Defining “Tactical”

A series of recent articles dealing with selecting various pieces of gear, or the review of specific items, has generated some debate amongst the readers. Normally debate by readers is a good thing, after all, if they are debating, they are reading! However, the debate at question does not center around the articles themselves but on the use of the term “tactical.” More specifically, whether the term should be applied to certain items – with one reader stating that it should only be used when speaking (or writing) about military gear rather than that used by law enforcement.

This debate piqued my interest, first as a writer and second as active law enforcement. Are manufactures erroneously labeling gear as “tactical,” possibly in an attempt to make a product appear better suited for a specific task than a competitor’s? Or are members of the community, including writers, applying the term too broadly?

First, let’s examine the word itself. Merriam- Webster dictionary defines “tactical” as follows:

[blockquote]tac.ti.cal – adjective: of, relating to, or used for a specific plan that is created to achieve a particular goal in war, politics ect.[/blockquote]

Clearly, the term tactical applies to warfare. However, it can just as easily be applied to a whole host of other activities. So, it would appear that the term tactical can be applied to any gear IF that gear is designed to “achieve a particular goal.” Of course, this further complicates matters as what may be “tactical” in one profession or setting would clearly not be viewed in the same manner across the board.

So, let’s take a closer look at what is commonly referred to as “tactical gear,” its origin, and the target audience.

The Original Tactical Pants, by 5.11, are probably the most widely recognized piece of tactical apparel on the market. Known for their reinforced seams, heavy duty material, specially designed and placed pockets, and their trademark drag handle I seriously doubt anyone would claim these trousers are anything but tactical. But guess what? They were not originally marketed to either the military or law enforcement.

TacticalOriginally designed by Robbin Royals, these trousers, now synonymous with tactical gear, were marketed to mountain climbers in the early 1970s. It was not until the mid-1990s, after it was reported they became popular with the FBI Academy, were they marketed specifically to law enforcement personnel. When I purchased my first pair, in 1996-1997, they were still marked “Robbin Royals.”

Building upon the popularity of these pants, the company we now know as 5.11 was born, a company which specifically targeted law enforcement and later first responders in general. But, where was the military?

Although the term “tactical” clearly applies to the military, and specifically to military gear, it is not the primary market for many of the items labeled as such in today’s marketplace. This is not a slight on the military or an attempt to claim many of these items do not have a military purpose. It is a simple matter of target audience. The majority of military consumers, with the exception of specialized units and private contractors, do not have the ability to utilize tactical pants, concealed carry jackets or even many of the advanced footwear available today for one simple reason – uniform regulations. At the time, when many of the earlier tactical products were being produced, the military uniform consisted of BDUs and black leather boots, something which would not change until after deployed troops complained that better equipment was available on the civilian market – from companies already supplying law enforcement.

So, whether you are a patrolman in Albany or a solider in Afghanistan, it is not what you wear but how you use it “to achieve a particular goal” that makes gear tactical.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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