“Tactical” is a word used a lot today. It’s hard to avoid it, from guns to games, ammo to accessories. Beyond just a simple adjective now, tactical has come to stand in for words like “cutting edge” or “special”, robbing it of its original meaning, that being akin to “customized” or “high speed low drag”. Attaching “tactical” to gear not only increases interest from new and uninformed shooters, but increases the price tag by a considerable amount, in many cases. I call this the “tactical tax”; an amount, like buying brand names, that you pay for the simple fact that it’s a “tactical” jacket, not just a jacket. Frequently, these tactical items aren’t built for the lightest of duties, let alone tactical or hard use.
A small note up front: I am not knocking the word “tactical”, nor am I mocking the talented individuals who make custom tactical gear for a living. I am simply looking to highlight an unnecessary price that some of us pay when looking for gear that doesn’t necessarily warrant being “tactical”.
With that said, I will get down to it: in the shooting community, especially in the private and civilian areas, there is a growing use of the word tactical -not only for the reasons above, but also because using “tactical” suggests to the civilian buyer that what they are looking at is something similar to what the military would use. Oftentimes this is not only not the case, but the complete opposite. Take for example the case of the “tactical vest”. A quick internet search shows at the top of the list a foreign-made, cheap nylon tactical vest. The price? $50-75. Quality, competing products sell for less than $10 more, but these vests sell like gangbusters, simply because of the “tactical” put in front of the name. To make matters worse, some of these “tacticool” items are based on real products (many of them American), for which a lot of money was spent on R&D and advertising.
This may seem an odd thing to harp on; an odd change of pace from the norm. But in contrast to our reviews and articles (that make you want to buy all the great products we feature), Shoestring Minuteman is devoted solely to getting new and privately-funded shooters the most bang for the buck – literally. A problem that we frequently see with new shooters, especially shooters who were brought into the culture by alternative methods – video games, Tom Clancy and the like, is that of gravitating towards “tactical”-branded gear. Even experienced shooters can fall into the trap, as even poor quality tactical gear can look the part so much better than some quality-made kit.
So what can be done?
First and foremost: buy American! While not all American businesses are above the tactical trick, many manufacturers are – and many of them stake their reputations on servicemen and police officers trusting and using their products. Businesses with that much on the line rarely do title things as “tactical” for show. Buying American also ensures that most every cent you spend goes to employing an American at every level of manufacture, from materials to build to shipment. Buying foreign-made equipment is doubly damaging for the American businesses who put the real product forward. Not only does it take business from them, it gives business to their competitors.
Newer may not be better: As we mentioned in the previous segment, sometimes the best gear for you is not the dandiest, most “tacticool” option. It may not even be new. Take a look at what you are about to buy, and try to determine whether this really is a custom-built piece of tactical gear, or if it is a piece of gear with “tactical” stapled on the front of it. When you know what to look for, it becomes a very easy difference to spot.
DIY: We love softshells at FSP – they are a great example of modern technology making gear more comfortable. But when it comes to customizing for your environment, there are sometimes better options – the ones that you make. One of the projects I have begun to consider is the “tactical” Carhartt jacket, as described by a YouTube user called “theRoadWarri0r”. In this case, tactical is being used as intended: customized for better and optimal use. Not only does this jacket combine the ruggedness and warmth of a canvas jacket with the convenience of a softshell, it is a garment that you can (literally) tailor for your use. When something you want isn’t made, go out and make it!
Finally, do your research: Using tools, especially ones like Front Site Post, to discover reputable brands and products that meet your needs is the best way to avoid being led down the wrong path. Here at FSP, we review everything honestly and thoroughly, making sure we know where our products come from, what they’re made of, and whether they’re worth what the sellers are charging. With this information at your fingertips, you know whether the purchase you are about to make is a worthwhile one.
I know this may not be new information to some of you. Among experienced and “old school” shooters, the word “tactical” serves very little purpose except to leave a bad taste in the mouth. But there are still more who do not know that such a deception exists – and the cheap, Chinese, knockoff tactical gear piles ever higher in the landfills.