Here's What You Need to Know: MARPAT serves two purposes. First, to camouflage the user. For comparison, the MARPAT pattern has a lower infrared signature than standard Navy-pattern camouflage. The other, perhaps more important purpose of the pattern is to strike fear into the hearts of the enemy. Somewhat paradoxically, MARPAT leverages the fierce reputation of the Marine Corps to damage an enemy’s moral by identifying a wearer as a U.S. Marine.
Marines are easily recognizable by their uniforms—this is by design. The Marine Blue Dress uniforms features a wide red “blood stripe” that is easily identifiable. But not only are their dress uniforms unique, so are Marine combat uniforms.
Multi-scaled camouflage was exploited by Germany during World War II. Quite a few variants of disruptively patterned camouflage designs were issued throughout the war. Perhaps one of the more modern variants was the Eichenlaubmuster or Oak Leaf Pattern.
The Eichenlaubmuster pattern was quite simple, essentially an olive green background with splotches of black and grey throughout. Though simple, it was more effective than simple olive green drab camouflage.
A more complicated pattern, the Erbsenmuster, or Pea Pattern design issued to Waffen-SS troops some time in 1944. This five-color pattern was arranged in small, irregularly shaped pea-sized dots in several shades of brown, green, and black. It better camouflaged the wearer in environments it was adapted to than the Eichenlaubmuster pattern, but saw limited service. The similar Flecktarn pattern is the German Bundeswehr’s current standard-issue camouflage pattern.
At the tail end of the war, the Leibermuster pattern was issued to both Waffen-SS units and regular German Wehrmacht soldiers. This tan, black, green, and reddish pattern is recognizable as similar to the American Woodland Pattern that was used from the 1980s to the 1990s by the U.S. Armed Forces.
USMC combat uniforms, or the Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform as it is officially know, is equally distinct from the uniforms of other military branches. The combat uniform features a unique design, called MARPAT, short for Marine pattern.
Like other camouflage, the MARPAT pattern is designed to blend the wearer with his or her surroundings to make them less visible to the naked eye. MARPAT camouflage achieves this through the use of pixilated fractals, essentially rectangular pixels, which camouflages the wearer over a range of distances, or scales.
MARPAT comes in both a black, dark green and brown woodland variant, and a desert variant. There is also a simple white and grey smock and trousers that can be worn over standard battle dress for snow conditions.
MARPAT serves two purposes. First, to camouflage the user. For comparison, the MARPAT pattern has a lower infrared signature than standard Navy-pattern camouflage. The other, perhaps more important purpose of the pattern is to strike fear into the hearts of the enemy. Somewhat paradoxically, MARPAT leverages the fierce reputation of the Marine Corps to damage an enemy’s moral by identifying a wearer as a U.S. Marine.
The Marines are the best of the best—as is their camouflage. Hence the saying, “No better friend, no worse enemy.”
Caleb Larson holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics, and culture.
This article first appeared in May 2020.