How To Build An Urban Survival Kit
Estimated reading time: 17 minutes
Survival kits are often talked about in the context of being lost in the wilderness and for obvious reasons you should have one when going to remote or even semi-remote areas.
To this day, some people find it absurd to carry a survival kit in an urban environment. The mentality is that these areas are “safer” and “help is just a call away.” Both of those excuses are untrue and when something bad happens, you will always be the first responder, which means you better be prepared.
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Before getting into the actual survival kit, there are a few things we need to cover so that you have a clear understanding of this topic and how to tailor the kit to your needs.
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Wilderness Kits Vs. Urban Kits
The first thing to realize is that while some items in survival kits carry over from one kind of kit or situation to another, there are notable differences between them. Below are a few examples.
A wilderness kit may have a large tarp that can be used for shelter, a fishing kit or snares for procuring food, and a robust fire-making kit. Generally speaking, none of the above items are really needed in an urban kit.
A wilderness kit is really about giving you the tools to provide for your basic needs, i.e. shelter, water, food, first aid, etc. whereas an urban kit is meant to aid you through a short-term emergency like being injured during a mugging, active shooter situation, or to give you the tools to get out of an unsafe zone and possibly resupply.
To learn more about a modern wilderness survival kit, click here.
Building An Urban Survival Kit
What type of system you choose to carry will depend on your particular needs and the distance or time frames to be covered. Below are a few quick examples to help give you a better idea.
If you live in the city and operate not far from your home, then you probably only need to have an EDC (Every Day Carry) kit with you, although a GHB (Get Home Bag) is still recommended.
If you operate and live within a very large city or you commute a fair distance, then you are definitely going to want to have a GHB and even possibly a BOB (Bug Out Bag).
For the urban survival kit below, I will focus on an EDC kit because that is a system that everyone should have and is the least noticeable to carry around. The items listed below are in no particular order.
Everyone has one of these nowadays and everyone takes it everywhere they go so it will be a part of your kit. They can obviously be used to call emergency services but they can be helpful in other ways too.
The camera light can be used as a light source in low light conditions and it can also be used as a signaling device.
Download files or guides like a first aid guide that can be used should your service or internet connection be dropped. It would also be helpful to download some maps of the city and region you find yourself in.
Don’t forget to pack a charging cable and a small battery bank if you have the space and funds.
If you can’t see in low light conditions then all the other tools you are carrying aren’t going to be a whole lot of help.
Sure, you can use the light from a smartphone but I would only recommend doing so if you have no other option. An actual flashlight works better, is more durable, depending on the size it can be used for other purposes, and it won’t drain the battery on your phone. A small flashlight like those offered by Streamlight is a good EDC option.
Don’t smoke? Doesn’t matter, a cheap BIC lighter or a rechargeable electronic lighter is very useful no matter where you are and everyone should carry one. It can be used as a light source and for starting fires which can serve an array of purposes, even in an urban environment.
A knife is probably the most versatile tool in any survival kit. Most people are probably not going to want to walk around with a fixed blade hanging from their beltline but a pocket knife is just as versatile, concealable, and easily accessible.
From opening any kind of package, and cutting a jammed seatbelt, to self-defense, you don’t want to be caught without one of our oldest and most trusted tools. Ontario Knife Company makes a good quality pocket knife that won’t break the bank called The Rat 2.
Some people hate these tools, but I love them, especially in an urban kit. There is so much you can do with them and in an urban environment you don’t know what obstacles you may encounter.
They have an array of different tools for different tasks and a multitool helps you to become a McGyver in a bad situation. A multi-tool helps you grab, tighten, loosen, cut, and generally break stuff. I would stick with a plier-style model from a well-known manufacturer, like Leatherman.
There are too many variations of this tool to discuss and whether or not you carry on is a personal choice as well as what your local laws dictate. If you are allowed to carry a firearm in your area I would highly encourage you to do so. Find one that fits you, go through proper training courses, and never stop training.
First Aid Kit
It’s my opinion that this should probably take up the bulk of the space in your kit. If you want to throw in some band-aids and other items for minor injuries that’s okay, but what you really need to be carrying is a trauma kit.
First aid kits are the most dishonest items talked about in survival kits because everyone recommends “boo boo” kits. You know, those kits that you can pick up at any big box store for around $15 and it has a million band-aids, a pair of plastic tweezers, and various single-serve packets of gels, ointments, and aspirin.
These types of kits have their place because minor cuts, scrapes, etc. can turn into bigger issues down the road. But nobody gets into a car accident or walks away from a stabbing or shooting saying, “Man, I wish I had a couple of cartoon-themed adhesive bandages.”
The items you will most likely need are those that deal with controlling blood loss. This means you need to double down on specialized bandages, chest seals, lots of gauze, and tourniquets. These items are not that expensive nor are they difficult to use. They are life savers and stacking that with some minimal training is highly encouraged.
A great place to look for items in this category is North American Rescue.
Urban areas tend to be noisy places and depending on your situation your voice may be difficult to hear. For example, in February of 2023, a massive earthquake hit the country of Turkey, burying many people under piles of rubble. A simple emergency whistle can be heard over other noises, and long distances, and indicate your position if you are trapped somewhere.
The Hyper Whistle is very affordable, easy to use, and it can be heard from 2 miles away!
As long as cash is still around it will always be king. In an emergency, electronic payments may not work and you may not be able to withdraw cash from anywhere. Having cash on hand will allow you to still buy some supplies or services when other forms of payment are not working.
How much cash you should carry is up to you but it needs to be enough that it would actually make a difference in an emergency, but don’t carry so much that you can’t afford to lose it.
Plus, cash can’t be traced if that’s something you are worried about.
Urban areas can be extremely confusing and disorienting, especially big cities. In the event that your phone doesn’t work or you are just flustered from the situation, you are going to need to be able to get around and know where you are going.
Ideally, you should carry two maps. One should be of the city with enough detail to read street names and the other map should be of the surrounding region. Click here to see an example of a city map.
For one reason or another a window or pane of glass may be an obstacle you need to get through. Instead of chucking a cinder block at it, a window breaker is a small tool, sometimes small enough to carry on a keychain, that breaks glass silently and with minimal effort.
A bandana is another one of those versatile items and its uses are too many to list here. Three quick examples though are that it can be used as improvised gloves, a mask, and a bandage. They are so lightweight, versatile, and compact that there really isn’t a reason to not carry one.
Some people whine about this suggestion but I like to add a pair of work gloves. Urban environments are made up of concrete, glass, and metal. A pair of thick work gloves will help to protect your hands when you have to touch sharp or unsafe objects.
A lot of people carry water bottles with them these days but if you don’t I would encourage you to do so. You don’t have to go crazy and carry a huge 64-ounce jug but having some clean water with you and the ability to collect and transport water; will help you to keep going in an emergency.
It would also be a good idea to carry a small water filter, like a Sawyer Mini or Lifestraw, in case water sources become dirty. Of course, you can streamline this process by carrying a water bottle that already has a filter in it, like the LifestrawGo or the Seychelles water filter bottle.
Mylar blankets sometimes get a bad rap (had to go for the pun!) but when you find yourself in an expected chilly situation, a Mylar blanket is one of the most affordable, lightweight, and compact items you can carry that will help you to warm back up.
Many of these blankets can reflect up to 80-90 percent of body heat back towards you when they are wrapped around your body. Due to their shiny surface they also make great signaling devices!
Staying dry is one of the number one rules in any survival situation because it helps you to stay warm. A great way to accomplish this is by wearing a poncho. Ponchos are great to pack in your kit because they are compact and can be pulled out and put on in very short order.
If you hear the rain clouds overhead. If you hear the rain clouds overhead, you can kill two birds with one stone by carrying a Mylar bag poncho!
Urban areas can naturally have a lot of particulates in the air but when a disaster happens, the amount of dust and particulates increases dramatically. I still remember seeing the ground footage of 9/11 and people walking around covered from head to toe in dust and debris. This can make it extremely difficult to see and breathe.
A bandanna can be used for an improvised face mask but if you are using it for something else or you want a better option, an N95 mask is a good choice. They are extremely affordable, lightweight, and flexible enough to fit in almost any pocket.
Eyewear is just as important. Your regular sunglasses may not be as tough as you think or in the situation that they have broken, you are going to want a backup pair to keep your eyes protected. Something like these, are strong yet affordable enough to keep a pair in your kit all the times.
A radio is great for playing your favorite tunes, but an emergency radio is even better because it plays your tunes and keeps you informed of emergency situations in your area. Some, like this Midland Emergency Radio even come with an LED flashlight and this particular model also has an SOS strobe function that makes it easier when trying to signal for help.
When an emergency or disaster happens, we don’t know how long we will be stuck in the middle of it. One hour? Four hours? Twenty-four hours or more? Who knows?
One thing is for sure and that is you are going to want to keep your energy up. By keeping your energy levels up you will be better able to physically deal with the situation as well as remain more focused and make better decisions.
An easy way to do this is by keeping some food items or snacks in your kit. Protein bars and trail mixes are great options because they provide a lot of energy and they have a decent shelf life without having to be refrigerated.
I don’t necessarily consider the two items below essential to an EDC kit but they can certainly be helpful in an urban setting.
A lot of buildings and even some homes have swapped out older-style outdoor water faucets for a more tamper-proof version. The older versions had knobs or dials that could simply be turned by hand to turn the water on.
Newer versions tend to be recessed into the wall and look like a little metal peg. They require a unique key called a silcock key to turn on and off and the key basically looks like a miniature four-way lug nut wrench. If you are in need of water, these cheap tools will make accessing water possible and easier in an urban environment.
Lock picks are one of those tools that people have a romanticized idea about. They think if they have this little piece of metal they can easily pick any kind of lock and quickly be on their way. Some locks are incredibly easy to pick while others are next to impossible and there are a lot of different types of locks out there.
Locking picking is a helpful skill set to have but it requires a lot of practice to become good at it so unless this is something that interests you and you are willing to devote the time to learning about it, this is a tool that you probably don’t need. Here is an affordable beginner’s set that provides everything you need to get started.
At the end of the day, what you choose to carry and how you choose to carry it is up to you. Urban environments have their dangers and disasters can happen in the blink of an eye. Use the items in this article to build your own urban survival kit while tailoring it to your needs and abilities.
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