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Urban Exploration

Arrow Image Going places you aren't supposed to go

Urban Exploration is about going places you aren\'t supposed to go. Whether it be that abandoned house down the street, the off-limit areas of a store, or a storm drain, there is always adventure if you know where to look for it. The sad thing is many people miss out on all these wonders because a simple \"Danger\" or \"No Trespassing\" sign tells them what they can and cannot do. This article is all about ignoring that sign, and taking the leap into the unknown.

The ethical code followed by the UrbEx community is very similar to that of the hacking community. By its very nature, Urban Exploration can be illegal. That\'s not always the case however, and if breaking the law is out of the question, there are many things to legally explore. Whatever you choose to explore though, follow this golden rule: \"Leave only footprints, take only pictures\"

Urban Exploration is about the adventure and the thrill of seeing something few or none see in their lifetime. It is NOT about theft, vandalism, or having complete disrespect for the site. People who explore a site only to pillage it and tag it can be compared to the script kiddies of the hacking world. While true urban explorers and hackers do what they do out of curiosity and wanting to learn, these people are only interested in personal gain, and have no respect for anything else. You may be wondering why it\'s a problem to steal from or vandalize an abandoned site, but the answer to that is simple. Doing this destroys the history of that building and ruins the experience for other explorers. Imagine walking into an abandoned factory and seeing relics that are fifty years old. Now imagine if someone before you decided to steal everything then do some graffiti all over the walls. The atmosphere of the building is gone. Vandalism and theft also results in increased security around the site making it harder for other urban explorers to get in.

Here I will discuss safety precautions for your physical well-being. I will also discuss a few tips on what to do to avoid getting caught/arrested.

Always tell someone where you are going. This should be someone you trust such as a friend or family member. Also tell them when you expect to return. If no one knows where you are going, and you happen to get trapped somewhere, no one will know where you are and you are as good as gone.

Always bring a buddy, a group of 3-4 people being ideal. The reason for this is that exploring abandoned sites can be very dangerous, and if you injure yourself, you will have others to help you out. Multiple minds are also better than one when needing to deal with a tight situation. The people you bring should be very mature and intelligent, as well as trustworthy. Bringing a large group is not a good idea, as it will attract unwanted attention.

When it rains, no drains! If you plan on going draining (exploring storm drains) watch the forecast and make sure there is no rain in the near future. You should also wait at least one full day after a rain storm before entering a drain. The whole purpose of a storm drain is to (obviously) collect run-off storm water. These drains can fill up quick and the water can carry large debris depending on the size of the drain. You don\'t want to get caught in this, as you can drown or get hit with the debris. However, there is always the chance for a flash flood so you need to be prepared in these cases. If the air current changes and you feel gusts of wind, then it is raining. If you hear rushing water, it is raining. If you can, get out of the drain as soon as possible. If you can\'t, try to find something to hold onto and get as high as possible and hope for the best.

Don\'t pop man-hole covers from underneath unless you are absolutely sure as to where they lead. If you pop a cover in the middle of a busy road, prepare to take a tire to the face. Most man-hole covers are designed to not be able to fall, however some such as rectangular ones can so be extra careful not to let it fall on you.

Before you enter a drain, check the air quality. If you smell something odd (not necessarily foul, because bad smells are quite common) move on. I unfortunately can not tell you exactly what to look for because I have no sense of smell. If you are in a drain and you find it hard to breathe or are feeling dizzy or light-headed, get out. You can breathe perfectly fine in a safe drain.

Be careful of unsafe flooring. If you see rotten floor boards, carefully test where you walk so you don\'t end up falling through.

Watch out for asbestos. It is toxic and can cause some harm. I have never run into it, but that doesn\'t mean it\'s not there. Some people like wearing a respirator before entering an abandonment.

If you see a security guard or vigilante, and they have not spotted you, try to hide until they are gone. If they have spotted you, then run. There is no law against running from these people and chances are you will escape, as they probably won\'t pursue you for very long. If you see a police officer and he has not spotted you, I advise that you just get off the property. If the police officer has spotted you, definitely don\'t run unless you are 100% certain you can escape. It is better to approach the police officer and try to talk your way out of it. You will most likely be let off with a warning. Having a camera is a great credibility prop because you can say you are just a photographer working on a school project or something. I recommend bringing two memory cards, one containing pictures of the outside of the building and the other containing pictures of the inside. When you leave the building, take out the card with the inside pictures and hide it, then put in the one with the outside shots. That way if a cop stops you and asks to look through your camera, he will only see the pictures from the outside and not from the inside, therefore having no evidence that you ever entered.

Don\'t bring any tools you don\'t need, especially burglary tools such as lock picks This isn\'t an ethical thing, but getting caught with lock picks will up your charges from misdemeanor trespassing to felony breaking and entering. There almost always is a way in that doesn\'t require damage to the property or bypassing locks, so always look for entry points.

Don\'t be loud and stupid. This is pretty obvious, but many people seem to forget that what they are doing is illegal and people can hear them. Also be careful where you shine your flashlight, especially if you are at a site during the night. If the sight is close to a street for example, people might see your beam of light if you shine a flashlight out a window.

Targets for Exploration
Although virtually anything can be explored such as abandonments, drains, active buildings (also known as Infiltration), utility tunnels, mines, and sewers, I have only personally explored abandonments and drains (and some natural places such as caves, but those don\'t really fall under urban exploration) so I will only discuss those. I would have to say my favorite places are drains, but abandonments can be just as cool and exciting. Before exploring something, you should try to find as much information as possible about it such as the history, who owns it, if it is still owned, plans for demolition, etc. Because knowing is half the battle!


Anything that was once active but now is not is a perfect place to explore. Abandoned houses, schools, factories, etc all are great. When dealing with houses though, please make sure you know for a fact that is is abandoned. Just because it looks like it is doesn\'t mean it is. Also note that many abandonments are still owned, so it can be considered trespassing

The risk factor (legally) of exploring abandonments depends largely on where it is, if it is still owned, and many other things. Generally if the site is out of the way such as in the woods, chances of getting caught are slim to none. Also be careful of alarms. Only once have I ran into an alarm, and I got out immediately.

Take many safety precautions before entering an abandonment. As mentioned in the safety section, unsafe flooring is probably the biggest hazard. Also watch out for nails, animals, and squatters (yes, you could run into them so be prepared to deal with them).


Storm drains exist to collect storm water off the streets so flooding does not occur. Because drains have an almost maze-like quality to them with many secrets, they are awesome to explore. Be prepared to get wet, and I hope you aren\'t claustrophobic. Depending on the size of the drain (there are some huge ones) you will have to do a lot of crawling and squatting in water. I\'ve only been in small drains, and I\'ve had to crawl long distances in tunnels that I couldn\'t turn around in. It all pays off once you get to an open chamber and can finally stand, and you marvel at the architecture.

Hopefully the intro got you hooked on the idea of exploring drains. Drains come in many different shapes and sizes, and you never know what you\'ll see next. You\'ll see things such as ladders, waterfalls, slides, walls, and drops. The risk factor (legally) of exploring drains is almost non-existent as long as you don\'t pop unknown man-hole covers (which you shouldn\'t do for other reasons). Drains are usually pretty safe as well when it is not raining. Just be careful not to slip. Know that storm drains and sewers ARE NOT the same thing (except if it is a combined sewer-drain which only exist in some areas). Sewers are usually marked as S or SEWER on their man-hole covers, and drains are usually marked as D or DRAIN or STORM DRAIN. Some people explore sewers, but I do not recommend it. They are full of things you don\'t want to be near, and they are highly toxic with very bad air conditions. Stay clear of them unless you know what you are doing.

Contrary to what you might be thinking, generally you don\'t want to enter drains through a man-hole. You want to enter through the outlet (or outfall). A drain has many different inlets (or infalls) where water from the surface enter the drain. The outlet is where this water exits into a larger body such as a lake or ocean. As a drain approaches the outlet, it gets larger and larger to accommodate the increased amounts of water flow. By entering through an outlet, you start out in the largest area of the drain and as you continue upstream, it will get smaller and smaller until you find that you can no longer continue, and turn back.

Finding Locations
Finding locations and researching them is almost as fun as exploring them. The best way to find locations is to simply look around your neighborhood, checking out the areas that no one else really goes to. You\'re bound to find something. However, there are still things that might not be found this way. This is where Google maps comes into play. Just enter the address of your city or town, and look around. Specifically, look for buildings that have an empty parking lot when other parking lots are full of cars. Look in the woodland areas for any buildings. I\'ve found a couple locations this way. If you want to find drains, walk along the side of a river or lake. Look for rocky areas as outlets are usually there. You can also email the utilities branch of your town/city and ask them for drain maps. It\'s a lot easier than you think. Rarely do you need to convince them, just simply ask. The only problem with this method is that these maps are notoriously hard to read and understand, so you would probably end up spending more time learning to read the map than exploring.

Tools of the Trade
Really, you don\'t need much except for a flashlight. A waterproof flashlight is absolutely essential when draining, as drains are full of water and pitch-black. Carry a spare just in case the first one breaks or runs out of batteries. If you want to take pictures (which I highly suggest) then bring a camera. Again, if you\'re going draining, make sure it is waterproof, or at least don\'t drop it. A cellphone is useful as well. You can bring water and food if you plan on spending a lot of time at a site. There are probably some things I missed, but just use common sense.

There are some things you should NOT bring. This includes tools such as lock picks and crowbars. You\'re done if you get caught with these. You shouldn\'t be forcing yourself in anyway, always look for an entry point that doesn\'t require damaging anything. If you\'re a drug user, I shouldn\'t have to mention not to bring drugs with you. Alcohol is also a bad idea of course.

Dressing for the Occasion
Listen, this isn\'t a movie. You don\'t need to wear black clothing, night-vision goggles, or a suit. Dress casually and comfortably, you don\'t want to arouse suspicion. Don\'t wear shorts. If you go draining, waterproof clothing is a good idea, but not essential if you don\'t mind getting wet. I like to wear latex gloves when draining because I hate touching some of the gross stuff in drains. But basically the whole point is wear what is necessary, nothing more, nothing less.

Many people miss out on some great things that could be in their own backyard, just because they don\'t care, or because a sign forbids them. Urban explorers understand the value of long-lost places, and don\'t let that sign rule their life. If you have been thinking about getting into exploring, I highly hope that this article has inspired you to get out there and explore the history around you.


ShadyTyranton August 13 2009 - 18:40:53
Not the worst article HBH has ever seen but not really alot to be gained from this.
korgon August 14 2009 - 11:04:52
Really is a silly ass article, Should have been titled "How to kill yourself, get beat up or arrested".
korgon August 15 2009 - 01:57:12
No shit! I didn't approve this so let Cheese take it out. Else it stays not my call.
Jesuson August 17 2009 - 20:48:54
I actually think it's a pretty cool article if you apply it to other topics such as shopping malls ( the places where other people don't go Wink )
lovehateon August 23 2009 - 17:21:27
well, nonsense, but funny though Wink
stealth-on August 25 2009 - 21:50:04
I didn't think it was that bad, although I never really considered a storm drain a place to explore. I have checked out a few abandoned houses and such, but this turns it almost into a profession. I rate good, because it didnt really teach that much, but I did like the insight to the minds of people who get a rush from strange hobbies. I think it would be pretty awesome to check out the storm drain system of some huge city for a few hours, too Smile
ANCoreon September 16 2009 - 15:25:01
A very good introduction to Urban Exploration Smile Got really interested now Grin
dw0rekon September 17 2009 - 23:09:59
Thanks -Kurt- for a great article about ue. It has inspired me and I'll hopefully get around to locating some spots soon.
Skunkfooton September 20 2009 - 00:58:11
It's not a poorly written article, it's just a bad idea. Like you said, it's common sense, and therefore should require no explanation or article. I can honestly say I learned nothing new from this article.
warrengreenon November 18 2009 - 18:53:43
Ive been training for parkour and ive loved doing this. To experience what is there but never seen by the general popululation is actually very fun. Businesses roofs are my favorite and even provide great meditation areas. As hackers your curiosity should be peaked by the idea of an area beyond the everyday scenery.
maugon November 25 2009 - 11:23:49
going into drains is pretty anti-climatic. there was one neat factory I went in tho. it looked like there was a nuclear accident because they just left everything 20 years ago. food, clothing, power tools, everything. If you're into dumpster diving, you should give it a try, but bring a knife or gun (gangs/druggies)
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