Alpha Industries M-65
The Durable Windproof Layer
The M-65 field jacket may not suit every activity but it's the most durable windproof layer available. Layering enables us to adjust our clothing performance to the current weather conditions and activity level, by adding or removing specific items of clothing.
There is no singular piece of clothing that can adapt to all conditions. The 4 layer components are base, middle, windproof and waterproof. The base layer is always worn but the other 3 are mixed to regulate our core body temperature. Managing moisture from rain or perspiration is critical to this objective.
Our first 3 layers are designed to cope with some moisture but if we get them soaked then we get cold. If we get too cold then we die! Thus, we stress the importance of clothing's ability to breathe, to let moisture vapor escape. Windproof water repellent layers breathe more than waterproof layers, keeping us drier in most conditions.
The Layering System
0: Micro Layering System
Traditional layering systems don't suit strenuous outdoor activities such as mountain bike racing, obstacle racing, assault courses, rock climbing, mountain running, endurance racing or adventure racing. Buffalo's Special 6 shirt is a composite base layer, thermal layer and windproof layer.
The Pertex 6 and polyester pile construction, repels showers, blocks wind, traps warm air and wicks away moisture, even if thoroughly soaked. After being immersed in cold water, the Special 6 will be dry after fifteen minutes of exertion. Body heat from strenuous activity, powers the pile's capillary action, transporting moisture away from the skin. Body temperature is regulated through two large zipped side vents. A tight fit is required to be effective. Custom fitting is available at modest up charge.
Utilized as a stand alone garment, the Special Six's niche is limited to strenuous land activities that involve getting wet in cold conditions. There isn't enough insulation for sedentary pursuits such as fishing or nature watch. Adding a mid weight merino base layer underneath, enhances heat retention, supporting general use to 35F/02C. Wear only the base layer if temps are too high.
Don the Special 6 as temps drop back. Adding any layer over the Special 6 will impede it's fast drying capability. The Special 6 isn't suited to
lounging around the campfire or fighting through brush. Sparks will burn holes through it. Thorns will rip it.
1: Base Layer
Base layers have the most impact on outdoor comfort, coolness and warmth. This is underwear for outdoor activity, designed to manage body sweat. The body perspires to reduce heat by evaporative cooling. Cotton makes a poor base layer; it inhibits evaporation and traps moisture next to the skin. If underwear inhibits evaporation, we will be hot and damp in summer, cold and damp in winter. Retained moisture conducts the prevailing temperature to the body 24 times more effectively than air.
My preferred base layer is mid-weight Merino Wool. It does not itch like traditional wool. Moisture is wicked away from
the skin to the exterior of the wool, giving it more contact with air and thus evaporation performance. The quarter zip in
the selected model assists heat ventilation. Merino is superior to synthetic underwear too. It contains Lanolin, a natural
antibacterial oil secreted by sheep, which keeps them smelling fresh long after synthetics stink to hell.
2: Thermal Middle Layer
The middle layer's function is to retain heat by trapping air close to the body. It should be thin and close fitting, to enable multiple layers of insulation in extreme cold. The 'Wooly Pully' is a classic design popular with military troops and outdoors men. Additional thermal layers can be added over the sweater in extreme cold.
Wool can absorb 33% of its weight in moisture before reducing insulation performance. It's also the best material for
use around the camp fire; a spark will not burn through or melt the fabric. Many guys prefer 300 weight fleeces. The
military parka fleece liners represent great value for money. The Special 6 will also function as a conventional thermal
3: Waterproof Layer
Water repellent windproofs will withstand typical light showers. The waterproof layer is reserved for heavy rain and snow. It is not as breathable as the other layers. Exertion under the waterproof layer needs to be especially moderated, preventing layers soaked by perspiration. Pause and cool down. Remove as many layers as possible. Maximize possible ventilation.
Sweat soaked clothing is a serious issue in freezing temperatures. Kidney chills and hypothermia are a very real risk after activity ceases. External frame backpacks expose the back to cool ventilated air, preventing it from becoming extremely sweaty.
Waterproofs can be divided into two categories, ponchos and breathable jackets. Ponchos and rain capes use ventilation to expel internal humidity. The Polish Lavvu is a durable rain cape, constructed from tightly weaved waxed cotton canvas. Many European nations developed variants of the prolific Russian Plash Palatka. The Polish Lavvu is considered the best evolution. It features two arm holes to support use as a poncho and comes in three different sizes. Medium or large is recommended.
Cotton canvas construction makes the Plash much stronger and quieter than typical nylon ponchos. Coverage is closer, the additional weight of the material makes it more stable. Good ventilation makes the Plash comfortable to hike in warm heavy rain. The cape is only buttoned up, forming a poncho, to counter strong wind. The two armholes are essential in this poncho configuration. Maximizing ventilation, the Lavvu is unbuttoned as soon as the wind calms.
Similarly, the cape is thrown over the shoulders as soon as heavy rain stops. Ponchos and capes don't provide full coverage of the legs. Snolock waxed canvas gaiters will compliment the Lavvu. The Lavvu also converts to a blanket roll, half tepee and diamond shelter. Install a top web tie out for guy lines or ridge lines. Two Lavvus button together forming a one man winter teepee tent.
The Swiss military developed a lighter nylon variant of the Lavvu rain cape. However, it remains heavy duty in comparison to
typical ponchos. The lowest snaps are used to connect the cape to each leg. The cape lacks corner grommets. A knotted hood and
sheet bend knots will secure guy lines.
Breathable waterproof jackets are suited to activities like cycling, coastal fishing, hill walking and mountaineering. A poncho could dangerously snag or act as a wind sail, blowing the wearer off a cliff, ridgeline or coastal rock. My preferred M-65 jacket liner is Frogg Toggs Ultralite for its superior vapour breathing and value.
Frogg Toggs will generate less sweat in warm, wet conditions than Gore-Tex. However, this bi-laminate layer is less durable than Gore-Tex, wearing it underneath the windproof layer protects it from abrasion and reduces noise.
Admittedly, under heavy rain, this strategy will leave the windproof layer soaking wet but the layers underneath
the Frogg Toggs remain dry. Waterproofing is always a compromise. The other option is to wear the waterproof jacket
as the outer layer with the compromise of less durability. Repair with duct tape and replace when necessary, at current
pricing, Frogg Toggs are practically semi-disposable.
Snap on waxed cotton chaps (leggings) are a durable option for leg protection, particularly if the waterproof jacket or
jacket liner can hang down over the exposed crotch. Not particularly breathable, the chaps leave the gusset exposed to
ventilate heat and perspiration vapor from the body core. Studded chaps are much easier to don and doff than waterproof
over-trousers. Individual snaps can be released to vent heat.
4: Windproof Layer
The windproof layer is more breathable and comfortable than waterproofs. It is more versatile, working in warm, cold, drizzle and high wind conditions but anything more than light showers requires a waterproof layer or liner. The most prolific layer configuration is a mid-weight wool base combined with the windproof, especially under any activity.
The windproof layer regulates temperature by controlling airflow via zipper, storm flap, cuff adjustment, collar adjustment, waist drawcord and hem drawcord. Trapped air is an excellent insulator; ventilation is also a good coolant. As the name suggests, the primary function is to prevent the wind blowing our warm trapped air away and replacing it with cold air, which our body must reheat.
Windproof materials should be non-flammable, non-melting, water repellent, breathable, silent, durable, repairable, lightweight, quick drying, good value and available in subdued colors. There are currently 6 candidate materials available, let's have a look at them.
Cotton shells can be treated for water resistance with products such as Nikwax. However, Cotton traps moisture, sucking heat from the body, if worn next to skin. It is probably the least suitable shell material but it can work with a wool layer worn underneath. Make sure the garment has been pre-shrunk and has a windproof weave. Most examples are true smocks versus front opening field jackets, hence heat venting is limited.
Surprisingly, Ventile breaths less than standard cotton in humid conditions. Sweat wets and swells the fibers, sealing the fabric's pores. Treatment with Scotchgard or another repellent may help breathing in humid conditions. Performance is otherwise identical to standard cotton. Notably drying time.
Ventile, like 100% Cotton, should not be worn next to skin. It gets damp on the inside before it becomes water repellent. Use a base layer of wool to stop body heat conduction. A single layer of Ventile will withstand 1 hour of light rain before wetting out. It works well in the layering system detailed above.
A double layer of Ventile is classed as fully waterproof but cannot be considered part of the layer system, it is too warm to wear in hot seasons. Double Ventile becomes extremely stiff with prolonged exposure to rain, to the extent it will stand up by itself.
Waxed Cotton is one of the least breathable materials. Body heat melts the wax to liquid permitting vapor to escape. Cold rain solidifies the wax to a waterproof barrier. Reproofing traditional lined jackets with thorn-proof wax is a tricky proposition. Barbour offer a reconditioning service.
Nylon is the only candidate material that will dry via body heat. Poly-Cotton 65/35 can melt in an IED flash fire or extreme radiant heat. A spark from the campfire may burn a hole but it won't flare like 100% nylon. Replace the windproof for a wool sweater when roasting marshmallows. Durability is average, being vulnerable to barbed wire and thorns. Breathablity of Poly-Cotton 65/35 is less than 100% nylon, 100% cotton and NYCO.
Natural materials, such as pure cotton or wool will not melt, if exposed to high radiant heat. Cotton will burn, turn to ash and fall away, if exposed to naked flame. Wool is naturally flame resistant. A naked flame may burn a whole but wool will self extinguish. The bottom line is synthetics should not be worn next to skin, in high risk environments. Wool is preferable to cotton as a base layer.
The HMS Sheffield incident didn't go unnoticed among professional soldiers, which were exposed to flash fire risk from I.E.D.s. Many SAS and SBS troops privately purchased, DPM Ventile smocks and trousers, wearing wool base layers underneath. Many U.S. units continued to wear 100% ripstop cotton, OG-107 and ERDL jungle fatigues. The Navy SEALs went one better and issued Nomex flight suits. Nomex is an inherently flame resistant aramid.
It doesn't rely on chemical treatments, that could wash out. Pure cotton or wool, worn under the Nomex, serves as a thermal barrier.
Ultimately, Nomex gloves and flight suits proved lacking in field durability. Superior options, including firefighters' bush fire fatigues,
are currently available. Deerskin gloves are robust and flame resistant. Many popular synthetic tactical gloves will burn or melt.
Nomex is still preferred well as a windproof, fireproof, breathable balaclava.
It lasts 4 times longer than cotton. NYCO supports no melt, no drip performance. Cordura NYCO passes vertical flame standard ASTM 6413-99 and radiant heat NFPA 2112 standard, without additional treatments. Sparks from a campfire may burn a hole, substitute a wool sweater or cotton shirt.
NYCO has a breaking strength of 225 lbs and is impervious to barbed wire and thorns. It offers better value than single layer Ventile, delivering similar general performance with superior durability at half the price. NYCO will require a periodic application of 3M Scotchgard, to maintain water repellence but it's far less bother than reproofing waxed cotton.
Every six months, wash the jacket without detergent,
then apply one full can of Scotchgard. It may not be nostalgic enough for bushcrafters that favor traditional apparel.
NYCO still represents the best overall balance. Alpha Industries M-65 field jackets are constructed from NYCO. Replicas are made
from poly-cotton or 100% cotton.
M-65 Features & Accessories
Most clothing of Chinese origin is less than impressive but Alpha Industries supplied the U.S. military with M-65s for 30 years. Alpha's product is genuinely manufactured to military specification. Adherence to specification translates to quality, NYCO 50/50 construction, water repellence, excellent stitching and correct fittings.
It is the best M-65 on the market. However, coming from China, the odd lemon does slip through. If you do receive an example with poor stitching take advantage of Amazon's excellent return policy. I would like to see the M-65 made in the USA but we are where we are.
A secondary benefit is compatibility with military specification components, the jacket liner, pictured above and the ECW hood, pictured below. The military issue liner has equivalent insulation to a 300 weight fleece and can be picked up for less than $10 at a surplus store. The corresponding size will mate with buttons in the jacket.
Alpha Industries offers a commercial liner for the M-65, which has half the insulation performance of the military issue.
Wool or fleece layers are superior to either jacket liner. The jacket liner's polyfill insulation impedes vapor breathing.
Its bulk is not conducive to layering.
The M-65 comes with an integral hood but it's not very substantial. A water repellent boonie hat is more useful. Hoods become useful in storms and bitter cold. The Extreme Cold Weather hood attaches to several buttons and buttonholes around the M-65 collar. Attachment instructions are on a tag in the ECW hood.
The wool lining in the ECW hood is very warm and the dimensions are generous. It has wire in the brim and drawcords to achieve a good fit. The synthetic fur trim has a micro-climate effect, retaining warm air. I would like Alpha to offer a similar hood lined with fleece, sporting their mouton synthetic fur.
The extremities of fingers, nose, lips and ears are most vulnerable to frost bite. ECW trigger finger mittens don't have proprietary M-65 attachment. They may be used with any jacket. The system consists of a leather and canvas mitten shell with a removable wool mitten liner. Both shell materials may be waterproofed with Sno-seal wax. Fox River double ragg mittens are a popular additional super liner.
Spare USGI mitten liners are advisable too. The mitten's trigger finger is compatible with unfolded trigger guards of
M16, AR-15 and SLR rifles. Neoprene face masks are superior to cloth coverings as they don't absorb condensed moisture
from exhalation. They are available in several colors including woodland and solid white.
The M-65 is very effective at stopping wind penetration and subsequent heat loss. It is designed to be worn loose for layering and ventilation but each opening can be closed up to retain warmth. The waist and hem are cinched with drawcords, the collar and cuffs are adjusted via Velcro locked tabs.
The cuffs also have retractable storm flaps to block wind traveling up the arm. Size selection relates to minimum temperatures where the M-65 will be worn. Order one size down if using the M-65 in a temperate climate. Order your standard size if you expect to use the M-65 in freezing temperatures. The looser fit looks sloppy but supports winter layers and helps ventilation in warm weather.
If you're buying an M-65 exclusively for urban wear, Alpha Industries is still the best choice, just drop one size for a smarter fit. There are a few select items that compliment the jacket's rugged styling. American Optics pilot sunglasses make a subtle masculine statement.
These are the shades that pilots actually wear. A contrasting bush shirt with the sleeves rolled up, looks ten times better than a T-shirt. Complete the look with classic desert boots, navy jeans and a dive watch.
Alpha's M-65 looks good, stops the wind and supports Mil Spec accessories but the overriding characteristics are comfort and durability. It will withstand 20 years of hard use and that represents excellent value for money.
There are other smocks on the market but frankly, they look preposterous, smothered in Velcro and pockets, they
are only suitable for tactical role play. The M-65 in olive, black or kaki is appropriate attire for a man about
town or on safari in Africa. It has become a modern classic due to its utility, style and comfort.
Questions & Feedback.
Well, that's about it guys. I hope you found this guide useful. If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to contact me through the welcome page.
Ian ST John.
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