Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide
Before All Else Fails, Run! Strategies from a Flight-First Perspective
What is the primary skill needed to survive a zombie invasion? An individual may practice superior marksmanship, wear the most fantastic home-built armor, and possess the best maps and equipment. However, if one can’t run at least six miles without stopping, one is in a brief, flesh-rending world of hurt. This article will expose some of the disadvantages of dependency on armor, armaments, mechanical transport, and excess gear in general while illustrating the advantages of using one’s ability to assess danger, combined with natural speed and agility to evacuate before the full onslaught of zombies.
This article uses The Key Emergency Principle and applies it to a zombie attack.
“The key principle taught in almost all systems is that the individual, be they a layperson or a professional, should assess the situation for Danger. If the situation is too dangerous, the individual must consider whether to approach the scene or leave the area if appropriate.”
Some may question the prioritization of agile retreat over the sturdy defense. However, this joke speaks to the advantages of a flight-first strategy:
A bear is about to attack two people on a trail. One man begins tying up the laces on his running shoes. The other asks, “What are you doing? You can’t outrun a bear!” The man in the running shoes replies, “You’re right. I can’t outrun a bear. But I can outrun you.”
One individual stays to fight, risking death. The other leaves, not risking death, and leaves the bear with someone else to attack.
Prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse
Stand And Fight: Death by Encumbrance
Encumbrance is an evil almost as great as ignorance in the struggle against zombies. A human carrying extra weight with limited mobility creates the ideal opportunity for a zombie: slower prey. They appear to have nearly limitless endurance and an unquenchable desire for living human flesh. Even if one assumes zombies are slow, shambling, and uncoordinated, the encumbered human then subtracts any advantages of speed and agility (and reduces the possibility of hiding). Therefore, the heavily armed and armored individual is ultimately a can of Spam waiting to be peeled open by the zombie foe. Guns, bullets, and armor are heavy. Ammunition will eventually be expended and then begins a forced retreat, much slower than that of an unencumbered peer.
Armor will not only sap energy and coordination, but it also greatly increases the possibility that the individual wearing it will hook him- or herself on fencing, windowsills, doorknobs, or any other snag. Every additional object strapped, hooked, or tied down on an individual’s body increases the possibility of tripping or losing one’s balance. Sadly, once a human has fallen, the advantage swings fully to the zombies.
Encumbrance also limits escape options and reduces noise discipline. The more armor one wears, the less exits are available. Small windows and gaps, for instance, become impassible. Furthermore, silence is sacrificed because the encumbered individual has so many attachments (such as extra clips, grenades, and armor pieces) that could strike against each other.
The Zombies Are Here, Where Is The Gear?
Gear dependency is another grave illusion to which a survivor may fall prey. All the gear necessary to survive a zombie attack cannot be worn continuously unless one is willing to risk ridicule, ostracism and/or incarceration. Unless one is on the S.W.A.T. team, public display of armor and firearms is frowned upon. In more rural regions an individual may be able to have gear more at the ready, however, most of the American population lives in highly urbanized areas. They do not have constant, ready access to necessary survival equipment. For example, residents of Los Angeles who are not cops or gang-members have little to no consistent access to firearms. The hot climate also discourages even the most creative survivalist from wearing armor constantly. Even if one has prepared a bug-out bag, there is no guarantee that the individual will always have it within reach. There are just too many occasions (church, a date, work) where the wearing of firearms and riot gear is unrealistic. One cannot depend only on the proverbial sword and shield.
Driving Away: You’re on Empty
Another assumption is that the survivor will find a car, bike, or, god-willing, a motorcycle readily available when the zombie outbreak occurs. Surprisingly those in rural areas will have a better chance of finding and effectively using motorized escape. For those living in densely populated areas, motorized evacuation will be a very uncertain scenario.
Once again, using Los Angeles as an example: L.A. has the highest car density in the United States, but, even without a mass panic, the city’s freeways and streets already suffer from gridlock. It will be so much worse if zombies strike. Those few who do have a vehicle and a clear exit will be willing to fight to keep their advantage. Fighting with other survivors over a car would be extremely costly in time and potential injury.
One might own a motorcycle. However, the risks of dying in a traffic accident go up exponentially when on a motorcycle. One may not even be alive to be running away from the undead in the first place. Additionally, there is still the issue of fuel and/or repairs for cars and motorbikes — at some point they run out of gas and fuel may not be readily available.
Bicycles are a great idea. In practice, most American cities are designed in favor of cars over bicycles. Few people use bikes as a primary mode of transportation because of the inherent difficulty and danger (few bike lanes, fast traffic). One is much more likely to be caught commuting in a car when a zombie arrives. If one is fortunate enough to have a bike, repair issues and impassible areas are still a concern. For example, bikes do not run well over broken glass or even loose sand and gravel. Finally, it is also difficult to ascend a stairwell or jump through window riding a bike.
That being said, one would be foolish not to use a mechanical advantage: car, bike or otherwise. No matter what mechanical advantage, the point remains the same: an individual can only consistently depend on two things:
- One’s knowledge of impending zombie doom.
- One’s healthy, uninfected legs.
Why Running A 5K Matters: Tag, You’re Dead
The first 30-60 minutes in a zombie-overrun area will be akin to a game of tag. It will be the most important game of tag one has ever played. The rules will be difficult because all zombies will be “it” and the only goal is to avoid their grasp. Killing zombies doesn’t matter in these opening moments. Escape is the only priority.
One’s initial assumption will be to run as fast as possible. That assumption is flawed. Sprinting can kill. The individual will run out of breath quickly and will be at greater risk of zombie attack. Zombie endurance appears limitless, while human endurance is finite — it must be used wisely.
The individual using a Flight-First strategy does not need to be a sprinter. One must be able to run when zombies are present; and jog when they are not. The individual just needs to stay ahead—and avoid being surrounded. These training suggestions below will help prepare one’s mind and body for this method of retreat.
- Indian File: A group of runners runs in single file. The person in back has to run to the front, forcing an increase in the pace.
- Fartlek: Loosely defined as “Running Play.” An individual or group runs a distance at varied and random paces. At any time one runner can pick up the pace, forcing the others to catch up.
- Pyramids: Often done on a track. The runner sprints 200 m; walks 200 m.; sprints 400 m; walks 400 m; and so on.
- Tag/Two-hand Touch Football: Any of these family-friendly sports is an effective training aid that encourages players to dodge and avoid contact.
- Trail Running: This increases endurance; and can include many obstacles to increase one’s running dexterity.
- Scrambling/Bouldering: This is another increase in dexterity for both legs and arms. One can scramble down hill or up and over boulders and rocks.
- Paintball: This is an excellent sport that will encourage use of cover and concealment, and team movement. The Human side must be poorly armed. The Zombie side, however, should only be allowed to shoot opponents within six feet.
- Local Running Events: Any 5k fun run is an excellent source of practice. A finishing time of 33 minutes means one has a decent chance of being an initial survivor. Walking speed is about 13 minutes. The 33 min. finisher has run about an 11 min. pace. Furthermore, the individual has learned to run in a crowd–very important during a zombie outbreak.
- Parkour/free running: Seen in many recent action films including Casino Royale, Parkour is a sport or form of martial arts that emphasizes flight over fight using direct, efficient movement through extremely challenging urban environments. A Parkour practitioner can jump through windows, climb vertical walls, and jump from heights that should be fatal. Unless one has trained for years in this sport, this would be an ill-advised strategy against zombies. The risk of injury is too great.
- Half/Full Marathons: While Parkour is very useful in initial encounters, one can train more easily for distance running; and therefore more likely accomplish the needed endurance goals.
- Night Running: This is an extremely risky proposition, but a zombie is not going to play fair. One may have to run at unfavorable hours under unfavorable conditions. Practice with caution in familiar areas.
Why Marathoning Matters: I’m Outta’ Here
Running a marathon to escape a zombie might seem ridiculous, but if one has the endurance to jog out of the infected area, that individual has a significant advantage over much of the population. The goal is to get off the zombie dinner plate (i.e. crowded city areas) — go somewhere, anywhere that a zombie isn’t. Putting 10, 20, even 30 miles of distance you and the outbreak is one of the best survival strategies.
Human beings have a long tradition of distance running that can be resurrected. The mileage covered by members of traditional cultures often sounds astounding. For example, according to Ultramarathoning.com, an adult Apache could travel 50-75 miles per day over rough terrain! However, according to the site, the ability to cover extreme distances was not due to a genetic advantage, rather to life-long conditioning. There are numerous training regimens (more than can possibly be covered here) which can prepare an individual for a marathon (26.2 miles) in five months! The regimens vary widely and are appropriate to different levels of age, experience, and fitness. With careful research one can train to this level without injury.
Sadly America, among many Western nations, has fallen victim to the silent plague of poor diet and inactivity. That means that much of the living will be hampered by excess body mass, and low endurance. On a more selfish level, these less fit victims act as bait, expediting the more fit individual’s withdrawal. This is a double-edged sword, however, as this might cause the initial outbreak to go exponentially faster than previously theorized because of slow human retreat. Those that turn into a zombie will no longer lack endurance and will be able to prey on those who haven’t turned with devastating effect. It will be all the more important to escape quickly before one is surrounded.
Speed and agility will keep the individual alive for the first Tag You’re Dead encounters. But one’s endurance is the likely determinant of initial survival. Then the individual will have time to be concerned about food supply, fuel, water purification, etc. One must keep in mind that into a zombie does not appear to prefer particular individuals. If contact can be broken, a zombie will likely go after easier prey. And, unfortunately, easy prey will be readily available.
If I Only Had Three Things And 90 Seconds: Gear to Get You in the Clear
- Shoes–Always have a pair of trail-running shoes handy. They should have sturdy soles (for example, http://www.vibram.us/), reinforced toes, and sturdy laces. Regular running shoes won’t cut it. One is likely to put a nail or broken glass through the bottom of the sole. There are a few types of light hiking boots that would be appropriate. One must test them for lateral mobility.
- Water Bottle—Preferably this bottle should be made of unbreakable plastic, be easy to grip, and have a simple filter. One can run without food for a long time. Dehydration, however, is a constant risk.
- Cash—(Not an ATM or credit card) Cash can mean salvation on the first day–maybe even first week. The reason is one will be running from an outbreak to a (hopefully) uninfected area. The individual may be sweaty, breathless, kind of wide-eyed and scary-looking to the local merchant. But when the money is presented, the merchant will almost certainly provide a plethora of Gatorade and Slim Jims. Cash can buy that gun, medicine, and/or bus ticket out of town. Cash is the lightest and most valuable tool during the initial outbreak. Past that point it’s toilet paper.
Five Minute Head Start: Five More Items
The Flight-First individual has shoes, water, cash and a lead. Here are some more items to have in ready reach.
- Cell Phone– Again, like cash, this will only serve well in the initial outbreak. Find the location of friends and allies. Are the escape routes clear? It’d be even better if one has a hands-free device. Then jogging and running will be easier.
- Runner’s fanny pack (or some spiffy SWAT belt)– This item will serve well throughout the zombie infestation. Better ones hold two water bottles, and have a pouch that can hold a pound or two of food or supplies (or a hand gun for that matter).
- Nutrition Bars—Avoid the cutesy low calorie, organic soy stuff. The survivor wants as much fat and protein as the stomach can tolerate, with a lot of preservatives. Look into Pemican brand, or military rations. When running, don’t snarf down the whole thing; take small bites with water. That will help to prevent cramping.
- Multitool/knife—At some point during the escape it will be a necessity.
- Flash light: Ideally this would be mounted on a pistol!
Weapons from a Flight-First Perspective
Run-N-Gun: Notes on a Fighting Retreat
Even the most strident Flight-First strategist will pick up Something to keep zombies out of grabbing reach. There are three categories of weapons to consider, based on encumbrance, availability, and effectiveness.
- The ideal weapon would be a semi-automatic handgun with a 14 round clip; at least 40-45 caliber (with 2-3 more clips). The weapon is light and can be stowed at the waist or small of the back for effective running. Remember, the primary strategy is retreat. Making a moving headshot at a moving target (even a slow zombie) is problematic. The target area (brainpan) is less than 9 square inches. Only shoot at a zombie if it blocks an avenue of retreat. If a headshot is unlikely, shoot at the center mass (with a high caliber/hollow point bullet) of the zombie. Hopefully, the removal of several pounds of flesh will unbalance the zombie in such a way that it slows, stumbles, or falls – or is even incapacitated if enough supporting structure is wrecked. These techniques have not endured rigorous scientific evaluation. A shot to the brain is the only certain means of destroying a suspected zombie. One must balance the risk of missing that difficult shot against the reduced effect of a strike to center mass. Use the gun to help a retreat, not to get a high score.
Other guns are valuable. Use them as long as they don’t impede retreat. But, when the ammunition is expended, is that shotgun worth carrying anymore? The handgun is by far the most valuable weapon in a Flight-First scenario. It works; and it is light enough to keep when the ammo runs out.
- Now, for those individuals who don’t have a concealed carry permit, the best choice is a good hammer. One could have a hammer in one’s desk at work; and, compared to an axe, not risk a tense discussion with someone in the human resources department. It stores well in a car or on a motorcycle (i.e. the police don’t consider it a weapon). Running with a hammer is possible. It can be stowed (with some forethought; extra Velcro) at the waist, or small of one’s back.
Go for as big of a hammer as can be carried; something forged in one piece, with a sturdy grip. An Eastwing 22. oz framing hammer (see Homedepot.com) would probably be the largest useable size at 15 inches. Again, this weapon is not for the holy grail of head-shots. It is meant for smacking hands and arms away (also good for breaking through windows, and breaking off doorknobs).
Other small bludgeoning/hacking devices (such as a hammer/axe) are also plausible. The weapon should not be longer than one’s forearm because, in order to run efficiently one must be able to stow it on the body—without impeding arm or leg movement.
- Bats, hockey sticks, golf clubs, swords, etc. are all problematic because of encumbrance (also most can’t bring a sword to work–golf clubs, maybe). They may have the advantage of keeping zombies a little farther away from the individual. But the two-handed stick is subtracting the individual’s initial advantages: speed and agility. Unless one is a ninja master, hauling the extra weight, and/or clumsily moving with the weapon attached to one’s body will quickly become tiring—and dangerous.
Armor from a Flight-First Perspective
Ten Minutes to Spare: “Shop Smart. Shop S-Mart”
When it comes to armor, the individual is one of two categories.
- Very lucky. The individual and S.W.A.T. gear is in the same room/car/house. Put on the lightweight anti-riot gear and the boots in which one can run a marathon (this gear is available). Get dressed and go!
- Not so lucky. The individual and S.W.A.T. gear is Not in the same room/car/house. One should make a beeline for the nearest mall/sporting goods store and grab/buy:
Sporting Equipment from contact/running sports. It’s that simple. They’re light, aerodynamic, and designed to protect you from strikes (you will have to make some adjustments regarding bites).
Why choose sporting goods stores? The odds of an individual running across some major sporting goods outlet in a populated area are far higher than running across an armory or Army surplus/gun store (except maybe in Texas). Target, Walmart, K-mart, REI, SportsChalet, Big 5, Chicks, etcetera are all examples of store chains that proliferate in the Los Angeles area. Furthermore, one is less likely to be shot at while running willy-nilly into these stores. (See the L.A. Riots. The gun store owners were Very adept at defending their property. Walmart was far less defended).
Choose from: Baseball, Hockey, Football, Soccer, Skateboarding, Lacrosse, Paint-Balling, and others. All have some pieces of equipment that could be used as a defense against a zombie attack. Before selecting from this cornucopia of gear, one must ask two questions:
- Is it light enough to run in for long periods?
- Does it provide any practical coverage?
For example: Although a football helmet provides plenty of coverage, one can’t expect to wear it for miles. A better example: Shin guards from soccer or skateboarding. They’re reasonably light and will provide some protection from scratching and biting–and the potential injuries of scrambling through broken windows.
Keep in mind a scratch from a zombie is almost as bad as a bite. One may not turn zombie, but the likely infection could be a killer. Furthermore, if other survivors see bloody scratches all over the individual, they are much more likely to shoot for the sake of precaution.
The ideal, and reasonably available, anti-zombie wear comes from paintballing. The gear is made for simulated combat, is designed to be light, and is resistant enough against bites and clawing. The face mask, elbow/shin/knee guards would all pair excellently with the ad hoc hockey/baseball/skateboarding helmet. Paintball masks also afford reasonable protection for the eyes, nose, and mouth. These areas are crucial.
Covering orifices is almost as important as scratch/bite protection since zombie infection appears to be passed through bites and contact with infected fluids. So, for example, while one may have pulled off the best headshot ever, where did that brain matter go? If it was into the individual’s eye; there better be one bullet left.
Face masks, goggles, even sunglasses are a must–anything to cover the eyes. One’s nose, mouth, and ears should also be lightly covered (i.e. be able to breathe and hear, but avoid blood pathogens). It’s a difficult compromise. No one runs well with a lot of weight/obstructions on the head and face. But something is needed if a zombie is close.
Prioritize limb/hand/foot/face protection over the torso. If a zombie is close enough to be biting at one’s stomach, then it’s already over. Again gaiters/shin/knee guards are needed to get through broken glass windows–and of course to kick a zombie away if necessary. The same goes for arms and hands. One needs gloves (No open fingers!) that provide enough dexterity to fire a weapon. Finally guards up to the elbows are needed to reduce the chance of zombie bites.
Armoring from a Flight-First perspective is a difficult balance. Even the smallest amount of additional weight is tiring after a few miles. Armor is a fallback. The individual must be able to run first.
A Note On Bug-Out Bags; Make Light of Them
One should have in a Bug-Out Bag.
The caveats are:
- It must be in a tactical backpack (i.e. something that straps tightly to the hips, shoulders, and chest).
- It must be light enough to jog with for long periods.
Otherwise, it’s just an encumbrance. And encumbrance equals death. One’s extra roll of bandages will do little good while the zombie chews off a leg.
In conclusion, to prepare from a Flight-First perspective, follow the Key Emergency Principle. If you are in danger, leave the area!