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Special Forces Clothing System.
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Nicholas Couis
(nichoco) - MLife
Special Forces Clothing System. on 06/02/2005 03:08:43 MDT Print View

I read about this system and am wondering if anyboby has used it or parts of it.It is not U/L ,but lightweight and durable and cost effective.The system is
Level-1,Silk Weight Power Dry boxers, t-shirts,pants and long sleeve shirt
Level-2, Mid weight PowerDry,shirt and pants
Level-3, ThermalPro pullover
Level-4, Windshirt made of Epic Summit fabric
Level-5, Softshell jacket and pants made of Epic Innsbruck fabric
Level-6, Hardshell Polyurethane coated jacket and pants
Level-7, Insulated jacket pants and vest.
Some info is on under special forces.
I am intrested in the concept of the system and would really like some feedback and discussion.Thanks

(RavenUL) - F
PCU on 06/02/2005 11:07:36 MDT Print View

The PCU or Protective Combat Uniform seems to be a VERY impressive set-up. I have several gear designs that I am (far far too slowly) working to have made, and this uniform and my designs share many features and functions... so I guess you could say Im a supporter of the system. The Epic used is about twice as heavy as I would like for a sport hike, but for hunting or military use, the 2.5oz material is an excellent choice. Were I to spec the insulation materials, I would have gone with Polarguard over Primaloft, but the insulated levels are getting good reviews from soldiers that have them. The level 6 hard shell seems to have limited application IMHO and is really only good for stationary use. Say, in camp or, as it was designed for, manning guard posts, checkpoints and OPs. Pretty much useless for any sort of technical work. Itsa completelty waterproof and totally vaper impermiable.... but since levels 4 and 5 as well as 7 are made from Epic, the need for a hard sheel is drastically minimized.

This system was developed to take soldiers from the desert to the jungles to the arctic, and talking with soldiers who have this system, most think it does that job well.

Nicholas Couis
(nichoco) - MLife
What would you use thats currently available ie, from outdoor companies on 06/03/2005 02:28:55 MDT Print View

Can you let me know about different brands that are available.I am looking at Wildthingsgear Epic windshirt or similar but cant find anybody making the Level-5 jackets.Do you know of anyone making the Level-4/Level-5 epic jacket and pants in a lighter fabric.Also do you know where i can buy this lighter fabric,Thanks

(RavenUL) - F
PCU makers on 06/03/2005 03:31:05 MDT Print View

The makers of the PCU are either ORC Industries (Levels 4,5,6) or SEKRI (Levels 1,2,3 & 7). No one else makes the PCU items, and they only make them to US Gov't specs, so you gotta go to them to buy the stuff and buy it in 2.5oz Epic in Alpha Green material. They do sell to civi's however so if you want what they are selling, you can get it.

Raw Epic material is a (#*$&!@& to buy. Nextec does not sell to distributors, nor do they sell by the yard. If you want it, you must buy a full 750 yard roll... usually at $5-8 a yard. NOT CHEAP.

Im currently dealing with alot of personal junk right now, but once I get into a place better suited to a development project, Id like to get the designs I mentioned above off the ground. As I said, they share many features with the PCU, like full layer integration, but were specifically designed for sport hikers... otherwise, other than a few companies making *some* items out of *similar materials* with *similar uses* no one is making anything close to the integrated system of the PCU.

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
PCU Level 7 on 06/03/2005 09:33:42 MDT Print View

What is the loft of this garment class?

Edited by richard295 on 06/03/2005 09:34:24 MDT.

(RavenUL) - F
PCU insulation on 06/03/2005 11:23:55 MDT Print View

According to my source, it is .5oz Primaloft Sport. The full system is ment to be worn with both the jacket and vest for cold weather insulation. Along with the base layers, the system is supposedly rated to -60F.

It should also be noted that the Epic used is actually 2.8oz "Praetorian" with 5.8oz "Glacier" at places like the elbows and shoulders.

Also, "Insport" is apparently an authorized maker of the levels 1, 2, and 3. While "Steps inc" is a 3rd maker of the level 3 pullover. They are all still made to Gov't Spec.

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
According to my source, it is .5oz Primaloft Sport. on 06/03/2005 15:12:08 MDT Print View

Don't you mean 5 oz Primaloft Sport?

That would make both the vest and jacket about 1.1" thick and total ensemble about 2.5" thick which is what is needed for light work at -60F and about the limit of insulation thickness without restricting mobility.

Why do you think they used Primaloft Sport as apposed to Primaloft One? Everything else they did seems to be "top drawer".

Edited by richard295 on 06/03/2005 15:14:56 MDT.

Frank Ramos
(frprovis) - F
Special Forces Clothing System on 06/03/2005 15:27:17 MDT Print View still shows 2.4oz/sqyd epic on their website, navy color only. They won't replace when it sells out, so buy now if you really want it. My experience is that epic is not the miracle fabric it is cracked up to be, at least for backpackers. Once the fabric gets dirty, especially from body oils, it leaks. For golfers, who wash their clothes after each use, this might be okay, but not for backpackers who plan to use the gear for a week or more without washing.

This whole special forces setup seems an overly complicated step back from the 4 layer system Ryan Jordan proposes (merino wool, breathable windshirt, polarguard, waterproof breathable). In particular, all these low-loft polyester pullovers layers are very inefficient in terms of warmth/weight and cumbersome to use as well. A single layer of merino wool top (zip-t) and bottom would have sufficient.

BTW for standing around in -60F, it takes about 3 to 4" of insulation to stay warm, which is way more than the total insulation this sytem offers. Also, at temperatures below 0F (and especially something like -60F) vapor barrier rules supreme. As usual, the military is f*cking up. Didn't they learn anything from the Korean War? If soldiers think the system works, that's because they are ignorant of better approaches. Probably they are comparing to a system based on cotton flannel.

The one improvement I would suggest to Ryan's setup is to be generous with the waterproof breathable layer. Make the sleeves very long so they cover your hands so you don't need rain mitts, make the length long enough to go down to the knees so you don't need rain pants in most situations, add pit zips, bring along a rain hat so you don't need the jacket hood except in extreme situations, get rid of all external pockets since these always tend to leak (and even a tiny leak is bad if it gets to paper items like maps or books), add internal pockets for books, maps and gloves, use high-quality 3 layer Goretex rather than some 2.5 layer junk which doesn't breathe very well and abrades quickly. I made a jacket like this for myself which weighs about 14oz, including seam sealing. Sure you can buy or make lighter jackets, but then you end up with something that just doesn't work very well under most conditions.

Edited by frprovis on 06/03/2005 18:23:51 MDT.

(RavenUL) - F
PCU on 06/03/2005 16:23:27 MDT Print View

Yes, I ment 5oz. Period on the wrong side I guess. I cannot comment on why they went with that insulation. I would not have gone with that insulation personally.

As for Franks comments... Dont know what to tell ya dude. I didnt make up the numbers, just reporting back. As for how the system works, nothing new under the sun. You can read about early trials of this system in Backpacker... "Stone Cold Campers". Most soliders arnt as stupid as you seem to think, especially the boys in SOF units. They know what works and what doesnt from using it all over the world... but they also place weight far behind function and durability, and comfort behind everything else. I dont thik anyone is under the delusion that wearing the PCU in -60 would be a comfy proposition, but its probably doable when your on the move, under load, and are more concerned with incoming fire than if your snivle gear is thick enough.

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Special Forces Clothing System on 06/03/2005 16:36:38 MDT Print View

I have never stood around in -60F weather and so my research is secondary. In one of Ryan’s articles on the subject of backpacking, he recommended “Secrets of Warmth” by Hal Weiss as a good reference on this subject. On page 32 of this book is a summary of the insulation requirement studies done by the Army Quartermaster Labs in Natick, Mass. The study only went down to -50F but I extrapolated their trend line for this response to cover -60F. The figures that follow are for a single layer of loft. A sleeping bag would have this amount for both the top and bottom. At -50F the average soldier tested needed 4” of insulation for sleeping, 2.1” for light work and .52” for heavy work. Extrapolating a trend line for their complete table, -60F would require approximately 5” for sleeping and 2.5” for light work. I also equated standing around as light work.

What do you think of 3 layer eVENT as a viable alternative to 3 layer Gore-Tex for the hard shell?

Edited by richard295 on 06/03/2005 16:37:15 MDT.

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
special forces clothiing system -- prices? on 06/03/2005 18:01:51 MDT Print View

These clothes aren't designed for backpacking or climbing. They appear to be well-made and probably are well-thought out for the purposes they are intended for. I'm just pretty certain that there isn't much functional overlap between getting shot at in Iraq and hiking in the Canadian Rockies or climbing Mt. Rainier. Even if there was, backpackers and climbers would always be incidental customers of such a product, whereas there are any number of outdoor clothing companies that cater to exactly those activities -- and sometimes even get the clothing designs right for those activities.

Military gear made a lot of sense back in the days when there were really no alternatives (e.g. after World War II) and even later when it was dirt cheap. I grew up hiking with about 1/3 surplus gear (mostly West German and Canadian, strangely), 1/3 REI, and 1/3 the "outdoor" sections of various department stores. Since then, I've gotten richer and the choices in outdoor clothing have dramatically improved.

These clothes are unlikely to be cheap. My bet is that they will cost about as much, if not more than, comparable products from the normal outdoor clothing companies. One big reason for this is that these products are manufactured in America. If you like that, great, but you will be paying a premium for that.

Frank Ramos
(frprovis) - F
special forces clothing system on 06/03/2005 18:58:40 MDT Print View

The assumption of light work is not necessarily valid. One thing soldiers did back in Korea was spend a lot of time essentially motionless in foxholes or on sentry duty. And I suspect there are numerous time when special forces have to throw themselves down in the snow while on patrol and then lie there motionless for an hour or more. 2.5" of insulation is not sufficient for more than an hour or two of that at -60F.

Any system can be made durable, at the expense of weight. As for functionality, the system described is NOT functional for soldiers. For extended exposure to temperatures below 0F, vapor barrier is the only way to go. Without vapor barrier, the insulation will soon be degraded by condensation and the body will lose tremendous amounts of heat due to evaporation. Between 0F and 32F, vapor barrier is probably also the best way to go for combat conditions. Without vapor barrier at moderately cold temperatures, soldiers would sweat soak the insulation unless they were able to constantly adjust layers, and I can't see them doing that under combat conditions.

And no, there is nothing new about this system nor is there anything new about vapor barrier. The system above is more or less the same system the military has always used for cold. Pile on the fleece or wool and throw a rain jacket on top. Didn't work in Korea in the 1950's, doesn't work now either. The only thing the military has ever done right with regards to extreme cold is the Mickey Mouse vapor barrier boots--these DID work in Korea and they continue to work now.

Vapor barrier is known as the thinking man's cold weather system. But, as the old saying goes, military intelligence is an oxymoron. The military had to accept vapor barrier in boots because too many soldiers were being crippled by frostbite in that part of the body. Even the military couldn't overlook the obvious connection between frostbite of feet and failure of ordinary boots to protect against cold. Whereas failure of gear in the torso merely causes the soldier to become so numb they can't walk or shoot straight, so they end up getting killed by an enemy bullet. But when someone gets killed by a bullet, it isn't obvious that bad clothing is the underlying problem. Which explains why the military never investigated vapor barrier for the rest of the body.

Do I seem a little harsh on the military? Just acting as an antidote to the worshipping of all things military that would cause people in the backpacking world to ever take this junk clothing system seriously. If you want heavy but durable clothing that works for moderate cold, just go to Walmart and buy the workmen's clothing--you don't need to get the military involved.

Nicholas Couis
(nichoco) - MLife
thanks for the feedback,whats the gear then for 0 Degrees Celcius and up on 06/04/2005 02:19:25 MDT Print View

Thanks for the feedback.Whats the gear then for over 0 degrees celcius and up for all conditions ie, desert,jungle, high mountains etc.Lots of mosquitoes bugs sun etc.I'm trying to refine my gear to take the minimum but not get too cold or over exposed.Thanks

Edited by nichoco on 06/04/2005 02:20:55 MDT.

(RavenUL) - F
PCU costs on 06/04/2005 03:24:50 MDT Print View

David, the prices are compairable to modern outdoor clothing as they are made by non-profit companies (Sekri and Steps are both Voc-rehab programs. Im not 100% up to speed on Orc but I think they are voc-rehab as well) as for example, the Level 7 jacket is an Epic Primaloft combo material, and costs $190. Compair that to GoLites Belay Jacket (Epic/Polarguard) with an MSRP of $200. However as you pointed out, they are COTS (civilian over the shelf) variants, and not specific to sport purposes.... but being SOCOM items, they were undoubtedly designed to handle situations such as climbing if need be, as Mountain Warfare is most definatly in the mission profiles of SOF units.

Frank, I find your comments to be very insulting and, quite frankly, I find your attitude to be so condesending and immature as to not be worth wasting any time on. However, since your references to the Korean War are so simplistic as to be laughable, I will offer up this little comment... The PCU suit was developed directly from MODERN CIVILIAN ITEMS. Except for military specific design requirements (like color for example, velcro patching for unit/blood/rank patches, or pass through zippers to reach BDU arm pockets), they are functionally identical to what you would buy in top end outfitting supply stores. Reference the above mention on the GoLite Belay, or compair it with the Integral Designs Dolomitti... surely it is not your position that these items are of equal merit in the backcountry as Korean War era uniform items? I dont remember seeing a GoLite Belay in my local WalMart, if they have it in yours let me know so I can move there. Based on your comments its quite apparent that your have little to no experience with the PCU and your comments should be taken for the agendized, un-informed tripe that they are (you did of course make the absolutly idiotic statement "Probably they are comparing to a system based on cotton flannel" when talking about Americas "ignorant" soldiers (Dont you know we ARE all born and raised under rocks?) showing how utterly devoid of knowledge you are in reference to modern US military issue items, the development of new items, and the general procurement process)

"Whats the gear then for over 0 degrees celcius and up for all conditions ie, desert,jungle, high mountains etc.Lots of mosquitoes bugs sun etc.I'm trying to refine my gear to take the minimum but not get too cold or over exposed.Thanks"

The lower numbered levels are for warm weather... as the temperature drops or weather becomes more inclement you add layers. Your bare bones basic PCU layer is the short sleeve/boxer combo... but in the really hot stuff, expect to see guys wearing UnderArmour or the current general issue hot weather underwear items made from CoolMax. The system was designed to be be paired with a BDU (battle dress uniform - - theres an oxymoron for ya - - which IIRC is technically classed as "level 8" for arguments sake) at all levels... sometimes under the PCU (like under the level 6 rainsuit) or over, if need be for camoflauge purposes (however, Arc'teryx has procured some Epic in a new camouflage called Multicam... but thats not really the point).

So, for hot weather, youd likely see someone *issued* the PCU wearing only level 1-short, under their BDUs. If they chose to wear that at all. The BDU providing general insect and sun protection with Deet and Coppertone providing the rest.... since you wouldnt need to wear a BDU, you would get the same overall benefit from the system by dropping "level 8" and replacing it with, say, a Rail Rider long sleeve shirt and long pants.

The PCU is intended to work as a system, but its not, as some people seem to think, set in stone in the manner of use. As a SOF item, its not intended to be used by your average grunt... its developed for special operations units. Units who are quite free to pick and choose what they want to wear... soooo, dont like an item, dont use it. I personally dislike the Rainsuit, guess what I wont use? I dont like Polartec Power Dry very much, but I like Smartwool... so take a guess as to what my base layer is? Yes, the items are Speced to work together, but we are not talking about a car engine where every part needs to fit the same from one engine to another... you pick what works, and if you find something you dont like... dont use it.

And lastly, I was going to put up some contact/research info... Since its apparent that MOST of you would prefer to actually KNOW what your talking about before spouting off non-sense

Here is an excellent site with indepth reviews and numerous pictures (for pictures use the user name and password "MM")

And if your interested in what the US Army has been up to since the 50s, and would rather not look like a jackass when talking about what our soldiers have for compairing and contrasting new technologies with, heres a site with NON SOF (General issue) items that you would see on your average infantryman, along with a whole host of general and specialized items

and for giggle purposes, heres what the SOF units found to be lacking for their current missions - the ECWCS (Extended Cold Weather Clothing System), also rated to function at -60. This 3layer Gore-Tex and Polyester Fleece ensemble is the "cotton flannel" we had to compair with...

Edited by RavenUL on 06/04/2005 04:10:51 MDT.

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
PCU on 06/04/2005 11:11:47 MDT Print View

Joe, thank you for your well researched and easy to understand explanation of the PCU options and benefits.

Frank Ramos
(frprovis) - F
PCU on 06/04/2005 13:15:48 MDT Print View

(I dont remember seeing a GoLite Belay in my local WalMart, if they have it in yours let me know so I can move there.)

The Golite belay is nothing more than polarguard 3D sandwiched between very thin and hence fragile layers of nylon/polyester shell fabric. The Walmart version is regular polarguard (or whatever they call the generic version of continuous fiber polyester high-loft insulation) sandwiched between thicker layers of nylon/polyester shell fabric. For combat or heavy work use, the Walmart version is better because it is more durable. BTW polarguard has been around since the early 1960's.

I reiterate what I said before. There is nothing magical about this PCU system. (Mickey Mouse boots ARE magical when it comes to cold weather.) Its just a bunch of layers. The improvement over ECWCS is merely that some of the low-oft fleece is replaced by high-loft primaloft and the EPIC windshirts are better than goretex. Fine for moderate conditions, but won't work in extreme cold, unless soldiers can dry their gear out every day in a heated tent. Otherwise, the clothing will become filled with ice condensation, especially if soldiers aren't able to continuously adjust layers so as to avoid sweating, which is probably the case during combat conditions. The only solution to condensation is vapor barrier.

My question is why are we discussing stuff on this forum that is obviously excessively heavy for either lightweight or even standard backpacking. The only answer I can think of is that, given the current political atmosphere, some people are simply dazzled by everything associated with the military, which is an attitude I personally despise. The military is important to our society and the members of the military put their lives at risk for society's sake, just like the firemen or emergency room physicians. But worshipping the military smacks to me of fascism. I think this whole discussion belongs over at the Soldier of Fortune website rather than here at BLT.

Edited by frprovis on 06/04/2005 13:31:42 MDT.

(RavenUL) - F
PCU on 06/04/2005 13:32:34 MDT Print View

Funny, I have a hard time figuring out why your (or my, or anyones) political opinions should be on BPL. Hmmmm.... They certainly have nothing to do with backpacking either.

Youve made you opinion on the materials abundantly clear, but unless something imperical comes along, its just your opinion, and you know what they say opinions are like right? The weight is excessive for ultralight backpacking (as was stated very early on in this thread) and the insulation choice, is IMHO, weak. But it *IS* lighter and more durable (both in actuality and dollar for dollar) than current issue items, as was originally noted by the thread originator.

Dont like the discussion? Dont post. Its certainly not like the PCU is going to grow a big ugly head and come after you Frank. Seriously man, no need for the childish name calling and 1960's throwback cries of fascism... it was just a question on an item and its potential suitability. Get a life.

Edited by RavenUL on 06/04/2005 13:38:26 MDT.

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
PCU meltdown on 06/04/2005 14:02:16 MDT Print View

boys,boys. you both have made good points on this subject. I thought the thread was pretty interesting until the *BEEP* contest. time to clean up and move on.

Edited by kdesign on 06/04/2005 14:03:29 MDT.

Frank Ramos
(frprovis) - F
PCU on 06/04/2005 14:06:29 MDT Print View

Hey Joe, my posts are full of quality information regarding vapor barrier that you seem to disregard. I also gave some good information regarding the similarities/differences between the Golite Belay vs the Walmart version. You're the one who seems to lack an understand of how clothing protects us from cold, why condensation is a problem at very cold temperatures, why vapor barrier is needed, why all insulations are essentially identical (assuming they are kept dry) other than for weight differences and durability, and so on. Instead of factual analysis, you're the one who resort to opinions, along the lines of "the military uses it, therefore it must be good".

Kevin, sorry for posting after you but I was in the middle of composing when you posted. I'll be moving on now. :)

Edited by frprovis on 06/04/2005 14:10:22 MDT.

(RavenUL) - F
PCU on 06/04/2005 15:32:45 MDT Print View

Actually, I didnt respond to the vapor barrier points because they have no relevance to the discussion. Its like jumping into a discussion on Alcohol stoves with a dissertation on why White Gas is better. Doesnt matter because white gas aint the topic, ya know?

And for what its worth, I aint jumping up and down saying its the best stuff on the planet since its military... in fact I remember saying repeatedly that I thought some of their choices were poor... i.e, the insulation choice, the use of Polartec for a hot weather base layer, and a vapor impermeable hard shell for example... but the PCU is the best stuff our military has seen thus far. Are there better options? YES! Are they implemented here? Nope. Worth crying into your breakfast over? Not really.

Anyway, to those who are even more bored with this discussion than I am, I appologize. Two of my biggest peeves are know-it-alls and military bashers.