I read a lot of comments.  Whenever one of my articles goes up, I do my best to hop in and read each comment beneath it, and although it’s probably bad for my health, I even sometimes read the comments on Facebook.  The content we write here 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 I see reviewed here and elsewhere in the tactical community: “why should we care what these Special Operations guys think?”

To be honest, it’s because I trust these guys, and nowhere is that reasoning more prevalent than in the Crate Club. Full disclosure, I’ve been a paying subscriber to the Crate Club since before working here, and that’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 sorts of gear I’d need to fend off a zombie apocalypse or Red Dawn-style invasion. So why pay other veterans to mail me more each month? Because it’s not about having more gear; it’s about having the right gear.

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 achieved some level of practical super-toughness.

Every service member spends their first trip to the field learning just how crappy “military grade” can be, as their waterproof 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 relied 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 by the end of the day.

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.

The last time I hung out with the Crate Club guys, this was the sort of thing that dominated our conversation.

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 used the crate club to help me put together one hell of a survival bag that I keep in the closet near my door.

From the standpoint of a Marine who loves the outdoors, I can tell you that I value the opinions of guys like Brandon Webb, Scott Witner and the rest of the veterans that have a hand in choosing the equipment released in the crate clubs.  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.