Most preppers are a little too fond of gear and information gathering. What we all tend to lack is practical application of skills. Make an honest comparison of your ammo cache with the practical skills gained from applying half those dollars to training.
Skill building does not need to be expensive. When was the last time you built a fire in poor conditions? Have you ever taken an evasive route on the way home from work?
We all know there are specific concerns for preppers in urban environments. When the balloon goes up, they will have many challenges to manage.
From over population pressures to scarcity of resources urban centers are difficult. Our urban brothers and sisters will need to make sure that their skills are sharp and ready to go.
So, let’s take a look at over 50 urban survival skills that you should practice, hone, and have ready in case the ‘S’ does indeed hit the fan.
Table of Contents
Survival Skills in an Urban Home
I’d like to organize these practice drills according to location. During a serious event you will likely find yourself at home or your first stop will be home. From there you traverse the streets out of the city. With luck you have a place waiting for you in a suburban or rural area.
To kick this off we will start at urban survival skills to practice in the home.
Water, Food, Sanitation, and Medical Skills
1) How to Collect Water
After mindset, water is the most critical resource. Thirst starts as a distraction, becomes maddening, and ends up debilitating. Dehydration can alter your judgement and take you out of the fight within hours.
Identify sources of water within your home and outside of your home. This should include water from heating systems, rain water, and irrigation sources. Figure out how much water you can actually get and store. Remember one gallon per person per day is the Minimum.
2) How to Purify Water
Now that you have collected water you must remember that bad water is a killer. Poor quality water kills thousands each day. Just think of the pollutants in a city.
Exhaust, both mechanical and human, is on every surface. Water collected from outside the home is undrinkable. Unless you want dysentery as a part of your survival experience.
Make a habit of collecting and making water ready to drink. One way to get started is with a bucket system.
3) How to Manage Waste
The ‘S’ in SHTF isn’t simply figurative. It’s literal! We make a lot of poop. It doesn’t take long to stack up and make a bad situation worse.
If you’d rather not rely on municipal services then do you have a bucket? With a comfortable lid? Try it for a weekend to manage the smell. How much lime or Port-a-potty sanitizer will it take to safely manage a week’s or a month’s worth of waste?
4) How to Conceal Food Storage
The population density of most urban areas means that you will get visitors. If they see you are healthy, they will ask for handouts. As the days turn to weeks their tone will shift to demands.
It is fair to assume that any valuable resources left in the open will make you a target. Avoid this unwelcome attention and prioritize hiding food. Set aside a portion of your food stores and practice concealing them in non-traditional spaces.
How many days can you fit in your bedroom? How many under the couch? The more you practice the more you will find new hiding spots.
5) How to Prioritize Food for Evacuation
We all have expenses that pull our available funds in many directions. Long term food storage can be a significant percentage of your prepping dollar. Storing only freeze-dried food is both difficult and financially unwise.
This is direct conflict with food preparations for bugging out. Set aside an hour for a rapid evacuation drill. Pack enough food, water, and other supplies for your primary bugout plan.
Spend the next few days eating only that food. Drill your mock evacuation until you can collect all bugout food with minimal thought.
6) How to Organize and Retrieve Medical Supplies
Few survival nightmare situations are as scary as the need for trauma supplies. When you need medical supplies you generally need them RIGHT NOW! It is imperative that you know what you have and where it is.
I once searched three different medical kits for hemostatic bandages. Turns out I didn’t have any except the Israeli Battle Dressings (IBD) in my trauma kits. A little overkill for the current injury (2 cm forehead cut).
Have a Mutual Assistance Group (MAG) member or loved on give you a pop-injury-quiz. Retrieve all the necessary medical supplies in a limited time window. Add acting and other theatrics (screaming and catsup) to up your stress level a little bit.
7) How to Seal a Room as a Quarantine Zone
One of the biggest killers in any disaster is disease. Quarantine is job number one If we are unfortunate enough to experience a pandemic. Unless you cease all contact with the human race before “the spread” bringing a disease home is a risk.
The ability to isolate a sick family member may be the difference between life and death. Setting up a quarantine room is a skill. There are too many nuances to master by reading a book. As all things medical, learn and apply.
8) How to Setup and NBC Air Filter
Biologic agents aren’t the only airborne threat to our safety. Nuclear and chemical threats can seep quietly through windows, doors, and ventilation systems. Sealing a room is tantamount to digging your own grave without proper air treatment.
There are numerous plans online for effective Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBC) air filters. Practice the skills of creating and running a filter and sealing your safe space. Find the gaps in your plan (literal and figurative) and parch them.
Safety, Security and Defensive Skills
9) How to Secure Your Home/Condo/Apartment
Any home security plan should address defenses in concentric circles. The innermost circle is your personal space. The circles extend as far as possible.
In an urban environment you may not be able to extend your perimeter much beyond your building. Practice securing first your safe room, then all entrances to your home then extend it as far as possible.
Do you live in an apartment building? If so, do you know all the entrances, even the service ones? Can you secure them all from the inside or do you have to go outside (in the event of an extended stay)? Survey this now and practice your plan.
10) How to Improvise Weapons from Household Items
The closest circle of security is your personal space. Do you have the means to secure that? In some cities firearms are not allowed and you must rely upon other weapons.
Practice the skill of improvising weapons. What can you gather that can penetrate a leather jacket? What can you make that will slice through several inches of a pork roast? Can you improvise a bludgeon that can break a 1” pine board?
11) How to Make Your Home a Dead Zone
Sometime the best security plan is for your home to be a dead zone. This is the art of making your home look empty and disused. No lights. No sounds. No movement.
Practice moving around your house without providing any evidence to the outside world. Can you take this to the extreme by adding off smells?
The goal is to make your house, apartment, or condo look like it’s already been picked over or worse.
12) How to Exercise Light and Sound Discipline
Completely hiding the evidence of our preps is one of the hardest things for a survivalist. Even subtle hints escape us every once in a while.
During a disaster any daily comfort will bring on unwanted attention. Especially if it is cold, dark, and quiet.
Cultivate the skill of light and sound discipline. Can you seal up all your windows with dark fabric such that you can watch TV without any outside notice.
How about sound? How quietly can you move around for an entire weekend? Can you make your neighbors think you are out of town?
13) How to Heat Without Light and Smell
When dead zoning your home can you properly heat it and still make it look vacant? Assuming that there will be no electricity this leaves out a fire in the fireplace.
For this skill practice and understand how much heat it takes to warm a room. Can you shrink your living or sleeping space to the absolute minimum to reduce heating requirements?
How about practicing sleeping in a tent indoors. It’s amazing how body heat can warm up a tent in a living room. If you prefer active heating practice setting up a clay pot heater.
14) How to Setup an Evacuation Plan
One of the universal survival mantras of survival is you must escape urban centers. The unspoken part is that this must be done with skill and aforethought.
This skill is best planned on paper and practiced often. There are multitude of mapping and traffic applications available today. Use these to identify routes best traveled by car and those traveled by foot.
Where are the traffic backups? Where are bridges that you can walk? Can you use railroads for your E&E plan?
Practicing this skill is as easy as taking a drive and rolling the dice to see if a route is open or closed.
Communications and Intelligence Skills
15) How to Use a HAM Radio
HAM radios have an amazing ability to “Reach out and touch someone.” From around the corner to around the world HAM radios have a solution. That solution comes with a learning curve.
Just because a cheap Chinese radio gives you 2M comms for $35, doesn’t mean that they are point and click easy. HAM radio, takes some basic knowledge and practice. Lots of practice.
16) How to Use Digital Communications with HAM Radio
Voice over HAM, especially over long distances, is fraught with transmission issues. Often times what is being said cannot be copied. One skill to aid in information confidence is digital comms.
The nice thing about digital modes is that the tools are free. The universal tool is FLDigi. Be forewarned, it does take practice, lots of practice.
Well-practiced, digital modes provide communication with confidence. Communication is intelligence. Intelligence is survival.
17) How to Set Up a Covert Indoor HAM Radio Antenna
A HAM radio is useless without an antenna. Unfortunately, the bigger the antenna the better. This is in direct opposition to when you don’t have room and you don’t want your neighbors to know.
Enter the covert antenna. Even though small you can still get effective communications with a stealthy antenna. This takes time on air, tuning, and practice.
18) How to Use a Scanner
Once of the best forms of information gathering is from the Government’s front lines. Police, EMS, and the fire department all use radios to communicate. It’s easy to intercept these public signals with the proper equipment.
A scanner, such as the Uniden Home Patrol, can be programmed to listen for your local civil services. Again, this is not a trivial task and takes practice. Which services use digital comms? Which ones are encrypted? You must work through these details before things depend upon it.
19) How to Gather Local Intelligence
You can only make informed decisions if you know what is going on around you. Where are the riots, where are the road closures, and where are the safe sectors? What is your plan for collecting this information?
There is a new wave of community intelligence websites, videos, and classes. Make use of the available data and create your intelligence gathering plan. Then put it to work. Practice on weather events, celebrations, and any events that stress local resources.
20) How to Communicate an Evacuation Message
A comprehensive evacuation plan includes as many scenarios as possible. The best detail scenarios where all group members cannot evacuate at the same time. When this occurs, the plan must have a means for group notification.
Practicing this skill is as simple as putting your evacuation plan in motion. This may be for a trip to the store, date night, or weekend grid down exercise. Leave the appropriate messages/markers for your team and see what happens. Practice until it is perfect.
21) How to Manage Power
For short term events power management will get you thought the first critical days. This skill is particularly applicable to day-to-day living as power outages are becoming the norm.
Electrical needs come in three flavors: maintenance of normality, critical needs, and maintenance of personal communications equipment.
Maintenance of normality is the realm of whole house generators. While this is a nice to have in normal times it is overkill for the apocalypse.
Critical needs are short term use of power to keep lifesaving equipment (O2 generators, CPAP, etc.) running. A small generator of a few thousand watts meets this need. Use the generator to run your refrigerator and freezer as a bonus.
In the personal communications department I include cell phones, ham radios. A 12V battery and an inverter or an external cellphone battery meet these needs.
Break out your generator, battery bank, and 5-volt batteries and shut off the main power for a weekend. Identify your gaps and charge up those areas.
22) How to Fix Stuff
The final home skill is being “Mr./Mrs. Fixit.” During any long-term disaster things will break. Do you have the knowledge to fix most household mechanical items?
We live in a disposable society and having the skills to fix a bike, toaster, or HAM antenna are sadly a relic of the past. Before you throw out that gadget, try your hand at fixing it.
Granted, this skill has its limits (I’m not going to try to fix my television or stereo). But what is lost, a few hours of time? What is to be gained – a step to self-sufficiency!
Survival Skills Moving Through an Urban Area
Survival in an urban environment will be challenging at best. Your survival probability increases as your distance from a city increases. At some point will need to move through the city to a point of safety.
Traversing a city during a time of crisis requires its own set of skills. Let’s look at the ones that will get you home safely.
Water, Food, Sanitation, and Medical Skills
23) How to Identify Urban Water Sources
The need for water doesn’t disappear when you are on the run. In fact, it becomes more critical as your physical exertion increases. Even if you move at a slow pace, the bugout-induced nervous puts your physical needs in overdrive.
On your bugout route can you identify water sources? That public fountain that you wouldn’t normally touch with a ten-foot pole – how about now? Public bathrooms and their sinks – could you fill up there?
24) How to Use a Silcock Key
Ever notice a spigot on the exterior of a building? Except it doesn’t have a handle. These require a silcock key or water valve wrench.
Having a silcock key can be a life saver in the days after a grid down event. While water won’t last forever. It will last long enough for a few critical fill ups on the way out of town.
25) How to Scavenge Food
Three days without water and three weeks without food. Those are survival rules that we all recognize. Not sure about you but a day without food makes me “Hangry.’
We waste a tremendous amount food without even thinking about it.
During a GoRuck special event (Constellation) we were sent out to forage for food. I came back with Curly Dock and Plantain. My teammates found half a pizza.
This skill is all about standards. Lower yours – know the difference between safe and palatable and dig in.
26) How to Make an Emergency Litter
Disasters are not a place for the faint of heart. Stress, strife, and injury will be the norm. Unless you prescribe to the lone wolf survival plan you will be traveling with others. Chances are you may need to physically assist them.
A litter or stretcher is one of the most efficient means for transporting a downed companion. Wander the streets and look for poles, strapping, 2x4s.
My team once carried a 230-pound member several blocks using three tee-shirts and two pieces of strapping. Give it a shot!
27) Where to Scavenge Medicines
Sometimes a splint or a cravat needs a little help. Nothing dulls a little ache like a dose of Tylenol or Ibuprofen. Where can you find those in an emergency?
On your commute or bugout route identify sources of medical supplies. Pharmacies will most likely be overwhelmed. Can you avoid them and seek secondary sources?
Any pet stores or farm supply stores? These usually carry natural and over the counter medications including antibiotics. Take your map and mark every applicable location.
Safety, Security and Defensive Skills
28) How to be The Grey Man
One of the best ways to transverse a city is by disappearing into the background. Yes, we all love our 5.11 gear and hanging lots of furniture off molle strips. Going Grey Man is a better way to avoid attention:
There are many options for urban camouflage. Give each a try. From the commuter, to refugee, to homeless attempt them all. This is another skill to attempt with your spouse or MAG.
Give your opposition a one block radius to find you while you blend into the crowd.
29) How to Travel in a Crowd
We walk every day through various situations with few challenges. This changes when we enter a crowd. Crowds are either organized or disorganized. Each presents its own challenges.
Traversing an organized crowd is easy if you are going with the flow, difficult if you are the salmon heading up stream.
There is nothing easy about a disorganized crowd. You must look ahead and find a path in the entropy – better yet stay on the edges.
Practicing this skill is easy. Find the various traffic patterns in your area and walk. If you are a part of a MAG then have a race through the crowd or play follow the leader.
30) How to Flee a Riot
When people lose their individuality and contribute to a mob the worst in humanity comes out. Riots are as unpredictable as they are dangerous. The keys to survive are to join in or flee.
Assuming that you aren’t apart of the crowd you will need to leave. It can be difficult to cross the surge of the crowd. The best practice for this skill is to walk against the grain of a well-organized crowd. Really buck the trend!
31) How to Leave a Rally Point Signal
It is often said that plans rarely survive first contact with the enemy. A responsible evacuation and evasion plan must take this into consideration.
If you are traveling with a group then you must plan on being separated. This will require both an evacuation signal (e.g. “It’s GO Time”) and rally points – preset locations where you will meet up if separated.
Improved plans will include a signal that a team member has arrived, waited, then had to leave.
Integrate rally points, movement conditions, and signals into your plan. During your bugout practice include exercise that include all scenarios.
32) How to Conceal a Weapon
The Grey Man concept establishes the goal of blending into the background or noise of the environment. This means both dress and accessories – including weapons.
This skill is one of practice and comfort. Your choice of weapons must become a natural part of you. Touching, repositioning, and constantly securing your weapon will only bring attention.
Carry everywhere allowed! Begin in the home, move to public spaces. Master it with close personal contact.
33) How to Use Non-Lethal Weapons
Not every situation requires a lethal defense. In the force continuum we escalating form avoidance to lethal force. In all situations lethal defense is the last resort.
Identify the non-lethal options allowed in your area that fit your defensive style. Practice, practice, practice. If your choice includes pepper spray use it on a target on calm and windy days. If it is impact weapons try both arms-length and close contact drills.
34) How to Sharpen Urban Self-Defense Skills
My most educational and intense hand to hand combat drill was in a narrow hallway. We used hands, feet, lockers, walls and the floor.
It’s one thing to spar in sterile dojo or gym. It’s completely different in an alley or an abandon building. Everything changes when the ground is uneven or filled with obstacles.
35) How to Detect Surveillance
While we all think we make the perfect Grey Man – quiet lethality cruising the murky depths. Reality is we are giving off subtle signals that attract attention.
When we garner the wrong kind of attention, we become a target. Any attack requires the opposition to observe, close the distance and act. The best chance for survival is to detect the attacker during the observe and closing stages.
This skill will require a partner. Trade off tailing each other including changing appearance and the amount of time you close the distance. Have a simple signal for when the surveillance has been detected.
36) How to Improvise Weapons (On the Street Version)
It’s one thing to improvise weapons in the home. It’s a wholly different thing to find weapons in the wild. Are you creative enough to find a defensive weapon anywhere you are?
There a multitude of resources online for making and using improvised weapons. Practice sharpening found metal, melting plastic into a point, and wrapping glass so that you have a safe grip. How quickly can you make a weapon from raw materials?
Communications and Intelligence Skills
37) How to use Walkie talkies and Understanding Range
Communication between team members can be the difference between life and death. Do you have a practiced communications plan? Do you know the limits of your equipment?
Off the shelf walkie talkies exaggerate their capabilities to the point of absurdity. You will be lucky to get a few blocks let alone miles. HAM handi-talkies will be better, but the structure of a city greatly impacts their performance.
Practice using your equipment along your bug out route. Know where it works and where it doesn’t.
38) How to Use Counter Surveillance
Surveillance goes both ways. You can be watched or you can turn the tables and do the watching. Follow a person or surveil a location using these skills. Surveillance is all about intelligence. Learn patterns to avoid contact or to target a specific resource.
Again, this is a great exercise for your MAG split into teams. One travels while the other observers. Alternately, pick a MAG members home to surveil. Learn their patterns and weaknesses.
39) How to Evade Surveillance
Completing the surveillance and counter-surveillance cycle is evading your watchers.
Does your evacuation plan include evasion routes? Will you have to improvise them as you go? Study your bugout route and side routes and know the areas that you can change direction or loose a tail in a complex series of obstacles.
40) How to Pick Locks
There are one hundred and one reasons for learning lock picking. From the practical to the prepper. It is a skill of knowledge and finesse.
One of the most important factors of locking picking is feel. You can only get this with experience. Get a quality set of picks and start on a few cheap padlocks then graduate to key in knob locks. Finish with quality locks with security pins.
41) How to Improvise a Lock Pick
Whether it be due to local laws, travel restrictions, or a simple twist of fate, you may find yourself without a lockpick when you need one. This is the realm of the improvised lockpick.
Improvised picks come in several shapes and sizes. Traditional rakes and picks, to padlock shims and handcuff shims, they all have use on the bugout route. Practicing is easy as well. Hop online and grab a few videos.
Then grab a few household materials and practice on your own locks. Make sure not to attempt with any critical locks as you can damage them.
42) How to Carry Gear
What is prepping without gear? How many of us had/have a bugout worthy of Atlas? Becoming a refuge or running a hasty bugout will always include more gear than we can reasonably carry.
If you are unable to pare down your gear list, then you will need an alternate to your back. Take a quick look at refugee images online and you will find a host of options. From bikes, to carts and dollies what are the options that you have or are near your home?
43) How to Contain a Fire
Fires provide warmth, comfort, and sanitize water. While the concepts of wilderness survival fires apply it is often better to physically contain your fire. Keep control of your fire avoiding attention getting light and the possibility of unwanted spread.
Practice creating a hobo stove or a paint can rocket stove. Both have the advantage of using limited fuel and having almost no light leak.
Survival Skills Leaving an Urban Center
Survival doesn’t get easier once you have left the overcrowded city and suburbs. There are still threats and risks without number when you leave the city limits.
Meeting the needs of the basic survival are still required. Let’s finish up with a few of the most important skills to practice.
Water, Food, Sanitation, and Medical Skills
44) How to Forage
Food will always be a need on an extended bug out. Carrying enough calories to last a lengthy bugout (and not having them stolen) will challenge even the hardiest prepper.
There are a plethora of foraging books on the market, as well as free articles. Grab a few and focus on plants that grow in disturbed soils (e.g. roadsides) including Curly Dock (Rumex occidentalis), Plantain (Plantago major).
45) How to Wildcraft Medicines
On the list of bugout consumables alongside water and food are medicines. While you won’t have the same immediate results as an aspirin or few well-placed sutures. Be prepared that cuts, scrapes, and blisters ride along even the best bugout plans.
Take a few notes from your grandmother and learn which weeds will help out those cuts and scrapes. Practice your Plantain Poultice as well as identifying Comfrey for scrapes, bug stings, etc.
Safety, Security and Defensive Skills
46) Mastering the Long Ruck
Outside of the city you will be able to log the miles. This comes at the cost of further beating down your already weary body.
The easiest to practice but hardest to master this skill only requires your Bug Out Bag (BOB) and time. Strap on your bag and walk. You will soon find all the pinch and points and straps that rub and blister. Tweak and tune until you can walk all day and still feel ready for more.
47) How to Create a Shelter
During any bugout of more than a day or two you will need to rest or take shelter from the weather. In most cases a tent or tarp will do. In some cases, this simple convenience will make you a target.
The best plan is to have to the skill to improvise a shelter from found materials. Lean to or debris hut, your knowledge of shelter making and location selection will a life saver. Once you have the mechanics down master blending it into the background.
Communications and Intelligence Skills
48) How to Use a Compass and Map
Every digital skill should have a low-tech companion. Once you get out of the city you will no longer have the local CVS as a landmark. A map and compass will be a priceless backup to a GPS if your batteries die or worse.
While easy after a little practice, a compass and map reading is not an intuitive skill. One of the best resources is YouTube. Grab a compass, a local 1:24,000 topographic map, your phone loaded with videos and do your best to not get lost!
49) How to Use a GPS to Retrieve a Cache
Ounces are pounds and pounds are pain! The best way to lighten your load is with a cache. Hiding supplies along your route allows you to carry less and move faster.
Practicing cache retrieval is a simple as GoeCaching. There is an entire industry built around this hobby. It’s the perfect practice for both finding and hiding caches.
From micro caches (the size of a Chapstick tube) to ammo can caches get out and take the family. Build skills as well as your own cache ideas.
50) How to Use a Shortwave Radio
While it would be nice to bring a complete HF HAM radio on a bugout there are several complications to this. From the cost, power supply, and complex antennas it’s a lot extra to carry.
Shortwave radios with SSB capabilities provide similar abilities. Yes, I know they aren’t quite as good. Yes, I know they don’t transmit. But with a $100 Tecsun I can reach most of the same stations around the world. Add a tablet and you have a full range of digital reception capabilities. The only issue, it takes practice.
51) How to Use a Long Wire Antenna
The limiting factor of most handheld and shortwave radios is their antenna. Without a quality antenna your ability to pull in signals is limited.
The great thing about receivers is the antenna physics aren’t nearly as important as when transmitting. Enter the “long wire” antenna. Grab your shortwave and attach 100’ of 18-gauge wire to the antenna. Give the dial spin and see what you can pick up.
52) How to Preserve Fire
One last skill for out of town travel. I’ve touched on fire a few times as it is one of the most useful survival tools. Everyone’s EDC and BOB should contain the ability to make fire.
End times will limit every resource. It is always the best tactic to extend yours as much as possible. When traveling practice carrying fire. Once mastered you’ll be able to save your lighter and storm matches for really tough days!
We all know at least one survivalist that is all talk with nothing to back it up. Worse than a mall ninja at the range, a prepper without skills is a danger to themselves and those they care for.
Gear is tangible. It’s comforting to see steady progress as the bulk foods and ammo pile up.
Skills are a little less sexy. How often does your expertise in an evasion route pay off? Can you see how fire building skills stack up?
Skills take time, effort, and are nowhere near as shiny as a display firearm. Which one will help you when it finally hits the fan? Is it that third AR that sits dusty in the back of the safe?
Or is it a well-practiced evacuation plan, with multiple routes that are familiar you, and the confidence that comes from practice. An AR or the knowledge that you have done this before and can do it one more time?
I am continually learning. Over the last two decades I’ve expanded my skills in all preparedness areas. This includes hiking, orienteering, hunting, firearms, shooting sports, and trauma medicine. In pursuit of this, I’ve taken classes from GoRuck, SigArms, Dark Angel Medical, Steve Tarani, and Massad Ayoob.
Recently, I’ve been exploring off grid living with the quintessential cabin in the woods. The trout stream, abundant grouse, and feral apple trees make it our little corner of heaven.