Review: Propper TAC.U Combat Shirt
I remember the first time I saw an example of what would later be universally referred to as a “combat shirt.” One of my colleagues had cut the sleeves off one of his issued jackets, and sewn them to a t-shirt. It kind of looked like shit, but the novelty of it was exciting.
It was hard to find commercial combat shirts in Danish camo back in the day — my first was in German desert Flecktarn, which was close enough to M/01 to pass muster. Since the switch to MultiCam though, it’s been easier to take full advantage of the various shirts on the market. The folks at Propper have an interesting version which they call the TAC.U Combat Shirt, and they were kind enough to provide one for review. Let’s take a look!
How does it fit?
The TAC.U is available in sizes XS-3XL, and comes in two lengths: Regular and Long. The fit seems true to size, and the sleeve length corresponds with the measurements listed on Propper’s website. (For reference, I’m 5’8” and skinny and I got the Small Regular.) The sleeves don’t feel loose or flappy, but there’s still plenty of room for more bulk if you’re not built like a twelve-year-old boy.
[Denmark is very flat, geographically speaking.]
Materials and construction
The sleeves, shoulder yoke, and collar are constructed from Battle Rip®, which, despite sounding like a belligerent butt burp, is actually a cotton/polyester ripstop fabric. The torso and cuffs consist of a somewhat heavy 60% cotton/40% polyester blend. Propper makes no claims toward the TAC.U being flame resistant, and my extremely scientific set-it-on-fire-with-a-lighter test bore that out. For comparison, one of my issued combat shirts self-extinguished as soon as I removed the heat source; the TAC.U had to be extinguished manually.
The sleeves are mounted onto the body of the shirt via a gusset under the yoke, which lets your arms move freely without your shoulders feeling constricted. The elbows are articulated, and lined with softer fabric to prevent chafing.
[Left to right: Shoulder gusset, elbow, elbow lining.]
The TAC.U has a buttload of features, but the most immediately striking one is arguably the slightly funky-looking shoulder pad pockets. Aesthetically speaking, it looks like an Elizabethan doublet updated for 21st century warfare.
[Will Shakespeare’s combat shirt.]
[Deeper, damn it!]
[So many pockets].
Pockets for shoulder and elbow padding.
In addition to the shoulder pad pockets, there’s also external pockets for elbow padding, if that floats your boat. None of the pads are included, nor does Propper sell any, so you’ll have to cut your own. Some kind of cardboard DIY template would’ve been nifty.
Pocket-wise, combat shirts tend to fall into two camps: diagonally mounted velcro pockets, or vertical zippered pockets. The TAC.U, thankfully, falls into the latter category. The sleeves both have zippered pockets on the upper arm and forearm; the bicep pockets are sized to fit a Rite in the Rain® notebook, as well as standard A5 aide-memoire cards. The forearm pockets are useful for holding ear plugs, Copenhagen, chap stick, snacks, extra panties, or whatever your little heart desires. I find them particularly useful for keeping a pair of latex gloves handy.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. The left forearm also sports two external slots for pens. In all honesty, I found the pen slots to be completely useless; I kept losing pens and markers because they’d just shoot out when I bent my elbow. The slots simply aren’t deep enough to push your pen all the way in. I tried to find some other use for the feature, but they’re too narrow for chem lights, and I couldn’t come up any other long, thin objects to stick in there (I’d insert a dick joke, but that probably wouldn’t fit either).
If that STILL isn’t enough pockets for you, there’s an additional external pocket on the right forearm. I haven’t used it yet; partly because the velcro closure annoys me, but mostly because there are so many other pockets I just haven’t needed to.
[DIY shoulder pads inserted; no noticeable difference in arm mobility.]
How much stuff could you conceivably carry in all the sleeve pockets? A shitload. If you wanna get more specific, anything up to and including this pile of random shit:
[I’m not saying it’s comfortable, I’m just saying you CAN.]
Propper’s kept the amount of velcro to a bare minimum on the TAC.U, which I like, because slathering everything in unnecessary velcro is the goddamn bane of my existence. Besides the wrist closures and patch panels, the only additional velcro is on the openings for the elbow pad inserts, one of the right forearm pockets, and the name tape panel on the back of the collar. Any opening you might actually use in the field is outfitted with sleek, silent zippers. I heart zippers.
How does it hold up?
Both of the shirt’s fabrics strike a reasonable balance between durability and breathability. I’ve worn the shirt to the range, in the field, and through several field exercises, and the fabrics and stitching have held up well. The most significant wear has been on the softer torso fabric, especially at friction points between my plate carrier and the shirt, particularly across the shoulders and on the small of my back.
[Wear and tear across the shoulder. Not significant yet, but this is probably where the shirt will eventually wear out.]
How does it perform?
You might not be able to tell for all the nitpicking, but I actually really like this shirt. Comfort-wise, I have no complaints. I can move my arms freely, and with my DIY shoulder pads, there’s significantly less chafing on my shoulders after wearing my kit all day. On colder days, I’ve worn it with a merino undershirt; on hot sweaty days, it’s dried fast.
[Can’t … feel … thumb …]
The drawbacks are mostly negligible, but there are a few things that could be improved. The aforementioned pen holder that doesn’t hold pens, for one thing. I also found the thumb holes too small to be useful, even for my delicate girl-hands.
There’s one thing that might be a deal-breaker for some people: this combat shirt is hot as balls. The torso fabric is thicker and heavier than any other shirt I’ve ever worn. The obvious upside is, of course, greater durability, and this being Denmark it’ll only be a problem two days a year (man, I hope summer falls on a weekend this year). If, however, you’re in a more southerly clime, or your internal furnace is powered by Eyjafjallajökull, you may want to reserve the TAC.U for colder weather.
The biggest drawback for me personally is the fact that the TAC.U is not NIR compatible, and therefore doesn’t comply with our uniform regulations. I might be able to get away with wearing it during training, but I wouldn’t deploy with it.
Overall, the TAC.U is a great “combat” shirt — well made, thoughtfully constructed, durable, and comfortable over long periods of wear, with lots of great features and very few drawbacks. So, why the quotation marks? Considering it’s not flame resistant or NIR compliant/compatible, I wouldn’t actually wear it in combat. Which begs the question: who is this shirt even for? (If I was feeling mean, I might say “Airsofters.”) Propper offer a variety of ACUs and BDUs, many of which are fabricated to active-duty specifications, but no other combat shirts so far, which is a pity. Obviously, an FR/NIR version of the TAC.U would be more expensive than the current iteration, but if Propper ever make one, I’ll buy it.
[You can visit Propper online here]
Emergency: Activate firefly, deploy green (or brown) star cluster, get your wank sock out of your ruck and stand by ’til we come get you.
About the Author: Mad Duo Mara Geirsodd is female combat veteran of the Danish infantry (yes, it seems counterintuitive, but it’s true) assigned to a mechanized infantry unit. She’s been a rifleman, Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle gunner and team leader, which is roughly equivalent to a U.S. fireteam leader but with 3 soldiers instead of 4. She’s deployed a few times, including with KFOR in Kosovo and to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, twice so far. An inveterate smartass who is surprisingly savvy about the ongoing ‘women in the military’ argument, she’ll hopefully be writing for us until the Taliban or a bear smells her while she’s on her period and kills her.