How Many People Are Needed For An Effective Patrol?

Soldier on Patrol in Tabin

When most people hear the term patrolling they tend to think about military patrols based on movies or TV with some also considering police patrols and such. Preppers should think of patrolling as a bit of both. I say that because a patrol during or after a crisis situation will have aspects of military patrolling (gathering information, looking for enemies, and checking on friendlies) as well as police patrolling (safeguarding resources, deterring “bad guys”, and maintaining a visible presence in the area) calling for a wide range of skills and abilities.

Many Preppers seem to think that patrolling is not something they need to do, that it would be a waste of time and resources. I strongly disagree. Patrolling is a key means of knowing what’s going on beyond the line of sight from your retreat. It’s also critical as a means of keeping snipers away from threatening positions around your retreat, and scouts from positions where they can gather intelligence about your retreat. I’ll also suggest that patrolling will help you establish and maintain positive relations with your neighbors and could serve as the foundation for alliances and mutual aid with some of them.

There are risks with patrolling of course. Too small a patrol and they are easy targets for any anti-social types they might run into. Too large a patrol and your retreat defense could be too weak to stand up to even a mild attack. A patrol that isn’t careful could be tracked back to your retreat. A patrol could be ambushed in order to get you to commit a relief force leaving your retreat dangerously undefended.

But even with these issues in mind it would behoove you to run patrols with some frequency, but do them while minimizing these risks to the best of your ability.

How does one minimize the risks of patrolling, there are many options to consider;

  • Never return to the retreat using the same route or point on the perimeter that the patrol used when departing. Why make it easy for any opposition to track or ambush the patrol?
  • Never leave or return on a predictable pattern. Always keep the other folks guessing.
  • Always vary the patrol routes, in fact have several that share some traits but have significant differences.
  • Vary the group members who make up the patrols, this will help you keep anyone watching your retreat guessing as to when the next patrol is getting ready to go out. If it’s always the same people then watchers can tell when a patrol might be getting ready as those folks are out of view at the same time. If you have the personnel you might consider running more than one patrol at a time.

The composition of your patrol is also a key consideration for reducing risk;

  • Never send a patrol out with less than 4 people. A patrol needs a team leader, a medic, and a couple of people for security so 4 is the absolute minimum that you should send out. More would be better if you have enough people to do so without diminishing the defenses of your retreat.
  • Every member of your patrol should be armed since you would only need to do this in a situation where there were no viable law enforcement assets active in the area. All patrol members should carry rifles that share the same ammunition caliber and magazines. If possible the same should be the case for handguns.
  • Every patrol should have a medic, EMT, or the closest you can provide. Patrols are dangerous, not only because there is the potential for combat but also due to potential injuries from animals, terrain, etc. Bear in mind that you don’t want to strip your retreat of medic skills, so hopefully you will have at least two people with that set of skills

Planning and organization are also key aspects to minimizing risk to your patrols. From the initial plan to the end of the patrol and debrief there are actions that can improve the odds for your patrols and patrol personnel.

  • Patrols require significant planning, and they must be coordinated with your operations (could be called a Tactical Operations Center – TOC, Headquarters – HQ, or similar) personnel so they know the planned route, reporting points and times, rally points, etc. Your operations personnel must ensure that the patrol leader/members know what radio frequency (or frequencies) to use, call signs, means of communicating in code, challenge and password sets, visual signals, audible signals, etc.
  • The operations personnel and patrol leaders need to verify that all the members of the patrol have their arms, ammunition, full load of water, 1st aid capabilities, communications capabilities, and any other required gear before the patrol departs. Communications gear must be tested prior to departure. Each patrol member must be checked to make sure that noise from weapons and gear is reduced as much as possible.
  • The operations personnel need to brief the patrol (leader at least, but it would be better if everyone was briefed) on all pertinent intelligence that might impact their patrol. Goals of the patrol (Intel gathering, foraging, scrounging, check points, etc.). Issues and threats must be covered as well.
  • Your medic will need to check their medickit to make sure that they are prepared to handle various trauma situations as well as more mundane issues.
  • Once the patrol returns to the retreat your operations personnel should debrief the patrol members to develop a report of what they saw and experienced in order to add that information to your overall intelligence picture.
  • Patrols can use a variety of formations and movement methods, but that is a tactical consideration that will be heavily influenced by terrain, the skill levels of your patrol personnel, the threat level in your area, and the purpose of the patrol.

Obviously patrolling is a manpower intensive, inherently risky, and very involved mission. However I hope that Preppers will understand the value of running patrols with some frequency. There is no better way for you to know what’s going on in your retreat area beyond your line of sight. There is also no better way to frustrate anyone trying to gain intelligence of your retreat or to snipe at your personnel. A famous saying, sometimes attributed to Jefferson, is “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”. In the type of situation that Preppers are preparing for it’s likely to be a little different, something along the lines of “eternal vigilance is the price of survival” perhaps. Be vigilant, patrol your area, and keep your people alive.

About Rick Cox

Rick became a soldier when he was 17 years old and spent 8 years active duty with a total of 5 MOS's. After leaving the Army and returning to his family he realized civil defense was no more and because a prepper before it was even a word. Today he offers a prepper consulting service and is the head of sales at Fortitude Ranch which is a dedicated prepper community.

View all posts by Rick Cox

4 Responses to “How Many People Are Needed For An Effective Patrol?”

  1. jarrod Says:

    I would recommend that anyone without proper military training to buy or download a copy of the US Army ranger handbook. This book will teach you how to organize briefings i.e. OPORD, debriefings i.e. AAR, teach troop movements and formations, how to setup LP/OP’s, SALUTE reports, and many more useful skills.

    I would also argue that a well trained two man team can, and will, provide the necessary recon needed in many instances. The key here is well trained.

    I enjoyed your article.


    • JD Says:

      Yep, a 2 man patrol is better. It doesn’t strip your groups retreat of most of its people, and 2 people are a lot easier to hide and move.

      Not just read up on the topic, one needs to hone that skill.

      Per the article, it takes ALOT of planning? Not really once you know the basics. Its pretty simple..again, once the basics are known.


      • Rick Cox Says:

        Hi JD,

        While I agree that a 2 man patrol can work, if as Jarrod mentions the members are very well trained, I recommend that such an approach be avoided unless you just don’t have the numbers for more. I say that for several reasons:

        1) 2 people is the lowest number who can do cover and movement, where one person fires while the other moves. This is an important capability should your patrol find itself in combat. But with only 2 it doesn’t work well against more numerous opponents. Having 4 gives you more tactical options and more firepower for cover etc.

        2) If a person gets injured or wounded in a 2 person patrol the other can provide 1st Aid, but that’s all they can do. They cannot go for help (which might be the only option if commo isn’t working) without leaving the casualty along, which is rarely a good idea. They cannot carry the casualty very far on their own. With a 4 person team two can carry the casualty and one can provide security or go for help.

        3) With a 2 person patrol you have no options for flank security. Which greatly increases your vulnerability to ambushes from the flanks etc.

        Sure, 2 people are easier to hide and leave less trail, but I’ll take the risk of detection over the risk of losing 2 people due to a shortage of numbers…

        I will also suggest that patrol planning not be taken lightly. Sure, once the first few patrols have been run successfully it does get easier. But every patrol is different, and needs to be different in many ways. You don’t want to use the same routes, rally points, radio frequencies, or objectives on your patrols. Variety equals survival. Different types of patrols will also mandate variations in your planning and such. All of which must be taken into account when planning each patrol. Using a checklist to make sure each critical consideration is covered will simplify this process, but it is a process that needs to be done prior to every patrol.


  2. Rick Cox Says:

    Thanks Jarrod! Your suggestion to get the Ranger handbook is a good one. There are numerous military publications that can provide the folks without military training a solid foundation of the concepts, procedures, etc. needed to do a wide range of activities that paralel military activities.


Leave a Reply