I’ve always struck a balance between buying something suitable for the job in hand but also not spending more than necessary…
Sure, I have spent silly amounts of money on nylon in the past but often because a cheaper alternative just won’t cut it.
One of the cheaper items I’ve owned for a number of years is a Helikon Trooper Soft Shell, At around the £60 mark it fitted exactly what I wanted from a jacket… lightweight, water resistant and breathable.
Fast forward to early this year, I was due to attend an event with Stirling Airsoft and because of a potential team imbalance I was asked with the Diablo guys I was joining to book on as part of the Task Force team.
It just so happened that I was looking for another Storm/Soft Shell But in a tan or Multicam colour-way, I also happened to be passing by a local second hand shop… A place I’ve often found things of interest. I once found a Crye Field Shirt that was far too small for me but was bought and sold for a fair profit (If he isn’t willing to research the value of what he’s buying then why should I be the one to tell him?), on this trip I found a brand new (With tags) Helikon Soft Shell lvl5 “Soft Shell”… This one being the version 2 with a slightly better cut.
I’ve always liked Helikon… Sure, they’re not as high speed as Crye or Haley but they do build some tough gear for the money. Some of their offerings are better than others but I’ve owned several of their jackets for a number of years and have found them to exceed the demands that your average Airsofter will put them through.
The Helikon soft shells are generally what would be referred to as “Storm Shells” or light weight, packable shower resistant jackets. They don’t offer a massive amount of protection against the rain but they’re alright in a short shower or in light sporadic rain.
If your after something with a fleece lining I’d steer clear of these two as they’re ultimately designed as a pure throw-on packable jacket to be used within a layering system, not as a stand-alone “one for all seasons” item.
So… first off, The Trooper. Mine being in Olive Green is a great option for most of the year in rural games or when remaining firmly on the “green team”. The pocket layout is almost identical to their Patriot Fleece of which I’m also a fan, with a pair of chest pockets, loop field covered bicep pockets, a single wrist pocket on the left wrist and a “Poachers Pocket” on the lower rear portion of the jacket. A single small pocket is located in the inside of the Trooper.
Starting with the chest pockets, most people take a while to become fully comfortable with their higher than usual placement, it only becomes mind-blowingly obvious as to why they are located so high when you put on a chest rig or plate carrier, the pockets are still somewhat accessible without interfering with the straps or cummerbund of your load bearing equipment, although this will vary depending on your loadout and physique.
The pockets themselves are well thought out and offer a massive amount of organisation and storage, each of the outer chest pockets has an organisor for small mobiles (think iPhone 5/SE) and a d ring for the attachment of keys etc, Your also able to route comms through the pockets via a rubber cable gate.
The bicep pockets also have cable gates for the routing of comms or headsets, and as mentioned are covered in a sizeable loop field for your “Moaning Labia” patches and showing your affiliation to a hentai school for wayward assassins.
The Poachers pocket is accessed via a pair of zippers, YKK branded as are all on both jackets. It gives a fair amount of storage for items you might wish to either have stowed on your back for a specific reason (For example food or ammo whilst prone in an OP) or perhaps through convenience like for example gloves and a hat.
The wrist pocket isn’t much use for me, I’ve used it for medic tabs and small maps before but there are better pockets or methods for this and I don’t genuinely think this pocket offers anything above needless tailoring and a little bulk, something to take note of is that they have provided “zipper garages” for practically all the colour matched zips to house them and prevent snags or undesirable noise. The only exception being the hood zippers which are open through necessity, yet use 3mm paracord to keep the noise to a bare minimum.
On the inside is a velcro sealed pocket which again is suitable for a rite in the rain notebook or similar.
The hood is a profiled design which roles up into the collar, a pair of zips then seals it away. The hood is adjustable via a shock cord running into the chest pockets and a head adjustment on the rear of the hood. I don’t use hood personally unless it’s heaving it down and in this design it’s going to offer little protection if any at all.
The surface of the Trooper is pre-treated with DuPont’s Teflon coating, this does offer a reasonably good water and diet repellency when new but can wear off after a season of use, leaving you to rely on aftermarket solutions such as Nik-Wax Tech-Wash which when applied correctly will provide a pretty good barrier against inclement weather, but constant exposure will lead to water wicking through the thin breathable fabric.
The forearms, From elbow to cuff are reinforced to help excess wear and are profiled to allow a free range of movement. The jacket is also hemmed with a shock cord adjustment which allows the wearer to cinch the bottom of the jacket and keep the wind off your lower back. It’s generously sized and offers a free range of movement, the main zipper is also a twin type which allows access to the lower belt line by un-zipping the lower zipper.
Overall I love this jacket, it’s showing it’s age after 3 years of regular use but it’s tricking along quite nicely… the shock cord at the bottom has pulled away on one end but I’ve jury-rigged it with a knot and it’s holding fast (albeit a messy way of solving the issue), the seams and fabric have put up with an assortment of abuse from my big frame to the thorns and brambles of the various sites I’ve trampled and crawled through, I’d be tempted to buy something a little more high speed like the iconic jackets offered by Crye, Wild Things or Orc Industries But I doubt I’d rid myself of the Helikon Trooper, it’s a great jacket for the price and with a diverse range of colours it’s good to go for a number of loadouts.
On to the “Soft Shell lvl 5 v2“, An odd name in an already competitive market (Helikon offers around half a dozen soft shell options), the lvl 5 is based upon the US military ECWCS requirement for a lvl 5 jacket, the ECWCS (Extended Cold Weather Clothing System) it’s self is a constantly evolving concept that is swiftly moving away from the old school military cuts to something more akin to civilian mountaineering or hiking clothing… Taking comfort and weight saving technology from these specialist lines and incorporating them into a workable military uniform.
The 3rd Generation, Of which this jacket is based offers a similar profile to that offered by the Trooper jacket. The pocket layout is almost identical, minus the minor refinements of organisers and cable management, there is an overall simplification of the design from the fabric pulltabs on the zippers to the velcro closure on the hood/collar that reeks of “military issue” despite this being an aftermarket design. It’s always been an odd thing for manufacturers to state that an item is built to a “Military specification” when in all honesty with NSN numbers it’s never going to be on a procurement list, let alone become part of a supply chain for most units.
That aside, it’s a reasonably good garment for the money. However, I’d certainly sway towards the Trooper if that’s an option for you, The lvl 5 is just that little bit cheaper in appearance and the refinements of the Trooper make it a more attractive jacket.
Another noteworthy point, The Camogrom faux Multicam is rather light when comparing to genuine Crye Multicam. In certain lights it can appear more similar to the Arid pattern than a regular Multicam pattern. Helikon do also offer their designs in a British issue MTP, however I’d suggest to the stitch counters that a solid colour such as Coyote or Olive might help with their inherent pattern OCD. This guy however doesn’t really care… Well, maybe a little.
A final note would be on sizing… the Trooper is sized more in line with conventional jackets, the Lvl 5 is overly generous… I can’t speak like for like but my Trooper is an XXL and my Lvl 5 is a Large, Both are roughly the same fit, the Trooper being slightly more snug.
Either way your going to get a pretty good jacket for your money, I’ll probably treat myself to something a little more upmarket this winter but don’t let snobbism discount this from your collection, they’re both perfectly adequate for us mere Airsofters.