Camouflage Essentials

April 30, 2013 by | 3 Comments

There will be times when you’ll want to stay well-hidden. Most of you will never be deployed behind enemy lines in some third-world country and stalked by trained killers, but in a SHTF scenario, or even just traveling through the wilderness surrounded by natural predators, effective camouflage offers tremendous peace of mind and dramatically increases your chances of surviving. I’ll help you do that by breaking camouflage into its key elements, in order of importance.


If you’re behind or underneath something, it becomes a lot easier to stay completely hidden. This could include natural debris, such as trees, fallen logs, rocks, or unnatural debris like vehicles, trash, or buildings. During training in Camp Lejeune, we would often use holes underneath oak trees uprooted by frequent hurricanes. Operating in Bosnia, we were able to use buildings, viewing the outside world through small holes in the walls. (Nearly every building I encountered there had at least a few holes from mortar, artillery and other large munitions.) In the desert, we would take advantage of rock formations and boulders. The upside of using cover as camouflage is that it can provide some degree of protection from incoming rounds and thermal imaging.

Sniper using cover


The slightest movement, especially where everything else is still, will alert even a modestly trained observer to your position. They key is to move as slowly and smoothly as possible. A perfect example was a mission conducted by Marine sniper, Carlos Hathcock, when he crawled over 1,500 yards through an open field to shoot an NVA commanding General. This took four days and three nights, without sleep, of constant inch-by-inch crawling. It’s not just movement your own body and gear that you need to worry about though. You need to consider everything you touch. The toe of your boot brushing against a tall reed or snagging a vine causing a branch to wag back and forth might as well be a flag saying “Here I am!”


People and most objects have a very distinct shape, and with a little training, an observer can spot them fairly quickly even when they blend in to the colors of their surroundings. A well-trained observer can often spot a person at night just by their silhouette. This is why you need to break up your outline. A ghillie suit is ideal for this, which you should supplement with local vegetation. If you don’t have access to one, you can improvise with vegetation inserted into holes in your clothing, or by wearing loose, bulky clothing. We used the latter in arctic environments; donning a loose white jacket and trousers over our uniforms. Don’t forget your equipment; wrap shredded burlap around your rifle and scope, and attach strips of shredded burlap to your pack and other gear to break up and soften the silhouette.

Ghillie Suit


This is the first, and often only element most people turn to because it’s the easiest, but surprisingly, it usually has the least impact. During a patrol through a shallow riverbed, I watched half a dozen Marines step over a bright yellow Habu viper. I’ve seen jungle warfare experts maneuver past experienced troops while wearing colorful civilian t-shirts. And one occasion that involved far more alcohol than was prudent, two Marines, one of which may or may not have been me, managed to surreptitiously cross the gated grounds and enter a well guarded and illuminated training compound for high-ranking officers (Colonels and Generals), wearing light grey sweatshirts and green running shorts. I don’t say this to minimize the value of choosing the proper colors to blend into your surroundings; I strongly recommend that you make every effort to blend in because along with the previous techniques, you can become virtually invisible.


The pattern of your camouflage works hand in hand with the colors. During the 1950s and 60s, our ground troops’ uniforms consisted of olive drab utilities, which were marginally effective at best. Eventually we migrated to a woodland camouflage pattern of irregularly-shaped color blotches that remained the standard uniform for ground units in all branches for several decades. Shortly after entering Afghanistan, the Marine Corps transitioned to the superior digital MARPAT pattern. In a rush to follow suit with their own pattern, the army equipped their troops with the digital ACU, which was such a failure in nearly all environments that just a few years later, they began replacing it with the Multicam pattern. There are a number of other domestic and foreign camouflage patterns, as well as civilian patterns, such as Realtree that can be extremely effective in the right environment. The goal of any camouflage pattern is to blend in with the surroundings, and more importantly, break up the wearer’s silhouette, making them harder to identify. The more irregular the pattern, the more effective it is, but MARPAT is generally effective in the widest range of environments, followed closely by Multicam. Woodland camouflage works well in darker forests, jungles, and swamps, while ACU works better in urban areas, lighter-colored deserts, and barren mountains.

Don’t forget face paint. Properly applying camouflage face paint is more than just smearing it on like a mime; you want to apply darker colors to high-profile areas like your nose, forehead, and cheekbones while applying lighter colors to low profile areas around your eyes. The idea is to making your face appear flatter and less discernible.

Melanie Swick (a.k.a. Survival Chick) grew up wanting to be a rocket scientist, but when she realized she that required way too much math, she took to her second dream—spending time in the wilderness. Today, when she's not hiking, camping, or hunting, she's blogging about it. You can connect with Melanie on Facebook.

Was this info helpful? Share it with your friends!


  • Lanny Steinfeldt says:

    Keep up the great work, I read few articles on this website and learned lots!.

  • soupbone says:

    Interesting article, but remember that camouflage can also work against you. In the wrong setting, it can make you stand out – and not as someone who knows what he is doing. Before I would invest in a ghillie suit or a couple of sets of BDUs [or whatever they are calling them now] I would make sure I had enough heavy duty, neutral colored and styled pants and shirts that would not look out of place in most informal situations such as strolling through a park. True camouflage is the art of blending in to your surroundings, not in looking like a killer commando.

    As the article said, cover and movement are highly important in the field – stay under it as much as you can, and don’t be a wriggle worm. I walked right past a guy one night – not 5′ away. he was standing absolutely still in the shadow of a tree and not looking at me. He was wearing grey slacks and a long sleeve dull plaid shirt.


Share Your Thoughts...

Leave a Reply: