Homemade Leafy Camo Suit

Ghillie suits for different terrain and seasons
     The traditional "Ghillie" suit was originally a Scottish invention used for gamekeeping and hunting, and was eventually adopted and adapted for use in military applications. There are various styles of Ghillies, designed for stalking partially upright, or for sniper crawling, or general hunting, and even paintball sport. Ghillie suits can look something like the two suits I made specifically for wildlife photography, shown at left. The construction techniques have changed with the times, and today they are usually made from heavy twine or strips of cloth painstakingly tied to a net backing, creating a shaggy covering that disguises the human shape and blends easily into foliage. Because of the construction technique and the materials involved, they tend to be hot and stuffy to wear. Lighter weight versions built on a clothing base of fine synthetic netting are now available which tend to be some cooler. Commercially made suits will cost from around $125 and up, depending upon the quality, materials and what the suit is designed to be used for. More info on traditional Ghillie suits can be found in my construction article "Ghillie Suit Camouflage - An Introduction to the Ghillie Suit for Wildlife Photography".

Leafy Camo suit

     These days, any sort of camouflaged suit that incorporates a textured three dimensional simulation of foliage might be referred to as a Ghillie suit. Instead of long shaggy threads, they may be made of die-cut "leafy" synthetic materials which are much lighter in weight, and attached to either a fine netting or a shirt as a base. These are more properly called leafy camo suits. The image at right shows a shirt, pants and a hood of this type of suit. Just like the "shaggy" version, a well-made commercially manufactured set like this suit will cost $150 and up.

     Now take a look at the homemade suit in the photo at left. This leafy camo suit cost me less than $50. It's homemade, using a shirt and pair of lightweight pants I purchased on an end-of-season sale. The pants and shirt were both made of the light polyester material that sports jerseys are made of, with many tiny holes for ventilation. You can see the tan material of the shirt I bought in this photo, which shows the widely spaced green camo die-cut leaf strips that came on the shirt originally.

      This shirt (Mad Dog Gear Eclipse 3-D Leafy Pullover) was a poor imitation of quality leafy camo, and a pull-over design at that, which made it cumbersome to put on and all the more undesirable. The minimal leafy camo sewn to the shirt covered perhaps 30% of the area, with wide tan strips of shirt showing between. It looked for all the world like a green and tan stripped shirt, utterly useless for camouflage. However, there was a large rack of these shirts in the store marked down on sale, perhaps because nobody would buy the things. While the shirt as it was would be useless for camo, I saw the potential for it to become something more, so I bought one cheap. I got an X-large that would fit my "medium" frame over a heavy winter coat. That way I could use it in warm or cold weather.

  This photo shows the "Mad Dog
Gear Leafy Pullover" shirt I used
as a base for my modified version.
The widely spaced green leafy
die-cut camo "leaves" hardly
qualify as any sort of camouflage.
The tan shirt material shows through the die-cut holes of the Camo Leaf Blind material where
I pulled through the green leafy die-cuts.
      On another rack I found a pair of warm-weather camo pants made from the same lightweight polyester jersey material. These were on an end-of-season sale, also cheap. Though the pants were the right weight for what I needed, they were the wrong camo pattern, but I had already decided how to solve that problem, just as I would solve it for the shirt.

     To make the shirt into useful camo, I took out the shirt's short 12-inch zipper that made it a pull-over and cut the shirt all the way down the front. Then I sewed in a full-length zipper so it would open fully in front. Next I cut out and attached sections of the same Advantage Max-4 HD Camo Leaf Blind material I used for several other projects, including my duck boat camo cover, my tripod camo skirt and the camo cover for my super-telephoto lens. To take advantage of the existing green leafy die-cut camo on the shirt, I patiently pulled each and every leafy cutout through the closest die-cut hole in the Camo Leaf Blind material as shown in the photo at left. That gave the shirt an even greater three-dimensional effect while covering the "bare" areas of the shirt with the Advantage Max camo pattern.

[ Please read this notice about Camo Leaf Blind ]

Detail of pleating on pants leg
      Then I turned to modifying the pants. These were also a size or two over-sized for me so I could wear them over other pants. I cut out sections of the Camo Leaf Blind material to cover the front of the pant legs from the leg inseam to the outsided seam. These sections were cut straight on the top and sides, but cut ragged on the bottom edge. I overlapped them down the legs like shingles, sewing the top edge of each section with pleats to make them pucker outward for greater three-dimensionality (see photo at left).

      I saw no reason to cover the back of the legs, since the pants material was already a camo pattern. I would hopefully be facing the birds while using it, and likely sitting as well, so covering the back of the pants legs seemed of little value. The photo at right shows the back of the legs without the additional camo covering. The far right photo shows how the leg covering comes up only to mid-pocket in front, since the shirt hangs down close to the knees anyway. It also shows the full zippered front unzipped. The hood is shown in both photos, with the one on the right showing it with the face mask open.

      The hood on this suit is more Camo Leaf Blind material backed by the same camo netting I used on some other projects, including the super-telephoto cover and the tripod skirt mentioned earlier. The hood was then tied to the band of one of my camo boonie hats with camo cord. The hat's chin strap serves to hold it on my head in a wind and makes for a comfortable fit for the hood. I thought this was a novel and original idea until I went looking for a Ghillie suit image to use at the top of the page. In my search I came across a product called a "boonie hood" (shown at left), which is pretty much exactly what I had made on my own, except mine hangs down a little farther, and mine has a face mask made into it. This avoids using a separate face mask, which would be a bit stuffier in warm weather than the one made onto the hood. The mask velcro's on one side so I can pull it back when not needed, or to eat and drink without having to remove the hood.


Update: I constructed a second Leafy Camo Suit for the wife, made on the same style of polyester lightweight camo hunting pants and shirt as the first suit. This time I was more liberal with the pleating of the camo, which gave it even greater texture and 3D depth. The pants and shirt for this second suit are two sizes oversized so they can be worn over heavy winter clothing. Being oversized also makes this suit more open and airy for use in warmer weather.

     Though not used for these photos, wearing facemasks under the hoods would be desirable in many situations. When using this type of suit with the matching lens covers and tripod skirts, the addition of facemasks would usually be optional. In that situation, working behind the lens cover provides excellent masking already.
      Last but not least, the left photo shows me wearing the suit behind the super-telephoto lens camo cover and the tripod camo skirt I made to use in conjunction with the suit. This provides extremely effective camouflage when it isn't practical or possible to use a photo blind. The lower left photo shows me crouching next to the camera and tripod set-up.

     On more than one occasion I have walked to the edge of the water within 30 feet or less of rafts of 150-200 wild ducks (Redheads, Ruddys, Teal, Wigeons, Scaup, Buffleheads, Mergansers, Coots and Grebes) while wearing this camo suit and carrying my tripod with camera and telephoto mounted. Moving slowly and carefully, I stalked upright across completely open ground where no other cover was available, in broad daylight. Then I set down the tripod, sat down on my walkstool and took photos for a couple of hours. No matter how you slice it, that's pretty darn amazing. It's slow and tedious, I'll admit, and takes patience, fieldcraft, and excellent camouflage, but it can be done. To be honest, I even amazed myself. Now I know how good this stuff is.

     For more on how I made these items, check out the Super-telephoto Lens Camo Cover article. You can also read my 4-page article on making my own Ghillie Suit Camouflage.