Four Star Tactical PCU Level 5
A fast growing favourite among airsoft players, the expensive PCU Level 5 now has a Chinese-made replica. The Protective Combat Uniform (PCU) was developed for the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick to respond to the demand of Special Forces troops for warm clothing. Special Forces fighting in the high mountains in Afghanistan needed something that is modular that will be able to help them adjust with extreme drops and rises in temperature, able to shed off parts of their clothing without the cumbersome hassle of carrying too much as they already have ammunition, communications, weaponry, and food to worry about during drawn-out battles against holed-up enemies in the mountains.
In cooperation with ORC Industries and SEKRI, Natick released the PCU and is replacing the LEP (Light Weight Environmental Protection) which is a 5-level, 7-garment ensemble of clothing for the soldiers. The PCU is a 15-piece, 7-level combination designed to protect soldiers in frigid conditions. ORC Industries, a non-profit corporation, produces Levels 4, 5 and 6, while SEKRI produces Levels 1, 2, 3 and 7. Designed in Alpha Green colour, and made of the EPIC fabric by Nextec, the PCU is breathable, stretchable, windproof, and water-repellant protective clothing. In the sidebar of this review, you'll learn more about the PCU Levels as defined by Natick. The PCU Level-5 is the “key” to the entire PCU line as it is the shell for the various garments that are included in the PCU specifications. PCU Level 5 soft shell jacket and trousers can be worn with minimum clothing inside, making it an all-weather, and multi-environment clothing set.
Getting the PCU Level 5 outer shell clothing is expensive. You can find most on eBay, where prices range from US$400 to US$500 according to the seller's price preferences. ORC industries is said to be selling the PCU Level 5 for civilian use, but it seems that it is also tough getting one from them as the entries at their online store were removed for reasons unknown to us. It has been a seller's market, until Four Star Tactical Gear of Hong Kong came up with its own replica produced in Mainland China. Four Star Tactical Gear is a brand of EB Tactical, or more famously known as eBayBanned (EBB) --- a favourite of airsoft players looking for cheap replica tactical gear and airsoft parts. For a price of US$139 for the whole set, it's something that is hard to refuse.
It took exactly seven (7) days for the package to arrive. Wrapped in plastic, and in a large letter envelope, we thought that there was a mistake in the package before we opened it since the package was very light and compact. But we were not disappointed after opening the package, as out came the both the soft shell jacket and trousers. So that answers the question whether the replica is lightweight or not. Whether if this is as light as the real PCU Level 5 made by ORC Industries or not, we cannot tell. We did not have the budget to purchase the real one.
We looked at some photos of the PCU Level 5 through Google images, and these come exactly in the same colour (Alpha Green), as claimed by Four Star Tactical.
PCU Level 5 Soft Shell Jacket
The PCU Level 5 Outer Shell Jacket, when you hold it, gives you the feeling of a light raincoat, which makes it a very useful raincoat while walking down the street under light rain. This makes us want to call it a it a “Tactical Raincoat” to simplify the term “Soft Shell Jacket” that the US Military always comes out with to confuse the civilians. It comes with velcro flaps on both sleeves with velcro bases for you to attach patches to.
You can tighten and loosen the jacket to fit whatever clothing you wear inside with the cords, whether sweat-absorbing undergarments, or those bulky sweaters. You can find as always, loose strands, but upon closer inspection, these are basically threads that are not connected to any of the stitches in the jacket, which is a welcome relief.
Inspecting the sleeves, the pockets come with holes to drain water in case any water comes in. But the real ORC PCU Level 5 doesn't sport this in some pictures we have seen. A simple pre-bent elbow area is also noticed for maximum movement, but otherwise, it does not offer significant protection at all, making elbow pads a necessity if you want to protect your elbows. The velcro straps at the wrist area allows you to adjust the sleeve to the best fit to tuck in your gloves and tactical watch. Not as fancy as Tru-Spec or Crye Precision designs, but since it is an outer shell jacket, (or “Tactical Raincoat” if you want to adopt our own term) it does not sport many pockets as you would expect in many contemporary Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) designs.
The outer chest pockets sport a different zip design. To close the pocket, you have to “zip down” and opening it, you “zip up”. This difference is something that you have to get used to as we all have been too familiar with closing jacket pockets by zipping up. We fumbled at times when we put something inside the pocket since by habit, we zip down to reach inside the pocket to retrieve the items. This is however a convenient feature as we presume that the PCU designers have been conscious of “gravity”, making it a design principle for the pocket as “zip up” pockets tend to open on their own when gravity pulls down the zipper slider when doing rapid movements, especially in combat situations. With this feature, we expect any item inside the pockets safe, secure and dry. It will take sometime getting used to as previously mentioned, but we welcome this feature.
When you open the chest pocket you'll find that it's a mesh that provides the pocket pouch which is typical in rain jackets. It's sturdy enough as we've put a PDA which looks like a brick, a cigarette pack, lighter, and a pen. Walking the for most part of the day with these items inside, no gaping holes were made that will make the mentioned items fall.
The main zipper of the outer shell jacket can be attached at the base from the left hand side, not the usual right hand side. You might think of this as feminine approach, as traditionally, female clothing are closed with the left hand, but our far-fetched theory is keeping the right hand free for other purposes, as most of us are right handed, such as keeping the right hand on the weapon all the time. But we're not sure of this, as zipping up still requires both hands. The right hand to pull the zipper slider up (or left hand if you are left handed) and the left hand to provide the opposing force (right hand for lefties) to ensure a smooth zip-up.
Another feature of the main zipper is that it sports two-way sliders. The bottom slider provides a way of opening up to reach inside the jacket without actually fully opening the jacket. All you need to do is pull the bottom slider up, reach inside (say, reach for an item inside the main BDU you put the shell on), then zip down quickly. This is a convenient option that makes it superior to traditional button BDUs. In harsh cold-weather environments, the ability to close your jacket immediately preserves the warmth built-up inside the jacket, minimising the escape of warmth into the cold environment.
You can slide the zipper all the way up to your own comfortable level. Though we always find this type of zippers cumbersome in quick attachments as you might not slide the teeth of the zipper properly and get stuck when this happens. Always take time to ensure that the teeth are properly aligned for a smooth sealing up of the jacket before going outside to play.
Going to the hood, it is secured and hidden in the neck area with a velcro flap rather than going the zipper route as seen in many rain jackets. This is a another convenient feature as you can easily release and secure the hood without fumbling through the zipper as in our experience, we need to shed out a rain jacket first to zip out the hood when the rain drops fall. This feature won't force you to go through that route. The hood is generous enough to enable you to wear it with a ballcap, bush hat, or even a full face mask inside. You can tighten the fit of the hood by adjusting it with the shock cord which you can find at the back.
Opening fully the soft shell jacket, it almost exactly as advertised by EB Tactical, not totally exact, as there is a difference in the label colour between the real one made by ORC Industries, and the Four Star Tactical Label. The Four Star Tactical labelling is in green colour, while the ORC version is in black.
PCU Level 5 Soft Shell Trouser
To match the soft shell jacket, the trouser is much similar to a regular BDU trouser as compared to the soft shell jacket, which we still would adamantly call a “tactical raincoat”. Also in Alpha Green, the trousers are very much comfortable to wear too even inside the house. What makes this trouser different from other BDU trousers are certain features that makes it fast to put on and get out of.
Starting from the bottom you'll see elasticised velcro ankle straps to secure the trouser firmly to the ankle. With these are cordura panels that are intended to protect your heels and ankles from scrapes and abrasions when wearing boots, especially when you tighten your boots tight and will either irritate or scrape your achilles' heel. Inside are stirrup loops but not like the stirrup loops being used baseball players. On the outer side on lower part of the trouser legs, are 18” zippers which you can open to provide ventilation to the lower parts of your legs and they easily cover the boots. The pleated cargo pockets at the sides are closed with velcro flaps and like the sleeve pockets, sport holes (“grommets”) at the bottom for quick water drain. These are large enough to carry something extra in the trousers, such as rifle magazines. The knees area are pre-bent and comfortable, no straining on the knees even when wearing thick thermal trousers inside.
At the waist area, there are two 10” zippers on the sides that allow you to zip down and get out of the trousers fast or accessing the BDU pockets quickly when you placed items inside. The deep slash pockets upfront do not have enclosures and have have mesh bottoms. There are no hip pockets in the rear so you'll have to depend on our BDU rear pockets.
More on the waist/top area, there seven (7) wide belt loops on the elastic waste area. The velcro tabs are also noticeable to allow you to adjust the trousers around your waist to support the belt, or the lack of a belt. What is noticeable is the rear flap that you might wonder what the purpose of this flap is. One possibility is you can attach suspenders in the back together with the straps in the inside front.
The zippers in the fly area sport the same feature as the main zipper of the soft shell jacket --- it has a two way slide feature. You can open the fly either by zipping down or up in order to make a quick reach inside. And as always it takes getting used to. Whether this is a very convenient feature for the fly area in terms of making a quick draw when nature calls, we don't know yet, but we'll know soon enough when we go on to some events.
Quick Water Repellant Test
We actually wore this under light rain and some wind, and it actually works as advertised. To prove this further, we sprinkled water over the soft shell jacket to achieve the desired results of a “light rain”.
The Four Star Tactical PCU Level 5 Replica seems to look and perform like the real thing. But since we do not have the real deal from ORC Industries, it is really tough to say that it equals it. The EPIC material made by Nextec is patented and requires some licensing to use and we do not know if Four Star Tactical was able to buy the fabric from them, which many say is expensive to acquire. But the fabric they used seems to be doing its magic.
But what we can say is that it is very comfortable to wear and kept us dry and warm under light rain, wind and cold, even just wearing a shirt inside. It is not expected that this will be water proof under extreme weather conditions as the Level 6 Hard Shell Jacket is made for the purpose of being actually waterproof and windproof.
For purposes of airsoft skirmishes where we don't actually play in adverse weather conditions, this replica is very much a good alternative. As some of us are getting tired of wearing camouflage patterns, we're slowly compiling the common plain colours for uniforms. The Alpha Green colour of the replica can take in Olive Drab, Black, and Coyote Brown vests and accessories, making it a versatile colour for the more “fashion” conscious. At US$139, it surely is a deal.
REFERENCE: SSC-Natick Protective Combat Uniform Levels
A durable, silkweight Polartec Power Dry fabric worn next to the skin wicks away moisture and dries fast. It consists of a crew neck T-shirt and boxer shorts, or is available in long-sleeve top with invisible zipper and pants, built for comfort and minimal weight.
A long-sleeve shirt and pants made from Polartec Power Dry fabric are worn next to the skin for extra warmth in extreme conditions, but still wicks away moisture quickly from skin and dries fast. An inserted side panel of Polartec X-Static fabric enhances fit and flexibility.
The top has a front 15-inch zip for extra venting and a soft lining around the collar. Comfort features include an articulated side seam on the pants to minimize chafe on the kneecap.
An insulative mid-layer jacket made from Polartec Thermal Pro fabric is water-repellent yet breathable. It is worn as an outer jacket in mild temperatures or as a heavy insulative layer in extreme cold. Seamless shoulders minimize chafe, which are then lined for extra warmth and padding for heavy pack straps.
The soft windshirt is made from an encapsulated microfiber that repels water but also breathes for a variety of conditions. It's designed to pair with a next-to-skin layer for intense activity in cooler temperatures or with the Level 5 soft shell as a mid-layer. It stuffs into its own pocket for easy packing.
The key to the entire system, this soft shell fabric jacket and pants are made with fibers encapsulated with silicone that are highly stretchable, windproof, water repellant and breathable. They are paired with Level 1 or 2 next-to-skin layers, ready for any cold weather aerobic activity.
A lightweight waterproof and coated nylon hard shell is slightly oversized to fit easily and quickly over gear. The jacket features water-resistant zippers and armpit zips for maximum ventilation, pocket openings to quickly access inside layers and a hood that incorporates a stiff brim. The pants borrow the same design from Level 5 but provide waterproof protection.
For extreme conditions, this lightweight, loft-insulated level in a jacket, vest and pants has the feel of down but retains its warmth when wet. Silicone-encapsulated fabric sheds water and is paired with Primaloft insulation for maximum warmth while the liner pulls away moisture.
For more information about the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center, please visit our website at http://www.natick.army.mil.