Extreme Outdoor Clothing is a small mail-order company (UPDATE: now ceased trading, hence I guess this is now a historical article…) based in the UK specialising in Pertex/Pile and fleece garments. In some ways you would be forgiven for thinking that this company even existed, indeed I would be surprised if anyone outside the UK had even heard of them. Their website is antiquated and you might not even recognise it in a list of search results, but nonetheless they have an almost revered status amongst certain parts of the British outdoor community. This review features their APS (Advanced Pile System) Smock and is easily one of my most used-and-abused pieces of clothing. Lets begin by seeing what they have to say:
APS Smock. Advanced Pile System (APS) combines a quality fibrepile K2 Fleece and a highly windproof shower-resistant microfibre shell. Designed to keep you warm in the harshest of weather conditions, even complete immersion in water. Because we use a quality pile, it makes APS one of the warmest technical garments available, and is ideal for canoeing, boatwork and winter moutaineering. Supplied to Fire Brigade Emergency Rescue Teams. Features: Zipped tunnel hand warmer pocket, large front map pocket, K2 Fleece lined forearms and hem, long side zips with wind flap protectors, Taslan reinforced forearms, adjustable collar and low scooped rear hem. Velcro adjustable cuffs.
As a quick background to the environments this smock has seen, it has principally been used as the outer-shell during the winter season working outdoors in the Arctic tourist industry. What you see in the pictures is the result of wearing it daily for around 6 months.
This garment falls into the Pertex/Pile category of outer shells as made popular buy the like of Buffalo and later Montane. I won’t discuss the pro’s and con’s of a Pertex/Pile (also known as Double-P) system – if you’ve heard of it before you’ve doubtless got your own opinions and some of you won’t even have bothered reading this far; if you haven’t heard of it, Andy Kikpatrick has a good set of articles relating to this topic (try here for starters).
Although it does not explicitly say in the above blurb, the red outer material is Pertex 6 (see here) which I think has since been rebranded as Pertex Classic. I’ve used different varieties of Pertex in a number of garments and personally I find it to be a very durable material considering its weight. It’s definitely one of my favourite material brands, so by this point bias may well have developed, but it combines wind resistance with excellent breathability. There is no membrane involved anywhere in this smock, hence the excellent breathability, but this also makes it water permeable – ie. you’ll eventually get wet when it rains. In the Arctic this is never really an issue – as usual decided on where you going to be wearing your clothes and make intelligent decisions… The material is tough – I did pick-up a few holes (which you might spot in a few of the pictures) but more often-than-not the material is smooth and supple enough to avoid getting caught and torn. Small punctures tend to remain small punctures and the material is easy to self-mend.
The black Taslan reinforcements are stitched over the critical areas of the arm and elbow, and extend to the underside of the cuff which is a nice detail in my opinion.
The inside is made of a 570 gram fibre pile. In my opinion it’s thicker and denser than that of the AquaTherm pile found in the Buffalo Special 6 shirt, but I can’t find any specs to back-up that statement. Like all pile linings, it will begin to matt and compress with use, but I have yet to find any thinning spots (where the pile has pulled out the backing material).
Small sections of the smock contain some fleece details – notably the inside of the front bottom hem as seen above and an inner zip guard in the collar area. I’m not too sure about the reason for the fleece at the inner bottom hem, but perhaps it is to give the smock some degree of flexibility when bending over…
All garments by Extreme Outdoor Clothing are made to order, so a discussion on fit is largely irrelevant. Needless to say it fits me perfectly – as with most cottage manufacturers, part of the appeal of their products is your ability to taylor them to your specific needs, and here is no exception. Before you order I suggest you request a copy of their latest catalogue (partly to check that they are still operating) which includes an order form with all the measurements they will need.
In terms of layering, I found I could accommodate another Buffalo Special 6 shirt, a Buffalo ActiveLite Shirt and base-layers on the coldest days (that particular combo did me down to -40C/F) although it did start to get quite tight in the armpits. Normally I would only wear one Buffalo layer + base-layers without any impeded movement.
For a small increase in cost, you have the option to include reflective trim. 3M Scotchlite material is added the front of the chest, the shoulders and cuffs (and a small patch on the hood if you order one). From the back you probably won’t see a great deal of reflection assuming you arms are held in front of you, but from the front it is quite noticeable. In my opinion it’s certainly much better that the current trend of adding reflective piping to hems.
The pockets in this smock are of a similar layout to all smocks – one tunnel pocket for the hands and a central pouch. The pockets use one-way chunky moulded nylon zippers which are all still working perfectly. The inner tunnel pocket is lined with fleece on both inner and outer faces and is very voluminous. The zipper openings are around 22cm (8.5in) wide and are easily accessible with gloves on. The actual pocket extends a further 6cm (2in) below the bottom of the zipper which conveniently stops things falling out quite so easily. Depending on how many layers you wear under you may find the tunnel pocket unsuitable for carrying gear which you don’t want to lose. The other pocket is the pouch, with the same zippers as the tunnel pocket, measuring 22cm (8.5in) which to me felt quite small compared to similar pouches on Buffalo tops. It remains useful however, and is hidden by a flap of material with the front reflector stitched on.
One of the most traditional features of these types of garments is their venting capability, and in this regard the smock is well featured. The collar zipper is long enough to be useful in venting, extending 25cm (10in) from the top of your sternum down to point at which the front pouch extends across the chest. The side vents extend from your waist, all the way up to your armpits and then back down your arms to your elbows – in my case this provides almost 70cm (27.5in) of venting ability! These double-zips are the more compact coil type and have proved to be very durable. I have never had issues with the zips splitting or being uncomfortable, and personally I find it easier to unzip starting at the elbow rather than my armpit. These are what all pit-zips should be like in this type of garment. My only gripe might be that the zipper at the elbow has no garage to keep it tucked away, but this makes is much easier to undo with gloves on. Incidentally the inside does have a zip-garage – look back above if you didn’t spot it.
The result of these two sides zips is to effectively split the smock into two halves. The front half has an elasticated hem, and the rear half has adjustable elastication by means of a simple draw-cord. Both do a good job at keep the hem tightly locked onto your body and draughts out.
Finally the hood, which is additional extra and also includes the option of reflective detailing, can be attached by velcro to the collar. The collar itself is reasonably high at a good 5cm (2in), but hood provides a wealth of extra protection. The hood is at once, well and poorly designed (a bit like this sentence). The volume adjustment, although basic was excellent. It uses a simple velcro adjuster, and the overall depth of the hood is sufficient to protect your face from wind. Like the smock, its lined with fibre-pile. It’s not close fitting enough to be worn without a hat, but its is comfortable unrestrictive to wear. It strikes me the hoods are very personal things, and often manufacturers fail to get them right. For me, it is excellent, but perhaps not for everybody. The poorly designed aspects are the front adjustments. It comes with a flap of material (Pertex outer, fleece inner) the can be velcroed across to provide balaclava-like protection, but for me it was not wide enough and made the hood opening far too restrictive. It also has a strip of elastic webbing which can be looped through a plastic webbing-loop to cinch the whole hood in. Personally I never found it necessary and would have liked the option to remove it. The hood also has an extendable visor that can be folded back when not needed – this adds 4-5cm of additional wind protection to your hood, but it’s not wired for stiffness.
As a final note, I want to discuss the build quality. Although in general I am very happy with the choice of materials and stitching, there are some areas which really let this down. Almost all the points where velcro tabs have been used to fasten and tight flaps and cuffs, the stitching has come undone. This is simply because is must be quite hard to double-velcro to make the seams more sturdy, but the result are flaps which look scruffy, untidy and just difficult to use. It is next to impossible to undo velcro with gloved hands without a flap of material to hold on to. Stitching has also failed at certain seams on the reinforcements and along the whole length of the front reflector. Again, the principal reason in all cases seems to be because the fabric has failed along the line of the stitch. In many ways it’s a misnomer to even call these areas seams. In other areas it is only fair to mention the proper seams are fine – no failures at all.
In part this is probably just down to older manufacturing techniques – we sometimes forget that part of what we pay as consumers for high-end brands is the research and testing that goes into finding new ways to bond materials and create products. The result in this product is, for some people, the (perhaps) square and slightly boxy cut, for me it’s manifested as stitching failures.
In my opinion the benefits of custom made clothing cannot be overstated, and I’m all for supporting local producers (cottage manufacturers) of clothing. Price wise, in my view, this is extremely competitive and certainly cheaper at the time of writing than other bigger brands. However, this is off-set by clumsy stitching in places and a design which will probably never evolve from its original cutting pattern. Clearly there are lots of options when it comes to cold weather clothing – down jackets perhaps being the most obvious choice. In my situation I needed something tough and hard-wearing that provided warmth without the bulk (or puffiness for want of a better word). In this case, I think this fits the bill. Overall I’m pleased with what I bought – but I’m left feeling slightly disappointed that it’s not as good as it could have been.
Would I buy this again: N/A (see below)
This is a British manufacturer, but being a mail-order company it could in theory exist anywhere. You won’t, of course, find these in shops but you make up for that by having direct contact with the manufacturer who makes bespoke clothing.
Their website can be found through Google by search from ‘Extreme Outdoor Clothing’, otherwise click here (http://www.ebolcastle.co.uk/extremecc/index1024.htm). UPDATE: 1st March 2013 – if you’ve just tried the link to their website you might have found it takes you nowhere. At the moment it look like the host is down. UPDATE: 1st April 2013 – EOC has ceased trading, read Keith’s comment below!