Hunting apparel has come a long way since blue jeans and flannel were the go-to for many. Not only have the materials advanced significantly, so to have the options for camouflage patterns.
Some people will contend that you do not need camo clothing to be successful while hunting, which is true to only a certain extent.
While lots of animals have been harvested over the years by people not wearing camo, concealment is definitely on a long list of details that each make you just a little more successful.
Many animals seem to key in on movement more-so than color or shape, but some animals like ducks and coyotes do a very good job of picking out unconcealed people, even if they are holding still.
Good camouflage that matches your surroundings might not be essential in every situation, but it definitely does not hurt your chances.
For the most part, if you are going to buy clothing that is designed for hunting, your options are all going to come with camouflage prints. Whether you are perusing online or walking through a store, the wide variety of available patterns can be overwhelming.
The intent of this article is to make the process of choosing the camo pattern that is right for you and your hunting scenario a little easier.
Types of Camouflage
Your first consideration when selecting camouflage clothing is deciding on the type of camouflage pattern that will work best for your situation. This primarily means picking between three different choices:
1. Mimicry-Based Camouflage
Mimicry camo clothing borrows its strategy from a host of animals that use it as their primary defense against predators. The concept is to make yourself look like something you are not.
In the terms of camo patterns, this means looking like the vegetation you are hunting in.
For years Mossy Oak and Realtree brands have dominated the camouflage hunting apparel market with printed patterns that include imagies of tree bark, leaves, sticks, and grass.
They have made clothes meant for hunting open desert, dark timber, snow-covered areas and everything in between.
As the two most prominent players in the field with many patented patterns, manufacturers have paid for the rights to use these patterns on their apparel, guns, boots, vehicles, and accessories.
While other brands have attempted to design their own mimicry camo patterns, none have been so popular as Realtree and Mossy Oak.
2. Breakup Camouflage
Breakup camo is what probably pops into many people’s minds when they hear the word “camouflage.” The idea behind breakup camo is to blur your body’s outline so you blend in with your surroundings.
Instead of trying to look like what you are standing in front of, breakup camo is designed to make you disappear into it.
The traditional brown, green and black military camo pattern is a basic example of breakup camo.
Today, digital breakup camo patterns are common for both military and hunting applications. Dedicated brands like Pnuma make camouflage apparel with unique patterns to conceal a hunter.
One major advantage of a breakup camouflage pattern over a mimicry pattern is that it makes movement harder to detect. By blurring your outline into the surroundings, there are less hard edges to be seen as you sneak through the woods.
Sitka and Kuiu are two major players in the high-end hunting apparel market and both have played a role in making breakup camouflage more popular. By designing their own digital camouflage pattern, they have avoided paying to use another proprietary pattern and they have made the pattern a huge part of their brand identity.
While a Mossy Oak jacket could be made by a variety of different brands, it is easy to identify someone as wearing clothes from the Sitka line.
Like mimicry patterns, breakup patterns are made in a variety of color combinations, each ideal for a different setting.
3. Three-Dimensional Camouflage
While not the most practical for moving around in, 3D camouflage is probably the end-all for going unseen. You may see some mimicry or breakup patterns marketed as 3D.
However, the products that actually fall into this category literally use the third-dimensional plane as part of their system.
This means added texture and volume in the form of fake leaves, grass or other excess material. An example of 3D camo that many people are familiar with is the Ghillie suit. Most Ghillie suits are full body outfits covered in several inches of multi-colored grass.
Because 3D camo clothing is difficult to move in and becomes caught on things easily, it is best used when the hunter will be stationary. An example of when 3D camo would be somewhat practical is stand hunting for predators.
For most big game animals 3D camo is cumbersome and overkill, especially since most animals in that category are not necessarily known for having great vision in the first place.
Picking the Right Camo
After narrowing down the camouflage choices available to you, you’ll need to select the best option for the setting in which you’ll be hunting and for the species you pursue.
In order to get the full benefits of camo clothing, you must pick a pattern that works well for the area you hunt in. A dark Mossy Oak pattern may work great in heavy timber, but if you use it in open, snowy country, the contrast could make it worse than no camo at all.
In any given state, there could be three or four types of terrain that all have significantly different plant life. Each of those different settings will also change colors over the course of seasons.
In a perfect world, you might have three or four different sets of camo to cover all the areas you hunt. However, anyone who has purchased a quality hunting jacket knows that one set of clothes is expensive enough, let alone several.
Consider the areas that you hunt most, and try to pick a pattern that matches the backdrop. It may be that one of the top mimicry brands makes something that is ideal for the area you hunt, which would make it a good choice.
Some of the digital camo patterns are a little more versatile because they have incorporated various colors that do a good job of blending in with a variety of backdrops.
Some of the modern military camo patterns were designed to help conceal personnel that spent time in several different settings but only had one pair of fatigues.
Hunting camo designers have followed that model with their patterns, so you should be able to find a pattern that encompasses most of the areas you visit.
Snow can be a big game changer, so a lot of people go with one lighter color set and one darker color set.
A lot of times, the type of terrain the pattern is designed for is included in the name. Sitka uses “Optifade Open Country,” “Subalpine,” and “Waterfowl Timber” or “Waterfowl Marsh.” Mossy Oak uses “Mountain Country” and “Duck Blind.”
This is a tactic that other brands use to some extent, but there are a lot of names out there that are not indicative of what they are intended for (like “Elevated” or “Obsession.”).
If a name from the list does not jump out at you as matching your setting, you will have to use the eye test instead.
In a lot of ways, it is probably easier to talk about various camo choices based on the species being targeted. You can certainly identify a few major sectors of what is available.
Waterfowl is one area that has distinctly different patterns because most of the hunting is done around water or in flooded fields with tall grass or cattails. For the most part, the yellow hues of grass blade camo do not blend in well with big game locations.
Likewise, unless you are hunting flooded timber, the patterns designed for woods hunting are pretty dark and obvious in a duck hunting setting.
As mentioned in the discussion of 3D camo, a full Ghillie suit may work out well for hunting coyotes or other predators. This is especially true in situations where you do not have a good blind, or the cover is a little limited.
A full 3D camo suit will allow you to become a bush just about anywhere there is vegetation.
Most other camo patterns are made to be used in big-game hunting situations, or animals found in similar areas to big game (like turkeys).
While Mossy Oak and Realtree have done well to hold down a huge share of the hunting camo market for so long, many of their patterns are designed for very specific applications. This is true with many mimicry patterns.
What Sitka and Kuiu have discovered with their camo options is that by having a few different patterns that are a little more versatile, their camo choices rarely prevent someone from buying their products.
And, if you make top of the line apparel, the last thing you want to do is offer it only in camo patterns that are a deal-breaker for hunters.
Although this article is focused on the camouflage element of concealment, remember that many animals rely heavily on scent and sound to detect predators.
Some of the clothing brands make clothes that include a scent barrier or have a material finish that is much quieter than others.
So, for species like deer and elk that are better at catching movement than they are spotting still objects, other attributes of the apparel should be taken into consideration as well.
Because there are countless different hunting settings, most of which change color over the course of the year, there is no single right answer for which camo to use in any specific region.
Your best bet is to consider the areas you will be hunting the most and what they look like when you hunt them. Then pick a pattern that matches the colors reasonably well. Camo that is not quite right for the terrain you are hunting is still more helpful than blue jeans and flannel.