Near the end of May this year I visited the Extreme Outfitters Expo held in Virginia Beach, VA. One of the major vendors I met there was 5.11 Tactical – the makers of the now famous Royal Robbins pants, shorts, shirts and other garments. A couple weeks later I received a box FULL of their products and I’ve been wearing them out ever since. This week I’m going to take a look at the Undercover Vest, their Shirt (both long and short sleeve) and one of their Polo shirts (the one I wear all the time).
Starting with the simplest to discuss, the 5.11 Tactical Polo comes in two styles: the Performance Polo and the Professional Polo. What’s the difference? Odd as it may sound, the Performance Polo is GREAT for a comfortable duty uniform shirt (bike patrol, etc), while the Professional Polo is just as good but for off-duty wear. Both have “pencil pockets” on the left sleeve (I think these should be on the right shoulder since most agencies put a patch on the left shoulder). I put pens in the pencil pockets – as I suspect most everyone else will. At the top of each shoulder, the Performance Polo has what 5.11 Tactical calls “micropockets”. They are just perfect to hook a shoulder microphone into. The stitching and design is sufficient that the weight of the microphone doesn’t pull the shirt out of shape, leaving you looking like a wrinkled rag bag by the end of your shift. The Performance Polo also has an extra panel stitched into each side that goes all the way to the end of the sleeve. That gusseted side panel makes this shirt easier to wear and move in when you have on body armor, and it allows an easier range of movement for your arms if you’re reaching out or over your head.
With all those features built into the Performance Polo, I thought IT should be the Professional one, since it’ll be the one most likely worn as part of a uniform. The one feature that the Professional Polo DOES have that I can find no indication of in the Performance Polo, is the no-curl collar. BOTH Polos are exceptionally comfortable and fit well. I have recommended to my agency that we adopt the Performance Polo as our casual uniform shirt with shoulder patch and embroidered badge attached. All of the shirts I wear at the range for Firearms Instructor duty are Professional Polos properly embroidered for identification. The Performance Polo is available in white, two shades of blue and black. The Professional Polo is available in white, tan, gray, red, three shades of blue, green and black. (If the Performance Polo was available in Red, I’d be using it at the range instead)
Next on my list is the A/B Uniform Shirt. 5.11 Tactical makes it in long and short sleeve versions out of Poly-Rayon or Poly-Wool. While the shirts present a very neat uniform appearance, they have some valuable features that aren’t immediately noticed at a casual glance. In other words, while they look like a sharp uniform shirt, they have features that no other uniform shirt has. Along with the two obvious chest pockets, there are two concealed chest pockets built in. They are accessed through openings on either side of the button-up front, and the openings are held shut by Velcro tabs. I know a couple of people who religiously carry their cell phones in these pockets – and at least one man who frequently drops his .25ACP pistol into one.
Designed into the shoulders of the shirt is what 5.11 Tactical calls its “bi-swing shoulder”. This is a small pocket of extra material that is stitched in to stay out of the way in a crease behind the shoulder. Where it comes in handy is when you’re twisting your torso to reach across your body for anything. That extra material allows you to move in such a manner without the normal binding you get in uniform shirts. It’s easier to move, and then, because of the way it’s stitched, it typically folds right back where it was – out of sight, out of mind, still looking neat and tidy.
Other features that are designed in to present a neat uniform appearance are the sewn-in military creases, permanent collar tabs and hidden buttons to keep the collar down. The shirts also feature a sewn-in badge holder with a support strap (so the shirt doesn’t sag) along with reinforced epaulets, collar and cuffs. The long-sleeve version of these shirts also have double-layer elbows (for longer wear endurance), four button cuffs and underarm vents. Those three features alone make this shirt stand out above most other uniform wear. While you DO have to pay a little more attention when you’re ironing these shirts, the benefits pay off in the wearing. The A/B Uniform Shirts are available in white, tan, four shades of blue, green, brown and black.
That brings me to my final item for this week: The 5.11 Tactical Vest. Specifically designed NOT to look like a tactical vest, I’ve often been the target of fishing jokes when I wear mine. It does look like something you’d wear if you were a fishermen, hunter or even photographer for that matter, but some of the features designed into it make it much more useful for off-duty or not-so-obvious-on-duty use.
The vest has sixteen pockets built into it, each with its own designated use. Made to hold everything from rifle magazines, pistol magazines and radios to flashlights, OC Spray and Impact weapons, the Vest will carry everything you would normally need on duty in a casual appearing package. Further, it’s long enough to easily conceal any belt-worn handgun. To minimize the bulk on your belt, 5.11 Tactical has designed what they call the “Back-Up Belt System”: an additional method of carrying MORE equipment than the pockets of the vest originally allowed for.
The Vest incorporates large hidden pockets lined with Velcro that accept and hold securely a variety of accessories to carry a handgun, magazines, handcuffs, OC Spray or impact weapon. All of the accessories come in a convenient pouch that is about as big as the average shave kit. Because of the full Velcro lining of the hidden pockets, and their generous size, the operator / wearer can set up the vest to their personal desires. Right handed or left handed, the holster goes in either way. The magazine pouches will easily hold full size double-stack magazines, or any folding knife you’d care to drop in. One word of caution: it’s easy to load up the front of this vest with equipment – all of which have an attached weight. If you don’t off-set the front load with something in the back pockets – along the back waist band of the vest, it’s easy to create a slouched appearance. To help off-set that, 5.11 Tactical also designed in a set of adjustable tabs that attached the vest to your pants belt so you can keep the vest from sagging in front when loaded up.
During one outing with a group of law enforcement writers, not that long ago, I wore my 5.11 Tactical Vest loaded with my normal off-duty carry load:
Glock 36 .45ACP handgun
Spare magazine for same
4 oz OC Spray
BlackHawk/MOD locking folder
BlackHawk/Night-Ops Gladius (prototype model I had)
SureFire E2e/ha flashlight (yeah, I’m a two flashlight man when I can)
Wallet / ID
Spyderco Native locking folder
SMALL pocket knife
Kubotan w/ work keys
I made a point of putting NOTHING in my pants pockets. Instead, I placed everything in its specific place in the vest and you know what? No one seemed to notice that I had all that stuff with me. It didn’t make me look bulky; it didn’t look full to where people could notice the outline of a gun. Other writers were wearing the same type of vest to cover up the guns they were wearing on their belts, and I noticed one of our hosts wearing his A/B Uniform Shirt – with a digital camera carried in his hidden pocket (was there a gun in there too?)
At the end of the night I found that I wasn’t uncomfortable – the weight was evenly distributed across my shoulders and the belt tabs had kept the vest from sagging forward. Everything was still where I’d put it at the beginning of the evening and when I took the vest off, I hung it over the back of a chair and could have just as easily shrugged it on in the morning rather than having to load myself up (as usual) to go out. “Convenience” is the operative word here. The Vest is available in Khaki, OD Green or Black, AND (this week at SWAT Round Up I saw this) Desert Digital Camo. 5.11 Tactical is putting out there pants, uniform shirts and vest in this new design and it LOOKS great. I would have bought a set on the spot but the 5.11 Tactical dealer rep there only had the one display set – none for sale (yet).
Next week we’ll take a look at the famous (infamous?) Royal Robbins pants, shorts and academy shorts. At that time, I’ll share a couple of secrets about the pants that I’ve just recently learned, and give you some, ah, “cost effective” methods of increasing the performance potential. Be safe.
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