5.11 Tactical Shirts

Cop shirts

I have five now and plan to get more. The 5.11 does everything I want in terms of comfort and pockets and yet looks dignified enough to serve as duty shirts for police, who are its primary market.

The 5.11 Tactical shirt is based on Royal Robbins’ excellent Expedition Shirt (which I’ve praised elsewhere in Cool Tools); the main difference is that it’s 100% cotton. The most appealing functional features for me are: 1) large document pockets hidden on each side of the shirt front (my cell phone/PDA lives in one, my Levenger notepad in the other); 2) a subtle vent on the back, with non-cotton wicking lining for the back and shoulders (which makes it a four-season shirt, good with or without a T-shirt underneath); and 3) the best keepers for rolled shirtsleeves (also a help for four-season use or variable weather).

Appearance features: 1) nifty upper-sleeve pen pocket, an improvement on noising up your chest with metal in a breast pocket; 2) shirt buttons that are colored to blend in with the fabric color, so you’re not a row of dots; 3) velcro pocket closures, less conspicuous and handier than buttons; 4) sensible colors. There are optional features of interest to cops but not to me—hidden button-down for collar, sew-on epaulets, sew-on badge holder.

The shirt is available for women as well as men. Also comes in a short-sleeve version. Colors are white, sage, khaki, olive green, charcoal, navy blue, and black; I most like the green and black. (There is a variation of the 5.11 shirt called “A/B” which I suggest avoiding. It’s too coppy—sewn-in pleats, epaulets, and badge-holder, and an unpleasant synthetic material emphasizing rayon. Get the cotton.)

— Stewart Brand

The 5.11 tactical shirt is simply the best field/hiking shirt I have owned. If you are the kind of person who juggles maps and notebooks while outdoors, this is the only shirt to wear. At first glance, it looks like a typical hiking shirt, but the difference is in the details.

For example, the “Napolean” pockets ( large horizontal velcro-closed slash pockets behind the visible breast pockets) are huge –7-inches by 8-inches. Large enough to comfortably hold a folded topo map and notepad in the field or a wallet and and a PDA in town. The pockets were originally designed to hold pistols for cops, so one can comfortably carry heavy objects in them. Other details include pen slots on the left pocket and the upper left sleeve. The right pocket has a hidden zipper to securely store small items, and the sleeves have the first practical roll-up keepers I have found.

This is a truly versatile shirt, that fits in anywhere from the Sierra to casual business meetings. I was grateful to have all those pockets recently while standing on a wilderness ridge in a driving rain at midnight, juggling a radio and map and scribbling on a rite-in-the-rain pad. But I also wear my navy blue version of the shirt (I own five) as my standard casual business dress. It goes nicely with khaki dockers and lets me carry my wallet and other junk without resort to the usual pants-pocket bulge.

— Paul Saffo


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