I read a lot of comments. Whenever one of my articles goes live, I do my best to hop in and read every comment beneath it when my schedule permits, and although it’s likely bad for my health, I often read the comments posted to Facebook as well. The content we write about begs for strong opinions, and you can often find them voiced passionately by Facebookers who support or oppose the thesis of an article in the comments sections below SOFREP’s posts on the platform – but one comment I’ve noticed a few times that I have trouble wrapping my head around always pertains to the gear reviewed or offered in SOFREP’s crate clubs: “why should we care what these Special Forces guys think?”
It’s a fair question – and as a guy that once knew SOFREP as nothing more than a news outlet I interacted with via social media, I want to preface the following statements with the fact that I wasn’t asked to write this article. In fact, I wasn’t asked to subscribe to any of SOFREP’s crates either – but I do. It’s not because I’ve got a shortage of tactical gear lying around my house. A combination of my life experiences and a bit of that unique brand of veteran paranoia so many of us become familiar with has left my house fairly well stocked with the gear I’d need to fend off a zombie apocalypse or Red Dawn-style invasion… so why would I take the money I get from my job here at SOFREP, and use it to pay my own company for shipments of more tactical gear each month?
To be honest, it’s because I trust these guys.
We see lots of gear marketed as “military-grade” or “up to military standards” everywhere from pricey sporting goods stores to their cheap, big box competitors – but “military grade” isn’t the point. I’ve got lots of “military grade” stuff that was so cheaply manufactured Uncle Sam didn’t even see fit to ask for it back when I got out. “Military grade” means something can accomplish what it was designed to do without costing much money – not that the piece of equipment has achieved some practical super-toughness. Every service member spends their first trip to the field learning first hand just how crappy “military grade” can be, as their water-proof gear proves to be barely water-resistant, their pack turns out to be as user-friendly as Ikea instructions in another language, and, as was my case on more than one occasion, their super-tough military grade phone case turns into an expensive casket for yet another iPhone lost to the War on Terror. “Military grade,” in and of itself, often means nothing more than “we’re using the term ‘military’ because research shows it will motivate you to purchase our goods,” and nothing more.
That’s why, early in my Marine Corps career, I learned to develop a healthy respect for the opinions of those I knew to rely on their equipment when the stakes were high: as a Marine, the ops I participated in were far from “special.” We carried survival gear with us in case we found ourselves in a position to need it, but more often than not, we were back in the relative safety of the veritable tent-metropolises we could throw up in a series of hours by the end of the day, eating our MREs on folding chairs and even charging our iPods. We may have trained to use the equipment, but much of it never left my pack outside of those training events.
It was the older, seasoned guys that you’d see walking around carrying only about half the gear from the packing list. The guys that had spent time in small groups, surviving off of only what they carried on their backs, and discarding the gear they felt was too heavy to be worth it (or simply worthless in general) were the ones I’d ask when looking to invest in a new headlamp or survival knife. They weren’t going to respond with the pretentious answer you find in a lot of survival forums, (“It isn’t worth even BUYING a knife if you don’t spend $300 on it!”) or by recommending I stick to the letter of the packing list – they’d give me a straight up, “this Gerber is the best thing I ever spent thirty bucks on,” response and be on their way.
It was the great advice I got from the special operators I knew in service that informed what kinds of gear I bought myself when “military grade” just didn’t cut it, and by combining their advice with my own experiences, I’ve slowly shaped two different bags I keep in the closet near my door. One is packed for a few days’ worth of hiking or camping, and the other is packed with similar gear, but with the addition of some heavier bits I might need if I anticipate needing to treat casualties or having to survive for longer than a weekend trip.
Since leaving the Marine Corps a few years ago, my methods haven’t changed. I still value the advice I receive from the guys that have spent more time in the field than I have, or who have unique experiences that they can impart to inform my own survival strategy. Anyone who claims to know so much that they couldn’t benefit from a little advice now and then may be one hell of a survival expert – but they also don’t strike me as the sort of guy I’d enjoy sitting across a fire from. Survival or tactical gear, like martial arts, is all about learning from varied sources and assessing the value of each thing as it pertains to you.
So, from the stand point of a Marine who loves the outdoors, I can tell you that I value the opinions of guys like Brandon Webb, Jack Murphy, Drew Dwyer and the rest of the special operations veterans that have a hand in choosing the equipment released in the crate clubs, and I read the reviews posted on The Loadout Room with care. Over the years, I’ve spent enough time alone in the woods to know that the experienced opinion of a survivor is worth a whole lot more than any number of “military grade” stickers on some packaging – and when I need to rely on something to keep me alive, or just to get a campfire going so we can roast s’mores, I want to know that the stuff I’m carrying works in real world scenarios, and isn’t just another line item on a packing list.
Subscribing to the crate club or reading the reviews posted by other writers on SOFREP, to me, is no different from when I was a young lance corporal talking to that MARSOC staff sergeant about which brand of head lamp to buy. It’s not always about reviews on Amazon or whether or not something has been painted drab green – I want to know that someone with a real-world sense of cost has tried this thing out and found it capable, worthy of adding four more pounds to what I’ll have strapped to my back. I want to know that when the going gets tough, whether that’s a firefight or a rainy day at the beach, I’ll be able to use my stuff and make mission.
So to the commenters that always ask, “why should I care what some Navy SEAL thinks?” I’ll tell you why I care: because if it’s simple and resilient enough to work under the stresses of combat, it’ll be easy to deploy around your camp. If it’s tough enough to last a few years traveling the globe in a guy’s duty bag, it’ll survive just fine in my closet until I need it. And, at least in terms of convenience, you can’t beat having their recommendations delivered to your door.