A Bushcraft Smock for Less – The Swedish Windproof Smock

swedish-army-windproof-smockI think Smocks are a really practical piece of clothing for bushcrafters. If you choose one made out of suitable material, they can give good protection from the wind and even light showers. They can help protect your mid layer clothing from dirt, thorns, brambles, twigs and sparks from the fire etc. and here’s the best bit… you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good one.

 

A Smock as I understand it is a piece of clothing worn as an outer layer which unlike a jacket does not have a full length zip running down the front of it. To put it on it must be pulled over the head. Most Smocks are made of a windproof material and have an integral hood although they are not necessarily waterproof. In general smocks will have several large cargo pockets, ideal for carrying those essential bits and bobs. I always find that the longer I spend out the more pieces of kit end up in my pockets. Pocket knife, paracord, sharpening stone, Spork, compass the list goes on and on.

 

Smocks are popular with bushcrafters for the protection they give from the wind. They are usually made from a material which although not fire retardant will usually give good protection from sparks from the fire unlike many modern manmade materials e.g. Gore-Tex, fleece etc. Ventile (a very tightly woven cotton material) was and is a very popular material. It is windproof, tough and gives good protection from hot sparks. It is often toted as being waterproof. IT IS NOT! It will give some protection from rain but will eventually fail. It becomes heavy and very stiff when soaked and I recommend that you carry a dedicated waterproof jacket or poncho to wear in conjunction with your Smock to give you proper protection from the rain. The biggest downside of Ventile is its own success. As more and more people fell for the sales hype (me included) the price of Ventile clothing went up and up. You can easily find yourself paying around £200 for a Smock made out of Ventile. Now, I don’t know about you but I certainly don’t want to spend that amount of money on an item of clothing that could possibly get torn, burnt or generally abused while I am enjoying the wonders of the great outdoors. Now what if I were to tell you about a Smock that was as good, if not better than any of the numerous expensive Gucci bushcraft Smocks out there, that costs a fraction of the price and can even be customized to your own specifications (by yourself).

 

I’m talking about an item of clothing that is basically military surplus. Don’t worry you’re not going to end up looking like an extra from the latest Rambo film. Well not if you don’t want to anyway. I’m talking about the Swedish Army Windproof Smock.

 

The Swedish Army Windproof Smock is a basic over the head design. It has two large cargo pockets on the lower front. A draw cord around the waist and one at the hood. These Smocks are made of a tough cotton almost canvas off white in colour material and are very cheap. Shop around but you can find them as low as £15 to £20. That gives you a lot of change from £200 which you can spend on a fantastic bushcraft trip (No point having all the gear and never using it). The real beauty of these Smocks is that you can customize them for your own requirements. Pockets can be added, buttons changed and like I did you can dye them any colour you want.

 

windproof-smock-hood-upI dyed mine using a wash in dye I was recommended called dylon. It’s very easy to use and I manage to get some really good results. There’s pretty much any colour you can think of available in their range. So, take your pick. I plumped for a sand colour although I have seen these smocks dyed everything from olive green to fit into our UK woodland to bright red to aid search and rescue teams if the wearer needs assistance. It is worth pointing out that the original buttons which are white will not take the dye so I did have to get the needle and thread out and replace all the buttons with some that matched the colour I dyed the smock. I won’t go into detail on how to use the dye. Just follow the instructions on the pack, it’s as simple as that.

 

Once the smock was the colour I wanted it I treated it with some wash in waterproofing. I used a product from Nikwax although there are other similar products on the market from other manufacturers. It just so happened that I already had some Nikwax. It says on the bottle to use a washing machine but I have always seemed to have got better results by just adding a couple of capfuls of the Nikwax to a bucket of water, soaking the garment for a half hour and then simply hanging it on the line to drip dry. Although this treatment does not make the item fully waterproof it does help it to shed a shower, giving it very similar properties to the expensive Ventile Smocks but at a small percentage of the cost. All in all, I spent £35 on my smock. That includes the smock itself, the dye, the Nikwax and the replacement buttons.

 

I now have a smock that is windproof, shower proof and protects my other clothing. I’m also not going to be upset if I were to rip or burn a hole in it while I’m out enjoying myself bush crafting. An added bonus is that I’ve saved myself enough money to fund another canoe trip to Sweden. Happy Days indeed!

 

**if there are any points you would like to raise or any information you would like to add  regarding this article, please feel free to use the Comments box below.**

21 Responses to “A Bushcraft Smock for Less – The Swedish Windproof Smock”

  • A few comments to your blog.
    The reason for the price of Ventile Smocks is not the popularity of Ventile in fact it is the opposite. Ventile fabric is not made in huge quantities unlike Goretex and possibly the cotton used in your Swedish Smock therefore the price of Ventile fabric is high in comparison. In addition due to its close weave it is made on special machines and uses a top grade of cotton. Ventile garments are also made in small quantities in the UK at much higher wages than in China or India. This also adds to the cost.
    Nevertheless all Ventile Smocks don’t cost £200, take a look at the Ventile Smocks made by our company in Scotland (www.hilltrek.co.uk)our Braemar Single Ventile Smock comes in at a credit crunch busting £110.
    A final point: I was wearing my Braemar Ventile Smock, incidently also washed in Nikwax, on a hillwalk near Loch Rannoch in Perthshire on Sunday when we were caught in a downpour which lasted 30 minutes. I was wearing a Paramo Reversible shirt underneath which was only slightly damp. I was also wearing Rohan windproof walking trousers which are supposed to be showerproof – my legs were drenched through.
    I would like to test your Swedish Smock in the same conditions!

  • Tony:

    Hi Dave,

    Thanks for the points you raise. I have no argument with you at all. One reason is that I have never had the pleasure of trying one of your ventile smocks so, I can’t honestly comment on their performance.

    Please don’t think my article was aimed at the inadequacies of Ventile. Far from it. As I mentioned in the article, it is a tough, durable material. But, for the use I would give a smock (bushcrafting) its still a little overpriced for me even at £110. I would be constantly worried I was going to damage it, instead of getting on with what I was doing.

    Hillwalking is a totally different activity to bushcraft. I’ve used a Gore-Tex jacket while hillwalking for just over ten years and it has lasted very well and kept me pretty dry. However, I wouldn’t consider wearing it while bushcrafting as I know I would wreck it on it’s first outing. You also mentioned that you were caught in a downpour for thirty minutes after which your shirt was only slightly damp. Your smock sounds like it performed well but, that really wouldn’t be good enough for someone who is expecting to sleep out. Maybe in a cold climate. Don’t get me wrong, a Swedish Army Windproof Smock would certainly not give you any better performance (most probably worse). Which is why I recommend a ‘proper’ waterproof jacket or a poncho is always carried for when heavy rain comes.

    The main point is that I wear my smock to protect me from wind and toprotect my other clothes (and carry kit in the pockets). If it gets damaged, it doesn’t matter as much to me as it only cost £35 all in. £15 if you leave them as they are when originaly purchased. That’s still quite a saving from £110

    All the best,

    Tony

  • oliverbeer:

    Hello, just googled Ventile and found this site. I am thinking of dyeing my ventile coat from a light grey to a more vibrant colour ! I am going to use a Dylon dye , is it a good idea to use the Dylon colour stripper first ? Will the dye take ??

    Cheers, OB

  • Tony:

    Hi Oliver,

    To be honest, I don’t know the answer to your question. The only time I’ve used a Dylon product was on this smock. The smock was originally a dirty white colour so it took the dye very well and I was very pleased with the results. The only thing I could suggest is to checkout Dylon’s website http://www.dylon.co.uk and see if there is any usefull information there, or perhaps contact them directly.

  • Rhizomio:

    Hi guys, I agree that the quest for the perfect ‘bushcraft jacket’ smacks of fashion victim. I got a 40GBP black ski jacket from TKMax, if you have to know the brand is Cross, and the fabric is polyamide coated stuff branded hydrotech. I spent three days and two nights in constant torrential rain in the Beacons. And no moisture passed through that jacket.

  • John Fenna:

    Comparing the performance of a Swedish Smock with Ventile is like comparing Aldis own label whisky with Laphroaig!
    Ventile is woven tight enough that when it gets damp the swelling of the fibres closes off the gaps in the weave (this is why it gets a little stiff when wet) and becomes even more resistant to water penetration.
    Ventile was and still is used for making immersion suits for aircrew which should give some indication as to its water resistance – try that with a Swede suit!
    Sure Ventile will get wet – it is meant to! – but inside the shell you will stay dry, especially if you wear 2 layers of Ventile.
    Eventually water may get through at the stitch lines but only after a good long downpour and I admit to carrying a poncho for this kind of event.
    In cold dry snow condutions Ventile out performs any modern synthetic as it is soft, quiet, comfortable, windproof and highly breathable.
    In moderately wet conditions Ventile will certainly out perform any other cotton smock.
    For my money you can keep your synthetic crisp packet waterproofs and teabag cotton smocks – Ventile is my first choice (with a poncho back-up and this may only see service as a shelter tarp.
    Ventile is not about 100% waterproof performance but about moisture management and I truely belive that for most of what I do Ventile is by far the best fabric.
    Worn over a decent mid layer (pure wool, Paramo sweater) that will not soak moisture back towards your body the outer shell will get damp (but dries easy enough) but will keep most of the rain out.
    I rather think that those who say that you get wet in Ventile are using it inapropriately with a poor understanding of how it works in a moisture management layering system.
    For Bushcrafting and Hillwalking it is ideal – IMHO – tough, comfortable, easily repaired, highly weather resistant, slow to take fire and almost imune to spark generated burnholes and totally meltproof.
    I like it!
    John Fenna
    Summer ML, Level 4 canoe coach, international expedition leader, founder member South Wales Bushcrafters and freelance outdoor writer of walks guides, DIY clothing and equipment books, magazine gear review columns and clothing designer (previous employers being Craghoppers and Snowdon Clothing)

    I am not saying that the Swede Smock is bad kit for the price – just that comparing it to Ventile is better compared to something a little more weather resistant and durable…oh- there isn’t anything that is in that catagory….. :)

  • Tony:

    Hi John,

    Welcome to the blog, I hope you enjoy reading some of the articles here.

    Thanks for your comments regarding the Swedish Army Smock article although I believe I should take this opportunity to point out some of your comments that I tend to disagree with.

    Firstly, let me make it quite clear that the aim of the article was not to make a comparison between Ventile and other materials. It was to inform people that there are other cheaper alternatives available to them when purchasing a smock suitable for bushcraft. I should imagine that there are numerous people out there who either cannot afford or do not wish to spend large amounts of money on an item of clothing that they will wear while they are participating in activities which could possibly result in the damage of that piece of clothing. I was hoping that this article may go a little way to helping newcomers to bushcraft by giving them a cheaper option, which may allow them to use the money saved to purchase some other items which they feel they need to take part. Therefore helping to encourage new blood to the hobby.

    As to your comparison of Aldis own label whiskey and Laphroaig, well I believe that comes down to personal taste. I’ve never tried Aldis whiskey but, I’m not a great lover of Laphroaig even though many whiskey connoisseurs ‘tell me’ I should like it as it’s “one of the best”.

    As to your comment about aircrew immersion suits being made of Ventile, yes that’s very true it is Ventile but certainly not the same type of Ventile that would be used in a smock that you or I could purchase. The particular Ventile used in immersion suits is called L28 Ventile and it is a specialised Ventile produced for the defence garment industry.

    I can assure you that your Ventile smock will not withstand a prolonged outing in heavy rain, it will fail as you obviously know which is why you freely admit to carrying a poncho in case of those weather conditions.

    A Swedish Army smock is exactly the same. Even if it has been treated with Nikwax, Grangers or any of the other waterproofing treatments available, it will fail in a heavy, prolonged downpour. Which is why it would also be advisable to carry a poncho while venturing out wearing one of these smocks.

    So, now let us look at your summary. You state that Ventile is tough, comfortable, easily repaired, highly weather resistant, slow to take fire and almost immune to spark generated burn holes and totally melt proof.

    Now to my summary of the Swedish Army Smock… it is tough, comfortable, easily repaired, slow to take fire and almost immune to spark generated burn holes and totally melt proof. It’s also cheap.

    You may notice that I didn’t say that the Swedish Army smock was highly water resistant in my summary of it. This is because I don’t believe it is. However I also don’t believe that a Ventile smock is. The material itself maybe but the item of clothing is not. In fact you also mention this in your comments. You wrote and I quote “Eventually water may get through at the stitch lines but only after a good long downpour and I admit to carrying a poncho for this kind of event”.

    I don’t have any problem with Ventile smocks in the slightest. In fact I wear one myself, a West Winds Arctic Smock. It is a fine piece of clothing and has served me well for several years. It’s had a few repairs and alterations made to it and is still going strong. The question however is – would I buy another one once this has worn out? Probably not as I am now aware of a cheaper option which will perform the job adequately. Whether it will last as long… well only time will tell.

    As I have mentioned already… if nothing else I hope the original article helps a newcomer, an old hand or maybe a youngster who doesn’t have the spare money to spend on an expensive smock or jacket.

  • John Fenna:

    You dont like Laphroiag!?
    Trust me – it is miles better than Aldis!
    I did not mean to take away anything from your smock article – they are fine pieces of kit in their own right – it was just the comparison I have probs with…
    I have been using Ventile for around 30 years, used it as the basis for my Final Collection when I gained my design diploma and would buy replacements of the same even if I had to cut back on other luxuries (like Laphroiag) to do so.:)
    I wont hijack your blogg to sing Ventiles praises but, worn with an apropriate layering system, I find it an unbeatable fabric for all weather moisture management:)

  • Hi, Its been nice while visitng your blog, hopefully I will come back soon.

  • Paul Marklew:

    Hi Tony I thought your blog was very good and does help us newcomers that cannot afford all the top prices. Long may I learn from people like you thanks. Paul M

  • Tony:

    Hi Paul,

    You’ve made my day! I’m so pleased that you found this particular article useful.

    At the end of the day Bushcraft in my opinion, should be about the skills that can be learnt to help us enjoy ourselves in ‘the nature’. It should not be about how much available money we have to spend on kit.

    Bushcraft should be available to everyone as long as they are comitted to learning the necessary skills.

  • shelley:

    I’ve been using these smocks for a while and find them very good – really cozy in bitter wind and cold.

    I had an interesting time up on Kinder recently. Got caught in strong freezing wind and rain. With a buffalo windshirt underneath and a smock on top (and shorts!) I was completely comfortable. Really impressed. The smock went cardboardy like ventile restricting movement a little, but apart from that no problem. The hood in particular is really good – large (to accomodate a soldier’s helmet I believe) makes for excellent protection and comfort – others could learn from that design.

    I really like them – terrific value. There appear to be two types (at least): one made from pale beige cloth , with a waist draw cord and large white buttons – the deluxe version, and one made from cream/greenish material, with no waist cord and cheap fragile buttons. I use a length of nylon tape tied like a tie to provide a faux voyageur sash. It was this ‘standard’ version that performed so unexpectedly well on Kinder.

    Comparison with Ventile is difficult. I used a BAS ventile anorak for a couple of years and it was very hard wearing and utterly dependable for days out in the field. I suspect the snow smock would not last as long and it would have to earn my trust. Never-the-less for less than £20 they’re great – almost as great as a bottle of Laphroiag.

  • David:

    Fantastic review – thank you very much. Can you please post a link to the supplier. I can’t seem to track any of these down.

    Best Wshes
    David

  • Tony:

    Hi David,

    I’ve no idea which part of the world your from but, here in the UK I got my Swedish Army smocks from the fellas at Merlin Surplus and Survival.

    http://www.merlinsas.co.uk Give them a call or drop them an email. I’m sure they’ll sort you out.

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  • Before making broad statements concerning ventile you should try the double layer jackets which are very waterproof. Standing at the top of Snowdon I was the only person still dry in my double layer ventile jacket with the gortex fans socked to the skin. Ventile is also ideal in very cold conditions as unlike gortex it does not freeze. It is a fair a comment that the outer layer of the ventile jackets become become heavy as it works when the tightly woven cotten threads expand to stop an further moisture entering the jacket. If you are photographing wildlife the jackets are far quieter than the gortex equivalents, which is one of the reasons for the jackets being the choice of the SAS in the UK.

    I have purchased two ventile jackets that have lasted over ten years each with heavy wear. I am looking for my third and I am a very happy customer.

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  • Martin:

    Hi Tony,
    Thanks for taking the time to tell those of us looking for a cheaper alternative smock (non ventile) what to look for and where to find it. I think those reading it have taken your productive comments out of context. It is quite clear that you are not against the ventile product in any way. I am keen on getting out more to practice my bushcraft skills and am/have been looking extensively for a cheap alternative smock… Why pay such a hefty price when such alternatives would be quite adequate to do the same job? I’ve looked at a range of bushcraft sites (and others) and much of the time it seems you are also paying for the name of the product. We could open a whole new can of worms here and I’m sure I will find further comments following my post to.
    Again Tony, ‘Thankyou’. I am now looking for a very large swedish army smock. :0). (Oh…. Did I forget to say most ventile ‘smocks’ seem to be sold to smaller build people and hence don’t seem freely available for larger build guys like me? I need between a 52” & 56” Chest! – custom made gets even more expensive than the £200+ mark…. Surplus somehow manages to cater for this!)
    Martin

  • Richard:

    THank you for the informative stuff on weatherproof outers. I am undecided what to get as yet. I have tried a number of outers but have a standard problem with size. I have even tried a size 16 for women which i often find is a better fit. The idea of a smock appeals as the sizing doesn’t have to be so exact in the areas that i often have problems with. However, i don’t want too much waisted fabric as i find it uncomfortable and consumes more space when packing. The thought has even occured that maybe just a waterproof outer with no breathability, but then this would be restrictive. A big problem with ventile is that it is hard to find stockists locally where i could try it on for sizing. I am glad that the point was made re double skin ventile is pretty much waterproof, even compared to modern fabrics. I find modern fabrics are often more expensive than the ventile fabrics. If anybody can help me don’t hesitate. It is a minefield out there.

  • Kevin:

    If Ventile is supposedly so poor, why are RAF flight suits still made from this superb fabric?

    Ventile was developed during WW2 to improve survival odds for ditched pilots and a better alternative has still not been found. If you read up on the fabric you will discover it will fail in rain after several hours. Ventile is manufactured from long staple (long fibre) cotton which is the best of the crop and provides water resistance through the expansion of the fibres on exposure to water. For a natural product it is amazing. It took Edmund Hillary to the top of Everest in 1953 and is still a top product.

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