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Urban Survival Skills for Apartment Dwellers: Practical Preparedness Tips for Those with Limited Space and Resources

As a former military officer, I’ve learned that the key to survival in any situation is preparation. I spent years in various conflict zones around the world, facing challenges that tested my endurance, resourcefulness, and resilience. But perhaps one of the most surprising tests of my skills came not in a distant land, but in the heart of the city, in my own apartment.

Living in an urban environment presents unique challenges. Unlike the wide-open spaces of rural areas, city dwellers must make the most of limited space and resources.

Here’s how my military experience taught me to turn my small apartment into a fortress of preparedness.

The Importance of a Go-Bag

One of the first lessons I learned in the military was the value of a well-prepared go-bag. This bag should contain everything you need to survive for at least 72 hours.

The first 72 hours after an emergency are critical. During this time, local services might be overwhelmed, and it could take that long for outside help to arrive. In the military, we were trained to be self-sufficient for at least three days because it often took that long for rescue operations to be organized and deployed.

I remember a mission in a remote region where our convoy was ambushed. We were cut off from our supply lines, and it took three days for reinforcements to reach us. During that time, everything we had in our go-bags was what kept us going. We rationed our water and food, used our medical supplies to treat minor injuries, and relied on our multi-tools and flashlights. That experience solidified the importance of being prepared for at least 72 hours in my mind.

What to Include in a 72-Hour Go-Bag:

In my go-bag, I include:

  1. Water:
    • Minimum Requirement: 1 gallon per person per day (3 gallons per person for 72 hours).
    • Additional Gear: Portable water filter (e.g., LifeStraw) for purifying water from other sources if necessary.
  2. Food:
    • Non-Perishable Items: High-energy protein bars, canned goods, and dehydrated meals.
    • Utensils: A small, lightweight camping stove or portable utensils if cooking is required.
  3. First Aid Kit:
    • Essentials: Bandages, antiseptics, tweezers, adhesive tape, gauze pads.
    • Medications: Pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, any prescription medications, and specific medical supplies you might need.
  4. Multi-Tool:
    • Features: A versatile tool including a knife, pliers, screwdriver, scissors, and more.
  5. Flashlight:
    • Type: A durable flashlight with extra batteries or a hand-crank mechanism.
  6. Clothing:
    • Change of Clothes: Suitable for the season, including sturdy shoes and a warm jacket.
    • Extras: Hat, gloves, and extra socks.
  7. Important Documents:
    • Copies: Photocopies of your ID, insurance papers, and some cash.
    • Storage: Keep documents in a waterproof bag.
  8. Communication Devices:
    • Phone: A charged mobile phone with a portable charger.
    • Radio: A small, battery-operated or hand-crank radio for updates.

Storage Tip: Place your go-bag in an easily accessible location, such as near your apartment’s main exit, so you can grab it quickly if you need to evacuate.

Depending on your situation and local laws, consider including a self-defense weapon like a legally owned firearm or pepper spray for added security and protection during emergencies.

How Big Should Your Go-Bag Be?

Choosing the right size for your go-bag is crucial because it directly impacts your ability to stay prepared and mobile during emergencies. Based on my experience, striking the right balance between carrying essential survival gear and maintaining mobility can make all the difference.

For instance, during a training exercise, we were required to carry our go-bags through rugged terrain for an extended period. Some of my colleagues had oversized bags that became cumbersome and slowed them down, while others struggled with smaller bags that couldn’t fit all necessary supplies.

From that experience, I learned that a go-bag with a capacity of 30 to 50 liters strikes the perfect balance. It allows you to pack essentials like water, food, first aid supplies, and clothing without being too bulky. Backpack-style bags with comfortable shoulder straps are ideal, as they distribute weight evenly and free up your hands for other tasks.

Organizational features like multiple compartments are also crucial. They help you keep your gear organized and easily accessible, which is essential during stressful situations when every second counts.

Moreover, durability is key. Opt for a bag made from sturdy, water-resistant materials with reinforced stitching and quality zippers. This ensures your supplies stay protected from the elements and are ready for use when needed.

By carefully considering these factors and choosing a go-bag that fits your needs and physical capabilities, you can enhance your readiness and confidence in handling emergencies effectively.

Here are some key considerations when selecting the size:

Capacity: Aim for a go-bag with a capacity of 30 to 50 liters. This range typically provides enough space to store essential items such as water, food, first aid supplies, clothing, and tools, while still being manageable to carry.

Portability: Opt for a backpack-style bag with comfortable shoulder straps. This design distributes weight evenly and allows for hands-free carrying, essential during emergencies when mobility is key.

Organization: Look for a bag with multiple compartments or pockets. This helps in organizing your gear efficiently, making it easier to access items like first aid supplies or communication devices quickly when needed.

Durability: Choose a go-bag made from sturdy, water-resistant materials. Reinforced stitching and quality zippers are essential to withstand rugged conditions and protect your supplies from damage and the elements.

Fit: Consider your own physical size and strength. Ensure the bag is comfortable to carry over long distances, especially if you may need to evacuate on foot.

Additional Features: Features like hydration bladder compatibility, MOLLE webbing for attaching extra gear, or reflective elements for visibility can enhance the functionality of your go-bag in various emergency situations.

Maximizing Storage Space

Urban apartments are often tight on space, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared. Here are some tips I use to maximize my storage:

  • Vertical Storage: Use shelves, hooks, and wall-mounted organizers to keep things off the floor.
  • Under-Bed Storage: Utilize space under the bed for storing larger items like bottled water and extra food.
  • Multi-Functional Furniture: Invest in furniture that doubles as storage, like ottomans with hidden compartments.

Security Measures

In an urban environment, security is paramount. I’ve implemented several measures to ensure my apartment is safe:

Reinforced Locks:

  • Upgrade Locks: Use deadbolt locks for doors and add secondary locks to windows.
  • Door Reinforcement: Consider a door reinforcement kit to prevent forced entry.

Security Cameras:

  • Installation: Install affordable, wireless security cameras at entry points.
  • Features: Choose cameras with motion detection and mobile alerts for real-time monitoring.

Emergency Exits:

  • Identify Routes: Identify all possible escape routes in your apartment.
  • Clear Paths: Keep exit paths clear of obstructions.
  • Fire Escape Ladder: Have a portable fire escape ladder if you live above the ground floor.

Alarm Systems:

  • Basic System: Install a basic alarm system or smart home security system.
  • Maintenance: Ensure your alarm system is regularly maintained and tested.

Building a Community Network

No man is an island, especially in a crisis. I’ve built relationships with my neighbors and established a community network. We share resources, keep an eye on each other’s apartments, and have a plan for collective action in case of emergencies.

Getting to Know Neighbors:

  • Introduction: Introduce yourself to your neighbors and build rapport.
  • Contact Information: Exchange contact information for emergency communication.

Sharing Resources:

  • Resource Pooling: Discuss pooling resources like tools, food, and water.
  • Emergency Plan: Establish a shared emergency plan with roles and responsibilities.

Communication Plan:

  • Communication Tree: Create a communication tree for quick dissemination of information.
  • Group Messaging: Use group messaging apps or social media groups for updates and alerts.

Regular Meetings:

  • Scheduling: Schedule regular meetings to discuss preparedness plans and updates.

Essential Skills

Preparedness isn’t just about having the right gear; it’s also about having the right skills. Just imagine one day you are sitting in your apartment when you hear a loud crash outside. The news has been reporting rising tensions in the city, and now it seems things have taken a turn for the worse.

Protesters and police are clashing in the streets, and the situation is quickly escalating into chaos. In such scenarios, skills like first aid training, self-defense, fire safety, and navigation prove to be crucial. When things go wrong and chaos ensues, being prepared with the right skills can make all the difference.

By investing time in learning and practicing these abilities, you not only protect yourself but also become a valuable asset to your community in times of crisis.

First Aid Training:
As the situation intensifies, you hear someone screaming for help. You grab your first aid kit and head outside. You find a neighbor with a deep cut on their arm, likely from broken glass. Thanks to your first aid training, you quickly clean the wound, apply pressure to stop the bleeding, and bandage it properly. This not only prevents infection but also stabilizes them until professional medical help can arrive.

As night falls, the city descends into lawlessness. With emergency services overwhelmed, looting and violence erupt. You hear a commotion outside your building and see a group attempting to break into a neighbor’s apartment. Your military self-defense training kicks in. You approach confidently, using techniques you have practiced to de-escalate the situation and protect yourself and your neighbors from potential harm.

Fire Safety:
In the chaos, a fire breaks out in a nearby unit due to an overturned candle. The smoke alarms you have installed start blaring, alerting everyone to evacuate. You grab your fire extinguisher and, using the skills you have learned, manage to control the fire before it can spread further. Your preparedness and quick action likely save not just your apartment but potentially the entire building.

With the streets in turmoil and many routes blocked or unsafe, you need to find a way to a safer location. With your phone battery dead and no GPS available, you pull out a physical map and begin navigating through the city. Your knowledge of local landmarks and streets, combined with your map-reading skills, helps you find a safe route to a temporary shelter set up by the city. Along the way, you guide others who are lost, ensuring you all reach safety together.

These skills are what you should be doing to prepare for unexpected emergencies and urban survival.

First Aid Training:

  • Certification: Take a certified first aid and CPR course from a recognized organization.
  • Practice: Regularly review and practice your skills.


  • Classes: Enroll in a self-defense class to learn basic techniques.
  • Practice: Practice regularly to build confidence and proficiency.

Fire Safety:

  • Fire Extinguisher: Learn how to use a fire extinguisher and ensure you have one in your apartment.
  • Smoke Detectors: Install smoke detectors and check their batteries monthly.
  • Evacuation Plan: Develop and practice a fire evacuation plan.


  • Familiarization: Familiarize yourself with your neighborhood and key landmarks.

Mental Preparedness

Perhaps the most important aspect of urban survival is mental preparedness. In the military, we trained to stay calm under pressure, make quick decisions, and remain adaptable. These skills are just as relevant in an urban setting. Practice mindfulness, stay informed about potential threats, and always have a plan B.