Tactical vs. Standard Clothing – what’s the difference

Whether an experienced firefighter or someone new to the field, having the right gear makes all the difference. Veterans know the importance of finding clothing and accessories they can count on to handle the demands of the day while still providing comfort and durability. Suitable workwear should be designed to make your job easier by providing additional utility, protection, and support.

Of course, not everything meets the standards for what’s appropriate to wear in the field or at the station house. The apparel you buy from most retail stores is designed for daily wear, not to stand up to the heat of the moment.

Clothing and accessories you wear on duty need to receive official approval to ensure they meet regulations. Knowing which apparel to buy allows you to avoid wasting money and experiencing the embarrassment of showing up improperly dressed.

When searching for the right apparel to wear while on the job, you may wonder what is tactical gear and how it differs from traditional clothing? Does it offer more protection and greater durability, and where can you buy it online?

Keep reading to learn more about tactical clothing and how it compares to the clothes you wear every day.

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What is Tactical Gear?

Tactical gear and clothing are usually worn by members of the police, fire department, emergency medical services (EMS), and military. Tactical gear is designed with a function and purpose other than to look fashionable and helps service men and women do their jobs better. Tactical gear can range from pants and shirts to gloves, hats, and other accessories.

What Makes Clothing Tactical?

While tactical clothing looks similar to traditional clothing, manufacturers of tactical attire focus on providing features that include:

  • Greater durability. Tactical gear is designed to withstand the stress of harsh environments and to resist tearing from pulling and stretching.
  • Increased range of movement. Service members and first responders need their full range of motion and can’t wear tight clothing that binds their bodies, or makes it difficult to move. Tactical gear is designed to allow greater mobility so the wearer can twist, turn, and rotate easily.

·  Improved comfort. Most types of clothing are designed with comfort in mind, and tactical apparel is no different. Uncomfortable clothing that restricts, irritates, or overheats the wearer can cause them to lose focus and wear down physically when worn for long shifts. Keeping comfortable makes it easier to stay alert and locked onto getting the job done.

Why is it Called Tactical Gear?

The term “tactical” refers to the tactics used by the military in combat situations, so you’d think tactical gear would refer to the clothing worn by service members when out on the battlefield. However, the term “tactical gear” is an invention of marketing rather than an actual descriptor.

Manufacturers with surplus military gear to sell found civilian customers were more willing to purchase the apparel when it was marketed as “tactical” rather than “military-grade.” Over the years, as the demand for this type of apparel increased, manufactures leaned into using the term when marketing their clothing. Now, many consumers associate tactical gear with any type of rugged, well-made apparel rather than something a soldier would wear in combat.

What is Considered Tactical?

Despite its origins, tactical gear isn’t the same as military gear. Law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and EMS crews all need to wear durable clothing that offers a full range of movement, doesn’t easily tear, and provides additional protection and comfort.

When considering what is tactical gear, it’s important to keep in mind that the term refers to any type of apparel that offers value and purpose to the wearer other than appearance.

Military gear refers to equipment used explicitly by members of the armed forces and can include everything from weapons and body armor to vehicles and technology.

What’s the Difference Between Tactical Clothes and Standard Clothes?

As we’ve covered, tactical clothing looks like standard daily apparel but with a few crucial differences that provide greater function and utility.

Regular vs. Tactical Pants

Tactical pants exemplify the difference between tactical apparel and traditional clothing.

For example, our CAL FIRE Tactlite EMS pants are lightweight, durable, and breathable like traditional pants but include several notable features you won’t find on most commercial clothing:

  • Extra pockets placed and sized for EMS use
  • Double reinforced seat and knees
  • Calf cargo pockets
  • Teflon finish
  • Improved range of motion
  • Self-adjusting tunnel waistband

This style of tactical apparel is designed to meet the wearer’s needs far more than skinny jeans or capri pants. It anticipates what clothing features help an EMS responder and provides the tools to make their jobs easier.

Regular vs. Tactical Shirt

Tactical shirts don’t offer the same level of utility compared to pants, but they serve the purpose of keeping police, firefighters, and EMS responders looking sharp and professional when on the job.

For example, our CAL FIRE Snag-Proof Polo is a tactical shirt built for performance that’s:

  • Snag-proof and wrinkle resistant 
  • Highly durable
  • Odor and moisture resistant 
  • Comfortable to wear

Think of tactical shirts as casual business attire for those whose office is on the streets and who don’t mind getting dirty to get the job done.

Regular vs. Tactical Accessories

Even more, tactical doesn’t just apply to apparel, but accessories too. Tactical accessories include everything from useful items — such as flashlights, pocket knives, and safety glasses — to footwear, gloves, and support items like belts and bags. These items are designed to endure the elements, improve footing and grip, and resist puncturing or ripping.

We’ve all bought an accessory item, whether a bag or pair of gloves, that only lasted a few weeks or months before it started to wear down. Tactical accessories are built to last for years no matter how much punishment they receive.

The BareBones Wildland Firefighter Goggle helps to demonstrate this type of durability. This resilient protective goggle is designed to address the needs of wildland firefighters and includes:

  • A hard-coated outer lens
  • Silicone frame with elastic strap
  • Optically correct lens

·  NFPA 1977 and ANSI Z81.1 ratings

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Where to Buy Tactical Gear?

Now that you know the answer to what is tactical gear, maybe it’s time for you to toughen up your wardrobe.

At CAL FIRE Gear, we offer a wide selection of branded apparel and gear for the wildland firefighters of California. From pants and polos to bags and belts, we help keep the men and women protecting California safe by providing the dependable attire you need in the field and at the station house. 

Walk with confidence knowing your gear will last longer while still looking professional. 

Visit our online store today to browse our selection of approved apparel and accessories! We also offer seven in-store pickup locations across California when you need gear fast. Just order online and select a location. We will fulfill your order so that it’s ready for easy pickup. 

(Inventory varies by location. If you need a specific item, it’s best to call ahead to confirm it is available. If you order online, it may take a few days for your item to arrive at the designated pickup location. We will contact you when your item is ready for pickup.)