Military jacket known as smock is the classic outerwear in many armies throughout the world; in Europe it is the most popular in the UK and Germany. Baggy cut, often described as “the bag with pockets” has many allies as well as enemies. Just recently Helikon-Tex released its own version of the smock jacket with the design based on the British issue smock which is a part of the Personal Clothing System (PCS). Helikon PCS Smock – as it was officially named – is available in a selection colours and camo patterns. We got our smock in the PenCott GreenZone camouflage from the Military 1st online store. Available are also versions in PenCott Snowdrift and Badlands, Olive Green and MP Camo (aka MTP).
CONSTRUCTION AND PERFORMANCE
What is a smock? It is the first line of my equipment and if I had to describe it with one sentence I would say that it is a baggy, mid-thigh jacket with plenty of large pockets and an enormous hood which can fit over the head with a helmet on. Its main purpose is to protect the wearer from the wind and light rain. As it has no warming lining and isn’t waterproof, the smock is only an outer layer which soldier wears over other layers such as a uniform jacket, fleece, softie, etc. depending on the weather conditions. I think everyone who had M65 jacket will understand.
Helikon PCS Smock is made of 50/50 NyCo fabric, a blend of nylon and cotton. Ripstop weave makes it much thinner and lighter than twill which in this case would be damn heavy and sweaty. As all of the fabrics in PenCott camouflages also the one in the GreenZone pattern is Mil-Spec approved and NIR-treated.
Old British military doctrine says that ‘you live with what you have in your backpack, fight with what you carry in your webbing, and survive with what you have in your pockets’. It has its representation in Helikon PCS Smock. The capacity of the pockets is really impressive and they can hold almost the same amount of stuff as the chest rig or 1 day backpack.
Helikon PCS Smock has 11 pockets in total (from the bottom):
– two capacious pockets on the front just below the hips, closed with large Canadian buttons.
– two flat pockets behind them, finished with fleece, to warm user’s hands.
– another two spacious pockets on the front of the chest, closed with Canadian buttons.
– two flat zip pockets beneath them (so-called ‘Napoleon pockets’) with internal organizers for pens, multitools, cellphone, etc., and wire ports to organize the comms wiring, etc.
– two slanted pockets on both sleeves, closed with Velcro flaps, with sewn on Velcro loop panels to attach morale or ID patches and internal wire ports (same as in the Napoleon pockets mentioned above).
– sewn on the left chest pocket is a little flat pocket with the button hole but without a button. It’s a compass pocket e.g. for Silva compass. The hole is to tie the compass so it won’t go missing in the field.
All four of the external front pockets have loops inside to tie and secure carried equipment such as multitool or folding knife. Each of them is closed with a double flap which additionally folds the material of the pocket so after buttoning there is no chance something will fall off. Buttons are securely hidden between the layers of the flap, which decrease the risk of accidental ripping off the button.
The inside of the Napoleon pockets is made of soft yet durable mesh, also used as a lining on the part of the back. The main advantage of such solution is improved ventilation: by unzipping these pockets we allow the air to enter the smock resulting in better circulation of air and heat. Armpit zippers, nowadays standard in most jackets, constitute a further improvement. Together with mesh-lined Napoleon pockets these provide excellent ventilation and enhance cooling.
Both sleeves are strengthened with a double layer of fabric on elbow and forearm and have Velcro flaps on the cuffs – for me it’s the best way to adjust the jacket to one’s needs.
The hood is enormous but we have to remember it’s made this way for a reason: it has to fit a head with a helmet (for example the one in the British MVP is huge and can be worn over every MICH, FAST or AirFrame). Made of two layers of fabric the hood is regulated by a drawstring with stoppers, and gives a pretty effective protection against wind and light rain. Additionally it has a wire stiffener sewn into its rim to prevent it from slipping onto the face. When not in use it can be simply rolled up on the collar and tied there with loop and button.
The jacket has double closure. There is a two-way zipper which allows the jacket to be open from the top or bottom. The zipper itself is then protected all the way down by the flap closed with four strips of Velcro. On the flap, at the chest height there is an epaulet with a Canadian button. Just like on the traditional British army smock.
The Smock can be adjusted in the waist by three parts of string sewn into a tunnel on both sides and the back of the jacket. Adjustment points are right beneath the armpit zippers. The string doesn’t have any stoppers so you need to make a knot on both ends otherwise it will slip into the tunnel. In my opinion the lack of quick regulation is the weakest point of the whole design.
USAGE (PERSONAL OPINION)
As I have already said the smock jacket is in general like a big bag with pockets so you will either love it or hate it. In my case it’s definitely love. We live in a specific climate zone: there is no chance of using one uniform, the whole year in comfort. And Helikon PCS Smock provides enough protection from cold wind and light rain; however we have to remember that it is not a softshell.
I have been using this jacket for a few weeks now and mostly in temperatures below or just above O degrees Celsius. As a warming layer I am using a British issued softie which Dev, in Poland, has bought too. I am not keen on cold weather myself and I must say these two create a good set. And when you overheat you can always unzip the smock armpits for few minutes.
The sleeve pockets are similar to those from ACU: flat construction, slanted for easy access, and with a rectangular flap for closing. Everything is covered with Velcro – just like in ACU.
In the overall design there are two minor things that could be better. First is a midsection regulation. To regulate it you have to take off the jacket and try it several times before finding the perfect length and then tie the strings. It is not possible to do it quickly when you have the jacket on which could be problematic when it’s windy, rainy, or you already wearing gear over it. Tricky but it’s not a major issue.
Second problem is the hood, or to be precise – its construction. As I’ve mentioned before it is very capacious because its main purpose is to cover a soldier’s head when wearing a helmet. In the case of a British soldier – a mushroom-like mk. 5 or mk. 6 helmet. However the hood is slightly pointed and it would be good to add some regulation from front to back. In many jackets a strap with Velcro is used: you just pull it down to prevent the hood from covering your eyes. Helikon PCS Smock is lacking such enhancement. Saying that, I have to stress that the hood is made of two layers of material which is a very effective form of protection from the wind and rain, sewn in wire holds it very stiff around the face and string allows you to conveniently regulate the size. These are big advantages.
In the jacket I have received I didn’t notice any crooked stitches, protruding Velcro or loose sewing of Canadian buttons. I have no objection to its quality at all. Moreover the manufacturer included 2 extra buttons and a band sewn inside the jacket in case you rip one off in the field.
Helikon PCS Smock is a very interesting piece of gear. Up to that moment it was possible to buy a MOD issued jacket in that cut only in MTP camo but not everyone likes this type of camouflage. So far Helikon has released 5 colouristic variants: Olive Green, PenCott GreenZone, PenCott Badlands, PenCott Snowdrift and MP camo (Helikon-made variation of MTP which was made mostly for the British market).
The price seems to be high but we have to remember that Helikon PCS Smock is made of the original Hyde Definition fabric. It is a Mil-Spec approved, durable 50/50 NyCo and it is NIR treated. Everyone of those costs, so although the final price isn’t cheap it’s adequate for the quality and complexity of the product.
Together with the smock Military 1st also sent us Helikon CPU uniforms and Direct Action Dragon Egg backpack, all in PenCott GreenZone camouflage. In a few weeks time, when it will be greener and warmer, we will try to make a comparison of two modern camouflages for you – PenCott GreenZone and MultiCam Tropic, and PenCott Badlands and MultiCam. Expect reviews and galleries of the products mentioned above in few months time on our blog.