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Essential Surviving Skills | Urban Survival Guide

Urban Survival Skills:
You Can Learn When Money’s Tight

This week, we’re going to talk about how to get prepared for disasters when you find yourself already in “survival” mode.

Sometimes life can throw you a curveball and make preparations difficult.  It can be difficult because of finances, health, family issues, or any combination of things.  In fact, a lot of people who are switched on and see trouble on the horizon are already in a sort of survival mode.  I hear from people on a daily basis who see trouble coming, but are on Social Security or who just got laid off and don’t have money for buying lots of supplies.

And I hear from others who aren’t in that extreme of a situation, but who are barely making it with the income and expenses they have right now, without additional survival prep expenses.

But if you’re in either of those situations, that doesn’t excuse you from making continual forward progress on your preparations.

The risks that we face to our way of life don’t care about whether or not we’re ready.  I don’t think I’m going to get a call before an EMP, terrorist attack, an economic crash, or earthquake to make sure that my family is all set. And I doubt you will either.  These risks don’t really concern themselves with whether or not my 3 year old is having screaming fits during the day and my 9 month old is teething all night…again.

These things just happen when they happen.

They happened to a student from Missouri who was going through the SurviveInPlace.com course awhile back.  She emailed in about some rough financial times they were going through and how everything seemed to conspire against them at the same time.  Long story short, they kept making forward progress on their preparations and got through their rough patch.  They didn’t think they would, but they did.

In fact, last week they emailed in and asked how they could pay for another copy of the course for someone else.  Basically, they want to “pay it forward” and give someone a free copy of the course.  In a little bit, I’m going to tell you how you can get a FREE copy of the Urban Survival Course that they generously paid for.

But first, I want to go over some survival skills that you can be working on, no matter what your current situation is.

Financial situations can turn on a dime, and that’s one reason why it’s so important to focus on survival skills instead of just focusing on survival “stuff.”  Some stuff is important, and it definitely helps compensate for a lack of skill and/or makes survival tasks easier.  But the great thing about focusing on skills instead of stuff is that you can practice one survival skill or another no matter what your current situation is.

In fact, one way that you can and look at your situation if you’re currently in “survival” mode is that if a catastrophic event happens, your life won’t be disrupted as much as it could be.  I often game EMP (electromagnetic pulse) events in my head.  When I do, one of the things that I always think of is how tribal people around the world who live without electricity won’t even know that anything happened.  They’ll just go on with everyday life like normal.

A lot of the survival skills that these tribal people use are free or next to free to practice.  You might want to make a list and make a goal of doing one of these every day.  If not every day, at least try to do one each weekend.
11 Survival Skills That Are Free or Inexpensive To Learn and Practice

Fire:  Practice making a fire from tinder, kindling, and one match.  Move on to using flint and steel, flint, magnesium & steel, a Blast Match, or a fire piston (diesel).  Then, move on to a bow drill.  This is all stuff that you can do in your back yard.  I practice this with my 3 year old.  He likes watching the sparks, seeing the smoke, and he REALLY likes getting smores as soon as I’ve made fire.  As a note, when I’ve got ideal tinder, I’ll use a sparking device, but if I don’t have perfect tinder, I prefer using a bow drill and a nice big coal.

Fire starting is an essential survival skill

Think you can’t do this?  I’ve even taught people how to light tinder with a spark in a hotel room bathroom with a piece of aluminum foil protecting the floor.  Do this at your own risk.  I’ve got to especially warn you not to make enough smoke to set off a smoke detector OR set anything on fire.

Char cloth:  Char cloth is basically very thin pieces of charcoal made out of 100% cotton.  It will take a spark almost immediately, burn hot, and burn quite awhile.  Here’s a QUICK how-to guide to make your own.

Take a 100% cotton shirt, sheet, or any other piece of 100% cotton and cut it into 1 or 2 inch squares.  Then, drop the cotton squares into a CLEAN tin can until it’s full & cover it with heavy aluminum foil.  You can secure the aluminum foil with baling wire, but it’s not vital as long as the foil is on tight.  Next, poke a small hole in the top of the foil and put the can into a pile of hot coals.  Smoke should start coming out of the hole within a couple of minutes.  This is smoke and methane and the smoke will be flammable (you can light it if you want).  Within 5-10 minutes, the smoke should stop coming out of the hole.  When this happens, take the tin can out of the coals and let it cool.  When it’s cool, take the foil out and pull a square out.  If it’s all ash, it means that air got into the can and you just need to try again.  If not, then the cotton got hot without oxygen, turned black, you should be good to go!  (This is how charcoal is made, and you essentially end up with small, thin pieces of charcoal) Take a piece, use a sparking device to throw a spark at it and play with your new toy :)

The skills you’ll develop making char cloth are a solid foundation for making charcoal AND for making a gassifier.  In one of it’s simplist forms, a gassifier is a contraption that allows you to extract methane from wood and use it to run a generator.


Solar heating: Have an old satellite dish?  Coat it with mylar or aluminum foil to reflect and focus sunlight and practice cooking, boiling water, making char cloth, and starting fires with it.  This will get HOT…hot enough to burn you, so be careful.  Don’t have a satellite dish?  Look for them in dumpsters and on the curb on big trash pickup days.  This will work with old full sized satellite dishes or parabolic dishes as small as a Coke can.  The bigger the dish, the hotter they’ll get.

Home Made Water Filter

Hunting, alarms, traps & snares: Have mice?  Practice trapping or making intrusion alarms.  Have sparrows, starlings, or other “pest” birds?  Practice your blowgun, slingshot, or bb skills.
Water filtration:  Have a bucket you can cut a hole in?  Practice making a water filter out of gravel, pea gravel, sand, and activated charcoal (or non-chemically treated charcoal).  Run water through it and see how it tastes.  I’ve got a picture & more info here: secretsofurbansurvival.com/321/fire-and-water-in-an-urban-survival-situation/

Stockpiling:  Yes…it’s a skill.  And you should be good at it.  Some of the immediate benefits are saving money and never running out of diapers, toilet paper, dog food, paper towels, etc. this side of a disaster.  It also means fewer rushed trip to the store for emergency items.  It also means fewer conversations that go something like, “Honey…did you remember to bring home the xxxx that I asked you to pick up.  We’re out.”  Whether we ever experience a catastrophic, life changing event or not, my family’s lives are better because we stockpile.

Don’t have emergency water stored up yet?  If you drink soda, start keeping all of your empty plastic bottles, whether they’re big or small.  Wash them out with soap & hot water & put water and a little chlorine in them until you’ve got a few gallons per person.

Don’t have emergency food stored up yet?  At LEAST buy some beans, rice, & oatmeal.  If you want to splurge, get SPAM & instant potatoes (one of my current favorite camping meals.)  If you can’t afford to stock up and you aren’t already eating beans, rice, and oatmeal then consider eating beans, rice, and oatmeal for a week or so and using the money you save to stock up.

Situational Awareness:  Try to continually be aware of what’s going on around you.  Identify people who are potential threats and quickly game out in your head what they might do and what your reaction would be.   When you’re simply an honest person walking down the street, any violent confrontation that you can spot and avoid in advance, is a violent confrontation that you’ve won.

Identify situations that are dangerous, like doors swinging into walkways, blind corners, ice hanging off of a building, skateboarders getting pulled by a dog on a leash, etc.

Practice reading body language…both good AND bad.  Watch couples in love.  Watch people arguing.  Watch people reacting to babies and puppies.

Watch people you work with throughout the day—how does their posture, facial expressions, and the pitch of their voice change when they’re tired, excited, caffeinated, hungry, on a sugar high, stressed, etc.  Study people you know so you can read people you don’t know.  And remember…it’s not cut-n-dry…it’s an art based on science.

Negotiating:  get in the habit of asking for discounts.  Sometimes people will give a discount for no reason, but usually you need to give them a reason.  It could be that you’re buying a damaged or opened item, buying in quantity, buying something expired or close to expiring, or some other reason.

At farmers’ markets, if one of something is 50 cents, ask if they’ll do 3 for a dollar.  The biggest thing is to get in the habit of negotiating.  It’s a basic life skill that will pay you back for the rest of your life.  And, it is a VITAL skill for any survival situation where you’re going to be around other people.

Also, if you have any other urban survival skills that are free and EASY to learn and practice, please share them with the other readers by commenting below.  They could have to do with pure survival, like fire, water, shelter, and food.  They could have to do with medical or security issues.  They could revolve around products and or services that you can make for barter purposes or survival equipment you can use.  There are 2 VITAL survival skills in particular that I’m looking for.  And I’ll send out a deck of Urban Survival Playing Cards to the first two people who point them out.


I’m excited to see the entries for the free course…as well as your ideas for free/inexpensive urban survival skills to practice.

David Morris

P.S.  If you like this “skills” based approach to urban survival, then you should really check out the urbansurvivalguide: Urban Survival Course.  It’s designed to help you develop the proven skills you’ll need to survive short, medium, and long term disasters in an urban environment.  To read more about it, and get started, just go to http://surviveinplace.com

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1 Comment

  1. Tammy says:
    May 4, 2014 at 4:20 am

    how about learning about the native wild plants in your area? Even in urban gardens there can be ‘weeds’ that can can be beneficial to either eat or use medicinally. Learn about which ones are used for what, and then offer to ‘weed’ your neighbors garden for them. You could leave with a basket full of free goodies and your neighbor will think you’re doing him/her a favor!! Or better yet, plant a garden yourself, and you could have food and medicine at all times. ;-)

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