How to Camouflage Yourself in an Urban Environment

When you think of camouflage, you might think of waiting in a blind or deer stand bedecked in a pattern that makes you one with the trees.

Or you might think of tactical gear and any number of military-esque patterns. You might even think of a shaggy net or ghillie suit that can make equipment or people blend in seamlessly to the terrain they rest upon.

All of these things described are without a doubt within the realm of camouflage, but did you spot what they all have in common?

Camouflage is usually synonymous with natural environments. Be it forest, jungle, desert or mountain, the vast majority of gear and supplies on the market intended to help a person and their possessions remain concealed are intended for these environments.

But there are other environments for which no off-the-shelf camouflage is truly appropriate.

I’m talking about urban environments. Although it is easy to write off such places as the domains of unprepared bugmen ripe for the slaughter, it would be foolish to do so.

These areas represent some of the most widespread and densest concentrations of people all around the world, and the well-rounded prepper will understand how to conceal themselves and their purposes in such an environment. Today’s article will help you tackle this tricky problem head on.

Concealment is always a good idea.

Before you write this off as a purely theoretical exercise because, duh, you can’t really utilize effective camouflage in an urban environment that is swarming with people at every moment of night and day, hear me out.

The bottom line is that for preppers, or really anyone in a legitimate survival situation and particularly those of us enduring a societal collapse or any other time when the rule of law is absent, concealment is a virtue. Full stop. It is always a good idea.

The less information you can present to people, and by people I mean unknown contacts, the better off you will be.

Think about it: Everyone that sees you is sizing you up for one reason or another, and it doesn’t mean they necessarily have hostile intent. Many of them will, make no mistake; especially as “need” with a capital N starts to close in on them.

People that can see where you are, what resources you have at your disposal, likely how many people you have with you and your overall status including health, condition, armaments, supplies and more will run this information through a decision-making matrix based on their objectives.

If it is a desperate survivor who can see that you are well supplied it will probably result in an approach and a pitch for a handout, a handout that might see a swarm of other people do the same. Maybe being rejected will see them turn and leave or maybe not.

Maybe they will grow more insistent… For someone else, someone predatory, the same assessment and resulting decision could see you being rolled in a robbery or some advance work being done on your domicile for a door-kick home invasion. Either outcome could see you or your loved ones severely wounded or killed.

And just think, all of this could have been avoided if you had denied, through concealment, furnishing that information to these people in the first place. With that in mind, don’t delude yourself into believing that camouflage in an urban environment is not important.

Urban areas present plenty of challenges when it comes to camo.

And so we arrive at the crux of the problem when it comes to camouflage in an urban environment. Compared to most natural environments, it is just not an easy thing! Urban environments present the following obstacles to effective concealment:

  • Urban areas are full of mostly perpendicular vertical and horizontal surfaces with little breakup or macro textures; human outlines are easy to spot against these surfaces.
  • Urban environments also trend toward being uniform in color for one block and switching colors the next.
  • Severe contrast swings between the many, many building interiors and outside.
  • Regular, geometric shapes make noticing organic shapes noticeably easier.
  • Variability between cities is significant, meaning techniques and color choices that work in one won’t work in another.
  • Population density plus short visual ranges equates to more sets of eyes potentially interrogating your position/disposition, i.e. higher likelihood of failure over time.

All this means that many of our common camouflage techniques are not particularly adapted to success in the concrete jungle, and the ones that do work well might be effective only in a very narrow area.

If we move, or even displace from our position inside that area or camo might not be any good!

Much of the time, the only technique that works 100% of the time to conceal your presence in an urban environment is to break line of sight entirely.

But, this is a very simplistic and frankly unacceptable metric of success when there are so many other things that might give away our presence or disposition to interested and potentially hostile parties.

There’s no such thing as a special “urban camo” pattern!

Furthermore, this means that a huge majority of off-the-shelf camo solutions will not be pattern or palette acceptable for our purposes, though they might work better than going without camouflage at all.

Also keep in mind, you can’t just drape a camo tarp or net over a doorway or window and expect it to be hidden from view!

I say this to underscore an indelible point, one you would do well to remember if you take nothing else away from this article:

There is no worthwhile off-the-shelf “urban” camouflage pattern!

Though urban camo relies on exactly the same principles of camouflage as any other environment, much of the implementation is specific to this unique environment.

The typical “urban camouflage” you see advertised by purveyors of tactical gear and clothing is the type typically consisting of any common pattern of camouflage (woodland, digital, etc.) only one with the color palette swapped to some variety of white, gray and black.

With precious little exception, it is useless in most cities, making the wearer stand out more, not less.

An honest evaluation of most cities will show the answer as to why. Most of these patterns are too bright and contrast far too much with both indoor and outdoor environs.

Save these patterns for looking cool, if that is your thing, but we will have to look elsewhere for effective urban camouflage.

So what color is best for urban environments?

Bottom line up front: Across the variety of urban environments the best colors for urban concealment seem to be medium dusky tans and medium grays, so called “manatee” grays.

There are many exceptions to this rule of course depending on the city in question. Now, as always, earth tones and light colors (light in context to the color of the surrounding environment) are the way to go.

How does one determine which color is best for the urban environment they will likely be surviving in? The answer, as always, is had by experience.

Go out and look around your city. Really look at it. Look at various sectors in various times of day.

Take note of how the ground and pavement looks, and the overarching color of the buildings, though there will likely be wild variation. Here’s a ground-breaking bit of wisdom that helped me:

Buildings in most cities start to look like the environments they are built in over time.

Use that to base your color assessments. You should notice some trends, trends that should inform your own color choices and procedures for camouflaging your gear. More on that in the next section.

One should also keep in mind that a city that is currently being put through the wringer by natural or man-made disasters, complete with fires and damaged, crumbling buildings will have its color palette shifted somewhat towards the darker.

That being said, the notion that you should set up your camouflage according to what a truly ruined or devastated cityscape would look like are probably being a bit too overzealous.

Only the most cataclysmic events or prolonged conflicts that genuinely reduce a city to rubble in this way. Now as always you should plan accordingly for the most likely threats and circumstances, not the most fantastic.

Minimizing signs of presence is essential.

All of the camouflage in the world won’t do you a lick of good if you don’t take pains to hide your presence in its entirety.

As mentioned above, fellow denizens of the city will have no shortage of ways to discern the presence of humans in their surroundings, or signs of ongoing human habitation.

Light is one major giveaway, especially in an area that is without power. Seeing lights on at night or within the dark interior of a building is a dead giveaway, as is noise that is typically associated with humans.

Talking, the clatter of equipment, footsteps, cooking noise and more can easily betray your presence.

Odors from cooking will be another factor, and though a frequent occurrence at pretty much all times of day and night in most urban areas, enough where you might not have to worry that could change in the aftermath of a major event.

Even if you are cautious, even if you are careful, clever predators could very well pick up on other signs of regular comings and goings.

Things like dirt and dust being worn away from footpaths, door knobs and latches that stay conspicuously clean and polished from routine handling, things like that. For alert adversaries, these “traces” stand out to the naked eye.

For this reason, it is imperative that you take painstaking measures to further conceal your presence across all spectrums of potential detection. We will talk about how to do that in the next section.

Tips, tricks and procedures for effective urban concealment.

There is much you can do to conceal your presence in an urban environment. It might seem like an impossible task, and the odds are definitely against you if there are many people around but through caution and dogged diligence it is possible to disappear into the background.

Consider the following:

  • After carefully researching the applicable color palette of your urban environment, keep several cans of matching, matte spray paint on hand. You can use these cans of paint to better blend your equipment, and even fabrics. Sometimes just a dusting of the right color is enough to help your other gear escape detection when further away.
  • Consider the use of blackout curtains absolutely mandatory during the night. This must be carefully assessed ahead of time in order to ensure that no trace of light escapes. For any doorways that open directly to the outside, consider making an “airlock” of two interior, spaced sets of blackout curtains that will allow people to enter an exit when required without light spilling out.
  • During the daytime, a screen of cheesecloth can be stretched across windows and other openings to conceal movement inside the room (so long as it is not backlit!) while remaining natural looking at extended distances. This method has the added advantage of allowing you to see out at the same time.
  • The best way to remain hidden in an urban environment is to stay where no one would think to look. Easier said than done, but decent options include maintenance tunnels and rooms in larger buildings, underground passages and heavily secured or fortified buildings that have a completely hidden or obscure entrance and exit.
  • Reversible clothing or layers can give you more camouflage options for changing conditions without weighing you down. A dark green or black smock or top is perfect for use at night or inside a darkened interior, while a mottled tan or gray side or inner layer can be revealed when moving around outside in the daytime.
  • An excellent urban blind can be made for longer range usage with nothing more than a canvas tarp and appropriate spray paint or some other stain. When stiff, dusty and layered in an appropriate location it can seamlessly blend into the background concrete or pavement of most cities. For contrast or darkening of this tarp, coffee produces an excellent low shine finish.

Don’t forget to “camouflage” your persona.

One last thing. In an urban environment, it never fails that you’ll be completely surrounded by people at pretty much all times. This means that, so much of the time, you will not be able to truly camouflage your presence from detection. What you can do, however, is camouflage your persona.

This entails adopting what is commonly referred to as the gray man mindset. This does not mean dressing in the drab colors we talked about previously, necessarily, although it might.

Being the “gray man” means blending in with everyone else. You don’t want to look like some dangerous, super-prepared prepper, and you don’t want to look like a meek, weak worm of the earth either.

You just want to look somewhere in between according to the baseline state of the people around you.

This goes for your dress, your mannerisms, your basic level of equipment, every outward factor about your appearance. This takes practice and a certain level of refinement to implement consistently and accurately.

Do it right and you’ll be an “NPC”, just a face in the background and that is what you want when you are in a dangerous and uncertain situation.

Being noticed is the handshake of attention, and once you have drawn attention people begin to think, and then to plan, and their plans for you might not be good.

Ready To Get Started?

Urban environments present many challenges concerning effective camouflage. Although the principles of camouflage do not change, the implementation of those principles is significantly different compared to natural environments.

This combined with the extraordinary population density of a city compared to any rural or wilderness environment means that detection may be unavoidable in certain circumstances without the strictest adherence to proper procedure.

Use this article as an introductory guide to get you on the right track concerning camouflage in urban areas.


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