Tag Archives: field work

Fire From the Gods? Whats in Your Pocket?

Picture yourself, The Middle Pleistocene era walking up to the cave, your fellow hominids are sitting around trying to rub some sticks together to get fire going.  You reach into the medicine bag hanging around your neck.  You grab something, reach down to the fire and push a button and PRESTO, Flames from the gods ignite the fire.  The rest of your tribe gathers around you, making offerings of animal skins and baskets of fruit, and slabs of thick cut meat.  Yes, Life is good.    Fast forward 700,000 years, and you can do the same, but may or may not be given all the offerings.

Yes, this is a review of a simple lighter, and should probably be 3 paragraphs, but where would the fun be in that?   So Today, I had a little more fun in writing a bit of a whopper of a review on such a simple item.   Mostly just out of a sense of fun. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The UST (Ultimate Survival Technologies) Wayfinder Butane Lighter with Compass

MSRP $14.99  Can be commonly found at Walmart for around $9.95.

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In the Package

Most comparable lighters online are in the $7:00 to $19.00 range.  Some similar lighters can be found much lower.  But I can’t judge quality of those in comparison having not used them.  There are some nice high end lighters with certified waterproofing and easier to use controls.  Look at the Delta Stormproof lighter for some of those higher end features in the $35+ range and you’ll see what I mean.

Before we get started, this question must be answered.  “Why a lighter?”.  You’re an outdoorsman, you can make fire with friction if you had to, matches are dirt cheap and easy to carry.  Heck, even a Ferro rod can make fire so easy, why on earth bother with a lighter?

To answer this question, I always start with a classic survival question.  You’re in a dire survival situation, sun is setting, temp is dropping rapidly, you have nothing on you but a ferro rod, a lighter, and the materials for a bow drill.  Which one are you going to light the fire with to save your life?  In a real survival situation, the lighter is the most immediate and effective means.  Could be windy, could be wet or raining and the match or ferro become a little more difficult to use, requiring more effort as your body reaches hypothermia.  You lose dexterity to operate some of these effectively.  (I have had hypothermia up to the point where my mind was starting to say “Lets just go to sleep, you don’t care anymore”.  Drown-proofing in a cold pool in October while in the Army.   I could barely grab a ladder to climb out of the pool, needed help.  Trust me, you lose dexterity in your fingers quickly and not long after that, you just don’t really care anymore).

Sure, out camping, just hanging out in the woods.  Take your time, make a fire with a ferro rod, or take the time to build a bow drill and do some fire by friction practice.    But even sitting around at work or at home, you need to melt some paracord ends?  The lighter is the quick, practical way to do that.   So, it just makes sense to keep a lighter on you.

I know some people are “Technology averse”, and may think technology is bad, and doesn’t belong in the field.  But even many of them still carry a lighter or other technology with them.  Mostly because it’s convenient and quick.  It’s just simply useful, but in the same respect, a lighter IS technology.  Just like a knife is “Technology” over a knapped piece of obsidian tied to a deer antler with some coyote tendons.  Technology isn’t bad, it’s just another tool to be used.  But like any tool, if you depend on it too much, if it breaks on you, your need to have the skills to use alternatives (like a ferro rod or a bow drill).  Dependence is never a good thing.  ANY piece of equipment can break or get lost (Even that $400 custom made specialty knife you love to death could accidentally be lost).  So make sure you have your alternatives, and your skills.   But don’t dismiss a tool because “Egads:  Technology”.  You’d still be carrying a knapped knife and wearing animal skins.  😊

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1 screw to access the inner workings

There are a lot of lighters available for all walks of life.  Some pretty high end super tough lighters on down to the cheap Bic knockoff lighters you can get at 50 cents each.  I used to carry the little Bics because they were cheap and disposable and the small ones ride in your pocket very well.   But they have the problem with the button being pushed while they are in your pocket and then the fuel leaks out and presto, you go to use it and it’s empty.    I’ve had them go empty in my pocket in less than a week and I’ve had them last for a couple months, but it’s a crap shoot.  Not something I feel confident enough in to trust my life to.

So, I have tried a couple of options.   In the Army I carried a Zippo, But soon discovered I didn’t care for them.  They tended to leak and dry out quickly.  And messing with transporting and carrying liquid fuel is a pain.  Sure, they looked cool, and it was fun to pull it out and snap my fingers and pop it open, but after a while I stopped carrying them.  I tried a peanut lighter and a forever match and a larger version, but would hate to try to use one if I was hypothermic, and both still leaked and aren’t as convenient as a thumb operated lighter.   After that I used Bic’s.  Then high pressure butane lighters started getting popular.  I have purchased a couple from gas stations in the $5.99 range on up to the $17.00 Spark Multi-tool butane lighter (Which turned out to be a total piece of junk, don’t ever waste your money on it).    Most just don’t stand up to pocket carry well.

My last butane lasted about 3 months before the cap broke off.  So, I have been in the market a for a replacement, but didn’t want any of the same old versions I see everywhere.  I was at Walmart and I’ve had mixed feelings about UST gear.  Some UST gear is a great value, the Spark Force Ferro’s are great, I LOVE the Polymer resin carabiners, lightweight, nonmetallic, tough enough and work great.  The small tarps are decent, (I don’t care for most of the cutlery as previous evaluations have shown).

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At this angle you can make out the rubber seal

The Wayfinder Lighter from UST was hanging in the camping section at Walmart.  I decided to give it a try.  I didn’t expect much.  Cheap plastic shell, button compass on the side.   But figured, it had to be better than the spark that had failed horribly.    Got it home and opened it up and was surprised.  It’s much more solid than I expected.   I popped the lid open and first impression was “No rubber O ring so not waterproof.    Which turned out to be my mistake. (Hey, I’m human, I make plenty of mistakes).   The lighter housing is chrome and there is a rubber gasket, but it’s so small and so close to the edge it’s lost in the reflection of the metal.

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Easy  flame control as long as you have a strong fingernail or knife

Once I figure out there was a gasket, I had to do some water testing.  This lighter is not billed as waterproof, it doesn’t say waterproof in the specs or on the packaging.  But I did 2 water tests.  I put it in a glass of water (This does not float, they do have some available that do but I don’t care for the more squared designs, I like rounded edges for pocket carry).    I did the first test for 5 minutes.  I was not surprised to see a lot of bubbles coming up.  Figured it was leaking.   But Pulled it out and low and behold, the chamber was dry.   (Turned out the water was going into the tiny chamber where the rocker arm is that houses the cap release, so the water didn’t enter the lighter at all.     After 30 minutes in water, it was still bone dry and worked fine.   There is a screw on the base that allows you to remove the lighter from the housing also.

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Latch Down, push button to release cap

The lighter works well, it does come empty so buy yourself a bottle of butane to fill it.  If you use butane lighters, you probably already have a bottle at home.  😊

The compass, It’s a standard button compass.  It works as well as any button compass.  Much like anything else, it doesn’t need to be there, but why not, doesn’t hurt anything and it’s still a compass and still works.

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With locking latch closed.  It has not come open in my pocket yet.

It has a great latch system.  Easy to operate 1 handed, and the flip up wire lock keeps the cap secured very well.

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Lanyard hole and compass

The flame is adjustable via a small turn screw on the bottom around the fill port.  This does require something akin to a knife or strong fingernail to turn.  Depending on the altitude you’re at it may need adjusting.

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30 minute water test was successful. The bubbles are from inside the thumb release, not the lighter itself.

All in all, it’s a decent lighter at a reasonable price.  There are probably better buys out there, higher quality, lower price, so find something you like or that fits you, but for the price, this is a decent little lighter and everyone should have a lighter in their pocket anyway.   Now, I’ve only had it for a week, so only time will tell if it’s tough enough to stand up to my pocket carry.  (I’m going to keep an eye on the rocker pins which I think are its weakest point).  I have high hopes and reasonable expectation. LOL   I’ll come back again in a couple months and let you know how it’s fairing.

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Lid Opens past 90 degrees, easier to get the flame to tight spaces.

Pros:

  • Tough plastic shell (I did more than 20 drop and toss tests with it and it’s still running just fine)
  • Adjustable flame
  • Cap is spring loaded and stays out of the way.
  • Solid latch to keep the lid closed and waterproof
  • Compass, (Why not? LOL)
  • Lanyard hole to add a lanyard if you like. (Could attached it to a pack if you wish.
  • Cap opens past 90 Degrees (many capped butane lighters do not, so they can be tough to get into tight spaces)
  • Bright Orange. (I like bright colors for pocket carry stuff, easier to spot in the grass when you drop it).

Cons:

  • No rubber grip. (This is more of a personal preference, it does have a good texture cutouts, but I like a non-slip rubbery grips)
  • No shock absorber built in like more expensive versions. (Not sure how useful that really is, as I have done dozens of 5 to 8 foot drop tests and a couple of 20 foot “Toss” onto concrete tests and it’s fared well.
  • Flame doesn’t get as high as some other lighters.

 

 

 

 

 


Tops HOG 4.5 Review (UPDATED)

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.

 

UPDATE ADDED!

 

After playing with the ring a bit.  I made another modification to the kit I use with the knife.  I took about 38 inches of paracord, and dropped a figure 8 on each end.  This gets run through a mini carabiner and through the ring.  This is a very flexible setup.    I noticed after doing a lot of chopping (I went through two 4 inch chunks of maple as fast as I could) with the carabiner through the ring that it could pinch every once in a while and the carabiner could give some hot spots on the fingers.  (Gloves would alleviate this).  I had a chunk of paracord to extend it for both a lanyard and for extending to chop with, but the lanyard isn’t very flexible and too short to do much of anything with.

So see the pictures to see how I set this rig up.

Pic 1 shows the full cord separated with the carabiner and the Hog

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Finished cord is 32 inches long loop to loop.

Next pic is the normal carry position.  This gives about 16 inches of lanyard, enough to go round the elbow and lock the knife into the hand (Gives counter pressure to the knife while its being used).  I found this turns the knife into an extension of your arm.  For chopping I reverse the loop and run the middle of the lanyard through the ring and keep the carabiner through both end loops on the loose end.  That lets me hold just cordage for chopping which for me was a bit more comfortable.   This can then be clipped to gear or a vest if your working close.

Carabiner in loops in knife.

Carabiner in loops in knife.

Last is the long leash,  This is for working over water or in terrain where dropping your knife could be disastrous.    The figure 8 loop is wrapped through itself at the ring of the knife, and the carabiner clips through the other loop and connects to your belt or chest strap of a pack etc.  32 inches is ideal for me (It gives me near full extension from the backpack ring on my chest or belt).

Full Length Rig

Full Length Rig

The ring is very useful.  Since it’s larger than a standard lanyard hole, it adds much more functionality.