TacTec: a high performance vest by 5.11
It is said that a soldier shouldn't jump. I mean on the ground, because jumping from a plane it's a completely different matter. The considerable amount of equipment worn on the back allegedly means that the physical activity practiced vertically has a detrimental effect on the joints, especially the knees. Therefore, the information that the TacTec plate carrier, made by 5.11, was once the official vest of CrossFit Games sports competitions, surprised me greatly. Therefore, I want back to the manufacturer's website to check if I (or them) mixed up the products and the names. But no, both soldiers and athletes used the same tactical vest model. It was intriguing, so I decided to look at the case more thoroughly.
A true tactical vest
Waiting for TacTec, I didn't know what to expect. Its supposed to be a ballistic vest was, but the words sport, training and crossfit popped up too often when reading about it on the Internet. Therefore I expected at least something special, extraordinary, but no, it looks like a normal plate carrier for carrying bulletproof plates.
The TacTec by 5.11 is essentially a classic design. It has two relatively simple covers for bulletproof SAPI standard plates, made of four sheets of 500D nylon fabric. The rest consists of, de facto, sewn-on accessories. It may not be space-age technology, but you cannot nitpick on a battle-proven design concept. This is not a beauty contest. It's supposed to work. Here a lot depends on whether the designers did not mix something up at the planning stage.
The plate compartments
A fastening system is sewn inside the compartments provided for the plates. The set of Velcro straps enables to securely fit almost any ballistic plate. The manufacturer has designed it for the needs of medium and large SAPI inserts, but there are also those who managed to fit round weights taken from a barbell. The system seems to work efficiently and without flaws. During testing, the vest carried both regular SAPI and Shooters Cut Single Curve plates. In both cases, the plates fitted very stably, as if they were an integral part of the plate carrier.
The only thing you can pick on, if you necessarily must, is the plate attachment process as the Velcros get in the way, cling to anything they touch and space inside the compartment is rather limited. For these reasons, the whole operation takes a long time. It does not matter, however, because the plates are changed relatively rarely.
The fastening system
A plate carrier is not just the plates. You also need to have somewhere to attach the necessary pouches, first aid kits etc. The MOLLE fastening system covers the entire front and rear surfaces, so one will have plenty of space for attaching accessories. At first glance, it would seem that the vest does not differ from what the other designs offer, but it is not so. First of all, we will find eight fastening columns here, instead of six, which is slowly becoming a norm. The popular trend is different, but no one forces us to use these two additional columns. The TacTec gives you a choice and offers greater flexibility in configuring the kit. The plate carrier from 5.11 is admittedly slightly wider than its competitors designs, but not enough to cause any issues.
It is worth taking a closer look at, is the vertical distribution of MOLLE spaces. The top seven rows were in the material with a laser, as it is fashionable, sensible and desirable. This is particularly interesting due to the fact that the TacTec has already been the market for several years. When it was released, the laser cutouts were still in their infancy. What's more, this whole part is at the same time one big panel with Velcros and loops. The exception is the,ironically, more expensive Multicam variant. Here, only the first three rows have sand-colored Velcros so as not to disturb the camo pattern.
I admit that it looks peculiar, but I didn't let is get into my head. I can attach additional pouches on the left on this panel and I'll still have space on the right for any markings I would like to attach. In other vests, it is very often the case that when you attach something, the place for the name patch is gone.
In all variants, a large flat pocket is hidden under the front panel. The inlet was placed in the upper edge and secured with Velcro. Its ideal for storing a map or some documents.
The last three rows, located at the bottom of the vest, are of typical sewn on design made of polyamide tape. Why not a laser cut? Such a small fragment would be only marginally lighter and there is still a lot of controversy over the "cut-outs". In the place where the most loads is transferred, 5.11 has decided to use a proven and very durable, traditional solution.
While discussions in the community continue, the TacTec does its job and returns from any given mission with a full set of pouches. In my opinion, 5.11 made the right design decisions without being excessively carried away by the ruling trends. Once the agonizing stops, they can always improve the design with a laser cut bottom.
The entire lower part can be lifted up. Underneath, there are traditionally two large Velcro panels that allow for attaching a waist belt.
The magic starts when we reach the belt, i.e. the cummberbund. It consists of two, symmetrical pieces, covering the right and left sides of the user's body, respectively. Much can be said about the rest of its design, but not that it is typical.
Three horizontal rows of 25 mm wide polyamide tape are connected by sewing them together with vertical narrow strips. In this way a structure resembling a ladder or a grid was created. This allows you to fasten MOLLE pouches vertically or horizontally along its entire length. This is very nice. We can attach additional magazine pouches, a first aid kit or radio pouch. The manufacturer's offer also includes special pouches for side protection plates. The beginning of the belt is generously finished with Velcro. This allows the belt to be fastened at the front under the "sewn" support panel. In addition, it performs the function of a precise length adjustment, allowing you to adjust the vest's circumference to your body build and the number of layers of clothing worn.
The magic begins just behind the Velcro fastener. On both pieces of the belt, special sections were placed, where pullers were sewn between the layers of tape. Thanks to this, the TacTec is worn unlike most other tests. You can fit it tightly to your body, and still breath freely. Squatting is also less bothersome, and the vest does not try to push your innards into your kidneys. Rotating the torso, sideways tilts, bending are the activities at which the TacTec shines.
The shoulder straps
The TacTec's shoulder straps are said to originate in a straight line from the proven and well-liked carrying systems used in 5.11 backpacks. The characteristic U-shaped profile is sewn permanently to the back. The straps were connected to the front part by means of specially thickened loops made of a 25 mm wide multilayer tape. They were threaded through permanently sewn in loops located on the inside of the vest, in the area of the collarbone. The system if this design skilfully bypasses the user's neck, while maintaining decent mobility at the front. If the parts were sewn together permanently, the freedom of movement in the shoulder section would suffer. Simple, durable and easy to fix when needed. Simply commendable.
The shoulder straps themselves consist of four sections connected at the shoulders by a quick release system. The outer surface was covered with elongated covers finished with Velcro. In this way, easily accessible ducts are created, to protect the cables and tubes of systems worn on the back.
The TacTec vest has an integrated quick release system. It is indispensable, because it also plays the role of adjusting the length of the shoulder straps and the waist belt. The mechanism is based on the use of two sections of a rigid wire. It has a diameter of 3.5 mm and is made of a steel core with a hard polymer outer layer. Both pieces run from the collarbone area along the shoulder straps. Here they are threaded through interlocking belt loops, sewn alternately on the parts of the carrying system. Then they run in special channels hidden in the back panel and come out under the rear flap. Here, in the same way as it does at shoulder straps, the wire is twirled together with special loops with have a cummberbund "ladder". The excess is hidden in a specially designed space hidden in the Velcro closing the rear flap. This solution is simple and reliable, and at the same time allows you to adjust the length of the shoulder straps and the waist belt by selective twirling of the belt loops.
At the front, both sections of the wire are finished with a two-part tape handle. It is equipped with Velcro so that we can attach it to the vest's cover. On the plate part, two pieces of Velcro correspond with it, one on the outside and one on the inside. This allows the user to choose whether the grip is to be easily accessible for a medic or whether it is somewhat hidden from the temptations of witty teammates. As I mentioned before, the grip is a two-part design. If needed, it can be unfastened and used only on the right or left side of the system. This solution allows selective access to an injured person. Partial vest integrity may be an advantage. It is more difficult to lose elements in transport and the injured person retains some of the protection that the plates provide.
In both cases, the system works on the same principle: we pull the handle all the away from the starting position and the cable extends, unraveling subsequent loops. At this point, the vest should split into two parts under its own weight or with a little help. Twirling the system back together is, unfortunately, quite time consuming. If one practices a little, it can be assembled in less than 4 minutes.
The last part of the TacTec's design that deserves a mention is the rescue drag handle. It was specially designed for evacuating the injured and, unlike its competition, it is not suitable for carrying a vest. Why? Because it is extendable.
When we grab the handle and pull it, 40 cm long tape will also come out from under the plate compartment layers. This allows one to drag a wounded person without the risk of tripping over his/her body. What's more, the rescuer can keep an almost upright position, which greatly facilitates the operation. It is also easier to evaluate the route, control what is happening around and provide cover fire. The grip is sewn very robustly, as evidenced by tests done by the manufacturer and the users themselves. The first half of the tape is stiffened, which makes it easier to slide the system into its original position. Some say it's still difficult to do it. The for some its not a problem, me included.
Jogging with the vest on
After an in-depth analysis of the vest itself and the interesting facts associated with it, I was able to decipher what is all the fuss with all this sport and fitness thing. It turns out that Crossfit has a training session called "MURPH", named after lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, who died in Afghanistan. It consists of a pre-run over a distance of one mile (1.6 km), 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats and another run for the same distance. All this done wearing a vest weighing 9 kilograms. Now, the most interesting part: this training session is known and liked in the sports community long enough, that special vest variants for civilian started to appear. It turned out, however, that the TacTec plate carrier made by 5.11 works better in this role! That's why avid crossfit enthusiasts buy it, even though they don't need the MOLLE system. The vest was appreciated during CrossFit Games in 2015. During this competition, the TacTec was the official equipment of every competitor in the MURPH competition. No less interesting is the fact that the quick release system is also in this case. Many participants, after running the exhausting course did not have the strength to remove the vest in the normal way.
Kari Pearce and Josh Bridges - winners of The CrossFit Games Individual Murph in 2016 (photos by 5.11 Tactical)
I admit that the TacTec did not make a jarring first impression on me. Even before trying it on, I decided to check what's so special about it, get to know the parameters and what the manufacturer wants to show off with this product. Frankly, I was stunned by the number of people talking about the vest as a branded piece of sports equipment. There are three result concerning fitness when browsing for the vest in any given search engine. I understood what was going on after a week using the vest. The TacTec is surprisingly convenient. Does not restrict movement where its is reasonable, its soft and quite airy. You would want to train in something like that. I have worn many different vests, from cheap Chinese ones, through military grade ones, to the latest variants and prototypes. The TacTec works perfectly, it is super comfortable, and I can't find a fault in it.
There are details that I would change when designing the successor to this vest. However, I am more than sure that these would only be details and not a completely new vest. What is missing? I would welcome a vest quick connection system - useful when you need to transport a wounded person to a safe area. It could also be lighter and cheaper, but this can be said about any vest.
What more to say. It's really a nice piece of equipment, which was really well designed. It truly amazes me and "positively frustrates" how simple and effective the solutions to the problems encountered were made by people at 5.11. Sometimes it's a shame that Tactec is not super trendy. Then it would complete.
This article was created thanks to 5.11 Tactical