The lost arrow project by patagonia – military alpine recce system program history – soldier systems daily electricity 1800s

Most people who enjoy the outdoors know Patagonia as a company which produces outdoor clothing. Still others may know about Patagonia’s long-term dedication to social and environmental responsibility. While those may sound like marketing buzz-words, it turns out they manifest themselves in ways the average person would never imagine.

What most do not know is that for more than a decade, Patagonia has focused their expertise at providing technical outerwear for the most extreme environments and athletes, to a different customer, US Special Operations Forces. That’s right. Patagonia has a dedicated team, focused on supporting USSOCOM with delivering US Made/Berry Compliant technical cold weather and combat uniforms as prime provider to the Protective Combat Uniform program. What’s more, they’ve cultivated a relationship with a like minded production partner, Peckham Vocational Industries. Itself a company founded upon service to others.

I spoke with Eric Neuron, Director of Strategic Product & Military for Patagonia Works and he related that one unintended, but important outcome of their military work has been a renewed focus on the US manufacturing base. They’ve spent the last three years investing in Peckham Vocational Industries, with technical machinery and knowledge transfer from their global supply chain. Their goal is to build the capacity to produce outdoor apparel that is technically equivalent to what they produce globally.

Even those familiar with Patagonia’s PCU work usually don’t know how long they have been supporting the military. My relationship with the brand goes back to the late 1980s, when I was assigned to 3rd ID’s Long Range Surveillance Detachment. We were issued thick dark blue pile suits to ward off the cold while in a hide site and polypropylene long underwear, complete with logo on the left chest. Not long after that, very close copies of those garments were included in the US Army’s Extended Cold Weather Clothing System. Right down to the nylon chest pocket.

Throughout the 90s, SOF units would issue specialized pieces of Patagonia clothing for use in extreme environments. But it was not until the Global War On Terror that Patagonia answered the nation’s call and began developing entire clothing systems for SOF.

In 2004, Patagonia commenced work for a SOF customer on an environmental clothing system which was comprised of modifications to what was already in their commercial line. Leveraging their Regulator line of inner layers, this project was dubbed the Military Advanced Regulator System or MARS. Some garments remained the same as their commercially available counterparts but with a color change to Alpha Green, while other items were slightly modified with additions such as sleeve pockets. Later, many components of MARS were produced in Coyote.

At around the same time, the Program Manager for SOF Survival, Support and Equipment Systems invited three vendors in to update their PCU ensemble. The first go around had been developed quickly in-house at Natick Soldier Systems Center, just outside of Boston, with the assistance of renown mountaineer Mark Twight.

The other two vendors bowed out after deciding that they didn’t want to lend their brand names to clothing produced in domestic factories they had little control over. Patagonia jumped in with both feet, refining PCU’s seven levels despite being limited to fabric technologies already in the program. They also worked tirelessly with the Ability One sew house which produced the gear, to keep quality high throughout the process. Even then, Patagonia’s role with PCU didn’t leverage their design capability.

Then, in 2009, Patagonia got their chance to take the lead on a clothing project for PM SSES who decided to develop a SOF Combat Uniform. This garment became PCU Level 9. They held a development event in El Paso, Texas, along with their Ability One partner, bringing in personnel from each of the SOF components to provide feedback on prototypes. This was very much a hands-on event, with multiple evaluations occurring as well as an early use of 3D laser scanning to determine sizes for the operators.

Patagonia’s Cyndi Davis was central in the development of that garment and someone SOCOM would continue to turn to for expertise in the ensuing years. The Patagonia team refined its initial concepts and turned the uniform into reality. Now, they also produce a jungle version of that uniform, called Level 9 HW.

But they haven’t stopped there. Most recently, Patagonia formalized The Lost Arrow Project, a subsidiary of Patagonia Works that is solely focused on their government contracting business. Their aim is build special-purpose clothing and gear for extreme environments, developed specific to the requirements of the government user, and for compliancy in government contracting.

About three years ago, what was to become The Lost Arrow Project, decided to start with a clean slate, envisioning a follow-on to PCU. They brought in one of Patagonia’s most experienced designers, Casey Shaw, who began work on what would eventually become the Military Alpine Recce System. It’s still called MARS, but they’ve transitioned from their older Regulator technology to new materials with a focus on tailored breathability.

Eric Neuron, sums up their efforts quite well, saying, “The latest iteration of the MARS line of cold weather clothing has redefined the state of the art in domestic outerwear, is a paradigm shift from the status quo of cold weather layering systems, and is the culmination of The Lost Arrow Project.”

This is the first of a four-part series on the Military Alpine Recce System developed by Patagonia’s The Lost Arrow Project. Other installments include an overview of the system and its design, a focus on their production partner Peckham Industries and a deep dive into some of the components. The full system will be on exhibition at SOF Select during SOFIC.