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Published Sep 20, 2022 10:10 AM

Tactical gear is our business. Here at Task & Purpose, we strive to ensure that we recommend only the best equipment because, when push comes to shove, they could very well be used in a situation that’s a matter of life or death. To that end, we’ve compiled our picks for a dream loadout of sorts, totally unbound by any rules or regulations, and built with user comfort in mind. Much of this comes down to personal preference, and because everyone’s bodies and needs are different, that will affect what you will choose. 

All of these options on this list were compiled based on extensive testing and evaluation, distinguishing themselves above their peers to determine who truly makes the best tactical gear.

Best Ballistic Helmet

Ops-Core has become a benchmark in the world of ballistic helmets, to the point where every high cut is colloquially called “an Ops-Core.” This is because Gentex makes some of the world’s best tactical equipment, including well-finished, high-quality helmets that have protected the heads of servicemembers all over the world. This reputation is well-earned, and its helmets do a fantastic job of stabilizing night vision, hearing protection, and counterweights, while also being combat-proven for over a decade without any large-scale recalls.

Ops-Core helmets swim in a sea full of other helmets that claim various levels of protection, but Ops-Core helmets are tested beyond standards set by the National Institute of Justice to offer the same protection if hit anywhere on the shell. Gentex representatives explained to me that much of its unit cost comes from the fact that it rejects any helmet that can’t pass this exacting standard. Ops-Core helmets are also extremely common, so there’s a great aftermarket for night vision brackets, rails, helmet covers, pads, straps, and other accessories, should your needs require them.

The biggest advantage of the Ops-Core system, apart from the protection, is the fact that the hard hat-style liner system and straps keep the helmet extremely stable on your head, meaning for those with headsets, night vision, and other accessories on their head, it’ll be that much more steady.

Ordering an Ops-Core helmet means dealing with Ops-Core lead times, if you get it from the Gentex website. If you order from one of its retailers, it will come quicker, but when stocks run low, prepare to deal with a maximum lead time of four months. The stability of the Ops-Core liner comes at the cost of comfort, and the XR isn’t as comfortable as other high-end helmets due to the fact that it uses semi-rigid plastic for its liner system. Finally, the biggest hurdle that many people have to clear with the Ops-Core is the high price tag. The MSRP of the XR is $2,100 at the time of writing, and though there are various professional discounts you can take advantage of, it’s still expensive.

For more options, check out our guide to the best ballistic helmets.

Product Specs
  • Colors available: Black, ranger green, tan 499, urban gray, multicam
  • Materials: Ultra-high molecular-weight polyethylene and kevlar hybrid shell, plastic and aluminum mounting hardware, foam pads
  • Improvement over issued gear: Lighter and more comms-compatible than general issue helmets, more stable
Why It Made The Cut
  • Gentex’s current practical flagship helmet balances protection, stability, and comfort, while enjoying a healthy aftermarket of modifications, which is why Ops-Core helmets are the special operations helmet of choice.
PROS

Top-tier protection

Excellent aftermarket

Super stable

CONS

Long lead times

High cost

Less comfortable

Best Tactical Headset

Safariland is known mostly for holsters, but it also makes the best pair of powered hearing protection on the market, the Liberator HP. Part of this family of products is the Liberator V headset, which adds dual-comm capabilities to the already fantastically flexible Liberator headset. This headset supports multiple mounting options without destruction or tools, and is my issued headset as a forward observer in the Marines, so I’ve had plenty of hands-on time with it.

Safariland readily provided me with official paperwork from independent labs showing that its headset does everything it says it does, proving that the stated noise reduction rate of 26dB isn’t just a baseless claim. That figure, 26dB, is enough to drop most loud noises into the safe hearing protection range for sudden noises like gunshots.

The headset supports headband-, neckband-, or helmet-mounted configurations, but you’re not limited to any of those, since you can easily swap the headset between configurations with no tools and minimal effort, something that cannot be said for more popular brands like Sordin.

The headset is also super durable, with metal spring-loaded posts that attach to metal mounts, a fixed microphone and fixed downlead (or connector cable) for extra durability, preventing the fragile clips, broken microphone mounts, and torn wires that plague other brands. Finally, the downlead attaches to a proprietary push-to-talk unit that allows the user to switch between two different communication devices, including vehicle intercom, Bluetooth, and military standard radio plugs.

Despite the fact that these provide excellent hearing protection, they’re less useful as dedicated range earpro. That’s because you can’t remove the microphone or downlead when not in use, which can get in the way. The downlead is also proprietary, so if you want to use it with single-comm push-to-talk units for use with one radio, you’ll need a Safariland adapter. This is part of a much larger issue, where you can only get the Liberator V from Safariland, so you’ll always pay MSRP unless you get some sort of military discount.

For more options, check out our guide to the best shooting ear protection.

Product Specs
  • Colors available: Tan, green, black
  • Materials: Fiberglass ear cups, gel pads, rubber-wrapped cables, Velcro headband
  • Improvement over issued gear: Improved clarity over standard “dog bone” handsets, adds the ability to talk on multiple types of communication systems, up to two at once, and hearing protection to prevent hearing loss
Why It Made The Cut
  • This multi-purpose headset combines fantastic hearing protection, sound clarity, and durability that others find hard to beat. They’re issued to USMC fire support Marines because of their excellent feature set.
PROS

Officially certified to protect from up to 26dB

Can support two radios and multiple connectors

Adaptable mounting options

CONS

Microphone cannot be removed

Must be bought from Safariland

Proprietary downlead

Crye Precision is another gold-standard company, known for its stellar combat uniforms. But as one of the biggest tactical supply companies around, its mastery extends to body armor vests as well, and the Crye AVS has deep roots in innovative design. Based on the DNA of the Crye Associates “Scorpion Battle Gear” pioneered in the early 2000s, this vest features an internal “harness” that you simply attach the plate bags to, allowing greater load dispersion and protection. The Adaptive Vest System is still the gold standard for general-purpose plate carriers, and will serve the wearer, no matter the mission.

The Crye AVS is different from any other plate carrier on the market, since most come from the factory with two shoulder straps and a cummerbund that secures it around your waist. The Crye AVS improves load-bearing by instead relying on a semi-rigid padded harness that sits next to the wearer’s body, improving load-bearing capability. Additionally, by separating the platebags from the wearer, the AVS offers improved protection from the bulging that can occur when a rifle plate is hit. Finally, there is a whole host of accessories for the AVS, not just from Crye but from aftermarket companies, to ensure that no matter your need, the AVS can suit your mission.

The AVS’s flexibility comes at a cost, and that cost is paid with time and effort. The harness and plate system is complex, requiring additional setup beyond much more simple plate carriers. To compound this, the AVS needs to be bought in pieces, which is great for most people who need added flexibility or scalability, but complicates setup time. Finally, the AVS is much more expensive than many other plate carriers of equivalent quality, owing to the complex setup, making it anywhere from $300 to $500 more than your average plate carrier of equivalent quality.

For more options, check out our guide to the best plate carriers.

Product Specs
  • Colors available: Coyote brown, black, ranger green, multicam, other limited colors
  • Materials: Cordura, Tegris, Velcro fastening
  • mprovement over issued gear: Improved load-bearing, protection from backface deformation, heat management
Why It Made The Cut
  • This harness-based system is totally unlike any other plate carrier on the market, separating the wearer from their armor and their load without reducing protection coverage.
PROS

Excellent load-bearing

Improved protection from backface deformation

A whole host of accessories

CONS

Complex setup

Must be bought in pieces

Expensive

Best Combat Shirt

UF Pro of Slovenia has been a quiet competitor in the market of tactical clothing for years, producing garments that strike out from simply copying Crye Precision designs like many other brands. Its combat shirts are meant to be worn comfortably under body armor for hours on end, featuring a breathable shirt material and camouflage sleeves similar to ordinary military uniforms. The Striker X is its premium military-grade design, prioritizing durability and comfort over things like cost effectiveness or looks. Because of this, this shirt is the most comfortable and fully-featured that I’ve worn to date.

The Striker X shirt is supremely comfortable, cut snug to the body, and features a number of quality of life improvements. The shoulders feature honeycomb padding that’s just breathable enough and thick enough to make a difference under the straps of your plate carrier, and pelvic padding that my colleague Leia Wallace has pointed out makes it one of the best shirts for women. In addition to this, it’s breathable, featuring zip-open mesh panels behind your armpits to allow for breathability in hot weather.

A key concern with many combat shirts, like my issued USMC FROG shirts, is that the torsos are made of t-shirt or jersey material, that while breathable, is very prone to wear and tear under your body armor. UF Pro has countered this by dotting its shirt’s torso with densely-packed ceramic disks that protect the shirt from wear and tear. Finally, the shirt’s chest lacks any sort of buttons or zippers, which not only prevent your body armor from pressing them into your chest, but also prevent concussions or blasts from shooting them into your body with explosive force, at least according to UF Pro.

The biggest issue with the UF Pro Striker X shirt is that it looks distinctly…European. The upper chest being covered with camouflage material, combined with the deep plunging collar, puts a lot of people off, especially those who’ve gotten used to a certain aesthetic looking “operator.” The collar lacks fine adjustment as well, giving you a choice between Mandarin-style, slightly folded down, or a “disco collar” that plunges down to my sternum. I really wish there was more Velcro to allow for finer adjustment. Finally, the sleeves are very thin, and while that helps prevent snags and helps with mobility, it means that for those who want to have a shirt that can be rolled up, either for looks or so that a medic can reach a wound on their arm, they’re SOL.

Product Specs
  • Colors available: Multicam, brown gray, steel gray, flecktarn, various limited colors
  • Materials: 50/50 Nyco, honeycomb padding, no-melt jersey material with ceramic dots
  • Improvement over issued gear: Increased comfort, increased durability, better fit, better cooling
Why It Made The Cut
  • Hailing from Slovenia, UF Pro’s Striker XT combat shirt is designed to move with the wearer’s body, pad high-friction areas, and actively prevent wear and tear.
PROS

Shoulder and pelvic padding protect common hotspots

Torso material prevents pilling

Lack of zippers or buttons improve comfort and safety

CONS

Collar lacks fine adjustment

Controversial styling

Slim sleeves

Best Tactical Gloves

PIG gloves are a mainstay in the world of tactical accessories, gracing the hands of sport shooters, outdoorsy types, and military members in pitched battles. Its Full Dexterity Tactical Delta line is its most dexterity-focused pair of tactical gloves, hence the name, ensuring that you barely notice that they’re there. Finally, they’re breathable, and the palms have protected my hands from scorching heat, sharp edges, and the rocky terrain of Range 400 at Twentynine Palms, California.

The PIG FDT Deltas are gloves that I never mind wearing, and that’s saying something, as most get old after a while. The gloves fit my hand like, well, a glove, with palms that are just the right size and fingers that aren’t too long or short, which means that I have every bit of dexterity with these on as I do with my bare hands. The gloves are also breathable, meaning that I didn’t mind wearing them even in the scorching heat of the Mojave desert. Finally, they’re touchscreen-capable, which is important not only for modern military touchscreen end-user devices, but also for using your mobile device.

These gloves are thin and handy, which adds as many problems as solutions. Chief among these is the fact that these have a reputation for wearing out fast, and bursting at the seams under heavy use. Secondly, they offer no impact protection, which is necessary for people who want to wear gloves for manual labor, especially inside an engine bay. Finally, they offer nothing in the way of insulation, which makes these terrible winter gloves.

For more options, check out our guide to the best tactical gloves.

Product Specs
  • Colors available: Coyote brown, carbon gray, ranger green, multicam, multicam black, black
  • Materials: Nylon, leather
  • Improvement over issued gear: It’s not hard to beat the issued black leather gloves that many Marines get, especially for dexterity, and these protect your hands from everyday tasks while remaining slim and breathable
Why It Made The Cut
  • These tactical gloves prioritize dexterity and abrasion resistance, and are great for people who want to maintain their fine motor skills and protect their hands from abrasions.
PROS

Exceptionally comfortable

Breathable

Touchscreen capability

CONS

Stitching can burst

No impact protection

No warmth

Best Combat Pants

These pants are the equivalent of the most delicious dish that’s collapsed in on itself and hardly looks like anything out of a food magazine. They’re not the best-looking pants around, but the UF Pro Striker X is a pair of pants that just works, every time, for years. Combat pants are specifically designed to enhance your mobility and add knee protection in a tactical environment, elevating them above more baggy, simple uniform designs or even typical cargo pants. I know people who’ve had this pair for several years, and used them in the most challenging environments that the U.S. Army can throw at a Special Forces soldier, and they’ve still held up.

UF Pro pants are some of the best-fitting and most comfortable pants I’ve ever worn, and that doesn’t come at the expense of durability, either. The entire seat is made of stretch material, the waistband features a rubber layer to keep your shirt tucked in, the cuffs are reinforced and feature a boot hook to prevent them from riding up your ankles, and the knees are triple-reinforced to accept three-layer knee pads that can be tailored to your needs.

The durability on these is also top-notch, since UF Pro has used two rows of stitching on every seam, used ripstop material throughout, and has reinforced the knees, belt loops, and cuffs with 500D Cordura, more commonly used in backpacks, plate carriers, and pouches, to prevent any damage from abrasion. Finally, the pockets on the Striker X pants actually make sense, with hip pockets, seat pockets, and most notably, thigh cargo pockets that can be accessed from either the front or the top, so that even when you’re seated, you can get inside them.

The UF Pro Striker X pants are relatively unknown in the U.S., and a large part of that is probably because they look downright ridiculous compared to the sleek Crye G3s that dominate the tactical landscape. The Striker X pants look like a mess of pockets, zippers, and lines, and many people are more concerned with looking cool than being comfortable, which is Rule #1 in the military. Less subjectively, the knee pads cannot be adjusted for height, only width, which is something that many people have gotten used to with combat pants from Crye, and even the various ripoffs like the Army Combat Pants from Massif. Finally, the cloth used is much heavier than on dedicated hot-weather uniforms, meaning that for extremely hot environments that don’t require a ton of pockets, padding, and durability, these are less than ideal.

Product Specs
  • Colors available: Multicam, brown gray, steel gray, flecktarn, other limited edition colors
  • Materials: 50/50 NyCo ripstop, Schoeller Dynamic stretch material, 500D Cordura
  • Improvement over issued gear: Exceptional durability, mobility, comfort, and storage
Why It Made The Cut
  • These rugged, industrial pants are nearly unbreakable, and offer some of the best comfort on the market, field repairability, and professional-grade materials, combined with great ergonomics.
PROS

Extremely comfortable

Legendary durability

Excellent pocket space

CONS

Flat out ugly

Kneepads aren’t height-adjustable

Heavier than other combat pants

Best Tactical Belt

I’ve reviewed and worn so many different types of gun belts, and in my adventures, I’ve found myself returning to one specific belt, time and again. That belt is the AWS SMU, made by a company whose bread and butter is making extremely dependable gear for the highest levels of Army Special Operations, hence the name. Gun belts are designed to act as an outer belt that connects to an inner belt with Velcro, allowing you to have a belt that carries all your essentials safely and with stability. This belt combines the old and the new, with laminate webbing on the classic reinforced nylon inner belt, joined with an AustriAlpin Cobra buckle with a D-Ring, forming the quintessential gunfighter belt.

The AWS SMU belt threw all its skill points into strength, in an attempt to make this a belt that will stand up to the toughest battlefields on earth. The belt is made of super-durable webbing with laser-cut laminate MOLLE, which despite its thinness is just as durable as stitched MOLLE in most cases, and holds your pouches in place very well. The belt features multiple other touches that enhance durability and stability, ranging from Velcro that bonds well to any loop-out inner belt, reinforced stitching, and a replaceable Cobra Buckle, should yours get damaged beyond repair. This belt has been one of the most stable and comfortable for me thus far, owing in no small part to these features. Finally, this belt is load-rated up to 5,000 pounds, meaning that if used as an impromptu safety harness or rappel seat, you can rest assured that it will catch you and all your gear, even under sudden movement.

The current gunfighter belt zeitgeist is Tegris thermoplastic, and belts from Ferro Concepts, AXL Advanced, and GBRS all feature this as its stiffening layer, which is far superior to traditional belt stiffeners. These stiffening layers further prevent sagging and twisting, but add cost, and can affect things like load rating, but people still look at them as the current “in” thing. The large belt buckle can get in the way, and on mine it always had a way of scratching up the receiver of my M4 while I let it hang, which is not the case with smaller-size Cobra or Raptor buckles that I’ve used. Finally, the D-ring on the buckle is not held captive by any sort of strap or bungee, which is what other belts do, and this can cause the buckle to protrude and snag on things or get in the way, which is a definite concern, especially for people who are in and around tight spaces with lots of snag hazards.

For more options, check out our guide to the best gun belts.

Product Specs
  • Colors available: Black, coyote, ranger green, multicam, multicam with black webbing, coyote with black webbing, ranger green with black webbing, and woodland with black webbing
  • Materials: Polymer laminate composite and high-tensile nylon
  • Improvement over issued gear: Allows the carriage of magazines, tools, and other essentials with none of the sweaty bulk of issued war belts, Velcro adds stability, and can be used as a rappel seat
Why It Made The Cut
  • This rappel-rated belt can do everything most people need a gun belt for, and more, all for a fair price from a legendary brand that holds its own.
PROS

Extreme durability

Rappel-rated

Extremely snug fitting webbing

CONS

Lacks thermoplastic stiffening layer

Large belt buckle can get in the way

Non-captive D-ring can get in the way

Best Tactical Boots

Salomon Boots are cool-guy boots, and there’s no avoiding that reputation. For years, snipers, Rangers, Recon Marines, SEALs, and other special badge types have turned to the hiking enthusiast market to get boots that work for their missions more than the standard eight-inch-high military boot. Because of this, Salomon launched its XA Forces line, aimed squarely at the military, replete with tactical colors. These came highly recommended by people who’ve used nothing but these for years in every clime and place.

Salomons are known for being lightweight, often beating boots from rival brands like Merrell and Keen. Coming in at just over one pound, these are hiking boots that won’t start feeling like cinder blocks after a long ruck or hike. They’re also surprisingly breathable, which I always prioritize, since my feet get sweaty really easily. Many boots come in soles that are designed for pavement, or have jungle-centric “Panama” soles, but these use Salomon’s proprietary Contagrip outsole which I’ve found to provide good traction over rocky ground and mud alike.

The weak point of Salomon boots are their soles, given that they wear out faster than other tactical boots. The rubber it uses must be softer than other brands, since Salomons have always worn out on me faster than my old Merrells did. The soles also come unglued from the upper after a while, and though you can repair that with some shoe paste, it’s better to just replace them. Finally, I have large toes, so Salomons always fit somewhat tighter around the toes, and I have to go up a size or find a wider pair, despite the fact that I wear normal sizes in nearly every other brand.

Product Specs
  • Colors available: Black, coyote, ranger green
  • Materials: Nylon and leather upper, foam and rubber sole
  • Improvement over issued gear: More comfortable over long distances, more mobility, easier lacing
Why It Made The Cut
  • These boots were recommended to me by so many people as great do-anything tactical boots, owing to their superior comfort and light weight.
PROS

Lightweight

Breathable

Multi-terrain treads

CONS

Soles are prone to split

Tight toe box

Treads wear out quickly

Things to consider before buying tactical gear

Prudent tactical equipment purchases will be shaped around your needs, your role in a tactical environment, and any sort of Unit SOP or regulation. In light of these considerations, there are several points that need to be modified as the situation dictates.

Unit SOP

This is a big one for people in the military, especially those in conventional units. Things like Salomon mid-rise boots aren’t always going to be authorized, and your unit or branch of the military may require certain camouflage patterns or colors to be authorized. For instance, any plate carrier or pouches I wear must be coyote brown if I plan to use them in the Marines. Aftermarket combat uniforms are off the table since nobody makes commercially available MARPAT.

Occupation

Long-range patrols are going to require different gear than hit-and-run raids, and both will differ from people who are guarding a vehicle checkpoint. It’s very easy to see something that a Tier 1 operator wears in a photo, and copy it, either because you assume that because he’s using it, it’s the best, or simply because you want to look cool. However, conventional forces need equipment that’s comfortable for long periods of time and under heavy loads, and that supports things like combat patrols that are many miles in length. Your gear must directly improve the performance of your job.

Company reputability

People love to throw around the tired phrase that “military equipment is made by the lowest bidder,” but that’s “the lowest bidder who could also meet the contract requirements.” In general, look for brands that are trusted to provide gear to actual service members and which are upheld as the gold standards of their respective fields. Brands like Crye Precision, AWS, Salomon, and Ops-Core are on this list for a reason, and that’s because they’re proven entities. They may cost more, but to paraphrase something my colleague Joe Plenzler said, “You can wear cheap tactical gear if you have a cheap life.”

Points of friction

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” or so the saying goes. Buying this entire list will likely set you back thousands of dollars, and some of my choices may not work for you. It’s a good idea to look where your gear is lacking most, and upgrade that first. One of the first things I personally upgraded was my helmet pads and the shoulder strap pads for my body armor, followed by a gunfighter belt and a better cummerbund because that’s what was giving me the most trouble in the field.

FAQs about tactical gear

Q: What is the purpose of tactical gear?

A: Tactical gear’s primary purpose is to enhance your performance while on a mission, and protecting you from whatever hazards you might face. Oftentimes, tactical boots and clothing are ergonomically designed for greater comfort, and made of more durable materials. Other things like headsets remove the extra step of reaching for a handset to communicate via radio.

Q: What tactical gear should I have?

A: Your choice in gear needs to fit your mission. Someone who works in the administrative shop in a rear echelon unit would be wasting their money on top-tier gear beyond perhaps a more comfortable pair of boots, but an infantryman might appreciate a plate carrier that can carry his combat load better, and a helmet that allows him to wear powered hearing protection. Be honest with yourself regarding your needs.

Q: What’s the difference between cargo pants and tactical pants?

A: Cargo pants simply have more pockets than normal pants, but tactical pants have features specifically designed for combat, which could include reinforced knees, stretch panels, improved stitching, magazine pouches, and other features. They’re often made of ripstop material to make them more durable, as well.

Q: What tactical vest does the military use?

A: The term you’re looking for is “plate carrier.”

Final thoughts

This article was a thought exercise in which I created my ideal loadout based on gear that I own or have reviewed in the past. The reality is that some of these items, especially the combat uniform and the boots, would never fly in the Marine Corps outside of something like MARSOC, which I am decidedly NOT a part of. However, given an unlimited amount of money, total freedom of choice, and a lack of staff non-commissioned officers in the vicinity, this is more or less what I would wear. If I had to select the one item on this list that’s the single biggest quality of life increase, it would be the Ops-Core FAST XR, since not only does it provide the same ballistic protection as my ECH, but it also allows me to mount my headset for easier radio communications, leaving my hands free to do my map work as a forward observer, and does so without the literal headache of fitting a headset under my ECH.

Methodology 

In selecting these items, I looked back at my past articles, as well as my experience with tactical gear both in a civilian and military setting. Every single one of these pieces of gear has been personally tested by me, and things like the AWS SMU belt and PIG FDT Deltas are things I rely on as part of my kit to this day. These items have all been tested to their limits, including torture testing of things like the belts and combat uniforms in extremely physical activities, and testing the gloves and headset at Integrated Training Exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms in California. Each entry on this list is the result of combined hours, days, and weeks of testing in multiple settings to ensure this is gear that we stand behind and that you’ll be comfortable wearing in tough environments.