Friday, August 26, 2016

Review: MRE review 1/2 day's rations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Review: Baubax jacket

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

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

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

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

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

It is also PACKED with features:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Movie review: Viral

I had a early-to-bed, doing work-from-home, kid-free evening this week, so got to watch a movie of my own choosing. It was pretty cool. Not the movie, getting to choose a movie. Actually, I choose the movies fairly often, but this time I didn't have to take anyone else's interests in account. So I chose one that seemed to be near to my heart. A infectious disaster zombie movie! Yay!

End of the world movies! With science, and zombies. Yay.

 The movie I selected was "Viral" a 2016 straight-to-DVD, as far as I can tell. Here's the basic synopsis from IMDB...

Emma and her sister Stacey are normal teenagers in a small town, when a mysterious infection begins to spread. With the town quarantined, and their parents stuck on the other side of the barrier, the girls have a blast eating junk food and sneaking out to go to parties. But when the disease starts to infect people they know, the girls, together with their neighbor Evan (Emma's secret crush), barricade themselves into their home.

But it may already be too late, as the infection is already in their midst, and Emma will be faced with a choice: protect her sister or survive the virus.

The infection, it turns out is NOT a viral infection, its a multi-cellular parasite, a nematode. A worm. Brain worms! This bothered the scientist in me, as the damn title of the movie was misleading, like if "The Lion King" was about the king of leopards.  However, they did some pretty cool stuff with the premise. Making comparisons to the fungal brain zombie ants,  the "eat me, eat me" behaviour in Toxoplasma infected rats and the flesh burrowing botfly maggot, the disease is spread by a bloody cough from an infected person, victims who become more an more aggressive and essentially, zombied as the worm interacts with the brain.

As a zombie survival film, it was really good. Government intervention in the form of military isolation, martial law, CDC quarantine with spot-checks, house-confinement and eventually, internment and "sweep-and-clean" roundups, followed by liberal airstrike-firebombings.

The disease/parasite aspect was not badly handled at all, and apart from a bit of "too smart / controlling" suspension of disbelief being required, it also had some really good aspects. The infected became blind when the parasite took over, relying on hearing to guide them to new victims which was a nice touch.

The quarantine included delivery of CDC goody boxes of MRE's and survival gear.  Flares (used to signal the military in the event of an infection in the early stages of the outbreak), face-masks and poncho's (for preventing / reducing he risk of contamination) and the like. It was also good to see "we are prepared for this kind of thing" reactions from the populace: under-stocked cupboards, closed and emptied shops, early evacuees and armed cordons. All good things to expect from a dangerous outbreak.

I really enjoyed the movie from a disaster preparedness and response perspective, only had a few "nooo! shut the door, what are you doing?" moments from the kids, and apart from the one or two bits of "hive-mind/pseudo-science" junk, it was remarkably believable and internally consistent.

 It really held the tension, and bleak prospects of a widespread, martial-law enforced (and out of control) quarantine as well as the worm-zombies. Well worth catching on your local streaming movie network of choice.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sneak-Peek: ADF ration pack H

Behold the full contents of an ADF Ration pack, menu "H".

I had the good fortune to have some of these fall into my grabby hands, and I wanted to show off the contents.

This represents an entire days consumables for an Australian infantryman.

Bundled in a heavy plastic cover (broken, for legitimacy's sake).

Snacks, three meals, drinks, tea and coffee, a FRED eating tool, spoon, matches, wipes, Vegemite, all a fighting body needs. 

Stay tuned and I'll cover what a meal is like in more detail.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Review: MTech hatchet1

I have a great fondness for hatchets and tomahawks, and have quite a collection these days, ranging from the low-key Fuller camping hatchet to the knockabout United Cutlery M48 to the singular Boker Tomahook.

A new addition to my armory was a very blingtastic addition, is the MTech - Tactical axe.

At 36cm (14 1/4") overall, this is a decently sized chopper, and at 650g (1.4lbs) its a lightweight piece. Lighter than I would have expected. The axehead is 18cm (7 1/8") with a 9cm (3 1/2") cutting edge. It has a spike on opposite end, some interesting secondary edges, and to top it all off, it's titanium anodized to a gold finish.

It has a black rubberized ABS handle with lanyard loop, which was lightly textured, and peppered with 7 locking bolt and nuts, with Torx fittings. One thing that struck me was that ABS, it really felt flimsy.

Not that it was flexing under my grip, more that it was light, and sounded hollow. The black nylon sheath was simple enough, with a press stud retention loop, and press-stud closures at the rear to keep it in place.

The blade was shipped-sharp, and had a knife edge, with deep secondary grinds not only along the primary face, but also a deep inwardly curved bite in the top of the axehead, as well as the underside of the beard as well. The top of the axe also features a set of aggressively cut jimping.

 I was hard pressed to think of what that top scalloped edge would be useful for, except as an "upwards" thrust with the axe. However, scalloping the blade inwards, rather than having it sweep forwards into a point like in a Dane Axe seemed counter productive. Perhaps as a branch trimmer? More likely to make it look extra cool and scary. Gold. Plated. Scary.

The edge at the underside of the beard was alright as a down-sweeping cutting edge, although it did come back quite close to the very top handholds, and my delicate pink flesh, when using a choked-up grip.

There are cut-aways in the bottom of the axehead for thumb and forefinger to rest in, and they were well placed, but again, there was no beveling, and the sharp edges seemed too close and unguarded.

At the back of the axehead is a spike, ground down into a diamond cross-section, and down to quite a significant point.

I liked the geometry of it, and it certainly had a fair "bite" when punching holes in logs, chipboard and cans.

Overall, the cutting power of the axe was somewhat limited by its light weight design and whilst the knife-edge blade was sharp, and with a thin cross-section. It chopped into boards well enough, and cut through bike-tyre like no-ones business, but on a meaty target like a log, it bit and stuck.

Too light to travel deep enough to cleave, too narrow to form a splitting wedge.

I gave the butt-end a strike, to test durability and its utility as an impact weapon and THIS happened. The ABS plastic, which is what LEGO is made out of, shattered at the shock of impact.

It also exposed the inside of the axe handle, which is something else that  I wanted to bring up.

Having felt how light and "hollow" it sounded, I had taken the handle apart with my trusty min/Inch TORX screwdrivers, and popped it open.

It turns out that as well as the thin and hollow framed handle, which I could have lived with, and probably either filled with resin, or replaced with a cord-wrap, the handle itself was made of three separate pieces of different steel. One for the Ti-anodized blingtastic head, a powder coated lanyard loop piece at the butt-end, and a plain piece through the middle.

I'm sure that made the fabrication easier, but I don't know what kinds of steel are in there, and the welds don't look all that flash to me. I would have some concerns about wailing too hard on a solid door, or a wall, or even a tree-trunk with this.

Perhaps a metallurgist out there can tell me otherwise, but I'm going to relegate to the back of the collection and save the serious work to serious tools.

It seems my MTech Extreme Cleaver was the exception to the rule that these are not hard-use tools.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Review: knock off Gravity Hook

One of my friends lent me this piece to compare. I have covered the Fishbones Gravity Hook a number of times, and have been involved with beta testing, so my appreciation and bias is pretty well known.

It appears that the Kickstarted design that Eldrick Garcia and his team developed, over many iterations, and put into production has been copied and is now for sale and being plugged online. Now, I am all for free market, and it's inevitable that great ideas will be copied, I wanted to try at least to compare and contrast the two designs.

Here are the two hooks side by side, with the Fishbones version on the left, and the Molibao version on the right. You can see they are essentially identical, remarkably so. The "arms" of the hooks are essentially carbon-copy of each other. The arcs, bolt-holes, the middle-notch hole and even the curves of the hooks are identical.

The mounting hardware is different, but bolts and self-locking nuts are ubiquitous, as are the shackle loop at the bottom. No big issues with that, obviously.

The batarang cross-hook pieces indicate pretty well the differences between the two pieces however.

The Fishbone cross-hook is obviously thicker, which is true for the entire construction which is made out of 1/8" thick 304 stainless steel and all of the Gravity Hooks and weighs 360g all told.

You can also see the finish of the Fishbone hook is much neater, with the Molibao finish having a notch still present inside the cross-hook. Thicker steel means stronger steel in my books, assuming it was the same grade, which I have no way of knowing.

The differences between the thicknesses of the steel used between the two Gravity Hooks have been taken into account in the Molibao version, which was good to see.

The notch-holes were differently spaced, and adjusted to still ensure a good fit, so the hook actually works identically to the original.

Essentially, if you didn't know that it wasn't from the original manufactures and had one to had to compare with, you wouldn't know it wasn't an original.

One thing I wanted to cover, then, was the price point. I went back and checked the Fishbone website and the steel Gravity Hook is $39.99, the titanium version is $79.99

On the Nifty Thrifty Store site, where I -think- you can get the real deal (maybe, given the use of the official promo-shots) they are $65.37.

The Molibao versions are on AliExpress and other cheep-gear sites, but really, you get what you pay for. I know you're not supposed to be putting your life on the line (literally) with the Gravity Hooks, but, why not spend a little more, for a better quality, original product, and give back to the people who are doing the innovation in the first place.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Events: Snow trip - gear summary

I was lucky enough to be taken up to the snow for my 40th birthday not long ago, by my mum, who kindly took my whole family up for a long weekend at the Falls Creek snow resort in the Victorian Alps. Snow, in Australia? Yes, it snows here. Sometimes, in a few places. When we went there was a base-cover of around 80cm and it was forecast to be between -3oC and -6oC, with 24cm sow expected each night, or thereabouts.

It was a 5 hour drive, including an hour on the shuttle-bus, as we didn't want to go through the hassle of snow-chains and on-mountain parking, as well as windy, icy mountain roads. Leave it to the professionals, I say, and have a nap on the way.

That said, when we arrive mountain-side, it was sleeting pretty heavily, and continued to do so for the majority of the day. We lost a bunch of snow cover and everybody got damp. Some more than others. That's kind of what I wanted to cover in this post. What I wore to stay warm and dry. What gear  I took.
 Now, I cheated to some extent in that I hired ski-boots, and the outer-layer jacket and ski-pants for when we actually went skiing, (my first time in 20 years, since I lived in Calgary, Canada).

However, I also packed accordingly, for the times I wasn't skiing, and I'm glad I did.

I've had quite some experience in cold climates, both Canada, the UK, Danmark, as well as holidaying and I know they key elements to not having a bad time are to stay dry and warm. Not always both, but if you are one, or the other, you can usually get by. Cold AND wet? You're going to have a bad time.

Here's my layered approach to a trip to the snow:
I wore as my base-layer, the Platatac fleece leggings, and DriFire long sleeve shirt. I don't have any fancy socks, but tend to get hefty heavy-duty socks from the supermarket and wear them to death These ones are Kirkland's,, from Costco. nothing special, but long lasting and don't get stinky.
I wore my Danner Striker ii GTX combat boots, which could do with a thorough polishing, but I hit them with a liberal coating of Kiwi boot waterproofing spray and they worked a treat, even when I stepped through slush up past the ankle. Be sure to open the laces right up if you're waterproofing boots, and get in around the tongue to ensure you don't miss any leakage points.

I looped the leggings foot-hole stirrups over my socks, so they didn't ride up, and I had full coverage from toe to belly-button. Tucking my shirt into the elastic waist of the leggings then carried that all the way up to my neck. No cold draughts.

For my outer layer, I took my snow-proven Propper Adventure Tech shell outer pants, which offer a wind and water proofing layer that I really appreciate. They don't have a lot of pocket real-estate, but I made do, and didn't either loose anything, or lack anything on my adventures.

Over the DriFire shirts, I wore the lightweight Propper windcheater which provided me a really good lightweight dry-layer, as well as having a good neck-seal. My one was a bit too shirt, so my super-long arms tended to poke out, but I had a plan for that anyway.

As my outermost top layer, I chose my Baubax multi-function jacket, which is a semi-hard shell with a hood and thumb-hole fitted wrist extensions. I'll be covering this in detail some time soon. It held the sleet off really well, although the cuffs and the wrist extensions got pretty sodden. They could do with a dose of waterproofing spray as well, I think.

As far as outer layers went, it was a spot on combination for what I was expecting, although had I wanted to stay even dryer, I should have packed my Hazard4 Poncho Villa but I erred on the side of less gear. I should have left out my spare 90's era snow-pants I got when we moved to Calgary, but I'll pack it next time.

For head and hands, I wore my Peruvian fleece caps, along with one or two Headsox to keep my neck, mouth and ears warm. I wore my dual layer, long wristed Condor Nomex gloves which I also gave a liberal waterproofing. That can of spray was an excellent addition and I can't recommend them enough. I think I shall trial a few different ones soon.

I wore a skiing helmet, to which I mounted my Contour Cam in its waterproof case. I gave the misty fogging Arena Flakjack goggles, with a smoky lens fitted, which remained mostly useable when I was skiing, but I needed to keep taking them off and wiping them off. The goggles really helped me have a clear and wind-free view of where I was going at upwards of 40kph downhill, who knew? I didn't hit ANYTHING this time. (I killed two aspen saplings at least, when living in Calgary).

I wore my Platatac Bravo hydration pack, with a 3L Source WXP bladder in it. I have a Blackhawk Side Plate carrier mounted to the bottom of my Bravo, as its hook-and-loop top makes it an excellent flat-pack pocket.

All in all, I was really pleased with my loadout, but most of all, I can't go without saying that my favourite bit of cold-weather kit was the SORD StormTrooper belt-fitted muff. Not only did it's pockets keep my needfuls (like my Manta emergency strobe, CLIF bars, and the like), they also were a place for me to stuff my gloves, and also just plain keep my hands warm. Warms hands mean good-times.

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