In Plain Sight: The Evolution of Camouflage

Camouflage was first developed in the 19th century when firearms became increasingly prevalent as well as increasingly deadly in their accuracy and range on the battlefield. Plus warfare itself was changing with the introduction of guerilla tactics, which utilized ambush as opposed to both sides marching towards each other in a firing line. So soldiers needed something to “hide in plain sight” essentially to not only remain undetected by the enemy for safety reasons, but to also launch surprise attacks.

Camouflage patterns sported by the United States Armed Forces have changed over the years. In this article, we’ll take a look at the history and function of some of the most recognizable camouflage.




The Tigerstripe pattern was first used by French forces during their war with Vietnam, and it was later adopted by the Vietnamese Rangers and Special Forces. Tigerstripe was not initially an official United States issue, though when we began to send advisors to South Vietnam those affiliated with the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) were allowed to wear their Tigerstripe uniforms bearing US insignia. Pretty soon several American Special Forces units began to wear Tiger Stripe, and the pattern subsequently became a trademark of Green Berets, LRRPs, SEALs and other elite forces. Today, Tigerstripe remains in service with the US Air Force for garrison use.



Woodland Camo is identical to the ERDL pattern used by US Armed Forces up until the early 1980s, but enlarged with redrawn borders to make its splotches less regular and thus more effective in concealment at long distances, though the enlargement also gave the pattern a high-contrast which made it more noticeable at close ranges. Woodland was utilized by the Army, Marines, and Air Force up until 2006, while the Navy still continues to use it today especially amongst the elite SEAL teams.




Digital Camo replaced Woodland and proved much more effective due to the disruptive quality its pixilated pattern provides, with each block printed in various sizes and designed to conceal the wearer at two different scales as opposed to the one that earlier camouflage offered. During testing it was found that a target wearing the digital pattern took 2.5 times longer to detect, and was 20 percent more difficult to recognize. The USMC continues to sport Digital Camo today, called MARPAT (short for “Marine Pattern”).



The first kind of desert camouflage is the Six-Color type, otherwise known as “chocolate chip camouflage” due to the clusters of black and white spots amidst the swaths of green and two bands of brown. Six-Color Desert Camouflage was widely used by US Forces during the Persian Gulf War, though it wasn’t as effective as it had originally been intended to be, and was later replaced with the 3-Color type which featured large pastel green and tan shapes with reddish brown patches, also known as the “coffee stain” pattern.



First developed in 2002 for the US Army, Multi-Cam is a seven color pattern designed to operate in a variety of environments, featuring a background made up of brown to light tan gradient interspersed with lime green blending along with green and dark brown with light pinkish splotches throughout. Multi-Cam was initially intended to replace the 3-Color Desert and Woodland patterns sported by the Army, though was set aside in favor of the Universal Camouflage Pattern (Digital Camo) in 2004. In 2010 however the switch to Multi-Cam was made with it being run under the name Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern (OCP).




The the Scorpion W2 camouflage pattern is slated to replace both UCP and Multi-Cam by the summer of 2015 as the US Army’s official uniform under the name Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP). Scorpion W2 is very similar to Multi-Cam in appearance and its ability to conceal the wearer in any environment, though since the Army owns the licensing rights for the pattern it’s a lot cheaper to print, making it readily available to outfit large quantities of troops quickly when the time comes.

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