Named for the highest difficulty level in rock climbing, 5.11 Tactical was originally founded as an extension of athletic apparel brand Royal Robbins. Today, 5.11 has been making a name for itself as the clothier of choice for law enforcement and government agencies around the world.
5.11 co-founder and CEO Francisco Morales grew up in Venezuela as the son of a tailor. From the age of 6, he worked alongside his father and brother in the family’s factory in Venezuela, learning every aspect of running a manufacturing business, from fabrics and stitch patterns to management and maintenance.
With this lifelong foundation in the garment business, Morales emigrated to the U.S. to attend the Philadelphia School of Textiles and Science (now a part of Jefferson University). After graduating, he began building on his foundation with stints at L.L. Bean (where he fine-tuned his experience in sourcing) and Dick’s private label division (where he gained tremendous exposure to product development and design).
By 1992, he was a minority partner at Royal Robbins, where he expanded his knowledge to the inner business workings of apparel and gear brands. But by 2003, Francisco had branched out to form 5.11 Tactical, specializing in purpose-built apparel and gear for first responders, military, and public safety professionals. With a number of key patents under the 5.11 label, a partnership with the FBI Training Academy, and a growing catalog of fitness and outdoor apparel alongside its tactical gear, Morales is not just an industry innovator — he also has an immigration story that everyone needs to hear.
We sat down with Morales to learn more about his story and what makes 5.11 Tactical not only a standout in the outdoor gear industry but important in this day and age.
Interview with Co-founder and CEO Francisco Morales
The Manual: How did your personal story inform the development of the 5.11 brand?
Francisco Morales: Because of my upbringing within the manufacturing industry through my family, the craft of making functional products is a true passion. My passion is further fueled by the people that we serve. Our team shares the same inspiration as the driving force to make the dependable, functional, purpose-built gear we build. Honoring the craft and honoring the men and women who serve with the product we make – that’s what it comes down to.
TM: How/why did you start making clothes for military and law enforcement?
FM: When the pant found a home with the FBI Training Academy, there weren’t any companies innovating around the problem sets that first responders, military, and public safety professionals encountered. Brands were looking to make products cheaper – but we were focused on making products better – we wanted to increase the performance of our end-users.
As with all of our product development, when our customer has a problem, we listen and respond with products to meet their needs.
The better gear you have, the better you can perform your job – that’s always been our mentality, and it always will be. We are solution providers and innovators; we are a problem-solving company that happens to make apparel and gear.
TM: How did you decide to expand into the fitness and outdoor gear world, and what are some products in this vein that you’re particularly proud of?
FM: When you’re serving that professional customer base, training is a big component of their first line of defense. First, it started as gear for training on the range, then training at the gym. Ultimately, we started making casual clothing with many of the key features you will find in tactical products – performance, comfort, durability, and the ability to easily carry and access equipment. As with all of our product development, when our customer has a problem, we listen and respond with products to meet their needs.
TM: What makes 5.11 gear stand apart from other brands in its niche?
FM: Our products are purpose-built to work around the unique problem sets our core customers in public safety and the military face. We create truly unique solutions that did not previously exist, which is why many of our products have received U.S. and international patents.
TM: Who is the perfect civilian customer for this gear?
FM: 5.11’s mantra is “Always Be Ready” and it truly describes our customer best — apparel and gear that can be versatile and meet a user’s need no matter what the circumstance. People who need cross-functionality and performance across different scenarios, and people who are willing to take any challenge, any time, any day. We like to think of ourselves as enablers of that “Always Be Ready” mindset, hopefully, inspire others to engage in that mindset, and inspire the warrior that lives in all of us.
Our Favorite Gear From 5.11 Tactical
Apex 6″ Wedge Boot
The Apex was modeled after a popular boot 5.11 makes for various government agencies and updated with a wedge sole from Vibram and a premium leather upper to make it more of a lifestyle choice. It features an Ortholite footbed, is ASTM-certified for puncture resistance, and is also fully resoleable.
5.11 Tactical Norris Sneaker
Inspired by feedback from government agencies who asked 5.11 to design a shoe for their off-duty days or covert operations, it’s a converse style with the tech of a military shoe, including an Ortholite footbed and heel hold cuff, Vibram soles, and ASTM-certified for puncture resistance.
5.11 Tactical Bravo Pant
5.11 is best known for designing pants for government agencies and the military. This pant, however, is more of a lifestyle take (as close to athleisure as 5.11 has ever gotten, but with a truly abrasion-resistant finish that won’t snag while hunting/hiking/working). It’s sharp enough to wear to the office and has seven pockets for carrying gear.
5.11 Tactical AMP24 Pack
The AMP pack series is a platform for any outdoor adventure. The AMP packs are meant to be fully customizable, with the ability to attach additional gear pouches inside or out, a hydration compartment, full clamshell opening, fleece pouch for sunglasses, etc.
5.11 Tactical Surplus Jacket
The Surplus is a modern military-inspired jacket with plenty of pockets for travel: four chest pockets (two “patch pockets” and two low-profile “document-style” pockets big enough for a passport, etc.) and then an additional four pockets on the front with two cargo pockets and side-entry zipper pockets. The fabric is 5.11’s “Flex Tac” stretchy canvas with a Teflon finish to deter water and stains.
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