The Philadelphia Urban Prepper’s Guide

James Walton James Walton  |  Updated: December 21, 2019
The Philadelphia Urban Prepper’s Guide

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Philly is a massive city surrounded by a booming metropolitan area. Its an absolutely beautiful city that is a mixture of modern art and architecture woven into the very birth of the nation.

The diversity in the city extends far beyond just people but also in the culture, food and eventhe attitude!

In the waves of people you pass on a stroll down Chestnut Street there are homeless, students, businessmen and women, visitors, first times and everything in between.

For prepper’s the access to things and people is unparalleled but you might want to consider a few bugout plans if you find yourself in Philadelphia.

THE QUESTION: Is Philadelphia a popular place for preppers?

Population: 1.58 Million

People per Square Mile: 11,379

Median Household Income: 40,649

Notable Neighborhoods: South Philadelphia, Penns Landing, Kensington, Washington Square, South Street, Fishtown

Greatest Threats: Population Density, Martial Law, Terrorism


When you are dealing with a population the size of Philly the threats are almost entirely based on how that population behaves and how it is managed.

Every problem becomes a big problem when you are dealing with 11,000 people per square mile. That is not a typo! Its the reality of life in one of the biggest cities in the nation.

How the people react to calamity and how law enforcement reacts to that will decide a lot about how threats play out.

Population Density

As a threat, population density requires a trigger. It means that a blackout, police shooting, political motive, natural disaster or some other event disrupts the order.

Things like riots and disruptions in supply chain, or a combination, could create the most terrifying of all situations. I am talking about a wild out of control population that is too big to be steered in the right direction.

When all the food is gone people will go looking for more. The city streets will undoubtedly become a war zone. People who are hungry or need other resources will either scrounge around the city and take what’s needed by force or bleed out into the highly populated suburbs.

Martial Law

In most states, people won’t concern themselves with true martial law. It is a numbers game that just doesn’t add up when you start attempting it in smaller cities and counties.

Big cities like Philly, particularly the more rambunctious neighborhoods, could get a true taste of martial law. If violence is centered around a few Philadelphia neighborhoods, there will be a tightening and that could come from the state police or the national guard.

in 1985 a communal group in West Philly called MOVE was bombed by the Philadelphia police. That is not an urban myth.

John Africa started MOVE in 1972 as a black liberation, Rastafarian, anti-technology, pro-animal rights group that lived together in two locations in Philly. In 1978 a gunfight between MOVE and the Philadelphia Police left one officer dead and others injured.

After moving and becoming more of a problem in Philly the city surrounded the commune and dropped 2 1lb “entry devices” that started a fire killing 10 people, 5 children, and burned down 65 residential homes!

It was no joke and it proved that insurrection in the city of Philadelphia would not be tolerated.


Demetrius Pitts planned a Labor Day attack in Philadelphia and considered City Hall as a place to park a truck bomb in 2017. He was a Philly native who moved to Cleveland and became an Al Qaeda sympathizer.

With its history, culture, population, art, and presence, Philly is the perfect place for a truck bomb. Sad but true, it’s just a fine target for terrorists. There was also a man who was gunned down in 2018 for driving his car into a crowd.

He was shot in the head by the police while driving.

Let us not forget the Boston Marathon bombing and how that sparked its own kind of local Martial Law.

Philadelphia is a big city and far from immune to terroristic threats, attacks and all that comes after.


What do you think is the number one resource in a large city like Philadelphia?


This is what you will have most of when it comes time to engage in survival plans. Now is the time to begin forming a group if you are in a big city. Even if that group is for no reason but to bugout in massive numbers.

There is serious safety in numbers. Even in chaotic disarray, you will find that large groups of people are going to travel through the city much easier and with much less tension than just a couple of people who can be preyed upon.

Raw Materials and Building Materials

It won’t take long for things like food to disappear in a city like Philadelphia. However, there are buildings and construction sites everywhere in town. Access to these raw materials will be an easy task


The Delaware River and the Schuylkill are big rivers. I don’t think the 1.58 million could even drink these dry. However, you are going to need a serious filter.

No one really knows what has been dumped into either river or what lays at the dredged bottom.


Striper and shad run the Delaware River but I am not sure what a diet high in fish from that river would do to your survival odds. Sure, they will hold you over from starvation but the mercury and other contaminants found in things like catfish and larger inhabitants of the Delaware will damage your immune system and nervous system.


While diverse, the culture in Philadelphia is pretty segmented in some areas. There are parts of town that you can wander into and be transported to a unique culture all its own.

The best example of this is to head into Chinatown. That’s a step into an entirely different and isolated culture. Chinatown is one of those spots that feels like it has its own government.

The wrought iron of South Philly comes with that hard-nosed Italian accent, and attitude driven culture that many think of when the city comes to mind.

Head down Washington Blvd and you find yourself in little Vietnam by the Delaware River. Get a powerful bowl of pho and go shopping in places where you have no idea what 45% of the items are.

There are lots of places like this and, of course, struggling neighborhoods and crime-ridden parts of the city, as well. There are also those parts of the city that are mixed up a little more evenly and just feel like a modern American city.

Massive population and a massive blend of culture are great things for a city. What’s most worrisome is a return to the tribal mentality in desperate times. It’s pretty common for people who look and think like each other to band together in desperate times.

Who knows how that would play out?

Of course, with all that culture Philly is a blast of a place to live in, in good times. The other important thing is that despite your differences, even as a prepper you will be accepted. You might be berated to near tears on a regular basis but if you are of Philly than you are part of Philly and the people are loyal.

That represents a lot in a disaster.

Bug Out Locations

The very interesting thing about Philly is its massive metro area and surrounding counties. While Philadelphia is home to 1.58 million people it is the center of the Delaware Valley. This is the 6th largest metro area in the US.

By the numbers, you are surrounded by 4 million people.

The suburbs are stacked and you will need to get outside of them in a few directions before you can consider yourself safe from the threat of civil disorder.

Spider Points

The best way to deal with bugging out is going to use something called spider points. This is a collection of many bugout locations plotted close to your central location and spreading out in every direction around you.

Many of these locations will be temporary spots that may lead to one ultimate point in each direction.

Bottom line, you want more than one direction to bugout to, in case of an emergency.


One of the biggest benefits of a big city is that you can really hide stuff if you know how. Just ask Batman.

Survival caches can be stored all over your city in many directions, as well. These can be filled with things like food, first aid, ammo, clothing and whatever else you might want.

The hiding of caches works really well in the urban sprawl because there are lots of areas that people avoid and there are many little nooks in construction that are just far enough out of reach that people will never think to look.

The hiding of survival caches on your bugout routes will lighten your load and assure you and our party are outfitted for the task at hand.

Check out our full-length post on caches by following this link!

Ports and Rivers

The ports and the rivers are an important feature for preppers. Sure, they are a means of hydration and maybe even some food but they are much more.

Interstate 95 will be nothing short of a death trap if there are mass evacuations from Philadelphia. The same will be true of I-76, I-476, and most adjacent highways.

Those docks might be your best route out of town in a hurry. Your bugout might not be best done on foot through Philadelphia. Of course, that all depends on your desired direction.

Waterways could be a quick way out of the city and back on dry land. There will undoubtedly be safer dry land downstream from the city.

Prepper Laws

There are a couple of astounding things about prepper laws in the city of Philadelphia. One is a change that is in the works but is looking to take hold. Both of these laws surprised even me!

Self Defense

Philadelphia is the only city of its size that allows open carry and licensed concealed carry. That was an astounding find and though I grew up in the state I never really thought it was something that would be allowed in the city.

Not to mention Pennsylvania supports reciprocity in several states that surround it. This will help with your bugout efforts and the legality of what you carry on your person.

Backyard Hens

chicken hen egg laying

Even more astounding are the efforts of Maureen Breen who is the head of the backyard chickens movement in Philadelphia. She has built a following that has got the attention of City Council and the laws are being amended to allow for backyard hens in Philadelphia.

Of all that I learned about my home state and city, this is by far the most surprising and truly impresses me about the direction of state and local governments when it comes to the people’s desire to live a more self-reliant and independent lifestyle.


From the outside looking in Philadelphia is a highly populated urban center that would be all but terrifying to preppers. The incredible population density of 11,000 people per square mile is enough to make any prepper bristle.

Because of its size, things like Martial Law and terrorism are issues that must be considered. If you are to prepare in Philadelphia you will need to have a solution to these problems.

The culture of the city is tough. It’s diverse but at its heart, it is very accepting. You might find people beating each other up over a parking spot and then watching the Eagles together.

While the resources are limited because of the population, if you find your way out of the city through the efforts of a quality bugout plan, you could avoid much of the chaos that might ensue. Of course, this means you will need things like multiple bug-out locations, routes and likely some survival caches hidden around the city.

Having numbers on your side would not hurt either.

In all honesty, Philly is no prepper’s paradise.

It is not a place that young prepper hopefuls will aspire to live and become more self-sufficient. However, it is far from a lost cause for those who are living in the city. There are options for people who prepare and have plans to react quickly.

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One Response to “The Philadelphia Urban Prepper’s Guide”

  1. Hi James,
    I’m a Philadephia-based freelance journalist, looking to do a thoughtful story about local preppers and the movement nationwide. Would you be willing to speak with me on the phone? Also, is there anyone else you know who might be willing to talk to me? Thanks so much. Courtenay

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