Saturday, February 21, 2015

French Parka in the Snow

This afternoon I took a walk with my daughter Amanda and had her take this picture of me wearing the French surplus parka that I wrote about last week.


The conditions were about 25 degrees F. with some wind and snow. Underneath the parka I had on a long sleeve T-shirt, a cotton flannel shirt, a Cabela’s Primaloft 100 jacket, and a knit cap. I was quite comfortable. The French surplus jacket kept out the wind and protected most of my face even when I was walking into the wind. This parka definitely gets two thumbs up from me.

Hellcat ALICE Pack

Back in 2011 Rod Teague of the Liberty Tree blog posted his tutorial on how to build what he calls the “Hellcat” ALICE pack. The Hellcat ALICE combines parts from recent MOLLE II rucksacks with the old standby ALICE pack. It’s an excellent blend of modern and older technology and has proven to be popular among bushcrafters and survivalists.

One of my goals for 2015 is to do a bushcrafty camping trip where I hike into a campsite and carry all I need on my back. To do so I need rucksack larger than what I had, so last weekend I picked up a large ALICE in very nice shape, and then ordered parts to build my own Hellcat.

The parts all arrived this week and I put it together today.  Here is it shown with my USGI Military Sleep System inside to provide some shape to it.


The MOLLE II waist belt and shoulder straps came from eBay vendors. I also wanted to replace the antiquated metal sliders on the compression and pocket straps with Fastex buckles. For these, I ordered a repair kit from Amazon.

The buckles arrived first so that was the first mod that I tackled. The original metal sliders need to be removed from the ruck first, without damaging the existing straps. I used a set of Wiss aviation snips to clip them off. You can also use a Dremel with a cutoff wheel. With the old sliders removed you can install the repair buckles. You’ll need five of the 1” wide on a large ALICE; the kit comes with four. For the last one I used a buckle that I had in my junk pile and used the snips to cut a slot like the one found on the repair buckles. It’s the black one on the middle pouch, below.


For additional security I put a cable tie around each short strap where it snaps to the pocket.

The Fastex buckles make opening and closing the pockets a lot easier, and allows you to move the lid out of the way much better than the original sliders. Even if you don’t do the full Hellcat mod the Fastex buckle mod is very worthwhile.

The MOLLE II shoulder strap kit that I got is a bit different from the one shown in the original tutorial. The design probably evolved over time. The frame attachment straps are different so I had to come up with a slightly different way to attach the shoulder strap yoke to the frame. The load lifter straps are just threaded under the top frame bar, through the loops on the frame, then secured in place with the Fastex buckles.


The web straps had a couple areas that were folded over and stitched so that the webbing was three times the thickness of the unfolded webbing. I carefully removed this stitching so I could thread it through the buckles and give me a little more length. To make threading the webbing easier, I cut each end on an angle then fused the ends with a lighter. The short connector straps that come with the shoulder strap assembly were discarded after removing the buckles, which were used as shown above.

The shoulder strap assembly that I got has a different long middle strap from the one described by Teague. Instead of a Fastex buckle it has an ALICE-type metal slider, and I believe the webbing is shorter.  After removing the slider I had to come up with a way to attach it to the middle of the frame. I settled on using a couple cable ties:


I may replace these cable ties with some 550 cord or beefier ties.

The bottom of each shoulder strap is threaded through the round hole on either side of the ALICE frame at its base. This also shows a side view of how the waist belt is attached to the frame.


And here’s a top view of the waist belt attachment. You thread the attachment straps through the same loops on the frame that the ALICE kidney pad uses, and then secure them with the buckles on the pad.


The waistbelt is the most important part of the conversion for making the ALICE carry like a modern pack. Properly adjusted it allows you to transfer most of the weight you’re carrying from your shoulders to your hips.  There’s a little movement in the attachment but we’ll have to see if it’s a problem under load.

The final component of the Hellcat conversion is the MOLLE Sleep System Carrier. This is a bag that straps onto the bottom and which holds your sleeping bag. I haven’t yet obtained one but will be ordering one shortly. At first I thought I might be able to compress my MSS down and just carry it in the main compartment, but doing takes up pretty much the whole thing. So, I’ll get the carrier bag and strap it onto the bottom.

Were I to starting out all over with this project, I’d order a Hellcat conversion kit including the straps, waistbelt, and sleeping bag carrier. One place to get such a kit, an ALICE with conversion kit, or a complete Hellcat is The Old Grouch’s Military Surplus.

The Hellcat and Fastex buckle mods greatly improve the performance of the ALICE pack, making for a low cost alternative for recreational backpacking or your bugout bag.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

French Surplus Gore Tex Parka

The  German surplus flecktarn camoflage Sympatex parka with a that I’ve used for several years as a rough-use waterproof outer layer was in need of replacement.  The last time I wore it I got wet. While I might be able to revive its water repellency, a few weeks ago I ordered a French surplus Gore-Tex parka in the “CCE” camo pattern from CTD to replace it.

Note: The parka isn’t, as far as I know, made with actual Gore-Tex. Rather, it’s a similar moisture vapor permeable membrane.

The parka I received was made in 2005 and is in unissued condition.

The French CCE camo is obviously based on the American Woodland camo pattern, which in turn was based on the earlier M-1948 ERDL camo. Compared with Woodland, it a bit lighter, due to a large amount of a tan in the pattern.

The parka has several nice features:

  • Sealed seams.
  • A large, oversized hood. It looks like it’s meant so you can fit it over a helmet. This means you can fit it over pretty much any warm hat you might wear. The hood can be cinched down using elastic shock cords and an adjustment tab on the back. The hood can roll up into the collar, but it’s lumpy if you do so. I’m just going to leave it unrolled.
  • High collar that comes up about to your nose.
  • Two-way zipper covered by dual storm flaps.
  • Pit zips with two-way zippers.
  • Two large cargo pockets with zips and storm flaps.
  • Two Napoleon breast pockets that are protected by the the same storm flaps that cover the main zipper.
  • Elastic cinch cord at the lower hem.
  • Velcro-adjustable cuffs.

Click here for the gallery with full size pics.

Overall, the quality of workmanship appears very good. Between the high collar and huge hood, you can really button up for foul weather.

The parka is consists of three layers – the outer camo layer, the breathable membrane, and the inner layer with taped seams.

All the zippers are plastic but feel like they are high quality. The snaps are secure but easy to snap and unsnap. The adjustment bungees on the hood, collar, and hem all have cord locks.

On each upper arm there is Velcro patch about 1.75” x 2.5”, and 2” square Velcro patch on the front. Presumably, the shoulder patches are for flags or unit patches while the front Velcro is for rank insignia.

Sizing is a bit weird. For reference, I am 5’4” tall and weigh about 185 lbs. (damn gut), and have broad shoulders for my height. I wear a 33” sleeve. The XL parka fits me very well. There’s plenty of room for layering -- with a Polartec 300 SPEAR fleece it’s comfortable without feeling like I’m wearing a tent, without being binding.  The sleeves are about 34”, which isn’t too long for me. The lower hem reaches down to my mid-thigh. Normally, an American garment in XL would have sleeves a bit too long for me.

My first test of the parka was on one of my nightly walks around my subdivision. The temp was about 30*F with some wind and freezing rain. I was out for 36 minutes. (Thankfully, I made my circuit without falling and breaking my neck.)

With the SPEAR fleece for insulation, the French parka kept me dry and kept the wind out. The pit zips were easily worked once I started to warm up, and I was able to adjust the hood over my ball cap to keep out the rain. After getting back inside I noticed that there was actual ice frozen onto the outside of the parka.

I tried the parka again the following day. It was in the upper 30s but with gusts up to 10 MPH. Worn over a sweater it provided ample wind blocking.

Compared to the German Sympatex parka the French parka is much nicer. The pit zips help with temperature regulation and the hood allows for bulkier headwear underneath. The French parka’s cargo pockets are larger and it also has the two chest pockets. The French coat has a two-way zip while the German parka does not. Both jackets have Euro zippers, which are backwards compared with the zips used on American men’s clothing. A bit annoying, but c’est la vie.

As for the two parkas’ camo patterns, which one is better depends on where you are. Flecktarn is one of the best camo patterns available for wooded terrain. It works very well in the Pennsylvania hard woods. The French CCE camo hasn’t been available in the US for as long as flecktarn, so we’ll need to test it in the field.

I don’t know how the French parka would compare with a USGI Gore-Tex ECWCS parka, since I’ve never owner or used one. If a reader has experience with both, please post your impressions in a comment.

For $40 plus about $12 to $20 shipping, the French CCE parka is a good deal, if the sizing works for you. It’s well designed, well made, and should be rugged. I’m looking forward to using it as a shell for camping, hiking,shooting, and hunting in cooler weather.

DIY Emergency Tarp from IA Woodsman

IA Woodsman posted this video of a DIY emergency tarp shelter made from a mylar space blanket, a couple garbage bags, duct tape, and parachute core.

DIY Emergency Shelter
The advantage a tarp like this has over plain sheet of plastic is that the space blanket will reflect heat back down onto you. If you combine this with a wall made from logs or rocks on the other side of the fire from you, this greatly improves the heating ability of a campfire, and reduces the amount of fuel you need to stay warm.