Grey is the New FDE: Should you be the Grey Man?

Grey is the new FDE (Flat Dark Earth). Or maybe it’s the new black, since previously FDE was the new black. I guess it depends on who you talk to. The use of the various new haute tactical couture garments and attendant gear is, as you might expect, the catalyst for a number of arguments about whether it really provides an advantage it or if it’s just the newest tactifashion trend.

It seems like the new grey push really took off last year when Arc’teryx LEAF relased the Urban Wolf series. Not only does the colorway have an engaging name, it is described as being optimized for operations in the urban sprawl and metropolitan/industrial areas. Its popularity was helped along by some great exposure during training evolutions and photo opportunities conducted by ‘shooting celebrities’ and folks who ran in those circles. Now, to clarify, this isn’t a criticism. Good marketing is good marketing whether a camouflage pattern or piece of gear works well or not.

I should also clarify also that neither Urban Wolf nor any of its peers are intended to be true camouflage in the traditional sense, at least as best I can tell, nor have I heard any manufacturer suggest its use would allow you to disappear like the Predator in an urban jungle. Obviously if someone is operating in a low profile fashion there are other ways to ‘swim in the sea of the people’, and as much of that is about behavior and demeanor as it is clothing choice, and even an informed color choice is going to be pointless if you’re wearing a mission top with lots of Velcro and shoulder pockets and whatnot (though with the proliferation of ‘near-tactical clothing this is a far lesser problem than it was just a decade ago).

It’s important to remember that kit of this type is more for mitigating the signature in the urban sprawl and “the margins”, not eliminating it. Heavy vests, plate carriers, long guns and radios tend to flag the wearer as someone other than your typical suburbanite headed for Starbuck’s. In this regard it makes more sense than many of the “urban camouflage patterns” that provide great visual impact in movies but aren’t terribly practical in real life. There’s also a strong argument to be made that grey is superior to the all-black and all-blue uniforms frequently seen in urban operations, though that argument probably doesn’t hold as strong when compared to olive drab or a good old fashioned flightsuit—which then opens up the two ‘use of camo pattern for identification or intimidation’ tangents, which for the time being I’ll acknowledge but avoid.

I’ll also stipulate that comparisons will quickly be made to the Army’s Universal Camouflage Pattern and submit that the uniforms may not be intended for the same mission, particularly given the market here CONUS.

HSGI_UrbanGrey_Costa Leg Rig at a Talon Defense Class

There are other non-monochromatic pattern ‘urban’ color ways out there. Kryptek RAID, TYPHON and A-TACS AU all fill a similar if not identical niche, though I put A-TACS LE in the identifier category as it’s not—at least to my eye—suitable for any genuine camouflage purposes.

Although Arc’eryx (from my limited perspective) seems to have been the strongest force behind the increasing popularity of ‘urban grey’ it is by no means the only one. About five years ago EMDOM released ‘SDU Grey’ gear for largely the same reasons as cited by LEAF Urban Wolf and Triple Aught Design has had UE (Urban Environment) Grey clothing available for longer than that.

The latest company to release gear in a matching tone is High Speed Gear Inc. Their new line is simply named Urban Grey and it is already selling quickly. The HSGI “Battle Proven Tactical Nylon Gear” Urban Grey color scheme is now an option for those purchasing an HSGI Costa Leg Rig, Cobra 1.5 or Cobra 1.75 Riggers Belt, a large number of Tacos (X2R, X2RP, Double-Deckers, etc.) as well as their Bleeder/Blowout Pouch, Mag-Net, Pogey Pouch and a couple of chest rigs and packs. You can track these developments here.

HSGI Grey Gear

Back at SOFIC, Blue Force Gear announced they’d be building Urban Wolf kit. They advise, “With the ever growing focus on security in densely populated urban, suburban, and industrial environments, security forces need a pattern that works with man-made settings and yet is not overtly camouflage.  Urban Wolf load carriage equipment works with blue, black, ranger green, and Arc’teryx LEAF Wolf uniforms in the urban direct action role as well as blending with civilian apparel for low visibility special reconnaissance missions…”

BFG Urban Wolf MOLLEminus

Today EMDOM (who have been doing this a while) announced on Facebook they’re going to be expanding the SDU color way to their entire line. I imagine it won’t be much longer before we hear from other manufacturers they’re doing the same.


If anyone on here has actually used one of the grey patterns operationally I’d love to hear how it performed (within the confines of its intended use please—obviously it’s not a concrete jungle ghillie suit), and in what specific environment. I’ve not personally tried any of it; if that changes I’ll advise.


About the Author

Kilgore & Call
Richard Kilgore and Jake Call have been writing on and off for for many years now. You can reach them at or follow them on Instagram at @breachbangclear or Tumblr at
  • Lance

    Unless you need to hide behind a brick wall grey is useless. I go OD or Coyote brown anytime over grey. Hint why ACU sucks so much now is that grey sticks out any wear, hence needs a woodland or multicam replacement asap.

    • seal76

      I agree with you Lance. OD or Coyote brown is the way to go. Black is good too for Ninja Night Ops.

    • Brannon LeBouef

      Lance, you might want to do a little reading into colors and light. Grey actually is the most “blending” color, especially in low light. I believe the Arcteryx video goes into that a little. Coyote and Ranger work surprisingly well in most urban environments, but grey certainly does as well.

      Grey has been around for a while. While the Arcteryx Wolf Grey is actually a new Pantone color, most others are basic foliage or some off shoot of that.

    • Chris

      From what I heard they did this grey for the Olympics. They teams wanted something that would blend in with the concrete of the stadium so this is what they brought out. This probably would be good in a city like Manhattan. But who am I kidding. They don’t allow legal guns over there.


    As long as its Arc’teryx Grey (Wolf) then yes, its the “new” FDE.

    Lots of companies are adopting it.

  • seal76

    OD worked very well for many years. Don’t know why we had so many camo patterns in the first place. Camo doesn’t make you bullet proof or invisible.

    • Chuck

      POLICOS and their lobby! Just think how much money other then the State and Federal Govt. have made on this? I like the Marine Battle Dress. Civilian Swat teams should wear the color that matches SITSOP

  • moondawg

    I think many of the near tactical and tacti-cool garments are more a yuppie thing. The only tactical gear I have seen in the hood or impoverished areas is old uniform items purchased at the goodwill or 3d hand store. Also the same popular with some urban nomads (street people).

    • ian

      Exactly,running a tactical cut jacket,shooting glasses, and military reg haircut is not blending in, no matter your color.

      It just rabid fanboyism for those that think “the dead bird” makes them Delta.

      • JLS

        LOLOLOLO you said “running”

  • FormerSFMedic

    It’s interesting that this discussion has just recently come up. Grey has been used in urban camo for almost a century by modern militaries around the world. I’m surprised that companies have just now started getting into Grey kit. With that said, grey (in the correct spectrum) is an amazingly versatile transitional color. On it’s own, it conceals well in almost all environments. Its a great color for low profile surveillance and/or assault operations day and night. Grey is also an outstanding color when combined with other popular camo patterns. A black rifle stands out drastically when carried against MC, FDE, or OD. Paint that rifle grey, and all of a sudden it blends in with the rest of the kit.

    Personally, I have only had the chance to work with grey on training missions. However, I witnessed a SMU utilize grey on a number of occasions while working overseas. I never asked them how well it worked out for them but I will say that if these guys were using it then it was for a good reason. I have been fascinated with solid transitional camo for years now. I have done a lot of research into the subject. Grey is probably the best choice for modern urban operation. It is a proven color that has worked for decades. Just think, the SAS and the British navy used to paint their equipment pink because it worked. Don’t dismiss something because its new because sometimes new has been around for a loooooong time.

  • Tierlieb

    I’d just like to point out that the guy running the “wolf grey” BFG MOLLEminus carrier in picture #4 is actually standing in an urban environment…

    • Beego

      No, that would be a conference hall or gym enviroment

      • zak

        And that’s not “urban”?

    • JDS

      Yes and no – look at those mags freakin’ disappear against the carrier.

  • Joe

    you need gym-o-camo for that

  • straps

    Before we entered Afghanistan, Ranger Green was considered the best balance for urban/forest and even brief forays into arid environments (REAL Ranger Green picks up arid colors). Then MJK and Coyote hit the scene. I think the main attraction Grey holds–especially for law enforcement–is that it’s NOT black or navy blue (easily discriminated in marginal lighting–especially at typical deadly force engagement distances), but bears less of the “militarized law enforcement” baggage than Ranger Green, Coyote/MJK or heaven forbid camouflage.

    Grey is no more “perfect” than Ranger Green, MJK/Coyote, Multicam or Awesomecam. It was initially fielded for use in maritime environments and got traction in the urban landscape–both environments where man-made objects prevail and where a bad guy scanning for opponents in challenging lighting conditions (combinations of moonlight and artificial lighting) has to filter through all manner of “noise.” As always, tactics win the fight. Working from shadows (not casting them), seeking concealment (or cover) from objects of similar luminance and reflectance will get you more than halfway to a successful outcome. That said, ESPECIALLY where artificial lighting (that disabling isn’t an option) is present, grey has a significant role to play, and could bridge the gap between tactics and terrain conditions over which you have no control.

    Will be fun, however, to see guys clad head to toe in Wolf Grey thinking that they’re achieving some kind of “stealth” in a crowded urban environment…

  • B_A

    If grey is the new flat dark earth, did I miss FDE equipment and clothing somehow?

    What’s with the MAS grey from LBT?

  • Frank

    I always thought that gray would have been more ideal for Vietnam and Germany than any other color I witnessed. The NVA used it to reduce the effectiveness of Starlight Scopes and I’ve seen Bundeswehr Armor units disappear with it. Is it perfect? Hell no! But at low light and no light it’s the best. Now, I have no experience with the latest camo like multicam, so maybe I’m way off base.

  • JPF

    As the guy behind Wolf I’d like to point out that there are a couple of aspects of grey as a colorway that aren’t being mentioned:
    1) The vast majority of special operations forces (police and armed forces) activity takes place in conditions of reduced light levels against the Mark I eyeball. As light levels decline, the human eye see the world in shades of grey and a mid-grey provides the lowest average contrast to a range of grey backgrounds.
    2) For most users uniforms color is political rather than tactical decision. Grey may often be the most best camouflage that is politically acceptable – especially compared to “tactical” black or police blue.
    3) Grey tactical kit, as a rather uncommon tactical color, can be easier to incorporate into mimicry (aka “low profile) camouflage schemes. Obviously, to would best to have no tactical kit showing under a suit coat or dish-dash but a bit of grey may not tip you hand as quickly as Multicam or OD. In the CQB realm even a 1/2 second can be a life saving advantage.

  • pete sheppard

    *Feldgrau* (Field grey) returns…the Germans gave the world a solid run with it.

    • moondawg

      I always thought that Feldgrau was a sort of OD grey, or grey OD, anyway it had an OD tinge to it. I may be mistaken. WWII was a bit before my time.

      • Paralus

        It depended on when it was manufactured and who manufactured it.

        Some of it had brownish gray, some of it had greenish gray. Earlier in the war, things were more uniform, but as the war persisted, changes in materials and dyes kept it different.

  • mike

    Looking at the gear designs, it’s pretty clear that this 100% about selling stuff. 10 years ago, manufacturers like Tactical Tailor were trying to find common sense solutions to improving outdated ALICE gear. The military gear industry has long since gone waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay overboard. This has nothing to do with efficiency, just squeezing dollars out of people who, for some lame reason, need the latest and greatest.

  • MarkM

    Grey is popular right now because it isn’t a pattern at all. Completely avoids any of the drama walking around broadcasting “TACTICAL UNIT” to everyone’s eyes. Black couldn’t do it, black attracts attention. Unless it’s snowing, white is out, but grey could still be functional.

    For police and other LEO’s working urban, it’s a better choice and it’s less military, which gets political points for not being the Federales in a lot of quarters. There IS a division of thought in the publics mind that local officials are their to protect them, the Feds are outsiders. And the Feds aren’t wearing grey, they think. So, we should see them start adopting it, too, to blend in instead of being drama queens with some special tacticool camo – especially since DOD can’t get their act together and simply decide on Multicam. Like the Improved Carbine, I’m beginning to think the long drawn out process is really a stunt to work around Congress’ micromanagement.

    Grey works for me, Dickies has had it for decades, it’s normal and available from a lot of uniform sources as an alternate color. I suspect I could tell a tac team member from a janitor wearing grey, the point being would I bother to look if I didn’t see him high stepping with an AR at high port? That’s where it blends in, just another service provider, and it won’t disturb the citizens as much.


    Urban cowboys? Tactical fashion?

  • brok3n

    A worn out pair of multicams does just fine in the urban environment.

  • MarcR

    I know I’m not the only one to say this, but Urban Wolf Grey? It sounds and looks like a rebranding rebirth of the color “Foliage Green”. If it’s Black, LEOs get called SS/Gestapo, if it’s camp, they get called out martial law (and only matters to rural counties with sherif deputies), if it’s white it’ll get the storm trooper comment (nazi or star wars) and if it’s grey, well…. I’m pretty sure someone above me mentioned “German Field Gray”….
    It’s a vicious wheel of consumerism and I sadly and gladly keep falling for it.
    So what was wrong with Ranger Green?