Letter Re: Advice on Camouflage Clothing

Hi James,
When considering camouflage at your retreat what are some of the things you have taken into consideration. I’m just starting to research this and the choices available are a bit overwhelming. Here are my thoughts as they currently stand.

The first choice is whether you want to go with a military pattern or a commercial pattern such as RealTree, MossyOak, or similar. Then there are the in-between patterns like MultiCam that were developed for the military but not yet adopted so they are commercially available, at a premium price. I’m leaning more towards the commercial patterns as their use before the SHTF would not draw as much attention as mil patterns. The big plus in my mind is that after the SHTF these patterns would not be confused with the patterns worn by any military units in the area. Hopefully, this could save you from being identified as a military member and prevent incoming fire from a like minded individual taking out military targets of opportunity. While I’ve heard good things about MultiCam, but I think I would shy away from it because of the above reason. It’s currently in use in the Future Force Warrior program and could be adopted and found in widespread use in the future.

I’ve yet to see a scientific review of the various patterns and their effectiveness; most of the information I’ve been able to find has been on various survival related forums where individuals do their own impromptu tests. It seems to be universally held that the current ACU is horrible in nearly all terrain, with the possible exception of sagebrush country that you’ve mentioned in the past. Oddly enough, from some people’s accounts, the original olive drab (more on the brown side then the green you picture today) still works pretty well, especially when in a mix of light and shadow found under the forest canopy.

When considering your camo, do you pick one pattern to work with all seasons or do you have separate patterns for every season. I live in the northeast, so I figure one pattern could cover you for fall, early winter, and spring. In the dead of winter with a lot of snow on the ground a winter camo with some amount of white would probably work. Then again, you could just add some lighter colored cloth strips by using safety pins or make a white shell as the situation warranted. Movement of the additional cloth in the wind would obviously need to be taken into consideration. In summer, you could still be able to get by with your main pattern as the increased foliage adds to your general concealment. From my understanding patterns that are heavy on the green don’t do as well because the greens unnaturally stand out more often then not. Deer are brown for a reason.

What is your view on various fabric weights of camo for the different seasons? Layering makes the most sense to utilize your gear as much as possible but a water resistant (preferable breathable fabric like Gore-Tex) outer layer is important to keep you dry, especially in the winter. If it is uninsulated it will be usable throughout a larger portion of the year.

Thanks in advance for any insight you may be able to provide. – Jim in Vermont

JWR Replies: In my experience, the finer points of camouflage patterns only make a difference in recognition at distances of 25 feet or less. Beyond that, plain earth brown or good old olive drab–supplemented with gloves and either camouflage face paint (or a British camouflage net “sniper’s veil”)–work remarkably well. Avoiding rapid movement is ten times more important than color, pattern, or shading. I recommend just using one pattern, nearly year-round. (Except when there is snow on the ground, as discussed later.)

In addition to the basics of the effectiveness of camouflage patterns in breaking up the human silhouette, consider that post-collapse retreat security presents some unique challenges. One of these is identifying friend from foe, while maintaining a perimeter of security. You will want to be able to distinguish “the sheep from the goats” with just a glance at long distance. (By long distance, I mean distance too great for facial recognition without aid of optics.) For this reason I do not recommend that survival groups standardize with any of the most ubiquitous patterns, such as BDU Woodland or brown RealTree. It would be far too easy for one or more would-be looters to take note of the pattern that you are using, and dress in that pattern in an attempt to sneak in to your perimeter. In fact, I recommend buying all matching clothing for every family/group member in a pattern that is: 1.) uncommon, 2.) distinctive, and 3.) inexpensive to purchase in quantity. For example, I know of two different retreat groups that standardized with Swiss Alpenflage (which has a lot of red blotches in it–hence it is very distinctive), and one group that standardized with German Flecktarn. Military surplus uniforms in these patterns are available from U.S. vendors such as Cheaper Than Dirt and Major Surplus, Canadian vendors like Global Army Surplus, and British vendors like Flecktarn.co.uk.

In your particular situation–in the woods of New England–one military surplus camouflage pattern that might work particularly well is the British DPM pattern, and/or its first cousin, the very reasonably priced Dutch Army pattern (the two look virtually the same except upon close inspection.) OBTW, Dutch camo uniforms are also available in England from MeanAndGreen.com. It is even possible to do a bit of uniform “mixing and matching”–for example buying all DPMs shirts and smocks, and all East German Raindrop pattern pants. OBTW, if you have a big budget, the commercial All-Season, All-Terrain (ASAT) pattern is remarkably effective. Use of the ASAT pattern is so uncommon that the chances of someone finding a set of ASAT clothing for an attempt at perimeter-probing subterfuge is practically nil.

You are correct that switching to snow camouflage is as simple as cutting up bed sheets. But I know of one group that made very simple snow camouflage ponchos (serape style, with no hood) out of Dupont Tyvek. (Yes, you can order it in rolls of plain white–so you won’t look like a walking “Dupont Tyvek Housewrap” advertisement.) The drawback is that Tyvek is considerably noisier than cotton sheets, but its advantages are that it provides semi-durable and waterproof ponchos that cost less than $1 each!

One Comment

  1. Thank you for all this great information about camouflage! I really like your point how it breaks up the pattern of a silhouette. I never thought of it that way and I think I’ll save this post to show my son that loves everything camping, army, shooting or anything associated. Thanks for the great tips.

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