Soft Shell Level 5 is a windproof jacket made according to the APCU (Advanced Protective Combat Uniform) specification used by the US Army. After six months of testing, it is time to answer the question whether LVL 5 will also perform fine in more civil outdoor applications…
Similarly to the Delta jacket we reviewed some time ago, Level 5 is a membrane-less softshell – a jacket that provides protection against wind while maintaining good breathability. This means that there is no membrane which would effectively limit the moisture wickening or drying of the jacket. Thanks to the DWR layer, the LVL 5 softshell will protect from minor showers, but when exposed to heavier rainfall, it will start letting water through.
The fabric itself is a blend of nylon and spandex (98% / 2%). As a result, it is flexible and durable – after many mountain-forest trips it doesn’t show signs of wear, abrasion or other damage. Yet, it should be remembered that LVL 5 is not a bushcraft-survival jacket and shouldn’t be exposed to fire, or (excessive) winding through dense bushes.
The quality of the jacket’s craft is decent – although you can find some protruding threads, it isn’t an issue which would affect the garment’s performance.
All zippers were made by YKK. In addition, at the end of each of the sliders there is a puller made of tape which make sthe opening easier. However, the grip would be more reliable if some stitching was to those tapes to prevent the slipping of the hand on their rather slippery surfaces.
The cut of the Helikon-Tex Level 5 jacket is loose enough to fit in some additional layers of clothing (quite necessary during chilly days – the softshell is very light itself). However, it is worth mentioning that LVL 5’s collar isn’t high enough to protect users neck sufficiently, so an additional scarf is strongly advised.
Soft Shell Level 5 is closed with a 2-way zipper with an additional Velcro-closed wind flap. On chest height, there is a small rank tang.
The jacket features wide pitzips, allowing for better heat management during warmer days, or if the amount of sunlight increases.
Helikon Level 5 features a hood equipped with a set of drawstrings, which is quite useful during windy days. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough material on the hood’s neck, which makes the whole jacket go upwards when it is worn. The usage of hood is possible, but not really comfortable. If not needed, the it can be folded into the LVL5’s collar.
An elastic draw string was placed in the soft shell’s waist to allow any necessary adjustments.
Cuffs are adjustable using a set of Velcro straps.
Helikon-Tex’s Level 5 Jacket contains a variety of pockets:
Two on biceps, with Velcro panels sewn on the outside to provide a space for morale patches. The pockets are closed with a set of YKK® zippers, but, because of the tape used, the pullers lack some necessary grip. Hands tend to simply slip of them. Quite a lot can be fit into these pockets, but only flat and light stuff will do – heavier items will bump around annoyingly.
Front pockets were sewn in higher on the chest, in such a way that they can be used while wearing backpacks’ hip belt. Its’ a detail, but it makes using the jacket much more comfortable!
The last pocket, which can be accessed from both sides using YKK® zippers, is located on the Level 5’s back. Obviously, it can’t be used while wearing a backpack.
The Helikon-Tex Softshell Level 5 jacket works fine – it protects against wind and light rain. However, it should be remembered that due to the low thickness of the material, LVL 5 provides virtually no thermal insulation – as a result, on colder days it will require a suitable underlayer (but on the other hand it can also be worn in warmer weather).
Depending on the size of the user, a sizing of the jacket (resulting from its military origin) can be a bit of a problem. In addition to this issue, Helikon-Tex Softshell Level 5 has three major disadvantages – high weight, no neck protection and uncomfortable hood. It is a pity, because apart from these issues it is a practical and useful jacket.
Soft Shell Level 5 is a versatile jacket that will find application in the mountains and other windy places. It will provide protection against wind and breathability both when it is too warm for thicker softshells with fleece linings and on cooler days, when the loose cut allows you to put under the fleece. What it really lacks is this small bit of material on the collar, which would make the hood not only usable, but also comfortable.
Many thanks to the manufacturer, Helikon-Tex, for giving us a chance to test the Level 5 jacket