A ghillie suit (called a yowie suit by the Australian Army) is a type of camouflage clothing designed to resemble the background environment such as foliage, snow or sand. Typically, it is a net or cloth garment covered in loose strips of burlap, cloth or twine, sometimes made to look like leaves and twigs, and optionally augmented with scraps of foliage from the area.
Snipers, hunters and nature photographers may wear a ghillie suit to blend into their surroundings and conceal themselves from enemies or targets. The suit gives the wearer's outline a three-dimensional breakup, rather than a linear one. When manufactured correctly, the suit will move in the wind in the same way as surrounding foliage. Some ghillie suits are made with light and breathable material that allows a person to wear a shirt underneath.
The ghillie suit was developed by Scottish gamekeepers as a portable hunting blind. Lovat Scouts, a Scottish Highland regiment formed by the British Army during the Second Boer War, is the first known military unit to use ghillie suits. In 1916, Lovat Scouts went on to become the British Army's first sniper unit. The term ghillie references Ghillie Dhu, derived from gille, the Scottish Gaelic for "servant" or a "lad". In English, this term was especially used to refer to those assisting in deer hunting, deer stalking or fly fishing expeditions in the Scottish Highlands.
The Australian Army sniper's outfits are nicknamed "yowies", named for their resemblance to the Yowie, a mythical hominid similar to the Yeti and Bigfoot which is said to live in the Australian wilderness.
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High-quality ghillie suits are made by hand; most military snipers generally construct their own unique suits. Manufactured ghillie suits can be assembled from up to six pieces. Proper camouflage requires the use of natural materials present in the environment in which a sniper will operate. Making a ghillie suit from scratch is time-consuming, and a detailed, high-quality suit can take weeks or even months to manufacture and season. Ghillie suits can be constructed in several different ways. Some military services make them of rough burlap flaps or jute twine attached to a poncho. Hunting ghillie suits can be made of nylon and other artificial materials as well as the ones listed before. United States military ghillie suits are often built using either a battle dress uniform (BDU), or a pilot's flight suit or some other one-piece coverall as the base.
On the base, rough webbing made of durable, stainable fabric like burlap is attached. A nearly invisible material like fishing line can be used to sew each knot of net to the fabric (often with a drop of glue for strength). The jute is applied to the netting by tying groups of 5 to 10 strands of a color to the netting with simple knots, skipping sections to be filled in with other colors. The webbing is then seasoned by dragging it behind a vehicle, leaving it to soak in mud, or even applying manure to make it smell "earthy." Once on location, the ghillie suit is customized with twigs, leaves, and other elements of the local foliage as much as possible, although these local additions must be changed every few hours, due to wilting of green grasses or branches.
Although highly effective, ghillie suits are impractical for many situations where camouflage is useful. They tend to be very heavy and hot. Even in moderate climates, the temperature inside of the ghillie suit can reach over 50 °C (120 °F). The burlap is also flammable, unless treated with fire retardant, so the wearer may be at increased risk from ignition sources such as smoke grenades or white phosphorus.
To enhance safety, the US Army Soldier Systems Center has developed an inherently fire resistant, self extinguishing fabric to replace the jute or burlap. This material was field tested in late 2007 at the Sniper School at Fort Benning and has been standard issue since June 2008.
- Foley, David (July 31, 2003). "Sniper students make the grade". The Bayonet. Fort Benning, Georgia: TRADOC News Service. Archived from the original on November 9, 2011. Retrieved November 1, 2011.
- Pegler, Martin (2004). Out of Nowhere: A History of the Military Sniper. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 0-87364-704-1.
- Plaster, John (2006). The Ultimate Sniper: An Advanced Training Manual For Military And Police Snipers. Paladin Press. p. 5. ISBN 0-87364-704-1.
- Dwelly, Edward. Dwelly's Gaelic Dictionary.
- Hogben, Bruce (17 June 1989). "Aussie ingenuity keeps our soldiers safely out of sight". The Advertiser. Adelaide, Australia.
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