Escape and Evasion 201: The Lam

Have you ever considered what it's like to be hunted by other humans? In E&E2, we discuss trying to actually escape and some of the things you can expect.

April 12, 2020
ISG Team


In Escape and Evasion 101, we discussed some of the conceptual concerns with facing illegal restraint, captivity, and unjust enforcement of law. Now, we will discuss the nuts and bolts of how to stay under the radar long enough to get somewhere better. As with the first installment, this article will have some sketchy information. We've answered the question "why" in our article "NPE", and hope you will consider that governments are often staffed by individuals who are neither good nor fair. Under such conditions, which could be present already or could develop, the only "just" answer to unjust persecution could be escaping with your life to a place that is not hostile towards you.

If you don't believe that these skills are relevant or necessary, we'd like to remind you as recently as 150 years ago, it was legal to own a human in the United States. Far more recently than that, we've seen substantial abuses of power, illegal incarceration, and breaches of justice, so we say with a clear head: this isn't likely, but it is possible.

While we hope that those entrusted with enforcement of law will keep their loyalty to those they're sworn to protect, in a country of 325,000,000 people, abuses simply will happen. Our goal isn't to encourage you to do anything illegal, indeed we hope that you can find yourself able to entirely avoid the legal system and if you commit a crime, you accept that you're responsible for your action.

Before we begin, this information is based on our experience and represents only one of many possible views. Always follow up with others who have contextually relevant experience to verify your training for real problems.

Covert Tools

An example of an E&E kit. Don't keep it all in one place.
Hold out cash

Among some of the immediate concerns for those who want to escape capture and captivity are tools of acquisition. That means items you can carry that will get you things you need. The first and foremost is money. Some holdout cash can be the difference between having a method of changing your appearance or having a safe place to crash and not. It can facilitate bribing or favors, and is typically a universal language. Don't overlook the importance of having some cash on hand, and don't keep it all in one place.

During training one time, I was being chased around a downtown area. Knowing capture would mean some pretty severe consequences (see: being waterboarded and zapped with a portable TEMS unit until I peed myself or could escape), some folding money got me around town in a couple ways. First of all, it's a good way to pay bus/cab/uber fare... and a good tip can change your appearance to anyone asking, too. Remember, most people are for sale.

Belt blade/Saw

A small razor blade secured to the back of the belt can be a method of escaping tape or rope based restraints. Similarly, there are steel shims with serrations that do a decent job of cutting restraints. Both are small and can easily be stashed in the seam of your clothing where they're hard to detect.


Covert entry is something we've discussed at length in the past in articles such as 'non-destructive bypass' and the tools and abilities to gain access can be critical in not only getting out of view, but not destroying your way of securing things in the process. Picking locks has become something of a fringe hobby - which is cool - but it's also led to a lot of false confidence in what a person can realistically do with lock picks in the field. With lower security locks, such as one inexpensive safes, most residential locks and deadbolts, and less expensive padlocks, picking can be very useful. As the quality of the lock increases, however, more specific skills will be required. This makes lock picking both perishable and specific, so if you do decide to hang on to some picks, make sure you train with them to keep your proficiency up.

Safety Pins

Safety Pins can be easily secured to your clothing in spots that are often overlooked. Not only are they good tools for pinning cloth or materials together, but the pin end can be fashioned into a probe that can be used to pick handcuffs or act as an impromptu lock pick. They're innocuous and universally legal.

Bobby Pins

Like safety pins, bobby pins can be used as a makeshift handcuff key. They're lightweight and easy to keep on your person. To be effective, the bobby pin should be turned 90 degrees, and then broken so that it creates an "L" shape. the shorter portion shouldn't be much longer than the cord you'd use to charge your phone. Too long, and they won't fit the keyway for the handcuffs well. Too short and they won't actuate the locking mechanism.

It's important to note that bobby pins are often very low quality these days and break easily! The old metal ones were pretty tough, but it's nothing to bend or break the new ones accidentally when trying to use them to pick cuffs.

The benefit is, like safety pins, they're safe, innocuous, and work on handcuffs - even when double cuffed.

Hair pins/Berettes

Berettes can be broken and used as a handcuff shim, and are an easy, cheap, and lightweight option. They won't work if against double locked handcuffs, but they are still worth considering, especially for our female readers.

The purpose of this article is to familiarize you with these tools before we discuss using them, so make some notes and start thinking about ways you can carry them on your person. No two people will have the same exact needs for E&E tools, nor the same hiding places, so think on it now. We'll discuss their use in the Escape and Evasion 3.

Disguises and Baseline

Note: Most of these things are common, unobtrusive items that anyone could be carrying. Coincidentally, 3 of these items are on our "Core Four of EDC" list. Things that show up consistently across borders and professions do so for a reason...

Disguises are hilarious. Even the CIA seems to have trouble with them, (unless those spooky bastards wanted to get caught... nothing would surprise me), as evidenced by the frankly kinda amateurish capture of Ryan Fogle in Russia in 2013. While we're not talking bribing Russian officials here, we can say a few words on changing your appearance.

First and most important: be comfortable with who you are. A disguise should support a 'baseline', or story of who you are and why you are where you are.

Think of it like this: If you're trying to get away from pursuers, ask yourself 'what are they looking for?'

Think about a police BOLO (be on look out): We describe people by the easy to remember facts: as ethnicity, age, build, hair, eye color, and identifying marks, such as scars and tattoos.


Because it's unlikely people will memorize a face. A dude who fits ALL the same descriptors who's wearing black shades and a funky shag wig isn't exactly disguised, so don't expect that'll work for you.

Having a baseline means you've invented a story that gives legitimacy, and you've got a look and some props to sell it.

Baselines shouldn't be wild or outrageous: simply meet expectations and be familiar with your presentation. Don't dress as a Telemetry expert for a phone company if you don't look the part or know the technical details. That might mean getting a company logo printed off, using a passport photo (you can get these cheap at many drug stores, post offices, etc) and using some editing software, a printer, and a laminator to get you looking legit.

If you're not outfitted for the job clothing wise, thrift shops often have clothing that can help you look the part for cheap, but be careful: Don't go overboard.

In his Book "Emergency", Neil Strauss discusses cross-dressing to change his appearance during a course with OnPoint Tactical called Urban Escape and Evasion. Short version: Because he wasn't comfortable or used to dressing like a woman, he was quickly 'made'. I took this class (second link above for an old review) and it was one of the very few that I'd suggest is both life changing *and* very difficult to want to take a second time.

Returning to disguises, a few cheap backpacks cached in different areas can help you quickly change your appearance. Putting a bag in a bag can help keep your next disguise on you with some essentials, but still remain 'in character'.

As we often say, be resourceful. Look for areas that have low traffic, are accessible, and don't overthink the problem. When getting made during that class, I jammed a backpack in someones hedge, ditched my contraband cellphone in their hydrangeas, and ran for my life. I cheated my ass off, and didn't get caught. Don't play by any rules but your own when it's your life on the line. Later, in SERE, I'd have to polish the "by the rules" approach.

On that topic, all we can say is "break fast, break rarely". Once you're in captivity, accept that you're no longer in control quickly and don't linger. In the mean time, don't waste your time thinking about stuff like "well, I'd just"... it doesn't work that way.

Establish baselines that are reasonable for your area of operation, disguises that you can play to the 9's, and a network of people you've been good to.

Soft Skills

Author disguised while moving through a residential area during training. Bottle swiped out of a recycling bin as an improvised weapon, diversion, or caltrops. Clothes match dudes rebellious skate-punk roots without overplaying it. Clothes bought from a Goodwill for less than $15.

The soft skills are one of the least obvious, most difficult skills to train. First of all, not all people are naturally gifted talkers. Getting out and practicing can do some polishing, but it's not easy to read people, know how to communicate with people across socio-economic class, and match your approach to the situation. With that said, there are some universally useful approaches to how to interact with people, especially if you need to build rapport. Best of all, you don't really need to 'train'. Just interact with people.


First of all, *remember people*. People universally like being remembered. This is something you can practice, and if you approach it right, you can remember things more effectively, as well as build a working knowledge of the person you're interacting with. The way our minds work, the more information we have about a person, the easier it is for us to recall who they are. When you meet someone, talk with them a little bit. Start by using the "Keep in Memory" aspects of who they are: 

What's their name, what do they look like, and what are a few 'facts' about them?

Often as not, people will open little windows to ask them questions. If they're making idle chit chat about about the weather while checking you in, ask them open ended questions such as "are you from around here?"

People generally are eager to fill silence, so let them. Not only will it help you establish things about them, but it gives you an opportunity build a mental index that will help you remember them.

Five Questions

A drill we use with new people looking to hone the ISG way is this:

Go find five random people, and get them to give you 5 random facts about themselves. Things that don't just come up in casual conversation - things such as a birthday, clothing size, what they drive, or similar. Not only is it useful for building in some interpersonal skill, but it will teach you how to pick up on some nonverbal cues and get comfortable asking people for things they wouldn't ordinarily give you. Obviously, we're not talking about social security numbers here, so don't get silly with it. The goal is never to harm or humiliate the person, but rather just get them talking. Then, remember what they told you...

Honesty and Confidence

This flies in the face of just about everything tradecraft, but really - being honest is a step that establishes trust. Obviously, you need to be careful with how much you say and how you say it, but being honest can humanize you in the eyes of a potential ally or asset. Further, confidence goes a long ways in approaching people for help.


While trying to evade capture during a training exercise, I used the disguise pictured left and approached a young woman walking alone. It was sheer luck she was there, and belonged to the same general socio-economic class as I did while in disguise.

I introduced myself and ask if she minded if I walk with her for a minute. I told her point blank that I was involved with an exercise and people were looking for me alone. I offered to buy her lunch if she walked with me to my next objective. She agreed and we walked together while she told me a bit about herself (even now, 10 years later, I remember her name and where she was from). We made it to the objective site, she hung around while I did a quick visual recon. Moments later, my partner blew our cover by walking up to us looking plenty out of place.

I had to bolt to keep from being captured (if you're not doing sprints, you're wrong) and got away by jumping a 12' wall with my pack. Inside, I had a disguise (thankfully) and I was able to change, pick my way out of the situation, and carry on to our next objective. However, he was captured and mistreated for a while.

This is a small example, but being confident, direct, and having some holdout cash goes a long way in switching gears into a more convincing baseline. Once failure hits, abandon the effort full throttle, get distance, and reassess. Often times, when you catch someone off-guard with something they're not used to hearing, they default to wanting to be accepted. Use that to your advantage if you're on the lam.

Local Knowledge (especially abroad)

Traveling abroad is a lot of fun. Plenty of people talk a good game about how they don't wanna leave American because they can carry whatever they want - fine and well - just be aware that you're never really testing your ability to adapt if you never leave a place where you know the rules.

Traveling abroad isn't nearly as dangerous as people make it out to be, but it does have risks.

When you plan to visit another country, soft skills are huge, and really shouldn't be overlooked. A few key takeaways:

  1. Always be courteous. Know your basic phrases of gratitude for wherever you're going.
  2. Make an effort to speak the language. Even if it's painfully obvious you're new to it, people view this as an attempt to embrace their culture and it's big for breaking down barriers.
  3. Know the local crime scene - and don't get involved.
  4. Have cash in different places. Tying into the above: bribery is everywhere.

Hard Skills

When it comes to situations that require more than subtle deceptions like disguises and speech, it comes time for hard skills. Most of the time, we see guys fuss about shooting and default to the "well I'da just..." mentality that shows they've never been arrested or seriously on the run. In this case, the hard skills don't mean blazing a path through the 'bad guys' with your toolio... it means picking locks, escaping restraint, and creating new baselines.

Most of the time, if you're an adult male you're not at much risk of being abducted. Arrest is a concern, though. At this point, be wary of what you're caught with, but we need to discuss the tools above.

APEK 4.0 that was donated by SAPgear.com, full disclosure. That said, it's been modified a little and continues to be refined. It's an excellent base to work with in terms of EDC items that are good for Escape and Evasion.

Besides being assembled intelligently, if you spend any time crafting your own shims or cuff picks, you'll quickly realize that the quality of the metals used for those things is dangerously bad. On a few occasions, I've broken improvised tools designed to slip cuffs or restraints, so we'll discuss both approaches.


Certain things we train for every day without knowing it. With soft skills, every conversation, every 'feeling' you get off someone's body language is training. With hard skills, you'll need to actually sit down and hammer out a method that allows you to solve the problems in the field.

As we go forward, we're going to assume you've read a couple previous articles. At ISG, everything is additive, meaning every new article that pops up builds on those we've written in the past. So E&E 101, The Non-Permissive Environment, Urban Survival, and Fact to Action: Abduction Resilience are all 'required reading' to get a solid picture of how and why we approach moving through environments in which risk of capture is great.

Our next Article in this series will be all about training for, and using the tools and hard skills to escape captivity.

Final considerations

From experience, being in a position where other human beings want to find and capture you absolutely, positively, one of the most nerve wracking experiences you can have. You can expect to suffer from paranoia so extreme it'll blot out your sensibilities.

...But then, you'll get ahold of yourself. So, when that pressure is on, crack fast and get it out of the way. Focus on making tasks for yourself, and hold them loosely while understanding the plan might *have* to change immediately. If it does, you don't want to be committed to a course of action, or default to what you know. You'll need to be unpredictable.

The few occasions I've had to deal with this - both in training and life - were just a total cortisol dump. Having a way of life that keeps assets in the back of your mind, but off your daily beaten path is wise. While we really don't want to encourage you to evade legal captivity, if you're abroad, capture happens. Further, laws change and nations do, too.

Escaping Germany in 1938 would have been unthinkable for a Jewish person living in a civilized nation of laws - which Germany was. Suffice to say, you should never trust the benevolence of humans with power.

As a final note, and this is perhaps the most important thing we can say:

You will not be able to Jason Borne your way out if you've been targeted for capture. You simply have to have some skills apart from violence.

In our next article, we'll discuss how to use tools to escape.

Cheers, and Carry the Fire,


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