Urban Survival 101: How to Survive in the City When SHTF

Gone are the days of wanting to live a quiet life on vast farmland with your neighbors about three miles away. Today, it’s all about living among skyscrapers, city lights, and traffic jams.

When SHTF or disaster strikes, will living in the city become an advantage, or will it be a curse? Considering that you’re here reading this, you’d like to find the answer to that, too.

Here’s what you need to know about urban survival and all that comes with it:

What Is Urban Survival?

There has been a fair bit of argument going around when it comes to defining what urban survival is. Many will say that it’s all about the “street smarts” you need to survive the day-to-day living in the city.

Others will argue that urban survival is about the right skills and abilities to survive a major disaster for a prolonged time or even a few days.

We say it’s the right mix of both urban prepping and street smarts. Why? Well, surviving in the city during a crisis will be different from surviving a disaster in the wild. In different situations and places, you will need different skills. You can’t exactly use your fishing skills in the city sewers now, can you?

But we also say it’s about having “street smarts” because you’ll need that if you want to make urban survival a lifestyle.

Making It a Lifestyle

“Wait. What? Did I just read that right? Did they just say urban survival as a lifestyle?”

Yep. You didn’t read that wrong. The truth is, people are moving to the city to find better jobs or get better pay. You can’t exactly blame them for wanting a better life.

So the best way to get someone used to urban survival is to turn it into a lifestyle and incorporate it into everyday living. Hey, if people can turn eating only veggies into their whole life, then urban survival won’t be that hard. 

Aspects of Urban Survival You Can Make a Part of Everyday Life

To get started, you’ll have to ease aspects of urban survival into your life. Some things will be easier to do than others, but the important thing is to start.

Here are some that you can add to your daily routine:

Survival Fitness

We’re all for being fit for survival, but most of us aren’t in the best shape, especially those who live in the city.

When SHTF, you might get less sleep and less nutrition. The sun might burn you to a crisp, or the cold night might have you shivering—you’ll be easily affected by these factors if you’re not healthy or fit.

If you’re not convinced that you need to get fit, maybe these reasons will. Getting in shape for urban survival will help you:

  1. Climb/jump over obstacles or cars
  2. Escape from dangerous people
  3. Lift water-filled containers
  4. Carry backpacks weighing at least 30 pounds for hours
  5. Survive on fewer calories while still being able to do physically demanding activities
  6. Run up a flight of stairs effortlessly
  7. Be mentally healthy and prepared

Don’t want to be able to do all that when SHTF? Well then, roadkill it is. But if these look extra appealing to you, start adding a fitness routine to your daily life.

It doesn’t have to be anything extreme; remember, start small and work your way up. Do activities that you enjoy. You can jog, run, or simply hit the gym. Do these consistently, and they’ll turn into habits. Your effort will definitely pay off in the long run.

Related: Survival Fitness: Staying Fit for When the Apocalypse Hits


Living in the city, you’re bound to get used to eating yummy food. Think burgers, fries, milkshakes, pizza, and Chinese takeout. For a quick dinner fix at home, frozen nuggets will be perfect to heat in the microwave.

Now, imagine all that disappearing. The crazy thing is, when SHTF comes running around the corner, you will have to say goodbye to the fast-food scene. No one will serve you a Big Mac at McDonald’s when everything’s gone to pieces.

So what’s for SHTF dinner, you ask? Your pantry basics that don’t have to go into the fridge like:

  • Canned goods
  • Jerky
  • Pasta

If you want something healthy, then fruits and veggies it is, and not from the post-apocalyptic supermarket on the corner of the block—from your very own garden! Did we forget your city? Nope. It’s possible to cultivate a garden in your home, smack dab in the center of a metropolis.

You can easily get into urban gardening, even if your apartment is small. There are a lot of different methods of gardening in the city that will work to your advantage. You can grow various veggies and fruits (ones you like), live a healthy life, AND be prepared, food-wise, for hunkering down at home during a disaster.

How’s that for readily adopting an urban survival lifestyle?

Related: Adding to Your Survival Stockpile: Food Preservation Techniques


In a post-SHTF world where power is down, running water will cease to exist and you won’t have access to clean drinking water. Why? Pump stations need electricity to supply water throughout the city.

We all know water plays a vital role in our survival, so it’s smart to prioritize storing gallons of water in your urban survival plan. To make sure you don’t run out of water in the first 72 hours after a disaster or emergency, always keep a water supply that can last two to four weeks.

If you’re one of the unlucky ones who didn’t get to set aside water before SHTF, the next best thing to do is find other water sources, like a water tank or well nearby. Commercial buildings and residential areas are also great places to look for water. But to access their external water dispensing faucets, you need a water spigot key with you.

Now, the question is: are you sure the water you collected is clean? Just to be safe, we suggest you purify the water first, especially if you’re consuming it. There are many ways you can purify water for drinking, but the most common method is through boiling.

A person can only survive three days without clean drinking water, so we suggest you start storing NOW before it’s too late.

Daily Gear or EDC

Your day-to-day gear or everyday carry (EDC) is always an important aspect to talk about when it comes to urban survival. Without the right gear, you might become as useless as tits on a boar hog.

We’re going to repeat it—what you carry in the wild will not be the same as what you’ll need to have in the city. A bolo might be alright in the woods, but when you’re trying to enter a bank, that’s going to be a sure red flag.

Think about the setting you’re in and adjust to it. What can and can’t you use in an urban environment? Do you need to bring a full set of mini screwdrivers with you, or can you swap it out with a wallet multitool that easily fits like a card in your back pocket?

The urban gear you pack matters.

For example, you might think to bring a power bank-compatible flashlight with you every day, but did you know that flashlights can deter criminals or suspicious people away when you’re walking down a dark alley or street at night? No one in their right mind would attack someone who can see their faces.

Besides all the shiny and fancy EDC tools already in your bag, don’t forget to bring these urban survival essentials, too:

  • Cash in case ATMs aren’t working
  • OTC meds for when you have a headache or an upset stomach
  • Cleansing wipes if you need to do a number two
  • Snacks if you need energy from all the walking
  • Mini first aid kit for when you or any family member sustains a minor injury

Having the right EDC can guarantee your safety and, at the same time, prepare you for a lot of scenarios.

Related: 15 Overlooked Survival Tools That Belong in Your EDC Bag

Honing Your Knowledge of the City

This urban survival tip is pretty straightforward and easy to adapt to in your day-to-day routine. Here are a few things you need to do:

  • Be observant of your surroundings
  • Take in all the useful info you can
  • Run scenarios where those observations come in handy
  • File these away in the back of your mind for future use

Some things you can look for are possible areas or safe zones where you can bug out if your home is compromised. Try taking alternate routes going home to see what’s the quickest way to take during an emergency.

These might seem like small stuff, but when you add them all together (knowing the safe routes, safe locations, possible water sources, etc.), they make for perfect knowledge of your city and will take your survival chances to the next level. Plus, these don’t exactly take a lot of effort to do; they’re very easy to incorporate into your urban survival lifestyle.

Honing your knowledge of the city is also an excellent step to becoming the ultimate gray man, someone who can easily blend in without attracting attention, becoming almost invisible for all the right reasons.

Being a gray man is something you want to achieve when your goal is to master urban survival, and being observant takes you one step closer to it.

Survival Mindset

Getting stuck in the concrete jungle when S hits the fan is a whole different story than trying to survive in the wild. But one thing you gotta keep in mind in both scenarios is having a strong survival mindset.

Disasters and emergencies have no room for weak-minded folks. It’s gonna be difficult out there, so you should have the willpower to live through tough situations. To make life-or-death decisions, you need to have a sound and calm mind.

Developing a strong survival mindset is something you need to focus on and habitually do. Here are some mental practices to help you do just that:

  • Practice box breathing exercises to reduce anxiety and stress
  • Exercise situational awareness by taking note of your environment and what likely scenarios can happen in an urban setting
  • Work on setting goals every day and learn to visualize them to increase your chances of making it out alive in a challenging situation
  • Establish a personal mantra you can chant under your breath to help drive away negative thoughts and keep you centered

Your survival rests on how you mentally handle a situation, too, so make sure you take all the time you can to practice because training the mind isn’t as easy as pie. However, it’s gonna be worth it in the end.

Related: 8 Useful Ways To Build A Survival Mindset

Other Useful Things to Add to the City Life

As much as we’d like to force things to be a part of life, especially the city life, there are just some things that won’t seamlessly mesh into your daily routine.

We accept that, and we acknowledge it wholeheartedly. Hey, we’re not going to force anything that feels unnatural to you.

Having said that, here are some things you can consider adding to your urban survival lifestyle that is highly useful, though you do have to go a few extra miles to incorporate them:

Radio Comms

Podcasts, online music stores…with everything going digital, does anyone even use radios nowadays?

It might come as a shock to some, but yes, some people still use radios for communication and as listening devices. We like to think of those people as truly cultured individuals and top-notch preppers.

When SHTF, the last thing you’re going to rely on is your phone, especially when the lines go down. If there’s something significant going on, something catastrophic, call-flooded lines will overwhelm emergency personnel. Dialing your loved ones’ numbers over and over again will only waste precious time.

That’s where radio comms come in handy.

Granted, signal ranges on radios dramatically shorten in cities, but that doesn’t make them completely useless—don’t be deterred by that fact. Start off with a little research and get to know the best radios to use in the city.

Two-way radios have been a dependable mode of communication in the concrete jungle. The right one can work well, whether it be for close or long-range comms. Meanwhile, the best frequency to use in this setting has to be UHF frequency.  

UHF frequency stands for ultra-high frequency and is known to work well in and around buildings. 

The key here is to do your research. Prepare ahead to find the best radio for your apartment and home, and it will pay off when the time comes.

Apartment Prepping and Home Fortification

You’re probably thinking about Home Alone and Macaulay Culkin setting up wired traps, huh?

We’re going to burst your bubble just a bit and say that we’re not exactly aiming for that. But hey, if you need that for inspo, why not?

Joking aside, apartment prepping is something to think a lot about. Booby traps might not be the first thing we suggest but getting extra locks for your windows and doors is a must. You don’t want any unwanted guests coming in, so this should be the top priority.

If you can’t, get your windows outfitted with security window film and get blinds that can really block out the view of your apartment from the outside. When SHTF, boarding up your windows won’t be a bad idea, either. Make sure you have a toolbox and some plywood ready for that.

Another thing to prep is a fire plan. This isn’t a home on the flatlands you got here—you’re living in a building with stairs and a lot of warm bodies. Plotting out your escape routes will ensure you don’t panic and do something stupid or head the wrong way.

If you’re living way up, look into creating a backup window escape plan. The height might be scary, but when the going gets tough, your window will look like a gift from the man up there himself. A building escape backpack with a solid and safe window escape plan will help you through a tough time.

Lastly, if you’ve got the space, look into getting a fortified double front door. It might cost you a bit, but money spent for peace of mind is money well spent. Double front doors will help keep you safe and will act as a sound insulator for your apartment so that you won’t garner any attention. 

So to TL;DR, creating layers of protection works, appearances make a difference, and solid physical barriers will deter unwanted attention.

Final Thoughts

Urban survival doesn’t have to be a hazard if you’ve got the right mindset and lifestyle. If you can make a dietary change, then adding routines that elevate your chances of survival is a walk in the park.

It’s not something you’ll get right away, but practice makes perfect. As long as you prep ahead and you know what you’re doing, then you’ll be better off than everyone else who hasn’t. That’s prepping for ya.

If you found this urban survival article helpful, make sure to check out the other useful tips and info we have on the site.

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