Gear Review: Buffalo Systems Special 6 Smock
Buffalo Systems Special 6 Shirt/Smock:
The Buffalo concept diverges from the traditional ‘layering’ clothing system that stipulates the requirement for a three-pronged attack, geared towards tackling sweating, insulation and waterproofing. The Buffalo Pile & Pertex system, (Double P/DP), is NOT waterproof, but is highly water resistant, wicking and breathable. It is designed to fit snugly and be worn next to the skin, i.e. with nothing underneath! Whilst this might sound a little crazy to some of you traditionalists, there is a well-backed up body of evidence that supports the use of this kind of attire in certain inclement conditions, and this concept has been copied and allegedly refined by some well-known brands.
I’ve recently purchased a brand new Special 6 after owning a second hand version that was around 20 years old, (estimated from pictures of the logo, the old style without the red/any text). Despite this apparent age, the smock looked brand new, with literally no flaws in the Pertex 6/Classic material whatsoever. The heavy-weight fleece/pile had suffered some age-related flattening of the pile but wasn’t too far off as lofty as it was when new, (compared against a brand new pair of the Special 6 trousers).
The new version, pictured here, comes with several new features that add adjustability and comfort. Firstly, all main zippers, (both side vents and zip at the collar), have baffles over them, thus preventing drafts during high winds and providing a little more privacy when venting. The hook & loop fastenings at the hem have changed a little, one set fastens the baffle down, whilst the other reduces the hem volume and blocks drafts by tying it in around your hips. Though I preferred the longer, more secure ‘female’ strip on the old smock to the small square of material on the new version. Also, the baffle over the collar-zip has a hook & loop fastener allowing the collar to be fastened tighter around your neck.
Performance-wise, I’ve used the system on many occasions and in different conditions; in the Peak District, (one example at the link), on Kinder in snow, down to ~-10 Celsius, and 40-50 mph winds, in gales and heavy rains in the Yorkshire Dales, and also some use in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in temperatures down to ~-20 Celsius supplemented by biting, 30-40 mph coastal winds. In each case, the smock/trouser combo has been pretty much ‘bombproof’, feeling like a sanctuary against the forces of nature.
One caveat here being that Pertex 6/Classic is not water-proof, but to aid drying and breathability, is instead highly water-resistant due to it’s construction though despite this, the level of warmth and wind-proofing negates any coldness, even when wet through.If the latter does occur, and it has to me, the water runs off through the pile, draining at the hem and sleeves very quickly. You must be active, but the heat generated from your body drives off the excess water, drying the garment in little time at all, as demonstrated during the aforementioned trip to the Yorkshire Dales.
The handwarmer pockets in the smock run all the way through, allowing you to fasten your rucksack hipbelt through the pocket. There are hook & loop fasteners on the drop tail and also a webbing-type pull-fastener in the hand warmer pocket, which allow you to take up any slack across the waist and torso, thus keeping you feeling snug and preventing any stray wind getting up your top!
When the going gets tough, and your activity levels rise, the full-length side zips on the trousers & the smock’s side vents allow ‘complete venting’ if worn as recommended, i.e. next to skin. If buying second-hand like I did initially, bear in mind that the older smock I had lacked the baffles on the side vents, so a little wind did get in at these points when they were closed. This is NOT a problem on this new version, the baffles work a treat!). With these new modifications the Special 6 is a veritable citadel in harsh weathers.
The fit in the new version seems to be slightly more voluminous than my old version. Both are/were a 38″ chest but there ‘seems’ to be more room in this one. The hem and collar baffle fasteners, along with the waist volume-reducer inside the handwarmer pockets, can be used to pull things in tighter but it definitely feels more roomy. Perhaps this is a quirk of it’s age and therefore my unfamiliarity with it, so I will update my thoughts on this after more use.
The Buffalo-brand hood has a detachable nose/mouth cover but the whole thing is sold separately, and the trousers lack crampon patches, (these only being available on the H.A. Salopettes), however, due to a little nick I acquired last winter, I might consider DIY’ing some on at some point. The Buffalo hood can be annoying at times, the nose/mouth cover is difficult to attach/easy to lose and there are little in the way of volume adjustment options. With the purchase of my new Special 6 I have bought the Montane Extreme hood, which fits the Special 6 well, has three-way volume adjustment, a wired peak and has soft-feel fabric over the nose/mouth area. However, the Montane hood seems to leave the upper face a little more more exposed, which I noticed allowed wind-driven hail to sting the face on a recent trip. As always, there is a trade-off.
Some people argue that perhaps Rab’s Vapour-rise range is more versatile and Montane’s Extreme range, whilst serving the same purpose, is more refined however, for what I need and use them for. Aside from the hood, I personally have no real problems with the Buffalo system.
Physiologically, I sweat considerably when active, but begin to freeze quickly when inactive. As a direct result of this, I figure that, for those like me, or those that ‘run cold’, the Special 6 is perfect in temperatures below ca. +5 Celsius where exposed, if windchill is present and/or you are relatively inactive. Or is perfect for temperatures around & below 0 Celsius for anything but the highest activity levels. Plus all their stuff is still hand-made in Sheffield, now that’s not something you hear everyday. Badass!