Perspectives on Patrolling- Part 3, by J.M.

We are looking at patrolling in a post-SHTF scenario. In parts 1 and 2, I reviewed the definition of “patrol” and objectives of patrolling as well as planning, dress and kit, and navigation. Now, let’s look at what the patrol does after it is dressed, fed, and in action.


When on patrol you’ll generally be doing one of three things– moving, observing or resting. The majority of your time being spent moving around, so it is essential to understand and practice movement techniques.

Dimensions of Patrol Movement

Two of the most important dimensions of patrol movement are being able to detect potential threats or contacts before they detect you, and responding to threats when they are detected. Being able to detect threats/contacts allows you to plan and respond on your terms instead of reacting in a panic. I’ll provide some recommendations for how to prepare for this below.

Do the Jingle Jump

Do the “jingle jump” before you initially depart and after any stops where you moved gear around. This involves each member of the patrol jumping up and down while wearing their full gear load-out to determine if anything makes noise. If it does, they correct it.

Pay Attention While Patrolling

Everyone needs to constantly pay attention to what’s going on around them. Patrolling is not meant as time for the group to walk together and chat.

Movement Formation

The movement formation depends a lot on the type of terrain you’re moving through, although you’ll most likely either use a single file for constricted terrain, like a trail through the woods, or a widely-spaced double column for more open terrain, like roads. You should generally maintain a separation of ten to fifteen feet between each member of the patrol, depending on the terrain. Each team member should always be able to keep the person in front of them in sight. One possible exception to this is if you’ve got a couple of team members designated as “contact specialists” (e.g. wearing civilian clothing and weapons hidden). In that case, they should walk together in front of the formation, as this will appear more natural and less threatening to anyone that spots them.


There’s a saying in the military– “Roads are for people that want to get ambushed.” However, if you’re trying to collect intel from people moving through the area, the roads are most likely where you’ll find them, so you should include major roads in your patrol route. If you do patrol on roads, be especially cautious around any areas that could provide concealment for ambushers, such as bridges, buildings, and dense brush on the sides.

Person in Back Looks Back

The person in the back of the patrol line should stop frequently and look back. It’s their job to check if you’re being followed.

Move Quietly

Move deliberately and quietly so you can detect noises and movement around you. Practice moving stealthily through the various types of terrain in your potential area of operations.

Avoid Silhouetting

Avoid silhouetting yourself at the top of hills, in front of lights, or against light-colored backgrounds. If you have to move through terrain where you might be silhouette yourself, get low and crawl instead of walking upright.

Observe Open Areas Coming From Restricted Terrain

If you’re moving through visually restricted terrain for concealment and have to cross an open area (especially roads), stop and observe for a few minutes to verify it’s clear. Then have each patrol member cross one at a time while the rest of the patrol observes and covers them. Be sure to maintain 360 degree observational coverage on both sides.

Convex Mirrors

Patrol members should carry small convex mirrors, like the inexpensive stick-on ones for side-view mirrors that you can find at any auto parts store. These can be used for checking around corners before exposing themselves.

Crossing Water Obstacles

If you will have to cross any water obstacles, make sure you carry drum liners for protecting your backpack, clothing, and gear in case you have to swim across. Bridges may be down, and they make excellent ambush points. Strip down as far as you can and have a dry towel, spare underwear, and socks in a bag so you can dry off before you get dressed on the other side.

Approaching Home Base

When approaching your home base or if you’re concerned you’re being followed during movement, have a couple of members in the front of the patrol split off to the side and wait in concealment where they can watch the trail for anyone that may be following. The rest of the patrol should stop a good distance ahead and wait for the observers to return, or set up an ambush to confront the tails if notified they are being followed.

Using Radios to Communicate

If patrol members are using radios to communicate, they should utilize earpieces and microphones to minimize noise. When possible hand signals should be utilized instead of radios.

Regularly Verify Position On Map

The patrol leader should regularly verify the patrol’s position on the map. Frequency of this action depends on how familiar you are with the area.

When Stopping

When stopping, patrol members should position themselves to ensure that there’s 360 degree observational coverage.


If your area of operations gets snow, you should consider stocking up and training on snow shoes and/or cross-country skis. These will allow you to continue to patrol when the snow comes.

Practice Movement Techniques, Individually and as Team

As with any other skill you should practice movement techniques, both individually and as a team. The less time a patrol member has to spend focusing on where they should be and how they should be moving, the more time they’ll be able to focus on their surroundings. Everyone needs to practice these techniques until they become second nature.

One useful exercise I’ve done with some friends is to head out to a national park during a busy holiday and try to make our way across the park (including at least one overnight stop) without being seen by anyone. We were wearing camos and had our tactical gear (minus carbines and handguns concealed, which was legal). When a park ranger asked us what we were up to, we told them that we were practicing for an upcoming paintball event.

Patrolling On Foot, Bicycles, or Horseback

Most of what’s been discussed in terms of movement assumes that your patrol will be on foot. The potential disadvantage to patrolling on foot is that it limits your range and the amount of time you can be out.

If you need to be able to patrol a larger area or an area farther from your home base, you could utilize bicycles or horses, although your situational awareness will be reduced when riding. You could also combine the two modes. For example, you could ride bicycles to a more distant patrol area and hide/camouflage the bikes when you arrive, and then proceed on foot. If you use bicycles, make sure you have the ability to repair any failures that may occur.

I’d generally recommend against utilizing any transportation involving internal combustion engines for patrolling, as they’re noisy and gas will be difficult to store long-term. Another consideration is that advances in electric vehicle technology may make them a viable option for patrol transport, assuming you have the ability to recharge them.


Unless all of your patrol members are super ninjas or everyone in your patrol area has skedaddled, you’re likely to come into contact with other people while on patrol. What happens when contact occurs depends on a lot of different factors. However, your patrol should be trained on how to handle the most likely scenarios.

Signal Patrol When Spot Contact

To begin with, if a patrol member spots a contact without the patrol being seen, they should signal the rest of the patrol to quickly and quietly move into concealment. From concealment, the patrol can observe the contact to determine the potential level of threat. If the threat level is deemed acceptable, the designated contact specialist(s) should move out into the open and hail the contact from a safe distance while the rest of the patrol covers them. If the contact indicates they’re willing to talk (or at least listen without running away or shooting), the contact specialist should proceed towards the contact and open a dialog. Some points to consider regarding contact situations follow.

Maintain Reasonable Separation From Unknown Contacts

Always maintain a reasonable separation from any unknown contacts while interacting with them. While 2-3 feet is generally considered a comfortable talking distance in today’s society, that’s way too close in a situation that could potentially turn hostile. Between five and ten feet would be more appropriate.

Stay Out of Line of Fire

Never position yourself in the line of fire between the contact and the rest of the patrol covering you. Your position and direction of approach matter.

Never Allow Members of Contact Group To Move To Your Side or Back

If there are multiple individuals in the contact group, never allow them to move around to your side or back. Back up if you have to, and make it clear that you’re paranoid about having anyone behind you. Don’t allow any single member of the contact group to distract you.

Never Assume A Contact Isn’t Dangerous

Never assume a contact isn’t dangerous, no matter how innocent they look and act. A five-year-old child lying under a blanket can pull a trigger just as easily as an adult.

Gather Intelligence

Attempt to gather intelligence. Ask them where they’re from, where they’re going, and what they’ve encountered. Be vague in any responses you provide to their questions. For example, if they’re transients trying to get somewhere, indicate that you’re traveling in the direction they’re coming from to try and get home. The U.S. Army’s “FM 2-22.3 (FM 34-52) Human Intelligence Collector Operations” manual is a great source of information on gathering intelligence from people.

When Contact Group Is In Bad Shape

If a contact group is in bad shape and you can spare some food, water, or medical supplies, feel free to do so. For example, I stocked up on 50-packs of small Bic lighters that will probably evaporate long before I can use all of them. So I carry a handful with me whenever I’m hiking, in case I run into someone who’s not prepared. You can also help them by providing them with knowledge they can use to help themselves. For example, show them some edible plants they can forage (like dandelions), or explain how they can kill germs in clear water by exposing it to sunlight for six hours using an empty clear 2-liter soda bottle. You can also provide some advice on which route they should take to avoid possible trouble, if they’re traveling somewhere.

Find Way To Prevent Folks From Sticking With You

One of the potential problems with being nice and helping out folks is that they may decide that they’re better off sticking with you. Unless you want a line of untrained and unknown people following your patrol, you need to find some way to politely but firmly discourage them.

Remember to Watch the Sector and Not Just the Contact

The patrol members covering the contact interaction will all have a tendency to want to focus on the contact, which can leave the patrol vulnerable. Every member of the cover team should have an assigned sector to watch so there’s 360 degree coverage.

Contacts Obviously Armed

If the contact(s) are obviously armed, your response will most likely depend on the correlation of forces between the contact group and your patrol. If there’s a single person in a 3-person contact group with a bolt-action .22 rifle, you could let them know they’re being covered and ask them to set it down on the ground before you approach them to talk. You probably want to avoid a heavily-armed motorcycle gang sitting around a fire drinking beer.

When Contacts Turn Physically Violent

Despite your best intentions, contacts may sometimes turn physically violent. I recommend that patrols carry less-lethal weapons and restraints, such as tasers, pepper spray, and flex cuffs. With these you may be able to subdue and restrain people who may violently disagree with your decision not to give them all of your food, allowing you to depart the area without having to use lethal force. Large zip ties can also be used for flex cuffs, and they’re also great for repairs and shelter construction.

Tomorrow, we’ll continue with the subject of handling contact situations while patrolling, including exchange of gunfire, disengaging, and hostile contacts as well as more.

See Also:

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  1. So far so good, all sounds very sound. I have done alot of patrols in heavy forested area’s, ambush can come at any time, always be alert. Any BS in the patrol will get someone hurt or dead. Always stop for a minute and listen about every 100 yards or so for any sounds or no sounds that means your too loud or something else is.

  2. It has been many years since I’ve served in a Recon PLT, this is a very good brush up and refresher for me. Great info to copy and place in a binder if you have zero experience. Personal aspects of a point man is to be observant, exacting, and not prone to distraction. Some folks would call this behavior “anal” to use a modern term, for a patrolling point man, that is a very good thing.

  3. Check out Max Velocity Tactical’s classes to learn how to do this. Reading is great and doing it six hundred years ago in the Army is great, but if you really plan on doing this, you need some current training.

  4. This is a very interesting and informative series, which has caused me to think more carefully about my area of potential operations. I live twenty miles from the nearest small town, in an area of medium to large ranches interspersed with smaller acreage home sites. All of the roads, mostly small two lanes, are bordered on both sides with private property fenced with 5-6 strand barbed wire. All gates are locked. Many fence lines are overgrown with thick, thorny hedges of mesquites, cedars and wild rose bushes. In this environment, cutting a fence or trespassing on other’s property would likely create a dangerous enemy. Therefore, roads would likely be the most common route for patrols.

    Some observations from my experience:
    We have bicyclists ride our ranch roads on the weekend. You can hear them talking back and forth for a long way, you can tell they are getting closer. Motorcyclists can be heard even further away if they are yelling back and forth or talking on radios. Our neighbors have a horse drawn rubber tired wagon, and it can be heard from a distance by the conversation of the riders and the sound of hooves on pavement. Sound discipline is going to be critical. Few people walk the roads here, and walkers draw attention. At least in fairly “normal” times, a motor vehicle such as a pickup or SUV is the most inconspicuous method of travel.

    I was operating in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, when the city was cordoned off and curfew was enforced. Standing on a small street in the French Quarter, I could hear a National Guard foot patrol coming from blocks away, just from the sound of their boots on the pavement. I imagine that a group of armed individuals all dressed in matching Camo and walking in combat patrol formation would be very obvious and threatening to “neighbors” in the twenty mile radius of my area. I think that the idea of “contact specialists” dressed in clothing normal to the area and covertly carrying would be less likely to cause unwanted conflict. Perhaps a patrol group could practice “drifting” along less conspicuously in small groups, rather than in an overtly military manner. Obviously, the threat conditions would dictate when it was necessary to escalate to a full on military patrol model, and the terrain and environment plays a factor in what would work for your particular area.

    This is a valuable subject and worthy of further discussion and development of tactics not married exclusively to the existing military model.

  5. I have never been on patrol; however when I first started hunting, my father said: “Just imagine that the deer (or elk) can shoot back. Don’t try to sneak, but watch where you put your feet and walk lightly, don’t stomp. Don’t be in a hurry and listen, pause, look, walk and listen. Watch for what doesn’t fit, such as movement, color, anything that drws attention.” His lessons came from WWII and the South Pacific. They require practice and are effective.
    Good article overall.

  6. Another way to cross open terrain is to send 2 people across and have them check to the left and right. Then they both come back to the point they crossed, and the rest of the patrol comes up and crosses on line in one dash. If you are being observed, this will prevent someone being able to count the number of members as you go across one at a time. It might be possible that an observer will not even be looking your way when the group crosses. If you cross one by one there is more time for someone to notice the movement.

  7. Bicycles have rear wheels with different ratchets, some can make a clicking sound when coasting or being pushed. Also, a bicycle can be used as a load carrier. There were pictures of bicycles being pushed with very large load to move supplies into South Vietnam.

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