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Those of us who carry concealed firearms often adhere to the “dress around the gun” philosophy. In other words, we wear clothing that makes it easy to conceal the firearm, rather than excessively tight, form-fitting apparel that might make the weapon more visible. However, it's possible to take this concept too far — you'll appear out-of-place wearing baggy jeans and an oversized sweatshirt in the middle of summer. For this reason, we're taking a look at a few pairs of lightweight, durable tactical shorts that are designed for concealed carry, range trips, and everyday use during the warmer months.
So, what are tactical shorts, anyway? They might also be called range shorts or cargo shorts, although not all have traditional cargo pockets.
Whatever you call them, these shorts are designed with guns, range equipment, and every-day carry gear (i.e. knives, flashlights, medical kits) in mind. They're lightweight enough to remain breathable after hours of strenuous activity in the sun, but also durable enough to hold up to hard use. They have an array of pockets for common items, and some may be tailored to rifle or pistol mags. Flexibility is also a priority, since the wearer may need to climb or crawl around obstacles while running drills.
I live in Arizona, and shooting during the summer months usually means dealing with triple-digit heat, even after sunset. It's a top priority to find clothes that won't slow me down or leave me dripping sweat after a few minutes outside. Much like insulating apparel in cold climates, breathable clothing in the desert is worth its weight in gold.
With this in mind, I picked up a few pairs of tactical shorts from companies that specialize in this market — 5.11 Tactical, Vertx, and Viktos. Read on for my thoughts on each.
Sizes: 28 to 44
Colors: Khaki (pictured), Black, Ranger Green, Battle Brown, Grey Blue
The Aramis shorts are constructed from 98% cotton with the remainder being stretchy Elastane. These materials keep them light and breathable; however, cotton soaks up moisture like a sponge, so be aware of this if the forecast predicts any rainfall. Reinforced belt loops and a V-shaped lower-back webbing loop will keep your favorite gun belt where it belongs.
A total of seven pockets are integrated into the design, including two back yoke pockets at the four-o-clock and eight-o-clock positions. These are well-suited to AR mags, notepads, cell phones, and the like. A running gusset in the crotch improves flexibility and durability, and N6 knife reinforcements at the corners of the front pockets are designed to alleviate wear in these key areas.
I appreciate that these shorts are a little sleeker than most other 5.11 Tactical shorts. They omit side cargo pockets, zipper or flap closures, and other duty-oriented features, and the end result is a design that won't turn any heads on or off the range.
Sizes: 30 to 44
Colors: Shock Cord (pictured), Exhaust
Vertx calls this material VaporCore, and it's a blend of 48% cotton, 25% 37.5 polyester, and 27% T400 polyester. The combination results in fabric that's soft and light with excellent moisture-wicking capabilities. Plentiful double-stitched seams, bar tacks, and rivets ensure long-term durability.
These shorts feature eight pockets, including deep, mesh-lined front pockets that help considerably with airflow around the legs. Two back yoke pockets and one right thigh pocket offer storage for smartphones, rifle mags, and other large objects. There's also a watch/coin pocket that contains a pass-through slit for a radio headset or earbuds.
I've always liked the way Vertx integrates helpful hidden features that the average wearer might never notice. For example, there are several two-inch-long mini stash pockets inside the fly and waistband; they're the perfect size for folded emergency cash, hidden keys, or lockpicks. The front pockets contain anchor loops that can be used to retain the sheath of a concealed fixed-blade knife, or the holster of a pocket-sized handgun. Despite these features, the Cutback shorts are comfortable and look discreet enough for everyday wear.
Sizes: 28 to 44
Colors: Coyote (pictured), Nightfjall, Greyman Camo, Ranger Camo
Viktos says the Operatus tactical shorts were “inspired by the Rhodesian bush wars' combat shorts.” While I can see some resemblance in the cargo pocket design, I'm glad to see it paired with a more conservative 10-inch inseam — the 1970s cutoff design left little to the imagination. These shorts are made of a modern 88% polyester and 12% spandex blend that's quick-drying and flexible.
Pocket configuration is unconventional, with two front pockets, two cargo pockets, a change pocket, a left front zippered EDC pocket, and a right rear pocket (probably not ideal if you're a lefty). These are lined with mesh for drainage and breathability.
Another unconventional feature is the use of a metal G-hook instead of a button. However, the more we thought about this, the more it makes perfect sense. It's strong, mimics the closure of many range belts, and lies flat against your abdomen (or IWB holster, if you're a fan of appendix carry). Three closure loops are sewn in, so you can tighten the fit by moving the G-hook to different positions. With the asymmetric pockets and prominent Viktos lettering on the thigh, these are a little flashier than other shorts, but they're very comfortable and functional on the range.
This is only a small sample of the tactical shorts segment — there are plenty of other pairs to consider, even from the brands seen in this article. But these three styles are a great place to start, whether you need a pair that's low-profile for every-day carry or a pair that you'll only be wearing to the range on weekends. With a little forethought, it's always possible to “dress around the gun” while remaining comfortable and relatively discreet.