Kit tests - Protective clothing

Safety, comfort and value for money are the watchwords when selecting workwear, Sally Drury finds.

Stihl Contrast Safety glasses are lightweight and scratch proof - image: HW
Stihl Contrast Safety glasses are lightweight and scratch proof - image: HW

Tested This Week
STIHL HiFlex Class 2 Design C chainsaw trouser
STIHL CONTRAST safety glasses
Francital Everest Class 1 Design A PLUS chainsaw trouser
Francital Montvert arborists trouser
Timberland Protimber chainsaw glove
STIHL HiFlex jacket

The Review Panel

Tom Dewey, arborist, Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, Romsey, Hampshire

Matt Noyce, senior arborist, Sir Harold Hillier Gardens

Working outdoors may be hard and the weather harsh - hot, cold or wet - but in arboriculture these conditions are combined with the need for protection while using a chainsaw. In this review we look at some of the latest clothing designed for the job.

STIHL contributed the latest version of its now famous HiFlex trouser. This is the Class 2 Design C chainsaw trouser and Dewey wears them to climb and undertake maintenance work in the trees at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, near Romsey in Hampshire. But is the matching HiFlex jacket what every fashion-conscious arborist should be seen in?

A recent addition to Severnside Safety's catalogue is the Francital Everest Class 1 Design A PLUS chainsaw trouser. Also from the Francital stable, the Montvert is offered as a non-protective climbing trouser.

Branding can speak volumes but what will our testers make of a chainsaw glove from Timberland? Again donated by Severnside Safety, the gloves are put through their paces to see if they are truly professional. Finally, with eye safety in mind, we look at safety specs from STIHL.

STIHL HiFlex Class 2 Design C chainsaw trouser

First introduced in 2005, STIHL's HiFlex trousers have earned a reputation for smartness and comfort as well as toughness and safety. HiFlex quickly became a favourite with climbing arborists. Today there is a choice of three trousers with chainsaw protection - the latest addition is the Class 2 Design C trouser (cut resistant to BS EN381-5).

The Class 2 does not come cheap - the recommended retail price is £265 including VAT - but it is purpose-designed for those who require higher protection.

The new trouser increases the protective layers to eight, up from six in the Class 1 trouser. Being Design C, the cut resistance is to the front and the back of each leg. The material is stretchy and there are pleats to the knee area to help bending. But will that extra protection restrict the wearer?

"I climbed in them last week and they are good," says Dewey, smiling as I catch up with him in the yard. "They seem to have a lot more stretch than my previous ones and they have eased off a lot from when I first put them on. They were quite tight then."

The trousers sent to us by STIHL are medium-sized. Dewey is a lean medium and when I delivered them to the gardens in October, he was keen to try them on. But he emerged from the changing rooms muttering something about needing "sparrow's legs". One week later, he is telling me they are very comfortable, although sometimes a little warm.

"Because of the extra protection, these trousers are quite warm on hot days, certainly warmer than my old ones, especially at the top of the legs. But they are comfortable and do dry well," notes Dewey.

With eight layers of protection, these trousers are likely to be slightly warmer, but the Schoeller "dryskin" outer material prevents much temperature build-up. Schoeller's "dryskin" acts like a transport system. Capillary fibres on the inside of the fabric soak up perspiration like a sponge and carry it away in thousands of pores and channels. The moisture is contained in these tubular fibres and the drying process is accelerated. The impregnated coating provides dirt and water resistance. "I was out in rain all day yesterday and they dried completely overnight," comments Dewey.

There is Kevlar reinforcement to the full front of the leg for increased wear and tear resistance, but Dewey will be paying close attention to the bottom of the legs over the next few months. His last pair wore badly on the inside of the ankles where they rub together, just at the point where the Kevlar ends.

We inspect the trousers closely. "The zips are good," notes Dewey. "And I like the pockets." There are five pockets - a press-stud closing patch pocket on one leg, a ruler pocket on the other, two diagonal Velcro-fastening diagonal pockets to the front and a rear pocket with zip and good-sized fob. There are seven loops to hold a belt in place plus integrated buttons for braces.

We are impressed with the quality of the cut, the style, the material and the stitching. The garment can be washed at 40 degsC and we like the highly-visible bright-orange STIHL flash down one leg. There is just one thing Dewey would alter - the hanging strap.

"The hanger is a really good idea so you can hang the trousers for drying, but in my old trousers it was made of a softer material. This one is coarser and sometimes rides up under my T-shirt and irritates my back," he says. "And if there were two straps you could hang them in an open position so they would dry even quicker."

Design A and C trousers are also available with Class 1 protection.

Protection: Class 2 Design C (BS EN381-5)
Colour: anthracite, orange and black
Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL (27-45in waist/31.5-34in leg)
Price: (RRP) £220.83 + VAT
Tel: STIHL - 01276 20202

STIHL CONTRAST safety glasses

We call them "happy glasses" because they make the world look a brighter, more colourful place. No matter how dull the day, the landscape is transformed into hues more reminiscent of a children's TV programme. But there is a very good reason for this. They are designed for optimum visibility depending on the working environment and the available light.

"We've been using them in low light conditions and they definitely help," states Noyce.

The lenses feature an anti-mist, anti-scratch coating with 100 per cent UV protection. However, Noyce did manage to create a fog and ended up with condensation running down the inside of the glasses. But he was not able to scratch the lenses.

The glasses have a lightweight wrap-around rubber-coated frame with adjustable side arms to ensure a comfortable fit.

"We normally use Uvex specs with the elastic around the back because they tend to fit better under ear defenders. When you have your helmet on, you don't want the arms of glasses digging in - surprisingly these don't," he says.

Dewey adds: "They certainly help make things clearer. When you are climbing on a dull day, you can see what you are doing." Equally the glasses reduce the glare when looking up into a tree on a sunny day.

Protection: EN 166 standard and offering protection against UVA and VBA
rays and from mechanical risks
Colour: Orange, yellow, tinted, clear
Price: (RRP) £10 + VAT
Tel: STIHL - 01276 20202

Francital Everest Class 1 Design A PLUS chainsaw trouser

I first came across the Francital PPE range at the Arboricultural Association's Arb Show at the Bathurst Estate, Cirencester, back in June of this year. Displayed on Cheltenham-based Severnside Safety's stand, this latest collection attracted a lot of attention. It is easy to see why. In jet black with brilliant hi-visibility yellow embroidery, they are strikingly smart. But looks are not everything. We want to know how they perform.

Originally involved in the development of equipment for the extreme conditions found on high mountains, Francital now has a reputation for quality and performance in the forestry sector - and particularly in technologically-advanced "intelligent clothing". The trousers we test, donated by importer Severnside Safety, are strong and comfortable. They conform to EN381-5 Design A Class 1 (20m/s is embroidered on the leg), have calf protection and water-repellent bi-stretch fabric (96 per cent polyamide, four per cent elasthanne). They easily withstand attack from branches and brambles and stretch and flex to provide room to move. What is more, they have water management, in the form of Hydrophile by Sofleta, to wick sweat away immediately to keep the wearer dry and cool. Spreading moisture quickly over a large surface area results in quick drying.

"They are a great fit and very comfortable - they feel quite snug, but stretchy and flexible," confirms Noyce. "I've never seen a trouser zip like this though." The fly zip on the Francital trousers is two way.

Noyce is impressed with the abrasion-resistant strengthening to the knees and the bottom of the legs. It adds to the quality of the garment and should reduce the risk of early wear and tear. Although the hem is only single stitch, the side seams are double and there is good overlocking on the inside. At £130 + VAT, this trouser promises value for money.

"The pockets are useful in size and location and they look good, too," says Noyce. There are two front pockets with zips, a rear pocket with a flap, a rule pocket on one leg and a patch pocket with Velcro fastening on the other.

The waistband is elasticated and is high in the back for protection against cold winds. Only five loops are provided for a belt, but there are integrated buttons to secure braces if you prefer. Trouser bottoms are neat with an elasticated inner, Velcro and drawstrings. Weight is 1,125g and the trousers can be washed at 40 degsC followed by a medium iron. And, if you want to be more visible, this trouser is also available in bright red.

Protection: Class 1 Design A+ (EN381-5)
Colour: Black with yellow trim or red with black trim
Sizes: 28, 30, 32, 33, 34, 36, 38, 40, 42 and 44 waist
Price: (RRP) £130 + VAT
Tel: Severnside Safety - 01242 525811

Francital Montvert arborists trouser

There are times when you need to climb, but do not plan to use a chainsaw - perhaps as part of inspection work or for competition. We are testing these Francital trousers to see if they have any advantages over regular arborist trousers.

The Montvert Arborist trouser is the same style as the Everest chainsaw trouser. It is made of the same Hydrophile two-way stretchy water-repellent fabric that wicks away and dissipates sweat quickly. It has the same style of pockets in the same places as the Everest and it has Cordura abrasion-resistant strengthening at the knee and the bottom of the legs so they should be strong. They wash at 40 degsC. In every way, the Montvert is the same as the Everest - except they have no protection.

Remove the protection from a trouser and the garment immediately becomes lightweight, which should make these trousers a good choice for climbing activities.

Dewey has worn the trousers but, as yet, not for climbing. For the moment he confirms they are comfortable and will report back later.

Protection: None
Colour: Red with black trim or black with yellow trim
Sizes: 28, 30, 32, 33, 34, 36, 38, 40, 42 and 44 waist
Price: (RRP): £80 + VAT
Tel: Severnside Safety - 01242 525811

Timberland Protimber chainsaw glove

Timberland has been securing its name in workwear for some time and now makes a move into the arboricultural market with a chainsaw glove. It is a glove that certainly looks the part and one that seemingly offers a number of advantages over the average protective handwear - the gloves conform to EN388 and EN381-7 Class 0.

The palm features water-repellent smooth goat-grain leather with rubber reinforcement and Kevlar-yarn stitching. The back is nylon/Lycra fabric for flexibility, laminated with a water-repellent and breathable membrane. Wide chainsaw protection is provided by an added lining of specific chain-arrest material on the back of the left glove.

"These gloves definitely look the part," says Noyce. "When I first put them on, the left hand with the padding in the back seemed a bit cumbersome and it didn't want to flex. But they loosen up with movement and now they are not only comfortable, but I can feel a lot more with them compared with normal chainsaw gloves. I can feel what I am doing and that's how it should be.".

Noyce is also impressed by the "grippiness" of the gloves, as well as the fit. "It's been wet today, but they have kept their grip. Usually, if you get leather wet, you find they go a bit slippery. With these, even the finger tips have grip," says Noyce. "The Velcro cuffs are a good idea, too, they help tighten the glove nicely into the wrist."

Later, having got the gloves soaking wet, Noyce reports back: "The gloves dry quickly."

Protection: EN388 and EN381-7 Class 0
Colour: Grey with orange design on cuffs
Sizes: 9l, 10, 11
Price: (RRP) £27.58 + VAT
Tel: Severnside Safety - 01242 525811

Stihl HiFlex jacket

At £200 (including VAT) we would expect the HiFlex jacket to be comfortable as well as smart. And it is.

It does not have cut resistance, but having a Schoeller "dryskin" outer layer with a dirtand water-resistant coating, it boasts the same quick drying properties and good breathability as the trousers. Ventilation is provided by yoke and underarm vents.

"You really feel the benefit of the stretchy fabric when you are working and it really whips the moisture away from you. It seems to keep you cool when you are working hard and yet for such a thin fabric, it's also surprisingly warm," says Noyce. "It looks great and it's a very comfortable jacket, very lightweight and with great flexibility of the fabric - you need that bit of flex when you are climbing."

There are two concealed zipped pockets positioned high on the jacket plus a mobile-phone pocket.

"Look, it's iPhone compatible," notes Noyce.

The fleece-lined inner neck adds to the comfort of this jacket and an extended rear panel protects the lower back from draughts. The chunky full-length zip is strong and well protected by the over-flap with poppers. Useful Velcro straps provide the right level of fit to the wrist but what is going on with the drawstring around the waist?

"Try squeezing the toggles?" No. "Pull them". No. We cannot work it. One thing we do appreciate, however, are the elbow reinforcements.

Protection: None
Colour: Anthracite, orange and black
Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL (37-51" chest)
Price: (RRP) £166.67 + VAT
Tel: STIHL - 01276 20202

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