5.11 Tactical’ s history begins on the rock faces of Yosemite, where Royal Robbins’ fame grew with each route he pioneered. The legend increased with his advocacy for bolt- and piton free climbing, an approach that minimizes damage to the surface and preserves it for future generations. At the time the sport was in its infancy in the United States and his passion for scar-free ascents was radical—both now widely accepted and practiced.
He decided to produce his own line of pants, the kind of britches built rugged enough to endure the abrasive nature of the sport but tailored to ensure the freedom of movement it required. He marketed them under the 5.11 name, a designation reserved in the Yosemite Decimal System he invented for the toughest climbs. The firm he’d established with his wife Liz, aptly named Royal Robbins LLC, began offering them in 1968.
The business grew and by 1992 Franciso J. Morales—a Philadelphia School of Textiles and Science graduate with experience at L.L. Bean—was a minority partner. He quickly recognized the similarity in clothing challenges faced by climbers and first responders and began working with the FBI. The results of that collaboration appeared that same year. Soon afterward they were a favorite at the bureau’s famed academy in Quantico, Va.
It didn’t take long for word to spread in the tight-knit law enforcement community. An entire 5.11 line was born to meet the growing demand. In 1999 Dan Costa, current president of First Tactical, purchased a majority stake in Royal Robbins LLC. By 2002 he owned the entire company, but the next year he sold the Royal Robbins Clothing line back to its founder and established 5.11 Tactical as an independent company.
With Morale’s guidance as CEO, the business grew exponentially. The product line expanded to include uniforms, workout equipment, duty gear and more. Its line of Rush backpacks, for example, was an instant success when it hit the market in 2007. That same year, though, Costa sold 5.11 Tactical to TA Associates, a private equity firm.
In 2014 5.11 opened its first retail outlets. Today there are more than 100 of its stores across the United States, with several abroad. “It used to be that you couldn’t buy 5.11 pants unless you were training with a government agency,” 5.11 Tactical Co-Founder and CEO Morales said as the 50th store opened. “Our retail stores are an ideal destination for people from all walks of life to come and experience 5.11 clothing, footwear and gear. Our products are specially engineered for first responders and the military to be functional, comfortable and durable, and through our 5.11 retail stores, everyday consumers can benefit similarly from the innovation we inject into our products.”
Compass Diversified Holdings, owner of a stable of firms that includes outdoor specialists Primaloft, Sterno Group and Velocity Outdoor, purchased 5.11 Tactical in 2016. The Irvine, Calif.-based company continues to be one of the foremost in the industry and it celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2023.
“Since 2003, it has been a privilege empowering customers to Always Be Ready,” Morales said on the occasion. “Whether they depend on our gear in the line of duty or for everyday use, we’d like to say thank you for counting on us as we pass this milestone and look forward to the future.”