A while back, when I wrote about my fighting load and approach loads, I mentioned an upcoming review of my (then) new Vertx smock. Here it is.
I first came across the smock concept, and the Vertx offering in particular, via a series of posts from Soldier Systems (here, here, and here). It is a concept that has had a lot of popularity in European militaries (as well as Australian), but never really caught on in the US. I saw one in person for the first time when a couple of Canadian officers passed me in my work center (my career field works closely with the Canadians). It looked big and billowy, but had a kind of vintage military charm to it. It just screamed utilitarian and comfortable. I have wanted one every since.
I continued to read more and more about them and their value to a variety of people, from military members to outdoorsmen. I really wanted a Vertx one in particular, as it had several new and fancy technical additions that other varieties did not. However, the prohibitive cost of the Vertx (it was nearly $500 at the time) meant that I was looking elsewhere. There are several companies out there making them: SORD USA, Arktis, First Spear (also $$$), and a variety of European companies that manufacture smocks as issue items for various militaries. I’ll put a list at the bottom of the review.
So what is a smock, and why has it never caught on in the US?
For lack of a better phrase, think of a smock as a wearable go-bag (which is exactly how Vertx markets their model). They will universally have a variety of large pockets positioned all around the garment to store equipment such as ammunition, survival gear, navigation gear, rations, and comm gear.. They are generally windproof, but not necessarily waterproof or insulated. They are cut generously to allow for the wearing of load bearing equipment under the jacket, but it is also common to wear equipment on the outside as needed.
The origin of the modern combat smock comes from the British Airborne in WWII, who wore the Denison Smock– which itself was derived from the German Luftwaffe Knockhensack (“bone sack”). It was originally issued to the British special operations units and paras, but became popular among high ranking officers as well. It was famously worn by Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery (pictured). As the years progressed, the smock became a general issue item in a variety of camouflage patterns.
The closest US equivalent was the M-1943 field jacket (and it’s subsequent replacements, the M-1951 and ubiquitous M-1965). However, these jackets were designed more as insulated outerwear garments and have a closer cut to match the lines of a typical military uniform. They were built with a different philosophy than the smock. I’m not going to knock the utility of the M65 jacket, as many a GI will attest to their usefulness, but the smock is designed so that you could practically live out of it if you needed to.
The Vertx Smock
As much as i wanted the Vertx smock, a price over $400 just wasn’t realistic. However, Vertx recently dropped the price down to $199, so I thought it was time to pounce. As of this writing, the price is for this version is still $199. My smock is Coyote Brown and size large. The jacket is made from a 40D nylon material that has been treated with water-repelling nanosphere. It’s not designed to be waterproof, but I’ve worn it outside during several rainstorms at this point without issue. It is windproof, but uninsulated. Think of it as a water resistant hard shell that you can wear layers under.
It has a total of 10 pockets. There are two chest, two bicep, two lower front, two on the side, and two large pockets over the butt (where other jackets would have a single large trapper pocket, this smock divides it into separate compartments). The two chest pockets and two butt-pockets have inner sleeves that hold 30 rd 5.56 magazines. The two pockets directly on the sides are also designed to carry magazines. This allows the wearer to carry six full 5.56 mags in readily accessible compartments. If that is not your intent, the two rear pockets will each hold a USGI canteen, and the other magazine pockets will hold any similarly sized item (iPhones, radios, etc.). The two bicep pockets are cavernous, and topped with large hook and loop panels for display of patches or other identifying materials. The two lower front pockets are lined with waffled fleece to help keep hands warm. The lower front pockets are closed with two large slotted buttons, the biceps and chest pockets are closed with zippers, and all others have hook and loop closures (Sorry for the string of pictures, I couldn’t get it to format correctly).
The hood is detachable via slotted buttons, and the inner side is lined with the same waffled fleece as the two lower front pockets. It is not sized to go over a helmet, as you will find on other military-oriented smocks. There are several drawstrings on the hood to adjust fitment.
On the inside, the jacket has more drawstrings in the middle and at the bottom. There are pit zips under the arm to help with ventilation; a mesh has been sewn in this area to keep debris out when the zip is open. The cuffs have hook and loop closures to adjust the opening around the arm.
The main closure consists of an inner zipper that runs all the way up to a stand-up collar and then an outer weather flap secured with hook and loop. When I have the zipper all the way up, the hood over my head, cuffs cinched down, and other adjustments set, the jacket does a decent job of retaining warmth and keeping elements out.
The exterior of the jacket is treated Schoeller Nanosphere, which makes the fabric water repellant. From the advertising materials, the treatment also does wonders on other dirt and stains, making the garment easy to keep clean. The interior is not coated, and does wick away moisture and keep the jacket breathable. I had seen some other reviews of the Vertx smock that showed a dedicated moisture wicking liner on the inside of the jacket, but I do not have such a lining and Vertx’s web site no longer mentions such a lining in either the Multicam or solid color variants.
I’ve used this jacket through several range trips, hikes, and chilly early-morning walks with the dog in the rain. So far, I am very pleased.
If there is one word that sums up how I think this jacket fits into the philosophy of an Everyday Marksman, it would be “Mobility!” The jacket, with well-designed gussets and articulated elbows, is clearly designed for active users. At no point while using the smock have I felt that it hindered my movement in any way. That says a lot, since I almost always have issued with outerwear binding or limiting me in some way.
The uninsulated and unlined nature of the garment means that it provides very little assistance in the cold. My first morning out with it was in the mid 40’s, and I immediately regretted not wearing some more layers under it. It will do a great job keeping the wind off of you, but expect to layer up under it (as designed). Conversely, that means that it also performs pretty well in the heat.
When it comes to rain performance, it did keep me dry underneath; however, I would plan on carrying an additional rain layer for either wearing on top of the smock, or under it, if you plan on dealing with serious rainstorms for extended periods of time.
i do wish that the jacket had one additional feature, and this is more of a personal preference than anything. Other modern smock designs have button-closure chest pockets, with additional side entry zippered pockets under them. This one just has the zipper pockets (albeit, very generously sized ones). The lack of button pockets doesn’t affect the garment’s utility in any way, and may actually help reduce bulk if you are wearing gear on top of the jacket. As designed, it offers a nice and streamlined appearance. But, still, I guess I’m a sucker for a hint of old-school. To me, the huge expanse of empty material on the chest seems like it could have been put to more use on a garment billed as a wearable go-bag.
I can wear my belt kit under the jacket for a “low profile” appearance, but the bulk of my set up does create some unsightly bulges. The jacket is cut more generously in the chest, so a chest rig might work better for such applications (I don’t have one to experiment with), but a low profile CCW-style belt would work just fine. A better system is to wear it on top, as the Brits and Aussies do. When worn in the this fashion, it also lets you use the interior of the jacket as a giant “dump pouch,” where you can drop spent magazines down the front of the smock.
I really like this jacket, and I plan on getting a lot of use out of it. That said, I’m also looking at also buying a smock from SORD USA. The SORD model I’m looking at is all cotton, which would provide a bit more breathability in warm weather, and has a slightly different pocket configuration.
The Bottom Line
- Intelligently designed for active wearers
- Lots of well positioned pockets for carrying of essential kit
- High-tech material helps keep you dry and comfortable
- Generously cut to keep a low profile if you need to
- The large and empty expanse on top of the zippered chest pockets just begs for additional pockets
- If you plan on wearing bulky kit under it, plan on getting it a size up
- I’ve got nothing
Who should buy this?
The Vertx smock makes a great choice for any outdoorsman or shooter looking for a useful wind-proof garment that will move with them and carry loads of stuff. If you need a jacket to survive the zombie apocalypse with you, this one should be on your short list.
List of other Smock Manufacturers
If you are interested in the smock concept, then here is a list of other quality manufacturers that I’ve come across during my research. If my funds were unlimited, I would love to buy one (or two) from each, and have a whole collection. Sadly, I’m not that rich.
Arktis manufactures several varieties, I’ve been told to start with the B110
First Spear Squadron Smock
Leo Kohler KSK Smock
SOD Gear Operative Parka
TYR Tactical Huron Smock ($$$!!)