I have a good friend who goes by “BoltBoy.” Solid guy, he also designs and sells some cool Baofeng accessories. One day BoltBoy went to a precision rifle competition. Active duty and former scout snipers were among the competition, most of them sporting some very expensive weapons. One shooter even had a weather meter that was digitally slaved to an electronic DOPE card. The average shooter in this competition had sunk $3-4000 into their rifle setups.
Meanwhile, BoltBoy shows up with his trusty .308 Remington 783. With factory M80 ball ammo, a cheap .22LR scope and a few other accessories, he had invested $600 into his setup. This drew some friendly banter and jokes from the other competitors, who brushed him off as a first-timer who would eventually learn that he needed better equipment.
BoltBoy placed 2nd overall that day, stunning everyone and forever earning his nickname. He did well because he took his budget rifle and trained like hell with it. He knew the basic principles of bullet drop, wind calls, and he new how to do it with his rifle and optic. If you put in the work to get proficient, your equipment can do a lot more for you than you think.
Realistic “Good Enough” Solutions
The social media “gun community” and “tactical community” are full of people who spend a ton of money on X item and then try to make themselves feel better by shaming everyone else with less expensive gear. This self-indulging trend is counter-productive, and I recommend avoiding these people/groups like the plague. The simple truth is that sometimes the cheaper solution is good enough to get the job done.
That said, it is possible to spend too little. You don’t want something that will break the first time you use it, and the “budget” option may not grant the capability you thought it did. Today I will briefly discuss how to find the balance between cheaping out and over-spending.
The Principle of Diminishing Returns
Too many people think that they need to buy the most expensive gear to become proficient. Unfortunately, this is reinforced by flannel-clad influencers who push whatever products their sponsors tell them to. While it’s true that the expensive gear probably works better than the cheaper options, chasing the unicorn of the “best option” can be counterproductive. This is especially true for people who are new to buying tactical gear.
You see, as you increase the price of any type of item, the returns diminish the higher you go. Eventually you reach a point where the value gained is not worth the added price, even though there is greater value in the more expensive option. This is illustrated by the graph below.
Striving for Capability
I don’t look at gear in terms of what it can “do for me.” Instead, I evaluate gear based on what it can enable me to do. This keeps me from falling into the trap of thinking that I can replace skills with stuff. At the end of the day, I am the operator, and all that matters is my ability to use my stuff to accomplish my mission. The way I purchase gear is I set a goal for a capability that I want to have, and analyze exactly what equipment I need to support that capability.
Let’s take night vision for example. I approached my night vision purchase desiring the capability to see and engage targets at night up to several hundred meters away. My own eyes are not up to the task, so I recognized that I needed a device that enabled this capability.
There are a lot of night vision devices (NVDs) on the market, so I set about weighing the pros and cons of each one. Gen1 NVDs were the cheapest at around $300, but couldn’t see far enough clear enough. Gen2 PVS-14s were next up, providing acceptable clarity for $2800. Gen3 PVS-14s, however, offered an even clearer image for only $200 more. Finally, dual-tube NVGs were the last realistic option, offering the same clarity as the Gen3 PVS-14 but in both eyes for over double the price. My estimate of the value vs. return of each of these devices is reflected on the chart below:
I determined that the Gen3 PVS-14 was the best value for my money while providing the capability I desired. Would dual tubes be better? Yes, but for me the benefits of dual tube NVDs weren’t worth the price increase. My single-tube PVS-14 gives me the capability I wanted, and that choice saved me about $5,000 to spend on other things.
As with all things in life, there is a balance to be had. You don’t want to spend too much for minimal returns, and you don’t want to buy garbage either. The best advice I can give you is twofold. First, ignore the gear queers and the snobs who say you aren’t spending enough money. Most of them don’t even train with their gear beyond the flat range.
Second, ensure that whatever you buy gets rigorously tested. Take your ruck on a backpacking trip. Low crawl 50 yards with your chest rig. Go to a training class. If you intend to trust your life and your families’ lives to it later down the road, you should torture test it now and find its breaking point. I would rather have an expensive item fail during a realistic training event and spend more money on something better than have it fail when I need it most.
You have a finite amount of resources. Be efficient with how you spend your time and your money. Define the capabilities you seek and determine for yourself the best choice for your budget. If you would like more guidance with purchasing your rifleman’s kit, read my guide on the topic.
12 thoughts on “Gear Snobbery and the Principle of Diminishing Returns”
Good points Mike. I admit I’m guilty of buying quite a few pistols because “they’re different”…when I should have duplicated what works and create redundancy. The urge to get The Best can also be a test of humility and an ego check.
Reblogged this on Starvin Larry.
This…. SO much this…
Reblogged this on Alpha Charlie Concepts and commented:
This. ALL of this and then some. Sometimes, good enough, actually is.
That was my own approach years ago – the guy in the frazzled flannel, going to the range every weekend back when 7.62x54R was insanely cheap ($119 for a 440-round spam can) and putting many rounds downrange with iron sights. Meanwhile, the guys fresh out of OSUT and IBOLC were coming out and bringing their DDs and whatnot with optics worth more than my rifle and four cases of ammo…
…and not hitting crap, while I was ringing steel at 400yds.
Gear can be an asset or it can be a crutch. More often than not, it is the latter and not the former.
Train… train with what you can afford while leaving plenty for more training and time getting intimately familiar with the tools you train with.
Avid backpacker, shooter and fisherman…spent ten years destroying Kelty, Gregory and another brands.. went back to my military roots for packs and haven’t looked back. They may weigh a little more but far outlast the commercial stuff if you use it regularly.
Wisdom in spades
PRS rifles are purpose-built sport rifles. Features demanded are: extremely high ballistic performance (minimizes wind deflection and range error), low recoil (small caliber, can, brake, etc, much easier to shoot accurately and rapidly), balance point (fire accurately from odd positions), weight (easier to shoot accurately, more stable, less recoil), and visual appeal (fighter pilot-sized egos).
So you wind up with small caliber, overbore stuff like 6 Creedmore, 6×47 Lapua, 6BRX, and so on. Accurate barrel life, if you push them hard, is on the order of 1200-1500 rounds. Since at least one rifle is always at the smith getting rebarreled, you need 2 or 3 of these, with glass. The guys at my range who shoot these things don’t put many rounds through them practicing.
The OP’s point is well taken: it’s an expensive game, and people with more money than sense try desperately to buy points rather than practice.
A range practice session for them is 20-30 rounds.
We tested this at All Army with champion-level/P100/Distinguished High Power shooters firing the rifle National Match Course with rack-grade, issue M16/M4 and M855 green tip ammo. Article and video:
I’m always reminding myself that the revolutionary war was won out of a possibles bag. And that frontiersman would have sold their left nut for an AR-15.
And we have good AR-10’s. Like your friend. Buy something solid, then practice like hell.
Thanks Mike. It’s easy to get carried away these days!
Right article, right time.
I’m a big believer in the 20/80 rule https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle and as an IT guy, this governs my choices w clients and projects.
Don’t have to spend a fortune to get quality, good enough gear, cheap enough in many cases to have hot spares ready.
When I’m not doing my day gig, i venture into the world of emcomm and the associated kit, some hi end, most lower/middle of the road stuff..ALL of my HF rigs, the hi end stuff, was bought used or willed to me by a buddy who passed over a year ago. He and i had multiple talks about this topic.
I also fly fish, licensed guide as well, and this is where i really see the kit snobbery…
Newbies show up in their new, hi end kit, and cant wade or cast to save their life….
I have a good buddy, loves his Orvis shit, rods, boots, waders, everything hi end, Simms gear too.
I have some hi end rods, (Sage & Syndicate), bought on discount, i spend money on boots (Korkers) and waders (Fogg Togg Guide) but most everything else is middle of the road gear..
My favorite rod, is my 7ft 5wt fiberglass butterstick rod, maybe 50.00, (walmart) and another 100.00 for reel and line, (Dicks years ago) and i go head to head w my Orvis slinging buddy, and nail as many fish as he does, for a fraction of the cost. Oh, i buy pre made inexpensive flies online too, fish do not the difference..
I know that rod intimately, and i can put a fly into a basketball hoop at 20yds…
Beware the man w one rifle or fly rod!
Keep it up, hope to meet you one day at NCS’s G-camp for some commo training…