On Anti-Tracking Shoes
Among the countless anti-tracking methods, making anti-tracking shoes by hand has always held a special position.
Talent, creativity, and craftsmanship are all essential for the design and realization of something which could really work on a specific substrate, no matter how much time you spend in creating them.
The portion of interest in this process is, principally, the sole. This area usually has a pattern, which is responsible for what is called “regularity” in tracking terminology. It’s all about the geometry of the sole design we could leave on soft substrates which doesn’t exist in nature—the clean and simple design of the sole, which can be made of circles, triangles, squares, straight lines, waves, and or even the name of the brand.
Defining the Necessity
The purposes of making anti-tracking shoes can vary:
to conceal, or at least to minimize, the geometry of the sole
to disguise the tracks (for example, by producing animal tracks through the application of hooves under the sole)
to suggest a different direction of travel by mounting the whole sole of the shoe in an opposite direction
Even if the necessities can be different, the final aim is the same: to leave little or no trace at all.
Nonetheless, as we will soon see, the perfect pair of anti-tracking shoes for each terrain is simply nonexistent.
In fact, there are too many changing variables of the soil which actively and constantly determine the effectiveness of our anti-tracking shoes.
The variety of anti-tracking shoes and boots manufactured throughout the centuries is outstanding: from use during African Colonialism to contemporary Escape and Evasion, from anti-poaching to pure entertainment. You name it.
The legendary Selous Scouts of the Rhodesian Bush War led the way with unconventional warfare by applying the use of anti-tracking shoes.
“The traditional olive drab combat blouse and trousers designed for fighting on the northern European plain between Russia and Germany were discarded for the more functional camouflage t-shirts, shorts, and canvas sneakers ideal for fighting in the ‘bush.’”1
Selous Scouts wore sneaker-type shoes with a filed-off sole. This ended up being extremely effective to mix up their own tracks with those left by insurgents, who wore the same type of flat shoes at that time. Powerful, easy to achieve, and smart.
Currently, the main domain in which anti-tracking shoes are still widely in use is anti-poaching. As a certified Conservation Ranger for Conservation Rangers Operations Worldwide Inc., I am highly aware of their use by poachers.
Poachers regularly take advantage of such “tools of the trade” in order to:
place snares to trap animals
evade Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) surveillance
penetrate a protected park or reserve stealthily
conceal their own tracks once they know they have been spotted and are being followed
Are these shoes really effective? The question is absolutely legitimate and comes to observing the effect they produce on the ground.
Each action triggers a consequential reaction, and the soil is no exception.
Step 1: Considering the Environment
As mentioned before, the effectiveness of any anti-tracking shoes depends entirely on the terrain for which you are making them. As a matter of fact, each terrain requires its own soles, if you want to leave minimal signs of your passage.
To accomplish this, the first thing you have to do is to scan the area you are in, and to carefully observe the type of substrate you are walking in.
Is that substrate hard or damp? What kind of debris is there? Is it covered only by fallen leaves, or twigs (if you are traversing a forest or any wooded area)?
Mentally ask yourself all of these questions. By doing so, you are collecting data on your “enemy.” By studying your environment, you will soon know what kind of anti-tracking shoes you need to make.
Step 2: Blending In
In the following pictures, you will see different phases of a very easy – but effective – pair of anti-tracking shoes one of my students created during a recent course in Germany according to:
the forest he was in (mainly made of oaks and pine trees)
his total body weight (around 194 lbs)
As the soil was mainly composed of fallen branches and oak leaves, he grabbed some leaves of the proper length to cover – with abundance – his whole foot, along with long, dry grass he was able to bundle.
(Never tear or cut off your material, otherwise the “aerial spoor” will easily give away your presence in the area to an expert eye.)
In this manner, by making the sole covering larger, he could have some additional room in case they moved a little bit during the fixing phase.
Step 3: Making Them Effective
After the careful selection of the proper material to use, he started to wrap them to the sole of his boots, employing some paracord. He made sure not to leave any uncovered area of the paracord itself: leaving the easily visible shape of a line, especially on nude terrain, is a mistake to avoid at any cost.
Pros and Cons
After taking a few steps to get familiar with the new size, it came time to fully test his anti-tracking shoes on different substrates.
The results exceeded his expectations: not only were the tracks he left behind barely visible, but the noise he produced was definitely blending more into the surroundings. By taking just a few soft steps and then pausing, he also broke the distinctive sound of a two-legged animal moving through the woods.
After turning around, he came back to his starting point in order to observe the whole effect on the substrate: his anti-tracking shoes seemed to just gently move and push asides the leaves and debris, leaving minimal signs on softer areas. Above all, the general idea is that the environment has been untouched.
Although this technique is easy and effective, covering a considerable distance by wearing this sort of “natural coverage” comes with a lot of cons:
it reduces your natural speed
as you lose some of the covering on the way, the paracord will show through and leave distinctive signs on the terrain
again, each change of the substrate requires a change in coverage of your sole
A last consideration is that, though making your own anti-tracking shoes is simple enough you can train yourself to do it, to an expert eye, your tactic will soon be noticed and then easily detected.
Additional note from the author: This technique, even if covered widely in many books dedicated to tracking and anti-tracking, may be used improperly by potential poachers or ill-intentioned people. It is up to each person’s common sense to make the best use of it.
Kyt Lyn Walken
- Certified Wildlife Conservation Ranger at Conservation Ranger Operations Worldwide
- Official Representative & Instructor at Hull’s Tracking School
- Directora de Rastreo Humano por Dynamic Tracking (Spain)
- The way of Tracking – European Mantracking School
- Survival Dispatch Staff Writer
This article was optimized by Grace McCuthchen, Survival Dispatch Editor