The Gray Man Concept, and How to be a Gray Man

In any populated area, be it sparsely or densely, there will always be elements of the humanity present that will take an interest in who sticks out.

Their reasons vary. They could be looking for potential prey or a person who may potentially lead them to a large score, if they are a garden-variety criminal.

They might be conducting counter-surveillance if they are engaged in organized crime, on the lookout for police or others. They might simply be desperate and destitute as a survivor looking for a way to end the misery in a post-SHTF scenario by robbing you of your supplies.

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No matter who they are and what they are looking for, it is in your best interests, your “job,” to not look like food. To ambush and opportunistic predators alike, food stands out as lost, sick, scared, uncertain or just unfamiliar, both in countenance and behavior.

By working to blend your “target profile” with the normal and underlying appearance and tempo of a place, you can become just another antelope in the herd, and unlikely to be picked out or noticed by any potential predators. This is what is known as becoming a “gray man”:

In this article we’ll talk about the gray man concept, what a gray man is, and how to become one by making simple changes to your appearance, your lifestyle and your habits.

What is a Gray Man?

The concept of the gray man revolves around the idea of a person who does not draw attention to himself, who does not stand out from the normal inhabitants of a location in any way. A gray man can move through an area, even through a large group of people, without anyone taking special notice of him.

While it may sound like the province of airport spy novels and clandestine agency activity, this is undoubtedly useful in situations such as:

  • Martial law and state of emergency
  • Getting clear of a riot
  • Post SHTF bartering
  • Moving while carrying valuables
  • Avoiding attention from authorities or criminal elements

Some of the benefits of being a gray man include:

  • Increased chances of survival
  • Decreased chances of being targeted for robbery or surveillance
  • Decreased recognition, useful for evading pursuit and interested parties

In any cases when you are, or might be, in harm’s way, being invisible in plain sight is priceless. But, in order to “go gray”, it takes more than just a simple change of clothes.

You’ll have to truly assume the traits of a chameleon, actor and a native to complete the effect. We’ll talk about all three in the next sections.

To see what it takes to become a gray man, read our suggestions and strategies below.

Wear Appropriate Clothing

Your clothing is at least 50% of your appearance to those looking at you and will play a major role in carrying off your intent to move along undetectably.

Understanding what clothing is appropriate to an area under what context is a foundational skill for becoming invisible. This requires a nuanced understanding of your own appearance as well as people’s perceptions.

Blending in means blending in with the majority of people, not dressing in 7 shades of sepia and gray. Becoming invisible means being beneath notice, or so taken for granted most people will never consciously or unconsciously acknowledge you.

Consider for a moment any busy, densely populated area, one with considerable street and road traffic. Maybe this is a busy commercial area in your city. Think for a moment what the people look like there on a given day, at a given time, in a given season.

On a workday, around 10AM, who do you see? What are they wearing? Not many people moving around at this time on the sidewalks, is there? How about at lunchtime? Do you see more professionals hurrying out on foot to grab lunch?

How are those people dressed? Business casual or business formal? A mixture? How does the picture change on the weekend? Do people trend to dress up or dress down? Do you see plenty of sports jerseys rooting for the local favorite team(s)?

This same reasoning applies to austere environments also. If the standard wear in an area is simple, flip-flops, shorts and roughly woven shirts, you should not dress in cowboy boots, jeans and a button down shirt.

Even in a post SHTF situation, most people will probably still be dressing for comfortable mobility, whatever form that takes for them. You can expect to see a menagerie of styles.

Chances are the only people who will look like jocked-up 5.11 catalog preppers are… preppers. You don’t want to look like that. You just want to look like someone who is surviving.

Bottom Line: You may need to dress in bright colors, logo wear, business attire or something else to blend in. Anything you wear should make sense according to the normal standards and tempo of the place, time and season.

A great tool for researching this is Google Streetview as well as social media sites where users upload plenty of touristy photos. Hop on and look at what people in the area you’ll be travelling in actually wear, and check that you are looking at different times and different days of the week.

Areas with buzzing nightlife can be sedate or nearly deserted during the day and vice versa.

Be Aware of Physical Inconsistencies

One of the things you’ll hear mentioned often in regards to being a gray man is to eliminate any obvious features that people will recall when asked to identify you or describe you. Things like tattoos, noticeable haircuts or colors, facial hair, jewelry, etc.

While there are some things you do have control over such as a bushy beard or a bright hair color, there are plenty of other things you don’t, like your height, skin color, baldness, injuries and deformities and so on.

Attempts to mitigate or conceal these things often fail spectacularly and make you more noticeable to locals and interested parties.

If you are a 6+’ white American or Englishman pootling around in rural southern or southeast Asia, there is nothing you can do that will reliably hide that fact from locals or anyone looking for you.

The same person in Norway, Germany or some other predominately white country would likely get away with being taken as a native so long as other cultural and local norms for dress, behavior and so forth were followed.

If you have a permanent feature like a tattoo, this may or may not be an issue. More people in the West have tattoos today than at any time in history. Some designs may stick out though. People pay attention to faces and hands.

Certain kinds of tattoos may inadvertently indicate status or affiliation, and in populations conditioned to be on the lookout for such things either as a social norm or for their own safety might scrutinize you more closely.

A tattoo might also make you “sticky” or easy to recall based on someone’s admiration or revulsion of the tattoo’s design/color.

If you can conceal a tattoo, you probably should, you probably should unless your advance work of the local culture reveals a preponderance of tattoos or it comes at the cost of going against the grain on dress.

Do keep in mind that, in some places and cultures, tattoos are still the exclusive realm of troublemakers, rebels, outlaws, military and so on.

Mind Your Scent

One often neglected part of your signature is your scent. This is an esoteric one, but no less important, as our sense of smell is closely tied to memory and quick to alert someone that something is out of place, even if they cannot put their finger on it.

If you are wearing expensive cologne, then you may easily get branded as a person with means which could put you in danger in some situations, or afford you safety in others.

This is not to say you want to smell bad, but you don’t want to smell good if everyone around you smells bad. More than simply good or bad, you should seek to smell like the place you belong to.

How? All kinds of things comprise your “unique” scent, and one you broadly cannot change is your own body chemistry.

But barring you have hellish halitosis or a particularly funky musk as part of your natural odor, you can modulate how you smell through a combination of eating what locals eat, using the popular local laundry detergent and wearing the common local brands of deodorant and/or cologne and perfume.

Also keep in mind that scent is useful when closely tracking someone trying to hide. Some people have fairly acute sense of smell, and it is easy to take this bit for granted if you don’t.

When you are trying to lose someone on your trail, having a strong scent, good or bad, can betray you even if you found a good hiding spot. Something to keep in mind if things go south. To be on the safe side in that case, don’t put any products on yourself that produce a fragrance.

Control Your Movements

Physical appearance is not the only thing you have to worry about. You also have to watch out for any mannerisms or body language that can be used to mark you. These may consist of a rowdy laugh or constant fidgeting.

Whatever it may be, you must learn how control your movements. You must also not project any behavior that will leave a lasting impression.

A lasting impression is made by doing something out of the norm. If you are in a place that is very reserved and conservative socially, you do not want to stick out by taking up a lot of space, being brash, noisy and generally calling attention to yourself.

In a place that is loud, boisterous and socially “animate,” being shy, meek and standing still is a recipe for getting labeled “That Guy.”

Controlling your behavior is probably one of the hardest things you can do, but do it your must. If in a crowd, match the pace and tempo of the crowd. If people in an area jaywalk, you jaywalk.

If they obey traffic and crossing signals, so do you. Changing how we act is never easy, but it can be done if you have time and patience, plus the trick I’m about to teach you.

This trick is a mental exercise called the observing ego. This is more or less your ability to see yourself from above, acting in real time, and allowing yourself to control your movements and reactions independently of what you might feel.

So if you’re in on the bus, with 20 people around you, instead of curiously looking around at each of them, trying to notice if they’re good or bad (while pretending you’re in an SHTF situation, of course), you could develop the strength to do it more discreetly, by visualizing exactly how you should do it from above, via your observing ego.

It’s easier said than done, I know, but it works – and that’s all that matters.

Adapt to Your Surroundings

The way you are perceived is not a fixed formula or recipe, but a constantly shifting lens.

The same attire and mode of behavior in the middle of a larger city’s financial district will see you blend in effortlessly with the tens of thousands of office drones and cubicle commandos going about their day will see you stand out like a neon sign in a small village an hour outside of the city limits.

If you get caught “out of character”, either by accident or mishap, you should adapt to this new setting with some cover for action, not try to shoehorn your existing dress and behavior to the new environment.

For instance, using our example above a city slicker in a small town attracting attention could play it off as just passing through, or heading to a see a relative.

Do take care with any “white” lies though, as it is easy to get caught out without cover is someone asks you follow up questions that you don’t have good answers for.

When moving to places like these, you have to learn how to dress and act like a local. Choose cities that will be easier for you to study and imitate the people. Few things arouse more suspicion than a stranger in town…

Take Advantage of Distractions

All kinds of things can provide cover for movement, noise and behavior. Any loud music or other activity can easily screen noise from breaking and entering, fighting, or some other noisy action.

Anything that happens to send people running or moving around erratically will cover you from running or moving quickly.

An event that is literally holding the eyes of a crowd will make it a cinch for you to move through the mass of people without attracting their attention, but you should always be cautious of those who are watching the crowd itself; your movement against the group will be highly conspicuous in that case.

Minimize Interaction

If don’t want to be seen, then you must definitely avoid talking with people other than what’s necessary. Sure, small talk every now and then won’t hurt but be careful not become a presence in other people’s lives.

When living in an area for a long time, this may be impossible, as the same people will begin to notice you, or you might have dealings with them, repeatedly. In such a case, do your best to fit the profile of friendly, but not particularly remarkable.

Be especially wary of conversing with or near any gatekeepers, meaning security, bouncers, receptionists, tollbooth operators and ticket-takers, etc. Anyone who has a vested interest in keeping the wrong people out as part of their job is likely to pick up on what is out of place quicker than the average person.

Safe people to talk to include those in the service industry in any way- barbers, quickie mart workers, waitresses, etc.- as small talk is just a part of their day. These people can also be gold mines of intel on what is happening locally, as well as who the major players are in any conflicts.

Don’t go bragging about your prep and survival skills or divulge any personal details that can identify you. Because if you do and SHTF, these people will come looking for you. In short, steer away from interactions that can leave a lasting impression.

Whatever you do, don’t go bragging about your prep and survival skills or divulge any personal details that can identify you. Because if you do, it is possible people will come looking for you.

Loose lips sink ships, you know. In short, steer away from interactions that can leave the wrong kind of lasting impression.

Also take great care to avoid areas where agitator tribal groups are active. What is a tribal group? Any group that actively filters who is in, and who is out as far as the group is concerned.

Places of protest, places with known gang activity, and politically motivated hangout spots are great places to get “interrogated” (maybe really interrogated!) and punished if you give the wrong answers. At best, such encounters will only raise your profile.

One good trick to minimize interaction is to wear earphones. In today’s times, this is the universal “busy” signal, indicating you are checked out as far as human beings are concerned.

This will decrease the possibility of other people trying to talk to you – in peacetime and in permissive environments at least.

Take care that you position the earphones in such a way that you can still actually hear what is happening around you- mind your situational awareness!at least.

Getting Out of a Potentially Hostile Crowd

If you’re trapped in a protest or a riot, the best and only thing you should do is get out. It doesn’t matter if you support the cause, you’re a prepper and your mission is to survive.

Rule #1 is to never go against the crowd. Try to move with the crowd, but at an angle, so you slowly get to the edge of the group. Don’t move faster than the crowd even if you see a window of opportunity to get out; this might appear suspicious.

Rule #2 is you believe what the crowd believes. Chant along, look suitably angry, and gesticulate as they do. Take care that you get clear before police reprisals or opposition lock horns with the group you are in.

Rule #3 is to quickly adopt any “battle flags”. If this is a cloth or bandana over the mouth, you wear the same. If it is a colored armband, try to come up with one, or something close. If you can quickly ascertain who the “opposition” is, don’t look like them no matter what!

As soon as you can break off and get clear as quickly as possible. Riots and unruly protests are dangerous no matter whose side you are on and where you get caught up in them.

Get Rid of Old Habits

If you get your morning coffee from the local shop or have brunch every Sunday in your favorite deli, then being a patron will certainly not make you invisible.

You may be easily recognized by your routine and become predictable in your daily movement. If you want to become harder to track, eliminate vulnerable consistency in your life and don’t visit places regularly enough to make you a familiar face.

At the least, take different routes to and from your usual haunts, including your home, and time your comings, visits and goings so that you cannot be surely timed.

Almost everyone has at least a few known locations we’ll be tied to- work and home- but everything in between and our routes and itineraries to get to those places can and should vary!

When you walk, especially from home, don’t always take the same route. Change it a little bit. Go faster or slower. Take entirely new or roundabout ways coming and going. This will also help you familiarize yourself with the different ways to get home, or to bug out.

Don’t Play the Hero or the Villain

In survival situations, being too friendly might do you more harm than good. The same goes for being rude. In terms of behavior, people tend to remember those who helped them carry a bag of groceries and those who shoved past them without so much as an apology.

In cases like these, avoid being on either side of the spectrum. Be the person in the middle; be empathetic without being too nice.

This might also mean that if you see someone being abused, you might need to stay away. This is a decision you’ll need to make ahead of time lest you react rashly and make a bad situation worse.

I say this with all sincerity: have that quiet heart to heart with yourself now. Go deep. If it isn’t hurting, if it isn’t gut-wrenching, it probably isn’t sincere enough.

You must know what your limits are, what you are willing to ignore, and what you cannot ignore in your effort to survive, if not for you and yours then only for yourself. If it’s one poor gal and four thugs, trying to help her could not only result in failure, you yourself could get hurt or killed.

If you’ve read some of Sven Hassel’s novels such as Comrades of War, you probably noticed nasty situations were daily life during the 2nd World War, even among people on the same side of the war.

I highly recommend you read some of his books to get your mid accustomed to what things might be like in a post-apocalyptic society.

Know the Ins and Outs of Your Town or City

The best way to stay out of trouble around people is to avoid concentrations of people, i.e. not to go near the cities. If you must go, you must have extensive knowledge of the city and its roads.

Know which areas are safe, or safer, and which ones definitely aren’t. You must also be able to locate the nearest resources such as hospitals, police stations, gas stations, convenience stores, etc.

When entering a building, always take note of the nearest exits. It is always helpful to leave via a different exit, even when there is no emergency. If you take time to map out the city, you’ll be better able to find your escape route when you find yourself in the middle of a chase. Better safe than sorry.

Observe People

Mastering the art of disappearing is no easy task. As an exercise, try to look and study people when going out in public. Take note of the people that catch your attention and determine which characteristics which made you notice them. Really drill down into what caught your attention and in what context.

By identifying the stimulus, you have an idea of the things you need to avoid in your own behavior. In addition, scan the crowd to see if you can spot a gray man. Pay attention and identify the traits that make him inconspicuous and try to emulate him.

Learn to use your peripheral vision to observe people and things. This takes practice but it’s a pretty easy survival skill to learn, and it’s actually pretty fun!

Believe it or not this is a skill you can practice and improve upon. It pays sometimes to observe without appearing to observe what is happening around you. If this is too challenging, or your peripheral vision sucks, you can wear sunglasses in an appropriate setting.

Be Careful What you Post Online

You may be a pro in being anonymous in public, but this may be to no avail if you don’t practice the same techniques online. Any information you post on the internet, like announcing a holiday trip overseas, provides an opportunity for others to break into your home.

Anything you post at all can be used in social engineering to hurt you, so be mindful of posting anything, anything, on the internet.

Your personal details may also be used for online theft. There are a lot of opportunists and hackers who take advantage of information people carelessly give away online. Don’t be a victim, and protect your online identity, as someone might use precious bits of information about you post SHTF.

In Summary

Being a gray man will require a lot of practice and patience on your part. You will also need to do some work to understand human behavior, perception and reactions.

The things that may or may not make you stand out in one place could be completely innocuous in another. The fact of the matter is, the world is a dangerous place and there are people out there, right now, waiting for the right sucker to come along. If you don’t anticipate danger and plan ahead, you’ll lose.

When calamity strikes, there may not be any cops to enforce the law and you will have to take matters into your own hands to protect yourself and your family. It sounds extreme, but it never hurts to prepare.

The first step to avoiding trouble to keep off trouble’s radar, and you’ll make that happen by employing gray man techniques and mindset.

So, what are some of the things you’re doing to become a grey man. IN addition to the mindset and the general way of being we talked about, there are dozens of specific things you can do to go unnoticed.

We gathered no less than 50 of them here, but do let the Survival Sullivan community know of any others you may be employing.

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last update 02/12/2019

About Dan F. Sullivan

Dan F. Sullivan
My dad was military. My grandfather was a cop. They served their country well. But I don't like taking orders. I'm taking matters into my own hands so I'm not just preparing, I'm going to a friggin' war to provide you the best of the best survival and preparedness content out there.

4 comments

  1. Avatar

    I believe that it is easier for me to be a “gray woman” than my husband to be a gray man! He seems to be very memorable and when we are out together people notice him and remember him. If we go back to the same place he is remembered but if I go back on my own, no one remembers me. I guess that can work to my advantage in a SHTF situation even if it is a little annoying now!

  2. Avatar

    one area not addressed is the mental, for lack of better term, mindset. we can now buy hunting clothes that are camo pattern and also have carbon fiber in the material to faraday cage the human nervous system so as to make hunting more successful. i am not advocating wearing this material in an urban setting but to illustrate the fact that you can be visible on a level that you might not be aware of. a clear mind with no internal chatter is the best way i can describe the “mindset”.
    i am 6′ 6″ yet many times i have approached people to with in close range three feet with out the being aware of my approach, both in a rural setting and urban. on some level people can sense others, we may not know the correct name for the process just be aware that there are other factors at play.

  3. Avatar

    In the Marine Corps, we call this “situation awareness”. It takes a lot of time to develop the required skills – some people never get there!

  4. Avatar

    Everything has a frequency including people, male and female.

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