Uniform Frequently Asked Questions
- What are the differences between an ABU, ACU and BDU?
- What is the difference between twill and ripstop?
- What laundry detergents are safe to use with these garments?
- What is NIR Technology?
- Can uniform coats be worn as outerwear?
- Are some uniforms better suited for winter or summer?
- How will I know if the coat, top and cap all match?
- Why are uniform pieces sized in ranges?
- What exactly does Mil-Spec mean? Does that mean they're standard issue?
What are the differences between an ABU, ACU and BDU?
The ACU replaced the BDU in 2005 as the official uniform of the US Army. The two have multiple differences when it comes to design, pockets and closure technology.
BDUs feature upright coat pockets that use Velcro. The uniform has a traditional design with a fold-down collar and sleek appearance.
ACUs use Velcro to fasten patches, name tapes and pockets. The ACU coat design features a new arrangement of pockets, which allows the user to access them even while wearing a tactical vest. The ACU slash pocket design increases accessibility, and an overall baggier fit is said to be more comfortable on extended combat missions. The mandarin collar can be worn up or down, and the permanent press finish eliminates the need to have the uniform professionally laundered.
Airman Battle Uniforms, or ABUs, are the current standard U.S. Air Force Uniforms. The camo pattern featured in the ABU is a digital Tiger Stripe, which consists of semi-pixelated blues, greens and tan. The Airman Battle Uniform look is similar to the ACU while its construction is closer to the BDU.
What is the difference between twill and ripstop?
Both twill and ripstop refer to specific types of fabric weaves. Ripstop is a type of plain weave with coarse fibers ribbed at intervals designed to resist and reduce tears and abrasions. It's lightweight, sturdy and wind- and water-resistant. Originally designed for parachutes, ripstop is the military clothing weave to demand when extreme durability is priority. The unique checkerboard pattern of ripstop fabric is not hard to miss.
A twill weave is characterized by distinct, diagonal lines on the surface of the fabric. The inherent uneven texture and design of twill minimizes the appearance of stains and soils. Fewer interlacings allow the yarns to move with reduced restriction. Consequently twill fabrics are more pliable than plain weaves. The fewer interlacings also enable more tightly packed yarns with high thread counts. These durable high-count twills are wind-, water- and wrinkle-resistant.
For more information refer to our Uniform Fabric Guide.
What laundry detergents are safe to use with these garments?
Many commercial laundry detergents use optical brighteners in their formulas but do not indicate their presence on the labeling. Optical brighteners are chemicals that absorb the ultraviolet and violet region of colors in a fabric. They "trick" the eye into seeing a brighter shade and reflect more light. The NIR, or Near Infrared, capability of military uniforms is degraded when washed with optical brighteners. As a result, servicemen and women could be placing their safety at risk. Always use detergents without bleach or optical brighteners because single-time use of these changes the NIR properties of a uniform permanently.
To preserve the expected life of your uniform, always follow the care instructions provided on the labeling inside the garment. To learn more about how to properly care for your garments, read How to Care for Your Uniform.
What is NIR Technology?
Near Infrared (NIR) Signature Management Technology is used by the U.S. Department of Defense to prevent detection by NIR Image Converters. These photocathode devices do not detect temperatures but rather infrared radiation variances. NIR-compliant uniforms use a special fabric that allows soldiers to appear at the same radiation level as the surrounding terrain, thus making them more difficult to detect. NIR technology also makes uniforms less visible in low-light environments by reducing the reflection of light.
Can uniform coats be worn as outerwear?
If you're looking to bundle up, ABU, BDU and ACU coats will not get the job done. In this instance, the term "coats" can be misleading because they are not meant to be worn as winter outerwear. Uniform tops are made from the same, often lightweight material as uniform pants and provide little insulation in cold weather.
Are some uniforms better suited for winter or summer?
Uniforms are made from various fabric blends. Heavier fabric types (such as twill) are better suited for cold environments, while other lightweight fabrics (such as ripstop) are designed for warmer climates.
To learn more about what fabric type will suit your mission, check out our Uniform Fabric Guide.
How will I know if the coat, top and cap all match?
There are three things you need to look for to ensure your uniform pieces go together: the brand, the fabric type and the color/pattern. If those three things match up, you've got yourself a matching uniform.
Why are uniform pieces sized in ranges?
Military uniform pants are manufactured to fit a variety of sizes so they are adjustable in different ways. For instance, BDU pants have a specialized stitch called a bartack on the waistband to help adjust the waist size. ACU pants have a drawstring in the waistband to adjust the waist size as well. The ankle cuffs of uniform pants have blousing straps sewn into them so that the pant legs can be tucked into boots. These blousing straps not only make it easier to blouse the pant legs, but also they help make it easier to adjust the inseam.
What exactly does Mil-Spec mean? Does that mean they're standard issue?
Mil-Spec stands for military specifications. If a product is considered Mil-Spec, it meets the criteria spelled out by the U.S. Department of Defense for items it would consider using. Because an item is classified mil-spec does not necessarily mean it is standard issue. It only means it meets the specifications approved for the United States Military.