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Saturday, August 19, 2023

Urban Preparedness: Tips for Surviving in City and Suburban Settings

 Original Article


Guest post by J.E. 

Most of us will not bug out on foot when a disaster or emergency strikes. Most disasters and emergencies send us to the homes of friends, family, or motel/hotel rooms to “weather the storm,” not to the backwoods. This might be for a few days, weeks, months, or even years, and most of us will get there via our vehicles or maybe even catch the first flight outta Dodge.

It’s a survival mistake to gear up for the wilderness while overlooking the reality and possibility of the need for urban preparedness. Although we need to be ready to rough it in the wilderness, we have an equal or increased need to be URBAN-ready.

Tips for Urban Preparedness

  • Rent the cheapest motel room you can find for a month, and try to survive there with only your bug-out bag. Sure, you can go shopping for groceries, but ONLY groceries and consumable healthcare products (shampoo, soap, deodorant, etc.) Don’t allow yourself to buy “extras” from the grocery store (like cups, silverware, towels, pillowcases, razors, flashlights, can openers, etc.).
  • Most news stories about germs in hotel/motel rooms should send shivers up your spine. Have you read about their germ-infested doorknobs, light switches, TV remotes, in-room phones, and pillows/bedspreads? What do YOU carry in YOUR pack to help protect yourself from these situations?
  • Personally, my bug-out bag includes two of our pillowcases, plus two down-filled camping/travel pillows. I also have two king-sized top sheets (one to dress over a bed military-style, and the other as a top sheet.) Yes, I also have my own (cheap) programmable TV remote. Not so much due to the germs, but because I like knowing where MY BUTTONS are located. (I travel a LOT and get tired of learning new remotes in each hotel!)
  • Take those P38 military-style can openers in your bug-out bag and put them on your keychain instead. Then, replace them with a REAL metal hand-crank can opener from Wal-Mart or Target or wherever. After opening just a few cans with a P38, you’ll wish you had a REAL can opener. They aren’t too heavy or too large, yet they are a DREAM to use in comparison.
  • Also, experiment with eating utensils. Initially, I just carried a couple of sets of plastic ware from fast food joints. Then, I replaced these with a camping-style metal knife/fork/spoon kit, which is still in my bag, but the handles/edges are somewhat sharp and uncomfortable. I’ve recently added four different-sized plastic knife/fork kits. Who knows? In the future, maybe I’ll just put two sets of our kitchen flatware into my bag. The reason it’s important to find the right utensils that work for you is that we use these items about three times per day. So, they should be comfortable, durable, and functional. We spend so much on compasses, GPSs, guns, and other stuff that we probably won’t use during disasters/bug-outs, but our silverware/flatware will get used several times daily.

Other “urban preparedness” stuff useful in bug-out bags

  1. AA/AAA collapsible battery charger plus rechargeable batteries
  2. Small six-foot extension cord with three outlets because there are never enough outlets where you want them in hotel/motel rooms.
  3. A pair of 3:2-prong plug converters so you can plug three-pronged laptops and such into a two-prong old-school wall outlet.
  4. Over-the-door hooks because usually there are no trees in hotel rooms to hang your stuff from.
  5. A “real” cooking spatula serving spoon for cooking.
  6. Two rolls of quarters in my bug-out bag. Motel/hotels are too often vending machine-based. Washers, dryers, and drink/snack machines are plentiful, but change for a buck isn’t always available.

Basically, whatever I bought during my first month of living in a hotel room, ended up in my bug-out bag. So it was a VALUABLE lesson.

You and Your Bag Should Blend In, No Matter Where You Are

While I’m on the subject of urban survival, let me say I can carry my pack on public transportation, past police officers, and such without drawing so much as a second glance.

While I, too, like to strap all kinds of gear to the outside of my pack when hiking and such (to make it easily accessible,) that isn’t so urban-friendly. For example, if I attach my machete or pistol, or camping hatchet to the outside of my pack, the cops might want to “have a word” with me. So instead, my pack has room for ALL of my gear to fit inside!

Yes, I still have pouches/carriers attached to my pack’s shoulder straps, waist belt, and exterior to quick-clamp stuff where it belongs, but I still have room to get everything inside my bag, too!

I know many of us focus on camouflage, cover, and concealment. Still, there are some emergencies/disasters when you want and need to solicit help from others or to keep yourself safe, especially in urban environments! Thus, I encourage everyone to include at least a pair of high-visibility roadside safety vests with reflective material. This could be the difference between life & death for you and your family during a roadside emergency or such!

Keeping Your Urban-Ready Bug-Out bag TSA-Friendly

First, packs shouldn’t weigh more than 50 pound so that we can avoid extra airline fees for overweight baggage should you find yourself on a flight out of Disaster-ville.

Secondly, I already mentioned the importance of keeping all your gear inside your pack. I can’t tell you how often a “sticky-fingered” baggage handler or a TSA agent stole gear from my CHECKED baggage. I lost things like compasses, Leatherman multi-tools, pocket knives, and more!

Once, my bug-out bag came out looking like a yard sale on the conveyor belt at the baggage claim area! I don’t think they did this on purpose. Instead, I think they opened my bag to search it, and then didn’t properly re-secure it when they finished. So, the zippers pulled apart under the weight of my bag and spilled the contents EVERYWHERE along the conveyor belt.

As you pack your bag, it’s vital that you know what’s in it and stays up to date with current TSA rules. They change pretty frequently. Some items, such as guns and ammo, will always need to be packed separately according to the rules, and some items will always be banned (fuels). There are other prohibited items that most of the traveling public is unaware of, such as battery limitations and MREs. MREs are forbidden because of their heater elements/packs. Read more about the pros and cons of MREs.

Pre-made alcohol stoves and such are also prohibited, but a bottle of Everclear would be considered drinking alcohol, not a “fuel” alcohol. Anything clearly labeled as flammable, like HEAT bottles, will be confiscated.

Tips for Hassle-free Travel

Before heading to the airport, remove anything from your hand-carried bags that isn’t TSA compliant. It’s surprising how many items can be packed in checked baggage, such as knives, machetes, wrist-rockets, baseball bats, etc. Then, lock your zippers closed with REAL locks, not those “TSA-friendly” models.

Once you are at the airport, proceed to the ticket counter to check your bag, but tell them you want it manually inspected with yourself present because you have had items disappear in the past. They will send you to the “oversize” luggage area where people check their golf clubs, snow skis, musical instruments, etc. The TSA agent will take your bag and put it through the scanner. If it passes, it’s OK for the rest of your trip, with no need to be reopened along the route. In addition, the manual inspection bypasses the need for TSA-friendly locks and allows you to have more secure luggage.

If, however, the scanner flags your bag, they will invite you “behind the red ropes” for a manual inspection of your bag. They will ask you to unlock it and then tell you to step back so THEY can unpack and inspect it.) YOU may not touch your gear during this procedure.

Once they have cleared your contents or removed any unauthorized items, you may repack your bag and re-lock it. Again, it will now be fine until its final destination. They will ONLY invite you back behind the ropes if your bag FAILS the scanner. So, be sure to LOCK your zippers BEFORE you check your bags.

TSA is accustomed to people traveling with guns. Hunters, military personnel, police, and many citizens always do it. BE AWARE of the TSA rules for checking and declaring firearms, and be aware of the laws related to weapons in the state you visit.

Suppose the airlines KNOW that you will be violating state “carry” laws at your destination. In that case, they are compelled to inform the authorities in that state, yet, they are not obligated to notify you of the laws/restrictions of your destination, nor inform you that they told the authorities. So, you could be surprised at baggage claim by “the authorities.” Thus, travelers, educate yourself.

Reminder: Most of the stuff that the TSA agents prohibit you from carrying as carry-on is ALLOWED to be brought aboard as checked baggage. I have two EDC (Everyday Carry) kits. The first one is TSA carry-on safe, and the second is not. So, as I check in my bug-out bag, I insert my non-safe EDC kit into it. Once I reach my destination, it’s the first thing I remove from my bag.

Read more on handling delayed and canceled flights to better prepare for those possibilities.

My Philosophy for 72-hour Bags

I crack up when I see bags advertised as “72-hour kits,” which also include food/MREs and water and hydration kits/bags. People, the average person can survive three days without water and three WEEKS without food. Thus, 72-hour bags don’t need to waste valuable space/weight on food or water. Instead, replace that food and water with other gear such as hunting/fishing supplies or water treatment/purification gear.

Then again, I don’t feel we should have 72-hour blinders on when we create bug-out bags. Instead, we should create a bag/kit that is indefinite. We should carry the means to process/treat water, or acquire it using a Silcock key (particularly useful for urban survival), not bring water itself. We should have the means to hunt/fish/cook, not carry pre-made meals.

Sure, people should feel free to include a few snacks for mental happiness or small bottles of caffeinated energy drink for that little extra “pick-me-up.” Even a few packets of drink mix will help convert boring or terrible-tasting water into something halfway palatable. But, FULL meals and filled water bladders or bottles are unnecessary additives. If anything, keep a grab-n-go food bag and canteen by the door. You can ditch it if necessary instead of rucking it within your pack.

Tiering of Bug-out Bags

An effective plan can also help you reduce the contents of your bug-out bags! If you have pre-positioned gear at your retreat location(s) or hidden caches, then that’s LESS gear you must carry as you depart.

We have bug-out bags for each family member. (Despite this, we have a multi-user bag philosophy, not single-user.) We also have get-home and emergency gear in each vehicle. The bed box of a pickup truck is a Godsend for preppers!!!!

We also have pre-packed grab-and-go bags:

  • A camping/tent bag. This heavy car-hauled bag includes two tents, an inflatable air bed & pump, LED camping lanterns, battery-powered fans, and other items for a large, multi-room, candles/matches, and family-oriented tent/site.
  • A camp-kitchen bag. Includes several multi-fuel stoves, a folding table, collapsible water buckets, fire-cooking gear, more LED lanterns, solar lights, solar chargers, cast iron pots/pans, battery-operated and hand-crank coffee grinders/pots, etc.
  • An elaborate military-style first aid (trauma) backpack. This sucker is bright red, has a large red cross patch, and has almost everything imaginable! (We took the “real” kit and added a BUNCH MORE gear, including surgical tools/kits, over-the-counter meds, extra prescription meds, and antibiotics.
  • Fishing/hunting/trapping bag. With a dozen leg-hold traps, a couple of cans of tuna fish, collapsible fishing rods, small fresh+salt water tackle boxes, land/trout lines + treble hooks, shotgun + shells, filet knives and skinning knives, a Henry .22 survival rifle + ammo, LED headlamps, 12v spotlights, etc.
  • Food/water kits. Pre-packed with about three weeks’ worth of shelf-stable food/supplies for two people. We recheck/resupply these annually.
  • Tool bags. We have three because one bag was too heavy and cumbersome to carry and locate what we needed.
  • Communications bag. We have handheld HAM radios in our bug-out bags. We also have vehicle-mounted systems in our cars, trucks, and boats. This bag includes extra solar panels, battery chargers, backup radios/parts/headsets, small battery-operated TV & DVD player, battery-operated radio/CD player, etc.

Our whole lives are actually color-coded and bag-based. We have flight bags, SCUBA/dive bags, ditch bags for boating, a picnic backpack for romantic getaways, a swim bag for going to the pool, etc.


It’s vital to consider that your survival “retreat” may be a friend’s house or apartment or even a hotel in an urban or suburban setting. You can never know beforehand which route or strategy will most likely ensure your survival. Therefore, the adaptability of your gear and your mindset is critical.

What types of urban preparedness measures have you taken?

Originally published July 13, 2012; updated by The Survival Mom editors.

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