It wasn’t long ago that companies made tactical clothing to fit the job and not the lifestyle. The color choices were typically green, tan and black, and the clothes consisted of military-style pants designed to be slightly more relaxed and functional for casual wear.

There were shirts too — and let’s not forget those tactical vests. 5.11 started a trend that would sweep through the industry and change how the tactically minded customer handled the mission at hand.

Tactical apparel has moved beyond those days and become a massive marketplace. With advances in materials and processing, manufacturers are able to design and bring to customers offerings that might not have been possible a decade ago. These new design capabilities are necessary to adapt to the ever-changing roles of the tactician who works in a variety of environments. However, this tactical role goes beyond the professional and carries over to the mindful civilian who takes very seriously his role in personal security — and these civilians appreciate quality and style.

Let’s not be fooled though; the improvement in styling of tactical gear of every sort has helped increase and further the tactical “lifestyle” market. This is the area that continues to grow as the customer seeks to differentiate himself from mainstream apparel. Individuals choose tactical-branded clothes that might not appear to be “tactical” — especially to the untrained eye.

The unrestrained growth in these markets means huge opportunity for the tactically focused retailer. Discussions with some of these apparel companies reveal that sales are increasing at record pace. Many customers buy on emotion, as is the case with many firearms.

Shops that stock black rifles tend to sell a lot when market conditions are ideal. But when firearms sales slow, customers tend to shift their spending to firearms-related goods. Many patrons might not know exactly what they want until they see it on the shelf or display.

This is true with apparel as well. Representatives from tactical clothing companies confirm that people use the Internet for extensive research on products, using it to narrow down what they want. But in the end, the customer still wants to see, handle and try on the products they have researched, and many times they will wind up at larger-name retailers to do so. While this is a good option, sometimes these retailers lack the tactical focus that tactically centric retailers might be able to offer.

For example, a couple of years ago during a visit to the Sig Academy, a friend pointed out that the Sig Academy pro shop was stocking the Arc’teryx Leaf line of clothing. Though I was already aware of the brand and its appeal to many within the tactical community, it was tough to find out in the marketplace.

That day I walked out with $1,200 worth of gear because it was there and accessible — although not inexpensive. The fact is, if a customer can lay hands on it, and it’s a popular brand and one that imparts quality, it will sell. It’s these customer behaviors that the savvy business owner can tap into and become a source of more things tactical.

So what are customers asking for out there?

The 5.11 Legacy

5.11 Tactical arguably created the “tactical” apparel boom and became a household name in this market. 5.11 Tactical has had a simple focus of providing quality and functional tactically focused clothing for professionals in the law enforcement and military community. That focus has since evolved and gone beyond just the professional.

Though its core products remain the same, 5.11 Tactical realizes that its clothing is one of a lifestyle choice for individuals who do not work in a law enforcement or military field, and they are responding to the civilian market. But 30 percent of 5.11’s business is still law enforcement-based, and due to 5.11 Tactical’s presence early on, will most likely remain that way.

Surely it’s 5.11 Tactical’s pants that are most popular:

The Taclite TDU pants are constructed of Taclite fabric, which is a poly/cotton blend rip-stop fabric. As the name suggests, it is lightweight and very durable. The pants are ideal for warmer climates, as they are the most breathable option in the TDU. These pants have generous pockets with integrated secondary AR rifle magazine pockets. The waistband is also self-adjusting, making for a comfortable fit.

The Taclite TDU is a pant designed to be worn by the professional and enthusiast alike, so it has a universal appeal. It’s a great product for sellers to have on hand. The TDU pants also come in a rip-stop and twill fabric for different levels of durability, mobility and breathability — but all feature the same pocket configuration.

5.11’s mainstay is the Tactical pant, which was a hit right out of the gate several years ago. It’s still popular and has evolved along with the needs of the customer.

The new Ridgeline pant looks and feels very casual but has a rugged design. The Ridgeline tactical pant is the least tactical-looking and should allow the end user to blend right in with his surroundings while having the comfort and functionality that he needs. Other features include a rear pocket that can accommodate a .308 magazine, reinforced front pockets for knife carry, and a Teflon coating for stain resistance. These are a truly handsome pair of pants that will be a huge hit with most consumers.

5.11 also offers uniform pants, station pants and EMS pants to cover all of your first-responder customer’s needs.

Kryptek

By now you might be familiar with this unique camouflage pattern that has taken the tactical apparel marketplace by storm. Kryptek was a concept in 2006 for a camo pattern that would be effective at distances out to 400 meters. It’s a honeycomb and netting pattern that has proven very effective — so effective that it made the final four options during the Army’s recent search for a new camouflage uniform pattern. Of the finalists, all but Kryptek had many years designing and fielding camouflage patterns.

The company is young, but that isn’t to say that the folks at Kryptek aren’t experienced. Owned by former Army Special Forces soldiers, Kryptek is turning out high-quality gear and apparel. Kryptek owner Butch Whiting told Tactical Retailer that the company’s research and development department is comprised mostly of active-duty military staff in the special operations field.

Though Kryptek was born of a military need for rugged, functional gear, part of the core of Kryptek’s philosophy is rooted in the hard-core backcountry adventure seeker. It’s designed for hard use by hard-core people in hard-core environments — regardless of their pursuit. That’s why Kryptek’s patterns are popular well beyond the tactical market — it can be found on trigger pullers in Afghanistan and bowhunters in treestands in Missouri.

While its camo pattern is its trademark, Kryptek also recognizes the move toward lifestyle wear for the tactically inclined customer. So Kryptek has launched clothing options in solid colors with the same tough but comfortable designs that its other gear brings to the table.

One of Kryptek’s single best products has to be the Valhalla pants. The Valhalla pant is an athletic-cut, highly breathable, lightweight garment perfect for warm weather use. They are of a minimalist design and are easy to pack away in small nooks and crannies.

These pants honestly feel like you aren’t wearing pants at all — comfortable is an understatement. Though they are lightweight, they are also strong and durable. In addition to the standard Highlander camo pattern, the Valhalla pants are also available in Kryptek’s new Mandrake pattern as well as in a solid olive drab color. They are sleek, classy and sporty, while remaining focused toward those who lean toward the tactical side of things.

Another great Kryptek product is its Alaios pant. These have a more tactical focus and are designed for utility, comfort and mobility. These pants also feature 10 well-positioned pockets. It’s clear from the overall design that a lot of research went into the Kryptek Alaios pant.

The Kratos jacket is for those interested in a capable outer garment that is packable, lightweight and warm. It’s a very sleek jacket and comfortable to boot. It shelters well against wind, and it’s also offered as a vest.

And its black color with olive drab Kryptek logo is a nice touch that draws attention from those in the know. As with all of Kryptek’s line, the jacket is well-crafted and exudes a quality look and feel.

Kryptek also recently introduced its new line of shooting gloves. The Gunslinger and Gunfighter gloves are multifunctional, durable and protective while providing a touchscreen-sensitive index finger. Nylon, leather, polyester and other materials are combined into some extremely attractive and functional tactical gloves unlike anything currently on the market.

Arc’teryx LEAF

Arc’teryx is a reputable name within the snow sports and climbing community. For years the company has been making high-end, high-dollar outdoor apparel. Arc’teryx uses high-end materials and merges them into innovative designs and styling.

One look at the Arc’teryx line — whether products from the LEAF (law enforcement and armed forces) line or the standard consumer line — and you’ll immediately recognize a modern design approach. Arc’teryx has found the soft spot of many a tactician, and those that are fans of the Arc’teryx line continue to support the company’s efforts — although these products can come at a premium.

The Arc’teryx LEAF line features stylish and functional combat uniforms, hard shell and soft shell jackets and pants, insulation and layering options and backpacks. The options are plentiful — as are the dollars that are needed to purchase the high-end gear. But with its “tacti-chic vibe,” many people will continue to buy Arc’teryx products.

The Arc’teryx LEAF Naga Hoodie is a slim-fitting thermal layer that looks and feels incredible. Its construction is a blending of several different and innovative materials, each with its own specific properties. All of them come together well in the Naga Hoodie, making it an extremely warm and comfortable garment. Though it can be used as a layering item, many times it’s just worn alone, and it’s a great choice for lifestyle wear because of its unassuming look.

The Atom LT and Atom LT Hoodie are lightweight, insulated sweaters. They can serve as a mid-layer because of their ability to hold in body heat. Another excellent feature of the Atom LT is that it packs down small and takes up minimal room in a backpack or bag.

Both are available in three colors that are very suitable to a tactically minded person, but they don’t scream “operator wannabe.”

Arc’teryx LEAF offers a whole host of pants, gloves and jackets. And though it is not inexpensive gear, Arc’teryx products bring a lot of attention to any tactical retailer.

Velocity Systems

Velocity Systems is not your typical tactical clothing manufacturer but specializes in providing hard and soft armor solutions for the military and law enforcement communities. The company has many years of experience in designing and developing gear like plate carriers, but is a newer company in the softgoods market for nonprofessionals.

One of Velocity’s top lifestyle products is the BOSS Rugby shirt. This shirt is nothing short of amazing from a comfort and durability standpoint. Sturdy and very breathable, the BOSS can be used as a hot weather range shirt or a moisture-wicking base layer under armor. In the heat, there might be nothing better to wear against your body.

Not only does the BOSS Rugby wick away moisture, but it also resists odor, and the unique collar helps protect your neck from your sling. It’s a stylish-looking shirt for everyday wear.

Other Considerations

There are many other tactical clothing/apparel products to be considered, including boots, gloves and backpacks. Plate carriers, for example, continue to evolve and become lighter and more comfortable. Products such as TYR Tactical’s PICO Assaulters Plate Carrier offers much in the way of weight savings and durability, thanks to its hybrid Pluma Vires material.

This is obviously a small sampling of the tactical clothing universe, but these examples give retailers a snapshot of what’s hot with today’s customers. There’s a lot of potential for the business owner who can identify its customer types and home in on their sense of utility and style. All it takes is the right product in the right place at the right time, and now more than ever the supporters of the tactical community are hungry for apparel that lets them express themselves in a manner true to their professional and personal pursuits.