7 Features of Great Tactical Clothing
7 Features of Great Tactical Clothing
Guest post by Wes Doss
The choices today in tactical clothing are limitless with new brands and styles coming on line every day. How does the savvy but frugal consumer know what to look for and maximize what they get for their hard-earned dollars? To answer this conundrum, the first question to ask is what are your needs? Are you law enforcement, military, security? Are you an outdoor sports enthusiast, an instructor, or simply a devotee to the shooting sports? Once we know what our needs are then we can begin the often mind-numbing search for the right clothing. What influences you to choose one brand over another? Are you looking for wear and durability? Perhaps cost is a determining factor.
Most of my year is spent on the road, living out of a suitcase and working on ranges, shoot houses, or other remote locations. I train thousands of law enforcement and military personnel every year, domestically and internationally, and I believe in demonstrating everything I ask students to do, so I find myself in awkward positions in all weather and environmental conditions every day. Traveling all over the country, I sometimes hit multiple climates and time zones within the same week. Because of this alone, I need clothing that is as functional as it is fashionable.
I look for clothing made from high tech synthetic fabrics rather than traditional cotton canvas. It wicks moisture better and keeps me comfortable in a wider range of climates then heavier weight cotton canvas. The same goes for button-down shirts and outerwear like soft and hard shell jackets.
Synthetic fabric transitions better from climate to climate, keeps its color longer, and can be easily laundered when traveling.
Ever wonder why inexpensive safety glasses look like knockoffs of expensive sunglasses? It’s all about the fit. People feel more comfortable in them, so they are more likely to wear them all the time. Tactical clothing is the same way: if the fit isn’t right, I’m likely to move on to another brand or style.
While roomy, tactical clothing needs to fit right and pants need to stay up comfortably on the waist even under the weight of a gun belt, but be roomy but not over-the-top baggy.
I like pants that look as appropriate at dinner as they do on the range because this the reality of the job: often I’m off to socialize with hosts or students before making it back to your hotel to change. Also, I’m not crazy about the overt, “Hey, check me out, I’m so tactical and I’m probably carrying a gun” look.
The Right Pockets
Pockets are a necessity, whether for your car keys, your pocket knife, spare magazines, or just to simply put your hands in. When pockets don’t fit common items or are lined with material that won’t support the items they are intended for, they’re useless. So I find myself looking for a practical design for the pockets on clothing. I don’t need too many, but I do need them to hold what they’re intended to hold. And I need them in good locations, where I can easily reach the contents.
The Right Colors
There was a time when tactical clothing only came in military colors, limiting our choices to one flavor or another of OD green, khaki, or camouflage. As tactical clothing became more mainstream for law enforcement, we saw the addition of black and navy blue.
Today, folks wearing some version of tactical clothing need to blend seamlessly into their surroundings, whether for job requirements, safety, or just the desire to not stand out like a very tactical sore thumb.
This has spawned colors like coyote brown, flat dark earth, and others. Over the past few years, I’ve gravitated to less traditional tactical colors. When I socialize after work, I don’t mind looking outdoorsy or adventurous but not tactical or military.
The Right Look
The look of tactical clothes falls in sync with all the other features. In fact, they often culminate to create the look, but sometimes the look I’m after is something more contemporary. Less tactical, but just as functional. I’ve moved away from the time-honored, shapeless look of mainstream tactical clothing and become increasingly fond of the less tactical but more practical clothing. This is something that Propper has been working on for a long time. Propper apparel lets me work a range or a trade show floor, then hike through the Hualapai mountain range or the Bedouin camps near Petra, all the while in comfort and style. For overseas travel, such as to Jordan and other Middle Eastern countries, this is especially important because unless you’re the military you’re not supposed to look like the military, and when you do you tend to draw unwelcome attention.
The Right Features
Discussing the right features after touching on everything else may seem redundant, but there is more to features than just pockets and colors. Simple, often dismissed components can make a pair of pants more comfortable, a softshell more practical in adverse weather, or boots stand out from the competition.
After 21 years of pounding the ground in the military and an equally long period as a police officer, I not only appreciate the little things but look for them before I consider a purchase.
Simple things such as belt loop placement, a button vs. a snap on a waistband, the weight of the softshell material and how its pattern lets its hang neatly on the body, or the space in the toe box and quality of the insole in a pair of boots can mean all the difference.
Above and beyond everything else, tactical or tacti-cool clothing must have the durability to withstand the environment that the manufacturer advertises. Unfortunately, I know from experience that many simply don’t live up to the hype. The unfortunate thing about tactical clothing is it typically doesn’t fail until you’re somewhere in the world where you can’t simply change clothes or run out and buy something else when pants rip, boots fall apart, or a weather resistant piece of cold weather clothing leaves you with hypothermia. Beyond style, fit, color, and fabric, the ultimate test for me is durability. While working a range in Louisiana a couple years ago, a pair of lightweight pants from a leading manufacturer (who out of good taste will remain nameless) failed me after the first long day on the range, leaving me in my hotel room sewing these overpriced and underperforming pants back together, and I still had 4 more days of training to go!
Wrapping It All Up
Fabric, fit, look, features, and durability are not the only factors to consider when procuring tactical clothing, but for me they are among the most crucial. There are a lot of choices out there and most will suffice for general use, but if your choice of clothing is something you base your personal well-being on, as I often do, making good choices is critical. Remember, clothing is more than a simple fashion statement. It is the essential protection keep you dry, warm or cool, comfortable, and healthy. If you’re a slave to fashion, save your money and keep shopping at the factory outlet malls. But if you’re using the clothing for its intended purpose then invest in the right brands and don’t overlook the small things.
Wes Doss is an internationally recognized firearms, tactics, and use of force instructor and Propper Brand Ambassador. For more on Wes, visit our Partners page.