The Evolution of Tactical Gear in the Military
Jul 19, 2022
When you think about military gear, you may think of all of the accoutrements that come with the uniform and how complex the design is. Nothing about the uniform is by accident, however. After all, it’s made to handle war and all its physical consequences. Read on to learn how tactical gear grew out of necessity as military action became more complex. The evolution of military tactical gear is quite an involved topic, so we will attempt to uncover the basic tenets of what makes it so effective today.
Over the last few hundred years, war has taught us many ways to protect ourselves. Originally, during the early days following the colonization, wool hats were popularized by the British. This short-lived fad gave way to the saucer-like helmets made entirely of metal worn by soldiers during World War I. The metal helmet was one of the single most effective pieces of equipment that the military had ever come up with. It might have been a little heavy, but preferable to losing your head to a grenade or a rifle bullet.
Vests and Kevlar
As far back as the medieval era, soldiers would don chain mail and metal chest plates when going into battle to protect themselves from infliction from swords and maces. Fast forward into the last few decades, and Kevlar has become all the rage. This densely crafted polymer molecule has stopping power incomparable to earlier armor, and it’s lightweight, making it great for overall head and body protection. Today, a ubiquitous tactical item, the ballistic vest, is also made of Kevlar and is worn under the uniform. It’s highly maneuverable, lightweight, and temperate, and has the stopping power to deflect bullets and shrapnel. This is quite the upgrade from its predecessor, the iron vest.
The antiquated design of riding boots would not serve modern soldiers well. Hundreds of years of crafting and tactical improvements gave way to creating something truly remarkable for soldiers in this century as well as the last. Historically, boots haven’t always been great footwear, and many of them did their fair share of more harm than good. For instance, the interchangeable boot of World War I had the same sole pattern for both feet! This purposeful design was meant to allow soldiers to get into any boot quickly, and it would save them the effort of finding another boot the right size if they lost theirs. It was also an economic failure that was meant to save money but did not.
What happened was that many soldiers came back from war with horrible foot problems, so these boots were quickly phased out of rotation. The variable leather used in older boots was also another huge factor in phasing out riding boots for non-cavalry soldiers. Now the leather has to be a certain thickness, and it has to mold well to the wearer’s foot so that it won’t cause blisters or other painful sores and so the leather itself will not break down. Today’s combat boots feature steel toes to protect the foot from heavy equipment and artillery. The soles and midsoles are carefully cut and sewn by hand. The rubber is flexible but firm enough to trek through anything without deteriorating. There is mesh nylon and polyester webbing throughout the sides and ankles of the boots to allow for air to circulate, unlike earlier models that did not allow for any ventilation. Air circulation helps to prevent foot diseases and other harmful effects of wearing boots for long periods.
The modern combat boot boasts corded nylon laces that are made to stay dry and tied. These laces will not wear out and will keep the boot snugly fitted to the foot and lower leg.
From the moment that the military incorporated cargo pockets into the trousers of their uniforms sometime between World War I and II, the world has been in love with the idea of having all of the extra room to store things on your person. Of course, this was meant for tactical and military purposes, for carrying things like ammunition, first aid, and other supplies that would be necessary in times of war. Cargo pockets are still featured on uniforms today, especially the camouflage uniforms worn by on-the-ground troops.
Whether uniforms present black-and-gray designs or a camouflage pattern, both of these colorways have been used by other agencies worldwide since over the decades. When you think about the police force, you also think about SWAT teams wearing all black to help them remain concealed in dark places and on nighttime raids. Hunters and campers wear camouflage to blend in with their environments while in nature. And even civilians have embraced camouflage-patterned garments that look like military gear as a fashion statement.
Gun belts go back as far as the inception of militia armed with muskets and bayonets. With sidearms especially, you need a gun belt, but these belts have evolved over hundreds of years. When you think of the Old West, you think back to bandoliers: the crisscrossed straps worn over the chest with the individual slots that held bullets, but now there are whole compartments all over the belt for ammunition. This general design has been largely overhauled for modern warfare since most ammo is stored in other cargo areas throughout the uniform. However, the belt still survives today for its usefulness in carrying any extra utilities that can be strapped to the uniform while in battle.
Most military uniforms were fabricated out of canvas because that material was durable and held up for long periods. You could rough it up, and it would still wear well. But it offered no protection against blades, bullets, or grenades, so the military eventually introduced ripstop fabrics, such as nylon and polyester blends. These fabrics present a material that is ultra-strong, lightweight, and even more durable than their canvas counterparts from years past.
The evolution of tactical gear in the military has come a long way and continues to evolve with technological advances. It will continually best itself to outperform previous iterations in times of war.