Some thoughts on camouflage

I’ve always wondered what the good characteristics of a good camouflage pattern are. I’m no expert but here are some of my thoughts on camouflage:

WHAT CAMOUFLAGE TRIES TO ACHIEVE

I always thought camouflage tries to achieve two things:

  1. It must ‘break up’ the image of the person – the ‘dispersing effect’.  By this I mean that your shape must not be easily discernable.   Your shape is not that easily discernable and defined.  It can actually be hard to determine where your shape begins and ends. This is the ‘dispersing effect’.
  2. It must blend in to the surroundings – the ‘blending effect’.  This is when you actually blend into the surroundings and you can’t see the person.

COMMON ‘STYLES’ OF CAMOUFLAGE PATTERNS

It seems that there are several common ‘styles’ of patterns:

‘Dispersed’ pattern. This is like British DPM, lizard camouflage, etc. It looks like they get a paintbrush and quickly made arcs randomly all over the cloth.

Brtish_dpm

British DPM – Dispersed Pattern Material

‘Fleck’ pattern. This is similar to German flecktarn. It is made up of small circular or oblong shapes of different colors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

German Flecktarn

‘Blob’ pattern. This is like the old U.S. woodland camouflage or French F2 pattern. It usually has large oblong shapes of different colors.

US_Woodland_pattern

U.S. woodland camouflage pattern

‘Geometric’ pattern. This is like Swedish M90 pattern. It is made up of patterns that entail geometric shapes, often with straight lines, that may be triangular, polygonal, etc.

Sweden_M90_pattern

Swedish M90 camouflage pattern

‘Digital’ pattern.  This is a pattern that has square geometric edges giving it a digital or pixel-like quality.

Canadian CADPAT_digital_camouflage_pattern_(Temperate_Woodland_variant)

Canadian digital pattern woodland camouflage

SOME GENERAL ASPECTS ABOUT CAMOUFLAGE

Here are some further thoughts I have on camouflage:

  • I seem to think that the colors should not be too dark or too bright or too light.
  • I feel that having a cloth that doesn’t fade the colors is best. Faded camouflage is not that effective.
  • I also feel that color contrast is very important. Many patterns, for example, have shades of green and black that look the same at 15-20 feet. Without contrast a pattern isn’t effective, particularly at farther distances. I seem to think all the colors must be distinguishable at close and long distance range.
  • I think that using small details in camouflage patterns is useless. British DPM, for example, has dots along some of the edges. Digital has all the raggedy edges. What for? Who’s going to see it?
  • Along the same lines I think having shapes that are too small is useless. A good example is German flecktarn. All the little shapes are only good for a short distance. They blob together at a distance. In general, I don’t feel the ‘fleck’ pattern is a good pattern for camouflage unless it’s going to be for close range. It also has a low dispursing quality.
  • Any effective pattern should not have any “regular pattern”.  That is to say, there can not be a pattern that repeats itself or establishes any sort of a pattern to the eye.  The best example of this, I think, is Vietnamese tiger stripe camouflage.  The very name states a regular pattern.

Vietnamese tiger stripe

Vietnamese tiger stripe pattern

  • I tend to think that desert camouflage is one of the hardest patterns there is to develop.  This is a number of reasons for this.  Firstly, in the desert a person is standing out in the open, often in a terrain that has few color alterations.  Because of this, a person tends to stand out more prominently.  Under these conditions, to use a dispersing pattern can make the person stand out even more.  Secondly, even though it may not seem like it, a desert has many different terrains (sand, rock, scenery with rock outcrops, grass, etc.).  To develop a pattern that will fit in all these situations would probably be almost impossible to develop.

CAMOUFLAGE AND ITS EFFECT ON THE EYE

A big part of how camouflage works it how it affects the eye.   In many ways, camouflage is meant to trick or deceive the eye.  It seems that, in regard to camouflages effects on the eye, there are several main effects:

  1. The ‘leading on’ effect.  This is where the shapes actually ‘lead’ the eye.  Its as if the eye ‘follows’ the shapes and, in so doing, gets confused of all the shapes.  The colors seem to have a direction. Putting many of these over one another has a tendency, it seems, to confuse the eye, making them unable to see where things begin and end.  In this way, it sort of tricks or deceives they eye.
  2. The ‘confusion’ effect.  This is where there are shapes that actually confuse what you’re looking at.  They do not ‘lead the eye’, typically, but the multitude of shapes become confusing to the eye.
  3. The ‘motley’ effect.  This is where there are a number of shapes and colors that create a ‘motley’ effect of shapes which tends to cause some confusion to the eye, though not as much as the ‘confusion’ effect.  In some respects this is a mild ‘confusion’ effect.
  4. The ‘blurring’ effect.  This is when shapes and/or colors are given a quality that makes their edges indistinct, such as by using dots on the edges or jagged edges as on digital patterns.  The effect is to create a blurred image.

Here are some of some thoughts on these effects on camouflage patterns:

  • The ‘dispersed’ pattern, as in British DPM, is like drawing random arcs on the cloth using a paintbrush. Doing this makes the eye sort of ‘run off’ with its direction.  In this way, it sort of ‘leads the eye’ (the ‘leading on’ effect).   I would say this shape can be called the ‘free flowing’ type of pattern.
  • The ‘geometric’ pattern, it seems to me, has the best effect after the ‘dispersing’ pattern, depending on how it’s done. The straight lines running together can create a confusion to the eye similar to the ‘dispersed’ pattern.  It seems that the random straight edges might have a slight ‘leading on’ of the eye as well.  This seems more effective at a distance than up close.  We can call this the ‘confusion’ type of pattern.
  • Other patterns, such as the ‘blob’ pattern, much like the older U.S. woodland camouflage, tend to have shapes with what might be called ‘controlled’ shapes.  That is, it is defined shapes placed randomly here and there. They do not ‘lead the eye’ as they have no ‘direction’.  This effect can be referred to as the ‘controlled’ type of pattern.
  • Putting all sorts of details in the pattern, such as digital pattern, creates what, to me, can be called a ‘blurring’. At a distance it takes the shapes and blurs its edges, taking away any ‘leading the eye’ effect it may have. It also seems to take away any ‘confusing effects’ as well. It also makes the colors blur together. To me, this is one of the least effective patterns and seems to work only in specific environments.  It seems to work when the environment is somewhat “blurry” such as in some desert conditions.  I call this the ‘blurring’ type of pattern.
  • Some camouflage is just a multitude of different colored shapes put together.  A good example seems to be the camouflage pattern used by the U.S. Marines in the Pacific during WWII. I call this the ‘motley’ type of pattern.

USMC camo WWII

USMC camouflage WWII

Overall, any pattern with various shapes and colors has some camouflage value to it. The question is how effective it is.

CAMOUFLAGE AND THE SURROUNDINGS

Camouflage, to be effective, must blend in to the surroundings.  That is to say, it must have a ‘blending effect’.  The colors, and their shade, must match its surroundings.

I’ve always thought that a good camouflage would have at least three color types:

  1. The lightest color
  2. The mid-range color
  3. The darkest color

These give good contrast and variety in the pattern.  These colors, of course, must match the colors found in the surroundings.  In a woodland pattern the bulk of the colors should be varying shades of green.  Brown should not be used, in my opinion, unless the trunks of the tree’s, or the earth, are somehow prominent in the surroundings.

The quantity of shapes should also match the surroundings.  I can see three scenarios:

  1. A varied environment.  That is to say, when there are many leaves, shades, and colors, such as in a jungle.  If there are many leaves then you can have many smaller shapes, reflecting the many shades and colors.
  2. A mixed environment.  This is when there are areas with varied leaves, shades, and colors and areas where there are little, or no, varied leaves, shades, and colors.  For example, it could be an area where there are areas of tree’s and areas of bushes and areas of grassland and a person can go from one to the other at any time.
  3. A non-varied environment.  This is like a  winter, grassland, or a desert where there can be hardly any variation in color at all.

In general, in regard to the two purposes of camouflage described above (the ‘dispersing effect’ and ‘blending effect’) I see these associations with the surroundings:

  1. A varied environment.  The ‘blending effect’ is what should be sought here in camouflage.  The shapes can be small.
  2. A mixed environment.  There should be a mixture of ‘blending effect’ and ‘dispersing effect’ in the camouflage.  Because the colors and shades are more varied there should not be as many small shapes as they’d make you stand out more when you are in the open.
  3. A non-varied environment.  I tend to see that the best camouflage here is an attempt at achieving a ‘blending effect’ as is possible.  In a desert or grassland I think that will never be achieved that effectively.  In this sense, the purpose is more to “decrease your obvious location” more than camouflage it.  A ‘dispersing effect’ will probably only make a person stand out as, in order for it to work, there will have to be contrasts in colors enough to create the ‘dispersing effect’.  This may be so pronounced that it will, in the end, make the shape of a person more obvious than not.

I don’t see any reason why the shapes of the colors have to resemble any leaves, tree trunks, or anything else.  In the natural world, what is generally seen is a multitude of varying shapes, colors, and shades and this is what should be imitated.  The randomness of these shapes, colors, and shades also help to create a ‘dispersing effect’ as well.

COLOR AND CAMOUFLAGE

I can see that a big, and difficult, aspect of camouflage design is the color. I don’t think its the color that’s so difficult but more the shade of the color that is so tricky. This is further complicated by the fact that the color shade, as designed, can vary with the manufacturing (different batches give different shades) as well as an altering of shade as the clothes are laundered over time. Camouflage that is laundered too much is so faded it’s practically useless.

In some woodland camouflage shades of dark green, black, and brown can look like the same color at 20 or more feet, so that all you have is a darkish color and a light green to give the camouflage effect. This makes me think that black and brown should often be combined into one darkish brown color, with a mid-dark green and a light green for the lighter contrast.

Overall, though, I tend to feel that camouflage should not have an extremely dark or blackish color in it, unless it is found extensively in the environment (such as a jungle).  Colors that are too dark for the environment makes a person stand out.

There also needs to be a contrast between these colors that is noticeable to the eye. That is, they can’t blur and blend together, especially at a distance. But these contrasts can’t be so different that they stand out prominently side by side. It seems that determining these contrasts can be very difficult, if not impossible, to do effectively.

It seems that in desert camouflage you’d want a tan predominately, with at least one lighter shade (I don’t see any point for more than three shades). Here, especially, the shades need to be noticeable but not prominently different or else you’ll stand out.

CAMOUFLAGE AND THE CONDITIONS OF USE

A big consideration is under what conditions are the camouflage pattern going to be used.  This may have tremendous impact on the pattern.   Some examples of conditions, that may be impactful, include:

Distance.  It seems that camouflage has a “range” with the naked eye.  That is to say, some are good at close range and some are good at long range viewing.  Typically, it seems that what is good at close range is not good at long range and vice-versa.   There seems to be three “ranges”:

  1. Close range.  This is probably up to about 50 feet.
  2. Mid range.  This is probably about 50-100 feet.
  3. Long range.  This is probably over 100 feet.

At long range, though, a person gets smaller and the surroundings gets more pronounced.  In this way, one is ‘lost’ or camouflaged by distance.  This effect decreases the need of a long range camouflage.  Because of this, camouflage typically only needs to be effective at the close and mid ranges.  As a result, the question is primarily one of how distance affects the eye within this range.

There seems to be effects seen in close and mid range viewing of camouflage:

  • Small shapes, colors, and shades, which can be seen at close range, tend to be unnoticeable at mid range.  This can happen, in some cases, in a matter of 15 feet or so.
  • Oftentimes, two colors will begin to blend together at mid range (such as black and dark green).  This decreases the color contrast and, accordingly, the camouflage effect.  A three color camouflage will turn into a two color camouflage, for example.
  • In some cases, all the colors blend together, at mid range, creating a single shade of color or even a ‘blob’ which can look out of place (which, it seems to me, is seen a lot with digital pattern).

Most camouflage is ‘designed’, so to speak, for a close and mid range.  That’s where its camouflage is best with the naked eye.  The effect of distance decreases the need for a long range camouflage.

If a camouflage was ‘designed’ for longer range, though, it seems to me that it would have to use larger shapes.  There may even have to be more contrast in the colors as well.  These would create a pattern that is not good at close range.

Another aspect of distance is the effect it has on the colors:

  • At close ranges one can see the different colors
  • At mid ranges the colors begin to blur but still have a distinctness creating a ‘blob’ of different colors
  • At long ranges these colors blur into one color

I call this the ‘blending effect’.  I’ve always felt that this effect could be used in camouflage.  That is to say, camouflage could be designed to have different effects at multiple ranges because of this ‘blending effect’.  For example, at closer ranges it could have a dispersing pattern as the pattern will be more easily seen.  At long ranges the colors will blend into one color.  Because this color is made up of different colors the new color created could actually be a new color, one that more closely resembles the color of the overall environment.  A camouflage that takes advantage of this type of effect I would call ‘perspective camouflage’.  As to whether this can be developed, or not, I cannot say.

Time of day.  Naturally, camouflage is primarily designed for daytime.  It is ‘designed’ for a sunny day, typically, with an abundance of sunlight.  This allows for all the colors, shades, and shapes.

I know that they have tried to develop a night time camouflage but I tend to think that a dark uniform is the best, particularly one that is made of a ‘rough’ material like canvas. It seems, to me, that not only do you not want to be seen in night time but, if a light is cast in your direction, you don’t want to be obvious.  A dark ‘rough’ material will tend to ‘disperse’ the light shined upon it and have two effects:

  1. It won’t reflect any light shined upon it.
  2. It won’t look ‘solid’ in the lights glare.

I’m not sure what the best dark color would be.  Pure black may not be the best.  Probably a black mixed in with another color or a dark dark color (such as brown, green, or blue) may even work better.

Wearing camouflage during night time may actually make your more noticeable, particularly if a light is shined upon you.  This is because of all the colors and shapes which tend to make it stand out in the slightest light.  Even something like a little moonlight can make a person noticeable.

The season.  Generally, a camouflage is used for spring, summer, and fall in forested areas . . . one camouflage for all.  This makes sense for a military from a logistics viewpoint.  Camouflage patterns have been made, though, for fall.  This is primarily because of the fall colors that appear, which may make the standard greenish shaded camouflage more noticeable.  As a result, these patterns tend to reflect the fall colors.  The SS during WWII, for example, developed a pattern specifically for fall.

SS camo fall oak_zelt_br

SS camouflage, fall colors, WWII (source: atthefront.com)

Logistics.  A military, though, needs to have a ‘general’ pattern that they could supply their troops, which can go into the thousands and even more.  In other words, they cannot have a pattern for every condition and situation.  As far as I know, no current military has a pattern for the fall, for example.  They could literally have a pattern for each requirement, if they wanted, but that would be difficult for a military from a logistics viewpoint.

Night vision.  Apparently, there have been efforts to create a camouflage for night vision scopes.  I am not in the military, nor have I even looked in a night vision scope, so I have no means to assess this form of camouflage.  As a result, this article is primarily about the visual effects of camouflage.

WHAT I THINK ARE THE BEST QUALITIES IN A CAMOUFLAGE PATTERN

Woodland camouflage

Here are some aspects of what seems, to me, to be the best qualities needed in woodland camouflage pattern:

  • It seems that, in woodland camouflage, it is more important to blend into the environment than disperse a persons shape.  In other words, the ‘blending effect’ takes precedence over the ‘dispersing effect’.  Typically, in the woods, if a person blends into the environment it tends to disperse their shape at the same time, at least to some extent.  A pattern that has ‘dispersing effect’ is like a bonus that makes it even better.
  • Woodland camouflage should be a pattern designed to see at closer ranges.  In other words, they should be designed for close and mid ranges.  This is because, in the woods, one usually see’s people at a closer range.  They are hidden in the woods at greater ranges.
  • The ‘dispersed’ pattern seems best at close range in the forest during the day.  At greater distances the more intricate shapes tend to disappear and its effectiveness tends to decrease.
  • The ‘geometric pattern’ or ‘blob pattern’ seems best at further distances during the day.  This is because there isn’t many fine shapes that disappear at greater distances.  This assumes, of course, that the shapes are not too small to begin with.
  • Its best to have three to four different shades of green.  Two shades of green seem ineffective.  Five is usually too much variation and seems to cause a tendency to blur the colors.  Four colors seems a good number.
  • The shades of green also need to vary from light to dark.  That is to say, there has to be a ‘light color’ and a ‘dark color’ to give contrast.
  • One, or possibly two, brown shades can be used but its not necessary.  It seems, to me, that the main value of brown shades is to give contrast with the green shades, not necessarily to blend in with the environment, though they can help.
  • I tend to think that black, or very dark colors, should be used sparingly for a general camouflage.  That is to say, they should not dominate.  They are good for contrast and resemble the effect of shadow.  But they should not dominate as black, or dark colors, are usually not dominant in most environments.  They are effective when they do exist, such as in a jungle, but they tend to make a person stand out when they don’t exist.

Desert camouflage

Here are some aspects of what seems, to me, to be the best qualities needed in desert camouflage pattern:

  • It seems that, in desert camouflage, the dispersing of a persons shape takes precedence over blending with the environment.  This is because its harder to make a person blend into the environment in the desert as they are standing out in the open.  But, of course, they still can’t contrast too much with the environment.  As a result, one could say that the primary purpose of desert camouflage is to break up a persons shape but in a way that doesn’t contrast too much with the environment.
  • Desert camouflage should be treated as a camouflage that is seen at a great distance.  In other words, it must be a long range camouflage pattern.  This is because, in the desert, you are generally looking at people from a great distance.
  • A desert camouflage pattern needs to be several shades of tan.  At the minimum, there needs to be at least one darker shade and one lighter shade.
  • The shades of tan should not be too contrasting.  They should be enough to tell a difference at a distance.
  • The dark shade can’t be too dark.  This is because there are not too many dark shades in the desert.  To have a shade that is very dark will make you stand out more.  In many respects, the purpose of the dark shade is to give a contrast with the lighter shade.
  • There needs to be minimal shapes.  This is because there are usually minimal shapes in the desert.  In many ways, the main purpose of the different shapes, and shades, are to break up ones shape in the desert.
  • The shapes cannot be small.  Small shapes don’t have any effectiveness in the longer distances seen in the desert.
  • The best pattern type, it seems to me, would be the ‘dispersed’ pattern’, ‘blob pattern’, or the ‘geometric pattern’.  Again, their shapes cannot be too small.
  • Sometimes a simple khaki would be best for some situations.  In some areas, though, that would make you stand out like a sore thumb because you are a “blob” of khaki.  Because of this, its probably best for a good general desert camouflage to have several shades of tan to break up ones shape.
  • The effectiveness of desert camouflage is extremely varied, as it depends on the terrain, making it difficult to develop a general camouflage.  This difficulty is caused by the fact that a person, in the desert environment, is standing out in the open.  As a result, the effectiveness is very dependent on the terrain.

It seems, to me, that there is too much emphasis on trying to blend the person in the environment in desert camouflage.  If anyone has seen soldiers in desert situations its quite apparent that no pattern really works that well, unless the environment just happens to fit the pattern, and how often does that happen?  It seems to me that, in desert camouflage, there needs to be more effort to find ways to disperse the persons shape, if that is even possible.  I often think that this may not be as easy as it sounds.  The reason is that, in the desert, one is usually looking at people at a great distance when a person tends to be small.  This “smallness” does not allow enough material for a pattern that will be distinct at a distance.  Any pattern, despite how well it works at closer ranges, will just blend into one color at longer distances.  Perhaps what’s needed is a compromise.  A pattern that disperses a persons shape at, say, up to 100 feet or so.  Beyond that distance it blends into a color that somewhat matches the environment.  This is what I called ‘perspective camouflage’ above.  In this way, it seems that desert camouflage needs a pattern that has a ‘perspective’ effect with multiple effects at different distances.  I’m not sure if something like that could be created though.

The desert situation is particularly difficult because there are many types of environments.  In this way, we really should not speak of a “desert pattern” but something more like a “desert terrain patterns”.  Examples of terrain patterns would include:

  • Sand pattern.  This would be for a terrain like a sand dune.
  • Sand/rock pattern. This would be where there is a mixture of sand with rocks scattered about.
  • Sand/grass pattern.  This would be where there is sand and grass
  • Sand/bush pattern.  This would be where there is sand with small bushes scattered about.
  • Rock pattern.  This would be where there are primarily rocks scattered about.
  • Colored pattern.  This would be where there are specific types of colors that are unique to that terrain, such as reddish, rust, or brownish colors.

No single “desert pattern” will be able to encompass all the terrains of the desert.  Because of this, I think that the idea of a single “desert pattern” is unrealistic.

Digital camouflage

Personally, I don’t see the value of digital camouflage.  I’ve seen them and I don’t see what would make them better than any other camouflage.  In fact, they look less effective to me.  The problems I see with the digital pattern include:

  • At a distance, the colors tend to blur into one color or turn into a ‘blob’ of colors.  In this way, it often wouldn’t be a whole lot of different than wearing a single colored uniform.  I’ve seen guys wearing it in the desert and you can often make out their shape very distinctly unless their surroundings exactly match their colors.  In the woods they often have the appearance of a blurry ‘blob’ of colors in the middle of the woods.  Its like watching a science fiction movie where they blur the monster for effect, whereas the surroundings is crisp and sharp.
  • The digital pattern also seems to have no, or low, dispersing quality.  Of all the camouflage pattern I’ve seen it probably has the least dispersing quality.  Because of this, it is lacking in one of the purposes of camouflage (the ‘dispersing effect’).
  • The digital pattern makes the shapes ‘fuzzy’ at a distance because of the jagged edges.  This makes the person look out-of-place and can make them stand out.  This is because shapes do not appear ‘fuzzy’ in the real world.  As a result, seeing them makes them more obvious from the rest of the surroundings.

My nickname for digital camouflage is the “blur camouflage” because, to me, that’s what it looks like, a blur of colors.  The problem is that a ‘blur’ is not normally seen in nature.  As a result, the ‘blur’ of this camouflage tends to make a person stand out or so it seems to me.

The only time digital camouflage seems to work is in certain desert terrains.  In some terrains it can be quite effective.  This seems to be in terrain that consists of sand and small pebbles and rocks.  But in most other desert terrains its no more effective than any other desert pattern.  In woodland environments it does not seem very effective.  This is because you have a ‘blur’ of colors in amongst leaves, branches, etc. that have sharp and distinct edges.  To me, this makes them a little more noticeable.

I have often wondered if the “blur” of digital pattern may have a ‘dispersing effect’.  I believe it does in some situations.  It seems that it does not have a natural dispersing tendency.  That is to say, it does not ‘lead the eye’ or anything like that.  It has a dispersing quality if the environment it is in is somewhat blurry.  In this way, it “blurs” the person into the background.  The only environment that displays this is in some desert, or even arctic, environments.

What pattern would I choose if we were at war?

In woodland situations I would prefer a ‘dispersed pattern’.  I would probably want either British DPM or Dutch DPM.  The problem that I often see with these is that the colors are often too dark but if they are not too dark then I think I’d use one of them.

I’m undecided on desert camouflage.  To me, there is no desert camouflage that I would say is the best.  I think the terrain will make a major factor in which pattern would be best.  I would prefer to have something with different colors to help break up my shape.

SUBJECTIVITY IN CAMOUFLAGE

It seems, to me, that the effectiveness of a camouflage pattern is not a science and is very subjective.  Some things that effect this subjectivity include:

  • Different cultures – For example, some cultures may have a knack at seeing people camouflaged . . . a culture that lives in the woods will probably make out people in camouflage more easily than a culture that lives in the city
  • Different social conditions – For example, people in the military will see people in camouflage easier than a group of politicians.
  • Different mentalities – For example, a hunter may find it easier to find someone hidden in camouflage than a person who has never hunted.
  • Some people can see things easier than others – I know some people who can spot a deer hidden in the woods while driving . . . and no one else in the car can see it.  This suggests that some people have a knack at finding people in camouflage whereas other people do not.
  • Different conditions – For example, the stress of combat may make it harder for some people to see people in camouflage.
  • Different circumstances – For example, when they test camouflage patterns the people doing the tests are “looking for what’s camouflaged” and, as a result, they are more likely to see things when they wouldn’t see it in normal conditions.
  • If a person likes a specific camouflage pattern – If a person likes a specific pattern then they are more likely to find that “it works”.

A good example of this subjectivity are numerous cases I’ve recently seen with digital camouflage.  I’ve seen people rave about how great digital pattern is as if its the best pattern ever.  But what I see is a greenish ‘blob’ (for woodland) or a greyish tannish ‘blob’ (for desert) which makes them stand out like a sore thumb.  I’ve even caught myself saying “that’s awful . . . how can they even call this a camouflage pattern?”  But, yet, these people are saying how effective it is!

I once saw an instance where there were two guys laying in the brush, one with digital pattern and the other with flecktarn.  They remarked that the digital pattern was better.  But, from what I saw, the man in digital pattern stood out like a sore thumb.  He looked almost like he was wearing nothing but a solid dark green uniform.  The flecktarn at least somewhat blended into the brush with its varied colors.  Situations, such as this, showed me that different people see camouflage in different ways.  What was effective for one person wasn’t effective for another.  Its because of things like this that I get that saying of mine:  “the effectiveness of camouflage is in the eye of the beholder”. 

If this is true then it may mean that, though the pattern may appear effective to us, it may make us stand out like a sore thumb to the enemy!  This means that we may not be as camouflaged to the enemy as we think.  This brings up an interesting point:  the only way to develop an “effective camouflage pattern” is to find out what is “camouflaged” to the enemy.  This is because of the subjective nature of camouflage.  In other words, an “effective camouflage pattern” is not what is camouflaged to us but what is camouflaged to the enemy.  It doesn’t matter what we see . . . it matters what the enemy sees.

A psychology of camouflage

What all this suggests is that there is a psychology of camouflage.  Its not just a matter of “what works”, as if each person see’s camouflage in the same exact way.  Instead, there are variations in how people see camouflage.

Things that may affect how a person sees a person in camouflage include:

  • A persons ability – some people have a knack at seeing things that are camouflaged
  • Experience – this may help some people to see camouflage
  • Intentions – a person who isn’t looking is less likely to see someone in camouflage than a person who is deliberately looking
  • The situation – a person who is preoccupied with other activities may find it harder to see someone in camouflage than one who isn’t
  • Stress – some people may find it harder to see people in camouflage in combat situations because they are too stressed but, for other people, the stress may give them the impetus to see people in camouflage

What all this shows is that there are variations in the effectiveness of camouflage depending on the person and the conditions.  Because of this, there can never be a “perfect” or “best” camouflage pattern.

The problem of testing camouflage patterns

Because of all this subjectivity, and variation, any “scientific testing” to determine the “best” pattern isn’t quite as scientific as it may seem.  One could probably say that any testing of camouflage patterns is a reflection of the people doing the test more than the effectiveness of the camouflage.  There is probably something like a bias in testing.  This is because of things such as these:

  • The mindset and mentality of the people . . . they are “trying to be scientific”
  • The procedure they choose to do . . . different procedures may probably yield different results
  • The fact that they are deliberately looking . . . this makes them “over look” to see the camouflage, so to speak
  • The conditions seen in the test are not what’s seen in combat
  • The testing does not take into consideration the variability in peoples ability to see camouflage

THE MEANING OF “EFFECTIVE CAMOUFLAGE”

The fact that there are so many patterns, many of which may not seem effective, shows that an “effective camouflage” may not be as important, or as critical, as it may seem.  It seems that the effectiveness of the camouflage pattern may have more to do with its purpose than anything else:

  • General purpose camouflage.  It seems, to me, that we may be overthinking “effective camouflage”, at least for general purpose.  I would be inclined to say that any pattern that has a multitude of colors, and which somewhat resembles the environment, may be just as effective as any well thought out or researched pattern when its going to be used for general use.  It will be easily manufactured, easily supplied to all the soldiers, something they will all wear, and will reasonably do its purpose.  My personal feelings is that general purpose camouflage is not meant to “completely hide” the soldier but, rather, to “make him more difficult to see”.  I have not seen any general purpose camouflage pattern that “completely hides” the soldier unless the pattern just happens to match the environment . . . and that’s a rare event.
  • Special purpose camouflage.  In more specialized situations it may be beneficial to use more thought out and researched camouflage patterns that is specific to the environment and conditions that it is going to be used in.  Because of this, the intent of special purpose camouflage is to “completely hide” the soldier as much as possible.  This means that it will not be something mass produced but will be dictated by the conditions they will be under.  They may use the mass produced general purpose pattern underneath but it will more than likely be covered by something like foliage, netting, a ghillie suit. etc.  In this way, a special purpose camouflage is probably not going to be a printed pattern at all nor will it be standardized.

The “better” camouflage

It seems, to me, that one cannot say that there is a “best” camouflage pattern for general purpose.  This is because any single pattern cannot possibly fit in all the different environments and be effective for all people.  It would probably be more accurate to say that there are “better” patterns.

One factor that makes a pattern “better” is how many people if affects.  Its a “better” pattern if many people find it “hard to see” the soldier.  Its an even “better” pattern if most people find it “hard to see” the soldier.  Because of the subjectivity in camouflage its probably almost impossible to make a pattern that works for most people.

Another factor that reflects a “better” pattern involves location.  Its a “better” pattern if it fits in the environment where they are located.  Its an even “better” pattern if it fits in a multitude of other environments as well.  A camouflage pattern that fits in a multitude of other environments is more difficult to achieve and, in a way, is one of the great challenges of a general purpose camouflage pattern.

The importance of the ‘dispersing’ effect

It seems, to me, that because no single pattern can fit in all environments, it makes the ‘dispersing’ effect more important.  This is because, when the pattern does not fit the environment, the ‘dispersing effect’ will help camouflage the person.  In this way, the ‘dispersing’ effect helps compensate for the failing of the ‘blending’ effect This is why I tend to think that a “better” pattern must have a dispersing quality and not just blend into the environment.

WHY DO COUNTRIES USE THE PATTERNS THEY USE?

I’ve always wondered why certain countries use certain patterns. Many patterns, I think, have almost no camouflage value at all but, yet, they are continued to be used.  I think there are a number of factors for this:

  • They use a specific pattern because they identify themselves with it and its a means to tell who they are.  It’s sort of like how football teams each has its own color, allowing everyone to know who is who. The pattern tells what side they are on.  Because of this, they are not necessarily using the pattern for camouflage purposes.  Some countries, for example, use a desert camouflage that is nothing but a variation of their woodland camouflage, often exchanging different colors of green with tan.
  • Some countries choose patterns as a measure of some form of a solidarity I’m not sure but I often thought the East German strichtarn or rain camouflage was actually taken from the Czech strichtarn, after the Berlin wall went up, as a measure of solidarity.  Strichtarn, frankly, has almost no camouflage value at all but yet East Germany used it for most its history.

100+ Czech Rain Pattern ideas in 2020 | rain, czech, camo

Czech strichtarn camouflage

Strichtarn

East German strichtarn camouflage

  • They use a pattern that situation gave them . Many countries after WWII, for example, continued to use Nazi derived patterns because it was an available pattern.
  • Some patterns aren’t necessarily thought out but is something someone came up with, often out of necessity.  Because of this, it is something available for them to use.
  • Logistics, as mentioned above, influences the type and number of camouflage patterns.

Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Camouflage, Other stuff, The military and war and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Some thoughts on camouflage

  1. Heinz says:

    ” Strichtarn, frankly, has almost no camouflage”

    Are you sure? Do you know a study?

  2. Matt says:

    An interesting observation me and some mates made , while out in a high land bush area in Australia.–The guy with the “aus-cam” 9Australian military cam) outfit stood out badly –the uniform really “glowed” in the surroundings we were in. The greens were far too bright . The guys with light grey button up farm work shirts , faded blue jeans , or faded Australian vietnam khaki army pants with ramdom thick strips of charcoal rubbed on , and old “Driza – bone coats – waist length or full riding length blended right in. The black stripes blended with the shadows and burnt tree trunks in recovery , the light blue or khaki seemed to absorb colour and light , blending in with the tall eucalyptus tree trunks.

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