Typical Combat Uniform Fabrics: A Flammability Test

Re-Post from MDT

A few weeks ago, I wrote this post about a smock I have been using. Of course there are always “nay sayers” that poo poo anything written, and are the obvious “Subject Matter Experts”. One SME made this statement on WRSA, “Just like An M65 field jacket, but thinner , lighter and with goofy, impossible to find or replace buttons and made of a “melt for certain” nylon blend and no way to add a liner. What’s not to love?”

Now when I got to my first unit of assignment, I thought I was on the cutting edge, because we had just gotten issued the heavy weight poly pro long johns, and the Gore Tex Jacket and pants (ahhh, so misguided). One of the first things to happen was we received a brief rundown on the benefits and detriments of both types of clothing from one of our Captains (He’d just come to us from Ft Devens, and had used this type of clothing for a bit).

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I loved the Gore Tex when we first were issued them, but I always had to have the “pitzips” unzipped since I usually run “hot”.

The key points were 1) Wear light summer weight cotton ripstop BDU’s under the Gore tex, because the heavyweight BDU’s take longer to dry out. 2) Gore tex and Poly pro are very flammable, so stay away from open flame or really hot equipment. 3) Do not wear Gore tex on a road march unless it’s “Witches Tit” cold AND precipitating. 4) Do not wear Poly pros on a road march (keep in mind, these were the heavyweight versions, the lightweights had not come out for issue yet). 5) The Gore tex and Poly pro are VERY FLAMMABLE! You seeing a theme yet?

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Interceptor Body Armor with lightweight goretex jacket over top. This jacket will roll up and fit in a cargo pocket if needed.

If I use the Mil issue Gore Tex these days, it’s usually not something in the field, unless it’s my lightweight packable jacket.  I use Cabela’s Gore Tex Paclite rain suit in the field. Since I use a smock, I wear the Paclite jacket under the smock. This keeps me and my gear quiet (gore Tex type clothing is famous for being noisy, especially when it’s cold). It also lets me continue to use my smock as the outer garment, and I don’t have to fish around under my rain gear to find something in a pocket. And finally, it keeps my Gore Tex AWAY FROM ANY FLAME I MIGHT ENCOUNTER!

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Cabela’s Gore Tex Paclite rain jacket.

Honestly, even though we all had issued Poly pros, most of us used the old school “wooly pully” sweater. The only problem I had with that was the “I run hot” thing I mentioned earlier, but they are the best thing going, and they are wool, so flame is not an issue.

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The “Wooly Pully” sweater is one of the best cold weather field garments made. I get mine from LL Bean . Mine are one OD Green one that I’ve had for about 29 years (and it’s still going strong), and this one which is brown but they call it “Deep woods green heather”. The LL Bean versions are heavier and more durable than a lot of copies out there, and are worth the money.

So the point of this post was testing a couple fabrics and checking out their flame resistance, or penchant for combustibility. I tested three pieces of fabric. one piece was from a used pair of 100%  cotton ripstop tigerstripe BDU’s. The second was from a used pair of 65/35% Poly/Cotton ripstop woodland BDU’s, and the third was from the smock that is in this article, which is a heavier weight of the 65/35 ripstop. I did not test Gore Tex, fleece, or Poly pro fabric, since I already know they are highly flammable. On a side note, while in Iraq, we were told we could not use our Fleece or poly pro while in the field, due to it’s flammability, and the high incidence of IED encounters at that time. Of course we completely ignored this (and did as we pleased to stay warm), and noted the foolishness of an entity that would only give you one type of clothing for cold weather, but then tell you you can’t use it, due to an issue with that clothing’s safety in certain environments.

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100% Cotton ripstop

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65/35% Poly/Cotton ripstop

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65/35% Poly/Cotton ripstop

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They way I decided to do the test was to first light each piece on fire, and see if it immediately went up in flames. Since none of them had the “Magic Immediate Flammability” talked about in the earlier quote, I then decided to put them out and let them smolder for a minute to see if they reignited on their own. That didn’t happen, so then I just lit them all and decided to see if the burn rate appeared quicker in any particular one. If you’ll note, none of them were a “melt for certain” proposition…..go figure LOL.

So what does this tell us? For me, my take away is that although 65/35 Poly/Co has a downside, and that is having a bit of a shine (best word to describe it, but it doesn’t really shine) in direct sunlight, as compared to the duller finish of 100% cotton. This shows that PolyCo is completely acceptable and safe to wear in the field, even around flame or really hot equipment. BTW, a downside to 100% cotton BDU’s is that it does wear out a lot faster than PolyCo through normal use, especially around the collar. Hope this was helpful.

JCD

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