Friday, September 23, 2016

Review: Outdoor Expedition - Universal Solar Multi-Bottle

Passing by a closing-down sale at a local camping goods outlet store I wandered in and snapped up a couple of deep-discount bargains, which included a pair of the Universal Solar Multi-Bottle which I thought would make excellent camp-lanterns, specifically for Tactical Baby and Triceratops Girl.

What drew me to them was that the "bottle" component was a squishy, pliant silicone material, making it drop-bounce, trip and generally woops-prone kid proof.

We don't all get out camping together very often, but even around the Bunker, we often go on night-time expeditions. There is a Tawny Frogmouth Owl nesting in a big tree down the block, and the stroll out to listen to it's call is made much jollier (and safer for little people on the pavement) by their very own light.

The area Triceratops Girl lives in is prone to tree-fall power-outages, and the Bunker has some wiring problems, so we both experience blackouts, and having personal lights for the girls makes a possibly frightening inconvenience into a fun excuse for lanterns.

The Multi-bottle is constructed of a soft, collapsible TPE body  which can be squashed down for easy storage and transport, and has a hard plastic "cap" which houses the LED lights, the battery and the solar panel.

The solar panel is fitted to the centre of the lid, and is somewhat covered by the removable handle strap, which can be removed not only to expose the panel to sunshine for charging but also hook over any number of hanging points.

The on-off button is set into the top of the lid as well, and has a built in changing status light, saving space. When the lid is unscrewed you have access to the micro-USB changing slip, which is protected by a silicone plug.

I suspect you -could- store liquid in the bottle in a pinch, but I would worry about it getting into the charging port and shorting out. The unit is described as having a IPX7 waterproof rating, which is 30 minutes at 1m depth, but again, I suspect that is only from the outside, when sealed up. Good enough for any amount of weather or looking for your keys dropped into a pond, not for diving ...

The LED light has3 modes, controlled by the indicator-light button on the lid.: low/high/pulse. It is listed as having:
4 hour runtime at HIGH setting
10 hour runtime at LOW setting
and I infer it has ~days runtime on PULSE setting, it wasn't listed.

The outputs of the two settings weren't offered, but I didn't really notice a significant difference. If it was 75 lumen vs 100 lumen, there wasn't much in it.

Shining through the TPE bottle gave the lights a nice diffuse glow, as well as the bottle itself being a glowing ball, good for both seeing your immediate surrounds but also letting people see you, good news when the primary goal was putting it into small hands to carry around.
The handle clipped on and off at either end, and was not at all difficult for 5yo Tactical Baby to manipulate, or carry.

We don't typically genderise the kit for the kids, but as it happened, only the pink bottles were available at the sale. Green or blue are also available.

These bottles have a carry capacity of 725mL (44cu in) so you could also fit a bunch of small items in it to make a bug-out-jar type effect, although that would block out a bunch of the light the emitted, and you would want to watch out for pointy items. At the very least you can store its USB cord inside, so it's all ready to charge when you have a power-source handy.

These are neat little lights, perfect for little hands in the wilderness of the woods or suburbs.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Reblogging: Improvised Tanks for Tank Week

Here's a piece I wrote for Breach Bang & Clear

“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” ― H.L. Mencken, Prejudices: First Series

... and at times you want more than just a mean look and the occasional sandbag to be between you and harms way. Sometimes you want to call on the thunder of armour. However, you might not have the power of the military-industrial complex behind you. You might only have the local scrapyard, oxy-torches, sheet metal, and an innovative spirit.

Currently the world's undersupplied warfighters are inventing all kinds of home-brew armour options, and we've been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of them over the last few years. And I must say, we're lucky to have only been catching glimpses and not rolling into battle in them. Let's check a few out.

This is the SHAM II, a proudly "100 percent made in Syria" improvised armored vehicle. Put together by Syrian rebels of the Al-Ansar brigade, in Bishqatin, four kms west of Aleppo, it came to the world's attention on December 8, 2012.

Built on an old car chassis and covered in 25mm thick steel walls, it was reportedly able to resist up to 23mm cannon fire. At only 2m wide and 4m long, this is no Abrams. It is, however, fitted with a remote-operated (by a hotwired Playstation remote of all things) 7.62mm machine gun on top. It also has five cameras that give the humans inside a view from all angles.

In one of the original interviews, its primary operator said ‘This is my brother, a trained engineer, who got the idea, we got a car, left its diesel motor on the chassis and built the engine. Not including from the gun, the vehicle costs about £6,200($10,000)." This gives you an understanding of what these folks are doing with their spare time.

Read the rest here at Breach Bang & Clear:

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Review: collapsible fishing rod

Change of pace! Here's an item that has been rattling about in the secret tool chamber of my SUV for some time, alongside my Kathmandu Hip bag full of bug-out gear, first aid kits, a hatchet, jumper-leads and the like, for some time now. My step-dad Barry gave me a set of three of these collapsible fishing rods, one for myself and one each for Tactical Baby and Triceratops Girl.

They love fishing, and we finally had an opportunity to put them to the test, when we were taken out onto Western Port bay by my partner Lorin's dad, Ken, on his fishing boat, for a day's angling.

The rods collapse down from 5 telescoping segments, to a length of only 41cm (16") from its overall 175cm (5'9") length. It weighs only 75g or so when fully spooled with line. It's really a very lightweight rod. I'm no fishing expert, and could probably count on two hands the number of times I've fished wit ha rod (growing up with dangle hand-reels from my Grandad's boat instead), so I don't have a lot to say about the relative quality of either the rod or the reels attached, but they weren't fancy, or heavy duty. They feature 5 eyes, and along with the generic reels, we didn't expect high performance.

They did work just fine though, and once weighted, hooked and baited, we put lines to water and in a surprisingly short amount of time we had some bites. 
Even though I also swapped out to a regular rod, the girls and I each landed a bream or two with the collapsing rods.

The ones we kept were all above the 28cm limit, with nothing bigger than about 35cm but they were all good eating size. We also landed a couple of the spikey, fang-mouthed flatheads. Nasty to look at, delicious in the pan.

Not only did the girls have fun, and learn a few things about setting bait, hooking and landing fish, but also proved that the collapsible rods aren't just a gimmick, but really do work.
I didn't have any concerns with the structural integrity of the rods, or their fittings, other than their age, as hand-me-downs, but they performed admirably. I suspect if I hooked a BIG fish, but not big enough to break my line, that I might have troubles, but oven the line, and my knots, are the weakest physical link, I can't imagine the rod being at risk.

In summary, these light, flexible and easily stored rods were entirely effective, and have truly earned their place in my bug-out car tool cache, and they're something that I would be very happy strapping to a pack should I be heading out on an adventure where there might be fish to catch.

I'm extremely grateful to both my stepdad Barry for giving us the rods, and to Ken for taking us out on his boat. Thank's guys!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Review: Agalite Wind Warrior jacket

It's been a cold winter and I've covered my very cool Baubax jacket which has pretty much been my go-to for all my outdoors activity this winter, but it's feature rich design actually limits it in some instances; its a bit big and bulky, and has too much going on. Sometimes, quite often in fact, I want something simple and flare-free. I was blessed with a care package from my lads at Breach, Bang & Clear in the form of this spiffy jacket from Agalite, emblazoned with the BB&C logo. It arrived over -my- summer, so I didn't get much use from it for a few months.

Once everything stopped burning all the time here, and the cold and wet set in, I found myself pulling this jacket out every now and then, and then it came to be my go-to travel-jacket, living in my SUV for any time I was out and about and the weather took a turn. Which it does all the time in Melbourne, comically.

This is the Agilite Wind Warrior fleece jacket which was "designed to keep Israeli Military Operators warm during static operations". That should tell you a few things about it for a start.

It is built from 3 thermal layers including a wind-blocking internal membrane that keeps out cold winds. Fleece inside and out it's soft and snug with that instant warm feeling you get with a high density fleece. However its that inner windproof layer that really makes the jacket what it is. I've never had  a soft-shell jacket that cuts the wind like this. It's much more like a hard-shell. In fact, I actually had problems with overheating and sweating on my back and arms, in milder weather. That's probably my biggest fault with it.

It doesn't breathe. I've put it back on later to find it still wet on the inside, which might be a problem for proper sub-freezing cold-weather users.

A chest pocket on the left breast is quite spacious, certainly big enough for a phone, documents and the like. The choice of fabric change for this panel was a little strange, I guess it makes it lighter, but I don't see the need for it. The zipper is nice, and fits into the folds, out of the way until needed. The right sleeve has a bicep pocket, and whilst I rarely use these, I found it well placed, and unobtrusive.

The sleeves themselves were well fitted, and a good length, something I often have troubles with my extra-long arms, with elasticised cuffs to seal out the wind. I found I couldn't push the sleeves up very much, due to the tailoring but given its designed purpose, this isn't too much of a big deal.
Both biceps also feature broad square loop-fields, allowing considerable amounts of patch-goodness to be attached, I really appreciate a bit of real-estate here, for bigger morale patches, or combinations. The loop-fields are also really well colour matched, so they fade into the rest of the jacket nicely when unadorned, both in tone and also in tailoring.

The main zipper comes up nicely, even when the jacket is fully closed, another aspect where the tailoring has been really well thought out. You get a good close seal, without it being restrictive or obtrusive into the throat.
This also covers the waistline, which is another aspect that I often get caught out with, but the shock-corded waistline keeps draughts out and my kidneys snug. The jacket lacks fancy features like a hood, internal pockets, or a variety of other extra features sometimes seen. However, it has properly lined pockets which I'm only too happy to be allowed to make full use of on cold mornings.
It's also light, and packs down really well, which is a bonus for when it warms up and you shed it. The jacket has lived in the back seat of my SUV for months now, served as both blanket and pillow on a number of occasions, as well as keeping me from shivering on a number of occasions. If you're looking for a light, well put together and simple wind-killing jacket, you could do a lot worse than this offering from Agalite. Go scorpion or go home.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Review: Lumintop Tool AAA flashlight

I've been very remiss about this one, this little light has alternated between sitting in the bottom of a couple of bags, and then pockets of both pants and jackets. This is both to its credit and a flaw, but I'll get to that.

The Lumintop Tool AAA is a very diminutive light, at just over 8cm (3.2") long, and around 30g (1oz) it really is pocket sized. Taking a single AAA battery, the machined aluminium body is less wide than a single AA battery.

A single tail cap button at the rear enables the user to cycle between the three light modes with momentary toggling, which starts at a Medium of 32 lumens, then to a 5 lumen Low setting and ramping up to a 110 lumen High setting. I really like this pattern, with a medium setting to get you out of the dark, a low setting next to enable you to do your dark-work without disrupting your night vision or drawing unwanted attention at the Watergate Hotel.

Having the High setting last means that you have to call it up and not only reserve battery power, but also maintain control over the amount of light you throw, till you need it.

Another excellent feature is that once the tail cap switch is "on", the head is on swivel, allowing twist-driven switching between the three modes and "off". There are o-rings sealing the unit at both the head end and tail-cap end, either of which can be used to replace the battery.

My favourite aspect though is that the detachable two-way clip, which enables you to fix the light directly to a cap-brim, giving you a keychain sized head-lamp at a moments notice. You won't be using it to chase alligators in the sewers, but find yourself with full hands in the rain and having dropped that screw from your widget, and you have yourself a good-to-go tool for the job. It's low weight makes it ideal for this use.

It's tiny size means it gets lost easily, especially if you have a lot of loose gear rattling about. AAA's are not high-power, or long lasting, but for occasional utility use, they'll do. Threading a lanyard through either of the lanyard loops in the tail-cap, or clipping it to a keyring would probably go a long way to retaining it.

It's not a searchlight, it's not a weapon-light, its a pocket sized keychain light with a very light profile

Here's some links from the vendor:
CA Amazon store
UK Amazon store:
IT Amazon store:

Friday, August 26, 2016

Review: MRE review 1/2 day's rations

I had the opportunity to take a pile of Australian issue MRE components to work to test out, following on from a small selection of them falling in my lap from more than one undisclosed source. I will not be on-selling these, they're for my own entertainment and preparedness.

I wanted to give myself a good trial, so selected a full menu to replace what I would normally eat during the day at work. It is common to see "8,700kJ" as the average recommended intake and I have breakfast, lunch and two breaks at work, so I selected accordingly.

For breakfast I had a brown of muesli/porridge, which I mad with boiling water and a sachet of instant creamer. It made a solid, heavy and hearty porridge, which was flavoursome and had enough variety of ingredients to have a good and palatable consistency.

I had the "blueberry and apple" cereal bar for my mid-morning snack, it was again, dense and for all intents and purposes, could have come out of any kids

Interestingly when I looked up the nutritional content of current US issued MRE kits, they suggested that service-members (who were classified as highly active men between the ages of 18 and 30) typically use about 4,200 Calories a day. The conversion is  1 kJ = 0.2 Calories (Cals)or 1 Calorie = 4.2 kJ, giving a figure of 17,640 kJ a little over double the "average adult intake diet". Bear that in mind later.

Lunch was a bit more involved; a sachet of freeze-dried rice, beef and onion stew, a can of "diced two-fruits in syrup" with a sachet of tropical flavour Thorzt sports drink powder to drink.

The dehydrated rice was reconstituted with a canteen cup's worth of boiling water, and once ready, I simply upended it into a bowl, and added the cold stew to it. I could have tried reheating the stew, either by suspending its retort in a bowl of boiling water, or throwing it all in the microwave, but this would totally have been cheating.
It was a pretty decent meal, there were enough chunky bits of meat and onion to make it more than just thick gravy, but it was hardly a hefty chew. The stew itself was quite palatable cold, but a quick mix with the hot rice made it all the better.

Obviously you have to reconstitute the rice to make it in any way enjoyable, but it will reconstitute in cold water, if you don't have a source of heat, or are under restrictions.

I finished off my lunch with the can of fruit in syrup, which I popped open with my trusty EDC P-38 opener, and tucked into the just-as-off-the-shelf canned fruit. Nothing special to report there though.

For my afternoon break and to snack on in e afternoon, I had selected the chocolate drink, infamous canned cheese and even more infamous chocolate ration. Again, boiling water into the chocolate drink, which made a quite passable hot chocolate.

If I had wanted it to be extra creamy, I could have saved the instant creamer from breakfast and added it, but I think it didn't need it.

The Bega canned cheese, reported to me as a legendary constipation cause, appeared to be exactly the Kraft cheese stick cheese, in a can. It was firm but elastic, and "split" rather than crumbled. It was tasty enough, and reminded me of school-yard snack breaks for sure.

Lastly was the equally infamous legendarily laxative chocolate ration.  I don't actually enjoy milk chocolate, but I wanted the full experience, and even with all the food I'd included in my half-day's ration, I wanted to make a real showing of it.
I snacked on it throughout the afternoon and finished it just before going home, and suffered no ill effects.

Perhaps the cheese and chocolate battled each other into a stalemate, but I was the victor.

Adding up the constituents, I had had 8907kJ (2129Calories) in this selection, and this was just my daytime food.

All this, and I was pretty full, and certainly didn't feel that I had gone without. If anything, I felt I had wanted to eat the cheese or the chocolate, but not both.

It's also worth noting that this only made up a small portion of the full ADF ration-pack. Given that, and the full kJ load in that full pack, you could make one of these stretch a long way, or spread them out between a number of people to make a survival situation both more palatable, but also more secure.

If you can lay your hands on an MRE, you'd have to go a long way to find a better, more densely packed, supplied and readily consumable source of nutrition and energy than the ADF ration-pack. If you're in a position to lay hands on one, do it.

If you're in a field where you might be able to swap out, try swapping for an ADF rat-pack, you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Review: Baubax jacket

Its just about spring-time here in Melbourne, which means a lot of rain, and cold mornings for me. I hate the cold, and hate being rained on. I am a big fan of soft-shell waterproof jackets and having lots of pockets, but sometimes you want something more than just rugged and dependable, when it comes to snivel-gear. You want something nice.

I saw the Baubax jackets on Kickstarter and their portal site (and was directed to them by umpteen people) and really liked what I saw. They offered four designs, (Dress Blazer, Sweatshirt, Windbreaker and Bomber) in a range of colours, and materials, which all featured a mass of features. Billing them as the "Worlds Best Travel Jacket". I jumped on the bandwagon and eventually, after much delay, they arrived.

I ordered the heaviest and feature-packed option, the Bomber.

A travel-friendly Bomber Jacket with stylish flare, this street-smart piece features pockets for all your smart devices, a built-in neck pillow, an eye mask, and a detachable hood. But that's just a handful of features.

The jacket is made from a machine washable 100% polyester soft shell, with cotton and fleece linings, and weighs in at 1.2kg (2lbs 10oz) making it quite a hefty piece, but that weight gives warmth and security.

It is also PACKED with features:

GLOVES: Built-in half-gloves that easily slide in and out of the sleeves, to keep you warm and cozy when you're on the go. Made from cotton, they will soak up water if you wear them in the cold and wet, but they cut the wind in dry conditions and are really great on those cold morning train-station waits.

EARPHONE HOLDERS: Built-in Earphone holders always keep your earphones untangled and ready for instant use. I havent really used this much, but the loops make really good deep-cover securing locations.

BLANKET POCKET: All BauBax jackets come with a pocket to carry the optional extra proprietary 60"x40" BauBax Blanket that'll keep you warm and cozy when you're traveling. If you don't get the blankie, another woobie or even a dry-cloth would fit in there nicely.

KOOZIE DRINK POCKET: No more fumbling with your drink and your laptop on a plane table tray. With an insulated neoprene drink docket, keep your hot drinks warm, cold drinks cool and your hands free for work. I have only occasionally actually kept a drink in there, but the padded and press-stud fastening pocket is good for loose valuables you want to keep protected.

iPAD POCKET:A 10" pocket to carry an iPad or any full size tablet to free up space in your carry-on or purse and for more convenient plane boarding. This is excellent, and I have stowed my iPad in there a number of times. It just "fades away" into the side pocket, seamlessly and is right there when needed. Be sure to do the little zipper up though, lest you drop expensive delicate technology.

TELESCOPING PEN: This was a cute addition. Clipped to the main zipper is a 1" pen that extends to 4", the bottom of the telescoping pen has a soft tip Stylus to ensure you always have a Stylus handy. It's totally not integral to the jacket, but a very nice feature nevertheless.

SMARTPHONE POCKET: Easily accessible water-resistant smartphone pocket that offers a seamless connection to your earphones., built into the upper outside of the chest on the left, it was a great place to secure my phone when out on the mountain recently.

SUNGLASS POCKET: Easily accessible sunglass holder in a pocket in the upper right side of the inside of the jacket to keep your optics safe and handy. Built-in Microfiber cloth included for cleaning sunglass lenses was also a really nice touch.

PASSPORT POCKET: Passport size inside chest pocket designed for quick access to boarding pass and ID while traveling. Keep your secure documents secure, and handy at the same go. Obviously they're not as safe when the jacket is open, but a damn side safer than if they were in the back-pocket of your flying jodhpurs.

HAND WARMING POCKETS: Multi layered hand warming pockets for extra warmth. I can not stress enough how good it is to have properly lined pockets. built of the same material as the rest of the jacket, both the inside and outside of the pockets are equally warm. No more still-freezing from the inside with these pockets, even with the jacket open.

DETACHABLE HOOD: BauBax Bomber and Blazer come with a detachable hood. The hood features a double press-stud gorget for really bad weather, and zippers onto the body of the jacket, behind a quilted collar that matches the waist and cuffs.

EYE VISOR:  Inside that hood is a fleece eve-visor, which forms your very own shade-cloth and eye-patches when you need a daytime nap, or just don't want tot make eye-contact whilst browsing for saucy delights on your phone in your lap. I found however, that the visor flopped down over my eyes when I was walking around with the hood up. A button-eyehole would have been a good feature to include on this.

NECK PILLOW: This was super sweet. A semi-built-in, inflatable neck pillow that easily hides inside the hood of the jacket, by means of a buttoned down compartment, but was also easy enough to hang behind the shoulders from the hanging loop. Its innovative valve technology allows for a 2 second, one breath inflation. Simple and easy one press deflation, as well as a very comfortable design rounds it out. Also not integral to the jacket, it was a brilliant addition, especially for those of us who often find ourselves sleeping in odd places, at odd times and can't just rack-out.

this was a really good jacket, and I'm glad I had it this winter, and spring, although we had to wait a long time for them, and the sizing of the ladies sizes (I got one for Omega as well) was a bit limited.  That said, the jacket held up well in all kinds of inclement weather, including snow and sleet. The cotton cuffs soak up water, and wold be better is treated to be waterproof, but otherwise, its a great jacket.
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