7 investments worth every penny for SWAT officers

From waterproof boots to Cat Crap (yes, really), here's some essential gear to add to your SWAT toolkit

This article is being updated with suggestions from Police1 readers. Make sure to keep reading for more SWAT investments worth every penny and to submit your own suggestions at the end of the article.

It has been said that it costs about a thousand dollars to get on a SWAT team – not because the equipment isn’t provided but because there are so many accoutrements a SWAT pup must provide for themselves. Here’s my list of items I found to be worth every penny:

1. Camelback

Recent studies indicate hydration isn’t as important as was once thought. No one involved in those studies was a SWAT guy in full gear working callouts during the Oklahoma summer. A camelback hydration pack is a lifesaver in the field. I nearly lost consciousness from dehydration on a barricaded mental several years ago. The combination of extreme heat, humidity, helmet, body armor and lack of hydration did me in. One of my teammates dragged me behind cover and gave me what was left of his water.  

There are many accoutrements a SWAT officer must provide for themselves.
There are many accoutrements a SWAT officer must provide for themselves. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

2. Snacks

I always kept several packs of beef jerky and peanuts in my SWAT callout uniform pocket. (By the way, always check your SWAT uniform pockets before putting them in the washing machine and especially, before putting them in the dryer). A callout may be canceled a few minutes after the balloon goes up or it may drag on for days. Having a little bit of protein at the ready is a must.   

3. Waterproof boots with ankle support

One of the responses to my article on 7 investments worth every penny for law enforcement inspired this suggestion.

“Are those boots waterproof?” the SWAT instructor at basic tactical operator school asked me. “I’m not sure,” I replied. They weren’t.

That’s one of those self-correcting problems you learn the hard way. It had been raining all week as we did our field search exercise and I quickly learned how important waterproof boots were. I was blessed with the equally important lesson that SWAT boots need to have solid ankle support for unforgiving muddy terrain. That extra few bucks for those protections are worth every penny.

4. Magnification

Speaking of field searches, every SWAT cop should have a small pair of binoculars or even a decent monocular in their pocket. The naked eye is a wonderful piece of organic equipment, but it works much better with some man-made magnification. There is little more comforting than lying in a well-concealed position with the ability to surveil the surrounding area with an optic before moving to the next position.

Police1 resource: How to Buy Night Vision eBook

5. Cat Crap

Yes. That really is what the best antifogging lens product is called. You can buy it online and at camera shops for about eleven bucks.

I remember being on a hostage barricade that lasted several hours. It was a cold and humid night. I was doing my rotation on the Immediate Action Team (the SWAT guys who are set to make entry upon any escalation by the suspect), when the suspect came out the front door. I raised my carbine’s optic to my eye and saw nothing. The glass had fogged up on my red dot. I transitioned to my pistol – of course – but I’ve never forgotten that lesson learned the hard way.

I reapply Cat Crap every month to all of my important optics. It works on goggles, sunglasses and shooting glasses, too.    

6. Multi-tool with wire cutters

I never really understood why all the old SWAT guys had multi-tools on their belts. I figured it was probably a bleed-over from their farm days. I was wrong. Hanging upside down in full SWAT gear from a barb wire fence is a character-building experience. I don’t recall those fences being that difficult to scale before I was in my 40s. They started making them taller, I suppose. Thankfully, I had been running security for a long-time friend and K-9 handler during our field search. He not only cut me down but also immediately mended the fence with items he had on his person. Farm kids know how to do stuff. I’m quite certain he felt a little less safe with me as his “security” after that. I immediately purchased two quality multi-tools and kept one with me at all times several years after I retired from SWAT.

7. Lights

Get as many lights as you can afford. Small ones. Big ones. Cheap ones. Expensive ones. I tried to keep one low-powered unit when I didn’t want to attract too much attention and one scorcher for identifying things at distance. Get them all. Keep a primary on your tac vest and one on your belt. If you don’t have lights on your pistol and long guns, you’re not really SWAT. If you do teamwork long enough, I guarantee you’ll appreciate having all those lumens at your disposal.

Police1 resource: How to Buy Flashlights eBook

I’m sure there’s a lot I’ve missed. For all you SWAT cops out there, what is on your list? Complete the form below to list the investment you think is worth every penny. 

Police1 reader suggestions

  • Training magazines. This is one of the items that sets professionals apart. Magazines are much less expensive today than they were in recent years, $20-50 a year and before long you will have a complete set of training mags for the range. While everyone else is frantically stripping duty ammo out of their magazines, you can pull out your dedicated training mags and give them some grief for acting like a bunch of recruits.

  • Warm waterproof socks and Under Armour cold gear.

  • Painter's tape in bright colors to mark doors or other paths you want to be marked visibly. It is cheaper and better than tossing a lot of lightsticks everywhere, and also can be used to tape a door jamb to prevent a door from locking behind you. Someone already mentioned electrical tape, which can also be used but isn't as versatile due to colors and reapplying it will be harder due to the different adhesive used.

  • Chem lights to mark places cleared, markers to mark places cleared, warm weather socks, extra batteries for lights, NVGs, comms. etc., PVC pipe for diameters of breaching tools, and breaching shotguns for quick stowing and deployment.

  • A roll of electrical tape kept on your kit or in a BDU pocket works wonders when straps break, or you need to secure something. I have used it for everything from taping up a finger that I cut to securing a light on a shield that broke loose.

  • Paracord and/or small bungee cords for breachers can be used to tie off a screen/storm door.

  • A couple of large sandwich bags that are 1/4 full of cat litter and a small pack of baby wipes. You roll up the zipper to help keep open the bag to catch the contents of your field-expedient fecal deployment.

  • Extra pair(s) of prescription glasses, tactical running shoes and/or extra pair of boots, Mechanix gloves, knee and elbow pads, extra gas mask filters, Polaroid camera, sports mouthpiece, protein/granola bars, contractor trash bags, battery chargers, batteries, power banks, Ziploc bags and a tool kit.

  • No fog from the scuba shop. Phone charger as a plan B com device.

  • Advil, TUMS, cough drops and toilet paper.

  • Not expensive and not fancy: A Ziploc bag with a sponge or the guts of a baby diaper. If you need to urinate, you have a place to go. Money well spent.

  • Gloves that are warm and waterproof for winter and wet ops, rugged and flexible for other times. I have seen officers pull off their extra socks and put on their hands when crawling through hot sand. Knee and elbow pads for pretty much the same reason. I have worn the skin off my knees in only about four hours before. Sealed bottles of sports drinks keep a long time in packs without turning green like canteen/hydration bag water. Rotate every training or call out. And 24 hrs of food and meds, 72 if you're a sniper.

  • Small zip ties, rubber bands and landscape fabric or burlap for hasty sniper hides and hand warmers for winter when the barricaded gunman takes longer than expected!
  • Gortex pants! My agency supplied a Goretex jacket but I learned during a call out in a blizzard the need for the pants. A Dom Vio turned into an armed barricade that lasted about 7 hours. I was on the back perimeter, and the guy kept pacing by the rear slider, so my position was vital. I had great cover with a tree that had a "V" for a nice brace, but I had to kneel. I was toasty with my thermals – too toasty, my body heat melted the snow and I was soaked from the waist down – 1 hour of warmth and 6 of being cold and wet. Got Gortex pants the next day!
  • Personal fitness. More officers die from sudden cardiac arrest than anything else. Not only that but you have to be fit to fight.
  • Flight helmet bag. I’ve had one for over 25 years. I can keep my ballistic helmet, rhino mounts for NVGs, extra shooting glasses, gloves and rappelling gear all in one easy-to-carry bag. Not to mention extra batteries and a power pack for recharging my cell phone.
  • A shemagh.

What is on your list? Complete the form below.

What SWAT-related investments of your personal funds are worth every penny?

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