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Camouflage and Concealment: The Art of Staying Hidden

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Urban Camouflage and Concealment

It makes me laugh when I see a lot of SWAT Teams and PSD guys wearing Tactical Black and other colors that look cool but do nothing but make them stand out. In reality black is one of the worst colors to wear. Ask yourself, what is black in nature? Look around you and what in your surrounding’s are black? I expect very little… In urban areas most walls are white, gray or cream… Light colors! The colors you wear should blend in with your background whether its day or night.

At night dark colors stand out, especially when moving past light backgrounds and in urban areas most backgrounds are light colors. Even in rural dry areas when moving through low bush and fields the silhouettes of people in dark colors are easy to see at a distance.

You do not have to have expensive patterns to give you good camouflage and concealment, a gray dress shirt and a pair of light khaki pants is way more effective than tactical Tim dressed in SWAT black!

Movement and Rural Camouflage

Modern humans are positively disadvantaged when surviving in and moving on foot in rural and wilderness areas. Most people these days have never spent a night outside without any cover, let alone in bad weather. When you’re in the woods or bush you need to get comfortable in the environment. I remember one of my military instructors telling me that to be able to fight in an environment, you must first be able to live comfortably in that environment, and this is true. If you’re having difficulty living day-to-day how can you operate?

Camouflage your face, neck and any areas of the exposed flesh with mud, ash or charcoal from fires. Or use a balaclava or scarf to cover your face and wear gloves.

You need to start using all your senses as the animals do, learn to identify sounds, smells, movements and what they mean. You need to especially be able to identify things associated with people, like foot prints, cigarette stumps, broken twigs or foliage, fences, straight lines, domestic animals, aircraft, vehicles, talking etc. Think about human smells like fires, food, fuel, human waste and tobacco; if your senses are sharp in bush or wooded areas you should be able to smell or hear people before you see them.  When moving you must do so quietly and regularly stop to look, listen and smell for any indication of people. If you identify people in your proximity are you going to take cover, evade or ambush?

You should always consider camouflage and wear clothes that blend in with your environment, in urban areas wear light blues and grays in rural areas browns and greens. As I have said before there is no need for military camouflage clothing as this will just draw attention to yourself.

Basic field craft, things are seen because of these reasons: Shape, Shadow, Silhouette, Shine, Spacing & Movement.

  • Shape: Disguise your shape; use foliage or rags to break up your outline.
  • Shadow: Keep in the shadows and always be aware that you are not casting a shadow that could be seen by your opposition.
  • Silhouette: Don’t stand out against skylines, lights, white walls, etc.
  • Shine: No chrome, shiny watches, mirrored glasses, sparkly jewelry and the like.
  • Spacing: If moving with others, remain spread out, but not too regularly and do not bunch together.
  • Movement: Move carefully, as sudden movement draws attention and is the main reason camouflaged personnel and animals are seen.

The basic guidelines for camouflage are

  • Learn to blend in with your surroundings.
  • If you are using foliage to conceal yourself or your position don’t use too much or too little.
  • If you are in a long-term hide remember to keep your camouflage fresh, dead foliage will alert people to your position.
  • When moving avoid skylines.
  • Don’t use isolated or obvious cover; it’s the first place others will look. Consider hiding in thorny bushes or nettles as most people will not expect anyone to hide there.
  • Camouflage your face, neck and any areas of the exposed flesh with mud, ash or charcoal from fires. Or use a balaclava or scarf to cover your face and wear gloves.
  • Take all noisy objects from your pockets, such as keys and coins and make sure nothing on your person rattles.
  • Make sure there are no shiny surfaces on your person, equipment or clothing.

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Guidelines for Movement

You should always move quietly and cautiously and avoid stepping on dry twigs or breaking through foliage and undergrowth as this will make noise and leave an easy trail to follow. If you know you’re going to a rural area or possibly going to be in an escape and evasion situation avoid smelly foods, strong soaps and after shaves, as these will be easy to smell by those used to being in the bush. Always be careful not to leave signs you were in an area such as foot prints, broken foliage, human waste or trash.  Trash and human waste should be carried out of a hostile area and disposed of when safe to do so.

You should always move in “bounds” from one piece of cover to another. Your bounds should never be more than, say 50 yards, especially at night. When you stop at the end of each bound you should use your senses to try to detect any human presents then plan your next bound. Moving in short bounds is the safest way to move through populated areas or places there are unfriendly forces. Remember, always be prepared to take evasive action or defend yourself.

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The speed at which you travel will depend on whether it’s day or night, the type of terrain you’re in, people or police patrols in the area. Never push yourself to your limit, you always need to have energy in reserve so you can run in an emergency; tired people are also rarely mentally alert. If you must run from your opposition try to do so only for a maximum of a few hundred yards, then slow down and move quietly, cautiously and cover your any signs of your direction of travel. Do not use obvious routes, which tend to be the easiest routes to use; head up hills and into thorny areas etc.

There are no set time periods for halts but you should try to take ten minutes in every hour on long journeys. Tracks, paths and roads make for fast, easy travel and can aid navigation but can also be very dangerous as your opponents will watch them closely. To be cautious walk a few meters off to the side of any roads or tracks.  Places to expect sentries are at the entrances to urban areas, on bridges, cross roads and on high prominent terrain.

Avoid being silhouetted when crossing skylines and hills, go around them rather than over them where possible. If you need to cross an obstacle or skyline then keep low and crawl, if it’s a fence, crawl through it or under it. If you have to cut through a fence, cut through the lower strands and then disguise the hole with undergrowth or tie the wire strands back together, never cut through the top strands as this will be easily noticed.

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Moving at night

You need to learn to treat the night and darkness as your friend, darkness affords you cover. Many people are afraid of being in the dark especially in rural areas or derelict buildings; you should use this to your advantage. If you are moving you should always try to stay in the shadows, if you get caught in a beam of light or car headlights you should freeze, the chances are that you will remain unnoticed. You must have your immediate reaction drills for encountering a person, being caught in light or hostile fire at the forefront of your mind. Being caught off guard will get you captured or killed.

There are both natural and man-made noises that are useful to you because they can cover up or disguise the sounds that you make when moving. The best time for moving covertly is during bad weather; rain will cover the noise of your movement and any ground sign you leave. Bad weather also keeps people under cover, lowers the moral of those standing guard, learn to love bad weather.

General guidelines for rural movement

  • Wear clothing that blends in with local people and the terrain.
  • Do everything possible to disguise evidence of your passage; cover foot prints, never break twigs or undergrowth and repair broken foliage.
  • Avoid contact with all people unless absolutely necessary.
  • Litter, food and human waste must be buried or carried with you.
  • Learn about tracking, then you’ll be aware of what anyone following you will be looking for.
  • If moving with others spread out and when crossing obstacles such as a rivers or roads etc. take up positions to be able to give warnings of any threats that might be approaching. Also stay low move fast and cross one by one.
  • Always be ready to take cover from gunfire or people you may encounter by surprise.
  • Remember certain smells indicate human activity; odors float downhill in cool air and rise on warm air.
  • Watch for stones, leaves or logs that have been moved, the undersides of these will be darker in color and damp environments, this can be an indicator of human activity or the location of hides.
  • Always look for straight lines as they are rare in nature and are usually man-made.
  • Learn to identify unnatural vegetation, such as green leaves among dead branches or areas of too much foliage as this could indicate human activity such as hides or ambushes.

These are some basic guidelines to get you thinking, these skills can’t be learn sat in a comfy chair, you need to get out and learn and practice them. Everything I have written about here is simple and the main thing required is situational awareness and common sense!


About the author: Orlando Wilson is ex-British Army and has been in the international security industry for over 25 years. He has initiated, provided, and managed an extensive range of specialist security including investigation and tactical training services to international corporate, private, and government clients. Some services have been the first of their kind in the respective countries. His experience has included: providing close protection for Middle Eastern Royal families and varied corporate clients, specialist security and asset protection, diplomatic building and embassy security, kidnap and ransom services, corporate investigations, and intelligence, tactical, and paramilitary training for private individuals, specialist police units, and government agencies. You can learn more about Orlando and his services at his site Risks Incorporated.

36 Comments

  1. NRP

    July 29, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    Extremely good article, great information plus good examples. A MUST read
    NRP

    • Orlando Wilson

      January 23, 2017 at 7:58 am

      Cheers for the kind words!!

      Orlando!

  2. GRAMPA

    July 29, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    My question is how many of us will find ourselves in the woods. the city will be the real test to disappear. The biggest challenge will be how do you make your home look empty and looted? With an urban area the house that looks lived in will be a target. Face paint wont fix this. Any have ideas?
    Grampa

    • Madrhino

      July 29, 2016 at 7:53 pm

      I thought about this. The only answer I could come up with is to get to know your neighbors and be a value to the community. If you neighbors know you and maybe even depend on you for something (good conversation) they will feel the need to protect you and watch your back. There is safety in numbers. If you live next to a crack house, getting ready to pack up.

      • GRAMPA

        July 30, 2016 at 7:22 am

        It looks as if you have given this some thought. We are a nation divided. The divisions will cause us at times of crisis to fight each other. Our efforts wasted when the true enemy’s could be removed with a united front that could only be had by the neighbor you could trust. Government has worked hard in dividing us. With improvements in technology it has become easy for them. They have our undivided attention from media. Because we are alone other than family we have no other input or point of view to oppose our opinions. How can we know if we are right? When we are opposed and unused to opposition we become defensive and even violent. This is seen with the black who has been told their problems come from the white man. Even when no reason has been given its repetition alone becomes the only proof they need. It has taken decades and generations to bring this thought as their truth. Moving will not help. If and when crisis comes that will prevent them from having food they will also be on the move looking for food. Like the zombie they will attack with mindless ferocious needs. The human body can go without food for around three weeks before it shuts down and dies. many will find food and will take it. The dangers from organized groups will last for months until they run out of targets and disease takes them. This danger will end. The one that wont is government. Without an organized plan we have no hope but to be rounded up and put into the FEMA camps to be disposed of if we haven’t the skills needed to provide their needs and continue their rule. They have had decades of planning for this event. Can they be defeated? Yes but without organization and cooperation of our neighbors it becomes a task too large for any one man. You hve the correct mindset and would make a good leader in making the community aware and organizing what is needed when the shit hits the fan. Dont ever be distracted by the naysayers for they will be silenced when people see you are the one they must turn to. Make them listen! You CAN.
        Grampa

        • rev

          August 1, 2016 at 11:23 am

          There is no nation, divided or otherwise. There is only you and your community.

          • GRAMPA

            August 23, 2016 at 10:56 pm

            And a government that tries to divide us. A normal community can solve anything. The only way to defeat us is division. They learned this from all the socialist rulers. We will win because we are American first.
            Grampa

    • christopher

      July 30, 2016 at 7:05 am

      That
      is a tough one if you live in city. Some things you can try is to buy those
      fake window shattered glass stickers for your windows, keep old food cans and
      paper in trash can so you can toss in your front lawn at a moment’s notice. You
      can buy skunk scents from trapper companies to toss in yard. Buy fake dog poop
      and put on front porch. You can make some tattered window curtains to hang up.
      I keep about a roll of barb wire I can unroll inside entry door vestibules in
      case anybody breaks in. I would keep some 2×4 to brace any exterior doors you
      have. You can nail to floor or use stairs to brace door shut. If you preplan and
      cut them now, you can slide them in place at moment’s notice.

      • GRAMPA

        July 30, 2016 at 8:15 am

        Looks like you have given this some thought. I also have given this some thought and I come from a little different view. The human mind is repulsed and distracted by some things like a pile of shit they might step in or rats crawling around or even a good size spider in front of them. fowl orders. will also help. Windows are a weak point but if they have an oprn door they have no need to go into a window. A room that looks trashed and a pile of what looks like shit and smells like it will tell them their is nothing left to see. i made a real looking rat of some size that is triggered by the door pushed open and a delay of a second and it looks like it runs across the floor. this plus the fake shit makes the house undesirable. they wont want to stay where rats are and with a room that looks looted the need to look further is satisfied and they have little time to waste so they move on. You sound as if you could be creative. Living in a basement could produce light that is seen from the outside. covering a piece of cardboard with aluminum foil and letting it extend a quarter inch all around will provide a light tight block when pushed into the window frame. I used this when I worked the night shift and had to have dark to sleep in the day time it kept the light from getting in it will keep it from getting out. I made our stairway into the basement look like a pantry. Keep some old empty boxes of cereal and spoiled food on the shelf that distracts attention this is another place i put my fake spider web. Distraction is the key to hiding. The noise of living and the smell of food will give you away. venting out the chimney from the hot water heater flue can dissipate the food smells enough to confuse its direction. These are only a few of the things i thought of . I am sure I have a long way to go but I have a start. I have found that misdirection works better than all the locks you can put on a door. Someone will find a way past. Good luck with your planning and post your Ideas for We all could use the instructions.
        Grampa

    • Bolofia

      August 23, 2016 at 5:57 pm

      Get out of the city. Problem solved.

      • GRAMPA

        August 23, 2016 at 10:59 pm

        If you are out of the city you will have many who will be armed and will try to take what you have. They will ruin everything that they cant eat.
        Grampa

    • John Bowie

      August 26, 2016 at 11:59 am

      In urban areas, depending on the circumstances of course, it may be best to “blend in” with the locals, if possible. There was an OSS training manual from WWII that covered disguise techniques, I’m pretty sure it is still available. Of course this will not always be possible. I just came across a news clip a couple of weeks ago about an SAS team of six dressed in burkas and making a successful hit on ISIS leadership (Who Dares Wins), and they all escaped successfully. So, anything is possible, your imagination is your limit. DOL

    • Brian Blankenship

      August 26, 2016 at 11:27 pm

      Make it not worth their time. If they can’t break down yer door or get through your windows most looters will go somewhere easier. So the answer is, reinforce your home if you don’t have a safer place.

      • GRAMPA

        August 27, 2016 at 8:48 am

        to reverse that logic if I a hungry and a place is secured there must be a reason. If they think it means food they will burn your house down to get what is in it. Hunger will make people do crazy things. I plan to make the house look looted.so they wont waste time. Will it work we wont know until it happens. Who will survive? the bum who was living on the street and will eat anything. If it happens we are all in for a rough time.
        Grampa

      • GRAMPA

        August 27, 2016 at 4:27 pm

        I am against gun control but the control of a well aimed shot would discourage them enough to look elsewhere.
        Grampa

        • Brian Blankenship

          August 27, 2016 at 6:02 pm

          Got to be careful though. You could introduce a variable you did not foresee. Unless its an obvious foreign invasion in general you never want to be the first to shoot unless you have a clear advantage over a group.

          • GRAMPA

            August 27, 2016 at 10:12 pm

            the problem of not getting the first shot one might not get to shoot at all. That is why you practice as a marksman so the first shot lessons your opponents by one which leaves them in shock long enough to lessen them by another one. that starts to sway your advantage. Waiting for the other guy to shoot first is like a dual. the odds are not good you will win. Wait just get a grenade.
            Grampa

            • Brian Blankenship

              August 27, 2016 at 10:38 pm

              If you’ve been found and you know their hostile sure, but if they don’t know you are there then why announce your self? And, when its a high stress situation, all your range training doesn’t mean jack. You may not hesitate on the range but when its life or death and you’re about to take another life, will you freeze? Will you hesitate? Panic? If you aren’t trained tactically in a stressful environment your actions in the heat of the moment will be unpredictable. Need more than range training if you think there’s a high probability that you’re going to get in a gun fight later down the road.

              My usual advice to others is to avoid a gun fight at all costs unless your life is in immediate peril and its the only way out. Looters trying to break in yer house isn’t that situation. If you fortified yer house than you don’t have anything to worry about.

              • GRAMPA

                August 27, 2016 at 10:45 pm

                at seventy five I have had plenty of target practice. what I dont have is time to hesitate. if the bullets dont get me time will.
                Grampa

  3. Madrhino

    July 29, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    Great article but I have a different take. In a urban environment the best way to stay hidden from urban predators is look to look like you belong and have nothing of value. In a grid down scenario the poorer you look the better. I suggest work pants or old jeans and a beat up back pack. Look like you are just some guy in the hood getting home and just as poor as everyone else. Of course avoid people and confrontations.
    I read a article by a make up artist that worked for the CIA in the 60’s through 80’s. He helped get people in out of countries by making them look as average or as ugly as possible. Bad breath, pretending to have lice and other things. No tuxedos or tactical gear, just old clothes bad complection.

    • Brian Blankenship

      August 26, 2016 at 11:42 pm

      This. I used to deliver pizzas. I was one of the only drivers that would actually deliver to bad neighborhoods (such that it’s basically not a surprise to see cops around in force. One apartment complex I went to, pretty sure the cops had to shoot someone as there was a gunshot not too far away). All the drivers at my store had been robbed at some point and we slowly blacklisted all the bad places, except for me. I was not afraid to operate in those areas. The key is to not look weak. Walk like you belong there, and be attentive. Most robbers won’t bother if you look aware, most. In a collapsed society, you will have the looters and marauders. Marauders wont care much and if you aren’t one of them chances are blending in won’t work and theyll target you regardless.

  4. Mike Lashewitz

    July 29, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    I live in SC. I think the term “HOT AS HELL” was invented here. Regularly temperatures in the high 90s with the humidity gives a heat index of 108 and higher.

    SWAT team colors and gear will cause them to fall out fairly fast. Not a good choice.

  5. Bammajamma Nondeplumeron

    August 7, 2016 at 8:36 am

    “At night dark colors stand out”? That’s simply not true.

    • Gus Mueller

      August 7, 2016 at 1:31 pm

      Yes it is. It’s a negative silhouette.

      • Bammajamma Nondeplumeron

        August 7, 2016 at 1:40 pm

        Dress all in black and go for a bike ride tonight, see how that works out for you.

    • Bolofia

      August 23, 2016 at 5:59 pm

      Re-read the article.

  6. Paul nmn

    August 7, 2016 at 9:14 am

    Black is worn to intimidate, provoke dread, not to hide but infact to stand out for those reasons. “We are from the government”, it says. Black SUVs, big hulking dark inpenetrable windows, containing all your darkest fears. Disable all your resistance, surrender and as ISIS, and the Jolly Roger, the Black signifies DEATH and that they will take no prisoners! Surrender or DIE.

  7. IMHO

    August 7, 2016 at 9:51 am

    I couldn’t read the whole thing when the first thing I read is a lie. Black is not the worst color for camo. Black is quite effective for camouflage. My black cows are some of the hardest to see in the woods or shadows and at night black is best. So the blanket statement that black is the worst color for camo just puts me off. There is a reason that for thousands of years Ninjas choose to wear black.

    And you say this: “At night dark colors stand out,”.?????????? Yea, OK, I don’t think I will be taking advise from you.

  8. cretins

    August 7, 2016 at 10:47 am

    Ninja’s dress in black…nuff said.

  9. per sigurd hansen

    August 10, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    very good article,and glad that my love for taking “bad weather” pictures and stargazing turned out to be a great advantage:)

  10. Bolofia

    August 23, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    Orlando,
    Contrary to the negative comments about black as an effective camouflage color, I concur with you 100%. I suspect that some of the negative comments were from skim readers, or folks who simply lacked the reading comprehension skills or basic experience. The human brain is programmed to recognize the shape of other humans, and motion against a static background (where there is a contrast of color) is a dead giveaway. That’s a fact.

    Most of my experience is based on Southwest (US) desert bush work. Neither I, nor anyone I work with, would ever wear black for the simple reason that oncoming headlights would produce a high contrast silhouette at night. During daylight hours, black outfits simply don’t fit in with the local surroundings.
    Overall, I find your article to be highly informative and completely accurate. Well done, sir.

    • Orlando Wilson

      January 23, 2017 at 8:03 am

      Everyone has the right to their opinions…. Even in urban areas where there are light colored backgrounds black does not work…. Nothing in nature is black….!

      Cheers,

      Orlando

  11. Brian Blankenship

    August 26, 2016 at 11:24 pm

    I disagree about the SWAT statement. SWAT ain’t trying to hide, they’re there for the shock and awe and there ain’t nothing more intimidating than black clad figures crashing through yer doors and that’s the point. Police and Military are two very different machines, it’s kinda hard to compare them. Anyhow, good read. I agree with most of this. One aspect that was left out was hiding from FLIR or other thermal devices. If you suspect the use of FLIR use, this is the time to set fires around your AO and use that camo thermal blanket you hopefully have stashed. Both will obscure goggles and UAV from finding you with thermal imaging and even nightvision if you use enough fire.

  12. Brian Blankenship

    August 26, 2016 at 11:47 pm

    Also l, have to say that black is good camo at night and this article is wrong. God knows how many people I’ve nearly ran over at night that were walking in the road wearing all black. Driving is my job, so I can tell you with fact that black clothes at night is the best for camo.

    True tho that black makes a good contrast when walking past a light colored building but consider this. Normal camo you’d wear in urban environments will contrast at night when say, out in the open like a field etc, so it goes both ways.

  13. Patriot

    August 27, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    Good basic information, but the advise to use mud as a camouflage is so inherently flawed. Most mud contains bacteria and other pathogens that can easily be caught if gotten into eyes or open wounds. Secondly, the assertion that “Black” does not occur naturally in nature. Hmmm, I guess darkness and shadows must be a different color. Like I said, good general information, but unless you actually practice these types of maneuvers and maintain a certain level of efficiency you are only kidding yourself that you will be ready when the time comes.

  14. Lars1470

    January 2, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    I liked the article. Good generalized advise. But, no specifics. Some will need specific directions on how to make their own camouflage. How to change street clothes into blended clothes…or how to adapt to changing environments while traveling…

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