characters / Dawn of Humanity / Man vs Nature

5 Tips in the Science of Walking Silently

In my prehistoric fiction series, 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
  • How to Read Water by Tristan Gooley

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:

  1. Watch the next place you will step. Be mindful of objects you may step on.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Place the heel or toes 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.
  5. To get close to a target, walk on the outer edge of your feet, rolling from heel to pinky.
  6. 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.

Tips

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Avoid shifting your weight until your forward foot is firmly on the ground.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?


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, July 2021.

109 thoughts on “5 Tips in the Science of Walking Silently

  1. Thanks for sharing!!.. when I walk I just follow my heart with a open mind and show respect where I put my foot down… 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May the sun shine all day long
    Everything go right, nothing go wrong
    May those you love bring love back to you
    And may all the wishes you wish come true
    (Irish Saying)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is fascinating, Jacqui. It’s made me wonder if the techniques are similar to the ones Indigenous Australian trackers use. Rabbit hole, here I come!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lessons in the dark from Granddad, who had parachuted behind enemy lines in WWII. Taught us, ( tried to?) to walk silently, and also, to walk safely in absolute darkness. – .Reading Bernard Cornwell, I remembered Granddad’s lessons.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I believe you’re right. I think most cultures that survive in a natural environment learn to blend in. We Modern Man think we’re apex predators and everyone else has to hide from us. Not sure that is smart or true.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Very interesting information, Jacqui. I have never really thought about it before but I have actually used some of these techniques when getting close to animals in a park. We don’t go near dangerous ones, just buck and those sort of animals. I will have to focus on this when I read your next book.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I know I’ve never read anything about this before, which is one of the reasons I like this post, Jacqui. Maybe it’s time for you to come out with the book, “Everything That You Wanted to Know About Walking But Were Afraid to Ask.”🤣

    Liked by 1 person

      • Wow! I appreciate all of the senses, but I can’t imagine trying to travel around the world without eyesight. The remarkable thing about most humans is that we learn to adapt. Of course, what’s the alternative?

        Liked by 1 person

  6. A truly fascinating post, Jacqui! I had no idea the science behind walking quietly. I live in an apartment on the fourth floor and am always aware of my footsteps and how they might sound to the person living under me. Thank you for sharing this wealth of information!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is fascinating information, Jacqui! After reading the novel excerpt a couple of days ago, I can see how these techniques are used by your characters. My husky is very light on his feet, particularly when he does what I call his “wolf trot.”

    Liked by 2 people

  8. This is really fascinating, Jacqui. As a kid, I danced ballet, which I loved. We learned how to pull our weight into ourselves (I can’t describe it any other way) so that when we leapt and spun, we did so quietly. Otherwise, as exquisite as dancing can look, it can also sound like bison stampeding.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. This is fascinating, Jacqui! I will have to try this out when I’m out walking in the forest next time:) Although there are times when it’s better to make some noise and scare off those preditors too.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Fascinating post, Jacqui. I didn’t know about using the edge of the foot, but that makes sense. When my brothers and I were young, we practiced slinking around the forest. We weren’t very good at it, but it was fun. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Wow! This is why your books ring true, Jacqui, they are grounded in fact. I noticed your attention to movement last night when I read “Crossing the Great African Rift. I’m terrified of climbing and have been rescued from more than one cliff. I remember my guide telling me to do exactly what Raza was doing. Have a great day!

    Liked by 2 people

    • That is really cool! I researched how mountain goats race up and down steep cliffs–almost never falling. The videos of this stuff is amazing. And the free climbers like Alex Honnold who use no ropes. Such amazing technique.

      Like

    • I’m glad you like it! That’s how I felt when I first realized that tiptoeing was how to be quiet. It was more complicated. I’m going to drop over and see what you’ve been up to.

      Like

  12. These are such interesting tips, Jacqui. I was familiar with two or three, but wow, the rest are eye-openers. And I love the idea of “the cat walk”….felines move so silently!
    Did you know they’re also one of only three mammals that walk with two left feet, then two right feet? I think the other two are the giraffe and the camel.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Lots of helpful ideas and others I will try. I attempt to walk 20-25 miles a week. I need that for sanity (sometimes I substitute bicycling, but that’s too fast and I like to go slow to observe. After I read Chet Raymo’s books (you suggested one and if I like it, there’s about four I want to read, cause I’m also a night walker), I will have to read “How to Read Water.” Thanks

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Hi Jacqui – what a fun post … I came across a prisoner escape in Siberia, who made moccasins – lighter and softer than ‘shoes/boots’; and used elk hooves, when the going didn’t suit human feet -if his follower wasn’t a tracker, he wouldn’t be tracked – but an expert would realise. Great you’ve given us books to read – not sure I will, but I like the knowledge. Cheers – Hilary

    Liked by 3 people

  15. That is really interesting information. Thanks Jacqui. Reminds me of the some of the Westerns I used to read in younger days, and the descriptions of the methods used by the Indians when following someone, and the clues they would get from nature and their surroundings.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It is interesting, isn’t it? We get good at what’s important to us. Now, we’re the alpha. Being quiet isn’t a big deal. I actually dig into that some in this current book.

      Like

  16. How interesting. Thanks for sharing what you learned. I thought I might have to read one or more of the books. Now I just need to tell my joints to stop creaking with every movement. 😂

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Good morning, dear Jacqui,
    what an interesting post 👍 Thanks for letting us know your research about walking. It coincedes with the next book we will read “Wanderlust: A History of Walking” by Rebecca Solnit.
    Now we are eager to try out what you explained.
    Wishing you a great week
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I will have to check out Wanderlust. Paleo scientists theorize that man spread throughout the world for the simple reason of wanderlust. Sure there are other reasons but just that we want to see what is over the next hill makes a lot of sense to me.

      I just put a hold on it at the library. I’m first in line!

      Liked by 1 person

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