Introduction: Urban "Survival" Kit

About: a long time member of Instructables, I only recently began posting my own. Feel free to check them out, rate, comment, question, and copy!

Sometimes it feels like urban survival kits are a dime a dozen on Intructables, which is great. But it seems to me that that types of "survival" situations you commonly run into in a day-to-day urban setting are of a fundamentally different nature than those you might encounter in, say, the wilderness, and I've seen a few urban survival kits that I felt didn't address this fact very well. So I sat down and tried to think of all the 'survival' situations I've encountered in my urban life, and designed a kit to meet my own specifications.

Here's my survival kit, tailor made to get you out of many situations a cosmopolitan urbanite like yourself might encounter. I'll go through each item briefly, and give an example 'survival' scenario where it would be useful.


Step 1: Case

This is the outer shell of your survival kit. You want something small enough to fit comfortably in a pocket or a purse, but just large enough to fit all of your survival gear. Durable materials are a plus here, as anything in your pocket (or at least in my pockets it seems) can take quite a beating.

I used this stainless steel business card holder that I bought at the dollar store. I like it because it is sturdy and compact, and has no protruding corners that might get uncomfortable in a pocket. An altoids can or similar would also be a perfect choice.

Step 2: Pen Knife / Multi-tool

Just received a heavily taped package from Amazon? Maybe the clerk tied the ribbon too tight on your gift bag? You want to cut up an apple for lunch and share it with your friend? Sounds like you need a knife.

A pen knife is a must have for anyone. There is almost never a day that goes by where I don't need to open a letter, cut some string, remove a staple, slice through tape, or any one of the million other things you can do with a small bladed tool. Nine times out of ten a blade is all you'll really need, but sometimes a multi-tool like this Leatherman (c), with a tweezer, nail file, screwdriver, and bottle opener, can come in real handy. I can't tell you how many friends beers I've opened over the years because no one bought twist offs and no one brought an opener.

Someday soon you will need a knife and wish you had one. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday. So have one.

Step 3: Pen and Paper

Maybe that cute guy/girl in class wants to give you their email address (or facebook, twitter, phone number, etc. etc.). Or maybe you just thought of a bad-a$$ name for your garage band.... or an idea for your next million dollar invention.....
...or a grocery list....

Either way, you'll be sorry if you don't have a pen and paper.

I was tempted to put this as number one in my list, because I use it pretty much every day to write lists and chores and 'to-dos' and silly ideas, but the knife took first spot simply because the odds are better that you'll be near a pen and paper, when you need one, than a knife. Still, those times when you want to write something down but can't are awful, so why tempt fate? I pulled the inner core of a Bic ball-point pen out of its cylinder because I'm cheap and I wanted to save on space, but if you are worried about potential ink leaks then I know you can buy actual small pens online somewhere. The paper can be anything, a small notepad or just a folded sheet of 8.5'' x 11''.

Step 4: Contact Info

Imagine you just got off a plane, and you need to call you friend for a ride. You reach into you pocket and grab for your phone, only it's not there. You left it in a cab in Santa Fe! Now what will you do? You know you don't remember a single person's number off the top your head, that's what a smart phone is for, right? You're screwed.

There's a few permutations of this one: dead battery and no charge cable, drop your phone and break it, pickpockets get you on the subway. The point is, most people don't actually remember the phone numbers of the people closest to them anymore, the people you'd want to call if you were in a tight spot. And anything that separates you from your phone can become a real inconvenience, especially while traveling. That's why a small business-card sized list of contact information for your friends and family and co-workers can be a real life saver in a tough spot. Write them down on the card (in code if you are paranoid about losing it somewhere) and keep it in your survival kit for that rainy day.

Step 5: Cash and Change

Imagine that you need money.

That's it, that's the scenario.

This one is a no-brainer. It's good to have some cash on hand in-case you want a pop from a vending machine or to tip a server at a restaurant or you stumble across the one store left in America that doesn't accept credit cards. $20 in tens, fives, and ones is a good start. $2 in change is another thing I like to carry, just in case. (I have had to use a pay-phone before, and I was glad I had a pocket full of change then. Also, candy bars.)

Step 6: Spare Key(s)

Imagine you lost your key chain. Or you locked you keys in your car. This will be a major set back and really ruin your day. Now how will you get to work / get into your house / open your P.O. box?

I ALWAYS keep a spare car key in my wallet or my survival kit. It only takes locking your keys in the car once to realize you don't ever want to make that mistake again. Either you are forced to jimmy the lock or (worst case scenario) break a window. But the odds of locking your keys AND your wallet / survival kit in the car are much slimmer. Same goes for losing them. It's a rare day when you'll regret having a backup key to your important locks, so carry a spare.

Step 7: LED Light

Just dropped your cellphone under your car in a dark parking lot? Or perhaps your wedding ring rolled under the fridge at work? (Why'd you take it off in the first place?) You're going to want a flashlight to make your life easier.

An LED light is just one of those things that you might not use too often, but when you want one, you'll really wish you had one. It's easy enough to get a key-chain light these days for $0.50 at a gas station, so you don't strictly have to have one in your survival kit. But if you find one small and bright enough, why not?

Step 8: USB Memory Stick

Data, data, data...

With cloud based data storage becoming more and more prevalent, carrying a USB stick can seem a bit outdated. But there are times when I want to transfer files from one computer to another or simply save a back up, and physical media is one way to do it (especially in the absence of an internet connection). The other use for a USB can be to carry useful files and programs with you wherever you go. I like to keep a copy of Open Office on mine, as well as some game emulators and portable roms. It turns any computer into a gaming rig! (not really).

Step 9: Breath Mint

Trapped in an elevator with your boss after a garlic and liver sandwich. Chatting with your cute friend after said sandwich. A surprise blind date. In each of these cases, you will want a breath mint.

The last thing I fit in my survival kit was a breath mint, simply because it's another one of those things that while you don't always need one, sometimes you really wish you had one. It can occasionally save you from mildly embarrassing situations, and for that reason it made the list. Minty gum in a foil wrapper would work too, plus then you get the foil wrapper to use later.

Step 10: Other Items

This is not a complete list of survival items by any means. There are plenty of other things which may not have made my final cut but could very easily be included into your kit, depending on your specific needs and space limitations.

For example:
  • a toothbrush, toothpicks or floss
  • a backup credit card
  • a condom
  • a single sewing needle, black thread, and a button
  • a band-aid
Include things in your kit that you could foresee yourself needing and using at some point. If it's not useful, don't pack it.

Step 11: Pack It and Close It

Hopefully you've paid attention to how well your survival items will pack together into your case. Fit them inside the case Tetris style until you can get the lid closed easily and securely. Then find a way to latch or fasten the case, so no items go falling out into your pocket or purse. For this I used a rubber band.

Now you are done. Just carry your survival kit with you, keep it in the back of your mind, and the next time you find yourself in a sticky situation like the ones I outlined earlier reach into your bag and pull it out, confident in your ability to solve the problem.

You've got this covered. :)