As important as the materials are in your gear, the hardware—often overlooked, can be as important. Without quality hardware (buttons, zippers, clips, and buckles, etc.) gear will fail just as easily as cheap or counterfeit overseas versions. In this, the third part of our What’s In a Product series, we will examine the basic hardware that goes into shooting gear so you can be better informed when considering alternatives, or what really the purpose of your training.
While it’s hard to believe, a bad button or zipper can be as detrimental to the longevity of gear as normal wear and tear. The YKK company owns roughly 80% of the global market on hardware. Everything from snap buttons, zippers, and hook-and-loop (otherwise known as Velcro). In the shooting sports, YKK makes silent “fin-type” zippers, snap buttons, and side-release buckles in a variety of configurations and colors. Each represents the company’s investment in providing quality hardware and strength. Yet, this has resulted in a fair number of overseas counterfeits who brand their substandard hardware with the YKK logo to increase their own marketability. YKK has taken some anti-counterfeit measures that you should be familiar with.
Clips are another retention method, often in conjunction with the older MOLLE webbing system first introduced in 1997. While some slide completely behind the webbing, others that are made of plastic or cordura (such as malice clips) are woven in and out of the available slots to improve retention and strength. The important thing to remember when examining clips as a retention system, is the adjustable buckle or locking system used to adjust the length of the clip, as the clip itself will likely outlast the buckle.
Another form of hardware is the use of a bungee or shock-cord to “cinch” the retention. While the use of bungee cord is not new, its application into shooting gear gives greater flexibility to the design and overall material (such as the entire HSG main product line). Bungee has a great ability to absorb shock, bear weight, and is adjustable. The tradeoff with bungee cord is that over time it may lose that elasticity as the fibers age, or if the cord itself becomes frayed, cut, or damaged the integrity of cord can be compromised.
Buckles and Beyond
The topic of buckles for shooting hardware has undergone a bit of a renaissance as of late. Since the 90s, the typical hardware buckle used (if not hook-and-loop) was the plastic side-release buckle that employ a male-to-female connection. These allowed for a simplistic means to attach/detach various configurations of attachment or adjustment points. While still used today, the use of side-release buckles is being replaced by newer designs, such as the spring-loaded cam buckle that improve on the system of retention. Pay attention to the design of the middle “prong”, some lack the locking “teeth” that without which, may make it prone to accidentally unlocking.
One of the newer designs to hardware has been the rise of “tube” buckles that alter the way industry approaches connection points. The tube buckle, like the Zentube’s Quick Release system, employs a plastic slide-locking system that allows for rapid connect/disconnect, using two hands or one. The advantage being improved performance over standard hook-and-loop connections, increased strength connecting the two points, and the ability to manipulate the buckle while keeping one hand free. Another new approach has also been using cobra buckles for connection points, such as in the Warsoc Tactical Quick Release. Designed initially as a belt buckle, the cobra buckle employs a mechanical male-to-female locking system that can bear an amazing amount of weight due to its metal design. Unfortunately, the biggest drawback to using cobra buckles is its weight, the more used in the design to connect multiple points, the heavier it becomes.
Ultimately, you should closely examine the hardware of the gear that you are considering. Snaps, zippers, and buckles can prove to be just as a critical point of success or failure to whatever product you are considering. Be aware that not all manufacturers put the same level of care into the hardware as they do the overall design, and frequently the hardware is the last aspect considered prior to launching a product line. A quality manufacturer will put as much detail into the hardware as everything else.