How To Leave No Signs Outdoors: Anti-Tracking Techniques

Reading and following human and animal tracks represent a valuable aid to any outdoor knowledge.

As knowledge weighs nothing, the application of this skill can really make the difference between life and death if you (or any of your relatives) are caught up in an emergency (or a bug-out) situation. But a noteworthy knowledge of Tracking is also useful to massively reduce the visibility of the tracks left.

Anti-Tracking And Counter Tracking

Anti tracking techniques

Frank Kitson, a British counter-insurgency practitioner, and theorist, stated: “Of all the specialist activities relevant to the prosecution of a counter-insurgency campaign, none is more important than the provision of trackers.”; at the same time effective antitracking techniques play a huge role when chased by ill-intentioned people, especially in a survival situation.

Deception tactics have been intensively developed especially within tactical field and gained a huge resonance notably during the Colonialism Era, the Vietnam War, and more recently, in Afghanistan.

The definition of “Antitracking” stands for all the procedures and strategies engaged to deceive and slow down a Tracker or a Combat Tracking Unit. Counter Trackers often employ I.E.D.s (Improvised Explosive Devices, such as Booby Traps, land mines, Trap wires and so on) to physically injure or even to eliminate the Trackers: in the terminology of Tracking, this is called Countertracking.

This brief note was quite mandatory to go more deeply into the subject introduced by the title of this article. Both Trackers and Anti/Counter Trackers know that “every contact leaves a trace” (the first principle of forensic science, as stated by Sir Edmund Locard at the beginning of this Century).

How To Leave No Signs Outdoors

When we move through a determined scenario (either outdoor or indoor), we always leave a sign of our passage, produced by any of our body. What if we want to leave the minimal amount of traces? In order to achieve that goal, we need to tune our actions in relation to the scenario we are in. As stressed in the previous articles, in fact, the very protagonist of Tracking is the terrain. When you need to take the decision to cross a specific area you need to consider main geographical features, such as steep slopes, type of vegetation, natural obstacles, presence – or absence – of routes.

The Terrain Can Be Your Worst Enemy – Or Your Best Ally

File:Comb Hill, typical terrain - - 1425730.jpg - Wikimedia  Commons

If you are familiar with a certain place, you are probably aware of how the substrate reacts to your passage in different moments of day and seasons, and with the different weather conditions. This means that you are probably conscious that some areas offer less evidence of your passage because of the presence of craggy or rocky terrain, which makes the act of Tracking extremely tough.

A meticolous Tracker gains experience also throghout his own dirt time (in Tracking terminology, time spent tracking people or also animals).

In this way, he can consolidate a mental database of how tracks appear in a certain context, also considering the variability of weather conditions and their effect on the “aging” tracks and how long they will remain visible.

Nonetheless, if you find yourself in an unfamiliar place and you want to move across it leaving minimal signs, you need to:

  • Scan the area in order to get as many information as possible
  • Look for evidence of recent passage by other people and/or vehicles
  • Index the terrain in order to understand how the soil reacts to your stepping on it
  • Carry only essential gear in order to be lighter and leave shallow footprints

The British Anti Tracking Principles

In the pursuit of “crossing an area like a ghost”, you surely must avoid leaving any disturbance that can easily give away your presence. Therefore, you will commit yourself to:

  • do not walk on anything if you can step over
  • do not leave the geometry of your pattern (the design of the sole of your boots), or even portion of it) on “track traps” (soft terrain that are more likely to capture and preserve the features of your sole design thanks to the high percentage of humidity they have)
  • do not bend any plant or twig if you can simply dodge them
  • do not break anything that you can easily flex – avoid to cut woods, to start fires, to use strong perfumes (even toothpaste) and so on

Other Techniques To Leave Less Signs

I am sure you can also mention by yourself a bunch of other methods you have probably noticed in Western movies or TV series, like:

  • walking backwards
  • brushing out or camouflaging the tracks
  • walking inside a wadi
  • jumping from stone to stone or just walking on hard surfaces
  • wearing shoes with no pattern design or socks over them
  • using main routes in order to confuse your tracks with others (and many, many other creative ways.)

Does Antitracking Really Work?

The legit question is: do all these techniques really work if you want to move through an area like a ghost?

Some of them can help but they clearly don’t go unnoticed to the eyes of experienced and strained Trackers. But many popular deception techniques require a significant amount of time and resources: that is their biggest flaw.

The K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) Principle works best when it comes to trim your tracks. It just depends on the scenario and the situation, but also on your physical and mental conditions. If you have no choice, apply common sense and don’t rush. Before leaving any signs of your passage, consider how your tracks will look like, especially to an experienced pair of eyes and to a mindset forged by the accuracy only Trackers have.

Written by Kyt Lyn Walken

Kyt Lyn Walken is the official European representative and instructor for Hull's Tracking School (Virginia, USA), and she is a certified Conservation Ranger for C.R.O.W. (Conservation Rangers Operations Worldwide). She has been an outdoors and tracking enthusiast since childhood. Kyt lives and works in Europe but often travels overseas. Check out Kyt's YouTube Channel. Read more of Kyt's articles.

1 thought on “How To Leave No Signs Outdoors: Anti-Tracking Techniques”

  1. The legit question is: do all these techniques really work:
    1.walking backwards
    2.brushing out or camouflaging the tracks
    3.walking inside a wadi (wet or dry ravine, gully, wash, creek)
    4.jumping from stone to stone or just walking on hard surfaces
    5.wearing shoes with no pattern design or socks over them
    6.using main routes in order to confuse your tracks with others

    I guarantee you that an experienced (expert) tracker can overcome each of these techniques.
    Walking backwards changes the heel to toe impressions that are left in the soil.
    Brushing out tracks can obfuscate the number of tracks, but leaves patterns on the soil that are still easily detected.
    Walking inside a dry creek/wash, gully is pointless. You may eliminate the details of your tread pattern, but can still be tracked.
    Walking in a flowing stream will slow down a tracker, but they will focus on where you emerge and still pick up your trail.
    Jumping from stone to stone can improve your odds, but the tracker followed you in and will look for where you exit.
    Shoes with no pattern or socks (booties) still leave an impression. Overturned stones and bruised plants will still reveal your path.
    Using main routes to confuse your tracks is pointless if your tread pattern (or booties) were already identified.

    You best hope is that the trackers are not expert.
    Your second best hope is to rely on rocky terrain.


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