REVIEW: Shakin’ the 5.11 Blues

They’ve become an icon of the “tactical” industry.

They’re tan (or OD green), have side cargo pockets, cell phone pockets, big back pockets and that distinctive cargo strap running across the right rear.

They’re the 5.11 Tactical Pants, derived from the Royal Robbins Blue Water pants, and it seems that every damn trainer, police officer, paintballer and tactical wannabe is wearing these things — many BTDTs sprinkled in with the never-been-theres-never-done-thats.

Being a jaded skeptic and anti-conformist by nature, I rely on outside the box alternatives like my Patagonia cargoes or North Face convertibles while on assignment. It’s not because I don’t want a more “tactical” alternative, it’s just that I refuse to run with the pack.

That’s why the Vertx tactical pants caught my eye. They’ve got cleaner lines with subdued cargo pockets, plenty of tricked out internal storage and clean lines. They take the “tacky” out of “tactical”…

  • 9 oz. advantage stretch™ fabric 98% cotton / 2% LYCRA®
  • Articulated patterning
  • Gusseted crotch for increased mobility
  • Pocket inside cargo pocket for BlackBerry or cell phone
  • Internal stretch waistband
  • Pockets designed to securely store goods without Velcro closures
  • Two sturdy front pockets made from 100 percent woven cotton
  • Two rear patch pockets with credentials flap
  • One concealed zipper pocket on the right side
  • Two cargo pockets with flaps sewn down on each side
  • Cell phone pocket located inside each cargo pocket

It’s an impressive list of features that made me think I’d found a better option than the 5.11s and their ilk. was kind enough to send me a pair of the Vertx pants for review. I wore them on a couple of assignments for Kit Up! and, including a day with rifle maker LWRC at their factory and range.

I liked the style of the Vertx pants right away. They have a big enough cargo pocket to fit a small water bottle and reporter’s notebook and pen no problem, but they are a bit hard to access since they don’t have an obvious flap. They were comfortable and the gut-accommodating waist helps with that extra little bit of padding that takes you just a bit over a 34.

But while the Vertx pants are a good alternative to the 5.11s on style, they still fall short on function in my book.

First of all, the 9oz fabric is just a bit too heavy for my liking. I don’t like parachute nylon, but I get a bit bogged down in that weight for pants that I need to move around in. I also appreciate that these are made for bigger bubbas, but I’m pretty lean and the cut on the leg was a bit on the “relaxed fit” side of things for my taste. As I said, the cargo pockets were a bit hard to access quickly due to the flap geometry sitting flush to the leg — the down side of a sleeker pant cut.

But by far the most annoying thing about them — and it was too bad this detracted so much from an otherwise fine set of threads — was what I’ll call the “butt cut”…

Look, I’m tall and pretty slender and I ain’t gonna win any awards for the aesthetics of my posterior — let’s just say I lack “definition” back there. Unfortunately it seemed to me the Vertx pants are designed for more defined derrieres. There was this extra fabric bunching up over my butt where my glutes should have gone and gosh darn it, it made me feel inadequate.

At the end of the day, there aren’t a lot of more inconspicuous options out there for tactical pants and Vertx offers a stylish alternative for those who want off the 5.11 bandwagon. But if you’re more slender, need more pocket access and sweat a lot, the Vertx tactical pants might not be the right one for you.

  • Patrick Leech

    I’m sorry to hear that you were disappointed by the Vertx tactical pants. I too am a very slender guy, but I love my Vertx pants. They’ve worked well for most occasions from casual days at the office to training (Krav Maga and weapons training) and in between. I found that after 3-5 wears the leg pockets and flap become much more usable and am able to slid my phone into or out of the inner pocket without any trouble, including while seated. I needed something more discrete than traditional tactical pants and Vertx nailed it, I think. 5.11 does make a “Covert Tactical” that is a bit more discrete, you might try them.

  • Sam

    Try surplus BDU pants. They are inexpensive, rugged and look way cool tactical.

  • So, far be it for me to be the curmudgeon, but…exactly what use are these “Tactical” pants in the real world? Some BTDTs use them, but it seems to me that my jeans or work pants do the job quite well. BDU pants, as Sam pointed out, do the job if you need the extra cargo room and are comfortable — at easily half the price of the “name brand” stuff.

    When I knew the boys at Magpul, a lot of them rocked Jeans for most everything. Lot of guys I know that were in the military do the same, they don’t need the tactical pants.

    If you like ’em, fine, lot of folks do. I guess i get really tired of all things “Tactical” when for a lot of folks, they make you stand out like a sore thumb, they’re expensive, and they as often as not mark you as being someone part of a crowd of people with really no practical knowledge whatsoever.

    And yes, I don’t really dig the concept of “Tactical” everything, either, since I’m not sure how rails and pockets add to my combat tactics…

    • Charles M.

      A pair of Carhartt dungarees or Redhead Cordura pants (from Bass Pro Shops) are functional, tough-as-nails, and don’t scream “I’m concealed carrying!” or “I’m a tacticool wannabe!”

  • wyhunter

    Vertx pants are awesome. Had mine for about a year now and they are wearing quite well. 5.11s look sloppy and amateurish by comparison. If you like or need tactical pants, Vertx has raised the bar.

  • 762KLR

    So you pass on otherwise good gear because you ‘refuse to run with the pack’? I do like to find unusual solutions to usual problems too, provided they are effective. But if the common solution is effective, problem solved; move on to the next one. Reinventing the wheel is a waste of time and resources better devoted to inventing the next great leap forward. +1 on BDU gear. And for those who say camo sticks out like a sore thumb – unless one is executing an operation, so what? We live in a world of tie-dye and pants around the knees, I personally don’t mind if someone thinks I stick out because I blend in with the hedges. At least my belt is buckled around my waist, and I don’t project a predilection toward LSD.

    • At least my comment wasn’t directed towards camo gear. It was more related to everyone wanting to be HSLD Operator Ninja Secret Squirrels while running gear that they really don’t need and aren’t really the best application for the job, tactically speaking…

  • What’s the pictured carbine?

    • Sam

      looks like a Barrett REC7 PSD to me

  • BZ_3

    Has anyone tried these

  • BZ_3
  • Stefan

    It is a fad. Put “tactical” in fron of a product and all the airsoft, wannabes, posers, and mall ninja’s all line up to shell out their cash. Tactical is in the eye of the beholder.

  • John

    I haven’t tried the Vertex but I like both the 5.11 and the Woolrich Elites. As I’ve aged, my belly has gotten bigger and I like the semi-elastic waist. Unless I want to wear “Mom” jeans, I can’t get that semi-elastic waist in a pair of jeans.

    I don’t buy them because they are “tactical”. I buy them because they fit and they are comfortable.

  • Casey Scott

    I started wearing Vertx about a year ago, and they’ve all but replaced every other pair of pants and shorts that I used to wear. I don’t need “tactical pants” for everyday wear, so the low profile look of Vertx pants is perfect for me. I’m a slender guy, too, and I have no issue with the fit of the pants (and I don’t have a big butt). In fact, Vertx pants fit me much better than 5.11s.

    With regard to the relaxed fit of the leg, this is something Vertx did just right, unlike EVERY other pair of tactical pants on the market – the straight or tapered leg of most pants makes it nigh on impossible to wear a gun in an ankle holster without it printing horribly. And, even if you do manage to conceal an ankle rig, the legs of most pants are too snug to allow fast access to that gun. The width of the leg openings on Vertx pants is a great compromise between that and bell bottoms, allowing easy access to ankle rigs, as well as being very accommodating for the wear of 6″ and 8″ boots.

    I do agree that the pants are a bit warm, but according to their Facebook page, a lightweight version is in the works.

  • BSG11

    5.11 makes good pants with functionality that are suitable for both LE and non-LE applications, and they market accordingly. I know they’re intentionally recommended to hikers, outdoor types and people who build or fixes things because those are the types of people who’d want some of the 5.11 pants features, not because they’re “tactical”. So I think the idea that 5.11 pants are only “tactical” and therefore are only fit for BTDT types or posers is not quite fair to 5.11’s success in marketing the versatility of their pants.

    • With all due respect, there are dozens of other companies that make exceedingly good products specifically for those who work in specific types of industries. My biggest issue with 5.11 is not their general “Tactical” marketing, but rather the fact that their gear is overpriced, as far as pants, shirts, etc. are concerned. Plus, they don’t carry much in the way of extended ranges of sizes, so guys like me, at 6’3″ and a well muscled 265 pounds don’t fit well in their pants or shirts without major issues.

      • BSG11

        “My biggest issue with 5.11 is not their general “Tactical” marketing, but rather the fact that their gear is overpriced, as far as pants, shirts, etc. are concerned.”

        And that’s a completely understandable position, but why not just say that off the bat instead of riling about the tactical-ness and bandwagon-ness of 5.11? That made the article read like “I don’t like 5.11 because there are too many people who shouldn’t be wearing 5.11 who are wearing 5.11.” Why not just say “There are cheaper, better stuff than 5.11, and Vertex is one such example”?

        • Actually, I never called 5.11 out for their “Tactical”-ness…I specifically ranted against things marketed as tactical, because the term “Tactical” does not apply to how it’s being used, and the people that tend to buy stuff with tactical in the name more often than not are buying it because of the marketing, not the utility.

        • Also, I cannot speak to Vertex on price or quality, since i don’t own a pair. Unless they cost $25.99 or less — the cost of standard BDUs from any good Army Navy store — I’ll stick with the old-fashioned BDUs or Truspecs.

  • Jaybee

    I got a pair of vertx in black for “formal office environment camo”

    They are comfy but LINT MAGNETS, and it wouldn’t be a big deal on any other color, but on black it shows
    And they are hot in the summer

    I do hope they make a lightweight version with fabric that doesn’t suck up lint like fat kids suck up cake

  • W.Rothrock

    It’s freedom of choice! Welcome to America, we buy and wear what we want because we can.

  • Sam

    I like my 5.11’s but he’s right it does seem like everyone has them. I’m going to try the Vertx ones soon.

  • Deacon

    It’s all person choice. That being said, 5.11 owns the market. When their stuff goes on sale (which it frequently does) people buy it like hotcakes. Police love it because it’s cheap and has a ton of pockets… and the uniform dealers give discounts.

  • David Fiorito

    I am hard on clothes (6’4″ 340 lbs) and 5.11 holds up. No, I am not a wannabe, but damn those pockets are useful. I can tote my wallet, phone, keys, pocket knife, spare change, and a notepad without worrying how it will all fit in just two jean pockets (can’t use the back pockets). Compared to the jeans I do buy, the 5.11 pants are cheaper and last far longer. I don’t care about who they were made for because they work for me just fine. The same thing with boots and packs – I tend to use “tactical” brands because the stuff can take a beating.

  • bbb

    Avoiding a certain brand because of a desire to avoid conforming or seeming like a poser makes one seem less BTDT and more Hot Topic.

    • Yep. Guys that do the job buy what it takes to get the job done, regardless of brand. Being “conscious” of what you’re buying seems like you’re focusing more on your gear than on your mission…

  • Volshan

    You do realize that everyone has Vertx pants, right? Even people completely not into guns like me.