Gray Man Theory: The Art Of Blending In During Disaster

gray man theory

The gray man theory as a way of disappearing into the crowd so you can move unnoticed when disaster strikes. The idea is that you can conceal your preparedness by blending in with the crowd before or during an emergency.

While it is generally referred to as the ‘gray man theory,’ this theory can of course be applied to anyone, man or woman, of any age, who needs to blend into a crowd amidst a disastrous situation to conceal the fact that they have survival skills and/or are carrying tactical gear.

When you think of ‘blending in with the crowd’ it’s generally a negative, right?

Nobody wants to be just like everyone else, you want to be unique, to stand out – that is, until there’s an emergency and you’re the only one prepared. As a prudent prepper, you’ll be ready when disaster strikes but what will everyone around you be doing?

Panicking, most likely.

In states of panic, people become desperate, and desperation can lead people to do whatever it takes to stay alive – at this point, you certainly don’t want to be singled out as the one person who is prepared for survival.

gray man theory
Disappearing into a crowd is an extremely useful survival skill.

Why Use the Gray Man Theory?

There are lots of advantages to blending in with the crowd when disaster strikes.

For starters, by not drawing attention to yourself, you’ll be able to move more quickly and easily through the crowd without alerting others to the fact that you are prepared to handle the situation.

Also, by blending in and appearing to be among the unprepared, you are less likely to make yourself a target of those in desperation who may try and take your survival gear off you by force.

The gray man theory is really about protecting yourself and your family by concealing the fact that you are indeed prepared to survive in the face of disaster.

gray man theory
The gray man theory allows you to use the herd to your advantage.

The Benefits of Being a Gray Man

In a true disaster situation, your primary objective will be to move yourself and your loved ones as quickly as possible to a safe place – be that your home or bug-out location.

In a disaster, everyone around you will have the same goal – get somewhere safe – but the majority will not have a sound plan in place, leading to frantic behavior and desperate attempts for survival.

In this situation, disappearing into the crowd and not drawing attention to yourself or your state of preparedness can greatly increase your chances of survival.

gray man theory
How many of these people look prepared to handle a crisis situation?

As most around you will be unprepared for disaster, you will no doubt feel the urge to help those in need. However, your number one priority needs to be your own survival and you should only help others if you can do so without endangering yourself.

By blending in, or becoming a gray man, you will be less likely to be approached by others seeking assistance and, more importantly, less likely to be targeted by opportunists looking to prey on those with the forethought to pack essential items for survival situations.

How To Be a Gray Man

The best way to not leave a lasting impression is to not leave any impression at all.

This is the concept behind the gray man theory and it sounds simple enough, but execution can be challenging.

In this guide we will cover the basic concept behind the gray man theory and provide some key tips and tricks for effectively making yourself ‘invisible’ in a disaster scenario.

gray man theory

Steps to Becoming a Gray Man (or Woman)

The ultimate goal of becoming a gray man or woman is to camouflage yourself into appearing as though you are just part of the crowd so as not to allow others to identify you as a potential gold mine of supplies or information. By exuding confidence and preparedness, you will draw in opportunists who will attempt to capitalize on your resourcefulness to the detriment of your own survival.

To conceal the fact that you are prepared with survival gear and skills from others, there are four key areas you will want to focus on: how you act, how you move, how you look, and how you carry your gear.

How You Act

The key to acting like a gray man is to appear average and non-threatening. Be careful about what you say and to whom you say it – being known as strongly antagonistic or too outspoken about your political beliefs can lead others to make assumptions about you and mark you as a prepared individual.

Maintain conversation topics within the norm of the group. If small talk seems to be the normal thing to do, engage with others so as not to draw attention to yourself.

While a good understanding of your surroundings is paramount in a disaster, be careful to play down any attempts to scan areas for escape routes or possible problems with security. This type of behavior will be noticed and lead people to question what it is you’re looking for, or worse, what it is you’re trying to protect.

gray man theory
The gray man theory relies on not leaving an impression. Eye contact stimulates the brain to form a memory so keeping your eyes averted can help you remain unnoticed.

One important skill to learn in adapting a gray man persona is how to maintain your privacy without appearing overly private or obviously standoffish. When speaking with others, keep eye contact to a minimum as someone is more likely to notice you if they look in your eyes. Even brief eye contact when passing on the street can form a connection, making you more memorable than those around you.

How You Move

Knowing the local landscape can be a tremendous advantage as the better you know local streets and landmarks, the better able you will be to navigate them and alter your route to avoid troublesome areas. When moving, appear as much as possible to go with the flow, walking with purpose but not urgency. Any rapid motion will draw attention to you and raise suspicions as to your motives.

gray man theory
An integral part of the gray man theory is the ability to move through a crowd without drawing attention to yourself.

When navigating a crowd, make gradual progress – cutting through a sea of people at sharp angles will draw attention to your movements and make you appear suspicious. Whether you are perceived by others as a savior or threat, either one can slow you down.

Unless it would impede your own safety, always appear to follow the herd. For instance, if everyone around you turns towards an explosive sound and gasps, join them. You don’t ever want to be the one person who is unaffected by an out-of-the-ordinary event.

gray man theory
Follow the focus of the crowd – notice the woman standing with her back turned? According to the gray man theory, in a SHTF scenario, this behavior could raise suspicion. Photo via Intel Free Press on flickr.

If you need to break away from the crowd, try and make your exit alongside a small group of people, keeping enough distance so that they know you’re not with them but close enough that you don’t appear to be alone, which makes you appear less vulnerable.

When observing your surroundings, be as discreet as possible. Leverage your peripheral vision as well as decoy objects, such as a piece of paper, to give the impression your attention is focused on the object as you survey the area. If appropriate, wear reflective sunglasses that hide your eyes allowing you the freedom to scan rapidly without drawing attention.

gray man theory
Sunglasses on a sunny day are a good choice for obscuring your face. At night, they would have the opposite effect, drawing attention as something out of the norm.

If you need to engage in activities that will make noise and draw attention your way, try to take advantage of predictable noises to help mask the sound of any breaching you may need to do. Predictable noises include ‘white’ noises that people are accustomed to hearing and therefore raise little suspicion.

gray man theory
You can take advantage of distractions to make small moves toward your destination.

For instance, wait for a loud bus to pass before climbing into a dumpster or synchronize busting a window with a loud siren. If you need to get into a building, choose a door near a noisy HVAC condenser. These preparations may take a little bit of extra time to execute, but those few moments of patience will ensure your activities go unnoticed and may just save your life.

How You Look

It goes without saying that when trying to appear less prepared than you are, camo prints or other outwardly tactical-looking clothing are not the best choice, unless of course you are in a situation where that type of dress is the norm, such as a hunting trip.

While you don’t have to dress head-to-toe in gray, subtle color choices blend best into crowds and make it easier for you to move unnoticed.

gray man theory
Which is the first person that you notice? Bright colors are easy to track through a crowd.

Ideally, you will want to keep any tactical gear concealed. This means packing your pockets and bags strategically to allow for quick access to key items. Reflective objects and bright colors will draw visual attention so ensure items such as your knife are tucked inside your clothing or bag, not hanging from your belt.

Avoid having any reflective materials or highly visible colors on your clothing and accessories, as well as any large text or memorable insignia. Any focal points can draw attention to you and hinder your attempts to blend in.

gray man theory
Even if this officer were in civilian clothing, the shiny handcuffs and holster would be highly visible and leave an impression on passersby.

If possible, carry an additional item with you that can change your look instantly, such as a hat, sunglasses, or jacket, as this can be quite helpful. If someone does happen to peg you as a target, you can use the item to slip under their radar as they scan for you in a crowd.

One last word of caution – be mindful of the way you smell. Yes, smell. Believe it or not, scent is a major memory trigger, so when trying to blend in, try not to have a noticeable scent about you.

How You Carry Your Gear and What You Carry

The simplest solution to carrying your gear unnoticed is to find a discreet every day carry bag that blends well with your typical daily routine. Backpacks and messenger bags commonly seen on commuters are good choices as these tend to be less obvious. You can also find pocketbooks with compartmentalized interiors that can make it quick and easy to access your gear.

gray man theory
There are many options for a tactical bag with a low profile that can fit into your typical style without drawing attention.

Another good choice that lends itself well to blending is a jacket or vest with a streetwear outward appearance but hidden storage on the inside. Pants with pockets, especially cargo pants, are excellent for storing gear but may not be the most appropriate choice for some people such as people that work in an office with a formal dress code.

The gear you carry with you on a daily basis should also be discreet if you want to be a gray man. For example, for self-defense you may opt for a tactical pen or a discreet folding knife such as the Boker Subcom folding knife which can even double as a money clip.

A compact flashlight such as the Fenix E05 is so compact it can easily be carried on a keychain without attracting.


In the immediate aftermath of a disaster or in a post-apocalyptic scenario, the ability to conceal yourself as a gray man can be an extremely useful survival skill. The last thing you want is for all your time and effort put into prepping to be for naught by having your supplies taken off you by someone less prepared and more desperate.

To improve your gray man abilities, observe the way people dress and act as you go about your day – what stands out, what makes various people noticeable? This can help you hone in on the objects and behaviors that draw attention.

Combining this knowledge with the four key steps to becoming a gray man will put you well on your way to being able to ‘disappear’ into any crowd and increase your chances of survival when disaster strikes.

Your Thoughts

Do you have any thoughts on the gray man theory? Have you experienced a situation where you needed to conceal your preparedness? Let us know about your thoughts and experiences in the Comments, thanks!

28 comments on “Gray Man Theory: The Art Of Blending In During Disaster

  1. This is good info for if you are bugging out or trying to make your way home but how would you go about making your house a ‘gray’ house?
    If your house looks protected (I.e if you have windows boarded up, curtains closed etc) people might wonder what you are protecting. Even if it doesn’t look particularly protected you may have some opportunistic looters sniffing about.
    One issue I keep worrying about is how to put off looters in the case of a serious SHTF.

    1. I think that once SHTF, there won’t be the possibility of having a ‘gray’ house. Why? Because EVERY house will be a target, no matter how nondescript it looks, unless it’s an obviously deserted, unlivable, maybe already-destroyed house.
      At that point, the only effective deterrent to pillaging would be either an invisibility net covering the house (ummm, love to have one), or making your home look like it wouldn’t be worth it to the trespasser.
      Security cameras, real or fake, all over it. Perhaps those boarded up windows aren’t a bad thing if there are obvious signs of firing ports in them. “Welcome mats” of upward-pointing spikes in the hedges. Glass embedded in the tops of property walls. You get the idea.
      I’ll never forget season three of “Doomsday Preppers” (I think), where the family had the quick-mount window covers and the plan to pour (again, I think) hot fluids from the roof onto attackers. Or maybe it was simply sniper positions on the roof…I can’t really remember now…think I’ll look that up…
      ANYWAY…both would be good lol.
      I truly believe that bugging-in will require an offensive approach like these, instead of the defensive ‘gray’ approach. Each has its place, but ‘gray’ to me will only work until civil obedience breaks down. After that…you better expand your threat profile to others like a puffer fish and make anyone decide it’s better just to move on down the road.

      1. Kelsey,
        Thanks for the in-depth analysis. I think that whether or not the Gray House approach is suitable really comes down to individual situations and you are right, it will not be right for many people. Having an offensive plan in place is a good way to go, you certainly do not want to have to come up with one on the fly if unfriendly people are trying to knock down your door!

        Perhaps home defense would make a good article for the future!


    2. I like the ideas, I think that they might have to be modified somewhat for me because I am old and have some medical conditions.

    3. Saving materials from our recent remodel, plastic sheeting, paint cans, etc to scatter around the house in the event shtf. Our drive is unfinished (just sand) and the remodel junk along with that will make I look like it was ditched mid remodel (hopefully haha). This would also make boarding some entry points seem totally reasonable

    4. When SHTF I’m not going to stay in the house, I’m moving to the shed. It’s smaller which means I can cover all the angles and with some insulation, it’s warmer in the winter due to body heat. A shed can also be fortified a lot easier than a house E.g steel lined walls and bulletproof glass whereas doing so with a house would cost a fortune.
      A house also has much more surface area to breach. And in case you absolutely need to evacuate a tunnel could be built.
      Now assuming I have a family I’d likely have better chances holding my own in a house, however, a smaller one with one bedroom would likely be better.
      I would still fear that due to the house being a house it would attract more looters than a shed, thus wasting precious ammunition.

  2. If SHTF in a major way, i’m talking full apocalypse not just a small incident then how do you go about being both a grey man and someone who has all their bug out gear especially if one plans to wear armor of any kind.

    1. Hey Hamish, thanks for your comment. I think most of the advice in the article can be applied. You can carry all the gear you want, just don’t do it in an obvious way. Use a normal looking pack and try on the body armor under a large sweatshirt or jacket.


  3. I remember my first foray into the Gray Man Technique back in June of 1988. What happened then, you ask? U.S. Army basic training lol. I called it “blending into the wall”, and other than for a couple amateur blunders (which earned me some time in the front-leaning rest position), I did pretty well!

    Chris, my compliments on the excellent service to all people who want to survive when SHTF, that you’re providing. I always read your emails to me top to bottom and inside-out. I appreciate everything you’re doing to enlighten folks, and my friend what goes around, comes around. These good deeds you’re doing will come back to you in spades.

    Peace, God be with you, and I hope I don’t notice any of you in a crowd. 😀

    1. Kelsey,
      Thank you for your kind words, they are very humbling. The team over here works very hard to produce the best possible information that will be truly useful to the folks out there and I am glad to hear you are getting something out of it!

      That is a funny story about your first foray into Gray Man, the front leaning rest position is no fun!

      Thanks again and good luck prepping,

  4. This is very useful information! It sounds easier than really will be too. Thanks so much! It’s made me aware &
    that’s a good start, Right?

  5. I have stored the miniature “Tea Candles” for emergency use at home. These are the small candles in a little metal container used for decorative purposes etc. You can also get glass or metal housings for them. Although each one has a shorter burning life, they are widely available in large bulk packs at low cost, & they do not pose the major fire risk of larger candles that can fall over. I consider fire risk in an emergency something to take special notice of. Some places also have citronella Tea Candles to stop insects.

    Insect concerns are often overlooked in bug out lists but if you have to leave your house or your house gets damaged, especially in wet weather, then insect bites are likely to be a concern & they can really make you miserable.

    One small, light weight, cheap aid is the Mosquito Zap or Mosquito Click devices available cheaply from eBay. These use a piezo crystal like the gas stove ignitors use. You put the device on the bite & press the button & it puts a small electric zap into the area. You just zap around the area, & the sting & itch goes away, & the swelling goes down. It sounds strange but they work really well & even work for skin rashes & disease rash. There is no excuse not to grab a few because they last for ever, are only physically small & light weight, & only cost a few dollars on eBay.

  6. Great well thought out article. Becoming a gray man definitely needs to be practiced now rather than later. In the early stages of a SHTF everyone is a target. Right now while things are more or less still together though is the time to hone your skills. Even a quick check of the news will let you know that there is no shortage of violence.

  7. I would also like to bring up social media. While it is fine to discuss prepping with other preppers on line. I would be careful about being detail specific about what preps you have, bug out locations, etc. Just a little common sense and an operational security mindset can go a long way. Also, as a former professional magician, I always think in terms of misdirection. For example, having a small amount of food preps in a hall closet, so that someone searching will think they found your stash and that you don’t have much and perhaps they take that and leave. But your real preps are better hidden and hopefully never found.

    1. Hi,

      I have also thought of misdirection because there were many burglaries in my neighborhood.
      The last 11 years have been quiet after the burglars were caught 🙂
      But, I continue with my little system of misdirection.

      This is how I welcome the burglars in my house:

      They can easily find a mobile phone with charger by my bed
      and a laptop almost “hidden” under a pillow on the couch.
      In the hall they will find a wallet with money and credit cards.

      Sounds nice?

      The only thing they do not know that the phone has never worked.
      I think it’s a dummy. It can light up and show a “finished charging”…
      That’s all it can do. I found it in a recycling shop and they gave it to me for free.

      The laptop is old, but looks pretty. Nothing of value on it.

      ..and the “want to be stolen wallet”?
      The money is genuine, but not of high value.
      There are different credit cards. Most of them are expired.
      There is a post-it note on one of the cards. It says “Remember! My code is: 4711″…
      (that’s an idea that my grandmother used for her cards. Yes, it’s true.
      But, don’t write your real code like she did..)

      For the non-expired card you do like this:
      You report your card stolen or disappeared,
      but you still have it (you just do not use it – ever again)
      You then need to prepare the card for its new life:
      Destroy some of the numbers with a small file.
      Pull some sandpaper back and forth over your signature and the three security numbers.
      All you need the burglars to read is expiery date and most numbers on the front page.
      It must look worn out. The post-it note may also look a bit worn out.
      Put the card with the post-it note in your pocket for a day or two, and it will look right.

      (Then you pay for a new credit card with a new code – this is for your real wallet).
      The “stolen” card may then be in the “want to be stolen wallet”.
      I also use this wallet when I’m on vacation.
      That’s what people see. I have only a small amount of money in it.
      I transfer money to it from my real wallet,
      which is locked and hidden away.

      Hope you got some ideas 🙂
      I don’t belive in apocalypse, SHTF or any paranoid stuff.
      I belive in good people.
      People who are afraid hurt other people.
      We should not be afraid. Read “The speed of trust”.
      Be the good person you want to see in others.
      Stories of Apocalypse are made to scare people.
      Religion does not help anyone. It’s an illusion.
      Folding hands and prayer is not a real job.
      It only builds more illusion.
      It is good to be prepared for natural disasters,
      but the best way to prepare for war is to learn languages.
      Communication is what creates trust, friendship and society.

  8. This is a great article and a concept I have heard before but never knew the name.

    I have been looking for around for a premade 72 Hr bag/BoB and I have run into two different types. There are cheap emergency kits for beginners or those who just want to some things squirreled away just in case. Then there are the more expensive tactical molle bags (coming in black, tan, or green) though muted makes your look more prepared.

    I guess the question is do the molle bags make sense in a gray “man” scenario or should I be looking to put my gear in a normal hiking day pack? Don’t get me wrong I love the molle packs but not at the expense of my family and gear. Thoughts?

    1. A muted tactical backpack, such as the Rush 72 in black, would be a top choice for carrying a serious bug out bag kit while remaining somewhat of a “gray man.” If your bug out bag gear list is on the smaller side, then you may opt for a much more low key option such as a school bag or hiking pack.

      1. the rush 72 is on many LE and Military gear websites… even in black, it fits military uniform regulation, it does not fit a “gray man” profile. Some police departments even have it on their uniform purchase contracts

    2. All you need for 72 hours is water may be shelter like a coat and tarp. People that carry more are targets. I will trade in the armor for speed. If you can avoid the fight, you don’t need to survive it. Carry a book. GRAY! Remember when you have out ran the threat to stop running and conceal. If you are in a car, keep your foot off the brake pedal. Simple stuff. Quit making it hard.

  9. I only have but, one thought on this gray man theory. When and where is it needed most? Take for example from what I have read over the inter webs It would seem more for the urban environment such as a large city or suburban areas. What If said person lives in a more rural area? Does the gray man option fade out and more tactical, camo come in? Or if a person lives in the middle of both environments what then in terms of packs, colors and load out?

    I for one would like to keep things simple as possible. An EDC bag for going to a friends which would hold basic stuff for games, books clothes etc.. However have extra stuff in the car ready. Then have the main pack waiting at home which would be the big one completely kitted to the teeth. To note the main bag is what is in question whether to have it look normal as can be or go tactical. Along with it being chosen for the surrounding environment.

    1. Your EDC is what should fit the gray man theory. This theory is more for urban environments where human profiling is most effective and exploited. Many people in rural areas already know to prepare for disasters ahead of time (i.e. have a pantry full of food, etc.) because it’s more of a trip to get supplies for them. For people in urban environments the gray man theory is necessary to often get to their vehicle, reach home or other designated meeting spot for family, and get the heck out at some point.

  10. I actually have a few…if I may…and IMHO…
    1) The last photo…everything about this guy I relate to being a gray man, except one thing…looks like he’s walking down the middle of the street. Doesn’t appear to be crossing the street, unlike the one in the background. 2) If you live life every day as a gray man, it would take very little if any effort when you really need to be one. 3) Being a gray man should be synonymous with minimalism, owning/having the bare minimum, at the very least, the three basics, food/water, shelter, and clothing. There maybe times when you don’t have time to be messing with all your stuff. Stay portable and mobile.

    1. Gray Man Theory is not necessarily meant for people that are untrained/unprepared. For a person that has training or has taken the effort to have supplies for emergencies, it actually may take some effort to not seem that way. If a person is a minimalist, they by nature of minimalism, do not have extra items for survival/preparedness. the theory would be to look like the minimalist without actually being the minimalist because you have resources to get you through emergency situations.

  11. All this is good info. If you want to use a cane, learn how someone using a cane walks. The cane(most of the time) should be on your good side, the cane being support as the bad leg is moving(wider support). A gimp(like myself) can tell a fake a mile away, but if you try to learn, maybe it won’t be so obvious(a cane can be a great gray man weapon).
    If you walk like someone that goes to the gym on a real schedule, learn how the regular people walk, shuffle, don’t pick up your feet and look winded.
    Anyone who drives in city traffic knows that drivers telegraph what they are going to do to those nearby. Learn how to drive without these tells.
    If you have something different about you(like long gray hair, or a beard, or even a fake arm or leg, just go for it, paying attention to it any trying to blend, could just out you. Most people do not notice these things, so do not force them to do so. Printing with a handgun is another problem. If you walk differently when you are packing, get a smaller gun and hide it in sewn in pocket in a baggy spot,or maybe carry both and be ready if called on to surrender the first.

    1. I’m using a rollator. 🙂
      That makes me a real gray man.
      We are 60% old people in my town.

      If you want to blend in, then make yourself old and weak.
      Nature will help you with that.
      Just focus on having a young brain.

      The only thing people forget when they want to survive with their “gray man”,
      “bug out bags” and their stories about SHTF are that they have lived unhealthily on a daily basis. They don’t make any brain work out and they eat things that are not food.
      It is not possible to buy healthy food in the United States.
      I know. I have visited the country many times. I can compare with Europe.
      The food from the United States is like poison for the body.
      Your vegetables and meat are dipped in chemistry, your bread is filled with gluten and everything else filled with hidden sugar.
      My advice is to grow your own vegetables, in small communities, like in Detroit.
      Then you would know what you eat.

      The only apocalypse is the one you create for yourself.
      It’s called obesity, Alcohol and drug abuse, depression, alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, ALS, cancer and many other names.

      I have had a depression myself (for one year).
      I created it myself by not listening when the body said stop.
      Now I know better. I do not let stress control my life.
      I have friends and family with all the other diseases.
      People say it’s genetic, but many genetic diseases become hundred times worse when you live unhealthy and feel unconnected to yourself and others.


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