Beyond Clothing - PCU Level 5 Glacier Shock Softshell Jacket and Pants

After a lot of digging around, I finally managed to pick up all the pieces of the Protective Combat Uniform (PCU) system. Since its inception in 2002, there have been many progressions in outerwear technology that have inevitably made PCU inferior in some ways, but in my opinion as a total system, it is still at the top of the heap. Speaking specifically about the level 5, the most versatile level in the system, the use of Epic fabric made by Nextec does a great job of blocking the wind, but at the same time, it doesn’t trap moisture produced by your body within your clothing system. When you consider those benefits and then look at how thin and tough the material is, Epic is hard to beat. Because the jacket allows for moisture to escape, I’m able to stay more comfortable during high-intensity activities in the cold rather than if I were to use a Goretex which acts as a vapour barrier. After three years and two Glacier Shocks later, I think it’s a good time to write the full review of Beyond Clothing’s level 5 system.


Initially, I found that I was using the Glacier Shock primarily for my daily commute of 30km (round trip) to work on my bike in the colder and snowier months. I layered appropriately with other pieces from the PCU system so that I was happy if it was -20°C with snow, or if it was -5°C with slush. If it started to rain, the Glacier Shock would keep my dry long enough for me to reach into my bag to get my rain gear. Just know up front that the soft-shell is not a raincoat, that’s what the level 6 hardshell is for. The level 5 is designed for a proper cold winter, and it doesn’t rain when it’s proper cold. During snowy conditions, this jacket really shines. The DWR and tight-knit does a great job of shedding snow, and if you find yourself kneeling in it for a while, a quick brush with your hand will usually get most of it off. I’ve brought the level 5 jacket and pants camping as well as entire days on the slopes snowboarding. In all those instances, the level 5 system stood up to the challenge and kept me warm and dry.

Speaking of challenges, two years ago, I put Mark Twight’s claim that the PCU system could be dunked in a lake and walked dry within an hour. A friend and I submerged ourselves in Lake Ontario on a cold day in December and walked home. And of course, we sprinkled in some PT along the way. I wore the level 5 as my outer layer with levels 2 and 3 underneath. We found that even though the temperatures below freezing, I was indeed able to walk myself dry within an hour. Pretty impressive if you ask me!




In addition to that first test, I also used my level 5 jacket during my first GORUCK Challenge. If you’re not familiar with the GORUCK Challenge, it is a team focused endurance event where you carry a backpack full of bricks, you get into pretty much every body of water you walk past, you get barked at by members of the US Special Operations community, and you perform what seems like endless amounts of PT, with a goal of walking at least 15-20 miles and a time of 10-12 hours. If you keep in mind that since their motto is “Under promise, over deliver”, you can expect that you’ll be doing more. In some ways, I knew what I was getting into, and in many ways, I didn’t. It is primarily a challenge that you beat with your mind, and they say that the gear isn’t important. Between you and me though, not having to worry about your gear failing, knowing that the clothing you are wearing is dumping moisture when you don’t need it and that it’s keeping you warm instead of leaching heat definitely helps. During those challenges, I spent time low crawling across the pavement, dragging myself up rocky beaches and did an insane amount of sit ups and burpees all over the city. How did the Glacier Shock look after all of that? Surprisingly, pretty decent! After a wash, it looked as though it was good as new.

Unfortunately during my second GORUCK Challenge, while we were moving an 80-foot tree, I’m not even joking, my sleeve got caught on a branch and it ripped the fabric. I can’t say that I can fault the jacket for that one. While it was regrettable that I ruined the jacket, part of being a geardo means that I enjoy looking around for more gear. The only real source for "commercial off the shelf" PCU is through Beyond. Wild Things makes soft shells as well, but they only offer them in Multicam and Coyote, which is a little too hardcore for me. So I ordered another Glacier Shock but this time around there were a few changes to the ordering process.


These generous pit zips will help you dump heat and perspiration quickly without taking your jacket off. 
In the past, you could choose from a zip off, roll up, or regular hood. As well you could give them your measurements so that you could have a custom fit jacket. Now you just get what you get. My preference was to have a regular hood, but now the jacket comes with a roll-up hood that you can zip into the collar. My first jacket’s hood was made with Epic, but now it is a thinner material that feels more like the level 4 windproof material. As well, some of the early run PCU garments, (which are the ones that my team has), had zippers made by a company called Ideal. This was a huge mistake in my opinion for two reasons. First, the bottom stop is terrible. Jeremy, my training buddy, had to send his jacket in for repair because many of his bottom stops literally fell off the jacket. I’ve actually cut my hand on the back of the zipper stop as it seems to just be a bent piece of metal, and a sharp one at that. It’s one thing to cut my hand, but if that had been my Goretex mitts, I would have been pissed. Second, we have both found that sometimes the slider on the slash pocket and bicep pocket zippers won’t engage the teeth. When you think you’ve closed the zipper, all you’ve done is moved the slider, leaving the pocket open. Luckily the main zipper is of better construction and none of us have run into problems in that regard. More good news is that Beyond has since phased out the Ideal zippers in favour of the burlier YKK zippers, and they offer lifetime replacements for the life of the garment so if you have the ADS branded Ideal zippers, you can send your garment in for a zipper swap.

With my first Glacier Shock jacket, I noticed pilling after a few days in high friction areas like under the arms and the back where it rubs my pack. After a few months the little balls of fabric fell off, and I didn’t really notice it anymore. Most importantly, it didn’t seem to affect the performance of the jacket. With my new Glacier Shock, I haven’t noticed any pilling yet. What probably happened is that the mill noticed the issued and made an inline change. I’ll get back to you guys as soon as I hear back from Nextec. Regardless, I am happier with the fabric this time around.


While I miss the option to have a hood made with the same material as the rest of the jacket, the current version tucks nicely into the collar. 
One thing that seems to have carried over from my first to my second jacket is the YKK velcro that is used on the shoulders and the wrist closures. After a while, the velcro on the bicep pockets of my first jacket started to look like a real mess as it seemed like when I was taking off patches, it would pull a lot of the velcro with it. This results in a pile of velcro that looks messy, and after a while it isn’t as effective as it could be. After two years of use, the velcro closures on my wrists didn’t work anymore. Fortunately, a recent change is that Beyond has switched from YKK to Velcro USA, and I’ve been told that performance tests have been positive.

My last issue is with loose threads. Every once and a while I notice a stray thread and I’ll pull on it to get rid of it. Where I notice it the most is on the inside of pockets. It’s a bit unnerving to do as I’m always worried that I’m going to unravel something structural. As well, entire threads started coming off the velcro patches on my shoulders. I actually ripped the loop velcro off of one of the pockets once because the seam that attached the velcro to the pocket was so close to the edge. When I took a closer look, the velcro had lost so many threads near the edge, there wasn’t really anything left for the seam to hold on to. I ended up just taking the Glacier Shock to a tailor to have them run a double seam further away from the edge, and it was fine after that.



Zips at both the cuffs and the waist make it easy to reach into pockets on inner layers or to take the pants on and off without taking your boots off. 
One thing to note about this review is that even though I have a lot of gripes, this it still my first choice for outerwear when it comes to being active in cold weather environments. The coldest camping trip I ever participated in was during the “Polar Vortex”, where we hiked through -32°C (Before windchill) weather to get to the spot we had chosen. With the level 5 jacket as an outer layer and other selections from the PCU system underneath, I found myself comfortably warm while I was moving. I like the way the Glacier Shock performs, I like the way it looks, and I like that I can beat the crap out of it and it will keep going. Please keep in mind that most of my complaints are more to do with the cosmetics rather than the primary function of the Glacier Shock. I haven’t found a jacket that performs as well as this one, but at the same time, I think it has some room for improvement. It should say something to you guys that when it was time to replace my first Glacier Shock, I went straight back to Beyond to get another one.

Words by: Mike C.
Photos by: Jessica D.



10 comments:

  1. Heads-up: Wild Things Tactical will be coming out with a new L5 set sometime soon

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    1. I'll keep my eyes open! Welcome back dude. It's good to hear from you again.

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  2. Have you tested the ECWCS Gen III level 5 softshell? I have one and really like the breathablity and performance (and price, paid $60 NWT) but it's multicam so I'd like something a bit more low key. Looking at a gen II PCU lvl 5 from Patagonia just wondering how the PCU and ECWCS compare in lvl 5.

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    1. Yes I have, but the older one made by Blackhawk!, not the one in MC. A few of my buddies have the MC jacket, and they have been pretty happy with it. For all intents and purposes, ECWCS and PCU are the same thing.

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  3. Are these true to size or do they run small?

    Thanks!

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    1. They run pretty true. The only thing I've noticed is that I usually wear a med/reg, but their medium runs a little tight around the neck.

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  4. What size PCU L5 glacier shock softshell jacket do you wearing in the pix? I just bought mine in ebay a beyond clothing cold fusion L5 version size medium and i had read some negative issue about the sizing etc. I'm 5'10 medium built. thanks.

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    1. I am wearing a medium, and I am also the same height as you.

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