By Ken Kanowsky
(American Survival Guide, January 1997)

Camouflage; to disguise; to conceal under false semblance; also to create a false apperance of.

If you are like me, you probably have at least one set of "cammies" hanging in your closet or crammed into your bugout kit. More than likely they are factory dyed with a variety of greens, browns, blacks and grays, which is good, as most foliage and terrains are composed of these colors. There is one terrain for which they are totally unsuited however.

Whether your "boonie suit" is GI Woodland, Tigerstripe, ASAT, or Desert Storm, depending on them to conceal you in a snowy winter landscape could have tragic consequences.

Simply put, most camouflage clothing reveals rather than conceals when it comes to snow! I saw a dramatic example of this last season, when a heavily camouflaged bowhunter carefully stalked past me. This fellow knew his stuff, he moved slow, low and silent, sticking to the shadows, using terrain and vegetation for cover. He should have been as invisible as a ghost in his fall foliage camo and face paint, but he stuck out like a sore thumb, and I had seen him from 150 yards away! Why? Eight inches of snow had whitened the landscape, knocking the last leaves to the ground and creating a white backdrop, the camo and tactics that worked so well before snow fell were completely defeated. I too was improperly dressed for my snowy surroundings and I determined to research the subject of snow camo and find out what did and didn't work.

In Human and animal vision the eye and brain work together to interpret the visible environment. The eye records the scene and the brain sorts out the information recieved. One of the major tasks is the identification and separation of individual objects in a given scene. This separation is done in many ways using different portions of the brain.

Factors such as Outline, shape, texture, reflectance, relative size, movement, contrast and color are the basic factors in this procedure. In other words, the more you clash with your background, the easier you are to spot!

This was the bowhunter's problem, while in a brush pile that matched his camo he was invisible, but once "backlit" by a little snow he instantly clashed and was identified.

Fortunately, for those of us who wish to remain unseen, snow is also one of the best environments to "get lost" in. Snow has several qualities that make it easy to blend with; it has a fairly uniform texture, color and brightness. Snow also alters the terrain and vegetation reducing contrasting shapes to a more uniform series of rounded humps. This raises a question though. What does one wear in an area with partial snow cover? Partial white? The U.S. Army thought so when I was in the service, but I wasn't convinced. I wanted a camo system that would work up close and personal.

I enlisted my friend, Chuck, to model a variety of camouflage clothing set against the winter backdrop of a local pine forest.

The snow had long fallen from the tree limbs and the underbrush, creating ideal conditions to test the "partial white" theory. Since pine forests feature lighter shades of green and brown than your average fir forest, I thought one of the marsh cattail patterns used by waterfowl hunters would blend with the tree trunks and underbrush. This proved not to be the case, the shade of the camo colors were lighter than the vegetation and darker than the snow, the worst possible combination! Even with Chuck hunkered down, the pattern proved to be the least effective we tested.

Chuck next donned and old USMC camo fatigue blouse and white pants, this was a successful color match with the vegetation, but the tree branches were many feet above his head. If as little as 10 percent of Chuck's upper torso was visible, it was outlined by the snow, I had no trouble spotting him, but I noted that the lower portion of his body (dressed in snow camo) was invisible.

Shelving the "partial white" phase we moved on to the final portion of our experiment. Fully suited up in former West German snow camo and wearing a field expedient face veil, Chuck melted into the background. At distances of 15 feet, parts of Chuck seemed to disappear. At a distance of 150 feet, with Chuck standing in an exposed area, I repeatedly lost his position, when Chuck hunkered down he became just another snow drift in the forest.

WHY IT IS EFFECTIVE--- There are several principles at work that explain why snow camo is so effective. One principle tells how a subject which reflects an equal amount of light as it's background "disappears" to the viewer's eye.

Another relates that, when a field of snow is illuminated from above, the light is reflected back by every snow crystal in mulitple direstions effectively eliminating shadows which define the terrain and give the viewer a sense of scale and depth. A third principle observes that when a viewer sees two unrelated objects, that share characteristics (such as texture, color and brightness), in very near proximity of each other, the viewer's mind assumes that the two objects are a single larger object. I believe this is what Chuck just melted away, even when partially outlined against dark brush, my mind just dismissed Chuck as part of the snow.

In practical terms this means that bright sun offers excellent concealment as well as cloudy days. The only way to betray your location is to silhouette yourself or to maneuver when the sun is low on the horizon, in which case the shadows cast by you and your tracks are easily spotted.

If you must move, do so when the sun is low on the horizon, keep the sun at your back, losing yourself in the sun's glare.

The advantages that such a level of concealment offers are obvious to the readers of ASG, but to make snow camo really work it is important to camo your hands, head and face. Rifles web gear and packs need white camo as well.

In our test, the face veil and rifle sock was made of an old piece of muslin, but a wool or polar fleece face mask would have provided better protection from the cold.

Paint, tape or a white zipped cover would have been and improvement on the rifle.

Snow suits can be made at home from white sheets or coveralls, those of you who wish to make their own should make their suits several sizes larger than their normal clothes to accommodate the layered cold weather clothing worn underneath, be sure to include white hoods.

Commercially made snow camo is also available, or you can go with surplus items like mine.

My West German suit was new surplus, it features excellent materials, design and construction while selling at very reasonable cost. Though only a cotton shell, I prefer these surplus suits as they are designed to keep snow out even while crawling on your belly, a feature most other suits lack!

I believe that the results of my experiment can be applied to most snow conditions, whether deep in a hemlock forest or in patchy snow on the great plains you are better off with full snow camo.

One final thought: Playing in the snow on a bright sunny day is not the same as spending days and nights in a bitter cold environment. You need winter survival skills , high quality boots and excellent protective clothing.