URBAN SURVIVAL – BOOKS: The SAS Urban Survival Guide and Tom Brown’s City and Suburban Survival Review

Tom Brown’s City and Suburban Survival and The SAS Urban Survival Guide – One Isn’t Worth The Paper Its Printed On

Urban Survival is by far my favorite survival subject and out of all my skills, it is the only one where I consider myself consonantly proficient (well, that and binge drinking). Most of what I know is a combination of self learning, the classroom and practical experience living in Urban Hostile Environments around the world.

I know in the grand scope of Urban Survival skills I still have a ton to learning to do – there isn’t a single subject in survival or any other life skill that can’t be modified, studied or improved upon until it eventually becomes instinct.

So in the interest of filling up the watermelon I call a head with more Urban Survival knowledge I picked up the 2 most popular and widely available Urban Survival books on the market; Tom Brown’s City and Suburban Survival and The SAS Urban Survival Guide.

These books were written by two of the top “gurus” in the wilderness survival field; Tom Brown Jr. and John “Lofty” Wiseman. One was pretty good despite going off subject a bit and the other sucked mad balls.

The SAS Urban Survival Guide Right Where it Belongs

The SAS Urban Survival Guide is written by John “Lofty” Wiseman who is a 27 year veteran of the UK Special Forces. He has also written 3 other survival books, the SAS Survival Handbook being the best.

Out of the two Urban Survival books I reviewed this one is printed on the best quality paper… and that’s about the only good thing I can say about it.

The biggest complaint I have about this book is it doesn’t have an index in the back like every other book on the planet has. And if you weren’t already frustrated enough trying to look up certain subjects, the table of contents doesn’t have the page number for the individual subjects either.

So basically if you want to look up a particular piece of information you have to read the whole damn book to find it.

The SAS Urban Survival Guide gives advice like “Don’t stick your hand in a blender” and keep a sewing needle and thread in your EDC (everyday carry) kit. Thanks Lofty, now I will be able to sew my pants up after an earthquake demolishes my condo.

This book is filled with other worthless warnings like the dangers of storing photo developing chemicals at home (do so many people in the UK still use celluloid film that he just had to include this?), wile at the same time he completely excludes subjects like long term Urban food storage (as long as you can still develop your film stock from the 80’s, I guess you wont need to eat in an emergency).

Good Thing I Have All This Film Around To Eat After the Earthquake

He doesn’t include any information on using firearms for self defense in his book, now considering that Lofty Wiseman is a Brit (a country where guns are basically outlawed) it’s really not surprising guns were omitted.

And I don’t have the slightest problem with that at all, all skills have to be tailored to your environment – and in countries where you can not own guns like the UK I wouldn’t expect any dedicated chapters about using them for defense in an urban environment.

But what really kills me is he says wide sweeping statements about guns like:

“Firearms represent more of a risk than a serious form of protection”


“There is very little defense against an attacker armed with a Gun or Rifle”

Ohhhhhhhh Yes Sir – he did go there…

Now besides the fact that a “Rifle” is a “Gun” (that would be like saying “I like candy because it tastes like candy because it has the flavor of candy flavor”) both of those quotes are flat out inaccurate and damn arrogant for someone to say with such authority.

“Firearms represent more of a risk than a serious form of protection” – John “Lofty” Wiseman

Honestly, I stopped reading the SAS Urban Survival Guide after that, maybe the rest of the book has good information – but bold statements like that killed even the slightest possibility in my mind that this book had any information of value to me.

I suspect that Lofty had some sort of multi-book deal so he was forced to churn out one last Survival guide to fulfill his contract and this monstrosity was the result.

Lofty if you are reading this, I really enjoyed your other books and I recommend them to my friends, but WTF happened with this one dude?

Tom Brown’s City and Suburban Survival

For those of you who have been sleeping under an IKEA table for the last century, Tom Brown is one of the most well known American Wilderness Survival gurus and possibly the most famous modern day tracker in the world.

He learned his wilderness survival and tracking skills from a Native American Apache elder as a child, he is the founder of a renowned tracking and wilderness survival school and the author of several books including a weird autobiography.

Tom’s experience wile tracking an ex-SF fugitive in the mountains for the feds became the basis for the movie “The Hunted” staring Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro. It’s a great movie despite the striking similarities to First Blood, it also has some kick-ass knife fighting scenes that are a must watch for FMA (Filipino Martial Arts) fans.

Tommy Lee Jones Playing a Character Based on Tom Brown Jr. in “The Hunted”

Tom Brown’s City and Suburban Survival has some solid practical Urban Survival information along with good information on food storage and water. The book is easy to navigate either by the table of contents or the index in the back.

This book is organized by chapter in the more traditional “food, water, shelter, ect” style that most people familiar with Wildness Survival training are used to.

The one thing I didn’t like about this book is about 40% of the content is about Wilderness Survival. Firestarting with a bow drill, stalking animals wile barefoot and building a figure-four trap are great things to learn if in you are in the wild – but not if you are living in New York City.

Sorry Tom, No Need For a Figure-Four Trap Here, Unless You Want to Catch a 40 Pound Rat

I am guessing that Tom Brown included so much Wilderness Survival information in his book because he needed some filler to fatten it up and Wilderness Survival is the main subject he knows.

I can’t really see Tom living in downtown Washington DC or Metro Paris so some of the information he wrote about Urban Survival may have been be theory based for him. I actually got the feel from both authors that allot of the stuff they wrote about survival in a city was researched and not experienced (more on that below).

Like the SAS guide Tom doesn’t include anything about using guns for self defense, I really don’t know why (he lives in the US). Sure Tom Brown isn’t known as a tactical trainer by any means, but he should have at least mentioned using guns for self defense in the city.

Pretty much 99.99999% of the people I know who have a survival mindset consider owning a gun just as important as storing food, so (in my opinion) guns should be included in any book about Urban Survival, especially if the book was written by an American.

Good Thing I Don’t Need a Gun in the City

If you decide to pick up a book on Urban Survival I would go with Tom Brown’s City and Suburban Survival and just skip over the parts about wilderness survival and thumb through the more relevant Urban Survival stuff.

In Conclusion…

After reading both of these books I feel that they were both written from the perspective of someone that doesn’t live or work in urban environments 24-7, 365. Also both of the books seem way outdated and don’t include allot of Urban Survival information that is common practice or popular to learn these days.

Subjects like tactical firearms training, bug out bags, lockpicking, gear selection, information security, ect. are not mentioned at all or barely get a sentence. They either lean towards basic home-ec around the house safety (SAS) or Wilderness Survival (Tom Brown) information.

In both of the books the chapters on crime (again in my opinion) are useless, information like “carry your wallet in your front pocket” (Tom Brown) and “Keep your doors locked wile driving” (SAS) are not only common sense, they read like an old Mcgruff the Crime Dog pamphlet.

Keep Those Windows up Kids!

If you really want to learn about Urban Survival you should pick up Tom Brown’s City and Suburban Survival as a primer and hit-up a good survival forum like thesurvivalpodcast.com.

The SAS Urban Survival Guide
Tom Brown’s City and Suburban Survival

Both Available from Amazon.com

~James G
James G is a Veteran Civilian Contractor who has worked in the Middle East and Southeast Asia for way too long. He spends his off time in his homes in Indonesia and Virginia getting drunk, shooting guns and writing poorly written articles.

Be Sociable, Share!

16 thoughts on “URBAN SURVIVAL – BOOKS: The SAS Urban Survival Guide and Tom Brown’s City and Suburban Survival Review”

  1. For all “Lofty” is cracked up to be he is a complete tool for his firearms comment.


      (Quote This Comment)

  2. It’s funny, I am not much of a Tom Brown fan at all (met one too many of his repeat students who got glaze-eyed and talked about the high level courses where you track demons into the nether realms of your psyche and fight them) but I was just thinking the other day that I’m sorry I sold my copy of that book.

    In hindsight, Brown may be flaky but it was worth having in the library none the less.

    Curious, have you read any of Fernando “FerFAL” Aguirre’s writing on urban survival?

    His blog Surviving in Argentina ( ferfal.blogspot.com ) has been around a bit now, although I only started reading it last year, but he’s also published a book on the subject which I have yet to pick up.

    Be interesting to know how his work stacks up against Lofty’s tripe (really sorry to hear that, I dearly like the original SAS Survival book) and Brown’s book.

      (Quote This Comment)

  3. M. Atwood,

    Thumbs up on Ferfal’s book!

    Rexemt and relevant info abounds in that tome.


      (Quote This Comment)

  4. Tom Brown Jr like most of the “gurus” out there have some overzealous fans and he is known for being a bit odd (so am I – lol). But we can’t let the fan-boys get in the way of our quest for knowledge.

    If you can’t stand worshiping fan-boys then count yourself lucky that you don’t like Comics, Japanese Anime or Si-Fi like Bubba and I because you would end up killing someone at one of their trade shows. :)

    But speaking from a pure skill viewpoint Tom Brown knows wilderness survival and especially Tracking. Besides talking about weird spiritual stuff and odd-ball behavior I have heard nothing but good things about his courses.

    And like I said, I think Lofty’s SAS Survival Guide is a good book and a definite add to any wilderness survival library. That was probably why I was so shocked how horrible and ignorant the SAS Urban Survival Guide was.

    We here at Death Valley Mag will keep all of Lofty’s survival guides in the DV Adventurer Library but this one is only there for historical purposes.

    ~James G

      (Quote This Comment)

  5. I still haven’t read anything by Tom Brown…from what I hear his original books are the best. Wilderness survival and tracking are his forte.

    On the “gun issue” Lofty Weiseman seems to have that kind of mindset. In his hand to hand combat manual he writes a big thing at the begining about how he intentionally left out certian “deadly” moves. Well jeez, it’s hand to hand COMBAT. Of course it’s fucking dangerous, either teach how or don’t!
    I guess hopolophobia and nanny statism are just hard-set british values.

      (Quote This Comment)

  6. i attended one of tom browns courses in ’86 to see what all the hype was about.

    my personal thought is that he is a pompous A-hole with a major superiority complex.

    Most of his deciples are of the easily sawyed hippy backpacker type.

    I like guns and keep a few around.


      (Quote This Comment)

  7. Like I said, he has the reputation for being quite an odd-ball

    Hey Tom, what about the actual tracking stuff, was it any good?

    ~James G

      (Quote This Comment)

  8. James G: Like I said, he has the reputation for being quite an odd-ball Hey Tom, what about the actual tracking stuff, was it any good?~James G  (Quote This Comment)

    mr. brown never even showed us any tracking stuff, he had his flunkies do it. a guy named sherwood who runs a course in the NW someplace and and another cat named bear who smoked a little bit too much weed i think.


      (Quote This Comment)

  9. yeah finally someone said what we were all thinking! Cody lundin’s book is in the same vein of no experience in the urban jungle, oddly enough the only person who seemed to get that was Neil Strauss in his odyssey towards urban survival. I’m still waiting for someone to write a true urban survival guide… and tell rawles not to even bother bc im tired of his ridiculous requirements and suggestions that only work if youre a millionaire.

      (Quote This Comment)

  10. Who is rawles?

    ~James G

      (Quote This Comment)

  11. I don’t see Cody tryin to write a book for urban survival. Also I don’t know how old you gents are but the whole lack of urban survival might be a Cold War mentality. We were always under the impression that the Russians had a nuke for every damn city in the nation so the wilderness was our best bet.

      (Quote This Comment)

  12. Why you wasting your time reviewing books that nobody uses? Lofty is a well known entity but this book was clearly an attempt to match the gargantuan sales of his borrowed bushlore as SAS survival. Same stuff that the Craigheads were asked to publish for the U.S. Airforce. People have been ripping them off ever since. Last time I checked the Special Air Service weren’t rubbing two sticks together if they needed to light a fire.

    But more to the point, why not rate all the new crop of survival books (you can scam them free from the publishers if you say you have a blog) The ugly truth of urban survival is all you need is cash and the ability to “borrow” stuff until you get fat. :))

      (Quote This Comment)

  13. The reason I reviewed these two books is because they are in every Borders in America – and alott of people have asked me is there are any good books on urban survival. Due to the wide public availability of the two above books I felt that reviewing them would be helpful to folks. Remember RYP, most people don’t really know anything about practical reality based Urban Survival like we do.

    Yep – most so-called survival books are just photocopied or re-worded copy’s of old US Military survival manuals. I am not sure what new Urban Survival books you are referring to, can you suggest some and I will pick em up.

    Negative on the hustling for free books, I can just pick up a used copy on Amazon for 2 bucks. I feel weird contacting companies for free shit, if they offer – hey ok, but I really don’t have the time to track down publishers and beg them for free shit.

    The ugly truth of urban survival is all you need is cash and the ability to “borrow” stuff until you get fat.

    That is pretty much what I say about Urban Survival in all of my articles

    ~James G

      (Quote This Comment)

  14. After the SAS survival guide, I got Urban Survival and the good thing about it is that you can tear the pages out to get the fire going, what a load of crap it is and I am thinking of writing to Lofty for my money back, including shipping, LOFTY YOU OWE ME !!!!!

      (Quote This Comment)

  15. Cody Lundin has a book called “When All Hell Breaks Loose” that isn’t going to fit the bill as the only book you’d need, but he has some good, practical info and hits some topics I haven’t seen other places – how to deal with no toilets in an urban/suburban environment, how to deal with bodies if the normal infrastructure’s not working. His outdoor survival book “98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive” is fantastic – he uses weird cartoon characters sometimes to drive home his bullet points of things to remember, but he really lays out the basics of how thermoregulation is often the one factor that determines whether you live or die.

    And as far as blogs on planning for more urban emergencies (hurricanes, fire or whatever) – Listening to Katrina is fantastic. http://www.theplacewithnoname.com/blogs/klessons/
    The guy has created a real road map for how to deal with everything from a 1-minute emergency (You wake up and the house is on fire) to something where you have a week to prepare (a hurricane track may be targeting your city). His mantra is Have Your Shit Together…really well-organized plan that you can scale to your needs.

      (Quote This Comment)

  16. Thank you for every other informative blog. Where else may I am getting that type of information written in such an ideal method? I’ve a mission that I’m simply now running on, and I’ve been at the glance out for such info.

      (Quote This Comment)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Upload Files

You can include images or files in your comment by selecting them below. Once you select a file, it will be uploaded and a link to it added to your comment. You can upload as many images or files as you like and they will all be added to your comment.