In the world of wilderness survival, the holy trinity of tools are the knife, axe and saw. With these three tools, shelter can be constructed; wood can be cut and split for fires; traps and snares can be constructed. These three simple tools provide for all the survivors needs.
The urban survivor can rely on these tools as well, with some variations. The knife is obviously a requirement for any survivor. The modern movement to feminize society as a whole has made carrying a knife akin to carrying a firearm, a relic of a time long gone. And in a normal functioning society, one could make that case. But the moment finely tuned, unimaginably complicated modern world stops functioning, that case goes out the window.
A quality folding knife is a must for the urban survivor. This will be your go-to tool for most tasks that present themselves. A fixed blade would be desirable as well. In the wilderness, a thin blade offers a number of benefits when performing detailed work on things like trap triggers or making fish hooks. The urban survivor faces different challenges and a thicker, heavier blade will serve them better.
Something like the ESEE 5 is a heavy-duty knife that can fill in as a prybar in a pinch. Or to hack through drywall to create an escape route. It can even be used to drive through steel, like a drum or other relatively thin steel. The uses of a quality blade are endless and will provide considerable opportunity. When it comes to your knife, buy the best quality you can afford.
But the knife isn’t the only cutting tool an urban survivor will find useful. Just like a saw is useful for the survivor in the wilderness, a quality saw can be infinitely useful to the urban survivor, with a couple of differences. Instead of using the saw to cut firewood, which may still need to be done, the urban environment possesses a number of challenges that a quality metal cutting saw will see one through.
Travel in built-up areas can be a challenge to navigate. Doors, gates and fences can all pose barriers that need to be overcome. A good saw, like a simple hack saw, will cut through nearly any chain or padlock. If your pack won’t accommodate a whole saw, you can always use one of the numerous saws that that are basically a grip that will accept any type of blades designed for Sawzall style saws.
While a little harder to use, these types of saws will allow you to carry essentially one tool that can cut wood, metal and even concrete to a degree. By carrying an assortment of blades, you will have a tool that can face nearly any cutting challenge you come across. They are light and compact making them easy to carry and well worth the minimal weight they add.
An axe may not be the most useful item in the urban environment, but still has many uses. Earlier I mentioned using a knife to get through a wall. An axe, or small hatchet, would perform the same task easier and much faster. It can also be used as you would in the wilderness, to cut firewood. Or to bust up pallets. The poll can also be used as a hammer to smash through obstacles. Not to mention, an axe or hatchet would make short work of an interior door.
A decent prybar has more uses than just bashing in the heads of zombies, though they’re pretty handy for that too. From breaking out windows to prying open doors, the prybar is probably the handiest tool for the urban survivor. Being able to force open a door to provide an escape could be the difference between life and death.
The bar can also be used to secure a door. Using it to lever a pallet, filing cabinet or other heavy object in front of a door could slow or stop pursuers. It can allow you to create a barrier to offer a safe place to spend the night. Of course, it can also be used to break open crates, boxes and cabinets during scavenging outings. Cheap and simple, the prybar is so valuable and shouldn’t be overlooked.
The tools we’ve covered so far do not require any special skills aside from brute force. And while all the tools discussed will get the job done, they also make a little noise. Hacking, chopping or sawing all make a racket when being performed. For those times that require a little finesse, we need to look at lock picks.
Lock picking, like so many other skills, takes time to learn and is perishable. Just like working on your body, if you do not use these skills, you will lose them. But having the knowledge and tools to pick locks can pay huge dividends. Not only will it allow you to enter locked doors, but also padlocks, cabinet locks and anything that takes a key. Done properly, you will leave no trace you were ever there.
With a set of picks, you can access storage cabinets to search for supplies. Or, you can pick a lock to enter a secure door and keep the lock functional. It can offer you the opportunity to sleep in relative safety. Or stock supplies while maintaining security for them.
Padlocks are ubiquitous and are used everywhere. Most of them are very easy to pick. Even the traditional dial style combination lock can be easily and quickly defeated, allowing you to lock it behind you. So not only can they give you access, but a good set of picks, and the skills to use them, will allow you to deny access to others. At the least, it will slow people down and force them to make enough noise as to alert you to their approach.
But there’s more than just locked doors to contend with and a couple of small tools can increase your odds of surviving. Most commercial buildings use a hose bib on the exterior that requires a key to both access and turn on. A four-way water key, easily available online, will allow you to access water in the urban area that is safe to drink. Of course, as time progresses, this can change, but in the immediate, this little tool can be invaluable.
Another tool to consider is an elevator door key. This is a simple metal shaft with hinged end. The key is inserted into the hole and turned to allow the hinged end to fall over. The hinged end will then push a plate, allowing the exterior doors to be pulled open. You may be wondering why you’d want to do this. An elevator shaft is a perfect place to hide.
Being able to access an elevator pit, a place most people would never consider, you can quickly hide yourself or even spend the night in relative safety. The biggest drawback is the fact there is only one way in, making escape, if you’re discovered, problematic.
If you work in a high-rise building, adding in a length of rope and a couple of carabiners would allow you to access an elevator shaft and descend the shaft even if the power is out. As we saw during 9/11, elevators will stop working during an emergency and stairwells can be compromised. Adding in rope and pieces long enough to fashion a Swiss Seat will allow you to rappel out of danger.
Another tool I would add is either a small pair of channel locks or a crescent wrench. While many will have a multi-tool, having a wrench on hand to defeat a bolt or nut quickly is hard to beat. In combination with a multi-tool, either of the tools above make for a basic, but capable, compact tool kit.
Being able to quickly defeat locks, or to defeat them without destroying them so you can reuse the locks can be just as critical to the urban survivor as friction fire is to the wilderness survivor. With a little preparation and the addition of a few tools, you can navigate the urban environment much easier. Just as those who practice bush-craft have to hone their skills, so to must the urban dweller. And as the old saying goes, the best day to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best day is today.