Escape and Evasion 101: Overview

The worst case scenario for most people is illegal detention by criminals or hostile states. We discuss some myths and consideratons about E&E.

April 5, 2020
ISG Team


One of the topics often conflated with 'survival' is escape and evasion. While the military lumps this together into one distinct (and for them, useful) package, we view these as two entirely separate concepts. Living off the land while running from an enemy make sense if you're a downed pilot or special operator in a hostile foreign nation... but if you're in a host nation that speaks your language, people look like you, and you're familiar with the colloquialisms and culture, well, nature is a lot less forgiving than the man-made environment.

In the age of surveillance drones and people tripping over themselves to rat out their neighbors, Escape and Evasion means something very different in the modern West than it does in undeveloped conflict zones.

As with a lot of our topics, this is going to ruffle some feathers. Here's why:

  • - There's money to be made 'make believing' that E&E is practical for most people. It's not. Especially in the demographic mostly likely to seek out information on E&E (males, 18-45, who are fit and motivated). Unless you're involved in trafficking drugs, you're not getting kidnapped, guys. Yes, there's a chance you might be held up, but there's a difference between kidnapping, and controlling someone while you rob them, steal their wallet, or jack their car.
  • - It's going to dispel some of the myths about how useful "tradecraft" is in the field. There's a *lot* of snake oil regarding tradecraft and hard skills. Anyone who knows better will tell you - tradecraft is almost all "soft" skills, such as interpersonal communication/social engineering, area studies, pre-planning, and establishing protocols and contingencies. Very, very few problems are resolved because you can pick handcuffs or locks.

  • - Most of our readers are solidly "good guys" and work in the profession of arms... Their job is to make legal arrests and see that the person in custody doesn't escape.

So why in the world would we talk on topics that inform people how to better slip through a captor's hands when there are not many 'illegal' captors, and you're not likely to ever deal with this if you're not deeply involved in trafficking?

A few reasons, and they might require some open mindedness:

  1. Not all authority is benevolent. As we discuss in the Non-Permissive Environment, sometimes governments make mistakes. If you travel abroad, political situations can change fast. We don't advocate escaping arrest for a crime you committed. Take your licks... but if you find yourself in a nation undergoing a military coup, you might want to know how to lay low or have some plan for getting away.
  2. Wrongful capture, detention, or restraint happens apart from state level actors (kidnapping, home invasions, etc) and can target you without warning - especially abroad. (read this twice before you start lecturing us on how it can happen to regular people - we know, that's why this bullet point exists).
  3. Given the choice between resistance or escape and evasion, E&E minimizes the threat of violence to all involved.
  4. Especially with a rapidly growing community of human traffickers, target demographics (women and children) should have some understanding of common restraint types and how to defeat them. Men should as well. Even though we believe you're not likely to be captured, illegal restraint during home invasions is a nasty precursor to violence. You want options. Restraints take them from you.
  5. If you're an officer, it's not impossible to think that you yourself might be taken captive, as happened in the Shannon Street Massacre. Not only this, but a thorough understanding of the techniques employed in counter custody will give you an edge if you're facing a truly dangerous suspect.

In the Non-Permissive Environment, we talk at length about how governments make mistakes. All too often, this has less to do with a 'government', and far more to do with an individual (or group) on a power trip who thinks themselves above the law. While our legal system 'works' in most places, most of the time, it may not indefinitely. As well, if you find yourself traveling outside the U.S. or Anglo-law West, don't expect a legal system that assumes you're innocent.

The 'Catch-22' that this creates doesn't need much explanation if you've got an imagination:

Fairness isn't a concern. You're on your own.

Before Capture: Evasion

Crew building assets. Stick to things you know, chat people up, make friends. Do right by people and they'll look out for you. *Do this before you need favors*

This is a touchy subject, as with many of the things we discuss. We're going to assume a few things when we discuss this: 

  1. You're not doing anything illegal
  2. You're going to accept full responsibility for your actions

So the first bit of advice is this: Don't be there.

We discuss keeping your mouth shut in NPE, but real talk: if you can be somewhere else, especially in a place that has Western law, the chance of incarceration drops fast. It's far better to be somewhere else changing your appearance while witnesses try and remember what you look like.

Another story I'd rather not tell, but I slipped the net on an officer coming to arrest me one time because the place had two driveways, and he chose to run down, M16 (legit, old school one as well, but that's another story) in hand, all kitted up like he was storming Najaf. 

I drove up and out, right past his cruiser, and into the next county as fast as I could without getting a ticket and staying off the main roads. The officer was going full-tilt blitzkrieg because I got in a fight, by the way. I guess he heard there might be guns involved (they really weren't) and was looking to notch his belt.

You don't pick which officer responds, you don't choose what message they receive when they get the call, and you don't pick their level of competence. It can definitely be in your best interest to not be there.

So sometimes not being present - even in a nation that has a fair(ish) legal system is the best option. No one cares if you're guilty or innocent, and not being at the scene gives you plausible deniability (their word vs yours).

In more serious matters, such as avoiding hostile state or paramilitary parties, pay close attention to the next article in this series, which will discuss the matter in greater detail.

Who gets Kidnapped?

We want to be clear about this from the start: in our view, E&E is about risk mitigation, and that means we work from the most likely situation forward. Tradecraft is cool and all, but the chances of it being useful to the average American male (the guys who really dig it the most) are super low. So, who is at risk? Who needs education on Escape and Evasion the most?

Children, and it starts with some awareness of how abductors lure children in and how to behave in those critical first three hours. While our purpose here isn't to address child safety (Link coming first week of April) the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have put together a strong statistic analysis that should help emphasize this point. Here are some of their findings:

  • - 68% of attempted child abductions involved a vehicle.
  • - Approximately 31% of the attempts happened when the child was going to or from school (or a school related activity)
  • - 34% of those attempts occurred during the hours of 2:00 7:00 PM - the hours children are least likely to be supervised.
  • - 64% of abductions involve a female child.
  • - 35% of children abdudcted are between the age of 10-14 years old.

Of the incidences that had an outcome of escape;

  • - 51% of the children walked or ran from the suspect.
  • - 29% of the children (one in three) reported yelling, kicking, pulling away, or attracting attention.
  • - 20% involved a Good Samaritan or parent coming to the child's aid.

Give this some thought as we continue discussing captivity. Give that link from the NCMEC a read. It's worth your time if you want to realistically assess the threat. We have an article geared specifically towards helping your children become more aware, and that can be found here.

After Capture: Escape

Restraints in this context can be either Physical, or Environmental; For example a handcuff is a physical restraint, whereas a locked door or building with no unmonitored exits would be environmental.

Both are manipulated and stacked to create an environment that's difficult for the captive to escape. Often times, and especially with kidnappings, these environments change rapidly at first until a final holding place is established (in the case of ransom) or until the captive is sufficiently compliant (medicated, beat, tortured, etc). In all cases, the first and best opportunity for escape is initial contact.

The consequences of risking escape immediately are almost *always* better than compliance and attempting to escape later. The more control the captor has, the few options the captive has. There's a relationship with time and survivability - the longer you're in someone else's custody, the less likely you are to escape.

If you are captured, chances are defeating restraints won't be a huge asset, so if you plan to John Wick your way out, you're probably going to die... But discreetly giving yourself some wiggle room (say, pick your cuffs so you can tear a little slit in the bag over your head, or loosening them so you can slip out with some effort, but leaving them 'on'...) can help you be a little less at their mercy, and when you're captured, sometimes it's those little things that go a damn long way. Controlling *some* aspects of your captivity is better than controlling none.

Capture in many foreign countries is a direct path to ransom. Americans are all rich, and regardless what the government says, we absolutely DO negotiate with terrorists. Often times I hear operators and contractors talking about wearing a Rolex or the like to 'bribe' someone out of capturing them. Draw your own conclusions, but the chances of them not simply taking it and still detaining you are slim. Keep some holdout cash for bribes, but wearing wealth is a sign you have wealth, for better or worse.

If you are captured by ransom seekers, it can be worth while to say your family will pay it. You want to be worth more alive than dead, but you should suddenly lack understanding of all things when questioned. Your head hurting, malnourishment, confusion, fatigue... all can make convenient reasons why you're not up to talking.

Now is as good of a time as any to say:

If you're a fit male between 18-55 (the training demographic of the gun and martial arts world), your chances of being kidnapped are significantly less than zero.

If you're not trafficking in guns, drugs, or humans, the only real 'captivity' you risk is being detained by the police. If you decide to 'escape' official custody for a crime you committed (regardless whether or not you agree with it) your chances of a decent outcome just plummeted. Don't think because you know this stuff that it's useful most of the time. If you actually want to make it useful, start teaching your wives and children; the demographics who suffer human trafficking, rape, and abduction the most often.

Sensory Depravation

In addition to physical restraint, the ability to hear, see, and communicate are of the utmost importance to the captor (and of course, the captive). Captives are often blindfolded or have something like a pillow case placed over their head, or tape over their mouths to ensure that they are unable to communicate, plead, or coordinate with other captives.

At this point, this probably doesn't sound much like what you hear from escape and evasion experts across the internet. That's because the vast majority of them don't really know what they're talking about. Counter-custody isn't a street level, random attack (for the most part). It's not about throwing on your bug out bag and disarming hoodrats as you escape a dystopian city at this point.

Most abductions have planning and preparation as a core component, so when they start out with a conversation about the tools they carry and how they plan on fighting back, halt the presses and ask what this person really knows about it. During the Beslan siege, males over 12 were separated out, taken upstairs, shot in the head and thrown out the window.

Ask "Will this approach work against 4 men armed with AK47's?" If the answer is no, move on.

Here's something you probably won't hear in most of the courses guys take studying violence:

This component of your skill development isn't about violence. It's about tact, discretion, subterfuge, and wit. You can't shoot your way out of being on the lam in a hostile foreign nation, or when professional attackers come for you. All you can do is out-last their will to track you down, or get far enough away fast enough that it's no longer worth their time. Failing that, staying focused on something that keeps you from giving up.

On this topic, we can't recommend  "The Seventh Circle" by Rob Langdon strongly enough. His story of captivity is a gritty, realistic look at what you can expect in long term imprisonment, which is a topic we are not qualified to speak on with any firsthand authority.


Escape and Evasion, both in training and reality, is something that I don't believe words can capture. Being hunted by another human being is perhaps the most nerve wracking feeling you can experience. The insidious paranoia, mistrust, and constant hits of adrenaline and cortisol will burn you out in ways that can't be explained by words like 'fatigue'. The exhaustion you'll feel is primal.

As we often discuss, Escape and Evasion is a topic that's deeply rooted in our early work: understanding the nature of the problem, having a solid understanding of the hard and soft skills that accompany emergencies, and being able to stay composed... those are the crucial elements of outpacing the reaper. Above all: these lessons, and those you'll find in our other writings on "Fights", "NPE", and "Urban Survival" aren't coming from us based on our successes. They're the result of our failures. What you're getting is our 20/20 hindsight that required years of reflection to truly understand.

In the moment, these concepts will transform from being just words to very real, very intense neuro-chemical cocktails that will transform you into something other than a modern, civilized human. We can't put you in those positions outside of training, but we can tell you what to expect, and some thoughts on how you can stay composed, lose as little as possible, and stay alive.


As this series continues, we will discuss the technical mechanisms for escaping illegal restraint (along with the consequences for doing so), and some tradecraft regarding conducting yourself when on the lam, defeating methods physical restraint, and how to select tools that can help you avoid being captured. Stay tuned for our next installment of 'Escape and Evasion'.

Be safe, be smart, stay free.


Edited addition:

1. Abduction is indefinite, accosting is transitional. There’s a difference.

2. The total number of adult males who went missing (not only abducted) was about 96,100 on 2017. That means your chance of going missing (not being abducted) is 0.02%, or 1/10,000. For a child (especially females between 10-14), the chances of being abducted are 1/500. Set your priorities.

3. Prioritizing skills doesn’t mean less likely skills are necessary or important, it just means we work from the most likely situations out.

4. If statistics convince you your position on gun control is correct, but don’t matter when it comes to crime rates, you’re wrong. Stats are a useful guide. If it doesn’t jive with your local knowledge, cool. This article is a general overview.

5. Being accosted is a transitional phase that could develop into abduction, but the intent isn’t to keep that person in your custody/captivity indefinitely. In this article, we are ONLY discussing abduction. Words mean things.

Please, if you still have a valid critique after reading the whole article, fire off your critiques. If you see something you don't like, quit reading, and start your tantrum...

We don't need your drama, we don't care if you don't like it, and because we're here to stake a claim in reality first, and we aren't selling anything.

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