Environmental Protection: Outdoor Gear
The military's integrated system finally catches up to--and in some cases surpasses--civilian all-weather apparel and equipment.
by Elizabeth Engelhardt
At left, the gear and garb of a Special Operations Forces soldier outfitted for serious cold. At right, a similar consumer ensemble. The difference–well, fortunately, it ain’t what it used to be. “Cotton kills” has been a truism of the outdoor world for decades, but the military is only now switching to synthetic base layers. The new gear–most of it belonging to the Personal Environmental Protective Survival Equipment (PEPSE) system–consists of ruggedized consumer tech. The clothing contains elements of the new Protective Combat Uniform (PCU), developed by the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center with input from companies such as Patagonia, La Sportiva and Malden Mills. A soup-to-nuts system, the PCU’s seven levels can be mixed to handle temperatures from 65?F to â€40?F. Specially positioned stretch panels facilitate combat movements (firing weapons, for instance), the fabric color spoofs night-vision sensors, and varied seam positions prevent painful stacking under backpack straps.
For soldiers, sturdiness is key. The Protective Combat Uniform includes a compressible fleece jacket made of no-rip, velour-backed Polartech Thermal Pro (1), four times as warm as cotton. Moderately water-resistant and stretchy, maximally breathable “softshell” jackets and pants have made it to the military PCU (2). The PEPSE system uses the traditional leather and steel LaSportiva Lhotse boots (3). The Thales MBITR radio (4) transmits up to five miles. The Gerber 600 DET (5), in nonreflective black, has tools a non-MacGyver civilian would never use–an explosives punch, a blasting cap crimper. The screw-top fill system, antimicrobial tube treatments and lever-lock valves of the Camelbak Ambush hydration pack (6) were initially developed for the military. The Mystery Ranch Big Ds Special Blend (7), a 7,400-cubic-inch backpack, carries plenty of gear. Oakley M sunglasses (8) are popular in the military because they have broad, strong lenses, which protect against shrapnel and don’t interfere with aiming. The gloves? Consumer off-the-shelf from Outdoor Research (9). The Multi-Climate Protection System base layer (10) traps heat and wicks moisture.
The Patagonia Flash Pullover has lofted pillars for insulation (11). The Arc’Teryx Alpha SV Jacket (12) features XCR, the best form of Gore-Tex, but it’s too noisy and not breathable enough for soldiers. Marmot ATV pants (13) feature 3XDRY, a fast-drying, stretchable nylon. Lowa Biomex Vertex (14) uses a flexing plastic cuff to combine big-boot stability and sneaker comfort. Motorola Talkabout T5950 (15) has a five-mile range. The new titanium Leatherman Charge Ti (16) includes two sets of pliers, wire cutters, a saw, scissors and files. Civilian hydration packs, including the Lobo (17), have adopted military innovations, but few are constructed from virtually indestructible 1,000-denier nylon. The 3,700-cubic-inch Osprey Switch 55+5 backpack (18) exemplifies the less-is-more trend among skiers and hikers. For consumer sunglass buyers, style counts; the strength and svelteness of the Oakley Magnesium Switch (19) is a bonus. With tough Cordura shells and Gore-Tex/pile liners, Outdoor Research’s Modular Glove System (20) is good for skiers and soldiers alike. Patagonia R.5 Superfly Tights and Top base layer (21) insulates as well as the soldier gear does.