Being a gray man: Clothing and gear

Be sure to check out our entire series on being a gray man:

  1. Part 1: What is a gray man?
  2. Part 2: Practicing situational awareness
  3. Part 3: Gray man clothing and gear (current article)
  4. Part 4: Traveling as a gray man
  5. Part 5: The communication style of a gray man

We’ll be introducing the different aspects of a gray man, how to approach day-to-day situations as a gray man, exploring a strong Mental EDC, and making recommendations on gear and tools.

In Part 1 we talked about how being a gray man is carrying yourself in a state of vagueness, or in a condition that draws little to no attention. We then defined in Part 2 what situational awareness is and why it’s a key component of being gray. Now, let’s get more tactful and look at how a gray man approaches the clothing he wears and the gear he carries.


Why clothing matters to a gray man

If you had to describe a person, the characteristics you’re most likely to remember are gender, race, hair color/style, build and what they’re wearing. It’d go something like this:

“He was a white male about average build, six-feet tall with short brown hair. He was wearing a black t-shirt and jeans.” 

Clothing is a differentiator when describing people. It allows our minds to quickly categorize an individual as “good” or “bad.” Our subconscious evaluates people we interact with, asking, “Am I safe or not?”

As we talked about in our overview of situational awareness, we take into consideration people’s demeanor, who they are with, what they are doing, and what they look like.

Let’s say you are out of your car, pumping gas at a gas station. It’s a comfortable evening, about 65 degrees.

Let’s compare these two situations:

A 35-year-old man with an older pickup truck pulls up. He’s wearing light-colored work pants and a blue t-shirt. He pulls up and casually gets out of his truck, only 10 feet from you. He has a wallet in his hands and his eyes are focused on the gas pump next to his truck

A 20-year-old man appears from behind the convenience store. He’s wearing jeans and a dark, oversized jacket. He is walking briskly towards you, glancing around as he picks up speed. His hands are under his jacket and all of a sudden you find him less than 10 feet away 

In both of these situations, your situational awareness should allow you to recognize and evaluate each man’s characteristics, clothing, gear, and demeanor.

You should then be able to decide one is an Average Joe filling up his truck with gas, and for the other, you need to be ready if the situation escalates. Why? You evaluated the situation and made decisions based on:

  • Your location … You’re at a gas station and expect people to either be working there, getting gas, using the restroom, or buying something from the convenience store
  • The weather … It’s a warm evening, so you expect to see people dressed accordingly 
  • What the person is doing … Socializing at a gas station is not normal (unless you live in a smaller town), so you expect to see people focused on the task of getting gas/buying food/using the bathroom

This is why clothing is such a critical component of being a gray man. You want to be the Average Joe. When someone subconsciously evaluates you, you want them to make a quick decision that you are not a threat, you are supposed to be there, and have them turn away, getting back to their business.

The clothing you are wearing will either contribute to you being able to blend in or, it will make you stick out and be memorable.

So, how do you decide what to wear? 

Clothing consists of anything visible to another person, such as footwear, pants, shorts, shirts, hats, belts, watches, jewelry, and even items like purses, backpacks, messenger bags, etc. Anything visible should be evaluated with intent.

When deciding what to wear, you have to take into consideration:

  • The weather
  • Where you are going
  • What you’ll be doing 
  • How long you’ll be gone
  • The tools and gear you are carrying, including a concealed firearm
  • What others do at your destination 
  • Societal norms for clothing

Let’s hit on some examples to make this come to life.

Graphic t-shirts

Some will argue against clothing with markings, and in general, this is good advice. But, if your hometown baseball team is on the verge of winning the World Series, it would probably be common to see someone wearing a shirt bearing the home team’s logo.

On the other hand, if you are wearing logoed apparel in a city that isn’t very friendly towards your team, you could possibly draw unnecessary attention.

Stay away from sensitive subjects: Keep in mind, that there are a lot of VERY sensitive people on both sides of the spectrum.

Wearing a PETA hat in a sporting goods store on opening weekend or an NRA hoodie around a liberal arts college campus may unnecessarily piss people off.

In general, avoid flashy, bright, or clothing that could otherwise stand out unnecessarily. Neutral colors are best, but any “normal” color should suffice in most “normal” situations. Keep things as discreet as possible.

Dress for the season

Nothing can make you do a double-take faster than someone wearing a heavy canvas or fleece vest in the Texas heat when it is 95 degrees outside. It screams “I’ve got a gun.”

When it is hot outside, be sure to dress like the locals in the area you are in. This means you will have to adapt and find a way to carry the gear and equipment you need with fewer options for coverage.

We all know it’s easy to conceal and carry all types of stuff under the multiple layers typically worn during the winter. However, when you add the stifling heat in combination with limited clothing options, you have to get creative in how you carry. This is when it is important to carry items that serve multiple functions.

Societal norms

Every country, city, and neighborhood has different standards of what is acceptable. Wearing flip flops into a small country church isn’t going to be very accepting, just as wearing khakis and a button-down on a summer day on a South Florida beachfront will look odd.

Even in the most accepting areas, try to stay within the standard of normal. 

Tactical clothing

A lot of tactical-looking clothing is popular among those in the circles a gray man might be involved in. However, we need to fight the urge to wear range pants and a molle-covered backpack everywhere we go. This gear has its place–we own a lot of it–but headed to the mall with your family is likely not it.

However, like anything, there are exceptions. More and more mainstream companies are placing webbing on a large variety of their products. This makes it more accepting and less likely to draw attention. But, if you want to err on the side of caution you need to be a little more selective.

A gray man does not want to bring attention to himself. Nor does he want to let those around him know he is more prepared than the person next to them. It makes him a target in a threatening situation.

Look like everyone else

It seems like common sense, but if it’s cold, dress for it. If you are going to an event or specific destination, dress like others who will be there. Don’t wear inappropriate clothing for what you’re doing. If you are wearing something that sticks out as odd, you will be much more memorable.

When you are out and about, pay attention to those around you and what they are wearing. What stands out, is it their shoes, shirt, handbag, hairstyle, etc.? Be cognizant of what draws your attention. Make a mental note and be sure to avoid those triggers if you are trying to avoid unnecessary attention.

We all have physical attributes we cannot change and those characteristics may draw the attention of certain people. Don’t stress, there is nothing you can do about that. However, your clothing is something you have total control over. We cannot say it enough, be intentional and put thought into everything you do.

Be conscious and smart in what you wear and you will be fine. The gray man’s appearance can change from neighborhood to neighborhood, town to town, state to state, or country to country. Again, you need to have options to deal with the change.


We talk over and over again about how important quality, reliable gear is. It’s vital to be prepared for both the mundane and unexpected events that can happen in life. 

Your everyday carry, or EDC, allows you to adapt to and manipulate your environment when needed. You must think about how you carry the gear you take with you on a day-to-day basis.

To break out your EDC and make it easier to organize, prioritize, and build-out, we’ve created three tiers of EDC, which you can read more about here. In summary, we have:

Tier 1: Primary EDC

Your Primary EDC is gear that fits in your pockets or is on your person. It’s readily accessible and mostly or entirely concealed.

A good Primary EDC setup is critical for a gray man as it is concealed and doesn’t draw any undue attention. Keep in mind, the items below are in addition to the basic things you are already carrying like a wallet, cell phone, keys, etc. An example of a Primary EDC is:

  • Firearm
    • Depending on factors such as weather, clothing, activity, etc., I may carry one of several handguns. While the model may vary, it is always a Glock variant. Just personal preference on my part. Carrying a Glock for years in a professional capacity garnered familiarity and trust when it comes to dependability.
  • Pen/pencil
    • A writing instrument is a critical part of my EDC. It’s a tool I end up using on a daily basis for various tasks. While electronic devices serve a purpose, there’s something about analog tools I really like. For a low-key pocket pen with a minimal footprint, I carry the Fisher Space Pen Bullet Pen. However, if I want something larger, which can be used as a hasty self-defense tool, I will either carry a Hinderer Investigator Pen or a machined pen like a Karas Kustoms Render K.
  • Notepad
    • A good notepad is a companion item to the writing instrument above. They are great for sketching out things, taking quick notes, making diagrams, etc. I prefer the Field Notes Original in a graph pattern.
  • Flashlight
    • A quality flashlight is paramount. It can be used in many different applications from menial tasks to self-defense or tactical situations. Currently, I’m carrying a SureFire EDCL-2. Some folks can find it a little big for a gray man application, but the area where I live and conduct most of my business is full of people carrying various tools in their pockets via pocket clips. No one bats an eye. Again, depending on what I’m doing and where I’m going, this is subject to change. There are days when I only carry a small AAA or AA flashlight and it fully suits my needs.
  • Knife
    • My knife choice really varies depending on a lot of various factors. However, the one constant is that I always have one on me. I typically carry a Spyderco Manix2 Lightweight and it is probably one of my favorite all-around knives. Others do make the rotation, it just happens to be the folder I carry most often. For my fixed blade, I usually go with something from Red Meat Steel such as the Rib Tickler or Rooster.
  • Multitool
    • When I carry a multitool, it’s usually one of 3 Leatherman models. My 3 favorites are the Wave, Wingman, and Sidekick. Each model has some unique nuances that cause me to rotate through them. Even though I will say, my multitool most often finds itself in my Secondary or Extended EDC.
  • Tourniquet
  • Chemical deterrent
    • For a non-lethal defense option, I prefer to use SABRE RED 1/2 oz. Key Case Pepper Spray. The compact size and concealability trump the lower volume in gray man applications.
  • Lock Pick Set
    • Inside my pocket notebook, I carry a set of Bogota Pi Titanium lockpicks. They are small, lightweight, and when they are nested inside my notebook I never know they are there. I rarely use them during the normal course of my days, but I have found myself without my house or office key and they have come in handy.
  • Unlawful Restraint Tools
    • In the extremely remote scenario you are illegally restrained, it may be beneficial to have a way to get out. Given the small size and weight of most tools, there aren’t many reasons why you wouldn’t want to have a few options at your disposal. Consider tools like handcuff shims, handcuff keys, kevlar cord, etc., and make sure to layer them throughout your system.

Tier 2: Secondary EDC

Your Secondary EDC is gear that is carried in a separate bag or container but is still with you as you go about day-to-day life. It can be carried in a backpack, organizer, briefcase, purse, etc.

Gear for your Secondary EDC is either difficult to carry on your person, a duplicate of what you have in your Primary EDC, or is not for day-to-day use, but more “just in case.” An example of a Secondary EDC is:

  • Redundant pen/paper
    • Items more efficient at work as opposed to pocket-style which are designed for more on the fly activities.
  • High-lumen flashlight
  • Extended medical gear
    • Having extra space really gives you the ability to expand your medical capabilities. Extra tourniquets, gauze/bandages, chest seals, etc., in addition to normal boo-boo kit type stuff.
  • Fire Starter
    • Having a way to make a fire is always recommended. Simply adding a Bic lighter, spark-based fire starter, Ferro rod, and tinder can go a long way. For ease, a Bic lighter and some tinder tabs work great. However, stuff happens and a backup is always recommended.
  • Fixed-blade knife
    • For this selection, I prefer something like a full-size Mora or a more compact blade like the Mora Eldris. The purpose of these blades is for work. They are not specifically designed or recommended for defense scenarios but could be used in a pinch.
  • Multitool
  • Lock pick tools
    • You should already have some lock picks on you, but here is your chance to expand on those. Typically, the type of picks I carry on the body are a compromise of size, weight, and carry-ability (is that a word?). For my Secondary EDC I prefer larger picks like a set of Bogota Titan Flats (7 pc). The more traditional style can make picking a little bit easier. I find them to be a good compromise between a compact, wallet-size kit and a full pick set.

Tier 3: Extended EDC

Your Extended EDC is sometimes called an operational bag, get home bag, 72-hour bag or 3-day bag, but can also be what you store in your car or at even at home. Your Extended EDC encompasses any additional gear you own, regardless of where it’s stored.

There is no way to list everything that an Extended EDC can entail or the methods it can be stored, but items may include:

  • Survival gear/get-home gear in your car (even jumper cables can be classified as part of your Extended EDC)
  • Water and hydration
  • Expanded fire capabilities
  • Shelter
  • Emergency food and drink
  • Cooking means
  • Clothing
  • Expanded first-aid
  • Hygiene items
  • Lighting
  • Communication
  • Additional self-defense tools
  • Navigation tools
  • Cash
  • Various other tools and gear
  • Etc.

The point of having a gray man approach to the gear you carry is you need to be intentional about what you carry and how you carry it.

There are millions of combinations when it comes to EDC items. Pick the tools you will need for the day based on what you will be doing and try to forecast any unforeseen situations.

The problem is you will never be able to carry the gear needed to mitigate every single situation you will ever encounter. Be practical and be intentional with what you carry and how you carry it.

Want to read more? Check out all of our “Everyday Carry” articles to learn more about having an intentional EDC.

For Part 4 of our series on what is a gray man, we’ll look at how to move through your day-to-day with a gray man mentality, as well as how to travel as a gray man.

Cody Martin

With over 18 years of federal law enforcement, training, and physical security experience, Cody focuses his time nowadays on both consulting and training. He regularly advises individuals, groups, multinational corporations, schools, houses of worship, and NGOs on security threats while conducting customized training as needed.

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