It’s a term you see regularly these days, especially if you’re into airsoft and/or paintball.

Or, perhaps more commonly, if you have any affiliation with the military, law enforcement, first responders, or security services.

Tactical gear.

Tactical pants, tactical vests, tactical bags, tactical kilts, tactical bras (?) tactical toothbrushes (seriously!) tactical everything.

Tactical tactical.

But what is tactical gear? Where did it come from? Why is it so popular? What is its purpose? How is it any different from camping stuff? And perhaps most importantly – how cool does it make you look?

Let’s get tactical and find out.

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Tactical Gear Meaning in Short

For anyone in a rush, here’s the answer without going into too much detail.

Tactical gear refers to a specific group of items, clothing, products, and equipment that offers multiple purposes when in the field.

They are commonly identified as being more durable than anything else in that particular class, making them ideal choices for challenging situations and scenarios.

tactical gear and guns

Long associated with the military and law enforcement, these products have become immensely popular with the public because of their durability and versatility.

After all, if it’s good enough for the professionals, it’s good enough for us, right?

What Does Tactical Mean?

In order to further understand the form and function of tactical gear, we must first break down the terminology.

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word tactical as; relating to or constituting actions carefully planned to gain a specific military end.

Dictionary.com prefers to say; of or relate to tactics, especially military or naval.

In both definitions, I think we can find the meaning of tactical gear. Gear, in this instance, means “stuff.”

Stuff with a purpose. Stuff that is designed to do something. Stuff is used to achieve an objective. Stuff that won’t quit.

What is Tactical Equipment?

Tactical Gear and equipment come in many forms, and, depending on your needs, you might find some more useful than others.

Fun game – type the word “tactical” followed by any noun into a search engine, and I’ll bet you dollars to donuts something interesting comes up.

military tactical equipment

But for the sake of this article, we’ll omit the tactical hamburger, and talk about stuff you can actually use.

It is thought that the term “tactical gear” was coined by clever marketing types to entice Joe Public into purchasing military-grade products – without actually calling them military-grade products, to begin with.

Although tactical gear has obviously been around for centuries, synonymous with giving troops the edge in battle  – it certainly has never been more popular with civilians than it is today.

Pioneering tactical company 5.11 might well be responsible, having entered into a partnership with the FBI back in 1992 to produce practical pants as standard issue for operatives.

I have to say, I own a pair of their tactical pants, and although I don’t work for the FBI, I’m never going to buy anything else for hiking, camping, and fishing, again.

It was only a matter of time before everything marketed as such became immensely popular – particularly with outdoor enthusiasts.

With the amount of money allocated to the military, law enforcement, and similar professions, you’d better believe they’re going to commission the best kit in the world for their operatives.

And that’s where tactical gear differs from bog-standard camping gear – it’s designed to last longer, perform better, and do more. It’s had the finest tech minds on the planet working on it.

Apart from its basic reason for existence, tactical gear might well have one, two, or more other uses incorporated into its design.

That, and it nearly always comes in a cool-looking shade of black. Or, dark green, at least. Maybe an earthy brown…

Furthermore, tactical stuff has been designed to take much more of a beating than regular garments, gear, and equipment. In the heat of battle (whatever the connotation)  it won’t let you down.

Look at a pair of quality tactical pants, and compare it with a set of regular cargo pants – for example. I know which I’d rather wear for backcountry hiking.

Deeper pockets, more durable stitching, quality hardware, gusseted crotch for freedom-of-movement, and often the capability of adding extras – like knives, tools, valuables, and a place to put my car keys.

It’s a no-brainer. Go tactical, or go home.

Comfort, Fit, and Fabrics

I feel a special mention should go to the actual construction of tactical gear, in the fact that their comfort and fit is second to none.

Gloves offer fine dexterity, pants allow you to kneel down without ripping the ass out, tools have unbeatable grip and control, jackets have a flattering cut without sacrificing movement…

Mobility and movability are key. As is the rugged durability of the rip-stop, and comfort stretch fabrics used to create many of these products, ensuring they last longer than anything else.

This is what sets good tactical gear apart.

Aesthetic

Aside from all the benefits of tactical gear, let’s not overlook the elephant in the room here.

We wear this stuff because we look badass.

C’mon, there’s no shame in admitting it. Tactical gear is designed to be flattering to the wearer/user.

Then there are the “tacticool” products that don’t have any real tactical value at all, but simply exist to make you look good.

Either way, good-quality tactical gear offers an undeniably attractive aesthetic.

So, what kinds of tactical gear is out there? Let’s take a quick look at some of the most common, and popular products.

Before we get started, you might want to familiarize yourself with the best tactical gear and clothing brands on the market.

Tactical Gloves

One of the most popular items of tactical clothing is the humble glove. Check out this link for the best tactical and shooting gloves on the market.

They offer much more protection for your hands than regular gloves – particularly across the knuckles – which is handy for military, law enforcement, and security personnel if things get ugly, up-close, and personal.

person in brown tactical jacket and shooting gloves

I’ve found they’re capable of greater dexterity, too, which is perfect for using firearms, airsoft, and paintball, and they should be an essential item when you’re down the range.

They can also make for durable, practical work gloves when you need your fine motor skills, as well as being excellent for fishing and paddling sports.

Tactical Pants

The item of clothing that started it all – the tactical pants. As mentioned, I wouldn’t buy any other style of cargo pants ever again.

Sure, there are some great hiking pants out there from some quality outdoor companies, but with the best tactical pants, you’ve got everything they offer and more.

Including knee pads – like the selection of products at the link above.

More pockets, more features, more protection, more comfort, more freedom of movement.

man wearing tactical camouflage and pointing his airsoft pistol

Just make sure you do your research and get a decent pair – good tactical pants aren’t cheap, and cheap tactical pants aren’t good.

And go here for the best tactical pants for women if you belong to the fairer sex.

I wear my tactical pants for everything. Around the house, to the grocery store, walking the dog. I’m wearing them right now, writing this – although you probably don’t want to know that.

Jokes aside, they’re so comfortable, with a wealth of features, these days I rarely venture out wearing anything else.

Tactical Vests

When it comes to practical use in the field, tactical vests are an essential item for the military and law enforcement.

They provide multiple functions, including warmth and comfort, magazine storage, keeping extra gear and equipment close to hand, and some – such as plate carriers and bullet-proof vests, are designed to save your life.

Chest rigs are also popular, which can be worn over other items of clothing, and hold a one-man army’s worth of ammunition. To clear up any confusion, check out this article on plate carriers vs chest rigs.

soldier with chest rig

Tactical vests are very popular for airsoft and paintball players, as they help improve realism, as well as provide an extra place to store ammo.

Take a look at these awesome tactical combat sport vests to see what I mean. Sometimes, there’s barely a noticeable difference between them and the real steel versions.

Tactical Backpacks and Bags

You don’t have to be interested in the military, law enforcement, or similar profession to enjoy the significant benefits of tactical backpacks.

Apart from holding a mountain of stuff, with second-to-none organization capabilities, they’re also designed to take a beating and built to last.

Many use the famous MOLLE system (Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment) which is a fully customizable way to attach and carry extra gear on your bag or person.

And they come in many practical forms.

These tactical backpacks are great for hiking, tactical messenger bags are ideal for travel and overnight stays, Slings packs are great for day trips, and tactical duffels can hold your entire life.

multicolored tactical military backpacks and messenger bags

Consider using a tactical bag for visiting the gym, as a carry-on, down the range, or seeing the sights…I don’t think you’ll ever look back.

And an often unspoken reason for carrying a tactical bag – is they blend into the background. They’re not as flashy as a lot of expensive-looking luggage you see these days – which means they don’t attract attention.

I take mine everywhere I travel – and I’ve never encountered light fingers, yet. The possibility that the owner of such a bag might be military or police could well be a deterrent, too.

Tactical Jackets

Again, it’s not just the military guys that are going to benefit from these garments, nor do they necessarily come with a camouflage design.

The best tactical jackets are ideal for all kinds of outdoor activities, from hiking to climbing, fishing to hunting, kayaking to cycling.

soldier putting on multicam camouflage tactical jacket

And like all good tactical gear, they’ve been made to be put through their paces – which makes them the perfect choice if you’re getting down and dirty in the great outdoors.

Tactical Knee Pads

Keeping your appendages safe, comfortable, and protected is highly recommended in the field – not least if you’re running, diving, sliding, and ducking for cover.

Alternatively, you could be doing a spot of gardening on a lazy Sunday afternoon, or shuffling around on the floor of a garage fixing a vehicle.

Whatever the reason, I highly recommend using tactical knee pads to keep one of the most important joints in the body from taking damage.

Those knee-savers are a great example of just some of the protective tactical equipment that’s available today.

Tactical Boots

Boots were made for walking, but they’re not going to be of much use to you if they keep falling apart.

And if the military is constantly on those long-distance marches, wouldn’t it be nice to have access to the kind of footwear they use?

Your wish is my command.

military tactical boots standing with armor vest and cartridge belt

The best tactical and combat boots are designed to provide day-long support and comfort to give you an edge in the field.

Even if that just means literally walking across a field.

Tactical Helmets

Alright, so they might not have the widest application when it comes to tactical gear (I wouldn’t exactly go on vacation wearing one) but tactical helmets have their place.

Armed forces and SWAT use aside, they’re particularly popular with airsoft players who strive for realism in their games.

Not only will they protect your head, but they also offer the ability to carry sports cameras, binoculars, night vision goggles, a pack of cigarettes or playing cards…

Head on over to this review of the best tactical helmets to find out more.

Tactical Equipment

Aside from all the types of tactical clothing that’s currently available, there’s a wealth of other items that share this moniker – and they can be just as useful.

Tactical binoculars are built like tanks, yet lightweight, and designed to give precision visuals for anyone who needs durable, razor-sharp optics in the field. A quality accessory for hunters, for example.

These rangefinders are also a useful addition to a hunter’s loadout. Or, if you’re playing a round of tactical golf.

When you’re in the dark, don’t just use an ordinary flashlight, use a tactical torch – and these self-defense flashlights offer multiple uses, as well as blinding beams that could well get you out of a tight spot should you encounter an assailant.

Failing that, try a tactical headlamp to keep your hands free. Perfect if you happen to be going spelunking, or fixing your car in the dark.

airsoft rifle and tactical gear

There are even tactical pens available  – and I wish I had one when I was at school (although I probably would have smashed a window with it).

Tactical knives have long been a popular accessory (particularly for outdoorsmen and women) but have you considered a tactical tomahawk? Never leave home without one for wild camping again!

And speaking of the wild, a tactical shovel might help dig your car out of the snow, assist in building a fire, or create a nice hole in which to shit.

However, if you are also a weapons enthusiast, you might be interested in reading about the best tactical crossbows of 2022.

The Future of Tactical Gear

Who would have thought that the chance to access military clothing and equipment would set such a fire under the public butt?!

But that’s exactly what happened, and tactical gear shows no signs of slowing down when it comes to its popularity with civilians and professionals alike.

As such, it’s only going from strength to strength, with the technology improving all the time.

As soon as the military boffins hit upon next-gen clothing and gear, then, in some form or another, it filters down to be made available to civilians.

There’s an entire subculture devoted to EDC (Everyday Carry), and the industry can barely keep up with demand for the next best tactical products.

Check out the video below for advice on how to fine-tune your tactical setup.

And the science and development behind it all is fascinating. I, for one, am excited to see what the future holds. I hope you are, too.

FAQs

Is tactical gear legal?

Great question. In the US, the laws that govern the ownership of tactical gear will vary from state to state (and country to country, worldwide), but there’s certainly nothing to stop you from owning the vast majority of items listed above.

People have a right to protect themselves how they see fit, and I believe that only felons are prohibited from wearing things like bulletproof vests.

What tactical gear do I need?

It depends on what you need it for.

Nobody actually needs tactical gear (unless you’re in some of the aforementioned services) it’s just that it can make life a lot easier depending on your circumstances, situation, and/or activity pursued.

If you like hiking – get some tactical pants. If you’re into airsoft, you might want to pick up a tactical helmet.

Perhaps I’ll do another article on tactical gear essentials at a later date, so stay tuned!

Who makes the best tactical gear?

An almost impossible question to answer, as there are so many offering top-quality clothing, gear, and equipment, it can make your head spin.

I suggest heading over to this article on the best tactical brands on the market, as I’m sure it’s going to be a very good place to start.

Summary

The list of tactical gear available on the market today is seemingly endless – and for good reason.

It’s practical, durable, useful, and accessible to the public. We like our stuff built to last, don’t we?

Let me know your favorite piece of tactical gear in the comments, or if I’ve missed any important consideration when it comes to military-grade equipment.

Stay safe out there, and stay tactical!