An Army Veteran's Thoughts on Camouflage, by H.R.

Tuesday, Oct 11, 2011

In case of TEOTWAWKI, being successful in the art of camouflaging will be a serious matter. It will be necessary for many aspects of life to include; movement, reconnaissance, and ambush. Camouflaging is a multi-tiered animal, including camouflaging your skin, your clothing, your gear, and your weapon.

I spent six years in the army as an Infantryman. As a result I personally have spent 26 months of my life in Iraq, and I have been on well over 500 combat patrols: to include raids and ambushes of all kinds.

Camouflaging of your outfit or uniform begins with the construction of a ghillie suit, which is often up to a person’s own preferences; there is no wrong way as long as you stick to a few basic principles. One if that color doesn't appear in nature it had better not appear on your suit; two environments change so your suit should too, if you need to roll around in the dust to make it blend in with say a desert terrain do so, if you’re in grasslands and its springtime don't try to pretend you are a patch of dead grass. Three don’t stick to patterns, there is a reason the word wilderness includes the word wild.

The materials needed for the type of ghillie suit that I made are as follows: 

One, a basic camouflage uniform (either an old set of Army BDUs which can be purchased for around $50, and bought used for much less in many different places from surplus shops to thrift stores; patterned in woodland or desert camouflage uniform (DCU), or my personal favorite a set of olive drab mechanic coveralls for around $40 brand new (heavy duty so they last long and as they are one piece they are actually more comfortable [than a separate pants and shirt]). 

Two, burlap (you can buy it by the yard for around $5 to $7 or do as I did and use old sand bags; try to get a few different colors)
   Three mosquito netting (under $20 for or you can buy a roll of 5 ft x 50 ft from Ronco for around $45.) For grasslands I recommend 1 inch x 12-14 inch strips however the nice thing about the mosquito netting is you can cut it into larger pieces to form a more leafy pattern.

Fourth, any type of basic twine net, try to stay away from plastic or synthetics if possible (I used an old camouflage net and cut away the camouflaging portion so I was left with a basic net). I personally recommend buying camouflage netting. It can be purchased in 4ft x 8ft sections for under $20 from a variety of online retailers) because you can also make "Yeti nets" with it which I will explain later in this article. 

Fifth, for added comfort buy a few sections of felt, (when I made mine I bought a 6 ft x 12 ft section of tan felt for $27 from the Felt Store online) enough to sew pieces on the front of the uniform all of this is for added comfort.

Lastly, a few additional items needed are: a tube of Shoe Goo, a good sewing kit, cloth dyes in a variety of subdued colors is also recommended (if tan burlap is cheapest with a little experimentation it could be changed into a variety of colors and shades.) And a roll of olive drab duct tape is always handy. This is known in the U.S. Army as "100 M.P.H. tape."[JWR Adds: Fire Retardant Spray is also a must, since untreated burlap is quite flammable, especially with the edges shredded, as is typical for ghillies!]
When I constructed mine I started out with an olive drab pair of coveralls cut out sections of net so the entire back of the coveralls would be covered by the net, the net covered my entire back from shoulders to ankles and down my triceps to elbows.  I then secured the net by sewing it to the uniform around the edges and about every six inches I would sew the inner part of the net to the coveralls to further reinforce the netting. Step two take your burlap material and cut it into 1in x 12-14in strips starting at the bottom weave it through one section of the netting and tie it in the middle, keep stacking strips of burlap onto each other, (if you happen to have different colors make it random just stick to good earth tones) also to add to the random pattern if you opted to buy mosquito netting, cut it into 1in x 12-14 in strips, a good ratio is one strip of mosquito netting to every 25-30 strips of burlap. Unlike the burlap however take the mosquito netting and before you attach it cut irregular patterns again use nature as your model, I made mine wavy to look similar to grass or weeds.

Once you have the entire back covered in the burlap and mosquito netting, take the burlap strips and start pulling out the horizontal fibers, so essentials you have clusters of burlap string knotted together. That should take care of the back now onto the front when I constructed mine I knew I would be doing a lot of crawling around so I took portions of felt one for my chest, two for my elbows and two for my knees. For my knees I cut out the felt 12 in long x 10 in wide. I cut it 12 in long x 6 wide for my elbows.  For the chest I cut two pieces that started at my collarbones to the end of my rib cage, and placed them side by side to allow me to zip and unzip the coveralls, I then cut sections of burlap 2 in x 2 in bigger than the felt pieces so that an inch overlapped on each side of the felt. I cut a square inch out of each corner so the burlap could easily be folded over the felt. Next I used shoo goo to attach the two together and then sewed each piece in its respective spot. For the knees I put the two pieces about where you would wear knee pads and had the elbow pieces start at my elbow and follow the outside of my arm to the hem of the sleeves. The chest piece is pretty self explanatory. It adds a little padding and helps the suit last longer.
The idea behind the one I constructed was that if you were lying on your stomach the burlap mosquito netting mix should cover everything but your boots, head and hands.

Next you need to construct a sniper veil, you can purchase these but I always found a piece of gear I made or fashioned myself was always better. I used an army BDU boonie cap and a piece of camouflage netting I rigged up and refer to as a "Yeti net". (These similar in construction to the ghillie suit but instead of attaching it permanently you use a section of camouflage netting and spruce it up with strips of burlap and mosquito netting in a similar fashion as described above, but instead of stacking the strips one on top of the other you can space them out a little.) I tied the yeti net to the boonie cap using parachute cord. The idea of the sniper veil is to break up your outline and generally you want it large enough to cover you head and neck and also extend to the front and drape on top of the optic on your weapon.
I also constructed another Yeti net one for my feet and one for my bag, both were 4 ft x 4 ft. Now, as a quick aside, Ghillie suits are advantageous because they can cover your whole body while providing great camouflage, and unlike me where I had the burlap and mosquito netting concoction covering my back, you can make them cover your whole body and even make a hood. Just do a little measuring and cutting, I had a friend that used a hooded sweatshirt as a pattern to sew a net together and a pair of pants for patterning the leggings and attached the netting together. So before he added the burlap and mosquito netting it looked like he had a fishnet pair of pants and a fishnet hooded sweatshirt. So all he actually wore underneath was a t-shirt and pair of shorts, making excellent camouflage and it was very light and comfortable.  However the advantages of ghillie suits stops here… wearing body armor is difficult next to impossible in a ghillie and its pretty hard to access magazine pouches because if you were to wear your webbing gear it would have to be underneath or the ghillie is all for naught. As a solution to this you can make a larger yeti net to cover your back and legs you wear it almost as a cape. It looks ridiculous when you are moving but it is a good alternative to a ghillie suit if you still want easy access to gear and prefer to keep your body armor on. Yeti nets are more quickly constructed but they do have a tendency to tangle. I have done both and see advantages and disadvantages to both.

Whatever choice you make, whether to make a full ghillie or partial like I did, or a yeti net, just follow the basics, subdued colors, don’t use vegetation stick to durable materials like burlap and netting. You want to get as much coverage as possible (depending on whether you want to be able to wear your body armor or web gear) Be creative within the contexts of creating camouflage and you might surprise yourself and always field test when possible.

Next, after you have camouflaged your body you have the hand and face. Here is where camouflage face paint comes in handy. Now I know a lot of sets come with black however save that for any urban raids, where you need to just subdue your face and hands. Now to understand camouflaging, you need to understand the end goal. The human face in its natural form is very recognizable, a protruding nose, shadows formed by your eye sockets and lips naturally pursed. The idea is to make you face unrecognizable and appear more two dimensional rather than three dimensional, and also remove any shine produced by natural oils in your skin) I personally like to use either a nice light to medium brown or green.

I have a whole travel hygiene kit bag full of different colors and sticks but my personal favorites are the camouflage paint sticks, they look similar to a container of Chap Stick, but they have two sides with alternating colors, two common ones are light green/loam and black/olive drab. I personally prefer them because other than the black you can use all those colors as a base and they are about $2 per versus the $5 to $10 compacts that inevitably have colors you don’t use, and not as much paint in them. That is to say you can buy a couple compacts but I wouldn’t stock up on a ton of them unless you want them for barter/ charity. When selecting camouflage paint colors diversity is key, but also keep in mind your surroundings (you will want to stock up on extra of those particular colors), and always buy waterproof. Now I know I have touched on the use of black paint, they also sell white paint in sets, you can always use the black and the white to darken or lighten up other natural colors. As well as the black and white have a limited role in winter camouflaging.

Alright, first and foremost, you have the base layer I always applied a healthy amount of the base color on the back of one of my hands add a little spit to even it out and start applying to your face starting about half an inch into your hairline and all the way down to about an inch or two of where your shirt begins. Don’t forget the ears, work the paint into your eyebrows, inside your nose half a fingernail length for those of you who haven’t outgrown the habit, and your neck.

Once you have the base coat it’s time to start adding some other colors either in the form of stripes or blobs. I always preferred a mix of the two. Keep in mind to keep the stripes small (although tiger stripes look awesome that’s not what we are going for) And I was always taught to vary things up when it came to stripes don’t be afraid to use a mix of vertical, diagonal, and horizontal. Inconsistency is the key here. The base coat is to reduce your skins natural shine while the added stripes and blobs are to break-up the protrusions on your face. Also another goal of stripes is to try to mix the vertical and horizontal lines already on your face. For example, you wouldn’t want a stripe going horizontally across your eyes, aka "the raccoon look". Also you wouldn’t want a vertical stripe going down your nose. Field testing is a must it can help demonstrate what works and what doesn’t.

I always applied paint to the backs of my hands, even if you are going to be wearing gloves, there may be moments when you aren’t wearing them, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Follow the same steps for the backs of the hands obviously not as much detail is required as is for the face. And I always rubbed the remainder of paint that I would always wind up with on my fingertips into my palms not because I was necessarily trying to camouflage my palms but in an attempt to reduce the shine
As I mentioned earlier, I used a Yeti net for my bag that I carried on ambushes. As most of you have probably already purchased subdued colored bags, I think it goes without saying there aren’t enough camo nets in the world to camouflage a sponge bob square pants backpack or that coach purse you just had to have. I phrase I heard over and over in my career keep it simple stupid or KISS applies here, if you have to work too hard to conceal something it’s not worth it. I attached a yeti net to my bag using parachute cord, and rolled the excess up and secure it with a bungee while on the move. As far as gear I always kept it on the ground under a yeti net near me when stationary or on me if the suit I was wearing permitted or in a bag if not. But you could try to camouflage it by wrapping a little burlap around it again experiment see what you like and what you don’t like.
Lastly, but importantly, camouflaging your weapon. Again they have many… many kits available for purchase online but as always I preferred something fashioned by myself; many times it’s cheaper however, the reason I prefer it is you become better at something only by experimenting and experiencing it.  Even if you have a camouflage finish on your weapon the rules of camouflaging still apply you need to break up the outline of that weapon and make it unrecognizable. Also another quick aside even if you decide to stick to the original finish of your weapon in the last several years I have noticed a trend of offering different subdued colored accessories offered for many different pistols as well as most AR-15/M4 type rifles, ranging from buttstocks and pistol grips to rail covers and lasers/lights.  Research and testing is really the only way to find out what truly works for you.

I always used sections of camo netting and fashioned them similar to mini-yeti nets and attached them to the weapon with parachute cord. When attaching it always make sure you can still see through the optic or the sights and ensure the action doesn’t get tangled. (I once almost lost a squad mate due to his camo netting getting entangled in the action of his M249.) After you have sufficiently camouflaged your weapon one thing that people often forget to is take a look at their optics. A flash from an uncovered pair of binoculars or scope can give your position away to someone over a mile away. I learned three different techniques to camouflaging scopes they are: one the honeycomb, two the bird’s nest, and three the horizontal viewing slit.

First with the honeycomb [scope caps] that a lot of companies offer these as an accessory, which I think should be an immediate purchase with the optic. [JWR Adds: These channelized "Killflash" adapters are getting popular, for good reason.] However if yours gets lost or broken you can construct one using strips of the burlap fiber and small amounts of shoo goo.  It is time consuming but well worth the effort you basically create a square patch larger the end of the optic to be covered, fold down the excess and I used a piece of parachute cord and tied a square knot to attach it to the optic.

Second the birds nest, this requires a degree of patience and is a good technique to use if you happen to own an optic similar to a Trijicon ACOG, because they have about an inch lip between the edge of the scope and the objective lens. You weave a birds nest around the outer edges of the objective lens trying to keep the middle clear, a lot of experimentation is needed for this method because too little camouflaging and it is an exercise in futility and too much and you won’t be able to see.

Lastly, the horizontal viewing slit, the name pretty much says it all you take and cover all but a horizontal strip. On my ACOG I had I covered all but a one-inch gap for ambushes. Yes it reduced the amount of light but it also helped reduce the glare off the objective lens.

All the techniques I have mentioned throughout the article I have at least some if not extensive experience with, I used many of the techniques on multiple occasions obviously for desert warfare, but even as environments change techniques remain standing, just be adaptable and being willing to change. But always field test to ensure you are on the right path. Game time is too late to be changing certain strategies. Should you choose to build your own ghillie I would spend some time at home wearing it and spend some time familiarizing yourself with camoing up. Then, whenever you get a chance to spend a day in the woods, break it out. Take turns with friends trying to spot each other, you might just amaze yourself.

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