Don't Slip Being So Slick

Don’t Slip Being So Slick
By: Justin S. Fischer


  Hey Slick…how ya doin? We’ve all heard the colloquial variations of what slick means, some for good, others for bad, and most because people aren’t sure what to call you; chief, boss, guy, buddy, whatever! But that’s not what this article is all about. By now most of you have heard the word on the street is the push for slick operations, light and fast, with as little gear as possible. Yeah…they call that “slick” too. But what does that really mean? And how does it benefit you, the warfighter? And why would you ditch all that great kit for lighter gear…well let me give you one operators view of what slick is and why it’s the future.

  For years, our officers, doctrine writers, and military historians have always quoted Sun-Tzu and the essence of IPB, JOPP, and all sorts of complexities that consider the strategic vision of warfare rather than the tactical vantage point we operate in. You’re here reading this, so do I have your attention now? No, well don’t take it from me, listen to industry and decide for yourself.

  Since 2001, the nature of warfare has grown into this asymmetric amalgamation of doctrinal theory versus actual boots on the ground practices. I’m of the old school, if it works for you then stick with it, but technology has made me a reformed man. As a special operations veteran of OIF and OEF I can tell you I have witnessed a massive change in warfare theory and for once it was organic, from the bottom up, and I love it. Long gone are the days of the knuckle dragging ground pounder, the new Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airmen, Coasty, are a new breed of thinkers. You guys are smarter, more in touch with technology, and aware of the latest improvements that make your lives more effective and comfortable while on objective. It’s time for a change in military theory and you my friends are leading the charge, the charge to be faster, lighter, better prepared…OH HELL YEAH we’re going slick son!  

  The question is no longer how much gear you need to lug into combat, the paradigm shift is real, and it’s spreading like wildfire. The warfighter is more in tune with their needs to ensure mission success. Now when you opt for a lofted garment or seam sealed jacket, you know exactly what you’re looking for, because the difference could be costly to your mission success and ultimately your livelihood. If you choose correctly not only are you more agile and protected, but your fatigue is greatly reduced and your endurance greatly increased.

  Let’s take your average Joe’s load out; IOTV – 35 to 45 pounds depending on a combat load and whatever shit you decide to MOLLE on to your vest. Let me digress for a moment, this is a good example; imagine a building with a weak foundation and a top-heavy upper deck, what happens is obvious, it’s a half ass game of Jenga and the balance ratio is distorted ultimately leading the structure to crumble under its own weight. Your body-build, when sporting all the kit, is very similar to that building, balance is incredibly important when it comes to stabilizing your load and enhancing your endurance. There have been countless studies about spinal compression and knee injuries on the rise due to overloading…too much shit for the wrong type of situation. This is where the military fails; they give us all the great tools for survival but fail to pursue continuous education on said tools.

  Now I know that’s not always the case, but in the past 5-7 years there has been a wide range of great research published by Natick to help the modern warrior in todays active environment. Where the failure lies is with the command structure by not pushing that information further down the chain.  Again, I’m not throwing out a blanket blame, but it happens more times than not.

  So now that we’ve unearthed the issues, let’s focus on being light, agile, durable, and confident. But before we do that, let’s establish what gear is by establishing what it is not. Gear is not something that can be purchased at a big box wholesaler- yeah the price is right, but rest assured the protection isn’t. Gear isn’t something the elements can manipulate easily, meaning if a gust comes in and the face fabric absorbs the brunt of the force by saturating quickly resulting in failure because it’s made out of cotton, well that’s not gear, that’s just a bad buy. Lastly gear isn’t something that fails when you push yourself to the limit, gear should be that wingman right by your side, and always has your back. In its purest form gear should feel apart of you, organic, dynamic, adaptive, and comfortable. The key to going slick is just that, being as light and as capable as possible.

  In my decade plus of experience I’ve witnessed the transition from hefty “pack-in” garment to “pack-light” durable pieces of gear, but not everybody got the memo. So here I am to try and spread the word. In an environment where we constantly have a target on our back, it’s hard to hit the element of surprise without the entire village knowing we’re coming in. Therefore the infill/extraction scenarios have turned into mini marathons of endurance and speed; hence light (and protective) is the only right answer when we’re talking about administering dick punches to the bad guy. Therefore I recommend the following pieces of guidance to help you in your pursuit of being the slickest badass out there;

  Dynamic textiles: by definition is a fabric produced for non-aesthetic purposes, where function is the primary criterion. In the realm of classification regarding technical textiles I’d like to focus on “Sport-technology.” The mountaineering and athletic industry have contributed so much to textile advancements in sheer science that we’re able to trek mountains and run marathons without being hindered by our clothing. These textiles are force multipliers; they allow the operator to endure longer and harder conditions without the worry of failure, keeping your mind focused on the objective. In short, research what you buy, know your AOR, consider the elements, and consider your physical output when do your research. Textiles are so advanced now that it’s important to know yourself but moreover study your needs in order to mitigate risk so that you can increase you operational success in the worlds most demanding situations.

  Weight is a huge factor. Let’s take a look at one factor (of many): synthetic insulation briefly. With the introduction of PrimaLoft Fusion or One, the operator has the ability to pack in a highly compressible garment capable of protecting them against the bitter elements of the AOR. Yes, waterproof down is a fantastic option as well, but one must consider the factors of down, if you’re always stuffing it away, down has the ability to lose its loft, migrate, and ultimately fail. With the non-migratory principles of synthetic insulation the end user is always assured warmth is a priority keeping you focused on the task at hand. Moreover, these synthetics can take on water and still retain their CLO/R value thereby keeping the end user warm, protected, and operational. Zing!  

  The last element to consider when going slick, is your operational gear. The cut of a garment can make or break your stride. So, yeah, you go out and buy a $500,000 Ferrari, do you really know how to drive it (?). Maybe, but it’s better to do your research and see if the Ferrari is even what you really need for your transformational needs. The same takes hold with operational clothing, so maybe you need speed but not standoff, then perhaps a jacket with 6ozs of insulation is too much due to it’s performance factors, it’s essentially too much “car” or in this case “garment.” Therefore, it’s imperative to consider your MOS, AFSC, NEC or operational requirements of your job. If you’re an assaulter why would you want tons of insulation? You’re moving, significant heat is generated, perspiration builds up, you’ll need a garment that wicks that moisture away from your body as quickly as possible in order to prevent your base layers from saturating…I think you see where I’m going with this. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve been there. I was operating up in Northern Iraq, near the Turkish border, in upper Kurdistan. There I was faced with a slew of environmental variations I wasn’t prepared for.  My first tour was my segue into my obsession of packing light, but right. After being faced with sub-freezing conditions in the morning and blistering hot by afternoon, I needed to change how I thought about my operational load out. It all started with a simple web search, “clothing that doesn’t suck!” I read through the climbing blogs, military forums, and militant adventurer posts to figure out what I was doing wrong.

  After two weeks of intensive research I jumped onto REI, and placed an order for 6 items. The first was a functional base layer, something that wicked moisture away from the body, but also served as a functional piece when it got too hot- but it had to be light. In this case it was silk weight Capilene top and bottom, it fit under my gear perfect and it was tan, so no asshole CSM could call me out, although that never happened, I just didn’t want to risk being the new guy seconded to a SF team to be called out…oh yeah I’m Navy too, so I had that going against me. Now I had to figure out the BDU, it was NYCO, it held moisture like a mofo and was the least productive piece of my kit. I looked to a senior member of the team and he passed on a great piece of advice “if it looks like a uniform, nobody will say shit to you.” So I found a company (no longer around) that made an ACU soft shell system, it was fleece bonded to Nylon, lightweight and functional, providing me the necessary warmth and comfort for the mornings and easily ventable for the hot afternoon and evenings. The last layer was a hard shell set, something to protect me from the elements in the highlands, and it served its purpose well. Long story short, the goal of was to have the least amount of equipment and still function as if I had a 7-layer system. It worked beyond my wildest dreams. Not only did it work it made my load significantly lighter and allowed me a greater operational endurance and boosted my confidence (I wasn’t miserable anymore, well maybe a little, but that had to do with being homesick). At this time I was working as forward RECCE observer, so I’d spend a prolonged period forward, MQ-1s were just being rolled out, so eyes on, were actual eyes on!

  So if you take anything from this article it’s to be smart, do your research, and know what you’re getting into. The difference between mission success and failure has a lot to do with what you bring to the fight. I’m not advocating for body armor being left at home, nor am I saying that one piece of protective operational clothing will be your answer. The focal point of this article is to empower you, the end user, I’m asking you to think about what you pack in, in order to make your experience smarter and more productive. The right clothing, footwear, pack, weapon all make a difference, but if you’re weighed down your agility is near non-existent, we all have to run, it’s the nature of the beast. When you run, and you will, will you be able to?


Stay safe, stay slick, stay WILD!

New Cold Weather Insulation Non-Migratory? By Ed Schmults

New Cold Weather Insulation
By Ed Schmults


  There is a lot of new insulation in the market today.  Water resistant down.  Polartec Alpha.  Some new PrimaLoft Insulation.  All these new developments provide excellent cool and cold weather choices for product users and product developers.  I am not going to get into specifics on the insulation but rather review how to best use some of these new developments.

  Insulation works best if held in place and if it provides sufficient loft to hold dead air space.  Air proves to be an excellent insulator, but it can’t be moving around.  That’s what insulation does – it traps air and uses it to keep you warm.

  The challenge has always been twofold 1) how to hold it in place so it provides the necessary dead air space and 2) migration.  Down insulation uses baffles to hold the down in place – rectangular or box is pretty standard, trapezoidal is better as it eliminates a vertical cold seam.  Synthetic insulation can be sewn into place.  This holds the sheets of insulation between the outer shell fabric and the inner liner.  Here again you have the problem of a seam pinching the insulation and causing a cold spot.   Seams can be offset or spread apart enough to reduce the impact of these cold spots. 

The second issue is migration.  Migration occurs when the down or synthetic insulation pokes through the fabric and can be pulled out.  To reduce this apparel manufacturers have used coated fabrics for the shell and liner to provide more resistance so that the insulation stays in place.  The big trade-off here is that the coating on the fabrics reduces breathability.  Use of two coated textiles – the lining and the shell – really provides a barrier to moisture trying to get out.  This is particularly apparent under a high metabolic rate – sweat can’t get through the insulated garment fast enough.  The result is damp insulation (which does not work as well) and a wet base layer.

  Recently Polartec launched a new insulation called Alpha that addresses this issue by eliminating the need for coatings on the inside of fabrics.  Alpha does not migrate through materials.  It can even be used with a knit fabric like a softshell that would be disastrous to use with down.  This is a very cool development.  However, the user must be cautious about using Alpha as a replacement for down or traditional synthetic insulations.  Alpha is something different because it is not going to be as warm due to its lower loft profile.  Polartec is producing heavier weight versions but it is still not as warm as traditional synthetics. 

  It is best used for its superb breathability and low profile.  When placed under the arms and in other high sweat producing areas as a replacement for traditional insulation it can dramatically enhance the performance of a loft product.  Many brands have come out with jackets made completely of Alpha.  These are great aerobic pieces but may not be warm enough to replace an existing low loft piece.  As always, test and confirm the suitability of any new product in the field.

  PrimaLoft has some new insulation that is also non-migratory.  It is different from Alpha in that it is more like traditional synthetic insulation in its loft characteristics and thus should provide excellent warmth due to its loft as well as excellent breathability as a result of not needing coated fabrics. 

  These are all excellent choices and appropriate combinations of these and other materials should result in some versatile garments with light weight warmth, low bulk and excellent breathability.

The Windshirt…the lightest-compressible secret weapon in your clothing arsenal By: Justin Fischer

  Allow me to take you to a place where the world is at odds, a place where beauty is cast under a fog of war, a land as diverse and as geographically vast as the United States, but roughly the size of Texas, and nope it ain’t Texas Toto, it’s Afghanistan. Afghanistan, as most of you know has been a country at war for most of its existence, but what most people tend to overlook is the aesthetic beauty and vast diversity of what the vast terra unfolds. I’ve spent many years working in and around Afghanistan, everything from the deserts in the west, to the towering behemoths in the Northeast…it’s a land of tremendous beauty with unrelenting landscapes that wield jaw dropping panoramas, untouched rock-faces, and the unremitting, the implacable, the merciless Noshaq. It’s a place that can result in triumph or deadly defeat if you fail to acknowledge the subtle weather and terrain indicators that could save your life. For the sake of this article let’s put aside the geo-political issues and focus on the terrain, weather, and the one piece of gear that will serve as a savior in the battle of heat retention over heat loss.  The windshirt.

   I left Afghanistan for my fifth and final time in January of 2015, I have to say during my tenure in that AOR I encountered the wrath of Afghanistan and barely escaped with my life on several occasions. In my years of special operations experience I have encountered weather, terrain, warfare, angry cows, but being trapped by rime ice, freezing fog, and lightning at 11,000 feet was a first and given that I was unprepared to spend 5 days on a mountain, this was truly going to be battle of ingenuity, resources, and emergency planning.

  So no shit…there we were, in the thick of a storm, that nobody saw coming, we attempted to hike down to a more manageable altitude for an evacuation, but Mother Nature had other plans that day.  After realizing that going down wasn’t an option, we opted to press up, hoping we could rise above this low-pressure system. At this point, wind gusts were hitting around 105 with sustained winds at 65mph. The first rule of shelter in place wasn’t an option, so we went higher, or so we thought. After about 2 hours of trying to move towards the leeward side and up, we realized we hadn’t moved more than a couple of feet and had to take immediate shelter due to fatigue. After digging in, the next step was checking each other over for any cold related injuries and doing a quick inventory of what we had available. Yep, you got it, we all pulled out various items, and I quickly donned my wind shirt along with another layer of Capilene. The chemical heaters were worthless, not enough oxygen in the gale force winds to trigger a chemical reaction, all we could do was huddle and hope our gear didn’t fail. At the 9-hour mark the winds subsided enough for us to make it down to the leeward side to take better refuge from the elements and about 48 hours later we were able to hike out. So what’s the moral here? Don’t leave home without your windshirt, it’s tiny and compressible, yet strong and warm enough to provide protection when you need it.

  Given the nature of my job in Afghanistan I had to climb, seek vantage points, observe, detect, and assist local populations. This would mean VSO’s, UW, and all the other great pieces alphabet soup that help to stabilize a region. This also meant, “light is right travel,” compression sacks, only the essentials, no bullshit. Given that my regular travels would lead my deep into the treacherous heart of Nuristan or the mind numbing cold of Badakhshan, I needed something that would compliment my load out if the weather changed in an instant, which it usually did.

  The windshirt, the titular focal point of this article, and perhaps the reason why my wife suspects I’m cheating on her, it’s because I believe it’s the single most important piece of emergency kit every military alpineer, high country adventurer, or casual hiker should posses and I’m never without mine, Afghanistan assured me of that. The average windshirt can be as light as 1.5 Oz’s or as heavy as a whopping 9 Oz’s, they cost as little as 40 bucks, and provide a level of protection that may mean the difference between hypothermia and survival. Chris Townsend states in his book, The Advanced Backpacker, that his "favorite upper garment and the one I wear more than any other is a thin, single-layer nylon or polyester wind shirt".  I find that a solid Nylon, DWR treated 30D – 70D ripstop serves a more diverse role when compared to your standard “waterproof” fabrics, I’m not saying it will out perform the technical membrane of enhanced textiles, but that it will give the user a broader range of comfort when worn in a variety of situations as opposed to your standard waterproof garment.

  Due to the lightweight and compressible nature of these garments, it’s very easy to chuck this little guy in the lid of your pack, BDU pocket, or MOLLE it on in a little pouch on your plate carrier.  Now I’m not here to tell you which brand to buy, nor am I telling you that one textile is better than the next, it’s all relative to what you’re doing and where you’re doing it at, although I’m a huge fan of silicon encapsulated Nylon, it’s tough, water repellant, and quite. Fact is nothing really gets through it, and when faced with bone chilling conditions, it serves as a vapor barrier, keeping expelled heat as close to the body as possible and everything else out. Which brings me to my next point – size. Make sure it fits correctly, not like a base layer, you want space, but not too much, the idea is to prevent outside wind from coming in and inside heat from going out…duh. Well it’s not always that easy, when we mobilize on a target what’s the last thing on our minds…the fit of our clothing. Yeah, it works right? Wrong, just like your M416 or M11, you need to dial it in. Gear is just as fragile and as important for standoff situations as your weapon. If you’re freezing your ass off, good luck with shooting, adrenaline and cold will force your heart to speed up, heat will shed from your body exponentially, and by the time you regain your composure it may be too late. Guess what (?), the old yarn your gramps told you about all the heat going out of your head isn’t entirely true, our bodies are natural heaters, always expelling heat and in stressful situations it only gets amplified. Adrenaline can be your biggest blessing as well as your biggest burden if not managed correctly.

  The beauty of a windshirt is it’s simplicity, but in simple items certain complexities can present themselves. The first is the fit of the garment, if the garment doesn’t have elasticized cuffs I’d reconsider the windshirt, you want to be able to roll up your sleeves if need be if conditions change in an instant. A ¼ zip, this is always a great idea so you can vent if you feel you’re running too hot or zip up if you’re too cold.  A pocket – just one is good enough, but it better be useful!

  Allow me to digress - I once learned from a very wise man in the industry that the true sign of a great garment isn’t what you add to it, it’s what you can’t take away.  In this case a single pocket with a 7-9” opening is ideal and a decent depth should be accepted as the standard.  As shooters we know the importance of dexterity, make sure you have a pocket for your gloves if you need to don or doff them quickly, these little pieces of trim make the world of difference when pushed outside of a comfort zone.  We’re men…we have beards, especially when we’re in the field too damn long, look for a windshirt that offers fleece around the zipper housing in the upper collar portion of the garment around the neck, last thing you want is your CO coming down on you because you have a fucked up looking hickey on your chin, save yourself the embarrassment, I’ve been there and it sucked.  And the piece of the recipe is a dropped tail, cover your ass and back when possible, words of wisdom my friends. Remember this garment is to aid in your success not hinder you. You want to make sure when you extend your arms that the garment doesn’t restrain natural movement, the dropped tail and enhanced arm gussets will assist you, comfort you, and reassure you that the last thing you need to worry about is your wind shirt failing on you.

  So next time you’re out at your local REI, Patagonia, EMS, Denali…whatever, take the above into consideration and perhaps next time you’re on objective you can avoid being caught by the one of the variables you know you can’t control, mother nature. I can only speak to my experiences and will attest that the proper load out is paramount. Yes, I still love my hard and soft shells, but my most diverse/ lightweight/ packable piece of kit I own is my wind shirt. This past year I was faced with elements that I haven’t faced previously and given the emergency situation my team faced, I thank my team and my colleagues for recommending a wind shirt to me. Remember, it’s light, it’s affordable, and it’s compressible.

Stay safe and stay WILD!