Category Archives: SERE

We Die Alone


“When one’s body is worn by a long effort at the limit of its strength, and especially when its function is dulled by cold, one’s mind loses first all of its sharp appreciation of time. Incidents which are really quiet separate become blended together; the present and the immediate past are not distinct, but are all part of a vaguely defined present, of physical misery. In a person of strong character, hope for the future remains separate long after the past and present are confused. It is when the future loses its clarity too, and hope begins to fade, that death is not far away.”

-We Die Alone

We Die Alone is required reading prior to the OBXi Marine Corps Black Sea Rotational Force Training Module. AMZ

A good introduction to the fundamentals of escape and evasion is We Die Alone, A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance by David Howarth. The book is about a nearly nine week ordeal by Jan Baalsrud, a Norwegian dissident who volunteers to infiltrate occupied Norway during WWII.

The story begins in the spring of 1943, with Norway occupied by the Nazis and the Allies seeking to disrupt German coastal defenses in the North. Baalsrud, and three other covert agents, smuggle themselves into their homeland using a small fishing boat crewed by eight Norwegian sailors. They are planning to spend the Norwegian summer recruiting and training resistance fighters and launching a surprise attack on a critical German air base. But Baalsrud and the crew are betrayed shortly after landfall, and a quick fight leaves him alone and trapped on a freezing island above the Arctic Circle. He is poorly clothed (one foot is entirely bare), has an initial head start of only a few hundred yards on his Nazi pursuers, and leaves a trail of blood as he crosses the snow.

Highlights of his ordeal include surviving three days wandering non-stop in the far north completely snow-blind; amputating nine of his own toes with no anesthetic and a pocket knife; and being literally buried under four feet of snow and ice for a week and – ironically – surviving the blizzard which raged above it.

The “hero” of the book turns out to be the various people he meets along the way and who volunteer to smuggle him across the frontier into Sweden at great cost and risk to themselves and their families.

The story has many lessons in the vignettes on how he survives and avoids capture:

  • Don’t give up. It bears repeating because it the crux of the entire story: “When one’s body is worn by a long effort at the limit of its strength, and especially when its function is dulled by cold, one’s mind loses first all of its sharp appreciation of time. Incidents which are really quiet separate become blended together; the present and the immediate past are not distinct, but are all part of a vaguely defined present of physical misery. In a person of strong character, hope for the future remains separate long after the past and present are confused. It is when the future loses its clarity too, and hope begins to fade, that death is not far away.” Don’t give up. This passage has application in all facets of life.
  • Survival and evasion eventually requires reliance on others. The more extreme the environment, the sooner you will need assistance. During his journey, Jan would not have survived without the help of many courageous villagers in the isolated, yet very connected and tribal, northern Norway. It will be critical that people sympathize, and trust the person they come in contact with. Baalsrud was very careful about the information he shared and how he presented it it. By doing so, he reduced the anxiety of those he came in contact with, establishing rapport and trust as a priority. All formal US military SERE courses include a local support or “supporting insurgent” component during training because of this.
  • The more you are forced to rely on others, the more operational risk you will have. This is a no brainer and thus the balancing act. Remember, relying on others may also mean relying on their resources (i.e., shelter, food, clothing, vehicles, boats, etc.) without the “others” knowledge. Of course, by doing so, it may create the perception that you are a common criminal and no quarter will be given if discovered. The evader must always balance the risks associated with using local resources without permission with revealing him/herself to a potential friendly asset. Baalsrud’s crew revealed their intentions right off the bat to the wrong person and paid for it with their lives quickly.
  • The more you know, the less you need (at least in the short term). Baalsrud was on the run with not much more than what he was wearing and a boot on one foot. REI commandos take heed! This is said tongue in cheek, of course, because there are many unanswered questions in the book like what type of fire starter Baalsrud uses, as well as his fuel, food and specific items of clothing and shelter he is provided from the various people he came in contact with.

Information contained on this website is for general information and educational purposes only. Please refer to our Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions before attempting any technique described herein.

The Survival Poncho and Tarp


Ponchos and Tarps

Lightweight tarps, ponchos, and poncho liners are critical must-haves for easy and effective temporary shelter. When I was climbing White Mountain a few years ago with two of my kids, the weather turned a little colder than what we had dressed for (I was in shorts in early Spring with snow still on the ground). In addition to water and my EDC, the only other item I packed for the quick 8-hour climb was a 25-year-old poncho liner and a Patagonia Houdini Jacket. If it wasn’t for that liner, it would have been much more difficult if not impossible to summit that day. The liner kept all three of us sheltered during breaks and was surprisingly warm and windproof. We simply huddled together near a rock outcropping and tucked the edges under our legs and bodies. The dark camouflage material soaked up the intermittent sun and seemed to easily shed the gale force winds blowing through valley all the way to the summit.

The “Ray-Way Tarp Book: How To Make A Tarp And Net-Tent, And Use Them In The Wilds” is a little overkill but is an excellent source of information related to tarps, their uses, and how to construct your own with lightweight materials. Be advised, the book can get expensive depending on availability (its popular among trail hikers looking to save an oz. for the AT or PCT). Link to AMZ.

Poncho. Common military ponchos are made of coated nylon and are waterproof. It can be used as a rain garment, ground cloth, or sleeping bag. It can also be used to make a shelter or tent. Two ponchos can be snapped together to make a two-person shelter. If possible, air-dry the poncho before folding it up. Ponchos can also be used as an expedient raft, hammock, or stretcher.

Back to basics for basic

Good livin’ in a two poncho shelter. US Army Photo

Ponchos and tarps are available in many styles, qualities, and features. US and German military ponchos are usually the best and least expensive. More expensive alternatives use breathable but waterproof materials. A simple waterproof layer with a strong backing, hood with draw string, and corner grommets is all you need. Large contractor grade plastic bags are an expedient alternative. Pack two or three.

Ponchos have many uses including rafts, stretchers and hammocks. See THIS post for detailed poncho raft instructions.

Best Sapper Competition 2010 Wisconsin Guard soldier a top finisher in 2013 Best Ranger Competition

Some materials degrade and waterproof coatings delaminate over time. How long depends on use and storage. Periodically inspect all water resistant equipment and replace or repair when needed.

Poncho Liner. The poncho liner is a lightweight padded panel about the same size and shape as the poncho. It can be attached to the poncho with its tie tapes and snap fasteners. It can also be used as a blanket. The liner can be hand-washed with warm soapy water. It should not be dry-cleaned.

Poncho Shelter

The poncho shelter, or tarp tent, is a reasonable shelter for most wet/semi-wet climates. This type of shelter does not provide any real insulating qualities or heat conservation. A poncho or tarp with grommetted corners (eyelets for tie down cord) works best but any sheet of waterproof material will work. Lay insulating bedding on the shelter site then string a stout length of cordage between two anchor points. This is called a ridge-line. The ridge-line should be about three feet off of the ground (approximate). If using a poncho, the hood must be “goose necked.” This is simply twisting the hood until it gathers into a tight bundle, closing the hole in the poncho for your head. Then tie the twisted bundle with any available cordage, (the drawstrings in the hood are good) so that it will not unwind.

Poncho Shelter

The poncho is draped over the ridge-line lengthwise, one half on one side, the other half on the other. The ridge-line is pulled up through the grommet, producing a loop that a small stick can inserted into. The tension on the stick (“cobbler peg”) will hold the poncho in place on the line and can be easily and quickly removed. A length of cordage can be tied to the hood of the poncho and secured to any over-head anchor point (branch or another ridge-line). This helps give the shelter sag relief during a hard rain or snow. Whittled out stakes can be driven through the grommets on the edges. This will draw the poncho down tight to the ground. If you need more room in the shelter, loops of cordage can be tied into the grommets (6-8 inches long). Stakes are driven through the loops, which raises the poncho edges off of the ground. If you are using a tarp, the corners can be twisted a few turns and cordage tied to the comers.

If Moderate to heavy rain is expected a trench six inches wide and six deep, should be dug. The trench should trace the shelter edges just at the dripline. Lead the trenches away from the shelter a few feet, preferably down hill. Drainage trenches are critical if you expect even moderate rain.

Poncho Lean-To

The poncho lean-to is another method that can be used in rains or heavy morning dew. The lean-to can be constructed from any large piece of sheet material (plastic, canvas, etc.) Natural insulation should be laid down for bedding. Two anchor points are selected and a ridge-line is tied about 3 feet off of the ground. The poncho is then secured to the ridge-line, with “cobblers pegs.” Stretch the poncho out to full length and stake it down to the ground. If the ground is rocky and you are unable to drive a stake, tie a 6-8 inch loop of cordage through the grommet. Place a stake through the loop, then lay the stake flat on the ground. Now place a large rock on top of the stake and the cordage.

Expedient poncho shelter. Photo by MC1 Roger Duncan.

A fence can be used for the ridge-line because this shelter can be entered from the sides. Of course the cobblers pegs cannot be used with the barbed wire, so it will need to be secured with cordage at the grommets. The shelter can be constructed without the ridge-line, by placing the edge of the poncho on a solid object (log, dirt mound, tailgate, etc.) and weighting down the comers with rocks.

Using a length of cordage, goose-neck the poncho hood and pull out the sag in the middle of the shelter. Attach the hood line to any close anchor point. If you don’t have an anchor point for the hood, two stout ridgepoles can be used. Cross the ridgepoles and lash them together with the hood line, then lean them out and away from the shelter. The pole’s weight will pull the sag out of the poncho. If the poles are stout enough and lean out at a steep enough angle from the shelter, they will weather most storm conditions.

Information contained on this website is for general information and educational purposes only. Please refer to our Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions before attempting any technique described herein.

Rural Evasion

Photo by SSgt Ryan Crane

Photo by SSgt Ryan Crane

Introduction to Rural Evasion

There are major distinctions between operating in permissive and non-permissive environments prior to discovery and the threat of apprehension, and evasion. “Operating” presupposes only the threat of discovery by bad guys, and thus the limited choices to preserve the nature of covert or clandestine activities. You prevent discovery by properly operating in a tactical environment.

Evasion is the act of actively preventing being captured or killed after discovery, or at least after some evidence of your presence is discovered (i.e., evading enemy troops after your aircraft has been shot down). The Unibomber was operating from his cabin in Montana prior to capture prior to any possible evasion attempt. Christopher Dorner was operating until his vehicle was discovered in the Big Bear mountains, after which he was evading in a rural environment. Eric Frein was evading for all of the 48 days he was presumably on the run from nearly 1,500 highly trained law enforcement officers, aircraft, and tracking professionals. Eric Rudolph was a hybrid, essentially evading for the nearly five years he was on top of the FBI most wanted list but clearly having opportunities to operate.


The definition of evasion is “The act of evading or escaping…by trickery, cunning, deception, or illegal means.” Evasion is very hard physically, mentally, and emotionally as the stakes are obviously high: death, interrogation, torture, lengthy imprisonment, etc. at the hand of a hostile force if captured. The “Survival” matrix applies:

Size up the situation, surroundings, physical condition, and equipment.
Use all of your senses.
Remember where you are.
Vanquish fear and panic.
Improvise and improve.
Value living.
Act like the natives.
Live by your wits.

Immediate Actions

  • Assess immediate situation. Think before you act.
  • Security: Take immediate action to protect yourself from conventional, nuclear, biological, or chemical threats.
  • Seek a concealed site.
  • Assess medical condition; treat life-threatening trauma immediately as necessary, other injuries when possible.
  • Sanitize clothing and equipment of potentially compromising information.
  • Sanitize area; hide equipment you are leaving.
  • Apply personal camouflage.
  • Move away from concealed site, a zigzag or random pattern is recommended.
  • Use terrain to advantage, communication, and concealment.
  • Find a hide site (may be improvised or a predetermined cache).

Hide Site

  • Reassess situation; treat injuries, inventory equipment.
  • Review plan of action; establish priorities
  • Determine current location (if hasty or improvised).
  • Improve camouflage.
  • Focus thoughts on task(s) at hand.
  • Execute plan of action but stay flexible


Select a place of concealment providing adequate concealment, from both ground and air search elements, and is a safe distance from enemy positions and lines of communications (LOC).

  • Establish listening and observation posts.
  • Ensure multiple avenues of escape. Booby-trap is possible.
  • Ensure protection from the environment (shelter).
  • Determine possible communications/signaling opportunities/protocols (for friendly recovery operations).
  • Stay alert, maintain security.
  • Drink water.


  • Travel slowly and deliberately.
  • Do not leave evidence of travel; use noise and light discipline.
  • Stay away from LOC’s.
  • Stop, look, listen, and smell; take appropriate action(s).
  • Move from one concealed area to another.
  • Use evasion movement techniques

Communications and Signaling

  • Communicate as directed in applicable plans/orders, particularly when considering transmitting in the blind.
  • Be prepared to use communications and signaling devices on short notice.
  • Use of communications and signaling devices may compromise position. Be prepared to move.


  • Select site(s) in accordance with predetermined recovery plans.
  • Ensure site is free of hazards; secure personal gear.
  • Select best area for communications and signaling devices.
  • Observe site for proximity to enemy activity and LOC.
  • Follow recovery force instructions.

Planning. Guidelines for successful evasion include:

  • Keeping a positive attitude.
  • Using established procedures.
  • Following your evasion plan of action.
  • Being patient.
  • Drinking water (do not eat food without water).
  • Conserving strength for critical periods.
  • Resting and sleeping as much as possible.
  • Staying out of sight.

The following odors stand out and may give an evader away:

  • Scented soaps and shampoos.
  • Shaving cream, after-shave lotion, or other cosmetics.
  • Insect repellent (camouflage stick is least scented).
  • Gum and candy (smell is strong or sweet).
  • Tobacco (odor is unmistakable).


  • Disturb any area you occupy as little as possible.
  • Avoid activity that reveals movement to the enemy.

Apply personal camouflage using local vegetation as a model:

  • Blotch pattern. Temperate deciduous (leaf shedding) areas.
  • Desert areas (barren).
  • Snow (barren).
  • Slash pattern. Coniferous areas (broad slashes).
  • Jungle areas (broad slashes).
  • Grass (narrow slashes).
  • Combination. May use blotched and slash together.

Personal camouflage application:

  • Face. Use dark colors on high spots and light colors on any remaining exposed areas. Use a hat, netting, or mask if available.
  • Ears. The insides and the backs should have two colors to break up outlines.
  • Head, neck, hands, and the under chin. Use scarf, collar, vegetation, netting, or coloration methods.
  • Light colored hair. Give special attention to conceal with a scarf or mosquito head net.

Position and movement camouflage:

  • Avoid unnecessary movement.
  • Take advantage of natural concealment.
  • Cut foliage fades and wilts, change regularly.
  • Change camouflage depending on the surroundings.
  • Do not select vegetation from same source.
  • Use stains from grasses, berries, dirt, and charcoal.
  • Do not over-camouflage.
  • Remember when using shadows, they shift with the sun.
  • Never expose shiny objects (like a watch, glasses, or pens).
  • Ensure watch alarms and hourly chimes are turned off.
  • Remove unit patches, name tags, rank insignia, etc.
  • Break up the outline of body  “V’s” of the crotch/armpits/etc.
  • Conduct observation from a prone and concealed position.


Use camouflage and concealment; Locate carefully. Remember BLISS:

Low silhouette
Irregular shape
Secluded location

Choose an area least likely to be searched (inaccessible drainage, rough terrain, etc.) that blends with the environment. Determine multiple escape routes (do not corner yourself). With observable approaches and work a range card for available weapons. Also:

  • Locate entrances and exits in brush and along ridges, ditches, and rocks to keep from forming paths to site.
  • Be wary of flash floods in ravines and canyons.
  • Conceal with minimal to no preparation.
  • Take the direction finding threat into account before transmitting from shelter.
  • Ensure overhead concealment.
  • Booby-trap is possible.


  • Moving objects are the easiest to spot.
  • Use the military crest and avoid silhouetting.


  • Restrict to periods of low light, bad weather, wind, or reduced enemy activity.
  • At irregular intervals Stop at a point of concealment and Look for signs of human or animal activity (smoke, tracks, roads, troops, vehicles, aircraft, wire, buildings, etc.).
  • Watch for trip wires or booby traps and avoid leaving evidence of travel.
  • Peripheral vision is more effective for recognizing movement at night and twilight.
  • Listen for vehicles, troops, aircraft, weapons, animals, etc.
  • Smell for vehicles, troops, animals, fires, etc.
  • Employ noise discipline; check clothing and equipment for items that could make noise during movement and secure them.
  • Break up the human shape or recognizable lines.
  • Route selection requires detailed planning and special techniques (irregular route/zigzag) to camouflage evidence of travel.

Concealing evidence of travel:

  • Avoid disturbing the vegetation above knee level.
  • Do not break branches, leaves, or grass.
  • Use a walking stick to part vegetation and push it back to its original position.
  • Do not grab small trees or brush. (This may scuff the bark or create movement that is easily spotted. In snow country, this creates a path of snowless vegetation revealing your route.)
  • Pick firm footing (carefully place the foot lightly but squarely on the surface to avoid  slipping).
  • Do not overturn ground cover, rocks, and sticks.
  • Do not scuff bark on logs and sticks.
  • Do not make noise by breaking sticks. (Cloth wrapped around feet helps muffle this.)
  • Do not mangle grass and bushes that normally spring back.
  • Mask unavoidable tracks in soft footing by pacing tracks in the shadows of vegetation, downed logs, and snowdrifts. It mat also help if you move before and during precipitation to allow tracks to fill in.
  • Travel during windy periods.
  • Taking advantage of solid surfaces (logs, rocks, etc.) leaving less evidence of travel.
  • Patting out tracks lightly to speed their breakdown or make them look old.
  • Secure trash or loose equipment and hide or bury discarded items (trash or lost equipment identifies who lost it.).
  • Concentrate on defeating the handler if pursued by dogs.

Penetrating and overcoming obstacles:

  • Enter deep ditches feet first to avoid injury.
  • Go around chain-link and wire fences. Go under fence if unavoidable, crossing at damaged areas. Do not touch fence without looking for electrical insulators or security devices.
  • Penetrate rail fences or low walls by passing under or between lower rails/openings. If impractical, go over the top, presenting as low a silhouette as possible.

Stay Low When Crossing Barriers

  • Cross roads after observation from concealment to determine enemy activity. Cross at points offering concealment such as bushes, shadows, bend in road, etc. Cross in a manner leaving your footprints parallel (cross step sideways) to the road.

Navigating Open Areas

  • Use same method of observation for railroad tracks that was used for roads. Next, align body parallel to tracks with face down, cross tracks using a semi-pushup motion. Repeat for the second track. A third track may mean one of the tracks are electrified.

Crossing Linear Obstacles

Information contained on this website is for general information and educational purposes only. Please refer to our Disclaimer and Terms and Conditions before attempting any technique described herein.