Urban exploring can be a dangerous hobby. Many people wonder if they should carry a weapon while urban exploring. While carrying a traditional weapon may make you feel safer, it actually opens you up to a whole host of other problems.
In short, you should not carry a weapon while urban exploring. When you carry a weapon the consequences for getting caught are exacerbated and the likelihood of you getting let go because ‘you are just taking pictures’ decreases significantly. In my 10+ years of exploring I have never been attacked or felt I needed a weapon. However, there are some ‘tools’ you can carry that can help you if you ever do find yourself in danger.
Don’t Carry A Weapon While Urban Exploring
I’m no lawyer, and I don’t know where you’re from.
With that being said, I’m still confident that you don’t need to bring a traditional weapon with you while exploring. Laws vary across the world but for simplicity’s sake let’s assume we’re in the United States.
Even if you have a concealed carry permit you’ve now added an additional charge if you get caught. Say the police stop you, one of the first questions they’re going to ask is if you have any weapons.
Assuming you don’t lie (which you shouldn’t) you can now be charged with not only criminal trespass, but also trespassing with a firearm which is a felony in most states.
While state laws vary you’ll undoubtedly find yourself in more trouble, and have a harder time explaining that you’re just there to take pictures. This also creates a stigma with urban explorers in the law enforcement community, and will ultimately hurt the perception of the hobby over time.
Should I Carry A Knife While Urban Exploring?
This is another tricky question that can vary depending where you live. For instance, the UK has much stricter knife laws than the United States. Carrying a 4 inch gravity knife in my city might be ok, while in the UK or Japan that same knife could get me arrested.
Laws are different depending on your state or city. Some cities have certain blade length restrictions while others have laws banning the type of opening mechanism you’re allowed to have.
I’d also stay away from bringing tactical pens. Most people won’t know what they are, but law enforcement definitely will know what they are used for.
To keep things simple, don’t carry a knife. Especially a fixed blade knife, or a switchblade.
Aren’t Abandoned Buildings Dangerous?
Yes, they can be.
But over the years I can say I never felt like I needed a weapon, or needed to draw a weapon to defend myself. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but that’s just my experience.
Most of the time you’ll run into other explorers, kids hanging out, or a homeless person.
99% of the time these people won’t cause you any problems. Be calm, be friendly, keep your distance. Chances are, they are just as on edge as you are and don’t want any problems. Most of the time people don’t expect to find others in abandoned places.
If someone is living in an abandoned place, be kind and keep your distance. I carry some protein bars around or cigarettes to give away as a sign of good will. Usually that’s enough to ease tensions and maybe even chat with whoever you run into.
In certain areas abandoned buildings can be used by gangs and criminals to sell drugs out of or even disposes of bodies and weapons. In my experience I’ve almost never found myself in this situation but it’s not to say it can’t happen.
If you think the building might be being used as a gang hangout, leave immediately.
Keep an eye out for gang tags spray painted on the walls, generators that provide electricity, and signs of frequent inhabitants.
A few years back the Packard plant in Detroit was actually a hot spot for armed robberies by local gangs. They would see kids with expensive looking cameras and see an opportunity for a quick buck.
I remember driving through the Packard plant in the summer of 2015 and seeing an SUV parked down a side street. Everyone in the van had ski masks on. You can bet we didn’t stick around.
Don’t walk into a lion’s den, and then get surprised when he tries to eat you.
Would a weapon have stopped the armed robbery?
Would have exploring with a larger group of experienced locals stopped this crime?
Common sense and street smarts goes a long way while exploring.
What Should I Bring While Urban Exploring?
If you shouldn’t carry a weapon while urban exploring, what should you bring to defend yourself?
As mentioned earlier, carry some protein bars or a pack of smokes with you. This is particularly useful if you run into someone who is homeless and slightly agitated that you’re there.
Some spare change can also go a long way. This won’t help you if you’re physically attacked, but can definitely help deescalate a situation long enough to leave the building.
Bring Pepper Spray While Urban Exploring
I personally don’t carry it, but it’s definitely handy to have. This is best used to deal with homeless or drunks who become violent and won’t let you leave. Make sure you’re comfortable with deploying the pepper spray and understand that if you’re in an enclosed space there is a possibility that you will get hit as well.
Keep your pepper spray in a place that you can easily and quickly reach it. A lot of times the pepper spray will come with a belt loop holster for easy deployment. Understand that the range of pepper spray is usually 8-15 feet, plenty of space to use against an aggressor.
Pepper sprays are not generally seen as weapons in the eyes of law enforcement and is a solid alternative to a switch blade. Pepper sprays vary in strength and are legal in nearly all states. Be sure to reference your state laws first before making a decision to carry.
Pepper spray can also be used to deal with wild animals. It’s rare but it can be used if you encounter a rabid dog or bear while exploring. It’s generally not recommended to use pepper spray against animals because the concentration of oleoresin capsicum is considered to be significantly higher than needed.
If you think you’re more likely to encounter a bear than a person consider carrying bear mace instead. Other sprays such as hornet spray could be used if absolutely necessary. Hornet spray should not be used in lieu of pepper spray as it can cause permanent blindness.
If you opt to only carry one kind of spray, pepper spray will get defend against both people and animals effectively.
Multi Tools & Improvised Weapons
Is a pen a weapon? If I insert it into the chest of an attacker, is it now a weapon?
You always want to have a plan on how you would defend yourself with what’s around you.
The trick is to carry items that have multiple uses and aren’t seen exclusively as a weapon.
Keep in mind these are only to be used as a last resort. If reasoning with the person doesn’t work, there’s no way to escape, and you feel your life is in danger…
Defend yourself at all costs.
Not only are locking carabiners great for securing keys or items to your backpack, but they are a great multi-tool and defense weapon.
In a pinch a carabiner can be removed and used as a sort of brass knuckles. A strong aluminum or stainless steel carabiner can help protect your hands and ward off an attacker. Aim for the face, throat and other soft parts of the body for ultimate effectiveness.
Carabiners can also hide tools such as glass breakers, folding knives, and can openers. If there’s enough time you can deploy the knife from the carabiner and use it to defend yourself.
Since the knife is most likely not locked in place you’ll want to use it in a slashing or jabbing fashion. This isn’t ideal as the knife does have the possibility to close on your finger, so only use the knife this way if absolutely necessary.
You’re going to be carry multiple flashlights anyway. Why not carry one that could protect you? Maglites are notorious for their durability and can be easily used to ward off an attacker. They come between 10 to 19 inches long and are built to last.
Just like me.
Some models even have a serrated or toothed lampheads for additional striking power. Just make sure have room for it and the batteries it takes.
Another great self defense tool is the strobe light. A lot of tactical flashlights have a strobe feature which can be extremely disorienting in dark places. Having a headlamp or flashlight on hand that can produce a fast and bright strobe pattern can be used to stun an attacker in a dark building.
While they are disoriented this allows for you to defend yourself easier, and make a quick escape. You’ll want to look for a flashlight that is easy to carry, and has a higher amount of lumens, preferably 300+.
The good old trusty tripod. In most cases you’re going to need one anyway, so while not opt for one you can take someone’s head off with.
When I look for a new tripod I’m looking for something that is durable, lightweight, and compact. I’d recommend avoiding anything that is majority plastic and opting for something that is mostly reinforced aluminum or stainless steel.
In a pinch the right tripod can make as a great defense tool to keep attackers at bay, or to deliver devastating blows to the face, arms, and legs.
Set Of Keys
If you’re above the age of 12 you probably have a set of keys you carry everywhere with you. These can be a nasty deterrent to an attacker.
Take you keys and place them between your knuckles and pretend you’re Wolverine. This will significantly increase your stopping power with your punches. Aim for soft tissue and the the rib cage.
The chances of you getting attacked while exploring are low. If you find yourself in danger try to escape, if you have no other options fight. But don’t carry a weapon while urban exploring.
Come prepared and always have an idea of how you’ll leave a building if trouble starts. Go through your gear think about what you can use to defend yourself in a pinch. Have tools that can be used in multiple ways.
Hopefully you’ll never have to use this information. But it’s better to have and not need it, than not have it and need it.