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Optifade Camouflage: Technological Breakthrough or Clever Marketing?

by Justin Zarr 8. February 2009 15:57
Justin Zarr

Optifade LogoThe camouflage marketplace has gone through some radical changes since I first entered the woods with a bow and arrow. Traditional military camo gave way to the phenomenon of Trebark which eventually gave way to the two companies that redefined camouflage as we know it – Realtree and Mossy Oak. And while these two industry giants continue to battle it out for dominance, a variety of other camouflage companies are all fighting for their share of the marketplace. Many of these camo alternatives focus on the same thing; making a product that doesn’t necessarily look good on the store shelf, seat covers, bed sheets, or toilet seats but one that helps conceal hunters better.

With the recent resurgence of “open” camo patterns including Predator, ASAT, and Natural Gear the big two have followed suit with their own lighter and more open patterns; Realtree’s AP HD and Mossy Oak’s Treestand. However, there is a new kid on the block for 2009 with some serious money to spend on R&D and marketing – W.L. Gore. That’s right; the same company that brought the world Gore-Tex has developed their own camouflage called Optifade.

I first learned about this new camo pattern through a printed ad in one of the few hunting magazines I still recieve.  The ad was extremely simple and simply advertised “The Science of Nothing”, and directed people interested in learning more to a website of the same name (www.thescienceofnothing.com). Being the computer geek that I am, I typed the address into my browser to see what it was all about. What I found surprised me, while peaking my curiosity at the same time.

Optifade camo from W.L. Gore
Optifade camo from the inventors of Gore-Tex is a digital-based camofulage intended to both break up the human outline as well as help you blend into your surroundings better.

Optifade camo was developed with the help of military experts who have spent countless hours (and no doubt countless amounts of our tax money) at researching effective camo patterns. With the aid of these experts the folks at Gore were able to combine two camouflage technologies that work to both break up the human outline, but also help conceal the hunter into his surroundings no matter where they may be.

In addition to the military experts, Gore worked with several scientists who are experts on ungulate vision to develop Optifade. Ungulates would be any animal with hooves, those which hunters are most likely to pursue; deer, elk, moose, sheep, etc. Unlike humans these animals have what is called dichromatic vision meaning they see the world in black, white, gray, yellow, and blue. Given this information, Gore was able to color their new Optifade pattern in such a way that it would be “invisible” to a hunter’s quarry.

Optifade camo in the field 
This photo is an example of how an ungulate would see a hunter wearing Optifade camo.

But designing a new camo pattern wasn’t good enough. Now Gore needed to find a partner to bring their new pattern to the market, and that partner is Sitka Gear. For those of you not familiar with Sitka, they offer hunting apparel that uses high-performance fabrics and designs commonly found in the mountaineering (mountain climbing) industry. Sitka offers a variety of garments from base layers all the way to the toughest outwear designed to withstand just about anything you can throw at it.

Sitka Gear in Optifade camo
A Sitka jacket in Optifade camo as seen at the 2009 ATA Show.

After spending close to ½ hour watching all of the videos on the Optifade website (which were fairly entertaining) I was left to wonder whether or not this camo is truly a technological breakthrough, or just some really clever marketing from a very large company. Truth be told, I think the pattern looks very good. It is digital-based which means no sticks, limbs, leaves, or false shadows that help sell t-shirts with your favorite NASCAR driver on them, but may not help conceal you when you need it to.   Keep in mind that Optifade was designed to work at distances of 20 meters and beyond, not up close like most other patterns.

The only downfall I see with the introduction of this new pattern is that, from what I can tell anyways, it is only available through Sitka Gear. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with Sitka, I’m still hoping to try some of their stuff out eventually, the high cost of these garments is certainly going to limit some hunters’ ability to try Optifade for themselves. Although in their defense, it is a brand new pattern and I’m sure licensing to other garment manufacturers will increase over time. In fact, Bowtech is already offering Optifade as a finish option on their 2009 bows.

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