Selecting the Right Tactical Gear from Head to Toe

You’ve probably met him before—the Gear Guy—or at the very least you know the type. He’s always up to date with all the coolest tactical gear and he’s got to be spending a little over half of his paycheck to buy more gadgets and gizmos for his weapons or to load up his molle pack or vest. I’m not one of those guys—but I do know a thing or two about gear, gadgets and gizmos that work well for the 21st Century warrior and want to share my thoughts with you.

Gear that is comfortable, durable and downright operational is essential during tactical training and tactical operations. Looking tacti-cool, though often derided as tactically pointless, can actually be an added bonus.  We tend to act the way we look, and a well thought out rig can go a long way to instilling confidence in the operator.

The problem with getting too comfortable, durable and operational is this: with the firearm industry soaring to previously unseen heights, there are literally hundreds of companies that produce, make and/or sell all manner of tactical gear. Some companies really know what they’re doing; many companies don’t.

For this piece I’ve decided to list what are in my opinion a bunch of quality, good-to-go products. By all means, this list is not all inclusive and, in giving up my gear picks, I’ve decided to echo what a USAF special ops buddy of mine used to tell his students: I know ten things, but I’m only going to share eight, just in case you and I meet in a dark alley one day. So with that stated, here’s my gear picks from head to toe:

Head Protection

Whether it’s for everyday comfortable wear, range gear or tac wear, a good baseball-style cap is important to stop the brass from hitting your brow (or, in my case, a receding scalp).

A tactical ballistic helmet rated at least a Level IIIA is essential to help stop or slow down small arms and secondary projectiles from homemade or military grade explosives. Helmets can be laden with night vision goggles (called NVGs or NODs, night optical devices) or neat little tac lights with infrared capability.

Surefire makes a neat helmet light.

Tactical ballistic helmets cost generally cost between $200-$400.

Hearing Protection

If communications are important to you or your team, be sure to get helmets that work with ear protection/communication system.

Peltor has dominated the hearing protection market for years. The Peltor Comtac II is the most versatile, allowing good comms, integrated vehicle comms and excellent hearing pro. The nice thing is these “ears” go perfect with the PASGT (Personnel Armor System Ground Troops), MICH (Modular Integrated Communications Helmet), and the ACH (Advanced Combat Helmet). These ears are very durable too. Personally, they’re my favorite; love ‘em.

Tactical ear protection of this caliber generally goes for about $325.

Eye Protection

It cannot be overstated; eyewear is essential. You’ve got to see. Period.  And if you aren’t now, this is me telling you, that anytime you shoot, you should definitely be protecting your eyes.

For everyday ops and range wear, ESS offers both style and protection. They also have goggles with a quiet, built-in fan to keep your goggles from fogging up under sweaty operations and changing weather conditions. I’ve seen a soldier’s eyes saved by ESS glasses after an explosion. Good stuff.

Whatever you decide to wear, make sure you have wrap around protection, you have good peripheral vision when wearing them and the glasses/googles are ANSI rated.

ESS eye protection can be had for about $120.

Outerwear

When it comes to the clothes and outerwear tactical gear, black is out and Multicam is in—big time—and that camo works. Khaki, coyote tan and OD green are good options just make sure whatever brand you go with, the clothing should be comfortable and above all durable. Having your pocket rip off or your crotch split in the middle of an operation is a no-go, for sure.

The Multicam jacket above runs for about $130.

Holster

There are a dozen really neat pistol holsters and having a secondary weapon or a sidearm is a must. If your pistol is your primary weapon, keep it on your hip; if it’s a secondary and you’re wearing a tac vest, a drop-leg holster is the way to go.

Stay away from material holsters with snaps or Velcro. Hard, form-fitted Kydex holsters are one way to go; they’re quick, durable and are easy to access. Weapons retention is absolutely important. I really like the Safariland 6004 series with an ALS or anti-lock system.

A Safariland 6004 series holster sells for about $125.

Lights

I use the Insight Technologies M3X Tactical Illuminator flashlight on all my weapons. They are built military grade tough; they can take a hard drop or work well under rough weather conditions or even underwater, and they are bright. If you get a light on your weapon, and you’d be crazy not to, be sure to get the right holster for the right weapon (and the right weapon mounted flashlight).

These flashlights go for about $140.

Clothing

Vertx pants and shirts are some of the most comfortable, durable and tacti-cool wear I’ve ever worn–and I’ve had a lot of tactical gear. Vertx is, indeed, “for the operational athlete” as their slogan states. To be honest, they are drastically much more comfortable than the standard 5.11 Tac pants.

Vertex pants are sold for about $78. Shirts can be found as cheap as $20.

Rucksack/Vest

Molle. The decades old Velco and snaps system are lame and just too load. Archaic Alice clips are gone forever, thankfully. With Molle straps (sometimes called PALS), operators can arrange their gear anyway they choose, and buy the right accessory packs and pouches that works well for them.

Packs sell for around $115.

Watch

Get yourself a good watch with a sturdy band. Rolexes are high quality, but they’re also high dollar. If you’re worried about shiny reflective parts and pieces, get a dark, subdued watch. There are all kinds of watches with all kinds of features–from electronic compasses and altimeters to mini built-in computers—real James Bond-ish type stuff.

Or, you can buy a keep it simple. I’ve worn a Luminox Navy SEAL dive watch on multiple continents, in third world countries, on scuba diving adventures in multiple locations, and in combat. It’s simple, stylish and, tactically, it works well.

The Luminox SEAL watch above retails for approximately $295.

Knife

A knife is a must. A quick opening tactical folder to carry anytime, anywhere is worth it’s weight in gold. I recently was able to get a gift for some wounded warriors from my friend, Steve Tarani and his Tarani series 5.11 Karambit folder. That’s a wicked and deadly blade. Thanks Steve.

When I was an undercover Federal Air Marshal I concealed an Emerson Commander along with a Sig Sauer handgun on commercial airplanes. There’s a lot of great knives out there. Whatever you get, make sure you can access and open it quickly. And don’t forget about securing it. Weapon retention is an absolute.

Tarani series knives retail for about $130.

Boots

When it comes to protecting your dogs, you’ve got to have durable, comfortable and quality boots. Moving is essential on the battlefield or on the street, and your feet will get you there. I can’t help but think of the SWAT school I attended in Colorado after Columbine. The SWAT cops who responded said there were shoes all over the place. Kids literally ran out of their shoes, especially the shoes that didn’t allow them to run.

I think I’ve owned a tactical boot in every brand under $250. I keep going back to Original SWAT boots. I even took a pair to Iraq.

Original SWAT boots cost about $80.

I would say a good number of the tactical (and tactical weapons) companies out there do offer decent products, but as with all inventions, the future holds innovation (and obsolescence) for a great number of tactical gear and weaponry and it does us well to remember this when we actually outfit ourselves for battle. When choosing tactical goodies, the bottom line is you need quality gear and quality weapons that complement the your situation and tactics and finding this balance is an art all to its own, even more important than assessing the value of any individual piece of kit.