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“Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.” - Sun Tzu, the Art of War
Formlessness is the endeavor of every ghillie suit user. Detection of any kind can tip the scales of success and failure plummeting into failure’s favor. Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese war strategist, wrote that in order to directly control the fate of one’s opponent in battle you must be unseen and unheard. Even in the annals of ancient warfare the need for stealth was emphasized.
Today, personal concealment and camouflage relies heavily upon a working compromise created by printed camouflage fabric in order to overcome the drawbacks associated with ghillie suit use. But why a ghillie suit at all? With its added bulk, weight and potential fire hazard, are there any justifiable reasons for employing the use of a ghillie suit?
The answer is an unequivocal yes.
History of modern warfare has proven ghillie suit effectiveness on both sides of the battlefield. Better concealment than that offered by standard camouflage apparel can give one a tactical advantage; greatly increasing successful mission outcomes. While warfare technology and personal detection advancements such as FLIR (Forward Looking Infra-Red) and thermal imagery have been used with great success to detect and reveal troop movement, the ghillie suited soldier or operator can still reap the benefits of stealth movement. The ghillie suit is far from the fabled cloak of invisibility, but it’s tactical stealth advantages certainly should make it desirable to have in one’s arsenal.
Buy or DIY?
Material technology has reduced a good portion of the associated drawbacks of a ghillie suit to a more manageable or tolerable level. Now it boils down to the not so simple question of “Do I buy a ghillie suit or make my own?” If you have more money than time, or access to a government agency expense account, there are manufacturers available to make a custom ghillie suit to your exact specifications. But why not make your own suit?
The advantages of constructing your own ghillie suit begin to yield useful results that will sharpen fieldcraft skill-sets almost immediately. The information you learn from scouting an environment makes you a better, more skilled hunter or tactician. Studying information about the vegetation in the area also gives clues regarding diet, habitat and territorial range aiding those in wildlife photography or animal research.
A main drawback to pre-made suits is that they usually come in only two different environments depending on the suit manufacturer. Most environments have a predominant color and many pre-made suits still cannot accurately match that color. While color is very important, avoid getting too caught up with the colors at the expense of texture. Texture often provides subtle color nuances. Examine the surrounding vegetation and landscape. Pay attention to the textures and shapes. Ask yourself what textures can be adapted into your suit.
Based on your data determine whether strands or strips of material or a combination of both will make your suit the most effective. Lack of texture is the major downfall of all the inexpensive, Chinese-manufactured ghillie suits. These poorly performing suits incorporate only a synthetic burlap material and provide no means of attaching additional fabric or vegetation of any kind.
Ghillie suit construction is a skill that can be easily learned. We’ve all learned how to tie simple knots, identify/mix different colors and recognize plant shapes. These three skills are the heart and soul of ghillie suit construction. Proper fieldwork is a necessary task if you’re making a custom ghillie suit. Your fieldwork research, photos and notes will assist with the basics of color matching.
- Take a notepad, a pen, a camera and even a deluxe box of colored pencils
- Make your observations based on the approximate time of day you plan to use your ghillie suit
- Go out to the woods, grasslands, desert plateau, wherever you plan to use your suit and observe the coloration with your own eyes
- Varying degrees of natural light cause photographs taken at dawn to differ in color and contrast from those taken in the morning, at midday, mid-afternoon, and dusk
Even if you supply the information to a custom manufacturer, it doesn’t reduce the need on your part to have accurate descriptions of the environment. Custom ghillie suit manufacturers thrive off the perception that it is too time-consuming for the average person to construct a quality ghillie suit. There is no doubt about the amount of time needed to assemble a ghillie suit, but the advantages of three-dimensional camouflage will far outweigh the hours you will put into the project. This is why I make my own ghillie suits and provide consultation and instruction for others to do likewise.
Most people find themselves in the “more time than money” category. Therefore, the major contributing factor affecting the decision to construct a ghillie suit is the price. High quality manufactured ghillie suits are expensive because they are labor-intensive with no fast, mass production methods to drive down costs.
Making a custom suit puts you in charge of deciding what options you put on it without having to pay extra for those items. Constructing your own custom suit gives you options and a tactical advantage. If you are using the suit for hunting, the addition of a recoil pad pocket may mean the difference between a clean kill, a wounded animal or a miss. The addition of a hydration pack or mesh vents may provide you with the added comfort required to stay out in warmer climates longer than you could without those modifications. In wet environments, waterproofing areas of your ghillie suit that come in contact with moisture can help you stay dry. If a different type of situation or environment presents itself, you can modify your suit without having to return the garment to a manufacturer to make the changes or ordering another suit.
Another great aspect of making your own ghillie suit is that you decide where something is tactically and practically functional for you, not where someone else thinks it would be functional for an average person. After the amount of time and money that you will put into constructing your custom ghillie suit, you’ll also feel a new level of excitement in the activities you utilize your new ghillie suit. Your suit will become part of you, another aspect of your fieldcraft skill-set and a useful tool in your arsenal regardless of the chosen application.
In the next article, we’ll introduce and illustrate some ghillie suit designs that are inexpensive, lightweight and allow for tactical movement.
Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Matthew Dermody of Hidden Success Tactical Concealment as a contributor on ITS Tactical. If you would like to learn about personal camouflage, concealment fieldcraft or even more information about ghillie suits, check out hiddensuccesstactical.com
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Forget ever buying one, it'll never be perfect. I made one a few years back for paintball (I know people say you can't use one in paintball, they aren't worth the drawbacks, i beg to differ). Mine was very distinct then most since I had my vest, pb mask, and I'd like to play a few games more aggresivly where a ghillie suit would suck.
I ended up making my vest -which holds ammo, air, landmine, and radio; we aren't the normal paintballers- fully ghillied. The main material of the vest is a very heavy duty mesh, making it easy to simply zip tie most of the camo material down. The large pockets on the front got some black paint to tiger stripe 'em and break up the pattern a bit, later I stitched a netting onto them so I could add foliage on the spot. The back was more interesting. I proceeded with the same tactic of zip tying material to the upper portion(I live in Puerto Rico and the terrain is very predictable, so I made it accordingly. the netting on the front allows me to fine tune on the spot). But the lower back has the pod packs and air tank pouch. So I got a thin sheet of realtree camo and stitched it across the top so it'd go over it like a veil. I also stitched a same sized piece of netting to it and tied more material to it. The top of the air tank's valve comes out the center when you fold it down, and then the rapped hose goes out under my arm.
The vest done i then did the jersey. Since I wear it under the vest I only needed to do the sleeves, armpits, and what would later look like a beard when you wore it without the vest. It's a digital type camo that's a bit on the green side on a very breathable material. The jersey having holes, made zip tying convenient and durable. The material I used was a combination of materials from old camouflage clothing; strips of realtree mesh, old battered camouflage pants, and camouflage netting. Nothing was cut straight, and you'd be hard pressed to find a straight line anywhere.
I slacked off on the pants, just using a pair of realtree mesh pull overs that already had texture. They are pretty dark in color but it works since I'm normally sitting or in a similar position when needed. I attached a bit of the green/brown camo netting I had to the lap and thigh area so I'd have more of a gradient when standing(surprisingly effective).
The mask is my crowning achievement. The pair of realtree pants I was using originally had a jacket with hood, these were chopped up in the making of the whole suit. I had cut the whole hood off the jacket, and by stitching netting to it, zip tied it to the mask. This gave me full coverage of the back, top, and some of the side of my head, it didn't hamper putting the mask on either. The hood originally came with a very thin black mesh piece to cover the eyes, I attached this under the sun shade of my mask, allowing me to fold it up for clear, unrestricted vision but fold it down to cover lens glare if I was going into a CLOSE encounter. The cheeks and mouth of the mask simply had material zip tied on.
The gloves were black thin work gloves with fine netting stitched to the back an material zipped on. And the rifle rag was the back of the realtree jacket modified to go around the gun and hold on with an elastic; It had additional material added and was easy to remove and put on.
I didn't use any burlap fibers or strips as are common. Everything across the suit was cut leaf like and ragged. Being a four piece suit actually made it easier to work with. Since I always used the mask and vest in any game, all I had to do to go into a big woodsball game was put on the jersey and pull on the pants. It is an incredibly effective suit and I've had many encounters to prove it. One game ended with a few guys from my team and myself, and the last man on the other team also came with a suit, but one of the more fibrous ones. We had about 3 acres, It ended with me walking up behind him. Favorite tactic has to be advancing full sprint about half way up the field, finding a spot and shoving some shrubbery on, then allow the enemy advance to pass me (in coordination with the rest of my team, I'd be on the weak side), then moving in behind.
Great timing, I've been thinking about making one after seeing John Hurth dressed for success at Muster 2.