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Published on August 10th, 2012 | by Justin Barber

Survive the City: Tactics to Help you in a Densely Populated Area

Given that 250 million Americans live in or around urban areas, the chances are pretty high that you will face an urban survival scenario at some point during the ZA. Preppers tend to agree on the fact that a densely populated area—your average American city with 100,000 or more residents—will be the most dangerous areas to be once the outbreak begins. Remember Atlanta during the first season of The Walking Dead?

Even so, unlike earthquakes, hurricanes, nuclear or conventional warfare, and other highly destructive doomsday scenarios, urban infrastructures in the ZA will likely remain intact, at least initially. As a result, it is possible to survive, perhaps even thrive, in an undead city, and this article’s purpose is to provide you with five reasonable methods to facilitate that survival.


You are not going to save your city; there is no way to “win” the apocalypse.

The fact that the ZA is an apocalypse—an event that, by definition, destroys that which existed before—entails that things have moved beyond the point of modern science or government entities overcoming the zombie infection. As a result, there are only three possible ultimate outcomes of the ZA: (1) humanity is totally wiped from the planet; (2) a small percentage of the human population somehow outlasts the decomposition of all zombies, and the threat of infection is mitigated or eliminated; or (3) the zombie virus becomes a part of human civilization as a permanent threat, forever altering how the remnants of societies function.

No matter which outcome is the final result, your ability to outlast the rest of humankind as they devour one another will be contingent, not on heroism, but on cold, decisive pragmatism.

Being pragmatic is not the same as being practical. The latter entails something that is useful when put into action; the former involves utilizing the practical to the exclusion of intellectual or artistic matters. To survive in a city filled with the desiccating corpses (animate or not) of your friends, family, and neighbors, you must abandon any beliefs which interfere with your ability to perform practical actions that ensure your—as in you, the individual’s—survival. If social norms exist in the ZA, they will be wholly predicated upon individuals ensuring their survival by working together pragmatically.

Being pragmatic in the context of the ZA therefore means that you train now and train hard. Prepare yourself physically and psychologically for what is to come. It may border on sociopathy, but the only way you will make it through the end of all things is by being physically and psychologically prepared to do whatever it takes to survive. The entire world will be a prison overrun by undead inmates; you should hope that destroying the brains of things that used to be human is the worst task you have to accomplish.

This point is even more salient in an urban environment. The population density will potentially entail what seems like endless combat with the undead, resulting in the stains and stenches of putrescent viscera and worse wherever you go, in addition to the range of potential conflicts with other survivors.


You wake up on a Saturday that seems like every other Saturday. You launch your internet browser while drinking a cup of coffee. Trending topics on Twitter include #zombies, #RampantViolence, #MartialLawDeclared, #NYCQuarantined, #MassSuicides and so on. What’s your first move?

It should be to stay put for as long as possible; 72 hours at the very least. A heretofore unknown storm of shit is going to degenerate your city, first into a hellish nightmare of terrified and unprepared mobs, then into an apocalyptic city of the dead. Staying put is the only means by which you can avoid this initial transformation, which is the single most dangerous period of the ZA.

There is not space in this short article to elaborate how much of which supplies you should hoard, how to fortify your position, etc. Nevertheless, the best tactic when purchasing your supplies and stockpiling sundries is to keep it simple; focus on learning how to do things, rather than relying on complicated gear that will inevitably fail. For example, there are at least six methods of purifying water without the need for a complex filter, three of which require no heat source. Find out exactly what your nutritional needs are, and know how to fulfill them (1) with your stockpile, (2) when your stockpile is gone, and (3) when you find yourself trapped out in the open.

Finally, unless you have an exceptionally isolated, impenetrable position inaccessible to the living and the undead (i.e., you are not in a city) train only with the weapons and gear that you can carry on your person and in your bug-out bag, because


All apocalyptic scenarios entail risks such as dying of exposure, dehydration, starvation, and/or illness, not to mention the possibility of being murdered by deteriorating survivors. What separates the ZA from any other scenario is that all of these threats are overridden by the constant menace of re-animated corpses trying to devour you.

You will never be safe. You will probably never put down roots again.

Thus, your priorities in the ZA must be:

1. Mobility

2. Water

3. Food

4. Shelter

5. A Defensible Position (typically, though not always, this is combined with #4; it jumps to the #1 position as needed).

In a densely populated city with tightly-packed residences and businesses, it is easy to find yourself cornered with no exit, and that’s without zombies at your heels trying to rend the flesh from your bones. At minimum, make certain that you have at least two exits whenever and wherever you find yourself in a city—this goes equally for buildings, streets, alleys, and so forth.

Putting mobility first entails that you are able to double the pace of the average zombie—Roger Ma estimates this to be 23 minutes per mile—while wearing all of your gear. That is, at minimum, you need to be able to cover a mile in about 11 minutes, or around 6 miles an hour. The typical American city, however, is an enclosed grid of buildings, roads, and highways within which your chances of covering a full mile without interruption from other walkers are very low. In a city, then, you need to be able to sprint, repeatedly, at a much faster pace than 6 mph. Moreover, very rarely if ever will you have the opportunity to stash your bulkier gear in an area while you make a stand or flee. In other words, you need to be able to effectively run and fight while wearing all of your gear.

Depending on your mods, Ar15s average 6-10 pounds, while 500 rounds of .223 ammo weighs 14 pounds. That’s 20-30 pounds. 500 rounds of .22lr ammo weighs 3.75 pounds, and Henry’s U.S. Survival AR-7 .22lr weighs 3.5 pounds. That’s 7.25 pounds. Both will penetrate the human skull, stopping zombies cold when a shot is on target.

Which weapon do you want to sprint through the city with?


During the ZA, your city will no longer be your city. It will belong to zombies, to feral pets, and whatever else festers within it. An undead city is a wilderness, and the environment will kill you as quickly as zombies if you do not respect it.

Thus, purchase a detailed map of your city (ideally with topography) and a map of your state the next time you’re at a gas station. Learn how to read them, memorize the distances between easily visible landmarks, and stash these precious maps with your compass. Knowing your position in any wilderness is no less crucial to your survival than finding adequate shelter.

Being mobile is meaningless if you don’t know where you are.


In an undead city, apartment complexes should be your primary scavenging target. Most renters will be even more unprepared than homeowners when the end is nigh, thus leaving their overlooked resources behind for you to scavenge. Some of these will include random cans of food and salvageable dry goods, but here the most important resource, without question, is water.

Assume (on the low side) that an apartment complex of 100 units contains 100, 2.5 gallon toilets and 35, 60 gallon water heaters. Here, 100 x 2.5 + 35 x 60 = 2350 gallons of water. Assuming that you have a five-person squad, each rationed to the minimum 1 gallon of water per day, then 2350/5 = 470 days’ worth of water. In a massive, self-contained high-rise apartment building, who knows how long your squad could survive on these water resources, rats, feral cats, and a roof-top garden?

In sum, survival in an undead city necessitates an amplification of the skills that you should be developing for the ZA, no matter where you are. Keep it simple and survive.

About the Author

When Justin was a child and people asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, his answer was, “Lord Humungus!” He’s been preparing for the end of all things ever since. Zombies are just a bonus.

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