BRISTOL PARKA BY 5.11
As an avid rock climber, outdoorsman and Infantryman, I have spent a large portion of my life outside in less than desirable weather. If there is one thing I dislike, it’s being cold. So over the years, I have either bought or been issued various cold weather garment systems, some better than others. As such, I have cold weather garments from every major high end “cool guy” manufacturer, as well as high-end brands often found outside of the USA that most have never heard of. I say this beforehand, so that readers will understand my level of “exposure” or experience with what is available today and with my impressions of the BRISTOL PARKA below so they can put it all into proper context when reading the review.
BLUF: This is an excellent jacket at a great price for what it is capable of. I highly recommend this jacket if you want the protection and performance of a high end product without the high-end price tag. It also has a non-alerting, normal looking jacket appearance, in that it has no “I’m carrying a gun” Velcro on the upper arms, nor does it stand out in anyway that would draw a second look. The BRISTOL PARKA is a 3 in 1 jacket system that provides the flexibility of several jackets without having to layer multiple garments on top of one another to achieve a protection level from the elements. As one jacket, it is not lightweight by any means; this is a jacket that can be worn over normal clothing and not sacrifice warmth or protection from the rain, snow, and elements. If you conceal carry or have a profession that requires you to open carry in cold and wet climates, this jacket is ideal for your needs.
In writing this review, I struggled with how to present it in a logical manner, as it is a review of 3 jackets and each could rightfully have it’s own lengthy review. Some of the features are the same on both jackets, be it stand alone or combined. So I have opted to give my impressions of the jacket(s) up front and then cover the features that bear mentioning specifically to highlight each, as this jacket has many, some of which aren’t found or are lacking on some of the other brands available. I wore each jacket by itself and combined for several months from cold, high wind days to Pacific Northwest down pouring rains.
THE HARD SHELL
My initial impressions when I received the jacket were not positive, as it not only felt a tad heavy, the outer hard shell material felt unusually stiff and I thought it felt bigger than a Medium when I first put it on. However, once I adjusted the fit of the jacket’s many user configurable fitment options it felt and fit a lot better and didn’t feel too large. After wearing the jacket for a day, the stiffness of the hard shell material was noticeably more flexible and no longer felt restrictive, nor did the fabric make any noise. By itself, the hard shell can be worn over business casual to every day street cloths and not look out of place. The hard shell is available in 5 different colors. The one reviewed here is the Tundra color scheme.
While industry has continually moved towards building hard shells as light weight and packable as possible, the Bristol parka hard shell is reminiscent of hard shells usually found in the skiing or expedition model lines of hard shells sold by other brands. The Bristol parka hard shell is comprised of medium weight nylon with a light, brushed fleece like fabric liner. Most hard shells sold these days have no liner or other material to provide any insulation properties to the wearer. The Bristol parka hard shell can be worn alone and still provides some warmth to the wearer without having to layer additional garments underneath it on cold, windy or wet days.
I wore the hard shell with the soft shell inner jacket while in a heavy rain storm while in Portland for over an hour and can say that it performed well and I never felt the wetness or cold seep through. However, I think that once the jacket has been worn for some time, the application of a DWR NIKWAX type of waterproof treatment would be a good idea.
The hard shell features adjustable Velcro closure on the wrists, a total of eight exterior pockets, one on each forearm, hand warmer lined pockets with key lanyard and shock cord hem adjustments, napoleon chest level pockets and hidden/recessed pockets along the clavicle/shoulder area that house removable ID panels that can be pulled out or could be used to hold larger items. It also has a small pocket that can be used to attach an external mic clip for a radio. All of this is covered up by a storm flap, making it unnoticeable to the unwitting.
The front zipper on the jacket is covered by a storm flap that uses both velcro and snaps to prevent the elements from getting in. On the interior, there are two chest level pockets, one in each side. On the back upper shoulder area of the jacket is a zippered/recessed pocket that also houses a removable ID panel. All of the zippers used are weatherproof YKK Aqua guard zippers.
Lastly, the hard shell has a very user adjustable hood, allowing for a normal feeling fit, it does this with small “flaps that insert and attach with Velcro on the front of the collar, which makes the collar and hood function as one piece, yet is still able to accommodate the possibility of wearing a helmet. It also has what most would call a “goggle strap” on the back of the hood.
While most hard shells have fixed hoods, this one offers the wearer several options not found on other hard shells. The hood can be completely removed via a zipper, if it is not needed. Likewise, the wearer can roll and stow the hood in the collar that snaps closed, which adds a bit of thickness or padding to the collar of the hard shell, which works well at helping keep cold drafts from creeping down the wearers neck. If a thick collar is unappealing, the hood can be detached and would fit easily in the pocket on the back of the jacket in the event it was needed. While some may not see this as a useful feature, I can attest that it came in handy when it began to rain and I was able to quickly pull the hood out of the collar. By itself, the hard shell proved to be a very capable jacket on its own with a lot of useful features.
THE SOFT SHELL
The soft shell jacket fully zips into and attaches to the hard shell in such a manner that it becomes an additional liner. When combined in this manner with the hard shell, the jacket feels like one single jacket and can be easily donned and doffed without trying to keep the two mated together. The soft shell jacket is Blood born Pathogen resistant and 100% bonded polyester. The cut of the jacket is typical of most soft shells, with a waist length and standard collar. While the jacket is not made with Windstopper materials, it felt and performed similar to soft shells made with that material. It has two standard hand warmer pockets and a left side breast pocket. On the interior, there is one pocket on the right side that is large enough to hold a water bottle or larger item. Along the upper right side of the interior of the soft shell is a media wire clip to hold an earpiece. The soft shell has a form fit and was perfect for those chilly mornings and cold windy days that soft shells are perfect for.
The soft shell quickly became my grab and go jacket for casual wear. Solid black in color, its sleek if not sparse appearance is non-alerting and doesn’t scream tactical and looks at home with business casual or normal street wear. The attachment point snaps and loops to integrate it into the hard shell are primarily on the soft shell but they use the same black material and don’t noticeably stand out to casual observation. The soft shell uses an additional piece of soft fabric on the inside of the jacket on both sides at the top of the jacket by the collar. This is a well thought out comfort feature for when the jacket is zipped all the way up, the wearer isn’t poked by the zipper and when the soft shell is matted to the hard shell, the zipper pulls are covered completely by the soft fabric flaps; no more getting poked in the neck. The cuffs have a slim elastic band that helps keep the elements out with out being overly restrictive or clingy. This is helpful when both the jackets are together, as it is easy to remove ones hand from the jacket with out feeling like the wearer is pulling the soft shell sleeve out of the hard shell. If a tighter closure is desired, the Velcro on the hard shell can be used to completely seal off the outside elements. This is also useful when the wearer is using gloves, as it allows for the hard shell to fit around the glove without sacrificing the soft shell staying close to the wearer’s arm.
While 5.11 doesn’t claim the soft shell to be water resistant, it did exhibit the ability to shed water during a light sprinkling of rain and did not absorb moisture. I would by no means call this a rain jacket but it can withstand some rain. If more water resistance is desired an application of a DWR product would probably help prolong the jackets ability to shed and bead moisture off of the surface.
FEATURES UNIQUE TO BOTH HARD SHELL AND SOFT SHELL JACKETS.
The BRISTOL PARKA is unique in that both the hard shell and the soft shell jackets incorporate the 5.11 patented QuiXip System for rapid sidearm access. While mated together as one jacket or as stand alone jackets, both the hard shell and soft shell have this feature and can be used to access a firearm from either the three and nine o’clock positions to include those who prefer to carry appendix. For those who’s professions require an exposed carry of a sidearm, the BRISTOL parkas QuiXip feature allows the wearer to re attach the jacket around the holstered firearm so it is exposed while not sacrificing warmth and protection from the elements.
The QuiXip feature is similar to arm vent zippers seen on most high-end jackets on the market. The difference is that it extends all the way down to the hem of the jacket and can be rapidly pulled open with one hand to expose the wearer’s waist line extremely quick, no different than clearing an outer garment when conceal carry drawing. This feature is discreetly covered up with a storm flap on the hard shell and is further covered by the wearer’s arms.
On the bottom edge of the hard shell, a small pull cord that resembles a waist adjustment shock cord is present and can be used to initiate the QuiXip or simply grabbing the bottom edge of the jacket and pulling it. On the back side of the hard shell and hidden from view, there is a male /female clip system that the wearer can use to allow the QuiXip to be used. When the clip is undone, the QuiXip feature can be used, when it is attached, pulling hard on the shock cord will disengage it and allow the zipper to open. When an exposed weapon is used, the QuiXip zipper can be lowered to the top of the holster and the clip on the hem reattached to form a seal around the holster itself.
The soft shell has the same features with the exception that the storm flap is not present. Instead, there is a small snap closure flap that is used when attaching the jackets together and to also allow the wearer to decide if they want the jacket QuiXip feature to be available. Likewise, for an exposed holster, the QuiXip can be lowered to the top of the holster and the snap flap secured at the bottom of the holster to form a seal around the holster itself. It’s worth noting that the zippers on both jackets unzip very easily when using the QuiXip sytem as designed, otherwise, they stay in place. No other high-end cold weather jacket has this feature or capability, which isn’t strictly gun centric. The ability to quickly and easily gain access to ones waistline for normal day-to-day tasks and then easily close the jacket back up turned out to be a much-used feature while reviewing the BRISTOL Parka and something that I wish was present on other brands of jackets and garments.
The BRISTOL PARKA proved to be a pleasant surprise and it grew on me the more I wore it in its various configurations. Given its performance and versatility, it’s a great value at its price point. Compared to other jackets with these features and or the high–end jackets that I own and have worn over the years, I can say that the BRISTOL PARKA is worth investing in. Its not super light weight, isn’t packable in its own pocket and it may not win any style awards points. But it is super functional and a perfect “one coat for everything” solution for every day, cold and wet weather wear, as well as for those who carry a weapon in those types of conditions and don’t want an overly tactical or technical looking garment.
Overall Rating: 4.4/5
The scale is defined as:
(1): Poor/unacceptable. Worse than expected, or desirable; of a low or inferior standard or quality.
(2): Fair. In conformity with reasonable expectations, but in comparison to competitors is may be deficient
(3): Average. Common item; item neither lacks from or is superior than a competitors item.
(4): Good. The item is desirable and has qualities that excel in comparison to a competitors item
(5): Excellent. Outstanding, possesses superior quality; remarkably good
Written by Scott Wolf
I received this product as a courtesy from the manufacturer via Spotter Up so I could test it and give my honest feedback. I am not bound by any written, verbal, or implied contract to give this product a good review. All opinions are my own and are based off my personal experience with the product.
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