Review: First Spear Brawler FR

Piotr Ma gives us his run down of this solid outdoor shirt from First Spear.

What’s so exciting about a shirt? Well, if that shirt is made by First Spear (FS) – you can be sure it’s a bit special. And that’s exactly why a couple of months ago I was so excited awaiting my Brawler shirt delivery. Plus the Stratton Flannel shirt – not as technical as the Brawler but still a classic piece of outdoor apparel.

So first off let’s check out that cool Brawler FR (Flame Retardant). Yeah, despite the classic look and feel of the fabric it’s a far cry from a standard nylon cotton (NY-CO) blend. Instead it’s a mid-heavy 6.5 oz, state of the art fabric manufactured in US by TenCate Protective Fabrics company.

It’s composed of flame retardant Lenzing yarn with the addition of aramid, which makes it super tough and it can protect you from open flames and heat… to me that sounds quite badass.

Despite all the protective technology it’s still as soft as a classic NY-CO and feels very natural on your skin. It’s called a ‘shirt’ by FS but think of it as of a classic shirt-jacket.

The Brawler features a multi-panel construction with a bold front zipper (backed-up with mil-spec slotted buttons), four pockets and a stand-up protective collar. Plus, last but not least, there are multiple hidden mesh insert/panels for super enhanced ventilation – at the back, in the armpits and inside the pockets.

The two chest pockets have internal admin keepers (for pen, lighter, pocket knife etc.), a key-loop and an additional small pocket flap to double secure important items.

The sleeve pockets are optimized for ID cards etc. but still feature internal organization, including a secure backup closing. All pockets have front flaps with an oval velcro panel for IFF markers.

The Brawler’s cut is definitely relaxed, so if you’re a skinny guy, well, it might feel a bit loose. And if you’re between sizes – I suggest you go smaller. I normally wear L and in this case L is my correct size. Thanks to the slightly oversized nature it’s also very easy to manoeuvre in the field with the Brawler on, plus it’s great for CCW carry (especially on the back).

It’s a bit shorter at the front than most shirts, so you get easy access to your front pants pockets and the front/sides of a duty belt. But it still features a longer tail, so the Brawler perfectly protects your lower back from wind in the field and works great for backpacking too (a very good hip-belt support).

Contrary to what you may think of FR fabrics it’s breathable and surprisingly soft. There are multiple mesh venting panels, in strategic areas, so it really allows air to flow in and out to exchange the heat.

I found it great to wear outdoors in most conditions that require a shirt-jacket outer shell (except heavy rain of course). Additionally you can roll-up the sleeves (and secure by button & trap), or simply open the cuffs thanks to 3 buttons adjustment. To sum up – the overall breathability of this shirt, and the wearing comfort, is nothing but great.

It works well worn just on a t-shirt in warmer days, but it really shines on chilling Spring mornings and evenings – when combined with an additional merino mid-layer. I tried it with a light merino hoodie, and with my favorite FS Woobie, and it was a match made in heaven!

Just compare the cut and compatibility of me wearing the Woobie and Brawler… that ash-grey line just above collar and in the tail area is my Woobie – great match, isn’t it? Both size L. And it will surely be awesome for late Summer nights in August when sitting around a bonfire with friends (that’s also when FR comes in handy for us civilians). Oh, and I plan to take it in September and October for some weekend hikes into the mountains.

It looks good, works good and is quite indestructible – in fact it must be the strongest fabric I have ever had in any of my jackets & shirts – just the 25% of aramid fiber alone sounds badass enough… don’t they use it for bulletproof vests and other high-tech, mil-spec products? Oh yeah, they do! Just google it…

Stratton Flannel Shirt

Now the Stratton Flannel shirt… sadly no longer available at FS (hopefully to be restocked) but still cool enough to give it a quick look. It’s a heavy duty shirt… imagine a bit of the lumberjack style mixed with the hiking style from 40 years ago. Yep, something like that.

I can still remember my first hikes in the high mountains with my dad 35 years ago… we both had our flannel shirts to relax in the afternoon, outside of the mountain hut and surrounded by rocky mountains. Also with chequered red and black pattern, of course. Anyway, the Stratton shirt is soft, meaty, very well stitched and with heavy-duty metal buttons. You just can’t go wrong with it.

Now a word about sizing – I’m not sure if it was intentional by FS but the sizing was way up. Which means my Stratton is sized M and it fits great now… after washing! Keep in mind that flannel shrinks 2-3% during its first wash. For your consideration – I’m 6’1, about 190-195lbs and I usually wear size L. So correction in sizing was REALLY an important factor to consider, but luckily it was all well explained on the FS website.

I use mine as a leisure time shirt, when walking into the forest, around a cabin, practicing recreational archery etc. It’s not a technical garment, but I simply enjoy the style, which always brings back good memories and puts a smile on my face.

And finally – I don’t know of any bushcrafter or camper who’d not enjoy a good Canadian-style red flannel shirt. It’s a timeless outdoorsman’s classic. Also the small fact that it’s been made in the US is still cool, even in a simple product like a flannel shirt.

The fit is relaxed so it doesn’t restrict movements. I know I’ll use it a lot as a 3-season outer layer when spending weekends in my cabin. This shirt, my good old faded jeans, Crud gloves and some wood to chop with a hand forged axe… sounds like my definition of a perfect relaxing weekend!

For the record – as a long-time fan of First Spear stuff I got the shirts from FS as a gift, around Christmas time. With no obligation for a review, especially considering Stratton was actually discontinued by FS (maybe there’s a new version coming? Or maybe not, I have no info about that). Also consider I’ve been using them for couple of months, washed them in the meantime too, to make it a real-life, long-term personal test as usual, not a table-top overview done in half day.

Editor: First Spear have plenty of ways to stay up to date with the latest releases, check out their site for more details…

By Piotr Ma

Senior Contributor & Edge Specialist, more posts.