There are a surprising number of camouflage patterns available, but whether you are a nature photographer or a weekend airsoft player you will want to choose the one that works best for you.
You may see names such as Kryptek Mandrake, DMT, PenCott Greenzone, US M81 Woodland, ATACS, CCE or PL Woodland being thrown about. All are designed to be used in ‘temperate’ woodland which is what we’ve got in northern Europe.
Originally the proud redcoats wouldn’t dream of trying to hide, but the guerrilla warfare of the American War of Independence was a wake up call. Those pesky yanks were practically invisible in drab colours while our boys stood out like very sore thumbs. As a result we lost America and 300 years later Hamilton the musical is still taking the mick out of poor old King George.
It took another century and a bit to wean the generals off the idea that’s soldiers should be easily spotted but eventually they got used to the idea. By the outbreak of the First World War British Soldiers had been in fetching Khaki for more than a decade. The French were still nodding about in their bright blue uniforms and the Germans were all in a muddle with different styles and colours for each of the 26 German states. Then the trenches got dug and the barrages got going and the truly horrible reality of it all started to dawn on people from all sides. In 1915 the Germans switched to field grey which at least made them a bit less of a sniper’s target.
During WW2 there were a number of units (notably British paras and commandos) who experimented with what we would recognise as camouflage and the idea began to catch on.
British Army Camouflage
The British Army began using the four colour pattern known as ‘Disruptive Pattern Material’ (DPM) on a wide scale since fairly soon after the Second World War. It is a tried and tested design that has a lot of history. Those photos of the guys yomping towards Stanley in ’82… that’s DPM.
In recent years DMP has been phased out in favour of a design called “Multi-Terrain Pattern”(MTP). At first sight, individual splodges of colour are smaller than the old DMT and the colour palette is more muted. In fact, MTP is a totally different concept.
The idea is that there is a background colour which itself changes across the fabric. In some areas the ‘background’ is green, in other areas brown. Then there are ‘layers’ of splodges in different sizes and running in different directions. All this adds up to create a very effective camouflage effect.
MTP is itself a variant on a camouflage called MultiCam which was originally created for the US Army. Both New Zealand and Australia have adopted variants of MultiCam
Now here is the great news. Camouflage actually works. The job of camouflage is to breakup the lines and shapes that allow wildlife, other people and cameras to identify you as a human. Those splodges do the job they are meant to. Countless tests have shown the differences between designs in terms of their effectiveness are marginal at best.
Does blue camouflage work ?
I just said that camouflage actually works, but maybe that needs a caveat. I’m sure you have seen photos of military personnel wearing camouflage based around shades of blue.
You might not have thought too much about it, but blue camouflage doesn’t do a particularly good job of obscuring the human silhouette. It really doesn’t work. The US Air Force are currently phasing out blue camouflage for just this reason.
Why on earth they (and the Australian Navy) introduced it in the first place is open to debate. It seems that it was largely an attempt to modernise the look and make being a sailor or airman more cool, sexy and appealing to youngsters. Anecdotal evidence is that while being slightly less than useless for hiding a man on a boat, the pattern does manage to hide grease stains and lunch spills pretty effectively. So, if you are a messy eater and can’t be bothered to use the washing machine regularly, get yourself some blue camouflage.
If you want to be picky, then the designs that combine both macro and micro elements (or big dots and small dots if you prefer) have a small edge in terms of effectiveness. Rather than having one optimum distance where the hiding effect is best, they work well at a number of distances.
You may have seen pixelated ‘digital’ camouflage made up of lots of small squares recently. At first sight you would think someone made a mistake at the printers. The tiny squares are designed like that on purpose. The idea is that they break up the boundaries between different colours, mimicking the fractal nature of edges that we see in nature.
So in short, modern Camo designs are all pretty good at doing the job they are supposed to do. After that, it comes down to personal choice. Go for the design you like best.
The closest to the UK Military in style, Multicam was first unveiled in 2002. It is licensed by manufacturers who sell to the general public. MultiCam has a background of a brown to light tan gradient, overprinted with a dark green, olive green, and lime green gradient and a top layer of opaque dark brown and cream-colored shapes spread throughout the pattern.
There is something very pleasing about the little dots of five different colours in the Flecktarn Camo design. The Bundeswehr wear this and it is very popular with birdwatchers for some reason.
The Pencott Greenzone digital camo works particularly well and looks dead smart. It has a complex design that works well in forests but also performs in grassland meadows. It is made up of four colours with the shades listed as ‘stalk grey’, ‘shadow brown’, ‘grass green’ and ‘hay brown’. Best of all it was designed right here by a British company called Hyde Definition Ltd.
When it comes to warfare, the Italians are not known for being top of the bunch, but when it comes to clothing design they do have a well earned reputation for style. Step forward ‘Vegetato’ which is a a rather unique take on camouflage. I really like the look and since we know it works, whether you like The design is pretty much all that matters.
Kryptek Mandrake is similarly effective and hugely popular in the USA with hunters. Close up it has a weird organic quality that reminds you of lizard skin or tortoise shells. I saw this guy dressed from head to foot in it and although I thought he looked an utter dickhead in the carpark, he did seem to disappear as soon as he got amongst some vegetation.
This isn’t by any means the sum total of camo options, but these are the main ones you will find. New designs are constantly evolving and the use of digital printing is allowing some bold new designs to appear.
Should we even wear camouflage?
In the USA there is currently a debate raging about civilians wearing camouflage. The ultra right loonies and Qanon conspiracy theorists who stormed the Capitol in Washington DC in late 2020 wore a lot of camouflage patterned clothing. Commentators are arguing that in order to avoid being associated with that particular tinfoil hat brigade, the rest of us should lay off wearing the same clothing, and leave the wearing of camouflage to the military only.
Here in the U.K. We have more than our share of nutters too, but the practical benefits of camouflage to nature enthusiasts, bird watchers and paintball fans mean that camo is here to stay.