How to Build Your Own Urban Survival Bug-Out Bag

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Photos: Creek Stewart / Willow Haven Outdoor

Spies and certain military personnel have them. Even mobsters and other criminals have them. And you should have one too.

I’m talking about a “Bug-Out Bag,” a ready-to-grab-at-anytime kit that gets you out the door and long gone, quickly and safely, when things go south.

Even though you probably aren’t going to have a foreign hit squad on your trail, or Federal agents ready to kick in your door, there are still a number of situations where the Average Joe needs to have a bug-out bag — or a “Get Home Bag” (see below) — packed and ready to go.

So I spoke with Creek Stewart, survival skills trainer, owner of Willow Haven Outdoor, and author of the upcoming book, Build the Perfect Bug-Out Bag: Your 72 Hour Disaster Survival Kit (May 12, Betterway Books), to find out what those situations are, and what we city-dwellers need to have to create an Urban Survival Bug-Out bag that’ll keep us from resorting to “Lord of the Flies”… for 3 or 4 days at least.

Why Do I Need a Bug-Out Bag?

Stewart told me there are 4 major threats to consider for urbanites:

  • Natural Disasters: hurricane, tornado, earthquake, flooding, etc.
  • Technological Disasters: nuclear meltdown, dam failure, power grid or utility failure (black-outs)
  • Pandemic: influenza, disease outbreak
  • Terrorism / Invasion: biological threats, dirty nukes, nuclear war, bombs, terrorist attacks

“Disasters don’t discriminate,” Stewart told me. “Where you live, how much you make, what kind of car you drive… Mother Nature doesn’t care.” And as we’ve learned from the earthquakes hitting New York, tornadoes in Dallas, and flooding throughout the south and midwest, they can hit at anytime without warning.

Creek Stewart getting his vehicle ready to bug-out

And Stewart adds, an urban survivor faces unique challenges and increased risk in 4 areas:

1. Evacuation routes: Cities become virtually impossible to evacuate during large scale disasters. Mass exodus will leave roads virtually impassible. So you may end up having to stay put.

2. Access to resources such as water, food, medicine and fuel: Large numbers of people congested into small areas will deplete available resources in a matter of hours. And the majority of people don’t have food and water storage in their homes.

3. Sanitation: Especially in a “Grid Down” scenario without working water, sewers and trash services, sanitation (and the associated risks) will become a major concern.

4. Rioting, Looting, Armed Violence: Desperation and lack of order bring out the worst in some people. Violent crimes will sky-rocket. This is the ugliest side of any disaster.

What the Perfect Bug-Out Bag Includes

If you’re forced out of your home and need to survive on your own for at least 72 hours, Stewart says to remember the Core 4 Basic Human Survival Needs: Shelter, Water, Fire and Food – and to make sure your bag covers them all.

The standard Bug Out Bag Supply Categories are:

  • Water and Hydration
  • Food and Food Preparation
  • Shelter and Bedding
  • Clothing
  • Fire
  • First Aid
  • Hygiene
  • Tools
  • Lighting
  • Communications
  • Protection and Self Defense
  • Miscellaneous Supplies

There are many items that make up the supply list for these categories, and below are several items that have a special and meaningful place in every Urban Bug Out Bag:

Shelter: a light weight tarp or poncho shelter, a light-weight sleeping bag

Water and a means by which to purify more if necessary

Fire: fire starting tools, don’t rely on lighters or matches

Food: light-weight, eat-on-the-go items such as power bars, a cook set, a mini stove

First aid kit with sanitation wipes, rubber gloves, garbage bags, N95 Dust Masks and waterless hand sanitizer

Tools: prybar, lock picking set, premium multi-tool, fixed blade knife

Self defense: pepper spray, handgun (and the practice/experience to use it effectively and safely)  This applies to ALL cities – whether you are legally allowed to have one or not.

Lighting: flashlights, and a headlamp

Misc supplies such as a map & compass, paracord, small emergency radio, extra cell phone battery, bandanna, detailed area map marked with at least 3 evacuation routes

All should fit into a single backpack that you can grab fast and strap on quickly.

The At-Work, Military-Pilot-Style “Get Home Bag”

The Get Home Bag is a smaller version of the Bug-Out bag

Stewart says to keep in mind the first bug-out bag you grab may actually be a “Get Home Bag” — providing you the essentials you need to get out of a stricken city and home to your family.

“Most of us work in the city, but we don’t keep our survival tools at our desk at work,” Stewart says. ”And, it’s not practical to take your full-size Bug-Out Bag to work with you everyday.”

Mass chaos and exodus would make getting from work to home very complicated, and a disaster-stricken city is a very dangerous place. So, just as military pilots have a “get-home survival kit” packed in their cock-pit, Stewart recommends having a “Get Home Bag” ready to go at your office or in your car.

During a disaster, this may be your commute home

A Get Home Bag is simply a down-sized version of the Bug-Out Bag designed to do just that – get you home safely. It will be smaller and have fewer supplies — just the necessities to get you through and out of ground zero.

Your Get Home Bag should have:

Shelter: a light weight tarp or poncho shelter, light-weight sleeping bag, adequate ‘get-home’ outfit and shoes that are weather appropriate

Water: 1 liter of water and a means by which to purify more if necessary

Fire: fire starting tools

Food: light-weight eat-on-the-go items such as power bars – No extensive cook set or stove in this one

Self-Defense: Hand gun (preferably) and pepper spray

First aid kit with basic first aid gear including N95 Face Mask

Hygiene kit with sanitation items such as disinfecting wipes, toilet paper, hand sanitizer

Tools including fixed blade knife, multi-tool, small pry-bar

Lighting – headlamp

Misc supplies such as a map and compass, paracord, small emergency radio, extra cell phone battery, bandanna

Stewart told me having Bug-Out bags at the ready isn’t about becoming a crazy survivalist in the woods or having a bunker mentality. It’s about being prepared when disaster strikes. “People don’t think about it until it’s way too late,” he says. “The general mentality is ‘it’ll never happen to me, those things happen to someone else.’ But it’s not a matter of ‘if’ it’s a matter of ‘when’.”

So grab that extra backpack you’ve got lying around, and start packing.

For more, follow me @thebachelorguy.