What makes hemp the perfect fabric for military uniforms?
History is suffused with incidents where a single person brings honor to the entire clan or spoils its name. But did you know that it is not only humankind who has to bear the burden of its fellow kinds’ deeds? It is equally true when we talk about the animal and even plants community. One such plant that bears a bad reputation due to its cousin is hemp.
A fabric that could be best for military attire was put under the ban. Had it been introduced before, it would have saved millions of soldiers around the world from a lot of trouble.
Let us dispel some myths about hemp, which led to it being banned, and also discuss its role as an ideal fiber material for military clothing.
Clearing the smoke of misconceptions around hemp
To the people who are yet unaware of marvels of hemp, the term brings to mind a picture of groups of hippies, cuddled over a fireplace in some remote forest region smoking – yes, Hemp – and dozing over each other. We are well familiar with this popular notion. While this erroneous image of Hemp is widely popular, the glorious history of this wonderful plant is obscured over several decades.
Hemp holds the title for probably the very first textile fiber plant cultivated by humankind and archaeological proofs suggest that its cultivation and use as textile had begun as early as 8,000 BC – or even before that.
Due to its curative nature, the hemp also enjoyed a distinguished stature in ancient and folk physicians as a medicine to prevent and cure various health issues like difficult childbirth, convulsions, rheumatism, arthritic joints, dysentery, and insomnia. China started hemp agriculture 6,000 years ago and was the first country to make paper with hemp. The crop still plays a vital role in Chinese remedies.
Other countries that producing hemp includes Chile, Russia, Spain, France, etc. Did you know that hemp also acted as a currency in America until the dawn of the nineteenth century? Now the natural question arises – what gave it a bad reputation?
Guilt by Association
The only 2 ‘faux crimes’ of hemp is that it belongs to the cannabis plant family and contains less than 1% of THC, a substance that “gives high” and is used in dope cannabis. Due to this mere association (and without any direct offense), Hemp was almost banned in 1937 in the US under Marihuana Tax Act. Legal restrictions and heavy taxations made it commercially impractical for farmers to grow hemp.
Was it propaganda?
Even a little before the legal ban anti-hemp propaganda (in its best definition) was already present. Movies depicted it as a substance that brings out evil tendencies, newspapers reported hemp as the main offender behind different crimes, and even society was convinced that hemp debases a citizen. The Cotton lobby always wanted hemp out as it hurt their business interests.
Now that you are aware of how a marvel plant became an outcast, let us now understand the role of fabric in military uniforms.
What role does fabric play in military activities?
Have you ever noticed the patterns and color of military uniforms? It helps military personnel to seamlessly blend with the natural environment so that they can’t be spotted easily by enemies. Especially during combat, this camouflage can work as a life-saving factor. Uniform also protects soldiers against harsh environments and tough terrains. In this way, the military uniform is not mere clothes, or not even limited to reaffirming the professional and patriotic solidarity. It acts as a vital factor that determines survival and success during combative situations.
At the time of war, especially in the closed areas, forests, etc., the soldiers don’t rely only on one set of eyes. Rather, they employ every sensory organ to perceive the presence of the enemy and waste no time in taking action. Moreover, the lack of ‘artificial noise’ and abundance of natural carriers like wind magnifies every single ‘traceable factor’ like the smell, sight, sound, etc. There are different ways in which military uniforms can hide or reveal the presence of soldiers.
If the fabric retains and gives out the odor of sweat, blood, etc. the enemy can discover the presence of a soldier in the vicinity. Depending upon their training enemies can even calculate the (almost) exact direction of the soldier. Likewise, a floating faint tinge of the fabrics like nylon or polyester can be viewed from a distance and it is enough for enemies to plan the attack on unaware soldiers.
Reasons for making hemp military fabric are abundant
Along with determining discoverability, the uniform fabric also affects, to a large extent, the overall fighting capabilities of a soldier. For instance, the fabrics that stick closely to the skin while being wet can make it slightly difficult for them to stretch and maneuver their arms freely. During combat situations when one needs to act within a fraction of a second, this ‘slight’ difficulty can be extremely dangerous.
Along with these pre-attack factors, the military fabric also determines the post-attack injuries. Fire incidents that are not uncommon during the war, can take a dangerous magnitude if soldiers are wearing uniforms made from skin-clinging fabrics.
During combat, the soldiers’ clothes are frequently chafed against various rough surfaces. A weak fabric may easily get torn and exposes soldiers to the extremities of climate as well as terrain. Think of a situation where a soldier has to crawl fast with a worn-out uniform that bears his knees and elbows, and he needs to take cover from the fast-approaching enemy? If their uniform fabric cannot save soldiers from the harsh climate like heat, breeze, etc. they may even catch a cold or other climatic ailments making them weaker and vulnerable.
The fabric of a military uniform should also be breathable, durable, and soft. While hemp fabric has no competition when it comes to durability, it is a bit abrasive in raw form. With some processing, however, it emerges as soft as any other fabric. Hemp fabric is breathable as well, which means it doesn’t retain moisture. It impedes the growth of mold and mildew, keeping the clothes odorless. Of course, cotton is also good when it comes to breathability, but hemp is a clear winner overall.
Issues with conventional military uniforms
Bidding is a vital part of selecting a military clothing supplier and the contract is often awarded to the one who makes the lowest bid.
The emphasis of suppliers is to lower down the costs by blending different fabrics – cotton, polyester, etc. Such fabrics often have multiple “latent” issues that eventually expose the soldiers to discomfort as well as risks. The worst part is that these issues are often revealed during most trying times.
During deployment, the soldiers are required to change their locations frequently to gain ‘advantageous positions’. Understandably, it exposes the uniform to wear and tear. The lowest bidder’s uniforms produced with a blend of different fabrics can hardly withstand the increasing hostility of the environment.
It causes quick wear and tear thus making soldiers prone to the extremities of climate and more importantly denying them the sufficient camouflage needed to remain unnoticed by the enemy.
How hemp fabric can help protect our military personnel during combat?
The military uniform should meet several parameters. Hemp fully satisfies almost all the key parameters.
One of the major advantages hemp brings in is that it is resistant to water. No wonder such clothing becomes a big asset for the soldiers fighting in wet conditions as it promotes free body movements.
Being windproof, the hemp military uniform also helps soldiers adjust themselves to heavy winds with less difficulty. Besides, it can easily resist fire thus minimizing the risks during fire incidents. Hemp fabric is largely immune to infrared effects as well and during heavy sun it acts as a natural sunscreen.
The fabric also enjoys a decent resistance to bacteria and insects. All these qualities make hemp a natural choice for soldiers who undertake serious combat duties in an outdoor environment fighting not only the enemy but also the vagaries and extremities of the environment.
What makes us optimistic on the use of hemp in military fabric?
During combat or trying situations the military personnel need high-quality material that can firmly resist abrasion. One material that possesses such strength is hemp. Do you know that hemp is 1000X more resistant to abrasion when compared to cotton? When compared to a blend of fabrics the hemp seems even more powerful. In other words, the military personnel can switch numerous different positions during deployment without their uniform being worn or torn.
Another USP of hemp fabric is its versatility which makes it an ideal material to produce not only uniforms but also other gears like socks and even shoes. Talking about the ergonomics, the hemp fabric’s strength lies in packaging different qualities needed for an ideal military uniform.
We have already explained the abrasion-resistance qualities of hemp fabric. Additionally, it can efficiently resist fire as well as water.
Unlike other fabrics such as cotton, hemp can hold its dye for a longer duration. It helps in better camouflage even when you are wearing an old uniform or the uniform has been exposed to tough conditions.
One of the major concerns during military operations is to safeguard the vital limbs such as hands and feet. For that, they need ideal footgear.
Being breathable the hemp fabric is an ideal material to produce socks and shoes for military personnel. Moreover, the immense strength as a fabric, allows hemp made shoes to tolerate continuous strain, stress, and withstand being tested against rough terrains, high speed, pressure, etc.
All these ergonomically and functional qualities make hemp a practical alternative to the conventional fabrics for producing military uniforms.
Why let the saviors wear a uniform that harms the environment?
The term ‘military’ brings us an image of ‘savior of the world’ – someone who protects us from harm and save the weaker. If we think deeply, we would realize it would be absurd that the uniform of these ‘planet saviors’ harms our ‘planet’. Hemp shines distinctly at this front too.
Just like a true soldier, the hemp fabric also protects the environment and promotes the interests of weaker categories i.e. poor farmers and women. Right from farming to manufacturing, it requires fewer resources while yielding a significant harvest. Unlike cotton that gobbles up one-fourth of global pesticides, hemp requires a comparatively negligible volume of pesticide as it largely remains free from pests.
While you need 5,400 liters of water to get just 2 Kg of cotton, hemp needs just 50% of that volume, a blessing for the environment as well as poor farmers of drought-affected areas. Moreover, the thick growth of hemp doesn’t allow other plants to sustain, so the farmers don’t need herbicides either. What is else, when farmed in rotation the Hemp also acts as a natural pesticide and minimizes pests in future plants.
One may argue that organic cotton farming can reduce carbon footprint by eliminating the use of pesticides or fertilizer. It is true but we shouldn’t forget that organic cotton produces up to 50% less yield, which is a major drawback for growers.
Hemp not only helps the environment throughout its lifecycle but also continues protecting our planet after its life is over. Unlike a polymer that remains in the environment for 20 years (and in some cases up to 2 centuries), the hemp fabric is fully degradable. When discarded, hemp takes only 6 months (give/take a few months) to simply vanish away, leaving our environment cleans.
But why even discard it at all? Hemp is fully recyclable as well. So you can infuse a new life into it. So hemp continues protecting our planet even after its life is over; should we say ‘like a true martyr’?