Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pinching Pennies

One of the most commonly asked questions after we demonstrate a piece of gear or a firearm in one of our courses is "How much does that cost?" Let's face it: budget plays a larger role in more purchasing decisions than most people would like to admit. There is some fantastic equipment out there for survival, emergency preparedness, shooting, and self-defense that is very expensive (and often over-priced), and therefore not feasible for a lot of average citizens. One of the reasons that Independence Training was created was to deliver cost-effective training options to the average person, and in doing so the instructors here all try to maintain a certain level of affordable gear that we use in class and on a daily basis. In fact the vendors and manufacturers that we do business with are specifically chosen based on the quality of their gear as well as the price point of their merchandise.

With all that said, there is some equipment out there that is just not quality-built, and I wouldn't bet my life on it, or the lives of my loved ones on it. With the "tactical" movement so huge, there are a plethora of companies out there who produce packs, vests, holsters, ammunition magazines, and even firearms that are just not worth the money you will put down for them. There are many people out there who will buy equipment that will never get used - it sits in closets or in cabinets and provides a certain "peace of mind" to the owner that they'll "have it in case they need it." They won't train with it, and they likely won't need it, so the particular build quality of that $20 backpack from eBay or the $10 holster from the swap meet isn't necessarily of particular interest to them. But the sheepdog doesn't think that way.

You see, the sheepdog knows that there's a time and a place to pinch pennies. Training ammunition is a great example of a place where you can save a few dollars and get a product that is just as effective as the more expensive stuff. But when it comes to buying equipment that your life may depend on - such as medical supplies, firearms, or quality load bearing equipment - now is not the time to debate over $20. As an example, there's a company out there called BLACKHAWK! and they make many different packs, vests, holsters, and various other types of quality equipment. You know how they got their start? Former Navy SEAL Mike Noell, founder of BLACKHAWK!, was operating overseas and working his way through a minefield. The straps on his pack suddenly busted, dropping his gear to the ground . . . . in a minefield! Luckily nothing happened, but Mike swore then and there that he would create a quality pack for soldiers, sailors, and Marines so that they would never have to worry about that kind of equipment failure from his gear. And when he got home he designed a new rock-solid pack and his now international company was born.

Now this is the part where most people say "But I'll never be navigating a minefield, so I don't need a $200 pack!" And they're probably right - they don't need a $200 backpack. But the chance is very good that they'll need more than that $20 backpack if they have to carry anything further than a few miles, or under adverse conditions, or have it last more than a few months. In my time in the outdoors, in the training world, and also operationally, I have broken and wore out a lot of gear. Most of the time, it was because I or someone responsible for my gear was trying to save a few bucks. Luckily my life was never on the line when my equipment failed, but let me ask you this: what is your life worth? Now of course this is an impossible question to answer, because the answer isn't really realistic. But if you had to bet your life on a piece of equipment, what would you be willing to pay? Would a $40 difference matter if it meant your life could potentially be saved?

I don't want to come off here sounding like you need to buy only the best - again, one of our focuses here at Independence Training is to encourage people to maximize the use of what they have, whether that's a $200 handgun or a $1000 handgun. Work within your budget, certainly, but also put a realistic priority on your purchases. Would you want to skydive with the cheapest parachute? Climb a rock face with the cheapest harness? While those pieces of equipment would most likely still work just fine, I want to ensure that equipment that has a direct correlation to my safety is as good as I can possibly get.

Recently, I took a friend of mine out gun shopping for his very first firearms purchase. As we're standing there discussing the pros and cons of each model of shotgun, I figure that, like many other buyers, the least or second least inexpensive shotgun was probably catching his eye. Were these bad choices? Not at all. Would I bet my life on either of them? Absolutely. But the benefits of the slightly more expensive shotguns were of particular use to this friend of mine, and certainly made for a more quality shotgun. It was about this time that my friend turned to me and said "If you were buying your first shotgun, which one would you get? And don't just pick based on price, because this is a lifetime purchase for me." At this, my mouth spread into a grin - here was someone who got it! Not only will this shotgun outlast him, his kids, and his kids' kids, but his life may literally depend on its functionality one day, and he was willing to skip a few weeks of eating out for lunch in order to make sure that he got a piece of equipment that was made to last.

So I picked out a shotgun for him. It wasn't the most expensive, not by a long shot, but it wasn't the cheapest one, either. And now he has a shotgun that will take care of him as long as he takes care of it. And so it should be with you - every purchase decision which results in the procurement of gear that will or may potentially be used under extreme conditions, whether a screwdriver set, a holster, or a rifle, should be weighed against your budget but also against the potential it has to keep you breathing or living happily.

Is there anything wrong with carrying a $10 first-aid kit, or putting a $20 red dot on your $800 carbine? No - they are still functional and may meet your needs. But if one day your needs are higher than that equipment can deliver, you do not want to find yourself in an emergency where you are saying "I wish I would've spent the extra few bucks."

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.