A very big question we’ve had bandied around the team this week. Usually regarded as the most important bit of kit for any sniper, is it actually doing any good? Is it just to complete the look?
In airsift sniper circles, you can’t get moved for people trying to push ghillie suits and “crafting materials”. Every profile picture is obliged to be the person hidden behind a ghillie suit. Yes, mine is too. Sniper forums are full of players falling over themselves to pick out faults with each others’ ghillie pictures as if one badly coloured leaf is going to get them spotted and shot at after spending ten minutes staring at a static photo in which we know there’s a sniper. It seems you can’t be a sniper without one, and it’s what sets you apart from the other players on the field; the ability to stay undetected. Do they work though, and how well?
The consensus generally from the team is that they are for the most part nothing more than a fashion show (nicely put Dan). Airsoft snipers like to look the part, but don’t know how to use the ghillie at all and instead just stand there in really obvious positions, silhouetted by some dark Russian leaf pattern, assuming that like Frodo in Lord of the Rings, they’re wearing some sort of magic-powered invisibility suit, that they probably bought on the power of some cheesy photoshopped advert. And I’ve seen that with probably around 90% of the airsoft snipers that I’ve watched in games across the UK – this probably applies to a lot of people reading this article, so we as a team have to look to fix the problem.
And the problem is a tactical one. Something unfortunately you can’t buy, but you can learn. Hiding from the enemy I’d say is 75% your use of cover and your positioning, and 25% from what you’re wearing. You can be a good sniper in jeans and a bright t-shirt if you know how to use the environment to cover you, but if you have the best ghillie suit in the world it doesn’t actually hide you in plain sight, despite what the shops tell you while they’re trying to draw money out of you. However, you wouldn’t just run in jeans and a t-shirt because it makes sense to take every advantage going, so I’m not suggesting a mass burning of ghillies. There is probably an argument for running just normal BDU’s to practice the skills involved in staying hidden first, before adding a ghillie for that total concealment. On the modern field though we’ve become far too reliant on our kit to see us through without actually learning how to use it, or in most cases even how to play airsoft properly. Skills are becoming a thing of the past, with the focus being on rate of fire, or trigger response, or multi-bang grenades for quick and easy room clearance. Thermal scopes and night vision to save learning how to play in the dark.
Using elevation in the ground to hide your route, your silhouette, bounding from soft cover to soft cover (bushes), being alert to where other players are, noise discipline and being aware of shadows all keeps you out of sight. It’s all combat basics, covered in The 7 S’s Of Camouflage here. If you can’t master these, there’s absolutely no amount of ghillie materials you can buy, Haloscreen included, that will cover your mistakes. This is the art of stealth, and I think that at the next sniper event I’m doing it’ll be ghillie free to help nail these key skills. I’ve covered most if not all in the Tactics tab in the menu, so I won’t go into too much detail again in this article.
One thing I will dip into is “over-ghillie”, where there’s too much stuff applied to the suit. This counteracts the stealth skills by either being irritating, catching on kit and the terrain, preventing the operation of the rifle or other key equipment. Imagine trying to stealthily crawl up a hill but having to constantly brush raffia out of your face, fake leaves blocking your sight, your arms catching on every branch. Needing to reload but you can’t find the clip on your mag pouch because it’s buried under too much cotton. This sort of problem reduces your efficiency, causing a lot of eye-catching excess movement that upsets your stealth, in order to gain a barely noticeable amount of extra camouflage. “Enough is as good as a feast” Le Covert Sartorialist once said of 3D camouflage; certainly with a correct 2D pattern not as much is required as what some people think, and this eliminates the problem of excess material and the hassle it causes.
A good example of minimal 3D from Akastaten. The bulk of the camouflage is actually coming from the DPM pattern underneath, and the 3D elements matched to the pattern enhance it and also break up the flat surface, but it doesn’t require 5,000 plastic leaves glued to it to make it work.
Another one of Dan at a recent event. The trousers on the right here are his, the jacket on the left mine. Both very economical on the added 3D but his in testing was enough to make him disappear at only 10 metres, and a group of experienced snipers did struggle to locate him in it. He understands camouflage though – it doesn’t need to be much but it needs to be right I think would be the overall message.
Is it just cosplay? Yes, I would say so in a lot of cases. That hooded cloak look, mimicking characters on games/films, and just buying one off the shelf thinking “that’s it, that’ll automatically work because it’s a ghillie suit”. It definitely isn’t used correctly – the ghillie suit just enhances your skills, it doesn’t gift you them. Is all airsoft descending into cosplay? Do we bother to train any of our skills or do we just like to dress up and pretend we know what we’re doing? Perhaps that’s what airsoft Instagram in 2023 is all about; photographers, posed photos, sponsored ads, links. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’ll stick to doing the tactics, camouflage, skills, and theory behind the game itself, because personally I find that side of things more rewarding.