Back to Basics with First Tactical

Pioneers in tactical apparel have reunited to innovate once again

By Crawford Coates  |   Nov 9, 2015

Cut out the middleman and cut down the price. Then take years serving first responders and put that value back into the product. The best product at the best price: That’s the proposition of First Tactical.

I spent Friday with the First Tactical team at Cowtown, a massive mesquite- and saguaro-tangled shooting range in the hills outside of Phoenix. We shot guns, shared thoughts, and reviewed product. I can say this: The company seems to be succeeding in its challenging mission.

 

The Gear

Take for example the Tactix 1-Day Pack. Every aspect of this pack has been thought through multiple times, from an apparel design perspective and a practitioner perspective. The result is a bag that is capable of being many things to many people, all of them good.

Eye glasses get their own separate, non-crushable compartment. Laptops have ample padded room. Pockets are where you’d want your gear stowed (it’s covered in duty-designed pockets), with plenty of room for magazines and water bottles and everything in between. Even the zipper tugs were customized (so that you can tell by feel which compartment you’re accessing).

The bag was made almost to anticipate your needs. As the designer Cory Nykoluk put it: “There are two extremes: neat freaks and dumpers. This bag was designed so that dumpers could find their stuff when they need it and maybe get a little closer on the spectrum to the neat guys. But if you’re a neat freak you’re going to love this bag.”

The people behind First Tactical (many of the original people behind 5.11) are quick to admit that they aren’t first responders. They are apparel people with years of experience working with first responders. So First Tactical has enlisted the help of outside law enforcement in getting feedback and a few of the pack’s features are specifically for the first responder or specialist. The removable internal backboard can double as a leg splint or c-spine. You can also unzip the bottom and slide in a rifle bag that will velcro into place.

On the consumer side of things there are lots of newer companies that are web and catalog only, usually with a few flagship stores as well, trying to “disrupt” traditional markets (the Dollar Shave Club, for example). First Tactical is part of this trend. It hopes to sell its products on the web, in catalogs, and through a network of nearly 80 sales representatives throughout the country, drawing mostly from retired law enforcement.

Selling direct to consumers, says Nykoluk, allows him to put money back into the bag. “I’m actually thinking about where I can add a few cents or dollars to the design,” he says. “It used to be the pressure was to cut costs. Not with this model.”

 

Style & Approach

From the backpack to the rest of the line, the fabrics, assembly and style are what you might expect at the higher end of the consumer market. Cuts in the BDUs are less boxy and more tailored. They have also taken many of the tactical features and made them integral to the product for a sleeker, more refined look, despite the great utility inherent. For departments looking for a more traditional uniform look with tactical function, this could be your solution.

Another highlight is the gloves. They come in many sizes in men and women’s lines. They are designed to comport to the flex of the hand and fit like a second skin and in this they succeed. Though the palms are supple kid skin, they are washable and work with smartphones and tablets. They’re great for shooting.

Women factor big in First Tactical’s plans. “We are only going to see more women in law enforcement,” says Nykoluk. “They have been vastly underserved in this market.” This isn’t mens stuff with a little afterthought applied. This is clothing designed from the ground up for women.

IMG_0191They also make flashlights and knives, again, at very reasonable price-points. Both lines have novel features and provide solid performance. For example, the clips on the knives are a little longer to fit around clipboards and they are extremely strong. (Because how many folder knife and flashlight clips have you broken?)

Should anything break or not fit right, First Tactical is backing their whole line up with a comprehensive return policy, including free shipping.

Conclusion

Dan and Kelsie Costa, the team behind First Tactical, are pioneers in the so-called tactical apparel market, which has grown by leaps and bounds since the Costas got their start. First Tactical takes them back to their roots with a comprehensive, ground-up approach to the products and the market that will serve both–and law enforcement–well. 

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Crawford Coates

Crawford Coates

Crawford Coates is the author of Mindful Responder: The First Responder's Field Guide to Improved Resilience, Fulfillment, Presence, & Fitness--On & Off the Job and the publisher at Calibre Press.
Crawford Coates

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