When Arc’teryx launched their LEAF range more commercially in 2010, it initially felt (and this is no doubt a great dis-service) rather like a few multicam versions of their civilian lines: there was the legendary Atom Lt and then the combat jacket in 2011 which rather closely resembled the Gamma LT – a classic mountain softshell – albeit with the upper arm pockets and velcro areas you’d expect to see on a LEAF-centric design.
I bought my combat jacket in 2011 as my first piece of LEAF gear. Since then it’s been generally thrashed in the Falklands, it’s been on exercise, it’s hung out of helicopters, it’s been in the hills for climbing and back-packing and loads of airsoft games in the UK and US. But, this review isn’t about this now pretty rare jacket – it’s about the second tranche of LEAF gear, their Enhanced Combat Uniform, launched in 2015.
I first became aware of the Recce Shirt AR on Soldier Systems (http://soldiersystems.net/2015/01/08/arcteryx-leaf-launches-2015-products/) which was great timing because I was looking for something tough, other than the Crye options, for a combat shirt for recce and assault use. UBAS/combat shirt tops are fine for warm weather but for more temperate operations, you can’t beat a proper field shirt (except, when it get more chilly, with a smock).
In brief, the shirt is a canvas-y feeling NyCo mix (no drip), button-up shirt with 2 main chest pockets (with extra, hidden pockets behind them), upper arm pockets with standard upper arm velcro areas. The collar lies flat or seals mandarin-style with velcro. There are also removable foam elbow pads, button cuffs, inner mesh pockets and mesh under arm areas which give just the right amount of ventilation. The fit is reasonably slim, a medium is spot on for me (5’10, 33in waist, 40in chest). I should also add that what you can see here is in Ranger Green and is technically a factory second, with a tiny snag on the back which I never could find. Thank you Dead Bird Quality Control!
I bought my shirt in Feb 2016, so it’s had some decent use: things like range days, multi-day milsims with Stirling at their fab Woods site, through to skirmishing with RIFT as well as back-country wanderings in Yellowstone and Yosemite, and the more humid forests of the Eastern US.
Things I like:
- The cut is spot on. Super comfy, no slack or billowing fabric but great movement. This is why I buy Arc’teryx kit.
- Fabric is tough and doesn’t snag but is also nice and quiet – not always a common combination. Nettle proof is a massive bonus for a lot of U.K. airsoft sites…
- Elbow pad position is exactly right. Sleeves also roll up OK with the pads in for #herosleeves
- Feels fine under armour, no pressure points from the buttons for instance. Works even better under a chest rig and totally optimised for belt kit when you can load the pockets up.
- The mesh panels under the arms give decent air movement and allow a bit of stretch. This (and other fancy design choices) mean that the shirt can be a more technical fit but still move with you without needing to be baggy.
- If you’re in belt kit, there’s lots of cargo capacity in the chest pockets (and there are tie points for idiot loops on your compass, torch, etc.
- It’s still satisfyingly rare: having kit other people don’t makes me happy #elitistw8nker
Things I dislike
- The fabric is relatively slow drying. On a very sweaty, humid day under armour, it took ages to dry out. But, it wasn’t stinky like a lot of synthetic shirts can be when soaked with sweat over a couple of days.
- As first, the fabric almost felt brittle: after a few days sweating and working in it (and the washes between uses), it finally started to soften a bit and become more comfy.
- I can’t for the life of me work out when I’d use the mesh inner pockets but they probably help with ventilation or I’d cut them out.
When do I use it?
Long days and weekends where I’m not carrying any extra outer layers and want more than a UBAS, but not as much as a soft shell. A typical day sees me with sleeves down and collar up on a chilly morning, before sleeves up and collar open by mid-morning.
When do I not use it?
When I’m just going to be running around in warm weather (UBAS), or when it’s going to be really chilly and/or wet and where a softshell or smock makes more sense.
The most important question is, if I didn’t have it, would I buy it? Easy one here – totally.
I’ve probably had 40 days in it by now and it’s awesome. I love that the elbow pads are always exactly where I need them, that there’s no zip to snag or break, that I can throw armour over it or a light chest rig (my preferred option for recce) and it’s still comfy and moves well.
Now, I’ve not had much time in the Crye Field Shirt but the Crye fit for tops in general doesn’t work as well with me (arms tend to be long and the cut is tighter in the shoulders). Nevertheless, the Crye is much more voluminous for the same size, the fabric feels pretty similar and you get the pleasure of buying the elbow pads separately. I certainly prefer the dead bird option.
Your mileage may vary but after a lot of time in it, in all sorts of different conditions, I’m hankering after one in multicam for those Good Guy weekends…