Join Date: Oct 2001
Your choice of clothing is weather and mission dependent. For our specific packing list, we’re looking at Spring and Fall weather, where temperatures can be challenging to predict and pack for. Before going any further, you should familiarize yourself with the ECWCS
or PCU clothing systems used by the military, as some of the language will be used during this section. The other major influence in your choice will be your own personal experience.
The ECWCS/PCU clothing systems are extensive and adaptable. The 7 piece system will always be used differently based on how much heat you’re generating, how much moisture you’re producing, and your own tolerance to weather. To add complication to this, what you wear may differ drastically from what your teammates are wearing. While this is primarily a personal decision and requires you to customize your list to your own performance and comfort needs, you’ll be looking to combine three categories of clothing: Base layers, insulating layers, and shells.
Things to Consider
- Weather is your primary concern when packing clothing. The predicted temperature and precipitation will all factor into your choices. However, do not trust your comfort or your life to a METREP. If it says it will rain, assume monsoon. If it says it will be 10 degrees, assume it will be zero. If it says bright and sunny, assume some wind and rain. You need to prepare for a more severe situation than whatever is expected. Failure to do so could be dangerous. However, you have to balance that with the need to save space and weight in your pack.
- Worn vs. Packed
- Not all your clothing must be packed in your rucksack. L1, L2, and L3 items may be worn based on weather conditions. Consider what you’ll be wearing when the operation starts, and ensure you don’t bury it at the bottom of your pack. Also note that while you may start off wearing shells, you’ll need to have room in your pack for when they come off. The strategy of where to pack each item will also depend on what you expect to need first or in a hurry. Shells and insulation may be best kept towards the top (or on the outside) of the pack for quick access. Keep this in mind when organizing your load.
- Whatever choices you make regarding clothing, you should take the opportunity to try packing it as small as it can go, while still remaining accessible. Insulating layers can often be compressed into waterproof stuff sacks and benefit from a significant size reduction. While some soft and hard shells may also pack down this way, it’s likely you’ll want them closer at hand for when the weather changes. Note that some situations may have you quickly shoving your insulating or hard layers into the pack without time to compress them into stuff sacks, so ensure you’ve left some room in your pack to accommodate uncompressed items.
- Do not neglect your hands, feet, head, and face. These areas are more prone to cooling because of their distance from your core, and the tendency of the body to reduce circulation to those areas to retain body heat. A variety of items exist for these areas, but remember the concept of layering. A simple shooting glove may work well to shrug off some wind or cool temperatures, but you’ll need something to keep them dry and warm in a cold rain.
- Personal Experience
- There is no substitute for this. Your choice of layers will depend on your knowledge about your body and how it performs when active and when static in various conditions. The best way to test this is to start going on long hikes or runs with frequent stops. These should be attempted in both temperate and severe weather. Attempt to get your body hot, and find the right combination of layers to keep you from sweating. Then when you stop, monitor your temperature as you cool down. Determine what layers work best to retain heat when stopped. Try to layer up and down to keep your body ‘comfortably cool’ the whole time.
- Base Layers
- Base layers are tighter fitting clothing items that may also provide insulation. Their main function is to absorb water from your skin, and wick it away to evaporate. They may be made of artificial fibers like polypropylene, or natural fibers like wool. Polypro items wick and dry quickly, but have a tendency to hold body odours after only a short time. Wool is naturally odour resistant but dries a bit slower. Under no circumstances should you wear a cotton base layer. Cotton dries very slowly and hold moisture. In cold conditions, cotton kills people. Seriously. Don’t be stupid.
- Mid Layers
- Mid layer options may also be natural fibers, but the majority of modern insulation items are synthetic. Lofted fleece is one option, and many varieties exist - some more breathable than others. Some lofted fabric options such as the Arc’teryx ATOM series and Patagonia 3A jacket pair the insulation with a shell that makes it more wind and rain resistant than a fleece on it’s own.
- Three main categories of shells exist. Hard shells, soft shells, and wind shells.
- Hard shells are designed to be impervious to precipitation and wind while also remaining breathable to allow your sweat to evaporate. Goretex hard shells are the most common but can be quite expensive.
- Soft shells are usually a wind and precipitation ‘resistant’ layer. This means they’re good for intermediate conditions. They will usually hold up well against wind, and happily shrug off some rain. However, they’re not designed to fight off downpours. They’re more breathable than hard shells which makes them a great choice for high activity levels in cold and light rain. Many styles exist, including some that are insulated.
- Wind shells function almost exclusively as a wind-blocking layer. Many styles offer little to no precipitation resistance, but they do a remarkable job of keeping warm air trapped inside while a wind tries to strip it away. Wind shells can make a significant difference in core temperatures, and many styles have the added benefit of being extremely packable.
- Head and Hand wear
- Gloves or mitts may be required depending on the weather. While a good pair of working gloves such as the PIG Alphas or Mechanix Fast Fit will keep your hands protected from scrapes, you may need insulation if the temperature drops. You can treat your hands like the rest of your body by layering insulation and shells over your work gloves. Outdoor Research and Arc’teryx both offer insulating and shell gloves.
Headwear should also not be neglected. In many cases a simple watch cap made of wool or synthetic will be enough. Balaclavas do an excellent job protecting your face from the wind and cold, but may not be necessary except in colder conditions.
- Socks are necessary additions to your pack. Like baselayers, both synthetic and natural fiber options exist (still stay away from cotton!) and come with the same advantages and disadvantages. Also available are waterproof sock options which can keep your feet dry if you expect to be travelling through very wet terrain, but they also keep more moisture inside near your feet. You’ll need to evaluate your foot condition regularly.
- Base Layer
I typically run a long sleeved merino wool base layer shirt, and merino tights as a base layer. While my choice of wool has been a warmth and odour-reduction reduction strategy, I’ve also been very happy with Patagonia’s synthetic Capilene series. In one case, I’d been caught in some rain and had been soaked through to the bone. Within an hour of moving around, my NYCO combat pants were still wet, but my capilene base layer was completely dry and keeping me warm. In many cases, I’ve added a PCU L2 grid fleece or a Patagonia R1 half zip pullover to help retain core warmth. The PCU L2 pant is great in cold weather and I can’t recommend it highly enough as a base layer for those conditions. Basically,I think grid fleece is a key component of any layering system as a base (or a mid) layer, as they trap heat and breathe well.
I’ve used a pair of ATOM LT pants to help insulate my legs in colder conditions. My personal experience is that my legs are tolerant to a much larger variation in temperature, but the ATOM pants compress down very well and are an asset in cool to cold weather. On my torso, I’ve started experimenting with Patagonia’s 3A jacket and have been impressed at it’s performance across a wide temperature range. In colder temperatures, a high loft fleece like the PCU L3 (or Patagonia’s R3) manages to keep a lot of heat trapped inside.
Goretex top and bottom. It’s something that is consistently inside my pack, no matter where I go. They’re less versatile than a soft shell, but protection from severe rain is something you must always consider. I’ve also been impressed with how well they add warmth in cold conditions. They stop wind, rain, and reduce the amount of heat that escapes from your body by their semi-permeable nature. The ECWCS versions are a lot less expensive than the Arcteryx LEAF line, and are perfectly functional. However you’ll find they are less feature-rich and weigh more than the average $700 pair of Arcteryx LEAF pants. A wind shell is something else I also ensure is packed. It is very small, lightweight, and multiples the heat-trapping ability of your base and mid layers. Soft shells have a place as well but for me these are my go-to pieces.
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Last edited by Bravo One-Six; February 3rd, 2016 at 22:57..