What follows is a collection of tips, tricks and strategies that I have personally tested/evaluated and passed on to students within my capacity as a survival and tracking instructor working with responsible civilians, military and law enforcement. Some of this has been around for years, some of it is very recent wisdom, most of it is just common sense. This is not an exhaustive study in any way, but rather a useful primer designed to inspire creative solutions while adhering to time worn tactical truisms. Note also, we are not covering SERE, as survival and resistance are truly separate topics.
Assuming we find ourselves in a sufficiently hostile environment such that we must immediately begin to manage our physical and psychological responses to extreme external pressures, the following recommendation might strike a person as counter-intuitive. That recommendation: sit down, have a cup of tea and relax.
The tea is optional of course, however the sitting and the sentiment are not. Common sense dictates that first steps lead to later consequences. Recent research shows that as human animals under stress we are literally subject to our hormonal and biological responses. Let it be clear: you must take this step.
Techniques such as tactical breathing (breathe for four, hold for four, exhale for four) have become standard training for EMS, public speakers and elite soldiers alike because they work to balance the fight/flight response and gain leverage on the adrenaline dump that accompanies survival situations.
Specifically, sitting down forces a person to acquaint themselves with the environment, let go of the urge to bolt wildly into the unknown and--in many individuals--contributes to and facilitates the calming effect of conscious breathing.
This whole activity might last two minutes or twenty. It all depends on you, the urgency of the situation and related factors. But to forgo this step defies both conventional and cutting-edge wisdom. Consider learning a few mantras, prayers, yoga positions or whatever else you can use to bring you back down to earth and center your mind. Cause you’re going to need it in a major way.
This is not the time to wish you had studied, procured and trained with your survival kit so let’s pretend that anyone reading this has taken it upon themselves to arrive to the moment in question with at least the barest of essentials--the big five of food, water, fire, shelter and security. So those are covered, but what else do we have at our disposal? What are we missing that we might need or might come in handy? If we need to travel fast and light, what can we ditch or stash for later retrieval?
This is the step where you must come to grips with your situation. You have taken a moment, at least, to calm yourself and manage those primal instincts now you must force logic and training to the forefront and make choices based on that logic. I would urge you to explore the concept of the Trivium, as well as the related topics of logic and rhetoric as such activities and tools can only strengthen your mind and add tools to your toolbox.
Moving on, just as the scope of this essay cannot cover survival kits, its scope can neither cover every conceivable escape and evasion situation. There are simply too many permutations. Therefore and due to the adaptive nature of such situations, as well as my own natural distaste for lists, we must emphasize adaptation and flexibility of thought. We are talking about escape and evasion, yet is it possible to simply lie still? That wouldn’t make for a very good escape scene in a movie, but it might very well give you a tactical advantage in certain scenarios. Again, it cannot be emphasized enough: the point here is to gather your resources, evaluate the situation and make choices.
Your resources are in your survival kit, in your environment and in your mind. Evaluation of your situation includes timing, distances, pursuit forces, places of safety and all other factors affecting your current status as well as your prospects in the immediate future. Making choices is essential--it forces a return to logic and re-evaluation of any possible assumptions you have made thus far. As well, the making of choices is an act which has within it the elements of courage, self determination and (hopefully) humility.
Pace of Movement
Movement in E&E is defined less by your wants and more by your environment. Let’s assume you have made your plan. For example: you find yourself five miles from your home; WROL environment; you’re being pursed by a force of unknown character/training; you have at your disposal a small personal survival kit, light weaponry, no effective long range communication ability; night is falling.
If you know the way home, run. Just flat out run for a mile. Take a break to watch your back trail and if it’s clear, keep running and repeat until you are to a safe zone. Yes, give some serious consideration to noise discipline but as a tracker I can tell you that the single most effective counter-tracking technique is speed. Pure and simple. Forget about dog legs, fake shoe prints or anything else. Just run and increase the time/distance gap.
Now, let’s take the above scenario but let’s say you are 20 miles from your safe zone. Depending on your level of fitness and knowledge of the area, running may still be a decent option. However, at a certain distance or given changes in other decision making factors you are going need to examine other options. As well, you may need to seriously evaluate your pursuers.
Even with night vision optics silent travel at night can be very difficult and often impossible in certain terrain. Since our above scenario involves lightweight outfitting, let’s consider things without NVGs and without flashlights, as the latter must be strictly rationed to avoid detection.
Let’s just say it: unless you’re in the desert, avoid moving at night. If you must move at night, you are facing the quandary of utilizing well established and easy to travel trails and/or roads which can be a highly dangerous proposition if you don’t know the area or don’t have a clear idea of where your pursuers are moving. Bushwhacking by day has it’s downfalls as well, however at the least you have an increased ability to control your noise.
Silent travel really comes down to choosing your route, slow movement and manipulating sound-producing debris such as leaf litter, downed limbs and the like. Put your weight into your back foot and use your forefoot to gently brush aside a clear area to place this foot on the ground. Repeat. It takes forever and one mistake will make waste of your accumulated effort. I will note that for some people the process of putting weight on the back leg, stepping forward, etc. is actually counter effective. So you need to practice this and fine tune it.
Choose paths based on topography and levels of travel resistance i.e. avoid thickets, vines, areas of dense deadfall in favor of grass, moss or triple canopy where undergrowth is sparse.
The take away points here are: move twice as slow as you think you should and actually pick up, kick aside or otherwise physically move noise producing articles in your path.
One other note from personal experience: I have found that the technique of ‘high stepping’ actually does work if you can sustain it over a series of obstacles. It is particularly useful in area of low light and prevalent exposed tree roots or similar hangups. It has something to do with the fact that the foot is striking directly down upon the earth versus sweeping forward where toes can be caught up.
Habit of Movement
Related to silent movement is your habit of movement, though this line of thinking can also include your other counter-tracking techniques as well as some utilization of day/night routines dependent on your environment as visibility factor.
In our scenario, let’s say your safe zone is on a basic azimuth heading north. Don’t start out going north, instead move east and northeast making a few doglegs and/or roundabouts along the way. Gradually pull your line of travel toward your actual destination. If you have the opportunity or if travel in any way permits, turn around and study your back trail at some distance to evaluate and monitor your pursuers. This is a place where magnified optics have their weight in gold.
In a longer term evasion you need to establish habits that both serve you and avoid detection. This seems contradictory insofar as habits of prey are what most all good hunting is based on, thus avoiding habits would appear at first to be a worthy strategy. The difference is that we are humans and have the capacity for instantaneous evaluation and adaptation. With this in mind, you need to rapidly determine what is serving you and what is not. If traveling early and late in the day and holing up midday is working, use it, habituate it but only to the extent that it serves its purpose. The survival literature time and time again shows that success often comes when a sort of rhythm is established. Whether this is literally the rhythm of your feet and breath as you run, or whether it is in your routines hastily established, if they work use them.
Most likely you are going to need to rest. You might also require water. If you need it--get it and move on quickly. If you can continue without it---go without, as every stop and every choice will have it’s consequences at some point. Speaking of consequences, if you recall when you took a moment and ‘made your cup of tea,’ keep in mind that this ethos is in fact central to your entire act of evasion. So return to that ideal of double edged calm and evaluation. Keep your options wide open; dump a plan if it stops working; continually seek to interface with reality based on its terms while seeking to establish your own foothold in continued survival.
Using the Environment
We mentioned evaluating your pursuers and rest stops. Generally speaking, most people don’t carry pruning shears in their EDC gear, though snipers often carry them as part of their standard gear and for good reason. In an evasion scenario such as we are sketching out, there probably isn’t a whole lot of use for a fully functional sniper’s hide, (though, in keeping with our ideal of adaptation never discount the option of burrowing in and hiding) however modified hides based on well established principles are highly useful and should be practiced.
Where terrain and plant life make it possible, use your pruners to carve out niches in dense thickets. Blackberry vine tangles are ideal because no one wants to touch them and no one would consider that you might actually go inside one. Evaluate the area for an escape route and line(s) of sight; make as few cuts as are needed to burrow into the mass of vines; once firmly entrenched, start to hollow out a useable space, establish a hasty exit route and check your line of sight.
This concept can be utilized in trees where gaining an immediate high-ground advantage is untenable. If you can climb the tree leaving minimal evidence of your effort, staying in the tree as pursuers pass is not a totally unfounded nor untested idea. However, even if you just ascend the tree and make a few choice cuts to gain a decent vantage point on your back trail, it might be worth the effort.
Use of the environment is also going to give you immediate feedback on the talent and tenacity of those on your trail. If your decision making matrix deems it appropriate, consider purposely taking an extremely difficult route. Certain high angles, rapid ascents, rocky terrain, open meadows and the like will allow you to study and make retro-determinations on your hunters’ prowess with respect to tactical acumen, stamina, weaponry, as well whatever else pops out at you.
Good literature on natural concealment is widely available so I won’t harp on it too much. Suffice it to say that a person need not spend more than a minute or two collecting various foliage to effectively break up the conspicuous outline of the human head and shoulders. Attached with paracord, laces or simply tucked into folds in clothing, you can even do this while you’re moving. Avoid leaving obvious traces of your activity such as the white of cut limbs or mangled fern fronds.
Survival skills and their limits are going to play a role in this category of evasion, mainly with respect to what calorie sources you can utilize. I recommend adapting the old concept of the Possibles Bag here as it allows for hasty acquisition and storage of materials found without necessity to pause and rummage through gear. It also allows your pockets to remain available, clean and dry for other uses.
A long utilized method of sustenance by military evaders involves the use of livestock, goods and other useable items usurped from locals, generally in rural areas. This may or may not be appropriate given your situation. For soldiers trapped behind enemy lines and among hostile, fearful or bribe-hungry locals the risk should be weighed carefully. In other scenarios, simply asking the locals for assistance may be optimal and put a swift conclusion to your problem.
This aspect of evasion also brings up the possibility of switching roles from hunter to hunted. Classically, traps and related devices as well as sniper work are brought up in the discussion at this point. It goes without saying however, that these and other tactics and techniques cross a certain line which may or may not be appropriate based on your personal situation. Evaluations such as legality, rules of engagement and morality all must be read in here with their appropriate caveats.
I will leave you with a short recap of the high points and a selection of handy tips to keep in your mental back pocket. Recall that when the adrenaline hits, take time to make tea, breathe or whatever else you find forces you to humbly and quickly square up to reality. Like setting the table for dinner, now that you’re tuned in start evaluating, making decisive, logical decisions. Move at the fastest and safest possible pace, utilizing terrain, foliage, weather and anything else possible to your greatest advantage. Stealth is directly related to speed so consider trade offs and continually force yourself to re-evaluate your decisions and assumptions based on the feedback reality is offering you along the way. Ultimately, deliberate action coupled with common sense and perhaps a healthy dose of humility is going to fair you pretty well.
-Don’t follow obvious terrain features such as rivers, rims, tree lines.
-Take care of your feet. If you feel a hot spot, then stop and evaluate.
-Smoke is an effective scent mask.
-Learn how to make a Dakota fire pit. It gives off low light, and when burning certain barks and woods it is near smokeless. Use it only if you absolutely must, to live.
-Keep a 5x7 earth-tone survival tarp in your kit. Cord pre-attached to tie offs.
-An inexpensive monocular or set of binoculars kept in the car or in a pocket can be very handy.
-For calories on a mid to long term evasion look to insects, grubs and fish. In that order.
-Cardiovascular stamina cannot be overestimated.
-Smear dirt+spittle on the stumps of cut limbs or trees.
-Hopping from rock to rock to log, doglegs, walking back in your tracks and other counter-tracking techniques have their price---they tell your hunters something about you, so use them sparingly if at all and never the same technique twice.
-Do a web search: ‘Etymology of red herring.’