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Urban Survival Skills [SHTF Guide for the Urban Prepper]

If SHTF, could you survive with the urban survival skills you know at the moment?

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The word “survival” usually conjures a wild scene to mind. We imagine trudging through open terrain, using only natural resources to craft into tools and for finding food.

While this certainly is one survival scenario, the most likely scenario for those in the western world is actually urban survival. Think at home or in your local neighborhood.

If SHTF, could you survive with the urban survival skills you know at the moment?

What does Urban Survival look like?

Urban survival actually scares the hell out of most survivalists, as it contains a crucial aspect that is totally out of their control: other people.

In a true end-of-days scenario where the economy has drowned, civilizations have fallen and every man is out for himself, the biggest risk factor is the unpredictable behavior of other wayward humans trying to keep themselves and their loved ones alive.

You can learn how to hunt, forage, live off the land and use nature to your advantage; but you can’t prepare for every type of person you might meet in an urbanized survival zone.

That being said, there is still a huge amount you can do to get prepared and maximize your chances when faced with urban disaster survival.

You’ll want to know how and where to find food and water, how to avoid the wrong type of people and attract the right type to your survival clan – among many other urban survival skills.

Note: We use the phrase SHTF a lot. If you’re unsure what we mean, it translates to “Sh*t Hits The Fan”! Although you probably worked that one out.

Getting Prepared: Urban Survival Skills Before SHTF

This section is all about what to do before urban disaster strikes. It is the most crucial aspect to survival and, as always, we recommend you start preparing right now!

Prep Your Urban Survival Get Home Bag

The Get Home Bag is one of the most important, yet frequently overlooked pieces of gear that you need to prepare.

It is rare that you will be given the luxury of advanced warning in a disaster or emergency scenario, and any warning you are given will likely be only a few minutes – not enough time to get home or somewhere safe.

The Get Home Bag is to be taken with you everywhere you go and should contain all you need to get home safely; but it should be discreet so that you do not draw unwanted attention or mark yourself as a target.

It might seem like overkill to carry an emergency backpack everywhere you go, but you will be thanking yourself should you ever need it.

The market for such stealth backpacks has greatly improved over the last few years, and there are now many models available to store all you might need for emergency survival, while retaining day-to-day functionality.

Read our in-depth review of the best Get Home Bags and how to choose them: Best Get Home Bag Backpack

Urbagn survival get home bag with survival gear
Your Get Home Bag should include essentials like survival food, knife, water and a comfortable pair of shoes.

Preparing your home for disaster

If you’ve read our other articles, you are probably sick of me saying: “no time like the present, start gathering supplies now!”…

But I’ll say it one more time. Nobody wants to find themselves in a nightmare scenario and not have the survival tools and supplies to keep their family safe.

There are several prepper essentials and many other “home comforts” which you’ll want to start stockpiling at home to ensure you have enough to keep your family safe, healthy and comfortable.

If you plan and prepare correctly, you can enjoy a good quality of life within your four walls despite any chaos in the wider world.

It is important to know what to stockpile, as well as how to store them and prep your home accordingly. Think of everything you could need, ranging from food and water to medical supplies and tools.

Read our article on how to stockpile food here: How to Stockpile Food for an Emergency. Read our article on the best survival foods here: Best Survival Foods.

Prep Your Urban Survival Bug Out Bag

This is one piece of survival gear that almost everyone has heard of: the Bug Out Bag.

There may be a scenario which forces you out of your home for a few days, or even for good. A Bug Out Bag should contain everything you need to keep yourself safe for a long period of time, should you need to.

This should be prepared as soon as you can, and we’d always recommend doing some practice runs whereby you try to live off your BOB for a few days and see if you need anything extra or can shed some unnecessary weight.

For a checklist of what to include in your Bug Out Bag, read our Bug Out Bag List.

Physical training prepping

This may seem a little counter-intuitive, as urban survival prepping is all about learning how to survive in your home town rather than covering miles every day out in the wild.

However, this type of survival can still require a large amount of physical effort. What if you need to get more supplies?

What if you have to take a sick family member to the hospital?

What if you are forced out of your home and have to make your way somewhere safe?

Public transport may cease to exist, and the use of personal cars or motorbikes might mark you as a target and be extremely dangerous.

Bicycles are a good way to get around, yet they still draw you out into the open and leave you exposed. Remember, we have no idea what this urban survival scenario looks like – so you have to prepare for the worst case!

Will all that factored in, it is likely that walking will be your best option.

Cities and urban zones can be sprawling and spread out, so it’s possible that you’ll have to walk for many miles and even days to make a return trip.

Keeping up your physical fitness is therefore an essential urban survival skill. Practice walking around your town with your chosen But Out Bag or similar backpack, making note of the most concealed routes and hiding places.

Do regular cardio if you can and encourage your family to do the same. Even schedule some family drills whereby everyone only has a few minutes to get up, grab their survival gear and make it down to the front door!

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To help start your physical training, here are some video tips for beginner hikers to get you moving more.

Map your local area

Knowing the ins and outs of your neighborhood before disaster strikes is an invaluable tool.

Purchase or make a map, and start labeling all of the points of interest: Hospitals, pharmacies, natural water sources, grocery stores, hardware stores and so on.

Make sure you know the map like the back of your hand, and practice walking to various places from your home or designated bug out location, trying to establish the most well-covered route.

Mark these routes on your map, and be sure to include spots where you can hide yourself of bunker down for the night if needs be.

Make copies of the map and make sure every family has one! Try to update this semi-regularly with any major changes to the infrastructure of your neighborhood.

Important: Decide a “Rendezvous Point” or bug out location with your family, should you ever be forced out of your home and separated.

This should be somewhere where you can stay hidden and live for a few days if needs be, until all members have reunited.

It’s recommended to also hide your urban survival cache in the same general area.

When SHTF: Urban Survival Skills For The First 72 Hours

Urban survival scenarios can come in many forms – far too many for us to detail in this article. Generally, however, in any given disaster scenario the first 72 hours will be the most chaotic.

There will be panic, things will grind to a halt and people will go to any lengths to protect themselves and their loved ones.

Most people aren’t prepared, especially if you live or work in a heavily-urbanized area like a city center.

This will give you the upper hand and makes it much more likely that you can get to your safe space and wait-out the pandemonium.

Bug in. Lay low.

This is priority number one when SHTF. If you’re out at work or anywhere other than at home, then this is what you will have prepared for!

You’ll have your Get Home Bag with everything you need, you will know your most conspicuous route back home or to your designated bug out location, and you will have prepped your family well-enough to know that they are doing the same.

Take a few minutes to assess the situation, then put the blinkers on and make your way to safety.

Once you are safe, then lay low for a few days. You’ll have enough food, water and comforts at home to stay indoors and wait this thing out.

Depending on the disaster, you might be able to keep updated with what’s going on via television or radio – or you may have to poke your head outside every once in a while, to see how things are.

Making contact with family

If there has been an EMP attack or something else which has damaged communications, then it will be extremely difficult to contact your family when disaster hits.

Even if communications are still in place, the waves will be jammed with people trying to reach out to one another, so cell phone communication should not be relied on.

This is where real preparation comes in handy, as every family member will know what they are to do in an emergency.

If your children are of an independent age, then they too should know how to make their way home – or make other arrangements depending on your family's unique situation.

If you have young children at nursery or do need to go and get someone for whatever reason, then gauge your situation and plan to go on foot or bicycle if needs be – using back alleys, country lanes and other routes which avoid roads and highways.

It is best not to use your car in an urban survival scenario, as it is very likely that roads will be congested and disorganized – causing panicked, reckless driving among other drivers.

In an ideal situation, families will be well-prepared to get themselves home and meet there instead of heading out to find one another.

It is always a good idea to pack handheld radios into your Get Home Bags, with an agreed upon frequency for emergency communication.

Remember to decide code names for each family member, as well as code names for any rendezvous points and safe spaces.

Two hikers bugging out in case of an urban survival scenario

Bugging in vs bugging out?

The most crucial decision you will have to make comes early on – do I stay put, or bug out?

You’ll have to gauge the situation and determine whether it is safe to remain at home with your years of carefully-crafted stockpile, or head out into the wild.

The latter will not be everyone's’ first choice, but it may ultimately keep you alive.

It may be that gangs have formed and are looting and ransacking homes. While there are things you can do to make your house less of a target (read our article on How to be a Gray Man for further advice), you may have no choice but to leave your home behind.

Depending on your situation, you might be traveling alone or with family.

Try not to travel with large groups like other families or adopted ‘strays’ as it becomes increasingly difficult to stay hidden and safe with lots of people.

Make sure that each member of your family has a bug out bag and can carry their weight - even small children can carry small, light backpacks with dry foods in).

Don’t let the fear of leaving your safe space cloud your judgment.

In your preparation, make sure that you are as equally prepared to leave as you are to stay put – then you can make fully informed decisions when SHTF that are not guided by fear.

Long-term SHTF: Urban Survival Skills For Indefinite Survival

In the event of a natural disaster, it is likely that you’ll be able to return home or to a council-run shelter after a few days.

In a worst-case scenario however, where civilization as we know it has crumbled, the “new world” will be made by those people who figured out how to survive the urban chaos for months or even years.

Finding water

No matter how good your home water stores are, it is likely that you will run out of water at some point.

It is very likely that local infrastructure will have ceased to function, so you cannot rely on running water in your house. Water is part of the urban survival essentials, and you simply cannot live without it.

If you have been preparing your home for disaster, you will probably already know your nearest and best water sources and have these mapped out.

Otherwise, you will have to venture out further afield to find water and bring it back to your family. Try to move at dusk and dawn – or at night if you are comfortable – to minimize the chances of being seen or running into others.

Once you have identified a water source, you need to make sure that it’s clean to drink.

You can purify it using items you have in your stores or by distillation.

Read our comprehensive article on purifying water here: How to Purify Water.

Handful of mushrooms from urban foraging

Living off the land

If it looks like you’re in it for the long-haul and urban living off grid is becoming a reality, then it is a good idea to start procuring food from the land rather than using all of your food stock first.

This will help to preserve your food stockpile for a longer time, and foraging will introduce vitamins, minerals and nutrients that you can only get from fresh food.

Depending on where you live, you may have a ready supply of fish and terrestrial animals that you can hunt.

Don’t forget that insects can be eaten too! If you can, practice basic hunting and fishing skills before SHTF or at least be prepared to learn them.

Urban foraging is hugely underrated too. Many herbaceous greens grow readily in people’s gardens, public spaces and even in the cracks in the sidewalk!

Making allies

In time, it is a good idea to start building friendships and making allies to support you in this post-apocalyptic world.

Living completely on your own starts to get difficult, and there is huge merit in teaming up with other families or neighbors to help share the workload.

You do need to exercise caution: not everyone is trustworthy. Lay low for a good while after SHTF, to allow the dust to settle and see who starts to come out of the woodwork.

Looking out for other people in a similar situation as you is a good start, for example: If you are a family with children, consider reaching out to another family as its likely that they are just as scared and in need of comradery as you are.

Everyone will bring different urban survival skills to the table: medical care, foraging skills, manual skills, teaching, crafting etc and this type of small community can be ideal for everyone’s survival.

It is likely that bartering useful items will become the new form of currency, and this can be of huge benefit to everyone if you have created a tight-knit group who have one another’s backs.

Essential Urban Survival Skills

There are an almost infinite number of survival skills which would come in handy in any given urban survival scenario.

You will likely never master them all, but it certainly cannot hurt to start practicing a few or at least to be aware of the types of basic urban survival skills you may need to learn.

Here is a round-up of our top survival essentials:

Basic first-aid

This should be on the top of your urban survival skills list. Knowing basic first aid – and having the associated medical supplies in your stockpile – could save your or a loved one’s life someday.

You cannot rely on the emergency services or a local hospital in a urban survival scenario – but there is some basic medical training you can do to know how to treat wounds, apply bandages, monitor patient heath and secure broken bones, plus many more.

Adaptability

Adapt or die. It is that simple! If you truly want to survive in a city of chaos, then you have to be able to adapt to anything that is thrown your way.

It is a difficult thing to prep for, but there are some things you can do. Look at the routine in which you live your normal life and start to break it.

Never get too comfortable, as this forces you to stay on your toes and react much more quickly to any change which does come your way.

Urban hunting

Cities aren’t well-known for their abundance of game animals just waiting to be hunted; but there is a surprising amount of wildlife that you can learn to hunt to add some extra protein to your meals.

They may not sound appetizing right now, but squirrels, pigeons and even garden insects might be a delicacy to you one day. Get practicing with that air rifle or slingshot!

Growing food & foraging

Creating even a humble vegetable patch or greenhouse in your backyard could be invaluable to you when SHTF. Fresh food suddenly becomes a luxury, and you’ll be thanking yourself for being prepared in advance.

It is also a great idea to become familiar with all of the greens and fungi growing around your streets and public areas, as these can be added to spruce up any meal too.

Wilderness first aid

If you have to venture out into town, or are forced to leave your home, then you can’t rely on having a full first aid kit with you wherever you are.

If someone needs medical treatment on-the-go, you might suddenly find yourself in the role of Doctor.

Paracord is one of the most useful survival tools and can be used in emergency medical situations.

If you want to learn more about paracord and it's importance for preppers, check out our guide on How to Use Paracaord for Survival.

Night travel

In an urban survival scenario, it is likely that there are hundreds – even thousands – of people nearby who are all trying to do the same.

If the outside world is chaotic and dangerous, then the safest time to travel is at night simply for the amount of cover that the darkness gives you.

Start training your night vision, learning your local area and walking light-footed.

Remember – if you do have to use a light at night then always use a red light. A standard white light is far too obvious and will draw others to you.

Carpentry

Knowing basic carpentry skills will enable you to fix any structural damage to your property, build an emergency shelter and all sorts of other useful things.

When learning carpentry, try to focus more on manual tools as opposed to power tools, because you cannot rely on having electricity in a disaster scenario.

Plumbing & Electrics

These are two more manual skills which may prove invaluable once chaos hits.

With a little know-how you can design a simple toilet for your family, install a basic solar cell and battery system for electricity and even barter these skills in exchange for food or other essential supplies.

A little skill goes a long way!

Running

Physical fitness is hugely important. If sudden danger strikes and you need to escape immediately, then running is your best bet.

Practice running with a backpack so you know you can comfortably run with a pack – or small child! - on your back.

Lock-picking

If society crumbles, then its laws crumble too.

You may find you have no choice but to break into grocery stores, pharmacies or warehouses to get supplies that you desperately need.

Breaking down a door or smashing a window will draw a huge amount of attention – far better to silently pick the lock so that you can sneak in, unnoticed.

Urban Survival Skills List

  • Carry a Get Home Bag
  • Take care of home stockpiling
  • Have a Bug Out Bag prepared
  • Stay in top physical shape
  • Have your local area mapped
  • Bug in if the situation allows and your home is prepared
  • Ensure communication with your family
  • Be prepared to bug out if your home is no longer safe
  • Make sure you have water or you can easily procure it
  • Learn to live off the resources you can scavange
  • Make allies and friends
  • Take first aid lessons
  • Learn to adapt and be flexible
  • Learn to hunt small animals
  • Grow your own food or forage
  • Get used to travel and move by night
  • Learn basic handyman skills
  • Learn lock picking

Urban Survival Skills Conclusions

It is hugely difficult to predict what disaster in an urban survival scenario will look like.

This article is simply an overview of the most essential urban survival skills you need to increase your chances of survival.

In reality, it will be up to you to determine what is best for you and your family – we hope that this has been a useful and informative starting point on your road to urban preparedness!

This wraps up our guide on the best urban survival skills to have you prepared for when SHTF.

Make sure you check out our other survival skill guides by navigating with the side menu.

Otherwise, you can jump straight to our next survival skills guide: Disaster Survival Skills.

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Hi, I'm Russ!

I've been prepping for a long time, but 2020 convinced me that I need to take it to the next level.

This website started as a way to keep me going forward on the path to being better prepared.

Now, I’m turning it into a complete blueprint for anyone else looking to do the same!
Russell M. Morgan
Telson Survival

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