How the Military Stays Warm

Posted by McGuire Army Navy on

Everybody talks about the unbearable heat out on deployment. Granted the overwhelming amount of gear and fabric covering your body while you exert more energy that you thought possible to stay alive outside the wire would heat up any body, regardless of outside air temperature. The thing I remember most though was the cold. I was sent just after Christmas to the Helmand province, the first place we got off the plane for any real length of time was in Kyrgyzstan at the since closed Manas Air Force Base. I distinctly remember rows of plane seats covered in ice on the edge of the flight line and being immediately confused that there was such thing as cold in this part of the world. On another night, I felt my fingers stiffening as I spun safety wire on the top of a downed CH-53. I turned on my flashlight to check on the work only to see blood streaming down either hand from the wire I hadn’t felt cutting through my numb, swollen, and frozen hands. As Ghandi said “In the midst of darkness, light persists.” And mine in those cold times was the Extended Cold Weather Clothing System otherwise known as the Extended Climate Warfighter Clothing System (ECWCS). 

Originally developed in the late 80’s by Natick Labs, the ECWCS was to be a wardrobe for all weather. The first generation kit came with 23 individual clothing pieces. The individual pieces were made to be worn one on top of the other as follows:

                Layer 1 – Moisture wicking layer

                                Polypropylene undershirt and drawers

                Layer 2 – Insulating Layer

                                Polyester fiberpile shirt and bib overall, field trouser liner

                Layer 3 – Insulating Layer

                                Field coat liner, field trousers

                Layer 4 – Waterproof, Windproof Layer

                                Camouflage parka and trousers

                Layer 5 – Snow Camouflage Layer

                                Snow camouflage parka and trousers


                                Light duty glove shells, glove inserts, trigger finger mitten shells, trigger finger inserts, arctic mitten set, snow camouflage mitten shells


                                Patrol cap, combat vehicle crewman’s hood


                                Wool cushion sole socks, vapor barrier boots


                                Trouser suspenders


First Generation ECWCS Diagram of Layers

As one could imagine that is a lot to carry, so Natick kept advancing. Currently, the American military is utilizing the third generation ECWCS that shrunk down to a seven level setup. The loss of excess items also brought the carrying weight to about 12lbs total for the entire kit. The items that got the most use on my deployment were the beanie, the gloves, the nylon jacket, and the fleece. Due to the wind resistant build of the nylon jacket most of the biting cold of Afghanistan stayed away from my body which allowed for work in relatively cold and definitely sandy places. Should a rainstorm arise, the Gore-Tex® pants and jacket are easy to quickly don and provide more than ample protection from the elements. Through a series of Velcro and bungee cords you can be water tight immediately. One of the most important aspects of the updated system is the lack of bulk. All range of motion is easy even when covered up with all of the layers.


The seven layers of ECWCS

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