Building An Urban Survival Kit Yourself

As of July 1, 2013 the United States counted a total resident population of 316,743,000 people. A staggering 82% of that population lives in cities and suburbs. That means that out of every 10 people 8 live in the city and chances are that you are one of those 8. I know I am.

Urban Survival Guy Building Your Urban Survival Kit US Population Density
spread of US population

Despite those numbers however most promoted survival kits that I found are not at all ‘urban friendly’. They are meant for the outdoors, or are at best presented as what you need to have when you try to flee the city to go to, say, the mountains. There could be several reasons to why there is a lack of focus on the urban survival kit, and commercial interests will definitely be part of it (not so many urban preppers as rural ones maybe?). But that can’t be all. Saying that vendors will make what people buy and thus is the reason why there aren’t that many urban survival kits doesn’t suffice. Why do people want them in the first place? Watching tons of YouTube channels, all the Doomsday Prepper episodes I could get my hands on, reading tons of opinions on blogs and after talking to a couple of people whom I know prep brought me to think that there is a believe out there that ‘we will have a chance in the wilderness’. Because it’s pristine and above all empty (as in void of people), because there is wildlife to sustain us and, if one possesses the right skill sets, it would provide for us to live there almost indefinitely. That kind of reasoning is why, I think, so much focus goes to outdoor survival. And that is wrong.

Outdoor survival will not safe you

However unlikely this sounds, I think you have to seriously consider outdoor survival not be an option in most SHTF scenarios. For my reasoning as to why we have to revisit the numbers, and please keep in mind that there is a slight fluctuation in the numbers because they’re measured over several years. By the 2013 estimate 316,743,000 people live it the USĀ (source) , which is 3,794,083.06 square miles in size (source). If we were to spread the population evenly over the country we would get 316,743,000/3,794,083.06 = 83.5 people per square mile.

Think about that for a second. 83.5 people for every square mile. Now this is the positive way of looking at it, because for a more accurate picture we need to subtract the influence Alaska has on the numbers. So lets take out Alaska (-663,267.26 sq miles and -731,449 people). That makes for (316,743,000-663,267.26)/(3,794,083.06-731,449) = 103.2 people per square mile. So here we are. Just imagine. Some kind of SHTF scenario just unleashed itself upon us and we have to flee our cities because of all the reasons we can come up with. If we would all do that, nature or the outdoors would not be able to cope with the 103.2 people per square mile. And not just nature wouldn’t cope, neither would the people that already own that land. Farmers for example or the people that bought a piece of forest for themselves will not except 103.2 people per square mile on their land. It would kill their perspective on surviving, so they’ll do whatever necessary to protect themselves and their families.

I do not know how much of rural USA is owned by someone and how much of it can be considered ‘public’. But I am sure that if we compensate the numbers even further and also take out the square miles of private property and spread the fleeing populous over what’s left, we’ll be looking at one dire picture. So again the question: Why the focus on outdoor survival? If you don’t own a piece of land or don’t have friends or family to bug out to, outdoor survival will simply not be possible for you. It looks like an option today since everyone is happily living out their lives in the city, but when SHTF that rosy picture will turn, fast.

Bug in, don’t Bug out

Before you read any further I would like to ask you to go ahead and check out this article by Southern Belle Prepper on the question of bugging in or out. He is very adamant on the question of bugging in or not, he boils his answer down to: YOU DON’T! And I’m in full agreement with him, except not for every scenario. Most scenarios will, I think, allow you to stay put, bug in and hold out. You do not want to become one of the millions of people drifting around without basic health, food, water or sleep taken care of (Maslow’s Heirachy of Basic Needs, remember?). Whenever there is an option for you to stay put and you do not have an alternate location like a second place of your own or over at a friend or families place, you stay put. Not because that will be the safe option and not because you can stay home and pretend all is well. I say this because whenever you have to pick between two evils, you pick the lessor one. Bugging in is the lessor one in most situations.

The organization of Preparedness

3 tier urban survival system
3 tier urban survival system

Now you know. Bugging in is where it’s at in most cases. Only when Nature or The State forces you out of your home, you should go. And yes, you do need to be prepared for that as well, but please don’t be blinded by the biggest of problems. Smaller disasters, or the side effects of bigger disasters that have hit in nearby states, will task your preparedness many times over before that one big one hits.

So the more logical response is to be prepared for those small disasters, let’s call them incidents from now on, and to 1) have on you, 2) with you and 3) stored safely on location that what is needed to survive at and around your home.

No, I’m not yet telling you what items I would use to build a kit. That will come later. First we need to think a little more strategically about the kits and packs we will need and then we can start building them. Now I’m not yet talking specific items here, all I’m talking about are the use cases for which the pack or kit are meant. To help me with that I did what I’ve seen a lot of preppers do, I took the proven military tiered approach, chanced it just a little bit and came up with a very recognizable ‘3 tier urban survival system’ for us civilians. We’re after all not military, we’re (sub)urbanites, right?

Tier 1 – On Person Gear
This first tier comprises of everything you carry on your person. So everything you got stashed away in the pockets of your jacket and pants, and what’s on your belt, be it directly hinged to the it or in little pouches. It does not comprise of anything else. So your purse, shoulder bag or fanny pack for example isn’t included in Tier 1.

You already carry lots of stuff on you which you wouldn’t leave the house without. That’s the stuff that is with you every day, all day. Some examples are your cell phone, maybe a watch, your wallet, your ID and drivers license and of course your keys. Now that doesn’t make for an urban survival kit yet, we’ll have to add a few things to it for that, but it definitely is part of it. We call all this your Every Day Carry, or EDC.

A good rule of thumb on knowing when you’re done building your EDC kit is that when you get stranded in the city somewhere, you know you can survive for the short term and that it’ll get you home again.

Tier 2 – Near Person Gear
This is where your bag comes into play. The second tier includes items that you need a small bag for to carry. Depending on what you think you’ll need as second tier items (don’t worry if you don’t have a clue yet, I’ll help you to get started with the basic items) you need a bigger or smaller bag. But as a reference you could think of a fanny pack or a messenger bag, even a smaller back pack will do fine. You could pick any one form factor you like, as long as the items will fit in it. I’ll show you mine in a later post or YouTube video if you like.

This bag you will want to keep close to you, but since it’s impractical to carry it on you all of the time it’s best to just keep it close by. If your car is parked in the parking garage of the building you work in you might want to keep the bag in your car. If that’s not an option, keep it in your locker or next to your office desk.

As you might expect you’re gonna find new and bigger items here that complement your EDC and bring you new capabilities and some comfort. But, you’ll also find the exact same items again, only this time somewhat better/bigger/stronger versions. Having items in multiples is part of being redundant, an important tenant of preparedness. Examples of typical items are a first aid kit, a water container, a map of the city, energy bars, etc. I will post a separate article detailing the exact content for what I think is a good urban carry bag.

To reiterate, the idea here is that when you get stranded in the city somewhere, or maybe further away this time, you know you can hold out a bit longer and cover greater distances than with just your EDC. Depending on the size of the bag and the number of items you’ll decide to go with you should get 12 to 24 hours survival time out of it. This is why they’re also called a 12- or 24-hour pack.

Tier 3 – Stored on Location Gear
Now this tier is a different beast all together. Where Tier 1 and 2 gave you the ability to help yourself in an emergency, Tier 3 will help you to get up, out and on your way to new lands. This Tier has a vastly improved version of your EDC and carry bag. It is big, packs lots of stuff and should be all you need to survive for at least 72 hours. It’s called a bug out bag (BOB).

This type of bag is subject of lots of debates and opinions since it is so important to your survival. Remember, S just HTF and this bag is what should save your life the coming days. That’s worth going back and forth over the contents a few times, right? As a matter of fact, when you listen to the guys online talking about their BOB’s you’ll often hear them say that it evolved on them. They started of with a certain set of items and then over time training and use of the bag taught them what they could do without, or needed that wasn’t there. And that’s perfectly okay if you ask me. This is a personal subject as much as it is a logical one. There is no science that says pack this and you’ll be fine. It depends largely on your personal needs, the area you live in, the area you’ll be bugging out to and what you have waiting for you at the place you’re going to.

The items you’d expect in a bug out bag are food & water, ways to make fire, a shelter like a tarp or small tent, first aid kit (again), navigation tools, weapons, tools and a bunch of stuff to make your survival easier or more comfortable, like a fresh pair of undies. I do not have a BOB myself yet, so I can’t show it to you. But I do plan to share with you the stuff I expect to put in it. Hopefully you could critique it a bit and help me make it better.

I call this tier Stored on Location Gear because this BOB bag is not something you drag with you where ever you go. This bag is meant to sit at home, waiting, ready to be picked up and get out of dodge with. Another reason I call it that is because at a strategic level the third tier includes things as home preps, neighborhood organisation and bug out locations. I might need to create a fourth tier for that, I don’t know. If I ever will, I’ll let you know.


Applicability tiered system
Applicability tiered system

This is my 3 tier urban survival system for urbanites. If you are familiar with the military version, or with some of the other ones out there you might ask yourself what the difference is between those and mine. And that is a fair question to ask. The main reason that makes my version different are the focus and therefor the included items.

I didn’t cover those in detail yet, but you’ll find that a lot of items are solely for an urban setting and pointless to have on you in a wilderness setting. You would for example find a MetroCard and an undated train ticket in the survival tin that’s part of my EDC, in case my car dies on me or it has been stolen. In case you are a bicycle rider, like I am, I advice an Altoids tin bicycle repair kit and a spare inner tube if you can spare the space for it. Those are all typical urbanite items that I haven’t seen on anybodies list sofar and that make my version a typical Urban Survival Kit.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article and learned a few things doing so. If you would like to comment on it, please be my guest, I’d love to hear your opinion.

Till next time, Kain

12 thoughts on “Building An Urban Survival Kit Yourself”

  1. Good write up! My urban EDC has Chapstick, Advil, b12, Claritin, an SD card, earbuds, a compact blade, a Wisp, some cash, bus passes, and a rite in the rain pad and pen. I’m constantly refreshing the Claritin, B12 and Advil due to lending it to people, and the SD card was really handy when I got fired once. It feels good to know that your basic immediate needs will be met.

  2. This was a informative article and it made me think about a thing or two. However, I think your argument that wilderness survival isn’t an option is predicated on what I believe is the logical fallacy that people will want to leave urban areas in a time of disaster. I can tell you from experience, most city dweller will only leave their urban centers when forced. I’ve never really understood that mindset, but I think its true in many cases. I think its sort of an addiction to city life. Therefore, I believe wilderness survival is still a valid option for those of us that have the training and experience. Most people in urban centers will simply not consider such a thing as even a slight option. Anyway, great article!

    • Hi, thanks for the compliment. I get your point, you might even be right. I too see people that seem to have that urban addiction. All I can say is that knowing both options and being prepared to (be able to) make a choice is what I think matters. We can’t save the world.

  3. I have a 72 hr bob for each member of my family that we practice using in camping situations, just so my kids are used to using the equipment and not adding additional stress to an already bad situation. However, I don’t plan on “fleeing” the suburbs as soon as an incident happens. My mindset used to be that in an emergency we would need to get out before martial law was imposed and we were rounded up for easier distribution of needs. But the more I have thought about it the more I have dismissed the idea. 1-martial law will be imposed on the heavily populated areas first, ie major cities, not suburbs. 2- In my home I already have the essential needs met: fire, shelter, water & food. Even if utilities are out I have a back yard fire pit and Dutch ovens to cook in. Because of experience with layoffs when the economy crashed we make sure to stock, and rotate, as much food and water as we can. 3- one of the big fears of preppers is that someone is going to try to take what you have from you by force, there is even some conspiracy theories about FEMA keeping records on who is stockpiling so they can come take it and redistribute it equally. I don’t buy into the idea that the government is going to steal my supplies, not because I trust my government, but I have seen how woefully ineffective it is in emergency situations. My worry is desperate locals. I heard it best put at a local city council meeting held at the worst part of the recession. Everyone was scared and alot of people in my area were without work. The topic of the meeting was to get ideas on how to turn the economy around in our town. This quickly escalated to yelling and one man standing and saying, “we all know who you religious people are, (my religion teaches we should be as prepared as possible in all areas of life), and if my family goes hungry I will take my guns and go door to door and kill you if I have to to feed my kids.” I was shocked! His plan, and from the murmer of others, was to not prepare and go straight to rioting and looting. I was scared and defiant until another man of my faith stood and said, “if you come seeking asking for aid we will give what we can, however if you come with guns to take from us you will be met with our guns, and that will help no one.” It was then I realized there was an opportunity to network and pool resources and knowledge in an urban environment that I won’t get in the wild. Will I still plan on leaving if I have to? Absolutely! But my get out of Dodge timeframe just became more fluid.

    • You bring up some really good points. As a single mom of two little girls under the age of 3 and living in the 4th largest city in America, I have decided it is probably best to stay put in my apartment, locked, stocked and loaded. The problem is I’m concerned about firearms and if I should use them to protect me and my babies. I am Christian. I remember how Jesus didn’t kill those who killed him and neither did the apostles or the martyrs throughout history. I don’t know what is the Christian thing to do and if it is permissible for Christians to have firearms in Jesus’s eyes. I’m not a coward and will fight for my children’s survival but I want to make sure i’m obeying God in all aspects of my life, especially one so huge that could mean someone else losing their life in defense of mine. What are your thoughts on this?

      Also, I’m scared to stay here because of the type of people that surrounds my neighborhood. They’re not the type of people that work much less prepare for when the SHTF. Guess I will need much ammo if I stay cuz there’s a lot of them.

      • Hi Kelly, you pose an interesting question. One that I haven’t thought about before. The Christian thing to do? I say that is to defends Gods children. In this case they happen to be yours. When people attack them, in my eyes, you not only have the right to defend them you have a God given duty as a parent to do what it takes to keep them save. That doesn’t necessarily mean kill the attackers, but it is an ultimate option to me. I do not have specific scripture to back my opinion up, I just think that after reading the bible cover to cover twice that this would be the right response. Maybe you have a priest or pastor around to answer this question?

        On the point of your neighborhood. I am fully aware that not everyone in the world can just simply pack up and move to a new place. In the case you cant then stock up. But if you have the chance to, even if it takes postponing buying guns and ammo for a while I would make sure I moved to better place. I mean the easiest battle to win is the one you’re avoiding. No need to be a hero. Just have to survive together with your kids, right?

      • I understand the delema of wanting to be a good Christian and not harm anyone while still protecting your loved ones. My understanding of the scriptures is that your priority comes to protecting and providing for your family first, and helping with your fellow mans troubles second. Remember that the same God who taught to turn the other cheek also authorized isreal to go to war to defend his covanents with them and their freedom and liberty.

        I believe that the use of force as a defense of life and liberty is justified and we will not be punished by God for it, however we will be blessed spiritually if we take the higher path and turn the other cheek. Neither choice removes the natural consequences of our actions.

        Having said that, and admitting that I own firearms that are in my home, I would be hard pressed to use one on an intruder in the night. This is not because of a godly fear, but one of if I miss or it goes through my attacker it will pass through the walls of my home and be a risk to my family and other potential innocents. I am trained in hand to hand combat, and my go to weapon is a kenpo stick, (like a short club that can be fashioned from a cut up broom handle or closet rod, to a stick or piece of rebar), followed by a knife. I am as confident in my ability to nutrualize a threat with these three weapons as I am with a fire arm, while reducing the risk to others.

        Will I still use a fire arm for defense? Yes. In certain circumstances. Do a have the determination to kill up close with my hands? For my family absolutely.


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