Monday, May 18, 2015

Update: Go! hammock stretch goal.

I covered the Go! Hammock a little while ago as a Wish-Lust item. Jason Montgomery, creator of the Go! Hammock Kickstarter tells me he has had lots of people asking about the possibility of adding a bug net option. He is pleased to announce that all backers will have the option to upgrade, for a fee. He isn't yet sure about the upgrade price yet. 

This version of the hammock will have an integrated bug net that is sewn on.

A long zipper will be set along one side of the net to close it. The hammock can be used without the bug net by removing the ridgeline from inside the net, flipping the hammock over. The upgrade will include four stakes and four pieces of shock cord for tying off the net to keep it our of the way. 

Go check out the Kickstarter here!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Events: Battle Apocalypse lasertag

I previously offered my review of the Oz Apocalypse : Zombie Apocalypse lasertag event as a topic near and dear to my heart, but they also offered to take me and some friends along for one of their Battle Apocalypse events too.

This wasn't a scripted "make it through the maze" event, but rather a totally open-plan player- verses -player event. The connecting walls, closed by hurricane fencing for the Zombie Apocalypse event to make for a pretty linear dungeon-bash were opened up, such that all the areas were available, including the previously hidden "staff-access" areas, in between sets.

I've played a number of lazer-tag type games, and paintball, as well as the NERF-based LRP events, such as "After the Fall" but the realistic weapons, both in size and weight and in operation and action were a step ahead than anything I'd done previously.

We combined two times slots of teams, and got double-time in-game as a result (thanks everyone) and broke into two pretty evenly numbered teams. Initially we had a couple of people opt to wear the pain-belts (myself being one) but it turned out that an unfortunate glitch in the system would have seen me getting a shock not only anytime _I_ took a hit, but also anytime someone used the re-spawn transmitter in my line of sight, which also operated over IR much like the guns and targeting belts. We all opted out after a few false-shocks.

Given the frequency of deaths in every game, that was a wise move. We were all initially set up as a two-hit kill, with approximately 150 shots per magazine, with unlimited refills available, but back at the re-spawn site. I opted to go semi-auto for much of the first few bouts, gaugeing how effective I was with the taggers. I flipped over to 3-round burst later on, to be more effective.

It was a good example of seeing how different people act under pressure. The broken light, noise and tension was quite effective, and some people, communicated well, others didn't at all. We all suffered from "dead-men-tell-no-tales" violations, myself included, but I like to think I also backed up, and notified my team pretty well.

We were set up NOT to have friendly-fire count, which was a two-edged sword, but it meant for "safer" gameplay. I had adjusted my rig from the previous event slightly, and I also wore my Propper Multicam and Platatac CUS Punisher shirt combo, which kept me cool and pretty dry, though I did work up a sweat from stress and the activity in my plate-carrier and pads.

I had a blast, again, and we had a good time, as well as dong "better" than our opponents. My three friends and I worked pretty well together,
in so much as that we all had done this kind of thing before, some more professionally than others, I must say, be we certainly benefited from -his- experience, I would have to say.

Unfortunately the Oz Apocalypse season is over, I hope some of you managed to get a go in, and if not, get to have a similar experience soon, because it was a lot of fun.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Review: SharpShooter

I saw a cool impact weapon in one of my feeds, and got in touch with its creator, Karate Master Robert Moran,  to see if I could try one out. Master Moran was kind enough to send me one, and I've carried it in my pocket for some time now, and can give you my thoughts. This is the SharpShooter keychain and what I can tell you about it.

The keychain consists of four distinct components. The core element is the paracord that runs through the center. This is doubled up and serves as the main conduit for the Sharp Shooter's action.

Knotted at one end, a length of steel tubing, covered in a silicone sleeve for grip is set up to run freely, apart from a silicone gasket, which pins it in place as a friction lock.

A steel o-ring is looped into the main paracord loop and is used as the retention system for the keychain, and its as easy to use as wearing a ring. Being free-floating the ring and the steel tube can slide freely. 

The last component is the keychain component, which features a steel oval screw link as you might find in climbing or in boating. It holds your keys in a nice tight bunch, ready to open your doors, or perhaps offer a face-full of "please unhand me, uncouth ruffian" as needed.

The idea of the keychain is to offer an alternate means of carrying your keys as well as offering a flexible weapon, that unobtrusively sits in your pocket or purse.

Master Moran offers an instructional DVD as well as on-site training at his Dojo. The tool works by cinching up the pipe all the way to the top of the knot, up near the screw-link, and by slipping the toggle back, you can transition from a downward strike with the pipe as a pressure point tool, but which a flick of the wrist, you can "shoot" out the keys, to form an impromptu flail or mace. 

The ring keeps it secure and locked into your grip, but subtly enough that it certainly doesn't LOOK like you have anything other than a set of keys dangling over your knuckles. 

I have tried the flick and swipe techniques, and the strikes with the pipe piece a couple of times, on a couple of different materials, and with some of the techniques I remember being shown by Sensei Guest at a Bujinkan winter camp in flexible weapons, I could see how this could give you a very game-changing strike in a last-ditch self defense situation.

I'd suggest you check your local concealed weapons laws, but if you fancy adding a little something to your EDC to give you an edge, that doesn't raise a lot of eyebrows, for the otherwise noncombative members of your family, this might well be something to look into.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review: Sierra Madre - Pares hammock

As first seen on BreachBangClear!

I covered the tent-component of the Sierra Madre Research system, the Nubé not long ago, and I wanted to also show off their very well thought out hammock component as well.

The Pares hammock system follows on from the design philosophy as on the Nubé, with its 100% nylon fabric body, lending it softness to the touch, stretch for comfortable shaping, resilience to UV degradation and both fast drying and breathable for comfort even on rainy days.

With a packed weight of 640g (1lb 6.5oz) the Pares stretches out to a massive 3.3m (10'9.5") long and a stretched width of 1.98cm (6'6"). This of course only gives you an indicator oh how much fabric is involved, not necessarily the usable space, but we'll get to that.

Packed into its own Pares Compression bag (SMr’s dry bag design), it bundles up into a 14cm (5.5") x 14cm (5.5") x 12cm (4.5") ball, with a long flap suitable to stowing both the accessory straps and the carabiners used to set it up.

Again as in the Nubé the compression bag features webbing that feeds from a single loop, so you have no dangling ends, and the loop itself is an attachment point. It's a very subtle addition and adds a lot of value. Simple a one handed pull on the loop tightened both sides.

 The Pares is recommended for a nominal user weight of 140kg (300lbs) but has a full tested strength of 450kg (1000lbs) so if you're either loaded down with gear when you hit the sack, or are just a big, solid kind of sentient being, you should be ok.

Nearly 50 percent wider than the ultra light xPlor model of the SMr range, this is a more spacious hammock than the others I've used any time recently, if you dont count the purpose built multi-person ones and provided me several comfortable nights sleep out at an event. I'm a tall critter, at 6'4" and my wingspan is almost 6'6", so to have a hammock that I can lay in sideways, couch style and still have room to go, sideways, was a big plus.

One of the things I really liked about the Pares was that those top layers, the light green, not only added padding when gound couch-style, but when laying down longways, curled over forming a cocoon, enveloping me and acting as an extra-bug screening layer. They also added some privacy when I was changing, and also when in bed, doing some reading by Orb-light.

The Pares includes a couple of really interesting features that set it aside from other hammocks I've used: Attached to that outer lip at two points, one at each end, on the right hand side if you're laying in it, are grab handles, which really help getting around within it, by letting you shift up or down in the otherwise silky nylon, as well as getting in and out easily. These are sewn into the well made top seam fairly securely, and I didn't have any concerns hauling myself up and around by it.

The other feature on the body of the hammock worth noting are the two attachment points at the mid-line.

These twin pieces of nylon hardware feature a loop-hole, as well as a webbing-wide hole, and can act as both a gear and accessory hanging points, but also fit the internal clips on the Nubé, inner liner, opening up the Pares from that cocoon effect.

At each end of the hammock is a heavy bundled knot, where all the fabric is drawn, and a loop of cord is exposed. These are where you affix your hammock to whatever you are suspending it from.

Those connection loops will let you fit any kind of attachment, but the Sierra Madre team have their own system. Their EZSlings allow you to easily hang your Pares hammock in less than a minute, or a little longer if you are fitting it with the Nubé as well. These consist of 315cm (10'4") of tubular webbing and high strength cordage with loops at one end, to feed through itself, and to the hammock at the other end. The cord is doubled and has a set of staggered knot to give you graduated attachment points The straps are rated to 450kg (1000lbs) as well, and the pair only weigh 185g (6.5oz).

To round off the package, they also protect the tree from scarring or any other damage that may be caused to a tree by small ropes used to hang your hammock. Looping it through itself makes a really secure hold to whatever you secure it to. I found that those graduated knots really made it difficult to get the hammock to just the right spot, I found. I adjusted it a few times, but had to do some fiddling to make it right, too much sag is too not good in a hammock. Not insurmountable, but annoying. I found myself touching the ground a couple of times until I adjusted it.I could have set it higher, but thats not the point. Still, it's just a matter of adjustment.

SMr also fit out their deluxe package with a couple of wire-gated carabiners to let you have clip on access to both the slings, and the attachment cords for easy, secure set-up and take-down. They themselves have a 22KN axial load rating and up to 2265kg (500lbs). No fear of falling on your ass from that angle, anyway.

One last cool thing with the SMr system, you can sling a second hammock under the first (if you have enough clearance) to create what SMr call Hambunks. This is a cool idea, and probably excellent with kids, but I don't think I'd want to have one of my buddies asses right in my face all night.  Not the way we eat in the field ...

This is a seriously comfortable hammock, and I really enjoy hanging out in it, camping 000

Monday, May 11, 2015

Review: Rhino Ropeworks - Hornet marlin spike

I do like a tool that has double duty. This is the Hornet from Rhino Ropework which I commissioned in both its olive green Cerakote, but also with a custom kydex scabbard.

This marlin spike is part rope working tool and part CQB weapon. Milled from marine grade 316 stainless steel right here in Australia, the Hornet is a smaller sibling of the Mad Stick, which I covered a while ago, and it's heft and no frills design is indicative of this.

With its grooved body, the Hornet is easy to grip, and the working end, which is separated from the body of the tool by a deep notch, tapers down to a working tip, which whilst not sharp, is a solid rope working end.

The 316 stainless steel makes for a good tool, for the kind of work it is designed for. Weighing in at 110g (3.9oz) and measuring
180mm (7") in length, and 12mm (just less than 0.5") in diameter the Hornet is a substantial tool.

I've used the tool for working knots, as fits its purpose, but I have also find it useful for a variety of other tasks, from flipping steaks on the BBQ to punching holes in cans.

The Cerakote coating adds further to the innate chemical and wear resistance of the steel the Hornet is made from, but I managed to wear it off the tip all the same in my testing and regular use. It's still smooth and fit for purpose, for all my abuse.

One of the nice additional features is the lanyard hole, which whilst a tight fit for even this lacing cord, would probably manage to feed paracord through it, with some careful melting if the end and some hard work.

As a marlin spike, I've found the Hornet is both robust and substantial. Its easier to work with than the clasp knife one I have. The angle of the spike allow you to really get some leverage into the splicing and loosening knots and other rope.

The tip is rounded so you don't have to worry about digging into the threads of cord you're working with. It works really nicely with paracord, as well as higher diameter cords and ropes. The tip isn't really suited to cords much finer than that, a 5mm dummy-cord is pretty much the finest I have managed to use it with.

It's a treat in the hand, the beveled tail-cap fits in the palm nicely, and the groves are slight enough to not grate on the fingers, but sufficient to grip the tool for even the toughest knotwork.

I received a tan Kydex scabbard in my package from Rhino Ropeworks, which was fitted by a third party, and I'm afraid to say that it isn't as well fitted as I might have liked.

It has a pinch-point around the mid-notch , but it just isn't -quite- tight enough. No fault to Rhino Ropeworks, it's just a very tight design, with very few features to "catch" on a friction lock.

I have used the eyelets to lash it to my American Kami Super Colubris and it has been a faithful accessory as my belt-carry when I am adventuring. It's proven itself useful in a variety of settings, and I'm glad that I have it.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Events: After the Fall: New Hill City

I went to a Live Action Roleplay event not too long ago,  which went over three days and two nights. it was an immersive post-apocalyptic themed event, which was perfect for me.


This was billed as a resource and group survival driven event, with three distinct factions, which meant we had to depend on each other, and fend the other off, as the situation required.   

We were to delve into the world of After the Fall.

This LRP group is based in  Melbourne and aimed to have a high degree of costume, set dressing and role playing at this event.

The setting was this:

The year is 2030 and things have changed. The world that we will be playing in is a dystopian American future where corporations have accumulated so much power and influence that the government has been made redundant. There hasn't been a president for 5 years and nobody has really cared. Most of the USA has been reduced to a wasteland as laws are not enforced and infrastructure not supported.  

There are fortified cities that are run by corporations and wealthy individuals but they are few and far apart.

Different parts of the country will have unique dangers. There are irradiated areas and parts where chemical waste has caused nasty side effects.
I signed up as a PC (Player Character) for the game so I was to choose to be a member of one of the 3 factions. We couldn't play as an independent character. This was a story of how groups of people survive and interact in this setting. 

There were a small number of NPC's (Non Player Characters) who swaped roles from time to time in order to provide some plot based encounters for the players to interact with but the intent was that a lot of the roleplaying and conflict will be within or  between the factions.
Due to the violent and dangerous nature of the game setting it was recommended that we considered multiple character ideas in case our first characters died or was taken out of play for whatever reason. Sickness, radiation and chemical poisoning as well as a reasonable injury recovery period was expected. 

The internal combat system was with un-enhanced NERF-type weapons (decoration was however required) and LRP approved foam close combat weapons. Generally, unless you had representative armour props, two hits would kill. LRP events are based on an honour system, and the system worked pretty well. Brutally so.

Especially when we consider the resources aspect. I'll get to that. 

The three Major Factions:
The town of New Hill City
Slowly the groups found each other, banding together for survival. People who wanted to make a future for themselves and not just live in the violence of the present. In their travels they found an abandoned town in Kansas, Hill City.

Taking over some of the buildings they have begun a new life. It is a difficult life on the frontier of chaos but they work hard to make it succeed.
The Soldiers of the True Americas:
Born out of an anti-government militia from before the fall, STA has been trying to gather resources and personnel to bring back the good old USA to its previous glory. They are
ruthless and accept that not everyone will have a place in the new world.

The Legion of Steel
Nobody remembers who founded the LOS but they have been terrorising the roads and highways of the Midwest for several years now. Due to their violent lifestyle they have an incredibly high turnover. But there are always more people wanting to join and rampage across the country. They take what they want and kill anyone who gets in their way.

I  opted for the STA, because I like trying out my kit, have a bunch of it already, and wanted to have a couple of different layouts to run about in, and generally like to see how it works in stressful situations.
I set up as "Ronin" who was heavily supplied, armed and armoured. I also set up as "Coyote" who was lightly kitted, armoured and armed.

The real kicker was the ammunition situation. Even the STA faction, which was military based, had so little ammo that we were rationed only three NERF rounds each. This was a dire situation to be in, especially when you consider the range and hitting power they have, as well as outdoor windage. Fortunately we all had melee weapons as well. I had a dagger and a machete as my backups, as well as a pistol I never bothered to load, along with the NERF rifle I had. I had a scope on it (more to save carrying binoculars than to actually be useful with a NERF gun) and a light at the muzzle end. I took both off when I swapped to my "Coyote" persona.

I wore ATACS-AU as "Ronin" and MultiCam as "Coyote" and I'll talk about that in a future article.

We also all brought gas-masks. I have to say, fighting in a gas-mask is really, really hard. If you have a mask, and intend to use it in the event of a disaster, get it out, and PRACTICE. My "Ronin" character was killed in a bottleneck when blindsided by marauders.

The three factions set up in widely different areas of our site; the STA set up in a wide flat grassland, a circle of tents within a ring of faux-barbed wire, (I camped in my SMr Nube hammock slightly away from the main circle), slightly hidden, because I'm paranoid like that. I wasn't really happy with the wide-open setup we had, but, I wasn't in command ....

The LOS set up in a far distant corner of the site, enclosed by trees and shrubs, and then they build a stockade from pallets and the like, they decorated their area in classic "cannibal ganger" fashion, and it looked a treat. Well done to all of their hard work getting it on-theme.

The New Hill City Townies had the on-site cabins, and rec-hall set up as their town, and tavern, and the difference between cabin-dwellers and tenting-nomads was really apparent. Made for a great feel to the game.

The main push of the game was both survival and resource gathering. This was covered in two ways. Each group was issued "rations" in the form of in-game medical suplies (anti-chem, anti-rad and "healing" meds), random cans of food (beans, spaghetti, stew, fruit-salad) and "non-contaminated water", we even had a jar of Vegemite ). as both our food supplies for the weekend, but also as trade goods. There were also "non-consumable" supplies we were supplied as props.

We could eat well, or be rich, our call.

Caption by Michael Brady
Then there was the ammunition situation. We were one of the most heavily armed factions, but literally had 2-3 rounds each at deployment.

There were in-game mechanics for raiding each other's camps, and also "random dropped items" to be found around the site by the organisers.

Caption by Michael Brady
There was also looting! we routinely looted the bodies of the fallen, (within reason) to collect those in-game resources (no fair stealing other peoples kit), and this also extended to that food and water ration we all had. We also traded for resources, both goods for goods, and goods for service and information.

It was a really fun opportunity both for characterization, but also for negotiation skills.
We also had a number of people with personal trade items (and skills and services) on offer, to add to the whole experience. I had a collection of KFC moist towelettes and sauce sachets that I traded for some eggs in town, for the STA.

We had some in-game hazards as well, from areas of radiation contamination, including water supplies, which made our characters "debilitatingly sick"

Raiders, chem-clouds, a bio-engineered nanite plague and just human nature all played a part in making this not only a challenge, but a struggle for survival.

In the end, we all had a good time, got to run around as cannibal savages or misfit soldiers, camp and cook beans like real post apocalyptic survivors...

I had a really good time, and will be back for more when their second event comes out later this year. I think I will work more on my loadouts, and also my gas-mask operation too, before the event, as well as trying to get a more cohesive feel between my faction members and small unit tactics in the field.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Wish Lust: Beacon- Waterproof,Solar Power Bank,Light and Signal Device

This is mostly a summary of published materials, for a cool piece of tech that I saw come up on Kickstarter, and wanted to pass along to you all, especially in light of my most recent camping adventures where we managed to keep most of our personal technology and lighting charged by a combination of solar and thermoelectric sources.

Smith & Bradley, the maker of tactical and sport watches representing three successful Kickstarter campaigns, has launched its fourth Kickstarter project, The Beacon is a unique outdoor survival box combining waterproof storage for electronics, solar charging, and LED beacon signaling. Enclosed in a light and rugged, efficiently sized package, the Beacon unleashes the power of solar energy to not only charge, but protect, electronic devices. Further, true to its name, the Beacon comes equipped LED lighting for both emergency situations and casual use as well.

These lights are not after-thought add-on's, but rather first rate lighting solutions.

The entire package is crush-proof, waterproof, submersible, and floats even with an electronic device enclosed.The Beacon represents a first-of-its-kind combination of charging, solar, lighting, and waterproof technology. The Beacon allows for storage of two typical mobile phones, contains 3 USB charging ports that can all be used at same time, and a Polymer lithium ion battery. The battery is charged either by traditional wall socket charging or through the Beacon’s high capacity solar panel on the top of the case. The Beacon goes beyond a mere gadget, or drugstore charger. It is a tool that is an absolute necessity for anyone who ventures outside of the urban jungle.
The Beacon is 17cm (6 3/4") x 11cm (4.5") and 5cm (2") thick The interior storage compartment is 27mm (1.06") deep. The Beacon weighs just 15 ounces The Beacon is fully waterproof and is designed to float either empty or with a device enclosed with a device on board.

As a sustainable solar energy source, the Beacon has a fully-enclosed and waterproof solar panel on the lid of the device. Depending on the amount of sunlight, the Beacon's 1.5 w solar panel can provide a full charge to the unit in 36 hours with a 17% conversion rate-meaning that and average iPhone will charge from zero in an hour and a half.
The Beacon may also be charged by a conventional wall outlet The Beacon uses a Polymer Lithium Ion battery to operate the lights and to charge electronic devices and has a 10,000 mAh rating.

 The top of the Beacon is fitted with 12 White High intensity LED lights and 8 yellow hue, low-intensity lights to retain adequate night vision and retain more charge. (TESTED visibility up to 1 mile in blinking mode). As to charging, the Beacon is equipped with three USB charging ports for phones and tablets.
The USB interfaces include 2 ports which are 5v 1.0A and, 1 port 5v 2.1A and the Beacon's built-in battery life indicator shows charge at 25% 50% 75% 100%.

So, it's a fairly well thought out device, I like that it can store and charge two devices simultaniously, securely, safe from both water and other environmental hazards.
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