The story goes that there were two cousins, a town mouse and a country mouse. The details change with the telling but essentially the town mouse goes to visit his rural cousin and finds the lifestyle there isn’t to his liking. He doesn’t much care for the food and the quiet, Spartan existence. He implores his country cousin to come with him to the city.

His country counterpart soon comes to visit and, wouldn’t you know it, he finds that the fast-paced urban environment isn’t for him. Far too much going on that could lead to his demise and he prefers his simpler existence. The fable’s moral is usually said to be that it is better to be poor but secure than rich but living in fear.

Money talks and it’ll get you out of innumerable sticky situations.

However, there’s another angle at work here. Had the country mouse been a little better prepared, he may have enjoyed his visit to the big city a bit more. And if the town mouse knew ahead of time what he was getting into, he might have realized the value in a quiet afternoon spent with a good friend. The mission defines the gear and the working environment is an important factor. While there are many similarities between urban and rural survival planning, each area of operation has specific unique qualities that must be taken into account.

We’re going to look at putting together two basic survival kits, one with an urban focus and one with a wilderness emphasis. Bear in mind that there truly is no one size fits all solution when it comes to survival prepping. Every kit is going to be a little bit different. They should each reflect the user’s skills and experience while also remaining well within the budget.


This may sound anticlimactic but the most powerful tools in your urban survival kit are your wallet and your cell phone. Cash or a credit card can solve an awful lot of problems that don’t quite rise to the “end of the world” level.

Car breaks down?

Call a tow and an Uber. Emergency evacuation due to a building fire, chemical spill, or civil unrest? Get a motel room and grab take-out along the way.

Lock picking might sound like a sketchy skill set but if you’re locked out of where you need to go, it’ll come in handy.

An encrypted or password-protected thumb drive containing scans of important documents and such can be a great tool during the rebuilding phase of a disaster. Having immediate access to your insurance paperwork, copies of your identification, even reasonably current photos of your family members may all be important.

While we often think of water filtration in a wilderness setting, having a small filter in an urban setting is also important. Many experienced travelers will tell you that drinking tap water in a new city is truly rolling the dice. A small filter like the Sawyer MINI is a powerful tool in any survival kit.

When you absolutely need to get a fire going, not much beats a disposable lighter.

If you pay attention while walking through an urban area, you may notice that many buildings have outdoor faucets but they lack handles. A sillcock key will allow you to open those faucets and fill your water container. They are available in most hardware and home improvement stores.

Every survival kit should have a cutting tool. An urban setting might dictate something on the smaller side, though, such as a good quality folding knife that easily fits into a pocket. Many restaurants and other businesses in the city might frown upon seeing a large fixed blade knife hanging off your belt.


A pocket flashlight is something that, once you start carrying it, you’ll wonder how you lived without it. Look for something that has variable output as not every use will require a blinding light. As should be obvious, the brighter the light, the more battery energy it will consume.

Should you find yourself needing to flee an area quickly in an urban setting, there are a few tools that might come in handy. A small pry bar can be used to open doors and windows, though obviously not without causing some degree of damage. Conversely, it could also be used to delay a pursuer by wedging it between the door and the frame, thereby jamming the door. Not a perfect solution but if seconds count, it could make a difference. If a more subtle approach is needed, a set of lock picks might be the way to go. Basic lock picking isn’t difficult to learn and picks can be purchased online without any sort of license or certification required. However, be sure to research your local laws as such items may be considered burglary tools and possession of them may lead to unpleasantness if they are found by the authorities.

Carrying a firearm for defense brings a host of responsibilities. Seek out the proper training and education.

A small spool or hank of cordage is very useful. Paracord is sort of traditional but Kevlar cord is thinner and is durable enough to be used to saw through plastic pipe, should that need arise. It works just like a flexible cable saw, just wrap it around a couple of makeshift handles and pull it back and forth across the pipe. Of course, depending on the size of your kit, you could always carry both paracord and Kevlar cord.

This urban back alley requires a flashlight and defense weapon far more than a compass or fire starter.
A wallet with cash and a credit card will save the day in almost any typical urban or suburban emergency.

In a city, the largest threat to your safety is going to be other people. If you are legally allowed to carry a defense weapon, seek out the proper training for the weapon of your choice. In an urban area, a handgun is typically the recommended weapon. It is easier to conceal than a rifle or other firearm and, let’s face it, if you walk into a conference room for the Monday staff meeting carrying your AR, it is probably going to raise an eyebrow. In addition to a handgun, you might consider pepper spray, a slungshot, or another less than lethal option.

Paracord bracelets are great but make sure you know how to untie them properly.
A small selection of pocket flashlights. Top to bottom: Streamlight ProTac 1AAA, ThruNite 1A V3, and UST SplashFlash.
Maps and compasses go together like peanut butter and jelly. Know how to use them together for the best impact.

Lastly, a small first aid kit, including an easily accessible tourniquet, coupled with the training on how to use the items properly. You are your own first responder. Learn how to stop the bleed and save a life.


Signaling gear should be a top priority for your survival kit. Select multiple methods to help searchers find you. A loud whistle is cheap insurance. The sound of a whistle will carry much farther than that of a human voice, especially in wooded terrain. In addition, a signal mirror can be used to catch the attention of search planes. For night signaling, an activated Cyalume SnapLight can be tied to a short length of cord, then spun in a circle to create a large glowing signal for help. While we’re talking about signaling for help, a portable charger for your cell phone might be all it takes to help rescuers find you, if you can pull up your GPS coordinates using the phone and communicate them by call or text.

The first threat we need to address is a lack of shelter. On a mild evening, say about 72 degrees (F) with clear skies, shelter and warmth aren’t likely to be problems. But, in inclement weather or at other times of year, this could be a serious issue. Exposure to the elements can lead to hypothermia and other dangers in just a matter of hours.


Keep in mind, you shouldn’t be preparing for situations that turn out to be a walk in the park. You should be thinking “worst case scenario”. With that in mind, one of the primary components of your wilderness survival kit should be, at the minimum, a good quality emergency blanket. In addition, a compact fire starting kit is just common sense. This should include a couple of disposable lighters, as well as another ignition source like a ferrocerium rod, along with a supply of tinder.

A water source in the wild can be a godsend, if you have the means to collect and filter it.

Cordage is also useful when it comes to erecting some sort of shelter during an unexpected overnight in the field. As with the urban kit, paracord is one of the most common selections and it will suffice in most situations. However, tarred bank line or Kevlar cord might also be added to the kit. While it is certainly possible to weave your own cordage from material found in the wild, from plant fibers to plastic trash, you might find it easier to just toss a hank or two of paracord into your kit.

Excellent fixed blades for the wilderness survival kit. Top to bottom: Bark River Knives Fox River EXT-1, Nordsmith Knives Lapwing, Craig Schneider Tradesman.

Next on the list of threats is dehydration. While the vaunted Rule of Threes states that you can survive upwards of three days without water, that can be dramatically reduced in warm weather, with exertion, or coupled with other factors. A small water filter, such as a Sawyer MINI, combined with a container in which you can carry water will go a long way toward keeping you hydrated. Drinking untreated water from a wild source can lead to stomach upset, which in turn can cause further dehydration from vomiting or diarrhea.


The Vehement Spike, a collaboration between Vehement Knives and Kopis Designs, is a very handy tool and easily slips into a pocket.
Standard pocket EDC includes Rite in the Rain notepad, Tuff Writer pen, a durable multi-output flashlight, and a small Bic lighter.

For a cutting tool, a sturdy fixed blade knife is a better option than a folder for use in the wilderness. It need not be so large it inspires jealousy in Rambo or Crocodile Dundee. A four-inch blade will suffice for just about any routine chore. Make sure it has a sheath that will keep it secure. A folding knife in your pocket can serve as a backup, just in case.

A disposable lighter is cheap insurance in a survival kit. But, pack back-up fire starters as well.

A compass and a map of the area could turn out to be very useful, provided you know how to use them together. If you cannot find your current location on the map, it isn’t going to be much good to you. On the other hand, knowing where you are but being unable to find the direction in which you need to go for safety is equally problematic.


A commonly heard piece of advice is to stock your survival kit with multi-purpose items as this will keep the weight down. This practice can be somewhat debatable as many multi-purpose tools might do a lot of things but can’t do a lot of them very well. However, the shemagh is a great addition to the survival kit as it weighs nearly nothing but can perform many functions: Extra clothing layer – It can be tied around the head or neck to help keep you warm. Water pre-filter – Your water filter works better and longer if you can remove the sediment, bugs, and other floating goodies. Run the water through the cotton fabric first to trap what you can. Defense – In a pinch, you can put a rock into the shemagh and swing it around to strike someone or something.

Cash is nothing more than expensive tinder when you hit the trail. Uber doesn’t come out this way.

Bindle – If you’re foraging, you can use the shemagh as a small pouch. Simply place your wild edibles in the middle of the scarf, then draw up the corners to carry it.

A compact first aid kit is always a good idea. If you are injured out in the field, Every survival kit should be unique and suited not just for the user but for the environment. While many of the items in a wilderness kit can be used in an urban area and vice versa, having the right gear for the job is always a good plan.


There are a couple of different layers to consider when it comes to carrying survival equipment. The first is against your skin, such as a neck knife and a paracord bracelet. These are things that, even if you somehow lost the clothes on your back, you’d still have available to you.

Next is on your body. Here, we’re talking about things you can keep in your pockets, like a folding knife or a disposable lighter, as well as belt-worn items like pouches or a fixed blade knife.

The third layer consists of what you can carry, like a backpack or a sling bag. More and more people are using backpacks as EDC bags to carry their work equipment, such as a laptop. While this gives you the opportunity load up a fair amount of survival gear as well, do not overlook the other layers available to you. Redundancy is important when it comes to survival planning.


Any time you venture into the field, you do so with a limited amount of supplies. Do what you can to extend what you’ve brought by making use of natural materials you can scrounge. For example, keep a couple of empty zippered plastic storage bags in your wilderness kit. As you come across plant fluff and other types of natural tinder, fill a bag and close it up. Should you need to make a fire later, use that material and save the tinder from your kit until a time when you don’t have another option available.

The edge on your cutting tool is a perishable resource. When possible, break sticks by wedging them between two trees and pulling rather than using your knife to cut them. Save the edge for jobs where it is truly needed. That said, wearing a leather belt and knowing how to properly strop a knife to touch up the edge is also wise.


Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the July, 2019 print issue of American Survival Guide.


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