Tacticool vs Functional

Posted March 22, 2016

There is a somewhat disturbing trend in the tactical gear industry of valuing tacticool over functional when it comes to product design and manufacturing. For those unfamiliar with the term, when it comes to gear, the word  “tacticool” refers to something that uses actual tactical components in its design and construction outside of their originally intended purpose. This typically happens for one of two reasons. The first reason could be because of a misunderstanding of a components or materials design and specifications. The second reason is to simply make the product appear more tactically viable so it will sell to the growing demographic of Americans who wish to look tactical in their everyday appearance.

In my opinion neither is a good excuse for making gear that is less about function and more about look as if it were the other way around. That’s fundamentally misleading and because of the people they are selling to it could actually have dangerous consequences. This trend of manufacturers valuing tacticool over functional is actually so pervasive in the industry right now that major parts manufacturers have begun to create specific products to capitalize on the trend. Take the ever present Cobra™ buckle manufactured by Austrialpin™ as an example. Originally designed as a quick detach alternative to the standard strength rated double pass buckles typically found on climbing rated and rigging harnesses they became the must have piece of tacticool “bling”. Now they can be found on everything from rifle slings to lap top bags and it seems the more of them you can put on your gear the better it sells.

Case and point of this becoming the new trend is Austrialpin™ releasing their newest line of Cobra™ buckles called the Cobra FM™ or Fashion Model described as being “4 Fashion and Sport” using words to describe their new product like, “sexy” and “sweet looking”. They’re rated to 800lbs instead of the typical 2,000lb rating on their original Cobra™ buckles. They realize people are using their products, designed for strength rated applications, out of context for the tacticool aesthetic and so they created a new line of products to match that trend, calling a spade a spade and I applaud them for that. As a side note, I predict that the tacticool market will actually reject the “Fashion Model” of the Cobra™ because they will think of it as a “lesser” component choice since the original buckle can still be found on tactical products used by our military and that’s who they are attempting to emulate.

While I believe that aesthetics have a role to play in the design process, when your end goal is to deliver products that give the end user actual capabilities in austere conditions it could be ugly as hell and still function flawlessly. I’m all for manufacturers designing cool products, but I have a fundamental problem when they begin to add complexity to products just for the cool factor and sell them as functional mission enhancing products. When you break each product down the opposite is actually true and these tacticool features take away from the products ease of use under gross motor skill function. In austere or disruptive environments complexity in design is synonymous with a predisposition to failure. This gets me fired up because my brothers and sisters in arms are the ones who end up using these products out of necessity or because of some companies clever marketing campaign. For them, depending on the type of call or mission they are on they very well could be risking their lives with that gear and if it was made to just look cool it could cost people their lives.

I’ve been told that I think in extremes, that I’m a little too paranoid and pessimistic, but I tell people that I’m actually just passionate, aware of the world I live in and a realist. I have seen, first hand, the decline in focusing on the functional side of design. A certain product, that I cannot mention for risk of litigation, was manufactured by a very well known company and sold as “rescue rated”, yet when it was dissected it actually had missing stitches in some very key areas that had been covered up with more material so that it “looked” correct. These were products that were being sold to our armed forces and could have cost people their lives if it hadn’t been for one of them failing in a training exercise which sparked an investigation and ultimately a product recall. So if you’re going to sell tacticool products please label and sell them as such. Don’t work your ass off and spend tons of money on clever marketing to convince people that because it has 5 more Cobra™ buckles than your competitors product it’s going to function better when the opposite is actually true.

At Modern Icon the inspiration for what we do and how we do it comes from the lessons and principles that we have learned from the “The Greatest Generation”, Americans who fought and served both at home and abroad during WWII. Back then there was a no BS philosophy that was woven into the everyday fabric of our society and we were known the world over for it. This no BS attitude came from our original American Pioneer/Can Do spirit and was revived through the Great Depression and kept us focused during WWII both at home and abroad. People did what they had to do for the war effort, and they made the highest quality gear for our Service Members with the conviction that there was a very real possibility the person it was made for would give the ultimate sacrifice while using it. This was part of what made us Americans.

Back then we were men and women of our word and a handshake was as good then as a written contract drafted by a team of lawyers would be today. If a manufacturer made a product there was an honesty in its design. That honesty has been lost in our celebrity culture that values appearance over substance and it’s a trend that we want to do our part to reverse. If we use a buckle on our product then there is a functional reason for it. If you don’t see us offering the latest camo pattern on our products there’s a reason for that too. We want you to know the difference between tacticool and functional and make informed decisions about the gear you buy and put your life on the line with. We want you to know that when it really counts the gear you have will work the way it should even if your hands are covered in blood, it’s raining and you have been working 14 hours straight. We want you to value function and longevity like our forefathers did before you make a purchasing decision.

If, at the end of the day, tacicool is really what you want then there are companies that are doing it well that we would honestly love to recommend. If functional, battle tested gear that you can bet your life on is what you want then welcome to Modern Icon where we are committed to making gear we would bet our lives on. Great gear for a greater purpose.

– Modern Icon