A ghillie suit is a type of camouflage clothing designed to resemble the background environment such as foliage, snow or sand. Typically, it is a net or cloth garment covered in loose strips of burlap (hessian), cloth, or twine, sometimes made to look like leaves and twigs, and optionally augmented with scraps of foliage from the area.
Military personnel, police, hunters, and nature photographers may wear a ghillie suit to blend into their surroundings and conceal themselves from enemies or targets. The suit gives the wearer's outline a three-dimensional breakup, rather than a linear one. When manufactured correctly, the suit will move in the wind in the same way as surrounding foliage. Some ghillie suits are made with light and breathable material that allows a person to wear a shirt underneath.
A well-made ghillie suit is extremely effective in camouflaging its wearer. A ghillie-suited soldier sitting perfectly still with local flora attached to their webbing is nearly impossible to detect visually, even at close range. However the suit does nothing to prevent thermal detection using technologies such as FLIR. In fact, the warmth of the heavy suit can make a wearer stand out more than a standard soldier when viewed using these methods.
The Lovat Scouts, a Scottish Highland regiment formed by Simon Fraser, 14th Lord Lovat during the Second Boer War, is the first known military unit to use ghillie suits and in 1916 went on to become the British Army's first sniper unit. The Lovat Scouts were initially recruited from the ranks of Scottish Highland estate workers, especially professional stalkers and gamekeepers, with some of them coming from Gairloch, where the tale of Ghillie Dhu originates.
Similar sniper outfits in the Australian Army are nicknamed "yowie suit", named for their resemblance to the Yowie, a mythical hominid similar to the Yeti and Bigfoot which is said to live in the Australian wilderness.
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High-quality ghillie suits are made by hand; most military snipers generally construct their own unique suits. Manufactured ghillie suits can be assembled from up to six pieces. Proper camouflage requires the use of natural materials present in the environment in which a sniper will operate. Making a ghillie suit from scratch is time-consuming, and a detailed, high-quality suit can take weeks or even months to manufacture and season. Ghillie suits can be constructed in several different ways. Some military services make them of rough burlap flaps or jute twine attached to a poncho. Hunting ghillie suits can be made of nylon and other artificial materials as well as the ones listed before. United States military ghillie suits are often built using either a battle dress uniform (BDU), or a pilot's flight suit or some other one-piece coverall as the base.
On the base, rough webbing made of durable, stainable fabric like burlap is attached. A nearly invisible material like fishing line can be used to sew each knot of net to the fabric (often with a drop of glue for strength). The jute is applied to the netting by tying groups of 5 to 10 strands of a color to the netting with simple knots, skipping sections to be filled in with other colors. The webbing is then seasoned by dragging it behind a vehicle, leaving it to soak in mud, or even applying manure to make it smell "earthy." Once on location, the ghillie suit is customized with twigs, leaves, and other elements of the local foliage as much as possible, although these local additions must be changed every few hours, due to wilting of green grasses or branches.
Although highly effective, ghillie suits are impractical for many situations where camouflage is useful. They tend to be very heavy and hot. Even in moderate climates, the temperature inside the ghillie suit can reach over 50 °C (120 °F). The burlap is also flammable, unless treated with fire retardant, so the wearer may be at increased risk from ignition sources such as smoke grenades or white phosphorus.
To enhance safety, the US Army Soldier Systems Center has developed an inherently fire-resistant, self extinguishing fabric to replace the jute or burlap. This material was field tested in late 2007 at the Sniper School at Fort Benning and has been standard issue since June 2008.
Civilians have purchased ghillie suits to commit crimes. Police arrested an Australian man after they found that he had assaulted women while wearing such a suit.
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- David Amerland (2017), The Sniper Mind: Eliminate Fear, Deal with Uncertainty, and Make Better Decisions, St. Martin's Press, p. 53, ISBN 978-1-250-11368-9
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- Pegler (2004), S. 129
- Hogben, Bruce (17 June 1989). "Aussie ingenuity keeps our soldiers safely out of sight". The Advertiser. Adelaide, Australia.
- August 27th, 2017 (2017-08-27). "Central Coast father to face court over schoolgirl's assault". Au.news.yahoo.com. Retrieved 2018-01-31.