Polar Fleece: Past and Present Versions and How They Vary
By: William McKinney , Bradley’s Military
Polar Fleece Jackets & Trousers:
Commonly known as the "Bear Jacket"
The generation I Gore-Tex parka & bear jacket combination was a step in the right direction. It was superior to the field jacket & quilted nylon liner in many respects, but the bear jacket had its shortcomings. This fleece jacket had a very snug fit. It ran 1 size smaller than what was stated on the label, and it was tight around the shoulders. Furthermore, the poly fiber material was less supple or less conforming to the body as the polar fleece generations to come. This tight clinging fit reduced comfort and restricted movement, but it was very warm. This warmth explains why it was also known as the "smoking jacket." It was so warm it could make you smoking hot when active.
Polar Fleece Jackets & Trousers:
Commonly known as the "Spear Jacket"
Polartec® Classic 200 • Polartec® Classic 300 • Light & warm • Highly breathable • Dries quickly • Durable • Machine washable • 2nd Generation Extended Cold Weather Clothing System (2G ECWCS) includes two different layers made with Polartec® fabrics: Polartec® Classic 300 shirt and Polartec® Classic 200 overalls. When used in combination with other layers in the ECWCS system, the system will provide protection between 40°F and -40°F (4°C and -40°C).
The generation II polar fleece jacket; also known as the "Spear Jacket," was another step in the right direction. The first generation jacket was thicker and warmer than the generation II model, but the spear jacket was softer, more comfortable, and was less prone to overheating. The latter generation had a looser fit, and it was less restrictive in nature. The arm pit zippers could be opened to reduce overheating. The polar fleece material used with the generation II jacket and trousers was significantly more supple and it conformed to make a better fit. In my opinion, the generation II model was grossly superior to the first generation.
High-Loft Fleece Jacket
Constructed with Polartec® Thermal Pro® material • Traps air and retains body heat • Increased warmth with significantly less weight than previous generation ECWCS • Lower bulk with increased durability • High collar with full zipper-front and wind protection flap • Two internal chest pockets and two outer side pockets • Nylon reinforced collar and elbows • Polartec® Power Dry® Grid side panels for increased stretch and comfort • Velcro fasteners for rank and name plates • Color: Tan, Foliage Green • Can be used as a jacket or jacket liner. • Full front zipper. • Armpit zippers that increases ventilation and prevents overheating. • Drawstring waistband and hook & loop sleeve adjustments. • Front slash zipper pockets. • 2 inside mesh pockets.
The evolution of the Army issued polar fleece jacket has had a consistent trend. The material used to make each generation has become less thick and has provided less warmth. It should be noted that each generation had a looser fit, it conformed to the body better and it was more comfortable.
I should also point out that each generation reduced the likeliness for overheating due to more breathable material and arm pit zippers. For most cold weather climates, the generation III model would provide enough warmth, and many would consider it to be the better jacket.
Since I live in an extreme cold weather environment where the temperature commonly dips down to -20 F during the winter, I would prefer the generation II spear jacket model over the generation III high loft fleece jacket.
I will confess that the high loft fleece jacket is the most comfortable and most breathable polar fleece jacket ever issued to US Army soldiers, but I would prefer the additional warmth of the generation II model. In the story of Goldie Locks the first bowl of porridge was "too hot" and another bowl was "too cool." Likewise, the generation II spear Jacket was "just right." It had the right combination of warmth, breathability, comfort and wind blocking ability.
I feel the generation III jacket needs to be a little bit thicker, warmer and have more wind blocking ability. This is especially true for use in Afghanistan or at Ft. Drum New York. Final notes, the generation I and II models had polar fleece trousers with built in suspenders. The generation III model doesn't include polar fleece trousers, but the larger ECWCS system does offer new products known as grid fleece & soft shell trousers.
I also want to point out that the Army uses a polar fleece watch cap during physical training. The new polar fleece model is softer, lighter, and more breathable than the older wool watch cap.