Tactical / Hunting / Camping Gear; What to look for in quality.
We all like to save money, and sometimes that means overlooking some things in terms of quality. But there are cases where quality actually does matter; such as expecting the gear to not fall apart when you need it to.
Sometimes, this means making your own, if there does not exist specific items for specific duties on the market, such as Redball 9mm magazine carriers, or specific camouflage patterned items.
As a gear maker, here are some things to look for in quality... be it tactical, hunting, or even camping gear.
1) Fabrics used. 330D, 500D, 1000D, and 1680D Cordura fabrics are all good to go, they are made of nylon, and have good strength, and abrasion resistance. Oxford and Pack Cloth are also pretty decent, if their sources are Taiwan, US, Europe or UK. Oxford is usually a lighter weight fabric, often used in backpacks and hiking gear. Pack Cloth is an older fabric type, most well known as the basis of the ALICE rucksack fabric, and more commonly used in hunting gear. Avoid polyester, or vinyl backed polyester from China. These do not have as good a tear resistance, does not stretch, and usually far lower abrasion resistance, and WILL fall apart if cut. All of these are available online through Rockywoods, The Rainshed, Amazon, Ebay, and a few other companies, if making your own. Joann and Hobby Lobby usually do not carry such fabrics, except maybe Oxford and Pack Cloth.
[Clockwise from top; 500D Pack cloth Mossy Oak, 500D Coyote Cordura, 500D Pencott SnowDrift, 330D Cordura Multicam, 1000D Cordura OD (Tactical Tailor shade), and 400D Pack Cloth, Olive Green, not shown, Oxford.]
2) Thread used. Bonded Nylon 6.6, Tex 70, Size E, #69, are recommended over Polyester or cotton thread. It is what is used in ALICE, MOLLE, and the majority of hunting and heavy duty camping gear. While its tensile strength is relatively low, it stretches, and in bar-tacking, as well as line tacking, it is quite strong. If making your own gear, Guttermann is a good brand found in stores, look for "extra strong nylon" with Tex 70 label Not often found in Mil Spec colors in most stores, but use close matches like "Khaki" (more brown), "Sand" ( tan colored), or Black. Coats &Clark is far too fragile, and frays too easily. Online, look for Mil Spec and US, UK, Germany sources. Avoid China again. Needles used for this range in sizes 14 to 18. Just look at the labels, and if online, look for specifications if available. If no specifications are available, avoid the product. Better safe than sorry.
3) Straightness and stitch margins. You want to ensure that the stitches are well done, with even margins all around seams and attachment points. For straight stitch length for MOLLE and ALICE gear, 6mm-8mm is usual. For Bar-tacking, the denser, the better, stitch width is around 1/8". If not bar-tacked, but line-tacked (my usual method, also used by Tactical Tailor and Gregory), look for a minimum of 3 straight stitch lines in parallel with 0 space between the lines. This tends to give MOLLE webbing slightly more space between the stitches.
[From top; Eagle Industries pouch, Eagle Industries RRV Chest Rig]
4) Strap/webbing attachment methods. For gear that has shoulder straps, belt straps, or attachment straps for other things, it is recommended that the straps be either bar-tacked, line tacked with minimum 3 stitch lines, or double box stitched with an X in the middle. All of these ensure that the straps will not tear off too easily, and ensure that the strength of the fabric is paired with the strength of the webbing.
[Top, Eagle Industries RRV Shoulder Strap, bottom, Camelbak Ambush 100oz hydration pack shoulder strap]
5) Finish of edges and hems. You do not want merely Serged/raw edges. Rolled (folded twice over) hems with double row of stitching is great. Tape edging with either bias or grosgrain ribbon tape is also suitable, as long as there are 2 rows of stitching on the tape. Hem size varies with the gear requirements, I usually go for either 1/2" to 1" rolled hems, sometimes more, depending on what the equipment needs.
[London Bridge Trading company H harness, taped edges and straight stitches]
6) Webbing quality. Nylon, either "Regular weight" or Mil-Spec 1337 webbing, most found on practically everything outdoor used, backpacks and MOLLE gear, works excellent. Polyester does not stretch, but may be useful for certain items. Heavy weight strapping like used for dog leashes, may be OK, but is generally not required. For belt loops, ALICE, or similar wide webbing, Type 8 nylon, also called seatbelt webbing, is an excellent webbing material. If the webbing is expected to support a person rappelling, it should be much more heavier duty, having either yellow or black contrast stitch in the webbing. This webbing type is generally not used in most commercial items, and generally requires a much beefier thread and machine. Often only mountaineering, climbing, rappelling, parachute and SCUBA shops can do this. Sometimes one can use the webbing from a surplus cargo strap roll, but be aware, it is not always load rated for rappelling.
[Olive green double panel binding tape, Cream 1337 webbing, OD7 1337 webbing, Dark green nylon general strap, black "heavy duty" nylon strap (dog leash type)]
[Cargo webbing top, SCUBA webbing section bottom]
7) Hardware types. Most equipment have plastic buckles/hardware, You want to make sure that they are of decent quality. ITW-Nexus, Duraflex/National Molding, FixLox, are Mil Standard, and meets military specifications for gear. YKK is OK, usually best known for zippers. If no branding on them, other than the company (CamelBak, Blackhawk/BHI, Gregory) it may be a toss-up in terms of quality. If buying off Ebay, look for US, UK, Europe, and Taiwan sources. Avoid Hong Kong/China, as they have been making polyester/crap knockoffs of military equipment and plastic hardware. Metal hardware, a bit more difficult to track down specifications, but if Mil Spec (1"-1 1/4" Spring Loaded Cam Buckles for example), should be good to go. Same warning as above, Hong Kong/China metal hardware tends to be made of weaker materials overall. For Line 24 snaps, Dritz is OK, but Pull-The-Dot is among the best, being blackened brass and having a very long lifetime. Tandy Leather is also decent sources for snaps, however they tend to have real long posts.
[Left to right, ITW-Nexus 2" buckle, FixLox Cam 1"Buckle, ITW Nexus Coyote brown 1" buckle, Taiwan sourced white side release 1" buckle , ITW Nexus 1" Acetal D ring, 1" Military slide buckle (not sure what its called) famously used on ALCIE Y, M1967 H harnesses, LBVs, ALICE Rucksacks , many older sporting goods gear. 1" Military tri-bar loop,as used on MOLLE Rucksack frame attachments. And USGI 1" Spring Loaded Cam Buckle, most well known for use on ALICE pack shoulder straps, but also used as rifle sling buckle, and used by the IDF for their 1980s vest buckles.]
Overall, these are the things to look for when looking at gear and stuff, or when making your own gear. Even military contract items sometimes fall short of expectations, as they are usually made to a minimum specification, and there are acceptable variations.