PCU Submersion Test

A few years ago, I read somewhere that while wearing the Protective Combat Uniform (PCU), you could jump in a lake and walk yourself dry in an hour. Challenge accepted. Last Sunday in Toronto it was -5°C, average humidity of 60%, and wind between 28 and 44kph . We put PCU to the test by doing a full submersion test in Lake Ontario. Twice. For those of you not familiar with PCU, I wrote a short history of the system a while back. As well at the bottom of this article is a video overview of the clothing system by Mark Twight.

My clothing list:
Upper Body
Level 1 Arc'teryx Motus Crew long sleeve (not PCU, but similar to the level 1 long sleeve)
Level 2 Grid fleece - Sekri
Level 3 Insulating Fleece - Steps Inc.
Level 5 Softshell - Beyond Clothing

Lower Body
Level 5 Softshell Pants - ORC
Marino Wool Boxers - MEC
Combat Socks - Applied Orange
Running Shoes - ASIC

Work Gloves - Mechanix
Goretex Shells - Outdoor Research
Wool Mitts

Running back to the frozen shores of "You do it" Beach.
The only other time I had been in Lake Ontario was during my GoRuck Challenge in April. I remember it being cold, much colder than I've ever been in my whole life cold. So as I stood on the edge of the lake it made me worried that the shore was lined with ice, because in the spring everything had melted already. We had already done a light warm up that consisted of a jog, a few hundred flutter kicks and sit ups. After we were nice and toasty we stripped down to our base layers. I wanted to know that I had some insulating layers just in case it got too cold after getting wet. We walked into the lake until we were about waist deep, and then we both dunked. It was cold, but not as cold as I remembered. As we ran to warm up, I figured it was because the massive lake takes a while to get super cold.

At this point I was comfortable submerging my entire clothing system so we put everything on and walked back into the lake. This time, it felt like someone was running hot irons up and down my legs. This time it was the cold that I remembered. We dunked ourselves, ran back to shore, and then ran about half a kilometre to warm up. It felt like my feet were in blocks of ice, and my legs were noticeably stiffer. No body shakes like in the spring though.

We got back to our start point, rolled in the sand, and then put on our weighted packs to start our ruck march. My feet were starting to feel ever so slightly better. For the most part though, I felt pretty comfortable. We got some weird looks as we ran through High Park leaving wet footprints behind us. I was just concentrating on trying to warm up my fingers. The Mechanix gloves provided little to no warmth when dry. When they were wet, they were actually drawing heat away from my fingers. The velcro straps, that was now wet and packed with sand, uselessly flapped around. I started to feel the crisp wind start to nip at my ears, so I put on my hood and felt better immediately.

At the 30 minute mark my softshell was mostly dry. My upper body was warm and comfortable which was surprising. My lower body was a different story. I realized at this point that I should have worn a pair of level 2 grid fleece pants under my softshell pants because my thighs were pretty chilly. The softshell pants themselves were still wet and were starting to freeze in some places around the cargo pockets and cuffs. My feet were chilly, but not horribly cold. My shoes and socks did a great job of moving the moisture away from my feet. I pulled my Goretex mitts and wool mitts from my ruck and took off the Mechanix gloves. The back of my hand and my fingers were bright red. Even after running, I was never able to warm up my hands, and I didn't want to end up with frost bite. It only took about 5 minutes for my hands to feel comfortable again. I was glad to have packed an extra pair.

After the 30 minute mark.
We rucked on, my legs remained pretty stiff, but was able to jog when we wanted to. At the one hour mark my upper body and hands were in good shape. The softshell was dry except for the back of the jacket which was pressed against my pack. My lower body was ok, and my pants were damp but, pretty much dry. The ice that had formed chipped off and I was pretty much good to go. For the most part the PCU system shed most of the water and even though I looked damp, I felt dry.

After the 60 minute mark.
So can you fully submerge yourself and walk yourself dry in an hour with the PCU system? I'd say for this test, the answer was yes. The only thing I would have changed was wearing a pair of grid fleece pants. Comparing my system to my buddy's Under Armor system after an hour, I was dry and he was wet. His "Beast Mode" switch is permanently turned on, so luckily it didn't really effect him. However he is signed up for a challenge in a few months and after seeing the end result of our test, he said that PCU is going to be a must.

I realize that with any good experiment, conducting it once is not enough, so I foresee this test happening again. So come back soon and leave me a comment if you have any questions or suggestions. I'd love to hear about your experiences with your clothing systems and cold weather. And GRT visitors, please say hello with your class number!


  1. Pretty hardcore dude! Good article.

  2. Geardo's buddy here. I participated in this submersion test as well, and have come to the conclusion that I need to invest in some more technical gear, if only for comfort's sake.

    Here's the run-down on the gear I was wearing:

    Upper Body
    Base Layer: Dri-Fit shirt - Nike
    Warming Layer: Cold Gear Full Zip hoodie - Under Armour
    Outer Layer: APCU Level 5 softshell jacket - Propper

    Lower Body
    Regular boxers
    Cotton socks (thicker ones for comfort... lol)
    Taclite Pro Pants - 5.11
    Running shoes - Merrell MOAB Gore-Tex

    Work Gloves - Mechanix
    Fleece Beanie - Condor

    Essentially, nothing really worked all that well. Fortunately for me, once I get to moving, I tend to become a leading cause of global warming. As such, I didn't get especially cold. I think the item that worked the best was the beanie. My pants ended up freezing wherever they weren't touching me, and my legs were definitely what I felt was most cold and were damp the whole time. Gloves, while wet, ended up being entirely ok.

    The Propper jacket would have fared fine, but the it was the Under Armour beneath it that really wasn't able to dry off and remained wet the entire time. And of course, the bits that were not directly on me froze solid, logged with water.

    This endeavor has encouraged me to start collecting some better layering gear, focusing primarily on getting a Level 5 pant system, some leggings to go underneath. I'm interested in getting a Level 3 or 2 upper, as well.

    Overall, it was an excellent learning experience, the Geardo has really been putting me through my paces.