Tracking for a SHTF Scenario
The ability to detect, read and follow both human and animal tracks represents a valuable means to develop a more conscious outdoor awareness. In the very same manner, the capability to reduce, camouflage or not leave any visible signs becomes important especially if it comes from necessity. Think about a possible bug-out situation or a SHTF scenario.
In both applications, tracking is far from being an easy art to master quickly. It requires time, commitment and constant dedication, especially with bad weather and poor mental and physical performance. We learn through mistakes, and tracking is no exception: the more we fail, the more we understand how the logical process behind correctly minimizing tracks really works.
What makes this ancient skill still so remarkable is its potentiality to make the difference between life and death if you (or any of your relatives) are caught up in an emergency situation. Or, as we will soon cover, if your intention is to bug out to a safe place.
As knowledge weighs nothing, any noteworthy lesson gained in tracking—and, consequentially, in anti-tracking techniques—has lots to offer.
A Historical Overview on Anti-tracking and Counter-tracking
“Of all the specialist activities relevant to the prosecution of a counter-insurgency campaign, none is more important than the provision of trackers.”
-Frank Kitson, a British counter-insurgency practitioner and theorist
All the procedures and strategies engaged in order to deceive and to slow down either a tracker or a Combat Tracking Unit are usually defined as “anti-tracking.”
On the other side, the term “counter-tracking” stands for operations which employ I.E.D.s (Improvised Explosive Devices, such as booby traps, trap wires, land mines and so on). Their aim is to physically injure or, in worst cases, to eliminate the trackers.
Deceptive tactics have been quite intensively developed and put into action within the tactical field. As I explained in my recent essay Tracking, Anti-tracking and Counter-tracking in the Colonialism Era, they surely obtained notable use in Africa all over the last century.
Apart from that period, they have been successfully employed by the Special Air Service also in the Malayan Emergency, in the Borneo Confrontation, by U.S. combat trackers during the Vietnam War, till Afghanistan.
This brief historical overview should give you an idea of the longevity and the real, current viability of the subject of this article.
In fact, effective anti-tracking techniques put into use in a survival situation play an essential role when we find ourselves chased by ill-intentioned people we want to elude.
Contacts and Traces
The starting point, both for trackers and anti/counter-trackers, consists of the first principle of forensic science, as stated by Sir Edmund Locard at the beginning of this century. “Every contact leaves a trace“. Simple as it is, every time we move through any outdoor or indoor space, we leave a sign of our transition.
I am talking not only about footprints, but also vegetation bent by any upper part of our body, any body fluids, or, again, any discharged material or purposely left item. The amount of signs we leave behind is meaningful for an experienced eye. The signs, in fact, become clues. They can be used against us if people are pursuing us, or we can take advantage of our knowledge in tracking to turn clues to our own advantage by minimizing them as much as we can according to the scenario.
Preppers and Anti-tracking
Why should we want to leave a minimal amount of traces? If we are preppers and survivalists, the answers could be various:
to mislead our chasers
to keep our trail secret
to not give away the position of our bug-out place
to not reveal a resource site we discover
to keep our items and gear safe
to keep our stockpiled food off from others’ reach
… and so on.
No matter what our intentions are we need to tune our senses and, consequentially, our actions to the scenario we are in each time.
The protagonist of tracking as well as escape and evasion techniques is the terrain. Every action counts when it comes to covering our tracks. Each time we make the decision to cross a specific area, it is mandatory to consider the main geographical features: variable altitude, steep slopes, fauna and flora, natural obstacles, and presence—or absence—of beaten trails.
The Core of Evasion
Plaining the trail of your bug-out place makes the ideal starting point. No one likes accidents, and being prepared also means being familiar with the place you have carefully chosen. If so, you are probably already aware of how the ground reacts to your passage in different days, seasons, time frames, and, very importantly, with different weather conditions.
Some areas surely provide less evidence of your passage, thanks to the presence of craggy or rocky ground. Reading tracks on them, in fact, is extremely tough and always time-consuming.
If you aren’t familiar with a certain place, you can actually accurately scan the area by gaining intelligence from the ground.
Scan the whole area in order to get as much information as possible
Look for any evidence of recent passage left by other people and/or vehicles
Index (basically, test) the terrain to figure out how the soil reacts to your stepping on it
Generally speaking, keep in mind the following:
Any soft soil acts like a trap for tracks (“track traps”), retaining the design of your shoes.
Fields of tall grass will easily give away your route, as grass leaves will bend towards your direction travel.
Walking uphill or downhill on steep slopes will leave very evident signs of your passage, due to the release of more kinetic force. The more load you have on you, the deeper and more visible your footprints. Carrying only essential gear will let you move not only lighter, but will also make you leave shallower footprints.
Running will create more damage not only to the ground, but to the lower and upper vegetation.
Exploiting already existent trails will make your prints difficult to pick up with accuracy.
Moving Like a Ghost
The British Anti-tracking Principles may come in handy when it comes to fix in your mind the do’s and don’ts in any escape and evasion situation. No matter the features of the situation you are in, these principles are based on common sense.
Do not walk on anything if you can step over.
Do not leave the geometry of your pattern (the design of the sole of your boots), or even portions of it on track traps. They consist of soft terrain, more likely to capture and preserve the features of your sole design thanks to the high percentage of humidity they have.
Do not bend any plant or twig if you can simply dodge them.
Do not break anything that you can easily flex.
Avoid making noises, starting fires, using strong perfumes (even toothpaste), and so on.
If you are in a party of people, communicate by hand signals.
Developed especially during the previously mentioned jungle campaigns in Malaysia and Borneo, these principles prove themselves extremely effective if you want to leave minimal signs.
Most Common Anti-tracking Techniques
There a long list of noteworthy ways to conceal your tracks, or perhaps to make them less evident.
No doubt western/action movies, books, manuals, and various historical evidence help us to get some idea of them. A list of the most notorious ones include:
brushing out or camouflaging the tracks
walking inside a river
jumping from stone to stone or just walking on very hard surfaces
abruptly changing direction of travel
leaving a false trail
using main routes in order to confuse your tracks with others
wearing shoes with no pattern design
wearing socks over shoes
wearing shoes with the sole mounted in the opposite direction (heel instead of toe first)
wearing shoes with hooves or claws
wearing a plastic bag over shoes
picking up a vehicle (motorcycle/bicycle) or riding a horse
The requirements in terms of time/item availability go without saying, but the legit question remains: Do these techniques really work?
Some of them can surely help, but experienced trackers can overcome each of these techniques. For example, making your way through a stream will slow down a tracker, but he/she will focus the attention on the exit point. Even in a dry river bed, a good tracker can spot the outline of human prints, taking advantage of even a tiny portion of soft ground. The very same will happen with some soils that feature rocks.
Brushing out tracks is one of the most time-wasting and silly thing to do: you will create even more tracks and the branch you used can drop leaves on the ground.
Walking backwards provides an alteration of the heel to toe impressions. It is easily detectable, and the whole stride of the subject will appear shorter. Custom-manufactured shoes still leave an impression and ungulates are four legged. Wearing socks still gives away bent low vegetation, and, on smooth ground, the whole outline of your feet.
Last but not least, using beaten trails in order to confuse the tracks happens to be totally pointless in cases where your tread pattern has already been identified.
If your purpose is to trim your tracks, the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle still wins.
It all depends on the features of the whole scenario, on your physical and mental conditions and on the material you have within easy reach.
My personal suggestion is not to rush, but to apply common sense and to set up a specific plan.
Take it as a real dogma to consider how your tracks will look before you leave any evidence of your passage.