Preppers know that being prepared for the unexpected is crucial. If you live in an urban environment, escaping a city during a crisis can be a harrowing experience. With everyone attempting to evacuate simultaneously, the potential for chaos is immense. There are ways to get ahead of the crowd, however – if you know how to bug out of a city.

Cities are getting heavily congested as our society grows and more people decide to live in the city. Some of the fastest growing cites are in Florida, Texas, and California, but the skills and knowledge required to bug out of one city is generally applicable to all cities.

I don’t live in an urban area, but I have visited many cities across the United States, in Europe, Canada, and Mexico. Cities offer a lot of job opportunities, entertainment, and culture. I would not want to live in a city full-time, but I can appreciate visiting urban centers, and as a prepper, I don’t judge anyone for choosing to live in a city.

You will hear many preppers say get out of the city before a crisis, move to rural land and build a homestead. Some people can do that. Others cannot, whether because of jobs in the city, family, or just choice. Many people want to live in the city, and to each their own. Prepping isn’t just for people in rural areas. Prepping is for everyone.

Following is what I would do if I lived in a city. This advice is based on years of prepping, following urban preppers, and thinking about the topic of urban bug out as I have spent time in cities over the years. I welcome your feedback in the comments section.

7 Steps to Bugging Out of a City

#1 – Plan Your Escape in Advance

Trying to figure out how to escape during a crisis is the worst time. First, because you’re wasting time. Second, because making fast decisions during a time of crisis will lead to errors and poor judgment. The time to plan your urban bug out is before the need to bug out arises.

If you haven’t done it already, develop a personal SHTF plan. Identify potential crises that could affect your city, such as natural disasters, pandemics, civil unrest, or terrorist attacks. When doing this, break out a physical map, or head to Google Maps and take a close look at the city. Google Maps can even tell you when there’s heavy traffic and where that heavy traffic is. Technology should not be discounted. Having a bug out USB is always a good idea.

Devise a comprehensive escape plan that includes the following:

  1. Determine your destination: Identify a safe location outside the city, such as a friend or family member’s home, a pre-established bug-out location, or a rural area with resources for survival. Then identify a second location in case the first location is compromised or cannot be reached.
  2. Establish rendezvous points: The absolute worst situation to be in during a crisis is attempting to get out of danger but now knowing where your family is. Coordinate with your family or group members to set up meeting spots along your planned escape route. This ensures that you can regroup in case of separation during the evacuation.
  3. Grab your bug out bag: The worst time to plan a bug out is during a crisis. The worst time to pack a bug out bag is when you need to bug out. Buy a bug out bag in advance and pack it to fit your needs. Prepare an emergency kit with essentials like food, water, clothing, first aid supplies, personal documents, and any necessary medications. Keep the bag in an easily accessible location, so you can grab it and go when needed.

#2 – Identify Alternative Routes

Traffic jams and blocked roads can be deadly in a severe crisis, and traffic jams can be almost guaranteed. It’s vital to know multiple exit routes out of your city. The saying in prepping is that “two is one and one is none.” It’s a statement on redundancy. This applies to your urban bug out plan. Consider the following:

  1. Study a map of your city: Familiarize yourself with your city’s layout and identify all possible exit routes, including major highways, secondary roads, and even pedestrian paths.
  2. Use technology: GPS devices and smartphone apps can help you navigate and find alternative routes during your escape. However, be prepared for the possibility of network congestion or signal loss in a crisis. Keep physical maps handy as a backup.
  3. Scout routes in advance: Drive or walk the routes you’ve identified to familiarize yourself with the terrain, potential obstacles, and points of interest. Doing so will make you more confident and efficient when the time comes to evacuate.

#3 – Know How to Escape a Without a Map, GPS, or Compass

Expect the unexpected. Well-laid plans can still fail, and your mind is your best tool. You may find yourself without access to a map, compass, or GPS. Would you know how to bug out of a city without them?

Here are some tips on how to find your way without relying on modern navigation tools:

  1. Use natural landmarks: Look for prominent natural features such as rivers, mountains, or coastlines that can help guide you in the right direction. For example, if you know that a river runs from the city center to the outskirts, following it can lead you out of the urban area. This strategy can be used outside a city as well.
  2. Follow man-made infrastructure: Highways, railways, and power lines often lead to less-populated areas. Routes with odd numbers run north and south and even numbered routes run east and west. While they may not take you directly to your desired destination, following them can at least guide you away from the chaos of the city.
  3. Observe the sun: The sun can be a reliable guide for determining cardinal directions. In the Northern Hemisphere, it rises in the east and sets in the west, reaching its highest point in the sky around noon. In the Southern Hemisphere, it arcs northward. Remember that the sun’s position can change depending on the time of year, so use it as a general guide rather than a precise tool.
  4. Use the North Star at night: Locating the North Star (Northern Hemisphere) can help you orient yourself. To find the North Star, locate the Big Dipper constellation and follow an imaginary line that extends from the two stars at the end of the dipper’s “bowl” – this line will point directly to Polaris. Unfortunately, the stars are seldom visible in urban areas, but if city lights go out, expect the sky to shine bright!
  5. The Southern Cross: In the Southern Hemisphere, the Southern Cross constellation is a useful navigation aid. To find south, draw an imaginary line from the top of the cross to the bottom, then extend this line 4.5 times the distance between the two stars. This point marks the approximate position of the South Celestial Pole. Draw another imaginary line perpendicular to the first, extending to the horizon – this is the general direction of south.
  6. Look at satellite dishes on buildings: In most cases, these dishes are pointed toward geostationary satellites, which means they generally face the equator. In the Northern Hemisphere, satellite dishes will typically face south, while in the Southern Hemisphere, they will face north. This won’t give you exact directions, but it can still provide a general sense of direction.
  7. Watch the choppers: If helicopters are being used to aid in the response to a crisis, observe their flight pattern. They will either be heading toward the disaster to render aid or returning from it with the injured or evacuated. You can probably figure out which.

These strategies are not as accurate as modern tools, but they might help guide you away from chaos and toward safety.

#4 – Use Alternative Routes

Congestion may be centered in specific areas, usually on freeways and highways. In general, we want to avoid those areas. There are usually several different routes to get to and from places. A map will help, but the best way to find these alternative routes is to physically go out and look for them. By physically driving, biking, or walking the alternative routes, you’ll be able to see how busy they are during different times of the day and week, how quickly you can get there from your home, work, school, etc.

  1. Explore lesser-known roads: In addition to major highways and thoroughfares, pay attention to smaller, less-traveled roads when studying city maps. These secondary streets might offer less congestion and more direct paths out of the city.
  2. Consider unconventional paths: Look for unconventional routes like alleyways, pedestrian walkways, bike paths, or even disused railway tracks. These paths can provide additional options for escaping, especially if you’re on foot or using alternative transportation like bicycles.

Keep in mind that alternate routes will most likely take longer to get to your final destination. This extra time should be accounted for in your plans. For instance, on a good day, with no traffic, it may take 30 minutes to get out of the city using alternative routes. So in an emergency or disaster, you may want to account for it taking twice as long. If it takes less time, that’s great! But account for more time. 

#5 – Consider Alternative Transportation

While a car is ideal, it may not be the absolute best option to bug out. Maybe you start out with your vehicle but end up having to abandon it because walking would be quicker and safer. It really depends on the situation, and this is coming from someone who has kids to account for. Our truck or van is better comfort, speed, and general mobility, but I also know that there may be things out of our control that would force us to abandon the vehicle.

My suggestion would be to have a tiered system (again, redundancy). Start with the car, if you have to abandon it, move to bicycles. If you have to abandon those, move to your feet. If you live on an island, like Manhattan, you’ll want to consider your options for possibly having to cross the water in some way other than using the bridges.

Traffic jams, roadblocks, or fuel shortages (know how to store gas because gas stations run empty fast) can significantly hinder your evacuation efforts. Here are some alternative means of transportation to consider when planning your escape:

  1. Bicycles: Bicycles provide a quiet, and agile means of transportation that can navigate through congested streets, narrow paths, and off-road terrain. Consider investing in a sturdy mountain bike or folding bike that can be attached to your bug out vehicle – just in case.
  2. Motorcycles and mopeds: When I travel to urban areas in Mexico I see far greater use of motorcycles, mopeds, even ATVs on city streets! These vehicles offer greater speed and maneuverability than cars, allowing you to navigate through traffic jams and tight spaces more easily. They are also more fuel-efficient, which can be a significant advantage during a crisis when fuel may be scarce.
  3. Boats: If your city has waterways, such as rivers or canals, boats can offer a viable escape route. Kayaks, canoes, or small motorboats can help you bypass congested roads and potentially reach safety more quickly. Be sure to familiarize yourself with local waterways and practice operating your chosen vessel before a crisis occurs.
  4. On foot: In some situations, traveling on foot may be your only option. Ensure that you are physically prepared for long-distance walking or running and invest in comfortable, durable footwear. Familiarize yourself with the local terrain and practice navigating without the aid of maps or GPS devices (see #3). Make sure you have that bug out bag already packed!

#6 – Avoid Danger

A city in crisis presents many hazards, from panicked crowds and traffic accidents to civil unrest and criminal activity. Ensuring your safety during an evacuation requires vigilance, situational awareness, and quick decision-making.

  1. Travel in a group: If possible, travel with family members or trusted friends. A group is generally safer and more self-sufficient than an individual, as you can watch each other’s backs and pool your skills and resources. There is safety in numbers!
  2. Maintain a low profile: The gray man concept applies here. Try to blend in with the crowd and avoid drawing attention to yourself. Dress in inconspicuous clothing, avoid displaying valuable items or equipment, and move calmly and purposefully to avoid attracting attention from potentially hostile individuals.
  3. Practice situational awareness: Keep your senses sharp and your mind focused on your environment. Avoid distractions like loud music or engaging in deep conversations while on the move. Stay aware of the people and events around you, and be prepared to react quickly to potential threats.
  4. Choose your route wisely: Look for routes that minimize your exposure to danger. For example, avoid known high-crime areas or streets where protests are taking place. Whenever possible, choose well-lit streets and open areas over narrow alleys or confined spaces.
  5. Maintain a safe distance: When encountering large crowds, fires, or other hazardous situations, keep a safe distance and avoid getting too close to the source of danger. In some cases, it may be best to wait for the situation to improve or find an alternative route rather than pushing through.
  6. Carry personal protection: Do you have a good bug out gun? You should get one that fits within your city’s laws. If nothing else, at least have a personal defense weapon that is not a firearm. Best to have both!

#7 – Stay Informed

As they say, the best offense is a strong defense. In this case, your defense would be foresight to see what’s coming before everyone else. You can do this by staying “in the know.” Twitter, HAM radio, NOAA weather radio, and generally paying attention will keep you well ahead of the game. If you know a natural disaster is on its way, you can choose to leave days before it arrives, instead of waiting until the last minute, like most people seem to do. Of course, there may still be congestion in certain areas of town, but we’ll go into how to plan for that.

Keep a portable radio, fully charged mobile device, or other communication tools with you to stay updated on the evolving situation, official instructions, and potential threats. This information can help you make informed decisions about when and where to move.

You should know your city inside and out. Really get to know every nook and cranny of it, especially if you live deep in a downtown area. I would highly suggest doing this through walking. Walking will give you a much more in-depth and detailed view of the buildings, people, and routes. Knowing your city could help you cache items along your route, find water by using your sillcock key, or find access to quick gas or other supplies. While it isn’t ideal to stop until you reach your final destination, sometimes you need to, and if you know your city, you’ll know the best places to stop, rest, or find supplies. 

Exit to Safety

Knowing how to bug out of a city in crisis requires a combination of careful planning, adaptability, and quick thinking. By establishing a comprehensive escape plan, knowing alternative routes, and utilizing various tricks and hacks, you can significantly increase your chances of evacuating safely and efficiently.

The best thing we can do is plan ahead. Timing is key! If signs of an impending urban crisis are growing, bug out in advance. Even if you think your home won’t be directly affected, trust your gut. Do what’s best for you and your family – and stay safe!