One of the great things about urban exploration is how simple it is to get started. You won’t need lessons or special training, and you don’t have to buy a bunch of expensive specialized gear. All you really need to do is identify an abandoned building and take a look around inside.
That said, your choice of urban exploration apparel and gear can have a major impact on your ability to safely enjoy the hobby. Urbex can be a dangerous pursuit, since the kind of structures you’ll be entering will likely be in some state of disrepair. You should expect to encounter hazards like unstable floors, sagging staircases, collapsing ceilings, exposed nails and splintered wood, and failure to dress properly can put you on the fast track to serious injury.
Keep reading to learn what to wear—and what types of clothing to avoid—to help ensure your physical safety as you explore.
The Essential Urban Exploration Apparel
Essential: Shirt with Long Sleeves
It’s true that the thin layer of fabric in a long-sleeved shirt won’t do much to protect you from sharp metal or broken glass, but some protection is better than none and can reduce the severity of any injury. It can also keep your skin from coming into contact with dirt, dust, noxious liquids and other unidentified substances as you explore.
A thicker fabric like flannel may provide a bit more protection from external dangers, but a comfortable cotton shirt is fine too. The most important thing is that the shirt allows you full range of movement without being so loose that it catches on things, which can also raise your injury risk.
Essential: Sturdy Pants or Jeans
In urban exploration, your legs will be exposed to a variety of potentially harmful surfaces. You may have to trudge through tall grass, weeds, brambles or even poison ivy. Entering the building may require you to slip through the jagged edges of a broken window or slide past a splintered door frame.
You may have to crouch or crawl through tight spaces littered with debris. Wearing a pair of sturdy long pants or jeans will go a long way toward protecting the skin on your legs from these hazards and prevent cuts, scrapes, abrasions and even allergic reactions. Cargo pants or pants with pockets are even better, since they provide a place to keep essential gear close at hand.
A quality pair of work gloves is another non-negotiable item of urban exploration apparel when you’re out in the field. You’ll almost certainly be using your hands to steady yourself, pull yourself up over obstacles and move items, and most of the surfaces you’ll be touching are dirty and potentially abrasive or sharp.
Work gloves will protect your hands from contamination and enhance your grip, which can help you get in and out of hard-to-reach spaces without getting hurt. It’s fine to take them off if you need to perform fine motor tasks, but you should still at least have them with you on every expedition.
The right footwear is absolutely critical in urban exploration. You will need a solid pair of boots with good traction to help you safely navigate through uneven terrain and protect you if a deteriorating floor or staircase gives way beneath you. You’re also likely to encounter sharp items like broken glass, protruding nails and even needles from previous visitors to the building.
Any of these objects can easily go straight through typical sneakers or other flimsy shoes and seriously injure you. Boots can also protect your feet from rain, standing water and other elements to which you may be exposed while exploring.
If you don’t already own a good pair of boots, you may have to spend a bit of money up front, but it’s an investment in your safety you won’t regret.
Optional Urban Exploration Apparel Items
You may or may not need a jacket, depending on when and where you do your exploring. However, it’s never a bad idea to stash a light jacket or hooded sweatshirt in your gear pack just in case the weather suddenly changes or you get wet or injured.
In a worst-case scenario, an added layer of warmth can help keep your body from going into shock if you’re seriously hurt and waiting for help to arrive.
Optional: Face Mask
A basic cloth face mask isn’t always a necessary piece of urban exploration apparel, but it’s nice to have with you in case you do need it. A face mask won’t protect you from toxic substances like asbestos or mold—you’ll need an industrial-grade respirator for that—but it can help you breathe easier by blocking dust, pollen and odd smells from entering your mouth and nose.
What to Avoid: Urbex Dress Code Violations
Whatever you choose to for your urban exploration apparel, do not under any circumstances commit the following urbex fashion faux pas:
- Flimsy or open-toed shoes: You’ll need the sturdiest pair of shoes you can find to protect your feet and give you critical traction and stability when walking and climbing on unstable surfaces. Sandals and other flimsy shoes almost guarantee you’ll get hurt.
- Short-sleeved or sleeveless shirts: These won’t protect your arms from rough surfaces and other dangers.
- Shorts: Exposed legs are an invitation to cuts, abrasions and other injuries.
- Loose or baggy clothing: Non-fitted clothes are more likely to catch on wood, exposed nails, chain-link fencing and other hazards.
- Brightly-colored clothes: These items make you easy to spot, potentially alerting authorities to your presence. While some urbex enthusiasts like to wear reflective construction vests while exploring so they appear to be engaging in some sort of “official” business, we don’t recommend it.
Unlike activities that require specialized gear or clothing, in most cases you can wear items you already own for urban exploring. The key is choosing the right articles of clothing, urban exploration apparel, and accessories to help you stay safe and comfortable in the rugged, unpredictable environments that abandoned buildings and poorly-maintained properties tend to present.
Long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, boots and gloves will shield your skin from many common hazards and help you maneuver more easily through buildings and tunnels, allowing you to focus your full attention on the new discoveries around each corner.