Monday, October 04, 2010

US and Canadian Military Surplus Wool Shirts

With colder weather coming soon it's time to start thinking about Fall and Winter clothing.  One old standby for cold weather wear is the USGI M-1951 wool field shirt.

The M-1951 shirts are easily found and cheap, even in near new condition.  Unfortunately, most are size S, M, or L.  The XLs are getting difficult to find.  Last weekend I checked one of the surplus dealers at the Valley Forge gun show and came home with a size Large M-1951 for $15.

The Canadian military issued a nearly identical copy of the M-1951.  I found a Canadian seller on eBay with them in stock and ordered one back on 9/10.  It arrived on 9/21.  After shipping the cost was about $33.

Both shirts appear to be unissued.  The fabric of the Canadian shirt is a little darker than the US shirt, and the Canadian one is made of coarser wool.  The US shirt is noticeably softer to the touch.  Both shirts are made from 85% / 15% wool / nylon.  I'd say construction quality is about equal between the two but the US shirt had more loose threads to snip.

Both shirts feature seams in the back taking in their girth.  If the shirt feels tight around your midsection you can carefully tear out these seams to make it a little larger.

The US shirt is a size L, the Canadian is XL. I am 5'6" and weigh about 180 lbs. (beer gut/built in SHTF food reserve). I wear 34" sleeves and 17.5" neck. The US shirt fits me OK but it would be nice if it was an inch or two longer. The Canadian shirt fits a bit more loosely in the shoulder area, which I find more comfortable. I tried layering them and the Canadian shirt fits comfortably over the US shirt.

I tried each one individually as a layer underneath my Mountain Hardwear Alchemy softshell jacket. For this use the US shirt works better due to the slim cut of the softshell's sleeves.

I wore the Canadian shirt as an outer layer when I went to the range yesterday.  Conditions were partly sunny with temps were in the 50s and it worked well as a light jacket.  Once the temperature got past 60 I had to take it off, since I started to get too warm.

Tonight I wore it on a one mile walk around my subdivision in a light rain with a little bit of wind.  I was especially interested in how weatherproof it is, even though it's not really designed as a wet weather jacket.  I was out for about a half hour and I stayed dry, however.  The contrast between my arms and torso and my legs, which were covered by my jeans, was dramatic.  As expected, the denim of my jeans quickly wet through.  The shirt did not allow any water to pass through until I stuck my arm under a stream coming off the corner of my roof.  The wool shirts won't be replacing my softshell for wet weather (especially if there's wind), but it's nice to know that if I'm wearing it and I get caught in some light rain, my core will remain dry.

One big advantage wool clothing has over modern technical garments is that it's  safer if you're around open flame, including campfires.  If a burning log pops and a spark lands on your wool shirt, no big deal, it'll go right out.  If that same spark lands on fleece, a soft or hardshell, it'll melt a hole in it.

The US and Canadian milsurp wool shirts are old technology but they still work very well.  The USGI shirts can frequently be found for under $20.  Even at $33 shipped, the Canadian shirt is a bargain compared with a similar commercial product.

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