I was impressed with PenCott's latest offering the moment I tore it out of the plastic wrap. This is the most complex uniform that I've ever owned, perhaps short of a ghillie suit, which would incline one to think that it is actually over engineered. As I soon found out, Italy's SOD made a nearly flawless product. I will split this review into two parts; this portion will review the uniform itself, and part II will focus on the effectiveness of the “Badlands” pattern.
Slipping into SOD's shirt, it felt almost as if it had been tailored specifically for me, fitting perfectly. The stitching was incredibly complicated, weaving all over the place for a comfortable fit that incorporates so many different features. The fabric itself is tough without being rigid, ready to be taken out on patrol without being so thick as to make it difficult to move in, like my Multicam uniform from Propper.
The breast and shoulder pockets have zipper openings that unzip up and down, making it easy to retrieve objects from. Most of you know that it is a pain trying to fish around in the shoulder pockets on our military uniforms that open from the top with Velco closures. The front zips up and is covered over with Velcro squares, not like like ACU's or similar uniforms. SOD's uniform does include a mandarin type collar, but it covers the entire neck right up to the jaw, presumably intended for cold weather rather than to keep debris out, as the ACU collar was pitched to us when it was fielded. Pit zips are included to help you cool down during periods of exertion. Sleeves flare slightly forward and can be opened by Velcro closures. The sleeve is partially slit up the forearm to make it easier to roll up. Internal elbow pads can be removed by a Velcro closure like current military uniforms, but these are the best I've seen yet. More on that in a second.
The internal knee pads work in the same manner as the elbow pads. The black removable pads are shaped to wrap around the knees and elbows rather than a normal flat pad. They are thick enough to provide ample protection while staying exactly where they are supposed to, due to the shape of the pad and the shape of the pocket that they rest in. I've seen internal knee pads attempted and failed again and again. Crye's are prone to tearing as MARSOC found out. Hyperstealth's bunch up at the bottom of the pockets they rest in after being washed once or twice and cannot be removed. ACU's use a flat foam pad that doesn't do...well, anything that they are supposed to. As far as I'm concerned, SOD nailed this one. This is internal knee and elbow pads done right.
The Boonie hat is way cooler than my old BDU boonie that I wore in Sniper School. This hat has it all: two cinch down elastic straps to keep it in place, a sweat band, Velcro attachment points for a name tape and an IR square, and loops for natural vegetation. While our old Bonnie hats had actual wire mesh vents on the sides, this one has vented ports in the fabric with mesh on the inside. I like the idea, but the interior mesh probably isn't needed. Like the rest of the uniform, the Boonie feels like it was designed by someone who has spent a lot of time wearing, and suffering, lesser military uniforms.
To test out the uniform, I wore it casually a few times before spending some time in the woods and going for a ruck march, wearing it in one of our state parks here in New York. Over the course of six miles, on and off trail, I got a pretty good feel for the uniform and identified a few issues.
First, let me comment on the knee and elbow pads one more time. While they feel a little awkward at first, as any new piece of kit can, you soon forget all about them. They are that comfortable. They really were out of sight and out of mind while huffing it up and down hill. I never considered stopping to take them out because they were bothering me, but when I'd stop to take a knee, the pad was still precisely in place and provided the necessary cushioning to actually do its job, something I can't say about other internal knee pads.
I secured the internal pant cuffs with their elastic fasteners, and while they remained in place and were not at all uncomfortable, I'm not entirely convinced of their utility. Regular boot blousing with nylon laces probably would have been sufficient, although I hardly ever blouse my boots in a field environment anyway.
The pit zips were mighty handy, and I found it easy to manipulate the zippers while on the move. They certainly help you cool off when the going gets tough and you are starting to heat up, but for one reason or another don't want to remove the layer entirely.
The biggest issue I encountered with SOD's uniform is what I refer to as the “Italian cut”. SOD is based in Italy and I also have an Italian military “vegetato” uniform that suffers from this problem. Because the cut of the pants is so tight towards the crotch, the trousers can become restrictive while on the move, not just stepping it out on a ruck march but even while walking casually. It is tight enough that some minor pinching of “sensitive” areas occurs. I wasn't overly bothered during my six mile march, but would I want to march an additional twenty in these pants? No way.
All in all I was very impressed with SOD's PenCott uniform. I have a lot of experience with dozens of military and commercially offered uniforms, and this one definitely innovates with over-sized features, outstanding knee and elbow pads for those who choose to use them, and plenty of other details. Not to mention the camouflage pattern, which I will get into next time. If they can just alter the cut of the pants slightly, this would be my go-to uniform.
Stay tuned for part II!