Performance Fabrics

Camouflage Over the Years: How Military Fabrics Have Changed

When it comes to camouflage, most of the attention is focused on the design elements, or how the look of the uniform helps soldiers blend into different environments.

Military_CamoflaugeWhen it comes to camouflage, most of the attention is focused on the design elements, or how the look of the uniform helps soldiers blend into different environments. The fabric used in camouflage uniform production is also worth considering.  Combat uniforms, in particular, have specific functional needs to match the activities of soldiers as well as the environments in which they are operating.

A Brief History

Camouflage was born out of protecting soldiers and providing a strategic advantage over the enemy. The US Army begun using brown khaki uniforms in the summer of 1902 and then switched to a greenish-brown color in the following winter. This was one of the origins of camouflage. The term camouflage began to be used by the French during the First World War.

Camouflage units were made up of camoufluers, largely artists or designers, who help create designs that would shroud soldiers from aerial recon. By blending into the surrounding environment, camouflage uniforms could help armies win battles in the age of air reconnaissance and powerful weapons. Low visibility uniforms were essential to avoid detection by reconnaissance planes and machine gunners.

Various camouflage designs were used occasionally through the end of the Vietnam War, but it wasn’t until the late 1970s that the pattern of black, brown, green, and khaki (referred to as M81 woodland) became the standard. It was authorized for all branches of the US military. As camouflage became a staple of uniforms, this style was also used on planes, tanks, other transport vehicles, and in covering material.

Evolution of Camouflage Fabrics

Historically, military uniforms were made solely from heavy cotton twill. This heavy fabric can be quite durable, but it’s also hot to wear and becomes even heavier when wet. To make matters worse, it’s also slow to dry. As an alternative, pure synthetic fabrics were used beginning in the mid-20th century, but these fabrics can often be hot and unable to absorb sweat. Another concern is that pure synthetics are shiny and reflect infrared light, which are both liabilities for use as camouflage.

The more effective solution was blending cotton and synthetic fiber, which results in stronger fabric without increasing weight.  Nylon and cotton blends became increasingly common in military uniforms. These made up for the deficiencies of their predecessors, while providing soldiers with a wider range of motion.

As the fabric used in camouflage uniforms evolved, the dying process had to follow suit. Dying cotton or pure polyester requires different techniques. Cotton-nylon composite require complicated techniques to ensure that camouflage colors can be properly dyed into the uniform fabric. The fabric must also be supportive of dyes that reduce near infrared reflectance, making it blend better with surrounding environments.

The Best Quality Fabrics

In recent years, camouflage has incorporated digitally rendered designs that help soldiers to blend better into diverse environments. Along with this, fabric quality have increased. The most advanced camouflage fabrics build on the foundations of past while combining greater strength and protection from the elements.

Fabrics produced using knitted polyester scrims (link to KNITTED POLYESTER SCRIM blog post) prevent tearing while providing increased flexibility. One advantage of this type of fabric is that it can be used for all kinds of applications, from uniforms to tents to hats to helmet coverings. It can even be used for the linings in rockets and straps for carrying weapons.

The knitted polyester scrim composition provides increased tensile strength, meaning it is difficult to tear. This is especially important for things like straps, but it’s valuable in all times of military applications.

An Industry Leader

Herculite is one of the producers of this type of fabric and they are known for leading the field in quality. These military grade fabrics endure in all kinds of operations and environments. They are manufactured for durability and dependability.

Some of the key qualities that distinguish them from fabrics of the past are their superior abrasion resistance, which helps them to last much longer than predecessor materials. They are also waterproof, with mildew and ultraviolet light resistance. In the past, camouflage often had to be replaced frequently as the material broke down or the color faded.

Knitted polyester scrim fabric is longer lasting with stronger colorfast properties. On top of this, the material is unparalleled in its ability to protect wearers against extreme climates. Herculite’s version is flame resistant to Federal Standard 191-5903. They also produce fabrics that meet MIL PRF 20696F Type II, Class 2 and MIL PRF 55308 Type 1, Class specifications.

Camouflage fabrics have evolved significantly since the early days of frog skin made using from cotton fabrics. Today’s fabrics provide high-level protection and durability. Whether in uniforms or other applications, they last longer and stand up to the toughest environments.

Military fabrics are, undoubtedly, specialty fabrics. Their uses and applications demand durability, quality and structural integrity. Download our free Whitepaper to learn more about the four essential characteristics that should be found in all military fabrics.




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