DIY: How to Turn UCP Camouflage Into Actual Camouflage

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Author of The Faithful Prepper and Zombie Choices

Have you ever opened up the latest hunting catalog that came in the mail and drooled over the camouflage options available? Yet you found yourself taken aback by the prices? If so, I will show you a way to make yourself a complete camouflage outfit for all of $10.

For starters, let’s talk about the Army.

Several years ago, the Army unveiled its new camouflage pattern: the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP). It absolutely sucked.

Soldiers in Afghanistan were often afraid of wearing the stuff. It was such a stupid design. You lit up like a Christmas tree while you were outside. It doesn’t blend in with anything. Thankfully, the Army eventually realized its mistake here and went on to release a new design.

However, what ended up happening is that military surplus stores throughout the nation became flooded with UCP clothing, pouches, web gear, and the like that nobody wanted. Why buy something that may as well be bright orange? As such, military surplus stores practically give this stuff away. I’m going to show you how to make UCP into an actual usable design.

Here’s how you do it

Step 1: Pick Up Your UCP Clothing: I visited my local military surplus store, where two large bins were full of UCP shirts and pants. (The other surplus camo patterns were selling for $25+/article of clothing. The UCP items were selling for $4. I picked up a shirt.) Notice how it doesn’t blend in with anything here. If they had switched to a darker palette, then we would have had a workable design.

Step 2: Go to Joann Fabrics and Buy Apple Green Dye: Really, it doesn’t have to be apple green. I’m interested in seeing how a brown or darker forest green would work as well. That’s something I may play around with in the future.

For now, this will do, and it’ll set you back all of $4.

Moving on…

Step 3: Get Your Other Supplies Ready: You’re going to need a 5-gallon bucket, some hot water, a teaspoon of laundry detergent, and a cup of salt. I poured three kettles of whistling hot water into the bucket, filled it up with a bit of cold water, and mixed in my salt and laundry detergent with a large stick.

Step 4: Pour In Your Dye: The amount you’re going to need here will depend on how much clothing you’re attempting to dye. All I’m doing here is a shirt, so half of the bottle of dye should be fine. The directions on the bottle state that larger loads may require the whole bottle. The directions also state that pouring in the whole bottle in our case would result in a darker/more vibrant color. I still chose to go with half the bottle first. If I don’t like how things look, I’ll come back later and repeat the process.

After you pour in your dye and stir the mixture, dunk in your shirt.

Now, stir…and stir…and…

Step 5: Stir for 30-60 Minutes: The directions on the bottle state that more extended periods result in darker coloring. After half an hour passed, I still wasn’t where I wanted to be. So I stirred the mixture for a total of 40 minutes.

Below you can see above what the shirt looked like after 15 minutes of stirring. I knew I wasn’t anywhere near to being where I wanted to be at this point. The second image was after 30 minutes of stirring. It looked pretty good, but I wanted to give myself some extra time if some of the color washed out in the washing machine later.

You can see the final product in the third image. 

And that is it!

I’m definitely going to wash this by itself a time or two to eliminate any green stain from getting onto my other clothes. But I think it worked out pretty well. After I finished, I decided to do a couple of tests with the camo. See what you think.

Gallery Below:

  • The original UCP design at 30 feet. (You have no problem seeing it, right?)
  • Now check out the apple green UCP from the same location. Still visible from 30 feet here, but it’s much more subdued.
  • Alright, so now let’s look at 60 feet away. We’ll start with the original UCP design. You can still see it pretty easily on the right edge of the picture.
  • Now let’s look at apple green UCP from the same location. Can you see it? Much more difficult, right?

I decided to try some other locations strictly with the apple green UCP

See if you can find the camo shirt in the gallery below. 

  • 25’ away.
  • 40’ away in the same location. I wanted to see how it would do in deep shadows.
  • Perhaps 50’. Can you see it at all now?

My final thoughts on this DIY project

The tests were what blew me away with this. I spent a grand total of $9 here and got a fully functional camo shirt out of it. I could easily get a pair of matching pants now for the same price. This is pretty cool when considering the cost of complete camo outfits at Bass Pro or other patterns at military surplus stores.

The only thing I may change is I may go back and dye the shirt with the remaining fluid I have in the Rit bottle to see what happens. I think the camo does pretty well already, but I want to know if it could be even better.

What are your thoughts? Do you think this is a functional piece of equipment? Are there other colors you think it’s worth looking into? Let me know in the comments below!

About Aden

Aden Tate has a master’s in public health and is a regular contributor to TheOrganicPrepper.com, TheFrugalite.com, PewPewTactical.comSurvivalBlog.comSHTFBlog.comApartmentPrepper.comHomesteadAndPrepper.com, and PrepperPress.com. Along with being a freelance writer, he also works part-time as a locksmith. Aden has an LLC for his micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has two published books, The Faithful Prepper and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American on Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.

DIY: How to Turn UCP Camouflage Into Actual Camouflage
Aden Tate

Aden Tate

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  • Good article & project details. Thanks.

    Our woodlands look similar to yours–mixed pine & deciduous. We have some RealTree tan/brown camo that could blend in better with the addition of green. People who don’t have green in their woods could add a brown dye to a severely faded camo. Once dyed, it might help to rinse the item in vinegar water to help it not bleed. On my last dye project, I left the items sitting in the tub for several hours & just came back to stir it about every 30 minutes–turned out fine for our needs. However, we were just returning faded black to actual black so too long was not going to hurt it. It was a good idea for you to check yours often.

    We are all about thrift stores, DIY, rebuild, reuse & upcycle around here. It is so important with prices going up & empty shelves. I wish we had an army surplus also. Brand new items (tags still on) and camo gear get donated to thrift stores every day.

    I have sewed for 53 years so I routinely remake whatever I find at the thrift store and teach my grandkids to do the same. 1 granddaughter made a pillowcase out of an old skirt. Another one is still wearing a hoodie I made her out of some leggings. Another is wearing a knit shirt that was too big for her until I took the shoulders up. Those are not SHTF items but it entertains kids & teaches them a new skill. I sewed coffee filters out of muslin & masks out of old fabric. Also, don’t skip over the linens section of a thrift store. I have made clothing out of drapery fabric and sheets. Regular fabric gets donated to thrift stores also–often still on the bolt.

    My most recent DIY was fixing the cracked glass on a dropped phone. I added a little clear packaging tape, making sure not to cover any holes. It’s still working and my fingers are not picking up bits of glass until I can do something else.

    It’s important to be able to look at an item and see how it can be transformed.

  • A timely article. I have a set of washed-out multicam BDUs that I really like, but they are way too bright for the woods of New England, and I was wondering about how to dye them darker. Would probably go for a darker green or a deep brown for ‘shadowing’. Perhaps this will be my prepper project for the weekend. Prost, from CT.

  • Got a “bunch” of the older Woodland pattern and some Realtree also. Both seem to work well for hunting and working around the ranch.

    Have a Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving

  • This would be a great gift idea for the hunter in your life. Little bit of $$, little bit of effort, big return ūüôā Thanks, Aden!

  • Aden,
    I’m confused, is what you’re calling UCP, also referred to as ACU Digital?

    I’ve never heard it referred to as UCP from the surplus outfits I patronage. Scanning through recent ads I’ve saved, all refer to ACU.

    I live in SC Colorado, surprisingly ACU does work in the arid alpine summer and fall in the grasses and scrub oak. In the spring, when it’s greenest, it does stand out too much
    I prefer Flectarn, after a few washings so it fades a little) for the woods around here. It’s very difficult to see.

    To my eye, your treatment turns ACU very close to the Marines Digital Woodland pattern. For most folks, in different areas, that shading is a lot more usable.

    You’re spot on about the price of surplus ACU. Compared to any other Camo, it’s a lot cheaper.
    Complete framed rucksacks as low as $40. My Point Blank IIIA Vest I bought for $90. Clothing is significantly lower than other patterns

  • Back in the day when we had our Army Surplus Store we did a comparison of the various patterns. Some were better than others. Oddly enough the color of the last war we won (Olive Drab) did very well. So did black. If you are going to dye stuff, we found the best thing to use was carpet dye. Sherwin Williams invented the stuff but sold off that branch. You can find it on line and buy a sample back to try different colors. Black, brown and dark green worked very well. If you want something unique, use pink. You’ll have the only digital pattern pink camo.

  • Very cool. I‚Äôm going to use this method with the quartz pink to bring back to life some old gamehide chameleon pattern for sheep hunting.

    Great info.

  • I think that might be a good idea, if you are looking for cheap hunting Apparel.
    How well it would work might be a different story.
    The potential problem is in Optical Brighteners that are in many fabrics and most Dyes.

    ‘About 25 years ago most US-based camo companies insisted that textile mills not put UV-Brighteners into the base cloth that camo was printed on. In today‚Äôs market, the textile industry has moved to China. Nearly all camo is made in China and they commonly add permanent UV-Brightening dyes to all base cloth. As a result, much of the camo reaches our stores with brighteners in it!”
    “Optical brighteners found in most laundry detergents cannot be used when laundering your ACU‚Äôs (Army Combat Uniform). Military personnel have been instructed that the uniform must be washed with a mild detergent that does not contain ‚Äúoptical brighteners.‚ÄĚ

    Detergents with optical brighteners would result in possible unwanted detection of personnel using the uniforms in combat. Some detergents have phosphorescent properties which enhance an enemy‚Äôs ability to see the soldier when viewed with Night Vision Devices, making the brightened uniform a visible target.”

    Some hunters claim that in Hunting at night or in low light conditions, that animals can see this effect also.

    So maybe you could do a follow up article. On whether this dyed Camo, would be more visible under a Starlight scope and under a IR scope. Then on washing it with a Non optical brightener detergent, to see if there is any difference.

    In a SHTF scenario, some people will have IR scopes. So this could become an issue for all of our clothing, not just our camo stuff. You never know when you might get caught outside, without your Camo on.

    Here is a short a list of laundry detergent brands, without optical brighteners:

    Seventh Generation
    Puracy
    Ecos Earth friendly products
    Mrs. Meyers Laundry Detergent
    Sun & Earth
    Grab Green
    Nellie’s All Natural Laundry Soda.
    It would probably be a good idea; if we all switched to washing all our clothing, before SHTF hits, into using one of these types of detergents.

    • Your information is right on. As I started reading this article I remembered an article, perhaps in Outdoor Life, decades ago, about brighteners in detergents and the recommendation to use detergents without brighteners even washing hunter orange. I did not realize our camo was made in China now, to their specs not ours, and our military personnel have to wash in detergents without optical brighteners, geez.
      How “nice” of them to light up our military personnel. Sarcasm off

      Thanks for the article. Wishing everyone here a Happy Thanksgiving.

  • If you want to keep it at this dark of a shade, throw it in the dryer first to ‘set’ the color before washing it out (by itself as stated)
    For those of interest, you can go on to the RIT website and they have the recipes (amount of various dye color amounts) for just about every color and shade you may want, including tactical and earth tone colors. I printed out the color recipes I wanted and put them in my DIY binder.

    I took my old Medium Molle Pack in SUCP (pronounced Suck-P for Stupid UCP) and dyed it in the forest green color and it turned out excellent!
    I still have several SUCP uniforms (along with woodland BDU’s) and want to try the brown shades for the SUCP myself, just haven’t got around to doing it yet.
    Maybe you’ll do it before me, if not I’ll send you some pics if/when I get around to doing it….

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone! as much as things ‘are the suck’ out there, most of us have lots to be thankful for.
    God Bless America…PLEASE!

  • I had an assault pack and a battle belt arrangement in that useless camo pattern. I took several colors of flat camo spray paint to it, which improved the camo quite a bit. I named it the Ork Camo Pattern. Problem was, however, that it was very stiff afterwards and I did away with it all. Dying it may have been the better option. Never thought of it.

  • Great idea! You get the durability of mil spec without the cost. I think I would have grabbed a darker green dye like forest green. This will vary however with the geography. Eastern hardwoods aren’t as dark as western conifers. The amount of brush varies. Also, the original UCP has too much yellow in it for anything but the autumn leaf color change. For about two weeks each year it might work “as is.”

  • URGENT ALERT for Daisy and others who lost smell due to COVID (or other condition)

    Mercola.com has an article today on how to restore smell if COVID–or another dozen conditions–has diminished it so food tastes “like sewage.” Due to the savage censorship, Mercola.com has been forced to remove his posts after only 48 hours. That is why I am posting this alert here in the most recent article; an article that has absolutely nothing to do with smell.

  • I did the same thing with some desert cam pouches and MOLLE pack when I didn’t want it to scream military. I used a dark brown and actually kept it on an old pot on the stove heating.

    If you are close and look close enough you can see the desert pattern, otherwise you just see a dark brown pack and pouches.

    Fortunately the old woodland pattern works great in my midwest woods. But ACU dyed with a darker green may work too.

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