Outdoor Life Online Editor

As I write this, Hurricane Rita is bearing down on Texas. Someday soon the Big One could hit the West Coast. Ice and snow will paralyze the Midwest this winter. A monster power outage could hit your city. The services you rely on-transportation, communications, electricity, water, police and more-will disappear. Looters might flood the streets, and incidents of assault will rise.

You don’t have to be a fringe lunatic to believe that these scenarios are possible. All you have to do is watch the news. These events are happening right now, and there is no reason to believe they will diminish in the future.

Most hunters and fishermen are well enough accustomed to living in the wilds that we are comfortable bunking in a tent and sleeping bag and eating camp rations. And if something goes wrong, we either handle the situation ourselves or initiate some kind of search-and-rescue effort.

But what happens if you’re in the city and everything runs amok? Dealing with the wilderness is a piece of cake compared to dealing with a million people who don’t have a clue about how to handle such a situation. Urban survival is the scariest kind, because you aren’t just facing the quiet isolation of the mountains or desert or forest-you’re facing desperate masses of humanity who are convinced they’re in dire need. Unprepared and uneducated in the ways of survival, some of those folks will descend into a psychotropic paralysis in which they’ll become unable or unwilling to do anything to help themselves. Others might seize the opportunity to vent their violence and take whatever they want. Give me the wilderness any day.

Prepare for the Worst One of the easiest ways to prepare for an urban emergency is to assemble a 72-hour grab-and-go kit and keep it close at hand. The kit can be very simple or quite complex, depending on how much you’re willing to carry. Seasonal changes will require alterations, to handle extremely cold weather, for example. But there are only so many basic categories that need to be covered. Among them are shelter (this includes clothing), drinkable water, food, hygiene, first aid, the ability to build a fire, personal protection, certain tools (such as a knife and flashlight) and communications.

The kit needs to be easily portable. My personal kit is kept in a backpack. My wife’s is in a backpackable piece of luggage that has wheels, so she can either carry it or tow it. Our kits are pretty elaborate and would sustain us for weeks, but because of their size and weight they are not ideal for someone who lives or works in a high-rise in New York City. However, the same concept can be applied to a much smaller and lighter day pack. Consider your basic needs. Pack functional clothing that will serve you well if the heat or air conditioning goes dead. A good pair of walking shoes will help you escape the city if transportation is gridlocked (keep a pair along with good socks under your desk). If the lights go out, you’ll need a long-life LED flashlight and some spare batteries. If food is no longer available, you’ll need a compact, lightweight, ready-to-eat high-energy supply such as energy bars or gorp. If clean water can’t be found, you’ll need a way to purify any water you can find.

Prepare for your personal medical needs. It’s important to be able to keep yourself clean to prevent illness-a compact supply of moist towelettes will do. You’ll need toilet paper, folded in a Ziploc bag. Shelter solutions range from a Space Blanket to a pocket poncho to an ultralight sleeping bag.

Some emergencies render cell phones unusable. FRS (Family Radio Service) radios provide good performance over a limited range (a mile or so) and might help you find each other. Take extra batteries.

Beyond personal supplies, surviving an ugly urban situation depends a lot on how you choose to behave. Do not expect someone else to rescue you. Don’t underestimate the brutality of other peopple. Make sure you’re in a relatively safe shelter before dark. If you’re in a shelter, live quietly and be discreet-don’t display what you have. Hide jewelry, watches, etc. If you’re on the street, lie low, avoid people, plan every move and then move only when it’s safe and necessary. Take advantage of the sunshine or shade to either warm or cool you. Conserve your energy; that in turn will prolong your food and water supply. Improvise shelter or tools from whatever you find.

Whether it’s an earthquake, a hurricane, an ice storm, a flash flood, a massive power outage or a terrorist attack that creates your urban survival situation, being prepared to deal with your own survival needs for at least 72 hours will give you peace of mind. It will also take you off the list of those who need help and put you on the list of those who can take care of themselves, and in turn help others.


  • 3 sets of underwear
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • change of pants
  • 2 T-shirts
  • long-sleeved shirt
  • waterproof windbreaker
  • cap


  • energy bars
  • gorp
  • 3 MREs
  • salt and pepper
  • utensils
  • paper plates and cups
  • P-38 can opener
  • small stove and fuel
  • cooking vessels


  • water purification system (or tablets)
  • 2 liters in Nalgene bottles


  • roll of toilet paper
  • disposable towelettes
  • toothbrush and toothpaste
  • bar of soap
  • liquid camp soap
  • shampoo
  • razor
  • towel and washcloth
  • deodorant
  • scissors
  • hairbrush
  • paper towels
  • hand sanitizer

First aid:

  • first-aid kit
  • bug repellent
  • sunscreen


  • lightweight tent
  • Space Blanket
  • extremely lightweight sleeping bag
  • Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad
  • emergency poncho


  • flashlight (wind-up)
  • wearable LED lights
  • fire starter
  • knife
  • rope
  • gloves
  • latrine trowel
  • FRS radios


  • pen and notepad
  • tape
  • roll of quarters
  • spending money
  • photo IDs
  • ID tag for 72-hour kit
  • playing cards or other game