FirstSpear TV

Blast From The Past – The Smock

Enjoy this story from November, 2011 (slight updated) on one of my favorite clothing items; the Smock.

Finally, the smock is beginning to gain some traction here in the US. We’ve written about them in the past, mentioning smocks from Drop Zone, the now defunct EOTAC, SOD Gear, Level Peaks, SORD as well as the (then) upcoming Vertx smock. But, we’ve never really talked about them and explained what they are all about.

The smock is literally a concept unlike anything we have in the US. I’ve heard them compared to the M65 field jacket but that idea is simply uniformed. A smock isn’t just a coat.

Rather, the smock is much more than a simple jacket. In addition to use as clothing, the smock is also intended to carry much, if not all of the wearer’s fighting load. They were originally envisioned to carry several days of combat equipment including rations, ammunition, and radios.

Primarily, the smock is a European concept and in particular, used by Commonwealth nations. I got my first SAS smock in 1989 in a trade for a poncho liner during an exercise in Belgium. Its use as an issue garment has traditionally been restricted to Special Forces, yet several nations have adopted it for general issue in one form or another. One example of a much watered down smock on general issue is the Canadian Army’s combat jacket. When this design was initially adopted in the 1960s it was envisioned that the Soldier would carry his ammunition and other fighting load components in the jacket’s pockets. What’s more, the British military now issues a Smock as a general purpose item.

There is very limited use of Smocks by US forces. During the early 1990s, an experimental clothing system called Battle Dress System (BDS) was developed by the US Army Special Operations Command. It was a layered clothing system that eventually became the Lightweight Environmental Protection sub-system of SPEAR. The outermost layer, called the SOF BDU, was a solid grey combat jacket and over trouser. With its solid grey color the item was rejected due to institutional prejudice. When LEP was adopted by SOF years later, it was without the SOF BDU. Interestingly, LEP was even later adopted wholesale for issue to General Purpose Forces Soldiers by the Rapid Equipping Force during the early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Issue items like the SAS Smock are pretty good, but commercial interests have taken them to a whole new level. Britain’s Special Air Sea Services has been manufacturing specialized variants of the smock since the 1980s. Other companies like Canada’s now defunct Drop Zone picked up the torch in the 90s and now, commercial items are more prevalent than the issue garment.

Smocks have made a lot of sense in Northern Europe where the cold, wet climate requires layering. You see, as smocks are coat-like garments they are generally worn layered over shirts. In many climates the US military finds itself in, this would be too warm as a daily wear item. The US issue Extreme Cold Weather Clothing System in all three of its incarnations has offered various technical parka-style shells. It seems as if the US skipped the smock altogether for a time. But, with the advent of the most modern smocks, new fabrics have been introduced into the design essentially making them softshells. Conversely, Australian Mission Pac has developed a MultiCam ripstop 100% Cotton Smock for use in warm climates. Aside from that and a developmental Crye Precision Desert smock, hot weather models are few and far between.

Other interesting concepts have been developed such as the Arktis SF Sleeveless Smock which looks like a hybrid between a smock and a 5.11 shooting vest.

Oftentimes, those with no experience with smocks will criticize the design. They don’t understand that use of a fully featured smock allows the reconfiguration of the load. For example, armor can be worn under the smock. Perhaps a chest rig may be required and perhaps not, but much of the items normally carried on the armor or in a pack can be carried in pockets, readily available.

With even more products hitting the market soon, smocks look to be making an indelible mark on the US market and as they become more and more prevalent, we will begin to see more widespread use, including on the battlefield. Think of the smock as yet another tool in the toolbox and use accordingly. Remember, it’s a tool, not the tool, and you’ll be ok.

16 Responses to “Blast From The Past – The Smock”

  1. Terry B. says:

    I’m a big fan of smocks and have one of the Drop Zone versions in multicam I bought 6-7 years ago.

    Denison smocks were common issue for Jedburghs in WW II and were very popular.

    Late in the war when the M1943 field jackets were issued many soldiers (especially paratroopers) carried much of their fighting loads in the pockets as they had with the M1942 uniform and as you describe.

    Despite those positive examples, the concept did not catch on in the US military post WW II.

    I can remember as a young infantryman being strongly discouraged from putting much of anything that “bulged” in the pockets of the M65 fieldjacket – even in the field.

    And – in the 82nd at least – the field jacket liner was used under your ERDL jacket in the field. The fieldjacket itself was something that only legs wore.

    Too bad. IMO a smock is a more functional and versatile piece of kit as compared to a slick front softshell.


  2. Lt M says:

    Best piece of Black Bag kit IMO. Great for carrying everything you need plus s little bit extra (I know my lads appreciate the boilies I secret away in mine). And you’ll look totally ally if you’ve got an SAS Smock.

  3. Andrew K says:

    I still have a few of those SASS catalogues around here somewhere…I used to lust after their smocks and chest rigs when I was a kid. Who am i kidding, I still want one of those smocks.

  4. Dick says:

    Let’s go back to the German jump (bone bags), Luftwaffe ground forces and Heer/SS battle smocks. Good camo patterns and simple designs, what combat clothing should be.

  5. Strike-Hold says:

    Smocks and Anoraks are two of my favorite types of over-garments.

    I never got a chance to own one of Drop Zone Tactical’s Recce Smocks before they went out of business. I did however own one of SEALS Action Gears smocks several years ago and that was a great piece of kit. The latest version of SEALS Action Gear’s Anorak looks pretty sweet too.

  6. Steve C says:

    After owning and using several smocks…the unequivocal best is the Vertx Combat Smock.

  7. Rogue Male says:

    An interesting civilian version of the concept worth checking out is the Swedish Fjallraven Sarek Trekking Jacket, made from their proprietary G-1000 fabric, which is 65/35 poly/cotton, proofed with the company’s Greenland Wax. Good review here:

  8. Craig P says:

    In Australia they were issued to Airborne units only, and a member wearing one without their wings on it would recieve well deserved scorn. This item of dress went hand in hand with the Maroon beret over here and with the killing off of our Airborne capability amongst regular units an original issued smock is a rare item and rightly coveted.

  9. Dlo says:

    I know Dropzone used to make their smock in CADPAT. Does anyone have a line on who’s manufacturing smocks these days in CADPAT TW in genuine CADPAT (licensed by DND) FR fabric?

  10. skip says:

    Dutch infantry make wide use smocks.

    Particularly this one:

  11. Jim says:

    I’d add that Windproof/arctic/SAS smocks whilst not issued widely were widely worn by nearly everyone in HMF. The New issue PCS Smock is a pretty good bit of kit (it has its faults, the dew liner mesh is badly thought out inside the chest zip pockets) but as the article mentions, it can carry a lot of vital gear that a good soldier can survive for a short period if seperated from his Bergan and webbing.
    Webbing for fighting, Bergan for living, Smock for surviving.

  12. DSM says:

    Platatac has their ATACS smocks on sale at the moment if anyone is looking for something in that pattern.

  13. Simon says:

    Have had a Special Air Sea Services Kit Carry DPM Smock for years. Excellent piece of kit that still gets compliments and inquiries to this day. Not sure if SASS are still in manufacturing operation (someone told me they had retrenched to just doing ‘military collectibles’), but they certainly were first class in the day.

  14. Ben says:

    Sadly SASS have stopped making smocks. I have one that I had made when I first left Sandhurst and it’s still going strong. Along with the materials they used it was the large degree of customisation that set them apart. Used plain green and tan smocks are still changing hands for the price they were new among bushcrafters. There’s definitely a niche in the UK for someone to exploit, there seems to be a ready market for the Military, bushcraft and milsim airsofters. With the US adopting a multicam type cammo pattern there would probably be a good market there too. I should imagine they would also be popular if they were turned out in various of the hunting patterns. Hmm, perhaps I should find an investor………….

  15. corbs says:

    I can’t believe nobody has mentioned Arktis. Their name is synonymous with smocks to me and many others.