Many preppers ostensibly have a plan for bugging out as part of a group with the intention of making a journey of considerable length either to safer, friendly territory or to one of several pre-designated fallback points, or bug-out locations, that will ideally allow them to ride out an SHTF event in relative safety and comfort.
These plans might consist of movements either on foot or by vehicle across dozens or even hundreds of miles.
It goes without saying that, in the vast majority of these situations, stops or temporary halts will have to be called to allow for rest, maintenance of gear, and taking care of the other necessities that will be part and parcel of such an endeavor.
Though many preppers would have simply referred to these stops as “making camp”, considering the dangerous (or at very best uncertain) circumstances these movements will be conducted in you won’t ever be able to truly drop your guard, even when grabbing a bite to eat or a short spell of rest.
It is for this purpose that preppers should familiarize themselves with the small unit tactic of patrol basing, which is nothing more than stopping to attend to all of the above tasks while minimizing your profile and maintaining the maximum amount of security possible.
In this article in our multi-part series on team tactics for preppers, I’ll provide you with an introduction familiarizing you with the concept of patrol basing as well as key principles, tips, and procedures that will ensure success.
You can check out the rest of the articles in the series here:
- Vehicle-borne Movement and Procedures – Team Tactics for Preppers
- Team Tactics for Preppers: On-Foot Movement and Procedures
- The Wedge Formation – Team Tactics for Preppers
- The File Formation Team Movement Tactic
Table of Contents
What is Patrol Basing?
The concept and indeed the verbiage of patrol basing is another one borrowed from the military, but don’t let that dissuade you from learning more about this vital survival concept.
Patrol basing is nothing more than a set of skills used to establish a patrol base, and a patrol base is only a temporary position or site that is used to support the needs of your team members or group as well as accomplish critical tasks conducted in service of your ultimate goal. In our case, reaching your final destination.
It sounds a lot like your typical day or half-day hike campsite, doesn’t it? Indeed it does, but unlike a campsite that is occupied as a primary site of habitation, it should be a rarity that you will ever occupy a patrol base for longer than a period of 12 hours, with 24 hours on the high side of feasibility.
This is because the need for security is going to be very high, and the longer you remain in one place while underway, the higher the likelihood that something will happen before you reach your destination.
We will talk more about best practices concerning security and other patrol base functions in just a bit.
Site Selection Criteria
Correctly locating your patrol base is essential for success. Unfortunately, you will often have many competing needs or wants when it comes to where and how you site your patrol base.
When the time comes to get some rest, create a fire for cooking or warmth, and generally take a load off you don’t want to be trying to do all of that in the middle of some stinking bog, a ferocious briar patch or rocky, inhospitable and nearly inaccessible terrain.
But as you might have guessed when it comes to security, secrecy and keeping strangers out of your business all of the latter are to be considered advantages.
This is one of those things you will need to hammer out ahead of time. You will only be able to do so much to manage the expectations of those in your group who have never been in that kind of situation.
But, it should be understood that the choices made by leadership are for a good reason, for the good of the group, and final barring protest by other team members or the most extraordinary circumstances.
Consider the following site selection elements as viewed through the lens of someone who is correctly concerned about moving through a potentially hostile environment. Again, your considerations will very likely differ if you are out on a pleasure hike or some other excursion that is not life-threatening.
You will always be wise to consider how heavily trafficked the routes leading to and around your patrol base are.
Are you pitching camp right alongside a well-known and well-used path that cuts a swath through a national forest? Are you stopped alongside a reasonably popular secondary county road?
Also consider the lines of travel that other people in your situation are likely to take. There are no two ways about it- you will always enjoy better security the farther you are away from well-used and well-known paths.
This element more than any other is likely to result in the locking of horns among members of your group, particularly those wilting violets who are not handling this situation well in the first place.
The kinder the terrain is to rest or live on the poorer the security. This is because you will be much easier to approach compared to terrain that is terribly difficult to navigate, much less sit or lie down on.
You will have to balance your need for meaningful rest and other taskings against your ever-present need for secrecy and security. Consider this carefully.
Is there a viable source of water near where you are basing? How about any sources where you might potentially obtain other supplies?
Depending on your requirements and what your group needs, this might be a feature or a hazard- if there is an amenity that you can make yourself, other people can make use of it also, and will likely plan on doing so. Keep this in mind for choosing to bed down near a watering hole.
Dense vegetation and other sight-blocking natural features can make a patrol base feel more claustrophobic but will generally keep it safer.
Avoiding detection is an essential part of maintaining secrecy and security. Visibility should be considered in a 360-degree ark, and also at varying angles of elevation if you are basing in or around hills or mountains.
If push comes to shove, and you have to fight, will you be able to put up a fight in and around your patrol base?
Unless you are absolutely, completely sure that you are totally alone in the area, you should choose a patrol base site that is particularly indefensible only after the most stringent consideration.
All of the above elements must be weighed against one another, as well as the requirements of your group. Any one of them might make or break a patrol base site depending on your needs at the time and your overall objective.
None of them are truly good or bad, and none of them are ideal by themselves: they are all trade-offs and everything is a compromise in a survival situation.
On the other hand, there are a handful of major no-nos that you should definitely keep in mind when it comes to site selection. These are hard-and-fast rules that immediately disqualify a given site from selection except in the most specialized circumstances.
❌ Canyons, riverbeds, valleys
These places tend to funnel the movement of people and animals alike, are substantial risks during heavy rains, periods of snow melt, and floods, and are also considered extremely dangerous ground if you are attacked because they make escape difficult and any evasive movement predictable.
❌ Ridgetops, hilltops
These terrain features are similar to canyons and valleys in that they make your movement too predictable but they also make you entirely too visible, especially from a distance.
Any errant light source in a patrol base that is situated along a ridge top or hilltop will be visible for miles in all directions. That is definitely attention you do not need.
The only potential factor that might make a hilltop or ridgetop patrol base necessary is a requirement for observation or communication using various means.
Near other known or suspected camps: As I have long preached, you will not be able to trust your fellow man if they are not part of your group.
If you have any reason to suspect other people are camping in your area or have evidence to suggest that they recently have been you must not establish your patrol base anywhere nearby. The chances that you will be detected or even stumble upon are just too great.
❌ Populated areas
This should be obvious by now, but you must never establish a patrol base near any built-up or populated area.
Remember, people represent unknowns, and enough unknown contacts will eventually result in one or more people that decide they can take what you have, including your lives.
Never, ever underestimate what stress, fear, uncertainty, and desperation will do to the average person. Never make the fatal mistake of thinking you and anyone else share the same value system. Avoid bedding down near populated areas if at all possible.
❌ Immediately off roads or trails
Despite their abundance of purpose-made or improvised sites that are ideal for establishing a camp you should never take advantage of the ones you’ll find along roads or trails.
Aside from being an obvious and well-known path for other people it also provides them with a way to move comparatively quickly and quietly, which can bring them into contact with you more easily and more discreetly and they could if they had to beat through the bush.
Keep in mind that the more ideal your site is for resting and human habitation, the less ideal it will be for maintaining security.
What Takes Place in a Patrol Base?
A patrol base is not just used as a temporary halting site to ensure that you are not being followed or about to blunder into an ambush. A patrol base is established with a purpose, and sometimes more than one purpose.
Keep in mind that no matter what your purposes your patrol base should be temporary and that means you should conduct yourselves as if you aren’t settling in for the long haul with every comfort and amenity of your new, austere home at your fingertips.
Your patrol base is a place to “pit in”, do what you need to do with brisk efficiency and then get back underway, hopefully while remaining secure the entire time. Consider the following typical tasks that can be taken care of after establishing a patrol base:
- Rest: One of the most obvious and most essential purposes of a patrol base is to provide an opportunity for everyone in your group to get off of their feet or out of their vehicles and properly rest. This does not necessarily entail setting up tents, although it might. Generally, you want people to be as comfortable as possible under the circumstances and able to get some quality shut eye or at least disengage from arduous travel for a while. This might be more difficult than it sounds considering the ever-present need for security.
- Hygiene: Just because you are in the middle of a survival situation does not mean you have an excuse for omitting basic hygiene. Doing so could prove disastrous in the end, since an outbreak of disease or other personal ailments might mean getting sidelined. All members of the group and your teammates should at the bare minimum change their socks and underwear, powder their feet and other body parts, and, time permitting, take a sponge or baby wipe bath.
- Maintenance: Preppers rely on an awful lot of gear and that gear will require maintenance, everything from firearms to footwear, backpacks to bivys. The most essential gear should be prioritized for maintenance first, things like firearms, footwear and load carriage equipment. Batteries should be changed in all essential electronics, or they should be recharged. Items that are vulnerable to ambient weather conditions should be inspected for signs of damage and continually waterproofed. It is critical that these tasks be handled in a logical and intelligent way so as to not compromise security.
- Eating: Calories are fuel, nothing more, nothing less. Though members of your group might be well-fed and aren’t particularly hungry it is wise to take in calories on the regular to prevent a loss of energy, lack of attention, and bad mood. Take care when eating as you would with any other tasks. Though it is a great morale booster to gather everyone around the table, so to speak, getting all group members together leaves the patrol base highly vulnerable to attack.
- Planning: Especially when you are traveling a route that is complicated, error-prone, or just plain difficult sometimes you need to stop, really check your bearings and adjust accordingly based on how things are going. Additionally, changing circumstances or new information might mean you need to go to Plan B, C or D, or just call an audible based on all the available data. Certain corrections can be made by the team leader, while on the move but others might call for a stop so that all variables can be accounted for.
- Work/Movement Preparation: Any major task that will require several sets of hands to accomplish, or one of significant complexity that means all members of the group need to be on the same sheet of music could definitely necessitate a stop to accomplish this. Instead of standing around like a gaggle of idiots waiting to be picked off it might be a great time to establish a patrol base and kill multiple birds, or check off multiple tasks, with one go.
In the next section we will discuss your ever-present need for security when establishing a patrol base, for any length of time.
Security is Always Paramount
Surviving the aftermath of a society-collapsing event or the duration of a major SHTF situation is going to be hair-raising enough without the constant threat of hostile contact from malicious humans.
Unfortunately, history has taught us time and time again that, when the chips are down and regular meals start getting mixed, you will find people like this in no short supply.
Whether they are merely desperate, criminally deranged, or just outright bloodthirsty psychopaths makes no difference. You must be prepared to deal with them and the best way to deal with them is to avoid them entirely.
It is for this reason that you must treat security in and around your patrol base as an absolute necessity, something to be maintained in all directions at all times.
Generally speaking, this is accomplished at its most basic by assigning certain members to remain on watch and able to cover effectively a sector of the surrounding area. Together these sectors should total a 360-degree arc around your patrol base.
How many people you have on watch at any given time will be dictated by your numbers, the tasks at hand, the terrain, and other factors. At no point should every member of the group be preoccupied with any given task, leaving the entire site open to observation or direct attack without detection.
Consider the following factors when establishing a security cordon or detail around your patrol base:
Depending upon the terrain, size of your group, overall size of your patrol base and other objectives you might push out members who are on guard farther from your actual campsite or keep them closer. There are many variables to consider in this element alone.
Generally, the farther out your sentries are the harder it will be for potential enemies to close in on the camp undetected or unchallenged. On the other hand, it makes communicating with your sentries more difficult, especially when intervening terrain can impede visual signaling.
The size of your group and ratio of team members to dependents will factor heavily into how you arrange your patrol base and how plentiful your guard detail is.
Fewer capable team members and more dependents might mean team members working in shifts in order to accomplish other necessary tasks and still get some meaningful rest.
A preponderance of capable team members might make for more numerous, but much shorter shifts on guard. These ratios can be adjusted depending on the threat assessment and other factors.
Choosing when to break down and establish a base should not be done haphazardly. Generally speaking, your base should be established in an area that affords potential observers the least observability, and the time of day as well as weather conditions make a difference.
On the other hand, if conditions of darkness will make everything you need to do far harder and take longer you might be best served to base down in the middle of the day.
There is no doubt that the first thing many preppers will do upon turning in at their patrol base will be looking around for suitable wood to build a fire.
This might not always be possible depending on the situation. Fires are extremely easy to spot from a considerable distance, both by the light they emit and the smoke that rises from them.
Even a well-shielded fire producing only a little smoke at night can still be detectable by its scent, and fairly easy to locate all the same. This is not to say you should always forgo a fire, but you must be able to justify it before you build one.
In a similar vein to fire cooked food might not be on the “menu” after all at the patrol base depending upon various other factors.
There might not be enough time to engage in proper cooking, and even in the case of easy-to-prepare fare like dehydrated camping meals, MREs, freeze-dried noodles, and so forth, the smell of the delicious food might attract people to your location like a magnet if they happen to be in the area.
If a decision is made to cook, it should be kept simple and small scale, preferably on camping stoves or something less conspicuous than an actual campfire.
✅ Entering / Exiting
In the course of staying at the patrol base various members of your group may enter or exit for any number of reasons. This should be done cautiously if there is any chance whatsoever the group members could be observed or have been followed.
One traditional technique that is very effective for thwarting a surreptitious pursuer is to have any member of your group who is intending to enter the patrol base to move past it (though near it) for a significant distance thereby allowing any security elements to notice the pursuer.
Then they make a right-angle turn before repeating the process while closing in incrementally. This affords other group members the most time and opportunity possible to verify that the back trail of the person entering the patrol base is clean.
Improving Cover or Concealment
Generally, you will want to take advantage of all available cover and concealment to help protect your group while at the patrol base. But as with all things, context is important.
Improving a patrol base position by cutting and placing foliage, stacking logs, rocks, or other debris to create a hasty firing position, or digging a hole in order to help hide a campfire will all leave very noticeable indicators behind that people have been there, and perhaps recently.
There might not be anyone in the immediate area, but people following along behind you by a matter of hours or days could pick up your trail as a result of the trace you left in your wake. Consider the implications carefully before engaging in any major improvements of your patrol base. It might be better to simply select a superior site.
Patrol Basing With Vehicles
Though the popular conception of group movement during a bug out is on foot with everybody laden with their own bug-out bag, as we have learned in previous articles, quite a few of us are planning on the utilization of vehicles either singly or in convoys.
Vehicles have much to commend them and many advantages, but even though they afford us tremendous speed, mobility, and efficiency compared to going on foot, they can greatly complicate things when it comes time to establish a patrol base and provide security.
This is due to the greatly increased noise and visual signature of Vehicles. Simply stated, vehicles are hard to hide, and there are not many places where a vehicle can be completely concealed, or at least places you can conceal a vehicle and get it back on the road again!
For this reason, you’ll need to approach security in a somewhat different manner, as there are additional factors to account for when moving in a group with one or multiple vehicles.
Some of these factors might even supersede others elsewhere in this article in importance depending on your specific situation.
Consider Cover, Lateral, and Overhead
Vehicles are not impossible to hide, but you’ll have to work a lot harder to hide them compared to people. Especially if your vehicles are not camouflaged, either by paint or some other method, you need to take care that they are well hidden from casual and deliberate observation.
If you cannot place them behind a line-of-sight blocking obstruction, they will need to be behind several layers of intervening foliage in order to be effectively masked. This is one situation where cut foliage might be beneficial, or perhaps a camo tarp or netting.
Remember to be aware of your angles when considering concealment, as you might have adequate overhead or ground-level cover while being completely exposed from another angle.
Circling the Wagons
Occasionally you will need to cluster your vehicles close together in order to make the best possible use of the best possible concealment.
One potential option for parking vehicles when patrol basing is to form them into a loose circle, if room allows, with their noses pointing out so that they may get up to speed quickly in an emergency. This configuration looks similar to the petals on a flower.
Another simple variation is to arrange them in a similar loose circle but with their noses all pointed in the direction of likely egress, allowing the vehicles to form up quickly when getting back underway.
As a general rule, you never want to pull your vehicles into a parking configuration where they face nose-inward as this will greatly slow and hamper the group from getting underway rapidly.
On the other hand, sometimes the situation will dictate that vehicles be scattered around an area in order to hide them best while group members converge at the patrol base proper.
When this approach is used, each vehicle must be carefully hidden and camouflaged as best as possible. This is far more likely to be mandatory if you are forced to stop in badly congested or broken terrain, and sometimes cities if you have no other choice.
Though not always a problem it is far more likely to complicate your security situation compared to grouping the vehicles together.
Keep Away From the Vehicles!
I covered this in some detail in my article on vehicular operations for preppers but it bears repeating here- stay away from vehicles if you aren’t currently operating them!
Unless you are a very rare individual you will not have access to a properly armored vehicle, and standard civilian and commercial vehicles are not in any way bullet-resistant.
Considering that vehicles are one of the very few things in the universe that seem to magnetically attract lead (if you catch my drift) your chances of being wounded by gunfire or burned up by a Molotov or IED are much higher if you are inside or near your vehicle while at your patrol base.
Don’t give in to the temptation that you can just pull over in a group and sleep in the vehicles or make camp near them if there is any possibility that there might be unknown or hostile people in the area.
Your security cordon should be outside the outermost vehicles so that they may be protected and watched but the team members currently on duty should not be near the vehicles they are protecting.
Lone Lookout / Observer
You know what they say, you should never say never. In very specific circumstances, when the vehicles are grouped very close together, it might make sense to leave one or two members of the group on guard near the vehicles, while the rest of the group makes camp some distance away.
This is usually done to afford the best possible concealment for the vehicles in one area and the most secure or most productive patrol base in another.
Regardless, some method of signaling or reliable communications must be established so that in an emergency the group at the patrol base can react appropriately.
This will often be employed when effective concealment for the vehicles will be hard to come by. If discovery is likely or all but assured if an unknown contact should wander by it will be best for the bulk of the group to be elsewhere.
Group movements over long distances and longer travel time frames will necessitate periodic stops for rest, maintenance, food, and other necessary tasks.
Conducting these stops with an eye toward security, secrecy, and defense makes the difference between a group of people that will prove a very hard target for opportunists and a mobile loot box full of vital supplies.
You can never let your guard down during an SHTF situation, and no matter how far out or how safe the area is, history has proven time and time again that complacency in camp is a sure way to invite disaster.
Make use of the patrol-basing principles, tips, and procedures presented in this article to maintain a maximally efficient defensive posture even while camping when underway.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.