I first became familiar with Triple Aught Designs ( www.tadgear.com ) of San Francisco, manufacturers and retailers of top-end military and out-door clothing and equipment in 2007 when I was looking for a soft-shell jacket suitable for “bushcraft” and use in woodlands. I wanted something in subdued colours and with a hood – the climbing/hill-walking company’s were offering jackets with hoods (Haglofs, Arc’teryx etc) but the best colour they could come up with was black and the prices were steep. Hunting apparel manufacturers had some soft-shell’s in green and brown but without a hood. Then I saw the TAD Stealth Hoodie – a hooded soft-shell jacket that came in multi-environment green, coyote brown or grey and was packed with the features I was looking for. I ordered one, not immediately because they were out of stock and TAD only manufacture in small runs to maintain quality, but in February of 2008 when they re-stocked. It cost $265 – approx £130. I also ordered a Marino wool hat at $29.95, about £15. The total order, with shipping, came to $316 . There was a bit of a foul up because the TAD website didn’t allow overseas customers to pay via PayPal but that was easily sorted out and I eagerly waited the arrival of my stuff. About 4 weeks later I got a letter from ParcelForce informing me that the package had been impounded by Customs and would only be released on payment of the duty, plus a “handling fee” – the letter menacingly stated that . Nobody likes to be held hostage but what can you do – they’ve got your goods and the clock is ticking. So I coughed up the £58 and my package was finally delivered. Imagine my disappointment when I opened the package to discover that TAD had sent me the wrong garment in the wrong colour – and it had cost me £58 to find out. To add insult to injury they had used the computer generated sales receipt as the address label so HM Customs & Excise had known exactly how much the stuff had cost and had stung me accordingly. I emailed TAD and got a quick response, they offered to replace the wrong jacket with the right one but there was no guarantee that I wouldn’t be stung by Customs again so I decided to cut my losses and opted to return the jacket for a refund. TAD paid to ship the jacket back to America but even so there was the hassle of posting if off and waiting for my refund. I did keep the Marino hat, which with shipping and customs fee’s ended up costing me £89! It’s the most expensive woolly hat I’ll ever buy… I licked my wounds and put it down to experience. But I still wanted a soft-shell, preferably in green or brown and with a hood if possible. I almost bought a Harkila but they were not cheap and didn’t have a hood then one day in May I was surfing the web and came across www.ebaybanned.com and saw what looked like a replica of the TAD Stealth Hoodie retailing for 53 Euros, or £40 in real money.
I bought one. Shipping was free and 6 days later it arrived from Hong Kong. This is nothing less than a blatant counterfeit of the TAD Stealth Hoodie complete with fake tags, labels and logo. Just like the original it has 2 chest pockets and 3 arm pockets, plus a large “poachers pocket” on the back accessed by zips at both ends. The hood has a peak and is adjustable via toggles at the front. There are pit-zips under both arms for ventilation and a two-way front zip. The site very helpfully points out that these garments have been made for the Asian market with Asian sizings so European/North American customers may need to go up a size. I’m 6’1” and 13.5 stone and would usually take a Large, I ordered the X-Large and it’s as good a fit as anything I’ve bought off the internet. I appreciate that there is a slight drop in quality from the American-made genuine article to the Chinese-made knock-off but having handled both an original TAD garment and this counterfeit I think the difference is slight – the zips, seams and stitching are all very tight and well finished. Anyway, in my view “bushcrafters” tend to buy ridiculously over-spec products when something cheaper would function just as well, at least in the situations and environments most of us operate in. The summer of 2008 gave me plenty of opportunity to test the jacket. During a particularly heavy rainstorm in Hammsterly Forest in early June the jacket initially worked well but when the rain became relentlessly heavy leaks could be felt creeping in at the shoulder seams. This is understandable and it should be noted that soft-shells are not intended to be totally impermeable to rain. Similarly during a trip to Cumbria in early August the jacket was great in lighter drizzly rain, shedding water from it’s surface without any difficulty and it was also able to take short bursts of very heavy rain but it did begin to let in water if exposed to the kind of prolonged torrential downpour that English summers produce. The colour “coyote brown” was developed by the US armed forces for deployment in hot arid environments and seems to cover anything from light sandy beige to an almost milk-chocolate brown and this jacket is towards the lighter end of that spectrum. As a consequence it’s no good as camouflage in summer woodlands where green is the predominant colour but does blend in well amongst the dry grass of coastal dunes and uplands. The lighter colour can make it prone to appearing grubby and so far I’ve washed it twice by hand in warm water, using Nikwax Techwash – both times it came up good as new. This is not a perfect never-need-to-buy-another jacket but it does perform well within its comfort zone and for the price I don’t mind subjecting it to hard knocks and rough use. I’ll leave it up to your own conscience as to whether ‘tis nobler to buy the real thing from TAD and support the people who actually developed the design and own the patents or whether you feel £40 for a hooded soft-shell is too good an opportunity to miss and vote with your wallet.