Fortis SAS Waterproof Smock Review
A tough waterproof based on a classic design
I like this coat. I wear it pretty much every week and it has been deep into the mountains, dragged through forests and buried under piles of kit. But it has some serious issues…
Back in the middle of 2016 we visited the Fortis Clothing factory shop and this is the coat I walked away with. I wanted an all-round tough outdoor jacket, and the Fortis SAS Smock fitted my needs. I ended up with one of the last with the older ‘Country Covers’ branding, Fortis being the new name for the family business run by Oliver Massey-Birch, but as far as I can tell this is the same build and design as the current Fortis SAS Smock. It’s worth noting from the outset that I have sewn a patch onto the arm pocket, through the outer pocket layer only.
Nobody buys this kind of waterproof, with this design, for lightweight adventure. It’s heavy, made from dense and layered materials and is built to last, not to float. It has roots in an established British military design, and you can see the heritage in the taped buttons and bellow pockets. It weighs a hefty 1.2kg (XL version) and you do notice it on the shoulders when wearing just the jacket, but once zipped up or with a rucksack it just becomes part of the overall burden of your kit. The outer fabric is a tough ripstop with a DWR coating, and a waterproof dropliner underneath. The outer isn’t listed as being flame-retardant, but so far it has remained untouched by stray sparks from the fire. The fabric is also fairly quiet, although there is still more noise than other jackets well below this price range.
There are 4 external pockets on the front (with taped button closures) and 2 zipped napoleon pockets either side of the storm flap. A smaller notepad pocket is on the left arm, and a zipped inner pocket on the inside of the chest. The wired hood has a velcro-fastened volume reducer and drawstring at the entrance. A full-length zip runs behind a stormflap, which is held closed by more taped buttons and velcro at the top. Velcro tabs close the cuffs, and two more drawstrings allow for adjustment at the stomach and waist. The pockets are also lined with the same waterproof layer, and fold over at the closure
There is plenty of capacity in this jacket, and the main pockets will easily swallow a pair of binoculars or GPS. I went for a size up from what was a ‘snug’ fit to allow for a midlayer underneath, and to allow free movement if scrambling or using tools. The arms are long enough for me (i tend to find other jackets a bit short here) and it’s long enough to keep the lower back covered whilst sitting against a tree or leaning forward. At no point in using it have I wished for more storage, or for a pocket to be in a different place.
So it’s solidly built and has a lot of the main features where you want them to be. All packaged in a waterproof jacket from a solid, British brand and something I find myself wearing regularly…
But I can’t wear it in the mountains. Or the forest. Or anywhere that it’s raining and I might need to move about…
Some major concerns
The big issue is the waterproofing. It’s not that it leaks – it’s completely waterproof, and I have yet to find any water ingress from outside. The problem is breathability, or the lack of it. The waterproofing layer is listed on the Fortis site as being a “breathable waterproof drop liner”, but to be honest I am quite disappointed by how badly it has performed in pretty much every environment I have tested. I’ve owned pretty much every type of waterproofing system out there, from Ventile to the pac-a-mac style waterproof that are essentially tailored bin-liners and I feel I am well-versed in what one can expect. The liner in the Fortis SAS Waterproof Smock never fails to drench me in sweat after even the lightest physical activity. I’ve tried using it several times in the mountains, both with and without a rucksack, and I was soaked within 30 minutes or so. I’ve loaned it to others who have had similar experiences, each commenting on how poorly it performed.
This all isn’t helped by having a permeable outer layer that always eventually gets saturated in prolonged downpours, making it impossible for the liner to pass any moisture vapour out of the smock. The DWR coating on the outer actually performs better than most, but it will only work for so long and the patches of darkened fabric soon spread. It also takes quite a while to dry out, leaving you with an expensive jacket that is soaked both inside an out, and very little insulative value.
It’s rare that a waterproof outer layer with poor breathability is actually cold to wear, but somehow that’s the case with this one. It makes it unsuitable for outdoor activity (walking uphill, carrying a rucksack, moving around generally) as the even small amount of sweat you will inevitably generate will remain within the jacket, either soaking your base layer or the liner itself. This won’t go anywhere and you will lose body heat quickly – and the effect is accelerated if it rains. None of the above is desirable in an outdoor waterproof layer.
Everything else that annoys me is relatively minor. A loop or tag to hang it from would be nice, and the drawstring ends could do with either somewhere to tuck them away or a neater way of finishing them off. They have a habit of catching on branches, or whipping around in the wind and catching me in the eye.
There is an element of paradox here. The Fortis SAS Waterproof Smock is flawed in key areas, but I still like it. It is difficult to choose it for occasions where I want to move around or carry loads, but it’s still perfect for standing around in heavy rain. There are times when my work calls for me to hang around in all weathers, either observing something or waiting for others, and for this it’s perfect. If you put a merino midlayer underneath then it will serve you quite happily for fairly low temperatures – but you still need to choose wisely if you are looking at this waterproof for any outdoor activity where you may perspire, but you need to stay warm.