Cheat Sheet: Camo Field Guide

Unless you're a camoufleur (those who design camouflage) you probably didn't know that the pattern on the bag you carry to work everyday was born in Belgium in 1956. Or that the design on your favorite sneakers was created by a Canadian computer algorithm. Or that you can thank the former garden editor at the San Francisco Chronicle for that print on your button-down. But it's all true — and these are but three of the back stories behind menswear's favorite types of camo.

Get intimately familiar with 14 common camo varietals with this field guide, soldier!!

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The story: One of the earliest camo designs, it's the foundational concept from which many other patterns later sprung.
Where/when it's from: Britain, WWII
The conversation starter: The Brit's original brushstroke smocks were handpainted (hence the name.)

Ventage Denim

The story: This is the leaf pattern (see below) with more rigid shapes.
Where/when it's from: United States, 1981
The conversation starter: It's best known for use in the Bosnian War during the '90s.

U.S. Alterations 

The story: The term is a nickname for the six-color desert camo pattern.
Where/when it's from: United States, 1971
The conversation starter: The design was primarily influenced by deserts in Cali. US soldiers took the black flecks as resemblance to chocolate chip cookie dough.


The story: A design that incorporates vertically-aligned "straits" or "flecks" which're supposed to resemble falling rain.
Where/when it's from: Germany, WWII
The conversation starter: Bulgaria makes this variation, which would make a great shower curtain.


The story: It's raindrop camo, just with more geometric shapes.
Where/when it's from: Germany, WWII 
The conversation starter: The shapes are meant to resemble shattered glass and wood.

The story: This five-color pattern usually combines black, reddish-brown, dark and light green on a moss green background. A desert version incorporates olive & reddish-brown spots on yellow-tan.
Where/when it's from: Germany, 1989
The conversation starter: The name is a portmanteau of German words fleck (spot) and tarnung (camouflage).


The story: Micro patterns designed using computer algorithms.
Where/when it's from: Canada, 1997
The conversation starter: The Canadians were the first country to utilize digital camo. America's MARPAT version is a derivative of our northern neighbors, making digi-cam quite possibly the first and last time Canada has ever beaten the US militarily.

The story: Mainly used to camouflage ships in World War I, it consists of patterns of geometric, intersecting shapes.
Where/when it's from: Britain, WWI
The conversation starter: Dazzle works not by the typical process of concealment, but by making it difficult to estimate a target's range and speed.


The story: A collage of black, brown, and bright green shapes on a khaki or tan background.
Where/when it comes from: Britain, 1960
The conversation starter: DPM is one of the most widely copied patterns in the world. Even Yemen gets in on the action.


The story: The pattern has large, irregular spots in several colors on a solid background.
Where/when it's from: United States, WWII
The conversation starter: The pattern was originally designed by a garden editor of Sunset, Better House and Gardens, and the San Francisco Chronicle.


The story: This general purpose jungle camo consists of brown & green shapes with black "branches".
Where/when it's from: United States, 1948
The conversation starter: US ERDL (its official name) is best known for its use during the Vietnam War.


The story: A French take on the Brits' brushstroke.
Where/when it's from: France, 1950
The conversation starter: Originally known as leopard, the pattern takes its current moniker from a nickname for French soldiers who wore it during the Algerian War.


The story: Basically, the camo version of a jigsaw puzzle.
Where/when it's from: Belgium, 1956
The conversation starter: You can thank the Belgians for this.


The story: Essentially lizard, but with darker strokes and light green trace elements.
Where/when it's from: Vietnam, 1960s
The conversation starter: The French gave lizard camo to the Vietnamese during the First Indochina War. That's why the two look so similar.

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