Urban survival kits – everything you need to know
When we talk about survival and survival kits, the conversation usually veers toward survival in the wilderness. Urban survival is a just as important subject, however, if not even more so. According to most data, the majority of the U.S. population lives in urban or suburban areas (~31% and ~55% respectively). On the other hand, only a minority of ~14% live in rural areas. Add to that the loose definition of “suburban” which often overlaps with that of “urban” and it becomes clear why we need to talk about urban survival kits.
So, here’s everything you need to know about them.
What is an urban survival kit and why would you need one?
People mean a lot of different things when they talk about urban survival kits. Some talk about the things you can carry on you at all times, others – about emergency backpacks you can have in key locations, and others – about in-home stockpiles. All are correct, technically – these three categories can all be defined as “urban survival kits” and we’ll touch on all of them here.
Stationary urban survival kits
These are usually the subject of both movies and jokes but are often overlapped with basement shelters full of cans, magazines, power generations, and so on. We won’t be talking about shelters here, however. Instead, by “stationary urban survival kits” we simply mean a mid-sized stockpile of necessities that you can use when you need to.
These are things you can carry in an extra-large backpack or in several backpacks with your family. Or, they can be just things you can stuff in your car and drive off. Things such as large water containers, mid-to-large stashes of food, an all-weather tent and it’s supplementary tools, a large bag of all-weather clothes, water filtration tools, knives, working tools, protective gear, first aid kits, and other such items that aren’t usually comfortable to carry around on a daily basis.
Such a stationary urban survival kit (or just a survival kit, as those are useful for folks everywhere) can include other items too, depending on where you live and what your preferences are. We’ll list more examples below but mostly for smaller and more on-the-road kits.
However, one other key aspect of these kits is that they have to both be secure from the reach of intruders as well as easily accessible to you at all times. Most people’s first instinct is to put them in a cellar or a basement and that can work in some cases. However, if there is a house fire or a flood, cellars and basements can also lead to difficulties. No matter how you choose to stash your stationary survival kit, it should be based on your home’s layout and it’s important that you can always reach it.
Supplementary one-person urban survival kits
In this category we typically mean smaller kits you can have in several key locations, usually in the form of a backpack. These survival kits are meant to be accessible to you in more situations and not only when you’re in or near your home. You can have such a supplementary backpack survival kit in your office, near your kids’ school, close to your extended family’s homes, or near other places of interest.
The goal of these urban survival kits is to always have a stash near you that you can rely on. Obviously, we don’t mean that you should just bury backpacks of supplies in the ground but renting small storage spaces and lockers is a good idea. When possible, you can simply store them in your personal space such as in your office.
What you should put in these urban survival kits is usually a smaller version of the survival kit items we talked about above. This means smaller emergency portions of food and water, a small toolbox with essential tools, a small first aid kit, some cash, and so on.
The items you’d put in these supplementary urban survival kits will often overlap with the ones you can carry in the third category below. Where you choose to put each item will depend on your preferences. Either way, below we’ll list lots of items that can be a part of both this type of survival kits and the one we’ll talk about next.
Urban survival kits to carry on you 24/7
This last category includes items for urban survival you can carry with you 24/7. Whether in a backpack, in a laptop bag, in your jacket’s pockets, on a key chain, or in a wallet, these are the immediate things you’d need in an emergency. These aren’t things that will help you survive for days but they are things that will help you get to your supplementary one-person survival kit, and from there – to your home or another safe location.
What’s also good about these items is that they are usually useful in non-emergency situations either. A flashlight, a taser, a small first aid kit, a pack of condoms, at least some cash. a charger for your phone, a sharpie and a small paper pocketbook – things like that are useful very often. We’ll list them and others in more detail below.
When are urban survival kits needed?
Before we delve into specific item suggestions, let’s detail the different “emergency” situations people usually talk about. This is important because what you need your urban survival kit for will determine what you put in it and how you use it.
Without going into specifics about all the possible disasters we can encounter – earthquakes, floods, mass fires, riots, war, nuclear war, an infections pandemic, and so on – we can usually separate all of them into two categories:
1. Dire emergencies where looting and individual survival is necessary
These are usually the stuff of Hollywood movies. From war and severe civil unrest, all the way to zombie apocalypses, alien invasions, nuclear annihilation, and so on. These are emergencies where all social order gets thrown out the window and one must resort to looting for survival. In such emergencies, the purpose of your survival kits will be to help you survive in the direst of situations – to loot, hunt, and grow your food, to filter your water, to sleep in the open, etc.
Most of these situations are purely hypothetical with only a few being realistically possible (i.e. war) but incredibly rare, at least in the U.S. Even the current Covid-19 pandemic or seasonal hurricanes are usually not enough of a justification for falling into panic and resorting to looting. The best idea in 99% of emergencies is to help maintain social order and to find a way to help yourself and your family without harming or hurting others. In fact, helping everyone around you when possible is obviously the best policy.
2. “Milder” emergencies where social order is still maintained
The much more common type of emergency, these are situations in which at least some semblance of social order is maintained. This means that hospitals will usually work (even if they are full to the brim), stores will be open (even if they are partially out of stock), and the police, fire departments, and army will be operational (even if they’re too busy to help everyone immediately).
The current Covid-19 pandemic is a good example of that as many items important for our survival went out of stock for an extended period of time. Hurricanes, fires, floods, earthquakes, and riots are other good examples of such emergencies. In such situations, the purpose of your survival kits is to help you get by until you can safely get to your home or evacuate your home and get out of the danger zone.
Items to consider in your urban survival kits
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s go into some specific items you’d want in your urban kits. We won’t cover home kits, stashes, storages, and shelter items as these are far too numerous and individual – we gave you some examples of those above. Here we’ll mostly list things you can carry alone in a backpack or on yourself. These are items that can/should either be on you 24/7 or that can be a part of emergency survival kits near you.
- Even if all stores are closed, cash can still be used for trading with other people.
- All-weather clothing, an emergency blanket, and other items to help you stay warm and dry. A good thing to include in your kit is a waterproof poncho.
- This is vital for when you’re alone on the road, at night, and in an urban environment.
- Firestarter kit. In the city as in the wild, you may find yourself in need of a fire. Firestarter kits come in many different types so find a one that works for you.
- Charger, a power bank, and/or extra batteries. Whatever electronics you have in you, you must make sure they can stay operational for as long as possible, particularly your phone and flashlight.
- First aid kit. This is self-explanatory. You can carry just a small and basic kit in you 24/7 but it’s a good idea to have a bigger first aid kit stashed nearby in your supplementary survival kit.
- Sewing kit and safety pins. These don’t need to be on you at all times but are a good inclusion in your secondary survival kit.
- Multi-tool knives and edged tools. The most well-known survival tool, this usually includes a can opener, scissors, a screwdriver, pliers, tweezers, etc. More importantly, however, make sure your multi-tool knife is sturdy and of high enough quality.
- Personal protection items and gear. This is a vast category that includes protective gear such as goggles, gloves, and a helmet, as well as personal protection items such as a taser/stun gun.
- Paracord bracelet(s). These are a great tool to help you carry heavier loads of baggage as well as stuff you’ve found or looted from somewhere.
- A very underrated item, ropes have almost limitless applications. Any good survivalist scoffs at all Hollywood movies where people just cut off any rope that inconveniences them. That’s absurd – a good rope is a precious commodity that’s treasured by any good survivalist.
- Being a survivalist doesn’t necessarily mean being an individualist. There are many situations where you might need help and a powerful whistle is a good way to find it.
- Emergency radio. Radios may seem unnecessary in the digital age, but having an emergency radio in your survival kit is a great idea. It can keep you up to date with the local news at a low battery cost.
- Food supply. You should always have at least a bit of food on you. Several power bars are always a good thing to keep on you 24/7, several more in your immediate survival kit, and something much more substantial in your stationery kit.
- You can’t afford to carry too much cutlery with you at all times but having a nice, sturdy, and multi-purpose spork in your kit solves that problem.
- Personal hygiene items. These can include whatever you’re comfortable with (or aren’t comfortable without). Some good suggestions include toothbrush and toothpaste, a soap, some makeup, some sanitary items for women’s period, and – as Douglas Adams taught us – always carry a towel. Condoms would also fall into this category.
- Water supply. Having a bottle of water with you is always a great idea. Not so much a commercially bottled water but your own bottle which you can refill every time you go out. For your supplementary survival kit, you can have several more bottles as well.
- Water purifications tablets. For longer-lasting emergencies, having several water purification tablets in your survival kit is a great idea. These can help you survive both in the wild and in an urban environment if finding water becomes difficult.
- Duct tape, superglue, and other useful tools. Rarely needed 24/7, these tools can be great in most survival situations. That’s especially true in an urban environment where you can often find broken tools or parts to tinker with and fix.
- A notebook and a sharpie, pen, or pencil. These are just useful to carry with you at all times, let alone in a crisis. Whether to take notes, to make lists, or to communicate, you should always have a notebook and something to write with.
Pro tip: A lot of these items are sometimes combined into multi-tool combos. Edged multi-tools are the obvious example but there are also police-issue pocket flashlights that can be used as a punching tool for protection, there are key chains that include multiple useful survival items, and so on.
And those are most of the basics. Depending on where you live, there may be other must-include items but those 20 items and categories that you should pretty much always have prepared.