Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: Platatac Bravo Hydration

With the upcoming Tough Mudder Australia event this weekend, I wanted to show you one piece of kit that I've been using, both for preparation for this, but also on my Stargate Lasertag LRP events, as well as a good solid piece of outdoor and adventure kit. This is the Platatac Bravo Hydration System, which is coupled with a Source WXP 3L Bladder. This was an item that I managed to put on my wish-list, and was lucky enough to receive. I've always been fond of keeping fluids on me, mostly with my combination of my SIGG bottle, which I've reported on, and carry in a FUP pouch everywhere I go. However, sometimes it's more practical to sling all of that onto a backpack, rather than hanging off a belt, especially if you're going to be away from reliable water for a while, or know you'll be doing some hot hard work. That's where a bladder reservoir comes in so handy, especially if they are well made, and carried. That's where the Bravo comes in.

As with all the Platatac range, it's made from the 1000d Cordura, and features a 4 channel, 6 row battery of PALS/MOLLE attachment points on the back, as well as 3 nylon D-clips on the sides of each ventral edge. These are great for either attaching the pack to another piece of gear, like a pack or plate-carrier, or to sling shock-cord through to attach items to the Bravo itself, like a poncho, or the like. The Bravo also comes equipped with a reinforced drag-handle, with hook-and-loop for nameplates or the like and also a hanging loop, which I've found very useful. As you can see from the side-profile, the pack itself expands quite a lot, and there is in fact room for an entire second hydration bladder, should you so desire, (remembering that 1L water = 1kg!) but it also means that there is room within the pack for other things (be sure not to pack anything pokey though!). You could also use the D-clips to use shock cord to compress the pack, keeping the load snug and secure, and adding some water-pressure, but I haven't had any concerns with this.

 The "front" of the pack looks like front side of most backpacks, with a couple of exceptions. As well as the usual Fastex clips and webbing loops, a couple of D-Clips and a sternum-strap for stability (which also includes a signalling whistle in the clip, nice one Platatac!). The backing of the Bravo is a moisture wicking-mesh, and features a drainage grommet. The zipper for access to the insides of the pack is on the "inside" and can be seen as the big curved arc at the top of the pack here. There are ports for the hydration tube at either shoulder, and large squares of hook-and-loop towards the top the shoulder-strap gives you more control over the placement and movement of the tube. The wide mouthed screw opening of the bladder fits snugly into the dorsal side of the pack, and is totally removable.

The Source bladder that came with the Bravo is all kinds of awesome as well, featuring their TASTE-FREE™/BACTERIA-FREE™/CARE-FREE™ Grunge-Guard™ System which basically equates to a easy to clean, easy to maintain, and nice to use bladder and drinking tube (which is in itself covered in a woven tube, for protection, UV resistance and insulation). The mouthpiece is angled 90o which means it is easier to use, with less cod needed to get it into your mouth, and features a really good drinking valve. Both the mouthpiece and tube detach from the bladder for ease of cleaning, with spill-free valves built in, and the bladder itself has both a wide mouthed screw opening and a fold-and-slide closure too. I had some misfortune with my first bladder, after not reading the care-manual, I rinsed it out with hot-hot water, which somewhat melted and warped the bag. DON'T DO THIS!

I'm really pleased with the Bravo, and the Source bladder Platatac paired it with. Its been out adventuring with me a couple of times, and will be getting a serious workout this Saturday at Tough Mudder. Wish me, and my gear, good luck!


I survived the Tough Mudder, as did my Bravo! I really appreciated having a source (har har) of hydration along the way, and it also gave me a good platform to run my Contour GPS off (although running makes the footage a bit jiggy).

The pack stayed snug to me as I ran, crawled, slid, swam, climbed and trudged my way through the course, was barely noticeable as far as wear and rubbing is concerned and the tube system was really convenient. The mud-cap worked really well, and hardly any muck got on the mouthpiece, even when I was caked with almost an inch of it to my whole front. I saw a lot of discarded hydration systems, mostly cheep looking ones, Camelback being the only name I recognized, but there was no way I was going to discard mine! One thing I noticed, the wide-mouth screw-cap leaked a bit. Should it have an o-ring in it? Maybe Platatac can let me know if I've lost mine, or just didn't screw iit down tight enough.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Review: North Face pants

Welcome back, readers. I've been a bit slack recently whilst working hard, traveling and generally trying to be a more rounded person. Well, I've had enough of that and its time to get back to Apocalypse Blogging! I like to pack lightly, if I can, at least in regards to what I'll be wearing. SO I often look for clothes that will serve me over several different seasons in one day. Melbourne is like that, and I like being able to move from warm to chill, indoor to outdoor, with ease and still fit in wherever I go. I've been wearing cargo-pants for years now, and cargo-kilts to boot, but last Giftmas, my lovely partner got me a set of these, which are smart looking and add a touch of slacks to my otherwise khaki wardrobe. Here they are on me, the North Face Burke pants in "NEW TAUPE" after a week-long trip to New Zealand for work, and wrangling Triceratops Girl and Tactical Baby on my return. The best parts of these pants are their ease of wearing, and how they handle a variety of use and still coming up looking snappy. I keep my pants up here with my 215Gear Riggers Belt which made it though airport security without having to come off even once, WINNING! The only drawback is the belt loops being a little narrow, I had to detach the male end of the Cobra buckle to feed it through.

So, what can I tell you about the pants? They are made of a 92% Nylon, 8% Elastine blend, which is supple, abrasion-resistant with very good stretching, whilst not feeling like wearing baggy lycra. A cool thing about the fabric is that is has been treated with a Durable water repellent (DWR) finish which I found was able to not only shed the light drizzle and fog I encountered in Wellington, but dried really swiftly when it did become damp. It also stays fairly clean, even after several crammed-into-economy-seat airplane meals and a weeks wear, and baby-dribblings. There are several pockets, which I always find very handy. One great feature of these, are the zippers that are fitted, which are reverse-coil zipped for smooth opening and were cleverly placed so that the zipper head tcked under a hood, out of the way, and snag free. The two front pockets, two at the back and one at the leg feature that zipper closure, and there is a second front of leg, unzippered pocket as well.

I really like being able to stow my needfuls, and have them on-hand when I need them, or just to free up my hands for a moment whilst I breach containment, make up a baby bottle, or crawl under a desk to find loose cabling. I wanted to show you the insides of these pants too. The waist band is Brushed tricot, and is both smooth, soft and grippy, an unusual combination, sure, but helped to keep my shirts tucked in, as well as feeling pretty good on the skin when going topless. You can also see the stitching, which was solid all the way though, and also isn't rough on the skin after prolonged wear. The waist size worked well for me, and was true-to-measure, I tend to get a size or so too wide, and belt up, in order to get legs long enough. The fit around the legs was great, and the range of motion, and their "ride" was really good too. The fabric clung to me knees a bit when clambering over obstacles, but the stretch of the fabric stopped this from slowing me down much. The material is also very light, and surprisingly good at stopping the high winds I encountered in Wellington, crease resistant and roll up nicely to convert these pants into erstwhile shorts when the need arises. They also stayed wrinkle free, which was a super bonus. So, in summary, I can heartily recommend these pans for those who want the functionality of outdoorsy clothes, pockets and durability, but don't wish to look all "tacti-cool" at the office, lab or airport-security line.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Home Front: Airports

Location Location Location: Airports

Having been in a few recently, I have given some time to thinking about airports and how they may be utilized in the event of disaster. I've been in a lot of airports around the world, and spent many hours sitting and wandering around them. I've always paid attention to the areas that passengers can go, emergency exits, emergency services and even the shops that line the through fairs. The design of airports is presumably a well documented topic, but one I am unschooled in. I'll instead discuss only my observations and suppositions, rather than points of confirmed data.

So, bearing that in mind, here are some things that I've observed. Large metropolitan airports are large, high maintenance entities. They have many service dependent features, not the least is the human element. Airports y their very nature are hubs of transport and have a heavy throughput of traveling people, as well as those picking up and dropping off. They also have a fairly significant service population; shop attendants, booking and checkin staff, customs and immigration staff, luggage staff, aircraft maintenance crews, air traffic control, cleaners, local police, emergency response crews and administration staff. Being what they are, airports also have rather unique requirements. Large expanses of flat, clear land for runways. Areas free from flooding, stable ground, with security fences sufficient to stop wildlife and deter trespassers are all aspects of airport requirements.

Much like hospitals, airports would require a certain amount of redundancy in their systems; radar and signaling being two major ones, and the electricity to run them. The movie Die Hard2 gives us a look at what kind of situation an airport without comm, radar and power could find itself in whilst trying to operate "as usual". Just in this last trip severe weather shut down one major airport and another regional one, although that was more due to high winds and poor visibility, although I did hear that the regional airport was losing power intermittently. In the event of widespread disaster, flights in or out of airports may be disrupted simply by the conditions on the ground, because whilst there are many technologies available to assist in landing under adverse conditions it may come to pass that landing or taking off may be too dangerous for the aircraft, pilots or passengers. Much like racetracks, runways need to be left clear of obstructions and have an unbroken surface.

Apart from the practicalities of the landing and taking off of aircraft, the terminal buildings themselves, and all adjoining and associated buildings, like "the tower", hangars, fuel depots and the like are all highly secured facilities due to the sensitive nature of air travel safety and security. Again, security fences, locked doors and an active security force ensure that the public don't have access to these areas.

Where am I going with all of this? Well, here goes. Airports are hubs of traffic, they may well constitute "a way out" or at the very least "the way home" in the event of a disaster. It seems likely that many people will try to get to them in order to do that, and anyone who has seen what people are like when a single flight is cancelled can imagine what an airport full of cancelled flights must look like. Multiply that by people who don't have bookings, are desperate and think how the very regulated air travel system would cope. Not well I expect. Airports are designed to facilitate the movement of people, but in an orderly and systematic fashion.

Would they be a good place to go in the event of a disaster? I don't think so, unless it's to escape widespread fires or other natural disasters where wide, flat, empty land is valuable. Maybe later on, after the initial wave of panic and chaos. As I've said, they have lots of resources, redundant infrastructure and are designed with security in mind.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Home Front: Foreign cities

I'm very well traveled, I grew up being a lifestyle expatriate, having lived in 8 different cities across the world before I was 18, and visited many more on holidays. These days I travel mostly for work, and on occasion find myself in cities not-my-own.

For some people this might actually be a daunting task, for me it was how I grew up. Strange cities bring several challenges to first timers and seasoned travelers alike. I tend to go everywhere on foot when I am staying in the CBD Street signage and road rules is different from city to city, and can be jarring when you are trying to navigate, but with a decent street map that almost every hotel offers. One way to help get your bearings is to pinpoint tall well signed buildings and use them as landmarks. Something with 4 story high logos are usually works well.

Something that new cities present a traveler with is not knowing which neighborhoods are good, which ones are bad, where is fun and where is either trouble or boring. Simply having good situational awareness (something that is good to develop no matter where you are) and being able to present a confident demeanor has always gone a long way for me, and I've never had any trouble. Being bright and cheerful, polite and having an accent always helps too. It's in fact something that I have played up at times. I don't have a proper Aussie accent, by a long shot. Too many years in North America, an American parent and "the media" have graced me with what I call a "Generican" accent, even with 6 years of English schools, in the UK and the UAE, and living in Australia for the last 20 years. I can, however, "put it on" or at least say a few things to put me more in the "Aussie" bracket. In the event that that doesn't cut it and someone twigs that I'm "Gererican", and might want to cause trouble based on some poor foreign policy decisions in the last 30 years, my fall back plan is "I lived in Canada, eh!" cheating, perhaps, but true. Being a dual citizen has many advantages, but not being a target has more.

Knowing a bit about where you are going is key however. The geography, seasonal weather, local events and current affairs, and customs are all things that can be researched before arriving, and can for the most part be planned for. Knowing what you'll need to wear, both for weather and to fit in, or at least not ruffle any feathers is an easy challenge to meet. It's March, and cool and wet here in Wellington where I am right now. It was hot and damp when I left Melbourne. I've packed layers and it's working just fine for me. Wellington isn't prone to earthquake, but no one thought Christchurch was going to be hit as hard as it was last year either. It's not a high risk, but one I made sure I was aware of, so as not to be caught unawares.

If in doubt, I use some wilderness observation skills to make sure I have a good time. Go where the locals go, do what the locals do, eat were the locals eat. Getting a local guide can help a lot, but they're best when you know them already, even if it's a friend of a friend. Getting in touch with your network when going away, seeing who knows who and what there is there to see, do, eat, or on the otherside, what to avoid.

I love the chance to visit foreign cities, to see the sites and add those experiences to my repertoire.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Wish Lust: Tent - Tentsile

It's not often I come across a piece of gear so unique that I can honestly say I've never seen anything like it. this certainly is an example. I've seen canopies on hammocks before. I've seen no-pole tents. Multi-person suspended tree platforms and suspended shelters, but never all at once and never do well thought out and realized. This has it all. It is the and it is simply amazing.

The basis is fairly simple, take a modern tent, and suspend it in the air to give a stable and raised camp site. Tentsile offer three designs; the Type A, a single triangular shape built for 1-2 people, the Type B, which features three radial triangular arms centering on a d12 looking hub, for 3-4 people, and the Type C which is a scaled-up Type B, for 5-8 people.

All of these tents are constructed from several different materials, all the sheet materials are fire retardant and UV resistant treated, and the components are as follows: 2 Ounce silicon coated nylon Rip-Stop fly sheet, 4 Ounce silicon coated nylon Lower sheet, 6 Ounce PU coated texurised nylon Hammocks Mesh bed flooring. The body of the structures are made up of
a 35mm webbing strap skeleton 30mm and the different models feature a sparse number aluminium central poles and battens for some internal structure. The Type B Tentsile’s skeleton is made from webbing straps is rated at a breaking strength of 5 tonnes and is configured to take the weight of four adults and their luggage, or 500 kg (1,100 lbs).

How does it all work? Well, the product pamphlet states that Tentsile can currently be set up where there are 3 anchoring locations at high level. Each radial wing ends in a hook which is coupled to a tentioning cord and ratchet. Once the three cords have been ratchedted tight, a fourth cord is coupled to a groud anchor and ratcheted downwards, creating a tension space. This is just the kind of tree climbing fun time that is right up my alley. The brochure goes on to suggest that anchoring points can be found in both rural and urban contexts. Trees make an ideal post for attachement but a simple loop plate fitting can be attached to the side of any building and even vehicles can provide the necessary fixing locations.

There are obvious reasons to get up off the ground in some situations; flood prone areas (like those seen in Moulamein, NSW for Confest New Years, 2011), where there are critters on the ground who might find you tasty (Lions, Tigers, Bears, oh my!) and where being in a high-hide has observational advantages. (not for use in T-Rex prone areas. ) I've lived and been out adventuring in some places we're there are indeed critters who would come into your tent and eat you, and have also found myself camped in a wet and marshy spot, and also on some pretty cold ground. I can see some real practical advantages to camping up off the ground, as well as it being a fully awesome concept.

Obviously all this high end design comes at a cost. These tents are bespoke technology, they are hand made, and in order to do what they do, by necessity very highly engineered. I don't usually go into the costs of things I review, but looking around on their website, associated Facebook page and the like, I saw time and again the question of interested parties. "How much do they cost?" This being information that you can only get by asking, I thought I would post it to save you the trouble. The TypeA is listed as USD$2900, the TypeB as USD$8620 and the TypeC as a whopping $11800.

Pretty much a dream killer for me, but I have great hope that the idea will take off, after these folks get a lot of good press and cash, and the manufacture process will speed up, dropping costs to a level where those of us without personal mini-subs can pick one up. I fully expect to see these featured in a blockbuster Hollywood hit sometime soon, they are simply amazing. I will be strongly thinking about my own options for setting something like this up. Till then, I'll dream the dream. And prepare.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: Wire Saw

One of my readers came across an item on one of my favorite gadget-sites, and thought I should know about it. Turns out, I already have one, or similar at least, but I thought it apt to tell you all a bit about it too. This is a Wire Saw. For those of you who have never seen one, it is a strand (or strands) of wire with some form of edge cut into it. Mine has a spiraling ridge that is cut into the strand running the length of the high-tensile wire. I have also had one that had circular grooves cut into the entire length of the wire, (confiscated by airport security somewhere...). The way these are used is to drape the wire over the item to be cut (wood, plastic, soft metals, bone, whatever) and by tensioning the wire with the rings, cutting by drawing it back and forth.

Because it's a flexible tool, and includes the split rings at each end, the length of draw can be extended by adding cords, which can even enable you to cut overhanging, out of reach or hard-to reach spots. You can also fit it to a flexible pole to make a bow-saw. The offering from Zazz has a multiple strand wire which is probably more sturdy and lasting, as well as giving a better bite and cut. I've used mine to cut a dangling broken branch as thick as my forearm which was blocking a CFA water-truck whilst at a festival, much to the volunteers delight, to rough-cut 2x4 planks and to put notches into poles for lashing purposes. Never a problem with cutting, no failures. Bear in mind this isn't nearly as bitey as a proper toothed sawblade, or a chain-saw (even the manual kind, thanks to Ken of Modern Survival Blog), but its light, packs to nothing and won't cut your gear even when stored haphazardly.

One of these features in the Bear Grylls' Ultimate Survival Pouch that I reviewed a while back, and I can't recommend them enough to anyone who adventures in the wide and wild outdoors, wants to be ready in case of disasters, or perhaps just wants to look like a bad-ass zombie-decapitating mall-ninja! I keep mine in my messenger bag, I'll let you be the judge of my mall-ninjaness.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: Credit Card Tools

I was thinking about my upcoming fact-finding trip to New Zealand for work next week, and the ever present risk of my EDC setting off the metal detectors, potential porno-scanner, eagle-eyed Customs Officers, and PsyCorps Kirlian Photography(just kidding) that we are likely to see at airports these days. I usually have to go through my bags and harness pretty well before visiting airports, better safe than sore-assed, I say. It does bug me that the times when I might just need a bunch of my kit, say, waking up on the side of a smoking mountain after an unscheduled stop.

Two of those items are these little pretties. These credit-card sized metal tools have a lot of analogues, as my fellow blogger Ninja Space Monkey has commented on and I thought I would cover the two that I have in my EDC. The first I've had in my wallet for many years. It features a can-opener, and circular cutting edge, a wide flat-head driver, and a narrow, flathead which can also drive Phillips head screws. On two edges are metric and imperial rulers, and a set of nut drivers, listed as 7-13 and 9/32-1/2 as well as a nail file. I've probably used the file more than anything, although, the occasional loose nut has been tightened.

This one came in a goodie-bag at a festival that someone who loves me went to, and brought back for me. It appears to be a knock-off of a Best Glide ASE tool but could just be re-badged for promotional purposes. Either way, its jam-packed with features, including a knife, a rather wicked saw blade, a can opener, a bottle top opener, a flathead driver, slot for various size wrenches, a butterfly screw driver, a bearing plate for a button compass as well as a ruler and lanyard hole. It's a thicker tool than the wallet-one, and smaller overall. It came with a protective case, which given how bitey the saw is, is warranted. It lives in my messenger bag and hasn't actually been put to use, but was impressive and petite enough to lug around every day.

For the urban prepared, this kind of gadget can be quite a force multiplier and problem solver. Perhaps not life-saving or horde defeating, but there are times when they can be very very useful, especially when no one else has tools on hand. If this kind of thing appeals, and you'd like to add some mass to your wallet, have a look at Touch Of Ginger, who I found via Ninja Space Monkeys' page as well. Fun wallet-toys.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Review: Entrenching Tool

Here is a piece of disaster preparedness hardware that has been serving since the 1940's, and will likely continue to do so for the forseable future. This is the all-steel US Government Issue tri-fold entrenching tool. I picked mine up, as many would, in an army disposal store, and have never regretted it. This folds out to 56cm when fully extended, and collapses down to a mere 23cm when fully folded. This is not a thing of beauty, unless like me you find beauty in sheer utilitarian design. Lets start at the business end.
The heavy steel shovel head is edge-sharpened along all four dirt-hitting sides, with a broad and chunky blade-edge, not fine enough to be bothered by rocks and other dirt-dwelling blade-chippers, and yet bitey enough to cut roots and dig into hard or cloying soil. In fact, I have used the flat-side edge to chop trees, and split logs, and the tip to spike said logs for hauling and shifting one log out of a pile. The length of the unit lends itself to use when kneeling or crouching. The rolled-back-end makes a good boot purchase point, but its not a full length shovel, and that changes how it works. The other side of the shovel-head is saw-toothed, giving you a saw-option, for times when hacking at roots or cables isn't working out in whatever ditch you are digging.

I haven't had much use for the saw-side, but it's one of those things I'm glad it has, because I -might- need it some time. One thing I love about this particular model is that the shovel head can be adjusted to sit at 90 degrees, with the locking collar screwed down tightly, and converts a shovel into a hoe, which is a great option for those times when either there isn't much head-space in your trench, or scooping is more important than shoveling. I've found that for pulling cast-iron cookware out of fires, managing coals and flattening the bottom of trenches the hoe-configuration just can't be beaten.

Folded up the shovel packs into this press-stud closure case, which attaches with a pair of ALICE clips. I take this tool with me every time I go camping, and it rides on my belt when I am out doing Stargate lasertag LRP. The added weight of it on my hip is small consequence to the utility of having it on hand, and I would consider it an essential part of my preparedness gear list. I would love to compare its effectiveness with that of the GearUpCentral Crovel in a task-by-task lineup. My all-steel tri-foldup has never given me reason to doubt its efficacy, as a shovel, improv axe, pry bar, or impromptu hammer. Like most of what I carry and collect, its ruggedness, multi-function design and capability makes it a much loved and valued addition to my kit.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: Black Hawk kneepads

Here's some PPE that I wanted to share with you, but had all but forgotten, as it was sitting buried in my gear-bag.  I have had a variety of knee-pads over the years, for rollerblading, Fantasy LRP events and costuming. One thing I've always had issues with is the fit, and having my pads slipping around to the side. I'm going to blame my boney knees and skinny calves for that. Whilst the pads I've used in past have never  spectacularly failed me (especially in some bigish rollerblading crashes) they've rarely been comfortable, and and have either pinched and rubbed or slipped and slid. One thing that occurred to me that perhaps I was using the wrong equipment for the task I was performing. Running about the bush and up and down hills isn't the same as roller-hockey or speed skating. So I looked to tactical gear. Blackhawk! had these Advanced Tactical Knee Pads v2.0 to offer, and I wanted to tell you what I have found with them.
The body is made from sturdy 600D Cordura, which encloses the closed cell foam interior padding. Closed cell foam doesn't absorb sweat or incidental water, for both comfort and keeping the weight of the pads down. The kop of the knee pad is injection molded plastic, which is articulated below the kneecap, with a soft rubber join. This design allows the knee to be bent, without producing much in the way of either pinching of the padding, or gaps opening up in the pad. I was really impressed with this feature, and have found no troubles with the coverage it's offered me. The strapping also deserves some discussion too. As well as the sturdy plastic furniture on the "outside" edge, and the wide elastic strapping which is fitted with long and well placed strips of hook-and-loop, the straps are affixed to the body of the pad, featuring seamed and padded flaps that wrap the padding and strapping around the wearers knee. 
Both the top and bottom straps are well placed and give a good solid attachment, without interfering with mobility overly. A very useful and well thought out additional element of this pad is that inside the kneepad there is a contoured interior ledge of the same closed cell-foam. This sits above the wearers knee-cap, and keeps the pad seated in the right position no matter what I've thrown at it, thus far.  Blackhawk!  offer this in Black, Coyote Tan, Foliage Green, and Olive Drab. I opted for Coyote in this case, and its worked out nicely for me thus far.  I've been happy with the protection these have offered me both whilst out adventuring and my Stargate Lasertag LRP, but also out rollerblading. Rugged, functional and adjustable. A good choice.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Wish Lust: Pouch - Hill People Gear - Kit Bag

I wanted to spread the word about a really cool product I saw online recently, (with thanks to Soldier Systems for the original link), that I haven't managed to put my hands on yet, but would dearly love to. I've yanked some pictures from their site, so you can see how cool these things are. These are the Kit Bags by Hill People Gear. Essentially what they offer is front-packs for runners and back-country trekers who want to have some needfuls high and tight on their fronts, and off their hips and backs. This is a brilliant idea, and I was really impressed. In their front-pack line, Hill People Gear offer three options in design; the Kit Bag, their biggest pouch, shown here in "coyote", the Runner Kit Bag, which is a slimmer version of the Kit Bag, for those running-about types who don't want a load of gear on them, and their Recon Kit Bag, which is essentially the Runner Kit Bag with 8 channels and 3 rows of PALS/MOLLE grid sewn to the front.

The packs are made of 500D Cordura for a tough but light finish, with hefty zippers with plastic nubbed pulls for ease of opening. The packs come with webbing straps and hefty furniture and Fastex buckles that connect at the back as a mesh backed H harness with a Grimlock based docking system that they say will connect with most packs as well as giving a natural hang without those uncomfortable twists than can sometimes occur when mounting different systems together. The Kit Bag measures 11.5 x 7 x 2", and the Runner/Recon version is 1" deep.
All versions feature two sets of pockets, with the Kit Bag having 2 slot pockets and 2 matching dummy cord loops in each, and the Runner/Recon just featuring these in the front compartment. Both designs are set up to carry concealed pistols in the inner compartment, which whilst is a cool idea, isn't a selling pint for me in particular. However, I can see the value in it for a lot of people in unpleasant countries. The bottom of the pouches feature attachment points for stabilising loops which they also stock, but are extras, as well as spare "lifters" for ease of attachment your pouch to different packs. They are offered in "coyote", "foliage", "Ranger Green" and MultiCam. They have one stock photo of a pack in "khaki" which is my preferred colour, but I've asked them what they can do for me ...

All in all, the functionality, ruggedness and modularity were big selling points to me, and I would really love to get my paws on one, maybe run it through the Tough Mudder challenge... otherwise, its certainly on my Wish-Lust-list!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review: Omega Pacific Rappel Rings

Here is a quick one today, of another piece of climbing kit that I recently added to my collection. After reading a thorough review by ITS's Jeff More I was inspired to seek some out for myself. There are the Omega Pacific Rappel Rings. These solid forged aluminium rings are really elegant, and fit in the hand very nicely. Apart from having great aesthetics (and a Particular name emblazoned on their sides), the functionality of these is belied by their subtle design. The rings are rated as having a 20kN minimum breaking strength (around 2000kg or 4400lbs).

The manufacturer goes to lengths to state they are not intended for repeated lowering, not to be used as a rappel or belay device (e.g. ATC, SBGII, Figure-8 or any other friction device). They state that it is intended solely as a hardware alternative to bail-out slings, webbing and cord, and that advice should be headed. That said, I see the utility of the device as a means to reducing rope-on-rope friction, as an ad-hoc pulley or cinching point. I have yet to use mine as Jeff from ITS has, but I'll be keeping a set in my bug-out-bag as well as a set with my regular climbing kit. Having a set of rings to feed rope through for hoisting and binding, through to use as a rappelling station appeals greatly to me. Now to acquire some tubular webbing and fashion a set of slings!

I also have a set I have been keeping in my pocket, if for no other reason that they chime nicely, and have served as a chew-toy for Tactical-Baby up untill this week, when she cut her first tooth. Still, I hope to find a number more uses for these simple, expendable tools.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Home Front: Location, location, location

Stepping off my previous post about "Where will you be when -it- happens" I thought I might take some time to discuss my thoughts on the places I find myself, and perhaps this might give you some insights and starting points to your own disaster preparedness regime. As I mentioned previously, I find myself in several different locations in the course of my everyday life; home, my commutes, work, the foothills where Triceratops Girl lives. Whenever I go somewhere, I tend to assess things like entrances and exits, pinch and bottleneck points. High ground, low ground and secured areas also seem to trickle into my subconscious assessments. So, here we go.

Home: I live in what we call "the shittiest house in the street", in what is easily one of Melbourne's top suburbs. Our house is a fairly dilapidated '50's design with brick walls, and a tiled roof. Wooden picket fencing around the front yard, standard (but decrepit) wooden fence along side and back corner and a brick wall along the other. A large metal rolling gate gives access to the backyard and a wooden gate at the front side runs to an outside corridor between front and back yards. We have a street-side window with wooden shutters off the side bedroom and shutterless sliding sash windows at the front two rooms. All in all I feel our house is really indefensible and disaster-vulnerable in its current state. We live in quite a low-lying suburb, close to the bay, often in a weather-front. We have good relations with our neighbors and I've certainly cased -their- properties for survival options. We have food, water and livestock, not to mention my own supply of kit, and enough steel and steel-competent people to make use of it, and ensure

it stays where we need it to.

There are several properties with high blue-stone walls and metal gates, several with solar power and hot water installed and most have water-tanks. One thing we have plenty of in our street is 4WD options, several may have even seen dirt.In the event of a local or widespread environmental disaster, I'm not sure how well our house would hold up, we could tape up the windows, board up the frames with planks from the fence, and the scrap timber I keep around, but it's certainly not ideal. Images of Japan's 2011 tsunami and the 2010-2011 Queensland Floods  strike home the risks rising waters have to homes. I've lived in hurricane regions before, storm damage is something
I'm familiar with, if not experienced in.

Work: I've previously mentioned I work in a health care facility, with a large research capacity. Our facility is heavily regulated and as such is designed to reflect that. It does however suffer from something that many older hospitals do, in that over the years, it has subsumed neighboring buildings, so is a little piecemeal in organization. We have fail-over generators, full steam and compressed gasses facility. Full kitchens and sterilization facilities and fire-fighting, alarming and evacuation processes exist as well as many of the other perks of being a facility of our nature. Being close in to the city we are on the CBD power grid, which has during the peak of summer heatwaves lead to some issues, as has the rare electrical storm, protest and manhunt. The nature of our work also poses its own risks, with radiological treatment being offered, we have those agents to contend with. Our patient cohort are not acute, emergency care, so we are not a point-of-call for outbreak situations, but we do have a fair proportion of immuno-compromised individuals who are very susceptible to infection.We have an animal house for research purposes, and extensive research facilities. There are a lot of resources at hand in the event of catastrophic events, but at the same time, are in the line of fire if they occur. We also boarder with a large hotel, and large government facilities which each presents it own interesting complexity. One thing hospitals are good at though, are operational security. Few entrances, and somewhat regulated movement. Being operationally self-sufficient to some stage mean that in the event of local or regional emergency, they will continue to function at some level longer than most other forms of workplace.

Foothills: I've also previously mentioned the property where my little Triceratops Girl spends most of her time, which is situated in a somewhat mountainous, heavily forested region of the Dangenong ranges, on a dirt road, off a dirt road. Its is still fairly heavily populated, you can see all the neighbors houses, even being over an hour's drive or train from the city it is still very much suburban in nature, even embedded in the trees and mountains such as it is. Torrential rainfall in the wet months and steaming bushland in the dry, the area has its shortfalls, but is otherwise tranquil and doesn't get a lot of non-local traffic. The scenic vintage railway runs through the area, and features both a coal powered and diesel powered means of transport out further from the city, which is independent of local electrical power, which can be spotty in the weather-affected seasons.The risks of bushfires such as the 2009 Black Saturday Fires where there were 173 deaths and 2,030 houses destroyed are an ever-present specter in the hot months. During storms the area is susceptible
to flooding, roads being cut or washed out and the risk of the tall Eucalyptus trees falling, or dropping their large branches on houses, power-lines or roads. I lived up there for a number of years, and it is quite a relief to not be faced with those frequent worries, even though my daughter Triceratops Girl still lives up there, and I commute up to see or or collect her a couple of times a week.

Commute: I take a 30 minute train ride to and from work every weekday, with a change of train just outside the city and a subway ride to get to my destination. On nights when I do kendo, that's a slightly longer subway ride from a different station in the City Loop. I mostly walk around the city, with the occasional tram ride to speed things up. The trains run pretty well, but being an ex-IRA-bombing-era London resident, there is something disconcerting about being in a large metal tube jammed full of my fellow commuters underground. I know it's very very unlikely, but it's always on my mind. Not to mention my favourite scene in Predator 2, "Let's dance...". Again, for what it's worth, I always look to my exits, both on the trains and on their routes. Those pauses when your train is sitting waiting for clearance at the next station are great times to look out the window, and if you're lucky, you will see the network of connecting tunnels, emergency exits and the like that exist. The same goes for elevators and escalators. I'm always left wondering "which of you seemingly normal looking assheads are going to loose it and be part of the problem?" I'm not bothered by crowds on a psychological level, purely a survival and psycho-social one.

On my long weekly drives, I go under two railways, over another, cross a floodway bridge, and over two freeways. Lots of bridges that could conceivably fail and leave be stranded on the wrong side. I have a paper map book and compass in the event my phones GPS isn't up to finding me a way around for whatever reason and try to keep a mental map of refuge, refilling and regrouping points along my way. Traffic pinch points are another concern. Time spent stuck in traffic is time waisted getting where I'm needed, or away from whatever needs avoiding. Peak hour driving takes on an aspect of survival training with the right mindset. "how would this route cope with one less lane, two less? If obscured by smoke or rain?"

What does this all mean? Why is any of this important?

In the event of an emergency, where you are, where you need to be, and where you want to go are all key elements that may well change dramatically, without notice or announcement. What you have on you at the time may be the only resourcing you have at hand, but odds are, simply knowing your environment may well put many more resources at your disposal. Consider your situation, consider the options. Adapt, innovate, overcome.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Review: Utilikilt

I've covered a pocket-covered vest before, but also wanted to give some time to one of my favorite pieces of clothing. I've worn kilts since i was about 7 and my folks had one made for me when we lived in the UK, in our family tartan. When I "came of age" and they said I should get a formal suit made up, I instead chose to get my dad's kilt, and Prince Charlie vest and tail-coat made. Years passed, and I came across the wonder of the Utilikilt, and was in love! These hardy and ready to rumble kilts are made in Seattle and what they lack in traditional styling, they make up for in spades with utility! Five or six years ago for my birthday I was gifted one of their most option-laden models, so here it is, the Survival Utilikilt .
What is consists of is a heavy duty press-stud closure kilt, made of a pretty hefty 9 oz 100% cotton twill. The press-studs affix the two ends in a very secure 'V' in the front, giving ample security to the front, and even takes into account belt loops, which are doubled at the closure point, a great feature. Twin deep internal slanting pockets give a "pants-like" place to stuff your hands and gear. A pair of elastic-gusseted side-saddle cargo pockets. There are in fact two pockets, one shallow, the other deeper, (these are also detachable, and each comes with its own closure flap and belt loops.) The back of the kilt features two standard sew-on pockets, but are just as awesome. Pockets on a kilt, brilliant! A key clasp on the front gives an attachment point for keys and lanyards, which I use to sling a lanyard from my multitool .

One feature that really stands out and puts this back in the realm of survival-wear is the addition of a "modesty" closure system. A simple toggle and loop setup affixes the two front flaps at the middle, and keeps the two fold from opening under any weather circumstance. No risk of wind lifting up one side to flash the civilians. There is even a button hole on the back side of the kilt, so that in a pinch you can bind the front and back together to give a loose-shorts effect for those times you -really- don't want your undercarriage exposed, like assaulting a barricade, climbing over burnt-out cars or vaulting fences.

Utilikilts have several other awesome models, and the orange one above is one of them, this is the Workmans Utilikilt which is made from a beefier 12 oz. 100% cotton Duck cloth. This kilt was designed with construction workers in mind and as such features places for tape-measures to clip,and two riveted-on multi-chamber saddle pockets with pouches for kids of items. “The Grip” adjustable side hammer loop, which fixes with internal press-studs and provides a really good attachment point for hammers, tools, holsters and the like. My FUBAR fits really nicely on it. Again, this kilt features twin pockets at the back and also comes with a "modesty" closure system of a couple of internal press-studs to close up the pleats and make a set of quasi-shorts when the need arises.

Both these kilts are rough and ready, rugged and hard-wearing. The black Survival has faded slightly, but gets a lot of wear. The orange Workman is quite stiff, but that comes from being such a heavy fabric. I feel I can depend on them to take whatever I dish out to them, have worn them whilst camping and adventuring, and will wear one of them to the Tough Mudder at the end of this month.

Here's one last pic of me in my -other- Utilikilt, a more refined office-wear version, the  Mocker Utilikilt in olive green,after a week in the office, going to see the Sisters of Mercy play, sporting my Zombie-Tools t-shirt.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Review: Platatac Recce Map Pouch

Welcome back viewers, I've been having urban adventures and haven't had time till now to post something, but here we go, hot off the shelf and field tested Thursday night whilst on my Tough Mudder training run.Its been raining a lot here in Melbourne, and I wanted something to house my iPhone whilst I was trudging around the course so I could check my pace and time with the Trails App I use. Previously I've shown you the iPhone case I use which, combined with a screen guard, gives me some incidental rain protection, and has a carabiner to attach it to myself, but for running, I wanted something that would be strapped down, to avoid the flapping gear-effect. Its bad enough that I wear boots and cargo shorts, compared to my lycra and Nike wearing team-mates, without having tech swinging off me as well. So I of course, turned to my favourite Tactical gear supplier, who had a solution for me! This is the Platatac Recce Panel.

It consists of a 1000D Cordura pouch fastened with a hook-and-loop strap, that is mounted to the wrist by two wide elastic cuffs, which feed through loops in the heavy 25mm webbing sewn into the back of the pouch. The loops and pouch itself are ambidextrous, just a matter of swapping the sides and adjusting the elastic loops to fit. The elastic comes with heavy nylon buckle furniture and hook-and-loop fixtures. On my bare skinny wrists the hand-end loop was in fact too thin for the hook-and-loop to bite, so I need to loop the elastic back through the buckle, which worked just fine, all in all giving a very secure and stable platform for all my Predator Wrist Device needs. The spine of the pouch sports an elastic pen-pocket, which is a nice touch. I need to find myself a good sturdy pen to fit snugly in there, "for close encounters". The magic of this pouch however is within the cordura flap. There are two heavy clear plastic pockets, one folded on top of the other, for storing maps and documents.

 The"top" pouch is double sided, and features an unsealed(but "internally" opening close to the middle seam, which comes as the first layer when the pouch is opened up. Closer to the wrist is a single-sided pocket, also clear plastic fronted, with a hook-and-loop seam on the one side. Wearing this on my left wrist, the hook-and-loop is on my arm-side. There is sufficient room in the inner pocket to fit my iPhone4S in its case, and seal the pouch up, and still have my headphones trailing out (to listen to music and the Zombies, Run! immersive running app I also use. However, in its case, the screen is difficult to access, and the capacitance is reduced. Out of its skin, everything worked just fine. I found this to be a great addition to my running kit, and whilst I wont be taking my phone on the Tough Mudder, I will certainly consider using this for both my regular camping and adventuring, and as part of my Stargate Lasertag LRP kit. Having maps and orienteering documentation on hand, as well as GPS data from my phone will be a very desirable. I was thinking I could mount one of my solar collectors to the back of the unit, to charge-on-the-go.

This was an occasion where the tool really does fit the need, and I am very glad to have added this to my collection and to my kit.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...