TYR Tactical

What’s Old Is New – Some Thoughts To Ponder Ref Camo

I published this article almost a year ago and the points I raised are just as relevant today as they were then.

Earlier this week, A-TACS developer Digital Concealment Systems released their new FG variant for use in forest green environments. Immediately, potential users offered their critique. “This pattern is too green.” “That pattern is too tan.” We’ve heard comments running the gamut. But remember, camouflage is an illusion and the point of the trick is to make something disappear. The problem is that the only constant is the camouflage itself.

Regarding camouflage, this is the most general rule. The more specialized a camouflage is, the less utility it provides. What does this mean? It means, camouflage has to be relevant to the environment it is pitted against. For example, you could have the most perfect of camouflage, making yourself out to blend in like a bush in the desert. But the second you move, you no longer blend in. You might have a great desert camo suit but the second you get near water, everything turns green and you stick out.

This was the point of the holy grail of camouflage, the so-called universal camo pattern. Unfortunately, the pattern the US Army decided to call UCP is anything but. Instead, we’ve all seemed to latch on to something that is in fact the great compromise; Crye Precision’s MultiCam. It blends in to every environment at about the 70% level across the board. A true universal pattern isn’t designed to be perfect in any one environment but rather to be “ok” in ALL environments.

The lesson here is that, while well intended, the adoption of multiple specialized patterns guarantees that Soldiers will inevitably find themselves in environments where their uniform becomes a hindrance rather than a help.

The problem isn’t new. We’ve seen it time and time again.

Many may not know this but the so-called ERDL camouflage pattern adopted by the US military at the end of the Viet Nam conflict actually had two variants; a green and a brown dominant version. This is because Viet Nam wasn’t all jungle but rather consists of multiple micro environments. There are the brown dominant central highlands and the verdant jungle areas. Unfortunately, the supply system had trouble making sure that the right uniform was on the right guy for the right environment. In fact, issues with different patterns infiltrated all portions of the supply chain. There are examples of the ripstop poplin jungle fatigues that were manufactured using both pattern variants in a single garment! History shows this has been the case time and time again.

Then, there’s the recent past. Prior to the adoption of UCP, the US Army relied upon Woodland and Desert camouflage patterns. All Soldiers were issued Woodland clothing and equipment regardless of posting. The 3-Color Desert pattern was considered specialty equipment and only issued to select personnel based on operational requirements. Unfortunately, during 1991’s Operation Desert Storm many American troops wore Woodland clothing due to the shortage of desert issue. Ten years later, this same situation was repeated during the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom and what’s worse, once again during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Unlike post-9/11 operations, the military had ample time to procure and issue specialized desert clothing and equipment prior to the commencement of hostilities with Iraq, yet they failed to accomplish that task. Consequently, we had troops that wore a combination of Desert and Woodland clothing while some received no desert issue at all. The concept of universal camouflage was envisioned to overcome these issues. One pattern for clothing and equipment so that Soldier’s could deploy at a moment’s notice, anywhere in the world.

Most recently, we’ve seen British troops dying their desert uniforms with green dye in order to blend in better with areas of dense vegetation in Afghanistan. Issues like this have caused the US Army to develop a family of patterns strategy with a base pattern sharing a common geometry of shapes yet with different color palettes for different environments.

While dedicated camouflage patterns are fantastic in the environment they are designed for, they work against the Soldier in other environments. As you can see in this graphic shown at the Industry Day conference, the Army has learned that Soldiers in Afghanistan traverse multiple micro environments during a single mission. If the Army adopts dedicated patterns, Soldiers will potentially be safe as houses in one micro environment, but as their mission progresses, their uniform will do the enemy’s work for him, making them stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Soon we will be hit with a deluge of new families of camouflage patterns. There is going to be a lot of specialization out there. All I ask is that you remember to consider your application. If you will be sitting in a hide or blind all of the time, go for a very specialized pattern but if you will be operating in a wide ranging variety of environments then look for something more generic.

It’s a real quandary isn’t it? Even if you can afford to purchase all kinds of cool patterns, how will you make sure you’re in the right pattern at the right place and time? Can you imagine having to halt during a movement so that everyone can change clothes?

34 Responses to “What’s Old Is New – Some Thoughts To Ponder Ref Camo”

  1. Wild Bill USMC(Ret) says:

    I concur with the author. It is a quandry to get camouflage perfect even within specific environments because movement usually disrupts everything. I believe that our military jumped on the digital bandwagon and forgot the basics that combat includes a lot of guys using fire and maneuver tactics to confront and overwhelm the enemy. No type of camouflage uniform has ever existed to hide people during these operations. My take is that the old woodland BDUs have relevance in the appropriate terrains. Also, I do like the MARPAT (MCCUU) woodland and desert patterns; and, I like Hyperstealth Spec4CE and Deceptex patterns. However, Hyperstealth lists Deceptex at $150.00 per piece (blouse and trousers) for $300.00 per set — cost prohibitive for me. If we really wanted to make changes, then we would adopt Multicam/OCP and Mossy Oak Brush for transitional areas, use woodland BDU or Seclusion 3D for wooded/jungle areas, and have a desert pattern like Desert Adder or Desert Arid of Hyperstealth Spec4CE. Gee Whiz! I am glad that I only have to dress myself these days.

  2. Cavtrooper94 says:

    KRYPTEK is here to solve our problems. No one pattern or colors will ever cover every situation, but the patterns offered by Kryptek when used in the appropriate environments are awesome. The pattern stays the same but the color scheme changes. From snow to urban, and jungle to desert, or transitional they have it covered.

    • Strike-Hold! says:

      Was that a paid endorsement? 😉

    • Greg says:

      Kryptec: is a clown show of overley geometric placed shapes, with out of sync uneven color placements. It looks verry advanced at fist glance, but looks more geard toward duck hunters (witch it is) than soldiers when you look at top to bottom and close up. It looks pretty expensive to.

      US4CES: is here to save us cash! while keeping it simple, real, digital, cheap, and effective in enviromentally specific color placement while not over doing it.

      Brookwood: Do i really have to explain it?

      Crye: Are you willing to throw your beloved original Multi-cam pattern (you know, the one you said that would work everywhere like UCP) under the bus in exchange for Woodland and Arid versions? You’d be debunking and dismissing everything good you said about how good Scorpion was. Thats intentional misleading.

      And thats an unpaid endorsement! XD

      • SSD says:


        Kryptek works…

        US4CES is the natural progression of pixelated camo

        Brookwood’s patterns work, at least well enough to beat baseline

        Crye – now that’s something worth discussing. I’d say that if you want a true universal pattern then this is it. But, if you are asking for more specific patterns what’s wrong with producing them? Logistically, multiple patterns are a PITA, but if the customer thinks they have the kinks worked out, I don’t see what the issue is with tuned variants of MultiCam.

        Overall, it sounds like you have an issue with Crye. Why is that?

        • Greg says:

          If Multicam was so good, why are they producing greener and lighter versions of it now? Better yet why didn’t they THINK about that from the start? We havn’t herd much from them about their new stuff. So whats keeping them? To me they don’t want to tarnish the image of the original Scorpion with variants of it, seeing as many people love just wearing just the one version of it!

          If Brookwood works well, then thats cool, thats your opinion and the opinions of others and i respect that.

          But if for some reason the Army dosn’t want to ditch the digital fad yet (and i don’t think they do, neither dose the Corps or the Navy) then US4CES would likely be up their alley for keeping it digital, with both cost and effectiveness. Specifically the co$t.

          I don’t hate Crye, we just hate being deceived, because we were ALL dooped about the so called “effectiveness” of UCP.

          Some camo’s can be far more effective when they are produced specially for the military. And some should stay in the business of deer hunting, for they look very kooky.

          I would also imagine that a deers eye sight is far more superior than that of a Taliban towler!

          And i have the gut feeling that there are some Airsoft/Paintball leeches on this sight that still think that one camo will still hide them from paintballs or plastic balls! Even long after the Army finally wised up on that one!

          • JohnnyB says:

            I think Multicam is what UCP wanted to be – a camo that works very well in most environments. Neither is the panacea for every environ, and I think any arguments to the contrary – even from big Army – are asinine. Unlike UCP, though, Multicam pulls it off.

            That said, Multicam has room for improvement in specificity of intended environ. True desert and true evergreen/jungle environs are extreme ends of the spectrum, and require specific camo alterations. In this regard, a ‘desert Multicam’ and ‘green Multicam’ make sense, while retaining the original as the transitional – which actually should cover 80% of the needs.

      • US Soldier says:

        Greg, I am in total agreement with your post. US4CES is the obvious choice since the Corps does not want to share MARPAT with the rest of the services and it is better than it. Big brass, make the choice now please!

  3. SOFcentric says:

    We’re talking effectiveness vs. cost.

    The BEST camouflage is the most effective camouflage.

    The most effective camo would use actual imagery based on the intended operating environment.

    The real problem with any Camouflage that tries to be ‘Universal” to every intended area is the error in logic. -Universal IS impossible ! Trying to make a single camo work in EVERY environment actually make’s it ineffective in most environments.

    Site Specific Camouflage is the only approach if you’re selecting the best…that means multiple patterns for Areas of Operation. Specific localized camo patterns.
    And specialized units should receive multiple camo patterns first.

    The question is can we afford it?
    Or, better said, Can we afford NOT to do it?

    Camouflage and concealment saves lives; our Military is worth it!

    • MATBOCK CEO says:

      Hate to break it to you but “site specific” is impossible also. While I agree it would probably be the best and our military is worth ever dime, it’s impractical. We can’t even field current patterns for our service members in a timely manner and then you would want to field pattern for each AO – impossible. Uniforms would be one thing, but then you have to think about the carriers and pouches each service member would have. Logistical impossible. Not to mention the pain in the butt each service member would have trying to keep up or swap out their different kits.

      There are too many terrains to make one universal pattern to be perfect unless we made adaptive camo, which I would love to see. A green type and tan type will cover a lot of varies terrains for the majority of service members. Then have more specific patterns for key locations, but only for the specific units that require that pattern – not for FOBits.

    • acg1189 says:

      didn’t this ENTIRE article debunk the myth that we should come up with multiple patterns. Anyone ANYONE who has dealt with the military supply system knows that it can barely handle 2 different uniforms. (with the exception of special units, which honestly have their own supply system and more money)

      Go with ONE uniform. Something that’s vaguely greenish or brownish. Carry white cold gear for arctic. Done. Anything more than that is impractical for supply and honestly makes no practical difference to the average grunt in terms of concealment anyway. Anyone who needs to hide THAT super well is a sniper or special forces and, again, have their own manner of getting what they need.

      • SSD says:

        I said that here and in an earlier piece. The Marine Corps bit the bullet and issued two patterns to each Marine. NSW has done the same. That takes care of things from a logistical standpoint in that everyone has everything all of the time. However, this entails an increased transportation burden moving all of that around. We’ve never captured that cost.

        Additionally, issuing multiple patterns to everyone still doesn’t answer the tactical problem of being in the right pattern at the right time.

      • Greg says:

        3 to 4 patterns is pretty much as best anyone can go. In addition to a single “gear” pattern, would add 5.





        Frankly id rather have everyone use 4 or 5 patterns, than having all the different services use 8 or 9 different patterns separately.

  4. Riceball says:

    Here’s a subject that I haven’t seen addressed anywhere, how effective are multi-terrain camo patterns that are based on one base pattern, by that I’m referring to patterns like MARPAT woodland and desert, and ATAC-S/FG where they use the same base camo pattern but in different colorways. Does it really work to take a pattern that’s designed for one environment and simply re-color it for another as opposed to developing a terrain/environment specific pattern?

    • SSD says:

      It’s very important for me to note two things.

      1. MARPAT/UCP/AOR are all the same patterns with different colorways

      2. DCS does not ‘recolor’ common pattern geometries. A-TACS is a family of patterns by application and not geometry. Designed for tactical use, A-TACS addresses environmental conditions with totally different orientations and colors.

      • Riceball says:

        I know about MARPAT, CADPAT, & UCP all being the same pattern in different colors, and I was under the impression that AOR is the same but in a vertical orientation. My question is, does doing a MARPAT woodland to MARPAT desert and simply re-coloring an existing pattern really work as well as developing a a terrain specific pattern?

        I didn’t know about A-TACS being a family of patterns, I had always thought that the various A-TACS were just a recoloring of the same base pattern. I stand corrected.

    • rrossouw says:

      1. An ideal pattern matches the intensity of the background. This will avoid detection by the observers peripheral vision.

      2. An ideal pattern matches the environments texture.
      Here were lucky, nature’s texture is remarkably “stable” – having an fractal dimension of around 1.2 – Cadpat was designed to match this.

      3. An ideal pattern disrupts the soldiers shape signature, this is essentially a tigerstripe like pattern – like Cadpat/Marpat becomes as it blurs out. The British DPM, Rhodesian or Bophuthatswana Grasslands patterns form large-ish blocks of colour separated by relatively bright lines, which also disrupt the shape.

      Changing the colours of a pattern to match an environment, while still maintaining the above, will result in a successful pattern.

  5. majrod says:

    We might be able to learn from the brits who dyed their uniforms. Camouflage shouldn’t be something you buy. It should be something you do.

    There’s too much emphasis on camouflage uniforms. Why? Well for the military because it’s harder to train a soldier to properly camouflage himself and it takes leadership to stay on top of it. A material solution is so much easier but we’re losing something in the trade.

    Industry’s interest? Obvious $$$. Why the fascination with camo by individuals? Same as the military answer above and add “tacticool”.

    • Riceball says:

      But what do you do in the desert, spray your uniform with glue and roll around in the sand? In a forested environment it would be way too easy for troops to come out looking like the Swamp Thing or putting stuff in all the wrong places so that it either becomes difficult to get at gear or it just gets in the way. While I don’t disagree that there needs to be some more emphasis on learning to camouflage yourself but there still needs to be a good base uniform because regular grunts aren’t going to go running around in ghillie suits.

      What might be a good idea would be to issue a uniform in a transitional pattern and develop a spray dye that can be applied to the uniform to change the color but can be removed with some sort of special dye remover. The down side would, of course, be more crap for the grunts to hunt and the potential for noise.

      • majrod says:

        What do you do in the desert? What did our forefathers do? Paint and dirt do wonders.

        Don’t get me wrong not recommending redcoats but this camo craze is insane.

        • Strike-Hold! says:

          A “good” general-purpose / multi-environment camouflage pattern (i.e., appropriate colors and textures) should be able to get you 75-90% of the way there – the rest is down to implementing proper personal camouflage and concealment tactics, tips and procedures.

          That means, adding scrim and/or local foliage to break up the silhouette of the head, shoulders, rifle, rucksack, etc. It means using camo cream on the face (and the hands if you’re not wearing gloves).

          It means using the features of the local terrain to mask or conceal your movement and to provide additional cover and concealment.

          It means staying in the shadows (if there are any).

          It means using light and noise discipline.

          In short, until we all have Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak, it means using soldiering skills.

          And of course if you’re kicking down doors or winning hearts-and-minds, then the camouflage you’re wearing won’t matter one bit anyway.

  6. Russ says:

    Being a Marine myself, I have to say just separate what matters and what don’t. I can never forget what my first infantry instructor said about camouflage uniforms: “if you are up on that hill in your cammies, what will the enemy see? You. Up on that hill in your cammies.” The Corps finally got something right. Keep it simple and you can’t go far wrong. Marines buy their own utilities so it makes a lot of sense to just have two patterns. One would be better, like multi cam. Ditch the gucci Air Force and Navy crap. The Army fought from North Africa to Alaska in WWII with OD green, I don’t see whats wrong with that either.

  7. SqDb says:

    I’m not military, but I’ve been a hunter for 17 years, and I’ve always tended towards Mil gear over typical “hunting” gear. Some comments/thoughts from personal experience:

    First, I agree with the comment by majrod that camo is something you do. And on-the-move, all bets are off.

    Strike-Hold! also has the right idea, and adding to that, mixing patterns a little bit also does wonders to break up an outline.

    During one hunt, I had success wearing Multicam base clothing, a 3-desert Camelbak, ATACs hat, a UCP veil, and Smoke/Foliage MOLLE belt w khaki ammo pouches. I had a hunter walk right past me (I could have reached out and grabbed him). The camo helped; being still and in some brush sealed the deal.

    Any camo will fade a bit with time and repeated use/washing. I have an ATACs hat that is nearly “whited-out” from constant use. I picked up a set of ATACs FG for hunting season. By the end of the season, the “too green” aspect won’t matter. There are methods that will minimize this, but depending on the AO, letting it fade a bit could be helpful.

    IMO, a blend of khaki/tan, smoke/foliage green, and a bit of light and dark brown go very far in nearly any “natural” environment and even in many cities.

  8. Dev says:

    Surely the improvements in manufacturing will allow a decent multi camouflaged uniform to be produced? One pattern on the “outside”, one pattern on the “inside”. Flip it inside out and you’ve got a different solution for a different problem. I understand this has been done before in history.

    2 separate uniforms issued, 4 different patterns.

    Would that be a solution, or at least a start?

    • Dan says:

      Dev, in theory that makes sense, until you start considering the following: uniforms issued these days have lots of pockets sewn to the uniform’s body. While the BDU top wouldn’t suffer from having 8 pockets sewn on opposite sides of the front, when you start getting to pants and tops with shoulder pockets, it becomes an impossibility. The cargo pockets today’s uniforms are issued with will rub in all the wrong places with pockets sewn to the inside. Not to mention how inconvenient it would be to remove ones trousers and flip them inside out in a hurry.
      The way I see it, go with one mostly effective pattern or toss some serious R&D into adaptive camouflage, not the garage sale funding (compared to other projects) it’s receiving.

      • Dave UK says:

        That said, I happen to have a Brit smock, DPM one side, dessert DPM the other, cut like a German WWII anorak and with various pockets & hood. Allegedly one of only a hundred made, and introduced before MTP. Of course, the original cut Waffen SS smock was for camouflage only, and reversible with no pockets.

  9. Bushman says:

    Something about new and old.
    Chinese army took the German “flecktarn” spot pattern, replaced the colors with shades of brown and black, and started to use it like “mountain pattern”. Russian company Splav made the smock and pants in this pattern. And here http://bit.ly/UFHdoe is photo of man (full figure) wearing that smock standing in the sub-arctic wood. Surprise? How different are Russian sub-arctic woods and bald Chinese mountains full of clay and gravel?

  10. INF says:

    I think we all have the same ideas on camouflage and what the uniforms should consist of. Unfortunately, we don’t work for PEO or have the ability to effect the selection process.

    I’m also wondering when the Army is going to start issuing a white/snow camouflage over garment? Similar to the Marines? That would be tremendous when playing in the snow in certain parts of the world…and not having to pay for a COTS version.

    • SSD says:

      The Army has had overwhites since World War Twice.

      • INF says:

        Not that I don’t believe you but – 10 years and counting – I have never seen or been issued overwhites…

    • Riceball says:

      Why would the Army need overwhites when they have UCP? It’s supposed to be universal isn’t it? This should mean that it would work just as well in the snow as it does in forests, deserts, and urban environments; which means piss poorly.

  11. janus says:

    How about plain coyote (or old-school british khaki) EVERYTHING and issue a few spray cans per squad of OD green and very dark gray per squad? The squad leader can supervise the spraying up up of the uniforms and gear if he doesen’t trust his men. Then, tell the NCOs and Officers to stop bitching about uniformity in the field. Keep a couple of un-sprayed sets of uniforms for garrison. There, you’re done. And at a tiny fraction of the cost of supplying camo.