How to Safely Engage in Urban Exploration

You can be an urban explorer safely. But, it means setting limits on how far you go when you are exploring. You will also need to buy some extra gear and be prepared to carry it around.

Let’s be upfront, urban exploration is not safe. It’s not a safe, clean and tidy hobby. There are dangers and risks involved: animals, holes, damaged buildings, drains, chemicals, police, and so on. Of course, the risks all depend on where and how you are exploring.

You can be an urban explorer and take less risks, play safe. I tend to be this way myself. I have some admiration for those who investigate drain tunnels, sewer systems, and infiltrate buildings and places past the point of ‘staff only’ and ‘no trespassing’ signs. It’s jut not for me.

So, play safe if you want to but understand you will have to set limits on how far you go and how much you see.

You’re also going to need to spend some money on extra gear like better footwear, flash lights and exploring clothes.

Of course, you also need to read up on trespassing laws and bylaws in your area. If you really want to be safe you need to find and contact the property owner and get real permission for your exploring there.

The Risks of Exploring Dangerous Places

Some people call it urban spelunking, because it’s like climbing around in caves – in the city.

You need a lot of the same gear too if you’re going to go inside industrial sites, drains, subways, bridges, tunnels, sewers, rooftops, and derelict places where the floor could give in, there could be chemical or biological waste and so on.

Urban Exploring Gear

How much gear you need depends strongly on how dirty you plan to get exploring.

I explore old farm houses in rural Ontario, mainly. I bring along my camera, a map book and I usually stash a pair of sturdy boots in the car. I wear clothes I can move in and wash easily. I don’t tend to walk through much, other than tall grass and weeds. But, I have run into territorial birds and I had a bee stuck in my hair that buzzed around for what seemed ages before it found it’s way out (without stinging me!).

If you are exploring mine shafts, tall buildings, grain elevators:

Rock climbing gear.

If you are exploring tunnels, drains, sewers:

Portable gas detectors, oxygen monitors, or handheld air quality testers. Portable SCBA units or emergency air canisters.

If you are exploring underground or buildings/ places with asbestos or black mould:

P-95 or better air respirator.

If you are exploring unstable environments like unstable buildings and abandoned mines:

Hard hat. OSHA approved training in confined spaces.

If you don’t understand the gear or know how to use it, get that information and training. Don’t become an urban exploration statistic.

Trespassing: Where do you Stand?

Urban explorers have their own rules about where to draw the line on entering property they want to explore.

Some explorers literally will go anywhere. But this is not the standard, or the theme which urban exploration goes by. Urban exploration has a motto: take only photos, leave only footprints. Urban explorers are not vandals, scavengers for vintage house parts and they do not spray graffiti around. Also, urban explorers do not break and enter.

Instead of cutting a fence and urban explorer will look for access to the site which does not involved breaking or cutting anything. We might crawl under a fence, enter through a hole someone else has already left or walk past signs stating ‘no trespassing’. It’s a fine line, a small distinction but there are some ethics to urban exploring. Also, a pride in not crossing the line.

Urban exploration is about exploring, not causing damage to property (or upsetting property owners) by stealing, harming or leaving garbage of our own at the site.

Read more about trespassing laws in your own province or state. You should have the right information for your location and situation. In general, you are trespassing if you are on private property without permission.

This means you can take photos from the street, the sidewalk, the pathway, behind the fence… and be perfectly safe from trespassing. In cases like this it is really nice to have a digital camera with a lot of zoom.

Some Urban Exploration Links to Get Started With