Camouflage 101

Posted: 04/23/2015 in Uncategorized

This very long post is in response to Tex, a reader who requested information regarding the camouflage clothing and equipment being utilized by the characters in “The Patrol”. His questions, as well as those submitted by others, are one of the reasons why I decided tackle the project. I wanted to provoke questions and debate as well as put out information that covers: BASIC tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), equipment that we have used/are using, and some unusual skill sets all wrapped up in a (mildly entertaining, I hope) story. Time will tell.
I occasionally hear the statement “Camouflage is something you do when you get there.” And while that statement has some merit, my question is: “What do you do until you get there?”. I believe that not taking advantage of manufactured camo is a mistake, as long as you don’t think it will make you invisible.
Stack the advantages in your favor. Here is a relevant, true story from my life regarding this personal philosophy: I once had the opportunity to work closely with a certain Brigadier (1 star) General. Even though he was Airborne and Ranger Qualified (he had punched all the right tickets) he was at the time commanding a straight-leg (non-airborne) infantry unit. One day toward the end of my assignment he asked me “,
Sergeant Morgan, are all Special Forces as good as you?”
To which I replied “Absolutely not sir,…. most of them are a lot better.”
He laughed and then asked “Why is that, what makes the soldiers in Special Forces different?”
“Well sir”, I answered, “as best as I can tell, it’s because we train a little harder and longer than most, and we are constantly trying to broaden and improve our skill sets. We’re always attempting to stack up all the advantages in our favor.”
I tell the students in my classes that this is an important individual aspect of war fighting. You keep your weapons maintained properly. You use good quality magazines. You run mil spec ammo. You train realistically with with your rifle and sidearm while wearing your gear (train-like-you-fight). You dry fire…a lot. You do your PT and watch your weight. You practice UN-armed combatives individually and with your team. You put your field gear to the test…in the field. You practice patrolling and run battle drills with your team…over and over again, in all types of weather. You forgo that fancy vacation to Cozumel in order to attend professional training with your team. While that other fellow and his buddies are sitting at home drinking beer and watching the game, you’re busy stacking up advantages for “that day”. When you start piling up all those small advantages, eventually the stack can get pretty high in your favor. Then you stand a much better chance of winning encounters of the violent type. Camouflage should be viewed as another advantage if use properly.
For the remainder of this article, if you only take away one lesson it should be this:  Camouflage done properly will allow you to get inside of the other fellows OODA loop. If he can’t Observe you due to your ability to camo properly, he won’t Orient properly. If he can’t correctly Orient on you, he will now make an incorrect Decision followed by an incorrect Action. Check and Mate.
How does camouflage work and what are Targeting Indicators?
From Websters Dictionary:
French, from camoufler to disguise
First Known Use: 1917
a: concealment by means of disguise
b: behavior or artifice designed to deceive or hide
The three textbook methods of camouflage are: hiding, blending and deceiving. Hiding is using objects to conceal yourself and your equipment. Blending is matching your personal camouflage to your surroundings. Deceiving is used to confuse the enemy regarding your true location, intentions or movement. This post deals primarily with blending.
Instead of just covering the old standbys: shape, shine, shadow and silhouette, we will go a little deeper and discuss Target Indicators (TI).  If you’ve attended Army Sniper Training an/or the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course (SOTIC) this information will not be new to you. TIs are anything you do or fail to do that could result in being detected. TIs fall into four areas:  Auditory, Tactile, Olfactory, and Visual.
Auditory:  Anything that is heard. Talking, snoring, coughing, digging, walking, crawling (footfalls, rustling of vegetation), gear/equipment/clothing noises, alerting and/or flushing of wildlife, (such as deer, birds and domestic dogs), insects suddenly becoming quiet, etc. Sound is especially important at night and during periods of fog/stillness.
Tactile:  Anything that is touched. Cut/broken branches, crushed/disturbed vegetation, broken spider webs, dried/wet urine splatters, disturbed soil/stones/moss/dust in unused buildings, foot prints, silted streams, litter, trip wires, etc. We have all seen sign of someone walking across dew covered grass or down a dirt road.
Olfactory:  Anything that is smelled. Food/cooking, smoke, body wastes, body odor, tobacco, insect repellant, deodorant, sun screens, scented soap and shampoo, detergent/fabric softeners, gun cleaning agents/lubricants.
Visual:  Anything that can be seen or observed. This is the big one. The first three TIs will usually disclose your general location. When you are seen, your exact location is now known. Visual TIs are broken down in the following areas: Shape, Shadow, Surface, Shadow, Silhouette, Surface, Siting, Spacing, Color, and Movement.
The human brain and eye constantly work together to identify what it sees and to place it in a category or group. When you see something that normally doesn’t belong, such as the silhouette of a man in the forest, it demands your attention and you will immediately place it in the category of “man”.
During Jumpmaster school we were taught to look for what was right and so when we saw a deficiency rigged into a jumper, it would jump out at us. During an assignment to JTF-Bravo in Honduras, C.A., my team conducted an exchange jump with the Honduran Airborne School. They were using hand-me-down MC1-1B parachutes from the U.S. Marines Corps. While inspecting my stick of Honduran jumpers, a process known as the JMPI, I immediately noticed that instead of closing the main ‘chute with a type 1, 1/4 inch cotton tie, the Honduran riggers had used a strip of hot pink nylon, presumably from female underwear. After the O.K. from our riggers, we jumped our ‘chutes, they jumped theirs, Y no habian problemas. Point being I had seen so many correct examples, I immediately keyed in on the incorrect and then placed it in the category of female underwear (don’t pretend you’ve never seen hot pink woman’s underwear).
Shape: The shape or outline of an object is visually very important since our brains are programmed over time to categorize things based primarily on their shape. The human head and body are very distinctive shapes, even when seen from a distance. We use the E-type target on the range to not only to train us to unconsciously react to a threat (classical conditioning) but also because we quickly recognize it as a human shape. Cold War era soldiers might remember the GTA armored vehicle and aircraft recognition playing cards. They were black silhouettes of friendly and threat vehicles or aircraft. We used them to quickly memorize shapes for immediate identification and action.
In order to camouflage shape you need to break up it’s outline to make it appear irregular to the eye. Natural shapes are very random. Straight horizontal lines and geometric shapes are rare in nature. One method used to break up the distinct edges or outlines of familiar shapes is to use dark colored splotches to create false edges. When using splotches, the concept of fade distance states that the human eye can distinguish a 1 MOA object if it’s in stark contrast to it’s surroundings, such as black against white. 1 inch at 100 yards, 2 inches at 200 yards, etc. If the object is less than 1 MOA the unaided human eye cannot easily resolve it. Keep in mind that your threat may be using magnifying optics. Fade distance is the idea behind the pixelated camouflage uniform schemes. Small pixels less than 1 MOA. Keeping the contrasting splotches less than 1 MOA is part of what makes the Ghillie suit appealing to snipers. To make the splotches even harder to distinguish make the contrasting colors similar and then match them to the natural colors in the AO.
Another method of shape camouflage is to physically change the normal shape. This is the idea behind the boonie cap and the ghillie. The boonies large brim provides shadow to the lower part of the head and ears as well as breaking up the shape of the head. It also has loops to attach some natural or man-made enhancement which further breaks up the heads shape. Add an effective camo. pattern and you are on the right track.
The ghillie uses natural and man-made attachments to disrupt the entire human shape while adding texture, depth and color blending. Its smaller counterparts, the sniper cape, veil and hat are used when the entire suit is not appropriate. Proper construction and employment of the ghillie is another subject for another time.
Shadow:  The eye cannot adjust to two areas of high contrast simultaneously. When given the choice of a bright, sunlit area or surrounding shadows, the human eye will initially be attracted to and observe the lighted area. The dark colors used in camouflage patterns create the illusion of empty spaces or shadow. While it is usually to your advantage to stay in the shadows, be careful not to create an unusually large dark area or shadow by the sole virtue of your presence.
Silhouette:  The outline of a recognizable shape when viewed against a contrasting background. Examples include a soldier standing on a ridge line or against the wall of a building. Another very common example of silhouetting occurs when one is standing in a shaded area that is back lit by a bright sunlit area.
Surface:  Surface contains two subcategories: Shine and texture.
Shine:  The surface of an object that is very smooth can reflect light, or shine, which the eye is attracted to.  Items that fall into this category include: worn or unpainted metal such as a knife blade, eyeglass frames, firearms, metal mags., belt buckles, rings and watch bands. Lenses:  Telescopic and binocular lenses, wrist watch and compass bezels, eyeglasses. Plastic eyeglass lenses, frames, and ammunition magazines. Fabrics made into that new camo boonie, uniform, rucksack and plate carrier can shine. Even the sides of the soles and heels of those black boots give off a shine.
Texture:  Texture represents depth and shadow. Camouflage patterns alone cannot overcome a lack of texture and depth. A flat camo pattern adds no depth to an object. Attention to the use of texture is very important especially when operating in a woodland or jungle environment.   Texture is another reason a properly constructed Ghillie suit can be very effective. Civilian camo manufacturers address texture with items such as Realtree Leafy.
Siting:  A detailed study of the area to be occupied or traveled through is required to determine the type of camouflage that will blend in. Will you encounter broad leaf or pine needle, high grass or low bushes, shades of green or brown, flat ground or rolling hills, forest or desert? The area might have several combinations that you will have to adapt to as you move through it. Blending using natural vegetation requires a keen eye in order to determine the colors, textures, shapes, depth and density that are found in the surrounding area. Once these items are determined, the orientation they are attached must also match the area. Grass grows vertically, so don’t attach it horizontally. Leaves are dark on the top but lighter on the bottom. Will natural camo wilt due to high heat? Will you leave tactile TIs when cutting vegetation? How often will you have to change natural camo as you move through  adjacent areas?
Spacing:  Nothing in nature occurs in a perfect linear layout with regimented spacing. If it does, then it is man-made and will attract attention. This should be considered when laying out multiple fighting positions and using items such as binoculars with a pair of identical lenses set on the same horizontal plane.
Color:  Must be carefully considered so that you do not contrast against the surrounding natural colors. Black is not a natural color.
Movement:  Camouflage is used to avoid detection and the primary method of detection of a Target Indicator (YOU) to the unaided human eye is MOVEMENT.
“Wait a minute Dan,” you ask “What’s that got to do with me? I’ve got my brand new Multicam Man-Jammies and my M-1. I’m going to lay low in my FFP and wait for them to come to me. I’m not going anywhere, I’m golden”.
O.K. Killer, let’s think about this. We all have to move sooner or later. Take, for instance, you folks in the one-shot, one-kill crowd. In order to occupy your Black Ninja Stealth Commando Sniper Final Firing Position (TM) whereupon you plan to deal out death and destruction at 1,000 meters with your trusty M-1, you have to move there from somewhere.
The average human eye and brain processes movement at about 60 frames a second (1/60th of a second) depending on light levels. Quick, jerky movements are noticed much quicker than slow, smooth movements. Even if your camo is perfect, if you move quickly, you will be seen. I once spotted a fellow, who was poaching turkeys on my property, from about 30 feet away when he blinked his eyes. His camo was great but his movement compromised him.
If you have to move, plan your route in short stages, stay low, move slowly, watch your foot placement and what you brush against, and stay in the shadows and concealment.
Putting it all together:
The old saying goes “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Spend some time watching the “Camouflage Effectiveness” series of well done videos which are available at H/T to Weaponsman for the find. Brent has a video for just about every pattern made. Watch each objectively with regard to the areas covered in my post. While most patterns are pretty effective when the wearer is not moving, almost all are useless during movement. Keep an eye out for patterns that still provide some camo ability during movement. Notice which patterns that are too dark or too light for the surrounding terrain and vegetation. Watch for uniform shine on the shoulders and head, and instances of silhouetting, especially in shaded areas. Also watch for the signs left behind when he moves through still water. I won’t comment on his face paint or his movement techniques and I haven’t watched any of his other videos.
So, how do we put all this information together? Start with basic clothing. Solid colored clothing won’t conceal as well as camouflaged clothing. It will generally fade into the surroundings at about 300 yards, However, there are some instances you will need to move through an area where wearing camo might bring unwanted attention. When worn, solid colored clothing should be in earth tones that match the local vegetation and the time of year. I always keep a set in a dry bag in my ruck to sleep in at night or to change into when moving through a populated area. Do not mix different colors in order to avoid creating large areas of visual contrast at the waistline, i.e. brown shirt and green pants.
When selecting a manufactured camouflage pattern, you have two choices: military or civilian.
Military: Usually expected to work in most, if not all environments. A recent example is UCP, the pattern used in the Army’s digital ACU (or as we knew it the “I See You”). It is a great pattern… if your AO is a gravel pit. While some of the newer military patterns such as MARPAT and Multicam are superior to the older Woodland and 3/4 color desert, they are still expected to work across a wide range of areas and conditions. While they might work, they might not be the best fit for your area. In my area of the Southern Appalachians, both MARPAT patterns would be followed by Multicam.
Civilian: An almost limitless, bewildering array exists to separate you from your hard-earned cash. With some research and a little time spent talking with the local hunters, you should be able to put your hands on something that works well in your area. In our area Realtree and Mossy Oak are the favorites of the hunters with Mossy Oak Obsession leading the pack. I am not completely sold on the leafy versions of civilian camo clothing. While it does provide texture and depth, I question it’s ruggedness. Nothing like leaving pieces of man-made leaves hanging in the briar bushes along your path to bring the trackers right to your location.
My picks for our area would be Mossy Oak Obsession for spring/summer and ATACS AU for fall/winter. If you could only have one pattern in our area I would choose Multicam.
Face Paint:
Military comes in stick form with three schemes; Light green/Loam, Sand/Loam, and White/Loam. Civilian comes in many colors and is usually easier to apply. Stick with what works in your area. Do not go too dark. Face paint is applied to all areas of exposed skin to include the inside and back of ears, the entire neck, hands and wrists. Lighter colors are applied to naturally shaded, darker areas on the head: around the eyes, under the cheekbones, and the neck under the chin. The lighter areas, the chin, lips, brow and cheekbones are darkened. The overall effect is likened to a negative exposure of the human face which is not easily recognized.

Camo face paint must be checked regularly due to perspiration and rain. Have your Ranger Buddy check you over. Since I always wear gloves in the field (and on the range), I don’t trouble myself to camo my hands. I prefer to use the Mechanix brand coyote or green camo gloves.

Another option to be considered for the face/head is Spandoflage. I’ve used it and while it seems convenient, it tends to cause my glasses to fog up from my breath. If you aren’t wearing some type of eye protection during patrol your wrong. It also has a tendency to get hung up on every briar you pass. Both Spandoflage and  the leafy-type clothing should probably be left for use when you are occupying a hide-site and not moving around.


Paint your rifle. Long, black, straight, horizontal clubs don’t exist naturally in the woods. You can get it painted professionally by a competent gunsmith using a product such as Duracoat or Cerakote, which will add to the resale value of the weapon. Or you can do like we did in the military, paint it with Bow-flage which is removable or Krylon, which is permanent.

Rucks and load carrying equipment require camouflage treatment also. If you are concerned about a camo ruck standing out in the city, cover it with a removable, conventional colored, pack rain cover.

Hope this answers your questions Tex.

  1. Reblogged this on The Defensive Training Group and commented:
    Excellent advise, as usual.

  2. MM1 says:

    Thanks for this and all that you do for the community. I have a question about material types, particularly when it relates to flammability. I’ve heard the horror stories about nylon to skin fusions from guys that were there to pick up the pieces. Accepting that most of those cases revolved around IED attacks and vehicle mounted situations, both of which I expect would be much more rare in a time like you describe “The Patrol”, I still can’t shake the thoughts of incoming molatovs or even simple household accidents (when relatively inexperienced people are suddenly using wood fires and open flames for damn near everything) turning me and mine into screaming shrinks dinks.
    Take for example the miracle of poly pro base layers. To switch to all wool or military flame resistant gear sounds great, and I appreciate the need to invest my bongo bucks in quality stuff, but for the price of a single pair of quality wool long skivvies, I can lay deep stock with Wally World poly pro long johns. Are you personally concerned about the threat of flame, enough to make it a priority when budgets only go so far.
    Even the mechanix gloves that we both love have me wondering a bit. Nomex flight gloves or deer skin leather are great and have their places, but does a guy really need to go spending Oakley mall ninja money when AutoZone has the coyote gloves right there on the shelf, next to the windshield wipers.
    I’m sorry if this was too off topic, and I’m not some dood worried about OSHA standards or anything, but reading about hunter camo gear got me wondering how flame resistant that stuff really is and whether I need to even worry about it.
    Three words keep echoing in my head: screaming shrinky dink.
    I’m only asking because I trust your advice.
    Thanks again.
    Very respectfully,

    • danmorgan76 says:

      MM1, Great questions regarding flammability. It’s mostly based on your METT-TC analysis. If you plan on extensive vehicle ops., I would definitely be concerned and adjust the composition of your clothing. I personally like battle shirts for patrolling (even if Mosby’s HH6 calls them “man-jammies”). The Massif brand is made from NOMEX but comes with a high price tag. We have a few set aside for vehicle ops. If you mainly plan on foot mounted patrols, as in our case, I would think you could relax your standards a little.

      I have spent the vast majority of my life outdoors, and have had a few incidents involving SMALL campfires and polypropylene. All of my incidents involved small, melted holes in my polypropylene long underwear or synthetic outerwear. More annoying than dangerous, but then I’ve never fallen into a campfire, so I can’t say what would happen. I have melted the palm of a Mechanix glove when I stupidly handled the hot barrel of a M2HB. I ruined the glove but it saved my hand.

      A ghillie suit or hunting attire that is difficult to get out of is another matter. Jute and burlap strips are pretty flammable stuff so we ALWAYS treated our ghillies with a fire retardant spray. You can find the sprays online.

      Your options are:

      1. Spend the cash and buy wool base layers then cover with NOMEX outer layers. Very expensive, fire resistant, but you got your camo.

      2. Save some cash, buy wool base and cover with synthetic outer wear. Not as expensive, not quite as fire resistant, you got your camo

      3. Spend lots of cash, go wool base and top. Fire resistant, so you sleep good at night. No camo, so your scared of being spotted in the woods.

      4. Save cash, go full synthetic. Got your camo. Take your chances with the fire. You will have cash left over for other needs (like classes and ammo), will stay dry and warm and be hard to see.

      My take is I’d rather take my chances with fire than being seen and then dying from lead poisoning.

      • SemperFi, 0321 says:

        Great advice. Have grown up with high quality wool (my Swiss mother knitted me lots of sweaters), and just the last several yrs have gone to LW and MWeight merino wool long johns. Expensive? Yes! But there’s nothing like it to save your ass from cold or fire. If I know I’ll be sweating a lot, I wear poly and then switch to dry wool before bed.
        For those pin holes from fire, get a roll or two of McNett’s ‘Tenacious Tape’. About $4 roll from outdoor/mountaineering stores or online and even comes in tactical colors. Works for down jackets, rain gear, ponchos and best of all, pin holes in my Thermarest. Not a leak, ever! Pre-cut some various sized patches with scissors and put them in your pack.

      • danmorgan76 says:

        Thanks for the comment, I’ll be getting a roll or two of that tape.

  3. Tex says:

    thanks! Great article. Answered my question and more.

    That turkey poacher chose the wrong property, sounds like.

  4. Knuck says:

    Excellent article. Thank you.

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