When I joined the Army back in the mid-1980s, the gear we were issued was typically manufactured by the lowest bidder, and that usually resulted in the military getting what they paid for with gear that could be counted on to tear, spring a leak, or break a buckle just when you most needed it to perform.
Another problem with gear back then was that it seemed to take so long to get through all of the levels of approval needed to get it issued that by the time it made its way to the troops, it was often obsolete!
Well, let me tell you, times have changed since I began my military career almost four decades ago. I have witnessed nothing short of an “industrial revolution” in terms of the quality, selection and relative lightning-fast speed that it takes to get new tactical gear to the troops.
There are several companies that could be considered the “usual suspects” when it comes to innovation, selection and quality tactical products. Brands such as Blackhawk, 5.11 Tactical, Spec-Ops Brand, Condor and a relative few other elite manufacturers have historically led the pack in tactical gear and clothing production.
But, when it comes to innovative and versatile gear with an out-of-this-world level of quality and price points kept down here on Earth, First Tactical is not only on par with more widely known tactical gear producers, they have earned a spot at the tip of the spear.
Their large selection of top-quality gear is offered at prices that are reasonable enough to make their products realistic options for everyone from elite military, LE and first responders to those of us who have to watch our budgets like a hawk!
With my past experience in using First Tactical clothing and gear, I’d be lying if I said that my expectations were not extremely high when my editor asked me to review a few of their newer products. What follows is my experience with products from three different categories: bags, knives and flashlights.First Tactical Summit Side Satchel Overview
There was a time when I would not be caught dead wearing a side satchel aka “man-purse,” but life is funny like that. As I progressed in my career and had more and more leadership as well as administrative responsibilities added to my daily activities, it soon became a necessity to have some sort of bag or briefcase-type container to hold my laptop, paperwork and other admin essentials as well as key parts of my EDC.
The farther I moved up the ladder, the more it became necessary for me to travel on both military and civilian aircraft, so having a carry-on bag such as a satchel became my preference over alternates such as a day pack because I found that I had much easier accessibility to, and control over, the contents of my bag through a side flap than I was able to get with a top-entry backpack.
Over the years, I have had more styles and brands of side bags than I can remember and while the majority of the ones I used had specific features that appealed to me, I have yet to find one that had as many appealing qualities as I found in the Summit. Of course, there are a few areas I’d like to tweak so they better suit my needs but overall, you can’t beat the quality, value or versatility of this satchel.Breakdown
Quality and Durability
There is an old Army adage that if you put a soldier in a padded room for an hour with three steel ball bearings, one would end up disassembled, one would be broken, and one would be missing! This has always stood true for me when it comes to gear and gadgets, and it has carried over to the way I treat my gear.
Considering that the Summit stood up to the abuse I put it through by using it for my primary EDC bag for over a month, I think it’s safe to say that this bag is extremely well made. Built with 1000D nylon, reinforced seams, and 10mm closed-cell foam in strategic areas, the bag is very sturdy and offers a considerable level of protection for its contents from impacts to the sides or the ground.
The YKK zippers are easy to open and close, and they are designed with an integral protective flap to help resist breakage. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the same rings true for gear hardware. Nothing is more annoying than having a great bag that has a strap or flap buckle failure inevitably at the worst possible moment. I can say that the Summit’s Duraflex hardware stood up to my mistreatment without even a flinch!Versatility and Design
First Tactical put a great deal of attention to detail into the design of the Summit Side Satchel, such as the top-mounted sunglasses pocket and side access to admin and other items you need to keep close at hand.
The main flap’s female buckle sections have silencers that also make opening them a breeze, and the flap also has a hook-and-pile closure option for on-the-fly access and security. MOLLE panels make adding other pouches or gear an easy option, which adds to the bag’s capacity and versatility.
“…WHEN IT COMES TO INNOVATIVE AND VERSATILE GEAR WITH AN OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD LEVEL OF QUALITY AND PRICE POINTS KEPT DOWN HERE ON EARTH, FIRST TACTICAL IS NOT ONLY ON PAR WITH MORE WIDELY KNOWN TACTICAL GEAR PRODUCERS, THEY HAVE EARNED A SPOT AT THE TIP OF THE SPEAR.”
One of the more popular features on the Summit is the discreet CCW pocket with a padded divider that allows the user to store other small items while keeping the firearm accessible while out of casual view when the compartment is opened. From the standpoint of resourcefulness and design, I think this is a great feature as I never have a problem with having a place to store more firearms.First Tactical Summit Side Satchel
- Main compartment: 12.5x10x4.5 inches
- Capacity: Approximately 495 cubic inches
- Weight: 1.75 pounds
- Fabric: 1,000D nylon
- Adjustable/removable padded shoulder strap
- Pockets: 5 external, 10 internal
The big question is will the typical CCW holder change the location where they keep their concealed weapon to take advantage of this feature? I personally think that this would be a mistake and that a concealed weapon should be kept as close to the body as possible when feasible to do so. Now saying that, versatility means having choices and I can think of multiple scenarios where having this type of pouch with a backup handgun at the ready is a good thing.
So at the end of the day, I would give it a cautionary thumbs-up. Of course, if you do intend to make this bag your new EDC holster, then I highly recommend that you take it with you to the range and use it during live fire training as well as practicing dry fire flow drills through as many different scenarios as you can in order to gain muscle memory.
The worst thing that could happen in any carry configuration is that you need to draw your firearm rapidly to react to a lethal threat and you fumble in the dark trying to figure out how to access your gun.Appearance and Color Selection
The bag really does speak for itself when it comes to appearance. It has a tough, sleek and compact look that would fit in nicely with any tactical ensemble used by military, paramilitary, police, fire and rescue, or EMT organizations. One of the few downsides to these bags is the color selection and the bags’ lack of anonymity on the street.
The Summit Side Satchel comes in only OD green, coyote tan, and black. Having so few color choices, coupled with the bag’s openly tactical appearance truly does scream “I have a gun” which, when traveling solo or in a small group and trying to blend into a crowd of civilians is not always the message you will want to send. Take that factor into consideration before deciding on the Summit Side Satchel’s color and making it your EDC.First Tactical Scorpion Knife Tanto Overview
Having a knife on you these days is just plain common sense. Not only do they make great utility tools, but as a self-defense or an armed combat weapon, a knife like the Scorpion Tanto is an outstanding way to equalize size or strength advantages that your opponent may have had on you.
The Scorpion is a well-designed, compact, full-tang skeletonized blade with a sturdy lightweight sheath that can be worn as a neck knife, clipped on your equipment, inside your pocket or on your boot. First Tactical boots actually have pockets built for this knife.
The Scorpion is small and lightweight and features Level I or II sheath retention options. The locking mechanism is easy to remove for cleaning, allowing your blade to withstand gritty field use.Breakdown
Quality and Durability
My issue with most of these small full-tang backup blades is their propensity to easily break, their lack of sharpness and the fact that my large hands tend to make getting a solid grip on the little knife a big challenge.
I noticed that while the bevel side of the knife came a bit dull, the straight edge side was extremely sharp right out of the packaging. I used this blade as my one and only utility knife for well over a month and while I was able to dull it on a variety of homestead cutting chores relatively quickly, I was able to get it razor sharp again. It is exceptionally sharp on the straight edge, but the tip could use some work.
Versatility and Design
Whether you use the Level I tension fit or the Level II sheath locking mechanism, the Scorpion will stay in place until deployment is needed. The index finger locator is strategically placed and easily found by touch allowing users to quickly deploy the knife when in need.
Another feature that I really enjoyed is its low weight, which prevents it from bouncing around when you’re on the move. Some of that weight reduction comes from four drilled holes that can be used to lash this blade to a shaft to make a spear. Finally, one of my favorite features on this knife is the jimping on the thumb rest.First Tactical Scorpion Knife Tanto
- Overall length: 4.92 inches
- Weight: 2.6 ounces with sheath
- Steel: 440A stainless
- Blade type: Modified tanto
- Sheath: Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon
- Pocket clip is adjustable/reversible
MSRP: $39.99Appearance and Color Selection
The knife itself is made from 440A stainless steel with a matte finish and smooth-ground edges. The finger hole is big enough for most anyone’s index finger and it does a good job of locking the knife into the fist for use as a slashing weapon if necessary. What I like most is that the knife is of a small enough stature that it can be easily worn and accessible without being a hindrance or weighing you down.First Tactical Medium TriTac Flashlight Overview
I was really impressed by its ergonomic design and how well this flashlight felt in the palm of my hand. The Medium TriTac flashlight is powered by two Duracell Ultra CR123 batteries and controlled by First Tactical’s Intelligence Button. This system features a half-second delay, allowing users the ability to easily find the correct light mode without the distraction of having to search for it.First Tactical Medium TriTac Flashlight
- Length: 5 inches
- Body diameter: 0.9 inch
- Bezel diameter: 1.1 inches
- Output (lumens): High- 444; Low- 154; Map- 18
- Run Time (hours): High- 3.75; Low- 7.25; Map- 63
- Weight with batteries: 4 ounces
Quality and Durability
Just like all of the First Tactical products that I have used the TriTac Light is made of top quality materials and the machining is solid. The lithium CR123 batteries keep the light burning bright when you need it the most. I used this light during a torrential rain and even dropped it in the mud and stepped on it until it was completely caked in muck. I picked up the light, wiped off the lens and the light worked as good as new! I never had any issues with the switch not working, and the touch was consistent every time I used the light.Versatility and Design
The light has three modes, allowing operators the option of reducing light output and increasing the runtime.
An interchangeable front bezel allows the user to switch from a smooth to a strike bezel for emergency or close quarter needs. One of my favorite design features on this aerospace aluminum flashlight is the ribbed texture on the sides. These provide outstanding control and grip when using the light, whether your hands are bare or gloved.
This light also has a unique adjustable finger bungee that actually connects the light to one of your fingers. This is very useful if you have to use the hand the light is in to grab something or someone because it saves the time and distraction of putting the light in your pocket and makes it almost impossible to accidentally drop it.
“…BASED ON MY PAST EXPERIENCE WITH FIRST TACTICAL, NO MATTER WHAT PRODUCT YOU PURCHASE FROM THEM, YOU CAN REST ASSURED THAT IF THEY PUT THEIR NAME ON IT THEN YOU ARE GETTING A TOP-OF-THE-LINE PRODUCT THAT WILL FAITHFULLY SERVE YOU FOR YEARS TO COME AND AT A PRICE THAT YOU CAN AFFORD.”
First Tactical’s NextGen pocket clip is another great feature that enabled me to carry the light virtually anywhere I wanted because of its forward and reverse mounting options. It even allows you to clip it to the bill of a cap or hat if you need to go completely hands-free.Appearance and Color Selection
This is a medium-sized flashlight that fits nicely in your hand and has a durable anodized finish in a nice gloss black.Customer Service
I put the First Tactical Customer Service Team to the test by attempting to contact them through multiple channels and, more importantly, I gauged how long it took to actually converse with a person who was well-versed enough to answer my questions or at least connect me with someone who could. To my surprise, I was able to talk to someone quickly when calling their customer care line and my email query got a response the same day I sent it.Conclusion
All in all, I don’t think you can go wrong by ordering any of the products in this review, and based on my past experience with First Tactical, no matter what product you purchase from them, you can rest assured that if they put their name on it then you are getting a top-of-the-line product that will faithfully serve you for years to come and at a price that you can afford.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the December, 2019 print issue of American Survival Guide.