Leave No Trace Behind: Hiding Your Tracks 101

Leave No Trace Behind: Hiding Your Tracks 101

For almost 30 years, Christopher Thomas Knight lived in the woods in Maine virtually undetected. With an intense desire to be free of other people, Knight, also known as the North Pond Hermit, lived undisturbed for almost three decades despite the efforts of people to catch him.

Knight supported himself by making more than 1,000 burglaries and stealing food and supplies from the camps and cabins near his shelter. Despite the best efforts of local law enforcement to catch him, Knight knew how to hide his tracks well. It wasn’t until after one of the camp’s game wardens set up a military-grade motion sensor that he was finally caught.

Knight was able to keep on stealing for almost three decades by being meticulous. He used the terrain and the weather to his advantage, preferring to do his raids when it was overcast or raining and people were more likely to stay out of the woods. At first, he used moonlight to find his way, until he could navigate the woods in complete darkness after the police increased their efforts to catch him. Knight also varied his methods to keep himself from being predictable and managed to get in and out of the camps and cabins he chose without a trace.

Christopher Knight managed to elude capture for almost 30 years, stealing thousands of items during that time.


Before the advent of supermarkets and mass food production, being able to spot or hide tracks was a fairly common skill among pre-industrial civilization families because their survival depended on it. People tracked some of the animals they hunted and sometimes tracked other people for various reasons. People also learned how to cover their traces and keep from being followed, or to simply remain unseen to others who could pose a threat.

Nowadays, these skills have been contained to a small number of people because of all the conveniences that surround us. We don’t hunt for animals to survive anymore, and if we feel unsafe we usually count on the local police or EMS. This isn’t exactly a bad thing, but there are still situations where not leaving a trail behind you is useful.

In a disaster or survival situation, the scarcity of resources makes people desperate, and desperate people can be very dangerous. If there’s no one else that you can trust, the ability to be invisible can be vital. Covering your tracks lets you leave unwanted people at bay and provides you some room until you can make it to safety.


Successfully tracking someone is a product of logical reasoning and common sense (and, in part, the carelessness of the prey). When a person passes by an area, they often leave tell-tale signs of their presence behind. This can be a shoe imprint, a discarded item, or upturned pebbles or stones— things that will be out of place but detectable only to a trained eye.

These signs can be interpreted by a tracker and provides them with information that they can use to get their prey. Just by looking at tracks left behind, it’s possible to know the number of people in a group, how far ahead they are, and even their capability to defend themselves from an attack.

While it’s going to be hard and time-consuming to eliminate your tracks, there are still some basic and easy-to-follow measures that you can take to make it more difficult for a pursuer to catch up to you.


The prints on the ground left by a person’s feet are one of the most noticeable and useful traces for a tracker.

Through details like the size of the sole imprint, the tread pattern, or the number of different marks left on the soil, your pursuer can immediately identify specifics about your group even if he’s miles behind you.

Even if the people following you are not expert trackers, continued sightings of your prints on the ground are enough to tell them that they’re on the right path.

  • If you can, travel on hard-packed soil, rocks or gravel. You won’t be leaving too much of a trace on these compared to soft or sandy soil.
You can travel over rocks and pebbles without leaving visible tracks.
  • Aside from leaving detailed marks, moving through soft and wet soil will also let mud stick to your shoes and make you leave obvious signs elsewhere.


  • The tread patterns on your sole is a signature that your follower can use. If you have the means and the opportunity to do so, change your shoes while travelling to confuse your tracker.


  • Wrap the bottom of your shoe with layers of cloth to mask its treads and keep it from digging too deeply into the soil. In a pinch, you can also tie leaves to your soles.

    Overshoes made of carpet used by drug smugglers crossing the desert border. Thick cloth wrapped over your shoe, covering the soles, can mask the prints that you make
  • When in a group, walking in a single file can be an effective way to mask your actual numbers from your pursuer (But this can also make your tracks deeper and more obvious).


  • Avoid thick brush as much as you can. No matter how careful you are, it’s almost impossible not to alter the plants that you’ll be going through, leaving your pursuer evidence that you’ve been in the area.


  • If it can’t be helped and your group needs to travel through bushes or a field with tall grass, it’s better to walk side by side, a couple of feet apart, instead of a single file. Multiple people using the same path and walking through tall grass will make a trail that will be very easy to spot.

    When in a group, spreading out when passing through tall grass minimizes the chances of creating a visible artificial trail
  • Weeds and other small plants get crushed easily underneath your feet. Make deliberate steps and avoid stepping on clumps of weed or grass.


  • Be careful not to scrape the bark off trees or break branches. If the person following you can’t find anything on the ground, they’ll start looking up for signs of your presence.


Aside from leaving footprints, you will also need to consider these things to hide your presence from other people.

  • Keep It Clean

The easiest way to know if people have been in the area is to look for things that are out of place. Plastic bags, food wrappers, cigarette butts and other discarded man-made items can only come from humans, and even if a wild animal managed to drag it from you, it won’t be carrying it too far away and will still alert other people of your presence. Don’t throw your trash willy-nilly and keep it in your pockets or your bag. Larger items and human waste should be buried in an isolated area.

Items, like trash, will tell your pursuer that you’ve been in the area. Keep your trash with you, or bury it in the ground.
  • Keep It Down

Human noises can only come from, obviously, humans. Keep quiet during your travel and learn how to use signals to pass information to your other party members without signaling your pursuers.Also, be aware of items you have with you that could make unwanted noise like jingling keys or canisters banging against each other. When possible, wrap such items in a layer of cloth (like a handkerchief) or anything that muffles the sound. If you’re carrying any electronics, especially phones and radios, make sure they’re off or muted and all audible alarms have been disabled.


  • Lights Out

Travelling in the dark provides some advantages when it comes to losing people who are tailing you, especially if you’re familiar with the area and they’re not. The darkness can provide the perfect cover, but if you’re travelling with flashlights lit, it will be easy to spot you from a mile, or more,If you must use a flashlight to read a map, use one with a red output. It won’t be as bright as an ordinary flashlight and it keeps your eyes used to the dark. Fire will be easy to see at night, even from long distances. If it can’t be helped, it’s still possible to create a fire at night without being easily seen by making a Dakota fire hole.

If a fire is absolutely needed, a fire pit near the base of a tree can be a good choice- it produces less smoke, and the tree can diffuse the smoke that manages to rise above the pit. It can also be easily covered up

Also, be mindful of items that could reflect light, especially when the moon is out—this includes your own skin. Cover them up.

  • Lose the Dog

If you suspect a dog is also being used to track you, there’s little you can do but increase the distance as quickly as you can, or use the terrain to slow them down. Climbing rocky outcrops and other obstacles that could hamper a dog’s movements will buy you some time, as well as surrounding yourself with scents that could distract the canine for a while, such as passing through a crowded city or using game trails whenever possible.

A trained hound is very difficult, if not impossible, to shake off your scent. Your best bet is to increase the distance between you and the dog as soon as possible

If you’re traveling a great distance over the span of days, it’s almost impossible not to leave a single trace behind and the possibility that you’ll get caught will depend on the skill of your hunter. But with some discipline and common sense, you can slow down your pursuer and be in your safe house before they can catch up.

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