The annual SHOT Show is usually populated by booths showing more of the same, “A little newer, lighter and more expensive” was my answer when questioned what the theme this year was. 5.11 Tactical, however, dropped a lot of new products. I was invited to their Las Vegas retail store for a media meet-and-greet and was able to talk to a lot of people who work behind the scenes. Among them were their product designers who were happy to walk us through the hows-and-whys of the design process and their thinking behind certain choices. It was made abundantly clear that 5.11 is doing more than just rolling out minor updates to stale ideas. Instead, we’re getting total revamps like the AMP backpack line and the Aurora Shell Jacket.
The Aurora Shell is at its core an extremely lightweight jacket that keeps the rain out and still breathes off your sweat. Most rainproof jackets I’ve worn come with a level of insulation that’s not removable, leaving you with no choice but to sweat your ass off while moving over rough terrain. Something I learned in both the Army and crabbing in Alaska during the winter is unless you’re standing still, keep your waterproofing layer as thin as possible. Insulation in that layer means breathability is significantly reduced.
I know some of you thrive on your tech specs, so I won’t leave you out. From 5.11’s website:
- 15K/15K Waterproof and Breathable
- Fully seam sealed
- Articulated sleeves and shoulders
- Left chest zipper pocket with internal media ports for cord management
- Hand zip pockets with internal RapiDraw™ pass through access
- Adjustable hem with shock cord system
- Regular Fit
- 2.5L 100% Nylon Plain Weave Face with Coffee Print Backer
- Available in sizes from XS-3XL
- Available in Black, Brown, Moss and Royal Blue
Space is a big consideration when it comes to a Loadout. Having enough gear isn’t usually the trouble, it’s a question of how much space you have in your pack to take to the mountain. When crushed down tight, the Aurora Shell fits into a sandwich bag. When you weigh that against say, a surplus military issued gore-tex jacket, the size difference is major. True, the surplus jacket has insulation, but those shirts you’re already planning on wearing? They’re great insulation if they’re not sweat-soaked or waterlogged from the rain.
I was lucky enough to bag one of these jackets at the 5.11 media event. Lucky because living in the Pacific Northwest is often a wet way of life, especially near the coastal mountain range. When range day calls, it’s out the door no matter what the weather. Having a lightweight, durable jacket like the Aurora Shell that fits easily anywhere means I don’t have an excuse to get caught unprepared.
Lightweight is great. Space-saving? Love it. The pure performance metrics for a shell jacket are durability, breathability and water-shedding. Up front, I haven’t had the Aurora Shell for long enough to beat it up through enough range days, hikes and camping trips to speak on that aspect. I’ll say upon initial inspection it shows quality construction, and leave it at that.
As for breathability, while pit zippers are a nice design feature, they don’t count. The question is, how well does the fabric itself eject moisture? Especially when it’s raining outside? The Aurora handles moderate amounts of sweat just fine. If you leak coolant like an old Pontiac, you’re going to end up wearing some of it no matter which shell jacket you’re wearing, that’s just the nature of jackets.
The Aurora sheds rain well. Even if you’re out in the elements for a while, you can count on the Aurora to do its part. After a few hours, it still has yet to soak through despite being exposed to driving rain and hail.
Small details elevate a product. The stretch fabric is excellent and really lends to freedom of motion in the shoulders. This is especially useful during the draw stroke of a handgun, where the limited movement will slow you down and eventually cause premature wear on the jacket’s stress points. The wrists have adjustable velcro straps to ensure they fit snug, but also elastic bands so if you need to see your oversized watch you don’t have to unstrap, adjust, readjust then restrap. The same is true for simply taking your jacket off. My softshell jacket from Kirkland needs to have the wrists unstrapped every time I take my jacket off, otherwise, my wide mitts won’t fit through the wrist channel. Small details, done right 5.11. Nice work.
It’s light, it’s small and it works. Unless you’re in an area that is extremely cold and wet (hello, Alaska) an insulated water-resistant jacket is overkill. The Aurora Shell jacket hits the mark, keeping you dry without making you sweat out a gallon every time you’ve gotta get moving. This jacket runs $119.99. Check it out on the 5.11 website, or at a local retail store if you’re near one.