Bugout Bag Contents You’ll Need to Survive an Urban Disaster Scenario

bugout bag contents

I’ve never been one to condone bugging out on foot in a disaster, especially in an urban environment. However, there are several scenarios where bugging out of a city on foot could be necessary and it’s a good idea to at least think about it and have a plan just in case you ever do find yourself in this scenario. Today we will be going over the most important bugout bag contents that you will need in order to safely evacuate a city in the wake of a serious disaster scenario.


First things first…


Before getting out your pack and doing inventory on your bugout bag contents, your first plan of action should be to determine if bugging out is really the best plan in the first place. Bugging out of a city after a disaster is extremely dangerous, especially if you are on foot. This should only be attempted in the direst of situations.


A good rule of thumb to help you decide when it’s time to bug out is to simply ask yourself a few basic questions:


  • “Do I have a place to go and is that location secure and stocked with supplies?”
  • “Is it worth risking my (and my family’s) life to switch locations?”
  • “Do I have a way of bugging out in a vehicle?”


As you can see, this isn’t a decision to be taken lightly and the answer will be different for everyone and in every situation.


Urban bugout bag contents


Your bugout bag needs to be designed with the most basic survival priorities in mind: Food, Water, Shelter, Fire, Security and Sanitation/Medical supplies.


  • Food – Your focus for an urban bugout is to simply get out of the city as quickly as possible. Your food needs to be set up to support that goal. Don’t plan on cooking. Don’t plan on even boiling water unless it is absolutely necessary. Fires draw attention, the smell of food draws attention; and the last thing you want to do in an urban bugout scenario is attracting attention to the fact that you have food and water. It will bring eyes on your camp and it’s very likely someone will decide that it’s worth the risk of taking them from you.  


The types of foods that you will want to bring require no field preparation, pack a lot of calories into a small serving and don’t take up much space. Things like Trail mix, nuts, hard cheeses, candy bars and protein bars are all great ideas.


  • Water – In order to survive an urban bugout scenario you’re going to need to carry as much water as you can as one of your primary bugout bag contents. Most survival guides will usually tell you that ways to purify water are much more important than actually carrying water. If this wasn’t an urban bugout scenario I’d tend to agree.


The problem is that cities typically don’t have a lot of sources of clean water once the utilities go down. Even if you happen to come across a small pond or pool on the way out of the city, that water is very likely to have run-off chemicals in it that cannot be purified like you could if it were river water.


Boiling and charcoal purification will work well on biological contaminates, but chemical contaminates are a completely different ball game and typically cannot be filtered in these methods. Bleach and water purification tablets are also generally useless against chemical contaminates.


This doesn’t mean you don’t need to carry various ways to purify water. Once you’re out of the city water purification gear will be invaluable. However, this is an urban bugout scenario, and again, your main goal should be getting out of the city, not scavenging for water. Bring enough with you and don’t take any chances with “city water”.


  • Shelter – In most guides you’ll see recommendations to carry various forms of shelter material like tarps and emergency blankets. Although these will be extremely useful once you’re out of the city, they need to stay in your pack until you’re out. A big tarp or emergency blanket is like a big neon sign telling everyone that passes by where you are. Don’t advertise your shelter.


First and foremost, a shelter (for an urban bugout) is extremely temporary. At most you shouldn’t be sticking around any one place for more than a couple hours at the very most. Your chances of being found by someone go up every minute you are stationary. In fact, I would actually recommend to not even bothering with shelter if at all possible.


Again, your goal is to get out of the city, unless it’s absolutely critical to shelter down, skip it. You’ll make better time, you’ll save resources and most importantly, you’ll be much less likely to have a run-in with other people.


  • Fire – I would put fire in the same sort of category as shelter when it comes to an urban bugout. Shelter and fire are both extremely important survival necessities; however, they are both very good ways of attracting attention.


Since your main goal is to get out of the city, (not sheltering) you shouldn’t be cooking or boiling water. The only time I could see fire being a survival necessity in an urban bugout scenario is for warmth…and even then it would have to be extremely cold for me to risk building a fire inside a collapsing city.


Outside the city, your fire starting kit could be the difference between life and death, especially in bad weather. However, if you’re in the city, firewood won’t be readily available (which means you’ll spend even more time trying to find fuel to burn) and the smoke from the fire will allow anyone in the area to know exactly where you are. If they are cold and hungry, expect them to come find you.


If fire does become a necessity while bugging out, I would recommend using a small alcohol stove. There is no smoke, its light, doesn’t require you to find firewood and it takes only a minute or two to set up and get going as opposed to a traditional fire that could take up to an hour depending on how hard it is to find firewood.


  • Security – In my opinion, security should dictate virtually all of your bugout bag contents. In an urban bugout scenario, people are your biggest threats. In nearly every major modern disaster, cities have existed (at least temporarily) in some state of lawlessness and were extremely dangerous for the average person outside their home. This is why I wouldn’t advocate bugging out of the city at all unless it was your absolute last option.


When packing your bugout bag contents for an urban bugout, you need to keep in mind that it is highly likely that you could encounter other people and that it’s also highly likely that those people will want your supplies and will take them by force if they cannot get you to help them. You need a way to defend yourself and you need to be completely aware of your surroundings at all times.


As far as weapons go, I personally wouldn’t kid myself by relying on anything other than a firearm, preferably a semi-automatic rifle. As the old saying goes “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight”


  • Sanitation and Medical Supplies – A lot of bugout bag guides will say to include minor pain medications, Band-Aids and various other over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. There’s nothing wrong with this on the surface as these items could possibly be useful at some point. However, Tylenol isn’t going to save you from anaphylactic shock from an allergic reaction and band-aids aren’t going to fend off deadly infections.


Personally, my first aid kit would include some of the over-the-counter supplies, but things like gauze, fish antibiotics, sutures, epi-pens and quick-clot make up the bulk of it.


As far as sanitation goes, a bottle of hand sanitizer and a package of antibacterial wipes and baby wipes could prove invaluable when grid utilities go offline.


The realities of an urban bugout scenario are much more frightening than I think a lot of people will admit. If you’re truly in a situation where heading out into an extremely dangerous city is “Better” or “Safer” than staying in lock-down mode in your home then the choice is fairly simple: Double-check your bugout bag contents and make sure your 6 basic survival necessities can be met for at least 72 hours and get out of dodge.


However, if you do find yourself in this kind of scenario, take a minute to really think about your plan of action. Bugging out is simply a fancy prepper term for internationally becoming a refugee. Even if you have a secure and well-stocked bugout location, you have no idea if it will be occupied when you get there. You’re essentially making the decision to become homeless, in an extremely dangerous area, indefinitely.


If you have a family, especially small children, your chances of a successful urban bugout are next to none if you are facing a true “without rule of law” scenario. Even if you’ve been through rigorous survival and evasion training, your family has not. Just try to keep in mind that your group is only as capable as its weakest member and if the time does come where you need to leave, take as many precautions as possible, stay aware and stay completely focused on making it out undetected as quickly as possible.


Stay safe everyone,



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  1. Mikencove

    Well written and thought out. However, I would add several maps to the pack, one of the city itself, one of the transit system (good place for temporary shelter en-route, and one of the area you are heading towards.
    Your advice on the medical kit is particularly appropriate for urban evacs. No one should count on the scenario seen in the movie, where you break into a store and get what you need. The stores will be looted clean.

  2. MorrisB

    Good advise. But other than “try to be the first one out” or look for alternate departure routes I’ve never seen information
    advising all of us people who either couldn’t leave quickly or waited for a day or two for whatever reason.
    That being the case, should we wait for three or four days til that first mad rush clears out? Should we travel during
    the day? Should we mix in with a group leaving (strength in numbers)? Should we leave like 4 or 5 a.m. and if so,
    wouldn’t the occasional use of flashlights to guide our way give up our passing?
    If older, or the weaker sex was pulling a two-wheeled carrier, how could it be made quiet?

  3. Angela

    Hi I echo MorrisB’a comment. Would it be best to bug out in the case of martial law? I live in a suberban area. I have just started looking into all
    Of this seriously. I have a 13 year old boy who knows how to use a gun and a 11 year old daughter she is very fit being on the junior Olympic gymnastics team. But again they’re young. I am considering making a cement bunker type place in our basement. What is the best thing for a family to do in a martial law situation? My husband thinks I’m crazy lol.

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