The softshell jacket is the new face of military outerwear. If the classic M-65 Field Jacket was an icon of the Cold War, then softshells are the post 9/11-era symbol of tactical function. There are so many companies pumping out softshells these days, complicating the decision when it comes time to buy.
Some designs are packed with a dizzying array of pockets, zippers, and other features which add bulk and complexity. Others trade utility for low cost. Enter: Beyond Clothing’s A5 Rig Softshell, part of its Axios outerwear layering system. The Rig strikes a great balance between function and minimalism that makes it one of the more smartly designed jackets available.
The rig’s lightweight construction is immediately apparent when you it on. It feels as lightweight as some rain shells that have no insulation whatsoever. The compact design continues with the nylon hood stashed inside the collar, providing a form fitting cover to keep your head dry when needed. Its lack of fleece lining saves more weight, and makes it easier to wear a plate carrier and other load bearing equipment when stowing the hood inside the collar. In my experience, lined hoods on other softshells have been less functional at insulation than a thermal beanie or watch cap, nor do they fit well under a helmet, so they end up stuffed back in the collar anyway.
The Rig is primarily constructed from Beyond’s softshell material, called X-HAL. Lining the jacket is a grid-fleece that Beyond uses in the mid-layer clothing of the Axios line. The underarm areas of the jacket feature a four-way panel of stretch fabric. Rounding out the construction is ripstop nylon, used primarily in the various pockets. The rig is made in United States, making the Jacket fully compliant with the Berry Amendment, meaning it meets Department of Defense requirements for fabric and textile products intended for military procurement.
Despite the weight-saving nature of its construction, the rig remains as warm and insulating as other jackets on the markets. Wearing the jacket over a t-shirt I was comfortable in the 30-40℉ temperature range. The jacket kept me warm in the lower teens with a fleece mid-layer. Proper layering with moisture wicking will further enhance the jacket’s performance. While no softshell is absolutely waterproof, the rig kept me almost bone-dry during a few hours of active movement in a continuous downpour, as well as a sudden, very unwanted April snowfall.
The rig comes with what I would call a “useful” number of pockets. Some jacket designs overdo it. The rig features five pockets, all accessible from the front, and without need to unzip or take off the jacket. Each arm has a bicep pocket, great for storing documents, maps, or a set of ear- protection. It’s also possible to fit certain types of military-style tourniquets in these pockets. The left side chest features one pocket suited for a smartphone or wallet. Finally, there are two hand pockets, which can each fit a few handgun mags or a single AR15 if you wedge it in there. Or you could use them to keep your hands warm, and potentially summon the ghost of Chesty Puller while you’re at it. All of the pockets feature compact zippers with rubberized pull tabs that I find more durable and snag-free than paracord loops used on many other jacket designs.
The rig fits relatively close to size, with just enough give to provide room for other layers underneath the jacket. If you’re interested in wearing the jacket as a cover garment for concealed carry or over a belt with mag pouches and other gear, consider going up a size or two. The close fit still has a good range of motion in arms, especially with the stretch material underarm gussets. These also help with ventilation, particularly when you’re wearing kit on top of the jacket. One potential issue with this is that all of the torso pockets aren’t really accessible while wearing something like a plate carrier, personally I never found the need nor the comfort in storing items wedged between me and an armor system.
The jacket is available in a variety of colors. There’s the usual black and coyote hues, multicam, and gray. For those wanting a less overtly tactical look, there are red and blue options available. The multicam and coyote versions come with loop velcro on the shoulders for mounting any patches or identifiers you might need. While aesthetics aren’t necessarily the priority with a softshell, admittedly part of their appeal is the slick look on and off the battlefield. The rig stands out with the nylon pockets contrasting against the main color of the softshell material, providing a unique look.
The jacket starts at $289 for a solid color — Multicam is about $95 extra. The rig comes in at the middle of the road in terms of price for comparable U.S.-made softshells. The smart, efficient design still gives you all the features you need while cutting unneeded weight. It’s easy to roll it up, stuff it in your pack, and forget about it until the weather turns nasty.
Whether you need a general purpose mild weather jacket, or you you just want look cool during cold days on the range, the rig from Beyond Clothing is easy to recommend.