The US Army, the Middle East, and Velcro: A Sticky Situation

Travel News — By Ben Van Loon on June 22, 2010 at 6:21 am

Velcro, invented in 1941 by George de Mestral (1907-1990), a Swiss electrical engineer, was first popularized in the 1960s by those versatile fellows in the aerospace industry who were looking for ways to hold things down in zero-gravity (after all, hammers and nails don’t do so well in a vacuum-sealed spacecraft). Fifty years later, Velcro is on everything. Clothing, cabinets, screen-doors, place-mats, jackets, luggage, backpacks, and even even birdhouses. You can even become friends with VELCRO┬« brand fasteners on Facebook.

If you’re a frequent traveler, or like me, you need to use a bag for frequent access to keys, wallet, and other personals, velcro is your best friend. For easy and quick storage of toiletries or other things you need to reach quickly, having a safe and secure pocket makes all the difference. The problem is, under particular circumstances and with frequent use, Velcro ages and wears down just like anything else.

For a few years now, the US Army has been using Velcro for affixing lapels, patches, pants fasteners, and pocket closers, but with the recent US military activity in the Middle East, Velcro has been put to the true test. And the results? A combination of frequent use, washing, everyday wear-and-tear, and sand have rendered the power of Velcro less-than-constant, USA Today reports. According to a survey of 2,700 stationed soldiers, only 11% wanted to keep using Velcro for their fastening needs. The rest opt for the trusty and reliable push-and-snaps or outright old-school buttons.

Though Velcro can usually withstand frequent use, with the ‘pile’ side of the ‘hook and pile tape’ eventually fraying and loosing some of its grippyness, the Army claims it is the dust and sand that does the stuff in. Replacing the Velcro with buttons and snaps will actually save the army 96 cents per uniform, and a soldier opening his pants pocket to access a map or instructions won’t give away his position as easily as the one broadcasting the trademark tearing sound par-for-the-course with Velcro.

So what does this mean for the everyday traveler? Sand can be irritating not only because it snakes its way into your personals, but if you’re a beachgoer, a desert explorer, or like your equipment to withstand the abuses of the dry-and-dusty outdoors, Velcro might not be able to withstand the ripping-and-tearing. So if you want your wardrobe and luggage to be both practical and in vogue, Velcro is out, buttons are in.


Tags: buttons, military, sticky situations, velcro

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