Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Review: how much knife is too much knife?

As you might have guessed, I'm rather keen on my edged tools. There is something very satisfying about a well honed blade cutting smoothly, and even more so when having a blade on hand means that a task or obstacle is swiftly completed or overcome. I've covered a variety of knives here previously, but something prompted me to ask myself "how much knife is too much knife?"

First lets address some local laws that I live subject to:

New Weapons Laws
"Release date: Thu 3 June 2010
Last updated: Fri 13 August 2010
The Victorian Government has introduced new laws to target knife crime.
From 22 August 2010 you can be searched for knives in a public place anywhere, anytime, with and without notice.
If you are 16 and over and get caught carrying a controlled weapon such as a knife, you face an on the spot fine of $1,000, or you may have to go to court and face a fine of over $14,000 or one year imprisonment.
This penalty is doubled if you are inside or within 20 metres of a pub, club or bar."

and some further clarification and explanation:

Controlled Weapons

Controlled weapons are weapons that can be used for legitimate purposes but require regulation because of the possible danger they pose to the community. This category of weapon includes knives that while not considered prohibited weapons, still are a potential danger to the community.
A person must not possess, carry or use a controlled weapon without lawful excuse. Lawful excuse includes:
a) the pursuit of any lawful employment, duty or activity
b) participation in any lawful sport, recreation or entertainment, and
c) the legitimate collection, display or exhibition of weapon.

Lawful excuse does not include for the purpose of self-defence
. [Bold by author]

Now, as it happens, I hold an exemption to the Weapons Control Act, as a collector, and am also a member of several collector organizations, as well. I happen to carry a couple of knives on or around my person as part of my EDC, and I make damn sure that in doing so, I have good reasons quick to mind.

In making the choice to carry a knife on my person, I am aware of the risks, both legal and to health and safety. So, that being said, what do I carry, when, and why?

In the picture above is a small sample of my collection

  1. Victorinox Swiss Army Knife - I keep this in the sun-visor of my car, good for opening things, picking teeth, fixing small tasks and personal grooming. I have had one these little guys since I was 5. About as inoffensive as a knife can get.
  2. CRKT folding KISS - This is my every-day knife, I keep it in my Hazard 4 harness, and have used it for everything from cutting fruit and salami, to cables, opening boxes, cutting rope and picking splinters. Its my go-to utility knife for work cutting and first aid needs. Seeing as it sits well out of the public eye, and I have a variety of uses for it, I'm content with my ass-covering.
  3. SAR Globaltool OddJob - Just as the name says, I use this little knife for odd-jobs. I usually wear it on my belt when I know I will be needing to do a lot of little cuts, unpacking furniture or parcels, or when I know I'll need to make one or two little cuts, quickly. Makes a great camping / hiking knife, and I also wear it when I know I'll be on First-Aid or safety Officer duties at events. Unobtrusive but getting a little "technical" for street-wear.
  4. Schrade Army 10 - Totally a tactical knife. I've never actually used this other than during the review process, it falls out of my user-category. If I were an avid hunter or active duty Armed Forces, it might well fill I niche I would need, but as it stands, its too much knife for my little needs, and not enough for the bigger ones. There's nothing wrong with it at all, but it's "a soldier knife" and I have other needs and tools.
  5. HHA LFK01 - Tactical all the way, this blade I gave to my partner as a gift a couple of years ago, as she has a thing for back-swept blades, but neither she nor I would wear it out in public, unless society had fallen. It's a very effective, rugged and sharp tool, but it wants to be in combat, so it lives in the collection only.
  6. Hibben style throwers - I have several of these. They balance well, throw nicely and make for good box-openers, but don't believe what Under Siege teaches us, they don't actually make for good kitchen knives. Throwing knives are also listed as "prohibited items" in Victoria. Be advised.
  7. American Kami Super Colubris - My beloved combat kitchen knife, this is my go-to outdoors knife, whether it is camping, BBQ'ing (though sometimes I fall back on my MSM KA-Bar knife for the same task) or just kitchen and household cutting needs. This is weighty, long and sharp enough to tackle bigger tasks, but fine handling enough for delicate fileting and slicing. Again, I wouldn't wear it on the street, but it doesn't leave my hip when out bush.
  8. Boker 343 Scalpel folder - This interesting little blade lives in my bag, in a pen-slot, usually, or fitted in PLAS-MOLLE channels on my other gear, when I feel the need. It's long handle and thin, narrow and long blade make it an excellent precision slicer, and it is plenty pointy enough to make an excellent probing cut. It looks kind of scary, so it falls under my "first aid and technical precision tool" category, and rarely sees light of day. 
  9. MichaelJ Fechner utility-blade - This beast is a serious industrial tool. I've worn it as a camp-knife, but really, its primary function is almost agricultural. Chopping woody branches and cutting through heavy canvas, breaking up pallets and prying up boards. This is a knife that wouldn't look out of place in a tradesmans toolbox or on a pipe-hitters belt. As with the Super Colubris, I wouldn't wear it to the shops, but when I'm gloves and goggles on, doing work, its perfectly suited.
  10. KA-Bar Pestilence - Now, if I ever have to clear my way through some bad-assed bush I would be tempted to break out the Pestilence, there is a time and place for cane-knives and machetes. Any other time? You are showboating. It's a surprisingly spry blade in the hand, but unless I were needing to clear a field or lop some limbs, I wouldn't be going to this one.
So there you have it.  There certainly is occasion where the tool at hand may well me "too much knife" just as it might be "too little" but odds are, you can probably get away with less, in most settings, if you know what you are doing. This is why kitchen knife-blocks come with a variety, and all the knives have names and uses.

Be clever with your cutlery, be aware of any laws and legislation you are subject to, and always, always, be ready for anything!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Review: Great Outdoors - Silver Grande 9L

Having quite the expansive family these days (3-4 adults, 1-2 little kids, depending on who is around) when we go camping, (which really isn't often enough) we try to make the most of it, and be as comfortable as possible.

Once the little ones have grown up a bit, we might consider more hiking type trips, but until then, we camp where we can unload the SUV. That means we can afford to camp BIG. This means, in this case, we can take a big tent like the Great Outdoors - Silver Grande 9L.

Unfortunately it seems the "Great Outdoors" line has gone under, but similar tents like the Spinifex Franklin, or the Wild Country - Getaway II 9MR but none that I've found in my recent searches have the four-room option that the Silver Grande features.

 The Silver Grande is split into four distinct areas, each with a 360o zippered vestibule, and close-to-the-flood bulkheads. The whole of the base is bucketed to a good height, ensuring that the interior stays dry in inclement weather.
image swiped from eBay

This really is quite the palatial tent with measures 6.4m in overall length (2.1 x 2.2 x 2.1) and 3m wide in the middle, 2.15m at the end rooms. The front room adds another 2.1m to the width to a total of 4.3m. The side rooms are a little bit shorter than the main central room, which tops out at a very respectable 2m15m.

With all the internal doors open, and wrapped up in their self-storing toggle and loop attachments the interior is really very spacious. The walls are at a high angle, so you maximize the available space, so often lost in lower dome tents. The internal walls are all a very light, breathable material, and well fitted. Window and main exterior doors are all fitted with a translucent insect proof mesh, with clear PVC windows and a skylight in the flysheet.

two sets of colour coded poles make up the structural supports, and each is designed to slot into sleeves built into the inner shell, and mount on captive pegs attached to split rings, attached to the base.
image swiped from eBay

The fly itself is a silvered 3000mm rated waterproofed polyester. It has hook-and-loop tabs situated at key points to anchor it to the poles for added wind resistance. The inner shell also features clasps on elastic loops, ensuring both a taught but also stable attachment. Without the fly, the tent is very light and airy, with the large swathes of mesh siding and the very light material of the walls letting light stream in. The silvered fly adds a significant level of shade, without being gloomy, and dramatically cuts the wind. It also blocks out harmful UV radiation, and keeps the tent cool in the Australian sun.

With the doors open, or at least set up in the awning-up configuration, with each of the side rooms having the option to put one up, and the main room from the back side also can be set up as an awning. One set of poles are provided to do this.

The rooms all have sets of pockets built into the walls, either in the corners, or in the under-window areas.

image swiped from eBay
There are also loop attachment points on the ceiling, and the internal door toggle and loop fittings also provide attachment points, for lights, clothes and the like. The storage setup is quite thoughtful, ans also takes advantage of the high-angled walls effectively.

The tent's "front room" doesn't have the same bucketed floor as the main body of the tent, but does feature an attached floor that is mounted to the front wall of the main room. The flysheet covers this area and provides a sheltered, but not sealed enclosure. We typically use this area for gear storage, leaving our camp-kitchen, food stores and the like in here, and as a boot-changing area.
image swiped from eBay

Not being sealed, you still need to be aware of bugs and other creatures getting in and around your gear. This can be a real concern for those of us who live in Australia. Or perhaps in North America if you have racoons and bears to worry about.

This is billed as a 9 person tent, and there is plenty of room for that many, if you make good use of the floorspace and don't need to have too much walking around room. We generally have had one of the side rooms for Tactical Baby and Triceratops Girl, with their fancy collapsible camp bunk bed, the main room and the other side room for the adults. In doing so, we can open or close the internal walls for (visual) privacy, and also use them to keep any bugs in or out, as the case may be. The walls are translucent enough that lights can be shone through them, to give a nice ambient glow and a central lantern can illuminate the entire interior sufficiently for everyone to find their beds and boots.

Being a thin walled tent, you obviously don't get much in the way of sound dampening, so be sure to pick your company and camp site well!

The flexibility of having doors for each room was a great addition, especially as we use the central room as the main bedroom, but left me with the concern that the zipper-capable little ones might wake up, and wander off into the bush at night. This was easily solved by extending the exterior door zippers all the way to the top of its arc, well out of little-hands reach. We also left the internal door unzipped at little-people height, so they could come in to us if needed, but still providing some more of the bug-limiting compartmentalization.

One feature that we've never made use of are the floor-height zippered cable and hose ports, situated just above the bucket sidings in the rooms, allowing us to feed power or plumbing into the tent. Even at powered sites, we don't tend to bring mains-charged items with us, so this hasn't been needed.

Just remember, this all comes at a cost, weight. 28kg of weight. This is a big tent, and whilst the bag is easy enough to stow in the back of the RAV4, a bit unwieldy (it's dive-bag sized) and it has wheels on the bottom corners, but it is heavy. Way to heavy to hike with. This is a drop and build base-camp item, not a roving set. That said, with instructions sewn into the bag, and colour coded poles and sleeves, (which we augmented with permanent marker, to indicate which way around the fly needs to sit) the whole thing takes about 15 minutes to put up, and 20-25 minutes to pull down and pack up. All in all this is a great family tent, and if we ever needed to abandon home for any reason, and have no fixed plan of where we might stay, I would strongly consider this as a temporary retreat.

It certainly works for short to medium term camp-outs for us.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Review: Weed Forager's Handbook

I was very lucky that for my birthday, a most lovely lady friend of mine gifted me with a most marvelous book.

She knows of my proclivity for self-sufficiency and likewise has an eye for it herself. She had been on a series of Edible Weed walks and workshops, run here in urban Melbourne, and thought to buy me the accompanying book:
The Weed Forager's Handbook:
"A Guide to Edible and Medicinal Weeds in Australia"

Full of full colour photos and classically rendered botanical illustrations, this 166 page manual contains detailed edibility and medicinal notes on 20 common weeds, that can be found in my local area, and in most regards, Western urban environments. the book itself is small enough to fit easily in a cargo-pants pocket, and even a back-pocket. Great for those foraging trips around the neighborhood. 

I've made several meals containing greens I have sourced from on or around my home, in the laneway and up and down the nature strip of my quiet suburban street.

As well as the main 20, there are  another 14 short profiles of useful plants. Each of the listings comes with tales from history and folklore regarding the plants, as well as a good introduction to known poisonous plants hat should NOT be harvested.

I knew nettles were edible, but didn't know how to harvest and prepare them, and they are delightful!
Likewise, dandelions and wild lettuce grow around my house, and they have also made it onto the table, in soups and stews, and even as a boost to salads.

This book by Adam Grubb and Annie Raser-Rowland has added to my spread of knowledge with regards putting good food on the table, and even though I might have had to sneak it past the finicky teenager, I like to think that I am adding to the nutritional bounty of our otherwise distant farm and supermarket sourced food.

It also never hurts to know what will make a needful addition to the pot, should the shops be bare and the roads closed!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Review: Fenix - E99Ti light

I really enjoy flashlights (torches, they call them here), and if it's not a knife, a pouch or packs that arrives in the mail, its likely to be a torch of some kind. My first Fenix torch was the TK-51, which I got following meeting their CEO and VP at the SSAA SHOT Show. I was fairly devastated when a fortnight or so ago, my car got broken into, and one of the things I lost was the TK-51. I had the majority of my performance lights in the car that night, and was left somewhat in the dark as a result.

Thankfully, I had recently received this little beauty in the mail, having won a competition with Fenix Worldwide. This is their Limited Edition E99 Ti.

The E series is for EDC, where the TK is for Tactical. This light does the job perfectly. At just 6.6cm long, and 1.5cm in diameter, it is only marginally bigger than the AA battery it is powered by. It is machined from two pieces of alpha titanium4 alloy, this unit weighs just 18g (0.6oz) without the battery in it.

It comes with a flatish flanged base, and a lanyard hole drilled into one of the flanges. I quickly added it to my keychain of goodies and it's ridden in my pocket ever since.

4 lumen - low, 3m outdoors
4 lumen - low, 3m room

The Cree XP-E2 LED has a lifespan of 50,000 hours, and the digitally maintained brightness circuit ensures constant brightness. The cool thing with this light is that it has three settings, activated by the screw-to light top of the light. a 1/6th turn of the head is enough to trigger the light, and by selectively turning it on and off again, in a 2-second window, the light steps up from a subdued 4 lumen, to a mild 27 lumen, and up to its maximum 100 lumen output.

27 lumen - medium, 3m room
27 lumen - medium, 3m outdoors

100 lumen - high, 3m outdoors
Capable of standing up securely on a flat surface to serve as a candle, and able to cast to a maximum of 41m, which is not small feat for a single AA light, the E99 offers a 420candlepower maximum intensity. That's a whole lot of light. It comes at a cost though, at maximum brightness, you only get 50 minutes tops, at medium 4 1/4 hours, and somewhere between 28-30 hours at the lowest setting.  The twist-to use and change feature took a little getting used to, but it is stable, and robust.

100 lumen - high, 3m room

 Again, that's still a lot of light for such a small package. It dies get hot after not long on the 100 lumen setting, and a built in drop-down to medium after about 3 minutes is built in, for safety. Drop safe to1m (table height) and water resistant (IPX-8 rated) to 2 m this light will take the bumps and dunks that you might expect to just be able to shake off yourself too. I imagine it would take a fair bit more abuse, but given that it lives in my right front pocket, I will try to avoid testing that too heavily.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Review: Hummingbird - Mega hammock

Summer has arrived here in Melbourne ( don't let the rain and storms fool you) and I have broken the hammocks out, because in the afternoon and evenings, our house retains the heat and radiates like an oven.

I've covered hammocks before, with the Eagles Nest single hiking hammock, but I found an excellent Kickstarter for a mega hammock, to suit my burgeoning family needs. The good folks at Hummingbird Hammocks pitched a "Mega Hammock" and successfully funded.

The mega hammock is designed to hold three to five people, and is rated to carry 450kg (1000lbs). I like to sling it in my back yard, and have taken it camping (although we didn't find a good place to set it up, so haven't had the pleasure of sleeping in it, in the wild).  It measures 5.5m x 2.4m (18' x 8) and spreads out nicely.

Three distinct panels are sewn together to form the body of the hammock, and Hummingbird are proud to say that they use construction techniques borrowed from the Parachute Industry Association, and materials that are likewise parachute grade.

Their mega hammock is made out of 1.9oz polyurethane coated ripstop nylon, which is incredibly strong (rated at about 100lbs per square inch.) The edges of the hammock have type 17 nylon webbing sewn in and used for the attachment points to the four corners. This webbing is rated for 1100kg (2500lbs), will not stretch, and is low bulk. The fabric has a lot of give, and the edge seams and the three panel seams are sewn such that you get uniform "give" throughout.

All the stitching is done on an industrial sewing machine using size 69 bonded nylon thread, which along with everything else used to make the hammocks is very strong and is the very same thread used on parachutes.

They offer several different colours, but I jumped at the coyote-brown option, whcih also goes some way to cover up any goopy-hands stains that my minions may present.

In additiontothe webbing loops in the corners, Hummingbird supply soft link attachments instead of traditional carabiners. These are apparently used widely in skydiving today as a means of connecting the parachute lines to the jumper. They contain no hard parts, are stronger than a carabiner of similar size, weigh next to nothing, and are impossible to cross load.

A simple length of high strength cord, with a loop at either end, one end having a tab of webbing sewn in.  You loop it through itself twice, and you have a light, secure and bomb-proof anchor connector. I have lengths of 2" webbing that I use as my attachment to the steel beams, concrete pillars and roofing beams that I sling mine off. I figure the 5500lbs breaking load the webbing means I don't have to worry where I sling this. Perfect for the rafters of an abandoned warehouse, or between Ewok trees.

The hammock comes with its own stuff-sack, and packs down into a small-pillow or sleeping bag sized bundle. It was quite an investment, but thus far, if nothing but the joy of my littles ones is a measure, it's been fully worth it. Having a portable, hardy betting option is nothing to be sniffed at either, and there are many situations where I would want to bunk-down well off ground level.

Especially if I need to watch out for stobor.

The Hummingbird Mega hammock certainly is big, and quite comfortable with a number of people in it. Be sure to sling it high enough to be off the ground when loaded up, but not so high as to be impossible to get in or out comfortably.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Home Front: summer garden 2014

As with previous years, I planted a vegetable garden over the winter-spring cusp, in order to have a good summer crop of greens.

Using wood I reclaimed from pallets that had been left on the road-side by a neighbor who was having some renovations done, I built this box in an afternoon, dug post holes, dropped it in place and left it lay-fallow with weed-suppressing cardboard boxes lining the base. I then filled the box 3/4 the way up with a mulch/soil mix that I had purchased (and got a water-saving rebate for), and hit our local garden/hardware store for seedlings.

In previous years I have planted in our low-sided veggie patches, but this year, as a result of my lovely partner Omega's request for a raised bed, to give better access to our crops without the need for bending and kneeling, which is one reason I built a hip-high box.

These little guys are the other reason. We now have four Flemish Giant rabbits. They started off palm sized, and will eventually get to be 10 kg (22 lb) each. I have now made two wired-off enclosures for them to run in, but we found they could both climb, and hop into the raised bed. Hence the "over the top" chicken wire over the bed, and the over-hanging lip to make a more effective perimeter fence.

A lucky finding was that the rabbits didn't like the artichoke plant that we had regrow this year from last years failed attempt. We've managed several meals worth of artichokes and Tactical Baby enjoys selecting which "dinosaur flowers" we are going to have. There are also several onion plants in there, also segregated from the bunnies, and it looks like we might have some invincible potato plants coming up as well.

I lined the side of the raised bed with a strip of copper tape, which has proven to be an effective slug and snail deterrent. We did have a cabbage moth caterpillar problem, which was attacking the broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage plants we planted, but the invading bunnies ate all the buds from them anyway, so we lost those crops.

What we do have going however is two kinds of kale, spinach,  Vietnamese mint and coriander, tomato and spring onions. We also have several eggplants on the go in there.

Its a very high density plot, and it takes some rummaging to get from one plant to another, but being hip-high has been a great improvement.

My other partner Lorin has been admonishing me for planting the tomatoes in there, and not separately, because of how big they've gotten, but I'm a sucker for high density, bountiful and bodacious harvests, and that covers my gardening too!

We might even give the vertical garden another go, although we've left it a bit late in the season. Between the two extra rain barrels we put in, and the unfortunate reduction in our number of chookens (lost 7 overnight, some kind of illness, down to one, the unkillable Princess Layer, veteran of four previous calamities) we might even make more use of the back yard this summer. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Movies: These Final Hours, Aftermath

 It's getting to be holiday season, so I thought I'd tempt you with a couple of films to set your moods. Its going to be a hot, dry and probably burning summer here in Australia. We're all waiting for the next installment in the Mad Max franchise, which I can tell you, was pretty formative for me, even the Mad Duo see the effect it's had on me.

I've always enjoyed disaster flicks, for both situation suggestions, but also for the "no, NO you idiot, take that, leave those, get out of there, CLOSE THE DOOR" moments that I can share with my friends. Its even better when the movies are more "Everybody Smith" than "Master Sergeant Squarejaw", because I can relate more, myself.  It goes doubly so when the setting is one I recognize and relate to: I was thrilled by 28 Days Later far more than by Armageddon .

So, here are two trailers I saw not too long ago, for movies I hope to watch on my days off as I'm canning supplies and sharpening my Tomahook.

These Final Hours (2014)

It's the last day on earth, twelve hours before a cataclysmic event will end life as we know it. James makes his way across a lawless and chaotic city to the party to end all parties. Along the way, he somewhat reluctantly saves the life of a little girl named Rose who is desperately searching for her father. Stuck with the unexpected burden of responsibility, James is forced to come to terms with what really matters in life as the final hours tick away.

Aftermath (2014)

The devastating horror of a nuclear apocalypse is now reality and nine desperate strangers find themselves clinging to life in a farmhouse cellar, while radioactive fallout descends on the darkened world above. These would-be survivors face the nightmare of dwindling supplies, poisonous air and the greatest threat of all - the hordes of zombie-like refugees who want in. With each dying day, their choice becomes clearer - stay and let the makeshift shelter become their tomb or face the unknown terrors of the world outside.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review: 15L Dry Bag

Whether you're stuck on the side of a hill in monsoon season or you're kayaking to your bug-out shack, it pays to have a means of keeping your kit dry and safe. When I first got my Aquayak kayak, I saw these, and thought that I should add them into my collection at some stage.

Made from 70D nylon fabric with reinforced and sealed seems,  drybags like these are also treated to 7000mm waterproofness rating. 7m is a lot of depth for a bag, but a deep rating is better than a shallow one!

Attachment loops at the top which tie in to the sealing system give you hanging points, if not a carry system.

One of the key things about these kinds of bags is the closure system. With a seam of webbing along the lip, and a fastex style clip at either end, the bag is sealed by tightly wrapping the lip over and over itself, then clasping the clips together, it locks itself in tight.

The seal it produces is very tight, and gives the bag a near airtight seal. It is in fact so airtight that you need to take that into account when loading it up and sealing it up.

If you don't squeeze all the air out of the bag first, you get an inflated and buoyant bag. Emptied of air and you can get a dense, compacted and watertight storage unit.

I managed to fit several of my Platatac Half-fleece jumpers and a blanket in this one, and have had no trouble filling it with a number other items. The smallish circumference makes it for easy stowage, either in my kayak, slung under a pack or in the boot of the car.

Either way, its a very good way of keeping valuables high and dry.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Events: Three years. 430 articles, 472,000 views.

Here we are at the end of 2014. Next year we can expect Marty McFly to ride his hoverboard, and the Events of Neon Genesis Evangelion are to begin. Good times.

Where it all started!

Two year review!

400 posts shout-out

This has been a busy year, I've not managed to post as often as I'd like, due to work and home commitment, but I've been delighted with the responses I've had, both in regular readership, new readers and whole new frontiers.

I'm thrilled to have been taken up as a writer for both BreachBangClear and RecoilWeb, as well as keeping in touch with the folks at Zombease and my fellow Z.E.R.T members.

I like to think my writing style has matured, and my skill levels have increased, both in my survival and preparatory skill sets, but also in my reviewing and planning skill sets. I also seem to be almost singlehandedly keeping the Kickstarter community funded, and gladly.

Thanks to all of you; good prepping, be equipped and ready for anything!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review: Propper - Gen Multipurpose Bag

As first seen on RecoilWeb .....

Here is another part of my Propper haul, and one that I have been getting a whole lot of utility out of.  I took it with me to Fiji for my island get-away, and it rode as my carry-on as well as emergency toddler change station. It's been my day-to-day bag since then, swapping out from my beloved Platatac Bullock Echo as I've needed a more briefcase style option rather than a backpack for my current duties.

This is the Propper Gen Multipurpose Bag and it punches well above its weight.

Filled with storage options, the bag offers a rather large carry-capacity to an otherwise standard briefcase-style design.  I can fit three 2L (2.1qt) milk jugs to the main compartment with no problem.

One of the first things I noticed, and have come to love, about this bag, was the easy-access, dual zipper opening, tapered grab handles. Grab and yank, and the bag opens up. No more fiddly zipper pulls and fine motor skills needed to grab your needfulls. More on that later.

The bag has a wide webbing strap, with a very well made non-slip shoulder-pad, a real boon for a habitual over-packer like myself. The shoulder pad itself has webbing loops that allow you to fix it in place via hook-and-loop tabs, through the pad, to eliminate slippage.  The strap can be adjusted at each end with a broad tri-glide loop, and there is a big-mouth 50mm (2") Fastex buckle at each end of the strap, for quick release. One of my biggest gripes with previous satchels has been the "slung across my chest" trap.

There is also a inset pocket at each end of the bag, between the main compartment and the side-saddle pockets, that very neatly fits my Propper Liberty bottle and even takes my venerable 1L SIGG bottle
The "front" panel of the bag is faced with a broad loop field, for patches, and I've made great use of that. Inside that front facing panel is a very spacious document compartment, with three distinct sections, that will fit a number of CD cases, iPads and the like. A hook-and-loop tabbed strap keeps your valuable documents and devices secured, and as with all the zippers on this bag, it features rubber-moulded zipper-pulls as well as "inverted" zipper material to give maximum crud intrusion protection.  
The opposing "inside" facing panel features an even greater selection of pockets, for holding all your needful tools and tricks. 
I have mine loaded up with a variety of goodies; both eating and entry hardware, medical and electronic. Things I don't like to leave home without! 
Again, the double  rubber-molded zipper pulls give good, fast access to my kit, and the panel itself offers a flat clean workspace that is flush to the ground, thanks to the design. 
You can see the main carry handles extend all the way through the pack from the side panels,  they continue all the way under the bag as it happens. They are NOT going to tear off, no matter what you fill it with.
The main compartment has its own surprises as well. Twin storage pockets add further capacity to the narrow ends and the bottom of the compartment is lined with loop-field to facilitate the removable divider, which itself has zippered pockets for business cards, death-cards, whatever. 
It is also loop-faced and includes a 3-channel organizer for all your highlighter pens, or double stacked mags, to go along with the hook-field sided adjustable pistol sleeve that would accommodate most handguns. I don't have any justification to have that in use, but you might. 
Coupled with the grab handle opening strap and you have a quick-access concealed carry option right there.

The side pockets, two on one end, and one bigger one on the other, follow the same pattern. Taped seams, inverted zipper runs to keep crud out, and internal pockets to maximize organization. The single big side pocket also features a clear plastic external ID pocket.

One more cool feature are the twin, adjustable hook-and-loop retention straps for an umbrella or flashlight that sits over the"inside" pocket. It also happens to be a perfect fit for my DeadOn Anihilator Superhammer, because, you never know ...

All in all, this is a pretty awesome bag. It certainly does everything it sets out to do, and had weathered all I've thrown at it, from kicking around trains, planes and hospitals, to being an overnight bag and a day-to-day hauler of my ever changing loadout.
If I had to pick something to gripe about it would be the overall "width" of the bag. When I sling it either across the front of my hips like a paratroopers reserve, I've found that it is  so wide that I bump and brush people with it where normally I wouldn't have, with a backpack. Same goes when I sling it behind me. The addition of the end pockets, whilst adding valuable additional storage, also add to the bulk of the bag.

That said, I'm very pleased with it, and will keep using it until it dies or I find something better.

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