What is a ghillie suit?
A ghillie suit is a suit that camouflages your appearance with natural colours and conceals your silhouette by means of a three-dimensional structured surface. Often, a ghillie suit is a two-piece set, consisting of jacket and trousers, with netting on the outside onto which strips of cloth or rope are attached. All in camouflage colours of course.
By adding those external bits and pieces, the irregular surface of the ghillie suit will hide your silhouette. With that, you’re completely unrecognisable as a human, blending in with your surroundings. A ghillie suit is also known as a sniper suit, yowie suit, camo tent or gunny suit. We’ve even heard it being called a monster suit…
How do I wear a ghillie suit?
With confidence and conviction: ‘…be the bush…’ But seriously, a ghillie suit can be worn in different ways. When it’s cold and wet, you can use an oversized ghillie suit over your warm and waterproof clothing. But as a ghillie suit itself can be quite warm, it’s recommendable to take good consideration in choosing the layer of clothing underneath.
The big advantage of the netting on the outside of a ghillie suit, is that you can customise the camouflage to suit your surroundings by adding pieces of grass, reed or twigs with leaves. If you really want the full works, you can crawl through the mud. Twist some pieces of burlap in it or ivy, everything that’ll make you blend in with your surroundings. Naturally, the best materials to add, are the ones found around you.
A ghillie suit is most used for hunting and in airsoft. But even nature photographers use ghillie suits to stay well-hidden. When hunting, a ghillie suit can offer you great service. As you can imagine, it can help you completely blend into the undergrowth, without the need to put up a camouflage screen first. A ghillie suit makes you more mobile. Of course, you’ll need to watch your movements more than when sitting behind a screen, but it’s easier to move location.
And even on bare grassland, a ghillie suit can help you stay hidden. You can, for instance, position yourself in a ditch when hunting geese. A small heap of natural looking material will be way less alarming than a human shape. This most certainly goes for crows too.
In airsoft, a ghillie suit is often used by players that are playing as snipers in the playing field. Well-hidden for the seeking eye of the opponent, they can lay in wait for hours. Just like hunters, or military snipers, they need to keep their movements restricted as much as possible.
Whatever your use for a ghillie suit, keep in mind it’s important to keep your profile as small as possible. This means staying low, close to the ground and if you need to move, do this as subtle as possible. The function of a ghillie suit is not -as we jokingly said above- to dress up like a bush, but just making you blend into the natural environment. The most important thing is hiding your silhouette, transforming your human shape into an undetermined, harmless looking shape that doesn’t ring any alarm bells.
How do I clean a ghillie suit?
Search on the internet and you’ll come across some pretty bizarre stories. They vary from hunters claiming they never clean their ghillie suit to keep the patina and natural smell, to snipers telling you they had to stay in position for so long, that they had to relieve themselves in their ghillie suits.
Fact is, that a stain on your ghillie suit is more of a gain than anything else. So washing it shouldn’t be an esthetical consideration, just a hygienical one. Because of the three-dimensional surface, we don’t really recommend using a washing machine. We prefer a simple hand wash in lukewarm water. Hunters can consider using a special detergent that is odourless and adds a UV-absorbent layer. Normal detergent usually has UV-brighteners that make the camouflage colours of your ghillie suit useless, as some animals can see inside the UV-spectrum. Airsofters won’t have this issue, so they can use soap or a mild conventional detergent.
If you don’t care about washing your ghillie suit, you have to take one thing in consideration though. When crawling on the ground, a lot of organic material will stick to the ghillie suit and chances are that you’ve added some of it deliberately. When all this material is dry, you won’t have a problem other than a crumbly trail of dried leaves the next time you put on the ghillie suit. Wet organic material however, tends to rot and form mould. If you want to keep those materials on your ghillie suit, make sure you hang it out to dry. And don’t store it, for instance, in a bag.
Where does the name ghillie suit come from?
The further back in time, the harder it gets to find out where a name originates from. But one thing’s for sure, the ghillie suit has Scottish origins. As the story goes, the name ghillie would come from Ghillie Dhu, a Scottish mythological creature, nymph or half god that resides in the woods. The creature is covered in moss and leaves and protects the forest and it’s beings. Another explanation -also with its origins in Scotland- is that ghillie is an English word derived from the Gaelic Scottish word gille. A gille is a helping hand for hunters, like a beater for example.
Whatever the exact origin of the name, all clues point to the rough environment of the Scottish Highlands as to where the ghillie suit has come to fruit. The first documented use of ghillie suits used by a military unit, was with the Lovat Scouts in the Second Boer War. The unit consisted mostly of employees of the Highland estates, like stalkers and gamekeepers. In 1916 the Lovat Scouts became the first sniper unit of the British armed forces.