by Kevin Reeve
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on April 17, 2020, but the advice is timeless.
Many people are talking about the challenges of prepping and sheltering in place during the COVID-19 lockdown. Rather than discuss the usual shelter, water, food storage and weapons, there are other skill sets you can develop while confined, er I mean quarantined.
Survival in the urban jungle requires a different set of skills than wilderness survival. The principles are the same, but the skills needed in the city are different.
Survival is simple. Maintain 1) body temperature, 2) hydration, and 3) at least a neutral caloric flow. The rest is window dressing. So much for the principles.
In the wilderness, you would need to 1) know how to make a shelter to maintain body temperature, 2) find and purify water, and 3) hunt, trap, and forage to maintain your caloric flow. That requires a multitude of skills such as fire-making, identifying edible plants, primitive weapons, tracking, making cordage, and on the list goes. If you are skilled in these areas then surviving in the wilderness is doable.
Although there is some overlap, surviving the urban landscape requires different skills. For example, finding shelter in an urban area may require that you pick locks to gain entry to secure buildings. Lock picking is a primary urban skill.
There are plenty of YouTube videos on lock picking that can get you started, but it is my experience that you eventually need coaching to be successful. Get some picks, get some locks and get started. At some point you will hit a wall and will need someone to look over your shoulder to get through the wall. But during your confinement, you have plenty of time to get to that wall.
One of the big challenges in the urban world is population density. There are many people competing for limited resources. This means that to survive, you must develop a keen situational awareness. Awareness is simply the decision to pay attention. It means putting your phone in your pocket and paying attention to the people around you. You must continually be doing a threat assessment.
Who else is aware? Who looks and acts like an alpha dog? Where are the exits in the room? Where are you relative to them? What in your immediate area can you weaponize? What other resources are in the vicinity? Pay attention to the baseline (what things seem like when nothing is happening) so that you can recognize changes to the baseline. Variations to the baseline are often an indicator of the presence of a predator.
I realize this is only scratching the surface, so while you are quarantined, play awareness games. Open the fridge for ten seconds and try to remember where and what is on each shelf. Then draw a quick map of what you see. (I know some of you will recognize this from a movie, but where do you think they got the idea?).
In addition to awareness, learn to be in the urban environment without drawing attention to yourself. Obviously, this refers to movement, but it also refers to learning how not to move. Do some research on the techniques of the gray man. Learn how to create no stimulus that someone else will remember. I have a friend that disappears in crowds all the time. He is a perfect gray man. Mostly because he stops. Learning how to be perfectly still is key. Dress in ordinary clothes, move in the baseline, do nothing that would alert another aware person, such as head on a swivel. Draw your energy inward and do not project anything. The gray man is a critical urban skill.
While you are detained (quarantined), learn how to not be detained. Learn how to escape handcuffs (presuming you can get a hold of a pair), flexicuffs, duct tape, and rope. Have a family member tie you up with paracord, and just struggle-wiggle until you get loose. There are YouTube videos on how to escape flexicuffs, but until you have done it, you don’t own it. Same with duct tape. Youtube is your quarantine friend.
Be conscious of your everyday carry. I break down my gear into three tiers. Tier one is what I carry on my person. This includes what I carry in my pockets and on my belt, such as a folding knife, flashlight, lock picks, lighter, phone and wallet. There is also a backup set of lock picks in my wallet. I do not go anywhere without a Glock 19 and two mags on my belt. I also carry a tourniquet, and a non-folding knife, and a multi-tool. It takes a good belt to hold all that, but I cannot stand being without those items.
The second tier is what I have near me. I usually carry a backpack with kevlar inserts and a medical kit (blow-out bag). When traveling, I put an electronics kit with a battery, various cables, and adapters to be able to keep small electrons operational. Also included are another set of lock picks, two additional knives, water, emergency rations, and a spare pair of socks.
My third tier is what I carry in my car. I have this broken down into three bags.
Get Home Bag (kept in the office or car): Imagine you are at work (harder and harder to remember) and an event occurs that causes an immediate failure of civility, unlike the slow descent we are experiencing now. What would you need to get home? How far is it? What neighborhoods do you have to transit? What choke points might there be on the route? What secondary routes are available? Tertiary? For most people, lighter weight and speed are the preferred approach. This includes water, jacket, shoes, spare socks, weapons (as mentioned above), and some snacks food for energy. Keep it light and move fast.
I have emergency fall-back locations in the unlikely event I am forced to evacuate my home. So I have a bug-out bag that is just enough gear to get me to a safer location. This is kept in the car trunk. It includes snivel gear such as a woobie, freeze-dried meals, a hammock, etc. If I have to be on the road for three or four days, this will get me through.
Additionally, think about caches along the likely routes of travel. Nothing expensive that you cannot afford to lose, just food, water, fuel, and ammo as a resupply.
Think about what you would put in your INCH bag (INCH = I’m Not Coming Home again). This is a permanent bug-out bag. If you were leaving home and never coming back, what would you want to carry? My INCH bag has a lot of tools. This bag would be almost prohibitive to carry on foot and occupies a place in my jeep. While you are “teened”, start a list of must-haves for the long- term. For me, this goes back to the basic survival principles, shelter, water, fire, and food. It also includes a couple of weapons platforms and ammo, an extensive medical kit. Foodwise, this kit contains minimal rations because of space and weight, freeze-dried mostly. How much food could you carry without a very large trailer anyway?
Now that I have just spent all this time discussing gear, let me reiterate the necessity of being sufficiently trained to get by without any of it. If your training is thorough enough, gear is a nice-essity not a necessity.
Survival is a three-legged stool. The first leg is skill – training that will keep you alive. The second leg is will, the deep inner strength that will allow you to endure the suck. And the third leg is having the tools to survive. Realistically your training should be good enough to survive without any tools, but that cranks up the suck factor considerably. So work on all three – skill, will, tools. It will make the time go by so much faster.
If you come out of this plandemic without a better handle on your skillset, then not having time to train was just an excuse. Use this time to develop the skills you will need to prosper should things get a lot worse.
Kevin is one of the world’s foremost experts on the fieldcraft of survival and runs the school OnPoint Tactical, which teaches classes on everything to outdoor survival, man tracking, and urban escape and evasion.