Let’s suppose for a minute that you’re forced to bug out. There’s been a breakdown of society and things are getting rough. Some people suspect that you’ve got food and other supplies, so they attacked your home. Rumors are that they’re coming back again, and this time, they’re bringing a lot more people with them. Sounds like an ideal time to get out of Dodge, before your home becomes overwhelmed.

There’s just one thing… you can’t drive. There’s no gas for the cars and the roads are blocked anyway. So, you’ve got to go on foot. Good thing you’ve got a plan for that, with supplies cached that you can use. But for now, the trick is getting away and making it to your survival retreat.

Oh, there’s one other detail… you killed the leader of the bad guys brother, and he’s out for blood. That’s why the roads are blocked. They don’t want you to get away. He’s vowed vengeance on you and put a price on your head. So, not only do you need to get away, but you’ve got to assume that they’re going to be coming after you.

Sound a bit extreme? It might not be. Yeah, the story is contrived, but I wrote it with a specific goal in mind. I wanted to show you how easy it could be to find yourself in a place where you have to bug out on foot, rather than driving away in comfort. While bugging out in a vehicle is always better, we’ve got to be ready, just in case we can’t.

In such a case, you obviously need to travel as if you’re ready for a fight. For that matter, any time you bug out, you’ve got to travel as if you’re expecting a fight at any minute. If things are bad enough that you have to bug out, they could turn ugly real fast. While your adversaries may not know much about military tactics, they don’t have to know much to prepare an ambush.

The Ambush

The ambush is one of the oldest military tactics still in use. In its essence, it’s about setting a trap and waiting for your enemy to walk into it. The trap itself is a number of armed men, who are all prepared to shoot into the same area. The idea is that the ambush is set at a place where the enemy is expected to pass, possibly along a trail or road. When the enemy enters the kill zone, the commander gives the order and everyone opens fire, pouring as much as possible into the kill zone.

The whole idea is to hit hard, hit fast and then get out of there, before the ambushed party has a chance to outflank the ambushers. Typically, the kill zone is a very small area and the ambush team is small. So, they face the risk of the head and tail of their target’s line looping around and outflanking them.

As you can well imagine, surviving an ambush requires some careful preparation and a lot of luck. About the only thing you’ll have in your favor, if you end up running into an ambush, is that the people attacking you will probably not be very proficient in what they are doing. So, your chances of survival will be better than they would be against military troops. The attackers will probably want to be careful about their ammunition expenditure as well, as ammo will probably be rare.

The other thing that might very well work in your favor, if it happens, is that any ambush you run into will probably be quickly and poorly prepared. So, while you might take some hits, your party should survive. What I want to do is to give you the keys to make sure that happens.

Small Unit Tactical March Formation  

The worst possible thing you can do is to travel all bunched up, like a family going for a Sunday afternoon walk in the woods. If you run into an ambush or even a lone gunman in the woods, being bunched up makes it easy for them to take you all out at once.

So to start with, you need to spread out. When an infantry squad is moving through the woods, they typically keep five meters between individuals. The point man will be anywhere from 25 to 50 meters in front of the main body, allowing the rest of the squad time to react if the point comes under fire. The second person in the squad, called the “slack man,” will usually have the heaviest firepower, such as a SAW or a M60 machine gun, to provide quick backup to the point man.

There will also be a rear guard, which consists of one or two men. They will be about 25 meters behind the main body, who are checking to ensure that nobody is following the squad. This rear guard will stop and listen, outside of the noise of the squad, for the sounds of anyone else moving in the woods. Then, they’ll catch up again.

Finally, there will be flankers, one or two men on either side of the main body, walking five to ten meters off the trail everyone else is walking on, looking for ambushes and anyone who might be trying to spy on the unit.


While there might be variations to this basic theme, such as not using one of the flanks if the squad is walking close to a cliff edge, the basic idea will always be the same. Even in larger units, containing more men, the same basic formation will be used. The main difference will be how many people there are in each position, and whether the main body is in one column or multiple columns.

The basic squad, shown above, will cover a distance of at least 60 meters in length and 10 to 20 meters in width. With that much space between the individual soldiers, they make a very unattractive target for ambush. One shooter can’t engage multiple targets easily and using grenades or machine guns is a waste of firepower. On the other hand, the squad members are all close enough to each other to offer fire support to those on either side of them. So, those who were not cut down in the first volley would have a good chance of fighting back.

In order to get the most impact out of the ambush, the ambushers would wait until the main body was in the kill zone. That would leave the point man and rear guard free and unengaged. So, as soon as the shooting started, they would leave the trail and try to outflank the attackers, turning the tables on them, before they could escape.

Okay, so how do we adapt that to a bug out? Basically by having our team or family walk in the same sort of formation. Granted, we’re probably not going to have a light machine gun for the slack man to carry, nor are we likely to have exactly the same number of people as there are in an infantry squad, but we can still do it, using the people available to us.

The key thing would be to have children and other non-shooters in the main body, while the shooters would take up the outer positions of point, slack, rear guard and flankers. Any additional shooters should be interspersed throughout the main body, so that everyone in the party is visible to at least one shooter. That way, if someone tries to slip into the group, they will be seen and can be dealt with by someone who is armed.

Children should be taught to walk alone, keeping the right interval from the person in front of them. Always have a responsible adult or teen following small children, to keep an eye on them. Really small children will need to walk with an older sibling or adult. However, this should be avoided if possible.

Noise Discipline

The next thing to consider is noise discipline. You’d be surprised how much noise a family or other small group can make, walking through the woods. Besides the obvious noise of talking, just walking through the woods will cause clothing to brush up against trees, making noise. Feet stepping on dry sticks and leaves will cause them to break, making even more noise.

In order to walk quietly, it’s important to keep a close eye on your immediate surroundings. You need to look for branches and twigs reaching out from trees and bushes, so that you can move around them, rather than pushing through them. Pushing through pretty much guarantees you’ll make noise.

You also need to look at the ground, seeking out rocks and bare patches of dirt to walk on. Any time you walk on leaves, you don’t know what’s hidden beneath. So not only will you make the noise of braking the leaves, but of any sticks beneath them. Walking on rocks also provides the benefit of not leaving any tracks behind, if anyone should try to track your group (unlikely, but possible).

Scouting Ahead

The point man also has the responsibility of scouting ahead, looking for others who might be out there, as well as looking for the best route to travel. Frequent stops to look over the terrain are necessary, using both the Mark 1 eyeball, and binoculars. Knowing what’s ahead is an essential part of avoiding problems, such as ambushes.

At times, a good point man will have the rest of the group wait, while they walk ahead a short distance to check things that aren’t all that clear. This is especially important when reaching roads or other areas where you will be in the open. Crossing those areas makes you exposed as an easy target.

You Want to Stay Hidden

As much as possible, you want to stay in the treeline, where you are offered some concealment from potential enemy eyes. Even being just a few feet inside the trees offers an incredible amount of cover, as it is darker under the trees, than it is out in a meadow. So, anyone looking across the meadow to see you will be trying to look into a darker area. The human eye doesn’t adapt to that well.

Try this sometime, walk down your street and try to look inside the windows of people’s houses. What you will see is nothing more than dark rectangles, as if the windows were tinted. The reason it looks that way is that the iris of your eye has closed somewhat, adjusting to the bright outdoor light. In doing so, it is unable to receive enough light through the window, to see what is inside. This same problem is what anyone who is trying to see you in the trees will encounter, unless they too are in the trees.

Cresting Hills

One of the most dangerous things you can do is to skyline yourself. Somebody standing on the crest of a ridge or the top of a hill is visible for miles, even in low light. While they may not be able to tell why you are early in the morning or at dusk, they can tell there’s a person there. That’s too much.

If you need to look at the other side of the hill, do so from the military crest, rather than the actual crest of the hill. What this means is standing just below the crest, high enough that your head can see over the crest and no more. Your head, at a distance, might look like nothing more than a rock.


You can improve upon that by finding a spot where your head will blend in with a rock, bush or tree. This could either be because you are partially hidden behind them or because they are behind you. Either one will prevent your head from being silhouetted on the skyline.

If you need to get farther up on the hillside, so that you can see the reverse slope of the hill, then crawl, keeping your body below the crest. As you get closer to the crest, you should be closer and closer to the ground, so that by the time you actually reach the crest, you are lying on the ground, pulling yourself along, rather than actually crawling.

Another thing that helps with this is moving slowly. The human eye is naturally drawn to movement, even in full darkness. Rapid movement is much more obvious than slow movement, so you want to avoid any rapid movement. By moving extremely slowly, you can fool anyone who might be watching into not seeing you.

The Apache Indians used to do this, quite effectively; crawling across open ground in preparation for an attack or to steal a horse. By the time that their intended target was aware of their presence, it was too late, as they were already upon them.

Never cross the top of a hill, as that skylights you; you’re better off lower down. But you don’t want to be all the way down in the bottom of the valley either, unless you have to be. You’re better off on the side of the hill, as few others are likely to be traveling there. Do the same whether going through a mountain pass or simply crossing to the other side of the hill. People pay less attention to what’s on the side, then they do the base and the crest.

Crossing Open Areas

At some point in time, you’re going to come to an open area that you’re going to have to cross; a road or meadow you just can’t go around. In that case, you’ll need to find a place to cross, where you have good visibility, so that you can see if anyone comes.

This may seem a little counter-intuitive, especially after all I’ve said about staying hidden. But it’s a knife that cuts both ways. If you try to cross that open space in a place where you are hidden, say a dip in the road, you can’t see the enemy either. That could put you in a position where they can get close to you, without you knowing it.

On the other hand, if you do find that dip and the crests on either side are close enough to put guards out, that’s an ideal place to cross. The guards can signal if anyone is coming, allowing the body of the group to cross in relative safety.

In any case, the first part of crossing that open area is to set guards on both sides. Those guards will need to find spots with good concealment, which also gives them good visibility. Their responsibility is to watch for anyone else and signal the group if someone is coming. You’ll want them to signal you quietly, which means that someone will need to be watching them.

With the guards posted and giving the all clear sing, send one person across to act as a guard on the other side of the road or clearing. They should move quickly, crouched down, so as to present a poor target. Once across, they should find a position of concealment and watch for anyone on that side.

The main party needs to cross one at a time, in the same manner that the point man did; crouched down and running quickly. It is best if everyone follows the same track, so as to only leave one trail in the grass. Multiple trails are much more visible than one single trail, even if that one trail has been traveled over by a number of people, packing the grass down.

One person, usually the leader of the party, decides when each person will cross, visually checking in with all three guards, before telling the individual to go. Crossing in this manner takes time, but it’s much more secure. If someone does happen to come along while crossing, they will likely only see one person on the road, not your whole party. If they do and react, the rest of your party is available to ambush them.

The last people to cross are the flanker guards and then the rear guard. Once on the other side, check that everyone is okay, reform your party and start moving again. If you need a break, be sure to get well away from the clearing or road, before taking it.

Establishing Camp

Anyone who spots you is a potential enemy. The smart ones will bide their time, looking for an opportunity to attack. Unless there are enough of them to establish an ambush, chances are they’ll try to attack you at night, when you are asleep in camp.

You are vulnerable when you are in camp, mostly because people tend to let their guards down then. They will feel secure, as if they are home. As such, they won’t naturally be looking around or standing guard. Some may even put their weapons down, as they attend to other chores, like cooking and pitching tents.

The location of your camp must be chosen with defense in mind. To start with, avoid camping beside any water. While you need water, so does everyone else, as well as any wildlife in the area. So camping there makes it much more likely to run into others or even dangerous wild animals. Stop at the water, fill your canteens, and then move on to camp. You can stop back at the water in the morning, to refill.

Look for a campsite that provides some cover, rather than just concealment. Rocks, deadfall trees and even piles of dirt make excellent cover, helping to stop any bullets that come your way. Ideally, you want an area that is surrounded on all sides by cover, unless there is one side which is impassible.

Once in the campsite, spread out, just like on the trail. You don’t want everyone in one place, where it is easy for an enemy to shoot you all down. While I seriously doubt that you’ll run into anyone with a grenade, you want to be spread out enough that if someone does have some sort of homemade grenade, they can’t kill you all with one.

Everyone shooter in your group should sleep on the perimeter, separated into teams of two. That way, one can post watch, while the other sleeps. In this way, everyone is readily available to help defend your team, if you come under attack.

Cooking and other common tasks can be done in the center of the campsite. But everyone shouldn’t congregate around the fire. Rather, only the people who are preparing the food should be there, with everyone else on the perimeter. When it comes time to eat, one person from each team can go to the fire and eat their food, with the other person taking the next shift.

Careful With that Campfire

You’d be surprised how far a campfire can be seen at night, especially in the wilderness. When there is little artificial light to distract us, any light we see immediately attracts our attention. The human eye is attracted to light, just as it is to movement.

So you want to be careful about how you build your fire. This is not the time to have a roaring bonfire, with large logs that will burn all night. Rather, you need as small a fire as you can manage, while still being able to cook. Anything more is risky.

You also want to conceal that fire as much as possible. If there are rocks or logs available to use, build a barrier around the fire to conceal it. If not, you can use packs, tents, tarps and even members of your party as a shield from prying eyes.

Avoid damp or green wood as well, as it will produce more smoke. That smoke may not be visible at night, but it’s highly visible at twilight and early in the morning. One old trick you can use is to build your campfire under the branches of big trees, making sure that the lowest branch is high enough not to get singed by the fire. Located in this manner, the leaves and branches will serve to break up the smoke, making it harder to see.

Leaving Camp

There may be a time when somebody in your party has to leave camp for some reason; either to gather wood for the fire, get water, or simply to go to the bathroom. When that happens, they should never leave alone. Rather, two people should leave together, so that one can guard the other.

The other problem associated with leaving the camp is that everyone else will expect the person who left to return. So when somebody comes back, they’ll naturally assume that it’s the person who left. But what if it isn’t? What if they were waylaid along the trail and someone else is coming back in their place. That’s an old, but extremely easy and effective way of getting into an enemy’s camp.

You can easily solve this problem by the simple expedient of using passwords or pass phrases. These should be something that you can fit into normal conversation, so that it will not be easily discernible by anyone listening. The old, challenge and password, given as individual words, is a sure way of giving critical information to the enemy. The sentry should enter into a conversation with the person returning, fitting in the password in such a way as to sound like it’s just a part of the conversation.

Dave Steen

About The Author: Dave is a 58 year old survivalist; father of three; with over 40 years of survival experience. He started young, learning survival the hard way, in the school of hard knocks. Now, after years of study, he's gray-haired and slightly overweight. That hasn't dimmed his interest in survival though. If anything, Dave has a greater commitment to survival than ever, so that he can protect his family. Click Here To Read More About Dave

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