My looks come from the Scandinavian side of my ancestry, so I stand out like a sore thumb in South America. I look like a Viking walking through a sea of tan, dark haired Brazilians. There probably wouldn’t be any more stares than if I was armored up and wearing hairy breeches like old Ragnar Lothbrok (who happens to be an ancestor of mine).
In a city center in Brazil where a bunch of buses passed by, I felt like fewer people would stare at me if I were an extraterrestrial instead. Having some time to kill waiting for a ride, I was mulling over my blending problem. We weren’t in a safe area and this was feeling like a countdown to a robbery or lightning kidnapping, so I started experimenting.
First, I started counting the percentage of faces staring at me. Then I started making changes to see if they made a difference. Having Mrs. Cache with me wasn’t helping, so I had her sit down off to my side and sit my pack on her lap. That helped a little with some of the guys. My most noticeable feature was my hair, so I dug a cap out of my bag and put it on along with sunglasses. Then I backed off the curb, folded my arms and leaned on a low fence. Stares dropped from approximate 70% down to about 20%. I didn’t imagine it would make that much difference.
People notice movement, bright colors, contrast, beautiful women, wealth, foreigners, eye contact, and anything threatening or suspicious. Even if these things are only contextual. Purchase a bunch of related items, give them a peek at the trunk of your car or the contents of your pack then they will have an idea what you’re doing.
Observe your surroundings and yourself. Then eliminate or conceal the differences. This may require some clothing and accessories like hoodies, hats, sunglasses, gloves, and the like. Just make sure they blend with the baseline of your environment. Need to cover up your face? More and more folks are wearing masks when sick or when dust or contagions abound. This may fit in an emergency and people may not approach if they suspect you’re sick. The drawback is that they also may not let you pass through any type of control point. It’s more normal in some places than others, so use judgement and have plausible deniability.
- Avoid Eye Contact – Be confident, alert, and aware. Avoid direct eye contact and confrontation.
- Keep Quiet – Keep opinions to yourself. Speak and respond when necessary, but interacting with others attracts attention. Treat others with respect and be courteous. Don’t appear to take an interest in them.
- Forgo the Survivalist “Uniform” – Anyone who lives the tactical lifestyle can spot overtly tactical clothing, packs, and bags a mile off. Other folks are perceptive enough to clue in on them too. Leave the “Shoot me first!” clothing for expos and classes unless that is somehow the baseline where you are. Choose concealed carry friendly clothing that can blend in whether you’re in the bush or the city.
- Don’t Advertise – Wear an expensive looking watch or jewelry in some areas and you might as well walk around with $100 bills hanging out of your pockets. Same goes for expensive electronics and camera gear.
- Don’t Be a Loner – Humans are social animals. There is safety in numbers and a strong “us vs them” instinct. Use this to your advantage and group up. Single individuals are viewed as easy targets for groups of two or more.
- Avoid Risqué Clothing – Immodest clothing attracts attention.
- “Wear Anywhere” Clothing – Have clothing and accessories that you can wear anywhere and adapt to a wide range of circumstances. Acquire clothing that blends with the area you are in through purchase or barter. Theft generally creates potential liability you don’t need. Do image searches of the areas you’ll pass through while traveling.
- Money Control – I use multi-use binder clips to organize money, conceal it, and spread it across my person. I modify the binder clip handles for use as handcuff keys. Flashing or fumbling with large wads of cash attracts attention.
- Plan Your Route – Know where you are going. Study maps at night and plan routes. Reading a map in public pegs you as an outsider.
- Carry Concealed – People take notice of openly displayed weapons. It may not be a big deal to many folks in rural Western towns but they still notice. Understand that seeing a firearm sends some folks into a tizzy. Understand when to bear your teeth and claws, and when to keep them hidden. Taking an enemy by surprise and being the first to act gives you a huge advantage in a fight. Be the one to use them and don’t let others gain this advantage over you. In cool weather, I take advantage of this by carrying a concealed hammer revolver rigged in a pocket in addition to my side arm. Having a pistol already in the hand gives you a decided advantage at the outset of an engagement, should things go sideways.
Transitioning from Wilderness to Built Areas & Back
My family owns a little property near Lake Powell which is a reservoir on the Colorado River in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. The red sandstone slot canyons of Lake Powell are a beautiful place for the family to get together. When the water level is high, Lake Powell has more coastline than the west coast of the USA. This makes plenty of room to get away. We came back into a town called Page after a couple of weeks camping up the Lake in the Fall. Our first pit stop was a gas station bathroom. In that restroom, a heavily intoxicated Native American gentleman took one look at us and asked if the leaves had started to turn yet up on the mountain.
He must have figured that we had come down off Navajo Mountain, a mountain sacred to Native American tribes of the Four Corners Region that dominates the landscape. That brief encounter taught me a lesson as a young survivalist.
With one glance, it was obvious to the guy that we had been camping for a while even though he could barely keep from falling to the floor. The human face is so hardwired into us that it’s easy to spot someone who has come in from the bush with a glance … even when falling down drunk.
I apply this fact to survival scenarios. Specifically to blending in while transitioning from the bush to built-up areas. This could happen in get home scenarios, bug-out scenarios, E&E scenarios, or returning from operations in the field. There are two important points survivalists should take away:
The first point is proper hygiene when camping or in the field. When Native Americans encountered whites, their initial observations were that they had poor hygiene. Europeans remarked on how splendid Native Americans looked. This was because the wilderness was home to Native Americans. Europeans may have walked their own cities well-kempt, but North America was a wilderness beyond the end of the European’s logistics train and full of hardship. Thus they let appearances slide and relaxed Western standards of grooming while in the wilderness.
As my fieldcraft improved, I became to view relaxed wilderness grooming standards as the hallmark of someone who is either a tenderfoot or lazy. Wherever you travel in the world, resident cultures have developed regimens of hygiene that works for their environments. Being in the wilderness is no excuse to fail to maintain standards of grooming and hygiene.
In fact, the survivalist can’t keep warm unless both body and clothes are clean. Soiled clothing loses its insulative properties. Sweaty skin is cold and clammy. Staying warm and healthy are both priorities in survival situations. You’re just as likely to contract giardia from not washing your hands before meals as from drinking contaminated water.
Prepare for Transitions
In get home scenarios it’s often necessary to transition from wilderness to rural, suburban, or urban terrain. Blending in wilderness terrain involves counter-tracking skills and camouflage or fitting into the baseline of human traffic in the area. In built areas it means blending with the respective rural, suburban, or urban baseline.
It’s easy to spot someone who’s just walked out of the bush and understanding this makes it possible to prepare. A small hygiene kit goes a long way in enabling the survivalist to blend. It can conceal the fact that he just walked out of the bush. Blending with the baseline may require a change of clothing or even the concealment of ethnicity, religious beliefs, or political affiliations. This depends upon what lines society has fractured as well as the dominant local groups between you and home.
When necessary, perform recon before approaching transition points. Use optics to learn what you can without revealing your presence. A monocular is useful on the trail to differentiate between people you know and those you don’t. Scan waists, hands, and shoulders for weapons before others are able to do likewise.
Hygiene Kit Components
- Mirror – I incorporated a laminated glass signal mirror into my EDC. I made a swing out felt lined leather case to protect my mirror. It doesn’t take up as much room as the bulky padded nylon cases but still affords it a degree of protection. I use it to discreetly improve my situational awareness, to negotiate corners without exposing myself to direct fire, signaling, self-treatment and, of course, hygiene. You need to be able to see what should be fixed in order to blend.
- Clippers – I carry a small clipper in my pack. It should run on only one or two AA battery. A clipper is useful to knock down my beard when it gets long and touch up my hair.
- Soap – I like the Dr. Bonner’s liquid soaps. They can be used as soap, shampoo, for shaving, for dishwashing, laundry, surfaces, toilets, pest control, and even as toothpaste. This cuts down the number of bottles in my GHB and simplifies logistics. Nearly everything you carry should have multiple uses.
- Coconut Oil – Coconut oil can be used in balms for dried skin and for cooking. When products are edible, that’s generally a good sign that they’re relatively free of harmful chemicals.
- White Petrolatum – I carry it as lip balm, but this is another item with dozens of survival and medical uses.
- Medical Cotton – Medical cotton is extremely multi-use and can serve as gauze, padding, cotton swabs, dental pellets, keeps pills from rattling until they turn to dust, plus numerous other purposes. It serves as all these things and more until it’s combined with white petrolatum or petroleum jelly. After that, it’s only good for starting fires and messy as can be. Resist your inner cub scout and don’t combine them until tinder is needed or you cut the uses from dozens to one!
- Comb – For combing hair and for removing cactus from skin without additional injury. Hair should be combed even if it can’t be washed. Combing cleans it some and removes any unwanted hitchhikers.
- Washcloth – Conserves soap, exfoliates the skin, and scrubs you clean.
- Razor – A beard will prevent most gas masks from achieving a proper seal with your face.
- Toothbrush & Dental Floss – Sometimes the little things are the big things. Ever hear of a special ops soldier working hard to make selection only to go combat ineffective because of poor dental hygiene? Happens all the time.
- Nail Clipper – Don’t neglect your primary mode of transportation, your feet. I saw a guy go under the knife overseas because of a hangnail. I asked the anesthesiologist if the guy was out, he then slapped the guy’s face back and forth a bunch of times. Keep your nails trimmed and cleaned so you don’t end up on that guy’s table. Trim toenails straight across so they don’t impact your boots at a single point when hiking downhill.
Lighten Your Load
Blending in and making miles can be easier if you aren’t carrying a giant pack. If you drive long distances in cold weather and carry a large pack, consider caching anything that isn’t necessary before you set out on foot.
So keep the following things in mind to blend in to your surroundings:
- Avoid eye contact.
- Don’t flash money.
- Choose clothing you can wear anywhere.
- Avoid risqué, flashy, unique, or bright colored clothing.
- Wear the same things others are.
- Don’t carry openly unless everyone else is.
- Group up.
- A monocular is useful to learn about others from a distance.
- Prepare for transitions from wilderness to rural, suburban, and urban areas then back.
Practice good hygiene in the field.