Country Innovation Woodlark Smock Review
Over-the-head waterproof smock with a tough outer fabric
After reviewing their Raptor waistcoat I was contacted by UK brand Country Innovation to take an early look at their brand new waterproof smock design – the Woodlark. It’s listed on the Country Innovation website as being “made from a tough cotton outer fabric, which, when combined with the waterproof/breathable lining, offers great protection from wind and rain“.
With the wet and windy months of December and January coming up I accepted the offer and did my very best to try and kill, or at least maim, this waterproof outer layer. I was mildly surprised with how good the Raptor waistcoat was, so would I be as impressed with a sub-£300 waterproof from a smaller British brand?
The Country Innovation Woodlark Smock however deals with the sweatiness VERY well – to the point that I haven’t really noticed any extra moistness after a tough ascent.
I’m not going to bury the lede for this review – the Woodlark is fantastic. It’s not perfect, and there are a few things that I would change if I could – but at the moment it outperforms almost every waterproof layer I own. But I need to explain what makes it so agreeable…
The brand history of Country Innovation is associated with birdwatching and photography, especially for ornithological and ecological professionals who want a sturdy and unobtrusive waterproof layer to keep them dry when pointing at optics at ouzels in the damp British climate. The Woodlark smock is very much in keeping with this style, and comes in a very inconspicuous brown/green/grey tone which I am struggling to adequately describe – I would say that it is closer to green and grey than the photos on the Country Innovation website suggest.
The outer fabric is a cotton with built-in durable water repellance (DWR) called Braxton Aqua and the inner membrane being Innovation XL. These are both quiet and flexible fabrics without too much bulk, and there is no obvious noise from the smock in use, even when walking quickly.
There are three external zips for the smock that allow for venting and fit – a central one from chin to sternum (with a gusset of outer fabric underneath) and two side zips that split the smock from waist to armpit on either side. These are tough and come with glove-friendly pull tabs. The cut of the Woodlark smock is generous – I went for a XXL variant, but I suspect that I could have fitted into an XL (just!). The sizing guide from Country Innovation seems sensible though, and although there is some room to spare in my review sample I think I made the right choice as it allows me to add layers underneath.
There is a scalloped lower back (not quite long enough to sit on, but long enough to keep your rear dry!) and elastic adjustment around the rear edge.
Two zipped pockets – a waterproof one on the upper chest with a weatherproof zip running across, and another below that with handwarmer pockets and vertical zips at either end. All zips here have tabs for easy use when wearing gloves or mitts.
The arms are generous, with extra fabric in the armpits to allow for articulation and semi-elasticated cuffs can be fastened with velcro tabs.
A detachable hood (more on that later) is fastened to the collar by matt-black press studs. The hood has a wired peak, volume adjuster and elasticated drawstrings around the edges – plus a series of studs that fasten the front of the hood together over the lower face.
In torrential downpours and when standing or sitting in wet and windy weather I couldn’t ask for more from the Country Innovation Woodlark.
When I needed a waterproof outer layer for any outdoor adventure over the last two months I grabbed the Woodlark. It’s been to the summit of a few Welsh mountains, has been dragged through several forests and even dragged belly-first through some damp fields in Shropshire (don’t ask). Short of shooting at it or actively trying to set it alight I’m not sure what else I would want to do to test it any further.
So far it looks as it did when it arrived, although it now has a fine patina of dirt and grime picked up from forests, fields and fells around my corner of the UK.
I really like the pockets – the chest pouch is big enough to swallow a couple of OS maps or larger binoculars, and probably a small tablet computer/iPad. The lower, side-entry pocket is positioned at just the right height for idle placement of hands when walking, and could also swallow gloves and other essential kit with ease.
The fit is a little baggy, but leaves ample room for insulating layers underneath – a 400gsm merino midlayer has been just about perfect as a partner for the Woodlark. I have used waterproof smocks for all of my time teaching in the outdoors and I’m happy to live with the slightly increased levels of faff that go along with over-the-head smock designs – the Woodlark feels a bit like a slightly heavier version of the Paramo Velez Adventure smock.
The neck opening with the gusset of material took a little getting used to. I was worried that it would be restrictive and prevent venting when I built up some heat, but Country Innovation seem to know what they are doing and I have come to appreciate the fact the front of the smock holds its shape even when unzipped.
The side zips are generous, and the immediate venting they provide is superior to any other hard-shell waterproof that I currently own. When wearing a rucksack with the Woodlark I found that I was often wearing the waistbelt of the rucksack UNDER the front half of the smock (see photo) and that combination seemed about right for most Welsh mountain conditions.
The extra material in the armpit does help with flexibility, both when scrambling/climbing and when holding binoculars or a camera up to the eye – a nice touch.
This is my first time with the Braxton Aqua outer fabric. It’s bloody tough – no sign of abrasion after several incidents scraping over rocks and tree branches. The DWR is also quite durable – I would say I have worn this smock at least 20 times in the rain and it beads up as well now as it did when new. Like all DWR-treated fabrics of this type it will ‘wet-out’ eventually, especially in areas under constant compression/wet contact such as shoulder areas of elbows. This isn’t going to cause much of an issue on its own as the drop liner will keep you dry, but you now have a wet outer layer that could freeze up in very cold conditions. Not a huge problem in likely British conditions, but worth bearing in mind if you are heading to colder climates.
The combination of the cotton (with DWR) outer and the Innovation XL liner is still very breathable. I run hot (-20°C is my ‘happy temperature’ for walking uphill without building up sweat) and I am used to living with a slightly damp base layer whenever I am wearing a waterproof outer. The Country Innovation Woodlark Smock however deals with the sweatiness VERY well – to the point that I haven’t really noticed any extra moistness after a tough ascent. I’m sure the side-venting helps here, but as someone who has struggled to find a ‘breathable outer layer’ that is actually breathable enough for me I am very impressed with the Woodlark.
It’s also spark-resistant. Now, Country Innovaiton make no claims or mention of this on their website (probably for good reason) but cotton or natural fabrics are not a bad choice for those standing around camp fires. I have a few waterproofs that show scars from contact with tiny campfire sparks, but so far the Woodlark has survived direct contact with embers and sparks. Obviously, I’m not encouraging you to try this for yourselves (you can just watch me do it in the video below) but it might be of interest to some of you.
Field-testing the Woodlark smock (complete with stealth-gloves apparently…)
The Good Stuff and the Other Stuff
I like ALMOST everything about this smock – apart from the hood. It is as rugged and waterproof (and well made) as the rest of the smock, but it’s not perfect. At least – not for me.
The volume adjuster at the back and the wired peak allow for some customisation for different head shapes, as does the elasticated draw string for the front. The studs fastening the hood to the smock and for the front closing seem solid and of the appropriate specification for a garment of this price…
…But I would have preferred it to be permanently attached, and as a result of that it would possibly have followed the movement of my head a little more. When I turn my head at the moment the hood just stays put, and if I look to my extreme left or right I find myself staring at the waterproof lining. Even with the mouth-covering flap fastened it still stays still – I think it’s a combination of the heavier fabric and the shape of the hood. It isn’t a huge problem and does nothing to diminish the other virtues of the smock, but I would have liked for there to be SOME sympathetic movement of the hood when I turn to look around.
The overall build and finish of the smock is about as good as I could hope for, and I haven’t found one stitch out of place or one frayed end. The pockets are holding their shape despite hanging my arms from them when trudging along, and the zips run freely and without snags. A small attachment point for a compass or other lanyard inside the chest pocket would be nice, but I would prefer to have the pocket fully-waterproofed rather than be compromised with extra stitching.
In torrential downpours and when standing or sitting in wet and windy weather I couldn’t ask for more from the Country Innovation Woodlark Smock.
For work in the woods and around campfires it’s just about the perfect compromise and I can see this becoming a favourite among bushcraft and wilderness skills instructors and practitioners. I’m also going to use it for mountain days where weight is less important than having a rugged and capable outer layer, and I can’t think of another waterproof smock on the market at the moment that I would rather have.
You can read more about the Woodlark Waterproof Smock on the Country Innovation website and take a look at the rest of their range – including the jacket version of the Woodlark.
Country Innovation Woodlark Smock Specifications:
- Waterproof, Windproof and Breathable
- Articulated Underarm – for ease of movement
- Elasticated/Velcro Adjustable Cuffs
- Detachable Hood – with wired peak, volume adjuster, high front fastening and drawcord to pull in tight to the face
- Large Waterproof Front Pocket – 35cm x 27cm
- Side Entry Handwarmer Pockets – with waterproof zips
- Waterproof Zippered Side Openings – for easy on/off
- Long Length Scalloped Back
My review sample (XXL) was 1300g