Shop At These Veteran-Owned Gear Shops This Memorial Day
Looking for some great gear? These veteran-owned companies will set you up.
Black Rifle Coffee Company
The big dog, Black Rifle Coffee Company may not be the oldest veteran-owned company on this list (at least before its IPO in February), but it’s come to be the Kevin Bacon of the archetype, with all others just a few steps removed. Founded by former U.S. Army Green Beret Evan Hafer, who ground his own coffee from the back of a gun truck while serving in Iraq, the company has a history of using its profits to support veterans, first responders, and their families as well as outdoor conservation. It also makes a great cup of Joe, including its customer-favorite medium roast Just Black. Our sleeper pick? The Silencer Smooth, a light roast that’s nuanced and flavorful enough to enjoy straight up, no cream chaser.
Newcomer Battle Bars was inspired by the eating habits of military guys stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. While deployed, founder Ian Sparks noticed he and his men would chow down on protein bars, which both didn’t taste great and were packed with ingredients only a chemist could decipher. His company’s offerings, including the debut flavor of Blueberry Blue Falcon (Navy shorthand for a particularly bad kind of serviceman) and subsequent releases, are comprised of easy-to-pronounce components like whey protein, coconut, real blueberries, and more. What’s more, they’re absolutely delicious.
To ruck, in U.S. Army parlance, is to hike with a heavy-ass pack. While despised by most service members, it’s an especially effective kind of low-intensity exercise, which GORUCK— and founders Jason and Emily McCarthy — have built a brand around. Initially a gear company making backpacks for the activity (called “rucksacks”), the company now makes a variety of gear to support it, from weights for its packs to specially designed footwear. It also throws rucking events and programs a digital workout platform.
We could lead with Kill Cliff’s high-profile partnerships with Joe Rogan and UFC champ Israel Adesanya. We could highlight its commitment to make energy drinks with minimal sugar, naturally sourced caffeine from green tea, and CBD the company claims is absorbed six times better than competitors. But what its Navy SEAL founder Todd Ehrlich most cares about is how its products fund the Navy SEAL Foundation, to which it’s already donated more than a million dollars.
VRB was founded by a former Navy pilot and an Army officer, each finished his respective service with the all aches and pains attendant. After a fortuitous meeting in grad school, their CBD company was envisioned without the hippy-dippy granola vibe of the average competitor. Instead, its high-speed, low-drag, and dude-focused tinctures aid in sleep or focus. They’re also pharmacologist-designed and carefully regulated for consistent potency and efficacy.
Navy veterans Nick Norris and Tim Duba founded Protekt with legendary big-wave surfer Mark Healey with a three-fold purpose: to help people hydrate better, sleep more soundly, and get outside more often. Its products run the gamut, from our personal-favorite individually packaged water additives that add electrolytes, caffeine, and more, to focus aids and even reef-safe sunblock. Granted, it makes a broad spectrum of products, but when viewed from its founders’ lens, they all sync together for the active lifestyle.
Former Marine Derek Sisson bounced around following his service, first selling workout equipment and then repping vineyards before he moved into the distribution of veteran-owned spirits. Partnering with Daniel Alarik, the CEO and founder of apparel company Grunt Style, Sisson's Texas-based spirits empire was cleared for launch. His Famous Brands currently includes five separate liquors, including a spiced whiskey and a vodka, but our favorite remains 'Merica Bourbon, which won a Whiskies of the World Awards medal in 2017.
David Wood founded apparel company Virtus Outdoor Group after a full early life, which included a six-year stint in the Marine Corps. His company’s offerings reflect his service, centering around modern pixelated camouflage, cutting-edge fabrics, and integrated multi-piece systems for all conditions and demanding activities.
4 Spirits Distillery
For more than 10 years, former National Guardsman Dawson Officer has distilled 4 Spirit’s offerings in the memory of four fallen servicemen with whom he served. They live on in the whiskey, rum, vodka, gin, and canned cocktails his company makes, and they inspire the financial support of Pacific Northwest veterans programs and a veteran scholarship endowment through Oregon State University. Thanks to a recent partnership with Spirit Hub, 41 states now have access to these terrific spirits. Our pick: the bourbon. Besides notes of caramel and vanilla, every bottle yields 10 percent of its profits to veteran reintegration programs in the state in which it’s sold.
It seems as if Orra founder Ryan Thompson has spent his life in the sky, first with the Air Force and then as a commercial airline pilot. Both experiences went into the conceptualization of his luggage company: the former for the importance of high quality equipment and the latter for intuitive design. Made from post-consumer recycled plastics, algae-based foams, and durable aluminum buckles that, at the end of their usefulness, can be easily recycled, the result is a durable, functional bag that is remarkably soft on the environment.