Words and Pics: Rich Norman

Preconceptions

For me, the most important thing to do in any review of the First Spear Wind Cheater is to get some commonly held preconceptions out of the way.

There seems to be some confusion about the item’s capabilities, judging by recent conversations I’ve had; although part of the confusion is quite rightly caused by the name of the item itself, which I believe is a misnomer when compared to the gold standard dedicated windproof technical apparel out there.

So, up front, I will say this about the Wind Cheater:

  1. It won’t keep you particularly dry
  2. It’s not particularly wind proof
  3. It is extremely breathable
  4. It wicks extremely well
  5. It is extremely fast drying

I would recommend this item for rugged, fast paced outdoor activities where breathability is key. I liken it to an actively cut, harness-compatible version of the classic British military smock. But it also exhibits a host of features which you’re more likely to find in modern technical apparel. And – of course – it doesn’t have the copious pockets of the British classic.

“Smock Lite”, maybe?

While the Wind Cheater breathes like cotton, it is composed of a brushed synthetic which is extremely tough and does provide some resilience to wind and – to a lesser extent – rain. It’s just not going to measure up to Gore Windstopper or Pro Shell. But then if you’re moving fast in either of those fabrics, you’re going to overheat pretty fast and get soaked from the inside – which kind of negates wearing them.

Plus, you’re not going to tear up the Wind Cheater when running around in the woods like you would Windstopper or Pro Shell. Think about the stuff your Crye 330D gear is made out of and you’re almost there, because the Wind Cheater is made of 300D Cordura “Ambush” which is brushed to deliver a cotton-like hand and wicking performance. It also has a small degree of mechanical stretch to it.

Hill People Gear

To my mind, the most honest explanation of the Wind Cheater’s abilities (and certainly the one which corresponds with my own experience) is Hill People Gear’s description of its version of the jacket.

HPG’s version is also made by First Spear, and shares a whole host of similarities with the review item; so it’s worth checking out to see which one suits you best. HPG also has a run down of the differences between its product and First Spear’s on its website.

Of the Wind Cheater, HPG says:

This garment is the perfect backcountry shell / mid layer for a wide range of conditions short of rain. The slightly stretchy Cordura Ambush fabric is on the robust side for a wind shirt, breathes better than most wind shirts, and cuts the wind and light moisture quite well.

Note that its recommended use is in:

…conditions short of rain.

And, as for its protection capabilities, it only cuts wind:

…quite well.

As such, “Wind Cheater” doesn’t seem like an appropriate name. But, it is one of those niche-defying entities that’s hard to pigeon-hole, so I understand the marketing dilemma.

Again, HPG hits the nail on the head with this excellent video. It’s the perfect primer for those interested in buying the Wind Cheater – regardless of whether you want the backcountry (HPG) or tactical (First Spear) version:

Sizing

The First Spear Wind Cheater fits true to size, so if you normally wear large tops – like I do – you’d go for large. The garment isn’t athletically cut, which means there’s adequate room underneath for layers. The hood will even subsume a helmet.

Helpfully, First Spear also provides this useful graphic which shows the actual measurements of the item, per size. You can measure-up a similar item you own and compare:

Features

Now you know the concept of what you’re buying, let’s look at the Wind Cheater’s feature set.

The item is a single layer hooded garment with no lining. As such it’s relatively simple in terms of construction, but it is feature-rich.

However, quite a lot of the Wind Cheater’s stitching is of the single stitched variety (not double) and bar tacks are kept to a bare minimum – but we’ll get onto that later when we look at quality.

The tags are all there which prove provenance (it’s made in the US) and the item exhibits a handy hanging loop at the collar.

Like all the other zips used in the garment’s construction, the main zip is YKK and is free-flowing and non-sticky. It also features a branded zip pull which is moulded to paracord.

The main zip extends upwards into a snood collar, which forms part of the copious hood. The collar (or hood) can be tightened using drawcords and nylon cord-locs.

The hood exhibits a storm bill and a loop Velcro field at the crown – presumably to carry an IR marker. At the rear of the hood is another cord-loc for fit. It operates one-handed.

It’s worth pointing out that the Velcro used throughout the jacket is of the modern, low nap variety; similar to One-Wrap. It’s not colour matched with the Multicam, but that’s not a huge thing.

The main zip is reversed for precipitation resistance.

There’s a baffle inside.

Zip garages are a welcome feature here and a number of them are composed of a hypalon-type material, as can be seen on the hand warmer pockets at the front sides of the garment.

The pockets are mesh lined and their volume is huge. As such, with nothing in the pockets, they can effectively be used as vents – when deploying the pit zips would be too much.

The item incorporates an awesomely long drop tail, which reminds me of a fish-tail parka. Compared to the cut of most modern activewear, the Wind Cheater is pretty roomy at the waist and hips, reminding me of an over-the-head anorak – something with a quarter or three quarter length zip, rather than a full opening. If you’re familiar with the Buffalo Special 6 Shirt, you’ll know what I mean.

However, the wide hem can be effectively controlled by the vertically-orientated hem adjusters.

At the cuffs, the newest gen Wind Cheater exhibits rather professional looking polymer adjusters which are embossed with the First Spear logo. The adjusters fasten with Velcro.

There are zip pockets on both biceps. These are bellowed and incorporate some nice details.

While the Wind Cheater is incredibly breathable, it also features huge, two-way pit zips which are capable of massive venting. For me, the pit zip are a huge selling point because no matter how breathable the item, I often need additional cooling during and after strenuous aerobic exercise.

As you’ve probably noticed in the pics so far, First Spear isn’t shy of branding and there’s a really cool embroidered logo on the back of the jacket. This is hidden with the hood down.

Quality

The Wind Cheater’s component materials are great quality: main fabric, zips, Velcro, cord-locs, zip garages, etc. Usually, I don’t need to say much about that. Products by high end manufacturers like First Spear are beyond reproach. That’s because the quality is normally phenomenal.

However, as I implied earlier, there are a few areas where I’d expect double stitching rather than the single stitching which is endemic to the jacket. Not only that, but bar tacks are used sparingly and – TBH – the stitching itself could be a little better.

What I would say, however, is that First Spear stands by its products.

When I received my first Multicam Wind Cheater, I turned the garment inside out to check the quality and noticed a hole in one of the bicep pocket. I contacted First Spear and they totally owned the issue – getting a replacement to me within a matter of days.

Really excellent customer service, which I am sure is shared by First Spear’s resellers.

Conclusion

The First Spear Wind Cheater is a singular jacket – there’s nothing much like it in my wardrobe right now.

It’s not a softshell, it’s not a fleece, it’s not a hard shell. It’s a versatile outer-layer which is orientated towards moving fast in non-permissive outdoor environments; even if – for most of us – that simply means a jacket that’s tough enough to take the worst woodland snags or bouldering scrapes.

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