Camo Patterns and Their Origins
Camouflage print is instantly recognizable as being part of a military uniform. This is true all around the world, as it is the best method for troops from any nation to blend into their surroundings. Nowadays, camo patterns are becoming increasingly popular, having spread to prom dresses, jewelry and even wedding gowns, but where did it all begin?
Origins of Camo Patterns
In America, camo patterns were first introduced to the military at the time of the First World War. Initial designs copied from European militaries were supposed to resemble foliage, and one design was made specifically for hiding in trees. However, camo patterns were not widely used until the Second World War, around 20 years later.
When it was introduced on a much larger scale, the camo print was brought in very quickly. 150,000 uniforms were requested by General D. MacArthur, and they were distributed in August of 1942. Primarily used by the U.S. Marine Corps (as well as the U.S. Army, to a much lesser extent), the uniform was reversible, having a ‘jungle’ pattern on one side and brown ‘beach’ design on the other. A similar double sided camo pattern was also printed onto waterproof fabrics, to make ponchos.
There was limited use of a leaf print camo pattern in 1953, with some clothing being worn during the Vietnam War. It was commonly known as the ‘wine leaf’, or ‘vine leaf’, print, and was once again reversible – this time with a ‘cloud’ pattern in different shades of beige and brown. These patterns were used for shelter covers, as well as for helmets towards the end of the decade.
Development of Camo Patterns
The camo pattern which was developed in 1948, shelved and later reintroduced in the 1960s, gives us the first glimmer of the camo print which we know today. The pattern was made up of patches of grass and lime green, with brown shapes and black ‘branches’, and eventually earned the nickname of ‘flower power’ fatigues. It is still copied to this very day, and variations can be seen worn by militaries all over the world. A variation of this camo pattern was printed in mostly brown colors, which was most suitable for mountainous or rocky areas.
Once the war in Vietnam came to an end, the use of this camo pattern diminished, although the U.S. Marine Corps still used it. It was not until the late 1970s that camo patterns were reconsidered for military uniforms, so the ‘Hot Weather Uniform’ was born. It reused old camo print fabric with the last pattern, although the colors did change slightly while in production.
This pattern was developed further in 1981, to become the ‘Woodland Camouflage’ pattern that is still known and loved today. The pattern was 60% larger than before, although the colors remained pretty much the same as they had been – a combination of brown, black, light green and dark green. Initially the pattern was designated as the standard dress uniform for both combat and everyday wear for the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps, but by the late 1980s it had been rolled out across all branches of the U.S. military.
When the operations known as Desert Shield and Desert Storm began in the early 1990s, for the first time there was a real need for the U.S. military to have a camo pattern suitable for desert wear, rather than just the ‘jungle’ pattern. The pattern that uniforms were made of comprised wave type shapes in sandy brown and beige tones.
Modern Era Camo Patterns
Digital camouflage is a relatively new invention, as it only came into existence less than 20 years ago. The Canadian government wanted its Marines to wear a distinctive uniform which was different from the other branches of the U.S. military, so they used computer algorithms to come up with a pixilated pattern. Three MARPAT designs were produced, so called because they are ‘MARine PATterns’.
In 2004, the U.S. Army brought out its version of the digital camouflage pattern, which was, in fact, just the same as the Canadian version, but in a different color. The idea behind it was to create a single camouflage pattern which could be worn by soldiers in any situation, regardless of the environment in which they were working: urban, desert, or jungle. However, this technique has not proved successful at all as it seems only just to be ‘adequate’ as a measure of camouflage in any one of those settings.
The MultiCam pattern is the camo print which is most widely used in the U.S. military today; it has been issued to various military personnel, including the U.S. Special Forces, and all ground troops who are deployed to Afghanistan. It was introduced just four years ago in 2010, and is copied all around the globe.
The U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy also have their own designated uniforms, although it was only in 2002 and 2007, respectively, that these were introduced. The U.S. Air Force settled on a ‘Digital Tiger Stripe’ pattern, and five years later the U.S. Navy introduced a uniform which has come to be known as the Navy Working Uniform Type I, or NWU-1. The difference with the naval camo pattern in comparison to other branches of the military is that it is not intended to camouflage the person wearing it, but rather it is designed to hide oil spills, paint and stains, which are all part of the job.
Discontinued Camo Patterns
Over the years there have been several rather unusual camo patterns used by the U.S. military, such as the ‘chocolate chip’ pattern which was designed in 1971. Intended for use in rocky climates, it was made up of brown shapes over a tan colored background, with a sprinkling of small shapes in black and white which were supposed to look like rocks. Another unusual pattern was the ‘Night Desert’ print, which was created around the time of the Vietnam War. It consisted of a green-grey grid with several small green spots arranged on top and was supposed to camouflage wearers from special Soviet night vision equipment. However, it failed miserably and was short lived as the night vision technology was far too advanced.
Of course, while camo patterns have been developed, there have been several designs which the military experimented with, but were dismissed along the way. Some of these include patchy brown and khaki fabric covered with well-defined green spots, a very simple pattern mostly in grey (termed the ‘urban MOUT pattern’), and a tiger stripe pattern for the U.S. Air Force, which was predominantly blue in color.
Although the fundamentals of U.S. military camo patterns have remained the same since they began around 100 years ago, the designs themselves have gone through quite a number of changes and developments. As technology is improving and we are constantly finding new ways to keep troops safe and hidden from threats, who knows what the next camo pattern will be?
Tyler has over ten years of experience in the military and tactical industry. The son of company founder Steve Berg, Tyler grew up assisting with the business and absorbing everything about the industry. Having recently graduated from college with a degree in Business and Communications, Tyler has joined our team full time. Follow Tyler as he shares fresh perspectives on everything from military history to cutting edge tactical gear.