Tops HOG 4.5 Review

I like knives, I have several knives (Understatement warning) and each one has its plus and minus points depending on what I am using it for.  My favorite has been an original Cold Steel SRK that my brother gave me many years ago.  I loved it so much that I never used it.  Kept it like a special keepsake.  A good friend (Thanks Rich, You know who you are!)  Told me a year ago, “A good knife is meant to be used, get out there and use it”. So I started using it and it has been my go to knife ever since.  If you go through the blog history you will see many of the knives I own and use.  I have never done a review on the SRK because, quite frankly it’s not the current model most people could get their hands on.

First of all, a little history.  Well, a couple years ago, I was introduced to the Norseman (Gunnery Sgt. David Williams), long before he retired from the Marine Corps, on the back end of the TSP Forum.  I liked this guy from the outset.  Well spoken, tough as nails with a sense of honor that is far and few between these days.   He was developing a knife he called the “Surviveology” and hand building versions of it.  (There is some great info about the knife in the bio on tops, or on the http://www.survivalhardwarellc.com website, check it out)!  I had wanted one for a long time, but my finances never allowed me to get something at that level of quality custom made.   Along the way, my middle boy got into knives and started designing his own knives on paper.  I wanted to encourage him, so I had him and my oldest boy both draw up knives for me.   They had no idea what was in store.  I copied their designs and sent them to David and he built them to spec and got them back to me in time for Christmas.  (I have to tell you, that was the absolute best Christmas EVER).   Those were the first hands on I’ve had with any of his knives and I was duly impressed.  I’d have to say I don’t know exactly what he does for heat treats, but its freakin magic.  TOUGHEST knives I’ve ever seen.

Time goes by, David retires and moves onto a homestead and starts up www.survivalhardwarellc.com and starts doing these knives and renames it to the H.O.G.  (Hunter of Gunmen) and gets the knife into Tops.  The Tops version is what I have.  Top’s does some amazing work on knives.  (Read the write up on Tops for more details about this knives creation http://www.topsknives.com/product_info.php?products_id=434 ).   And as for the price, you can’t get them any better, however, after my experience with the two he made for my boys, I’d HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend getting one directly from the maker. Just check out his website and he throws up new knives as he completes them.  I don’t know what Norse magic he puts into them, but they are the hardest, toughest tools I’ve ever used.

But back to the tops version.  I’ve had this knife for a couple months now and have put it through its normal set of paces just by using it for everyday tasks both in and out of the woods.  I don’t “Torture” test a knife to the extreme.  Mostly because,  A:  I can’t afford to buy 2 of each knife and beat one to death and B:  others do that and this is “Average Guys Reviews” so the typical average guy isn’t going to hammer a half dozen of them into a stone wall to make a ladder out of so we really don’t need to go there.  I have no doubt in my mind that this knife can take that kind of abuse, but for those of us in the real world, it just needs to do what we want it to do and this knife not only excels at that, but I’d trust my life to this knife in any way shape or form even under those “Extreme” conditions and uses.

Image Courtesy of Tops Knives

Image Courtesy of Tops Knives

Let’s start with the knife, Tops always sends some decent kit with a knife, Got a good whistle, and an interesting (Though bulky) sheath.  I like the leather sheaths that Norseman makes on his site for the hogs, maybe I’m a bit more old school, but they are just more comfortable, hang better and look amazing.  I kind of wish I’d dropped the extra coin to pick up the leather sheath instead of the tops sheath.   But it works well and has plenty of options for mode of carry.  The sheath can be strapped on any way you want to carry it.   The sheath has an extra pouch to add a tinder box or a sharpening stone or whatever suits your needs in the field.

SRK on Left, BG middle (With personalized Veff serrations from the man himself) and the Hog with sheath on the right.

SRK on Left, BG middle (With personalized Veff serrations from the man himself) and the Hog with sheath on the right.

Out of the box this knife was shaving sharp, in fact the first thing I did with it was shave the right side of my face.  I won’t be trading in my straight razor for shaving anytime soon though, but the knife cuts well enough.   I have not touched up the edge yet.  I want to see how long it will hold an edge before I put stone to it.  So far, 2 months of moderate to heavy use hasn’t even phased it.  It will still shave the hair off my arm with a little bit more drag though.  (Update, I finally touched it to my stone and steel last night (2 months to the day after purchasing it).  I took 8 swipes on the stone (Very fine synthetic) and 4 swipes on a steel and it’ s back to shaving sharp.  no edge damage from my usage (And I’m a little “Primitive Pete” with tools sometimes so that’s saying a lot).

Fuzz stick trial

Fuzz stick trial

I’m not an expert at fuzz sticks, they don’t look pretty when I make them, but they catch a spark just fine.  You can’t see it very well in the picture with my thumb in the way, but this shaving is so thin it was opaque.  The other picture with the tiny fuzz stick shows the fine work capable with this knife.

Paper thin shavings

Paper thin shavings

Note the detail work, that fuzz stick is barely bigger than the 2nd bevel of the blade.  For a decent sized field knife, this can do some amazing fine work.

Note the detail work, that fuzz stick is barely bigger than the 2nd bevel of the blade. For a decent sized field knife, this can do some amazing fine work.

The stick is barely bigger than the secondary bevel on the blade!.   The handle is remarkable, fills the hand exactly where you would expect it to.  It is a tad short for my over sized meat hooks, but not enough to bother me.   The ring in the handle was originally designed to be a retention device, but serves many other uses.  Pin a carbineer through it and you can clip it to your gear pretty easy.  I like to run an 8 inch paracord lanyard through it as you can see in this pic, this allows me to grip the knife further back with just my two fingers for chopping which makes this knife chop like a much bigger knife.  The grind is not quite full, which give the best compromise between grind and spine strength.  You can baton with this knife and not worry about being too rough with it.  It can take it just fine.

8 inch (16 inches folded) with 2 knots for adding clips or carbiners

8 inch (16 inches folded) with 2 knots for adding clips or carabiners

Talk about a well-balanced knife.  You’ve probably heard that term before, and many people will lay a knife across their finger at the hilt and if the knife balances, they call it well balanced.   That is not a well-balanced knife, that is just a knife balanced between the handle and the blade which is good for some application, but not for others.  This knife feels like an extension of your hand.  You can close your eyes and draw with the tip of this thing in the sand.  Typically called “tip awareness”, this knife truly feels “Balanced”.  Normally this kind of balance makes for a great working knife, but not a great chopper,  but with a lanyard in the tail, it chops pretty damn well.  My SRK is bigger and heavier and chops well, but the dead straight handle does not help it for chopping and this knife chops better.  I would not recommend using it to build a log cabin, but it will make short work of 2 inch branches for building a shelter.

The details of the knife specs are as follows.  Overall Length is 9-3/4” with a blade length of 4 3/8” (In Iowa where I live this means the knife is not qualified as a weapon and can be carried without a license).  Your local and state laws may be different so do your homework.  The knife is 1095 High Carbon steel.  (Which in my opinion is a great steel for knives).  It does require the user take care to keep it clean, but well worth it for the price.  You can pay far more for more exotic steels, but the small improvements over 1095 just don’t add up mathematically for me.    The handle is a palm filling Black Linen Micarta which gives great feel and texture.   With so much emphasis on skeleton knives and paracord wrapped survival knives these days, this handle is far and away one of the best and most comfortable I’ve ever used.

A good notch working a try stick.

A good notch working a try stick.

Unfortunately, my hands are far larger than “Average” (Pun intended).  I could use an extra ½ inch on the handle, but even though it’s a bit short for me, it still feels amazing.  The swells fill the palm in just the right places no matter what grip I use.  I can be doing a fine work, choked up on it, I can have it in a two or three finger chopping grip, a standard full grip or even a revers defensive grip and the handle just blends to the hand.  I can’t emphasize enough how well done these scales are.  If you read the description on tops, you’ll understand what went into the design and you’ll understand how it can fit so well.   I don’t think I’ll ever use another skeleton knife again.  (Except a Tibo, I still wanna to get one of those little guys).

This blade is 3/16ths thick and uses a high flat grind so it gives a good blade thickness without becoming a sharpened pry-bar yet still has a solid spine for heavy duty work and batoning etc.

The blade coating is the standard epoxy based black friction coating.  It is VERY tough, but does add a little friction to the blade (Hence the name LOL).  This is another tradeoff.  Normally I don’t like coatings, but since this is a non stainless knife, I’ll keep it on to help protect it.

The handle is just amazing, can't say enough about the comfort and feel of this knife.

The handle is just amazing, can’t say enough about the comfort and feel of this knife.

I love everything about this knife.  I do have to be fair though and everyone is different, and uses a knife for different purposes so a knife that is perfect for one person or for one use may not be perfect for another person or use.  This knife covers all the bases so well it is as close to a perfect knife as I’ve found.  It’s features work well across different uses.

A little better on the fuzz stick with practice.

A little better on the fuzz stick with practice.

Where some knives compromise between 2 features or styles and never quite work for either, this knife blends them and gives the full range of use.   If I could change anything about it (Simply to suit me, not that it needs any changes), I’d extend the handle about a ½ inch for my big hands and I’d reduce the distance between the rear blade edge and the handle for fine close up work.  This is more a cosmetic thing as it works fine as is, just one of those little things that I personally like.

The tops price on this knife is $179.00 and it’s well worth it.  However, if you want something a bit more unique with the makers own personal heat treat (Which I consider one of the best I’ve ever seen), then hit up www.survivalhardwarellc.com and watch as one off pieces show up on the site.  Each has all the features that make the Tops version outstanding, but with some mods or tweaks that make them uniquely beautiful as well as imminently functional.

As always be safe out there and enjoy what you’re doing.  Take the right tool along for the job and you’ll be happy you did.

Doc

 

 

Almost forgot my favorite pic of the HOG in action on my boys 9lb blue cat.

The HOG in action on my boys 9lb cat he dragged in with light tackle.  Worked as well for the thin slicing as it did for cutting through the heavy bone.  Very Functional Knife.

The HOG in action on my boys 9lb cat he dragged in with light tackle. Worked as well for the thin slicing as it did for cutting through the heavy bone. Very Functional Knife.


Technology in the Field

Let’s face it.  There are 2 kinds of outdoors people.  Those who use tools as tools as intended (to gain the benefits of those tools), and those who poo poo on others for not using the “Right” tools, or for using tools they don’t know how to use themselves.    I’m not a fan of tent camping for example, I love to camp, and I throw up a simple tarp to keep the rain off if needed, but that’s not for everyone.  I might rib a friend for using a tent, but it’s all in fun.  Tents are fine and they do keep the bugs off.  So to each his own and if you prefer a tent or an RV or whatever, more power to you. I’m happy you’re out there enjoying yourself.  Whatever gets you out there in the woods is a good thing!

Technology is one of those things that bring out the butthurt in some people.  Personally, I see technology as simply another tool.  If you have it, great, if not, no big deal.  Just like any piece of gear or kit, if it fails, can you get by without it?  (Snap the blade off your knife batoning wood with it and you’ll get the picture).  If the answer is yes, then you’re fine.  If the answer is no, then you may need to work on the skill sets a bit more.

In this day and age, there are tools (GPS for example) that can replace or supplement an older piece of kit.  Sometimes this is good, GPS is a great tool for tracking your hikes, marking locations, finding out exactly how far your hike has taken you, planning the next leg of your hike, etc, etc.   Yes, this can be accomplished with a map and a compass (albeit quite a bit more slowly), and if you can use both you are better off yet.  But just as a compass can be lost or damaged, so can a GPS or the batteries can go dead.   Same with a phones or radio. It’s much harder to call for help using a hatchet than with a phone.  Particularly if you are injured.

Technology can be incredibly useful in the field.  No matter how much I learn, I don’t know and can’t know everything, or even a fraction of whats available  (if someone believes they do then don’t follow them into the woods, they may just get you killed)!  Having resources available at my disposal to supplement my skills and knowledge can be invaluable.   A simple cell phone can contain, encyclopedias of data, pictures, videos etc that you could not possibly memorize in a lifetime.    I love having the ability to look something up I don’t know (A new plant for example) while I’m out in the woods, rather than have to take pictures and wait till I’m back at home to research it.  Also, I hate dragging several books with me to research plants or birds etc in the field, so much weight, and there is no difference between the info on the phone vs the info in a book.  One is just far more convenient to transport than the paper variety.

So just as any tool in your kit, learn to use it and learn to use it effectively!   Don’t turn a tool into a crutch.  Just because you have that much information at your fingertips does not mean you should not be learning it.  I like to try new things, but the best way to learn is to do, so I may download something to the phone, take it in the woods and learn by doing.  Best way to keep the skill in my head.   Then if I ever need to refresh or go back and review the info, it’s still there.  And if I don’t ever need to go back to look at it, its only bits, don’t weight a thing.

This brings us to the #1 enemy of technology in the field.  Power.   Without power, technology becomes extra weight.  I tend to take storage batteries with me in the field.  These are high density, low weight/size to power ratio devices that can recharge my phone or GPS several times over.  In fact my two current power supplies can power my phone, my GPS, my Tablet and my camera for about 5 days of typical use or 3 days of heavy use.  I don’t want to carry much more weight, so rather than carry additional heavy battery packs, I have added solar charging to my kit.  I use the solar charger to recharge the 2 battery packs as I alternate them.  One is with me to keep my gear hot, while the other charges.  Then I swap them the next day.    I have enough power to hold out for a couple of days with no sun between the two units which is never a problem.

The solar charger I ended up with is the Goal Zero Nomad 13.  I choose this panel because it fit several criteria.  It produced a high enough voltage to charge my high voltage  IPAD or other tablets, as well as my Duracell Jump starter for my vehicle.    It also has multiple connection points to include a 12v socket so I can use a multi-car charger to charge several low voltage devices like phones and my AA/AAA rechargeable batteries for flashlights and GPS.    I am immensely impressed with the Nomad 13.  It folds down to roughly the size of an inch thick piece of 8 ½ x 11 paper.  It weighs very little and can strap on the outside of a backpack as you hike to charge devices as you go and you won’t notice it at all.      The performance is out of this world.  Even if it’s overcast and barely any light is making it through (Even with total thin cloud cover), it produces enough voltage to charge my low voltage devices like my phone.  I’ve managed to get power at times I figured there was not enough sunlight at all.   In full sunlight, it will fully charge my phone in 2 hours.  The folding design makes it easy to place where it can get an optimal amount of sunlight without you having to move it every 30 minutes.    I highly recommend the Goal Zero Nomad 13.   I’ve used the little 6 inch folding chargers and for a device this size and weight, it hands down blows them away.

Charger in action on a scouts phone.

Charger in action on a scouts phone.

So get out there, enjoy your outdoor experience, and if you need a little boost to keep your gear going, look into solar.  You really can’t go wrong with this.


Value, what is it?

Rather than a gear review this week, I’d like to put up something a little thought provoking instead.  Something we hear every day is, “it’s a good value” but what does that really mean?  I’d like to put my perspective on it.

Value (as taken from Webster’s dictionary), is:

  1. Relative worth, merit, or importance: the value of a college education; the value of a queen in chess.
  2. Monetary or material worth, as in commerce or trade: This piece of land has greatly increased in value.
  3. the worth of something in terms of the amount of other things for which it can be exchanged or in terms of some medium of exchange.
  4. Equivalent worth or return in money, material, services, etc.: to give value for value received.
  5. Estimated or assigned worth; valuation: a painting with a current value of $500,000.

How does that translate into gear?  Is the most expensive piece of gear more valuable than all others?  Is value simply the amount of currency paid for an item?  This oversimplified idea just doesn’t fly in the real world.

Value is what you get for what you pay for to accomplish the task you set for it!  For example:  Is an $80,000 Italian sports car more valuable than a $40,000 minivan + $40,000 in cash, or $50,000 pickup truck + $30,000 in cash?  Some would say yes, some would say no and some would say they are equal.  (From a monetary point yes they are equal, but from a value point on the individuals perspective they are not equal).    Perspective plays a big role in this.  To someone who only cares about speed, the sports car is more valuable for the price, however to someone who has to drive a family of 5 around the Minivan + Cash would be more valuable, and to someone who has to haul a trailer or loads of wood, the pickup +Cash is more valuable.

Now how does this play into gear?  The same principal applies.  If you have several similar pieces of gear available, say one is $10, one is $20 and one is $40, which one is the best value?   Some would jump on the $40 because it’s the most expensive so it has to be the best which is rarely the case.  There are many parameters that affect “Value”.  Quality or “How long will it last”? is probably the most important.    If Item 1 will last about 1 year before it’s falling apart and needs to be replaced, it would take 8 of them to last 8 years.  And if the $40 item will last 8 years without replacement, then the more expensive item is easily the better value.   But as in every aspect of equipment, we hit a point of diminishing returns.   In this example we see that point.  The $20 item will last 7 years.  Is the doubling in price worth it for the extra year on the more expensive piece of gear?  In this example I would say no it isn’t.

When it comes to gear, we see a point of quality that I like to call the 90% line (or the value line).  Once we find gear that is better than 90% of the other similar gear, we start to get so close in quality, that the tiny percentage gains in quality no longer match the rapidly rising price.  (What’s called diminishing returns).    Cheap gear won’t last and you’ll be replacing it constantly.  Middle of the line gear is ok, but you’ll still replace it more often than necessary and probably at a faster rate than the numbers justify.  But once you start working with gear in the 90th percentile, you start to gain very little as the price increases much faster than the quality can improve to match it.   The two lines (Quality and price) are not parallel.  They trend closer to each other as you move along the scale.

If you are planning on putting a piece of mission critical gear through hell and back in an area where you need to trust your life to it, you can easily justify the extra cost to gain the small return of quality difference (Think soldiers in combat for example), but for the average guy or gal, value is much easier to find in that 90th percent arena.  That doesn’t mean you buy cheap gear, far from it, cheap gear below the curve will be replaced too often to be of value.  NEVER buy cheap gear.  It will frustrate you, it will fail you and it will cost you more in the long run with replacements.

The best bet is to find your own “Sweet spot” for value that you are comfortable with for the task the gear will be used for.  I don’t mind getting 2 for 1 if the quality is at the 90% mark or higher.  In a back pack for example, I can buy 1 pack that will last me 20 years or I can buy 1 pack that will last me 15 years for ½ the price.  Even if I replace the pack at 12 years with something newer and more efficient with more modern engineering, I’ve gotten a far better value.    Value isn’t “Cheaper” far from it, value is more efficient for the cost.

As with everything else, value is what you get out of it, don’t short change yourself when you need it, but don’t throw money away either.  I hope this explanation helps you to find your own best value in gear.


Ferrocerium Rod Showdown

My apologies, I published this by accident earlier this week without the pictures (Draft and Publish buttons are a little close to each other :-)  ).

I’m not going to get into “What are these for”, there are far better sources than me to give you a great explanation on what they are.   Ferrocerium rods are a method for generating sparks to light equipment (Gas stoves etc) or to light fires.   I’ve used a few rods over the years, and always wondered if the more expensive rods were really any better.  So I decided to take a handful of rods from the cheap $1.99 Mini Rod and striker on up through the high end $30 Exotac Nanostriker XL.  There are dozens of manufacturers and as much as I’d like to test them all it’s just not feasible.  But what I have here covers a variety of rods from different price ranges and the results were quite surprising.

All Sets Tested except the Mini

All Sets Tested except the Mini

Let’s take a look at the rundown.  The first is the Mini rod with a small steel striker (The one I tested came from the Boy Scout office, but the same models are sold at Walmart’s and other stores), the cheapest non-bulk striker I was able to find.  I’ve seen these around for ages and my boys have had them in some of their kits for years.  I’ve always

Mini Rod and Striker

Mini Rod and Striker

considered them “backup” or “emergency” strikers because of their small size.  (I’ve never even bothered trying to light a fire with them, only gas lamps and stoves).  

Next was a bulk rod and piece of hacksaw blade my boys received as gifts for Christmas.  These were won on an eBay bid and in bulk were

Bulk Rod and Hacksaw Blade

Bulk Rod and Hacksaw Blade

roughly $2 each.  I have no idea of manufacturer or any other details about this rod, so mileage might vary if you order bulk rods.  If you are looking at making a lot of ferro rods, this could be a very economical way to get the rods.

Next is the $7.99 magnesium block and Ferro rod from Walmart.  I included this one, even though I am not using the magnesium accelerant in any of the

Mag Brick (Used the Mini Striker)

Mag Brick (Used the Mini Striker)

tests, simply because of availability.  These are everywhere.

The next two are from the same manufacture; both are LMF (Light My Fire) Fire steels.  The first is the red handled “Scout” Model with the original pressed steel striker (Around $12), and the second is the larger “Army” model with the newer “Thumbprint” style striker. (Around $18)  The rods are the same material, (Although I believe the army 2.0 is a LMF Scout

Army Model (Older Army Model)

Army Model (Older Army Model with newer thumbprint striker)

slightly harder rod makeup) but the army is much larger than the scout and rated for roughly 3 times the strikes the scout model is rated for. 

Last is the most expensive unit in the group (And about the most expensive model available).  The Exotac Nanostriker XL.  (About $ 32).  Pretty fancy little device.

Nanostriker XL

Nanostriker XL

Let’s get started.  The one thing I noticed right away is that all rods are not that dissimilar, from the cheapest rod to the most expensive rod, you could easily get enough spark to catch any proper tinder material on fire.   So if you have a kit with say cotton balls and Vaseline, dryer lint or pre-made fire tabs etc, you can make fire with any of these in a single stroke.

Now when working in less than ideal conditions, (I was in -6 temps 15 to 20 mile per hour winds with a wind-chill south of -12, middle of winter with 12 inches of snow on the ground during my outdoor test) it’s a whole other ballgame.  I took these out and worked with only natural materials like some dry grasses and some bark and other branches and wood from a dead lightning struck tree that was above the snow.

This is where the material makeup of the rods started to show through.  With Ferro rods, the magnesium ratio and ratio of other metal content makes them harder or software with some tradeoffs.  Too much of one material or too little of another and they are soft and often don’t “Catch” when scraped and act more like a brick of magnesium.  The benefit is when they do catch; they burn longer because the chunks of ferro (Iron oxide mixed with magnesium and other metals) are larger when they do catch fire.  Also there are different strategies by the manufactures to create better rods that either last longer or burn longer etc.  I don’t know and don’t plan to delve into the full composition scheme of each ferro rod as many are closely guarded secrets by their manufactures.  (And this average guy will never manufacture them so it’s unnecessary).  The basic makeup of a Ferrocerium rod is a mixture of Iron Oxide (Ferro) and Magnesium (and a few other materials).

In the field testing portion, the first thing that you learn running all these different rods is the striker makes or breaks it.  Not all strikers are created equal.   There is a learning curve to each different model of striker.  Some models are far easier to use than others.   For example, the Army model LMF fire striker with the thumbprint was my least favorite to use, Due to it’s shape it forces the thumb into a position that to me was slightly uncomfortable and not as mechanically sound as the larger flat striker that came with the scout model.   In perfect conditions with good materials, the strikers don’t matter as much, after the first or second batch of sparks, you have it lit.  But what I discovered out there in the cold was that if you don’t have ideal materials and it takes you a while working to get sparks you REALLY start to discover what makes or breaks a good striker.

Under ideal conditions all the strikers were effective, but as you start to lose feeling in your hands because of the cold, and your taking 10 strikes at the rod, what made the difference were 2 factors, Size and grip.  The smaller strikers like the one on the nanotech, the Mini rod and the army fire steel rapidly became more difficult to use.   In these cold temps with no gloves, (or with gloves) you really get to test the emergency ability of these rods.

The Nanostriker has the biggest learning curve of any of the strikers.  It has a unique and quite wonderful design that digs up bigger chunks of ferro and throws the biggest, longest lasting sparks of any of the tested devices; however, you have to be VERY precise with your positioning to make it catch or you end up just stripping off part of the rod (Like a magnesium brick) which could be useful but not normally ideal.  This is fine in warm dry conditions, but once you fingers start to go numb, it becomes more difficult to use.  Once you start to lose a little dexterity to the cold, anything that requires your fingertips goes downhill rapidly.

Next the thumbprint style striker on the LMF army model became difficult.  Unlike the mini striker that came with the Mini Rod, it was more difficult to hold it effectively in a deeper grip.  Surprisingly, even the tiny flat steel striker that came with the Mini rod model could be held further back in the grip and still be used between the knuckles while my fingers were going more and more numb, but the thicker LMF thumbprint striker design is more awkward to hold in that manner.

The saw blade worked ok, but being a little softer and more flexible it took more dexterity to get it to throw good sparks and keep them aimed at the fire, which also became more difficult as the fingers got colder.  The most effective striker while my hands were nearly numb was the larger flat striker from the scout model.   Now this is a winter time test only, during the other seasons where cold is not as much of a factor, the smaller strikers and the fingertip strikers will work plenty well.   But if you have to use them for extended periods trying to light non ideal materials, they do bother the fingers more.

I ran one more test, I used the 3 best strikers on every rod, and the strikers made a tremendous difference, Using the larger scout striker worked wonderfully on every rod, then the Nanostriker worked great (Actually worked as well if not better on the Walmart magnesium brick and Mini rod than it did on its own XL rod.  (I think it still likes a slightly softer rod than the harder rods).   In fact, under warmer handed conditions, the best combination I found was the little Mini rod with the XL Striker.  It would throw the best combination of hot, long burning sparks and due to its small size, was easy to keep pinpointed into the tinder.  I was actually quite amazed at how well this combination worked.

Next I went home and let my hands warm up a bit.  I grabbed a ream of paper, and laid a couple of sheets out on the floor.    I then took each rod and its own striker and proceeded to get 1 very solid strike per sheet of paper.  (If I didn’t get a good strike, I’d toss the sheet and do it again).

Each Rod with it's original striker

Each Rod with it’s original striker

The results are pictured below.  The Nanostriker was number 1; the big chunks of ferro that lit and hit the paper started the paper on fire EVERY time.  The downside is, it took 2 or 3 attempts to get a good solid strike with the unique striker.  I have a love hate relationship with the striker now.  When it works and you get it down, it’s awesome, but it definitely takes some heavy practice to get it right and even then, you’ll find yourself stripping the rod without a spark many times.  The replacement rods are $6 so it’s not a bad platform to work with.

The Mini rod and the mag brick were both ok, but not great, they are softer material than the bulk rod but still didn’t throw as long a burning sparks as the LMF’s, Exotac or the bulk rod.  They were cheap, but neither will last very long as the rod is very small.

The bulk rod was the hardest ferro material of the set, which made it take a few more strokes to get sparking at first (Part of this is the softer saw blade also), but once you put a groove in it and sparked down an edge it threw plenty of sparks.  The saw blade is still a little soft but when I used the striker from the scout and the Nano, it worked magnificently.

Both the Army and the Scout fire steels worked very well, soft enough to throw good long burning sparks but large enough and hard enough to last through many thousands of strikes.   (I have used a scout model for several years and it really does last through 3000 strikes).

Overall, what I discovered is that some are better than others depending on the situation.  In warm weather or if you can keep your hands warm, the Exotac had the biggest, longest burning sparks, but the little striker may be just a bit too small for some hands and situations.  For the price, I’d like to see a longer handle on the striker, other than that it’s a great design, just make sure you practice, practice, practice with it to get used to the unique shape of the striker.

I was amazed at the results of using the nano striker on the min rod.  It was hands down the absolute best combination.  If you examine the paper  below with the Mini-N (For nano).  You can see the results.  I was able to duplicate this result consistently.   The striker is the key.

3 rods with the best results using the Nano Striker

3 rods with the best results using the Nano Striker Note the Mini rod had the absolute best hottest longest burning sparks!

The LMF’s were both great, they will last a LONG time, however, I HIGHLY recommend the older style scraper over the thumbprint style on the new models.   At $9 to $12 this is the “Sweet Spot” for the higher quality longer lasting rods already in kit form with strikers and lanyards, ready to go.  The finger grip on the rod is a bonus over the bulk rods, but it’s very simple to put a handle on a bulk rod.  The Army model is long enough to easily tuck into your palm while scraping on the end.

Bulk rods can be great, you can get a lot of them at a cheap price, but you should know where you’re getting them from and if possible order a single to test out and make sure it’s quality.  You just never know what you’re going to get.  Plus you have to add time, labor and materials in for making your own strikers and making the kits if you wish to make them yourself.

The cheap Mini Rod style is good to toss in a truck or pack or someplace so you have it as a cheap emergency sparker.  They won’t last long using them daily, but for emergencies, they are cheap insurance and with the right striker, they work surprisingly well.

In the end, you will need to pick based on what you do, how you plan to spend your time and the environment you’ll be in.  However, as I discovered, the rod is the least important part of the kit, with the right striker, any rod will perform very well.  Personally, the long lived and right sized rod for me is the LMF Scout Fire Steel.  I can get 2 for the price of the Exotac, but the Exotac does throw some pretty amazing long burning sparks as long as you can manipulate the small striker.  But above all else, make sure to get a good striker, it will make all the difference!

As in everything, value is what you get out of what you pay for.  Most expensive isn’t always best, and least expensive isn’t always worst.   Value is at the intersection of quality and price that works for you.   You don’t have to spend $30 to get a high quality fire starter, but get some hands on and find what will work best for you.  I believe you will be pleasantly surprised at what kind of quality you can get at a value price.

Hope this little comparison helps you along your way.   Enjoy your warm fires everyone!

Doc


Gear Bags Part III, Improvise!!

There are lots of bags out there, you can spend $50, $150, $300 or more for specialty or purpose built bags.  I’m not going to say they are not worth every penny.  But do you need to dump that kind of dough?   I LOVE Goodwill, Salvation Army and Garage sales.   I stop several times a month and check out the bags section.  I’ve had more great deals on bags than any other item in the entire history of my shopping.    Below is a prime example.   This is a Prince Tennis bag, typically from $59 to $89 or more.  I got it, brand new, unused still had the tag on it for $3.89.  Shop Good will people.     Now what in the hell do I need a tennis bag for?  I don’t play tennis and this bag is odd shaped.  What in the world can I use it for?

2013-06-01 16.19.12

Tennis anyone!!!

So, here I am driving home with this bag and I’m asking myself that question.  What good is a tennis bag if you don’t play tennis?  Got home, threw it in my office with a myriad of other bags and contemplated various uses for about 2 weeks.  Then I was cleaning out the back of my van to move some things around and replace one of the other bags I keep in the van.  I pulled out the two pie irons that I keep with some car camping stuff in the van.  Sat them on the table and then stared at them?  Hmmmmm,  I wonder…..   So I ran inside, grabbed the bag.   Low and behold the pie irons fit into the tennis pockets perfectly!!!.  Pie irons are heavy and this bag is very tough and has no problem with them.  So I got to thinking and decided to make this the “Gourmet” bag.  When we are camping and have the luxury of having a vehicle nearby (or don’t mind lugging the extra weight because this bag is highly portable) we try to bring some basic cooking stuff with us.  I have dutch ovens and a cast iron pan in the van.  But nothing for the spices and utensils.

2013-06-01 16.20.27

Pie irons fit perfectly, no mess, no more loose cast iron sliding around the floor of the van getting soot on everything.

 

So, I started packing all the other goodies in the bags ample pouches.   We have a bag of various spices, cooking utensils, a separate pouch for soap and washing/sanitation items.    All of these items are separated by the walls of the bag that also happen to be waterproof.  So if the soap pops open, it won’t soak the spices.

So what I’m saying is, don’t get hung up on bags.  Sure if you need the latest High Sierra or Jansport pack, or Maxpedition, go for it.  It’s awesome gear and will serve you well.  But don’t pass up the opportunity a quick trip to the local Goodwill store may present. You may get as lucky as I was.  Happy shopping!!!!

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Dutch oven liners, cooking spray, drying cloth, utensils etc.

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Fire-making pouch (For now).

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Dish cleaning and hand sanitizing pouches.

 

 


Gear Bags Part II, The FAK (First Aid Kit)

First of all, do you have a FAK in your car?  Do you have one at home?  Do you have one with you when you’re out and about?  FAK’s are one of those critical pieces of gear that should be around us whenever we need it.  From the simple Band-Aid to ease a young child’s mind (More so than to protect the minor scratch usually) to the pressure dressing for a major laceration, or eyewash to clean the eyes of chemicals, a FAK really is a piece of GO TO gear.   As with any gear or bag system, there are dozens, hundreds or even thousands of options available.  No one “Bag” or “Case” works for everyone in all situations.   And the contents of your FAK’s will be just as personally different as your situations and locations.

I’m not going to discuss much on the contents outside of a few items that I like to keep in our kits.  Everyone should decide for themselves what items they need.   There are plenty of resources available online to give you good ideas for what contents you may want in your own kits.  One of my personal favorites is a forum I’m lucky enough to be a moderator on.  www.thesurvivalpodcast.com/forum.  There are some wonderful threads with list of kit for different situations.  Give them a look, you won’t be disappointed with the amazing level of information on the forum.    But back to FAK’s,  you could have a giant kit with everything under the sun, but it’s going to be heavy and “Left at home” or “Left in the car” when you need it the most.  Personally, I work from a system of kits and I’ll display them below.  I am really just hoping to give some ideas that might make it easier or more functional to keep “Right Sized” kits available when you need them.

My personal preference as you’ll see by the pictures are soft side tackle boxes.  They have a few advantages to the standard soft pouch kits.   They do tend to be slightly larger than a pouch to contain the same equipment so if weight/size is a major issue (Normally just on the personal FAK’s) then pouches tend to work better.    (See my personal kit below).

I call my FAK kit’s an FAK System.  Because they are not necessarily individual items and sometimes they are interchangeable and overlap.    It’s broken down into 4 major components.

  1. Personal Kits (Carried by each individual when out and about).
  2. Vehicle kits (Carried in each vehicle)
  3. Basecamp or “Home” kit.  (Readily accessible mobile kit at home).
  4. Stock yard.  (In my case a filing cabinet with the extra items)

I’ll start at the Stock Yard and work back.   The stock yard is where I keep the bulk of replacement items, stuff to refill the other kits with.  This can also be considered a Non-Mobile home kit.   This can suffice as a home kit, but as you see the format of my system, I think you’ll appreciate the need for both base and mobile home kits.

_DSC0013

Base Camp Kit ready to go

The second kit is the Base-camp or Mobile Home kit.  This is a medium to large sized soft side tackle box.  The reason I have this as a mobile kit is for stuff that happens close to home or even inside the home.  Rather than keep running back and forth to the cabinet to get first aid stuff during an emergency, I can grab the kit and bring it to the area of my home, or outside in the yard or nearby.  We live in a small community and know all of our neighbors and our vantage point on the upper edge of a hill gives us a great view of our surrounding neighborhood and all the kids that run around (And wreck their bikes on the street) or the neighbor down the way who is always working on his cars out front etc.  So having the kit be mobile just makes sense.   Now I use the soft side tackle boxes for this type of kit for a couple of reasons.  (You can get this guy on Amazon).

Base Camp Kit Contents

Base Camp Kit Contents

  1. Portability:  They are lighter than hard cases and easier to carry with a shoulder strap or handle.  You aren’t going to need first aid yourself from running down the street carrying one like you would with a hard case (I know this from experience, put a nice cut in my hand carrying an old hard case tackle box first aid kit running to my neighbor’s yard when he cut his leg). Just easier to carry.
  2. Both soft storage and hard storage:  The plastic inserts meant to hold lures are perfect for separating and organizing smaller first aid supplies and also protecting them.  One of the problems we run into with soft pouch style FAK’s is the crushing that happens to some of the kit inside, (Break open a tube of first aid cream and watch it soak into all your gauze and band aids for example).  The tubes and single use antiseptic wipes and other items are protected inside the plastic cases.   Other items like tape, bindings, rubber gloves etc can be stored in the soft pouches on the bag.
  3. Lots of size options.  You can find a bag that is JUST the right size for the kit you want in whatever location you need the kit.

The 3rd kit is the Car kit or transfer kit.  This is a kit that primarily stays in the vehicle, but also comes out and goes to the campsite or the soccer game or anyplace else you want the supplies available, but don’t want to drag the bigger kit around.  We also keep 1 weeks’ worth of any maintenance medications and some extras like several pain killer/fever reducers in this kit.  When we go on vacation or have a surprise overnight at a relative’s house or in case we get stranded somewhere.  We always have what we need without having to go back home and

Car Kit

Car Kit

pack medications.   I’m also a big fan of keeping a separate trauma kit in the vehicle (I do not have one currently) for helping out in case of accidents that are normally above and beyond the items in most FAk’s.   I also keep a towel and some heavy duty maxi pads (Great for pressure dressings) and some scarfs (For bindings) in a separate emergency kit in the vehicle along with a radio, some tools and other useful items.  Just good stuff to have in case it’s needed.  Here is a similar model to this Walmart special that I use.

Personal field Kit

Personal field Kit

Car Kit with Contents

Car Kit with Contents

The last kit I will discuss is the personal kit.  This one is going to be one of the most varied items between individuals.  In fact I have 2 different personal kits that I use depending on where I am and what I’m doing.  The first is my “Field” kit.  This is the kit that I have attached to my shoulder strap knife harness and it goes over my shoulder whenever I’m in the field.  This guy looks promising as well.

Day to day FAK

Day to day FAK

This kit is small and I hardly even notice it, (About double the size of the old Pressure dressing kits we used to use in the army).    I don’t normally throw this over my shoulder when I’m going to work or traveling or any other time I’m not headed out into the field.    My other personal kit is a little different.  I am an IT Manager for an electric cooperative.  I carry a small tablet computer everywhere I go for remote access.  (Yes, you can call it a murse, don’t bother me at all LOL).   This bag has some pockets that I include many first aid items in.  That way I always have some basic first aid kit with me pretty much anywhere I go.   We also have first aid kits at work, but again they are not portable (Wall mount units) so running back and forth to them to grab gear could be a pain.

I hope this post was interesting and maybe you could pick up some ideas that might help you keep the gear you need accessible.

Stay safe my friends.

Doc


Opinion on Gun Control (Re-blogged).

I read an amazing article this morning.   Anyone who knows me knows I am a staunch supporter of our basic human rights, such as the right to life (Meaning self defense).  I also support the Constitution as it is the basic document that helps to guide us in protecting those rights, (I also swore an oath to protect it and will never waiver in that oath).

I read this article this morning and I have not yet heard all this information put into a single place so well and eloquently done before.  If you are a supporter of the 2nd amendment and self defense, this article will help you when your arguing with those who do not.  If you are not a supporter this article will change your mind.  (If it doesn’t there is no help for you).

http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/an-opinion-on-gun-control/


Gear bags and kits part 1

Hey folks, one of the things that seems to bounce me around the gear shops and drives me absolutely insane are bags.   I have discovered something in my 42 years.  There is NO perfect bag.  They may be a great bag for one use, or another, but there is no bag that wins.   I have dozens of little bags I pick up from goodwill for a buck or garage sales, I have backpacks, messenger bags, laptop bags, pouches, satchels, duffels and a dozen hard cases.    I have more bags than I need.  (Don’t laugh).

Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of bags out there for a lot of uses and some work better than others for some uses and some will surprise you.   I know I drool over the latest Maxpedition packs and cases, and if I had the money, darn tootin I’d be rollin in tactical style with some amazing gear bags. (I’m still coveting the Maxpedition Falcon II)  However, as great as those bags are, most of us don’t need anything that expensive or rugged.   If you’re going to be operating in the field for 8 months, or working some rugged terrain then yes, by all means get something that will take the stress of heavy use and survive.

But we here at Average Guy Gear Review are all about the average guy or gal.  Go figure :-).   Most of us just need a pack or bag that will survive a 3 day bug out to the in-laws place during a flood scare or a couple of duffels to live out of for 2 weeks during an ice storm power outage etc.  We just need a pack to throw some get home gear into the back of the grocery getter that won’t be touched but once a quarter.   We don’t need the same gear an operator does in the military.  If you can afford it, sure go for it, doesn’t hurt to have the best, but I prefer to be a little more “Grey man” in my day to day operations.  So I tend to stay away from the OD (Olive Drab) and lean more toward what I call CSD (College Student Drab).  I don’t like flash so I am not looking for the sparkly, shiny, colorful bags, but just every day, black/gray type bags.   They can be had for little investment and generally they get the job done.

Don’t get hung up on the latest trend or the “Tactical” stuff.   I was a communication specialist in the Army, worked on a radio/satellite uplink site in Germany during the first gulf war.  I really enjoy the cool tough military style gear, and it took me about 20 years to deprogram and determine that I didn’t need that level of gear.   Everyone’s needs are different of course, so take this all with a grain of salt.  Don’t leave out the wonderful gear options available at your local goodwill or Salvation Army.  It may not be Maxpedition, or Blackhawk or 5.11, but it may just be the gear you didn’t know you were looking for.  Plus you can spend that money you saved on a new Red Dot, or that CCW pistol you’ve been thinking about.

Now there is one caveat to all this.  Some of the better gear is designed better for daily or long term carry, distributes weight better and is more ergonomic.  IF you are going to be spending that much time hauling gear on your body, then by all means, do some research and find the gear that will adequately serve your needs.

Till next time, stay safe out there my friends.


Time is short, make of it what you can

Wow, time flies when your a father of 3 boys and busy with them in scouts and sports, I tell ya.  I know it’s been a while since my last post, but I’m going to make up for it soon.   I’ve been testing some batteries and will also have some new toys soon to do some reviews on. In the meantime, I hope everyone’s summer has been as great as mine.  There is nothing in the world better than spending time with my family, particularly in the great outdoors.

 

 


New uses for old things…

I am a big believer in reusing old stuff for other purposes.  Not only does it save the expense of purchasing or buying something new to handle a particular task, but it reduces the resources needed by a tiny percentage.  I owe my grandfather (the man I’m named after) for this one.   Grandpa Don was a great guy, knew some really amazing stuff, was one of the greatest mechanics you’d hope to know.  He was a very smart man, had a mind for logic and seeing things nobody else could see.   Unfortunately he was taken by alcoholism, before we boys were old enough to really know what we would be missing without him.   When he wasn’t drinking he could teach you so much, and he never got emotional, he could be kind or hard as the time needed, but he never yelled to get his point across, he just seemed to know how to pass the wisdom on when the learner was ready to accept it.  I miss him greatly and wish that I would have been smart enough to learn more from him as a young man before he passed.    Below is my modern update of a little trick he taught us boys.  I hope you like it and get some usefulness out of it.

Everyone has shelves, and I bet most of those shelves even when full, have some gaps.  My grandfather would screw the lid to an old mason jar to the bottom of the shelf, and then put screws, or washers or whatever bit’s and pieces into a jar and screw it onto the lid.  Then he had a long line, out of the way, of well organized bits and pieces.  I always loved this idea, and I did use glass jars on a shelf in my backroom for a while until I broke one.  I realized as great as the idea was, glass just wasn’t the ideal material to use for this application.   Well, at work I get blank CD’s and DVD’s by the 25 and 50 pack.  They come on these spindals.  Well, I decided about 8 years ago to re-purpose them for this kind of storage.  I have a workbench that has ovhanging cabinets.  There are some gaps where nothing sits.    So since I had a couple of these spindals, I put them to use.  I now have a dozen spindals waiting for the time I have a large enough work room/garage at home to put up shelving.  Until then, these two work great.

Group of Spindles

Group of various sized Spindles

First off, you need to cut the pillar out of the middle of the spindle.

There are two types of spindals,  The screw on type, and the lipped type.  The lipped type have 3 or 4 lips that turn into the base,  the screw on type are just like the old mason jars.   I prefer the lips as they tend to be more sturdy, however, I have yet to break one so I might be a little biased.

Tabbed Spindle

Tabbed Spindle

Then using large head screws or screws through washer, you screw the base to the bottom of the cabinet or shelf.

Remove Center Post

Remove the Center Post

Then you fill the basin with whatever bits and pieces you wish.  (I have rack screws and parts in one, and PC screws and parts in the other)

Hanging sorters

Sorters hung under the cabinet.

This is a VERY simple project, and you can get these spindals all over the place, (I found 4 or 5 at the local goodwill).  Garage sales, or just ask someone who works in IT, or a friend who burns lots of CD’s.    You can also use just about any other type of container with a screw on lid.


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