Monday, December 21, 2009


The purpose of camouflage is to break up the outline of something so it blends in with the surroundings. Sounds simple, right? Just wear red plaid when in front of a brick wall, gray sweat pants and hoodie in front of concrete walls and green in the jungle.

But what if you move from the brick wall to the concrete wall? The red stands out like a sore thumb in front of gray concrete and vice versa.

Ay, there's the rub as Hamlet would say. Uniform designers have been attempting to come up with a universal camouflage for centenaries. White snow camo won't work in a green jungle but bureaucrats pinching pennies still push for money saving "one camouflage pattern fits all backgrounds" uniforms.

Bureaucrats be damned all camouflage is local!

Let the bureaucrats try to figure out how to make a primarily green uniform blend with buildings and get the clothing that'll blend in with the background in your area of operations.

That'll probably work out to be two groups of clothing. Tans, browns and grays for winter and greens, browns, tans, and grays for summer. Where snow is on the ground white overalls would be necessary. Fortunately painter's overalls are relatively cheap.

When we owned the surplus store the Border Patrol came in one day asking me to order some USMC MARPAT woodland pattern camouflage pants and shirts which they'd finagled a way to get the government to pay for.

They showed me a color picture of four of their guys wearing uniforms of the MARPAT pattern standing in front of a bunch of mesquite bushes. Unless you looked close all you could see was faces and hands.

Of course down along the river there's a lot more mesquite than inland. High plains would probably need more tans and browns. Your area will dictate what color works best for you.

Try not to show the inverted "V" of your legs. Humans are the only animal with that silhouette and people have subconsciously learned to look for it.

Most modern shoulder weapons are effective to three or more hundred yards, but the distance at which the unaided human eye readily sees the enemy is closer to a hundred yards thus the camouflage patterns on most military uniforms is small. The patterns are set at a size to fool enemy soldiers at a hundred yards or less. These smaller camouflage patterns turn into "blobs" of solid color at about 100 yards or more. Larger patterns conceal better at longer distances thus the camouflage patterns on vehicles is usually larger.

Blending in means harmonizing when among other people too; military cammies or even civilian hunting cammies will be out of place downtown. If you don't want to look like a militiaman on shore leave, try wearing regular civilian clothes that match the colors of the animals of your area.

Tans, browns, grays and even a little black work for the animals so why not put them to work for you too. (You'll probably want to add some greens to spice up the mix.) Wearing a mix of earth toned colored pants, shirts, vests, jackets, hats and boots help to break up the human shape thus helping you to blend in with your surroundings.

A few Hawaiian shirts in black, green and brown with large non-bright contrasting green or brown flowers on them work well as a non-obvious urban camouflage. On the one hand aloha shirts are made to be worn with the bottom hem not tucked in which facilitates carrying concealed weapons. On the other hand they are virtually all short sleeved which means your arms will provide moving patches of flesh color to an observer.

Our eyes look, but our brain sees. Researchers studying auto/motorcycle accidents found that motorists were looking at motorcyclists but not seeing motorcyclists because they were expecting other cars and trucks. Turning on motorcycle headlights and having motorcyclists wear bright colored clothing has helped reduce motorcycle accident rates because the human eye/brain sees/notices movement and light.

Camouflaging vehicles.
A white underbelly and underside of wheel wells will reduce the shadows under a vehicle. Painting the corners of the vehicle a different color from the rest breaks up the shape of the vehicle making it hard to "see" when it's not moving.

When parked; earth toned cardboard or canvas can be put over windows to eliminate reflected glare. You'll want to cover running and break lights too. Likewise all chrome should be painted black or you could let the color of the camouflage paint around the chrome "run" into it.

People subconsciously look for the round black doughnuts of tires so painting the sidewalls and hubs a camouflage color removes that cue when the vehicle is still. The camo paint should go across the tire/hub line so as not to just create a doughnut of a different color.

Movement will give you away no matter what you are wearing or driving.

On the road the brain is looking for "vehicle" shapes. In the field the brain is looking for "game" shapes or "man" shapes or "vehicle" shapes. Camouflage breaks up the expected shapes by blending them in with the background and foreground.

Camouflaging Buildings
You can unobtrusively camouflage earth tone colored buildings by painting the corners different colors than the rest of the wall and/or roof. Or maybe a tree planted at the corner would help break up the outline.

Straight lines, squares, rectangles, right angles and perfect circles are almost nonexistent in nature. When you see any of them they're virtually certain to be man made.

Decretive odd shaped doodads at the corners of a building break up the shape of the building into a harder to recognize blobs so the square-ness and/or rectangular-ness don't show from across the valley. Bushes along the wall will help break up the straight line created where the building meets the ground and taller bushes or vines between windows help break up the sameness of the walls.

Black or dark metal screens will help reduce glass glare.

Silhouetting is what happens when you walk over a ridgeline. A dark silhouette of you appears against a light sky to viewers at or below your elevation when the sky becomes your background. All the camouflage in the world won't break up your silhouette then (although it may make you look like a walking bush) so stay off ridge lines as much as possible. If you must cross a ridgeline try to do so in a gulch or ravine which will hide you or among brush or trees which will obscure your silhouette.

Remember, movement attracts the eye and your shadow moves with you. Move very slowly when you are trying to sneak up on something or someone and stay in the shadows as much as possible any time you are trying to stay hidden.

Noise Discipline
If it rattles it tattles. Even a Ghillie suit won't hide you if you clank like a tank. I read of a US Army Ranger whose ambush was ruined when his wristwatch alarm went off just as the "enemy" was entering the kill zone. Fortunately he was a student at the U.S. Army's Ranger School and the "enemy" was fellow students.

Light Discipline
I have seen people signal across a valley with the side of a stainless steel hunting knife. Anything shiny must be covered. Camp well away from the trail; if you must, build small (well shielded) campfires. Looking at a fire destroys your night vision for up to 30 minutes.

The Army issues flashlights with red filters for a reason. Red light not only preserves your night vision it's less visible from a distance. Even so US elite forces prefer to use their red lights (for map reading & first aid) under ponchos.

Scent Discipline
The smell of smoke from that small campfire will give you away to anyone downwind. Take a bath, stinky!


HCF adds this:

There is a whole 'nother kind of camouflage, the kind you use to blend into a crowd. If you want to be another South Austin Hippie, wear a band T-shirt, shorts, and sandals. "He was a big dude, with a beard, wearing an Austin City Limits Festival T-shirt." Yeah, that narrows it down. There are times when you really don't want to stand out of a crowd.

And I replied:

I won't ask what you did to get the cops so interested in you, but that is an interesting problem. How to blend in when in the city? Again there is no universal camouflage; what works in one environment may not in others.

A T-shirt and shorts probably won't blend in too well with the suits in the banking district and vice versa but within the habitat of the South Austin Hippie (ACL Festivalist Maximus?) the T-shirt camouflage is perfect. Searchers are reduced to looking for a red or yellow or whatever colored T-shirt. For that reason dark colored clothing might be better for furtive movement because white/light/bright colors tend to attract the eye.

Clothing that will blend in perfectly in some parts of town tends to stand out in others.

A zebra amongst a herd of horses on the plains of Texas tends to stand out even at the edge of the herd. Likewise a horse in a herd of zebras will stand out against a backdrop of black and white stripes, but less so at the edge of the herd where the horse's natural coloring (browns & tans) tends to blend in more with the surrounding veldt.

Reversible clothing can help by changing the color of the cloth, but not the style of the attire.

How to hide a beard? Wear a burqa?


And jC adds:

Dave, a quick note
I think the best 'hide' stratey is to find some cover and remain motionless.
I walk a trail nerby frequently, sparsly populated by teens drinking, bums, people walking for exercise or exercising their dog. I dont always want to meet these people.

Squat down by some tall weeds or a scrub tree and they will walk right by. Anything that disturbs your shapes make you invisable. Stopping all motion, you look like a rock or a stump. People and animals have no memory.

I havent figured out what to do about steamy breath in the winter, but I have some time to find out now.

Very true, jC!
Staying perfectly still is as much a part of camouflage as face paint, camo clothes and covering shiny objects. In fact you've reminded me of a couple of incidents from my past that I'll be putting in the article (inspired by you) to be uploaded after I "publish" the article I've written on updating my Vehicle Bug Out Bag. I've promised to hold off on publishing that one until December 24th of this year. Let's see, what to title jC's inspired article?

Be Still My Foolish Heart?
The Importance of Being Earnestly Still?

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