Since the mid-1980s U.S. military personnel stationed in cold weather reagions have been issued the Extended Cold-Weather Clothing System (ECWCS, pronounced ek-wax). This multi-layer ensemble of clothing and accessories replaces the mix of items used previously for cold-wet and cold-dry conditions, although some older items have been retained and incorporated into ECWCS.

U.S. Army SGT Seth Paul wearing Generation III Extended Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS), Ft. Greeley, AK, December 2006
U.S. Army SGT Seth Paul wearing Generation III Extended Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS), Ft. Greeley, AK, December 2006.

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Extended Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS)

The Extended Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS, pronounced ek-wax) was developed at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, Natick, MA and was fielded for the Army and USMC by 1985. ECWCS is a Gore-tex parka and trousers plus a coordinated ensemble of additional underclothing and accessory items which can be optionally configured in many ways to provide cold weather protection in a wide variety of temperature (+40 F to -60 F), wind, and moisture conditions. ECWCS uses moisture management principles to transfer perspiration away from the skin, keeping the wearer warm and dry. ECWCS was intended to replace the many individual items of cold weather uniforms and clothing that preceeded it.

ECWCS Layers
ECWCS Layers.

Extended Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS) performance depends on layered protection. With ECWCS, the clothing components are arranged in three reinforcing major groupings that encompass up to five layers:

  • Base: also known as inner or wicking layer, the base layer(s) are designed to wick excess moisture away from the wearer's body
  • Insulation: one or two intermediate layers that provide volume to enable the wearer to trap warm air between the body and outer garments
  • Outer Shell: one or two camouflaged external layers that protect the wearer from wind and moisture

Additional clothing components cover the head, hands, and feet or provide accessory functions.

By 2005, there were three generations of ECWCS representing an evolution of materials and garments within the basic ECWCS layered concept. The different generations define the layers a little differently in terms of the individual garments provided for wear. Use these linked pages for more detail on each ECWCS generation:

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