Basically, it’s a pit full of punji sticks. Primitive, but effective. Originally used as animal traps, the Viet Cong adapted punji pits for use against enemy soldiers in the Vietnam War. A member of the Free World Forces unfortunate enough to fall into a punji pit would discover bamboo spikes waiting to break their fall. The spikes, which were sharpened to a point ideal for piercing a soldier's boots, were angled so to make freeing the foot difficult. They were often smeared with human or animal excrement to increase the chances of the soldier developing septicaemia. The point wasn’t to kill the victim of the trap, but to maim him. A wounded enemy would slow down his entire unit.

Punji pits are most successful in a jungle environment, where they are easily improvised using locally available materials. The strength of the Viet Cong in the Vietnam war lay largely in their guerilla tactics. According to Marine Magazine, "injuries resulting from booby traps and landmines accounted for 65% of the casualties sustained by American forces during the Vietnam War."


  1. Pick a location. Around the perimeter of your base or on a pathway your enemy is likely to navigate are good suggestions. Bonus points if it's somewhere your enemy has poor visibility or will be moving hastily.
  2. Dig a hole. Two meters in diameter and two meters deep should be fine, but assess your needs and tailor the dimensions to suit them.
  3. Sharpen around ten bamboo sticks and plant them in the ground at the bottom of the hole, deep enough so they each protrude half their length. Needless to say, the sharp ends of the sticks should point upwards. If you don’t live where bamboo is locally available, be flexible and improvise a substitute.
  4. Do you have to go to the bathroom? I hope so. Urinate and defecate onto the sticks liberally. If you prefer, poison is an acceptable substitute to excrement and is often more effective. If you're using the trap to hunt animals, however, you'll want to skip this step.
  5. Use foliage and sticks to cover and conceal the mouth of the trap. Long sticks laid across your hole will help support the underbrush, but make sure they’re thin enough to be easily snapped. Also be certain the leaves and grasses hide the trap completely. A pile of leaves in an area with relatively little underbrush will look suspicious, so for concealing a trap on a bare dirt pathway you can substitute a platform balanced on a pole and covered with earth. Be creative and work with your surroundings.


When looking out for punji pits it is most important to recognize the signs a trap has been set. You may be nearing a punji pit if you see...

  • disturbance of the ground surface
  • loose and scattered soil.
  • trampled earth and vegetation and footprints in the area.
  • evidence of camouflage, such as the vegetation appearing cut or withered.
  • any peculiar break of continuity in vegetation.


Try to free yourself from the trap. If possible, enlist the help of others. If you succeed, sterilize and treat any cuts and abrasions and consult a doctor.

-article in Marines Magazine (October 1998) entitled "Probing the Punji Pit"
-The Diagram Group’s excellent book, Weapons: An International Excyclopedia.

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