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US Army Extended Cold Weather Systems

US Army Extended Cold Weather Systems

There’s no doubt about it, being stuck in the cold is not only uncomfortable, but it is also extremely dangerous, as extended cold weather exposure can lead to frost bite, hypothermia, and cold stress, which is when painful welts that form all over one’s body.

US Army walking through the snow in their military camouflage gear

This is why proper gear and weather systems are incredibly important. Especially if you’re on a team or enjoy recreational activities (such as hunting) that require you to stay still, in the same spot, during the cold and harsh winter weather.

Today, we’re focusing on one set of clothing that simple changed the game for the US Army. It’s the extended cold weather systems. Keep reading for more…

What is the Extended Cold Weather Clothing System?

In the 1980’s The United States Army Research, Development and Engineering Centre in Natick, Massachusetts developed a set of clothing, known as the Extended Cold Weather Clothing System, or ECWCS for short.

The goal of this protective clothing system was to allow any soldier to adapt easier to the various environmental conditions that they were exposed to. This not only let the soldier stay comfortable, warm, and alert when out on the field, but it also allowed for them to carry out various missions without their skills or abilities being compromised.

The first system developed, though advanced at the time, only included a few items of clothing within the system. In the 1980’s, the soldiers were given; parka and trousers, handwear, headwear, and clothing to keep their feet warm.

While this may not seem like much, it truly changed the game for keeping soldiers alert and comfortable while on mission. Nowadays, this set of clothing described above is called the First Generation of ECWCS and since then, multiple generations have been added to the system, extending the line to be compatible with any mission and environmental conditions that a soldier could be exposed to.

Extended Cold Weather Clothing Systems: Built for 7 Levels

While the First Generation of the clothing system proved to be beneficial to soldiers at the time, it wasn’t long before the research and development team began to build out the system, adding more and more layers to keep the soldiers cared for. In addition, over the years the generations have changed, becoming more comprehensive and relatable to the weather conditions.

Military men wearing the US Extended cold weather system clothing

Photo from tacticalgear.com

Nowadays, the US Army operates of the GEN III (3rd generation) Extreme Cold Weather Clothing System and has 7 layers available. These layers range from light and breathable items to parkas and trousers for the extreme cold. Today, we’re going through the 7 generations in depth. Let’s take a look:

Level 1: Undershirt and Drawers

For level one, the idea is to keep the soldier warm and dry, but also in a breathable and comfortable manner.

Level one of the extended cold weather system gear for the US Army

This level comes with a lightweight undershirt, underwear, and balaclava and is used to build upon depending on where the soldier is going. It also is extremely insulating in cold weather but allows for quick dry and cooling in warmer weather. If the soldier’s main concern is to insulate moisture, stay dry and warm, this is the level he or she will be utilizing.

To note, some specific details of this level include:

  • Only for conditions of dry to wet
  • Made of 100% polyester
  • Lightweight

Level 2: Mid-weight Items

Level two can be used in one of two ways. The first is as a replacement for level one, in which the soldier will need more warmth and comfort due to the freezing temperatures he or she will be exposed to. Or it can be used in addition to level one, to add some insulation to the soldier.

Level two of the extended cold weather system

This level of the system is inclusive of a mid-weight shirt and drawers that is constructed of Polartec Power Dry grid material. This helps to keep the soldier warm in colder temperatures but also wicks away any sweat or moisture, helping to keep the soldier dry and comfortable.

To note, some specific details of the level include:

  • Used as a base layer
  • Midweight undershirt, drawers, and a balaclava
  • Great for dry or wet conditions
  • 93% polyester with 7% spandex as well

Level 3: Fleece Items

In level three we begin to add on the insulators, focusing on keeping the solider warmer, if they are in colder more extreme conditions. This section of the system can be used to add on top of the base layers as the outside layer or can be combined further with additional shells, insulating the wearer.

Level three of the extended cold weather system for the US Army

The fleece jacket is what is primarily used for moderate to cold conditions and creates air pockets that trap air and help to retain body heat. This is perfect for soldiers who need the additional heat but cannot have additional weight added on to carry.

To note, some specific details of the level include:

  • Used as a mid-layer item
  • Only includes a jacket, no other items in the mix
  • Used only for dry or damp conditions as fleece material does not work well in wet situations
  • Uses Polartex Thermal Pro Fleece as the material

Level 4: Stormy Conditions

Let’s not forget that the only conditions available are not dry or wet. Soldiers may also have missions in stormy, windy weather conditions that require proper gear and attire. Level 4 was built to help the soldier endure situations like this.

Level 4 for the US Army extended cold weather system for stormy conditions

The primary purpose of this level is to provide cover from wind, rain, and any other unfortunate weather conditions, rather than focusing on insulating the soldier. Therefore, this level includes only a wind jacket that is lightweight and easy to pack.

To note, some specific details of the level include:

  • It’s also mid layer (can be interchanged with the fleece jacket for weather conditions)
  • Focused on weather rather than temperature
  • Good for windy or wet weather conditions
  • 98% nylon and 2% spandex
  • Only inclusive of the wind jacket
  • Not available for sale to the public

Level 5: Heavy Duty, Cold Weather Protection

As we move further into the levels of the Extended Cold Weather Systems, the items of clothing become more and more focused on keeping the soldier warm. These items moving forward are all the outer shell items of the system.

Level 5 of the extended cold weather system for the US Army

With this level the soldier is provided heavy duty cold weather protection pants and a jacket. This level can be worn one of two ways. The first way is alone with limited other layers when temperatures are above freezing. The second way is when the weather has hit extreme cold, and these outer shells are to be used with most of the base layers.

To note, some specific details of the level include

  • It is not available for public purchase (only for the army)
  • It is an outer layer and is inclusive of the pants and jacket
  • Can only be used in dry or damp conditions
  • Material is inclusive of water-resistant nylon as well as spandex

Level 6: Non-Freezing Outer Shell

Level 6 is also inclusive of the outer layer shell that the soldier would need to wear, however this level is focused on non-freezing temperatures in sedentary missions. So here, the main goal would be to keep the soldier warm in cold temperatures, while they are staying low and are refraining from moving around to generate body heat themselves.

Level 6 of the extended cold weather system US Army - the non-freezing outer shell

This level is inclusive of seam-sealed GORE-TEX fabric that is designed to help with weather protection. To prevent the soldier from overheating, it is advised that the jacket be taken off during any strenuous activity or when moderate movement is required.

To note, some specific details of the level include:

  • Not available for purchase by the public
  • Outer shell, inclusive of a jacket and pants
  • Can be used in only damp to wet conditions
  • Uses GORE-TEX Paclite as the material

Level 7: The Final Level

You can imagine that the final level is used for the harshest, most extreme cold weather conditions that a soldier would be put through. This level is inclusive of a parka and pants that are perfect for Arctic conditions.

Level 7 for the US Army cold weather system

To put it into perspective, these items can be worn in up to -60-degree Fahrenheit and the main goal is not only to keep soldiers warm but to also keep them safe, as these conditions can be extremely dangerous. This layer, being an outer shell, is used with the other levels to offer insulation, warmth, and comfort, as well as again, protection.  

 To note, some specific details of the level include:

  • It is an outer layer that should not be worn during strenuous activity
  • Inclusive of parka and pants
  • Only to be worn in dry conditions
  • Uses PrimaLoft Sport as the material

Military man in the freezing cold ice in his extended cold weather system gear

Overall, being dropped anywhere in which the weather is either extremely cold or extremely windy can be very dangerous and unpleasant. Luckily enough, this Extreme Cold Weather System has been found to be extremely effective in not only keeping soldiers warm but protected as well.

While most of these items are not for sale to the public, the outline of the layers and the gear used in coordination with each other can be mimicked to help keep those who enjoy recreational activities such as hunting or winter fishing, warm and safe during their own adventures. To shop outdoor gear, check out our online store today!

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