Camouflage is one of nature’s most incredible and effective methods of defense. If a hunter can’t see the prey, the prey can’t be eaten.
And as humans aren’t naturally blessed with such techniques, they quickly realized the animals were onto something and developed their own methods for blending into the background.
If the enemy can’t see you, the enemy can’t kill you.
In this article, we take a look at the different types of camouflage patterns for military and tactical use.
How and where are they used? Who uses them? How effective are they? And would they fool you?
Read on to find out.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases if you shop through the links on RiflePal. For more information, read full disclosure here.
- Different Camo Patterns – The Quick Version
- What is Camouflage?
- Military Use
- Types of Military Camouflage
- The Future of Camouflage
Different Camo Patterns – The Quick Version
While there are many variations of camouflage, you can group them into “families” to keep things simple. They include:
- Chocolate Chip.
- US Woodland.
This list is not exhaustive, but you should read on to discover more about each camouflage family, including which military uses what.
What is Camouflage?
Camouflage comes in many forms, but its essence is described as using actions, devices, and/or materials in order to conceal, disguise, or mislead.
You only have to look to the animal kingdom for some incredible examples. The stick insect, the flatfish, the arctic hare, and – everyone’s favorite – the chameleon.
We’ll come to the different military camouflage patterns in a moment, but first, you should understand that there are some 20 forms of camouflage techniques.
And all of them have been used at some point or another for military purposes. While we don’t have the time to go into them all here, below you’ll find a selection of the most common.
The type used depends entirely on the environment and surroundings.
Concealing coloration/color matching – using colors that resemble the background, such as sand-colored desert fatigues in Africa during WW2.
Disruptive/high contrast coloration – high contrast color patterns that break up outlines, making objects, people, and animals difficult to see. A leopard is a good example (which also uses countershading camo).
Self-decoration/disguise – using available materials within the environment to disappear. For military purposes, the perfect reference is the sniper in his Ghillie suit.
Mimicry/mimesis – copying something else that isn’t of any use to a predator, or observer. Many insects, such as moths and butterflies, use this technique.
Seasonal variations – If you’re wearing desert camo in the arctic, you’re asking for trouble.
The snow-colored uniform is the answer. Some birds and animals also change plumage and fur depending on the season, such as the arctic fox.
It’s not always about what we see, as camouflage can be masking how we smell, too. Essential for throwing someone or something off your scent.
While camouflage techniques are as old as the hills, and their history and evolution is as long as it is fascinating, it has only been a topic of interest to us, humans, for the past century, or so.
And who is most interested in nature’s ability to hide and conceal?
Not the biologists.
Not the zoologists.
You’ve guessed it – the militaryologists…
(That’s not even a word).
You might think that armies and fighting forces have used camouflage techniques since Adam was a lad, but in fact, it wasn’t until the 18th Century that rifle units began wearing drab clothes to blend into their surroundings.
And it took the advent of the First World War for the technique to be used on a larger scale when the French used it as a means to conceal equipment.
Interestingly enough, the word “camouflage” comes from the French “camoufler,” which means to viel, or to disguise.
It is now classed as a form of Military Deception, and today, there are several different camouflage patterns in use by the fighting forces of the world.
Types of Military Camouflage
There are over 50 names or codes for military camouflage – far too many to go into here – and they vary depending on the country that uses them, and/or the theater in which they’re used.
Military camouflage patterns also differ when the design is used on different units. A fighter aircraft is going to be different from an infantry, for example. A naval vessel from that of a tank.
You’ll find them called things like – TAZ 90, M84, M81, and splittertarnmuster…
But they all come under one or more of the following “camouflage families.”
We’ve included the most common/most recognizable patterns below. (If camouflage is allowed to be recognizable!)
Also called multiscale camouflage, digital designs are recognized by the pixelated effect – although not all multiscale camo uses the technique. It’s designed to give the wearer disguise over multiple distances.
The Canadian armed forces were the first to use the pixelated design, but it’s arguably most well-known as the Marine Pattern (MARPAT) of the US Marines, first issued in 2002.
Think Minecraft, and you’ll be on the right lines.
Developed by the US in 1971, this design is so-called because of its distinctive “cookie-dough” appearance, which US soldiers identified as being similar to the rocky deserts of California.
It’s most famous for its extensive use during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, and like many camouflage designs, its popularity stemmed from regular coverage on our TV screens at the time.
Today, it’s used by several South American countries, as well as Niger, and Kuwait.
United States Woodland
When you think of traditional military camouflage, it’s likely that the large, overarching woodland family will come to mind.
Issued to the US armed forces in 1981 as part of their iconic Battle Dress Uniform (BDU), it has multiple variations and is used by a large percentage of countries worldwide.
And it was the design of my first camo pants when I was about 11-years-old. I was so cool.
And speaking of camo pants, you’ll find this design – or variations of it – on some of these awesome tactical pants with knee pads.
Also known as Rhodesian brushstroke, this design is so-called because of its large brushstroke sweeps, and the fact that it was first used by Rhodesian Security Forces in 1965.
Although it was recognized as being one of the most effective disruptive camouflage patterns available, it wasn’t adopted by the US Marines because they wanted something more distinctive.
(I’m not sure if that’s the point of camouflage, though…?)
Of German origin, flecktarn uses a mottled, leopard-skin effect and is also classed as disruptive camouflage. The word itself is derived from the German fleck (spot, blotch, pattern), and tarnung (camouflage).
The five-color pattern is popular with the military of around 16 countries today, including Russia, France, and Turkey, and can be modified to suit a variety of conditions and environments.
Also known as “duck hunter,” it was the US military’s first attempt at a disruptive camouflage pattern for use in the Pacific back in 1942. It is identified as a mottled pattern, and shares similarities with flecktarn.
In the past, it has also been used by Afghanistan, Australia, and South Vietnam in the Vietnam War, but its prevalence today has somewhat waned.
Unless you happen to be hunting ducks.
Staying with the Vietnam War, tigerstripe camouflage was developed during this period for close-range use in a dense jungle environment, showing up (or not) between 1962-63.
While its original place of origin is unknown, it was adopted by several Asian countries, recognized by the distinctive tiger coat pattern that it’s named after.
Lizard camo is in the same family and shares similarities, and I believe that tigerstripe was originally derived from the reptilian pattern first used by the French in 1947.
Disruptive Pattern Camouflage (DPC)
Sometimes known as Disruptive Pattern Material, this is another iconic design extensively used and developed by the British Armed Forces.
The US Woodland pattern, and other woodland camo, are derived from DPC.
Woodland DPC is usually a combination of four colors, while desert DPC can be two to four. The DPM is also widely used in fashion and can come in any number of variations and color schemes.
Adopted by the Belgian military in 1958, puzzle camouflage (also known as a jigsaw) is unique in the sense that I believe they are the only fighting force in the world to use it, with perhaps one or two previous exceptions.
Originally designed for Special Forces and paratroopers, the Belgian army rolled it out to the rest of their military, with an updated version released as recently as 2016.
One of the older camouflage patterns, the splinter was developed by the Germans in the late 1920s and is one of the more striking designs out there.
It utilizes sharp lines, hard-edged polygons, and angles for a disruptive style, and is primarily used today by the Swedish Armed Forces.
Splinter is particularly effective in temperate forests, thanks to its four main colors of dark green, medium green, dark navy and light beige – although other colors have been used for desert and jungle use.
Another over-arching camouflage pattern family, Multicam has been designed for use in just about any environment, hence its name. It was created and produced by Crye Precision, which happens to be one of the best tactical gear companies in the world.
Debatably, Multicam isn’t a camouflage family on its own, and is simply a variation of woodland camo; but it’s so popular and widespread today that we should give it the recognition it deserves.
Introduced around 2002, it has an almost global adoption rate, thanks to its versatility and effectiveness.
It’s also highly popular for civilian use, and you’ll find it in products like some of these awesome paintball pants, for example, as well as airsoft counterparts for MilSim games.
Also known by the German name of Strichtarn (line camouflage), this pattern was developed by the Germans between 1965 and 1990. You’d likely see it if you happened to live in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
It also saw use in other countries behind the iron curtain, including Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria, but is in limited action today. It’s particularly effective against night vision devices, and you can follow that link for more info on such tech.
Of course, not all camouflage is for out in the wilderness, with law enforcement personnel requiring a tactical urban design in order to blend in with the concrete jungle.
And black is always in fashion, after all.
These tactical pants for women offer some excellent examples, and many of these tactical jackets use more muted color schemes for universal application in the city and great outdoors.
The Future of Camouflage
When it comes to our next step of evolutionary camouflage, the dream is to be able to have the technology to appear as if we’re not even there at all.
James Bond’s invisible V12 Vanquish, anyone?
The Klingon cloaking device?
The one ring to rule them all?
And while this ability is, at the time of writing, the work of science fiction, fantasy, and terrible 007 scriptwriters, making “ghost soldiers” is something that the military is very, very interested in.
Even as we speak, dedicated camouflage scientists are working hard to find next-gen techniques to make the soldiers of the future all but disappear.
And I wouldn’t like to bet against them.
What is the most effective camouflage pattern?
It’s a question that the scientists behind the world’s fighting forces have been striving to answer for over 100 years, so I doubt I’ll be able to come up with a solution here.
However, both Multicam (woodland) and MARPAT (Marine Pattern – digital) are arguably at the cutting edge of modern camouflage techniques.
But don’t forget, it depends entirely on who or what you’re trying to hide – and where.
How do I make a camouflage pattern?
Great question – and it’s one for the artists out there. In fact, in the early development of military camouflage, the French and the Germans employed painters to come up with effective designs.
Check out the video below, and maybe you can create a next-generation design that is snapped up by the military.
There are many different types of camouflage patterns, each with its pros and cons, depending on the environment and the situation they’re used in.
Keep in mind, different shemagh colors can also provide camouflage in some scenarios.
I hope this article has been entertaining and informative, and you’ve learned something about the techniques the military use today.
Drop me a line in the comments with any thoughts on the topic. Do you wear camo? Which do you think is the most effective? Where do we go from here?
Stay safe out there!