How To Make Your Own Ghillie Suit (And How I Messed It Up)

When we were shooting content for a recent article “IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE: SNIPER STORIES” I (Dylan) interviewed Grant LaVelle, a former Marine and SWAT Sniper and now tactical instructor, about his career as a sniper. I asked him about all sorts of stuff like his longest shot, how many shots he fired over his career, the different amounts of training he did, what schools he went to, and how long some of his stakeouts were. As a friend of his, it was all interesting to me to hear some of the stories that had never come up in our recent conversations. As a content creator, I always have to be on the lookout for what my next talking point could be, and during this conversation it hit me.

Grant in Ghillie suit

LaVelle talked about the importance of camouflage to a sniper, he stated snipers are “intelligence gatherers first” and foremost, silent sentinels, watchful protectors who gather intel for their team. That got me thinking of course about ghillie suits. When shooting photos for the Sniper Stories piece we knew we needed some shots of LaVelle in a ghillie suit, and all we had to use was a borrowed suit since LaVelle had misplaced his old one from his sniper days. I didn’t know any of this until the conversation shifted to the ghillie itself and its quality. That’s when LaVelle said, “this isn't a real ghillie suit.” This seemed odd to me because it looks just like pictures of the ones in movies, video games, and in online stores. He said, “a real ghillie is made, not bought.” Intrigued, I probed for more information. Since then I have now made my own ghillie suit and I have learned some lessons in doing so and now I’d like to share those with you.

THE MATERIAL

First and foremost the ghillies we see shown a lot are a full jacket and pants with fringed material hanging off in every direction. Typically the ones online are mossy dark colors making the wearer look like a moss monster. All of that is total crap it turns out. Those things are more like a costume for paintball players or airsoft shooters. A real ghillie doesn’t have nylon fake leaves or strings. A real ghillie has a base of jute. Jute is an earthy natural material that has a coarse feeling. It clings together and in all honesty, can be hard to work with. But those are the very traits that make it fantastic for the job.

Ghillie material

A ghillie also doesn’t cover the front of your body. So, no stringy fibers hanging on your chest or the front of your legs. No, a ghillie only covers the parts of your body visible if you were to lay flat face down on the floor. The reason for this is so that your underside is free to crawl freely without added friction against the earth. A proper ghillie would be two pieces. A section that goes across the shoulders paired with a hood that breaks up the outline of your shoulders and head. The second piece is a cape that covers your backside as you lie down. I opted to only make the first part that covers my head and shoulders. At the end of LaVelle’s sniper career, this is the only piece he used as well.

The colors

This will be different for everyone. If you are located in Washington state and your foliage is green year round you might want more of a woodland color to your jute. LaVelle’s advice to me was to go light in color, no matter what. I thought I took his advice when I ordered jute in a color mixture called “dead grass.” Now I know, I made a mistake. In reality, I should have done a solid khaki color for the jute, and here’s why. Light colors pull in natural earthy tones easier. You can take a light color, like tan, and make it dark by getting it muddy. But you can’t take a dark color like black and make it lighter. My dead grass jute, although it only has a small bit of green, can make the ghillie look much too bright at times. So take it from me, having learned the hard way, go lighter than you think you should. You can always add in natural vegetation to add green also, more on that later. Jute strands for ghillies can be purchased online but if you really want to go old school you can cut and dye your own jute to the color you want.

Ghillie martial 2

THE BUILD

Building the ghillie is pretty easy with the right purchases. The base I chose had sleeves and a hood with an outer net sewn to it. For the bulk of the ghillie itself, you will just need to tie your strands of jute onto the net. Shorter strands are better than longer strands. Shorter lengths of jute help blend your appearance without having large un-natural looking pieces hanging off. I tie the knots by slipping the loop through and then sliding the ends through the loop and pulling it tight around the piece of net.

Building a Ghillie suit

Now, here is a lesson I learned the hard way. I tied jute on every single piece of netting that I could. In my mind, I wasn’t taking any shortcuts and I was gonna make the fullest-looking ghillie anyone had ever seen. Well, I succeeded and then I realized I made a mistake. My suit was heavy and huge! It was literally massive and puffy because of all the jute. My most fatal error was that I didn’t leave any room for vegetation. It was time to give it a haircut. So I took scissors and feed up some pretty good spots allowing me more room to add in natural vegetation which is key to blending in.

Putting it to use

Okay after your suit is semi-full of jute with some open netting for natural vegetation now we have to talk about how to use it. To help sell the effect LaVelle said you must condition the suit. To do this you need to get the ghillie soaking wet and crawl. LaVelle said back in the day they used to low crawl through muddy tank tracks filled with water to condition the ghillie. When I filmed this portion the average temperature was 20 degrees, and since I won’t be using this to hide from anything that can shoot back at me, I opted out of this. One day, I plan to do it though. This process removes what shine there is to the jute giving it a more matte look and it allows the suit to pull in natural earth tones that provide a beautiful gradient to your jute. If you're up for it and you want to do it the right way this is a vital step.

Man in ghillie suit holding gun with suppressor and scope

When you get your ghillie out in the field look at your surroundings and start pulling grass, leaves, and twigs out of nature. Then stuff them into the net of your ghillie. Be careful to not put too much or too little. Just the right amount will go a long way to making you invisible. This is the final step and how you properly use a ghillie. These items sourced from nature should change as you traverse the landscape or as you change hunting locations, careful not to mix vegetation in areas where it doesn’t blend in. Keep in mind these suits are designed for operators to remain still, silent, and hidden as they watch and collect intel. This is not the outfit that anyone chooses for a gun-blazing ground assault. That being said, taking the time to get the right look at your surroundings is important, then pick a spot where your vegetation blends well and be still.

Conclusion

I had fun putting together my ghillie. Will I use it? Sure I plan for hunting seasons where I can. But truth be told I had enough fun putting it together and testing it out that it made it worth it for me. My final bit of advice is this. Make your own, go lighter in color even lighter than you think you should for your area, don’t make it too full of jute, condition it by crawling through some muddy water (if you're braver than me that is), and add natural vegetation. Last but not least remember a ghillie is never truly done. It’s constantly changing to your surroundings. Matching the vegetation and colors of the earth to keep its bearer invisible.

Dylan C. @ GunSpot
Dylan C. @ GunSpot

I'm the Creative Director at GunSpot. My main job is to create content that you can read or watch on The GunSpot Academy. I'm a video guy first and foremost but now, as you can see, I guess I'm an author too. Only out of necessity though!

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