Are you ready to survive an emergency at your location? Is your survival context urban or the wilderness? In recent days, I have read a few articles and watched a few presentations relating to urban or wilderness survival. It is interesting to notice one preference over another. These preferences are due to the leanings of those making their case. One’s environment influences the preferred approach to emergency preparedness. My own experiences with outdoor recreational activities, weather emergencies, military field training, and combat deployments accentuate this truism.
Thus, there are two basic categories of survival that are the most common in the literature: urban survival and wilderness survival. My article on survival approaches further breaks these down. However, in this article, I will discuss the urban and wilderness methods for survival planning from a broader perspective.
The Urban Survival Approach
The contemporary interest in urban survival is a more recent development in the survival and preparedness world. The popularity in the zombie genre of dystopian movies and television program seems to have been the impetus for the interest. The concern about the sudden collapse of modern society intensified with the Y2K scare of the late 1990s. Lofty Wiseman’s book, SAS Urban Survival Handbook (1996) discusses urban survival and is a standard read on the subject. Thus, urban survival became a hot topic in the early decades of the new century. What is urban survival?
The name, urban, implies the context in which one needs to survive: a city, town, or metroplex. The urbanization of the United States is a byproduct of its Industrial Revolution (1865-1920). The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that close to 63% of America’s population lives in urban and suburban areas. Furthermore, strategic thinker and author, David Kilcullen writes of the increasing urbanization of warfare in his book, Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla (2013). Therefore, urban survival planning a viable exercise for those living in that context.
The Uniqueness of the Urban Environment
There are many contrasts between an urban environment and the wilderness environment. The concerns of the urban environment are unique. For example, a person attempting to survive in an urban or suburban context does not have to worry about building a shelter in the same manner as their wilderness counterparts. One can occupy an abandoned building or house if necessary and if it is safe. The stories of urban survival from the siege of Stalingrad to the killing fields of Sarajevo give ample evidence of the peculiarities of urban survival.
A feature of urban survival are the kinds of items necessary for an emergency kit. Thus, urban survival requires some different things that are not present in a wilderness survival loadout. For example, most urban survival kits include a sillcock key. A sillcock key is unnecessary beyond the rural survival zone. Why? There are no commercial buildings with secured outside water faucets in the backcountry that require a sillcock key to access.
It is common for urban survival kits to feature lock picking tools. Again, these are unnecessary in the deep backcountry for living off of the land. Lock picking tools assist in getting into buildings to obtain food, water, or shelter in an urban or suburban survival zone. The movie, World War Z, has a good representation of the importance of accessing a grocery store or hospital pharmacy during a societal collapse. Lock picking tools enable that activity.
Some Observations About The Urban Environment
Additionally, the urban environment offers some infrastructure that is not available to those living near or in the wilderness. Cities and towns provide a utility grid (gas, water, electricity), if operational, which allows access to potable water, refrigeration, communication, sanitation, and emergency medical care. Stable buildings offer shelter and protection from the weather, predation, and criminal activity.
The main weaknesses with the urban environment are the available resources, like food, medicine, and water. In an urban collapse, such as that after Hurricane Katrina, those resources dwindle very quickly. It is estimated that major grocery stores only maintain about a 30-day supply of food and water. However, in a panic, the shelves and coolers in those same grocery stores will be stripped clean in 48 hours.
I witnessed this in Virginia when a named snowstorm was going to hit our area in 2016. The local Kroger’s, down the street from my apartment, was a chaotic mess in two hours. You would have thought the zombie apocalypse was upon us. My oldest son was with me in the store. I pointed out the barren bread shelves to him. I told him that this is what happens when people fail to prepare. They become very selfish and animalistic towards others when they are fearful of their mortality. Therefore, the storage of essential necessities becomes crucial in an urban survival zone.
The Wilderness Survival Approach
The wilderness survival approach is the oldest of the methods. Wilderness or frontier survival is as old as humanity from the Otzi Iceman to the modern bushcrafter. As its name indicates, wilderness survival refers to surviving in an outdoor environment. There are different kinds of survival considerations for various outdoor activities. Wilderness survival preparation may be as sophisticated as a modern ultralight backpacking kit to an extended hunting trip into the Alaskan backcountry. It can also be as simplistic as employing the survival skills and tools of the Native Americans or the Mountain Men of the early 1800s.
The Uniqueness Of The Wilderness Approach
The outdoor environment offers its own set of unique characteristics influencing survival and preparedness. Outdoorsmen must be able to survive and sustain themselves in the field for extended periods in remote locations. There is nothing “remote” about the urban environment. Moreover, wilderness survival requires one to carry all of the survival necessities within the limitations of your pack, pack animal, or both. Furthermore, the wilderness survival approach implies being able to access and create essentials from natural surroundings. For example, flint napping a knife blade or spear point is not necessary for an urban context.
Some Observations About The Wilderness Environment
The main difference in wilderness survival kits and those for the urban environment are the tools. Those going into the outdoors need a fixed blade knife as their primary tool. Urban survival kits can function effectively with only a multitool. A fixed blade knife is a core item for bushcrafters and hunters. Ferro rods and strikers are the tools of choice for making fires in the backcountry. Whereas, urban survival kits usually feature a Bic Lighter. Thus, there are some differences in kit components to enable urban or wilderness survival.
Some Final Thoughts
Is it urban or wilderness? Your location and type of survival concern will dictate your requirements. However, for those living in the transition survival zones, it is prudent to take a hybrid or blended approach of both urban and survival techniques and kit mentality. Sigma 3 Survival School offers a great blend of both urban and wilderness survival training courses. It is best to avail yourself of that training if you are able. You may have to traverse multiple survival zones to get to safety during a mandatory evacuation. Therefore, it is wise to gain as much field time, formal training, and individual practice in both urban and wilderness survival skills within your budget and time limits. These will enhance your chances of a positive outcome in your survival situation.
- SAS Urban Survival Handbook
- Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943
- Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood
- Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla
- Bushcraft: Outdoor Skills and Wilderness Survival
- The Buschcraft Bible
- Build the Perfect Bug Out Survival Skills: Your Guide to Emergency Wilderness Survival
- Survival: U.S. Army Field Manual (FM 21-76)