Tactical Skills for an Adventurous Life

The Smock: Low-Profile Load Carriage Option

Today, we return to our discussion of load carriage. Though I’m approaching it from a different angle than what you’ve seen before. I wanted to hold off on this post until I had a chance to discuss some of the nuances of profile and deterrence.

If you haven’t read that post, go ahead and check it out here.

I made the case that the image we display to others is an important element in how we are perceived. That applies both at the individual level as well as the collective. A nation seen as weak should expect challenges from other nations unless they have sufficient alliances. In a way, that’s how so many NATO countries have gotten away with cutting their military capabilities back as far as they have. By aligning themselves politically and militarily with the United States, challenging a partner country is still a risk.

The same principle works in reverse, though. If a nation presents itself as too belligerent, as if it is actively looking for a fight, then it should expect that as well. So there is a sliding scale of when it’s appropriate to display different behaviors.

This all applies at the individual level as well. Presenting the image of strength without active threat is the best way to avoid challenges to your safety and wellbeing. But if the environment calls for a greater show of strength, then scale appropriately.

The trouble starts when people jump to those higher levels without provocation.

Taking the Low Profile Path

In that article on deterrence, I covered what that sliding scale might look like for the prepared civilian. Strapping on plate carriers and carrying long guns in the low ready is the top of that scale, and should be avoided unless the situation is truly dire. The lowest level, your Defcon 5 if you will, is your daily concealed carry.

In this article, I’m discussing a gray area that exists after the concealed carry stage but before the “war is imminent” stage.

Defining the Gray Area

So what is this murky area I’m talking about? Let’s go back to Scenario X, our fictional natural disaster situation. Our neighborhood has been without power for over a month. Government services are focused in densely populated areas, and our suburban enclave is a bit out in the cold. Conflict over resources is growing steadily dire. Food is scarce, but a few people have some stockpiles of canned goods. Worse is the need for gasoline, which powers your generators and vehicles.

Criminal elements have begun sacking these resources, and more, from nearby communities.

You and your merry band of neighbors are stepping up to provide security. Your primary mode of deterrence is neighborhood observation points and periodic “patrol walks” around the perimeter. In order to provide some deterrent effect, you’ve taken to open carrying your pistol. But you also want to carry a long gun without provoking a fight.

You need an option for carrying a long gun without appearing overly “tactical.”

Origin of the Smock

The origin of the modern combat smock comes from the British Airborne in WWII, who wore the Denison Smock. That design itself is a derivation of the German Luftwaffe Knockhensack, or “bone sack.” It was originally issued to the British Special Operations units and Paras. However, the smock became popular among high ranking officers as well. It was famously worn by Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery.

Field Marshall Montgomery and his Denison Smock

As the years progressed, the smock became a general issue item in a variety of camouflage patterns.

As the years progressed, the smock became a general issue item in a variety of camouflage patterns.

The closest US equivalent was the M-1943 field jacket and its subsequent replacements, the M-1951 and ubiquitous M-1965. However, these jackets were designed more as insulated outerwear garments and have a closer cut to match the lines of a typical military uniform. They were built with a different philosophy than the smock.

I’m not knocking the utility of the M65 jacket, as many a GI will attest to their usefulness, but the smock is designed so that you could practically live out of it if you needed to.

People in the tactical world often talk about first line/second line/third line as a way of denoting what gear gets carried where. First line means it’s in your pockets or on your belt. The smock greatly increases the amount of stuff you can carry on the first line, meaning your additional rucksack load is lighter.

How the Smock Fits Scenario X

For this example, I’m wearing my previously-mentioned Vertx Smock.

It has a total of 10 pockets:

  • Large zippered chest pockets X 2
  • Zippered Bicep pockets X 2
  • Buttoned front hip pockets X2, lined with waffle-knit material for warmth
  • Velcro mid-hip magazine pockets x 2
  • Velcro butt pockets X 2

Inside the chest pockets and butt pockets are sewn in sleeves sized for a 30-round magazine. The mid-hip pockets perfectly hold the same. In other words, this jacket has purpose-built spaces to discretely carry up to six 30-round magazines. At a +1 to the rifle and I’m carrying the same amount of ammunition as my battle belt and chest rig combined, but without looking nearly as tactical.

Of course, reloads are slower from these pockets than from the dedicated options, but it’s better than not having the ammo.

The butt pouches on my Vertx model also perfectly hold standard USGI canteens, if I didn’t want to bother with a pack.

Given the size and capacity of the pockets, I could easily carry a whole day’s worth of supplies and ammunition just in the jacket itself. If I add a small assault pack, then the possibilities are impressive.

Since the smock is fairly oversized, you can easily wear close-fitting gear under it as well. A flat four-magazine chest rig or light battle belt would be perfect. That option still keeps your gear concealed and “low threat,” save for your weapon.

Using this kind of system, your team members sitting in observation posts or patrolling around the neighborhood are well-equipped to respond with violence, if needed, but otherwise don’t appear as if they’re looking for a fight.

In my opinion, this is the perfect solution for the gray zone.

Where to Buy a Smock

Like I mentioned earlier, Vertx discontinued their smock despite how great I think it is. But there are many more options on the market ranging from fairly inexpensive surplus items all the way up to special run items from custom gear shops. The mid-market, between $110-$200 is the sweet spot for something new, functional, and proven.

Here are some good alternatives:

If you’re trying to go a bit cheaper, then check out the surplus market.

Sergeant H.A. Marshall of the Calgary Highlander Sniping Platoon

The well-known photograph shown here was taken by Army photographer Ken Bell of the Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit near Fort Brasschaat (nl) in Belgium in September 1944. Marshall is carrying a Lee–Enfield No. 4 Mk 1 and wears a modified Denison Smock.

Wrapping Up

In this post, I’ve covered one more tool in the chest for carrying your gear. The smock, and similar types of garments, help carry a lot of stuff without the overt appearance of tactical gear.

Does a smock like mine totally avoid the military look? No, especially not with the patches on the sleeve. But it also doesn’t look like I’m geared up for war, either.

Like with other options, you have the benefit of scaling as needed, such as throwing load bearing gear on top of the jacket and using the pockets for other essentials.

At the end of the day, I hope you take this article not as a “how to” or a “you should buy this.” That’s not the point.

I want you to consider the lower profile option for that gray zone.

Maybe I’m just crazy. Either way, tell me what you think in the comments.

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Tony
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Tony

I must say I haven’t actually tried an actual smock for carrying equipment – but I am a geardo, so I do have some experience with stuffing things in my pockets in general. 🙂 Personally, I would think some discrete form of load bearing gear like a small backpack would be a better way to carry a bunch of things, especially heavier and clunkier gear like magazines, than stuffing it into your pockets. A jacket lacks the structure to really support a heavier load. One or two magazines in a pocket or on the belt for a speed reload would probably be a good idea, but if you want to carry a full battle load perhaps fully enclosed pouches on a backpack hip belt or just keeping the extra magazines easily accessible in the pack would be a more functional solution? (Disguising your battle rattle by throwing on a larger jacket might of course be one possible solution.)

Lightweight items like gloves or a wool cap would work much better stuffed into pockets. So, keep your survival items in your pockets and fighting items in places that support their weight better?

MICHAEL B
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MICHAEL B
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Top marks to Arktis US, a British company. I have the B310 waterproof layer smock in OD. It is perfect for every season except summer, and has pockets that can handle radios, magazines, pouches etc. A waist drawstring cinches to hold everything above the beltline…I would suggest to anyone contemplating a smock, to start with the standard B110, since you may not like the extra weight/feel of the waterproof ling, which is inside the smock. This means the smock gets soaked and the liner prvents you from getting wet.

DarkLordOfOptics
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I bought that same Vertx smock after I read your original aricle and it has lived in my car ever since and has gone to every shooting school class I have taken that was not in the summer. When weather allows, I also use it for travel, so it has been on every continent aside from Antarctica and South America. It works great and is holding up alright, but when I went to get one for my brother, it turned out Vertx pulled the plug. Of the available options, which is the least military looking in your opinion? I am trying to find something that is not camo and with pockets that look less obnoxious than the huge flap pockets. The first recommendation you had, Arktis, naturally does not have a non-camo and not-black B110 jacket in the right size. Figures. I’ll keep looking, but I a open to suggestions.

MICHAEL B
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MICHAEL B

Arktis has a coyote and a olive drab option on their smocks, but their only store in the US, EBAY, tends to only have a couple options at a time listed.

I put in a search for “Arktis M90” and saved it, so I get an email whenever Arktis lists anything for M90. You could do that with coyote or OD.?

DarkLordOfOptics
Member

Thanks Michael. Either Coyote or OD would work fine. How is M90 different from B110? I am still trying to wrap my head around different models.

MICHAEL B
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MICHAEL B

M90 is the Swedish Camo Pattern I wanted. That’s all.
The B110 is the lightweight basic model, the B210 is windproof with a nylon interior, and the 310 is the linered waterproof model. FYI if you like black, the B310P is the Police Smock

There are some B211,B221 and B321 models that are “sniper” or “mountain” models, but all they have extra appear to be a face veil built into the hood.

MICHAEL B
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MICHAEL B

Good catch on the rear pocket. Methinks that would have more, billowing, material to have in the back. What would you put in that pocket? I’d be afraid that the weight of anything significant would pull the front of the smock up towards the throat area if you had it zipped up all the way.

ONE CAVEAT to the Arktis models- The zippers are Euro style, meaning the reverse of what we are used to in the US. The zipper is on the left of the garment and it is not intuitive to my Amero-muscle-memory!

Dunross
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Dunross
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This was a good post. Thanks for the links!

I have never considered a “smock” before, though I have heard of their military use. It wasn’t until I looked at your Vertx photo that I realized it was serving a similar purpose as to what I was using an unlined blue denim “chore coat” for, albeit without quite so many pockets.

Worn a size too large it was loose enough I could wear the largest handgun on a belt holster without unduly printing. Being a chore coat it came down past my hips rather than just to my waist as regular denim jackets do so little chance of a holster peeking out. And being unlined denim it was about as light and cool as one could honestly expect to get. Still too hot for summer in Florida, but the rest of the year it was ok. And being blue denim did not look para/military which I avoid when ever possible. The less attention one draws the better.

Looks like I will have to check out those links.

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