I’ll admit, I’ve never been a windbreaker sort of person. Give me a hoodie or a lined flannel jacket, and I’m a happy guy.
But, truth be told, the Aurora Shell Jacket from 5.11 Tactical is more than just a windbreaker. It’s a truly functional and handsome piece of outerwear that is a welcome component of an outdoorsman’s wardrobe.
When I learned about the upcoming release of the Aurora Shell Jacket, I was eager to give it a test run. I’ve long been a fan of 5.11 Tactical and have been using its packs for some time now … without complaint.
“With every investment into gear or clothing, I look at three basic elements: comfort, construction and features.”Comfort
Whether we’re talking about a jacket, a knife or a backpack, if it isn’t comfortable to use, you’ll find excuses to forget it at home. This is true, no matter how well-made it is or what kind of a deal you can find on the price. If the material rubs you the wrong way, so to speak, the purchase will eventually go to waste.
I took the Aurora Shell Jacket on several excursions into the field to test it out. From the first time I put it on, I was impressed by its fit and comfort. It was roomy without me feeling as if I were lost inside it.
My arms are a bit longer than average, which sometimes leads to fit and comfort issues with shirts and jackets. The sleeves of the Aurora fit perfectly, however. In addition, many jackets tend to be somewhat tight in the shoulders, but I found the Aurora allowed for plenty of freedom of movement.
My days of doing cartwheels might be long past, but I had no issues reaching up high, down low or to either side.
I often wear a hat when I’m outdoors—either a ball cap or something a little warmer when the weather starts to turn. The Aurora’s hood is large and comfortable, even if a knit hat is worn underneath. The collar can close up in the front using hook-and-loop patches, providing a great windbreak for the face.
The jacket is thin, as are most windbreaker types of outerwear. As such, it isn’t designed with much in the way of insulation. In other words, this isn’t a winter coat by any stretch of the imagination. That said, I wore it multiple times in temperatures down to about 40 degrees (F), and it was very comfortable when I paired it with a T-shirt and flannel shirt underneath. It did very well blocking wind and rain, both of which would otherwise have chilled me considerably. (Note that I live in the upper Midwest and am rather accustomed to colder temperatures. Those who live in warmer climates might find the Aurora to be less than ideal if the mercury drops.)Construction
5.11 Tactical is known the world over for its high-quality products. Military personnel, law enforcement officers and outdoorspeople around the globe use 5.11 Tactical packs and other gear. The materials used in its products are top of the line, as is the construction. The Aurora Shell Jacket is no exception.
When it comes to fabric, breathability versus water resistance is always a balancing act. A completely waterproof jacket, such as the stereotypical yellow fisherman’s coat, will keep you dry in a monsoon. But wear it on the trail, and you’ll probably still be soaked to the bone, albeit in sweat rather than rain. As a rule, the more water resistant a garment is, the less breathable it will be and vice versa. There has to be a compromise that will prevent rain from getting in but still allow at least some water vapor to escape.
Outerwear is rated using two numbers. In this case, the Aurora is rated 15K/15K. The first number specifies the water-resistance capability and is expressed in millimeters.
What it means is that a 1-inch-diameter tube of water can be filled to a height of 15,000 millimeters before any moisture will come through the fabric. If you do the math, that comes to almost 50 feet. A rating of 15K means the Aurora will easily handle moderate to severe rainfall.
The second number refers to the breathability of the fabric and is, to the layperson, an even more convoluted figure. It is expressed in grams and is determined by how much water vapor can pass through the fabric in a 24-hour period. A 15K rating is great for someone who is fairly active with hiking or skiing.
During one of our hikes while I was wearing the Aurora, we experienced a good rain with a bit of snow mixed in. The jacket protected me quite well. The water beaded up on the jacket’s surface without penetrating at all. Best of all, I wasn’t roasting inside the jacket. The Aurora does have zippered underarm vents, should the need arise for a little more ventilation.
All of the jacket seams are sealed, with no stitching visible. This means there aren’t any loose threads to snag and come loose. As noted earlier, this jacket is very thin and lightweight. It is easy to roll up and stuff into a pack, just in case sketchy weather forecasts go south. At the same time, it is loose enough to pair with a hoodie or other mid-weight layer for cooler temperatures.
When it comes to clothing, layering is important. Layers allow you to adjust to the climate, as well as your exertion level. Evaporation is a cooling process, and sweating can lead to serious issues. As you warm up along a hike or during some other activity, being able to shed layers will help keep you from overheating. You can then add the layers back as you cool down when resting.
Base layer: This is what sits directly against the skin. It should be lightweight and comfortable. It should also have great wicking properties, taking sweat away from the skin. Great fabrics to consider include silk, polypropylene and merino wool.
Middle layer: This is the insulating layer and the one that will keep you warm. Depending on the climate, this layer consists of anything from a light shirt to a fleece or down jacket. Even here, you will want multiple layers so you can adjust the amount of heat retention you need.
Outer layer: This is the layer that protects you from wind and precipitation. We sometimes call these garments “shells,” because they provide a protective coating, so to speak. This is where the Aurora Shell Jacket comes into play: It keeps the wind and rain from penetrating to your middle and base layers.
As a general rule, avoid cotton fabrics for outdoor use. While cotton is quite soft and comfortable, it is a very poor insulator when it gets wet. It also takes a long time to dry; and the whole time it is sitting damp against your skin, it is sapping warmth. In a true survival situation, this could be deadly. (I’ll admit that this is sometimes a case of “Do as I say, not as I do,” because I pretty much live in cotton hoodies from October through March.
Nevertheless, I also take precautions when I’m headed into the field to offset the risk of hypothermia.)
The Aurora Shell Jacket is loaded with nice touches and insightful features. First and foremost, it is equipped with the 5.11 Tactical internal RapiDraw access in the side pockets. Each of the two pockets has a zipper inside that allows the wearer to access their belt without removing their hands. This would give you the opportunity to reach for a handgun, knife or other weapon somewhat covertly.
The left chest pocket is set up in a way that you can run ear bud wiring through a port to the inside of the jacket. Put your phone or MP3 player inside the pocket, and you won’t have wires running outside the jacket, snagging on branches as you hike.
There is a section of loop material on the right shoulder for those who wish to customize their jacket with a patch or two.
The jacket is available in four colors; black, brown, Moss Green and Royal Blue. All four versions have light-colored interiors.
The cuffs have both elastic and hook-andloop closures to loosen or tighten the fit to the user’s preference. The waist hem has a shock cord that can be tightened, if desired. The hood is similarly equipped with shock cords.Worthy Wardrobe Addition
The Aurora Shell Jacket from 5.11 Tactical is a worthy addition to the prepper or survivalist wardrobe. It is comfortable as is in mild temperatures and, if paired with a sweatshirt or other underlayment, it would likely be just fine down into the sub-40-degree (F) range for many people. It is lightweight and has great breathability while still maintaining a high level of water resistance in the rain. It would serve a hiker or backpacker well as a poncho to be kept on hand in case the skies open up and is also handsome enough for daily use in town.
“… The Aurora Shell Jacket from 5.11 Tactical is more than just a windbreaker … It’s a truly functional and handsome piece of outerwear that is a welcome component of an outdoorsman’s wardrobe.”
• Material: 2.5L 100 percent nylon with DWR finish
• Sizes: Men’s XS–3XL
• Colors: Black, Brown, Royal Blue, Moss Green
• Women’s version is also available
MSRP: Starting at $149.99
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the April 2019 print issue of American Survival Guide.