This post is about smocks. Nope, not Schmocks, but smocks. If you’re into tactical gear you might have stumbled over that term once in a while and wondered, what’s a smock. As a non-native English speaker I have to admit I came across this term only referring to a certain piece of clothing and this is what this article is going to show you. Just during research for this post I discovered that it can refer to other types of garments, too. So no matter if you’re familiar with smocks or not, I hope I can show you something new.

BREAKING NEWS 2022-04-26: If you want your own smock in the rather rare urban camo PenCott MetroPolis, then get in touch with Perunika immediately. There will be a very limited run of smocks in that awesome camo in the near future. It’s so limited that you should think about reserving a spot. If you need further motivation, check out Pinesurvey’s test of this awesome camo pattern.

Helikon-Tex PCS smock
Helikon-Tex PCS: a very basic and typical smock

Historical overview

Let’s go back in history to explain what a smock is and why we love it. In the past a „smock“ only was a piece of clothing painters used to cover and protect their clothes while painting. They resembled nightgowns. During the second world war parachutists realized they had to put something over all their gear to keep from entangling in the parachute lines and started to wear overgarments without any pockets. While German Fallschirmjäger had their „Knochensack“ (bone-bag), British paratroopers called this part of their equipment jump-jacket or „smock“.

Very quickly this piece of garment developed into a more sophisticated version called “Denison smock“, called after the inventor of the camo pattern used, with big pockets and a zipper only going over half of the front. Especially in undercover missions this simple piece of clothing doubled as several types of disguise. Before boarding the plane, SOE agents had their unicolor smocks painted in Denison camouflage pattern which helped to go undetected. When they entered cities and towns they could simply wash out the water based color and mimic as a painter.

The first modern smocks

Very soon there was another version readily printed in camouflage patterns to be used by regular paratroopers. Since this new version was worn mostly under the webbing (predecessors of chest rigs) a new “oversmock” was introduced to help with not entangling just like the first versions. The oversmock was to be discarded after the landing and unlike the Denison was discontinued not long after it’s introduction. The Denison on the other hand became so popular that many soldiers, including high ranking officers, were seen wearing one quite often. There were even different versions for regular troops and senior officers with both being tuned and changed to the needs of the wearer by tailors. Different generations were so popular that troops tried to hold on to them until the late 1970’s even when they were issued newer DPM pattern clothing . By the way, the initial “Denison pattern” already showed brush strokes which are are so significant for DPM, partly because they were actually painted by hand using brushes. Historians are not completely sure when Denison smocks started to get printed because it’s hard to find repetitions in the pattern unlike modern camo patterns.

Modern versions

The Denison smock developed through various stages into what we know today: A large jacket resembling a parka which has three main uses:

  • Adding camouflage when worn over your clothing and gear
  • Giving protection for regular clothing against wear and tear from undergrowth or rocks
  • Adding a lot of uncommonly huge pockets to stow a lot of extra gear

This leaves one thing missing that’s common for other types of clothing: Modern smocks are not built to shield you from the elements. Although they look and feel like a heavy winters jacket you can wear them all year round because they leave protection against rain, wind and cold to lower layers. So if you you go for a smock, expect them to be really big like they would fit a person much bigger than you. They are built to be worn over heavy rain gear, big insulation jackets or body armor. In summer you can use the extra air for insulation against the heat. There are exceptions to this rule but most smocks are built from a single layer of fabric without any membrane or lining. To be fair, the historical Denison smock was made as windproof as possible back in the days which means “more or less not windproof at all” in modern terms because there’s no membrane but only the type of fabric and knitted cuffs used to prevent wind from penetrating the jacket.

Admin loops inside a smocks pocket
Some smocks have admin space inside their pockets. Note the sewn in wire that keeps the pocket open like a dump pouch

Depending on the model you choose, a smock might be a bit over the top for some occasions but many of them look like oversized parkas so if your surrounding would be ok with a parka or a M65 jacket, a smock might be ok as well. They range from a simple 6 pocket layout to such with 16 pockets or more – you might have to read the description because not all pockets are apparent at first glance. In fact some smocks have pockets that stem from a tradition of hiding bigger pieces: A big pocket over your butt on the inside of a jacket is called „poachers pocket“ because it’s big enough to hide a stolen hare (we don’t recommend using it for that, though).

What’s a smock made of

One feature most smocks have in common are so called „Canadian“ or „slotted” buttons. These buttons are not sewn onto the fabric with a thread routed through four holes like on other garments. They are attached with a single strap which itself is sewn onto the underlying fabric. This makes the connection a lot tougher than that of a regular button and it helps with leaving more space between the button and the jacket. Slotted buttons can carry some load so you can build pockets that actually hang from the button which allows for more load within the pockets. Canadian buttons are usually bigger than normal buttons and therefore more easily to handle with gloves on.

What's a smock without slotted or "Canadian" buttons?
What’s a smock without slotted or “Canadian” buttons?

Most smocks have extra big hoods you can easily wrap over a helmet you might eventually wear. If you don’t wear a helmet, the hood gives extra protection in windy conditions and helps with hiding your face if you want. Most manufacturers recognize that many smock-wearers don’t wear helmets most of the time and fit their hoods with metal wires to keep the hood in shape so it won’t fall over your eyes.

Hand warming pockets on a Helikon PCS
The Helikon-Tex PCS smock has fleece lined hand warming pockets

Since there are so many layouts of smocks you should take extra care to get one that fits your needs. Extra pockets mean extra weight. And sometimes pockets are in places where you want your clothes to be as smooth as possible. Big pockets over your butt might be practical when hiking light but they might be in the way for a backpack or just make sitting for longer times impossible. There are even models with other gadgets like admin loops in pockets or MOLLE/PALS webbing on the outside. Not to mention loops especially made for attaching foliage for extra camo effects and built-in carrying systems to distribute the load better on your shoulders. Others have tail flaps like the original Denisons which can be routed between the legs of the wearer and attached to the front to keep the smock from riding up during parachute jumps. A feature quite common are lined pockets behind the more apparent hip-pockets you can use to warm up your hands in cold environments.

There are more and more „smocks“ available which may or may not match with the description above. Since this piece of garment lived through many different stages there’s no general definition of what a smock is and what not. Double check if you don’t go for a mere fashion piece because some „non-tactical“ companies jumped on the tactical train and started creating things that resemble actual gear and give it the same name.

Daily smock

Personally smocks remind me of a mixture of gear-vests, duster coats (the long ones used in the Wild West while traveling) and clothing people wear in the desert. In fact I always think a smock feels a bit like you were wearing a tent, like a piece of transportable „home“. Not the worst thing when you’re on long business trips where you will miss home eventually.

So why would you care for a smock?

  • You could just want to use it for the three initial reasons given above why anyone wants to wear a smock
  • It’s a tactical piece of garment. You like tactical that’s why you’re reading this blog. So that’s a bonus. Since it’s a jacket it’s way more easily accepted than, say, camo pants you wear all day long. If you’re still hesitant most models are available in different camo patterns and solid colors as well
  • You can carry your EDC (every day carry) and IFAK (individual first aid kit) alongside a lot of useful stuff without even putting on a small bag. Most smocks will even carry larger items like a poncho!
  • You can wear a smock in situations where you will have to remove a backpack. e.g. during long train travels you might want to have items close but in crowded coaches you can’t keep your backpack on or even close to you. Most smocks are light enough so you can wear them over a T-shirt in a heated room without getting too hot. People might give you strange looks, though. Don’t say, we didn’t warn you
  • Weight distribution. Carrying lighter loads in a jacket helps with spreading the load over a wider area than shoulder straps. So if you need that extra space, it won’t feel like weighing you down like a stuffed bag. Even when you’re carrying a backpack putting some weight in your front pockets might help with distribution
  • And after all a smock is a piece of clothing and no piece of hand luggage if that is of any concern to you. Just don’t wonder when you get extra thorough searches at security checks because you look a bit suspicious with a jacket full of gear
PALS webbing on a smock
Some smocks have extreme solution like PALS webbing on the outside

How I use it

In my experience there’s only extremes when it comes to smocks. Either you love them or you hate them. Some just can’t get over the bulky looks but others love the amount of gear you can stuff into them and that they feel like an extra layer of protection. If you can deal with the heavyweight appearance do yourself the favour and give them a try. There are rather cheap ones around that give you the full smock-experience, nonetheless if you’re hesitant. On the other hand there are quite expensive ones with lots of extra features. Do some research and get one – I’d say you won’t regret it. For me at least smocks count to my favourite pieces of clothing.


About the author

widhalmt is what you might call a tactical gearhead with a focus on collecting. Like your average nerd he likes to dig into topics he’s interested in and learn as much about them as possible. Then he tries to get hold of his items of interest (he’s quite picky about brand and model when he chose a certain item) and put them to the test. Be it while walking the dog in the woods or go for overnighters outdoors.

In his daytime job he works as lead support engineer for an open source IT consulting company. Since his work involves a lot of travelling and going to customers he has quite some experience in choosing items that are rugged enough for constant travelling but still work in an office environment without offending anyone by being “too tactical” (although he tends to stretch that last part a bit). It’s safe to say that he has some tactical gear on him when he walks out the door (and sometimes even when he stays at home).

In tactical gear he has very widespread interests but if he had to pick something, it’s be knives, bags/backpacks and camo patterns (especially PenCott)