


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.


7. Communication

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.

Recommended Kit

 AUKEY 21W Solar Charger 

As far as solar chargers go, this is probably the best one for Bug Out Bags.  

It is small, lightweight, but still will charge your devices quickly.

 Midland 2-Way Radios with NOAA Alerts 

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:

Food and Water:

Basics:

  • Change of clothes
  • Boots
  • 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)

Personal Protection

Communication and Navigation:

Tools and Other Gear:

Do you have an urban BOB? Anything else that you think should make the list? Let us know in the comments!

Image credits:

I’m Jacob Hunter, founder of Primal Survivor.
I believe in empowering people with the knowledge to prepare and survive in the modern world.

More about Jacob here.

Leave a comment

  1. I would include a credit/debit card, a lot of people have been stranded in cities and unable to get home due to bad weather in the last few days, the ability to get a room (even at inflated prices ) would be a big advantage.

    • After an EMP wave attack cars don’t move, ATM’s don’t work, CC are nullified! Better to have a Thermos stuffed with a pound of gold dust, silver coin, some twenties in cash, but forget plastic. oh, that car with electric locks and self-auto start…probably not going anywhere either. were one to have a Emergency egress tool the windows might be wrecked for that BOB and some hiking shoes cause you need to una** the city!!

    • Steve,

      Many people ignore packing things like money, credit cards, etc in a bug out bag because they’re looking at a complete collapse as the worst case scenario. Always prepare for the worst case right?

      I believe prepping for the worst case is the way to go, but one needs to take a look at the most likely scenarios as well and you hit the nail on the head with your assessment that a natural disaster is the event that we’re most likely to encounter. I always have cash and ID in a bug out bag. You’re more likely to need those items than any water filter or survival knife.

      -Joe

  2. I use a power chair and EDC a charger for it ( smaller than the one I use at home but it has still come in handy). Also, I have memorized my cc numbers because wallets can get stolen knowledge can’t. One other thing I would recommend a red light flashlight since the military uses them because it doesn’t carry as far as white light… so if you need a light that won’t attract everyone around you…

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