The Ghillie Suit–The Ultimate in Camouflage

Back in the 18th century, game wardens in Scotland were engaged in an occasionally deadly game of cat and mouse with poachers. These wardens–called “ghillies” in the local parlance of the day were experts in field craft. To catch a poacher was difficult, so the ghillies would cut tree or bush limbs and cover themselves with them as camouflage while in laying in wait. This was laborious, but worked well. Then a warden whose name is lost in history came up with a clever idea: A camouflage body suit that was made of shredded rags in dull earth-tone and foliage-toned colors. From a short distance, the man wearing it resembled a bush, and could not be easily recognized. Thus was born the Ghillie Suit. The first use of ghillie suits by military organizations recorded by historians was during WWI, when Scottish ghillies served with Lord Lovat’s Scouts, brought their camouflage suits with them for the fighting in the fields of France. The ghillies in the Lovat Scouts shared their expertise in stalking, long range shooting, and camouflage, which spread to other British Commonwealth armies.

The modern ghillie suit, re-popularized in the late 20th century in the British and U.S. armies is now standard wear for sniper teams in most western armies. These modern ghillie suits use the same concept, providing four key attributes: they look like like plant foliage, they occupy three dimensions (unlike camouflage printed cloth), they break up a soldier’s distinctive silhouette, and they muffle noise. There are two common designs:

A full ghillie suit, which is usually made by sewing ghillie garnish (typically strips/bundles of dyed burlap, jute, and/or hemp) to a set of green mechanic’s overalls or to a BDU shirt and trousers

A ghillie cape, which is draped over the head and shoulders like a poncho.

(BTW, I prefer the latter, especially in hot climates.) Both designs are nearly always used in conjunction with a camouflage face veil and a boonie-type hat with similar ghillie garnish.

Ghillie suits and capes are commercially made, but these tend to be very expensive (since they are labor-intensive to assemble) and the choice of colors used will not always match your local terrain. Avoid the cheap commercial ghillie suits that are made out of plastic. They are indeed three dimensional but they do not blend in well in the boonies compared to natural materials like burlap and jute. Some commercial sources include:

And for our Australian readers, see:

Do It Yourself (DIY) ghillie suit/cape construction resources on the web include:

U.S. Army FM 23-10:

There are also fairly detailed ghillie suit making instructions in one for my favorite books, The Ultimate Sniper. See:

If you want to save money and assemble all of the materials yourself, rather than buy a commercially-made assembly kit:

Heavy duty black or brown nylon netting–such as deep sea fishing net material– (the 1.5-inch square mesh works best) is often found for sale on eBay.

The folks at sell fairly inexpensive military surplus rolls of 1.5″ wide burlap that is already dyed green and brown. Stripping out most of the horizontal crossbars (the Memsahib–who is a weaver–tells me this is properly called “weft”) is time consuming, but it is necessary to make burlap frizz up into a proper three dimensional look.

Two more points, in closing: Don’t overlook the need to integrate a hydration pack (such as a CamelBack or clone thereof) with a drinking tube when you build your ghillie suit. (This is not a big issue with a cape, but it is with a full ghillie suit.) It is also very important that you thoroughly soak your completed ghillie suit in flame retardant before using it. Without it, all of that frayed burlap is a fire accident that is just waiting to happen! In my experience the FlameCheck brand retardant (made in England) works well, because it does not leave a white residue like some other brands.