I’ve picked up a lot of good deals over the years as far as apparel goes through a combination of paying close attention to sales and end-of-line clearances, as well as scouring the second hand market from time to time. But of all the bargains I’ve nabbed, this softshell from Aussie gear experts Plat-A-Tac is a very close competitor for the top spot and I really, really don’t say that lightly.
If I’m honest with you all, at the time I purchased this jacket I didn’t actually know what I was getting, not exactly anyway. I knew I had a tactical jacket addiction and having purchased a fair bit from Plat-A-Tac already I nabbed this little number quick sharp when I saw a sale that discounted the already heavily slashed price. However, at that time I really did not have an understanding of a modern foul weather layering system that included softshell items; primarily because the clothing system that I’ve been issued and used in through training never included them (though I think we’re getting there… gradually). So this jacket arrived, I hung it up and there it stayed in my cupboard for a few months.
Then I decided I was going to have a go at a ‘milsim’ type airsoft game in order to (amongst other things) provide a good test environment for gear I’d never be allowed to wear on an exercise with work. Given the location and time of year of the milsim I knew I needed to prepare for cold wind, rain and potentially snow yet still remain comfortable when running around with kit on, not overheat and soak myself from within by sweating too much inside non-breathable, slow-drying apparel. This led me in to spending many, many hours over the course of a good couple of week reading up on the US PCU/ECWCS issued deployment uniform ensembles, as well reviews covering a wide range of high end foul weather kit that provided similar capability amongst the after-market options. ITS Tactical and Military-Morons articles were especially helpful in this regard and all the information I took in gave me a completely new understanding of the advantages of a properly administered layering system that includes a good softshell (i.e. the stuff is worth far more than just appearing tacticool).
Fast forward to actually trying the jacket out ‘in the field’ and I was actually slightly disappointed, as despite being in the depths of Wales at the start of November we had pretty much no rain, little wind during the day and comparatively warm temperatures throughout. Luckily however we started the game at 2am on the Saturday morning by patrolling slowly along a completely exposed hillside and spending a lot of time either kneeling stationary, or lying down in the undergrowth to avoid detection. The temperatures were unusually higher for the time of year but there was certainly a chilled wind blowing and I didn’t feel any of it through this jacket; no feeling of cold or damp when lying in the undergrowth for a little while either. On the other hand, roughly 30 hours later Sunday morning it was 18°C with bright, clear skies and a strong sun shining while I ran around a fair amount and simply never felt clammy or overly humid underneath this jacket. I adjusted the main zip up and down slightly to suit the conditions and utilised the under-arm zips on occasions to alter ventilation levels, but having only used cotton-based upper layers in the past this jacket was a serious revelation in terms of keeping me comfortable in a good range of conditions. I wore a simple issued synthetic t-shirt underneath which did the job a base layer should do as far as moving sweat away from the skin initially and the Harry jacket did a superb job of carrying on that process.
Now, bear in mind, I was fortunate in that the temperature range I encountered during this event was quite ideally suited to a jacket like this, which sits at level 5 within the PCU system scale. Had I not been somewhat active most of the time or the temperatures had dropped lower than the 8-9 degrees we encountered, I’d probably have been looking at adding a level 2 fleece layer and when I stopped completely to rest I put a level 3 (or my issued equivalent) fleece over the jacket to prevent shivers setting in. I’d also say that around 25 degrees would be the absolute upper limit for any amount of physical activity in this jacket when worn with just a t-shirt, more than that and you’d be swapping down to a NYCO shirt or less, though I may experiment with this jacket in the summer just to see how it does in terms of breathability vs NYCO or poly-cotton once we hit the low 30s come June time.
Plat-A-Tac say the Harry is made from an entirely Nanosphere fabric, yet most other softshells from similar high-end tactical brands are described as using Tweave Durastretch e.g. the Arc’teryx combat jacket and trousers or Crye fieldshell and all-weather G3s; with just a Nanosphere finish applied externally to the Tweave. The Harry certainly looks and feels more than similar to my Arc’teryx Combat Jacket (also in multicam), so again it seems I have some more comparison checking to do in order to establish whether there’s any noticeable difference in performance. Either way the fabric used is incredibly comfortable and flexible, dries rapidly compared to the standard uniforms you might be accustomed to, packs down tightly for those occasions when you’re angrily cramming 10 pounds of gear in to a 9.5 pound section of your ruck and doesn’t weigh anything noticeably more than NYCO despite all its’ weather resisting capabilities.
The cut of the Harry combat jacket also stands out and it’s rather reminiscent of the Crye Gen 2/AC combat shirts in terms of the arm pockets, something which is very useful and noticeably lacking from the equivalent non-insulated jackets produced by competing manufacturers. Most of them have bicep pockets mounted internally which limits your access to those pockets as well as the size and shape of items you can store within them. The Harry’s pockets are sewn on to the outside of the sleeves as per the AC shirts, which gives you more room and does the job I always look for in any pocket – holding items without the wearer feeling and constantly being aware of them. There’s a top access velcro lid as well as side access zip, which could perhaps do with a larger pull tab, but it would only be an issue if you had gloves on which weren’t in keeping with the operating condition spectrum that the jacket suits. There’s a large main loop field on the body of each pocket and then the typical flag-shaped field on each lid, which give great real estate for patches compared to any Arc’teryx offerings, on top of concealable pieces for your IRR needs attached via edging tape. I’d have preferred the central zip to be tan in keeping with the pocket and pit zips, but we’re obviously getting picky at that point. My only real gripe is the baffle at the neck, because 90% of the times I tried to fully zip up the jacket said baffle would give me grief. It never did the full-on “oh shit now I need to use both hands to pull opposite direction to remedy this jam in my zip… please don’t tear” but it was annoying having to try and hold the baffle out of the way when attempting to prevent cold wind getting down in to the top of my jacket.
The other elements of the cut are all spot on. The 2 main front pockets are well sized and up high to clear any belt in keeping with similar designs in outdoor foul-weather jackets (almost too high some may find) and since these pockets are made of a strong (yet soft) mesh they allow for another ventilation option if absolutely necessary. The overall shape and construction certainly never hindered my movement and while the cuffs aren’t adjustable the fixed openings seem to be proportionate to the overall size of the jacket and fit my wrists pretty much perfectly. Similar story with the collar height, covered my neck and blocked the elements but didn’t rub under my jaw. Length for me personally was ideal for a combat jacket and the hem sat right hip level. Wouldn’t stop your arse getting damp when you sat down but I’ve always found any jacket that does so to be a nuisance anyway
At the time of writing this jacket has sold out from the Plat-A-Tac store and the company is doing some re-organising as far as their product line goes, but I’d certainly like to see a version of this come back in 2016 when they release their planned new uniform line.
An easy 9 out of 10 at least.