An immediate preference would always be for a breathable smock. Sometimes, however, other factors dictate a PVC material will be more practical, not least when fishing in the muddy settings of places like the Bristol Channel.
The one excellent feature of both the Guy Cotten Chinook and the competitor in this area, the Vass-tex 350 Team Smock, is the ability to wipe them down with ease to keep them clean. This isn’t quite so easy with breathable type materials!
Whether it be wallowing in the mud on a low tide mark, or gutting and filleting fish on a motor back to port, the PVC style smock has clear circumstances where it becomes far more practical.
Typically, it’s also easier for a non breathable to maintain waterproof qualities. As it does not have to be designed to allow moisture to flow either way, no compromise is required in ensuring the material is absolutely waterproof.
Whilst there are a number of options on the market, such as the Reed Chillcheater for instance – which has a thermal wicking lining, the two most well known players in this market are the grey (or earlier orange version) Guy Cotten Chinook and the blue Vass 350 Team Smock.
Both of these are a simple, unlined PVC type material smock, though beyond this, the designs do start to differ, which is what we will address here.
The first thing one should note, for any smock of this sort of unbreathable material, is both sweating and condensation can occur on the inside. This has to be factored in to the other layers worn with these smocks, as well as rendering them less than ideal for a long hike. You can keep the rain out as much as you like, but if you also trap in a whole load of sweat and condensation, you’ll find yourself feeling pretty wet in any case!
One of the ways to avoid the issues both condensation and sweat produce is to purchase a larger size than you would usually. A looser fit allows more air flow and prevents any internal moisture build up. There are other reasons to purchase larger sizes, which we’ll come to.
There is little to distinguish between the materials used. Despite being given it’s own brand name by each company, it is in essence a PVC type material. It is not breathable, but by that same token it is also reliably waterproof – at least where there is a solid patch of the material (more on that in a bit).
The material for both wipes clean just as easily, has similar resistance to snagging on any rocks or other abrasive environments it may encounter. In short, you’re not going to pick between these two fishing smocks on the material used to make them.
It is worth noting at this point that the material from each smock has a degree of stretch. What we cannot be certain of is whether this stretching, over time, threatens the structure and therefore waterproof abilities of the fabric. This is another reason for buying a size up, so as to avoid unnecessary stretching. This will allow more air flow in summer, keeping you cooler, and allow for more layers without stretching in the winter months.
The first thing to understand is that pockets are a nightmare for anyone designing a waterproof garment. They offer an immediate area of weakness and likely place of water ingress.
This is no doubt why the pocket on both the Guy Cotten Chinook and Vass 350 Team smocks are incredibly simple, and applied on top of the base material of the smock.
The Chinook has a tiny chest pocket – just about big enough for a spool of elastic, whilst the Vass 350 has a larger front pocket sat just below chest level, which can hold substantially more bits that you may need at short notice.
Neither have hand pockets, and we know to some that is a major setback.
Personal experience of the Vass 350 left me discovering that the pocket is better at stopping water escaping than it is at stopping it gaining access in the first place. This, of course, will not get through the rest of the smock to you, but does render the pocket unsuitable for anything that must stay dry.
The cuffs on the Vass 350 are simply an elasticated continuation of the smock. This provides a little sealing against ingress, but the ‘crumpled’ effect this causes on the cuff will never create a tight and fully water resistant seal. However, the material stays consistent with less additional seals to worry about. You wouldn’t be dunking hands and arms into water with these cuffs, but they provide adequate rain protection.
On the Guy Cotten Chinook, the neoprene cuffs, sealed to the end of the sleeves of the smock, produce a tight but comfortable fitting. You can confidently submerge hands and arms, such as when returning or landing a fish, without suffering ingress.
The downside is an additional seal and therefore more potential for weakness. However, in several years of using these, not a thread has appeared to come loose. In addition, you have to remember that the neoprene itself is not waterproof. It will dispel most water, but seems to absorb a small quantity and can feel a little damp on your skin. This isn’t ideal in the coldest of weather, and you must make sure clothing underneath is not in contact with the cuffs, to avoid any potential wicking up of the water. Overall, the pros do outweigh the cons for these cuffs though.
The collars are similar in design with some subtle differences. Both deploy what may often be referred to as a storm collar – that can open up to allow cooling and air flow when required, but when closed up, flows any ingress of water down an outer channel (gusset) and drains it away.
On the Vass 350 Team Smock, this flap simply closes with a plastic popper. By avoiding extra components, they minimise risk of failure (such as corrosion with metal parts), but any damage to the popper is going to render the collar unusable.
The Guy Cotten Chinook uses a small zip to do up the storm collar, which does allow a degree of variance in how tight the collar is. Zips need looking after and keeping clean though, especially in salt water environments.
Because of the zip on the Guy Cotten, it has a small drainage hole added at the bottom, whereas the Vass has no such requirement as it does not result in a completely enclosed inner collar. Both drain sufficiently.
Neither smock opts for a fully watertight neoprene seal seen on pricier models (though many find these uncomfortable). As such, there’s always the risk of some ingress if you are face on to the rain. A well adjusted hood mitigates against that, so on we go to hoods!
Once more, there is little immediately obvious to choose between the hoods.
They are both oversized (the Vass 350 a little larger fitting), to accommodate hats, hoods and headlights. They are both adjusted with draw strings to tighten them around the head and prevent that ingress we spoke of when facing straight into the rain.
The Vass is a stowaway hood, rolling up inside the collar when not in use. This gives some options to those who prefer a waterproof hat to a hood. The Guy Cotten hood does not stow in the same manner, so will simply sit behind the smock when not in use. It does, however, contain an easily adjustable peak (you just adjust the pliable material to suit).
Some will like the addition of the peak, others the larger hood of the Vass with the option to stow it away.
The hem of these smocks do differ. Individuals may have a preference as a result.
The Vass has the same elastication as used in the cuffs. Whilst you would not expect water ingress to defy gravity and drive up from here, it does stop any wind billowing up on a looser fitting size.
The Guy Cotten contains no such elastication on the hem. It simply comes to an end, in a slightly extended length than most smocks. The advantage to this looser fit is that it prevents any riding up with movement; though in a stiff breeze, with a looser fit, wind can billow up from below.
Neither are really suitable as ‘wading smocks’ because of this lack of any real ingress protection on the hem.
Whilst prices vary, the Vass 350 Team Smock is typically around the £70 mark, with the Chinook coming in a little less around £60. So they are roughly in the same ball park. There is not enough variance in price to demand a different level of quality from each item.
There are slightly pricier breathable variants of each, such as the Vass 175 and the Guy Cotten Aquastar, but we’ll look at these in a further review.
Likewise, there are bib / over trouser options with both – the Vass 350 Team and the Guy Cotten Hitra. We’ll park these and consider them independently too as some of the design variances are more noticable. They are rarely sold as a set, and thus it does not influence the consideration on price and mix and matching would be possible.
As you can see, there are only a few design differences with which to make an informed decision ‘off the shelf’. Whilst the real key selling point for me would be the cuffs on the Guy Cotten (nothing worse then water running up the arms when putting a fish back, or grabbing one from the surf), others will prefer the larger stowaway hood on the Vass and the elasticated hem.
The key differentiator, however, comes with experience and long term use of both items. The Chinook has never failed on me, keeping me as dry as a bone. The Vass, whilst offering ‘quad sealed seams’ has allowed significant ingress at these seams.
However, it would appear this occurs as a result of stretching the material. We mentioned earlier to look to a larger size and this is the key reason why. Whilst the material itself appears to hold up well to a little stretching, the seams suffer. My experience of leaks, and others, arose after wearing these smocks over additional layers in colder conditions in Norway. I fully believe the stretching over the head and shoulders compromised the seams.
Purchased in a suitable size and well looked after, each of these smocks should offer you a sufficient affordable waterproof option.