Urban exploration (often shortened as urbex or UE) is the examination of the normally unseen or off-limits parts of human civilization. Urban exploration is also commonly referred to as infiltration, although some people consider infiltration to be more closely associated with the exploration of active or inhabited sites. In the USA, it may also be referred to as "draining" (when exploring drains) "urban spelunking", and "urban caving", "vadding", "building hacking", "Reality hacking" or "roof and tunnel hacking". - Wikipedia
Urban exploration has been a hobby of mine since before I knew it had a name. As a kid in elementary school I would regularly explore parts of the building that had been locked off or designated for storage. Eventually, as I grew older, I began to go to more interesting locations such as abandoned military bases, mental institutions, and underground tunnels. It was around this time I started documenting all the places I went to with photos and video.
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Step 1: Supplies
Almost every location explored will require different supplies. This list is just a general suggestion for supplies and guidelines.
Dress appropriately: Boots, long pants, backpack, etc.
Flashlight- always have a backup
Cellphone- in case of emergency
Map- if possible (more on this later)
Gloves- protect your hands
Binoculars- scoping out sentinels
Rope- climbing things
Explorers pose- last picture
Step 2: Finding a Location
I've found the most interesting places to explore tend to be the ones that have been abandoned or unused for the longest. These locations often have the most fragments of history scattered about waiting to be discovered.
Sample Exploration Locations:
- Any type of abandoned building/location (hospitals, military bases, schools, factories, warehouses, etc)
- Utility tunnels (Steam pipe tunnels, sewers, storm drains, telephone wire tunnels, etc)
- Closed off locations in active buildings (roof, basement, service tunnels, etc)
- Any place you have ever thought "I wonder whats behind that door."
Step 3: Map
A map can be an extremely useful tool; unfortunately, without access to city blueprints, a map is out of the question for most of the locations urban explorers deal with. However, for expeditions involving campuses or grounds, a satellite map of the area can be invaluable.
Creedmoor is one of my favorite places to explore. It is a mental institution with many different buildings spread out over a large campus. It is also the perfect area to demonstrate how to make a map from satellite photos. I've included a Google Earth place mark to show the exact location of Creedmoor.
Before making a satellite map of your location, check the area in Google Earth to make sure the image is detailed enough to be helpful (Can you see individual buildings / roads / sidewalks?) If you are satisfied that there is enough detail to be useful to you, zoom to an appropriate level, and print out a copy at the highest resolution. If the area is too large to fit on one piece of paper, print it out on many pieces and tape them together. My map of Creedmoor came to about 4 pages (8.5 x 11).
If you plan on visiting a particular location more then once it is probably a good idea to make the map a bit more permanent. This can be achieved by carefully laminating it with clear book wrap, which not only protects the map, but allows the navigator to easily draw / erase different paths with a marker.
Step 4: Planning a Mission
You have your supplies, you have a location, now all you need is to iron out the details.
Decide who you want to go with: A novice should never go alone for safety reasons. You could go with just one person or a group of friends. Just make sure the number of people going is appropriate for the location.
Decide when you want to go: For almost all locations a good rule of thumb is "Go when there are the least people around", which usually ends up being some weekend night.
Decide how you want to go: Stealthily is the most common choice. Less popular choices include loudly, clumsily, and naked.
Step 5: UE Ethics
Sierra Club motto:
"Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints"
I have a somewhat more liberal motto:
"Take nothing that will be missed, leave nothing that will be noticed"