Tactical Nylon - What Makes Quality Gear "Quality"?
Gear quality in regards to the actual construction of equipment is an often overlooked factor. Concepts such as bartacking vs. straight stitch, reinforcement of stress points, and many small details are frequently beyond the knowledge of the end user as these are things typically learned through years of experience with textiles and sewing. Even then, tactical equipment such as that used by soldiers and law enforcement often has unique quirks and requirements to its construction known only to those with experience in the fabrication portion of this particular industry.
In this article we’ll be examining gear construction up close and discussing what separates high quality, top tier equipment from mid and low tier equipment.
The comparison –
To the right in Multicam is a Beez Combat Systems BALCS armor carrier. The carrier in Coyote Brown is an older style “tactical cut” carrier made by Survival Armor. Both carriers are U.S. made.
First, we’ll go in for a close examination of the Beez carrier. This carrier sells for about $245 as of this writing.
Upon initial examination there doesn’t appear to be any issues with the carrier. Everything fits together as it should, the soft armor and plate pockets are sized appropriately, and there are no obvious problems. However, closer examination reveals why this is not a top tier carrier in terms of quality.
First, there is no use of bartacking on this carrier. Bartacking is used to reinforce stress points – areas on the equipment that are likely to be subject to higher than average pulling forces or other such stresses. Instead, reinforcement is accomplished through triple stitching – stitching over the same area three times with a straight stitch. While this is largely effective at accomplishing the task of reinforcing the material it is still inferior to bartacking and will likely be subject to higher rates of failure in the long term or under extreme conditions.
Further, because this technique was used on the MOLLE webbing it can be seen that stitching was simply carried through from one row to the next, leaving a series of unnecessary stitches between each row. While this is not really a problem in and of itself, it shows that the focus when constructing this carrier was on reducing time to completion rather than cleaning up small details.
Moving to another area on the carrier, we see the same as before but there is a detail here that you would miss unless you looked closely.
If we zoom in we can see an issue on one particular line of stitching here. What you see above are the ‘loops’ formed where the two threads (one from the upper bobbin on the sewing machine, one from the lower bobbin) are joined together. Assuming we’re looking at what was the top side when this area was being sewn the thread tension was off, either the upper tensioner was too tight or bobbin tension was too loose. Those little loops should ideally be sandwiched between the fabric layers.
Moving on, we can highlight several stress points on the carrier that ideally would have had some properly placed bartacks.
One such point is here, a pull tab for the cummerbund flap.
Other such stress points can be seen on the back, namely on the drag handle. Granted, the drag handle webbing has been extended down underneath several rows of MOLLE webbing. This style of drag handle construction can also be seen on the popular LBT 6094 plate carrier. What extending the drag handle in this manner does is increase the total amount of surface area or fabric that must fail in order for the drag handle to separate from the carrier. When the drag handle is extended down like this, there is a large amount of fabric that must completely fail in order for the drag handle to separate, decreasing the likely hood of failure when the drag handle must be used.
That said, it is otherwise lightly reinforced and would be more reliable with appropriately placed bartacks. Similarly, the shoulder strap webbing terminal points are held in place only with a box and x stitch. While this is not bad and is generally considered a fairly strong method of attachment, this area could again be improved with bartacking.
Now we will examine the Survival Armor carrier. This was part of what was a fairly expensive carrier and armor package when it was first made, and the carrier alone likely would have retailed for over $300.
First of all, all stress points are bartacked, including each section of MOLLE webbing. This is already a notable improvement in quality over the Beez carrier. As well, there is no superfluous stitching and the quality of the stitching itself is good.
Again we see bartacks on stress points, this time on one of the pull tabs for the shoulder adjustments. Another improvement over the Beez carrier, which lacked bartacking on its pull tabs.
Moving to the back side of the carrier there is a small detail I’d like to focus on. Where the webbing of one of the MOLLE rows terminates and folds into a seam there is still a small section of bartacking. This particular bartack is not there to create a MOLLE column, but rather to reinforce this stress point as there are multiple layers of thick fabric and webbing all being held together in this spot. This bartack will help keep the seam from ‘popping’ or tearing open at this juncture.
This is an example of careful attention to detail on the engineering/construction side of gear production. On lesser quality gear you are likely to find such things are overlooked, making for less durable equipment.
Looking at the upper back of the carrier, we have the drag handle. A minus on the construction of the drag handle here is it is not run down the backside of the carrier, meaning there are only two roughly 1.5” square areas of fabric to which the handle is attached that must fail in order for the handle to separate from the carrier. However, its attachment is reinforced with bartacks.
More information –
As you can see, there is a clear difference in quality between various tiers of manufacture. Simply because a given piece of equipment is made in the U.S. does not make it top quality by default, though even lower end U.S. equipment is still often superior to mid or low end foreign made gear from China, Taiwan, etc.
For example, many foreign made carriers will use lower quality webbing for their MOLLE, or they may not even use webbing at all. Instead you may see folded over fabric, typically the same fabric as the body of the carrier, used to make webbing. This is cheaper and allows for greater production efficiency but this fabric is not an equal substitute for quality webbing. An example of a carrier that uses folded fabric for much of its MOLLE webbing is the Condor Gunner Plate Carrier in Multicam. Condor is a brand primarily marketed to airsofters and paint ball players, with this being reflected in the general quality and price of their products.
Another detail is the thread used to stitch equipment together. Typically, quality gear will use T70 bonded nylon thread or similar. Lower quality gear may skimp on the quality of thread used, opting instead for undersized thread or even using cotton thread instead of nylon.
It is important to have an understanding of what separates top quality gear from that of lesser quality, as even small details can be critical for gear that will be relied on to perform in extreme conditions. I hope this article has achieved the goal of giving you enough information to make a more informed decision when purchasing tactical equipment, and don’t forget to check the rest of the blog for even more critical information.
Stay safe, keep informed, thanks for reading, and don't forget to check the rest of the blog.