Some people wear business suits, we wear ghillie
suits. Just exactly where did it come from? The Ghillies were/are Scottish game
wardens and the suit was developed to help catch poachers. It was a natural fit
for snipers, as it is about the best camouflage one can devise for concealing a
human form. The idea behind ghillie suits is that you want to break up the
outline of the body so it more naturally blends into the surroundings. On this
page we will go over the construction, utilization, and provide some pictures
of various ghillie suits.
There is one important thing to remember when building your Ghillie suit, and that is the fact that there is not only one-way to build a ghillie suit. Each sniper has their own way of building their suits that has evolved over time as they continue to modify existing suits and build new ones. The way that I will out line building a suit here is based on the methods that I have used, which were originally taught to me at the US Army Sniper School. Is it the only way? No, is it the best way? Who knows, maybe, maybe not? But it is ONE way.
First one must decide whether you will build a one piece or two-piece suit. Each has its advantages. A one piece suit can be kept all together as a single piece making it a bit easier to pack around, it also is nice when one is crawling backwards, as you do not have a shirt portion to crawl up or otherwise get bunched up. The two-piece suits have the nice advantage of being able to break the suit apart. You may not always want to wear the entire suit, there may be plenty of times where you only want to or need to wear the top and hat, or there may be times you need to just remove your top and drape it around the front of you if sitting or kneeling, or even drape it around the front of a position to aid in concealment. For two piece suits, I like to use old BDU’s, they are lose fitting with ample storage, and at least “fairly” rugged. For one piece suits, mechanic overalls work, and one may try nomex, but nomex fabric is a bit tricky, it breaths well until dirty, and is not the most durable of fabrics.
Once you have decided on the style its time to begin construction. The first step that I do, is attach some netting to the back portions of the suit. Netting with 1″ squares works really well, you can use netting with larger squares, but it can be a pain to get good coverage if the squares are too large. Smaller squares are also a pain to try and wrap jute around and tie it. You must wrap the netting around partially toward the front. When laying in the prone, you need that netting to cover the back, and then wrap around the sides of the suit. BUT, do not put it on the front… you spend 80% of your time in a ghillie laying in the prone, netting on the front does nothing, gets chewed up, and causes problems when crawling. Cover the back and the sides, and that is all. Also, if building a two-piece suit, be sure to allow the netting on the shirt to overlap the netting on the back of the pants. You want this in order to create one continuous flow of netting and then jute/burlap. How do you attach the netting? Personally, I sew it on by hand about every 3 inches around the outside using heavy-duty thread, and then about every square foot on the rest of the suit. You don’t want too many connection points, as it can restrict movement, but you need enough to hold on the netting as there will be a lot of weight hanging from it. I also like to use shoe goe® to reinforce the knots and to attach the netting in less critical spots. Some have used shoe goe exclusively to attach the netting with no sewing, but longevity “may” be an issue. I just feel more comfortable sewing it. One thing to remember is where ever you put shoe goe, you’ll need to conceal it with some flat paint (its a bit shiny). Also, if you will be operating in hot climates, you can cut a square out of the back of the shirt/torso area to allow cooling. The netting still spans over this cutout and it will still be covered with jute/burlap, but this allows for some better cooling. You can also turn the shirt (if two-piece) inside out and have pockets on the inside of your suit. Okay, we have our netting on now.
Usually at this point, and before I put on all the jute/burlap, I like to apply my canvas, reinforcements, and padding (if desired). Because you crawl around so much in your ghillie, it is generally a good idea to reinforce the front of the suite with something stronger than just the standard fabric. Thick canvas from an old tent or shelter half works very well. You want to apply this to the front of your shirt, from about the chest down to the waist, and then on the front of the thigh area and underneath portions of the arms. To more precisely place it, lay in the prone and crawl around a bit, it should be fairly obvious which areas are the high wear areas. Put the canvas there. Most people just apply the canvas with shoe goe, and be sure to go 100% around the edges, as you do not want edges to catch on anything when crawling, if you do, it’ll peel the canvas off rather quickly. You can sew on the canvas, but if you do, go over the sewing with shoe goe, as the sewing will fall apart quickly if its exposed when crawling. You can also reinforce the crotch area with stronger material or additional stitching; crotch blowouts on ghillie suits are common. If desired, you can also sew in some poly pad on the knees and elbows for comfort. You can put this pad under the canvas if desired, but either shoe goe it in place or sew it so it does move around. Be sure to test its placement before attaching…. as I’ve misplaced padding more than once (perhaps some day I’ll learn, or as I have been doing, just not use padding).
Okay, now we have a suit that is ready to make useful, and the fun part begins! You can apply the jute/burlap in several different ways. One way (and a bit quicker) is to cut 1″ strips of burlap about 18″-24″ long, and start tying those strips to the netting. Another way, is to strip out the individual jute strings from the burlap cloth and tie “bundles” of strings to the netting. Which method you use is personal choice. Personally, I like a mix of about 80% strings and 20% strips. In terms of color, you really do not want just one single color on the entire suit. If you look in the wilderness, nothing is one solid color. Be sure to mix in various colors, and match it to your area of operations. If you are unsure of exact colors, be sure to error on the side of “lighter”. It is much easier to darken a suit with paints and dye’s than it is to lighten the color of a suit. Also avoid blacks as a jute color. Now, how thick do you make your suit? That is another personal preference. Many prefer to have what I call the gorilla suit. Very thick and long, weighing in at about 50 lbs. These suits are very effective for blending in, but they pay the price in weight, heat, and bulkiness. I like to make my suits a bit thinner. Just barely getting the 100% coverage. Still providing good breakup, but much lighter and cooler. Down around the feet, you will want to keep the jute shorter so its not dragging on the ground and making you trip. Also, be sure to leave areas on your suit for attaching natural vegetation. In fact, leave lengths of 550 cord tied to the netting to be used for application of vegetation. All right, now you should have a fine looking suit.
Now, you need to cover up that head of yours also. I like to use a bonnie hat, but others like to create hoods that are attached to the main suit. Both have their advantages, I like the separate caps, because again, it provides flexibility, there may be times you only want to wear your ghillie hat. Having it a part of the suit allows for a very fluid transition with continuous flow. In terms of a hat, you attach netting to the hat in much the same way you did the suit. Be sure to leave a good 12″ or more off the back to flow into your main suit. You need the overlap. You’ll tie off the jute just like on the suit. You’ll want to leave things short around your face, because whether you like it or not, you generally need to be able to see what you are doing!! Now, if you are ready to be fancy, then you can put 12″+ of overhang off the front of your hat, much like you did off the back. You create a cape that flows down over your rifle and blends everything in nice and smooth. How do you see? (one might ask). When moving, you roll up that front cape and tie it to the front of your hat/hood setup. When you reach your FFP, unroll it and drape it over your rifle/scope. In terms of your actual face, good ol’ face paint generally does the trick, but the sniper hoods that are commercially available can work well also.
In terms of your hands and feet. Face paint works on the hands, but generally rubs off fairly fast. The quick solution is gloves. I personally like nomex gloves used by pilots and tanker crews. They are tight fitting and are semi-durable and usually are black/green. Many people like to cut the tip of the trigger finger off to feel the trigger better for good trigger squeeze… this is a good idea. For your feet, you need to do something about the boots. Nothing looks like black boots in the woods, except black boots in the woods. Spray paint then the color of your surroundings, and do not be shy about shoe goe’ing some burlap to them. Yes, this means you will not be polishing these boots. I highly recommend you NOT wear them for inspection.
Last, but not least, your weapon and equipment. All of your equipment that you will be carrying with you, needs to go inside your ghillie. Whether in pockets or sewing in pouches, etc, it needs to go in your suit or drag bag. Generally you will carry everything (including your suit) in your ruck until you get within a certain distance and you setup your ORP and cache your stuff. Its generally not wise to just throw everything in your ruck and leave it out in the open. While you are in a ghillie making mood, go ahead and make a ghillie blanket for your ruck to cover it up with when cached. Now, your weapon. You need two forms of camo, your drag bag, and the weapon itself when it is ready for firing. The drag bag is exactly that, a bag you put your rifle in while stalking, its usually drug behind a sniper on the stalk (hince the name drag bag). It is best to have a padded bag to protect your rifle. It also need to have one side durable that will be the side drug everywhere, the other side needs to look like your ghillie. Attach netting and burlap. You can make a bag out of canvas and pad it with poly, or you can start with an airborne jump bag for a weapon, or you can buy one of the commercially available bags. Just remember, what ever it is, it is going to get hammered during stalks and during your ghillie construction. Some commercial bags have shooting mats, etc. These are nice for law enforcement, but certainly not necessary, and perhaps not even desired for military sniping. Extra cargo pockets to carry equipment and ammo, are nice.
The weapon itself is often forgot when preparing for a stalk. This is one of the most critical things TO camouflage. A long black rifle sticks out pretty good in the woods. The simplest thing to do is have a long strip of burlap (or several strips) to wrap the rifle with. You want to wrap it back to where your cape will cover. Generally about halfway down the scope. Also, it is not advisable to wrap the barrel to stock, this can disrupt harmonics and effect point of impact. Scope to stock is fine, and if you must go barrel to stock, then do so losely. Other means of camo includes paint (not the most effective) camo netting, and a full blown ghillie blanket to cover the whole thing with. The blanket is most effective, but also is not good for mobility or deployment. It can be a pain. I personally like to paint my rifle a good base color and then wrap the rifle with various widths and colors of burlap strips to match the surroundings.
Using a Ghillie
Okay, rule number one: GHILLIES DO NOT MAKE YOU INVISIBLE.
Rule number two: Never forget rule number one.
Ghillies aid in concealment, that is all. Its another tool and unless you use it properly, it will not do what they were designed to do. When using a ghillie, you must use natural vegetation, and switch it out often. Wilting veg can be a dead giveaway. Ghillie suits work best when static, meaning, you are not moving. Movement is one of the key identifiers that give away snipers. When you are moving, obviously keep terrain between you and the target/observers. If you cannot, then slow and deliberate movement is required. And I mean SLOW. Besides that, its common sense.
Some additional things to remember may include keeping your cape from tangling with the knobs on your scope and changing your settings. Always do a double check before sending your round down range. Heat is also a problem. Ghillies are extremely hot… and you must plan for lots of water. Camel backs are great for under a ghillie. Best to get the biggest that will work for you.
Another word of caution is that burlap burns extremely well. Avoid flame, and it may be wise to spray some 3M fire retardant on your suit.
Images with descriptions
Here are some images I’ve received from various visitors to snipercentral.com and I thank them all for sending in the pictures. To see the full size image just click on the thumbnail. I’ll use some of them to point out some areas that could use improvement or to point out things I’ve mentioned above. If one of these pictures is of you, and I point out an error, just use it as constructive criticism; by no means do I intend to offend or mock anyone.