What if you would experiment the same thing that happened in Cyprus? For those who haven’t heard, the short story is that the IMF has pushed for a “wealth tax” in Cyprus which would involve taking money directly out of the bank accounts of the people. That’s right, stealing in broad daylight with no apologies whatsoever. The IMF is saying that the people of Cyprus need to pay back the bankers who stole and lost their money. This was done with the threat of being kicked out of the Euro zone if they refuse.
So, what can you do about it? Can you put your money in stocks? What about investments like property or fancy cars? My opinion is that nothing is safe. If your money is out of your reach and stored in any type of financial institution it can be stolen. Before I go any further let me state what should be obvious to most of you.
Warning #1: Whatever you do with your money, you do at your own risk.
Now, that being said, where would you put your money if you can’t stick it in the bank? Well, first let me address why we put money into the banks in the first place. It used to be that our money was safe in the bank and for the privilege of letting banks hold on to our money and invest it we were paid back in interest. Over time, neither of these two reasons is valid anymore. You will not see any return on a traditional checking or saving account and as recent events like the MF Global scandal prove, your money can be taken and there is nothing you can do about it.
The Prepper’s Guide to Caches: How to Bury, Hide, and Stash Guns and Gear
I recommend you keep only enough money in the bank that you need to operate your daily finances, cover checks and your normal Debit Card purchases. Any savings should be “stored” somewhere else if you don’t want to be like the people of Cyprus who flocked to empty ATM machines and were faced with a bank holiday for 4 days. Just imagine going to your bank and they tell you that you are unable to get any of YOUR money out for 4 days. Where do you put this money? Great question and it will really depend on how much you have, where you live, how liquid you need it to be and your resources. All of this falls under the umbrella of how afraid you are that something like this could happen to you and your tolerance for risk.
Warning #2: Just because you hide money doesn’t mean someone else can’t find it.
There are a ton of options for hiding things and they are only limited to your creativity. If you are going to hide money, I would take extra precautions. Especially, if you plan on seeing this money again someday. For ideas, here are a few:
Secret compartment in everyday items:
There are a myriad of places and containers that can be made to look like normal everyday items. There is a Scribd.com post with plenty of photos and ideas. My personal favorite is the VHS tape hideout. I can see this holding a few hundred dollars if you play it right. Another idea I have heard of is to hide bills in the contents of old bank statements, junk mail for home refinance, etc. Anything that looks like junk will be overlooked most likely, but remember… You don’t want to throw this away when you are cleaning up one day.
In the walls of your home:
This approach takes a little more carpentry skills and will leave a bigger mark when you go to find your money. Do you hide it all in one spot? No, so there is more work involved in this approach and you want to make sure your handiwork isn’t easy to spot. If you have never dry walled, it may take a little practice.
Hands down the easiest place to store your money. Unfortunately, this is also a logical place to look. If you are going to hide your money up in the attic, spread it out so that if your stash is found, they might not find all of it.
In the basement:
If you have exposed ceiling joists, you can hide money between the insulation and the floor above. For a little extra level of difficulty, you should hide the money above plumbing or HVAC ducting to make it doubly hard to get to.
Buried in the yard:
I like this idea, but the nagging fear is that someone will see me digging a hole and go dig up my money in the middle of the night while I lie in bed. You can combine this with a garden or yard fixture project where you are out digging anyway to avoid suspicion. Or, break out the new pair of night vision goggles you have been dying to try, get up at 4 am and dig your hole in the pitch black night when you have no moon. Imagine you are breaking out of prison for extra motivation.
Hidden in a secret cache in a remote location:
I talked about using the game of Geocaching to teach you how to find hidden caches. You can also use this to find a good hiding spot somewhere near (but not too near) your home. Make the place you are hiding money very well hidden so that nobody will stumble across it accidentally. I would recommend midway up a hill because you never know when a flood will come and buried several feet underground.
Warning #3: Just because you hide your money doesn’t mean you will be able to get to it when you need it.
Again, use your best judgment with these ideas. Having your money safe from bankers does you no good if it gets washed away or found by hikers out exploring. Worse, if your house burns down and all of your cash is in the attic. Take appropriate precautions with everything but consider an alternate place to store your money. You may need it soon and not have the ability to go get it from your bank.
This article continues where Part 1 left off in discussing how you can move through environments without leaving signs that you were there. This could come in handy if you are fleeing from people who are trying to track you.
In Part One of this series I introduced some of the issues that can place your group at risk of detection when on foot and on the move. In Part Two, we will cover the remaining four types of ‘sign’ that can be left on or near a trail you are using.
This topic focuses on evidence that is above ground level. In other words, this is evidence that may be found on brush and tree branches that line the path of your trail.
Cut and broken branches
If you are moving through areas of dense cover, such as thickets or bramble, it may become necessary to use machetes to clear a path. Removing (disposing) the evidence of cut limbs and branches is problematic by itself. An even greater issue is the stub that remains on the tree. Cutting a path means that you will have created a visual sign of your passage and course. Freshly cut branches that are left near the source will remain green for a time, indicating that you have recently used this location, or that you have cut a path in a new direction.
Tree branches were hacked off to provide a place of concealment and shade.
Hanging or suspended debris
Good trackers always look for various types of sign that are lying on, or suspended from, brush and tree branches along a trail. The most common sign will include fabric from ripped or torn clothing, sleeping bags, blankets or back packs.
The most effective method of mitigation is to maintain constant awareness. Everyone in the group should be alert to the risk, but the person occupying the “tail-end Charlie” position will be your last line of defense for the detection and removal of high sign.
This term refers primarily to critters that commonly emerge and search for food in the safety of darkness, including innumerable bugs, mice, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, coyotes and deer, etc. Their foraging activities will leave tracks on just about any trail that has loosely compacted soil. Importantly, the combination of night sign and your tracks will provide a useful timeline. For example, if a night critter crosses tracks that you deposited the previous afternoon, it could mean that you are several hours, but less than one day, ahead of the tracker. If your tracks overlay distinctive night sign, it may mean that you are only one or two hours in front of the tracker.
In the photo below, a very crisp heel mark with an “X” pattern has been laid on top of several critter signs.
Footprints that overlay night sign indicate recent passage.
Birds that forage for seeds or insects (quail and dove, etc.) will only leave tracks during daylight hours, but footprints that lay on top of these tracks can be used to establish a timeline, as well.
Night fog and dew can also be forms of night sign when moisture is deposited in the imprint of a track, particularly if the soil inside the print shows signs of swelling. Fog and dew operate differently on tracks than rain. An astute tracker can use this knowledge to establish an approximation of when your tracks were created.
There is nothing you can do to prevent night sign on your trail, but you can limit the ability of a tracker to use these clues as time stamps. The key, of course, is to leave no tracks of your own.
Poor Obfuscation Techniques
There are many ways to attempt covering your tracks. With few exceptions, most efforts that I’ve seen merely substitute the original footprint with a different clue – one that shows you are trying to hide your trail. Effective masking of footprints depends on the type of soil, surface covering, the depth and detail of the impression, and soil moisture. Obfuscation is not a “one size fits all” solution. You are better served by avoiding the creation of tracks in the first place, than your efforts at removing or obscuring them. Here are a few examples of techniques that are not effective:
Avoid sweeping techniques that make use of rough brush. Any attempt that leaves lateral impressions of stems or branches will be obvious.
Coarse bristle materials will wipe the track, but it will leave a brushed out area that may be larger and smoother than the original print.
Rough techniques that cause the displacement of small rocks and gravel will be obvious to a trained observer.
Walking single file in sandy washes may increase the difficulty in determining a group’s size, but it is impractical to eliminate the tracks.
In sandy or other loosely compacted soils, repeated impressions in the same foot print will only serve to enlarge the size and depth of each print.
The same holds true on soft or damp soil, but increases the risk of revealing overlaying tread marks from multiple shoes.
The bottom line is that obfuscation efforts that do not match the original texture and appearance of the surrounding area may result in detection. Useful mitigation techniques are addressed in Part Three.
Discarding trash and clothing along a trail is a sure way to be detected. What else is wrong in this photo?
Trash and Waste
Do not discard trash along the trail. Careless disposal of trash, such as package wrappers, water bottles or metal food containers also indicate use of the trail. The condition of the trash may tell a tracker how recently it was deposited. Importantly, it is an advertisement that, not only do you have food, it may reveal the type. For example, a carelessly discarded MRE package may reveal (or at least suggest) that you are well equipped for a long journey. Some types of trash, such as a brand of imported sardines, may uniquely identify your group; particularly if the same objects can be found at successive break points. Light colored objects, such as tissue, plastic spoons and discarded shopping bags are additional indicators that you are moving along a route.
Clothing items of any type reveal much about the person that discarded them, including size, age and sex.
Small folding shovels can pull double duty as a weapon or for digging holes to hide your trash or waste.
The best practice is to bag all trash and return it to your back pack while on the move. You can collect everyone’s discards from the day’s journey when you set camp, then bury it in a secluded spot. It is essential that you bury human waste and tissue.
Make sure that you have more than one trenching tool in your group. I would also suggest that someone have an army style folding shovel.
In this and the previous segment of the article we have identified the primary types of ’sign’ that your group is at risk of leaving along a trail. Realistically, you cannot move along any route in an invisible state, but you can use tools and practices that will greatly reduce your trail profile.
In Part Three of this series we will begin to address techniques that will help you conceal, or at least mitigate, any sign your group may leave. In the meantime, your questions and comments are welcome.
There may be a time in your future when it becomes necessary to evade detection while on foot and on the move. If SHTF forces you to strike out cross-country, or to abandon your vehicles at some point, you will be leaving a trail of your route with every step that you take. The more people there are in your group, the ‘brighter’ that trail will be.
I’m not referring to concealment while in camp or at a lay up site. Instead, this series will focus on two things:
Developing an awareness of the sort of activities that reveal your presence on a trail, and
Techniques that will hamper the ability of someone to track you while moving through various types of terrain.
Effective application will, at minimum, slow down tracking efforts of a group behind you. The less aware they are of your presence, the safer you will be. If a group is aware of you, but cannot pin down your route, they may abandon efforts to locate and overtake you.
There are numerous reasons for being concerned about tracks that you or your group may leave:
Other groups may very well be taking the same route, even if only temporarily, to reach their destination.
Your rate of travel will be determined by the capabilities of your group. That is, you will be moving at the speed of the slowest individual.
Security risks that are in front of you may force frequent breaks in travel.
Any group in trail of you may be traveling at a higher rate of speed.
You will not know the size, capabilities or intentions of a trailing group.
Bandits may be working in your area. At some point, this may become inevitable. They will be on the hunt for vulnerable groups. If they pick up your trail you may become their next target.
You can be tracked at night.
You may be in trail of group whose size, condition and capabilities are unknown. Information contained in this article can provide tools to help you assess some of that group’s composition and potential threat level. That knowledge will help you determine whether you can risk overtaking a group, or if you need to find a different route.
Before we launch into the techniques for covering your tracks, I suggest that you take a few minutes to watch the following collection of videos. They are linked so that one will play after the other. Pay particular attention to the one titled “Raw Footage Arivaca April May 2014.”
Apart from gaining an exposure to what goes on in the borderlands (that you may not have been aware of), this collection of video clips from hidden cameras is extraordinarily instructive in the ways smuggling groups move in terrain they effectively control, as well as areas where they are at heightened risk detection. If the route bears significant risk, or if it is being repeatedly used over a period of time, efforts will be taken to obscure tracks.
Five Types of ‘Sign’
Tracking skills require more than the ability to recognize a footprint. It involves the detection and interpretation of visual evidence on the ground, as well as above it. Basically, there are five types of sign (evidence) that a tracker will be looking for. Someone else might categorize them a little differently, but I have organized them in a way that allows you to think about evidence that you deposit on a trail and what you can do to avoid or mitigate it. Think of these categories as ‘calling cards’ that you may unwittingly leave behind as you move along your route.
A comprehensive discussion of soil types and terrain conditions that allow the detection of tracks is far beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that most surfaces will reveal the passing of foot traffic to a greater or lesser degree. Even a boulder will show signs of your passage if you deposit a muddy boot print on it. The durability and clarity of the impression are affected by many issues, including soil composition, material that is on top of the soil, moisture and wind.
The SAS guide to tracking is another great resource for learning tracking skills.
The imprint of a shoe sole reveals many important things about you and the group you are traveling with, including whether you are carrying heavy packs and whether there are women and children in the group. Tracks will also reveal whether you are walking casually, hurriedly, or if you are running. They will tell an experienced tracker that you are attempting to keep each step inside the footprint ahead of you or even that you are walking backward in an effort to mislead your direction of travel. Finally, your tracks may reveal that your group is not equipped to go the distance: highly worn tread, holes in the shoe, or the divot from a walking stick are good examples.
The sole of your shoe is a signature
Experienced trackers use tread recognition to single out one or two patterns when they are ‘cutting sign.’ They will alert others along a known or suspected route to the details of the tread, such as a ‘running W,’ concentric circle, cross trainer or lug pattern, to see if they appear farther up the trail. This helps confirm the course and direction of a group and enables trackers to leap-frog, or ‘cut ahead,’ so that they can close in on the group.
If a group is behind you and tracking, they may not be experts, but the continued sighting of any particular tread pattern will confirm that they are on your trail.
The number of tracks indicates group size
In a group of any size, the length of each person’s stride will vary. For example, the stride of a nine-year old child will not be the same as that of a six-foot tall adult male. A reasonably experienced tracker in trail of you will be able to develop a pretty accurate “soft count” your group size after only one or two hundred yards; often less. Determination will be based upon the variations in stride, range of tread types and foot size. The effort will be greatly simplified if your group does not maintain a narrow, single file column.
The size of the tracks indicate the group’s composition
Even if everyone in your group is wearing an identical brand of shoe, variations in foot size will reveal the number of children, juveniles and adults that comprise your group. In combination, the foot size and tread pattern can reveal that there are females.
Tread detail is an indicator of freshness
Full and partial tracks that are laid in a variety of soil types can retain a very sharp impression. Without an excessive amount of moisture or wind, those tracks can survive for weeks. Accurately interpreting the relative freshness (hours versus days) is a learned skill that you can practice at home and on weekend outings. Nevertheless, good observation can help pin down the age of a track. For example, let’s say that you started out with a dry day, but it rained for about a half-hour at noon. A tracker behind you will have waited out the same rain shower. If he sees your still moist tracks at 3:00 that afternoon he will know that you are no more than two and a half hours ahead. Your ‘gift’ has just lowered the skill requirements of a tracker from expert level to that of simple observation and rudimentary reasoning.
Freshly turned rubble and scuffs on the trail
Trackers will also look for freshly turned rubble and displaced pebbles. Simply stated, an overturned or displaced rock or pebble will leave a surface scuff or small hole in the soil that matches the size and shape of the rock. The rock will likely have a different color on the bottom than the side that was facing upward. The color of the soil in the hole may be different from the color on the surface.
This photo shows two scuff locations and a displaced rock. The group that left these sign moved on the trail at night. Apart from the obvious tracks, what else does the photo tell you?
General characterizations can be made of groups that leave these types of sign. For example, one or more of the following may apply:
Moving at night
Hurried – Being pushed from behind by trackers
Experiencing fatigue, or
The group has poor trail discipline
Bent grass can reveal a distinct trail of a group when moving in single file. This photo shows two distinct trails and a spot where people were standing while in the cover of trees and brush.
Tracks that are laid through wild grasses and other ground covers will be bent over by the pressure of passing foot traffic. Repeated, (single file) traffic will bruise the grasses, breaking the stalks near the ground. Although green grasses that have not been excessively bruised will return to an upright stance over time, recovery is not immediate. Dead, (especially desiccated), plants are easily crushed and fragmented. They will indicate a course of travel, even in the absence of a distinct foot print.
Methods to mitigate bent grass will be discussed in Part Three of the article. Other than natural forces (wind or rain), there is no practical remediation for crushed, desiccated plants that I know of.
Did you ever slide down a hill after stepping on loose pine needles, or had the soil on a steep bank break loose under your foot while you were climbing up an embankment? These are the type of skid marks I’m referring to. They can easily mark the location where you break from a trail for rest, or when changing course. Remediation is difficult, especially if you are in a hurry. Methods to avoid or limit skid marks will be discussed in Part Three.
This type of soil can be figuratively compared to dry talcum powder. Tracks laid in moon dust will leave a particularly sharp impression, although windy conditions will quickly erase the details. The arid Western region of the U.S. and areas that are experiencing drought will produce these conditions. Be alert to and avoid trails that take you through powdery soil.
Many lower elevations in the Southwest (particularly if they are alluvial) may have a thin, fragile covering that is referred to as “desert pavement.” It is usually comprised of very small pebbles overlaying a thin, equally fragile surface crust. The pebbles are frequently coated with a thin patina (varnish) of minerals, making it reddish to dark brown in appearance. Walking across desert pavement will dislocate the small surface pebbles, and your weight will break through the thin crust.
Tracks on Desert Pavement
In the photo above a smuggling group crossed a large area of desert pavement at night; leaving the very visible trail that you see. If you create a trail across this type of soil there will be nothing you can do to mask it. Attempts to do so will only make the trail more obvious. The solution is to detour around desert pavement.
I am not familiar with soil surface conditions in other regions of the country. I mention desert pavement only because it may alert you to soil types or surface conditions that warrant similar precautions where you live.
The movement of air, (breezes and wind), can dry out surface soil very quickly. Depending on the soil type, rapid drying may preserve a sharp image of tread. Trackers will look for tread imprints that may have bits of sand or plant debris on the trailing edge of the imprint (relative to the prevailing direction of the wind). On other soil types, windy conditions may obscure or erase tracks entirely on exposed terrain over a period of time. These clues can help determine the age of the tracks.
Burlap, booties and carpet
These drug packers are wearing carpet shoes in a rocky dry wash.
If you have watched the videos referenced at the beginning of the article you will have seen many smuggling groups that were wearing various types of covering over the soles of their shoes. The videos show individuals with layers of burlap wrapped and tied around their shoes, as well as “carpet walkers” and foot coverings, known as “booties,” made of thinner material, such as felt. To varying degrees, these obfuscation efforts work. It can take an experienced tracker to recognize a trail where these methods have been employed, and it will likely take an expert to successfully locate a group on carpet in rough, rocky terrain.
At its most fundamental level, the purpose of these obfuscation methods is to make it more difficult to spot tracks and to deny a tracker the ability to identify a specific footprint. This does not mean, however, that the methods are equally effective across all terrain, or that they have equal durability. All three types merit some discussion.
Burlap is frequently used on dry hard packed soil and in dry sandy washes. On damp soil the rough burlap material can leave an impression of the fabric weave. Several layers of burlap will be wrapped around the shoe and then tightly tied with cordage. Once the burlap begins to break down from wear, strands of thread can be found lying on the surface. If the cordage unravels, a portion of the shoe tread may become exposed, leaving a direct imprint in the soil. Trackers will look for evidence of shredding.
Felt booties are effective on many types of soil, but are not the most durable method for concealing tracks.
Booties are designed to slip over a shoe and are usually constructed using a relatively thin synthetic material. The bottom may be constructed of one or two layers of material. They are primarily intended for covering lightweight walking or jogging shoes that do not have aggressive treads. Durability of the fabric is only marginally greater than the same thickness of burlap. Booties do not break down in the same way that burlap does. They don’t shred per se, but large holes can develop, allowing a major portion of the tread to make contact with the ground. The best application for booties is smooth, hard packed surfaces.
Carpet shoes have a bottom made from pile carpet sewn to a durable upper material. This pair has Velcro straps that secure around the heel.
Carpet shoes are constructed using a cut to size piece of carpet that is usually sewn to an upper portion made from durable cloth. The carpet portion is typically a pile type of synthetic material. Higher quality shoes will have a denser and thicker material. Some carpet shoes fully enclose the heel, while others may be open at the heel or use Velcro straps. In some cases, the carpet may be strapped over the top of the foot to make it more secure. Open heeled carpet shoes can be put on very quickly when circumstances require their use, but can slip off if the person is running. Well constructed carpet shoes are the most durable of the three types. Carpet can be used on virtually any soil type and, in general, is the most effective method of obfuscating tracks. In addition to preventing an impression of the shoe tread, it can reduce the overall print impact on softer soils.
It is important to note that these obfuscation methods are generally not used on steep, bare rock surfaces (especially when wet) where traction is needed for safety. Booties and carpet are usually removed when a group moves from soil conditions to terrain that is mostly rock.
We will continue the discussion of the remaining four types of trail sign in Part Two. If you have questions in the mean time, drop me a note to ensure that I address it directly, or in a subsequent article segment.