If you’ve played for more than a few weeks of airsoft, you’ve almost certainly seen some camouflage on the field. Maybe you thought it looked impressive, or maybe you thought the folks wearing it was a little nerdy to be pretending they were soldiers. Either way, camouflage is much more effective when used skillfully, and can be applied to a number of different tactical situations as a tool to obtain the advantage. By working to understand the mechanics of camouflage and how it can be properly chosen for various environments, you can not only keep yourself hidden, you can work to try to develop your own eye for spotting camouflaged opponents
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Why Should You Use Camouflage in Airsoft?
A while back, I heard someone at an airsoft field talk about why he thought most airsofters use camouflage, and he seemed to have a pretty good understanding of the subject. When we were chatting, he listed three main reasons: that camouflage looks cool, that it makes for a good team uniform, and more rarely, because it was a useful tool for concealment on the airsoft field.
Obviously, camouflage is awesome. A lot of airsoft is about looking like the real-deal, else we’d be playing paintball, and camouflage battle dress is a lot more authentic in feel than a tee shirt and cargo pants. In addition, for the milsim nerds, camo is pretty much necessary for replicating a particular military kit. Indeed, there’s nothing inherently bad about using something because it’s cool, to be sure, but that’s not the focus of this article.
Every team needs a uniform! Football would be immensely confusing if everyone wore plain white jerseys and helmets, and the same goes for airsoft. Being able to visually identify friend and foe at a glance is vital, especially when you’re slinging plastic at long ranges or in conditions of low visibility. Wearing a team camo is a good way to signal affiliation in airsoft without attracting the same sort of undue attention, say, a full ‘49ers getup might. Again, though, it should be self-explanatory as to how a team can all wear matching gear to a game, and you definitely don’t need an article about that.
As for the last point, that camouflage can prevent your opponents from noticing you or make it harder to hit you, that’s what this article is mostly about. By having a good understanding of what various patterns of camouflage do, and by being able to identify not only when a camouflage-patterned uniform might be effective but also which ones work best in context, a player can more effectively use stealth as a tool in game, and that is precisely what these next couple of sections will cover.
How Does Camouflage Work?
There have been hundreds of experimental and implemented camouflages developed over the past century, both by militaries and private contractors. Despite this bewildering variety of patterns, it’s easy to break down the basic characteristics of a camouflage. Any effective personal camouflage, whether for airsoft or for military use, will combine two characteristics: replication and disruption.
Have you ever seen the idea of a stealth field in science fiction? From the Predator’s active camo to the cloaking field on a Romulan Bird of Prey from Star Trek, sci-fi is rife with the idea of an invisibility device that can make an object appear transparent. In effect, this is what the replication principle of camouflage hopes to accomplish: to replicate what is behind an object on its front, so that an observer is fooled into thinking there’s nothing there but more of the same. A real-world example is Realtree, the hunting camouflage that consists of photorealistic images of deciduous forest in fall, designed to mimic near-perfectly the environment most hunters in North America will find themselves in.
The takeaway from this is that an effective camouflage has to, at least in part, resemble the background environment. Both color and pattern are important elements of this.
From a long distance, color is the most important aspect of replicating the background. The human eye has impressive visual fidelity, but it tends to be unable to cope with small details much out past 500 feet. When in partial concealment, an airsofter wearing a close color match will likely escape detection (and a rain of BBs) where someone in a poor color, like a light tan in a forest, may take a couple hits. Only rarely is it a good idea to take, say, a majority-green camouflage, such as the 1980-1990s US military camouflage M81, and put it into play in an arid or desert region.
From shorter distances, the pattern comes into play as well. In environments where shade is highly present, particularly in forest or jungle, having strong vertical patterns is ideal. Tigerstripe camouflage, of the sort, used unofficially by SEALs and LRRPs in Vietnam, has strong black stripe “highlights” to blend with this sort of jungle lighting. In environments with less geometrical regularity, avoiding direction on a camouflage pattern lends versatility whether standing or prone; ATACS-type camouflages, with the random digital generation of patterns and gradual fade between colors, work well in these more-homogenous environments.
Why do zebras have stripes? Certainly, it doesn’t help them blend in with their surroundings. The actual answer is because it helps disrupt their silhouettes when they’re with a herd; this means that predators struggle to determine the number in the herd, gauge their speed, or to differentiate a single animal from the pack, making it harder for them to select the weakest or oldest to focus their efforts on. Even though zebras are highly visible, their disruptive patterns make them inherently harder to attack, and camouflage can serve the same purpose for humans too.
In personal camouflage, disruption is the job of the patterns of contrasting color on the clothing. The higher the contrast, the better, so long as the contrast still stays within the overall color palette of the environment. Humans are very good at developing heuristics for finding other, hidden, humans, so long as those humans still have the shape and size of humans. By employing disruption techniques, the hidden individual can make themselves look less like a human silhouette, concealing their size, shape, and outline, and thereby making themselves harder to detect.
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What Camouflage Should I Use?
Below is a short list of regions of the United States and the common, easily found camouflages that work well in each. Even though you may be in one of these regions if you’re playing in a field where the colors differ from those of the recommended camouflages, pick a camo better suited to your particular environment!
- Pacific Coast, Southern: Multicam Standard, ABU, ATACS, ATACS-FG,
- Pacific Coast, Northern, Forest: MARPAT, M81, Flecktarn, Desert DPM
- Southwest, Arid: AOR-1, 6-Color Desert, ATACS, MARPAT Desert
- Central Plains: Multicam Standard, 3-Color Desert, AOR-1, ATACS, ATACS-FG, ABU (rarely)
- Midwest, Forest, Deciduous: M81, ERDL, Tigerstripe, MARPAT, Flecktarn
- East Coast: M81, ERDL, MARPAT, Flecktarn, DPM Standard
- Southeast: M81, ERDL, Flecktarn, Rhodesian Brushstroke and derivatives
Camouflage for Airsoft Final Thoughts
The nice thing about camouflage is that it’ll never hurt your chances of remaining hidden unless of course, you buy some of that terrifyingly pink “Realtree for Ladies” lifestyle stuff. The best way to get a feel for which camo patterns work is to look up some images, maybe see what stuff is used at local fields, and visit some surplus stores to get an idea of price. If you’re like me, you’ll develop a couple camouflage uniforms that can be used for most different environments, and you’ll also start to enjoy learning about the history and intended use of many of these amazing patterns! Thank you for visiting iamairsoft.com! For great products and more information about the game, check out our Airsoft Buyers Guides and Airsoft U!
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Noah Mains is a writer, an airsofter, and most importantly, he’s stuck in the 80s. From Colt SMGs to David Bowie to brick phones, he has an acute appreciation for the greatest decade, and is more than happy to share his enthusiasm for the ALICE gear system (the superior loadout, of course) with anyone who’ll listen.