eli5 US Military Uniforms in Desert Conditions

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are the heavy looking uniforms/ helmets etc worn by US military personnel as hot to wear in the searing heat of desert conditions- such as Iraq, as they look? If so, how do they stay cool/ function?

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Yes they are probably hotter than it looks. The body armor makes it almost unbearable. And where I was we were not even allowed to roll our sleeves up when it was 120 outside.

I have not tested the US uniform but I have tried other uniforms. And they can be quite cool. The clothes provide shade and their light colors help reflect sunlight away. There is some distance between the uniform and the skin which helps protect from the heat, the uniform have opening which allow the breeze to get under the uniform helping to stay cool. A good undershirt will also help the sweat evaporate to further cool you down. A good uniform adjusted properly is quite cool in the hot desert and I have no doubt that the US military is inept at making good uniforms like this.

That being said in an actual war condition the uniform is just one layer you carry. One of the hottest things you can wear is body armor. I have worn body armor in the winter just to help keep warm. The body armor traps the air well on the body preventing any sweat and heat from escaping your body. Similarly the equipment belts and vests also push the uniform close to your body making it impossible to get a good breeze or to get the sweat to evaporate.

Can confirm. You could wear anything in the desert and you will be hot. Adding 60lbs of body armor only makes you hotter.

The uniforms and equipment are hot as all get out, but they’re a lot better than you’d think.

For example, the helmets are a singular pad or a harness on the inside, there are multiple pads arranged around the head that are covered with a moisture-wicking fabric. The separation of the pads allows air to move through them between the scalp an the helmet, doing a decent job of cooling the head a bit.

Around 2007 they started issuing “combat shirts” to be worn under body armor instead of the normal uniform top. The shirts are made of a moisture wicking fabric and are treated with antimicrobial chemicals to keep shit from growing on them. They do a pretty decent job of moving your sweat from your upper body to your arms where it can evaporate.

The desert boots (tan suede) do amazing things to keep your feet from cooking in the sun, too.

But even with those advances, you’re still carrying around a hundred pounds of gear on you in triple-digit temperatures. So how does one manage that?

Well, I hate to say it, but it’s (usually) a dry heat, and that makes one massive motherfucker of a difference (sorry, anyone who’s been stuck in Kuwait or Jalalabad). We also drink a shitload of water and make sure we eat the right kind of foods to keep our electrolytes from being flushed out (there is such a thing as water toxicity). But mostly? You get used to it. The adaptability of the human body is amazing. Soldiers (even the fat ones) are in pretty good shape and have been trained to recognize the signs of a heat related injury in both themselves and others, and it became kes less of an issue once you acclimate (takes two to four weeks). New arrivals to country were fucking miserable, which was why they tended to sit around for the first couple of weeks and get adjusted to the heat. The official reason was “training verification,” but the real reason was so nobody dropped dead from heat stroke on their first mission.