Friday Night Lights: Does Thermal Camo Work?

Last week we took a look at the future of panoramic night vision goggles – folding panos. The Nocturn Chimera bridge gives legacy quad tube users articulation as well as varying power options. Well, this week we take a look at a pet project my friends and I started after watching Garand Thumb’s video. The question was raised “Does thermal camo work?” Well, last fall we put it to the test.

Thermal @ TFB:

Does Thermal Camo Work?

Often people spend a lot of time worrying about optical camouflage and while we primarily see in the visual spectrum, night vision and more importantly thermal systems are becoming more commonplace. Just look at some of the videos coming out of the Ukraine conflict. Civilians and soldiers are using thermal more and more. Optical camouflage works great at hiding you from eyes and cameras. But many of them do nothing to mask your thermal signature. Is there such a thing as thermal camouflage? And does it work?

Here is the video by Garand Thumb that drove my friends and me to explore this ourselves.

Back in September, my friend Kythe and I did a simple test with easily available fabrics that we had at our disposal. I set up the JIM LR and Kythe rode his adventure e-bike out to about 500 yards with the various materials. He would hold up each fabric away from his body and I would observe with the JIM LR.

This was some cheap Chinese-made mesh bought off Amazon

The cheap camo mesh did not work at all. The JIM LR could see right through it. Kythe was holding the mesh away from his body and it still did not help. Next, we tried a mylar emergency blanket. While this did block his heat signature, the reflectivity of the mylar blanket was very obvious in the JIM LR. It would reflect the coolness of the sky and the wind would cause the blanket to flutter and the reflected shades would shift making it stand out and draw my attention to it.

We had high hopes for my brother’s old Army-issued wool blanket but it seemed to retain heat. Possibly from sitting in my SUV on the drive down. You can see below how it stands out. The JIM LR was set to black hot. So the wool blanket looks like it is giving off heat.

To our surprise, the wobbie blanket seemed to work the best in this test.

Test More Thermal Camo

The previous test was not a practical test but it was a decent starting point. After posting these on my Instagram a friend offered to lend me his Relv Camo Eclipse camo. Relv claims their material is multispectral.

I had my kids help me test the Relv Camo.

Online someone mentioned using an umbrella as a makeshift hide and drape thermal camo over the umbrella. I used my wife’s transparent umbrella.

It still looks like an umbrella, just with thermal camo draped over it. LOL.

Since the umbrella is transparent, you can see through it.

I used my IRay USA Rico Micro RH25 to view my kids under the thermal spectrum. You can see right through the umbrella even with thermal.

Umbrellas are not good thermal camo

Umbrellas are not good thermal camo

The Relv Eclipse camo seems to work at masking their thermal signature.

I had my daughter lay on the grass and I placed the Relv Camo over her to see how effective it could be as thermal camo. Within a short period of time, her body heat soaked through the fabric.

I even used my M2EA thermal drone to see how well the Relv Camo worked as thermal camo from the sky. You can clearly see the shape of my daughter lying on the grass while she is under the Relv Camo material.

Here is a closer shot with the drone. In fact, the temperature of the sidewalk blends almost perfectly with my neighbor’s daughter riding her bicycle.

Next, I placed the Relv Camo over the mylar blanket and my daughter is underneath that. Thinking that the Mylar blanket will block my daughter’s heat. You can see the cool sky reflected as the small black spots on the mylar blanket through the holes in the Relv Camo. After some time though the Mylar blanket does get warm and shows up on thermal.

I draped the Relv Camo thermal camo over a tripod as a makeshift hide. Trying to get the fabric away from the body so it doesn’t absorb heat.

There is one issue with this version of Relv Camo Eclipse. It is not IR-compliant. It reflects IR light. Here is what the Relv Camo sheet looks under my full spectrum SiOynx Aurora Pro.

Beez Combat Thermal Camo

After I posted my findings of the Relv Camo, I reached out to Beez Combat and they were kind enough to lend me one of their Spectral-Flage blankets. It is a lot more robust than the Relv Camo and has a leaf-like scrim to add some 3-dimensional features to break up the texture of the blanket. This also has the effect of doubling the material in those areas.

Below is the Beez Combat Spectral-Flage blanket, with the Relv Camo below it and in the plastic bag is the cheap Chinese mesh camo I bought off Amazon to do my own testing. The previous one I tested with Kythe was one he bought himself.

See how the loose scrim casts shadows on the Spectral-Flage blanket?

When looked at with full spectrum, the Beez Combat does not reflect IR light.

While the Beez Combat looks better and retains color I realized something – natural foliage reflects IR light. That is why IR photography has that unique look to it. Take a look at the bushes and grass. They do not show up as green in a full spectrum camera. It actually makes the Beez Combat stick out compared to the Relv Camo and Chinese blanket.

Beez Combat draped over an umbrella

With both the Relv and Amazon mesh I was able to recognize my kids under the umbrella, especially when they move. The Beez Combat on the other hand completes obscured them.

Relv Camo

Chinese Amazon camo mesh

Last October I met up with Beez Combat in Vegas right before Rifle Dynamics’ Red Oktober match. Beez Combat are a long-time sponsor of the match. We tested their Spectral-Flage in the desert. Results were mixed. The heat of the desert, even at 7 am in the morning made it difficult to see body heat. I wish we had tested it at night.

The photo below was captured with my SiOnyx Aurora Pro looking through my SIG Zulu6 image stabilized binos. You can see how the black T-shirt looks pinkish but the green Spectral-Flage looks the same. But look at the vegetation around them. They have a purple/pink hue to them.

The daytime made it difficult to see the guy in the desert. Both visual and thermal.

Here is some video testing the Beez Combat thermal camo in the desert. Sadly my JIM LR died that day so when we tested it at night we only used LWIR and night vision.

Practical Testing Of Thermal Camo

My friends and I got together and tested the Beez Combat, Relv Camo and some other materials. The first clip in the video below is from Kythe and me testing the Amazon mesh. Then it is the highlights of our “hide and seek” test with the Relv, Beez Combat and a mystery fabric that my friends developed.

Here is some B-Roll of our thermal camo tests. You can see the heat soak through some of the materials. Especially when the material is touching the body.

Final Thoughts On Thermal Camo

There are different criteria with regards to thermal camouflage. My friends and I were only focused on hiding from thermal sensors with something you could easily deploy or wear. It had to work both VIS and IR but defeating those is pretty easy. I did notice a slight weakness in this system and that is full-spectrum cameras. It is somewhat like IR but infrared like analog night vision is monochrome. Full spectrum cameras see a wider bandwidth of light and show color. The IR reflective fabrics do not look as natural as the Beez Combat but depending on the environment and natural foliage it is possible the Beez Combat material will stand out more than the others since it does not reflect IR like natural foliage. However, this exploit is not being utilized as far as I know. No one is actively scanning for targets or threats with full-spectrum cameras. I have heard of some drone surveillance systems that can pick out artificial camouflage from thousands of feet in the air. But systems like that are very expensive.

Practical thermal camouflage has to function like optical camouflage. It needs to break up your signature from someone searching for you with a thermal sensor. Daytime is easier to blend in but nighttime is difficult due to the temperature delta (difference in ambient temperature to your body temperature).

There is one aspect that was not a priority  for my friends and I but is something the Relv Camo and Beez Combat thermal camo advertises. They function as a hide. You can peer through the material to observe your surroundings. The different types of materials we tested were not focused on this aspect. We only focused on beating thermal sensors as best we could.

Here is a simple test I did with an InfiRay RS75 thermal weapon sight. I threw the Beez Combat blanket over my head and the thermal sight. This is what the thermal image looks like.

Without the blanket the image is crisp. You could also cut a small hole through the material and let the objective lens poke out of the material but I was curious how well it could see through the material. Not that well.

In my video above “Thermal Camo – Does It Work” my friends found an off-the-shelf material that is cheap and works wonderfully. They are keeping it hush at the moment but you can see the results. Our friend Tom was laying down on the ground the entire time and we did not see him with thermal. It was nighttime when we tested this so it was pretty chilly. That material completely masked his signature and it was only our friend Issac pointing him out that we saw how effective it was. Our other friend that used the Beez Combat hid behind a fallen tree branch which masked him from our POV. It was not a good test of the Beez Combat material on its own merits so that test was invalid.

Both the Relv and Beez Combat blankets are rather pricey at over $400 for a 4.6′ x  7.6′ piece of fabric. The Beez Combat Blanket is robust but heavy while the Relv is lightweight but could rip if it snagged on branches. Also, the light weight of the Relv makes it more susceptible to moving under a breeze than the stiffer Beez Combat.

Hope you enjoyed reading this. We had fun testing the thermal camo but haven’t had the time to meet back together to test it further.

This post was originally published on this site