Gray Man Theory
At its core, gray man theory is not so much a theory as an understanding of human psychology. Gray man theory is the practice of blending into your environment, and in particular, being able to blend in during times of heightened danger or disaster.
In a sudden and chaotic situation, an understanding of gray man theory and how to apply it will allow you to blend into any sort of environment that involves other people… so that nobody realizes who you are, what you might be capable of, or that you have a better chance of survival than them.
The best way to explain this is by giving you an example. Let’s say you are in a crowded train station. You’re a survivalist and as a consequence, you feel reasonably prepared for any eventuality. You have some basic gear concealed beneath your clothing, and an EDC bag slung over your shoulders with a few potentially useful items inside. Then, suddenly, chaos breaks out. A group of violent individuals have seized the train station and are taking hostages. People are panicked.
And there you are, in a real life survival situation… and you might even have some of the skills and equipment to be able to not just survive, but to help save lives.
But what do you think happens if the attackers spot you for what you are? If the hostage takers see that you’re a threat to them, you’ll immediately become a target. If they know that you have the tools and knowledge to potentially disrupt their plan, not only will they single you out… they’ll likely kill you without hesitation. After all, what’s that line that hostage takers say in the movies…
“Don’t be a hero”
That’s why you need an understanding of gray man theory. It’ll allow you to blend in with the people and surroundings. The goal is to be exceptionally well prepared without appearing to be exceptional in any way.
You’ll blend in perfectly, not raising any suspicion from the attackers or from anyone else. This will allow you to plot and take action without being targeted, which could save your life and potentially help you save the lives of others.
There are many different dangerous situations that could arise similar to the one we laid out. In the event of a great disaster, an unexpected bombing, or full-blown civil unrest and rioting, you might be well prepared. But it’s crucial that nobody knows that you’re prepared.
If the crazed looters and rioters around you get a whiff of your preparations (for example, if they know that you have a stockpile of food, water, and medicine)… guess what? You’ll immediately become a target. Even worse if they see that you have weapons or ammunition. Those weapons will be turned against you in a flash. In times of chaos, desperate people will target those who have more than them. It’s the story of pretty much every revolution ever. In any situation involving other people, the key to being a true survivalist is not just being prepared, but ensuring that the people around you have no idea how prepared you are or what you’re capable of.
People, particularly when they’re in groups, are prone to completely lose control in the midst of chaos or disaster. There’s a reason they call it “mob mentality”.
The best way to avoid becoming a target in all cases is to be a gray man. This will make you less of a target, it will allow you to blend in casually even in the most chaotic and unruly of groups of people, and it gives you a much better chance of survival, particularly in any kind of urban survival environment.
How to Be a Gray Man
Really, being a gray man is very easy – you just need to be completely unremarkable. That’s not so difficult, considering that 99% of the people we interact with daily are completely unremarkable. The tricky thing is knowing how to be unremarkable even when you’re actually quite remarkable (at least from a survival or preparedness perspective).
Becoming a gray man involves the ability to mimic your surroundings. For example, if you’re in a bank that’s being robbed and you’re the only person among the hostages who’s completely calm, the bank robbers are definitely going to spot you. The point is to move with the herd.
Being a gray man is all about being adaptable. It’s a form of urban camouflage. This is not about surveillance, it is not about being stealthy; it is all about appearing to be normal.
That means, for example, if you’re in Europe, you need to blend in with the Europeans – with the way they dress, the way they act, and so forth. On average, Europeans dress and act differently than Americans, so the way you would approach being a gray man in Europe would involve very different behavior than how you would approach it in the US. That’s what we mean by being adaptable. This also means that you would act and dress differently if you’re in New York City versus in a suburb of Pittsburgh. The goal is to always be about average for whatever environment you’re in.
In these next segments, we will go over some of the best ways to act like a gray man, dress like a gray man, and to generally live your life using these tactics so that when the time comes, you will remain alive. We’ll also go over the reasons why you’d want to be a gray man – the situations where not standing out is beneficial to your chances of survival.
Why The Gray Man Theory Is Important
Firstly, we’ll note that the concept of the gray man only makes sense in an urban context. You only need to “blend in” with other people if there are other people around. If your primarily interested in wilderness survival, or if you already live in a rural area where there aren’t a lot of people, most of these ideas probably won’t be particularly useful to you.
On the other hand, if you’re in an urban environment, then knowing the technique of how to be a gray man is arguably a more important survival skill than some other things that you might think of as “essential” (e.g knowing how to make a fire). In our urban survival guide, we talk about how the biggest danger in any urban disaster/crisis is other people. This is one of the reasons why the Gray Man Theory is important to survival.
If you’re on this site, we assume that you have at least some level of interest in learning more about prepping and survival. The problem is, if you’re known as a survivalist or a prepper, this paints a bit of a target on your back.
There are a few different scenarios where being known to the wider world as someone who’s well-prepared works to your disadvantage. Here are a few examples:
In a terrorist attack, hostage situation, or active shooter situation, the “bad guys” are going to be specifically on the lookout for anybody who’s a threat to their plans. If you have a CCW (concealed carry weapon), or even if you just have a knife, you’re a potential threat to them. If they find you, they will neutralize you. If the attackers know about your “preparedness” (in the form of having a weapon), it’ll end up getting you killed.
In the event of some kind of military coup or tyrannical/authoritarian government, you can bet money on the fact that they will be looking to suppress dissent. One of the first things they’ll do is try to round up “dangerous” individuals who either have the skill or the weapons to pose a risk to their new regime. If you’re known around town as the guy who’s a great shot with a rifle, or as the guy with a stockpile of ammo – guess who’s going to come knocking on your door.
If there is a major disaster that results in the collapse of society and TEOTWAWKI, people are going to be desperate as they realize that they were completely unprepared for the situation. If it’s well known that you’ve got food, water, and medicine stockpiled, there’ll be a mob of desperate, angry looters on your doorstep in no time.
Regardless of whether the threat is external (terrorist/active shooter), internal (our own government or military) or natural (major disaster scenario), in every case, you have a better chance of survival if other people don’t know how prepared you are or what you’re capable of. The only survival situations where this doesn’t apply is if you’re stranded in the wilderness. That’s why knowing the “gray man technique” is such an essential urban survival skill to develop.
The Psychology of the Gray Man Concept
Before we get into the actual practice of being a gray man, is important to understand the psychology of gray man theory. While dressing to blend in obviously has an important place in the theory, it is actually a little deeper than that. Most of it comes down to plain old psychology. Just because you have a gray hoodie and gray sweatpants, with a baseball cap pulled down over your eyes, it does not mean you won’t be recognized. As an example, if you were in the financial district of a major city and everyone is in a suit, your gray hoodie and gray sweatpants would definitely stand out like a sore thumb.
Understanding RAS (Reticular Activating System)
To understand the psychology of gray man theory, you need to learn about RAS, also known as the reticular activating system. This is a part of your brain located near the top of your spinal column which filters your sensory input. It is the part of your brain that filters everything you see so that your mind is not overwhelmed with information.
This is the key part of the brain that plays into gray man theory. When your eyes wash over a crowd of people, your reticular activating system is scanning the faces and quickly dismissing them as unimportant. This is what you want to be to everyone else: unimportant.
For example, if you are at a baseball game looking down through the stands, you wouldn’t take notice of any ordinary person. However, if your eyes were to wash over someone in the away team’s colors, your brain would immediately recognize this individual as being different, as someone important and distinct, and you would definitely notice it.
This is a consequence of our natural, “caveman” instincts. Our brains are hardwired to spot differences. A flash of brown in a sea of green bush indicates a potential predator (or prey).
This is what we want to avoid when practicing the gray man theory. You want to blend in so that nobody thinks twice when their eyes wash over you – you don’t want to even be registered. There should be nothing about you that stands out.
Our brains are looking for shapes and colors that stand out. Beyond RAS, similar ideas can be applied to sound and smell. When we’re in the wilderness, our ears get used to the sound of crickets, but a car horn stands out. That same car horn, in the soundscape of a city, fades into the background.
How to Be a Gray Man: Appearing Unremarkable
We need to take the psychological aspect of gray man theory and apply it in the real world. This is not an easy thing to do, but there are habits you can get into that allow you to become invisible no matter where you go.
In day-to-day life, one of the biggest tips we can give you is that you need to act as if you are supposed to be wherever you are. Know what kind of place you’re heading to, and always be aware of the environments you move and interact with. This means you want to dress how you imagine the people around you are going to be dressed.
If you are going to and from work, taking the train, and just generally commuting, there is a particular way you can dress to be noticed less. The idea is to look like everyone else at eight in the morning on their way to their jobs. That might mean a suit and tie, or if your area is more blue collar, this might mean old jeans and work boots.
As a general rule, people tend to notice bright colors. Also, particularly expensive wardrobes stand out, as does particularly shabby clothing g. If you look homeless, people are going to take notice of you in the wrong way, and if you look like you just walked off the cover of a fashion magazine, people are also going to take notice.
In daily life, try to dress in bland colors, unless for some reason it’s common in your area to wear bright colors. Generally, black, gray, and dark blue work well. If you live in a place with cold winters you can always go with the typical black coat. Almost everyone in any cold city is wearing some kind of black coat from September to May.
Don’t draw attention to yourself with “tactical” or “survival” clothing
You’ll sometimes see fake “survivalists” wearing full camo gear and military boots in grocery stores or big box stores.
Don’t be one of these people.
If SHTF, regardless of whether the threat comes from terrorists or a tyrannical government, you know who they’ll target first? The guy wearing camo pants, mil-spec sunglasses, and tactical boots. That person is pretty much walking around with a sign on his back saying “I’m carrying a weapon! Regardless of who the attackers are, people with weapons are a threat, and anybody who’s a threat will be the first to be dispatched.
It also makes sense to avoid clothing with symbols or insignias on them, and “loud” clothing is your enemy. You should have no affiliation, no outstanding characteristics, and no reason to be noticed.
For anyone who works in a service industry where you must wear a uniform, one of the best suggestions we can give you is to change into your uniform at work. Be as discreet as possible to and from work so that even if you board the same train every day, nobody is going to remember you. If you have to wear a blue uniform at work with a bright yellow logo, people are going to remember you each time you get on the train. Keep your change of clothes in your bag and change at work.
Now, don’t take any of this to mean that you always need to blend in. How often you actually decide to put the gray man theory into practice is entirely up to you. The important thing is to be aware of how to do it… so that if the world takes a turn for the worst, you’ll understand how to blend in with your environment when you choose to do so.
Accessories & Gear in Everyday Life
If a major disaster were to occur and looters were running rampant on the streets, you’d definitely want to avoid wearing any form of expensive jewelry or adornment, including any kind of expensive watch. A normal watch (or maybe a survival watch) is fine, but you definitely don’t want to be wearing an expensive Rolex.
Rings, necklaces, earrings, and all that type of stuff is probably a bad idea regardless of your gender. Not everyone wears jewelry, so you can blend in without wearing any, and from a survival perspective it only adds risk.
There are other types of accessories to consider. If you live in the city, many people will have either a backpack, a briefcase, or a purse. People take their backpack to school, to work, and nowadays even just to the cafe so they can work on their laptops. When it comes to being a gray man, having a bag with you is a good idea – it’s a way you can have useful tactical or survival gear with you all the time, but without giving yourself away.
You can use a shoulder bag or a backpack, as both are common. Ideally you want your bag to be black or gray, to have nothing that discerns it as a piece of tactical equipment, and it should have some easy-access pockets. There are many “tactical” bags available that look like“normal” backpacks but that have multiple concealed areas available. These are ideal for any urban environment.
If your goal is to blend in, it’s also important that you don’t appear too “clean”. If you’re walking around wearing brand new clothes, shoes and carrying a brand new backpack, that can also draw attention. In order to be a proper gray mm and go completely unnoticed, most of the things you use and wear should be slightly worn. Not so old that you look shabby, not so new that you look like you just finished a shopping spree at the mall. Your stuff doesn’t need to look old, but it should never look desirable. You should never be displaying anything that anyone may want to take from you. That how you can avoid becoming a target when chaos bubbles over and the mugging and looting start.
The Face of a Gray Man
Here is where we get into some tricky stuff. Believe it or not, when somebody is standing in front of you, your clothing isn’t the thing they notice the most. Think about how many people you have talked to and then walked away from and had no memory of what they were wearing.
People, when engaged, have a strong tendency only to look at the person’s face. They may know you are wearing a jacket, they may be half aware that you have jeans on, but when you walk away, they won’t remember much except your face.
To help remain invisible, you need an “ordinary” face. So, you like having a handlebar mustache? Well, nobody else does – so get rid of it! As a man, you should never have any particularly distinctive facial hair. You may keep a beard, but keep it trimmed and neat and boring. Beards can be helpful because they can help disguise the shape of your jaw. However, a large beard will definitely get you noticed.
The same must be said for your hair. Regardless of what the fad is, people notice men who have ponytails, mullets, or long locks of hair. On the flip side, extremely short hair or shaved heads are also pretty distinct (we’ve all seen someone’s haircut and wondered to ourselves if they’re a member of the military – that’s our brains actively noticing them). To remain as unremarkable as possible, try to get a boring, mid length haircut that helps you fit in with other people who look similar to you. If you’re younger, and other people of your age style their hair, then you want to follow suit and style your hair. If you’re older and you notice most of your buddies sporting similar haircuts, it makes sense to get the same haircut.
As for a female “gray man”, you want to follow the same rules. You probably don’t have much of an issue with facial hair in the first place, but try not to go heavy on the makeup. You don’t want to be the first thing every man notices when he steps into the train. Bright lipsticks, flashy earrings, dark rings of mascara – it’s going to draw eyes. For daily life, the plain Jane routine is best. Go light on the makeup and use neutral colors. If you truly want to blend in, then your goal is not to look beautiful – it’s to look average.
As for your haircut, you have more choices than men do because the range for “typical” female haircuts is wider than it is for men. Ideally, your hair should be at least to your shoulders – this gives you an advantage as it allows you to “hide” your face with your hair. This is one of the huge advantages female “gray men” have over males. If you have your haircut done right, nobody will be able to clearly see your face if you don’t want them to, and the people around won’t think anything of it.
Also be Aware of Smells
Scent is far more important than you may realize. Scent carries memory, and the one thing you don’t want is to be remembered. Avoid perfume, cologne, or anything that will give you a distinct smell. Cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, and even something like cat litter can make you “memorable”. Keep yourself completely neutral if possible.
How to Be a Gray Man: Behaving “Normally”
Even more important than your physical camouflage is your “behavioral camouflage”. This is key to becoming an effective gray man. From speaking with your neighbors to your behavior in a full-fledged emergency situation, if you want to be seen as unremarkable and “normal”, it is critical that you keep your behavior in check. The ideal situation is that your neighbor thinks of you as someone who’s pleasant, nice enough, but ultimately uninteresting. That’s what you’re shooting for.
This doesn’t mean keeping it cool in the face of danger, it means remaining invisible by way of your mannerisms and behavior. As an example, if martial law is declared and a military coup has taken place… perhaps you understand what’s happening but others around you don’t. If everyone around you is confused and panicking, you need to appear as confused as the next person. The key here is, just like with your attire and gear, to blend in.
Keeping Up the Facade in Daily Life
If you want to put the gray man philosophy into practice, you should try to maintain your “behavioral camouflage” as much as possible. Ideally, this is a disguise that will never leave you. Never purposely draw attention to yourself in a public place, whether there is an emergency or not. Never tell your friends or neighbors about your survivalist or preparedness activities. Never mention your stockpiles and preps. If you’re a crack shot with a rifle, or if you’re a self defense expert, you want as few people to know these things about you as possible.
Your survival-related activities, whether it’s collecting gear, stockpiling resources, or building skills – all if it should be kept under a tight lid. Privacy is your friend. Don’t go around town boasting that you’d definitely live through a zombie apocalypse or lecture others on the importance of survivalism.
At most, you can perhaps trust your immediate family and a couple of your closest friends. Outside of a small circle, you don’t want anybody to know you’re any kind of prepper or survivalist. The threat may come from a tyrannical government or an angry mob, but either way, being known as the guy who’s fully prepared for any eventuality paints a massive target on your back.
One factor that tends to throw people off their behavioral camouflage is pride. You need to keep your pride in check. If somebody tries to make trouble with you, even if it is unwarranted, you need to swallow your pride and walk away from the situation if at all possible. A true gray man would prefer to appear weak rather than give themselves up.
This means you want to avoid being aggressive or confrontational. Never become hostile with another person, and don’t stick your neck into other people’s business. The key here is to keep your head down, to not ever appear threatening, and to act like everyone else.
You should also generally stay away from rash or aggressive people. People like this often get into difficult situations, and difficult situations stay in memories and leave records.
As a final tip on your behavior, you should know that eye contact is generally a bad idea if you don’t want to be noteworthy. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and the second you lock eyes with someone they’ll get a read on you no matter how good an actor you are. If you’re in a SHTF scenario, keep your eyes (and head) down and don’t look at other people. There’s a reason why the phrase “keep your head down” means what it does.
(If you haven’t heard the term SHTF, read this article to learn more about the meaning of SHTF and other common survival terms)
Moving Through a Crowd
One of the most important things to learn is how to navigate your way out of a crowd during a calamity. If you are in a busy street, in a train station, or even in an airport, and something has gone terribly wrong, as a survivalist, you’ll already have some idea of the safest areas, the best escape routes, and the best hiding spots. You definitely do not want to give these places away, and if the situation calls for a hiding spot, the last thing you want is to share it with a clueless stranger who could get you both killed.
But it’s tough being trapped in a crowd. If someone sees you moving with purpose away from the main body of people, they might get curious and follow you. If people think you know what you’re doing, chances are they will look to you for help and this will cause you big problems. You need to remove yourself from the crowd quickly without drawing attention to yourself.
The worst thing you could do is cut a harsh diagonal line through the crowd. People will see you doing this and instinctively flock to where you’re going. Instead, you want to mimic the crowd, whether panicked, afraid, or angry, and move slowly and casually towards the edge of the mass.
The edge of the crowd is generally a good place to be. You can act like you’re looking for someone, like you’re trying to get away from the mass of people, and from there quietly make your inconspicuous escape.
A Gray Man Should be “Average”
Becoming a gray man is not as difficult as it may seem. You don’t need to take any kind of class or learn how to operate covertly. You just need some basic understanding of human psychology and some common sense. But above all you need situational awareness.
The reason being a gray man works so well is because you understand the situation at hand and how to manipulate it to your advantage so as not to be noticed. But this doesn’t just mean wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses and pretending to stare at a newspaper. Being a gray man is about understanding where you are, who the people around you are, what people are paying attention to, and what people are not paying attention to. Then adapting to your surroundings such that you appear pretty average.
If you’re the type of person who can’t help but brag about how well you’re prepared for anything, and how when SHTF you’ll be ready for it (while everyone else will suffer)…. Well, chances are that you won’t be the kind of person who actually manages to survive SHTF.
On the other hand, if you can seem like a typical person – unremarkable and unremarked upon by those who surround you… but you actually have access to a range of survival skills and tools that the average person doesn’t have… then congratulations. You’ve succeeded in becoming a gray man.