Friday, October 9, 2015

Movie Reviews: The Colony, The Day After Tomorrow, Doomsday

I wanted to give a couple of movie reviews for some movies I have watched and enjoyed recently (or rewatched). They are all delightfully post or currently-apocalyptic and in some way speak to my outlooks on preparedness and post-disaster survival.
The Colony (2013) is set in a snowball scenario Earth, with the remainder of humanity locked away underground in vaults, not unlike in the Fallout series of games, as Colonies. We learn that the Colony our protagonists are in has suffered significant epidemics, and lost many of their population to both disease and also summary execution. They have a small selection of livestock, supplies of grains and seed-libraries and a very grim determination to survive. We also learn that the world froze over due to man-made weather stations gone awry, and have both radio contact with other colonies, and also satellite uplink to scan the surface for hot-spots, looking for a mythical thaw. Colony 7 sends a team to check on Colony 5, who they lost radio contact with after a garbled distress message. When they get there they find the that the colony has fallen victim to screaming cannibal crazies. They fall back, make it home but have lead the crazies to Colony 7. In the ensuing poorly orchestrated defense, we learn that a different colony has found a localised hot-spot, but have no viable seeds to restart the ecosystem. It's up to the remaining heroes from Colony 7 to survive the cannibal's and save their seeds...
So, fun premise, very well shot and cast, but the scripting and plot was a bit sketchy. The long term surviability issues were well presented, but I'd have liked to see some more competency in the Colony survivors, and less "mindless ravagers" from the cannibal crazies. If they were smart enough to survive, find and assault a fortified Colony, why were they growling, snarling animals? Give me thinking savages as believable bad-guys any day.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
An old favourite, and another snowball scenario Earth (in the making) in which a massive ice-sheet calving in Antarctica triggers a cascade of global cooling. This happens whilst world governments deny the possibility of climate change, and everyone except Paleoclimatologist Jack Hall, who not only locks horns with the US Government, but also finds assistance with NASA, and other Climatologists across the world as they begin to see signs of a coming disaster. With 3 weeks of non-stop rain in some areas, and after a series of weather-related disasters beginning to occur over the world, (which was awesome). The young adult son of the paleoclimatologist is in New York with friends when the climactic snap freeze occurs, which is awesome as it is thrilling. The paleoclimatologist must make a daring trek across America to reach his son, trapped following the international storm which plunges the planet into a new Ice Age.
I loved this movie, it was well made, the effects were awesome, and it showed a lot of awesome people doing awesome things. I love competent survivors. The way the characters dealt with adversity, both the professional explorer type, in the dad and his team, or the clever and innovative son and his friends. They all displayed "the right stuff" and I approved heartily. The nay-sayers and slow-thinking characters got what was coming to them, and even though the premise and science is well exaggerated, I enjoyed it.
Doomsday (2008)
The movie starts out with a military quarantine forming on the Scotland-England boarder when a lethal virus spreads throughout Scotland, infecting millions and killing hundreds of thousands. To contain the threat, a brutal quarantine is enacted with a new Hadrian's Wall being built. Three decades later, the virus resurfaces in London. A team is put together and is sent into Scotland to retrieve a cure by any means necessary, as there is reason to believe it exists there, after satellite footage indicates possible human activity.
It turns out that shut off from the rest of the world, Scotland has reverted to a Mad Max style cannibal wasteland. Lots of cannibal. Well fed and post-industrial nightclub outfitted cannibals, with all that goes with that. They have been somehow hiding out in Glasgow by the hundreds. Mayhem, murder, anarchy. Yay.
Then suddenly we're headed for the Highlands, where the Doctor last working on a cure is believed to be holed up. In a castle, with a fully fledged feudal society of survivors. Medieval styling all the way and all technology is eschewed. Apparently there is no cure, some folks are just naturally immune. More Mad Max car-chases and murder, and we find the Government back in London is neither innocent, or doing well. Mayhem. Lots of fun.
Having previously lived in the UK, I always love it when I see a disaster movie set there. The science and settings were good, although as with any fanciful plague movie, the speed and numbers always seem to be pretty wild. Having a diverse split between urban savages (who, unlike in The Colony) were still very, very human, just hungry, bad people, and the huddled feudal dwellers in the hills, indicates a couple of very realistically (again, if you bar where all the food and or bodies came from in Glasgow) portrayed post-apocalyptic society settings. I really enjoyed this, and will watch again.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Sneak Peek: Propper - Range Bag

Here's a First Impression post I did for Breach Bang & Clear: 

So, we're going to try to give our first impressions before launching into full reviews now. The good folks at Propper sent me their new Range Bag, along with a couple of their very slick snag-free Polos. For the time being, I'll focus on the bag.

 Almost twice the width of their Multipurpose Bags (cheers Mad Duo!), the Range Bag is a beefed up and expanded version of it. Padded on all sides for increased protection and rigidity, it holds it shape even empty.

Two stiffened internal dividers can be  adjusted or discarded, as fits your use or mission, and the whole of the internal cavity is lined in hi-contrast orange, to help you find your OD tool in its OD sheath in your bottom of your OD bag.

One side panel is fitted with a mesh pocket, and a fold-out mat to do your weapon maintenance or lay out a picnic. The Range Bag also comes with a removable hook-field backed accessory panel.

 The exterior of the mat-side pocket has two deep pockets also lined with the contrast-orange nylon. The main compartment has a lockable zipper, good enough to keep little prying hands away from dangerous things.

The off-side panel is covered in a mixture of loop-filed at the top, and two rows of seven channel MOLLE, and inside has another mesh-lined pocket, along with six pistol magazine sized pouches. The front side panel is also fitted out with more MOLLE channels, and the rear features another deep pocket.

All in all this looks like a very serviceable bag with both a lot of features, but also a significant capacity upgrade over the already-good Multipurpose Bag.
I'll use it for a while here down under and report back on how it holds up.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Review: Go! Outfitters Hammock

I had one of my awaited Kickstarter projects come in not too long ago and I have had some fun setting up up, and working out the configurations of.

This is the Go! Outfitters Hammock, which I had Wish-Lust'ed and even followed up, when the stretch goals were released.

I love hammocks, and get into them as often a I can manage. I have quite the collection these days, with the Sierra-Madre Pares hammock, and its Nube tent system. I even have a, Hummingbird mega-hammock
and a backpacking EaglesNest Outfitters hammock.

I opted for the fully kitted out version of the Go! Hammock, which includes a built in mosquito net and optional tree straps with cinch buckles. These webbing straps have a sewn loop at one end to feed through themselves, around your anchor point, be that a tree, mounted hard point or girder.

The cinch buckle itself is fitted with a loop of high performance cord, which is Amsteel. Che cinch works really well, and makes adjusting the hammock a breeze. It's just a matter of strapping and cinching.

The second optional feature is the Ridgeline cord, This is a lighter cord, also Amsteel in 7/64", has larks heads knot which can be looped through either the included steel carabner or through the heavy duty cords that feed through the hammock to hook it up.

The Ridgeline lets you hook up the hammock at exactly the right tension every time, as it's length is pre-set to give the optimal positioning. It can feed through the eyelet at either end of the flyscreen, from inside to allow you to suspend the flyscreen over the line.

When the Ridgeline is fitted internally, there are three loops of the same flyscreen material the rest of the top cover is made from that are spread evenly to ensure the fly remains securely fitted, although this means that you cant shrug it off and over if you choose not to use the fly later on, without taking the hammock down to adjust.

It is also possible to run the Ridgeline outside the hammock, which drops it lower as it adds length to the hammock attachment points.

There are three external loops to run the Ridgeline through so it hangs lower, which is not such  a big deal, but it can give you a little more sag if thats better for you.

The hammock is fitted with twin double sided zippers so you can climb in or out, and seal yourself away from flying or crawling biters. Even if you're only four.

The zippers are probably the weakest part of the whole setup; they are a very fine toothed zip, which seems to bind up a little bit under the tension of bodies in the hammock, some adjustment is needed in order to do the zip up all the way. No big deal for me, but made it hard for Tactical baby.

The inside of the hammock is really lovely design, the asymmetrical cut of the body allows very comfortable, stable bedding. The higher sides on either edge cradle the head and feet, rather than press down on them, in the way that other more symmetrical hammocks do, when you lay cross-ways. This was again nicely demonstrated my Tactical Baby, who also loves hammocks, and hates personal boundaries.

Another really nice feature of the Go! Hammock is that it features guy line attachment points, (and includes guy lines and tent-stakes) for you to set up, to tension the flyscreen, in order to give you a nice solid setup.

There are also fly attachment points on the body of the fly as well, to give you a truly tent like experience. This was a really cool addition to my camping setup, now that I have four individual hammocks, and one really large one, I could probably host an entirely suspended camping trip.

Treetops anyone?

Friday, October 2, 2015

Interview - I'm Spartacus : Custom Packs and Bags

 I was put on to Scott Fraser and I'm Spartacus custom made backpacks, hunting, tactical and outdoor gear from my friend Shane Marks of Rhino Ropeworks (now renamed MIG Custom Tool Makers) who had a pack custom made by him. I wanted to reach out and get some exposure to a small Australian maker, because it's always good to help out the little guy. Scott seems like a bang up fella, so have a read of what he has to say about his business "I'm Spartacus".

Firstly I am a rock climber, I started climbing in scouts back in the late 70s and went on to be a queen scout. I went through scouts with the infamous Gerard Baden clay, but don't hold that against me.

I started making gear with a sewing awl because good gear just wasn't available in Toowoomba, the regional town I grew up in. I hand sewed an internal frame pack, which took about 8 months, but it was strong, and I still have it somewhere. Sewing by hand is laborious.

Some of my friends saw my gear, liked it and asked me to make them gear. So I bought small singer machine, and taught myself to use a sewing machine.

In 1984 I was going through teachers college, and I worked a summer job on a production line for "aeronautique equipment" which had a military contract for field packs and parachutes.
Stuart pack
 The owner was a somewhat eccentric ex French paratrooper, who knowing what I know now, probably had PTSD, from the Algerian War. He used to scream at you while you were sewing like a drill sergeant. He favourite saying was "your sewing machine is your bread and butter", he sounded like the French knight in the holy grail. I named a one of my machines after him, it's Le pain et la buerre (bread and butter in French).

I made rock climbing gear, and other equipment, I even had a large contract to sew wheel chair upholstery for a  friend who had broken his back in a climbing accident. I also was the only company who repaired bush walking gear in Brisbane for years.  Repairing gear is, in my opinion, the best entree into gear design, it teaches you what works and what doesn't, it teaches you about Material properties and how to make gear bomb proof.
Panzer Jäger
I was a big fan of Macpac gear when it was still owned by Bruce Macintyre, and it was still made in Christchurch. He ran his company on ethical and environmentally sound principles. He also held out getting his gear made in Asian factories. To be competitive against gear made in low labor cost countries, he simplified his designs to their bare essentials, but was still able to manufacture, tough, practical functional gear. His designs were elegant in their simplicity, like a good Japanese haiku. I even visited his factory once. This design philosophy has been something I try to aspire to. I worked at a Macpac retail shop after production went offshore. It is hard to keep the simplicity when the public want complex, busy designs, and Asian factories can manufacture complex designs cheaply.

merkava mkII
The other thing I took from Macpac was the way the pack would work with its user,   To be comfortable, and energy saving while it was being used. I currently make each pack to fit its owner like a good tailor made suit. I have the experience and knowledge to make designs which can be adjusted between users, but I prefer to tailor it for its intended owner, I believe this is a unique niche, which isn't offered by other companies. And all my designs are customisable to suit the owners needs.

I took a hiatus from making packs in 2004 and only started up again at the beginning of this year. I still climb, but I also bow hunt, and I thought my new market would be for quality customised packs for hunters and military. Ironically I am making slow inroads with this market. Having said that, word among the QLD climbing community has spread fast that I am making gear again, and that is where I am getting the bulk of my orders from.

Merkava mkII
I was recently given a contract to supply a quantity of gear to a university climbing club, they are still using gear I made them 17 years ago, and had been used hard. I love the idea that my gear lasts and is tough. When I make gear I over build it, and put a lot of hidden seems into the packs so that it will last.

I currently have four packs aimed, no pun, for the hunting/military market;
All of the, are named after tanks,
Going from smallest to largest they are:
Stuart M3, 20 liters, it is a small tear drop day pack using tough materials, Mollie, sr25 buckles etc
Sherman firefly, is a 3 day assault pack, it is short and deep, designed to be used with military webbing and pouches, it is 30 liters
Panzer jäger, (Shane's pack) it has an organiser front pocket which is floating using stretch panels, and has a pass through option for a bow or a rifle. It is 35 liters my and has a HDPE sheet and alloy frame stave, and lastly the 
prototype Merkava
Merkava, which is 40 liters, it has a continuous zip which allows it different access options and can be zipped flat. It has an internal frame and loads of internal organisers.

The next models will be a smaller version on the merkava and a 60 l top opening internal frame pack, it will have mole and combine features of military, climbing and bush walking packs.

I use a just in time manufacturing system, which means I have small quantities of different camp patterns, rather than big rolls of one or two camouflage patterns, this allows a high degree of customisation. I currently have 16 camouflage patterns, including some quite exotic ones. I also offer some hi tech materials such as stretch Cordura, PTFE cloth, water resistant zips, xPac etc. I also have laser cut hyperlon components, and sheet hyperlon etc.

prototype Merkava
I'm having great fun and enjoying designing, testing and making gear again. I love the challenge of making gear to customers needs and enjoy new challenges, it's a huge learning curve. I make all the gear from go to woe in Brisbane and give the customer pics as I am making their gear and interact with the customer and can make adjustments to the design on the go.

Thanks again for the opportunity to review my company, which is called "I am Spartacus", I choose this name because it reflects, strength, integrity and courage, values I espouse, and Spartacus was a slave, who revolted against the system and threw off his chains, other great values.

Scott Fraser

So, there are some good looking packs being made, and Scott is more than happy to build one just for you, to suit your needs.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Review: CamelBak HAWG

With thanks to CamelBak and as first seen on BreachBang&Clear.

I caught up with the reps from CamelBak at the SSAA SHOT expo, and they were kind enough to send me one the re-released Mil-Tac H.A.W.G. packs, to demo before they hit the shelves.

I am always on the lookout for a new pack, and as ever, want to set myself up with something that does double duty. Here's a link to the now discontinued pack, which if you can find it, it seems to be well though of in the pack communities.

I was really pleased to get this, and whilst I've not been able to take the pack out and give it a thorough field test, as it needs to go back to CamelBak after I've had my paws on it. That said I have had a good look over it and this is what I can tell you about it.

Unlike the older the 4 channel, 7 row PALS/MOLLE of the Mil-Tec H.A.W.G. the carriage grid on the new H.A.W.G. appears to have been replaced by a more sleek and unobtrusive 5 channel, 10 rows of the new 6/9 style platform, or something that looks very similar to it.

There is a broad panel of loop-field on the top front of the pack, for putting ID's and morale patches. The back of the pack has three raised areas of 5mm closed cell foam, making up the Air Director back panel for optimal load distribution and breathability. It has a really good feel on the back, even when the pack is loaded up. There are kidney flaps to guide the waist straps, with D-loops built in on top of them to give a good range of motion when wearing it.

The back of the pack opens up with a long asymmetrical zipper, which allows the fitting of a 3L hydration bladder, in this case the CamelBak Mil-Spec Antidote Reservoir Long with Quick Link. I liked the looks of the bladder too, but as it's a returner, I didn't try it out. However, it features a bite valve adapter which is very cool, manually opened adapters can be a pain. The tube clicks off for faster refilling with auto shut-off, so no leaking, and the new Fillport, is reported as the industry’s largest opening with air-light ¼ turn open/close for quick, secure seal and it also can’t be over-tightened.

The interior of the hydration section is also padded, giving you an insulated compartment, both from your pack and your back. Cold drinks stay that little bit colder, and you don't have a cold weight pressing on your back as you hump it around. Loops in the top of the bag take the hook on top of the hydration bladder.  

The older H.A.W.G. has a total capacity of 23 L in its 48cm (17") x 26.5cm (12") x 26cm (10") and weighs a surprisingly low 1.2kg (2.75lbs) which comes from it having a 500D Cordura on the outwards facing surfaces, with the back faces being 420D nylon on the shoulder harness back side and raised pod panels. The shoulder harnesses are filled with 10mm EVA foam, and all the internal surfaces are made of lightweight 210D nylon. The mixtures make for the reduced weight of the pack.

The top of the front of the pack features a stash pocket, with a dummy-cord and clip built in. Its also worth noting that all the zippers are fitted with string pulls to silence them, which is a feature I'm liking seeing on so many packs these days.

The 6/9 webbing will take all PALS/MOLLE pouches and accessories I've tried on it, so it's simple enough to hot-swap your existing pouches onto the new format built into the H.A.W.G.

Twin ports behind the shoulder straps give access to the hydration tube, and in an interesting addition, there are two access points tucked in behind the waist straps. these allow you to rout the cables up under the arms, rather than over the shoulders, where they could perhaps snag on weapon straps or the like.

You could also feed the waist straps back into the pack, to get them out of the way if you weren't intending to use them. Very tidy design.

Inside the main pack, there are in fact two zipperable sections.

The front section, which has dual zips and opens 3/4 of the way down, is lined in lightweight 210D nylon and on the back of the panel, has a set of pockets sewn in, a triple pen slot, two note-book sized pockets, and one the width of the pack. These would be good for the administrative type gear you might have on hand, but don't need to secure in any special way.

Maps, phone charger gear, a survival tin or even a IFAK like the ITS ETA kit could sit in one of these. Drainage grommets with mesh lining are found in the bottom of the section.  The front section was quite spacious, and would certainly do to stuff with a number of items, especially if they would lay flat easily. The 6/9 webbing is sewn right into the front of this section, so there isn't any padding between your pouches and the contents of the first section, something to be aware of if you are loading up the outside of the pack.

The inner section, which sits between the front "admin" section and the distinct hydration section, is even roomier. Again, it features a dual zip 3/4 opening, and the same drainage grommets in the bottom, but has the advantage of the internal padding on the hydration side, keeping condensation from forming and spreading through to your stored items.

Again, its pretty featureless, although it does have three wide webbing loops sewn in at 3, 9 and 12 o'clock, giving you attachment points for gear, or even to run shock-cord through to for some internal spiderweb structure to pack things down. I think that would be where I'd fit the McNett Gruntline, if I were keeping the H.A.W.G.  for myself.

I like a bit more internal structure to my bags, because I often have a lot of small needfuls kicking about, but for a small daypack like this, I suppose I would make do.
It was very comfortable to wear, and easy to don and doff, with the shoulder straps sitting nicely, and adjustable, with a pretty standard sternum strap to keep it locked down for long, arduous or exciting traverses.

The bases of the shoulder straps were set securely into the bottom corner of the pack, and looked like they'd take some abuse, and whilst I didn't get a chance to test it our under heavy loads, the waist band seemed to sit nicely on my hips, and keep everything where it needed to be.

The twin top and bottom compression straps were a nice touch, with hook-and-loop webbing keepers built in, they would allow bulky but soft gear like sleeping bags, outerwear and the like to be stuffed into the pack, and then buckled down tight to reduce bulk, nicely.

Twin rows of webbing sewn onto the base of the back would allow got you to set a sleeping roll, tent sustainment kit or other bulky but smallish items to the outside of the pack, without too much hassle.

I found the way it sat to be really comfortable, both directly against my back,but also in relation to my shoulder blades, neck and hips.  I had no feeling that it would interfere with the kinds of scrambling, crawling and other misadventure that I find myself doing. It also had a nice sturdy drag handle, for those times when I might want to be pulled out of any of those situations, or just to keep my hands on it whilst waiting for a plane to or from somewhere.

All in all, the new CamelBak H.A.W.G. is a very nice pack, simple design with some sophisticated elements. certainly a new look at an existing product, which is always good to see.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Review: Bounce food nuggets

I'm always on the lookout for not only snacks to eat on the go, as I often spend a long time behind the wheel, but also have a pretty demanding work schedule these days and occasionally have three or four back to back hours long meetings, so being able to grab a nutritious and energizing bite can make all the difference from keeping me flying into a hangry rage.

There are lots of energy bars on the market, and body-building type supplement bars, but sometimes you just want something smaller. We had three boxes of these locally produced snacks come our way, and I've loved them. Bounce was founded in 2004 by an Aussie couple, Paula and Andy Hannagan, who they are proud to admit, had the balls to pour their savings into bringing their idea for the Bounce balls to fruition.

Both Paula and Andy have backgrounds in health and fitness and this was their first foray into the nutrition supplement world. If the stories can be believed, in the early days, they used their garage as a warehouse and Andy would travel from retailer to retailer, offering to sell his balls! Puts a very Australian spin on the product, which is something I can really get behind. More products, made locally, means cheaper supplies which in turn means more supplies I can stockpile, an excellent preparedness technique!

There are seven flavors in the Bounce Ball range (they also do a line of protein powders) but I have tried three of them. Here's what I can tell you about them:
I'm not a big fan of coconut, I over-indulged on several S.E. Asian and Pacific islands (I'm a mean hand with a machete and spike) but I was pleasantly surprised by the Coconut & Macadamia Protein Bliss ball which is packed full of high-quality protein which is easily assimilated by the body. Made from a combination of coconut, macadamias, cashews and whey protein, it's also high in fiber, and its primary binding agent is agave syrup, which gives it a good texture, as well as a sweet boost. Texture is pretty important in this kind of thing, and even with my personal feelings about dehydrated coconut, it was quite pleasant, and I went back for more.

The Spirulina & Ginseng Defence Boost is designed to keep you on the bounce, alert and ready for action, it's also power-packed with vitamins and antioxidants for good health and bolstering immune responses, espeically important in high stress and challenging environments.

Again, it is an easily digestible blend and provides slow-releasing energy to help keep you fit and active, to perform the tasks you need to be doing. Unlike the Coconut and Macadamia balls, these are held together with a propriety binding agent, Fruitrim (grape juice, pear juice and brown rice starch), which has a caramel toffee like taste and feel. I found the mouthfeel much more enjoyable than the coconut one, and was trilled with the dark rich flavours the Spirulina added.

The last of the three balls I had to sample were the Almond Protein Hit flavour. These contains what Boost considers the optimum balance of high quality protein and carbohydrates. With a slow-releasing energy formula, this ball is pitched as the ideal food to help satisfy your hunger between meals or as a pre- or post-workout snack. Again it has the Fruitrim binding base, which is delicious. It has protein flakes and the nut elements add a delicious crunch to each sticky bite. This is even better than the Spirulina & Ginseng ball, and my favourite so far.

I think I will be stocking up on these as a back-up food supply, as they are a lot nicer than the Mainstay Emergency Food Rations they are quick, easy, simple to store and pack. You could do a lot worse than getting some of these and stocking up on high-density, high nutritional value foods.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Review: Kickstarter - Keystone2

I did a review a while back of a key holder project that was Kickstarted  by Abel Ang and I was impressed with its elegance then, so was very pleased to hear that he had a new and improved version on the cards. He sent me a prototype, and asked me to write up my impressions of it, for when the new Kickstarter which is about to go live.

I really hope that this new launch works well for Abel, and want to give you some honest options about the kit in time for you to go and pledge to get one of your very own, should the idea appeal.

The finish of the frames has been improved, with a brushed surface and is anodized rather than powder coated, which will mean a much longer lasting surface finish, keeping your key-keeper looking neater. The body is 5mm longer, to a total of 90mm allowing you to store longer keys.  The scew-heads have been slimmed down and are now offered in two sizes, to allow as few as two keys to be stored, for a very elegant system. The same extra spacer bars are included and allow you to for as many as 20 keys.

Another improvement is the bolt holes have been pared down from 4mm to 3mm such that the bolts fit very snugly, eliminating the rattle that the old version was a little prone to. That rattle allowed a slight wobble that continually loosened the screw-heads.  Tighter tolerances mean less noise.

The improvements all add up to a considerably better key-keeper, and I was only too pleased to pass the new prototype on my partner Omega, who happens to always loose loose keys, and has quite the penchant for red, so it was a perfect gift to pass on.

If you have keys, you should totally look into getting one of these.
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