One of the lesser-discussed survival topics, even among preppers, is the eventual need to go out into what’s left of the world after the fan turns brown. Most preppers focus on making preparations to survive the onslaught of unforeseeable calamities that are more than likely heading our way in the near future. While none of us can say for sure what exactly will happen to bring on a survival situation, we are all pretty sure that something wicked this way comes. Even non-preppers can “feel” that something is wrong. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that the world has changed drastically in the last 15 years or so. The evidence is all around us. Strange weather patterns have emerged and are now the norm. The threat of terrorism, both real and contrived, is always lurking around the corner. The worlds’ financial markets are a mess of lies upon lies that will have to end at some point. Bubbles within bubbles comprise the whole of the stock markets, and financial collapse is a certainty that looms over us like a giant cloud. Racial and religious tensions, which are promoted by our so-called leaders, have escalated to a near boiling point. Talk of a third world war is now commonplace, as the United States or at least what used to be the United States, seems set on pushing Russia towards outright conflict, and let’s not even talk of all the stuff happening in space. The threats are at an all-time high. With so many possible causes of disaster facing the population of this planet, you’d be crazy not to be prepared to survive it. However, what happens once you make it past the initial phase of the chaos? What happens when you are a year and a half into survival mode and the beans and rice are running low? How do you get by when you no longer have all the necessities stocked neatly on the shelves in your bunker or bug out location? You will have to return to the world you left behind and scavenge for supplies, like those who did not prepare. The good news is that you will have less competition than you would in the early days of the chaos, but the bad news is that when you go out into this newly devastated world, you will stick out like a sore thumb.
Picture the people who have managed to survive on less than nothing for the last year and a half while you were eating MREs and reading the classics. These people will look vastly different from you, or rather you will look vastly different from them. This will be problematic. People will be so desperate, and their survival skills will be so sharp that they will spot you coming a mile away with your clean clothes and your extra body fat. Who knows what these depraved souls will be willing to do in order to get a proper meal or just to find any measure of relief from their daily struggle to live. They may follow you back to your camp or shelter and attack you for what you have. They may try to rob you of those nice new boots you are wearing. They might even try to cook you up and dine on your meaty remains. It has happened many times in the past and will happen again in the future. Human nature forces you to do what you have to do in order to live. As ugly as some of it may be, the will to live is stronger than the will to do what’s right. Even the best of us can succumb to hunger, thirst, and hopelessness. I don’t even want to think of what the worst of us will be like. In today’s world of plenty, we slaughter each other wholesale for petty reasons that in no way effect our own survival. Think what mankind will do when every second of every day may be the last. That is a scary world– a world where you don’t want to stick out or be noticed but rather to blend in and seem just as desperate as the next man.
In today’s society we are obsessed with appearance only for the sake of vanity. In the world of tomorrow, appearance may become a matter of life and death. Moreover, it may not only get you killed but may get those around you killed as well. If you come out into this new world with clean clothes and a “newish” backpack, you will certainly draw the attention of those who are barely making it. They will resent you for being prepared and for not suffering as they have. They will want your food, shelter, ammo, socks, and even your women and children. They will be more desperate than anything you have ever seen or heard of. They will try anything to ease their suffering, and you will look like a nicely-wrapped Christmas present to them.
This is why you have to be the gray man. You have to blend in with the masses, and you need to look and seem as desperate and hopeless as they are. There are many facets to accomplishing this task, and you will need to master this concept, if you intend to live. This means you need to start thinking about it now and prepare for it like you would anything else.
The obvious starting point is appearance, as we have been discussing appearance from the beginning of this article. However it won’t end there, but we will keep the cart behind the horse, where it belongs, and start with an old set of clothes. The older and more drab colored and worn out, the better. Head to toe, you need to look ragged and bland. Old boots that have seen better days is a good place to begin. Jeans with natural wear holes will be good for lower legs. You can stress jeans by putting them on and keeping the fabric tight while scraping it with a knife or sharp blade. Just lightly shave it thinner in the areas you want holes in and with a little bit of wear, they will tear and shred naturally; in this way, you will get the desired effect. Several layers of shirts that are also in shoddy condition will top off your look.
A t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, and hoodie is a good combination. Plus, you can pull the hood up to hide that nice, clean hair of yours. You will probably also want to have a jacket– one appropriate for the winter in your bugout location and one which you won’t mind trashing. Hats will be popular, as they will actually have a more important function when you are spending the majority of your time outdoors, as most will be forced to do.
I would keep this outfit together in a bag and have them ready to use when you have to go out into the world. If you are part of a group, you will want each member that may go scavenging to have a similar set of hobo threads. For now, they can be clean while they are stored, but when you do finally go out into the heart of darkness, you will want to dirty them up with dust, ash, mud, or all of these.
You will want to use ash and mud to dirty your hands and face as well. Now, you don’t want to overdo it either, as that will draw attention just as quickly. Blending in means looking like everyone else, so you will want to appear as dirty and worn out as the next man but not noticeably dirtier. Be sure to apply your dirt makeover fairly evenly, and then randomly splash a few spots of mud across the bottom of your legs of your jeans. Be sure to have some dust on your face, under your fingernails, and around your ears and eyes. Don’t shave for a while before you go out, so that you look like everyone else. Most men will probably be bearded, so you may want to consider joining them from the start, so that you look like you have been without a shave for as long as they have. Never go out with a cleanly-shaven face. There is not enough dirt in the world to cover up that mistake. If you are reading this, then you know you cannot afford to be complacent when it comes to survival, and this is one area you need to be sure to focus on.
As time goes on, your outfit should evolve with the look of the people in your area. Adapt to your surroundings, and blend in as much as you can. As I mentioned before, it may be time to embrace the beard and forsake the clean face altogether. If it’s safe enough to do so, you might also consider making regular scavenging trips at the beginning of it all, just to be a familiar face. Get folks used to seeing you here and there. Take no chances; pick up what you can, and move about as your fellow man. If they are a bit slow and lumbering, due to lack of nutrients, mimic that when you are out. Eat light, and try to seem hungrier than you actually are. If it’s complete chaos outside, then stay in. Remember you prepped to live and do what is safe. If you are in a rural area, it will be much easier to go out and blend in. Cities will be cesspools of crime and death. Blending in will be twice as important here. In my opinion, it’s time to leave the cities now. Get into the countryside as far as you can without interrupting your daily life. Maybe a change of job and location is needed altogether. Only you can make that call, and that is one of the main tenets of prepping in the first place. Location is key, so if you are in a city, get out. If you are thinking about going into one, don’t. The same is true for the suburbs, as there will be war zones of homeowners waiting on the government to come stop it all while they fight with the city folk who have looted the city clean. If you have to move through a city, travel along a train track or power line. Stay off the roads as much as you can.
Remember that being the gray man is just another means to an end– your survival. Take it seriously. Also, if you are in a group that goes out, be sure they do too. Be smart, and take off any rings, bracelets, or watches before you go out. Take the time to scout the area for a while, if you can. If you have some binoculars or something similar, you can scout from a greater distance. Then try to match the conditions of the people as best you as you can, just enough to blend. Watch for the times of day that people move through the area. Try to match the natural rhythms to your purposes. If you are looking to interact with people to gain intel or some other reason, you will want to go when there are more folks, or maybe you have noticed one person that seemed approachable; you will have to be there when they are. The same thing goes for folks that you wish to avoid, or maybe you don’t want to see people at all. Timing can be very important. If you don’t have time to scout and have to plunge in, be careful and keep in mind that you are the gray man. Act accordingly. Improvise when you have to. Adapt when you can, and always, always overcome.