How to Move Through the Woods Silently

By Indefinitely Wild on at

While hunting this week, I managed to stalk to within 30 yards of a bear and snuck up on a US Army Ranger undetected. Here’s how to be vewy, vewy quiet outdoors. It’s a skill anyone can use.

The Benefits of Being Quiet

You don’t have to be hunting to benefit from going undetected outdoors. Moving stealthily will allow you to see more animals, prevent other humans from being aware of your presence (which can be good for safety) and just generally help you fit more seamlessly into the environment in which you’re participating. It’ll help you be a part of nature rather than a loud disturbance.

The next time you’re some place wild, stop for 15 minutes, sit down if you want to, and make no noise and no movements. You’ll be amazed at how alive it is out there. We humans just tend to travel in a bubble of disruption, in which animals don’t appear. We are the ultimate apex predator after all, and everything out there has a reason to fear us.

This trip, we called in a bobcat, had a cougar stalk us (he got about 15 feet away, on top of a ridge behind my back!), watched as a doe walked calmly in front of us about 10 yards away, not aware of our presence, and were able to find black bears using nothing but our ears.

The last day, a group hiked past us on the trail. With speakers blasting and plenty of hooting and hollering and stomping taking place, they didn’t realise we were standing there until they were right on us. And then they were shocked by two guys just hanging out with bows. Dirty looks all-around; them because they don’t understand hunting, us because they were invading the environment with noise pollution.

What Gives You Away

Most animals have mediocre vision, so camouflage really isn’t necessary. Just like in Jurassic Park, it’s movement and noise that draw attention to you.

Also consider your smell. Bears are said to have the best sense of smell on the planet. Seven times better than that of a bloodhound or 2,100 times better than that of a human. Washing your clothes in a no-scent, no-UV brightener detergent and showering with a scent-free soap is an easy way to reduce the impact your odor has on the world you’re operating in. Which way is the wind blowing? It shouldn’t be blowing from you to the animal you’re attempting to stalk.

Outside, everything is moving all the time, just probably not at the same pace you are. Observing natural patterns and adapting yourself to them is also a great way to reduce your visual footprint.

Noise is the big one though, because it travels and can be observed passively. You have two kinds to worry about: the stuff you step on and brush against, and the noise your clothing, pack and body make.

How To Move Through The Woods Silently

Clothing and Footwear

All the being sneaky in the world can’t make up for noisy footfalls and rustling clothing and jingling keys. Before you go into the woods, try on your stuff and move around in it. What do you hear? If it’s loud stomps and a noisy swiffing as your trouser legs rub together, then that’s going to be even worse outside. The military has soldiers test their load outs by dressing up fully in packs and harnesses and whatnot, then jumping up and down. Do your keys stay quiet when you do the same? If not, get rid of them.

The softer and lighter your footwear is, the quieter it’ll be. My Salomon Quest 4D GTX boots — amazingly stable off trail — squeak and stomp. The Adidas Outdoor Terex Swift Boosts are much quieter, but much better still is just going barefoot.

But that can hurt. Especially over thorns and rocks and sharp sticks and stinging ants and whatnot. So, this week, I donned a pair of Kevlar toe socks from the Swiss Barefoot Company. Those provide the feeling and dexterity of going barefoot, but keep my feet from being cut or abraded. I was free to focus on foot placement and matching the pace of the world around me and not worry about stepping on all the blackberry brambles. It was in these that I was able to sneak up on that Ranger and the bear and I was so impressed I’ll be using them on all future hunting trips that require stalking. They’re on Kickstarter now in an updated, Dyneema thread form that’s even stronger.

I also wore those Lululemon ABC trousers I’ve told you about before. They breathed well and wear silently, while providing secure pockets for your things. And a merino T-shirt which is again silent and breathable, this one was from Westcomb. The Lululemons survived a solid day of crawling through a blackberry thicket on a blood trail, but the T-shirt did not.

How To Move Through The Woods Silently

Movement, Foot Placement and Stringing it All Together

While stalking the bear, we were getting intermittent breezes and planes and helicopters passing overhead. I was able to use the movement and noise of that wind to disguise my movements and noise and the aircraft just for noise. You can do the same with similar environmental factors, often created by the quarry itself.

If the world around you is still and silent, you need to be still and silent yourself.

Use the Fox Walk, as taught by Tom Brown. It really does work. I was taught it by a Cherokee as a kid and have used it ever since, to great effect. Combined with going barefoot or in the toe socks, this is how I transform from just plain sneaky, to utterly silent.

Observe the ground you are about to pass over and pick a path that’s as free as possible of noise makers like dry leaves and snapping twigs. As you place each foot, feel for those things before you shift your weight and don’t bear down on them if you detect them. Find a better place to put your foot.

And if you do make a noise, freeze. Do so until attention has shifted off you.

Stay in shadows, match the movement of the vegetation and no one will see you coming.

Practise, Practise and Practise

You don’t need to go outdoors to practise all this stuff. I do it every day, everywhere I go, attempting to enter rooms and move through crowds undetected. Examine your actions and their consequences. When and why did people notice you? Experiment. Try different things.

And, when you are outside, practics good noise discipline. Don’t just stomp along a trail because you’re not hunting, treat your hike as not only an opportunity to practice stalking, but also to see the wildlife.

If you go in a group, walk away when they’re not looking and attempt to approach them undetected. Don’t tell them what you’re doing.

See a deer? See how close you can get to it before it detects you. And, when it does, what cause it? Was it the direction of the wind blowing your scent towards it? Was it a flash of reflection in sunlight? Was it you breaking a twig under your feet? Learn a lesson every single time and improve due to it. The net result will be a better outdoors experience altogether.

This article originally appeared on Indefinitely Wild, Gizmodo's blog on adventure travel and the gear that gets us there