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Urban Survival Skills | Survival Mastery

Urban Survival Skills

Learning of urban survival skills is a matter of life and death; perhaps, being street smart, described as someone intelligent and with good common sense, is good to possess if you are someone who wants to know how to deal with bad situations and act in the way to survival. Urban survival is a set of skills you need to recognize what is happening in the place where you are and in the world where you are moving at. You will need these mental and physical skills in order to adapt within that place and that world—your ultimate means of survival.

So if there was chaos around (e.g. civil unrest, natural disaster or whatever) and you would still need to travel around, perhaps taking your kids to school, going to work or taking a trip to the supermarket, but then you felt the tension around, how are you going to deal with it?

When the topic on ‘survival’ is brought up in the conversation, let’s say, what comes to your mind first? What situation conjures up (e.g. hurricane, shipwreck…)? Or perhaps, you’re lost in the wilderness, trapped, on an island after a plane crash or simply you’re far, far away in the picture of civilization.

Urban survival infographic

There are just too many scenarios you could think of and what best but to prepare yourself with the ultimate urban survival techniques. We always should consider tomorrow as well as the world we are used to and the things that could happen in the place where we move and live every single day of our existence.

People should not neglect but value survival skills in the city because it isn’t impossible that worst case scenarios might unfold the next morning we wake up. Therefore, prepping up with the survival skills we need in order to stay alive is very important, as bad things may happen on any given day. No one knows, is there? In today’s survival guide, we’re going to feature the things that you have to know for preparing for unwanted situations in this highly urbanized digital world.

Disinfecting and finding water

Yes, the earth is composed of 75 percent water (and so are our bodies), so you might say that there will always be enough, or maybe even much more than we need. But don’t you realize that water must be drinkable, meaning clean and safe to drink? This is not the water you find anywhere and then drink whenever you need to.

In an urban survival situation in a place where people are crowded and water is very much unhygienic to drink straight and the possibility of water contamination is very high, you should learn how to find and disinfect water. When the water is contaminated, it is a no-brainer to know that it is unsafe for drinking.  Learning how to find clean drinking water in urban places is an essential survival skill then.

Disinfecting and finding water

Additionally, you can collect rainwater in the container, as most stored water will help you through many disasters. And rainwater is heaven sent if you had to supply your own water over an extended time. Sad truth is that when rain water is nowhere, streams and rivers, which are supposed to supply water, are often polluted. In this case, learn ways on how to disinfect and sanitize water. To help you secure clean water sources, read our piece on purifying water by boiling to find out more.

Negotiating or bartering

You should not forget of this urban survival skill if you want to deal with a bad economic unrest or situation. When you picture chaos, you could imagine people aiming to find constant food supply and to make it possible they source their means of bartering for goods.

Bartering is a topic that people always talk about all the time—the process of trading a good or a service in exchange for something you need, a service or a product, too.  Then you also need soft skills for good negotiations, one of the emotional intelligence sections human beings have. In another example, negotiation can also be used in ending violence, perhaps meeting an end to release someone you love from being captured.  But don’t laugh on this, as we’re dealing with the end of the world as we all know each day.

Learning of medical skills

We don’t need to put too much emphasis on this matter. When you need to save a life but you don’t know of any basic medical skill, how bad would that be?  When the emergency hospital is overflowing with other typhoon or war victims, how are you going to survive an illness, a burn or a simple wound?

In this time of chaos and social unrest in the urban environment where you are at, possessing medical skills is one of the tools you need to overcome the barrier of experiencing a shortage of medical services and the lack of medical staffs to attend to every patient of a disease.

Learning First Aid

As early as like now, you should learn of basic medical skills, such as treating wounds, injuries and burns, and applying CPR, among others, in order to keep your group, including yourself healthy and alive. There are survival medical references, books and guides to find as well as books on medicinal herbs and traditional remedies to read and increase your survival mastery knowledge collection.

Being flexible, creative and adaptable

Well they are not technical but they are actually your ability of modifying your behavior in a way beneficial for you in a specific situation.  If you’re creative (and resourceful), you will be able to solve simple problems using the tools and materials you can find, and as a result, you will be able to survive with your out-of-the-box thinking.  Are you ready making a hobo stove out of an empty can and Swiss knife?


If you have repair skills, you are more likely to survive during an urban chaos than those who do not have any. For instance if the grid goes down and you cannot call a repairman to fix plumbing at home, you can solve the issue if you know how to do plumbing works as well, and this goes the same for electrical stuff.

Engineers, mechanics and people who love tinkering things to see how such stuff works enjoy repair work. They love repairing items which can be of good use, an important skill to possess that is very valuable for you and the rest of your group during an urban chaos.

Defending yourself

Another important skill to possess in an urban environment is to learn of ways on how you can defend yourself in case you are compromised and threatened by a criminal. Learning of defense techniques, including those from martial arts is a good way to start. You can also bring every day carry items for security, including pepper spray, a small flashlight, a licensed firearm and/or a knife. For more options on weaponry, see our article on how to select the top handguns to protect yourself.

Best Martial Art for Self Defense

When talking of defending yourself, you should not also forget that attitude may mean everything; in fact, it can make a huge difference for your urban survival. Do not ignore signals of feeling threatened or vulnerable. Of course, do not walk into a risky or dangerous situation, but walk away from it or withdraw. As much as possible, do it as unobtrusively and as quietly as you can and retreat in an area where people are around.

Making a fire from char cloth

You should also learn of this urban survival skill you would need when stove is out and the gas is not accessible during emergency situations in the urban area where you are at. Practice and learn of making fire through kindling, from tinder and with one match.

Making a Fire From Cloth
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Now, did you know that you could use a char cloth to make a fire? For instance, char cloth is a thin piece of charcoal made out of cotton, and it can spark almost in an instant and burn hot. It can also burn quite a while.

  • To do it, get an old 100 percent cotton shirt or any material with 100 percent cotton content.
  • You can start cutting it into one to two inch squares.
  • You can start dropping the cotton squares into a tin can and then cover it with an aluminum foil.
  • Then, you can secure the foil using a baling wire or anything to find that can secure the foil tightly.
  • After, poke a little hole on top of the aluminum foil before putting the can with cotton squares over a pile of burning coals. Notice the smoke coming out of the hole after a couple of minutes. This smoke has methane, which will make the smoke flammable. The smoke, however, should stop coming out of the hole after five minutes.
  • Then, you can cool them down and remove the foil. Pull a piece of cotton square out. If you see nothing but ash, it indicates that the air has gotten inside the tin can and that you have to repeat the process.  On the other hand if you find that the squares turned black, it means that you’re good to go to using the char cloth as charcoal.

There you have the char cloth that you can do in a matter of ten minutes or so. They are good sources of fuel when cooking gas and its supply is out!  Making char cloth is a great foundation skill to possess when looking for an alternative fuel source.


Yes, that’s correct—gardening. In this particular urban survival guide, we want to emphasis the importance of gardening and maybe you know ‘why.’ If the markets are closed, the farms are not accessible and you don’t have food in the fridge but you have some tomatoes, radish and some other vegetables in your garden, you may reduce your problem on nourishment. Everyone should learn of gardening skills for survival.


Start digging and planting crops, as no one can really say what happens tomorrow, and so the best thing for you to do is to start with food supply planning for you and your family today. Although it may take a lot of dedication and hard work, gardening is one of the best skills anyone should possess even at this time when the world is still at peace (?) and food supply is enough (?). Start planting crops and train yourself to become a good gardener; perhaps, practice makes perfect. Another idea is to learn box gardening, especially if your space is at a premium.

Securing your shelter

Defending yourself from riots and unrests, one of the best things to do is to secure your home from the perspective of being able to keep your stuff and keep others from taking them away from you and your family. Anything could be a subject of theft, as in anything that others find valuable for their own gains and use. In addition, you should keep your family secure all the time during the unrest.

Do you have that mindset of putting yourself into position, and then into action when you see someone is approaching your home and how do you deal with such invaders, maybe violently when the situation calls for it?

You should also evaluate your home’s security and start making a safe zone by ensuring your outdoor area is well-lit.  Part of security, you should always trim shrubbery and foliage around your perimeters so that there will be no place for intruders to hide and lurk around. In short, do not give the bad guys a good hiding place and an escape when harm is already done. For more information on protection, see our article review of the best home defense guns for you.

Learning to identify exit routes

Finding the exit routes is a somehow general concept. [Just imagine how good rats and mice are in maneuvering the alleys, canal systems…]. But bad for them, they always end up in filthy traps, endangering their lives.  Yes, they know how to get in one way, but they don’t know how to get back out. And we’re humans, not rats.  We don’t only have to determine entry points but exits, too. We should identify key entries and exits in the city, so we would know how to get back out when we’re about to be trapped in a dead end (or in a bad situation).

And speaking of learning of exit routes, learn how to manage your emotions. Avoid panicking. [Just imagine how stampede kills a lot of people in night clubs, theaters and concerts when they don’t use their minds to calm down but to react in a panicky way].

Exit Sign

When entering a building perhaps, find out where the exits are by asking or looking around. You should plan ahead and determine at least two exits where to leave during an emergency (e.g. blast, earthquake…). Now if there is an obstacle blocking the exit, how are you going to overcome it? The same concept applies when you’re driving in the road—always have an exit route in mind to get back out when a mishap happens.

Trusting your instincts and staying alert

You might have always heard, “Trust your instincts.” Recognize those gut feelings you have and pay attention to them. If you feel something is off, you should walk away from that place and get back to safety. You don’t have to feel ashamed to admitting you are frightened and that you want to stay safe.

Remember, no bad vibes are good. Listen to your gut and pay attention to it. Keep out of that particular danger (place, situation…) if you feel bad vibes around. Trust yourself!

Checking the risk

If you are going to a strange place or an unfamiliar location, you should not feel so confident that nothing bad is going to happen. Evaluate the risks and then be prepared—with a well-prepared mindset.  You can dress to adapt with the environment and do not carry expensive gadgets with you. In short, do not call any unwanted attention on yourself. Now if the area is under siege, you should think a couple of times before going there. Finally, decide “Is going worth the risk?”.

Speaking of risk evaluation, you should also learn the survival skill of situational awareness, so make sure to teach yourself on ways to look for signs of dangers and threats. One thing, there are crimes everywhere, but they do tend to happen much more often in dark and quiet places, including stairs, alleys, parking lots, garages and roadways.  When you enter dark and quiet places, such as these, you should look around and evaluate things that do not seem right. Again, you have to trust your gut feeling.

Evaluate the risks

And speaking of situational awareness, you should also ‘know thy neighbors’ as well as community members. Additionally, you should be able to discuss matters among yourselves and better to come up with plans of working together and looking after each other in times of emergencies and disasters.

There you have some of the best urban survival techniques to practice and master to make sure you stay alive and that you keep yourself and your family safe and secured even in a chaotic urban situation.

Do you think we miss an important urban skill here? Tell us in the comments! Thank you for staying tuned and please feel free sharing this guide to friends that you think might need it, too.

Check out our popular article review of the best urban survival kits for your information.

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About the author

David Dawson

David Dawson is a retired security specialist with over 20 years of experience. He worked for a secret manufacturing facilities and hospitals in Illinois. David's responsibility was to protect people in case of any disaster or cataclysm that might occur. Now he keeps on doing it through teaching others about how to prepare and survive flood, earthquake or even war.


  • Some additional skills that you can consider learning include evading stalkers, avoiding pickpockets and handling panhandlers. These are more for personal security than anything but it does help to be aware of the different MOs in order to anticipate them.

  • These activities are more popular during regular times as during a survival situation everyone is going to be on the fence. However, it’s a good idea to learn how to stay away from people who practice such “jobs”

  • With all survival knowledge, practice, practice and practice. That way in any emergency you already know what works for you and also will have the muscle memory so that it is now easier to do when you are already stressed out

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