Urban Survival Skills That Will Keep You Alive

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When the subject of Survival comes up in conversation, what do you think of? I am sure context plays a big part in the answer to that question, but for me personally it used to always conjure up the shipwrecked on a deserted island idea of survival. It was that or the lone hiker scenario where you are lost in the wilderness, miles away from civilization. I used to love watching Bear Grylls’ Man vs. Wild many years back on his first TV show where he would present just those types of scenarios and show tips on how to survive and get back to civilization.

The word ‘survival’ has a very different connotation to a lot of people but I think that many people out there limit their view of surviving to the way I used to. When I started getting into the concepts behind prepping, part of my thought process was that I would only need my true survival skills if I was shipwrecked or lost. I almost neglected the more likely scenario that I would need survival skills where I lived and worked every day. While I see the benefit of wilderness survival skills, I would be much more likely to need urban survival skills on any given day. There are some skills that overlap, but there are many differences between trying to survive in the woods and trying to survive in the urban jungle.

For this post I wanted to list several urban survival skills that while they may share some characteristics of their wilderness cousins, could still help you more in an urban environment if you are faced with some type of urban SHTF scenario.

Urban Survival Skills


Finding and disinfecting water – Enough with the water you say! I know, at times I feel myself like I am beating a dead horse, but water has to be a priority for survival regardless of where you are. Scratch that, clean water needs to be a priority especially in an urban survival scenario where larger concentrations of people and unhygienic conditions breed disease very quickly. When the water is contaminated with Cholera you won’t be engaged much in the old survival mode of defending your homestead, you will be defending the bed from getting made and the bathroom (if you make it there) from smelling fresh. Knowing how to find sources of water in urban environments is a very important skill.

Bartering/Negotiating – I lumped these two skills in here because I think they are similar enough that it makes sense. In my urban survival nightmare I picture chaos in the short-term followed by a long period of trying to work together for most and trying to get over on people for some. Bartering for goods is a topic we talk about all of the time, but along with bartering (trading a good or service for another good or service) you will have to have the soft skills of negotiating. When you are trading someone eggs for a few extra rounds of 9mm, the negotiating is more soft-skills based. In a time like this emotional intelligence will go a long way. The other side of this coin is that you might find yourself negotiating with people who have an animosity toward you. You might have to negotiate an end to violence or the release of one of your party who has been captured. Don’t laugh; we are talking about the end of the world as we know it here.

Medical Skills – Just like in the wilderness, people get injured in the urban environments too and like almost any SHTF scenario we discuss you can plan for the local Primecare to be out of business when you really need it. The hospital emergency room, if you can get there might be overflowing with other people and it’s possible you would want to avoid sickness as much as humanly possible anyway. Knowing how to treat injuries, wounds, burns and illnesses could keep both your group healthy and could even be used as a source of barter in the worst of cases. Resources like survival medical books, books on medicinal herbs and even old-fashioned remedies might be a good addition to your growing survival library.

Can you make a hobo stove?

Can you make a hobo stove?

Adaptability/Creativity/ Flexibility – These aren’t technically what you might consider as skills but the ability to modify your behavior in beneficial ways based upon what you are currently faced with is a huge advantage. The shower doesn’t run anymore so you set a camp shower in the sun for a few hours, screw a plant hook into the wall in the shower and Voila! You now have maybe the only working shower even in austere environments. Bonus points if you don’t even have a camp shower but you were able to reuse some old plumbing parts and an empty 5 gallon bucket that used to have dry wall compound in it. Showers might seem like a pretty simple problem to solve but it is that type of thinking that will serve you well when you aren’t going to be able to do things the normal way. You have to be able to think outside the box and as cliché as that sounds it is going to help you. For instance, could you make a hobo stove out of nothing but your survival knife and a big empty can?

Gunsmithing would be a highly specialized and sought after post SHTF skill.

Repairing things – If the grid goes down you likely won’t be able to call the dishwasher repairman, or the plumber or the electrician or a lot of people. Of course if the power is out, then you have other problems. Mechanics, engineers and people who like to tinker with things to see how they work; crack them open and fix on them will be a good addition to your survival team. If you have the ability to repair broken items you will be not only valuable to yourself, but you might even be able to open your own post-apocalyptic store and charge for your services. Gunsmithing comes to mind as a possibly appropriate skill to know along with all of the tools you would need to work on weapons.

Gardening – Yes this is a skill. If you have never gardened then you should take the time now to learn because it isn’t as simple as Jack and the Beanstalk made it look. Sure you have grown a couple of tomato plants on your porch, but what about growing enough food for your family to live off of all year long? That is a lot of work and isn’t something you can take lightly. Even if you have that awesome can of survival seeds, you better not wait until SHTF to start digging in the dirt.


Maintaining a secure shelter – I wrote in another article about the subject of defending yourself from the perspective of being able and willing to keep someone from taking your stuff. Stuff in this case could be practically anything but having first the determination (not fear) to do what is required to keep yourself and your family secure in times of chaos is perhaps less a skill but it is no less necessary. It is one thing to find a dry space under a cardboard box in the back of an alley but can you defend yourself if needed? Do you have a mindset that is going to position you to see who is approaching and the means to deal with them, possibly violently if the threat calls for it? It is going to be much harder to hide in urban environments. A true SHTF even will make the riots in Baltimore look like a Sunday picnic. Are you ready for that urban survival scenario?

What skills do you think could help someone in an urban setting stay alive if it all went south?


  1. LWJ

    May 1, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    I would also suggest you learn how to siphon gas, as it will be liquid gold. One should also know how to process game, be it a rabbit, bird or even a deer. You have to
    know what to do with Thumper or Bambi once they are down, or you will waste the meat. Also have a plan to deal with feral dogs without using firearms they will be another threat most people don’t consider.

    • Pat Henry

      May 4, 2015 at 9:38 am

      Great points LWJ although Thumper and Bambi might be on the endangered species list in an urban environment. People might have to resort to eating dog…

      • LWJ

        May 4, 2015 at 11:00 am

        If we have a mass event where 90 percent of the people on the planet go away, those critters will come back in force. Even in the city here we have deer, I about smoked one going to the gym about two weeks ago.

      • LGP

        August 17, 2016 at 4:03 pm

        I must live in a weird city, because rabbits are common around houses with back yards and parks in my area. There are also squirrel, chipmunk, opposum, and other weird critters that you might not think of.

    • EgbertThrockmorton1

      May 4, 2015 at 5:58 pm

      Excellent points in this post.

    • RedClay

      May 22, 2015 at 8:08 pm

      Maybe find a way to trap/kill those dogs (or stray cats) to roast for meat. Not acceptable now, but after a month or 2 w/out meat, people will see it differently.

  2. Bolofia

    May 2, 2015 at 10:23 am

    You could add the ‘soft’ skills of organizing and communication as contributors to urban survival. Preppers tend to think through a lot of scenarios, while most people will be panic struck. Clear thinking and calm communication would be vital, particularly the ability to organize an effective security perimeter when you are surrounded by chaos.

    Apart from mob violence, I think the greatest threat in a dense urban setting would be fires that the local fire departments could not (or would refuse to) respond to because the police could not provide protection. I would hate to be holed up in a high rise apartment building that a mob loots and then sets on fire.

    • Pat Henry

      May 4, 2015 at 9:37 am

      Those are great ideas Bolo and I started to discuss that under the umbrella of CERT training or similar. I think that subject of leadership in a disaster is worthy of its own post though.

  3. Mike Lashewitz

    May 2, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    There is no such thing as too much ammo. Buy legacy seeds and learn how to do starter plants.

    Build a green house. have extra material for repairs. Pre make plywood panels to cover your windows. Install clips now to make them easier to install when you need them. Paint them with a water proof paint sealer. Stock up on fasteners. Stock up on yard tools. Design a perimeter alarm. Reinforce your entry ways so they cannot be kicked in.

    There is no such thing as too much ammo. Have multiple weapons in case one fails. Know your neighbors start a neighborhood watch.

    • LWJ

      May 3, 2015 at 10:22 am

      Do you really think having ten thousand plus rounds in each caliber is not a bit overkill? If I had a a few M240G’s in my inventory, I could understand wanting to have 30,000 rounds of 7.62 link and 4/5 spare barrels per weapon. But the excessive ammo buying takes away from storage for the more mundane items needed for long term survival.

      • Mike Lashewitz

        May 3, 2015 at 9:08 pm

        Are you planning on doing this alone? I am not. 10,000 over kill? My fantasies are not that large. I have a family and I am the bread winner. I have to take care of all 11 of them. They are trained.
        So are you talking 7.65 x 39 or 7.62 x 54R or 7.62 x 51?
        I do not have the wealth necessary to do the things you mention, most Americans do not. I also pray I will never have to use what little I have. Also my local PD is excellent and they know all they have to do is call and I will respond and if they need anything what I have can be theirs.

        • LWJ

          May 3, 2015 at 9:45 pm

          No Mike I dont own a pair of 240 Golfs hidden in my basement. But I don’t stock up on excessive ammo. I do have the ability to equip a fire team to handle most situations that we might come across. However I am not going to be that guy that has 20,000 rounds of .22 LR in my inventory. I do prefer to sock up on 5.56, 9mm and various 12 gauge bird loads.

          • LGP

            August 17, 2016 at 4:08 pm

            Actually ammo is becoming rare and harder to find…if not now in the near future. The gov won’t take your guns, but if you google it, they are working on your ammo.

            • Pat Henry

              August 17, 2016 at 11:03 pm

              I don’t argue that the government is looking for ways to decrease or even eliminate the ammo supply, but it is not rare at all now in my experience.

              Just check out bulkammo.com or ammotogo.com for great deals in quantity on just about any common caliber.

      • EgbertThrockmorton1

        May 3, 2015 at 9:27 pm

        I think that “assuming” one “needs” 10K rounds of ” linked ammo” is intentionally nonsensical. You “need” what you and yours can actually use, and I highly doubt MOST people on this site, even are planning on any linked ammo and 4 or 5 spare barrels for those full auto weapons. I have never fired full auto in my life, except for military qualifications, and I only have used semi-fire in “real life” situations I’ve been in. A bit of a stretch don’t you think? You and you alone are responsible for YOURSELF and your family, use what YOU want and don’t worry a bit over anyone else’s goals or plans. That’s reality. What I plan for, will not obviously fit into your planning, I’m OK with that.

        • LWJ

          May 3, 2015 at 9:37 pm

          I think you should re read my post and take a minute or two to think about it.

          • EgbertThrockmorton1

            May 4, 2015 at 5:59 pm

            I did and I’m OK with what I posted. Thanks for the interest.
            Again, we are all responsible for our OWN salvation,and preparedness.Go with what YOU choose, I’m OK with that.

      • BobW

        May 4, 2015 at 6:09 pm

        Sounds to me that LWJ is thinking more along the lines of ‘everything in moderation’ vice a s**t load of ammo and 4 cans of chili.

        I like the idea of having some of everything before buying that next brick of 1,000 rounds of 5.56mm.

        • LWJ

          May 4, 2015 at 6:56 pm

          Bingo Bob, without the uncool things like water, food, clothing, etc your 30 gun inventory and 45,000 rounds of ammo are going to be less then useless. Unless of course you wish to end it all and eat a bullet……I have a few firearms, but I also plan on equipping family who show up at the door with next to nothing. Or if need be using some to barter for more critical items that at some point I will need but can not legally stock up on.

  4. BobW

    May 4, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    Despite using, breaking, repairing, and re-repairing the only three camping sun showers in Iraq back in 2003, I hadn’t even thought of adding a sun shower to my prep list.

    As an observation for those who have or are considering one, the large ones are awesome, but eventually the weight of the water in it (even only hung when showering) will cause the holder loops to fail. We repaired it by putting the bag in a burlap sack with a small hole in the bottom for the spout, then used 550 cord and two branches sewn through the top of the burlap bag to continue to reuse the shower.

    …burlap is super useful. Time to add that to the list.

    • Pat Henry

      May 5, 2015 at 8:20 am

      I figure it is a low-tech solution to a problem some people haven’t thought of, but I haven’t ever used one of those bags to the point of breaking. I see what you mean and that might be when the bag is better to get the water hot and then pour it into a sturdier bucket. The burlap is a great idea too.

      • BobW

        May 5, 2015 at 4:23 pm

        Well the problem with the bucket technique is that you need two to shower, or be the professor from Gilligan’s Island. The sun shower has that threaded hose piece in the bottom as well as the hose, and the ‘shower head’. You could certainly buy a cheap garden faucet and install it at the bottom of the bucket, but now you are consuming time and materials. Compare costs. I was just throwing out our Robinson Crusoe method for fixing a sunshower after a bzillion uses. It was gold in that ultra austere environment. Also made hot-ish water for washing our clothes before the Laundry and Bath Unit showed up from NY.

        • BobW

          May 5, 2015 at 4:24 pm

          that’s two people.

  5. RedClay

    May 22, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    Gardening is great, but be prepared to secure & guard it from hungry people & animals. Those red tomatoes (or almost anything) will look tasty to someone who hasn’t had a meal in a day or 2. A chain link fence won’t keep people from climbing over it. May need barbed wire &/or more. A greenhouse is likely to be broken into. If u have room inside, may be better to use pots & containers by windows (south windows if in northern hemisphere), that can’t be seen from outside. Or cut a big hole(s) in roof of a shed, to let light in, for ur plants inside. Remember, ur ripe veggies are going to be more valuable than gold.

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