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Friday, September 24, 2010

Urban Survival - Tactical Movement on Foot

UrbanMan received this request from an reader: “Could you do a post on how to move in a group through the woods? It is predominantly for me and my family, maybe my sister's brother and his wife would be with us, if and when we vacate our home and if our vehicle goes down or transport by car is not possible. If I had to vacate my house and move to my friends rural farm I would need to move through the woods about 29-30 miles, then parallel a state road about 30-35 miles to get to the two roads that lead to my friend’s farm where it’s another 16-18 miles.”

UrbanMan replies: You have the right idea wanting to learn how to move in the woods or really any type of terrain for that matter. Aside from very specific techniques and procedures, otherwise called Standard Operating Procedures or SOP’s, tactical movement is a function combining common sense, awareness of the situation and of the environment, and just plain being cautious.

Movement techniques must be known by all in your group and regularly practiced in order to be effective. People spend years learning how to plan and conduct a small unit patrol. I cannot do that justice in one post, however I will attempt to cover some basics of movement.

Things you will have to consider when moving, above food, water and what else you are packing, are light, noise and litter discipline, and, control of your movement formation. Ensuring that all shiny objects that you and others are wearing, which will reflect the sun or artificial light are reduced or removed; use red filters on flashlights or be very careful when you use a white light and then consider using one only under a poncho or blanket; talk to your members of your group either using hand and arm signals or by whispering in their ear (sound carries more than your think!);……ensure you and your group does not leave litter behind that someone can track you by or otherwise learn of your presence or passage.

Looks like you may be moving 75 to 83 miles. Your movement rate, under good conditions is going to be .5 to 1.5 miles an hour if you want to move in a cautious tactical manner, stopping for a 5 to 10 minute blow every hour and to do map/navigation checks, check and treat people's feet, adjust loads and just to sit and listen for what is going on around you.

If you move at 1 mile per hour, you can probably move 12 miles a day then it will take you at least 6 days to get where you are going. Figuring on a minimum of 3 quarts of water per person per day that's almost 20 pounds of water weight per person starting off. Remember 3 quarts per person would be an absolute minimum,... a more realistic number is 5 quarts per person per day which would be 30 pounds of water weight.

Movement formations. There are really only two basic movement formations you should be using:

The Column or File formation (think single file) is the easiest formation to control. Interval (or distance) between patrol members should be no further than what sight allows – you need to be able to see the man in front of you and behind you. Relatively speaking, this interval will be as close as a couple feet during periods of darkness, with minimal lunar illumination, to as long as maybe 15 to 20 yards. In very open areas, that distance may increase to 25-35 yards. The idea is not to have two people (or more) needless close to each other where it would be easy to shoot two or more easily,...or have a booby trap or other casualty producing device hurt more than is necessary. Plus people close together tend to talk,...when you talk, people can hear....remember noise discipline.

The point man is the navigator and picks the route, the tail gunner ensures dangers to the rear are picked up; everyone else watches the sides of the column. Same thing when you stop, assign everyone a area to watch.

Wedge Formation. This is a arrowhead or triangle type formation used to move across a wider area, and best used when contact with a potentially or known adversary is expected. Using the wedge and making contact with bad guys to your front allows for more than one person to engage and defend the group at a time (clear fields of fire). This is also a good formation, albeit at extended intervals between members, when crossing an large open field if you have to. From the Wedge formation you can easily establish a skirmish line and either fight/move forward or withdrawal with all guns in your patrol having the ability to fire without a friendly in front of them.

The Wedge formation is much harder to control, especially in heavy brush or thickly wooded areas. Members of the patrol in this movement formation need to not only be concerned with their respective area of responsibility during movement, but will have to constantly adjust their route to keep the interval and contact with other patrol members.

Crossing Linear Danger Areas: Whenever you cross linear dangers areas, which will be roads, power line trails, dirt roads, game trails or natural lines of drift you will need to be extra careful, in both ensuring that there is no traffic or observation on this linear open area, and, careful to sterilize signs of your passage as much as you can. Cross these linear danger areas in one line so the tail gunner can more easily sterilize the signs and foot prints of your passage.

A careful way to cross these danger areas is to send one or two people across to reconnoiter (that is a fancy way of saying "recon") the other side. A speedier way is call "Scroll to the Road" or the bump method, where one person briefly stops facing down one way of the linear danger area where he or she is "bumped" by the person behind him which is the cue to cross, then face the opposite direction in order to provide observation and security in both directions.

After each linear danger area you cross, hesitate for enough time for the tail gunner to sterilize signs of crossing. The person in front of the tail gunner provides security for the tail gunner as he/she does this. If you are going to stop for a blow (rest) don't do it adjacent or near to a linear danger area you crossed.

Crossing Large, Irregular Shaped Danger areas. Really only three practical ways to negotiate a large, irregular danger area such as a large farm or field. Extended file formation. Wedge formation,....or to avoid the danger area by skirting it.

Stopping for an extended time or through a period of daylight or night. Since it is practically impossible to avoid leaving signs of your passage, one way to give you some security against people following you is to buttonhook off your route of movement into a defensive or ambush position. This is a good idea when stopping for extended times such as a remain over day (ROD) or remain over night (RON) position to rest. Ensure that you defensive ROD or RON position allows you to observe your original trail and have a patrol member (or two) positioning to watch the trail coming into to your ROD/RON.


  1. Dear Urban Survival Skills, I was going to make a comment on the firearms training post, but I'll make it a question here. I read and hear the term tactical all the time like tactical firearms and tactical shooting. What does this mean and what do I need to know about this other than going to one of those weapons schools you recommended?

  2. Everyone should understand that the reason for the various formations and tactics is to minimize the possibility of an ambush wiping out the patrol/unit. To translate that; it means if you encounter the enemy and they see you before you see them the first awareness you will have is when they take out your point man or your tail man. The bottom line is there is no safe way to move through territory, woods or any terrain. There are steps you can take to mitigate the danger and other steps you can take to maximize the damage to your enemy but there are no "safe" movements through enemy territory. This means your sister or your brother or your brothers wife might die right in front of you. When the SHTF there is no "safe".

  3. You might want to cover flankers

  4. How to Make Pemmican The Ultimate Survival Food

    People really should avert their gaze from the modern survival thinking for just a bit and also look at how folks 150 years ago did it. These guys were the last generation to practice basic things-for a living-that we call survival skills now.

    Click on the link bellow to find out how the early pioneers - who had a long hard journey ahead - built the Self-Feeding Fire in order to take a much needed refreshing nap (no need to add logs).

    How to Start a Self-Feeding Fire That Lasts All Night Long

    People really should avert their gaze from the modern survival thinking for just a bit and also look at

    How folks 150 years ago did it.

    These guys were the last generation to practice basic things-for a living-that we call survival skills now.

    Survival Things Our Great Grandfathers Did Or Built Around The House.

    Remember... back in those days, there was no electricity... no refrigerators... no law enforcement... and certainly no grocery store or supermarkets...

    So I really can't think of anyone more qualified in sharing real-life survival lessons than people who lived through times like these.

    Survival Things Our Great Grandfathers Did Or Built Around The House.