SELCO: The Dangers of Looking “Tactical” When the SHTF

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Author of The Dark Secrets of SHTF Survival and the online course SHTF Survival Boot Camp

Every now and then I get into “rant ” mode, and then even I realize that I am being grumpy. I can’t help myself, I have to go through it, and usually, that means I have to write.


My very good friend told me a story some time ago. This friend is into survival training, and he is a very good observer of people and events.

He was traveling and landed in some airport somewhere.

There he spotted a guy in tactical grey pants, 5.11 shirt, and dark glasses, tactical boots… the guy was looking like the “prototype” of “being tactical.” He was standing there with a “tough” expression on his face.

He did not move.

He was being all “tactical”.

But being tactical means not standing out.

The only problem is that he was sticking out badly because he was in the middle of hundreds of people who were in holiday mode; funny shirts, suitcases, travel bags, or business suits. Yet, he was standing there like a wannabe mercenary.

I mean maybe the guy just likes to wear cool stuff, I do not have anything against that.

The point is the concept of “looking tactical” went into some wrong and weird directions a long time ago for many reasons: books, Hollywood, survival industry, money… and that guy is a perfect example of how you can be dressed in tactical equipment and look tactical but still stick out ridiculously.

Looking tactical at that airport probably means being dressed like you are going on a holiday, or business trip, or walking and acting like you are checking the arrival of a plane, or talking on the phone or whatever else.

A problem with the tactical industry

One of the cool things about taking physical courses is getting some equipment for testing in a “real” situation.

It is cool because I like to check new things- survival items. It is also very good to discover some points in course situations when that piece of equipment works great or really sucks, because you may plan to improve it before you need it in real life.

Examples are many.

We have seen and tested in courses, good and high-quality tactical shirts, waterproof, lightweight, warm… with a very cool “tactical” patch on the sleeve. The only thing is that the patch is too cool, it “glows” in dark, which looks cool and tough, but not if you want to hide from someone who wants to harm you, or if you want to move unnoticed to harm someone else.

Now, the shirt is still great, more then great, but we realized what needs to be improved (the patch).

So, please memorize this: in survival business, cool does not necessarily mean good and usable.

Test it first, no matter how cool it looks on first sight.

How you act and look matters in an SHTF event.

One of the main takeaways, from my experience, when we are talking about the first period of SHTF is mass confusion and disorder.

You have (in urban areas) a whole bunch of confused and frightened people.

Now, what is the main and most important point of blending in?

It is the fact that you need to look and act like everybody else around you.

So, as a result, no – in the beginning phases of any SHTF – you probably do not want to look like an overly tactical mercenary who is tough and knows what to do.

You will want to look like everybody else around you until you figure out what to do and how to do that (bug out, bug in, etc.).

People often do have fantasies of looking like a Delta Force guy driving a tricked out monster truck when the SHTF, but actually the reality is in the beginning phase you have a better chance if you like the average guy who does not have too much valuable stuff while moving away, together with other frightened folks.

Otherwise everybody else around you will want to have your cool stuff.

While everybody else around you is in panic, moving away from danger with whatever they have in a hurry – you being truly tactical means you need to look exactly like them. You have to be the gray man, and being gray always changes.

Hide everything else.

You are completely “tactical” then.

The situation is fluid.

People like easy and concise explanations and solutions, while in reality, life (when SHTF) has intentions to kick you in the teeth right at the moment when you set in motion your perfect plan about whatever.

So yes, there are no easy and “all situation” solutions.

A perfect example is a favorite topic, the BOB (bug-out bag).

Whenever someone asks me about the “perfect BOB,” or what my BOB is I have a hard time answering.

The reason for that is in fact that I do not have my one, perfect BOB.

Now consider the situation when something bad happens and people are on streets, moving, rioting, running away and you go to bug out with a BOB that looks like it cost $500 dollars.

Most out there will probably be some folks who will want to hurt you in order to take it away from you.

In that situation, it makes more sense to have a bag with you that looks like a simple gym bag, or maybe something a bit more complicated than a shopping bag? Maybe nothing more.

Remember you need to adapt.

Adapt your BOB to the situation outside

So do I have my perfect BOB?


I have several of them that look different, some of them are nothing more complicated than a school bag, others are really “tactical.”

I do have things and equipment that are ready to be put in a bag very fast, and in layers on me, but BOB alone is going to be chosen based on the situation outside, just like my clothes for example.

I cannot be ready for everything but I can try to adapt to the situation outside.

SHTF is “fluid,” there are usually phases of it.  While having an assault rifle in your hand and full camo and night goggles make sense in some situations, in others it will clearly make a target out of you in split second.

You need to feel how the situation changes around you right from the first signs of SHTF to the full extent of it.

It is nothing spectacularly smart, it is just careful observation of how people around you react in events (when SHTF), and you need to adapt to those reactions. If you fail to do that, you’re simply going to fail to recognize the new rules outside.

About Selco:

Selco survived the Balkan war of the 90s in a city under siege, without electricity, running water, or food distribution. He is currently accepting students for his next physical course here.

In his online works, he gives an inside view of the reality of survival under the harshest conditions. He reviews what works and what doesn’t, tells you the hard lessons he learned, and shares how he prepares today.

He never stopped learning about survival and preparedness since the war. Regardless of what happens, chances are you will never experience extreme situations as Selco did. But you have the chance to learn from him and how he faced death for months.

Real survival is not romantic or idealistic. It is brutal, hard and unfair. Let Selco take you into that world.

Picture of Selco


Selco survived the Balkan war of the 90s in a city under siege, without electricity, running water, or food distribution. In his online works, he gives an inside view of the reality of survival under the harshest conditions. He reviews what works and what doesn’t, tells you the hard lessons he learned, and shares how he prepares today. He never stopped learning about survival and preparedness since the war. Regardless what happens, chances are you will never experience extreme situations as Selco did. But you have the chance to learn from him and how he faced death for months. Read more of Selco's articles here. Buy his PDF books here. Take advantage of a deep and profound insight into his knowledge by signing up for his unrivaled online course. Real survival is not romantic or idealistic. It is brutal, hard and unfair. Let Selco take you into that world.

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  • As with so many opinions, “it depends on the situation.”

    Early in a serious societal meltdown where people are moving and still communicating with others, the “gray man” concept may have some application.

    After things have gotten really “spicey” however, I have to wonder about this. If the world has turned “Mad Max” I suspect that, sooner or later, everyone will become a potential target.

    Imagine six men, “wolves,” in a large SUV rolling down the highway. They pass children playing in a front yard. Watching carefully over them are three men wearing wife beater T-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops or similar attire. Each carries a pump shotgun.

    A little further down the road, these same wolves see another property with activity taking place on it. The people the predators can see are wearing tactical clothing and chest rigs. Each person who can be seen is carrying a black rifle of some sort, as well as a pistol belt.

    Narrowing the decision to only the facts I have describe–and no more, after nightfall, which property is more likely to be visited by these predators? Which property will more likely be deemed to be the “low hanging fruit?”

    I’m betting that the property guarded by the bubbas with shotguns will be selected. For the predators to choose otherwise would be like drawing to an inside straight. I, myself, don’t do that when playing poker.

    • 1st mistake? exhibit openly to the recon of the “wolves”, Bubba or not. And you can´t know if those bubbas´ extended family is hiding somewhere with repeating crossbows and poisoned bolds. 4 or 5 bubbas could easily wipe down those wolves without them knowing what happened. Never underestimate bubbas.

      • Jose,
        That is a great point: Never underestimate the adversary.
        Very Sun Tzu. Appear to be weak when you are strong. Appear to be strong when you are weak.
        If your foe is large but unwieldly, be small and nimble.

  • Even though this seems obvious, there is still a caution in predicting how one might be perceived. Tactical is the obvious one. Yet, we can’t predict what the predator is really after. Being tactical goes beyond attire. Yet, Predators may be looking to mow down everyone who looks regular. In the natural world, predators can smell fear. Fear will be the predominant emotion when the SHTF — even if one is grounded and/or prepared. Yet fear is our ally as it pumps adrenaline into our system for action, as in the natural world. The little bunnies are always outsmarting our dogs in the way they hide. The dogs are yipping with delight for the chase. Bunnies are ready to bolt if they have to but usually they just go from hiding place to hiding place until the pups give up. We just have to chuckle because the pups never catch on.

    My most grounded place is to know who I am, live or die: to humbly assess my chances of surviving and going with my gut instinct — after I’ve sharpened my iron-clad thoughts with other iron-clad thoughts. Talk with the peeps you are moving in the crowd with. Folks are going to be casting about for ideas. Be the one with good ideas. The chance of who we are thrown in with bears a certain responsibility to our fellow human being. You don’t know who you are going to be thrown in with in a moving crowd. Anyone injured needs to get to safety too. Good moral decisions will provide a goodly amount of protection. Survivors know how to wait things out and only move when vitally necessary. Part of being tactical is also knowing when to part ways to get to your own loved ones.

    “Wise as serpents” means fighting like hell only after you have been discovered in your hiding place.

  • In short, don’t look out of place… period. If you stand out for any reason, think ‘target’. Some of the most dangerous people I have met never looked dangerous. They looked ordinary… like your neighbor or the guy who works on your car. They didn’t brag, they were not loud, they didn’t strut around with chest poked out, they never telegraphed how really dangerous they could be if targeted. They were polite and quiet. But they were alert and observant, just not in a way a potential assailant would pick up on. But neither did they look like an easy victim. Thats a very difficult balancing act that takes practice.

    • Les,
      Your comment reminds of stories DH tells about his coworkers. Guys who brag about having “stuff”, and how they “aren’t afraid to use it”. Then they will ask DH, who will neither confirm nor deny, just leave them wondering. Makes them think twice. Doesn’t stop the others from bragging, unfortunately for them.

  • Selco, love your articles…very thought provoking! You are reflecting on the way the modern prepper movement is heading. As with any movement it starts out all over the place then gets more refined as it
    goes along. Governments and Militarie’s teach us a lot about the gray man concept. Something we should all think about practicing. As some countries fall into cataclysm, sad for them but, we learn from those events and store that surviving knowledge while passing it along to like minded others. Thank You for passing you’re (as sad as they are) experiences along to others so they can either be more prepared or not repeat the same mistakes as others. God Bless and stay safe my friend!

  • Brown jeans, green and brown plaid shirt. In Wally world you’re just another customer but step into the woods and most eyes will pass right over you. Green or brown backpack with contrassting colors for the exterior pockets, a flat spray paint would work. you can carry a camo cover for it in one of the pockets. I do agree you need to work on not standing out in a target rich environment.

  • Selco,
    I always appreciate your insight, even on a topic (such as the gray man) that has been written about almost endlessly. There is one problem that I have on the subject of avoiding the tactical appearance. Let’s say you are at work, wearing business attire and street shoes when the SHTF. You have a 72 hour Get Home Bag in your office that is intended to support you for the three days it will take to home on foot. Inside the bag are a sturdy pair of hiking shoes and clothing that is appropriate for the three day hike. Question: do you change into this ‘tactical-looking’ outfit before leaving the office, or do you wait until you’ve cleared the city limits before changing? Mind you, it might take 24 hours just to get to the edge of the city and you are wearing business attire, street shoes and a awkward looking backpack. And here is the big problem: Half of the Get Home Bag is filled with clothing and shoes that you could have been wearing as soon as you started your trek. That means that you’ve wasted valuable space that could have been used for water, food, tarp, emergency first aid, etc.

    To my way of thinking, that type of gray man effort will draw just as much attention to the person, if not more, than having some sort of tactical appearance. If I have to step out into a SHTF world to make it home, I think that I want to be wearing the clothing, shoes and gear that will best serve my needs for the duration. What do you think?

    • Combination of the two perhaps ? A large and comfortable suit, with a shoulder holster and a pair of comfortable hiking shoes and a cross body satchel for some food, water, ammo. “The Hiking Detective/Messenger”. If it’s going to take 3 days to get home, it will take 3 days in a suit, the same as it will take 3 days in tactical camo clothing. One makes you a target from afar, … one makes you a target up close, but with unexpected stopping power. Just saying it doesn’t have to be all one way or the other, …. but only what is absolutely necessary.

      • Dunno about ya all, but when I wore business attire inside the DC Beltway, those shoes would not be good for a mile let alone 3 day hike, never mind if I had to go cross country or do a 100yrds dash.
        And I can go a lot faster in a pair of combat or the like boots.

        In and around DC, to include Dulles and Regan it was not unusual to see people carrying tactical packs. Back then I carried a Maxpedition “brief” case daily.
        Cargo pants were in style at one point too. I still wear Duluth and North Face cargo pants. Not exactly tactical looking.

  • You make some interesting points, but I would argue that in the early moments, there’s still no one looking to kick your butt and steal your stuff, if you live in the city anyway. They’re looking to get out, nothing more.
    Before obsessing over having multiple bug out gear sets and escape routes, I’d suggest just not living in an urban area… If you’re that concerned about the end of the world.
    As an urban dweller, I think that if it comes, it’ll be too fast and brutal to survive, or too slow and chaotic to particularly stand out regardless.
    It may not be a bad idea (guessing most of you are USA citizens with guns) not to be in a place loaded with military gear either. Just a thought 😉

  • This is why we talk about being the “Grey Man” there will be a point where it wont matter but in the beginning of a real SHTF event Selco has this right… Grey man all the way , if you are in camo/tac in the middle of a big urban area you will stand out.. if you are in camo in a rural town with lots of hunters and country folk you will blend right in… on the other hand, if you are in that same country town wearing business attire or snowflake gear you will stick out…

    • I agree with you up to a point. I spend a lot of time looking for people in airports and other congested areas. To me, the people that stand out are for reasons that have nothing to do with a “tactical” appearance, whatever that actually means. The people that I notice most quickly are those wearing “look at me, I’m wealthy” clothing, shoes that you couldn’t run in if your life depended on it, people that are obese, that have obvious mobility problems or that are totally absorbed in their smartphone. If you were looking to take quick advantage of someone in a crisis (SHTF) situation, are you going to look for a situationally unaware pushover, or someone that happens to be wearing cargo pants? On top of that, I really have a problem with the term “tactical;” it has become virtually meaningless. There are “tactical” flashlights, pens, knives, shoes, pants, shirts, hats, etc., etc. The word has become a marketing term aimed a gullible people who think they can gain some mystical edge by purchasing their product. If you are dressed like a paratrooper in full battle gear, you will most likely stand out to the people who are in your direct line of sight. but you can be just as effectively kitted out without looking like you just landed via parachute in full camo.

  • Lol there’s a well off guy around here who has prepper mottos painted all over his new 4×4, wears contractor pants aka 511s aka blackwater evening wear, tac vests, HAM radios, etc.

    Not a good idea to advertise, but perhaps he gets people to start thinking who might never consider the fact the lights can go out, the shelves can go empty, and the power can stay off.

    • LOL, So then you are saying that the excessive advertising that makes him an obvious target, …. is like a public awareness service ? Hmmm, there might be some merit to that, but I wouldn’t want to be the one doing the advertising.

      A different scenario, but the logic is kind of the same:
      My nephew was telling me I need to get a big gun safe. I said, “Why?, … A full gun safe says “here we are, take us”,… where an empty gun safe says “We’re hiding, keep looking and tear the place up until you find us”, … Which would I want? Neither !!

  • Not aimed at the author of this article, but who ever prefaced it with the douche comment about 511 pants; I built my house wearing 511 pants, taken elk, and hiked the Grand Canyon. My first pair just died after 14 years. Wearing tac lights in the kitchen right now, they are probably the best chef pant in the world as who needs Teflon coating more than a chef? Am I a douche? Probably, but you need to chill; They are just pants your entire identity isn’t based on what you wear

    • DDEL, You wrote, “They are just pants your entire identity isn’t based on what you wear”.
      I think things have gotten a bit off point here. No one is talking about “your entire identity” or the that 511s can’t be great for many activities.

      It’s all about what are the best clothes for SHTF situations. I believe in reading everything written by knowledgeable individuals and then deciding what is best based on each specific situation. That’s all each of us can do.

  • Meh everyone round here wears stuff. No biggie.
    Look at 5-11 sales cause somebody’s sure wearing them.
    I get what your saying but every place is different

  • Nothing will put a bullseye on your back quicker than that “tacticool” look. You want to be the first one shot, walk around looking like you are ready for a fight. A close tangent to this is that we should train how we expect to fight. I spend most of my time in casual wear and concealed carry, so I train wearing my edc clothes and with my concealed firearms far more than wearing combat loadout. There may come a time when I need to demonstrate a more combative presence, most likely as a deterrent when establishing a secure locus, hopefully with the help of like minded neighbors. I’ve been shot at too many times to want to invite such actions in my day to day activities.

  • This “website” is an absolute train wreck of a design. Nothing but flashing ads and krap-ass pop-ups. It looks as though it was put together by a retarded 6 year old. No one can take anything from here seriously in the format it is currently laid out in. Can you go to a real website and get an idea of how it should look?

  • Going “tactical” down here, SHTF or not would be a stoopid idea. Gray-man looks and smiley, bonafide attitude even if your homestead is fully booby-trapped and you have a pond filled up with piranhas. Just saying…

    • Piranhas, awesome!
      We do not have piranhas up here, but you just gave me an idea: BEWARE! ST.O.U.S (Snapping Turtles Of Unusual Size)!!

      To add to this Selco article, again, while living in and around the DC area, suit and tie, dress shoes of been “gray-man” for me.
      Not very practicable if S were to HTF while I was at work. Or, got stuck in a snow storm. Seen that, up close and personal.
      However, now where I live, it is not unusual to see someone wearing a Mossy Oak, Real Tree, or the like jacket, boots. Last year, during deer season, saw a few guys in the local TSC and they appeared to be getting the last of the things they needed before heading out into the woods. No one thought differently.
      I wear a number of surplus, USGI clothing around the farm all the time. Built well, works, and compared to some commercial clothing, almost half the price. The one UPS guy has seen me in issued gear more than a few times, and with a long fixed blade knife on my belt. Is it tacti-cool? Nope. It is practicable, working farm knife.
      If S were to HTF, honestly I think I would wear my normal clothing, as that is the norm for me. If I did not, then people would question. Keep to your normal routine.

      Now, IMHO, I think a community should normalize the open carry of long guns if SHTF. Someone driving through (if they can still drive) seeing everyone with a long gun over their shoulder or back, might think twice about doing anything dumb. And it does not have to be a tricked out black gun/AR15. Could be a bolt rifle, a lever gun, a shot gun.

      During hunting season it is not uncommon to see someone parked on the side of the road with a rifle, heading into the woods. Seen one of my Amish neighbors walking down the road with a rifle slung over his shoulder (yes, they can use rifles for hunting) twice.

      A few years ago, a SuperMax had two guys escape. Reports came in of them being a far East as NYC, as far West as Buffalo, a few in between, and one report of them being sighted somewhere in the Caribbean . . . yeah.
      Fact was, no one knew where they were, and as the SuperMax is only a 3 hour drive from us, suddenly more than a few of us locals had a rifle or shotgun slung over our shoulders and everyone knew why. No one had a problem with it. I suspected some were concealed carrying.

      Now, would I go full out tacti-cool? Meh, if there was a known threat in the area then it is only prudent. Otherwise, a rifle with a extra magazine or two and wear the appropriate clothing for the season, weather.
      I can tell you this, wearing full battle rattle with front, side, back plates, chest carrier of mags, rifle and side arm and water bladder is dang heavy. Dont expect to be doing any fast maneuvers, 100 yard dashes, long humps without motor-T and whatever you do, dont fall down. With all that weight, you just might break something.

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