Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Problem With Black - Camouflage Week

Ninjas: Doing it wrong.

From a young age, we're indoctrinated to believe that black is the ultimate in camouflage. Personally, I blame ninjas. The whimsical notion of the ultimate unseen assassin leads us to believe that when one dons an all black suit, you becomes instantly invisible.

In all seriousness, this really isn't that case. But, I'll start right off and avoid any flaming by saying that black does indeed have a use in camouflage. Black as a camouflage is one of the poorest choices when it comes to avoiding simple detection, but the appropriate use of black will provide a great deal of protection for the wearer.

"It's like, how much more black could this be? 
And the answer is none. None more black."

First off, we'll start with the same argument that many people have used to justify black as a poor camouflage choice, "There is no black in nature". This is true for the most part, and if you've spent any time looking at people wear black camouflage, you'll notice they tend to stick out. "Wait!", cry the opponents to this argument, "what about zebras?". Well besides lions being colour-blind, this form of camouflage is based on disruption (as opposed to crypsis).

Before we go any further, let me pull out my good friend Oxford:

"cryptic |ˈkriptik|adjectivehaving a meaning that is mysterious or obscure he found his boss's utterances too cryptic.• (of a crossword) having difficult clues that indicate the solutions indirectly.Zoology (of coloration or markings) serving to camouflage an animal in its natural environment.
disrupt |disˈrəpt|verb [ trans. ]interrupt (an event, activity, or process) by causing a disturbance or problem a rail strike that could disrupt both passenger and freight service.• drastically alter or destroy the structure of (something) alcohol can disrupt the chromosomes of an unfertilized egg."

While it seems counterintuitive, black is also very visible in shadowed areas, as the true black of the camouflage stands out amongst the soft black of the shadowed area. Any muted colour, such as olive drab, holds a distinct advantage over black at short distances, as it is a more naturally prevalent colour, and will tend to blend in more. As a counter argument, many say that black at a long distance will blend in just as well as something like olive drab. This is entirely true, but why not have something that functions just as well as black at a long distance, but much better at closer distances?

While it holds many faults as far as crypsis goes, black is a great tool for disruptive camouflage. This can be seen in how very successful patterns, such as CADPAT or Tiger Stripe, use black as one of their colour components. Zebras make use of this very fact, with the striped black on their bodies preventing predators from distinguishing distinct shapes, directionality and numbers in a group of zebras. Those things are what make black so useful for man-made disruptive patterns. When someone can't determine where their target begins or ends, it's much harder to hit it.

A juxtaposition of black and Tiger Stripe.

While it may not be my first choice for camouflage, I'll give black this... It's still cool. Ninjas are still cool too.

I'm sure many people will disagree with what I've said above, so let's hear it! Why do you think black holds value as a means of cryptic camouflage?


  1. IRL nijas wear blue, for it blends better in the night; blame hollywood for black wearing ninjas. real ninjas wear blue.

  2. Interesting! I didn't know that.

  3. yeah, I used to thinks ninjas wore black too, but then I did my research and apparently they wear a very greyish blue becuase it blends the best in dark areas with vegetation, it makes sense since when you see the outside with the moonlight it looks kind of grey blue.

  4. Good post man!

  5. Why does JTF2 wear black? Or is that just so they look cool in the posters?

  6. I'm sure JTF2 has several different camouflage patterns at their disposal. Here's a picture of them in CADPAT TW in Kandahar: