In the pursuit of realism, We often find ourselves chasing a particularly elusive piece of nylon… Something that we might never use for it’s intended purpose but it’s so important within our mind that we keep searching and keep paying top dollar. Sometimes the realism itself is largely a misnomer, Building a loadout based on fiction itself… No matter how well researched the fiction is, It’s still fiction. Take for example a Tears of the sun loadout, Whilst the movie was relatively well grounded and the gear and weaponry somewhat a good representation of a late ’90s SEAL loadout, It’s second hand information and there would have been differences. You can also become blinkered when looking at reference photos of real units, Just because you see a certain pouch being used by one guy in one Photo doesn’t mean it’s commonplace, It might be a very short lived addition to his kit, Especially if seen on a training exercise.
I’m a great believer in buying genuine Kit whenever possible, I like my stuff to be more capable than I am… I don’t want to exceed the capabilities of my gear… If you exceed the limits of the stuff you own, It holds you back or breaks. I’ve only had to buy replacements for broken gear on a handful of occasions, And I’ll rarely buy a direct replacement of something that’s already proven to fail.
Also there’s the look, It’s sad but true that a part of Airsoft is showing off your geeky tactical gear to other equally geeky airsofters. Buying genuine gear buys you into a club where men of culture muse about the merits of Crye or Arc’Teryx and compare your £150 pouch you use to hold haribo to your friend who has a genuine ballistic Helmet to protect his head from the horrors of a low lying branch.
A personal benchmark for me is that I want my stuff to be functional as a bare minimum, The form is a close second… Actually the form is often just as important, I simply don’t buy things I don’t like the look of. A good example would be my Soft Shell jackets… my latest being a Helikon ECWCS Level 5 in Camogrom. Whilst not a high end manufacturer and not even a licensed Multicam pattern, The jacket works well for my needs and it’s a far more affordable alternative compared to one of the higher end brands. It’s not quite the same pattern as a £200 genuine Crye field Shell, but for £30 it’ll keep me dry in the rain… Well it did, But I got bored of it and sold it on in favour of my even older and just as capable Trooper Soft Shell.
On the other end, My Crye G3 Combat Pants are without a doubt the best Pants I own… I can justify the high price tag because I get my money’s worth… I’ve worn them about 100 times so far, at a cost of £250, they’ve easily added £2.50 worth of utility and comfort each and every time I’ve worn them. My Flash Force Industries M81 Pants are rapidly deteriorating and I reckon by this time next year they’ll be unwearable.. I don’t have the same concern with the Cryes.
Overall, When looking at buying real gear you have to look at your motivations for doing so… there’s generally two reasons for buying real gear… Either you want the functionality of real gear and your philosophy is “buy nice or buy twice” or your buying it to be the coolest kid in your Block…
Both are actually acceptable reasons, Airsoft is after all a fashion show… I’ve bought plenty of gear to “fit in”, And I’ve made some howlers in my choices in the past. But know this… Real gear doesn’t make you into anything special, There is no exclusive club for users of high end gear, no secret handshakes and if your simply after the acceptance of your peers then you’d be better served with a healthy measure of humility, willingness to help others and by leaving your ego at home.
I’ve been on and seen both sides of the have/have not equation, fifteen years ago I’d be the guy running around with a Classic Army M16 and an Arktis Chest Rig, about the closest to high speed gear I got was by owning a pair of Adidas GSG9 boots… Nowadays my usual Skirmish loadout will have a fair amount of Crye, Haley, HSGI, BlueForceGear and Safariland within it. But at heart it’s not made me anything that I wasn’t before.
There’s an oft spoken saying that better gear doesn’t make you a better player, It’s a tough one to argue against but I’d suggest that better gear allows you to play more effectively. A genuine sling allows me to put my entire faith in its ability to hold my replica securely. A genuine pair of Cryes is probably more able to stretch without ripping than a £30 set of TMC pants and a genuine IRR treated uniform will certainly perform better under IR light than a non IRR treated item.
Whatever your reasons for buying and however much you decide to commit to spend on a certain item it’s only yourself you have to justify it to. As I said before, I’ll buy genuine through choice but in the case of my AVS, a Crye plate carrier is around the £600 mark for one of unknown heritage and condition, a brand new Emerson AVS comes in at a relatively cheap price of £120. There are certain sacrifices that you make for he sake of a clone but you’d be surprised how few differences there are for the sake of a retail price well in excess of 5 times the price.
Remember to research exhaustively before you buy, know what it is your after, it’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s market value and also if it’ll sell without depreciation if you should decide it’s not for you. Work out what you want from an item and if it’s essential then buy the real deal, if a clone at half the price will do the job… well, make an informed decision.