I Don’t Care If Navy SEALs Use Your Product

Note: While some might question the timing of this article given the recent combat death of a SEAL in Yemen, I think this is exactly the time to publish such a piece. While members of the military, including SEALs, are fighting and dying, people in no danger whatsoever are capitalizing on their efforts – and their deaths – for financial gain.

A while back I was having a discussion with the owner of Faxon about why I didn’t like his ARAK upper. It took four minutes and thirty-two seconds for him to tell me that a Navy SEAL had shot it and really liked it, in a tone that said “If a SEAL likes it, your opinion is irrelevant.” That hasn’t been my only such experience in this industry. SEALs killed Bin Laden! How dare you question them on anything ever.

It’s important to draw a distinction between a former Navy SEAL using a product once and saying something inoffensive and ambiguous about it to the manufacturer and the United States Navy buying a product for Navy SEALs to use across all the teams and guys and stuff. I want to talk about both sides of that coin here. Still, even if something is used by every Navy SEAL or will make my rifle identical to the one that killed Bin Laden, I don’t really care.

I should also mention that I’m not just picking on frogmen here. Special Forces, Delta/CAG/however they’ve chosen to identify this year, Force Recon, SOCOM, Rangers, Raiders, Air Force Security Forces – all of these names (well, almost all) have been invoked to silence dissent and prompt the swiping of credit cards. Let’s face it, though, the marketing types know that to reach the most buyers, namedropping SEALs is a Tier 1 marketing plan. So while I focus on them here, the general theme applies across all such uses of “Appeal to SOF Authority.”

Why, you ask, do I not care if these total badasses use your product?

It’s not a jaded hipster reaction – what a Navy SEAL uses just has little relevance to my life and my needs. In keeping with that whole “relevance” theme, there are indeed some things used by Navy SEALs which I end up using. But in the Venn diagram of what Navy SEALs are doing and what I am doing, there is not a whole lot of crossover. Thus, there aren’t many products they use which I also spend money on.

SEALs have precision rifles that are really awesome and durable and weigh more than my ego. If you had to build one, you’d spend many thousands of dollars duplicating it. I’d rather put together a rifle that was lighter and didn’t kick as much or cost as much to shoot as .300 WinMag or .338 Lapua – and maybe something with longer barrel life, too, because I actually have to pay for all this stuff. The only time I’ve ever really *needed* a precision rifle was years ago when my friend Paul and I were competing in the Competition Dynamics 24 Hour “Sniper” Adventure Challenge. In that case, having a rifle was more of a check in the box than anything else. The Army Marksmanship Unit was there in 2012 and on the stages they made it to, they outshot everyone – but their gear weighed so much that they couldn’t make it over all the hills to complete the course. My rifle and gear was much lighter than anything you’d find issued to a military unit at any level, with corresponding reductions in accuracy and durability, but we placed higher because we actually managed to finish the course.

Paul did all the work. I basically just limped along behind him to the finish line.

Is there stuff Navy SEALs use that I might have use for? Sure. Navy SEALs use the Arc’teryx Drypack 70. I have an Arc’teryx Drypack 70. They use it to haul gear while swimming a hundred feet underwater off the coast of Gabon or something. I use it to terrify Boy Scouts by putting their sleeping bags and notebooks in it before tossing the pack into a stream, lake, or ocean while we’re on a campout. Their gear comes back dry and their heart rate eventually returns to normal. The pack costs $1200 and if I’d actually had to pay for it, I would not have acquired it – it was given to me for free. It’s fantastic at what it does, but it is entirely impractical as a backpack for the majority of things I do. There are other, cheaper packs (most packs are cheaper than $1200, I’d wager) which would keep my stuff dry while I’m hiking up a stream. And there are other, significantly cheaper packs for day to day hiking and camping use.

It does do a great job of keeping my stuff dry while I’m riding my bike in the rain. Then again, it costs almost as much as I paid for the bike.

I also have two examples of the Kelty MAP 3500, a pack reported to have been designed in conjunction with the SEALs. Thanks, SEALs! It’s a great pack, even if the zippers on my newer version totally suck. They don’t make ’em like they used to, I guess.

Are there things Navy SEALs need in a product that I also need? Yes. When the SEALs buy a handgun, they need something reliable. I, too, need a reliable handgun. But maybe they need something of a specific size and with the ability to attach a silencer, while I just need something that won’t print in my gym shorts. Our needs rapidly diverge.

So while there are things the SEALs as a whole use which I might conceivably use, the fact that they use it is not a driving factor in the purchase – in fact it’s the opposite. If the SEALs are using something, I stop myself and ask, “Do I really need something that they would use?” Because we really do have vastly different needs.

On most of the occasions which I have heard this particular appeal to authority, though, it hasn’t been what we just discussed. It hasn’t been that I’m hearing from HK about the new wunderpistolen they’ve sold to the SEALs. It’s been that I heard “Navy SEALs use this!” from a guy whose company definitely doesn’t have a CAGE code.

In other words, they met a guy who may or may not have been a SEAL and they took him to the range or gave him some free stuff at a trade show. Voila, a SEAL has your product! And since the definition of “use” is somewhat broad, the frogman in question might simply have worn the shoes or shot the gun once and then stuffed them in a closet or given them to a friend. Sure, he might also be carrying or wearing it at all times. But one man’s preference, no matter how tough a man, doesn’t sway me, and it shouldn’t sway you. Entirely leaving aside the question of whether or not he was compensated for his opinion or whether he even voiced it as strongly as is being presented, the number one qualification for becoming a SEAL is not “gun nerd” and many former special forces guys are hardly firearm aficionados or experts. They may have specialized in another field such as communications or medicine, and while they were certainly very proficient with firearms and may still be very proficient, their firearm expertise may not rise to the level required to properly beat down an opposing and reasoned opinion.

In closing, I don’t care if Navy SEALs use your product. I care about the details of your product and what makes it better than the other products on the market. I care why it’s relevant to my needs, not to the needs of other people. If you do manage to sell it to the SEALs, great. You deserve recognition for that – but you might not deserve my money.

24 thoughts on “I Don’t Care If Navy SEALs Use Your Product”

  1. Two additional things:

    #1. It is unfortunately customary for people to exchange pleasantries with owners to their faces, especially in this industry. Just because someone said he liked it doesn’t mean he would actually spend his hard-earned money on it.

    #2. Just because one person of Unit X says or does something does not mean that it is an endorsement from Unit X. Tactical trainers (ex. like James Yeager’s Tactical Response) often state that they trained SEALs, Rangers, and Special Forces when they received no contracts to do so. In reality, a few private individuals not representing Unit X decided to train with said tactical trainers for whatever reason.

    1. As a former Force Recon Marine, I can say that this discussion wouldn’t be happening if Hillary were president.

  2. What seal stuff do I want? Their NV and thermal paraphernalia. What can I afford? A singular PVS14 and low end flir models. The other doesnt work for me, I just want to shoot pigs at night and not take out a second mortgage. Like Andrew said, I’m much more interested in light weight. I’m not shooting a thousand damn meters, accuracy requirements depend on usage, and near everything on the market will do great 300m and in. And claiming ANYONE used it with the attempts of swaying my purchase decision turns me off immediately. It’s low brow clickbait. Make the merits of your product objective, this is exactly the reason I enjoy the testing on this blog.

  3. Great article! I too am tired of all things SEAL. SEAL energy bar, energy drink, recovery drink blah blah blah.

    I was watching the show Shark Tank the other day and there was an ex-SEAL trying to get the Sharks to buy into his “Victory Coffee”. It was basically generic coffee that he was rebranding and “working to get vets jobs”. Well, no one gave him any money. That is not the first time a SEAL has been on Shark Tank. Every season or so there is some SEAL on there tring to get some deal for his new business. It’s always like you said, “buy this because I am an ex-SEAL”.

    BUT, I am also sadly on the other end where I have purchased a former SEAL product. I wear and love my LALO training shoes. A shoe company founded by a former SEAL. Funny, the company has since severed ALL ties with the former specops guy due to some domestic violence charges. Never the less, the company kept the name. But I do love the shoes.

    But yeah, the whole SEAL marketing thing is getting old. Thankfully most people can see through the pomp and circumstance.

  4. I like my friend Matt’s dog. Doesn’t mean I would bring him to my house to hang out (the dog, not Matt) as my dog would kill and eat him. Not sure what this has to do with SEALs. I was just in a sharing mood.

  5. This also happens a lot in self-defense systems. “Krav Maga is used by the Israeli military!!!” So what? I don’t operate in teams with intelligence of the situation ahead of time to execute military missions using precision, high-grade equipment while wearing body armor. My civilian self-defense needs revolve around me being able to handle myself in a surprise situation in a parking lot long enough for me to get away.

    1. You’re not going to find the right guys for DEVGRU by testing them with a highly polished WP. MS Word 2.4 with a bunch of mis-coded macros and running on Windows 4.2 will show you who’s got that little chip on their shoulder that tells you they’ll complete the damned mission.

      My uncle’s receptionist’s husband wrote three smashing best sellers using a Mac Plus and MacWrite. That’s efficiency, like taking out a room full of grizzled Taliban assassins with just a brace of Glock 19’s. Which I guess is why the SEALs went that way, the pure challenge. Things just got too easy.

  6. I cannot add to the substance of this well written prose. I would simply add a form of thoughtful agreement…


  7. The SEALS are obviously good guys who make the best choices of what they need.They and what they use just get promoted a bit much. No other special forces are so out in the public eye in what they use. This leads me to wonder what the other special forces use and why,and how does it differ from the SEALS choices. WE may never know! they keep all secret.
    All the above being said we as civilians are luckily free to choose our own best gear suited to our own needs and situation.Life is good.

  8. Good article. the same could be said about police,particularly SWAT teams using certain weapons,equipment,training or tactics . Again there are similarities in some areas but much of it doesn’t compare. A regular patrol officer is probably the closest yet still they open carry with often more and larger equipment than most concealed carry citizens. Having a radio,partners or other officers and dispatch looking for you or checking on you,soft body armor,less lethal force options etc. Patrol officers also usually drive marked vehicles and wear obvious identifying uniforms while being sent to trouble. The common concealed carrier likely carries smaller,lighter equipment and less of it. They are hopefully not known before any action kicks off and if it does they don’t have an obligation to stick around or take action.

  9. I think the fact that ALL the Tier 1 units use different gear compared to each other should be a clue that gear selection is person and mission specific.

    I don’t need an Aimpoint T2/H2 to poke holes in paper under 100 yards only 12 days out of 365 days.

  10. I generally avoid endorsed products like the plague. It’s the first clue to the real value of any product. That being said, lifestyle marketing a.k.a. content marketing makes the world go round.

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