I’m a big fan of Not Getting Shot. It’s right up there on my list with continuing to breathe and retaining my Constitutional Rights. Not Getting Shot is a wide-ranging concept for me. It includes keeping small pointy pieces of metal from perforating my tender hide. It also includes not getting shot by some jerk with a paintball gun – though to be fair, I’m usually trying to do the same to him.
The simplest way to Not Get Shot is to avoid detection, which is where camouflage uniforms come in. I’ve always taken an interest in various camouflage patterns (what red-blooded American boy doesn’t?) and my time in Iraq gave me ample exposure to a wide range of patterns. In addition to the Army’s ACU pattern, the Air Force’s ABU, the traditional DCU and the Marine’s desert MARPAT, I came into contact with various coalition patterns. Most, like the British desert DPM, the Danish desert flecktarn and the Australian DPDU, were optimized for arid environments.
I’m going to pick on the Army for a minute. While the Marines correctly went with environment-specific color patterns, the Army did not and the results were telling. I recall one instance where a Marine and a soldier were standing in the desert of southern Iraq. Though I was quite near, the Marine’s uniform did a good job of blending into the surrounding sand. The same could not be said of the soldier. I’m not even going to go into the abomination that is the Airman Battle Uniform.
The point is that camouflage uniforms must be appropriate for the environment they are used in. I live in a temperate area with plenty of woods, similar to European climates. While there are many modern patterns which provide excellent concealment (A-TACS FG and Multicam come to mind), they are a bit pricey. Thus, my attention turned to surplus European patterns.
Swiss Link was kind enough to supply me with two different uniforms, Swiss Alpenflage and Czech digital. I am including German Flecktarn in this review, as I bought it from Swiss Link back in 2008.
TAZ 83 (Alpenflage) – This pattern is made, as the name suggests, for the Alps. Of the 26 Cantons (think states) in Switzerland, only half have mean elevations are below 3,000 feet. Alpenflage is meant to be used at higher elevations and in a colder environment than the PA woods. Since I live in an area that has roughly a fifth of the elevation that this was designed for, it’s no surprise that Alpenflage is not optimal for my environment. Particularly, the white specks in the pattern tend to give the wearer away. I have no doubt that these are of use in the Swiss Alps, but in the woods where I live, it’s a liability.
While the pattern is less than optimal, the design is quite good, as I would expect of anything made by the Swiss. The uniform, though old, is still sturdy. Two cargo pockets on the thighs and one on the right buttock provide ample storage space. Unfortunately, the snap-down buttons on the uniform are reflective, which could give away your position. Whether this is by design or simply from wear, I do not know.
The jacket is of fine quality with a snap-down pocket on each breast and another high on the left bicep, by the shoulder. On the shoulders, there are shoulder straps for attaching rank sleeves. These epaulettes are held down by a button.
From an aesthetic point of view, I believe my friend Chris said it best when he remarked, “Dude, you look like you’re in pajamas.”
Czech Digital – is actually a work uniform, as opposed to a field uniform, which explains why I can’t find any photographs of Czech troops actually using this uniform. While the pattern works well at night, the same could be said of almost any dark, green-based pattern. As a work uniform, I guess the pattern would hide grease stains well, which is about all I can say of it.
The elastic band around the bottom of the shirt can lead to it rising up on the belly of the user. The lack of belt loops leaves the wearer reliant on a poorly-designed drawstring to keep the pants on his hips.Though the uniform bottom has a double-layer of material on front of the leg, there are no button-down cargo pockets, severely limiting your ability to stuff equipment in your pants. I would think this to be a real drawback for a work uniform
Flecktarn – This has long been a favorite of mine. I, my friends and my family have used this pattern in the woods for a while now and have been very pleased with the results.
Based on the WWII German dot pattern, this uniform uses flecks of color to break up the wearer’s outline, much like the modern digital patterns. Unlike the digital patterns, this has been around since 1976. It is a wonder to me why our military didn’t convert to a Flecktarn-style pattern decades ago.
There are many additional pieces of kit that are available in Flecktarn, including a wet weather suit, gloves, and chest rigs from Hessen Antique. You can find a good boonie hat in this pattern at RAP4.
Furthermore, there are different types of Flecktarn, from the arid Tropentarn used in desert areas to the high-elevation version used by the Chinese in Tibet. Aftermarket variations exist, such as one called AridFleck. There’s even an urban version made by Hyperstealth.
But I digress. The Flecktarn surplus uniform is both an excellent choice for its pattern, but also for its design and utility. Let’s start with the pants. The cuffs have elastic in them, which helps to seal them to your boots. I’m not sure if this feature is needed, but it’s there. If you dislike it, you can always perform minor surgery and remove the elastic altogether. There are two large cargo pockets on the thighs that close via snap-buttons. There are two traditional pockets (one on either side) on the hips. Lastly, a single cargo pocket is in the back, on the right buttock, though this one has no snaps to secure the top flap. The Flecktarn pants have belt loops, handy when you want to keep your pants up. The fly has a zipper and a button top. The Germans, being Europeans, arrange their zippers backwards. So, you’ll need to use your left hand to zip up your shirt and your parka.
The uniform top is by far the best of the three patterns I examined. Not only is the camouflage superior, but the design is extremely practical. It incorporates a design similar to the Swiss top, with breast pockets, a left bicep pocket and epaulettes. Unlike the Swiss top, the German Flecktarn shirt has more modern features. The shoulder straps are held in place using hook-and-loop fasteners. The cuffs of the sleeves are adjustable via hook-and-loop closures.
If you have a name tape, you can attach it to the left breast of the Flecktarn shirt or parka. Furthermore, the pocket on the left breast of the shirt has pen-holders built into the interior. The snap buttons on this uniform are painted black, though they do reflect light a bit, mostly from the flash of a camera.
The parka has much the same layout as the shirt. In addition, it has a hood, which can be tightened down by a drawstring. The waist can also be tightened via drawstring, and zipper-closed hand pockets provide ample storage space. There’s even an interior pocket on the left side. While not made to be a rain gear, I found it to be weather resistant, even in the middle of Hurricane Sandy.
Flecktarn is the clear winner for the temperate climate I’m in. If you live in a similar environment and want a good set of camouflage without spending a huge amount of money, I suggest you check out Swiss Link.
By Allen Cosby