You know the style. Big, baggy pockets on the outside, held closed by large, obvious flaps. Pockets in places normal pants don’t have them, like along the outside of the leg or near the knee. Tactical pants typically look like tactical pants. But sometimes you don’t want to look so, well, tactical. What if you want to blend in and not “look the part”?

While there is a very useful purpose for these pockets on pants designed to be highly functional, sometimes the utilitarian look is counterproductive to the goal of the mission.

Ask any covert operator (if you can find one, wink, wink) about the first rule of covert operations and they’ll tell you it’s to blend in. Covert doesn’t mean much if everyone knows who you are. But how do you blend in while keeping all your tools at the ready?

One alternative is to sacrifice the usefulness of tactical pants and change into a pair of store-bought khakis or jeans, sacrificing the utilitarian function but maintaining your cover. It’s better than nothing, but often it’s not the best option. You may regret not having what you need if all hell breaks loose, your slide locks open on an empty chamber, you reach down for a reload magazine’s not there because there was no place to put one. Now it’s no longer a matter of convenience. Maybe you keep a spare mag in a belt magazine pouch, but not everyone does.

STL Side Pocket

Thanks to a revolution in tactical pants design – with more than a little input from real-world operators – manufacturers have begun making tactical pants that look more like regular trousers instead of military pants, the kind you would wear to dinner or a night on the town, even to work in an office or factory. Features like integrated pockets, slimmer profiles, advanced uses of polyester and other wrinkle-free fabrics, and zippers in place of flaps have helped disguise the utility aspect of these pants while maintaining the carrying capacity and functionality of tactical clothing.

Many of these pants are so good you can feel comfortable wearing them to the store, yet they are as functional as traditional tactical pants, with pockets where you need them. They will fit a gun belt through the loops and can keep your knife, spare mags, flashlight, whatever you need right where you expect it when you reach for it. They even carry over small touches such as pocket reinforcements for your knife clip so you won’t wear out the pocket edge.

If you’re not a covert operator – which most of us aren’t – and don’t even carry a gun but just want extra pockets without the tactical pants looks, the new sleeker style gives you the tactical pants function in a more fashion-forward design. Pants such as the HLX line offer a variety of pocket configurations and styles to fit your own taste in function and looks. And they are just as tough as traditional tac pants, so don’t be scared to take them to the range for all-day training.

Whatever your preference, make sure you have the function and looks to fit your mission profile, from a day on the range to a night on the town. Thanks to innovative designs, you can now have both.