“Grey Man” vs “Hard Target”

It’s been brought up before in several discussions already but I figured it would be good to have an entire thread dedicated to it. So let’s hear your thoughts on Grey Man vs Hard Target strategies and when each should apply.

My personal opinion is that they are entirely subjective and depend on your scenario and surroundings as to which will be more effective. I will say I believe that whichever you choose to do in the moment you need to go all the way to one side or the other. If you’re trying to go Grey Man, you need to completely blend, nothing that will stick out in the slightest. I personally think the molle on backpacks is a pointless argument for anything over a typical school sized backpack, anything bigger than that is likely to draw attention no matter what it looks like. People are used to seeing small to mid size backpacks every day, they are not used to seeing full size rucks, no matter what kind. My personal “Grey Man” loadout if I had to do any sort of urban evasion (which hopefully I wouldn’t) would be jeans, a hoody, nondescript ball cap, sunglasses, and my Swiss gear mid size backpack. No visible weaponry or other gear whatsoever.

Curious to hear what everyone else’s thoughts and ideal loadouts would be.


  • Comments (34)

    • 7

      Ok, having to look up Hard Target to ensure I understood the intent.   I personally cannot go full hard target as I currently don’t own firearms and would likely drop from the additional weight of body armor.  I agree that being a gray man is quite situational.  Given the Level 3 FAK and BOB I have, I would stand out like a sore thumb if I were to walk down a street now.  In an evacuation, putting that BOB in a hand-pull wagon with a blanket over it would possibly fit right in.  

      • 5

        That’s a pretty good idea about the wagon with a blanket, much less likely to draw attention than a bag. Only downside would be its easier to get separated from and possibly stolen than a bag. But there are pros and cons to each, and much like everything else in prepping there are tradeoffs that have to be considered.

      • 4

        agreed, good idea

        possibly just a standard cheap wheeled suit case that you’re BOB fit’s inside would work too, preferably one that still has old flight labels attached to it and is a little worn out, certainly in my area that’s what most people would probably use in an evacuation

        care would have to be taken not to let it get stolen though

    • 6

      Took me a while to gather my thoughts about this topic since seeing it yesterday, but let me break down my response in a few sections on how to and why I think the gray man is superior to the tactical or hard target.


      Blend into your environment. If you live in the city and there is a lot of gray from the bricks and roads then go literal gray man and dress in gray colors. During the winter you may choose to change to some whites to really blend in to your environment and not stick out at all. A city out west that is more in a desert environment would have you maybe wear more tans than living in a lush green city on the east coast where greens would be the predominate color. This has the additional benefit of being able to camouflage into your environment if disaster really struck and you had to avoid an enemy and get around stealthily.

      Dress like everyone else. Just watch people while out running your errands at the store and see what common things people of your gender are wearing. Do they all seem to be wearing jeans or shorts, what colors and styles? T shirts or button downs? Which pattern is the most boring, plain, and unmemorable? Probably not a Metallica shirt with a screaming skeleton across the entire back.

      Don’t wear flashy jewelry or any at all. If you have a large diamond wedding ring, you can twist it into your palm so only your band is visible to others. This is smart when traveling abroad where thieves are keeping an eye out for tourists with large rings they could snatch. Use this technique when just walking around or when interacting with people up close like at the DMV or grocery store where you will be handing people things. Those people are bored and will try and make small talk about anything and will make comments like ‘That’s a beautiful ring’ you now are unique and memorable. If wearing a watch or bracelet, keep it simple, cheap, and preferably a matte or non-reflective color.

      Wear quiet clothing. Don’t be that person with squeaky shoes on a gym floor or flip flops that can be heard a mile away. When looking for a coat at the store, walk around with it and close your eyes and focus solely on the sound of your arms swaying against the sides and moving around. A wool or cotton jacket will be much quieter than a synthetic coat. Buttons or snaps are quieter than zippers and Velcro.

      Conceal knives and guns. If carrying a gun, don’t open carry but carry it concealed under clothes that will not show an imprint or reveal your weapon if bending over. Knives clipped in the pocket should hang low and not be very visible. If it is something like a multi-tool, flashlight, or pocket knife that you will be taking out and using in front of people then get one that is small, discreet, and non-threatening.

      Stay clear and avoid logos. Walking around with a 5.11 T Shirt or even a Ralph Lauren polo shirt will be a distinctive thing that people can remember about you instead of a plain shirt with no distinctive patterns or logos.

      Mimic other’s mannerisms and behaviors. Don’t be the tourist looking confused with a map and a camera around your neck, look like the natives (even if it’s the natives of your city) and do what they do. Act confident, blend in with what others are doing, and move at the same speed as them. If everyone is on their phones, maybe pull yours out to not be the weird person just sitting there looking at everyone, but don’t lose your situational awareness and become vulnerable in some candy matching game.

      Oh boy you stink! Bathe, please. Tactical, gray man, or clown suit, just bathe and don’t stink. Watch which cologne, perfume, soap, or deodorant you use as these will be memorable things that can stick you out in a crowd. I like Arm & Hammer Unscented deodorant. Although, having some bad BO does give you an invisible force field when in a crowd so there could be some benefit to that…

      The car you drive. Look at the most common and plain cars in your area and make that the make and model when you need to buy your next one. Now to choose colors! Your options should be white, black, or gray/silver as those are the most common colors. Don’t put on bumper stickers, custom license plate covers, or other things that make your car stick out. Keep your car as stock as possible.


      Don’t be in a police lineup or falsely accused. People are notoriously horrible about remembering things. Especially when needing to describe a suspect to the police. Don’t have your tie-dye smiley face T Shirt be the only thing someone remembers when they are asked about what the criminal in all black was wearing. While under pressure, they just might only be able to remember you.

      Avoid hate and other forms of prejudice. We live in a nasty world with nasty people who hate others just because they are different than they are. The cases of race hate and violence is common on the news but I’m sure there are also many other more subtle prejudices out there. Will someone at the restaurant spit in your burger because they think you are a cop and just received a ticket on their way to work that they are still upset about? Will someone ask a higher price from you for an item because you drove up in your red Mercedes and they think they can ask more? The prejudice can even be minimized when getting pulled over by a cop. If you are a young kid and are lazily and messily dressed, look unkempt and have a piercings and tattoos, the cop might think you are just another trouble maker or druggy that they are used to dealing with and are just going to be like the rest of them. Or you can look like a clean put together middle class person who probably hasn’t ever been pulled over before. It’s unfortunate that these judgments occur, but who do you think will be treated nicer and not get the ticket?

      Safer during an evacuation/bug out situation. Lets say there was a mass exodus of your entire town. Everyone’s on foot because cars are banned for fear of clogging up roads and not allowing enough people to evacuate. So you are in a mob of lots of people making your way out of town. Do you think you would be a target more than anyone else if you looked just like everyone else? Or if you were all tacticaled out, do you think that would point you out at all as someone that may possibly have something that everyone else doesn’t?

      Not getting hurt. If you look and act the same as everyone around you and avoid being someone of interest and a target your chance of being in a confrontation and getting hurt go down. Sure that hard target look may deter some of the average individual people from targeting you, but more confident and larger groups won’t have any worry doing what they want with you.

      You can still be tough and prepared, just don’t look like it. Have the sweet gun, lots of preps, and skills you need. But don’t flaunt them and show them off. If ever needed to use your gun, preps, or skills whip them out and shock others when you catch them off guard. With your home, security cameras and other measures will prevent some burglars from targeting your house but a determined thief will not be deterred and can see that as a potential place with good stuff that is needing protecting, especially in SHTF days. Do discrete hardening of your house that is subtle and there and works.

      Harder to be a woman hard target. Not to be sexist or judgmental, but it can be harder for women to be that tactical hard target than a man. First off the market is against them with limited options in tactical gear for their size and style. And often it is genderized and the women’s tactical gear is all hot pink. Women also are usually on the smaller end than most men and in turn may not come off as intimidating as their husband might. A woman might have a better chance taking the gray woman route than hard target don’t mess with me route.

      It’s easier to practice gray man techniques everyday than tactical. Practice makes perfect. You can’t be an average joe during your everyday life and then when SHTF happens you pull out your tactical gear and can just flip a switch and be all tough and unapproachable. Being an average gray man everyday is an easier persona to work on and master and then there isn’t any switch that needs to be flipped come doomsday. You also only need one set of gear and clothing when being a gray man. Where as unless you like always being that tactical hard target rain or shine, then you would have to have a different set of gear and clothes for that.


      Again, this is different for different areas, genders, ages, and times of the year but this is what I would be safe wearing most of the time.

      Clothing. Jeans, plain gray or blue tennis shoes, T shirt, and a plain black hoodie.

      Accessories. During covid times the most popular mask is the cheap disposable blue medical mask so I use that and not some neon yellow one with a fake smile on the front. Small pistol carried in the small of my back under my shirt. Medium sized black Jansport backpack that provides additional coverage for the gun and carries other preps like fire, water, food, and multitool. Plain brown leather belt.

      Fun topic This is the Way. Looking forward to other’s contributions.

      • 4

        All good points Robert I would only disagree, or rather make follow up points to a few things.

        1. The “tactical” gear market has shifted much more towards women in the past few years, it is not too hard now to have a full setup for a woman of any size. My wife is 5’3″ and barely over 100 lbs and I have a full setup for her that is not overbearing. Obviously her setup is vastly different from mine and I don’t expect her to be able to do the same things as me. Like you said it is much harder for a woman to be a hard target, but if she is in a group with others who are also hard targets, it can add to the overall strength of the group. 

        2. You are correct in saying that you can’t just expect to flip a switch in a SHTF scenario and all of a sudden be an intimidating figure if you’ve only ever been average Joe. Where I disagree is that I believe this is something you have to train, and goes into the mindset aspect of preparedness. I’m not the same person in the woods as I am on the street. Being able to flip that switch from a casual mindset to a “tactical” or “Danger” mindset is something you have to train your brain to prepare for. This is a big teaching point in the military, having the switch to go from casual to training mode when needed, and how to know when to use both.

        Overall I agree with you that Grey Man is going to be the best approach for the vast majority of people, that’s why I wanted to see everyone’s thoughts on it. If you’re going to try and be hard target you need to be prepared to be a really hard target, and attempting to do that without a group is going to be even more difficult 

      • 1

        Thanks for your feedback and for correcting me on those two points. I agree with you now that I understand more about it.

        Can your wife be a scary hard target if she wanted to be? I’ve never seen my wife angry or yell before so I don’t think she would have it in her to be a hard target.

    • 5

      Good evening T.I.T.W.,

      It’s surely fair enough to call this a subjective matter.

      My first option is to shelter in place and this only changed ~ 20 years ago when events overcame my SIP plans. 

      I’m on acreage in a forest with nearest state road 1 km away. Any and all fashion statements won’t be seen by second or third parties.

      For an evac from here – waterways will be closed to private citizens – a “Notice To Mariners” will be issued. Thanks go to the “beltway snipers”. – I am GRAY MAN. I’d leave wearing a neutral color field jacket of some sort, season and weather determining specifics. My jackets are mofified with additional large pockets on inside. I’d be wearing an under the shirt 3A body armor. It was manufactured with 4 small pockets. My hat is a hard hat – common enough in this area. It’s a pith shape with face shield re the hurricane winds … The winds are like sandpaper rubbed on skin. My helmet constitutes a “kit” by definition.It has a helmet light and a lanyard with whistle attached to chin strap.  Whistle gets tucked in somewhere.  This is common around here to have a helmet during an evac. Inside hard hat above “rigging” of helmet is a mosquito net – actually a bee keepers head net, a small pouch with extra batteries and some other small items. I’d carry a commercial flight bag with some water and a small espresso maker along with a tube of hexamine tabs and small foldable stove.

      If leaving from Washington, D.C. – much time spent up in the Swamp – I have a grossly oversized sports coat – heavily waterproofed and modified with inside pockets. Specifics determine my style of dress. Whatever selection I make, no fashion awards will be pending.

      No cutlery carried in D.C. less a SOG assisted blade multitool under jacket.

      Something to remember and contemplate: as a matter of routine, some 9-11 calls already made telling of someone who looks “suspicious”.

      Gray Man is the best route. No MILSPEC stuff, no tempting items to steal, … and et cetra. 

      • 2

        A gray man setup in Washington DC would probably look like someone in a business suit and white shirt and tie. Where as that would probably look out of place in the middle states where the majority of people are farmers in plaid and boots.

      • 2

        I’m a suit guy in the city with my gear in a Uncle Mikes Messenger bag, out of town I’m semi grey / soft tactical   BB cap, plain black soft shell (modded with extra pockets) over T or Polo,   Jeans not cargos but a tactical belt instead of leather. and plain black walking / approach shoes. Gear goes in a 511 rush 12 ( to small to be interesting to roving eyes). I believe in flexability in appearance blending in where ever I go.  though my shaved head doesnt help.

    • 5

      Thoughtful replies so far. If I may extend the analogy to sheltering in place—because most of us shelter in place way more than we bug out, LOL

      First, not to be political, but we live in an area where we are in the political minority. Not by a little, by a lot. 80% of my close neighbors voted differently than we did, amazing but true. In the current polarized environment I keep my views to myself in the day to day, just like at this site. No flags or yard signs, no bumper stickers or t-shirts, no barstool pontificating. In fact after 45 years we have decided to stop voting altogether, won’t do any good here anyway and no use leaving a record.

      Nor are we ostentatious. We drive used cars, live in an old fixer-upper in an old rundown town. No boats or toys or in the driveway. We aren’t particularly poor, we have nice stuff, we just don’t flaunt it.

      No marital disputes in the driveway either, no speeding, no conflicts at the supermarket… as little contact with local authorities as possible. I don’t talk about current events, partly because most people I know here live in a completely different factual universe than I do, but mostly because beliefs are hard to change in any event and expressing one out of the norm is about the least grey thing one can do.  I merely nod and smile (or frown as appropriate) and they think I’m part of the team or at least not the enemy. Discretion being the better part of valor and all that, LOL

      I don’t talk about scenarios or concerns with others, and never, never about preps at all, with anyone. Who is the first person the guy you rambled off your pantry list going to think of if something goes down? We even go to another little burg if we’re going to buy a big sack of rice (or whatever) because we invariably see folks we know.

      On a 1-5 scale of how attractive a target we are, I’d say a 2 or 3, mostly because it is a small town where it’s hard to be grey and we’re “new”, only been here 25 years.

      Obviously a lot of that is particular to us and how we live anyway, but not all. Just want to make the point that not being a target is an everyday project.

      • 3

        My situation is amazingly similar to yours. I am prepared to fight, as a last resort.  For me, it is easy to be grey because I never post on social media and I’m not a talkative person by nature… I guess because I mostly don’t like people.  🙂

    • 5

      I would personally posit: neither Grey Man nor Hard Target. I am a firm believer that while I could survive on my own in any given circumstance, I would not want to. It would be pretty grim to be “out there” alone and that having a team plan is a better approach, with multiple team members of varied skills and who I enjoy the company of and trust.

      And I believe people are generally helpful towards one another. Sure, early lockdown days, I certainly saw folks that I considered looked like they were “reasonable people” get into nasty (verbal) fights over who was first to pick up the last pack of toilet paper at Costco… but when S really HTF (hurricanes in the south in 2017(?) come distinctly to mind as badly affecting Texas the Southern states and Mississippi floods when I was young) what you see is folks rising up and helping one another. Not pulling a gun/knife to snatch a pack from others that were more prepared…

      I am much more suited to preparing for such things as I think will happen – major earthquakes, wild fire evacs and even civil unrest sufficient to make remaining at home, for a period, unsafe (think “CHAZ”). All of which scenarios are quite real in the last 1-2 years – though none have affected me directly. Those are scenarios where having a go bag is a real need.

      If a Grey Man vs Hard Target scenario really came up (which for me would mean total social chaos and world end scenario) I would like to think sufficient of my friends, many of whom are preppers, would be around and that we could depend on one other to be level headed and work together. Living in a city – everyone is a “Grey Man”. Literally. As such my group of friends would kind of be a Group of Grey Men that, naturally then, becomes a Composite Hard Target (because I imagine that anyone would think twice before attacking a group).

      Kind of like Zombieland.

    • 4

      I like the idea of “Gray Man,” but I’m not overly strict about it. For instance, I’ve kitted out the family with Goruck packs because they all sort of match, and if we’re missing a pack or a person (with a pack) we can be like “it looks like these other packs, but in these other colors.”

      So as good as Gray Man is, I don’t think it pays to be overly strict.

      • 3

        Good morning Jon,

        It still appears like you’re in compliance with the prepper concept of “gray man”.

        Now if you and family were dressed and outfitted like a traditional infantry squad, you would not be in compliance with this doctrine.

        Your described appearance especially re the packs is common enough and appears like a well-prepared family vacating a dangerous area.

      • 3

        You are right that “Grey Man” is totally subjective and the level of blending needed is also subjective. In a particularly dangerous environment, being strict about it is far more necessary as compared to a safer environment. I guess we could really sum this topic up by saying it’s all very subjective and to be aware of your surroundings and what the normalcy curve is, and how to stay inside of it.

    • 2

      I haven’t heard of the phrase “grey man” before and don’t recommend doing a Google image search of it in hopes of understanding. It doesn’t help, and to show how ridiculous the search results were, I made a starter pack:

      Gray man starter pack

      • 3

        Grey Man just means to blend in with the surrounding environment so as not to draw attention to yourself. Depending on your situation this can look a lot of different ways. What may not draw attention in some areas or circumstances would be an obvious red flag in others. In the loadout example I gave above I’m assuming it’s me by myself in an urban area that I would like to get out of, and need to draw as little attention as possible. Several others have given examples of what would work for them in their particular areas/situations. Like I said it’s a very contextual thing and there isn’t really a right or wrong answer, just interested to see the feedback from folks in different situations. You are totally correct that the images used in those articles are a little over the top, most likely just for dramatic effect. Like in the example I gave above, wearing a ball cap and sunglasses is going to look much more normal to people than having a hood pulled down low, while still being able to shield my eyes so others can’t tell I’m scanning the environment. 

      • 2

        That over the top mysterious man in a hoodie though does give you a vibe if you stare at it long enough. You really don’t know what is under there, and I wouldn’t want to find out.

        For my neck of the woods, I would think I would be pretty gray man by wearing some clean but not new tennis shoes in a black and white color, pair of black low cut socks, darker blue jeans, plain darker colored tshirt or henley, and a pair of aviators or possibly ray ban knock offs when out in the sun.

        You see I mentioned socks there even if they are mostly covered by the jeans? I do notice those classic white hanes tube socks when people wear them, so at least for me those stick out to me.

    • 3

      Fun series from Mark Greaney starts off with the first novel “The Gray Man” https://markgreaneybooks.com/books/the-gray-man/

      • 1

        Always on the look for a new book, thanks for the suggestion Steve.

    • 3

      a lot depends on the situation – but not many initial period SHTFs where “hard target” is the smart move – unless you’re in the middle of a freaking riot & looting session there’s no reason to be looking like Desert Storm ….

      very definitely wouldn’t be all  DoomsDay Prepper “hard target” bugging out – there’s going to be cops out in force and possibly even the National Guard – don’t be looking like you have hardware ready to rock …

      there won’t be much of any confirmed intel on the SHTF – no real feel initially how serious the situation really is >>> get dressed for the current outdoor environment – ready to spend hours out there on guard duty – break out a weapon but keep it concealed or a low key carry piece – wouldn’t be carrying the Big Dog down to the Community Center for an update meeting >>> remember there’s OPSEC to maintain and the concern triples during a SHTF where possible raiding increases …

      • 1

        You mention some good situations when being a hard target would be the superior option like when doing security for your house or neighborhood or if having to bug out with a large rifle that can not be concealed where you are already showing others your goods.

      • 2

        What’s going on in South Africa right now is a great example of when hard target is the correct strategy. In a community defense situation you want to display your assets and not hide them. If the wolves are already at your door the time for hiding is gone.

      • 1

        I saw a little about the South Africa situation on another thread here and think you are right about it being too late to be a gray man and they have to be full on hard target now. 

      • 2

        Good afternoon Illini Warrior,

        An initial SHTF situation and the DEFCONS and COGCONS will have already been activated and in full force.

        Rioters will learn why some US and Canadian diplomats in Havana had splitting headaches and the related problems of head trauma.

        Yes, cops in full force – to iclude retirees and cadets – and also all National Guard plus all enrolled emergency responders.

        Roads will alrady have been closed and barricaded except for the evac routes.

        The 1% rule will be exercised to the max.  If there’s a 1% probability that a person is a terrorist, domestic or  foreign … add plain old  criminals, they will be unloading trucks at the designated shelters.

    • 4

      I fully endorse the concept of the grey man type prepper, looking bland and non descript has many advantages, But I would point out that most trained specialists ( I used to be both a soldier and an urban security specialist) usually can reasonably easily spot someone concealing a weapon about their persons, no matter how ” grey” they are.

      But equally if L AND O and broken down and I see someone openly armed approaching I would consider then a real and present threat. EG

      Spotting concealled carry (Large)

      • 4

        Great visible guide Bill, the only thing I would say is if you’re easily spotted concealing a weapon then you don’t actually know how to conceal carry. An experienced and knowledgeable CCWer knows all the techniques displayed above and will consciously avoid them. Not to incriminate myself online but I’ve carried in many areas where it  was legally “iffy” and have walked right past officers and security personnel while doing so. I actually had a 10 minute conversation with a deputy last week and he never noticed. It’s all about learning your body language and body type, not everyone can get away with carrying a full size handgun everyday. I’ll see if I can find a good illustration guide on the subject, and if not I may make one if anyone is interested.

      • 2

        This is the Way I am interested in a guide and learning your techniques. 

      • 4

        Start by studying the chart above and learning to not do any of those things. Blading your body, readjusting the weapon, printing through clothing, not being conscious of how the gun moves when you move, etc. All things that will go unnoticed by the casual observer but can often be picked up on by the trained eye. I’ll try to find some good links for you and post them up on a reply here tomorrow. There’s a lot that goes into it, from gun and holster choice, body type, clothing choice, behavioral patterns etc. A lot of it can be learned by just wearing your weapon around the house and getting used to the way it feels and moves on your body. I did that for a few weeks when I first started carrying, it helps tremendously. 

      • 2


        Just wondering if you have a link to this infographic or know of a higher resolution source. I’ll be distributing this to my prep team.

    • 3

      When we talk about prepping, we often talk about the need for flexibility, in our actual preps as well as our thinking. We often remind ourselves (and we) remind each other that situations will be fluid, that we can’t expect the phases of a given scenario to play out in a specific order or sequence.

      So, why should the roles we might don as a response to any number of fluid situations be static? As with our actual preps, our responses also must remain fluid.

      One situation might call for you to be the “grey man/woman”, if it means slipping through throngs of starving people unnoticed. Another situation might call for you to be the “hard target”, if it means defending you and yours against a gang bent on killing or robbing you of all you have to survive.

      It is with this thinking in mind that I say, be the chameleon. Adapt to your surroundings, be whomever you must be for the situation in which you find yourself if it keeps you on goal for survival.

      • 2

        I’m a strong believer that attitude, energy, and demeanor are good things to be able to manipulate and ‘chameleon’. Being able to be that gray man and then if provoked or prompted change those three attributes to be loud, tough, and mean to show you mean business and if you mess with me, you will lose.