Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Home Front: where will you be?

It occurred to me that most of us, at least most of the people I know, spend a lot of time away from home, day-to-day. We work, study, commute. In the event if disaster, this can be quite a game-changer. Sudden, catastrophic events are usually by their very nature unpredictable. Earthquakes, tsunamis, tornado and human-acts of violence and accident could and can occur at anytime, with little or no warning. Regional seasonal risks such as hurricane or tornadoes, bushfire or floods can be planned for, and may even have sufficient notice to make where you are at its onset or alert sufficient to get home. Obviously, it's hardly an option for most of us to preemptively bug-out and go off grid, to be totally self sufficient. Certainly some people can make that step, and make it work for them, but the reality is that the rest of us need to live our lives in more mundane styles. It is however one reason my EDC is rather comprehensive, to say the least. Vast might be more accurate.

So, given that I am in a position where "heading for the hills" is not a day-to-day option (more on that later), it falls to me to be aware of my situation, and preparedness options where I am. I live in a green and rather fancy suburb, proximal to Port Phillip Bay, and a highway. Being close to the bay, flooding could be an issue if there was a spectacular tidal surge, but this Is very unlikely. I commute by train to the city, changing trains at a major hub before taking the underground city-loop. My work is just on the edge of the CBD, around the corner from the Parliament Building.

My workplace is made up of several disparate connected buildings, and I work on the fourth floor. Due to the nature of my workplace we have a variety of safety and disaster management systems in place, which is great and all, but as you might well imagine in the event of disaster, I'll want to get -home-. If the trains, and roads aren't an option, it's an 11km walk. Annoying and time consuming but totally doable to get back to Tactical Baby, her mother and my step-daughter.

My first daughter, Triceratops Girl, lives with her mother in the Dandenong Ranges foothills, which is about an hours drive from the city, a little less from home. I make that trip back and forth a couple of times a week, as part of my visiting, picking up or dropping off arrangements. As I've mentioned previously, this is a heavily forested outer suburb, and is in an area at risk from bushfire, storm damage and flooding. The CFA have a great system and fire-awareness program, and everyone living in the area is expected to have a bushfire plan. Power cuts are common up there as gum trees often drop branches in storms, or due to heat and drought stress, cutting lines. Due to the nature of the terrain, reticulated water and underground power are not available to all homes.
In between the two, are a long stretch of suburbia, some bush land, paddocked rural homesteads and mountainous foothills.

Finally there is the northern suburb my other partner lives in. As you can see this is across town and whilst no where near as far as where Triceratops Girl lives with her mum, is urban travel all the way and crosses several major freeways on the way. Being an urban environment, the route is filled with traffic, trams, and shopping strips. In the event of a wide scale emergency, it would take quite some time to make it over there I expect, something which does not fill me with joy, I can assure you.

All in all, I have a very spread out life, geographically, and the prospect of being away from my important people in the event of a catastrophe. Looming disaster I am pretty sure I can respond to for all my loved ones, and from then, regroup and make ready for what is to come.

What will you do?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Review: Jackeroo hooded vest

Melbourne's inclement and changeable weather leads to some interesting clothing requirements. Just as in Crowded House's "Four Seasons in One Day", we can have a weekend topping 37oC and dry, then 25oC and tropically steaming and wet to 19oC drizzly and dank by Tuesday. Seasoned Melbournites can usually take this in their strides, and plan appropriately, (even if our tram and train networks seemingly can not), however having some multi-seasonal pieces of clothing goes a long way towards not being caught too badly off guard. My take on this is to wear layers, and take-off, or do-up as required. I usually keep a pair of fingerless gloves of some kind stuffed in the pockets of most of my coats and outer-wear vests, and a bandana, shemagh or Headsox scarf to round out my options. However, here is a piece of clothing that fills several niches at once. This is the Jackeroo hooded vest, which is a KMART line, apparently. I'm a big fan of vests, mostly because I wear my holster harness all the time, and a vest is a good way to cover up its lines. This adventure-wear vest is no exception. With long lines, it comes down past my belt line, even in size M, and zippers shut to give me a nice snug fir to keep the wind and weather out. There are two chest pockets, closed with hook-and-loop, one of which featuring a second, zipperable pocket and lanyard loop. The outer is a tightly woven nylon and the inner is a breathable and wicking polyester mesh.

Below this are two bulkier triple pockets; one side opening pocket for hands,and two buttoned-down gear pockets on each side give ample storage capacity. The bottom of the left pocket has another lanyard loop. The waist has a well fitted and mounted shock-cord drawstring, adjustable on both sides. The hood buttons to the body with press-studs and features the same wicking mesh as the body. A great feature of this hood is the incorporated bill, which extends past the drawstring, a great addition for glasses-wearers like myself.
 The collar of the vest also has some good features worth mentioning.

As well as having a press-stud closure, the high collar is tailored to stay up without being too constrictive, which is a welcome relief to those of us who don't like water trickling down into our drier layers.Not only is the vest quick drying (but not waterproof, mealy resistant)and very light, it also packs down int a very small bundle, for when you want to either pack something just-in-case, or the weather changes and it's too much to wear. I usually just open mine up, as the light material just whisps around me day-to-day. I have only seen these in khaki, which is great, as it's my colour, but the other products in this line also come in light-safari-green.

I'm very happy with this as an inclement weather vest, camping and adventuring-wear, and urban preparedness ready piece of clothing. It fits my aesthetic nicely, and is hard wearing, light and suitable for multiple conditions.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Review: SIGG 1L bottle

 I saw a review on Personal Armaments by Rob, on his Vintage SIGG Stainless Steel bottle, and I was reminded that I hadn't yet done a review of my own SIGG, which has been a steady companion through some pretty rough times, and as you can see it has weathered it pretty well. This is the 1L aluminium bottle, in the Gold Maha style offered by SIGG a few years back.

The great thing about SIGG aluminium bottles is that they are pressed from a dingle puck of metal into the bottle form, no seams, no edges and a unibody construction. The design is smooth and elegant, wit ha good sized lip ad a neck that allows a lanyard to be tied up to it. I've fitted mine with a piece of kendo himo cordage, with a knotted end, which I often carry mine around by, looped through the stopper hole, and pinched between knuckles. The inside of the bottle is coated with a plastic liner, which is reported to remain unbroken and in contact with the metal, even through denting and dropping.

 The lid is a high density plastic, with a rubber gasket, and has fared pretty well over the years, although I have had to replace one due to the threads wearing down a little. Powdered sports drinks being abrasive more than anything, I think. I've certainly dented my bottle often enough, and inspection of the inside show no signs of damage. Around the lip I've noticed a little pealing, which was more pronounced on my last bottle.

Yes, last bottle. This one is unfortunately not the same one I initially bought in 2008, as I managed to mess up the threading somehow, and even replacing the cap wouldn't give me a reliable seal. Not a fault of the bottle, per say, apart from a too-fine fine thread perhaps. Some of the external paint has been banged off, but that's more of a mark of pride to me (and my paleo-friends, who initially inspired me to purchase a SIGG). I carry mine in a FUP pouch, usually slung on the main body-strap of my messenger bag, but have also taken to wearing it on my hip when I have been running in preparation for the Tough Mudder Melbourne.

The bottle is not insulated, so a hot drink will transfer heat directly to your hand, and a cold one will warm in the sun, but for carrying a liter of fluids around all day in the city, hiking, on the car or at big-desk meetings I am very glad to carry my Maha SIGG.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Review: Platatac Modular Radio Pouch

Here's one of the last Platatac pouches that I have currently, and it's a pretty cool one. As previously mentioned, I got this as part of a bundled pouch deal and have happily had it attached to the cummerbund of my MAC armour carrier  since I got it. This is the Modular Radio Pouch by Platatac. It is designed to take the AN/PRC-148 MBITR (PRC148) Radio but as i don't use that kind of radio, I felt the need to find alternate uses, which I'll get to later on. This pouch features the same heavy 1000D Cordura that the other pouches like the very useful FUP and SR25 pouches which is not only IR treated, hard wearing but sheds dirt and grime very effectively, I've found. This particular pouch is interesting because like the other Platatac shingle pouches, its open top is managed with a shock-cord loop, which in this case, is fixed with a nylon webbing loop attached to a Fastex buckle. 
I really like these buckles, far more than hook-and-loop.  One great feature of this pouch is the two side pockets, which will fit accessories such as my Gerber multitool and my trusty and blindingly-bright Surefire 6PX. The sides of these pockets are elastisised, to keep your item snug and secure, and feature a hook-and-loop fixing webbing cover. The double rows of PALS/MOLLE attachment loops give this pouch the same rock-solid attachment to whatever kit you happen to want to mount it to. You can see the shock-cord loop's knot in its grommet at the back, between the MOLLE loops. A drainage grommet is fitted to the base of the main pouch and a webbing-taking loop is fitted to the stiff and reinforced backing of the pouch at the top, for use as an alternate attachment method.

So, as I said earlier I don't use the big MilSpec radios this particular pouch is designed around, but for my Stargate Lasertag LRP and costuming needs I have come up with a couple of options. Here it is holding an old PlayStation light-gun, which it fits quite snugly, when the shock-cord is adjusted. I don't have an actual handgun to test it on, and I'm sure if I did I would use a purpose built holster for it, but this gives some idea of its capability.  I have also used it to carry one of the extra-tall Nerf Extended Clip .

All in all this is another example of a great piece of Platatac gear, adaptable, multi-purposed and rugged.  I'm very glad to have it in my collection, and look forwards to lots of opportunities to load it up and hump it about!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Home Front: Outages, news and contact

As you may have heard (or been affected by) there was a widespread internet outage in Australia yesterday which hammered home one clear message. I need a radio. With all my technological toys, and EDC kit, all stashed away, it took the plug being pulled to remind me that without data, I was just sitting in my office, wondering where the flash was. Of course, the power was on, the phones and cellular networks were still functioning, and some national sites were still active, so I wasn't worried about an immediate, local situation, but when the internet dries up ... I sat up and paid attention.

So, a radio. I was thinking a lightweight, world-band battery powered one, as it could also be charged by one of my solar chargers and would give me the potential for listening out to further reaches than just FM or AM reception, which is why I favour this over the hand-cranked emergency radios I've seen, even though they have a range of good functionality as well.

I'm of two minds on what to equip myself with, but the message was clear, when the internet went out, I was cut off from all news-sources I currently had available. Web-cast radio was offline, as was Google, Twitter, Facebook and so on. There were plenty of jokes about the Arab Spring going around, and even about current Australian political cat-fighting being to blame (a petulant cable-pulling was mentioned).

I really didn't like not being able to get the news. I'm glad I got that wake-up now, when it doesn't matter.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: Going Solar!

When the going gets rough, and the lights flicker out, we will want to power and run our gadgets and drive back the night with the familiar glow of electric lights. I've been collecting solar chargers for a while now, and I thought I would give you a quick review of them.

First up is the B-Squares Modular Solar Electronics which I backed on Kickstarter. This allows the user, in theory, to run a USB outputting rechargeable triple AAA charger, a set of LED lights, or a iPhone charger. The single solar square generates 0.325W of power, which is enough to run the LED's, charge the batteries or run the iPhone. Or at least, it's supposed to. I have had little or no luck with it, and am afraid to say I've been very disappointed with this device. 

 The second of these devices is the original Solio Universal charger which is a mains-capable charger, with a battery pack. It folds out into a tri-leaved floret  is capable of output ranges from 1.5 to 5W, the internal rechargeable battery has a capacity of of 3.7V 1000mAh. It comes with a variety of output ends for the included cables and will even charge iPhones via a USB output. One cool feature of this is that it can be orientated by feeding a pencil through the central hole, propping it up to achieve maximum solar  contact. I've been very happy with this device, and take it camping and adventuring with me frequently.

Lastly is the solar charger that came with another Kickstarter project, the Packlights which I have previously reviewed. I delightful sweetener to their deal was the inclusion of these purpose built charger and battery packs. Also mains-chargeable, these these packs generate  0.77W at a Voltage of 5.25 +- 5% and the internal battery has a capacity of 2200mA with an output of 5.6V at a maximum current of 600mA. It includes a USB output, and both a bright LED light, and a dim LED charge indicator. Another interesting feature is that they give estimated times for charging, which are: by Solar Charge:10-14 hours depending on lighting & weather conditions and by DC Charge: 2-3 hours where the charging current: 140mA (per hour). This is a really nice package, and I'm very glad i acquired two of them. They fit nicely stowed into one of the Platatac FUP pouches so I can imagine wearing them out in the field, ready to recharge my tech. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Home Front: Salvage

 Sometimes preparedness takes the form of being able to spot and collect items that have been discarded or lost, and make good use of them. I've always had an eye for the left-behinds and dropped, and discarded. When "hard-waste" removal comes along, and the sidewalks are loaded with other peoples junk, I can't but help to pass my eye over it. I think there is probably a fine line between salvage and hoarding, and I hope I stay on the not-scary-cat-person side of that line. Same goes for items dropped on the street, or left behind of trains and trams. Here's an example of this. The checkered and tasseled shemagh was laying by the side of the road after a storm, and after a run through the washing machine I found that it was one of the softest and warmest I've ever had. The soft-shell black vest vest was laying over the back of a park bench in the morning, and still there when I passed in the afternoon.

Into the bag it went.

It has a nice mesh liner and internal and external pockets. And it was free. Under that is a red hard-shell jacket, with reflective tape, internal and external pockets, zipper and hook-and-loop closure, a hood under the collar and is waterproof. Again, a dropped item left laying on the footpath. I make a habit of leaving things where they lay for a decent length of time, so their rightful owners can happen back that way and collect it, but after that, I consider it fair game.

Same goes for junk left by the road-side. This high-chair was left out for the junk collection, but made it's way into the back of my car, and with some scrubbing and adjusting to make up for its missing parts, both Triceratops Girl and Tactical Baby have made good use of it. This is more a factor of mindset rather than any particular skill-set or item.

Knowing that you can make something that was otherwise scrapped function again, and suit your needs is a great boon in a survival situation, I feel, and the same goes for a disaster situation. "going to the store for a new one" may not always be an option, even if you have the resources to do so.

Seeing alternate uses for things, or the opportunity to breathe new life into what would otherwise be discarded like the "Pathopak's" I reviewed, which I use for food and hardware storage, those Grolsch bottles which I use for brewing I reclaimed from a bar I formerly worked at, and my beer drinking friends supply me with, and even the crate they are sitting in.

There are many day-today opportunities for salvage, getting into the mindset and habit of it could well put you in good stead in the event that either the supply chain is broken or disrupted, or your ability to purchase or acquire needfuls is impeded somehow. Be smart, be careful and be safe. Adapt, innovate, overcome.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: Pathopak ration pack

I've been lax these last few days, having had a bunch of family happening going on, a weekend of activities with Triceratops Girl, my Aunt from Colorado came across the Pacific to visit and have just been run off my feet. However, here we are. I wanted to show you one of the specific survival preparedness items that I have developed. I have used one of the DGP Pathopak's that I previously reviewed and stuffed it full of of food and drink that will be long lasting, sustaining and comforting. Combining with a cooking and/or mess-set and some cool cutlery puts food in the table (or patch of blasted earth) which is very important for health and morale.
The 2L Pathopak has room for a regular sized can on top of a squat, "man-sized" meal-in-a-can can and whilst a tight fit, still seals shut. I rigged one of the numerous conference lanyards to be a sling and carry handle. This one is just a hand-stiched prototype, and not quite up to bartack stitching but have been able to test its load bearing ability pretty well running about carrying it by its handle. The content is quite variable, this iteration holds a tall can of fruit, and a tortellini bolognese meal-in-a-can.  Supplementing this is a packet of ready-to-eat rice. two powdered orange drinks and three sachets of powdered chai latte mix.

The contents of this tub are in no way meant to represent a full and nutritionally balanced diet, but there is sufficient food in there for several meals, with both hot and cold drink options. The canned food can be eaten cold, as can the rice, and the beverages can likewise be drunk cold, but most would be improved by cooking. Obviously, a good supply of potable water is essential in a survival situation, but having this kind of kit prepared, in such a way that I can throw a few into the car as needed, along with the rest of my kit, is a real boon. I figure I could load 10 or so up and have them ready to grab and go easily enough. They stack, and could be made up like an MRE to have a variety of menus. Good for camping, I think that will be my primary use for them, which gives me a opportunity to test the mix of contents, and see what needs changing, swapping or adding.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pictures and movies: demos

I had a reader ask for pictures of my gear in-use. Till now I've mostly done static shots on a desk. What things from my collection would you like to see being worn, wielded or wave?

I'll take some footage ASAP ....

Review: 215 Gear Sling

Here is another piece of rugged kit that I have gotten very attached to over the last little while. For the Stargate Lasertag LRP that I do, I had the option of slinging my tagger with laptop bag straps and cable ties, or get something deigned to do the job. This is the 215Gear Ultimate Single Point Sling . This is a heavy duty, made of MilSpec materials, from the inch-wide tube-webbing, and the heavy adjuster buckle (which also has a lanyard hole fitted to act as a draw-pull), down to the heavily shock-corded ends which lead to another of the very impressive Cobra-buckles I covered in the Riggers-Belt I reviewed previously.

The other end of the Cobra-buckle is another piece of webbing, with a loop of paracord, which is offered as a means of attachment to your platform of choice.  The combination of webbing and paracord is billed as assisting in eliminating metal-on-metal noise. What I like about this is that it is possible to detach your slung load, which is always a boon when the chance to sit, rest or pass it on to someone else comes along, but with the cord loop, it is possible to rapidly swap the buckle to a -different- load withiut the need for any tools or adjustment. If it has a lanyard loop, it can be slung with 215Gears sling.

I think this is a pretty cool piece of kit for anyone who is out and about in adventure-land and needs to have something at-hand, which at the same time they can go hands-free with in a moments notice, and back again, with the springiness of shock-cord to get it where you need it at a moments notice, and the durability and survivability of the heavy nylon webbing to give you rock-solid support.

Great addition to my gear, all around.

[edit] I was asked to do a vid-review, so you could see this in action, so, here goes....

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Review: OtterBox Utility Latch

Here is a piece of kit that came to my attention following a comment by one of my readers after my review of my iPhone case . Up till then, my iPad has been naked tech, no case, cover or guard. It still lives in my CSI folder which in turn lives in my messenger bag but doesn't do anything for it when I'm -using- it. So here is what I have added to give me some more security and functionality. This is the OtterBox Utility Series Latch . The basic idea is that four elastic loops attached to a nylon webbing backing hoop over the four corners of the device. A loop of nylon tape gives an attachment point for the included S-clip.

That however is just the beginning, that nylon backing is a platform for a variety of very clever accessories. The webbing itself features a wide handstrap with removable padding that can either be gripped or slip over you knife-hand style. Because the central webbing is square, and the elastic loops are all equal, the device can be held portrait or landscape, as best suits your needs. Each corner of the webbing hosts a plastic tag with an eyelet, through which I have fed a length of shock-cord, purely as an extra place to secure any documents I get handed in meetings I don't take my CSI folder to.
Those tags are designed to take the accessory baggie that comes with the Latch, which is itself billed as a "angled stand" and performs this task well, with twin S-clips to again give portrait or landscape proppage, but I found it to be awkward to carry around with this in place, and have relegated it to my messenger bag, for when I need it. The included accessories are pretty cool in and of themselves. A rain-cover made of elastic hemmed waterproofed rip-stop. I'm not sure how useful this will be in a big wet, but for times when I am without a bag to store my device in, or when I know I will be in and out of a drizzle, or something.

The narrow shoulder strap will let me go hands free in a slinging fashion, should I desire, or offer me a platform to write on if i balance one edge of my device on my belt buckle. Seeing as I can type one handed on my iPad, and use the big S-clip to secure it to my holster-harness or riggers-belt I haven't had much use for this either. The wide elastic belt, however, I am very much looking forwards to using. It affixes through the main-body webbing, where the yellow nylon can be seen in the top picture, and becomes either a thigh-strap (for pilots, drivers, or boring meeting Angry Birds players) OR it can be fitted to the back of a car seat head-rest, for running back-seat movies and games for little people amusement. A very cool feature, with a lot of potential. The buckle end is sturdy, and the hook-and-loop fixture is long enough to fit a variety of legs I think.

Whilst I cant say this is a ruggedising or especially protective piece of kit, and I have had a couple of occasions where the elastic loops have slipped, and lost full grip on my device, which was a bit scary, I like how well it fits my grip, allowing me a much more natural tap-tap-tapping stance, without having to white-knuckle as I wander about reading my ITS Tactical App or browsing for more toys. A relaxed body responds to change much faster than a rigid one. One thing it does do to protect my device, is that the elastic loops act as spaces for me screen, padding and buffering its contact with whatever I put it down on. No more gran of sand scratches!.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review: Multitools

I did a quick poll at work to see who had a multitool, and if so, what they carried. Bearing in mind I'm now working of of the ICT department of a specialist hospital, here is what we came up with. Out of 14 people, we have 5 multitools in total. I in fact carry two, but we'll get to that. In my straw poll, we determined that there were two of the lightweight Leatherman Kicks one of the Leatherman PST Original tools and my two, a broken Bucktool 360 and a 5th Gen Gerber Multitool (which I have had all kinds of trouble finding a reference for).

I'm going to do a flying review of each of these, to give an idea of the range of features I have to work with around here in case of zombie apocalypse whilst I'm at work (or if the power goes out).

The Leatherman Wave has a very lightweight feel to it, as I mentioned above, and features only a single drop-point blade, wide and narrow flat-head screwdrivers, a can opener, a lanyard loop and a half-wide Phillips head driver. Needle nose pliers with a wire cutter make up the pointy end. A nice feature is the polycarbonate grip liner, which softens the edges of the notoriously bitey Leatherman fold-out handle. The half-wide Phillips head allows the attachment of the Removable Bit Driver accessory) which is cool, if you have one. Inch and cm rulers along the handles are great. However, I didn't think there was enough "tool" to this one and I was dubious of its hardiness.

Next up was the Leatherman PST Original. The PST includes the same drop-point blade, wide and narrow flat-head screwdrivers, a can opener, as the Wave, but also features a small flathead (small enough for fixing glasses) and a rounder Phillips head driver on a nice long haft. It also features a hefty double sided file, which is an awesome addition to any multitool in my opinion. No Lanyard loop means you can't dummy-cord it, but I'm sure you, good reader, wouldn't need that as often as I do ... Again, needle nose pliers with a wire cutter make up the pointy end. Leatherman's "fold out" style exposes the users hand to the backs of tools, and the edge of the frame whilst using the pliers. I guess I have soft hands, as I don't like this.

Onto the Gerber: This was a hand-me-down gift from a very dear friend with whom I was staying after I had an unfortunate turn of events. Amongst other things I had broken my multitool (see below) and he was kind enough to pass on his spare. I love the Gerber design. Instead of the "fold out" of the previous two, the needle nose pliers and wire cutter pointy end is accessed by a click and release "flick-out" style. This leaves the users hand protected from the internal tools whilst using the pliers or cutters. It also opens with a bad-ass "schnickt!" when flicked hard. Yes, it's sad that that impresses me, but it does. it also locks the pliers into their active position. Tool compliment is similar to the PST, with a drop-point blade, wide and narrow flat-head screwdrivers, a can opener, and a small Phillips head driver and a double sided file. It also features a hefty lanyard loop, which I have a split ring fitted to (and is generally carabinered to a long cobra-weave paracord cord. The can-opener features a small flathead at its tip, which puts it back on par with the PST. It also however, features a serrated sheepsfoot blade, which I greatly appreciate. perfect for slipping under straps and webbing and cutting without the worry of stabbing the contents. I like having this option. Yes, I seem to have chipped the tip of the drop-point. It may have something to do with why the tool is now dummy-corded. Again, see below.

Lastly is my old and abused Bucktool. This tool features a unique double-swivel opening method, which does a few things. It allows the user to pick which side of the internal tools they want to access, (a feature the Gerber lacks) but leaves the contoured hand-holds outwards when any of the tools are extended. This leaves the user with a problem however, if you twist your wrist in the same direction as the hinges swivel, the tool tries to fold itself up. Annoying when struggling with a bolt, I can assure you. All the internal tools are lockable, with a press-button release. The sides of the handles have icons indicating which tools feature, which include; on one side three different flatheads of differing width and a drop-point blade which includes a third of the blade being serrated. The other side are two half-wide Phillips heads and a can opener, and another of those serrated sheepsfoot blades I'm fond of. The needle nose pliers and wire cutters at the pointy end show however, what years of abuse can do to your tool. At some point I can not even recall, one side of my pliers snapped off. I simply opened them up one day and one side was missing. Luckily for me, my awesome friend had a spare on hand, and I relegated the broken-winged Buck to my CSI folder (or did when I added that to my collection).

Multitools. They are awesome, have many features, unique drawbacks and advantages. Know your tool, know your needs. Most of all, don't use your expensive multitool as a hammer or a pry-bar if they aren't designed to! That way leads to embarrassing looking broken tools.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: Petzl Shunt

Following on from my post yesterday on the Ascension rope ascending device which I use to go up ropes whilst strapped into my climbing harness or for hauling things as part of a pulley system along with the gear in my in-car bug-out-bag I thought I would tell you a little bit about another piece of cool climbing tech that I acquired to give me some safety and utility whist getting into tall places, out of deep holes and spanning chasms. So, here we go: this is the Petzl Shunt rope clamp. Another piece of excellent engineering from these people, it's frame is made from machined aluminium, and the internal smooth, sprung cam is likewise aluminium.This means the whole piece only comes in at 188g, for those conscious of how much gear they are hauling. The Shunt is designed to be either a one or two rope device, but Petzl make no bones about the safety precautions around this. it will take a 10-11mm single rope, or 8-11mm double rope.The ropes must be the same diameter, and either be a loop of the same rope, or a single strand. Hooking onto two different ropes is highly discouraged in their safety guide. They also recommend that a figure-8 ring is applied above the Shunt by  double carabiner-ended quickdraw webbing, giving you a two-stage system.

 So, here's how it works. Rope is fed into the device by pulling the sprung "tongue" out of the body, and into its almininium shell such that the tongue will be facing "in" towards the wearer. The "tongue" can then be released and will snap closed. A carabiner is then fitted through the large hole, and attached directly to your harness in most instances. When a load is applied to the carabiner, the rounded cams bite down onto the rope, pinching it and providing a hands-free stoppage on the rope. I use 11mm static rope, as I generally use it as a fixed line and not as a free-climbing top-roping safety line type deal. Petzl tell us that the Shunt will hold a static load of 3Kn (which apparently equates to 305kg(force)) on a single rope and 7.5kn (760kg(force)) on a double strand of 11mm rope before slipping.

In dynamic situations, it fares worse, with a 60-70cm slippage at 3-3.5kN on a single 11mm rope and a potentially unstopped slip at 1-8kN under testing conditions of a 2m, Fall Factor 1 drop for a me-sized 80kg accroding to Petzl. Sobering, but remember, this is a locking ascension device, rather than a dedicated fall-arrester, it is designed to slide up a rope, then hold you before the next slide up. That said, in the event of a slip and drop, it will take the weight , pulling the cam tight against the rope and doing its job to the best of its ability, as long as you just LET GO and let it, Likewise, it will NOT work if the "tongue" is impeded by your body, a wall, or anything else, it must be free to pull down to work. This has a cool feature in reverse, though, in that it will allow you to descend in a controlled fashion by squeezing the body of the Shunt towards you, releasing some of the tension of your load on the "tongue" and the rope will slip through. Letting go again will halt your descent. Again, combined with a figure-8 this allows secure, controlled movement on a rope. I also use mine in combination with my Ascension rope ascending device. (Shh, don't tell Petzl)

There is a small hole in the back of the "tongue" that I have attached a dummy-cord through, because, let me tell you, the springs in this are snappy, and I have had the misfortune of it "sproinging" out of my hands as I was getting ready to fit it to a rope. Fortunately for me this happened whilst I was testing the unit and familiarising myself with its use, rather than dangling from the sky somewhere. Better for me, better for whoever might be below me. Again, this is a really useful piece of kit, not without limitations, as the manufacturer very diligently points out in their manuals (PSA: read them, pay attention and familiarise yourself with all climbing kit before putting yourself or those around you at risk). I've had a lot of fun with this, without yet dropping out of a high-hide like Ian Malcolm.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Review: Petzl Ascension

I thought I would return to some of my adventurous kit, rather than the more military style gear for a little while. I've always been a scrambler, and a climber. Getting into high places and up tall things has been lifelong past-time. When I started to get into wall-climbing, and saw the cool kit available, I started expanding my collection of tools to get me up and down safely. I've already covered my climbing harness One such tool I've added to my armory is the Petzl Ascension which is a spectacular piece of engineering.The frame is made of a hard-anodised aluminium, which are colour coded for left and right handed use (the off-hand version looks exactly the same, but flipped.

It features a chrome-plated steel cam with bitey teeth with a nylon catch and a rubber over-molded plastic grip. It will take anywhere from an single 8mm rope all the way up to a 13mm, and the design of the cam includes a vent to self-clean muddy or icy ropes. For those who have never seen or used one of these, the idea is simple. with the rope fed into the bitey-cam's jaw, the sping-loaded cam is pressed against the rope, but due to the angles used, doesn't bite down when the rope is pull (or pushed) from top to bottom. It bites down when weight is applied bottom to top.

What this means is that when you are going "up" the rope, it moves freely, but doesn't move backwards. A safe method for ascension! Better still, the clever folks at Petzl have included a variety of attachment methods, to make this a very versatile tool. A small hole in the base facilitates a lanyard or foot-sling, (which -massively- improves the efficiency of my ascents, I've found). The main hole at the bottom connects to your harness in regular ascents, but between this, and the double set at the top, this piece can act as part of a self-belaying system or a hauling system, in conjunction with other similar tools.

This is not the kind of tool everyone will need or want, and does take some adjustment to not only use efficiently and safely but I've found that for hauling gear, or scooting myself up a fixed line, I couldn't ask for a cooler piece of kit. Its mountain-rugged, and hardy enough to take a 4-6kN fall, depending on the thickness of the rope you are using, and be sure to follow the Safety guide instructions as it has some limitations, especially with regards proper attachment and positioning. A very good piece of kit to have for multipurpose climbing utility!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Review: Optimus Terra Solo cook set

Time for another Giftmas present review. Like I have said before, I was a very lucky critter and have already reviewed my Sea-to-Summit Alpha cutlery set and Light-My-Fire meal-kit so I wanted to get around to the other loot that came my way. This is the Optimus Terra Solo Cook Set. It consists of two main pieces, a 600mL pot with pouring notches and measuring marks (in both mL and oz), and a fry pan that doubles as a lid. Convection. It works and its real! Putting a lid on your cooking is a considerable energy retention method and  I have found that when out adventuring, you don't want to be running out of fuel with half-cooked noodles. The set comes in a drawstring mesh bag, which enables it to be washed and dry out easily but at the same time keeps it tightly contained to reduce clanking and wear on the surfaces.

This set is 2-piece hard anodized aluminum and are fitted with plastic covered steel arms. The frypan has a spring locking type handle, which feels pretty sturdy, and I expect will hold a load over a fire quite well.Being only a small pan, I don't think you could spread out a whole rasher of bacon, but you could always "chop and stir". That said, it is deep enough that you could also use it as a small pot, for cooking up a variety of tasty vittles.

The larger pot has a deeper body, and the addition of a pouring notch on the left hand side is a great addition, and is subtle enough that it doesn't detract from the lines of the pot, or reduce the capacity in any way.  The folding handles are sturdy and the spot riveting seems solid. On the larger pot the handles wrap around the body, canteen mug style and store right out of the way. High speed-low drag, to borrow the term.

One awesome aspect of this setup is that the combined pot and pan are wide and tall enough to contain a standard 100 g/4 oz gas canister and a collapsible stove so that you get two pots, fuel and a fire source in one handy package.

I'm really looking forwards to my next camping trip so I can whip this bad-boy out and cook my self some delicious noms in a jiffy whilst my camp-mates eat pot-noodle. Ahh, the sweet smell of victory through better technology! At 200g, this lightweight piece of cookware could well mean the difference between eating cold raw food or contaminated water, and hot nutritious possum and dandelion stew, with boiled crater water to accompany.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Home Front: Hospitals

Here I am, sitting in Emergency with my partner who has injured herself after a domestic fall. She's ok, just a bit bruised and very sore. I am no stranger to hospitals, as not only have I worked in them for the last 13 years, but have also had my fair share of visits to them. Mostly for myself, but also for Triceratops Girl, and a variety of other loved ones who have pranged, stabbed or plagued themselves. Both Triceratops Girl and Tactical Baby were hospital born, one Au-natural, the other planned Caeser. Hospitals are centers of medical excellence and care. They have the best infrastructure, the best people and the best setup for not only treating the sick, and the broken but also usually have on-site laboratories, morgues and research facilities of one kind or another. However, like any service, they have their limits. Hospitals, and especially hospital Emergengy departments take the brunt of a hospitals everyday traffic from the public. When GP clinics close at the end of business hours, the worth ey might ordinarily take spills over to ED. Which is why I find myself in my third hour of a waiting room. We walked in, as these weren't blood-gushing or screaming injuries, and at a major metropolitan hospital like this one, the ambulances keep coming.

Why am I covering this? What's the importance? Supply and demand. In the event of a major disaster, hospitals have policies in place to mitigate the loads placed on them by this kind of thing. Patients are re-routed to other facilities or discharged early to make room for an influx of casualties. However, if you look to wide-scale disasters, covering multiple catchments it's likely that those regular policies will be overwhelmed.

Considering the expected waiting times on a weeknight at a major metropolitan hospital for a relatively minor injury, which is annoying but harmless, imagine the delays expected in a disaster situation when ED's are continuously swamped with multiple casualties. That is just for relatively "simple" situations like catastrophic weather as seen in the Hurricane Katrina, Cyclone YasiIndian Ocean tsunami or the Great Eastern Tsunami.

Couple this with either hospitals being directly affected by the disaster, either being in the brunt of the disaster, being cut off from major services as a result or worse yet, being an epicenter of a biological disaster, where sick people are clustered and congregate, potentially compounding infections and exposing those skilled workers and carers to the same debilitating condition. (The picture to the side is a Geiger Counter, as seen wall-mounted in the entrance ways of most major metropolitan hospitals I've been to in Melbourne)

Four hours in and we've had an x-ray, a brace fitted but are still awaiting a Dr's final assessment. We've seen bleeding and aggressive drunks spraying blood and obscenity. I sit here, in an otherwise calm, well lit, orderly hospital, very glad that we have such a well run system.

If it all goes to crap, and it's all Code Brown, this may not be as readily available so, be prepared to look after yourself, and yours when the time comes. Common sense, some knowledge and training can make all the difference in a crisis. Something we should all aim to achieve.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Review: Platatac 60 Round mk1 pouch

Here's another pouch from Platatac, as I start to round off my collection of accessories from these guys, and this one is again from the bundled pouch deal they did a while back. I had a look back on their site, and I think this must be the Mk1 rather than their newer Mk2 60 Round pouch, as it differs slightly to what is currently on display as the 60 Round pouch. Just a FYI. This is a bang-up and sturdy pouch. without the bells and whistles of some of their other pouches, for those who just need something to get a basic job done. This pouch differs from the other Platatac pouches I've reviewed previously, like the SR-25 double mag in that the cover-lid is made of a wide band of seat-belt type webbing, rather than their regular Codrura material. This gives it a slick surface, and no edging seams, except at the bottom, where it is hemmed to reduce snagging corners.

The standard twin press-studs and hook-and-loop act as closure methods and a looped tab acts as a draw-assist as common on most of these guys pouches. The side-walls and back of the pouch return to the Cordura 1000D material standard in almost all of their pouches, and this pouch features a wide band of elastic material to both compress out of the way when empty, and also to give a snug fit to whatever you have loaded into the clip. Obviously, I don't have rifle magazines to load into mine, and I've filled this one out with NERF clips to simulate the load you might expect to carry with it. Make fun of me all you like, I don't mind! Consider that my Blue Gun equivalent.

The back of the pouch again features the twin PALS/MOLLE attachment system that is seen in the FUP pouch. This again supplies the rock-steady attachment to your harness or pack without any fiddly extra clips. All-inclusive. modular construction. Brilliant.

The addition of a belt-loop at the top of the pouch, much like found on the other Platatac pouches gives a really good feeling that all this family pouches were constructed with a lot of forethought, and with the intention of offering the user a variety of options. I wear mine right on the belly of my MAC armour carrier sandwiched between a FUP pouch and a SR-25 pouch, as I'm still evaluating how best to set up my rig for the gear I carry. It is usually empty when I am out at Stargate Lasertag LRP and compresses down quite a lot, but I have taken to loading my pouches up with NERF clips and doing "magazine swapping" as my tagger reloads, which has been a fun addition of realism.

All that said, this is a sturdy and simple pouch, I'd stake my safety on its construction and would be interested to get my hands on the Mk2 Pouch to compare the improvements.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wish Lust: knife - CardSharp 2

I have to give credit to fellow Blogger  Ninja Space Monkey  for reminding me of this really cool piece of kit. What we have here is the credit card sized folding knife by Iain Sinclair.

When folded up, this polypropylene card measures only 2.2mm thick,and weighs only an astounding 13g. Perhaps even more than the size of the thing, is the way it folds, origami-style, from credit-card to holdable blade, and back again, like some sort of ninja-Transformer.

The blade sports a 65mm edge, and is constructed from surgical blade steel, and is both rust-free and long wearing. When folded up, the polypropylene body covers and protects the blade and the user, with a built-in safety catch, keeping the blade fixed in its folded state. When unfolded, the geometry of the folds puts a guard in place and according to the manufacturer, locks the blade in tightly. The blade itself comes in either Teflon Black or Natural Brushed Stainless Steel and the surfaces can be etched and/or printed on.

Ninja Space Monkey has had some grievances with shipping from Iain Sinclair, and the manufacture quality of a couple of their other products, but was very pleased with this particular piece.

I want one! probably to keep in my CSI Folder, rather than my over-stuffed wallet, but might also find a place on my MAC armour carrier in a pouch, but it looks like a great piece.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Review: First Aid Kit

I'm always on the lookout for things I can add to my store of preparedness items, large and small. We have a pretty well stocked and rotated "medicine cabinet", the odd compression bandage, band-aids, disinfectants and the like, and can manage cuts, bumps and abrasions around the house with little drama, but what we certainly lacked was a single, contained go-to First Aid kit. Even with the windfall of a mostly-full, retired ADF Field Medic Kit, I wanted to have some properly put together First-Aid kits and out of the blue, a 78 Piece Emergency First Aid Kit was advertised and I snapped several up.One for home (now hanging up in our main hallway), one for my car, and one "spare". I'm fond of spares.

Each of these hand-bag sized rip-stop and bright red kits is stuffed with a collection of well laid out items in several easy access pockets. There are three main pockets to this kit, folding over into one easy to see at a glance package. In the middle of this kit are 6 rolled 5cm x 4m bandages, a elastisised compression bandage roll, medical tape, alcohol wipe sachets, a set of plastic forceps, scissors and a set of safety pins.

The inner pocket is covered over by a clear flap, which in turn carries sterilised non-woven wound pads, both in 10cm x 10cm and 5cm x 5cm. It also carries a series of non-adherent 5cm x 7.5cm seterilised pads, an eye-pad and a bundle of elastic band-aid type plasters. Sufficient to patch up all manner of domestic injuries, where more intense medical attention is either not required, or can be at least patched long enough to keep someone from leaking all over the place on the way to see a Doctor.

The final pocket contains several items that I consider important both for specific needs and generally. Befind a hook-and-loop flap are a set of sterile latex gloves provides barrier protection against any infectious agents that may be faced whilst tending someones injuries and I think are crucially important when doing so. I usually put a couple more sets of gloves in any first aid kit I have, for this reason alone. Many years in a microbiology lab have made the phrase "Gloves!" part of my unconscious battle-cry when facing body fluids. A burn dressing is likewise a vital part of any kit. Burns are especially susceptible to infection, and require special care to avoid septic shock setting in, which may occur with fibrous bandages. A triangular bandage is also a welcome addition, being useful as a sling, head bandage and for splints. The inclusion of an instant ice-pack is a great idea , especially if in a remote location, even if it is disposable. I may replace this with a catalytic renewable one at some stage. Lastly, the inclusion of a space blanket made me very happy, as they are an awesome first aid and survival tool as I've said before, when reviewing the Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival kit.

When I was on my Junior High Outdoor Education field trip, in 1991 whilst living in Canada, and up in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, my tent-mate hacking into his thumb with an axe whilst holding the log he was looking to chop. Less-than-stellar, right there. However, I had a first aid kit on hand, and quickly patched him up sufficiently that he could be driven the several hours to the nearest hospital to get the stitches he required. Now, its not like he would have lost his thumb or anything, but having a kit on-hand, and having the where-with-all to act made the rest of his treatment a lot easier. Be prepared. Be equipped. Know what you have and how to use it.

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