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Rethinking Camouflage

Posted by James Dodkin on

Rethinking Camouflage

How FORLOH is using leading game research and cutting-edge technology to make you invisible to prey.

There’s a good chance that the camouflage apparel you’ve been wearing is undermining your hunts. From the photorealistic patterns of sticks, leaves, and bark to colorful outdoorsy palettes, much of the camo on the market is created with people in mind, not animals.

“The truth is, most camouflage isn’t designed to work in the field but instead to look good to the human eye,” says Andy Techmanski, founder of FORLOH.

Case in point, University of Washington animal vision expert Dr. Jay Neitz was commissioned and discovered back in 1980 that blaze pink is the optimal safety color for hunting as it’s less detectable to ungulates and more visible to the human eye, yet due to male hunter preferences blaze orange was chosen and remains the standard today. Says Techmanski, “We don’t care what our apparel looks like under the bright fluorescent lights of a retail store. We are building gear to make you undetectable in the field.”

To accomplish that, FORLOH shrugged off conventional wisdom about blending into the landscape and enlisted some of the foremost experts in the science of animal vision to rethink how to make hunters as invisible as possible. “We threw out the notion of what looks good to the human eye and replaced it with the science of how and what ungulates and birds see,” says James Dodkin, who was instrumental in developing FORLOH’s Crypsis Technology™. Crypsis is the term for an animal’s ability to avoid detection in nature. The company also expanded its development to address all the senses, not just sight. “If an animal smells or hears you, it’s never going to get close enough to make the camouflage you’re wearing matter,” says Dodkin. “The other senses aren’t as sexy to talk about, but they are actually the most important, especially smell. We realized we had to address the system as a whole.”

The foundation of Crypsis is FORLOH’s hyper-breathable fabrics. Thanks to cutting-edge technologies, including micro-venting Pulse-Plasma waterproofing, all three of the system layers—base, insulation, and protection—allow dramatically more moisture transfer than anything on the market. Rather than dipping, painting, or spraying a waterproofing chemical (DWR) onto its textiles, the traditional method for keeping out the elements, FORLOH’s with Airadigm’s Pulse-Plasma technology is applied at the molecular level by running a charge through the yarn before it’s even woven into fabric. FORLOH is first-to-market with this exclusive technology. It’s a similar method to plating microchips, and, because it requires only 1 percent the volume of DWR compared to standard treatments, it produces fabrics that are both more waterproof and significantly more breathable than anything on the market. That’s important for comfort but even more so for scent control, as removing sweat means removing odor.

FORLOH’s apparel uses two additional technologies to reduce a hunter’s odor footprint. Polygiene Stays Fresh™ is a natural, silver salt antimicrobial applied into the garment threads to neutralize the bacteria created by sweat that causes body odor. Polygiene Odor Crunch™ is a treatment of silica, the same stuff in the stamp-size bags in new shoes, that’s applied at the yarn level to absorb and break down external odors such as campfire smoke and foods. FORLOH is the only brand in the industry to offer these odor-killing technologies in tandem. The combination of the two with Pulse-Plasma waterproofing technology ensures that your apparel remains odor-free for longer. This is critical, as one study has shown that a predator’s scent can make ungulates over half as likely to graze and double as vigilant for predators, i.e. a lot more difficult to find, stalk, and harvest.

“Based on scent, an animal will avoid you by up to a half mile. You’re never even going to see them, which renders the visual camo useless.” says Dodkin. Stays Fresh™ and Odor Crunch™ are guaranteed for the life of a garment. 

An added benefit of Pulse-Plasma technology is the soft, quiet fabrics that it produces. Compared to standard waterproof breathable shells, which are noisy and stiff like a starched shirt, FORLOH’s Pulse-Plasma treated layers are plush like silk or satin. 

Combined with the most silent zippers available, this creates garments that are virtually silent, another often-overlooked component of concealment.

With a hunter’s scent and sound eliminated, animals are more likely to approach within sight range. That’s when FORLOH’s Crypsis patterns are essential. We started from the understanding that ungulates see differently than people. Not only are they limited to colors on the blue and yellow spectrums (not reds, like humans), ungulates’ side-of-the-head eyes aren’t as attuned to detail as they are motion.

“It’s like the resolution of a digital picture in megapixels,” Dr. Neitz explains in a paper written for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “Deer are analyzing more visual area at fewer megapixels.”

Though camouflage attempted, until a decade ago, to mimic a hunter’s surroundings—leaves and branches for thick cover, brush and grasses for open country, bright whites for snow—the latest research shows that irregular, non-representative patterning is more effective in removing an animal’s ability to determine shape and movement. Two approaches are most common. Disruptive Coloration takes advantage of large, high-contrast swathes to break up the outline of a figure, normally at closer range. This is similar to how the stripes of a tiger or patches of an African wild dog obscures the animals’ form. Spatial Orientation, which relies on the smaller, squared patterns known as “texture match” in the military, basically allows a form to fade into the landscape at distance. Crypsis uses the two approaches in tandem. “We’ve taken the best of both approaches by blending the two: high-contrast blotches to break up your outline, and digital camo to basically make you look like nothing,” says Dodkin.

FORLOH offers three primary designs. With its larger, higher-contrast swatches of color, Deep Cover’s darker hues are intended for use in heavy canopy and should absolutely disappear at 40 yards or less. This is the choice for bowhunters and early-season rifle, where you must go undetected at proximity. Exposed, which is lighter in tones with a smaller pattern and less contrast, is best for open country and grasslands. It is virtually invisible at 75 yards or more, blurring forms into the landscape at distance, which is why it’s also optimal for bird hunters. And while most people believe that snow is bright white, Snowfall matches true winter landscapes with light gray hues and faint brushes of contrast. This will allow hunters to disappear into the landscape above tree line and pursue animals from where the creatures wouldn’t normally suspect.

According to research out of the University of Oxford, it takes deer and elk less than three seconds once they’ve sensed you to decide whether to flee. It’s those few instants when the right camouflage means the difference between a successful hunt or not. If an animal perceives a hunter as a risk, it’s game over. But if it can’t smell, hear, or see the risk clearly, as is the case for a hunter in FORLOH Crypsis, the creature is more likely to calm down and stay put, offering more opportunities for a shot. “We don’t just want to help people blend in with the environment. We want to make them completely undetectable,” says Techmanski. “We believe that making hunters undetectable in the backcountry is the foundation of every successful hunt.”


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