I 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.
I 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.**