Can I go wrong?
As an feedback to an article we shared here a couple days ago about “Waterproof vs. Water repellent” (read here), our good friend Bill from PMCI Magazine send over his words or better knowledge for this important topic we suggest you to spend time and read if you really want to learn and understand the importance for this type of clothing. THANK YOU BILL
NOTE! This is not a picture guide, this guide is about facts and understanding and yes, I´m sorry you have to read a lot to earn that knowledge. Enjoy! ~Chris
As we head into the wet and cold winter months choosing the right shell garments can make all the difference between having a great day working or training, or heading home for an early (hopefully hot!) shower. Bill from PMCI Magazine makes the case for spending your hard-earned cash on something that will see you through the harshest conditions.
I don’t know about you but recently I’ve been pulling my shell (read waterproof) gear out of storage and giving it some seasonal care and maintenance, and it struck me again that this is a side of the game that some will sadly neglect!
Tactical gear is a “money pit”. There, I’ve said it! Whilst shooting may not necessarily be the most expensive pastime out there (I know guys that drop literally thousands on their mountain bikes!) it still adds up. Quite apart from regular range fees, a decent firearm will still cost you several hundred hundred pounds even at “entry level”, and once you start dressing that up with optics and accessories, and adding a few extra mags and ammunition, and suddenly you’re well (WELL!) into triple figures! Then if you’re lucky enough to be in a country where you can legally own and train with one, there’s your pistol, holster and more ammunition, along with basic clothing and some form of load carrying gear… of course you can’t go out and shoot without decent ear and eyepro… things start to add up, don’t they?
And yet here I am harping on about waterproof gear again, just another expense to add to the list. But, and this is an absolutely HUGE but, what happens when the weather turns bad? The fact is that you can have the very best of everything, but if you can’t stay out in the elements to do your stuff then what’s the point?
In reality, and this is my opinion I stress, after your carbine or rifle the best thing you can spend your money on is some decent wet-weather gear! In the UK where I live we are faced with, shall we call it “indifferent” weather year round, and although we don’t need to contend with the conditions encountered by our friends who live in places where the snow falls hard and temperatures fall WAY below freezing, we do need to be prepared for rain… lots of rain…
And the fact of the matter is that this kit comes at a price; bottom line, good waterproof clothing does not come cheap! I will probably be accused yet again of being somehow “elitist” in this view, certainly when it comes to some of the garments I’ve chosen to recommend to you here, but the fact is that it’s expensive for a reason, namely, because it performs. I’m not quite sure why looking at good kit should be classed as “elitist” as literally thousands of outdoor pursuits folk buy this type of clothing each and every year, and there are numerous “outdoor shops and outfitters” that sell to them all around the world.
My advice to you? Buy the very best you can afford. Okay, do your homework first, but don’t scrimp on wet weather gear as you’ll regret it.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
With any waterproof (and by this I mean waterproof and windproof) there are really three keywords that you need to look out for, and these are:
The key to getting a great performance jacket or pant is the balance of these keywords; if you take a bin bag that is certainly waterproof, but is not particularly durable, and not breathable in any way. Alternatively if you take a base layer top THAT is extremely breathable, but not waterproof and again, not very durable. I’m giving these examples to illustrate what a delicate balancing act this is, even before you start to contend with making things hard wearing!
GORE-TEX is still by far the best known of the durably waterproof and breathable technologies and the guys that use GORE-TEX have had many, many years of experience of working with the different fabric/membrane mixes. It’s by no means the only technology out there to look at though, as there are others that are constantly looking to steal the crown! If you’re wanting to get into the meat of things you need to start looking for things like a high hydrostatic head (10m plus!) and a high level of moisture vapour transmission (MVTR).
Anyone can make something waterproof, and anyone can make something extremely breathable, but can they balance the two aspects to keep you comfortable inside your clothing system when the conditions outside are total crap, and can they make a garment that’s going to stand up to being worn under a plate carrier for hours on end? Think about it…
Also, are they any good at design? Is the hood big enough to accommodate a helmet, and has it been designed to work with one when it’s being worn? Where are the pockets? Where are the adjusters? If the drawcord for the jacket hem is hidden inside the pockets, and those pockets are under your plate carrier or chest rig straps… well, I guess you can see where I’m headed with this!
Many so-called “tactical” jackets are nothing more than mountaineering models replicated in (choose your fave tacticool colour here) and pumped out into the market. If you look at the UK military issue MTP waterproofs for instance the pockets are all but unusable once you put a plate carrier on; don’t knock MOD procurement though, as the design they chose to adopt is replicated throughout the tactical clothing industry, so it MUST be right…
MODELS TO CHECK
Okay, into the meat of it! I’ve set the groundwork, so what brands should you be looking at?
Let’s get ARC’TERYX LEAF out of the way first shall we? Bottom line is that ARC’TERYX make some 100% righteous gear, and are a very, very well respected outdoor, ski and mountaineering brand, and LEAF is simply the program they’ve put in place to support the “professional user”. ARC’TERYX is the brand “de rigeur” of the “operator set” and although I have huge respect for the brand I’m going to say that in todays market they do seem a tad “pricey”. That said, they do make some absolutely stunning gear, and although the feature set is a bit fussy in some of their older garments, the newer ALPHA Jackets for instance are a lightweight (420g) and packable waterproof, a windproof/breathable design that is comfortable to wear during fast travel under inclement conditions. N40p-X GORE-TEX 3L fabric responds rapidly with a greatly enhanced rate of breathability to transfer moisture vapour away from the body and regulate temperature. Media ports, matte zippers and compatibility with insertion and extraction equipment add to the jacket’s operational function. However, expect to pay UK£500 plus for one of these, and that’s before you get to overtrousers!
With that in mind let’s look at a couple of alternatives! At just 430g the CLAW GEAR Melierax is a lightweight and versatile hardshell jacket engineered to protect you from wind, rain and snow. It’s been designed from the ground up to offer the very highest levels of protection in truly adverse weather conditions. The cut is modern and ergonomic and the design is excellent offering high levels of movement and mobility to work in harmony with the users body contours; if purchased over-sized it can even be worn over body armour! The hood is fully adjustable and helmet compatible. Both sleeves feature a sleeve pocket and a hook & loop mounting panel for name tapes and unit/morale patches. Large front pockets allow easy access even when wearing chest rigs or backpacks and there’s a neat inner pocket for keeping small essentials safe. The Euro price for the Melierax is €299.90 which is absolutely spot on for this level of performance and offers great value for money, although there’s yet to be a matching overtrouser.
Also worth a look is the new Dakota MKII from TASMANIAN TIGER which I’ve been testing recently and came to the Alps with me this summer for the “PMCI Mountain Test”; this simple yet effective jacket is made from waterproof and breathable three-layer T-Vent and weighs in at 530g. In terms of features you get a two-way adjustable hood with reinforced brim, seamless shoulders to avoid chafing under a pack strap, and thermo-fusion pit zips for increased core ventilation. It has ergonomically shaped raglan sleeves, and adjustable cuff tabs with hook-and-loop closure. The water repellent two-way front zip affords inner wind protection, and there’s also an E/string-adjustable hem. In terms of pockets it’s straightforward with just a “Napoleon” pocket with thermo fusion zip, and front pockets with water repellent thermo-fusion zips. This sells for iro €300 and is absolutely spot-on for the money; if you need a matching overtrouser then the Dakota pants will set you back iro €240, and are comfortable to wear all day long!
Although the Melierax and Dakota have been with me for a while now and I’ve been testing the heck out of them both at home and abroad, my personal “benchmark” for high-performance shell gear is still UF PRO. The team at UF PRO certainly know what goes into a great garment, not only in terms of innovative design and practical functionality, but also in terms of high technology, and high performance fabrics. Through strategic alliances with other companies such as W L Gore & Associates, Schoeller, Carinthia (G Loft), D30, and Cocona they have access to many of the finest fabric technologies available to the tactical user on the market.
With their superb, cutting edge Monsoon SmallPac waterproof shell jacket and pant they show that they mean business from the very outset. This is a fully specified and featured 2.5 and 3 Layer GORE-TEX jacket that offers the user full protection from even the worst of the elements, be it rain, sleet, or snow. In terms of features the jacket is ergonomic and minimalist; there is an upper arm pocket, reinforcement in the shoulder and buckle area, and sleeve width adjustment, and it comes in a very useful stowaway pouch with MOLLE straps; the Monsoon SmallPac jacket can easily be stowed away into this small pouch, which can be looped to any gear with a MOLLE system. This is how you can always find space for the jacket, no matter what gear you carry or the size of your backpack. The jacket also benefits from some of UF PROs own “in house” innovations as it incorporates their excellent HOOD/HARNESS system for precise fit around the head, letting the hood move perfectly wherever you look.
When you add the excellent SmallPac pants this a suit designed for the professional, but unlike other manufacturers UF PRO have not loaded the price up to make if off putting to potential buyers. They’ve kept the price sensible, but without cutting any corners; when I bought my original suit the jackets retailed for €256.00 and the pant for €243.00 which is absolutely bang on for the performance and durability of the fabrics and components which allied with first rate quality control give a suit that will last you a lifetime!
I’ve been using all three jacket models on and off on pretty much a daily basis and I have to report that the performance of all of them has indeed been excellent, even in the heaviest, wind driven downpours. Although the face fabrics are light, soft and very quiet for hardshells they are also also extremely durable; they’ve been used regularly in training and I even had the Melierax covered in mud when I took a tumble on a wet, flinty chalk path (much to the amusement of my mates!). When I got home and wiped it down it looked as good as new with absolutely no damage apparent.
I hope this has given you some valuable information to help you make a decision of your own choice of waterproof, but the bottom line is this, and I’ll say it again; do your homework, buy right and buy once! A decent set of waterproofs will probably be the most expensive bit of kit you buy after your primary firearm, so take your time!