Surviving the great outdoors is based on weather conditions and more importantly, how prepared you are for the weather. Outer layers normally comprise of a hard shell or similar garment which focuses on repelling the elements and keeping the body dry. Another element which is normally neglected about hard shell jackets is that they are also designed to be windproof and help contain warm air within the layers of clothing being worn.
BE-X has been designing clothing with a focus on breath-ability and water repellent properties which do not require excessive maintenance or waterproofing. With a military focus, these products have been tried and tested alongside the military market, but also very relevant for civilians who hunt, hike and work in wet environments.
One of these many products is the BE-X FronTier One Hardshell Jacket which is designed for military and civilian use in all season use. The jacket is part of a combination of products which use the same technologies and are designed to be used together. You can check out the reviews of these other products in the links below.
The hard shell jacket is only available in Alpha Green and uses a very high quality laminate to address both the requirements of water resistance and breathability. Unlike most general laminates, the laminate used by BE-X is more breathable and provides good heat insulation without creating sweat build up on the body.
As previously mentioned, the hard shell jacket is made out of a polyester laminate which is designed to 10,000 MVP which is double what most generic laminates value at 5000. This is mostly evident during long weather situations where high rain and low temperatures can lead to the body sweating where as other laminates would generally circum to causing the body to sweat due to reduced breathability in the laminate.
The jacket is half-length which provides protection for the torso, down to the belt and has sleeves with a wide cut to accommodate different arm lengths and stretches. The jacket also comes with a concealed and stowable hood in the collar. The hood is made of the same laminate and is adjustable, however does not give that much room for wearing large head gear (helmets, etc…)
There are two large chest pockets and velcro identification panels which are accessible from the inner sides, allowing for opposing arms to access pockets without stressed positioning of the elbows. Each arm also accommodates a sleeve pocket with more velcro identification panels.
The jacket is designed to use water repellent YKK zippers for almost every compartment and all seams are welded with PTFE material. There is also an elastic hem which prevents the jacket from allowing wind to blow up the waist. The main zipper is two ways which allows for access to inner layers without having to fully open the jacket. Both wrist collars also have velcro fasteners to adjust and tighten the sleeve ends.
The hard shell jacket is very streamlined and is designed to be easily stored when not being used. The colour is the same throughout the outside with both velcro panels and zips conforming to the overall colour.
It is unfortunate that the jacket only comes in one colour, however it is nice to see that the colour chosen is the best colour variant for use in most environments and is accepted by most military outfits. It would be nice to see more colour variants appear on the market as it’s sure to attract more interest in black, white and khaki.
The inside of the jacket is focused on helping with the insulation of the outside so there’s little comfort padding or soft material for bare skin. This is not an issue as this is the outer layer and is designed to be worn over mid layers and base layers. We do not recommend wearing short sleeves as it negates insulation effectiveness and may not be as comfortable on the arms after prolonged use.
Overall the jacket looks very practical and functional and the material is streamlined to reduce weight, however the creases of the material don’t make the jacket as visually appealing. The jacket is not overly form fitting due to a lack of elastics which leads to baggy areas around the body. The jacket seems to have been designed more for function and somewhat ignores what other brands would sacrifice for visual appeal.
The main function of this hard shell jacket is to provide a water repellent outer layer with protection for all seasons against the elements. This is supposed to be a solution for long term skirmishes in extreme environments and is focused on being very lightweight.
Focusing on water repellent properties, the jacket is able to repel heavy downpour of rain and sleet for extended periods of time. The seams across the jacket hold very well as they are welded from the inside with PTFE. The hoodie is also quite well designed as the neck cover prevents the recesses of the hoodie from allowing water to seep inside the jacket.
We have tested to see what a leak in the jacket will do, most of the water does end up at the bottom of the jacket but some water retains in little areas such as the PTFE seams and the zipper linings. A good mid layer should soak up these leaks and use the insulated heat to evaporate it alongside the body’s sweat.
During rain tests the zips kept catching against the garment and jamming against the teeth, this was an issue that occurred 60% of the time during testing. The zips don’t break which is good since the zips need some force when jammed. This has since been remedied with silicone spray, however this remedy needs to be considered for all zips when the jacket is being maintained and washed.
The next focus is on the breathability of the fabric during prolonged use. Initially there were issues with overheating in the jacket when in a warm climate as the jacket does too good a job at insulating body heat. This issue was ill founded as the jacket does not need to be worn fully closed where there is no rain or wind force. This scenario was retested in rain and was less of an issue due to the increased humidity of the environment.
Testing the jacket in a more obvious scenario such as cold and wet climates, has allowed the jacket to prove itself as a very capable hard shell outer layer. The jacket keeps the body warm and prevents as much of the outside as possible from the inner layers of clothing. As tested with the rain, the hard shell is also very good in contact with snow and with small streams of water.
Other elements of the jacket’s function is also the storage capability of the product and maintenance. The hard shell jacket was packages already packed in a sack to demonstrate its storage capabilities. The jacket weighs 564 g (dry or wet) and when packed with the 28 g sack weighs fully at 592 g stored. The overall stored package is quite compact and can be stored on the inside or outside of a backpack.
The jacket is recommended to be washed in luke warm water (no higher than 30c) with a mild soap as to not damage the laminate with cleaning chemicals. The garment is to then dry naturally with only gentle heating (no tumble dryer) having been cleansed of any and all chemicals or soap residue. This cleaning process may include the administering of a DWR coating from time to time to retain effective breathability.
The jacket has been tested in many scenarios over a long period of time and has only faltered when forced. The laminate is very robust as it has a light stretch to prevent tear and has not frayed after testing in the different environments. The zips have also not shown any wear from use and have not damaged the laminate when they jammed during testing.
The elastics have stayed the same as when first tested and the velcro panels have not frayed from repeated use. We tested quite a few different velcro patches to see how tough the velcro panels were and found that even the most aggressive hook and loop patches have only slightly frayed the panels when repeatedly attached and unattached. Overall, the jacket has retained a relatively new appearance from beginning to end of the test period.
This jacket costs in average of just over £100~ which brings it to a mid tier cost item amongst competitors. The cheaper brands such as North Face jackets at £60~ being form fitting but more focused on light exposure to the elements and aesthetics. The more expensive brands sitting at over £600 such as Arc’teryx which are a mixture of performance, design and branding to the cost of sale.
The BE-X FronTier Hard Shell is a good compromise which sits in the lower mid tier of hard shell jackets with a very strong functional element which caters to the military and more practical enthusiasts than those who want style over functional design. If you are looking for a jacket to wear on a gentle walk, this jacket is more than qualified and may be more expensive than required. However, if your office is the great outdoors and you care little for style and aesthetics, this jacket is a very affordable option with a proven background in military use. For those who want to show off their brand and look good wearing it, the more expensive variety of hard shells may be the best option.