Insulated Soft Shells Page 1
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As a sizing reference: I'm 5'7", 155 lbs (yeah, I'm a little guy), medium build (BDU top medium/regular, BDU pant medium/short), waist 32", chest 43". Keep this in mind when you read my comments with respect to sizing, so you have an idea of how the garments featured below will fit on you. ALL garments in these pages are size Medium, unless stated otherwise.
TO VIEW FULL SIZE IMAGES: USERNAME and PASSWORD are both "mm"
TAD Gear Stealth Hoodie Reloaded (2009)
11/1/09 - Triple Aught Design's (TAD Gear) longest running softshell, the Stealth Hoodie, has been updated for Fall 2009. The new version is called the Stealth Hoodie Reloaded. Significant changes in design and construction have been implemented on the 'Reloaded', making it the most advanced Stealth Hoodie yet. The Reloaded uses the new 3-layer waterproof Shark Skin Soft Shell fabric in the heavier 'classic' weight, with a quieter smooth face and technical fleece inner lining.
The new Stealth Hoodie Reloaded is a 3+ season (depending on where you live, of course) garment, with design updates such as colour-matched components, less seams for better water resistance, reinforced elbows and welded areas.
For those familiar with the previous generations/versions of the Stealth Hoodie, the Reloaded retains the familiar Stealth Hoodie silhouette with its distinctive AERO hood, sleeve pockets and upper arm velcro patches. The differences, however, are in the details.
Here's a summary of the features on the Stealth Hoodie Reloaded, 2009 model:
Observations/Notes - One of the first things I noticed about the Reloaded is the colour-matching of almost all components throughout the garment. The inner fleece, welded reinforcements, zippers, shock cord, cord locks, velcro, zipper web pulls, are all very closely matched in colour for monochromatic uniformity.
Like the thinner Shark Skin material used on the v3.0, the new Shark Skin in heavier classic weight is waterproof (not water resistant); further crossing over into hard shell realm. As I mentioned above, I found that the Reloaded is most similar to the Gen I Stealth Hoodie when it comes to fabric feel. It's a bit stiffer, with more body, but also more durable feeling, especially with the welded elbow reinforcements. The elbow reinforcements, combined with the thickness of the classic material, provides both abrasion resistance and some protection from hard surfaces in the prone position. The fit of the Reloaded is the same as the previous Stealth Hoodie versions - not snug, but there isn't much excess space either. I'm able to wear a form-fitting mid-weight mid layer underneath the Reloaded, but wouldn't wear anything thicker and baggy, as it'll be tight under the arms.
I'm ambivalent about the hood opening elastic cord adjustment. On the Gen 3, the ends were exposed, so the hood could be tightened with one hand. On the Reloaded, since the ends are inside the chest pockets, it requires unzipping the pocket to pull them, if you want to adjust the hood with one hand. The hood can still be adjusted externally, but with two hands - one to pull the elastic and another to hold the cord lock. But you'll end up with a loop of shock cord at the collar unless you pull the end into the pocket. So, it's a toss up between ease of adjustment and a cleaner look with no exposed ends blowing around in the wind.
We were fortunate to have some rain recently, and I took advantage of the wet weather to try out the Reloaded. I went out in light drizzle to medium rain, and as expected (because of the waterproof membrane), I stayed completely dry. The water beaded up on the nylon outer fabric mostly, with only a few very small spots showing signs of saturation. What surprised me is how breathable it felt, even when wearing it where I expected it to get stuffy - in my car after coming in from the rain. Typically, when I get into my car from the rain, and it's not that cold outside, I'll tend to feel stuffy in rain wear if I don't take it off. It's warmer than the outside, and humid due to the moisture in the air and from my wet jacket. I wore the Reloaded while driving after getting into the car from the rain, and I didn't feel stuffy in it at all. The pit zips had a lot to do with it, I'm sure, but my arms were comfortable, even with the welded elbow reinforcements. The Reloaded feels noticeably more 'breathable' than the Gen 1 and 2 Stealth hoodies.
The 'Classic' weight fabric is more suited to cooler (under 70°F) to cold temperatures than the light weight v3.0, and (in my opinion) works well as a stand-alone jacket instead of a thinner 'shell' over a mid layer. Quality of construction and stitching is excellent, and this really seems like a more robust jacket than the previous versions. The reduction in exposed stitching contributes to that impression, much of it due to the welded reinforcements around all pocket zippers. The colour matched components, reduction in exposed seams, and welded reinforcements make the Reloaded the most technically advanced, refined, weather resistant and feature-laden Stealth Hoodie to date, continuing TAD Gear's trend towards improving their products.
TAD Gear Spectre Hoodie LRP MultiCam (2009)
1/8/09 - The Spectre Hoodie LRP MultiCam (now sold out) is Triple Aught Design's (TAD Gear) 'flagship' U.S.-made softshell, with more pockets and volume than their Stealth Hoodie Reloaded. Designed as a robust softshell for protracted field use encountered in Long Range Patrol (hence the "LRP" designation); the Crye MultiCam version of the Spectre is a limited edition of one run only, and will not be available again. It's TAD Gear's first and last MultiCam softshell (as of this writing), due to the high cost of developing and manufacturing the soft shell fabric in MultiCam . The MultiCam Spectre differs from the solid colour Spectres by its material - it's thicker and warmer, and suited for colder weather, or as a stand-alone jacket instead of a light shell + mid insulating layer. It is designed for aerobic activity with breathability taking precedence over water resistance.
The Spectre Hoodie LRP (MultiCam) has similar general features and lines as the other TAD soft shell/jackets, but with a different pocket configuration, and more space in the upper arm pockets. This is to account for the chest pockets being rendered uselss when a plate carrier or armour is worn over the jacket.
Observations/Notes - The first thing I noticed about the MC Spectre was that the fabric was thicker and warmer than any other previous version of TAD's soft shells. I asked if this was unique to the MultiCam version, and the answer was 'yes'. The solid colour versions of the Spectre as made of material more similar to the Stealth Reloaded, which has less lofty fleece insulation. The MultiCam Spectre was intended as a high-aerobic alpine (cold and dry snow conditions rather than rain) soft shell jacket for units needing a good camouflage pattern, warmth, and protection from the wind and occasional moisture. As mentioned above, breathability/vapour transmission was emphasized over water resistance, so the MultiCam version has approximately half the water resistance of the solid colour versions.
The MultiCam fabric has a soft hand and is also quieter than some other fabrics, with a lower pitch nylon 'swish'. It's also slightly stretchy, both for comfort and range of motion. The loftier fleece lining gives it a bit of a padded feel, like a sweatshirt, and helps cushion the elbows where it's doubled up. Due to the thicker fabric, the hood does not roll up as compactly as the thinner fabrics, and makes for a bulkier roll around the neck. I usually prefer to leave the hood down; unrolled.
Sizing feels a bit more generous than the Stealth Reloaded, especially in the arms, and the Spectre will accommodate a medium weight mid layer underneath.
The Spectre hood opening elastic cord adjustment is like the Stealth Gen 3, with the ends were exposed, so the hood can be tightened with one hand. On the Reloaded, since the ends are inside the chest pockets, it requires unzipping the pocket to pull them, if you want to adjust the hood with one hand. The tradeoff for ease of adjustment are the loose ends, which I sometimes grab by accident when I reach for the main zipper pull or Napoleon pocket pull.
If you're on the fence about which to get; the Spectre LRP or Stealth Reloaded, the difference is in the details, really. At the time of this writing, the MultiCam Spectres are sold out, so this review applies to the main features of the LRP Spectre in solid colours. The Spectre is made domestically, has more load capacity and a is bit more generous in fit than the Reloaded. The Reloaded is made overseas but is more technically advanced, with its welded features and is also slightly lower in price.
I'd estimate the usable temperature range for the MC Spectre to be about 65°F and below, depending on level of activity and layering. Anything above that, and it'll be a bit warm. As advertised, breathability is excellent - this is a trend I'm noticing with TAD's soft shells. The material is getting more water resistant (with the exception of the MC Spectre) without being stuffy. I wore it in the desert in the mid-40's and it was comfortable over just a t-shirt when I was moving around. I used Crye field shirt elbow pads in the Spectre and they fit perfectly.
S.O.D. Shell - Vipera Jacket
7/24/10 - The Vipera Shell from S.O.D. (Special Operations Department) was developed for Italian SOF as an insulated cool/cold weather jacket that is designed to provide protection against the elements while being extremely breathable, comfortable and durable. It's not really like any other soft shell out there and can play the role of both soft shell or fleece jacket.
S.O.D. Gear - S.O.D. (Special Operation Department) is an Italian manufacturer of military clothing that collaborates with and produces clothing and equipment that is used by Italian and allied military units in a variety of theatres. S.O.D. actively participates in the development of its raw materials, together with its own collaborators and suppliers. This results in near perfect colour matching between various fabrics and components; something that most manufacturers will agree is not only expensive, but difficult to do. The attention to detail and workmanship (all S.O.D. items are designed and manufactured in Italy) are some of the best I've seen in garments. All materials used by S.O.D. are of Italian, U.S. or Canadian origin. Shown here is the Vipera their new colour, HCS (Hybrid Coyote Sage).
HCS (Hybrid Coyote Sage) - S.O.D. offers their products in quite a few different colours, including Crye MultiCam, and the desert and woodland versions of Italian Vegetato. HSC (Hybrid Coyote Sage) is a new colour exclusive to S.O.D. that has just been introduced, and is in service with the Italian SF. As the name implies, HCS is a hybrid of coyote brown and sage green. The end product is a brownish-green shade that works better than sage or OD green in arid areas, and very well around dry grass and shrubs. There is no blue in the HCS. Depending on the light, it can take on a greyish cast, which helps it blend in rocky areas as well. I have not tried it in green areas, but testers were pleased with the results during testing done in green environments in Italy. While it may not be as effective as camouflage patterns in some environments, it's surprisingly good for a solid colour, both in rural and urban areas. It's probably the most versatile solid colour for a uniform I've seen yet. What's also pretty impressive is how SOD has been able to match the components used to construct their garments. HSC is also suitable for LE as it doesn't look as 'military' as a camo pattern. Note that the shade of the main fabric of the jacket is a slightly lighter colour than the 50/50 NYCO used in the other HCS garments reviewed here. It's not quite as brown.
Material - The materials are what make the Vipera different from most other jackets. The Vipera has 500D Cordura panels for reinforcement in key areas suject to wear. The 500D panels cover the shoulders and the outside of the arms/elbows, with strips down the middle of the jacket in the front and back. The wrist cuffs and bottom waist hem are also Cordura-reinforced. The panels give the Vipera a distinctive look, especially when camo 500D cordura is used in conjunction with a solid colour base fabric. I actually prefer the look of the solid Viperas to the half camo-half solid ones. Just personal preference.
The rest of the jacket is made with a interesting-looking knit fabric made by Cordura. Normally, soft shells have a relatively smooth nylon outer fabric that's treated with a DWR. The outer fabric has a knit pattern, similar to what you'd see on a knit polo shirt, and has a very soft hand. The inside is lined with a very fine microfiber fleece called Tecnopile, made in Italy. The Tecnopile is made up of tiny filaments packed tightly to provide an incredibly soft hand, similar to cashmere.
When I first saw the Vipera, I had no idea what properties the materials had. The 500D, I could see, offered abrasion resistance and some water resistance. The main jacket fabric was very comfortable - not overly warm, but very breathable. Absolutely no hint of stuffiness. It felt less like an insulated soft shell and more like a lightweight fleece jacket. I wondered, why did they call it a shell when it didn't look like it had any water resistant properties? The Cordura knit fabric didn't look water resistant at all, and to test it out, I threw some water on the sleeve. Some of the water drops flowed off the fabric, and some soaked into the outer fabric, saturating it. I waited to see how long it'd be before it soaked through to the inside microfiber lining. I kept waiting. Curious, I took off the jacket and looked inside. It was dry. Maybe I didn't use enough water, I figured. So, I put the jacket in the sink, making sure that I had a solid area of fabric with no seams, and turned the tap on, filling it up as much as possible.
The water sat on the surface of the fabric for a bit before eventually saturating the fabric, wetting it out. I let it sit, and went away. Several hours later, I came back to see what had happened, and was surprised to see the puddle of water there. I had expected it to make its way through completely and soak through to the microfiber side. It didn't. So I contacted Max at S.O.D. Gear to ask him about it. He replied that sandwiched between the outer fabric and the inner tecnnopile microfiber is a very special membrane. He didn't specify what it actually was, but it's waterproof, wind proof, and most importantly, breathable. I honestly would not have known that there was a water/windproof membrane in this jacket based on how it felt. It's also stretchy, which usually isn't the case for hardshell membranes. Needless to say, this put the vipera in a whole new light for me. Note that the seams are not sealed, so water can find it way through, like most other soft shells.
Here's a summary of the features on the Vipera Shell, size Medium shown in HCS:
Additional Observations/Notes - The Vipera feels very much like a field jacket, and that's what it's designed for, actually - an all-in-one jacket that can be used for a variety of conditions. It's a bit heavy to be used in the summer, unless it gets cold at night. An extra mid layer might do the trick if weight and bulk is a concern. For cooler temperatures (anything below 65° F), that's where the Vipera might come in handy if you want a jacket that does the work of a field jacket, soft shell and fleece jacket. Wtih its 500D Cordura reinforcements, it's more abrasion resistant that most regular soft shells. The Tecnopile microfleece provides insulation, but it's not as warm as heavy weight fleece jackets. It's more water and wind-resistant than any fleece, and durable as well.
Compared to most other soft shells, the Vipera doesn't repel water as easily, since the outer fabric isn't a smooth-face DWR-coated nylon. This means that if soaked, it can get heavier that some other shells at the beginning when exposed to rainfall. However, when exposed to a longer duration of moisture, most insulated soft shells will eventually soak through and wet out the inner fleece insulation, whereas the Vipera's membrane doesn't allow water through to the insulation. For this reason, it'll dry out faster than another soaked insulated softshell, which usually take quite a while to dry out. Note that the Vipera is not considered water proof, as it does not have taped seams.
I've been using all of S.O.D.'s garments over the past few months, particularly on desert trips before the weather got too warm. The Vipera really worked well after the sun when down and the wind started blowing and it got cold. It's usable over a wide range of temperatures, due to the temperature control that the large pit zips allow and completely breathable fabric. I'm very impressed with the fabric - it's still hard to believe that it has a water proof membrane inside. The insulation inside combined with the 500D Cordura on the outside helps cushion against sharp rocks and pebbles. The Cordura knit does pill some when rubbed against hook velcro, but that's not uncommon. Viperas have been used in Afghanistan for over 3 years and held up to the harsh terrain and conditions over there without issues with durability. It's been nicknamed the 'Lifesaver' by some Italian SF troops who use it as their 'do everything' jacket. As soft shell/fleece jacket/field jacket all rolled into one, it's a pretty versatile garment.
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