Submitted by Christian
It wasn't exactly a chick magnet. But how're ya gonna call attention to yourself if you're not on fire?
During my recent month-long embed in Iraq, I had the good fortune to link up with some cool gear from companies working to supply the military with tactical equipment that's a lot more functional and, dare I say, stylish than the government-issued gear.
In that vein, Massif Mountain Gear, the Ashland, Oregon-based company that currently supplies the Army with its high-speed "combat shirt" (a hybrid shirt/jacket that incorporates a lightweight, moisture-wicking, fire-resistant torso with ACU-like fire-resistant sleeves), hooked me up with one of their "Elements" jackets and a set of their Hotjohns underlayer garments.
First, the Elements jacket.
Let me put it this way, it ain't the sexiest thing on the block. The tactical model Massif sent me had some cool accoutrements - it was in a coyote tan color, had a large, bellows pocket on one sleeve and an aviator-style pocket on the other. But by and large the jacket is pretty cut and dried.
Made of DuPont Nomex III, the Elements jacket is intended to withstand the kind of flash burns many troops (and embedded reporters) face on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. And the folks at Massif clearly know what they're doing when it comes to fire-resistant garments since they're also oriented toward the forest fire-fighting set.
In the cooler weather of the Iraq winter, I found the Elements jacket plenty warm. Its fleecy interior was comfortable, but I gotta say, it was a little bulky for my taste, inhibiting the kind of layering I like to normally do. Massif says the Elements has an abrasion-resistant and water-repellant exterior. I never tested the jacket in a downpour because I just didn't trust it to stave off the moisture. It's abrasion-resistant enough, but it's no Shoeller Dryskin.
One other nitpicky problem I had was the lack of ventilation. If the jacket's going to be as thick as it is (I'd compare it almost to a 300 weight fleece ... let's call it a 250 weight) then throw in some pit zips and/or some widely gusseted cuffs. I couldn't roll up my sleeves or air out my underarms when the heat of a foot patrol built up.
To be honest, and I know the truly helpful folks from Massif are going to be disappointed in this, I might leave my Elements jacket back home on my next embed and opt for a simple flight suit. Unless you're going to be in very cold weather for a while or are cold-blooded by nature, the Elements is almost too much of a good thing. Like I said, I'm a layer-er and the Elements was too bulky for that.
But one item I will definitely not leave behind is my set of Hotjohns. A next-to-skin fire-resistant pair of long underwear that aren't bulky in the least, not too warm - but still warm enough - and non-binding (they really fit under pants and other layers and don't grab at them at all)? How can you lose? I wore them all the time and was always comfortable (and not too stinky either).
So, I wasn't exactly "on fire" wearing Massif's civilian tactical gear during my month in Iraq this winter ... but, hey, wasn't that kind of the point?