Planning an Urban Exploration adventure
There are few hobbies as rewarding as urban exploration (or UrbEx for short). However, there are also few hobbies with as many potential hazards. Planning and preparation are the keys to successful urban exploration – and to keep you and your fellow urbexers safe! Here’s a crash course on what you’ll need to know, do, wear and bring on an urban exploration adventure.
A good urbexer does her or his homework. Knowing a bit about the site you’re exploring not only makes your adventures more meaningful, but it can keep you out of trouble. Do some online research before heading out. Sometimes access to a site can be obtained simply by asking the right person; we’ve also explored otherwise inaccessible locations during Doors Open events. If you choose to explore without consent, then it’s a good idea to educate yourself about the potential consequences if you are caught trespassing. Never damage anything, or take anything from an abandoned site, and never urbex at night (it makes an already unsafe activity downright dangerous, plus it turns potential trespassing charges into a criminal offence). Be aware of security at your chosen site. Is the site regularly patrolled? Are there security cameras? Have there been news reports of trespass arrests there recently? You may want to drive past the site before you explore and get an idea of where you want to park your vehicle, and how you want to approach the site.
Use the buddy system – never urbex alone. There are lots of potential safety risks in an abandoned site, and if you find yourself in trouble, it’s good to have someone who can get help. Make sure you tell someone you trust where you’re going and when you’re likely to return. And, no matter how hard your adrenaline is pumping, it’s important to always stay calm and to be constantly aware of your surroundings. Abandoned buildings are full of hazards, so you’ll want to watch your step and be vigilant for walls, floors and ceilings that might be unstable. Don’t approach exposed wires that might be live and think about using a walking stick to probe the floor ahead of you to make sure it’s not rotten. Do yourself a favour and make sure your tetanus shot is up to date (every 10 years)! And keep in mind the three golden rules of urban exploration: take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, break nothing but silence.
It probably goes without saying that you should never wear clothing you even remotely care about; if you do, you’ll spend more time worrying about staying clean than exploring. I’ve found waterproof hiking boots to be indispensable, and they’ve allowed me access to amazing spots that I could only get to across a large puddle or a pile of questionable refuse. Don’t wear shoes that expose parts of your foot or have thin soles – the last thing you want is to take a rusty nail or a discarded needle through the foot! And even if it’s a hot day, resist the temptation to wear shorts. Long pants/jeans will provide more protection from everything from thorns and burrs to jagged pieces of glass or metal, and you’ll save yourself skinned knees, too. Finally, consider using sun protection and insect repellant if you’re spending any amount of time exploring outdoors.
I have a designated urbex backpack, and it contains all of the items I need for exploring so that I can take off on the spur of the moment. Some must-have items for your own urbex pack include: a first aid kit, flashlight (one that clips onto your hat and frees up your hands is perfect), bottle of water, fully charged cell phone, protective gloves, and a mask (at the very least, a simple dust mask, but you may want a respirator for some sites – sure, it’s not exactly fashionable, but your lungs will thank you!). You may also want maps of the area you’re exploring, and a camera, if your phone is a dinosaur like mine and doesn’t take the best photos.
Lastly, there is one very important item you should NOT bring when doing urban exploration. That is an item that can be considered a tool or weapon. This includes a knife, as handy as you think it may be. If you are detained by police, you don’t want a simple trespassing fine turning into a much more serious break and enter charge!
With a bit of planning, a few simple precautions and the use of basic common sense, anyone can experience the exhilaration of exploring an abandoned site that nature has begun to reclaim. Happy urbexing!