note: article first appeared in October 2015
I have read many purposes and definitions of camouflage, but I think they miss the mark, the “real” mission. Obviously you can tell the various explanations for camouflage were written by some very intelligent folks, a few PhDs in there for sure. And undoubtedly more than a couple generals made their contributions to the official definitions. But I don’t agree with any of them.
So here is my mission for camouflage –
“To stay alive.”
Sorry if that is a bit let down to you, but I am sincere in that mission statement. Now, in all fairness, let me explain the next part of that. There are only two functions that come out of that mission statement.
- Defensive – To remain undetected so animals can’t kill you while avoiding contact with said animals.
- Offensive – To remain undetected so you can render said animals lifeless.
Yup, no other reason or purpose for camo than that. Right?
OK, maybe one other reason…”tacti-cool.” Yeah, you want to look really cool so you wear a camo hat, t-shirt, or your truck is painted camo. Hence, now you are a cool kid if any of that applies to you…tacti-cool.
But, back to a more serious note…what is the true purpose of camouflage? It is to keep you alive. If the animals can’t see you, they probably can’t kill you.
Oh, “animals” can apply to whatever you wish to define it as. I am talking about bad guys being animals. You may wish to modify that to whatever makes you happy and your situation applicable, 2-legged or 4-legged.
There is a whole lot of information available to how camo works and how it applies to humans. But let me boil it down for you to make it a lot easier to understand.
Humans are both prey and predator in the animal kingdom. We both hunt and we are hunted. Over the generational history of humans we have experienced gene perfection as both prey and predator. One obvious sign is the placement of our eyes, facing forward. Simple eye placement gives us the ability to have depth perception. Don’t discount our peripheral vision though, it’s pretty dang good as well.
There have been studies done that test how our brains “look” at scenes. Basically, humans search for bright colors and movement. We also have built into our genes a predisposition to recognize certain shapes. Not surprisingly, the shapes that catch our attention the most are those associate with other predators. And at the top of that short list of predators are the shapes associated with humans. Yes, that means that humans are the most common predator of other humans.
“Foveal vision” is the human eye looking for fine details. That process occurs in the center of our gaze. Details get lost in our peripheral vision the further away from the center of our gaze. Our gaze jumps around more than you think. And eventually is drawn to the most detail-rich areas within our field of vision. That occurs because it is simply the most interesting area to look at. But our eyes will scan the areas that attempt to put together a “story” of what is happening. We’re instinctively looking for a narrative.
Sound a little like Situational Awareness (SA) stuff?
Let’s put that to the test for a moment –
Example #1 – We are in downtown New York City, Wall Street to be exact. It is 8:30am on a Tuesday. What would you expect to see?
Now, you are told to look for threats. Would you be able to “see” every man and woman walking the streets around you?
Now, what if you saw a man dressed head to toe in camouflage clothing carrying a back M-16 rifle? Would they stand out? Would your eye be drawn to him pretty quickly? What if he were standing in a crowd of say 50 people waiting to cross a street?
Why would he stand out? I mean, come on, he’s dressed in camo, right…when everyone else is dressed in civilian clothes. He would be the most “interesting” to gaze upon.
Example #2 – We are out in the forest in Colorado. It is 8:30am on a Tuesday. What would you expect to see?
Now, you are told to look for threats. Would you be able to see every hunter in the forest? Now, what if you saw a man dressed head to toe in a $1,000 suit, white shirt, yellow tie and carrying a black M-16 rifle? Would they stand out? Would your eye be drawn to him pretty quickly? What if he were standing in a crowd of say 50 people waiting to cross a stream? Why?
Think “narrative.” In NYC you expect to see people dressed for business. In the forest you expect to see people dressed for hunting. Your mind will try to create a story based on where you are and what you expect.
So how do you defeat, or more appropriately, overcome, how a person commonly “sees”?
Well, before we get to that let me mention one more thing…shadows. In testing associated with how people view pictures, art, and scenes around them, it is pretty conclusive that people look in shadows last and not for very long. Why? It is boring. Yup, it’s not very detail-rich so the human eye tends to simply skip those areas.
Defeat being spotted –
OK, so back to how we defeat being spotted. Remember, in our scenario being spotted is also dying.
Yeah, I forgot to tell you, I am talking today about the most extreme of examples…grid-down.
So, how do we avoid being spotted?
It goes back to Situational Awareness (SA) and the OODA Loop (Observer-Orient-Decide-Act). Having good SA and staying inside of your opponent’s OODA Loop is how you win (i.e. you don’t die). < click here to read more about Situational Awareness >
Here is the set-up…
- It is grid-down. Society is a mess, lawlessness in the rule of the day.
- You are out looking for places to set your snares (24-hour hunters).
- You are in the woods and by yourself. You are armed with standard battle-rattle, but you are alone.
- You hear people coming. You are sure that they haven’t seen you yet.
- They are heavily armed and you have no doubt they are bad guys.
- They are looking intensely around the area, appear to be on a recon mission.
- You want to avoid all contact, at all cost.
How do you do that?
You use the principles of camouflage and how people “see” what is around them.
That being the case, their narrative (their mission/task) is to:
- Avoid being ambushed.
- Find people and/or food.
You apply the principles you’ve learned so far to stay outside of their narrative. Your narrative (your mission/task) is:
- You don’t try to be a predator and you don’t try to ambush them. So you don’t take a predator posture.
- You also want to avoid looking like prey. They are predators looking for prey. So you don’t run, that creates movement, which is easy for them to spot.
So, now that you have that part under control, what are some more things to do, or not to do?
- You stay out of their “Foveal Vision.”
- As slowly as possible, meld into shadows as much as possible.
- You don’t have any noticeable fine details for their eyes to focus on. Yes, that means you are wearing camo clothing.
- You stay motionless.
And the whole no “fine details” thing is where camouflage clothing comes into play. So what does camo clothing accomplish?
- Breaks up any human shapes and forms by applying random non-detail patterns to your normal human form.
- Further breaks up your shape by introducing shadows.
- Continues to break up your shape by adding random applicable colors to your shape as well.
Right about now you should be thinking that wearing the appropriate camo clothing should be a pretty high priority. And you would be 100% right in thinking that. But make sure we are talking the same thing…I am talking real camo clothing.
What is “real” camo clothing? Or more entertainingly, what is “fake” camo clothing?
I am going to take the easy way out and tell you, “It is whatever camo clothing that is appropriate and applicable to your situation and environment.”
Yeah, a cop-out to be sure, right? Well, maybe not.
Here are some of the most popular camo patterns…
The actual “how To” –
What I can do is go through the process that I used for choosing the right camo clothing for my situation and my environment. When you are done reading, and if I have done my job correctly, you will know how to figure out what is the right camo clothing for your situation/environment. You will have learned the assessment process.
So let me use visual examples as reference. Below is an example of the environment around where I live. And there is a man standing in that environment about 30 yards away from the camera. He is dressed in rather normal street clothes. How does that work out for him?
How about with the typical t-shirt?
Given the surrounding environment in the picture, what did you mind expect to see?
Now, why is the man so easy to spot?
Tomorrow I will go into detail on how to turn this man from easy-to-spot prey into………
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