In my series of prehistoric fiction, Man vs. Nature, quiet is important. My characters usually try to blend into nature, become invisible. I did a lot of research on how special forces and survivalists do that but also how animals–like elephants–can be so quiet despite moving quickly.
Turns out, there’s a science to walking quietly. Most trackers emphasize the same techniques (see below) but to understand what they mean takes time. I became intrigued with native populations who could move so quietly, they were there–and gone. I started reading about their life style, their understanding that to remain hidden from danger means to be part of Nature. To sound like her, not apart from her. If you can sound like the animals, the trees, the wind, danger is less likely to find you.
Here are some of the books I studied to reach an understanding of this topic:
- Nature’s Way–Native Wisdom for Living in Balance with the Earth, by Ed McGaa, Eagle Man
- The Forest People, by Colin Turnbull
- The Worlds of a Maasai Warrior, by Tepilit Ole Saitoti
- Tracking and the Art of Seeing, by Paul Rezendes
- Tom Brown’s Field Guides, by Tom Brown
- The SAS Guide to Tracking, by Bob Carss
If you don’t have time to read these books, here’s a quick summary of a few of the ideas I got from them:
- Watch the next place you will step. Be mindful of objects you may step on.
- Try walking on bare dirt or live grass. Dead foliage creates a perceptible “crunch” even when lightly stepped on. If you must walk through these, proceed slowly, bent over. Remove obstacles if necessary.
- If following someone, match the cadence of their steps (i.e. when they step with their left foot, you step with your left foot). This will mask noise your feet make.
- Place the heel of your foot down first and roll your foot slowly and gently onto the ground. If moving swiftly, run/leap from location to location. Avoid landing flatfooted. For moving backwards, this is reversed, so that the ball of the foot is placed down first, and then the heel lowered to the ground.
- To get close to a target, walk on the outer edge of your feet, rolling from heel to pinky.
- If you have to walk on gravel, bend low at the knees. Hit the ground heel first. Roll forward to the ball of your foot and then put your other foot down, heel first, directly in front of the first foot, almost touching it.
- Running on the balls of your feet helps with speed and quietness but requires strength in the feet and lower legs and flexibility in the ankle and foot joints.
- When climbing trees and cliffs, try to place the toes and front padding of the foot in between branches and on crevices of the cliff. A little force on a branch or crevice may dislodge a shower of debris or break the twig, alerting watchers.
- Avoid shifting your weight until your forward foot is firmly on the ground.
- You don’t just walk with your foot; your whole body is involved, from arms and head for balance, to hips and torso for driving the leg movements, to the legs themselves for creating the distance.
- When breathing, breathe through your mouth rather than nose to reduce the noise of breathing. If you feel the urge to sneeze, suppress it by firmly pressing on your upper lip.
If you put all of these tips together, you get what’s called the Fox Walk, the Weasel Walk, and the Cat Walk, methods taught by experts like the American tracker Tom Brown and taught to him by an Apache elder.
The Fox Walk
The basic movement of the ‘fox walk’ is to plant the foot on the ground before weight is placed on it and the stride is shorter than a ‘normal’ one. If you have studied Tai Chi, you will have been taught a similar way of moving. The centre of gravity for this walk should be in the hips.
The Weasel Walk
The Weasel Walk is great for stalking where you want to move not only silently but slowly. It is similar to the fox walk with the arms very close in to the body and the hands often on the knees for support.
The Cat Walk
For this one, begin your step by lifting your foot straight up, toes pointing down to avoid snagging. Place the outside of your foot down first. Press the ball of your foot into the ground consciously, rolling from the outside in. Bring down your heel, then slowly shift weight to that foot. Be prepared to lift and shift whenever you feel any obstacle that might snap or crackle under your weight.
If you have a character who makes a living–or life–out of stalking, tracking, avoiding detection, he’s likely to use these methods of silencing his movement.
Do you have a method your characters use?
More on nature
How to Write Descriptions People Want to Read: Nature
Walk With Me…
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Man vs. Nature saga, and the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, Summer 2021.