I am sitting here typing this and it is over 90 degrees outside. Sadly, fall and winter weather will soon be upon us along with the requisite damp, rain, and chill. Fortunately in the year 2009, we have quality foul weather clothing to combat the elements.
What do I consider when looking at outerwear for duty or most any foul weather? First, versatility. Because quality outerwear is expensive, it needs to serve me at least three seasons out of the year. The second item I consider is whether the outer jacket is truly waterproof or just water resistant; there is nothing worse than being cold and wet. Last is the price. If the clothing breaks the bank it will cause issues.
I have found three-season jackets tend to be the most versatile. This is especially true if you work in areas such as the northeast where it can be winter into April with winter starting in October and by midday you need just a windbreaker. Unless it is Arctic cold I have found the combination of a three-season jacket and a sweater keeps me warm.
When you are looking for a jacket for duty, make sure that the jacket is waterproof. Over the last few years there have been many jackets that are touted as being highly water resistant. I have found they are just that water resistant until they get wet. Most quality pieces of outerwear will have sealed seams; I suggest you ask if you live in an area where torrential downpours are the norm. You won't regret it.
You can expect to spend anywhere from $150 to $500 for a waterproof duty jacket. Consider how often and for how long you wear it and the price won't be quite as hard to take.
While giving clothing a "test wearing," I have had input from several members of my local department and from guys I shoot with. We have found that 5.11 Tactical, BlackHawk, Blauer, Elbeco, Fechheimer, Propper, The Force, Tru Spec by Atlanco, Under Armour, and Woolrich's Elite Tactical Series serve well in a wide range of conditions.
5.11 Tactical offers a number of jackets for uniform and undercover work. Its 3 in 1 Reversible is one of the more versatile jackets in the line. When turned inside out, it goes from black to ANSI III rated high-visibility yellow with 3M Scotchlite so you can be seen in the darkest and foggiest of weather. 5.11's 3 in 1 is waterproof and windproof and the fleece liner can be worn as a stand alone jacket. Locally I know several officers who wear this as their duty jacket and they are all pleased with the performance and say it will keep you dry in most downpours, save for a monsoon.
I have worn 5.11's Aggressor for the last couple of years in my travels and it has kept me warm and dry from here in Pennsylvania to the mountains of North Carolina to the plains of Illinois. It's perfect for off-duty use because it looks like any other winter coat. 5.11 Tactical's jackets will serve you well on duty and off.
BlackHawk Products Group introduced the Warrior Wear Shell Jak a couple of years back. This jacket is designed to work as either a standalone piece or layered with the company's Operations or Training Jacket, depending on weather conditions. I was impressed with the Shell Jak; it fits well and is sized to fit with or without the other jackets.
Warrior Wear's Shell Jak is built to keep you dry in the roughest nor'easter. The outer zippers are waterproof, the seams are sealed, the hood and jacket have drawstrings to keep in your body heat and the wet out, and the collar is fleece lined for comfort. To help keep you from getting wet from sweat there are large armpit zippers which are also waterproof.
The BlackHawk Warrior Wear Shell Jak and the Operations or Training Jacket liners are excellent pieces of clothing. From what I saw of this jacket it is designed for hard use, be it for a soldier or a cop on the street.
One of the most advanced jackets on the market is Blauer's Supershell Jacket with Crosstech. This duty coat is built with Gore's antigen/pathogen resistant Crosstech fabric and is waterproof to boot. It's ANSI/ISEA Class II Certified with two-inch Scotchlite on the arms and torso to enhance night/low-light visibility.
This jacket is possibly the most technical piece I looked at. All of the seams are sealed, the material is a "stretch" fabric so the jacket doesn't restrict movement, the material is abrasion resistant, and the fabric is ASTM F903 certified to be resistant to the five most common crash scene chemicals.
I know a couple of officers on the University of Pittsburgh Police Department that wear this coat. They tell me it was worth every penny they spent on it, especially when policing the parking lots and traffic details before and after sporting events. These guys spend huge amounts of time outdoors and tell me the coats are warm and dry in epic snow squalls and biblical rains. Simply put, the Supershell Jacket with Crosstech is money well spent.
One uniform manufacturer I have used extensively on duty is Elbeco. Initially I wore Elbeco's postal uniforms when I was a letter carrier years ago. When I needed a jacket for winter wear as a patrol officer, I chose the Meridian. This jacket is warm, lightweight, can be worn with or without its liner, and has high-visibility pull-out panels.
When a couple of the officers on my local department saw the Meridian, they were impressed but wanted a jacket that offered more visibility. The solution is the Summit II.
The Summit II is constructed from Hiptex 3000 for the outer shell and is waterproof and windproof. The seams are sealed to ensure water doesn't migrate through.
So you can be seen on those gray dark winter days and nights, the jacket can be reversed to its ANSI/ISEA Class II side. This is a bright yellow with two-inch Scotchlite by 3M on the body and sleeves. This jacket lights up like a neon sign when light hits it.
The guys on the local PD have been impressed with the Summit II. It has kept them dry in the near hurricane like rains we had here in southwestern Pennsylvania and allows motorists to see them when working DUI and traffic enforcement checkpoints.
Fechheimer has more than 150 years of experience manufacturing uniforms and is best known for its Flying Cross brand. But Fechheimer's Public Safety Jacket (PSJ) is one of its most versatile duty jackets.
The PSJ is made of a Gore-Tex-lined three-layer Taslanized Nylon, which is seam sealed and is 100 percent waterproof and windproof. This waist-length jacket has numerous interior and exterior pockets to carry and keep your gear dry. To keep you warm, the PSJ has a 200-gram Thinsulate zip-out liner (the sleeves themselves account for 100 grams).
To keep you dry the PSJ has a Gore-Tex-lined hood that's accessible from the collar and tucks into the back of the jacket when not in use. This jacket can also be had with optional front and back pull-downs to increase officer safety. Backed by nearly two centuries of experience, you won't go wrong with the Fechheimer Public Safety Jacket.
Propper has been supplying military and law enforcement with innovative outerwear for many years. I have worn their jackets on and off duty and they have kept me dry in the worst rain and snow one can imagine. The HALO I is one of the industry leading rain parkas from Propper.
This parka is designed to meet ANSI 2004 Class 3 certification for high-visibility apparel with hi-vis yellow fabric and two rows of 360-degree horizontal, reflective webbing. Halo I is a durable 100-percent polyester, high-visibility yellow rain jacket with an extended drop tail for added rain protection. To ensure the parka keeps you dry the seams are sealed and a super light, 3-in-1 laminate membrane (Propper's HALT barrier) provides great waterproof-breathable performance.
To further enhance the jacket's performance in nasty weather the HALO I has Propper's Peripheral Vision Hood System (PVHS) for increased visibility. This hood will not block your vision even when turning your head side to side, because it contours to your face and head to provide maximum visibility. The hood tucks away into a drop-down, stowable pocket that lays flat into the shoulder area of the jacket, eliminating bulk around the neck. Propper's HALO I will keep you dry in the rain and snow of the upcoming seasons.
A fine example of innovative clothing from The Force, the Enforcer is made from lightweight Cordura and treated with Duckback Durable Water Resistant finish so the jacket will be waterproof for years to come. To keep you warm the zip-out liner uses lightweight and warm Primaloft for insulation. If you carry lots of small stuff on duty, you will appreciate the nine pockets of various sizes and shapes to keep all your items organized.
Like other modern duty jackets, drop-down high-visibility identification panels are available for the Enforcer. You can also enhance your visibility with concealed 3M Scotchlite armbands. These allow motorists to see your arms when giving hand and/or arm signals.
Other than the versatility of the Enforcer, what I like about this jacket is the cut. It is short enough to ride along the top of your duty belt; it doesn't get in the way of your gear. This just goes to show that The Force designs uniforms with fit and function in mind.
Tru-Spec by Atlanco
A new player in the law enforcement clothing line is Tru Spec by Atlanco; specifically the 24/7 series. The 24/7 3 in 1 is not designed to keep you dry in monsoons, but with a price point under $125 it is a heckuva buy for a three-season duty coat.
Its zip-out fleece liner is soft and very comfy, which is a major plus. The jacket itself features front and back drop-down panels and a convenient front drop-down badge hanger, as well as numerous pockets-a must. Not to mention, I found that the 24/7 3 in 1 fit well over my uniform, vest, and duty belt. Because it's designed to fit well, it looks good-on and off duty.
While not often thought of as a manufacturer of "tactical" clothing, Under Armour has been making major strides into the market. Many of us wear UA's TightGear, ColdGear, or HotGear under body armor or as part of our workout attire.
Now UA has the Haw Jacket to beat the cold and wet. It's a long coat designed to keep you dry and warm, whether waiting for a tactical operation to kick off or working an access point or even a traffic checkpoint (you will need an ANSI vest).
What sets this long coat apart from others is that it contains ArmourLoft and ColdGear. ArmourLoft is a lightweight insulation that will keep you warm in cold weather. When coupled with ColdGear, which promotes air flow and moisture wicking, you will not get that sticky feeling when the humidity is high and stress levels are up.
Under Armour's Haw long coat may not be what you would consider a "duty" or "tactical" coat, but if you find yourself out in cold, wet weather for extended periods of time it is a piece of clothing you might want to look at. The Haw is sized to be loose and is available in sizes up to 3X so you should be able to find a size to fit over you and your duty gear.
Here in Pennsylvania, Woolrich is known for red and black plaid wool hunting suits, not high speed, low drag tactical clothing. However, the Elite Tactical Series has been making Woolrich known in the police and military community. I have been wearing pants, shirts, and shorts from Woolrich for shooting, training, and casual wear. Now the company is offering the Elite Waterproof Breathable Parka.
This waterproof nylon parka offers loads of features: underarm zippers, lots of pockets, drop-down panels, concealed hood, bottom snaps to fit around your handgun, and clean lines. It looks more like a mountaineering parka than a duty jacket, but if you purchase it in coyote or olive drab it will also work for casual wear.
I have worn my Elite Parka in some serious late summer downpours. It has kept me dry and I have looked good wearing it-well, as good as I can look. The Woolrich Elite Waterproof Breathable Parka in black would make an ideal rain parka because it is lightweight and easily packs into a duty bag.