Urban Prepping: What Every Prepper Should Know

More than half of the world’s population live in densely populated urban areas. Chances are, you’re one of the 4.2 billion people who reside in cities all over the globe.

When disaster hits and the grid goes down, are you prepared to survive in a concrete jungle with little natural resources and more than a dozen security threats?

In this article, we tackle everything you need to know about urban prepping: from its unique challenges to prep strategies that you can employ to ride out even the worst scenarios.

If you think your urban survival prep needs brushing up, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to survive the apocalypse while living in a metropolis:

Are You Prepared to Survive in a Concrete Jungle?

A lot of folks prepare for SHTF by planning for a bug out scenario.

Here’s the usual prepper game plan when disaster strikes:

  • Grab one’s bug out bag
  • Get out of dodge
  • Move to a secure bug out location

That’s why a lot of people spend time sharpening their wilderness survival skills like fire starting, shelter-making, hunting, and water purification.

All that is well and good, but the truth is, bugging out is easier said than done. You’re not going to waltz out of the door with your BOB in tow and drive smoothly to your bug out location out in the woods.

Nope, you’re going to encounter chaos, dead communication lines, and possibly mass hysteria. Unless you leave the city before everyone else does, you’re going to be stranded in crazy traffic because guess what? Everyone’s going to try to flee to safety, too.

That being said, you have to prepare for urban survival. Let’s face it, your chances of the possibility of hunkering down in the city are quite high. And when that day comes, you want to come prepared to ride it out until the immediate threat has passed or until you can evacuate to a much safer location.

What Are the Unique Challenges of Urban Prepping?

Urban prepping poses a different set of challenges for preppers. Here are the factors that you have to think about:

Population Density

Consider this: New York City has approximately 27,000 people per square mile, while the entire state of North Dakota only has 11.

Can you imagine how different emergency situations would be in these two locations?

Population density is obviously one of the biggest challenges of urban prepping, and it opens a huge can of worms for everyone. Even the most organized and efficient cities would have difficulty dividing their resources to restore law and order once hell breaks loose.

As a prepper, you need to devise an urban survival plan that would allow you to stay away from jostling crowds and possible riots.

You also have to be self-reliant. You can’t depend on the government to send in relief goods and law enforcement—they’ll most likely be overwhelmed as well.

When everyone else is fighting over a can of meatloaf or a liter of gas, you must ensure that you’re already in a secure location with your stash of emergency supplies.

Limited Natural Resources and Dependence on the City for Utilities

Another important factor you have to consider with urban prepping is the lack of natural resources in cities.

These places are called concrete jungles for a reason. The concept of living off the land virtually doesn’t exist. People hardly have any space to grow plants, let alone a full-blown survival garden. Foraging and hunting for food are not viable options, either.

So, what happens when the system collapses and the grocery stores shut down? Would you have a food stash ready?

Worse, what would you do when the city itself can no longer provide utilities like electricity, heat, or water? Are you prepared with alternative sources of energy?

Limited Living and Storage Spaces

Not all preppers have huge pantries full of emergency supplies. Most live in tiny apartments in the middle of the city with barely any space to spare for a survival stash.

Fortunately, there are effective ways to make do with the little you have, and we’ll discuss these urban prepping techniques as we go further along.

Transportation and Communication

Cities rely heavily on mass transportation systems like buses and trains. Unfortunately, these will be the first to go when disaster strikes. Phone lines would be congested and will be rendered useless. The rest of the grid will go down, taking with it internet connection and debit/credit card lines.

Do you have a solid evacuation and communication plan with your family in case of an emergency? Do you have a designated meet-up location or out-of-town contact to help you gather your family members? How about a stash of cash or items for barter? Make sure to include these in your urban survival preparations.

Lootings and Riots

Last but not least, you have to consider safety and security. This is arguably one of the biggest challenges of urban prepping.

Remember that disasters often bring out the worst in people. The unprepared will panic and desperately cling to any supply or resource that they can find, even if they have to fight tooth and nail to secure it. Riots and social unrest are likely. You need to know how to protect yourself, your family, and your supplies during situations like this.

How to Prepare for Urban Survival

As you can see, urban prepping requires a different set of skills than rural prepping. Here’s what you need to do to prepare for an urban survival scenario:

Develop Situational Awareness

A level mind is your best weapon in any emergency situation, but it’s especially important for urban survival. Before you work on your supplies or any survival prep, you have to develop situational awareness first.

Situational awareness is one’s ability to perceive and assess a certain scenario and act accordingly. This means knowing:

  • Where you are
  • What time it is
  • How many people are around you
  • How bad the situation actually is
  • What resources are available
  • The factors that you can control
  • The factors are out of your scope

In other words, you have to develop a keen sense of what’s going on so you can make the right calls.

Situational awareness also means learning how to read people through body language. Can you trust this person? Are they going to harm you and your family? How are these people going to react to a SHTF scenario?

As a prepper, you have to develop this urban survival skill by practicing it every day. Be observant and know what’s going on so you can make sound decisions.

Store Supplies

Securing vital emergency supplies with limited space is a challenge, but it can be done. Here’s a list of things to prepare in an urban survival situation:


Man can survive 2 weeks without food but only 3 days without water. Unfortunately, clean running water will be one of the first things to go when disaster hits. The local water supply can be contaminated or will stop running altogether. Sewage systems will most likely stop working as well.

That being said, make sure to store enough water for drinking and hygiene purposes for your household.

The recommended volume is usually one to two gallons of water per person per day. You can store these in tough BPA-free containers if you have some real estate to spare. If not, you can always go for store-bought water bottles. These are purified, sealed, and relatively easy to carry should you need to bug out. Their biggest disadvantage is that they’re also more expensive.

If you don’t have enough space to store this much water in your home, make sure to stock water filters and water purification tablets and drops. These urban survival essentials take little space, don’t require fuel, and are effective against debris and most microorganisms.

Other water storage options include filling up your bathtub with water before the lines shut down. If you’re lucky enough to have a water heater in your place, that’s also a good, albeit unlikely, source of at least 30 liters of clean water.

When push comes to shove, you can also find water sources in rainwater catchment systems, water towers, or even fire hydrants. You’ll have to know where to find these water sources, though. Mark these spots on a street map for good measure. You’ll never know when you’ll need them.


non perishable food

Government agencies suggest storing at least 2 weeks’ worth of food, but preppers know better. A two-week supply will barely scratch the surface should a long-term situation arise. If you’re really serious about urban prepping, you might want to upgrade that to a four or six-week stash of non-perishable items like canned goods, preserved meat, and freeze-dried food.

Maximize the calorie count of your foods, especially if you’re low on space.

Buying items in bulk and repackaging them in containers like food-grade buckets and mylar bags with oxygen absorbers are great for protecting your goods. This helps extend their shelf life. You can even use the buckets as alternatives for furniture; they can stand in for your usual bedside or coffee tables.

Use the space beneath your beds as storage areas. You can also make pull-out cabinets and shelves.  We previously published a comprehensive guide on how to build your own prepper pantry, complete with tips and video tutorials on how to deal with limited storage space. Read the full post here to get the nitty-gritty details of food storage.

Cooking, Warmth, and Illumination

Emergency heat and light options are tricky when it comes to urban prepping. Unlike a detached property, most apartments obviously don’t have wood-burning fireplaces or stoves. Most places even prohibit using alternative fuels like butane and propane altogether.

What’s a prepper to do? Here are a few options:

Store food that doesn’t require additional preparation. Canned meat and beans, peanut butter, dehydrated fruits, jerky, and ready-to-eat survival bars don’t need to be cooked. They’re also shelf-stable and high in calories.

Keep a mini-rocket stove. Rocket stoves and their mini counterparts are not only great for camping. They’re also pretty handy for emergency preparedness. Most of these stoves use biofuel to burn cleaner and hotter than traditional stoves. You can also use butane burners if your place allows them. Just keep your windows open while using them.

Stay warm. Take measures to keep your home warm, especially if you live in the colder parts of the country. Check drafty windows and doors and reinforce them. If you’re renting and can’t make any permanent repairs, take the DIY path and use inexpensive materials like bubble wrap, tape, or old sheets to prevent the cold from seeping in.

It’s also wise to stock up on winter preps like space blankets, wool socks and caps, blackout curtains, and flannel sheets.

If the power goes out, gather everyone in one room to conserve body heat. Wear adequate layers, use thick blankets, or spend the night in winter sleeping bags instead of the bed. Read more about how to keep your apartment warm here.

Don’t stay in the dark. Keep emergency lights charged at all times. Better yet, get a tactical flashlight with a USB charging capability. This feature allows you to charge your light using your truck or a portable power bank. Tactical lights are also great for threat assessment and self-defense.

Secure Your Shelter

Acquiring shelter shouldn’t be a problem if you already have an apartment unit in the city or a home in the ‘burbs. The question is, how do you protect it from looters and other human threats?

Rule of thumb: refrain from telling people about your survival stash at home. You don’t want to have a huge target on your back when SHTF.

Take measures to guard your perimeter discreetly. Barbed wires and tall fences? You might as well shout from the rooftops that you’ve got the goods. Keep your security measures on the down low. Start with reinforcing your locks and deadbolts. You might also want to add some sturdy barricades or foreboding signs.

Related: How to Fortify Your Home for SHTF

Becoming a Gray Man

looking and acting like a gray man is one of the most important aspects of urban prepping

The gray man theory is all about having the ability to blend in with the crowd during an emergency situation. You don’t want to be singled out as the one with the gear and skills, so this is a crucial urban survival skill to master.

Just like discreetly fortifying your home from looters, you also gotta take measures to hide in plain sight. This way, it would be easier for you and your family to quietly slip away to a safer location while everyone else is still panicking.

To become a gray man, it’s important not to draw attention to yourself. Keep your clothes plain and unremarkable. If you’re bugging out or are out to gather supplies, use a black or gray backpack. Some even resort to using school bags or diaper bags so as not to attract any unwanted attention.

Picking Locks and Other Skills That Might Come in Handy

If bugging out requires skills like fire starting and water purification, hunkering down in the city requires skills like lockpicking, starting a fire using gum wrappers, situational awareness, and creating makeshift gas masks. You’ll never know when you’ll need this odd set of urban survival skills, so best to brush up on them while you still have time.

Check out the video above, where Survival Lilly shows you how to pick different locks.

Final Thoughts

Urban prepping has its own set of challenges. It’s definitely not a walk in the park. There are lots of factors to consider. You might not be able to control most of these factors, but you can definitely mitigate their damage if you’re prepared.

Which of these urban survival tips are you currently employing? Which tactics need a bit more work? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to share this article with fellow preppers!

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