Camouflage is the art of going unnoticed. In the natural world, animals have employed camouflage, or cryptic coloration, as long as there have been predators and prey. The most simple form of camouflage is called background matching. An arctic fox or a polar bear blend into the snowy background. A shark's white underbelly blends in with the brighter sea surface when seen from below, while its dark topside blends in with the ocean depths when seen from above.
Another camouflage tactic - and one that would greatly inform human camouflage - is disruptive coloration. You might not think of the bright stripes of a zebra as camouflage, but since zebras are herd animals, all those bold stripes dazzle the eyes and make it hard for predators to focus on one target. Tigers’ bright orange and white stripes might seem to highlight their presence, but to color-blind prey, the stripes cause their vision to slide right off a tiger stalking forward through the undergrowth. Similarly, a leopard's spots confuse the eyes as they lie motionless in wait for a tasty morsel to stray a bit too close.
Military Camo Pants and Camo Jacket Designs
Humans, likewise, have always employed various strategies for going undetected, while hunting and on the battlefield. The roots of camouflage run deep into prehistory, but modern camouflage really started developing in the mid-1800s with khaki and drab, simple tan and green canvas clothing worn by soldiers to blend in with the backgrounds of arid desert land and verdant jungle. Prior to this, soldiers considered it more important to be able to recognize one another as being on the same side to avoid friendly-fire incidents (hence the infamous Redcoats). Variations of the simple brown and green earth tone uniforms became the norm through the first and second world wars, but after that, the military science of camouflage really took off.
We’re all familiar with the quintessential green, brown, and black patterns of US Woodland and Vietnam-era field dress. The blotchy, irregular patterns mimicked a stalking tiger’s ability - adapted to the color-noticing human eye - to hide amidst a moving and changing landscape. Designers looked at the subtle ability of animals to use color to disrupt the visual tracking of predators and prey, but the problem with classic military camouflage came from these very splotches - which themselves are solid patterns that can be tracked with a careful eye.
This problem was solved brilliantly with MARPAT (okay, the Canadians beat us to it with CADPAT), replacing the previous splotchy patterns with pixelated “digital” coloration that further broke up the camo pattern so that even looking right at it, the eye gets confused and can’t nail down a solid shape to follow. This was huge, a real game-changer in camouflage technology, and it wouldn’t be long before civilian hunters began incorporating these pixelated micropatterns into their hunting trips.
Finding the Right Hunting Camouflage Pattern
For modern game hunters, the basic idea of visual camouflage remains the same as for soldiers, but the devil is in the details. Ancient game hunters were probably more concerned with smell rather than sight, remaining upwind to avoid alerting prey to their presence and masking their scent with mud, plants, or animal urine. Visual hunting camouflage differs from military camouflage in the same way that animal vision differs from human - and the way animals’ vision differs from each other.
In general, predators are more likely to see color than prey animals, who see in an extremely wide field of view but in less detail and with fewer colors. The most commonly hunted animals in North America, ungulates like white-tailed deer, have about 20/40 vision, compared to human 20/20, and they see mostly in grayscale, with some blue and yellow-green, lacking the trichromatic range of color humans see. But! They have a 280-degree field of view (compared to humans’ 120-degree field), so it takes very little head movement for them to stay aware of the full 360-degrees around them. As any hunter can tell you, deer are very careful creatures, and they monitor that space around them vigilantly.
Waterfowl, on the other hand, while sharing deer’s wide field of view, have much sharper vision and see color even better than people. However, they’ve got poor depth-perception and don’t see the edges of things very well. This affects the types of camouflage a hunter will want to use when pursuing these animals.
Another thing to keep in mind when outfitting yourself with camouflage is the region in which you’ll be hunting. Broadly-speaking, North America can be divided into four regions. In the forested North, you’ll tend toward camo that mixes light and dark green and brown swatches. In the South, darker camo is preferred to blend in with the lush greenery. In the West - the most difficult region to get a good bead on camouflaging needs - the open spaces and direct sunlight favor lighter greens and tans, and you want to be particularly careful of reflective surfaces. As for the East, think of this region as the all-purpose blend of the other regions - browns and tans, light green and dark green all come into play.
Some more complications! Be aware of the changes of the season during the time you’ll be hunting. Early hunting season has much more greenery than late season, as the leaves turn and fall, leaving behind bare branches. Will you be moving or stationary? In nature, stalking predators like tigers favor macro patterns, large patterns of stripes and the like that - like the zebras mentioned above - break up their body’s outline as they move against the background. Ambush predators like leopards utilize micro patterns like spots that enable them to get lost in the dappled light as they lie in wait for their prey. Modern hunting camo should emulate a combination of those two approaches.
When shopping for camouflage clothing, you’ll hear a lot of specific terms to denote different styles of camo (heads up, I’m about to use a bunch myself). But the bottom line is to visualize yourself where you’ll be hunting. Will you be using a deer stand? You’ll be parked right next to a big tree trunk, so you better think about matching up with that as well. Hunting waterfowl? Plenty of camo emulates the reeds and cattails at the fringes of ponds and lakes, and if you’re going to be in a duck blind, I hope you’ve strapped some of that stuff to your blind to break up its edges and outline.
Sitka Gear and Optifade Digital Camo
So, now that we’ve breezed over the basic principles, let’s dive into some examples of good, recommendable camo hunting clothes. Looking at the lineup at OutdoorEquipped.com, you’ll see that camo clothing comes in two basic approaches. Probably the most common type of hunting camo out there is Mimicry camouflage. These are your Reeltree and Mossy Oak patterns, emulating the woodlands by depicting leaves and sticks and reeds right there on the clothing.
I want to focus on the other type today. Disruptive or Break-Up camouflage is much more abstract, following the lead of sharks, tigers, and modern military camouflage with pixelated “digital” designs that combine macro- and micropatterns to break up any hint of outlines on or around your body presentation. Rather than trying to hide your presence, this “Nothing” camouflage instead fools animals’ eyes into not registering you even when they’re looking right at you.
Sitka Gear specializes in ultralight camo clothing and gear, and they make some of the best out there utilizing disruptive camouflage techniques tailored to a variety of hunting settings. The company was founded in 2005, after a hellish mountain hunting trip during which the founders were subjected to cold snow and wet sleet that their hunting clothing was ill-equipped to deal with. Upon their return, they set out with the mission of “Turning Clothing into Gear,” ready to meet all the needs of hunters - light, quiet, tough, warm - and undetectable.
Hunting With Disruptive Digital Camo
To achieve this last goal, Sitka Gear has embraced Optifade disruptive camouflage technology, which they incorporate into all their designs to cover a range of local needs. Take their CORE Lightweight Long Sleeve Shirt, a moisture-wicking shirt useful as a standalone early-season top for warm weather or as a base layer for later in the season. The abstracted design of its Optifade Open Country badlands hunting gear pattern speaks directly to the way ungulates like deer and elk see, using broken up patterns of tan, brown, green, and black and large neutral areas to render you invisible amid ground-level rocks, brush, and trees in the more bright and open mountainous terrains in the Rockies and the American West.
Compare that to this Mid-Weight Zip-T Fleece. Designed for more variable temperatures and wet conditions, it zips up high to cover up your neck and regulate temperature, and this model’s Optifade Waterfowl camo leans more into the tans of wetland reeds and cattails. Compared to the larger neutral areas of the Open Country pattern, this camo pattern has to contend with a high-contrast environment with more light and shadow and prey with sharper vision, so it favors more micropatterns to hide you from waterfowl circling overhead, presenting to them a safe place to land so they’ll lock up those wings and come in to rest in the water nearby. If you’re hunting fowl in a more forested environment, the Optifade Timber pattern is what you want to look at. This Core Lightweight Hoodie uses it to superb effect. Lightweight enough to be used during early-season hunts, it nonetheless allows you to cover up, with a moisture-wicking hood and ultra-breathable mesh camo face mask. The Timber camo pattern is much darker than Open Country or Waterfowl, playing on the shadows of autumn woodlands and designed to trick the sharp eyes of fowl both overhead and at ground level.
Best for lowland forests and greenery is the Optifade Subalpine pattern. Sitka Gear’s wonderfully-versatile quiet and water-repellant Traverse Pants and warmer late-season Mountain Pants highlight the strengths of this equally-versatile camo pattern. You can see it’s much heavier on the greens than the above examples, and it’s designed for bow-hunting and masking your presence in the woods for closer-in engagements. For most hunters east of the Mississippi, this is going to be an excellent go-to pattern for hunting season, working well in a variety of terrains.
Another good go-to pattern, especially for bow-hunters utilizing tree-stands, is the Optifade Elevated and improved Elevated II patterns. As we discussed above, being up in the trees presents its own set of challenges, as you need to blend in particularly well not just with the leaves and twigs of the forest but with the big trunk of the tree you’re sitting in. Covering up with the phenomenally-quiet and fantastically-warm Fanatic Jacket in the Elevated II pattern is not only going to keep you visually and sonically hidden as you twist around in the stand to get a clean shot, but it’s going to keep you nice and warm in the later season as that cold wind cuts through the increasingly bare treetops. Elevated II breaks up your outline against tree trunks, sky, and the undersides of autumn foliage as it changes throughout the season, working equally well at short and long ranges.
Attention to Detail - Camo Hat, Hunting Boots, and Sound/Scent Reduction
All of these camo patterns are fitted to broad categories of environment. When choosing camouflage for yourself, it’s important to visualize yourself in the terrain you’ll be working, and choose your camo dress accordingly. If you favor mimicry camouflage like Realtree and Mossy Oak Bottomland camo and the like, these are fine choices. The best hunting boots are much easier to find in mimicry camo, for instance. My favorite boot makers, LaCrosse and Thorogood, make warm comfy options decked out in mimicry camo. The Thorogood 17-inch Infinity FD Rubber Hunting Boots are available in both Reeltree and Mossy Oak patterns. They’ll keep your feet warm and dry anywhere you hunt game, and the deep lugs in their outsoles will keep you stable on your feet as you move. LaCrosse’s Alphaburly (similarly available in Reeltree and Mossy Oak) fit super-securely and breathe like a dream. If you go with mimicry camo, just remember to match all the parts of your outfit, as for some animals the mixing of patterns will be enough to spook them. Alerting one animal to your presence can put everybody on high alert. A deer’s tail goes up in alarm, a duck takes to the sky in panic, and suddenly you’ve got to wait it out while every animal within a half-mile returns to calm. Personally I think the disruptive Optifade patterns - combined with Sitka Gear’s durable workmanship and attention to detail, keeping their hunting clothes quiet with the right materials and keeping you warm with the right breathable insulation - make their lineup hard to beat.
Don’t forget your head and belongings either. Sitka Gear has great camo hat and camo backpack designs and you don’t want to let details like that give you up. In addition to cutting-edge visual camouflage, don’t forget the tried-and-true methods of ancient hunters. Keep a finger to the wind and be mindful of your own man-made scents (the best hunting clothes will minimize these, but your own stinky body is your business). Keep quiet - adequate insulation and comfortable gear will minimize your tendency to shift and fidget unnecessarily. And most of all, be patient. Channel your inner leopard or tiger and wait for that opportune moment. From everyone here at Outdoor Equipped, happy hunting!