Gray Man Vs. Camouflage

Gray Man

In a Without Rule of Law (WROL) situation, should I try and remain a gray man, wearing normal street clothes, or should I fully kit up and wear full gear and camouflage?

The answer is….That depends.

If I have to egress an urban area on foot, and I am trying to slide out of the area without drawing any attention, I’m certainly going to with gray man tactics (check out my articles on it).   If I wear body armor, it’ll be soft armor under my clothing, or my bulletproof laptop sleeve in my backpack, covering the side I can’t see (check it out at I’ll also be wearing a plain black backpack.

On the flip side, once I’ve left an urban area, what’s the ultimate “gray man” tactic?  It’s being fully camouflaged and completely unseen.  Before you all fill up the comments with why I’m wrong, understand that this is MY opinion.   I’ll explain my rationale and then give some advice.

When the wicked rise,

Men hide themselves;

Proverbs 28:28a

We are discussing in an ACTUAL WROL situation, not the current situation.

Let me first say that on a daily basis, if I’m not conducting interviews in a business suit, or conducting surveillance in gray man gear, I wear earth toned clothes almost exclusively, as a preparedness point.  A pair of khaki pants and a green shirt or green pants and khaki shirt are a good start, in case you have no choice but to bail out on foot and try to blend in.  We don’t get to pick the day or time it happens.

In a true WROL of situation, if I get out of the city (which you had better, cities will be DANGEROUS) and moving, I will be wearing camouflage appropriate to the area I am transiting.  There is nothing more “gray man” than not being seen at all.

Many people disagree, saying that if people encounter you and you are in full camouflage gear, you will stand out to others and they’ll follow you.  Well, if you encounter others while trying to move stealthily, you failed, but it should also be very easy to evade others if they do see you and try to follow if you are in camouflage.  I’d also challenge this viewpoint by saying that in a TRUE WROL situation, EVERYONE will stand out outside of a city and EVERYONE will want to know if you have food.

The best way to avoid being seen is to use proper movement.  When moving in the wilderness, you should avoid roads, trails, or any area where people normally traverse.  That’s the best way to be gray; don’t be where other people are.

I understand that this may lead to navigation issues for some people, but it’s very easy to walk in the woods, paralleling a road or trail, which would allow you to navigate and not encounter people.

Understand how vision works in order to avoid being seen by others.  People see by contrast, color, shapes, and movement.  As far as contrast and color, simply not wearing your shiny North Face baby-blue puffy coat will help (I know, North Face means adventure).  People associate shapes with familiar items, like the shape of a human, or a car.  Change your outline so that you don’t stand out.  

The most important way to prevent being seen is avoiding movement, when you see other people moving nearby.  Simply stop moving and remain still.  When you do start moving again, do it slowly.  Rapid movement attracts the eye.

There is no “universal” camouflage pattern that works in every environment, but I’ll discuss a few that may help you.  Disclaimer:  I own a RIDICULOUS amount of camouflage in a variety of patterns.    I have a reason for it that, which will become apparent as we move along.

First, I want to give a caution about hunting type camouflage.  Hunting camouflage is intended to hide you from ANIMALS, not HUMANS who are trying to kill you.  Nation-States invest millions into testing and developing camouflage patterns to hide you from human observation, take advantage of that research.

Understand also that camouflage and being unseen in the wild is a SKILL, that is supplemented by gear….buying the clothes isn’t enough.   You have to learn individual fieldcraft movement and individual camouflage techniques.


In my opinion, the two best camouflage patterns ever made for northern temperate climates (essentially all of the US) are USMC “MARPAT” Woodland and the venerable British “DPM”, or Disruptive Pattern Material.  I have more sets of MARPAT woodland than I’m willing to admit to, and a few sets of the DPM, just because these two are the most versatile for general camouflage.

British DPM

There is, however, no single camouflage pattern that truly meets every need.  The US Army attempted it with their “Universal” Army Combat Uniform camouflage and it failed miserably.  The intent was to have a pattern that worked in an urban environment, the desert, and woodlands, all in one uniform.  What they ended up with was a pattern that was too light in an urban or night environment, too dark in the desert, and moderate in the woodlands.


The only items I own in ACU camouflage are a notebook cover and a Leader’s Pouch, and only because they only came in that color.

The improvement to this was the adoption of MultiCam “Optical Camouflage Pattern”, or OCP.  This pattern is very versatile, and worked better for the US Army in all environs, but recently, they have tweaked it a bit, now have variations based on climates.  For example, there is now OCP Arid, OCP Tropical, and Scorpion OCP, all of which meet different needs.  The reason for the tweak was again that while original Multicam was better in the desert and urban areas, it was still too light in some wooded areas and at night.

British MTP Camo

The British Army took a middle of the road approach with their MTP or “Multi-Terrain Pattern”.  Basically, they combined MultiCam OCP with their own DPM, and have created a middle of the road pattern.  I have a pair of sets of British MTP camouflage, and their Combat Shirts (Under Armour shirt with heavy duty sleeves) really are the best I’ve found.

Different seasons and different environments will require a change in patterns.  For myself, I own mostly woodlands (MARPAT and DPM) since most areas I would operate in are wooded.  My bug out location is in a wooded area, near a massive cedar swamp, making woodland camouflage the best choice.

However, as fall arrives, I switch to the either USMC or British desert uniforms, because in my area, the woods loose their leaves and the background then consists of browns and tans from fallen leaves and dying grasses.

British Desert DPM

In the cedar swamps and woodlands of northern Michigan in winter, I wear desert camouflage pants and a woodland top, because the lighter pants blend with the snow and dead grasses, while the woodland top blends with the evergreen trees.  You have to adjust your camouflage to the location and the season.  That’s why I own so much camouflage.

This brings us to a discussion of night camouflage.  Most camouflage patterns are too light for use at night, because the browns and tans gather light.  The exception, in my opinion is MARPAT Woodland.

A solution that many people adopt is to just wear all black at night.  This is a half-measure, because in all honesty, once you get out away from the light pollution of the city (or when the power is out), black is actually TOO DARK for night camouflage..  Wearing all black presents a perfect silhouette of a human, darker than the actual night.

There are a few solutions, the first of which is dark grey.  I caution against this again, because if you wear all one color, you are presenting a human silhouette and the edges will contrast with the background.      

There are three camouflage patterns that all excel at night, not surprisingly because they are made for night use.  I own articles of all three, in fact.

Midnight Digital

My personal favorite is a pattern called Midnight Digital.  It’s similar to MARPAT, but it uses shades of grey, blue, and black.  It’s a couple of shades darker than the Navy blue camouflage that the US Navy wears, and it’s highly effective at night.


Another night pattern that is overlooked is ATACS-LE.   It was originally designed for urban, law-enforcement team use, but the mixture of blacks and grays make it highly effective at night.

MultiCam Black

The third is MutliCam Black, and while I own a couple of articles of it, I refuse to buy it on the principle that everyone else is buying it to try and look like a “cool-guy”, and that’s not why I buy uniforms.  

Another consideration, when operating with a mutual assistance group, is the ability to identify your group, in a sea of people in their Tacti-Cool gear.  If you’re all wearing MutliCam, like every other militia, prepper, or mutual aid group in America, how will you rapidly identify your own people?

In most situations, this isn’t actually an issue, but it’s something to consider.  I saw one militia group in Lousiville all wrap bright day-glow green bands around their arms, thus negating the entire purpose of wearing camouflage (unless you only wear camo to look cool – hint, hint).

Brilliant Tactics

Another option, if you don’t want to go full-camouflage commando (you can’t all be as cool as me, I get it), is what my friend, Clay Martin recommends in his outstanding book, Prairie Fire (available here).  You could wear earth-toned pants (green/khaki) and a camouflage top over it.  I don’t do it myself, but it’s just because I’m not one for half measures.  It is indeed an option.

On a daily basis, in the back of my SUV, in addition to a set of general earth-toned clothing, I also carry one set of the ATACS LE (for night), and one set of MARPAT digital uniforms, just in case I need them.  It’s not a bad habit to get into.  I also keep three changes of T-shirts, underwear, and socks, so conceivably I could change daily in a survival/WROL situation while trying to get back to my main supply cache.

I hope this discussion has helped you decide whether or not to include some type of camouflage clothing in your preps.  If you do, remember that gear is only one part of the equation, skills and practice are the others.


Published by JD

I am the author of the Tactical Wisdom Series. I am a personal protection specialist and a veteran of the US Marine Corps. I conduct preparedness and self-defense training.

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