Becoming the Grey Neighbor


Have you heard of the Grey Man concept? The earliest record I could find of this in prepper/survival circles was in a post on the Western Rifle Shooters Association website by someone calling themselves Habcan. I don’t know if he created the concept or copied this article from another location, but I recommend reading the article if you haven’t already. For those who don’t know about the Grey Man concept, I’ll summarize it for you.

The Grey Man concept simply means blending in and not sticking out. You want to dress, move and act in a way that is completely forgettable. This is done so that you do not draw unnecessary attention to yourself as you go about life and I think the initial focus was on people who were carrying concealed firearms. There are lots of examples of how this larger concept could work in your favor to keep you safe and many survival and prepper blogs bring this concept up as a way to live or a strategy for how to avoid becoming a target of people intent to do you harm.

I was thinking of this idea in a different context though as it related to life after a SHTF scenario. One of our readers contacted me with some questions after reading a post from Selco on the SHTF School blog. Selco is from the Balkans and lived through the Balkan war from 92 – 95. He has created an excellent online course titled “One Year in Hell” that offers training derived from his own experiences living surrounded in the real SHTF world of a war zone and without power for a year. He also blogs and writes in a post about “Survivalist Hate” where the people in a real life SHTF scenario turned on what we would call a prepper who was only trying to help.

Did you ever hear of “survivor’s guilt”? Feeling of being guilty because you survived but many others you know did not. There is something else that can “help” you to not feel that, because it can kill you. It is what I call “survivalist hate” by people around you.

I often read how people want to help other folks when SHTF, and it is really good, but in reality it works different.

When SHTF, I mean real SHTF, most of the people will not like you because you are prepared, people will hate you, even if you help them. They will hate you because you are prepared and you have food, water, weapon and shelter for you and your family, and they do not have anything like that.

I have seen how people robbed man, and his family, torching his house because he had lots of goods (he gave some of that stuff to some folks week before) and by that logic folks said that he knew that S. is going to hit the fan, and he was like guilty for them. People were angry that he prepared but did not tell them.

This is what you can call “survivalist hate”. Think about it, sentences like “he could have warned us” or “he must have stolen this from somewhere, otherwise he would have not that much”. Do not expect normal logical thinking. It does not happen much in normal times and is less in survival scenarios for most common folks.

It was these words that caused our reader to question how much they should volunteer to help their community in an emergency. Mark had been thinking about trying to organize resources in the community now, before any crisis, but reading Selco’s story above had him reconsidering going out on a limb, telegraphing he might have resources or skills and potentially becoming a victim like the man robbed for his supplies. This is what led me to consider the Grey Man concept as it could be applied to your home and resources if the SHTF. It is one thing to control your appearance and actions in a crowd to avoid detection, but what about your supplies in your home?

Always invisible in plain sight

Depending on the crisis, I have to believe there is a timeline of phases that people go through. The crisis would dictate that timeline to a large degree in that an Earthquake for example would destroy everything relatively quickly and then you would be recovering for some time afterwards. The initial violence would be up front and then people would start dealing with problems after the shaking stopped. It would be similar with any other natural disasters I assume. Something like a regional war or an economic collapse or even pandemic would cause a different timeline but regardless of how long it took people to start feeling the effects of any crisis eventually your neighbors could be dealing with illnesses or injury, disruptions in food, safety concerns from looters or approaching military forces. Unless you were quarantined in your homes, invariably neighbors would be talking at some point, sharing information and learning how others were faring. It is at this time that the prepared individual could fall into that situation described above.

There are many aspects to this and realistically how you act toward your neighbors and the situations you could face after a crisis could be the subject of a dozen articles but I will focus on this one viewpoint in this post. There is something to be said for charity and something else for self-preservation. If we were faced with a situation like above, what could you do to keep your family safe and your supplies that you have been storing up in your hands and not the hands of an angry mob?

Never draws attention to himself

Two things come to mind when trying to think about the Grey Man concept and your home. The first is that before anything happens you want to be practicing OPSEC as much as feasible in your situation. The less people know about the supplies you have stored, what you may be preparing for, your political beliefs etc. the less likely they are going to think of you if something happens. I have said it before, but unless you live in an area where this is common (and there are lots of areas where it is) I wouldn’t be seen out at the Chili’s in your camouflage pants and Army boots. Don’t get me wrong, I have these myself, but I save the camo for hunting season. Whenever I am hunting, there are thousands of other guys who look just like me and I blend in. Not necessarily at Chili’s but you get the point.

If you are getting supplies of food shipped in, make sure these are dealt with in a way that doesn’t draw attention. I wouldn’t stack boxes of MRE’s up in front of the shed while your neighbor is mowing their grass. If you are loading guns into the car for a trip to the range, do this discretely. I normally do a quick visual check to make sure no one is outside first and back the car into the garage so I can get them loaded quickly. Have a safe being delivered to the house? Try to do this during the day if most of your neighbors are at work. Large purchases from Sams or Costco could be construed the same way. A bulk pack of toilet paper is one thing, but 5 – fifty pound bags of rice or several 45 lb. pails of freeze dried food are another. Are you practicing open carry to make a statement?

The next part and probably the harder of the two to pull off would be after SHTF. How do you keep your supplies secret? How do you maintain OPSEC whenever everyone else is watching you simply because they have nothing else to do?

Grey man avoids confrontation

It would really depend on the scenario I think. For instance, if everyone was without power, I might not light my house up at night. Knowing that you have a power source, maybe solar panels could give it away that you have resources they don’t have. Of course, the situation will dictate how badly you are hated for having power if your neighbors don’t but I think eventually it could cause problems. Let’s say there wasn’t an EMP but the grid was taken down by terrorists. Every appliance still works, but the power simply isn’t coming through the wires anymore. Your electricity could at bare minimum provide conveniences like power for fans, ability to recharge batteries or enable entertainment devices. One of the prepper supplies I made sure I had was a giant roll of heavy black plastic. This has many uses, but one of them could be to black out my windows. At night, I could run electric and not draw attention.

Food is another resource that will be tough to keep secret, especially if you are cooking outside. The smell of food to a hungry person is not something you can easily keep a lid on. You could heat water outside and use that for your freeze-dried foods as one way to keep the fact that your family is still eating somewhat under wraps. Eventually though people will notice that you aren’t getting slimmer.

What about weapons? This is one that I have considered because I have made preparations that would allow me certain tactical advantages over my unprepped neighbors. What if there was the threat of violence from people walking through and looting? Would I go walking down the street in my tactical holster, bulletproof vest and battle rifle on day one? Probably not, but eventually if things got bad enough that might be my daily outfit. I think if that were the case, my neighbors and I would have other things to worry about than what I had in my house. My hope is that if things ever get that bad, I will be able to help my neighbors and my contributions on that front will give me grace. Maybe that is foolish.

Even if you are completely secretive about your supplies or your neighbors are completely self-sufficient themselves you could face a time when someone is banging on your door demanding you to share what you have. Have you thought about what you would do if that happened? Like I said, there are many aspects to this concept and the final, possible confrontation is for another post. Practicing the Grey Man concept for your home in a SHTF scenario might put that off for a little while longer though or prevent it entirely and I think that is the whole point.


  1. We’ve had this discussion in our family. We realize that blending in means no showers or clean hair if that becomes the norm. No shaving (male and female). Losing weight like everyone else but not to the point of illness or weakness. No clean clothes.
    If they are handing out food somewhere, showing up to get our share (we would then maybe leave it in someone’s yard who needs it more).
    Our solar power isn’t viewable from the roads and we figured that at night candles near the windows (blackout of course) would mask small steady lights for reading, TV and such.
    We live in the country and know a small light can be seen from miles away when it’s pitch black out.
    I’m still trying to figure out a way to reduce smoke from a cooking fire. I know the wood must be dried and that building the fire under the trees help dissipate the smoke.
    Another major problem is our rooster. Without him we can’t sustain our flock and with him everyone around will know about it.

  2. If my ageing memory does not fail me I believe it was the American godfather of Survivalism Mr Mel Tappan who first coined the term ” Gray Man” in the prepping sense in one of his very early articles about survivalism / concealed carry and blending in to your environment thus not advertising your presence.

  3. One train of thought I have had on this topic is to slowly and constantly build up my preparedness of course, but should there be a little bit of warning, I plan to run out and buy a few hundred pounds of dried rice, beans, ect.. just for the sole purpose of feeding a few families. I figured if I can have them dependent on me for keeping their family from starving they will “work” for me for their 3 squares a day if you will.

    If I am the one keeping my neighbors from starving then I hope they have no need to do desperate things in order to eat, and will be able to help with security and day to day work needed after shtf.

    Down side is they could instead resent me over time and turn on me, or they could run their mouth about where they are getting the food and someone else will come for me. Not sure what I will do until the moment is upon me but I figure that having the last minute influx of extra food can’t be a bad thing. Whether its just more for my family or others, I’ll have options. Not to mention, it’s a pretty safe bet I will end up with more mouths to feed in the family than just my household. Better to be prepared.

    • That’s exactly the situation that Selco mentioned. Even as he was trying to help people the man he described was hated. I think that there are better people and worse people. You could help some neighbors and they would be genuinely thankful and reciprocate in some way. I am hoping for a little of that too, but I will try to be careful with who and how I assist.

  4. With most people only having enough food in their frig , freezer and pantry to last 3 weeks , the vast majority of people will feel the effects of starvation in the first month. The skinny , and gym body kind of muscular people will feel it first, with no body fat reserves, they will go quickly to the weak ,dazed state where they no longer will feel hunger

    Overweight, no muscle people will survive longer and have more energy while the skinny go into a zombie state. The low body fat , muscular guys will be a bit better off , but their body will quickly break down their muscle for energy . , each moment making them weaker .

    Strong indivduals with a bit of body fat will last the longest, as long as they are not on some low fat diet . I always see preppers going on about “prepping healthy low fat foods” even when all science shows that fat is necessary for your life ,and fat is the most dense form of energy.

    Good news for people who are as far away from “government help” ,–the hordes will head to the government distribution centers. and away from you.

    The bad news is that in a SHTF event, , if the US is hardest it , our nation’s enemies will use this time attack us

  5. In my mind, my kids would probably be my biggest liability as they may talk about what we have to others, so I wouldn’t tell younger kids what we have and where it is. When getting a large load of supplies, doing it during the day is a good time because your neighbors are at work and your kids are at school.
    I would also not store food items in obvious places, such as cabinets or pantries, or even the garage. If people break into your house, those will be the first places they’ll look. I find that it is much more unobtrusive to store food in closets or dressers (behind or under clothes), or inside or under furniture. Boxsprings are hollow on the inside and can hold quite a bit of food. Beds can be set onto boxy frames, but do not use storage units that slide out to store food because that’s also a place someone might look. Instead, the bed frame should be a solid box so you can place the food on the floor and put slats and the mattress on top. It will be a bit hard to get to your food, but your food will be well-protected. Other good places include inside coffee tables, ottomans, under armchairs and sofas, and behind books.

  6. People may wonder why there are individuals who are concerned with survival. Many people are sure that tomorrow will be just like yesterday. Hasn’t it always been O.K?
    Actually, the USA federal system is at the end of its road. Figure on 2 to 3 years before the implosion. Those in charge have spent too much and wasted too much. Like all previous empires, crumpling is in the federal’s future. Beware of getting hit by falling (federal) debris.
    In the meantime, store some survival supplies and support local, trusted entities. The USA states may be vial support.

  7. It’s all about recognizing “normalcy bias” as a real human concept affecting each indivudual, then casting it aside if you want to live.

  8. My question is this- I have two neighbors whom I have shard the the idea of being prepared, having basic fire starting skills, cleaning water, etc . and now more frequently are making off-hand comments like “we’ll just come to your house and ask for ” or” we know you have extras and can give us”. My question to the community would be is there a way to nip this banter with these folks now? Or just stay away from them and in the event something does happen, well, frankly after previous discussions with them, have no compulsion even answering the door much less answering the door and turning them away in the vent of a disaster at this point. But qualified suggestions are encouraged. Thanks much. Mark

    • Have you tried spinning the question back around on them Ron? When they say “we’ll just come to your house” have you asked, what if we are gone? I tend to bring up preparedness topics from the standpoint of asking the people I am talking to about their level of preparedness without mentioning mine so much. What if that happened to you? How much food do you think your family has if X happened? If they go into the “We’ll just come to your house” line, I have said we might not be here when you come, so what are you doing to ensure your family’s safety?

      • Good point Pat and thank you. Would you even offer them help or supplies at this point knowing their mind set Pat if an event occurred? I somehow think once won’t be enough if offered.

        • Good question.

          I guess it depends on the people you are dealing with and how invested you are in their lives. On the surface I would say that I would always offer my help in the form of advice, tips on things I have learned, what to focus on, what to ignore, threats I see and why etc. I wouldn’t go down the route of offering supplies I don’t think unless these are completely extra and you don’t mind giving them away.

          Teach a man to fish…


  9. […] On my way back to the train, I bumped into the prosecution’s witness against Blair while he was waiting for a crosswalk light to turn on. We introduced ourselves to each other after I had confirmed I had seen him back in the courtroom, and he began telling me how he believed that Blair was at fault for the entire traffic accident, to which I responded that it was too bad for Blair he didn’t show up today. As we began walking, Robert the Eagle Scout told me that he had taken the train, and so we would share about half the trip together; so, much like Russell, I told Robert what I was doing there, and he seemed pleased that I was taking such a hands-on approach to education, to which I responded that I’m a former homeschooler. We each reminisced to each other about our respective time in the Boy Scouts, and I remarked that the method of learning about the world encouraged by the BSA was infinitely better than the typical government school models, to which he wholeheartedly agreed. The light-hearted banter about firearms and Bitcoin ended when he got off his stop, and I traveled the rest of the way back home with no further conversations betraying my attempts at “urban camouflage.” […]

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