Lighting Your Way Today

Considering that roughly one third to one half of every day is in the dark (Depending on where you are and the time of year, and not accounting for storms, eclipses, giant spaceships blocking out the sun, etc.) one of the more critical things we as human beings rely on is light.  That could be candle light, kerosene lantern light, firelight, electric lights or battery powered lights.

I always carry a flashlight on me, in fact, I generally have two or even three depending on time of year and clothing.  If I’m running around in shorts and a T-shirt, I’ll have 1, I have a spare in my spring jacket and when wearing heaver clothing I keep 2 spares (1 spare hand light and a headlamp for hands free use).

3 lights

Lots of light in a small amount of space

Any ole flashlight will do in most situations.  I was lucky enough to see a motorist one night (-28 degrees, middle of winter) trying to change a tire in the dark.  I pulled in and walked up to see if I could help.  He didn’t have a flashlight and could barley see what he was doing and had already spent 20 minutes in the freezing cold feeling around and figuring out how the spare tire release and jack worked in the dark by feel.     Simply pointing a light allowed him to finish in 3 or 4 minutes what would have taken another 10, (And would have turned a 30 minute job into a 7 minute job had he had it to begin with), which in that kind of cold might save a few digits.   Keep a flashlight in your vehicle at all times.  (I recommend you put it in a Ziploc bag with 2 sets of battery’s,  don’t load the batteries in the light or they may corrode and make it useless when you actually need it).  This can be a cheap flashlight.  Most alkaline batteries will last 8 to 10 years so you have plenty of time.

I do recommend going with an LED light over a bulb light.  If you use bulb lights, throw an extra bulb in with them.  However in this day and age LED’s are just as inexpensive now and offer both equal lighting AND longer battery life.  Can’t really go wrong with them.  They also work in temperature ranges higher and lower than bulb lights.  (I’ve burned a couple of mag-light bulbs in sub zero temps back in the old days (yeah, I’m 45 LOL) so the spare is always a must).

I also recommend keeping a headlamp in place of a standard hand light for most “Storage” lights, like home, car, pack etc.  (EDC “Every Day Carry” light exceptions we’ll discuss in a minute.   Head lamps have the benefit of keeping both hands free and if it has an adjustable angle bracket, can really keep light exactly where you need it.  i also discovered that as I got older I developed a gag reflex if I hold items in my mouth like a flashlight.  When I was younger I could do it all day.  Now, if I hold something in my mouth like the butt of a light for more than about 10 seconds, I start getting the urge to vomit.  Not sure why this came up on me as I got older, but it is what it is.

EDC lights:  I carry three lights with me most of the time unless it summer and I don’t have a coat or lite jacket (no pun intended. LOL).   Four if you count my FAK/Pack light.

I’ll go over the 4 I carry and why I carry them and their particular features.  Everyone has different needs, so by all means, do the research, find the lights that work best for you and your purposes.   This is just to help you see my own thoughts and if they help you figure out what works, great!

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Olympa RG245

First of all, my pocket light, the one that is on me everywhere all the time.  The one I use the most.  I got lucky on this one, I picked up an Olympia RG245 for about $30.  This light is typically $42 to $55.  Now, everyone knows I like value. I don’t generally go spending $40 or $50 bucks on a piece of gear unless it’s critical.  And when you can buy inexpensive led lights for $8 r $10 that can take some abuse and work well.  It’s hard to justify spending more.   But it’s worth it.

What you get for the extra money are a few features that are very useful.    Good circuitry that allows for even battery usage and extend life of the battery.  A temporary flash mode to let you know when the battery is getting low. (Otherwise it would just suddenly shut off).  Instead of a light that is just turned on or off, you get multiple settings.  There is a high beam good for defense to temporarily blind an adversary or at least interrupt their vision.  Or when you need a lot of light to light up a large area or see a good distance of 245 lumens.  This runs for about 1 hour on a single CR123 battery.  The second mode is a medium mode (just 1 more click of the tail cap button) A little less than half the brightness (about 110 lumens) which is good for most tasks, I spend most of my time in this mode.  The battery will last about 3.5 hours at this light level.  The low power mode is 20 lumens and the battery will last for an amazing 45 hours.  I’ve used this mode a lot when I’m camping and I need to get something out of a bag or light a stove or something.  Doesn’t completely destroy your night vision but offer plenty of light even to read by.

There are also a couple other modes like Strobe and SOS.  Strobe flashes rapidly which can be used for signaling and can improve performance in foggy or smokey conditions.  The SOS mode is useful in case you are hurt or need help.  You can set it down and let it flash for you.  It flashes the light in the universal Morse Code SOS pattern (dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot).

The light is small, easily fits in the palm.  I wouldn’t call it a defensive light like some of the slightly larger lights with raised ridges that can be used as a kubaton.   CR123 batteries are a bit more expensive, but the lifespan and power they produce are well worth it.  It would take a flashlight large enough to hold 2 AA batteries to get the same performance so it helps keep the light small.

I prefer the hooded tail caps like the Olympia because they don’t get turned on in your pocket the way side switch often do.  And they are much faster and easier to deploy than the twist off/on style.   Although even with the hood, I have on occasion turned it on in my pocket and the temperature after a few minutes goes up enough to let me know I did it.  As you can tell by the picture it’s well worn and function quite well.  It’s been dropped many times and that solid state circuitry and LED still work great.

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The second light I keep in an inside pocket of my jacket is a hands free light.  I’ve had a lot of the cheap little 30 and 50 lumen single LED headlamps that cost about $12 bucks and they work, but don’t seem to last very long.  My father in law had given me a pelican headlamp many years ago that lasted me 12 years of horrible abuse and is still going strong so I decided to see what the latest and greatest Pelican because I knew it was tough and would last me.  Not only was I happy with their latest models and features, I was quite surprised by the price.  I only paid $31.99 for the Pelican 2720 headlamp.    This thing has every feature I could hope for and a bunch I wasn’t even aware of.  Since this would be my primary “Work” light.  I was looking for features.  Simplicity is great, particularly in an EDC light, but for the main workhorse, I wanted a bit more and this thing nailed it.

  • Just a quick rundown of features.
  • Low level Red LED night vision that helps preserve night vision
  • Variable light mode from 100 % (200 lumens) for 3.5 hours all the way down to 12 lumens with over 100 hours run time.
  • Output magnification and beam control, can make it wider or narrower as needed.
  • 3 standard AAA batteries, easy availability
  • touch-less on off controls for when your cleaning game or or processing food and don’t want to touch it.
  • SOS beacon (Just like the Olympia).

Yep, this thing does it all.  And at $32.00 it’s tough as nails, waterproof and really just does it all.  The head-strap is outstanding, (I personally prefer the single strap on this model without the center cranial strap but to each his own).

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The backup light as I call it is a slightly larger light that I picked up through an online offer.   I believe it was around $30 or so just for the light but I got the full kit with it for that price.  It’s a Gun Shack G3 (Branded form the Helotex G3) but for the life of me I can’t remember what I paid for it.

This is a unique light because it came with all the connectivity for a weapon light with external switched and end cap, as well as conversion pieces to switch it between a dual CR123 and 3 x AAA so if you can’t find CR123’s where you are, you can sure find AAA’s.  Its a big handful of tough weapons grade aluminum with some serrations or “Skull Crusher” ridges on the front bezel.  It’s 160 lumens is not as “Tactically” strong for defense as the smaller Olympia I carry, but still plenty strong enough to interfere with vision.  (Anything over 120 lumens is considered defensively bright).   The flexibility of this light makes it a good backup light.


The last light I carry is my pack light.  This is actually a custom light prototype created by the owner of Z.A.S.C.  (Zombie Apocalypse Survival Camp) Guy Cain.  Which I have been involved with since ZASC’s inception.   You can build this or a similar light pretty easily buying the parts online fairly cheap.   We never produced these lights, but may at some time.  It’s starts with a sealed 6 panel led that does 18 lumens (3 lumens per LED) Then that is wired to a 9V battery socket.  I added a flexible wire “bungee” strap that allows me to hang or stand or strap the light wherever I need it.  The best thing about this light is the time it runs.  On a typical 9V batter this light ran for just shy of 500 hours.  Yes, I ran this light continuously on a single 9V for 21 days straight.  If you were to just use it during 8 hours of darkness continuously, it would run for about 2 months, and if you only used it for an hour a night (more typical usage), it could go for nearly a year and a half on a single 9V battery.  This is a great little light.

I hope this info helps you find the ideal lights for your daily treks and shows that you don’t have to break the bank to be the hero when the lights go out.  :-)







Spork Showdown!

We’ve all seen them, seems to be a new model every month.  Plastic, metal various shapes and sizes.  So I decided to give a couple of them a go and see what I liked and what I didn’t like.   I actually surprised myself.  One thing we bush-bums or outdoorsman are always trying to find the best bit of gear.  That usually means the smallest, toughest most useful and longest living piece of gear we can find for whatever task we want it to perform.  Nobody wants to haul 40lbs of gear down the trail if they don’t have to.  However, I’m not a minimalist, I won’t trade value for small bits of weight.

I prefer gear to be robust AND a good value.  I wont spend 3 or 4 times as much to shave off negligible bits of weight.    many times the loss of weight has too many trade offs depending on what piece of gear it is.

I’ve often wanted to grab one of the CRKT Eatin Tool’s.  I have always been a big fan of CRKT because they are one of the best values in tools out there.  You really get a lot for the money you spend.   I just happened to be stuck at Target and going through their limited bit of outdoors gear and they had a couple of clearance items.  Low and behold the CRKT Eat’n Tools were there and on sale for 2.99 (Normally about $4.00 to $6.00 depending on where you find them).  Figured what the heck, I grabbed one for each of the kids and my wife.  They came in several colors so that everyone could tell them apart.   I was then looking at the CRKT Eat’n tool XL online the next day, My wife had me order her something and I didn’t pay attention and accidentally ordered the one I was looking at.    Was pretty surprised when it showed up.

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The whole gang!

I was then at Walmart the next week and I saw the heavy duty plastic eating sets so I grabbed a bunch for the Boy Scouts.  Figured I’d mark them and give them to each scout as a gift.  They were only $.88 each.   Well I was at Walmart, I also discovered a new spork/knife combo set similar to the CRKT from their “Ozark Trail” line.   Since it was only $3.00 I figured what the heck.  Grabbed a couple of them too.

We’ll start with the plastic set for $.88 Cents.   The good, Full size regular utensils.  Tougher than the cheap plastic disposables.  They have that “Rough” plastic texture that makes them a little more non stick that purely smooth plastic ware and they feel good in the hand.  But while your using them, you just can’t help but feel like they are disposable.   Personally, I think they make a wonderful addition to a car camping group kits or scout patrol boxes.  Not going to break the bank by any means to keep a dozen sets available and nobody gets upset if one breaks.   Being just plastic, I would worry about long term durability and are you going to open your pack after dropping it after a long days hike to find them snapped in half.    Never fear, they are well worth the cost at just $.88 cents.  The other thing going for it is, the spoon is big enough to really eat soups and other liquids!  They are kept on a plastic ring that is very weak.  In a box of goods it will keep them together, but I wouldn’t expect them to hang from it on a cook-set or anything else that gets tossed around for very long.


Next up is the CRKT Eat’n Tool  This guy runs from $3.95 to $7.00 depending on where you find them.  I’ve heard from people that it’s too short so I’ve always put off trying it until I could get the XL version.   But finding it so cheap, I figured what the heck.  I also thought it would be too short.  I also thought the wide top of the handle would make it very awkward. Turns out I was wrong on both counts.  You hold the wide handle across the top instead of down the middle like you would a regular spoon.  It seems awkward at first, but after a couple of bites, it’s as natural as using any other spoon.

The “Tools” built into it are kind of a gimmick, sure, if by some chance you ever needed to turn certain sized nuts or open a bottle and all you had on you was your spoon, they could be handy, but to me, they just add extra places for bits of food to get stuck or missed when washing.   Sure the cutouts do keep it even lighter, but as light as it is, the trade-off is negligible.  It is a solid tough eating tool, equal to or surpassing any metal spoon you might normally have.   The length might be an issue if you are eating out of a deep cup, like the Stanley I have here.  But all in all, I was impressed with the little guy.

The biggest downside to me is the “Spork” function.   The tines are not long enough to use as a fork, at best if you have a tough piece of meat, you might be able to stab the spork into it to eat it. It would be most useful for holding down something to cut, like a steak for example.   But realistically, even a perfectly round spoon can hold a tough steak down to cut it with one of my knives.  The spork cuts reduce the amount of liquid the spork will hold when eating soups or other liquid filled meals.  I’d prefer to see the spoon left without the spork cuts.  There is just limited usefulness for them.

The Powder coat was already showing signs of wear after the first meal and my son carried his on his belt with his little mini kit and it chipped off several pieces pretty rapidly.  I don’t think the coating would come off fast enough to be a health issue.  But I would definitely recommend the bead blasted rather than the painted versions just because of the paint.  But even with the paint they are still outstanding.  The paint is a non-stick coating so cleaning them is a breeze.  I can HIGHLY recommend this tool for most everyone, with the caveat that it might be too short to use in a tall or deep cup or can.  Also the mini carabiners are not going to last.  In fact my son broke his within 20 minutes just clipping it on and off his kit.   I’d recommend doing up a different method like a paracord loop double through the hole to a tougher carabiner.


So, Now on to the CRKT Eat’n tool XL version.  I figured this guy would be awesome.  All the features of the regular eat’n tool with a full length handle!   Well, I was surprised when I got it.  It is HUGE and extremely heavy.  You could use this thing to dig a fox hole or quite possibly jack up a car.  the extra length is good, but the shortened rounded spoon with spork cuts still has the same issue with liquids as the smaller Eat’n tool.  Because of the full length, its a bit heavy to use it held sideways over the back like the smaller eat’n tool, but the extra wide handle makes it awkward to hold like a regular spoon.

Did I mention this thing is HEAVY DUTY.   It almost feels like eating with an entrenching tool.  I actually tapped one of my teeth with it while eating and it made me feel that accidentally breaking a tooth could be a real possibility with this thing.  But it’s a tank.  The tools on it feel as if you could actually use them to turn nuts and bolts, so if you REALLY are looking for a multi-tool instead of a spoon, this might be the guy to go with.  I would definitely advise anyone interested to get one in your hands and feel it before you buy it.    Otherwise it may just end up being another bit of gear laying the bottom of your pack.  And just as the regular Eat’n tool,  the mini carabiners are not going to last.


The last item on my showdown turned out to be a great buy.  While looking for 1 of the non coated Eat’n Tools for myself, I ran across the Ozark Trail Walmart brand set below.  I decided that since it was even cheaper, I’d give it a try.  I was pleasantly surprised.  much lighter than the XL and about the same weight with both knife and spork as the Eat’n tool.  A slightly longer handle made it easier to use as a regular spoon and get into deeper cups, but still short enough to fit inside most small cup kits.  Really about the perfect length for a pack kit.  I wish they sold the spork without the knife.  Would be an even better value.  :-)

It has a black non-stick coating that seems a bit more durable than the powder-coats on the CRKT’s.   Plenty tough enough to last a lifetime.  The knife is ok, but nothing special, it’s serrated, so the edge it will last without sharpening for quite some time, however since since we all carry good quality sharp knives everywhere anyway, for a pack kit, I’d leave the knife at home and just take the spork.   Of course, the spork has the same issue as all the other sporks, just too short to be a fork, and lets the liquids drain too much.  Quite frankly, if they made this version without the spork cuts, I would consider it near perfect.  And at roughly 1/2 to 2/3rds the cost of the other models.  It’s an amazing value.


A comparison shot to show the difference in thickness of the various metal sporks.

All in all, any one of these tools will work, but given the choice, I like the Ozark trail Spork and the smaller CRKT Eat’n tool the best.  I will continue using all of them over the next couple months for camping and let you all know how they are after being used for a longer period of time.

Happy eating on the trails!



Update on Firecord

6 months ago, I purchased some Firecord and did a review on it.  It’s a neat and simple way to keep some fire starting material with you.  Sure there are thousands of ways to make fire, but just for simplicity and availability on all your gear, this stuff is great.

I wanted to test the longevity of it under normal use.  I’ve had some tied to my packs for 6 months.  Been rained on, and had dew on it and snow and been through many freeze/thaw cycles.    Does it still work after it’s been hanging around on my kit for 6 moths?  Well, the answer is a resounding Yes!   I will rerun these tests every 6 months and see how long it really lasts.

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Just a little rubbing with the edge of a knife will fuzz it up to catch a spark.  Doesn’t take much fuzzing or sparking.

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One quick spark with a Fero rod and it took right off.

So all in all, I’m still a fan.  it’s so easy to tie some paracord off on your kit.  And just have it on standby “Just in case”.   I’m going to do an immersion test next to see what kind of water-logging it can really take and still light.

Thanks for stopping by and enjoy the trails!




Sterno Dynamo Mini Camp Stove

I finally broke down and picked up a mini backpacking stove.  I’ve used a Coleman exponent for many, many years.  And it is my absolute favorite, but it does take up some room.  I’ve eyeballed a couple of the mini stoves but just wasn’t sure I’d want to haul the fuel canisters over the white gas.  White gas is so flexible and easy to use, and you can haul quite a bit of fuel in a dedicated fuel bottle the size of your average water bottle.  (Mine is an older Nalgene style that holds about double what the MSR red metal bottles).  So I can cook several meals a day for many many days on that.

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Stored in that little plastic box, fits easily in the Stanley Cup


However the vast majority of my camping trips are single or double overnights, so it’s a bit of overkill.  So I was looking for something small, and efficient for the quick overnight trips that was a bit lighter.  I’ve been looking at the Primus butane stove at Walmart for $19 for a while and almost grabbed it, but was in a Walmart quite a ways from home and it had the folding Sterno Dynamo for the same price.  Of course that made for a tough decision.

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The whole kit and Caboodle (Still need to figure out what a caboodle is LOL)  Including the mixed Primus 4 season mix fuel canister I used for testing

The whole kit and caboodle (Still need to figure out what a caboodle is LOL)

The Sterno folds up a tad smaller than the Primus, so it fits inside my Stanley Adventure set perfectly with the coffee press parts.  (See this review).  The primary difference between the two was the Primus had a maximum 10,000 BTU output while the Sterno has a maximum of 6,500.  If you run the calculations, they end up using fairly close to the same amount of fuel. However, the higher BTU output does not correlate to an equal speed increase while cooking.   (The nature of thermal transfer through solid and liquid mediums varies).   Thus, even though the Primus can boil water 25% faster, it uses 33% more fuel at peak setting.

The Primus can boil 10 oz of water in 3 minutes and the Sterno boils it in 4.  So there is a very slight drop in fuel usage with the Sterno.  This equates to about a 8% gain in fuel economy with the Sterno Dynamo.  Not a big difference by any means.  Considering the typical run time of a standard sized canister is from 1 to 3 hours.  (Expected 1.5 average), that 8% equates to about 7 minutes per canister.  There are so many variables that in essence, the two could be considered equal.  (I plan to record burn times on canisters for the next year to get a real world average).

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All of the kit is inside the Stanley cup.


So I decided to go with the slightly smaller Sterno.  Took it out for a test run today.  Perfect timing as we had a small blizzard blowing through.  Nothing big, just 3 inches of snow and 20 mph winds.  The static air temp was 14 and the windchill was close to zero.  Those who know me, know this is my favorite kind of gear testing weather.  :-)

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The stove is quite small when folded, but much more sturdy than I expected when folded out.  Here you can see the piezoelectric igniter.

So I took a hike up to the camping area in our local park. (Driving was pretty bad so I didn’t want to risk going up the big hills in the van so I hiked from the park entrance).  Here is what I did.  I built a french press out of my Stanley (See the link here).

First thing to notice is the stove unfolds in a rotating manor (That is why it is so sturdy, no “Folding” parts to create weak points.  the entire stove rotates around a central bezel.  Ingenious idea.  The little feet flip out to give it a bit more surface area for holding the pot.

The Piezoelectric igniter works like a charm, doesn’t take much pressure to pinch the switch and presto, flame.  The wire control to turn the valve works perfectly and does not get hot, so you can adjust the flame as needed.    In fact the only complaint I have about the whole thing is the lever doesn’t stay in the folded up position when you go to store it, so it can be a bit of a pain to put back in the box.  Not a big issue at all though.

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I filled the cup with snow and started it melting.  As the snow to water ratio is 10 to 1 on average, I had to add snow a couple times until I had 10 oz of water.  (This did hinder the heat test slightly, as each time I added snow, is cooled the water back off).  I did a boil burn test using water from my canteen separately and used the times from that for the official test.  Melting the snow took about 7 minutes total, so each time i added another scoop of snow it added another minute to the boil time.

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After the first full melt, only 4 oz.  It took 2 more dumps of snow to get 10 oz in the cup.

All in all, it’s an impressive and amazingly small stove that works very well.  It has found it’s way into my day pack with a canister of gas, and I’ll continue to keep the exponent and larger fuel bottle in my primary base-camp pack.   Only time will tell if I end up preferring to carry the mini stove with the bulkier fuel can’s, but for backpacking and short trips, it really does seem like a great way to go.

If you’ve been putting off getting a small camp stove because you’ve looked at the more expensive whisper lights and other high end stoves.  This guy can be had for $19 or less.  (I got it for $14.95 on clearance) it’s a fairly inexpensive way to test the waters.

Enjoy your backpacking and hiking trips and always keep some hot coffee handy with this little guy.

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UST Base Hex Tarp Review

Not a bad looking tarp

Not a bad looking tarp

I like inexpensive gear.  The vast majority of the time, stuff in the middle to lower end works as well as some of the higher priced stuff, and if you follow my blog, the Value Matrix Blog Post, you’ll understand why.   Also, check out the DIY Tarp Camping post to see what I’m comparing this tarp to.

Has separate bags for guys and stakes to keep the tarp safe in the bag.

Has separate bags for guys and stakes to keep the tarp safe in the bag.

UST (Ultimate Survival Technologies)  Base Hex Tarp  (Can be found on  their Website here)

I’ve had a chance to play with this rather inexpensive nylon tarp.  (Can find it online for from $23.99 up to about $39.00.   I’ve been tarp camping exclusively with poly tarps for the last 6 or 7 years now so let’s hit the basics.

What it comes with:

  • Tarp itself 96 inches (Peak to Peak) and the extended sides are 108 inches
  • Carry bag
  • Separate carry bag for stakes and guy’s

    Double stitched throughout for extra strength and durability

    Double stitched throughout for extra strength and durability

  • 4 short guys for the 4 corners of the hex
  • 2 double guys for the two peaks
  • All the guys have the little plastic tensioners.
  • 8 steel stakes
  • Basics and First impressions


  • VERY small and light weight, the entire kit packs down to about ½ again bigger than a soda can.
  • Tough, It’ has nice heavy straps double stitched to the connection points to ensure they don’t tear out. The rest of the tarp is double sewn and has excellent strength. I used it in a 6 inch snowstorm and it shed snow very well all night long. I also left it for 4 days with snow pushing against it with no issues at all. My middle boy slept under it the second night after the snow storm.
  • The “silverized” coating does seem to work well when wrapping the tarp around you as a windbreaker or extra layer of clothing. I wore it over just a T-Shirt as I wandered around outside in about 38 to 42 degree temps and it worked well as a shawl or wrap. Would work as a light weight blanket in mild weather.
Plastic 3 hole tensioners

Plastic 3 hole tensioners


  • Size: For my use, it is just too small for a typical shelter. I configuring it several different ways, similar to how I would setup my poly tarps and it was just too small for me. (Note, I am 6 Foot 3).
  • Shape: The shape lends itself to hammock camping but is a bit short, high peak and deep sides. But at a maximum length of 96 inches, it would have to be pitched very close to most hammocks to keep rough weather out. As a basic shade structure, or to keep mild rain off a hammock, it should work fine.
    Grommet holes are a bit small.
Configured for heavy weather, it's a bit small.

Configured for heavy weather, it’s a bit small.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get away for the test, so I had to set up in my front yard.  I set the tarp up using a pair of trekking poles like I would normally do. Right away I discovered one minor issue that bugged me. The grommets are smaller than I am used to. They barley fit over the tiny quarter inch metal tip of the trekking poles. I prefer they push down onto the rubber to get a better hold with less chance a wind gust or bumping the pole as I climb under will knock them off the pole. This was a bit annoying during the first setup as the poles popped out of the grommet a couple times as I tied to make adjustments. I tried a couple ways to set this up and one that worked well was to set the pole in the loop and pull the guy loop over the pole. This got it down a couple inches and made it a bit more weather sturdy in my opinion. This was only a minor annoyance during setup. However, not a deal killer by any means, really just a tiny minor issue, but it bugged me a bit. Other than that, the tarp is well constructed. All the seams are double stitched and the quality is perfectly good.

My view going to bed

My view going to bed

My View waking up

My View waking up

I tried setting it up as a ground based fly, pulling one pole and putting the end all the way to the ground. This did not leave much room under the tarp. Again, mostly just a size/shape issue. Unfortunately, because there are no grommets running down the sides, there is not much flexibility in how you set up. I would like to see a few more grommets on the outer seams.

Shed snow well, as evidenced by the pile.

Shed snow well, as evidenced by the pile.

A note. It was quite windy the first day I set it up. Steady 20 mph winds with gusts into the mid 30’s. It was very easy to setup even in the high winds. (Minus the 3 times the pole tips slipped out of the small grommets). Much of that was the double guy design. Rather than a single guy or two single guys, the peak guys are centered with a loop. You put the center loop through the peak loops and then you can set the stakes and adjust them. In the high wind, it was easy to set the side in first, then pull the first peak pole cord, then the second and lastly stake the far side down. Once the tarp was completely set up I set about tensioning the guys to stabilize and tighten the tarp.

The grommet is just a tad small for trekking poles.

The grommet is just a tad small for trekking poles.

The guys on this tarp use the small black plastic 3 hole guy tensioners that you will find on almost every tent in existence because they are cheap and they work, however I would probably change them out for some higher end tensioners, just because the plastic is smooth and does slip more than I like.

Setup and working well in the early hour of snow.

Setup and working well in the early hour of snow.

The tarp comes with 8 steel (not aluminum) stakes. These add a tiny bit of extra weight, but are WELL worth the extra strength. I drove these into frozen ground with no fear of bending them.

Based on the extend flap design, this tarp appears to be most useful as a hammock rain fly but in my opinion is just too short. I am giving this tarp to my middle son who has a hammock to do further testing with it. I’d love to see the design squared off more in an 8 x 10 or 10 x 10 size.

Overall, for the price, it’s a great little tarp, Rock solid and works as expected. Just a tad bit small. At about double the price of a poly tarp you definitely get your money’s worth, if you’re a cheapskate like me.

Unfortunately, I had an issue with my thermal imager and don’t have the results from the first basic thermal test. I will be re-running thermal tests back to back on This tarp, vs a standard nylon tarp vs a sliver side poly tarp at a later date. Stay tuned!


Liberty Is Morality

Yes this is primarily a Gear Review site with some other odds and ends thrown in.  However, occasionally, I throw a little brain food out there to change things up.  This is one of those times.  I’ve been sickened by the loss of liberty in this country, I see it every day.  So I threw together a little diatribe.  if you enjoy it, share it.   As a soldier, this needs to be said.  I have brothers and sisters dying around  the world and it sickens me.


Liberty IS Morality

There is a great truth in the world that the distancing and destruction of individual liberty has made most people forget over the last couple of hundred years. Basic human rights. The rights you have are not granted by a piece of paper or by a government. They are granted to you by nature, by birth and by your equality among your fellow human beings. Not by the location chance happened to put you, at birth, on this planet. Those rights can easily and simply be summed, as in our declaration of independence as “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. That is it. Nothing more, nothing less. Over time we seem to have forgotten this.

The simplest way I’ve found to examine this topic is to discuss the morality of those who destroy liberty (whether purposely or out of ignorance). Once you understand something is immoral (Slavery for example), it’s pretty easy to change your mind. Morality is one of the strongest bonds of liberty we have. How do you stop the bully? You get him to understand his acts are immoral, it is far more effective than any other method.

Not everyone is moral, and no amount of force can make those people moral. However, as long as we have liberty, we can easily defend ourselves from those immoral people. Thus we note that liberty once again is the single most important protector of human life. Without it, we are slaves to someone.

Let us start with the simple idea of theft. We all know theft is immoral. (On that I bet we can all agree 100%) You cannot take from someone without that persons consent or you are committing an immoral act. Does it matter if you are the one holding the gun, or if you use the proxy of a mob to have someone else hold the gun?) Thus, every human being has to make a choice to be a moral person or an immoral person. It really is that simple. If you force your ideas on another human being via the proxy of the mob, you have taken their liberty. The only act more immoral than taking someone’s liberty would be to take their life. (Yet without liberty, haven’t you taken their life in a way?)

So think about that. Ask yourself the question, have you done anything that enables the loss of liberty for another human being? If so, it is can’t be changed, what’s done is done, the past is in the past etc. Understanding the error is the first step. But what can you do going forward to not commit that act again? That is the question I want everyone to ponder. How do you go forward and be a moral person? How do you go forward and not take liberty from anyone?

In this case, it’s what you don’t do that can far supersede anything that you can do. You can give money, donate time etc., etc., but none of that makes up for the taking of someone’s liberty. Thus the first step is to not take the liberty of another human being. You easily surpass the little things you can do. Liberty, everyone deserves it, whether you like them, or agree with them or share the same philosophies, ideologies or political views. Everyone deserves liberty.

Liberty. There is a reason it is the single most fought for ideal in American history.  Our ancestors fought to the death for liberty, our brothers and sisters have fought and died for liberty both on American soil and around the world. What bigger disservice can we do than dishonor their memories by throwing liberty aside for political ideologies? To use force through the proxy of the mob to have our own ideas forced on others and remove their liberty.


Liberty, Say it again, Liberty:   The sound alone is enough to make a man proud to be alive. As a soldier, I was prepared to give my life for liberty. I don’t expect that from anyone, but I do expect everyone to look at their own actions and do their best to not take liberty from another person. If the majority (The mob, however you wish to define it) took this stance, this could once again be the greatest bastion of liberty the world has ever known.

Firecord Review

Firecord is an innovative little product from the guys over at Live Fire Gear (Also Equip-2-Endure).  I do have to admit I’ve known a member of their staff for a couple of years and they are some great people.  But be warned, I will test this product objectively.

Firecord is a type of paracord cordage with an extra strand (Paracord normally has 7 strands of internal fiber) of flammable fiber.   The paracord is just as strong as normal paracord out of the box.

Initial observations.  There is a very mild smell of accelerant from the cordage.  A bit of mineral oil type smell, but it’s not heavy.  It’s also not greasy at all.  There is no transfer of the accelerant beyond the single “Fire” strand.   This was one of my early concerns.  (You may not want to use this product with hunting gear if you do scent neutralization.  It’s a mild scent to humans but most likely quite strong to animals that defend themselves with a strong sense of smell)



It handles and feels just like any other paracord but it is a little stiffer but not enough to be any kind of problem.  (It does come in a variety of colors.  Last I checked on Amazon, it came in 12 different colors, both bright and subdued.  (I prefer the bright colors to denote it’s Firecord over the other colors).  So I ordered it in Orange.  Here is where it starts to get interesting.  You can still melt the ends after cutting just like regular paracord.  The accelerant is slow enough to allow you to melt/whip your paracord without igniting.  This works perfectly.  In fact I tried several times to ignite the internal strand and without air, it goes out quickly.  I like this feature.  Allows you to literally treat this cord exactly as any other paracord until you need the firestrand.

7 + fire strand

7 + fire strand

Now one of the points is that you can extract the fire strand and continue to use the paracord, which works well if you are cutting chunk’s less than 10 feet long.  But trying to pull a single strand on longer pieces creates a lot of friction.  But you really don’t need to pull out a 10 foot section to start a fire.  Most of my testing was done with 2 or 3 inch chunks which was more than enough.  So for my own convenience, I just cut off a 3 inch section of cordage.  I usually just pocket the trash.

For most of us who spend as much time in the woods as I do, we always have plenty of fire starting materials on us and most of the time it’s pretty easy to find or make something that will catch a spark.   So this may be a little bit “Gimmicky” to add to the kit, but it’s a pretty slick and easy way to have some very good fire starting material on you at all times.  (And it’s waterproof and essentially a “Tie it off and Forget about it until you need it” product.  Do you need it?  No, but its sure isn’t going to hurt to have it available.  I’d suggest using this for zipper pulls on all your bags and kits.  Each zipper pull would provide enough cordage for 2 or 3 fires.   Or you can make a small keychain with it and keep it on your ferro rod (or even use it as your ferro rod cord).  Then it will always be available to you.

Strand extended (Can be pulled and cut)

Strand extended (Can be pulled and cut)

Never hurts to have that little extra with you.  And since I have zipper pulls on all my bag zippers (If you’ve ever reached hypothermia, you will understand the importance Zipper pulls provide).  So without taking up any extra space or even having to remember where in my kit I’ve dropped my Firecord, it’s always available.

Scraped and prepped

Scraped and prepped

All in all it’s a pretty good piece of kit.  Think of it as insurance.  You may never need it, but that one time you really do need it, it will be right there.

Now let’s look at usage and performance.

Catches the first spark

Catches the first spark

First thing is, it doesn’t light well on its own straight out of the cord, unless you use a match or lighter (in which case you probably wouldn’t be using it).  But if it’s very rainy and windy and you need fire and do have a lighter or match, it will work well as a base tinder.   A 2 inch strand burned solid for 25 or 30 seconds on most of my tests.  (Some longer but I prefer to report on the minimums).

For best usage, with a ferro rod or if using something like a bow drill or fire plow to provide a coal, you need to “Fuzz” the cord up.  A fingernail will do an ok job, but a sharp knife will fuzz it up really well. Practice a little because it is very weak and will tear up if you apply too much pressure.  There is a waxy substance on the cord which will flake as you scrape.  The more fuzz, the faster it will take a spark, but also the faster it will burn.    What I discovered works best is to take about a 3 inch section.  Fuzz about 1 inch of the end, then curl the other 2 inches under it.  This provide nearly a full minute of burn time.

All in all, for the price, it’s a worthwhile investment.  A single 25 foot strand runs about $12.50 and will probably be all you’ll need for years.

Revisiting Handguns: Self Defense, great articles.

A buddy of mine posted this excellent article from the Lucky Gunner Blog.   I wanted to share it and interject a few of my own thoughts.

Lucky Gunner Article

All of the points in this article are great.  And getting views from a panel of professional experienced shooters helps to keep us off the single train of thought wagon.   One thing they didn’t address was the caliber myths.   It seams like every self defense discussion always seems to devolve to a caliber war.  Comes down to the fanboys of 1 particular caliber or other vs each other.   Don’t get hung up on Caliber!  What it really should be is Train, Train, Train.  Accurate hits on target with small caliber rounds are still far superior to not having anything in the first place and good hits with small calibers are better than poor hits or misses with the big boys. (yes, that tiny bit of difference between a 38, 9mm, .40 or .45 is a tiny percentage of the overall picture.

Think of pistol caliber like race cars. You have 3 race cars. one goes 181 MPH, one goes 185 MPH and one goes 189 MPH. But your not a NASCAR professional race-car driver with years of real racing experience. You can get behind the wheel of any of these 3 cars and get decent track times.  However, It’s unlikely you can push the faster cars enough to beat a real race driver driving the slower car. The minor differences between rounds can’t compensate for the user.   The terminal performance of pistol rounds is so similar (And so far inferior to shotgun or rifle round performance) as to be negligible.  You have to hit your target, hit it fast and accurately in the correct place to have the best chance at stopping an attacker.

First 5 Rounds, 10 yards

First 5 Rounds, 10 yards

I spent my formative years (17 to 23) on the 1911 platform putting more than 10,000 rounds of .45 downrange (And I was also guilty of the idea that the bigger bullet was better attitude), I was in the Army when we transitioned to the M9 from the 1911 and hated it for years strictly out of a fanboy .45 attitude.   Thankfully I’ve matured a bit over the years.   But now that I’ve put thousands of 9mm rounds down range also on varous platforms.  I have changed my mind.  Even my Springfield SubCompact -XD 9mm outperforms the 1911’s I’ve shot in my life and my full size 9mm duty pistol (An old Ruger P85 Mark II) is spectacularly accurate and fast as lightning.

There is a reason most professionals have swung over to the 9mm side from the larger calibers for self defense and training.  Generally less recoil, (Although this is more dependent on the weight/design of the pistol).  Less recoil means faster follow up shots, more accurate follow up shots (Less post shot deflection means less site realignment) and probably most importantly is training.  Training is the single most important factor in preparing yourself to use a sidearm in self defense.  More training equates to better real world performance.  So if you can buy 1/3 to 1/4 more rounds of 9mm than .40, you can shoot 30% more and train 30% more.  You have many gains over the tiny ballistic difference between calibers.

Tactical life also did a great article with a panel of 14 professional, experienced shooters/trainers giving their opinions. It was quite eye opening to see what direction the majority of them rolled

Tactical Life Article

So really, it comes down to training and finding the gun/caliber combination that allows you to be as quick and accurate as possible.  Don’t jump on the big boys based on that small ballistic difference.  You can’t miss fast enough with a .357, or 44 mag, or .45 to make up for the small ballistic difference.   Therefore the more you train, the more experience you get and the more proficient you become. Don’t focus on caliber, Stopping power itself is generally a myth with handguns. (Major cavitation effects just don’t occur through clothing at the velocities/bullet weights of handgun rounds).

I have a matrix that at least in my own opinion holds pretty true.  The two most important factors in defensive shooting are Accuracy (Bullets on target) and Speed (both deploying the sidearm as efficiently and effectively as possible and the speed of follow up shots until the aggressor is stopped).  To throw caliber in looks like this.  50% is Accuracy, 48% is speed (Can’ miss fast enough to stop someone so it falls below accuracy), and 2% is ballistics of the caliber round (With tiny differentials on the barrel length etc that can cause small changes in performance of the caliber rounds being used).

Get out there and practice, practice a lot, practice realistically, get training from many different sources to broaden your understanding which will help you train the best for you. (Everyone is different) and be mentally prepared as well as physically prepared.   Wish everyone good luck and a safe life, but if something happens, I wish you quick hands and spot on accuracy.

Stay safe everyone.  Situational awareness is key, avoiding a situation is a lot safer than dealing with the situation.


First Kydex Project: P-38 Sheath

If you’ve ever been in the Service, or are a prepper/survivalist, you’ve not only heard of a P-38, but you’ve probably carried them.  I saw my first p-38 as a young kid, my grandfather had one.  I saw him use it a time or two camping when we were very young.  I don’t know what happened to it.  I used my first P-38 as a 17 year old kid at Basic Training.  And have carried one on my keychain since I snagged my first one in Germany a year or two later.

The one problem with a well-used, older p-38 is the swing-gate can start getting loose and opens in the pocket.  This causes holes in the pockets (And occasionally holes in your leg).  I have tried many of the little tricks, wrapping a rubber band around it (never seemed to stay long and rubber bands seem to dissolve in the pocket), duct tape (Pain in the ass, to take off or put back on etc.).

Slight twist to enter, very secure.

Slight twist to enter, very secure.

I tried making a leather sheath for it, but it was just too bulky at the stitches, etc. (And I’m NOT a skilled leatherworker so aesthetically it was horrible LOL) and it kept sliding off.  Just didn’t have a good way of locking it onto the p-38.    The best thing I found so far was a piece of small tire inner tube (I don’t have a clue what tire it came out of)  That wrapped around pretty well, but rubber is hard to get out of your pocket sometimes and it eventually cracked and split and broke off.

So, I decided to give Kydex a try.  Not being much of an artisan, I didn’t expect much.  But Kydex turns out to be incredibly easy to manipulate.  On this small project, I didn’t bother with the oven or

Finished Sheath

Finished Sheath

a heat gun, just used a high pressure butane lighter, my fingers and my Leatherman Multi-tool pliers.

I figured I’d mess up so I cut the piece a bit larger than I needed and figured I’d cut off the excess.  Turned out I hadn’t accounted well for the bulk used in the turns, so it was almost perfect.  I only had to cut a tiny 1/8 piece off the end.

Gave it a little heat and then folded it over, took about 10 seconds to harden up to lock in the curve.  Then I put the P-38 in to find the next bend line.  The fit was almost perfect to start with.  I then trimmed off the 1/8 excess, heated up the next joint and folded it over.  Pinched this together in my fingers and in another 10 or 15 seconds it was finished hardening.

Base after being pinched closed.

Base after being pinched closed.

To keep the p-38 from pushing out the bottom, I heated it and pinched it with the pliers.  That worked but I didn’t like the results, so I heated it back up and pinched a little higher with a tad bit of lift.  This sealed the bottom better.

The opening.  Perfect fit.

The opening. Perfect fit.

Once I had the P-38 in the sheath, I warmed it up a bit and just put a tiny bit of pressure over the center.  This made a nice firm lock.  The neat thing is, due to the design, if you twist slightly as you place the P-38 back in the sheath, it opens the sheath so you don’t need to force it past the detent.

Simple project, didn’t take 10 minutes for the first one. Only took 5 minutes to make the second for my oldest boy.

My boy wanted one too.  The 2nd came out just as good.

My boy wanted one too. The 2nd came out just as good.

Just need to hook up my sander to really clean up edges a bit more.

Can’t wait to start my next projects!

Buck Packlite Review

Even after that much abuse, still lookin good.

Even after that much abuse, still lookin good.

My son picked this knife up for himself a while back for about $22.  He really liked it and I used it a little and although I’m not a big fan of scale-less knives, this handle is fairly decent and works well with a set of gloves on.  (Extended use without gloves may cause some hot spots).

I was going through Walmart one day about a year ago and the last one they had was on clearance for $17, but they gave me a big discount because it was the display model.  I ended up only paying (if memory serves me, but that’s no guarantee) about $12.95 for it.

I used it a couple times, made some fuzz sticks and it was good, but as par for the course, I’m just not a fan of knives that don’t have scales.  Any hard use will cause hot spots in the hand where the sharp metal corners touch the skin.   It had a great edge and held it well, so I made it my backup knife, stuck it in my outdoor kit (Saddlebags setup coming soon).  Where it’s sat for almost a year without getting used.  (I’m kind of addicted to my Tops HOG so it gets all my love).

Well my work participates in the United Way “Day of Caring” annual volunteer event.  This year we were tasked with planting 51 replacement trees for trees that were destroyed last year in a big storm.   My team of 3 people did 15 trees in 2 hours, and I swear it was because of this knife.  The tree root balls were covered in tough wet burlap and tied with some heavy ¼ inch twine cordage.

In the pocket carry.  This works well because of the plastic liner in the sheath.

In the pocket carry. This works well because of the plastic liner in the sheath.

The fellow we were working for had brought a box knife.  The blade was new and was dull before he got ½ way through cutting the 1st burlap sack off the first root ball.  (About 24 inches of cutting).  I wasn’t about to use my hog to cut into the dirt, so I dug the old Packlite out (which is extremely sharp, I keep all my knives very, very sharp and ready to go).  Is went through the ¼ inch rope like butter.  I then plunged it into the root ball and proceeded to cut. (It was just easier than trying to slide the knife around the ball in the pit which didn’t work well).   I touched it up with a rod after the 6th, and 12th bag I cut off and it easily cut every one and all the cordage.   It held an edge great and even cutting into burlap wrapped around dirt, it didn’t do any damage to the blade.  I washed it off, touched it up again and it’s back to shaving sharp.  This knife is tough.  Performed far better than expected for an inexpensive $20 knife.

I was never a big fan of recurved blades because they can be a little tougher to sharpen.  Nothing practice and learning the individual curves of the knife can’t fix.  But the more knives I use with recurves, the more I like them.  Now, I just need to come up with some scales for it.

Plastic Liner

Plastic Liner

The sheath I have mixed feelings about.  The belt loop is crap, little 5/8 inch piece of thin strap.  My boys broke off after 3 or 4 times wearing it.  The sheath is formed around a plastic insert that holds the knife well.  Since I don’t trust the belt loop strap, I just stuffed the whole knife in my pocket and drew/inserted it from the sheath there.  That worked quite well.

Very thin weak poorly designed belt loop

Very thin weak poorly designed belt loop

All in all, for a knife this inexpensive, I was truly amazed at what it handled.  I’m going to work on a new sheath for this one and it may become my primary “Tear it up” knife for when I need to go all primitive Pete with a knife and don’t want to tear up my good knives.    If you’re looking for a cheap (Almost disposable at that price) knife that will not let you down, this Buck fits the bill.

Solid Sheath, good quality all around except the belt loop.  Good locking snap to secure the knife

Solid Sheath, good quality all around except the belt loop. Good locking snap to secure the knife


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