The History of Our US Military's Camouflage

The History of Our US Military's Camouflage

By Richard Rice

Since man has been involved in mortal combat he has at times attempted to blend in with the terrain and foliage in which he was fighting. As a discipline unto itself, camouflage was first addressed in the early 1900’s by the French, followed by the British, and then by the United States. Camouflage uniforms throughout the years have varied based on time, geographical location, and surrounding environment.

In 1943, U.S. Marines in the Solomon Islands began wearing uniforms with green-and-brown "frog" patterns. This type of camouflage pattern included speckled and disruptive coloration, similar to a frog's skin.

Then in the 1950’s camouflage uniforms in a four-color, leaf-and-twig pattern were created by the Army's Engineer Research and Development Laboratory (ERDL). They had limited usage and were quickly phased out.

By 1965 Green Berets and other Special Operations Forces in Vietnam started wearing unofficial camouflage uniforms. These locally produced uniforms were made with a camo pattern known as "Tigerstripe.” It was given this name since it resembled the stripes on actual tigers. Eventually, the tigerstripe pattern was replaced by the official ERDL Leaf Pattern in American reconnaissance units. Even so, the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (advised by U.S. Army Special Forces) continued to wear tigerstripe uniforms until they were disbanded in 1971.

Development and trials of several types of camouflage uniforms continued during the 1970’s with the ERDL Leaf Pattern being the go-to model. 

In the early 1980’s, two new patterns came out: a six-color Desert Pattern known as the Chocolate Chip due to its base pattern of light tan with broad strokes of pale green and two different bands of brown. Black and white spots laid over that helped blend in with pebbles and shadows.

Additionally, the M81 Woodland Camouflage Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) was introduced. The colors included brown, green, black, and sand, and uniforms in this pattern were utilized by certain units well into the 2000s. The Woodland design was utilized during Vietnam but went through certain changes to more appropriately represent the longer-range environments that the troops would be encountering in the new era.

In the early 1990s, the United States fought in the Persian Gulf War. Throughout this war, marines, army, air force, and navy soldiers all wore the six-color "chocolate chip."

In 1992 the “Chocolate Chip” was replaced by the tri-color Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU). This uniform was similar in pattern, but with different colors, to the Woodland, and when the  BDUs were phased out, the DCUs were as well.

A nighttime version of the DCU was developed as well to reduce visibility by Soviet infrared cameras and night vision goggles during night missions. The nighttime version of the DCU quickly became obsolete due to night vision advancements and the pattern was terminated before it was ever widely used.

In 2004, the Army adopted a three-color Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP), a digital camouflage design. The camouflage was designed to allow a soldier to perform their duties in any environment without the need for specialized camouflage clothing.

During the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, the American Special Forces personnel operating there wore commercially available Desert Tiger Stripe camouflage instead of their UCP uniforms. This camo design has horizontal stripes featuring dark brown, golden brown, and beige with a sand-colored background.

Multicam was tested during the Army Combat Uniform trials in the early 2000’s and used by personnel in the US Special Operations community. By 2010, Multicam became an official issued pattern from the United States Department of Defense. The pattern features pinkish-tan, earth brown, and light olive green sections with smaller areas of dark brown, sand, and moss green.

In 2009, the original Multicam pattern, a proprietary pattern design by Crye Precision dating back to the early 2000’s, was modified by the United States Army Natick Soldier Research and given the name Scorpion W2.

Several important distinctions exist that help differentiate the two patterns. One such distinction in design is the background color. The OCP base changes from light green to light brown in wide, horizontal bands. Secondly, there are actually eight colors incorporated into the OCP design with specific shades having been slightly changed to prevent any type of copyright infringement. Finally, the original Multicam design utilizes vertical elements, but the OCP design has omitted those elements. Multicam is also a much more dense pattern than the OCP. These changes not only subverted the need to pay royalties to Crye for the use of the propriety pattern, but it also helped improve visual and near infrared performance.

In 2014, the Department of the Army announced the official retirement of the Universal Camouflage Pattern and officially registered the new name of Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP). In July 2015, the official rollout of the Army OCP uniform began.

We are paying homage to our military roots by releasing gear in these different camos. Check out our full selection of gear in our camouflage collections.