Differences Between Surviving Fast and Slow Zombies

Differences Between Surviving Fast and Slow Zombies

There are some fundamental differences between fast and slow zombies that one must be aware of before one may make a sensible contingency plan for an outbreak of either type of zombie.

The “Fast Zombie” Controversy

Many Zombie enthusiasts deny that the creatures depicted in 28 Days Later, The Dawn of the Dead remakes, and Zombieland should be considered actual Zombies. Part of this is because Zombies are not bound by our understanding of science, and have the supernatural durability to sustain their slow but relentless assault for weeks, months, and years at a time. Another part is that fans of the genre feel that the slow, inevitable pace of doom is a separate, and vital component of Zombie Fiction which Fast Zombie films lack.

Max Brooks has defined zombies as slow-moving, minimally cognitive predators who are technically dead and suffer from natural decay. George Romero has spoken (semi) passionately against the notion of fast zombies, despite complementing the remake of Dawn of the Dead, which had fast zombies. Still, there has been more and more general acceptance of the idea of fast zombies as a more realistic alternative to zombies, with a more immediate, in-your-face style of terror. While it is still hotly disputed as to which kind of zombie is the most dangerous or terrifying, few can debate the recent popularity of Fast Zombies have left an indelible impression on the greater horror genre. As such the definition of a zombie, as defined by popular consensus, is an unintelligent humanoid predator, devoid of even the most basic survival skills. It is not even necessary for a zombie to desire the consumption of human flesh (28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later).

Knowing Your Potential Enemies

Slow zombies are described in detail by Max Brooks in The Zombie Survival Guide. In a basic sense, slow zombies are technically dead predators who are totally independent from a physiological needs of any kind. They feel no pain, need nothing to fuel their bodies, and require only their intact brain to exist. While they do eat their prey, they do not need to, as their digestive system is completely inoperative and the flesh simply is forced out through the rectum as later “meals” push it out of the body, or the flesh stagnates and rots inside the Zombie. They are almost totally without intellect or reasoning skills (according to the Zombie Survival Guide, only a quarter of them can figure out how to use a ladder). And as named, their top speed is slower than a normal human’s calm stride. As mentioned earlier, they are extremely durable, being able to survive and hunt for years if not killed by brain destruction. The Solanum Virus which kills a person, and infests an reanimates the corpse, takes between 12-48 hours, depending on how quickly the virus reaches the brain (it’s been proven that a small bite which reaches no major blood vessels takes longer than the traditional model to produce a zombie).

Fast zombies are usually (but not always) humans still technically alive, but radically transformed mentally and physically by a mysterious viral infection. While they also feel no pain, without the concern for food or water (they do not need sleep), they inevitably die to thirst or hunger. While they are more durable than an ordinary human, this is because of constant adrenaline production, and deactivation of pain receptors, so injury and fatigue also do not concern them. They ultimate depend on all of their organ systems, and can be killed through blood loss, asphyxiation, or poisoning. Typically, the fast zombie transformation period is very fast – in 28 Days Later, it can be mere seconds. Fast Zombies can be excellent climbers.

Both kinds of zombies have only one motivating factor – killing humans. While Brooks’ slow zombies also try to kill and eat all animals (but prefer and trade up to humans, as tests have shown), Fast Zombies are more concerned with the destruction of their target, and use their hands and feet as much as their mouths to inflict damage. Both kinds will pursue relentlessly for as long as they can. Fast Zombies may be marginally stronger due to the adrenaline in their system, but the wild thrashing a slow zombie can perform (and without fatigue) frequently overwhelms even larger, stronger human captors or brawlers. Both infect only through bodily fluid transmission, though some fast zombies can vomit into the face of their attacker. This will not cease their attempts to kill the victim until the infected can confirm that all trace of humanity has been erased in the victim by the virus. Both Kinds of Zombies can triangulate a target, and instinctively work as a horde or swarm to overwhelm prey. This is the only form of acknowledgement of others of their kind that Slow Zombies exhibit. Fast Zombies occasionally fight one another to the death as a response to a perceived attack from his brethren.

Preparing for an Outbreak

Preparation for a Slow Zombie outbreak is more straightforward than for Fast Zombies (though part of this reason is that Brooks provides one of the only popular scenarios in all of Zombie Fiction where an outbreak could occur in a society that has dealt with them before. It is a staple of the genre that no one knows what Zombies are, or even what to call them.). The durability of slow zombies makes their assault much more likely to last for months or years. Also, fast zombies provide a much greater challenge to be overcome in the initial weeks than do slow zombies. In many places, the fast Zombies will outpace word of their attacks, or official governmental advise or action. Thus, true preparation is nearly impossible.

Of course, owning and knowing how to use a gun couldn’t hurt your chances.

How to Identify Each Kind of Outbreak

Counter-intuitively, identifying an outbreak (prior to encountering it first hand) will be a nearly identical process for both types of outbreak. Reports of mass hysteria, cannibalism, armed search parties, and the end of civilization as we know it are tell-tale signs of a zombie outbreak. This will be the case for both types of outbreaks. It may be difficult to discern which type of zombie to expect initially. Hopefully, visual confirmation of their attack speed will be available on news broadcasts or video on the internet. If newspaper reports, or other written communications are your only source, look for words like “chased” or “ran after”.

Last-Minute Precautions

One may initiate any well thought-out plans for survival once a slow zombie outbreak is discovered. If sufficiently thorough preparations have already been made, then one should have reasonably good chances of surviving any magnitude of “classical” zombie outbreak.

The same cannot be said for fast zombies. Fast zombies are simply much more difficult to react to than are slow zombies. Assuming that the pathogen is not airborne, one may at minimum join a group dedicated to surviving the endemic. Also, buy more bullets and matches. Furthermore, flee to farmland or to military protection. Purchasing a powerful car (or truck) with emphasis on horsepower, not gas mileage, could be highly beneficial. But most importantly, take every precaution not to kill capable uninfected. At best, you eliminate someone dedicated to avoid becoming a zombie, willing to kill any zombie that could possibly infect him. At worst, you initiate a cycle of retaliatory violence that will destroy any effort to effectively repulse the quickly incoming zombie horde.

Differences in Indefinite Survival Techniques

Many things are different for many aspects of fighting slow zombies versus fighting fast ones. The main commonality is an inability to appease the enemy and the necessity for an indomitable will to survive. The methods for surviving slow zombies have been greatly discussed in previous articles. The following discusses how surviving fast zombies differs regarding each of the following aspects.

Firearms are a necessity for survival against fast zombie outbreaks, especially long term, though against slow zombies they’re more of a luxury, though in both cases they increase your chances for survival. Melee weapons are much more practical against slow zombies than fast zombies. If a person or group is fit, organized, and knows how to fight a slow zombie with a melee weapon, they can actually do quite well for themselves, such as the Japanese organization, the Tatenokai.

Melee weapons vary in effectivity against fast zombies. Even the most skilled wielders of a bat, sword, axe, or spear may have a difficult time fracturing the skull of even on single infected of comparable size, and melee wounds inflicted anywhere else on the infected’s body will not immediately halt the infected’s attack. Obviously, destroying the brain of multiple dashing attackers before they grab or infect you is a tiring if not unrealistic or even suicidal feat. Lastly, infection via blood spatter is also a very difficult thing to predict or protect yourself against, even if the fight is in all other ways, in one’s favor, though face protection should be worn before hand anyway. The solidification of Solanum infested tissue prevents this phenomenon from occuring with slow zombies.

While melee weapons are less effective against fast zombies, firearms may be a bit more effective. Infected are not immune to Sudden Nerve Trauma, or Hydrostatic Shock like their slow cousins, so hits to the legs and torso can still be very effective. Still, these phenomena do not occur 100% of the time one would like – even regular humans under the influence of strong narcotics can take a hail of gunfire and keep attacking. Fast zombies are considerably more difficult to shoot, giving you less time as they close ground. Fast zombies rarely maneuver to avoid oncoming fire (except for in Left 4 Dead), making automatic weapons, and fast reloading weapons much more valuable. To conserve ammunition, short bursts of fire are usually recommended over a full automatic stream. However, these varibles among others guarantee you will use more ammo against fast zombies than slow ones, and that ammo will become more and more scarce, so a melee weapon is still neccessary, as you and even the rest of the surviving group may be forced into giving up firearms simply due to lack of ammo. This also means that a fast zombie outbreak will provide less of a learning curve, so becoming skillful before the outbreak is vital as very few individuals will get the opportunity to learn effective use of the weapon while the outbreak is occuring, a slow zombie outbreak gives a survivor much more time.

Silenced weapons are even more important in regards to fast zombies than slow ones. In a slow zombie outbreak, one can often move away from where the gunshot was made, and avoid the inevitable gathering of all zombies around the area (ex The Walking Dead episode 1). This is basically not an option when it comes to fast zombies; the use of loud firearms necessitates that one have the capacity to deal with a swarm of all the zombies within hearing distance of your location if one still has the desire to live.

fast zombstersOf course, desperate circumstances may require that one utilize an improvised weapon. Depending on improvised weapons is not advised, always seek a more conventional firearm, even if it means spending more time scavenging, and less time heading to safety, or staying holed up.

Ideally, transportation in the Zombie Apocalypse should be attempted for very few reasons – seeking vital supplies, moving to a more secure stronghold, or getting to an official evacuation point. Recognizing the timeframe of the outbreak is just as crucial to transportation plans as recognizing the type of zombie.

In an outbreak of either kind, panic and mass exodus will completely overwhelm all transit systems, clogging most roads and highways, especially if you live in a city, or dense suburb. This transit crunch will cause the majority of a cities population to be stuck without shelter when the infected arrive. Transportation before a crunch has different factors and precautions than after one.

Ramming Zombies of either kind head-on is rarely a good idea, as at high speed, the body will simply crash into the windshield, weakening it, or perhaps shattering it entirely, hitting the survivors in the front seat. Even if this does not happen, repeated damage to the front of the vehicle will eventually damage the chasis, engine, radiator or other vital parts, and lead to a breakdown. Slowing to a cruising speed, and allowing the other passengers to fire on, or hack away at the zombies.

Pre-Crunch Fast Zombies

The Transit Crunch is greatly accelerated in the presence of fast zombies. In the pre crunch buildup, vehicular collisions will be very common, and difficult for even the best drivers to avoid, as drivers will be in various states of duress, and perhaps even transformation. In general, behaving counter to the crowd will lead to less encounters with the Infected. Pre-Crunch targets for panicked humans (such as airports, police stations, military bases and hospitals) will very quickly draw pursuing infected. In other words, popular places of refuge become their own undoing, and independance and keeping a low profile buys time.

Depending on your situation and preparedness level, it may even be worth delaying all transportation until the panic dies down. This should take between 1 and 3 days. Zombies will quickly begin to outnumber fleeing humans, and great care should be taken to use this time to go on the offensive, killing as many zombies in your immediate neighborhood as possible before their numbers (inevitably) grow to be overwhelming. Transport will still be difficult then, but at least your odds of being struck by a vehicle have dropped very low.

Airports will likely only fly out people who are deemed vital to the government, or very rich and well connected. If those don’t apply, avoid airports at all costs. Larger airstrips may have similar dangers if they are well known, or house many aircrafts. Smaller airstrips off the beaten path are ideal, but they typically have smaller aircrafts with less seats, meaning some may need to be left behind if you are part of a large group which can be a very daunting situation.

Seaports and Marinas will also be overwhelemed, but once again, with strong contacts, money, or supplies, one has a chance at a nautical escape. This is particularly valuable against fast zombies, who will die shortly after pursuing prey into the water, as they drown. Fights for seats on vessels will quickly and frequently become violent, as people fight for their lives. Well meaning captains will have to execute swarms of uninfected people whose masses risk capsizing their boats, killing all involved.

Pre-Crunch Slow Zombies

The pre-crunch timeframe for slow zombies is not very intense. Generally speaking, people will not believe it can happen, and other than stocking up on supplies that greatly exceeds that which takes place before a hurricane, people will be able to get around normally. The roads will inevitably be jam packed, so early efforts to arrange for air or sea travel are highly recommended. Large flights pose a challenge in the sense that there is a greater chance someone on board is infected, but not yet a slow zombie. Be very weary of anyone in any state of illness, or sleep. It’s best that one expect for them to turn, and have something in one’s carry on luggage that could be used as a weapon. You will be without knives and firearms, and in cramped corners for melee combat. Regardless, once a zombie is on a plane, unless he is killed soon, and the flight continues unabated, the plane will very likely be destroyed before it is allowed to land, to minimize the spread of the zombie plague.

Escape by sea is a somewhat safer, as vessels are not monitored like aircraft. Also, there is more room, less weapon restrictions, and more crew to help dispose of people who transform into slow zombies mid-travel. Also, one could simply throw the zombie overboard with enough people (though unless the zombie is very small, this is not advisable, as bites from slow zombies are notoriously difficult to avoid). Unfortunately, the water doesn’t provide the same safe haven from slow zombies as it does for fast ones, and should one’s destination rely on the shoreline as a natural barrier, after enough time a steady stream of ocean dwelling zombies will find those shores.

Post-Crunch Fast Zombies

The week after it has become obvious that the transportation systems have failed, is probably the most difficult time to survive a fast zombie infestation. Their numbers are at their peak. By this time, those who had access to air or sea transport will be long gone. The roads will be hopelessly blocked by vehicles and corpses, as well as teeming with zombies. It is better to wait this out, as within a week or two, their numbers will begin to drop as they die of starvation and thirst. If that is not an option, use only large off-road vehicles, and try to get to more rural areas. While they won’t be totally free of zombies. They should have more managable numbers. Stops for gas, and maps (unless someone in your party has a masterful grasp of the area) are vital, and worth risking infected combat for.

Post-Crunch Slow Zombies

Immediately after Transit System Failure, there may still be some areas where the government is trying desperately to evacuate survivors by air. However, if one cannot evacuate soon after arriving, or before the masses of evacuees grow large, secure supplies, allies and transportation in any way possible, and make plans to leave the evacuation point, and seek a stronghold for the long haul. It will likely be a difficult task, either because of zombies at the perimeter of the evacuation point, or because officials will not allow the theft of their supplies. Regardless, unless the evacuation point also doubles as a superior stronghold (which is highly unlikely), the evacuation point will eventually fold, possibly even abandoned after a government order in line with the Redeker Plan.

As with fast zombies, off road transportation, and a knowledge of backroads are vital.


Building a fort or stronghold that will resist the waves of intruders for long periods of time is a daunting and difficult task for either type of outbreak, but exponentially more advisable than staying on the run. Thewalking-dead-3-prison challenges of building a durable fortification are generally the same for zombies of both speeds. Fast Zombies are definitely better climbers, though how much better is a matter lacking strongly in precedent. Both types can be surprisingly opportunistic, even seeming to lay low until an opportunity awaits (although this is likely to be due to survivors not being immediately aware of every spot a zombie might be in a given area). Either way, while they are very stupid creatures, there will be overwhelming amounts of both kinds, and they’ll find ways to get into all sorts of strange areas, so it is easy to underestimate them.

Having major firepower by the entrance point of a safe room or stronghold is more important for fast zombies. The option to come and go at a moment’s notice (to let in a party member being pursued before the zombies run him or her down) depends on having an entry point that unfastens quickly, and where many survivors can attack a small space, from different angles. Soundproofing, or having the outer walls reinforced or far from the living quarters is also a good idea, as fast zombies tend to yell and ramble on if they see or hear any sign of a human, which can make sleeping even more difficult, and lead to exhaustion.

Building a holding cell that functions like a spacecraft’s air lock is advisable for slow zombies. Slow zombies have a long incubation period, so having newcomers wait a few days in holding to be certain they are uninfected can be very valuable. Because Slow Zombie outbreaks last so much longer, having a large space to hold more supplies at one time is important. Having a high point to survey the land safely is always an advantage.


Once enough time has passed, then one may begin clearing out the surrounding area, assuming one is part of a large enough group that is well armed enough to not be swamped by the lingering infestation. Clearing the surrounding area will allow for more effective scavenging and the beginnings of living in a sustainable manner. However, the size of one’s group will fundamentally limit the size of the area that one may control, depending on how long it has been since the initial outbreak and the exact details of the fast zombies. It is also strongly advisable never to stray too far from the stronghold, in case a chain reaction draws infected in from miles away.

All of this may make it more feasible for one’s group to begin traveling. There are a variety of complications to traveling in a post-fast zombie world that one must make every effort to be aware of. For example, individual survivors will not be discovered as frequently as will be large groups of survivors. Also, many cities have likely been totally swarmed, and possibly burned to the ground. Therefore, although one’s original area seemed relatively clear of zombies after being actively defended for a month, other areas may be filled with swarms of half-starved zombies. It is at this time that the size of one’s group may prove to be a liability, necessitating the need to split up.


Over time, the differences in survival between the two types of outbreaks will slowly diminish. As mentioned earlier, one can expect fast zombies to die in 1-3 weeks after becoming infected, so the entire outbreak should be over between 6-12 months, at most. That, and the increased preparation and heartiness of the remaining humans should guarantee that human life will continue. Within a couple of months, the impetus for survival from both types of outbreaks shifts from the need to defend and attack in battle at a moment’s notice to the need to expand consumable supplies (such as scavenging more canned goods) or develop sustainable supplies (such as farming). Governmental or national entities of the previous age may or may not survive intact. Developing your group, and your land into a tribe or nation of the next age will be the direction all future challenges take you. The methods behind food production, medical care, water collection & sanitation, and keeping peace with neighboring groups lie outside the realm of this article. As sure as the end of an outbreak means not every trace of mankind was eliminated from the face of the planet, so too must a survivor remember that there will still be the potential for other (albeit more managable) outbreaks, be it from slow zombies wandering in from a white zone, or from a specimen of the viral infection lingering on in a frozen corpse in the mountains or arctic. The virus will always be out there, so one can never totally abandon many of these zombie survival techniques, and one would be wise to pass the knowledge to future generations.

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