Introduction: Urban Survival Kit

There are a lot of guides for kits to help you survive miles from anywhere--but how often do you end up miles from anywhere? What about the everyday, the mundane, situations where you constantly find yourself saying, if only I had& and even though it's always the same thing, you've never got it? You need an urban survival kit. Full of the things you need wherever you go. A pencil. Scissors. Tape.
This is a survival kit for wherever you are. You'll be better off for having it in virtually any situation; Sub-Saharan Africa or the subway station, The Rockies or the rock show, The Outback or just out back. Remember, this is just a guide I've been able to come up with--if you've got an idea for something that's missing, something that would work better or something I should leave out, let me know, and by all means personalize your own to your own situation.

I've included in every shot a pencil, ruler and penny, for the purpose of demonstrating scale

Step 1: Multitool

This is the most essential of all essentials. The Samurai's blade was his soul, and so it is still--though my soul conveniently has pliers, scissors and screwdrivers along with a keen edge. The best I've found of these is the Leatherman Juice S2, not so much because of what it has, but because of what it doesn't. No corkscrew. No nail file. Absolutely nothing you don't need. Just pliers, wirecutters, a knife, scissors, a combo bottle/can opener, a Philips and three sizes of slot head screw driver, all in a small, lightweight package. This thing has fixed snowboards, bikes and sawmills, preformed exploratory surgery on an Xbox 360, filleted the thumb of a romantic rival (While he was using it. Don't look at me like that) and accompanied me on many deep wilderness trips. It is far and away the most expensive thing in this guide--around forty hard-earned American Dollars. If you're not willing to pay just over $9 an ounce--almost the price of sterling silver--for your knife, the Gerber 01471 is also a good alternative. It's more robust than the Leatherman Juice, though heavier, and has the same weapon set plus a serrated blade and a saw. Not only that, but the blades all lock and the pliers are spring-loaded, all for the low, low price of around thirty bucks, or $2.65 an ounce. With the Juice, it's the metal that's not there that's expensive. Still, this is your blade. Your blade is an extension of your self. Without your blade, you are naked.

One minor note: certain people, such as the sterling folks at airport security, might prefer you to be naked in this particular sense--indeed, if they find that you have a knife, they might insist that you accompany them to a small room and become naked in an even more literal sense of the word. Other places that object to your sharpened metalic soul are schools, sports games, concerts, government buildings and hospital MRI wards. Be warned.

Step 2: USB Storage Device

I don't have to tell you that in this dystopian cyberscape, data storage is essential. The easiest way to do this portably is with a USB storage device, also know as the USB key, USB drive, thumb drive, jump drive, pledge drive, canned-food drive or tennis-shoe network router. My favorites are the Sandisk and Sony models pictured below; both are durable and compact. Godhole mentioned in the comments one way to increase the effectiveness of one of these even more is to load on portable applications that can be used just by plugging the device into a computer. They're available for free at'd reccomend the OpenOffice suite and Sumatra PDF reader particularly, but if you hate internet explorer enough, firefox might be worth it.

Step 3: Light

It helps you see, and comes in many handy and portable packages. These days, LED is the way to go. I've found a couple of lights I really like. The first is the Petzl Zipka Plus, which is lightweight, compact, fairly bright and obnoxiously expensive at $35. The other, better type is The Kikkerland 9 Volt LED Flashlight for less than $10. They're tiny, can be gripped in the mouth for a hands-free job, and they're amazingly bright and long-lasting.

Step 4: Cord

For a long time, people have needed to attach things to other things, and before Wainsborough C. Duct invented his famous adhesive tape, we used cord. Depending on what you plan to use it for, you can get many different types, anything from twine to yacht rope (though this is less compact than is ideal). I use 550 lb. test nylon paracord, which is about half the width of a pencil and substantially better for tying knots. You can get 100' for under $10.

Step 5: First Aid

Humans, like radiators and intelligence agencies, are prone to leak. Bandaids are there to cover the holes in you. You can often get these in special little travel packs, and there is no reason not to get one. Bandaids are also extremely effective at shaving very small portions of your legs.

Triple antibiotic ointment will help the wound heal faster, though if you don't have any, rub a raw steak on the wound. That's got enough antibiotics in it to sterilize a keyboard.

You should also carry instructions. Even if you've been to the Red-Cross courses, watched the corny videos and done chest-compressions on the mannequins, in times of stress, take it from me, you're likely to forget at least some of what you learned. First aid instructions are available with almost any kit, and are also useful to others if you're the one who's hurt.

Feel free to throw in some aspirin or non-aspirin pain reliever, too. Headaches can strike anyone at any time, and, armed with these powerful analgesics, you can be the hero of the hour.

Step 6: Writing Implements

Man's greatest invention is writing, and you need writing implements to do it. You can write in the sand with your finger, but it's hard to give a cute girl your number on a folded piece of beach.
There are three implements you're likely to need: A ballpoint ink pen, a #2 pencil, and a felt-tipped marker.
Ballpoints don't leak, and they work for signatures. Plus, they come with a pen cap, which is useful for any number of things.
The old joke is that the Americans spent a lot of money to develop a pen that would write on almost any surface, even upside down or in zero gravity, and the Russians used a pencil. It's true that it's hard to beat the versatility of a wooden, #2 pencil. Pencils also have the benefit of non-permanence.
Felt-tipped permanent markers are one of the only writing implements more versatile than pencils, and are also far more visible. Sharpies are the quintessential brand, and quite useful.

Step 7: First Aid 2: Things for Sticking Things to Other Things

These are not just useful for first aid. Say you wish two things were one thing. These things will help you do it, whether those two things are the edges of a ragged gash in your friend's leg or...I don't know. A chair and the ceiling.

First: Duct Tape.

Useful for fixing ducts.
Nothing else.

Okay, but even if you're carrying your cord, a little duct tape is always useful. If there's a wound that's too big for your band-aids, duct tape is a good alternative. To store, wrap it around one of your writing implements (In this case, the ballpoint pen refill). For a list of useful applications of this universal adherent, check out the Duct Tape Guide.

Second: Superglue.

There are a lot of uses for superglue, such as revealing fingerprints and irreversibly sealing your eyes shut (it happens more than you would hope) but the best use I've found is sealing wounds on your fingers, toes, or anywhere else a band-aid won't work. If you do end up gluing your toes together (as I've done more often than I'd like to admit) nail-polish remover gets rid of it quite handily.

Step 8: Spork

There are three things you need to put in your body to keep you alive: Air, food, water, and methamphetamine--whoops, that's four. Still, food is the most complicated for getting into your mouth, and unless you are a caveman or at a pizzaria, you are expected to use a utensil. To this end, I always carry a spork with me. Chopsticks are not a bad option either, but a spork allows you to eat soup as well, so I think it comes out on top. My personal favorite is the Optimus titanium model pictured. It's durable, folds to be ultra-compact, and, unlike the plastic models, you can cook your meth in it.

Step 9: Fire

Whether you're an aspiring arson (Hi, cousin Jamie!), smoke, have 100' of nylon paracord the ends of which should be fused when cut, or just like to not die of hypothermia, sometimes everybody needs fire. Usually, this means lighters or matches. Lighters are reusable, but less compact. Matches are compact, but only work once. Personally, I prefer matches, since (not being a smoker) I don't need fire too often when I'm not camping. If you're feeling particularly mountain-manly, you can use a sparker like the one pictured (coincidentally made by the same people as the knifoon). If you want to go that route, carry some drier lint around with you as tinder.
Also, in case you're very, very stupid, keep in mind that virtually everyone who dislikes knives also has a frankenstinian aversion to fire, so don't take your Zippo on a plane.

Step 10: Sewing Kit

If you're like me, adoring fans have rent your clothing asunder in public more times than you can count. When they rend, mend! With some needles, dark and light thread and a little knowledge, you can fix your clothes on the go. If you can't be bothered, safety pins are a good temporary fix and fashion statement.

Step 11: Condom

For those who are sexually active or hope to be, a condom is essential. For those who are nuns, eunuchs, Nikola Tesla, Hans Christian Anderson, Isaac Newton, or play tabletop role-playing games, they are merely strongly advised. In the words of some kid I was talking to one time, "it's better to have one and not need one than need one and not have one". This is true not only because of the (albeit distant, for most) possibility of unexpected sexual intimacy, but because of the other things condoms are useful for. They can be used in lieu of a plastic bag for virtually any situation, for example pet waste disposal, and in a survival situation can hold up to a liter of water with ease. Plus, even if you don't need one for its intended purpose, it's possible that someone else, at a social gathering, for example, will, and isn't this planet a bit crowded already?

Step 12: Toothbrush

Useful for more than just dental hygiene. Any kind of scrubbing, light abrasion or small-scale cleaning that needs to be done can be done with a toothbrush.
Of course, it's good for dental hygiene, too, and everything that goes with that. A toothbrush imbues its owner with a sense of freedom. Many people say that home is where you hang your hat, or home is where the heart is or some other tripe, but I say, home is where you brush your teeth. Why not take home with you? Adventure beckons. The world is waiting. You can answer. You've got a toothbrush.

Step 13: Space Blanket

Not just for space anymore. Like the toothbrush, the space blanket lends you a kind of mobility. Crash anywhere with your shiny shroud. Couch surfing? How about bench surfing? Also handy for unexpected rain, as it can be fashioned into a makeshift poncho with ease, or for sitting on wet grass or dirt without getting wet. Coupled with your duct tape, cord and multitool, the possibilities are endless.

Step 14: Skills!

The most important part of the kit never goes inside. In order for these things to be of any use to you, you have to know how to use them. How much good will your cord do you if you can't tie a knot? What use is a needle and thread to those who can't sew? You can strike all the matches you want, but it won't do you any good if you can't build a proper fire. Knowledge is power, and not in a lame, Schoolhouse-Rock sort of way, either. Learn to tie knots. Attend the Red Cross classes, watch the corny videos and do chest compressions on the mannequin. Practice fire building.
More important even than skills is ingenuity. This entire kit is extremely bare bones, because it's meant to go everywhere, and as such it's not a very comprehensive one--but with a little creative thinking, it's got everything, and I mean everything you need. For example, there's almost no first-aid equipment, but do you really need anything more? If you need gauze, cut up a t-shirt. If you need to clean a wound, forget the hydrogen peroxide and use soap and water. This kit allows you to utilize the resources all around you at all times, but you have to know how to look.