I have a crap load of camouflage clothing in my basement that only gets used for about 3 weeks in total over the course of a year. I’m not a professional hunter or guide so I’m not wearing my Kuiu or Sitka camo as daily wear. In fact, I never have any reason at all to take it out of the closet unless I’m bow hunting in September which happens to only last a couple of weeks here in Washington. All that money spent on the latest and greatest technical clothing and yet there it sits for at least 340 days a year in my basement collecting dust.
When I see all my camouflage clothing just sitting there it sometimes makes me a little embarrassed that I told myself that it was totally okay to spend over $100 on a pair of pants I wear 5% of the year. A pair of pants is just the beginning! I have an entire Verde uniform from Kuiu all the way from pants and shirts to warming layers and finally rainwear. I was on my way to doing the same thing with Sitka gear until Kuiu came along and stole my heart with their lower prices and new patterns. I had only purchase pants, a shirt, hoody, and a light jacket before jumping off that train. Now, Sitka Open Country never gets the love it deserves so yet again, there sits probably $500 or more bucks in top of the line technical clothing for sometimes 365 days a year. It makes me sick just thinking about it and yet, I continue to be attracted to this freaking camouflage marketing Jedi mind trick these brands are pumping out year after year.
I’ve decided to begin quitting camouflage altogether. It’s not an overnight thing. I need like a sort of nicotine patch to help me through it because since I was a little boy, I’ve always loved camo anything. What boy doesn’t? The thing is though, I’ve done far more research than I care to admit on if camouflage is effective and I’ve come to learn that while it certainly doesn’t hurt, no pattern of any kind - regardless of how new and fancy it is - can never cover up poor hunting techniques. Be as bush-like as you want, all big game animals have to do is smell you or catch you itching your nose and the gig is up. So with that, here are three reasons why you should consider quitting camouflage.
Number 1: Camouflage can cost more for literally being camouflage…
Without getting too far into the weeds with the “why” behind this is, I’m just going to point out that in some cases, camouflage clothing can be more expensive simply because it’s camouflage. Some of it has to do with some patterns being proprietary so there are licensing fees (think Multicam) when a brand uses it. Those increased costs to license are passed along to the consumer. Hence why you see the same pair of pants in solid brown sold for less than the ones with the fancy camo pattern on them (cough…First Lite..cough, cough). Why some brands do this and others don’t, I have no idea, but the proof is pretty much in the pudding with brands like First Lite (sorry guys…but I this is part of the proof). Check out these links to see for yourself (Note: links valid as of 12/11/17)
From a cost savings perspective, by switching to solids, you could save yourself money.
Number 2: Camouflage is more about marketing than it is about camouflaging
Ohhhh boy, yeah…this one is a doozy. I might have just blown some brains up with this one, but hear me out for a minute. I’m not saying that if you buy camouflage then you’re doing it wrong, in fact, I am the first to admit that I still believe that any advantage you can get when you’re in the woods chasing big game is a great thing to do, but it’s not the end-all-say-all. Think about it like this… camouflage is not made by the game animals we hunt, it’s made my humans and while we do have an idea of how deer vision might work, we’re still bias to how what our human eyes are attracted to. Until we can read the minds of a deer, coax them into telling us what they know then make them turn on their own kind, and replace their hooves with fingers, we will never really know what the right color scheme is best.
I was sucked into to the deep vortex of those Sitka Open Country videos that came out years ago. Oh man, was I ever! Clearly this shows in my decision making because I went out and bought an entire wardrobe of Open Country because I was like “We’ve done it! We’ve scienced our way into deer brains and we’re now at super human winning status! Of course! Gray scale makes far more sense than greens and browns!!!” Don’t act like you thought the same thing after seeing those killer videos. I was hook line and sinker, but something funny happened shortly after those videos came out. Either the “one pattern to rule them all” stopped working or deer began evolving much faster than ever before in the history of deer. Sitka came out with this Elevated pattern for deer looking up at the sky and then they came out with this weird forest pattern that showed bits of color. So…yeah…huh? But, I thought Open Country was the bees knees? Do the deer eyes change when they look up or when they’re in a forest versus when they’re in the open?
I had just purchased and ENTIRE fancy getup from Sitka and yet again, I was still not up to date on getting the best of those big game animals. The only option was to look into adding to my collection for those moments when I might find myself in a tree, a forest, and an open space. But dude, that was about to get expensive! I’m a normal dude and until someone is throwing me gear hand over fist, whatever lands in my closet is paid for by yours truly. Why would Sitka do this? Sitka - if you’re reading this, don’t be upset, I’m just pointing out that I get it. We’re all good!
To answer the question as to why brands like Sitka come out with pattern after pattern after pattern, I’m going to sum it up in one word - MARKETING. Also “brand recognition” comes to mind as well. This marketing is two fold though. First off, how could any potential customer differentiate one brand from another in a store or on the street if all brands are wearing the same pattern? The good old days of Advantage and Mossy Oak are gone…RIP…it was a great run. Consumers can’t tell what is what if brands don’t have something that makes them different ANNNNNNNND, they also risk people not buying an entire “system” in that specific pattern. In my example, I purchase an entire Kuiu Verde system from the bottom up. If Kuiu was selling products with a camo pattern that was also used on Sitka and First Lite, then they’d potentially miss out on the sale of a jacket, hat, warming layer, and whatever else. These special patterns “keep it in the family” and it make sense, right?
The second facet of the marketing of camouflage patterns for brands is that once a customer is kitted out with an entire system, then they’re officially done with making any further purchases. Why would someone want two of the same jackets in the same pattern? They don’t, and that’s my point. Kuiu is a great example of a brand having two opposing patterns that play off one another incredibly well. Verde for forest and more “green” environments and Vias for those desolate mountain environments. Two patterns and two systems = twice the purchases.
These layering systems are amazing, but they’re also expensive. Kuiu has a more affordable line called the Teton system, and it still comes in at about $800 if you fully kit yourself out. Do that twice and you’re spending $1600 for camouflage that won’t help you one bit if you suck at staying still or playing the wind. Brands can’t live on someone buying just one hat or one pair of pants. They need you to buy multiple items because at the end of the day they have bills to pay, but so do you. Again, I know camouflage won’t hurt me in the field, but is it really worth the extra cash I’m dishing out? Maybe, maybe not. I’m going to switch to solids and find out, but that’s me.
One last and final note on the marketing uses of camouflage. Remember those Sitka videos I mentioned earlier (listed below)? For what seemed like forever, Sitka stuck with the idea of the color green being an unnecessary color in big game hunting camouflage because deer can’t see the color green very well so there’s no need to have it in there. Well, it seems like one of two things happened in the past few years. Either hoofed animals once again evolved at an exponential rate to where they that gray scale open country pattern is no longer effective orrrrrrrr, Sitka saw a decline in sales because followers of their three previous big game patterns and already purchased all they needed for their hunts and were no longer making additional orders. A decline in sales might be an indication that those loyal customers could be making purchases with other brands who were coming out with patterns that looked better to the human eye against brown and green backdrops and to retain those customers, Sitka created that nifty digital Subalpine pattern which looks super badass in pictures where there’s lots of greenery. And voila, more purchase orders!
For the record, I’m not saying NOT to buy camouflage, I’m simply pointing out where it plays a role in the industry as a whole and why literally every brand has a different pattern now. At least Kuiu, Sitka, Kryptek, and a few others have vastly different patterns for varying terrains. First Lite launched two patterns in pretty much two years; first Fusion then Cipher. I can’t for the life of me tell the damn difference, but they do look pretty sweet and in my humble opinion are likely the best contenders out there in terms of overall camouflage sneakiness.
Number 3: Options, Options, and More Options
My third and final reason why you should consider quitting camouflage is to regain the options you once had in the good old days when everyone had the same patterns on their apparel. In the last few years, you’ve seen brands like Sitka be leaders in the category of “solids.” This might be another way to market their clothing to the regular every day wear, but I’m totally down with that. In fact, I welcome it with open arms! I freaking love it! What it does for me is it allows me to purchase my favorite pair of pants in the color brown from one brand and pair it with a perfect fitting jacket from another brand (another reason why I am getting away from camouflage systems is that not every piece of that brands apparel fits me right). How cool is that?! And there’s an interesting thing that happens when you do this mismatch of brands, colors, and what-have-you.
By pairing a dark but solid colored Sitka vest, with a long sleeved base layer from Kuiu, and then toss on a pair of lighter colored brown pants from First Lite, you’ve essentially created yourself a pretty killer camouflage pattern. By showing a change in shades, shapes, and textures, you’re going to end up breaking up your human outline for that added sneakiness when that bull is screaming at a dead run heading your way. As long as the wind doesn’t shift and you don’t start to uncontrollably start twitching with adrenaline, you’re about to have an epic moment in the woods…and you did it all while wearing your favorite brands and avoiding looking like a camouflage Humpty Dumpty. If that’s not enough to get you excited, you can now bring your favorite “non-hunting” brand like Columbia, North Face, or Mountain Hardware with you and you won’t be called out for being a weirdo by your friends (though they might tease you when you lose at hide and go seek…don’t act like you haven’t tried to scare your hunting buddy on the 4th day of a hunt).
Solids are about to be the new camouflage. This article is dated in December of 2017. After reading this, look around the web at images from the hunting world and you’ll see what I’m talking about. A lot of hunters are foregoing camouflage pants for solid ones and there’s a number of Sitka ads and pro staff wearing nothing but solids in the field. Not only do solids still function as a impromptu pattern, but you can also wear those same exact pieces around town, on scouting trips, and on non-hunting related trips without being looked at funny. That alone will easily stretch those dollars I’ll spend on gear from a usage of 5% over the year to 50% or more.
Money doesn’t grow on trees, so if I can put my money into something that I’ll get the most return on investment, then that’s what I’m going to do. To me that now means investing into solids and focusing on my skills as a hunter to close the gap and make the harvest. Positioning my self correctly, playing the wind, and reducing movement are far better tactics than camouflage ever could be.
Bonus Round: How and What Deer See
I’m not a scientist, and though I sometimes stay at the Holiday Inn, I’m still no expert. I’ve listed some links below that are great reads if you’re curious about “deer vision.” In short, here’s what you need to know about the way deer interpret colors versus the way humans do. Consider yourself lucky that we don’t have the crap vision of a game animal because with how terrible our hearing and sense of smell is, we’d have been long gone by now and with proof of our existence retained on a mere cave painting.
What You Need to Know About Deer Vision!!
- Deer, elk, and other hoofed animals can’t tell the difference between red, yellow, or orange. To them it’s all the same and more of a muted gray color. These colors are understood to have longer wavelengths (see this chart https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visible_spectrum). This is why blaze orange is used in hunting because deer can’t see it the way you and I do.
- Deer can kind of maybe see the color green. Green is a medium wavelength color so keep that in mind when these brands are offering up green patterns (see previous link for where green lands on the spectrum).
- Blue is very well perceived and seen by deer and elk. Their wavelengths are shorter and somehow that translates to them being able to see your hunting buddy who decided to wear a blue ball cap on your hunt. Blue camo or not, your friend is demonstrating every reason not to be his friend (…kidding…or…?)
- Deer are crazy good at seeing Ultraviolet wavelengths. Clothing that has UV brighteners in the material or apparel that was washed in a detergent with UV enhancers for color saving purposes might be ruining your hunt. UV rays are made especially bad during low light situations (think every freaking hunting method of being up early and staying until that last glimmer of fading light). Either avoid these times of day (yeah right) or avoid UV enhanced clothing or detergent. Maybe this is why your friend gets skunked every year. He’s not doing his own laundry…
- Deer and Elk can’t really tell the differences between minute shading. If you’re going to continue riding the long standing camouflage train, do yourself a favor and avoid patterns that have like a million tiny shades in them. The brand Skre Gear comes to mind. If the shades on the pattern aren’t drastic enough, you’re going to show up as solid (salt in the camouflage wound). You might argue that this would happen if I wore nothing but solids and you’d be right. If I wore the same color brown from head to toe, then yes I’d be a man sized blob in the woods. However, if I break those solids up with a light jacket and dark pants with a dark hat, then I wouldn’t be as blob-like. Then again, none of this matters if you get winded so…think about it.
Take a look at these links and do some reading for yourself.
If you’re not wanting to give up camouflage just yet, then here’s my advice. When I said that First Lite might have the best color profile of any camouflage, it was for good reason. Both Fusion and Cipher have an earthy brown color palette. Based on points 1-5 in the Bonus Round, you can see that if you use your kids color wheel from 1st grade, you’d see find that brown is a mix of basically every color. A little of everything and you won’t be too far into any spectrum that is perceived by deer and elk. For those wanting to remain as neutral as possible, go with patterns like these that have shades of brown.
Green is likely the next “best” color in terms of what we humans think is good to wear in the woods because it looks matches that green bush and it’s mixed with yellow. It’s also better for hide and seek, but it’s also mixed with blue so that should also scare you if you’re “scare your friend episode" turns into a hunt. Blue is terrible to wear while hunting so just think about that before you buy any camouflage with a hint of blue in it. Some might say that the Sitka Open Country patterns have blue tints to them and they’d probably be right. Maybe that’s why Sitka made the switch after all…we’ll never know.
If you want to look like you’re not hunting at all, but you want to be as effective as you can be in hiding from deer and elk then wear yellow and orange. That’s about as simple as it gets.
Now, if you not only want to be effective in the woods by wearing something deer and elk can’t see while simultaneously looking like a badass from the 1940’s, wear a red plaid shirt. Ever wonder why so many vintage hunting pictures show these guys wearing red shirts? It might actually be more about them being better at hunting than you are, but maybe it also has to do with the color red being the longest wavelength in the color spectrum meaning deer most certainly cannot see it whatsoever. Cheers to red plaid!
Whatever you decide after reading my short novel on the marketing ploys of camouflage, just know that hunting success isn’t reliant on the pattern you’re wearing. All those stories of people saying “he saw right through me” have also been said by people wearing solids. Ask yourself how many times your pattern has been the reason for your success or failure? Was it really the pattern, or did you happen to play the wind perfectly while remaining motionless until you had a window of opportunity to draw your bow back?
If you choose to continue wearing camouflage, I think that’s great. There’s something to be said about the instantaneous change in mindset that dawning a set of camouflage has on the psyche of a hunter. You go from gatherer to hunter in an instant and maybe that’s what puts you over the edge on your hunt. That could very well be a massive benefit to investing yourself into camouflage of any kind.
I wrote this long winded article to shed light on the wonderful world of camouflage. Money spent on anything is a personal decision and until some brand is sending me free stuff to try out, I’m going to begin focusing on wearing solid colors that when combined can break up my human outline in the woods while at the same time be used in the offseason.
I’d love to hear your comments below! What do you think? What’s your method to the madness?
Be safe, allow your hard earned money to go as far as it can, and keep scaring your friend in the woods because, well, it’s funny!