Submitted by Eric Daniel
I recently had an opportunity to check out the ADS GEN III ECWCS (Extended Cold Weather Clothing System) but more readily known as snivel gear.
The ADS package, for that's really what it is, a fully integrated layering system (ranging from level I to level VII), is designed to provide tailored comfort in climates ranging from mild (60F) to the brutal ( -40F) in all conditions, including wet, dry, and windy.
For my part, I sampled the level I and II garments, which included both tops and bottoms, as well as briefs. The ADS system is a "next to skin" system, meaning you wear it in place of your regular t-shirt and underwear (no, you will not go up in a ball of flames if you wear the level II long johns over your army issue boxers, but ADS just designed the system as a stand alone product, not requiring specific issue clothing to function properly.)
The level I and II garments are brown in color (the level III and up are foliage green) and made of a variety of synthetic fabrics, including Polartec Power Dry (for fast wicking and drying.) Construction across the board is solid, with all seams, even on the "silkweight" level I garments, heavily reinforced to prevent fraying in the field. The level I tops and bottoms are made of the same lightweight fabric, and are intended to be worn as the next to skin base of the system, providing good mild environment insulation, coupled with moisture wicking for dryness. The level II garments are made from a thicker "checkerboard" pattern of the same Polartec fabric, for increased insulation, and can be worn as either an additional layer for the level I garments, or as a stand alone base layer for even colder conditions. In addition, the level II top features silkweight fabric panels running from cuff to ribs, for better moisture wicking, as well as a mid chest zipper and mock turtleneck collar, for additional neck insulation as well as ventilation.
To properly evaluate the garments, I did a number of tests. The first involved taking the level II garments to the field with me for a three day drill at Camp Pendleton. Following an eight mile cross-country march with tactical load, I was thoroughly soaked with sweat, and in the 40 degree air and wind, freezing to death, so I stripped off my ACU blouse and army issue t-shirt, and slipped on the ECWCS top.
The effect was immediate and dramatic. With my blouse back on to cut the wind, and though thoroughly saturated with sweat, I did not feel chilled in the least, and though I was still perspiring, the level II top did a very good job of keeping me warm.
To test the bottoms, I decided to wear just them and my ACUs that night and sleep wrapped up in my poncho liner and poncho. Normally, during this time of year, it gets too cold for me to get away with just the poncho liner, but between the liner and the level II snivel gear, I was comfortable, and slept that way all three nights.
To test the level I stuff I decided to see just how wet I could get and still stay warm, so I spent a day logging (thinning out the oak and pine population at my place on an overcast 55 degree day) and then did a couple of bike rides in the early morning air (between 38-45 degrees.) While logging, I wore a cotton overshirt as protection against wood chips and debris, as well as to provide a wind brake, and though both became saturated, I was never cold. In fact, I never overheated either, with the combination of evaporative cooling and the fabric insulation balancing nicely to keep me comfortable. Out biking it was a little bit of a different story. Once up to operating temperature, and with direct wind contact, I did get a little chilled, though, but only when I was moving. Once I stopped (there was no wind blowing), however, the level I top did an excellent job of providing adequate insulation.
Overall, I'd have to say I was thoroughly impressed with the effectiveness of the garments. In both cases, neither the level I nor the level II garments felt bulky or binding, and even when soaked, they still retained their shape and didn't sag like wool is wont to do, so they were comfortable to wear for long periods and could be easily worn under the duty uniform without having to increase the size to account for the additional layers. Moreover, I know their system goes to VII, but I think I'd be hard pressed personally to find a situation where I'd need more than what I already have, though admittedly, training at Camp Pendleton is a far cry from the -20 icebox conditions I used to train in at Yakima. One thing I was going to comment on, though, was the price; individually, the level I shirt is $32 and the level II shirt is $68, while the level I bottoms are $30 and the level IIs are $45, which makes one set of each, respectively, $62 and $113, which, for someone who was issued white wool button up long johns in 1988, is a lot of money. Then I started looking around, and if you can find something comparable in performance to these duds for only twice the price, I would tell you to go get a case and hand them out for Christmas, because, compared to other products of similar design, these are a pretty good bargain (I still like my woolies though.) Moreover, ADS offers package deals, which allow you to get combinations at a significant price reduction. For example, the base layer package will run you $130 total for a pair of level I and II tops and bottoms, a savings of $45.