How to actually build a ghillie and what to make it out of…
I’ve touched on a few articles about camouflage now, because it’s a very important part of being a sniper – being able to disappear from sight. There are a lot of different approaches to making a ghillie, or suit, or concealment system (I’ll stick to the word ghillie as a blanket term for it all), and a lot of different materials. But where do you start? That’s generally the moment where people get it right, or terribly wrong. Take a seat, this will be one long article.
Modifying and making sniper suits dates back over a hundred years to the onset of the First World War, predating even VHS videos. From the earliest days snipers have been modifying their camouflage to better match the environment they were working in. Early images show some snipers making artificial tree suits, adding leaves and local vegetation and during the Cold War, British snipers experimented with gluing artificial bricks onto urban sniper camouflage to help disguise themselves better. It isn’t some recent phenomena developed by highly innovative airsofters, but the last few years have seen an explosion in the development of ghillie building and personal camouflage within airsoft, largely through easier access to information and ideas being shared via social media, and also access to cheaper and more varied materials from Internet retailers that may not have been previously obtainable. We’ve developed a whole culture around modifying camouflage. But how do you filter all this information down into something useful?
First thing you need to do though is get off Facebook and stop googling pictures of ghillies. Quite often, this gives us ideas of what we want our finished article to look like and gives us a model to work off. Which sounds like the right thing to do. But it isn’t. Because as good as that guy looks in that “spot the sniper” picture, chances are he’s not playing where you are. The first thing you need to look at is where you’re going to be using it. So go to the site, have a walk around and take lots of pictures – especially pictures of the floor in different parts of the site.
Secondly, as much as the adverts and heavily filtered photos online might try to persuade you, there is no out of the box approach to camouflage. You may have bought a ready made rifle to avoid any hassle, but this is where the work comes in. Being a successful sniper requires an understanding of the environment and how you appear in it. This translates to lots of (fun) suit building and a constant cycle of adjustment for different seasons.
What you need to consider is the type of terrain before you buy a base to build it all onto. I see loads of players at my local site, which is dominated by grass, turning up in very dark brown leaf suits because that’s what they’ve seen on Facebook. Similarly, at a local pine woodland site, I’ve seen players wearing green string type suits that stand out worse than ordinary camo. Is the site quite light in colour? Or is it a dark, muddy woodland? You need to try and avoid contrasting against the background. Here’s a couple of pictures to demonstrate.
The first pic is my leaf suit, that I made for a totally different environment, being used in a grass area. It doesn’t matter how good anyone says the colours are, there’s no way I’m going to be able to hide there. Second picture is a cheap leaf suit and dpm trousers, but used in an area of similar colours. Much better, despite a sizeable price difference – the first picture cost me about three times as much.
I read somewhere a post about suit building, that depth and pattern are enough to fool the human eye and that colour is irrelevant. Colour and in particular tone MUST come first. A dark brown suit in a light environment gives you next to no camouflage, similarly a grass suit in the woods will give you away. Pick a setup that’s close at least for starters, then it can be built on.
So, now that you know where you’re going to be playing, let’s have a look at what options we have as a base to build our ghillie on.
1. The Leaf Suit
Probably the most popular choice at the moment after being adopted by several prominent groups and a host of other snipers who have since developed an art of gluing extra stuff on, leaf suits originated in America for hunting purposes before being adopted by paintballers and then airsofters. They are a very easy base to work on, provide full body coverage in a range of realistic camouflages that blend into the terrain (if you pick the right one) and of course have lots of flaps of material bolted on to mimic leaves and vegetation. They are also lightweight and breathable, which is a godsend in warmer weather. The leafy elements are great for gluing additional artificial veg onto, and some meshes allow you to tie or zip tie materials directly onto the suit. The main downside to leaf suits is that a lot are made from very flimsy mesh which isn’t ideal for crawling, and the lightweight leaves do catch the wind quite easily and flap about. Leaf balaclavas, available separately, are an excellent buy regardless of what suit you build as a means to cover the face and neck effectively, with the 3d texture helping to disguise the human head. The downside is that a lot of leaf suits have leaves glued in lines, which looks unnatural at some angles, and can be quite fragile at the lower price points.
Links to some of the best leaf suit options :
£13 Yowie suit – These are very cheap and obviously not amazing quality, but for the price they do a good job of concealment, especially once dyed brown (see ghillie materials guide). There are hundreds of companies making these on the market – don’t pay more than £20. Be aware some cost three times more for exactly the same product.
North Mountain Gear suit – These are probably the best leaf suits available on the market. Not the most expensive, but lots of leaves to break up shape and very robust. A firm favourite among the sniper community, you’d be hard pressed to find anything better. Needs toned down with dye a little for European woodland.
MFH leaf suit – My personal suit is an MFH. The colours on it, in a European woodland environment, are absolutely amazing. At around the same price as the North Mountain suit, these are unfortunately a little delicate, especially the pants, but if you had a mind to use BDU pants and then attach pieces of the MFH coloured fabric over the top, you’d solve that problem. My jacket has never ripped.
Russian Leshy suit – Growing in popularity, the Leshy is robust and a much lighter tone to begin with, useful for drier environments.
Do consider headwear, whether you run a cape, leaf suit, viper hood or whatever. The best choice to cover up all the skin around the head area and disguise what is easily your most obvious feature, is headwear. I’ll cover this in depth in another article, but here’s a couple of balaclavas to have a look at. Balaclavas hang loosely and break up the net silhouette, and provide excellent camo even if worn under a hood.
2. The Cape
The traditional sniper wear for those familiar with string-style ghillie suits often used by various armies, and in films and computer games. Basically a mesh fabric, loosely cut, that usually hangs down to the knees at the back, with an open front and a hood. Although the string approach is ineffective for most airsoft snipers due to mixed terrains and a habit of catching on pretty much everything, (check out sixmilstalkers in Scotland to see it done right), the base itself has a few advantages. Compared to the body shaped leaf suit, the cape hangs looser and does a better job initially of disguising the human form. Most capes are made from thick, robust mesh that will take a lot of abuse. The hood, although restricting the field of vision, does allow you to rotate your head underneath without creating movement, and when worn down helps bulk out the neck area to hide that head and shoulder outline. The front is open to allow access to rigs and webbing.
UK companies Viper and parent company Webtex make excellent capes that are reasonably priced and have built in elastic vegetation loops, so that once you’ve done your cape, you can take it to the site and stuff local natural vegetation inside the loops to help blend in better.
Links to Capes :
Webtex – The classic and most commonly used. Easy to colour, the mesh is tough and easy to zip tie materials on to. Also has elasticated loops built in to thread natural vegetation through.
LytHarvest – A bigger cape than the Webtex, allowing more coverage, the LytHarvest is different in that it can be separated to allow the head and shoulders to be used on their own. Elastic veg loops are at different angles too.
Viper – Sister company to Webtex, essentially the same suit, but in multicam which will give you a bit of a pattern to give you a start. I have the Viper version, and it looks great with a light dusting of brown spray paint.
Links to more capes and hoods courtesy of Kalmár Nagy András
3. The Viper Hood
Same idea as a cape, a viper hood is a head and shoulders only cape, meaning better ventilation and just enough concealment for your upper half, which should hide you in a prone position facing the target. Obviously you get a lot less coverage than other systems, but is popular with run and gun type snipers (not true snipers) for whom I have a great disdain.
MOSS – Pro level hood by UK Sniper Systems, which is now under contract to the Ministry of Defence, sadly few are available still on the civilian market. More back coverage than most Viper hoods, and absolutely bomb proof construction. I have one (see review) and use it now as a grass hood for my other camouflage systems, so I can throw it over the top and have better concealment in grassy areas. A good use for any viper hood tbh, as an addition to a leaf suit or other system.
Cheaper Viper – Still a very good and versatile base to work off, this lighter coloured hood is much cheaper and easy to colour as you need it.
4. The BDU’s
BDU’s, or Battle Dress Uniform (issue camo shirt and pants) obviously provide a basic level of concealment, but can also be used as a base to build on. Worth a follow on Facebook, Le Covert Sartorialist has some really good techniques for building directly onto clothing by poking holes in using a needle and then using a thin zip tie to add material in.
The advantage of BDU’s, he argues, is that they’re a lot tougher and easier to wear than thin mesh leaf suits, and already have plenty of pockets to stow kit in to save messing around with load bearing equipment, which is ideal for snipers using rifles with small magazines like the VSR and some L96 models. Unless you’re doing a full weekend event where a lot more kit is required, a couple of pockets is more than enough and means you don’t have to worry about webbing catching on your surroundings. Depending on site rules or personal play style, you may still need somewhere to holster a pistol however.
Another advantage to BDU’s is that they’re also very easy to either dye or spray paint to match your environment, and come in a much wider variety of base colours to begin with anyway, so they’re extremely adaptable.
The disadvantages of BDU’s are that they are a bit more form fitting, meaning it’s unlikely to hide your shape as well without adding a lot of extra material. Also, they’re not as breathable as the wother options, but most people play airsoft in BDU’s anyway so it’s not like running around in a wool jumper or a heavy fancy dress costume. Something to consider depending on your environment. Here in the UK it’s generally cold anyway so we don’t suffer.
BDU’s can be picked up easily from local surplus stores, places like wish.com and aliexpress have some cheap options too, but check out Military1st.co.uk for a massive selection of patterns. I do recommend looking for pants with built in knee pockets (not those plastic knee pads – they’re noisy) and elbow pockets for padding while crawling. Also, the UBAC’s style combat shirts, with the moisture wicking polyester bodies and camouflaged arms are a poor choice for snipers – you’ll rip it to bits being on the ground. Get old school combat shirts that can take some abuse!
One last thing I’d like to add in are Russian sniper suits. Old fashioned perhaps, but some really good patterns on that link and you might find something useful.
There are companies now that will make you a really good suit without putting the effort in, but i haven’t included them here because I’ll probably forget someone and be accused of favouring certain people over others, and also they’re quite expensive. Additionally, there’s a skill in learning to adapt and create camouflage systems which is worth practicing. When I first started sniping, suits were basic jute capes but it was almost considered a rite of passage to build one; you were accepted as a sniper once you had completed your suit. Although those days have gone and people would rather throw cash at the problem, it’s a better way of doing things and certainly more in the spirit of the sniper. It also leads to a better understanding of how to use it, rather than just putting on a £600 pre made suit and expecting to turn invisible.
Next, what to add onto it…