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5 fascinating facts you might not know about 5.11 Tactical

We take a look at some of the highlights from 5.11’s adventurous history


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By PoliceOne BrandFocus Staff

5.11 Tactical has been a big name in the tactical industry for years, but the company’s offerings – and history – go far beyond the well-known tactical pants. From the story behind the name to the company’s roots in “renegade” mountain climbers in the 1930s, the history runs deep.

Royal Robbins with the North America wall team (Image/Tom Frost)
Royal Robbins with the North America wall team (Image/Tom Frost)

1. How it all began

Many people don’t know that the company that would become 5.11 Tactical started out making climbing gear. In the shadows of the Yosemite Valley in the 1930s, a new subculture was being born. People from all over America were coming to Yosemite to take part in a new pastime: recreational climbing. They came to learn and to have fun. This meant there was a steady stream of new people who needed climbing equipment.

This gave climber Royal Robbins an idea. He started a company to sell quality equipment to these climbing enthusiasts. He called it Royal Robbins Outdoor Accessories.

One of the first products the company made was pants built to take the punishment from climbing rugged terrain. The pants became popular among climbers in the Yosemite Valley and beyond. Little did he know that decades later, the pants he designed would catch on among a completely different demographic.

2. The origin of the 5.11 name

Royal Robbins called those first pants that he produced “5.11 pants.” The name comes from the Yosemite Decimal System, a method of measuring the difficulty of recreational climbs. Within the five general classes of climbs, a decimal signifies the relative difficulty of each climb.

In the 1930s, 5.10 was the hardest possible climb. A 5.11 climb, then, meant “impossible, but occasionally someone manages to accomplish it.” It was the perfect name for a pair of pants tough enough for the people climbing sheer rock faces in Yosemite.

3. From Yosemite to Quantico

One of the most significant moments in 5.11’s history came in the 1990s. One of the customer service representatives at Royal Robbins was married to an FBI agent. The agent was assigned to the FBI National Academy. The Academy is an invitation-only 10-week program that trains law enforcement managers from across the United States and around the world. Many of the people who attend the Academy end up as law enforcement leaders.

As the story goes, the agent wore his 5.11 pants, and other agents, impressed, kept asking him where he got them. They were a hit across the entire academy, and soon became the spec pant for anyone who enters the FBI Academy. From there, their popularity spread to police departments and agencies in every state – and the “tactical” side of 5.11 was born.

4. A new beginning

In 2003, 5.11 Tactical recognized the growing demand among law enforcement for these products and saw an opportunity to refocus the company to cater to the growing tactical market. The company sold everything but eight core products that fit this new tactical vision: the 5.11 pants, the tactical shirt and a handful of others.

This new, slimmed-down collection was re-dubbed the 5.11 Tactical series, and the company as it is known today was born.

5. 5.11 and PoliceOne’s Quiet Warrior program honors everyday heroes

5.11 Tactical and PoliceOne have recently partnered to create the Quiet Warrior program. This program is designed to highlight the important work officers are doing in their communities every day, such as Jonny Castro, who has created a gallery of portraits of fallen officers, and Chet Parker, who has created a program to help connect those living on the streets to the services they need and help them find jobs. You can read more about the Quiet Warrior program here.

Today, the tactical pants remain their bestselling item, and 5.11 now offers a wide range of tactical gear from the XPRT uniform to the CVRT18 backpack

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