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.
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.
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…”
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.