Outdoor (or just plain 'neato') Kit Page 1, 2, 3


LumaLoop Camera Sling (Gen I - updated version below)

1/24/10 - The LumaLoop Camera Sling from Luma-Labs is a strap that was designed for professional photographers that need a strap that keeps a second camera out of the way, but at the ready when carrying two DLSR or SLR cameras with different lenses. At it turns out, the LumaLoop works well for anyone using a single DSLR, as it helps distribute the load more comfortably than 1" straps or regular camera loops.

Description - The LumaLoop uses a curved shoulder pad that redistributes the weight of the camera on your body over a wider area. The curved shape of the pad spreads the weight more evenly and reduces the 'hot spot' on the top of the shoulder. Heavy camera/lens combinations can be carried for extended amounts of time. The pad is made of leather with a neoprene bottom, and also serves to keep the strap in place without sliding on the shoulder.

The pad can be reversed for right or left shoulder use by unscrewing the Chicago screws at each end and switching the SR buckle and D-ring. The SR buckle allows the sling to be released without having to remove it over your head.

The LumaLoop uses a lanyard to connect to any available mounting point. The lanyard consists of a side-release buckle with a loop of 550 cord sheath. The 550 cord sheath is thin enough to fit the narrow sling slots on most SLR camera bodies and will also fit lens collar mounts or loop attachment points on tripod mount plates. Extra lanyards can be purchased so that multiple cameras can be used with one sling without having to remove the lanyard each time. The lanyard rides along the 1" webbing strap of the main loop while the neoprene pad stays in the same spot on the shoulder.

The LumaLoop comes in two sizes - regular and large. The standard loop has a lot of adjustability and will fit more people up to a size large. The large loop is for folks who wear size XL or larger t-shirts. Duraflex Rock Lobster SR buckles are used.


Lanyard and attachment

Pad end

Lanyard on camera

Fully assembled


I've long since ditched to standard camera strap that came with my Nikon, as it was never very convenient for getting the camera out of the way. I'd either have it around my neck for taking photos, with the camera right in front of me, or sling it over the shoulder when I needed to use my hands. I switched to an OSOE strap which was designed like a weapon single point sling, and it worked very well but the 1" webbing could have used some padding.

I'm a left hander, and while I don't have a 'left handed' camera, I'm used to carrying my DSLR on my left side, with the left hand cradleing the lens (instead of gripping the camera body with my right hand). I tried the LumaLoop over both shoulders, with the lanyard attached to the left, then right side of the body, and actually found that carrying the camera on the right side (strap on the left shoulder) felt better. I also use the 'shutter up' hold when taking pictures with the camera in the vertical orientation so having the lanyard on the left side of the camera kept it out of the way. It wasn't too hard to get used to carrying the camera on the right instead of the left.

The only thing that concerned me was security. Most 'regular' camera straps that attach to both sides of the camera body don't have a buckle. The LumaLoop has two - one on the strap and another on the lanyard. While I'm not worried about failure of the buckle, there's a small chance of accidental release (if snagged on equipment/gear) and also purposeful release by someone other than the owner (theft). Someone passing by can detach the camera hanging from the strap at your side almost instantly. The user needs to be aware of that and take that into consideration, especially when traveling or moving through crowds/public.

My 'security' mod - Just to give me peace of mind that my toddler isn't going to grab at my camera lanyard and somehow release it from the main Loop (it can happen - he actually broke a rock once. Yes, a rock), I came up with a simple addition to the SR buckle that still enabled me to release it but also to keep it from separating unless I intended it to. I used an ITW tactical toggle (part #743-0200) with a short length of 550 cord and attached it to the female buckle. The cord goes through the small holes in the buckle so it's captured. When not in use, it just stays with the lanyard. When I attach the male buckle, I thread the loop through the slot where the main strap webbing passes through, then just loop it over the toggle. It acts just like a toggle button on some jackets and will not release accidentally. It takes a couple of seconds to release and maybe ten seconds to thread through when attaching the main loop. For me, those few seconds are worth the extra security.

I've been using the LumaLoop for the past couple of months, and found that it works very well for my simple needs. I take a lot of photos of my two year old son, and often have to put the camera aside to tend to him or get something. With the LumaLoop, I can push the camera to the side and keep it under control with my arm so it doesn't swing forward, and have it at the ready for instant use when I need to capture that chance shot. I've also found it useful at the range when I'm taking photos of shooters.



Ready to snap pics

PodMount - The PodMount turns any tripod mount into an attach point for the LumaLoop lanyard. I prefer this to attaching the LumaLoop to the side strap mount, as this keeps the LumaLoop out of the way completely. It's machined out of 303 stainless steel and has a high density neoprene rubber gasket to keep it snug on the camera. This is the Gen 1 PodMount pictured; a newer, sleeker version has been released.


Attached to camera

LumaLoop attached



Luma Loop Camera Sling Gen II

2/5/11 - Luma (Luma Labs LLC) has released their new version of the LumaLoop Camera sling reviewed previously. It's just referred to as the Loop, and incorporates new features that include a camera connection inspired by single point slings for rifles. The Loop is a strap that was designed for professional photographers that need a strap that keeps a second camera out of the way, but at the ready when carrying two DLSR or SLR cameras with different lenses. I've been using the original Loop for my single DSLR for about a year, as it helps distribute the load more comfortably than 1" straps or regular camera loops, and it's been my favourite DLSR sling until now. The Gen II Loop has surpassed the original, in my opinion.

Description - As with the Gen I Loops, the Gen II Loop uses a curved shoulder pad that redistributes the weight of the camera on your body over a wider area. The curved shape of the pad spreads the weight more evenly and reduces the 'hot spot' on the top of the shoulder. Heavy camera/lens combinations can be carried for extended amounts of time. The pad is made of leather with a neoprene bottom, and also serves to keep the strap in place without sliding on the shoulder. Please read the previous writeup above of the original LumaLoop, as I'll be going over the differences between the two.

Pad - The Gen II pad is about 0.5" longer than the original, and has a nicely cut logo (vs. embossed) on the leather portion. Instead of the single plastic D-ring on one end, there are now two stainless steel D-rings. At the other end is the same plastic quick-release SR buckle. The ends of the pads are secured with stainless steel Chicago screws. Note that on the standard Loops (right side camera carry), the Chicago screws are red loctited for permanent attachment. I'm a left hander, and prefer the camera on the right side, after much experimentation. However, for those who still want to try it on the left, an ambidextrous version where the Chicago screws are shipped 'dry' and not loctited can be purchased. It also includes a sachet of red Loctite when the customer decides on the configuration he/she wants. The only difference between wearing it over the left or right shoulder is that the quick-release buckle will end up in the back instead of the front.

Strap - The strap with the standard Loop comes in one size now (regular), and is left long and the end left free, rather than sewn to the triglide. This allows the user to trim it to length. Longer and shorter replacement lengths are available separately. The triglide is now stainless steel instead of plastic. Strap length is adjusted via the triglide; you pretty much set it and forget it. If the loose end ever slips out of the triglide, the double D-rings will prevent it from slipping off the pad.

Lanyard - This is where the biggest change has occured. Instead of the SR buckle and 550 cord sheath, the new connection boasts a stainless steel QD sling swivel, and machined stainless steel socket on the lanyard. The QD sling swivel idea was inspired by single point slings for rifles as the designer for LumaLabs is also a shooter. The QD sling swivel is very secure and more difficult to release accidentally than an SR buckle. It's plenty strong, as it's normally used to carry the weight of a rifle which weighs more than all but the largest camera/lens.

The lanyard socket is the connection between the Loop and the camera, and the user can purchase additional lanyards so they don't have to swap them from camera to camera. The socket has o-rings, which prevent it from marring the camera, and a loop of special nylon cord from Sterling Rope. LumaLabs experimented with a variety of different materials, including aircraft cable wire. It was strong, but very stiff and cumbersome. The nylon loop as a very tight weave which prevents it from catching on surfaces and promoting fraying. Comparison tests between the nylon cords and stock camera strap webbing showed that the cord frayed far less than the webbing. The cord can be used on camera sling loops or the Luma PodMount.


New Podmount

GEn II Loop




PodMount - The new PodMount is lower profile than the previous version, and has been further refined with smoother edges. The PodMount attaches to the tripod mount at teh bottom of the camera and provides an attach point for the Loop lanyard. After using the original LumaLoop for a while, I prefer this to attaching the Loop to the side strap mount, as this keeps the Loop out of the way completely. It's machined out of 303 stainless steel and has a high density neoprene rubber gasket to keep it snug on the camera.


PodMount and lanyard


Notes/Observations - While the original plastic SR buckle lanyard is plenty strong enough to hang a camera off, some customers still had issues with it. I didn't have an issue with the strength; just the ease with which it could be released (hence my 'security' mod, which made it more difficult to release). With the use of the QD sling swivel instead of the plastic SR buckle, this should alleviate much of those concerns, as the push button is more difficult to reach and release unintended. The new metal Lanyard is also nicer looking and more compact than an SR buckle, and I find myself detaching and re-attaching the camera more often than I did with the original LumaLoop. It's not in the way when detached from the Loop, and with the rubber O-rings around it, I have no fear that it'll scratch the camera when it bumps up against it.

As with the original LumaLoop, I now wear my camera on my right side, even though I'm a left hander. I didn't believe Greg at LumaLabs when he first said that most lefties will prefer right-side carry, but after trying both sides, I found that he was right.

The new Loop continues to serve my photography-on-the-go needs, just like the original LumaLoop did; and I think that new and old customers alike will appreciate the improvements made to it. Luma is also expanding their line of products, and also offers a simpler version of the Loop called the LoopIt, for smaller cameras.



Leatherman Crunch

5/21/09 - I've used Leatherman tools since about 1985; I had the original one, then the mini-tool later on. I normally have my Leatherman Wave on me or with me wherever I go, and it's saved my butt more than a few times. Leatherman offers a dizzying array of multi-tools now, but one of their newest ones, the Crunch, is the first multi-tool to incorporate vise grip pliers.

The Leatherman Crunch has stainless steel handles and body, and incorporates 13 tools into it's compact size. The most unique feature of the Crunch (and its namesake), is the adjustable vise grip pliers that can clamp up to a 1-inch diameter pipe. No more slipping pliers! Like their other multi-tools, Leatherman has masterfully been able to fit an incredible amount of functionality into a very small package.

Some of the main features of Leatherman Crunch Multi-tool are:

  • Stainless steel construction.
  • All locking blades and tools.
  • Adjustable pliers.
  • Leather or nylon sheath (leather shown here).
  • Length: 4 in
  • Weight: 6.9 oz

The tools incorporated into the Crunch are:

  • 420HC Stainless steel serrated sheepsfoot knife
  • Locking vise-grip pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Hard-wire cutters
  • Wire stripper
  • Small screwdriver
  • Large screwdriver
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Wood/metal file
  • Bottle opener
  • Ruler
  • Hex bit driver
  • Lanyard loop

Description - The Crunch is about the same size as my Wave Multi-tool but just a tad narrower, and just a little bit lighter. It'll fit into any pistol magazine pouch. The way the vise grip is incorporated is really very clever, and as an engineer, I'm always impressed with how Leatherman tools are designed.

Vise Grips - The handles are separated from the fully closed position by pulling them apart, which exposes the plier jaws. The pliers are then rotated out from the handle completely. Squeezing the jaws together (the plier jaws are spring loaded), the movable handle is connected to the dimple in the base of the jaw with a positive 'click'. The vise grips then function as a standard vise grip; the adjusting screw at the rear of the fixed handle is backed off to allow the vise grips to open enough to grip the object, the handles are squeezed to grip the object and the adjusting screw at the rear of the fixed handle is turned to control the clamping force. To close the tool, the movable handle is opened until it disengages from the movable jaw, the jaws are rotated back into the stowed position and the handles are closed. The pliers jaws themselves are not very wide, and are great for holding onto smaller items that regular vise grips would be too large for.

Crunch and leather case

Size comparison to Wave

Opening the handle up

Vise grips closed

Vise grips open


Locking blades - The locking blades are stored in the movable handle portion of the Crunch. To access them, the handles are opened partially. A blade is selected and rotated out of the handle where it locks in the open position. It is recommended to use the blades with the handles closed. To close the blade, the release lever on the outside of the handle is pushed. On the Wave, I find myself using the Phillips and medium screwdriver blades most often, so I'm glad that they're included in the Crunch. Actually, the Crunch has small and medium flat head blades - the end of the file can double as a large screwdriver blade. The bottle opener is part of the small screwdriver blade. The wire stripper is actually in the part that connects the two handles together. I didn't know what the symbol was until i read the instructions (which you should do first, unlike me). The sheepsfoot blade is suited for rescue/emergency work like cutting seatbelts without risk to the victim.

When you remove the vise grip adjustment screw from the handle, it exposes the hex bit adapter, in which any 1/4" hex bit can be used (no bits are included).


Other onboard tools

Locking tools (sheepsfoot blade shown)

Hex bit drive


Impressions - I've been carrying the Crunch in my pocket on a daily basis, usually in the cell phone pocket of my pants (if they have them) or just at the bottom of my pocket. Due to its slimness and weight, it doesn't feel too obtrusive. One thing I wouldn't mind would be a pocket clip on the outside of the handle, if I don't want to use the sheath. I have regular vise grips at home, but often find that they're too large for detail tasks. I also have smaller needle-nose vise grips, but the jaws and teeth aren't very precise or of high quality. The jaws on the Crunch are much more precisely made, and taper from about .2" at the tip to .3" at the widest point. I'm able to use them for a lot of smaller tasks that require some precision, like holding new roll pins while I start them - a job that is often frustrating with needle nose pliers (and without roll pin starter punches). By having the Crunch close at hand, I find uses for it that I'd normally use a pair of pliers for, but with the added convenience of not having to hold them or keep pressure on the handles. The Crunch is essentially a third hand, in some cases. I recently used it as a hose clamp when taking apart a washing machine drain pump. It's become one of my favourite and most often used multi-tools.

The Leatherman Crunch is available from AFMO.com, where I got mine.


Source Hydration reservoirs

12/8/08 - Source Vagabond Systems is an Israeli based company that creates, produces and markets gear for outdoor enthusiasts. They also have a military division, offering a wide selection of cargo hydration packs, hydraton packs, reservoirs and hydration accessories originally designed and built for the Israeli Army that are now in use by various militaries worldwide. I've been using various Camelbak reservoirs for years, and while they've worked well, Source reservoirs offer some unique additional features that I think are pretty neat.

Some of the main features of Source Hydration reservoirs are:

  • Technology that virtually eliminates the issue of cleaning.
  • Glass-Like™ Liner technology in the reservoir and tube. The insides of the reservoir and tube have very smooth surfaces, which reduce the ability for bacteria and mold to cling to the surface as there are less irregularities on the surface. The regular flow of water self-cleans the container, and the water delivered is taste-free with no plastic flavour. When cleaning the inside of the reservoir, care should be taken not to use anything abrasive that will put scratches in the surface.
  • Grunge-Guard™ antimicrobial technology blocks bacterial growth. Grunge-Guard is embedded in the reservoir and tube and is effective for the life of the system.
  • The combination of Glass-Like liner technology and Gunge Guard eliminates the need for cleaning. No cleaning is required and the reservoir can be refilled over days, weeks or months without needing special care.

Shown here are the two WXP Source hydration system reservoirs in the most common sizes used - 70oz (2L) and 100 oz (3L).

2L and 3L reservoirs



Description - The Source WXP hydration systems have a transparent OD green plastic reservoir with a full-sized opening at one end. In the 'normal' location is a filler cap, which is low profile and compatible with commonly used personal water filters. The filler cap is tethered to the base of the fill opening. A removable refill handle aids in holding the reservoir during filling.

The Widepac™ closure utilizes a slide lock that offers wide opening access for easy filling, draining, cleaning or ice cubes. The slide lock is tethered to the reservoir body. The top of the opening has a flap that folds over, and a plastic bead along its width. The slide lock clamps the fold shut with a seal that is water and air tight.

At the base of the reservior is the Quick Connect Hose fitting. This quick-attach and detach mechanism allows the hose to be attached or removed at the push of a button. There is a valve that closes when the hose is removed, preventing water from flowing out of the opening. The hose can be detached without water leakage. The attachment is modular and enables integration of in-line filters or purifiers. A piece of foam protects the reservoir area under the hose fitting.

A weave-covered 37" long tube connects the angled Storm-valve™ to the reservoir. The weave insulates and blocks UV-rays, and the water stays cooler than an uninsulated tube. The tube covers come in brown and green. The Storm-valve is a no-bite push-pull valve. Pull it out to open the valve, and push it in to shut off the flow. It also has an integrated shut-off mechanism which locks the valve securely for storage. All you do is rotate the end of the mouthpiece when the flow is shut off to lock it and prevent it from opening accidentally. A tough, lightweight cover is tethered to the valve and protects the mouthpiece from dirt and damage. The valve can be disassembled completely for cleaning.

Reservoir components

Filler cap

Widepac Closure

Opening (held open by plastic ring)

Quick-connect hose fitting

Drinking valve


Impressions - The Source WXP reservoirs are well designed and their features add to the ease and convenience of use. I like being able to completely disassemble the components for maintenance, even though Source states that no special care is needed. Being able to remove and replace the tube easily is a plus if I want to carry along and extra reservoir without the tube attached. The Widepac closure is a feature I use often; it makes it a lot easier to completely drain the reservoir, rinse it out and dry it. Note that the Widepac sliding clamp is rigid, and is the limiting factor when using the WXP reservoirs in pouches designed for other reservoirs. It will work in most of the wider covers, but not the ones designed for the slimmer reservoirs. Source offers their own pack and hydration carriers anyways. I also like the tube system better than my Camelbaks. The cover is slimmer and less prone to snagging on velcro than the Camelbak neoprene cover, and I like having the integrated shut-off valve and cover.

Kangaroo Collapsible Canteen

The Kangaroo Collapsible Canteen is brand new from Source at the time of this writing, and is essentially a mini-hydration reservoir that will fit in a standard 1-qt canteen pouches, or other general purpose pouches. It has a capacity of 0.75L / 26 oz / 0.8 qt - slightly less than a USGI 1-qt canteen. It has the same Glass-like and Grunge Guard technology to keep bacteria at bay and make it a maintenance free water source.

The Kangaroo is designed as a canteen replacement when used without the tube or as a modular hydration system with the tube connected. It folds flat when empty making it easy to stuff just about anywhere. It has a square, flat bottom when filled, so that it stands upright. It was designed for tight spaces and use in vehicles where back mounted hydration might be cumbersome.


Compared to USGI canteen


The Kangaroo has the same quick-connect hose valve as the WXP Hydration reservoirs that allows use of multiple Kangaroos with one interchangeable 37" hose. All Source hydration hoses will work with the Kangaroo. The Kangaroo filler cap also serves as a drinking valve. It is of the push-pull type and can be locked in the close position by rotating it. It has a tethered cap that snaps over it to keep the dirt out. There's a mini filler handle under the camp to aid in filling the Kangaroo.

Impressions - I love this little thing. It's actually been something I've been looking for, but no one made, until now. There are times where all I need is the occasional sip of water, like if I'm at the range and don't want to wear a full sized hydration bladder, or just have a battle belt. I usually carry a water bottle or canteen, but they require me to remove them from the pouch, drink, then replace. With the Kangaroo, I can have it in a canteen pouch, and route the hose around my waist to the front, where I can sip on water conveniently.

The Kangaroo also fits in some fanny packs and GP pouches that are too small for hydration reservoirs. etc, or bags when you're on travel. Since it's flat when empty, it doesn't take up space like rigid containers such as a canteen, water bottle or nalgene bottle. I've been keeping a Kangaroo filled as my daily use water bottle (I stuff it in the side pocket on my TNT bag), and also at home for about a month now without rinsing it out or washing. I do rinse the valve mouthpiece once in a while. So far, no smell, and nothing's growing inside it. I felt the inside of the reservoir and it doesn't have any slimy feel.

For more information, visit the Source website or email Steve Hardesty at steveh@cimasports.com for U.S.-based inquiries (Cima Sports is the North American representative for Source Vagabond Systems)

Drinking valve and hose connector

Cap components

In EMDOM TNT canteen pocket

In Eagle canteen pouch


New Source Hydration reservoirs

5/6/10 - Source has come out with a couple of new sized reservoirs. The first is a 1L/1qt/33oz Kangaroo Collapsible Canteen, shown below next to the 0.75L Kangaroo. This provides a little more volume than the .75L Kangaroo, and is filling the niche between the smaller Kangaroo and the 50oz reservoir. The new SQC (Source Quick Connect) hose fitting is lower profile than the previous design and less likely to be inadvertently disconnected in use. The grey lever is pushed to disconnect the hose from the reservoir.

.75L and 1L

New connector


Also new is the 1.5L/ 50oz reservoir, when enables it to fit in shorter hydration carriers and places where the 2L and 3L ones might be too tall. I found that it fit perfectly inside the Crye Precision CAGE Chassis back panel hydration pocket. As with the new Kangaroo canteen, the 1.5L reservoir has the updated quick-connect/disconnect fitting which is also compatible with the USMC Miox inline filter sytem.

50 oz (1.5L) reservoir

1.5L, 2L and 3L reservoirs

Crye back panel


Source Hydration LPS reservoir

2/19/11 - Hydration systems have been around quite a while now, but the variety of reservoir shapes and sizes has usually been relatively limited. To meet the warfighters' different needs, Source Military Hydration is continually coming out with new reservoirs that fill the current gaps in the market. Source has come out with a new baffled reservoir called the Low Profile Hydration System (LPS) designed to fit armour pockets or similarly shaped carriers. It comes in two sizes; 2.0L/70 oz (shown here) and 1.5L/50 oz. The reservoirs are kept flat by the use of baffles; one baffle for the 2L model and two baffles for the 1.5L model.

The LPS reservoirs have the same taste and bacteria-free construction of the other Source Hydration reservoirs, and are available with the Hi-Flow Storm Valve. The new systems have the SQC Quick Connect Hose Fitting at both ends of the tube, which allows the valve to be removed (and rotated). The tube can be more easily routed through openings and vest webbing with the valve removed. The rotating valve also ensures that the tube doesn't have to be twisted to orient the valve towards your mouth.

The 2L LPS reservoir is shown compared to the standard 2L and 3L Diamond reservoirs below. When empty, the reservoir measures about 11" wide and 13" tall including the Widepac Slide closure on top. There is no other fill cap. The LPS reservoirs will fit in some plate pockets, so if a plate is not being used, the space can be used to hold an LPS reservoir while still maintaining a lower profile than a regular reservoir. It's the perfect size for the Crye Precision CPC rear pocket.

While not in the catalogs yet, the LPS has already been in use by the SOCOM community, who use the UTA (Universal Tap Adapter) to fill the reservoir without ever having to remove it from the carrier or pocket that it's in. The LPS can be refilled 'on the go' with standard water bottles or most taps by using the UTA without taking off your rig or having someone help you.

Since it's not on any websites yet, email Steve Hardesty at steveh@cimasports.com for U.S.-based inquiries (Cima Sports is the North American representative for Source Vagabond Systems)


2L LPS and standard 2L

2L LPS and 3L Diamond

FIlled shape

Crye CPC rear pocket


Also new is the Docking Station for both the Storm and Helix valves. I hadn't mentioned the Helix valve previously, but I've also been using it for quite a while. The Helix is a bite valve which also has a twist feature to shut it off completely. You can leave it twisted open normally, and all you have to do is bite on the valve. The Storm valve previously mentioned is a no-bite, push-pull valve and offers 25% higher flow than the Helix. Which one to get is personal preference. I prefer the Helix as I don't have to push it back in to shut off the flow like the Storm.

The Docking Station is a plastic cap that mounts to either a 1" or 3/4" triglide, and attaches to webbing or shoulder straps. It keeps the valve attached to your equipment, covered and out of the way. I prefer this to the attached cap because all you do is pull the valve out from it - there's no extra step if you want to start drinking. The only thing I'd like to see is a version that orients the cap horizontally when attached to horizontal webbing. Right now, you have to find a section of vertical webbing if you want the valve oriented horizontally, as shown below. And, of course, offer it in coyote like the standard cap. It's available for the Helix and Storm valves.



Attached to rig



Source Hydration ILPS and WLPS reservoir

1/27/12 - Source Military Hydration has come out with a couple more baffled reservoirs designed to fit armour pockets or similarly shaped carriers. The ILPS 2/3L is the successor to the previously featured LPS and the WLPS is a taller, narrower shape.

The ILPS (Integrated Low Profile System) and WLPS (Widepac Low Profile System) reservoirs have the same taste and bacteria-free construction of the other Source Hydration reservoirs, and are available with the Hi-Flow Storm Valve. The new systems have the QMT (Quick Mate Technology) Quick Connect Hose Fitting at both ends of the tube, which allows the valve to be removed (and rotated). The tube can be more easily routed through openings and vest webbing with the valve removed. The rotating valve also ensures that the tube doesn't have to be twisted to orient the valve towards your mouth.

The 2L/3L ILPS reservoir with UTA is very similar to the 2L LPS which it replaces, except that it has a horizontal QMT hose fitting, rather than a vertical one at the bottom of the reservoir. This allows the drinking tube to be routed out of the ballistic plate pouch with less kinking of the tube, since many vests/plate carriers don't have an opening at the top of the vest to route a drinking tube. The 3L measures 13.5" tall x 10.75" wide (empty) with a max depth of 2.6". The 2L/3L ILPS comes with the UTA (Universal Tap Adapter) to fill the reservoir without ever having to remove it from the carrier or pocket that it's in. The LPS can be refilled 'on the go' with standard water bottles or most taps by using the UTA without taking off your rig or having someone help you.

The WLPS 3L reservoir is slightly taller than the 3L ILPS and narrower, at 15.25" tall x 9.8" wide x 2.6" max depth. It has a vertical QMT hose fitting instead of the horizontal one on the ILPS. It's the OEM reservoir in Source's Rider, Razor and Dagger 3L hydration packs.

The difference between the ILPS and WLPS is the horizontal tube connector on the ILPS and the shape. The ILPS is sized and shaped to be used in SAPI plate pockets when the plate is not used, whereas the WLPS is slightly longer and meant to go into dedicated hydration carriers where there's a tube routing port at the top.

Source Hydration seems to be leading the competition in introducing new reservoir shapes, sizes and configurations to meet the needs of the warfighter - good for them.




FIlled shape

Comparison of 3L reservoirs




TAD Gear Folding Ti Spork

9/21/06 - Another neat item from TAD Gear for the everyday adventurer is their Folding Titanium Spork. It's made out of CP (Commercially Pure) Titanium for light weight, strength and corrosion resistance. Folded, it's 3.625" long, and 6.25" open. The mechanism is very much like that of a non-locking folding knife. The handle is comprised of two 'scales' approximately .030" thick which sandwich the 'blade' (spork end) and the backspring. The backspring provides tension on the spork when it rotates and 'locks' it in the open and closed positions. A pocket clip is secured to the handle with two torx screws. The handle also has a lanyard hole. A subdued TAD Gear logo and the word 'Titanium' are laser engraved on the fine matte finish.

The only issue I found is that the small gap (about .030") between the two handle scales can get tiny bits of food in it, if you submerge the spork handle in oatmeal, chili or some other gooey, saucy food. A quick rinse is all that's needed to wash it, but if food gets stuck and allowed to dry, you'll have to go in with something flat to poke the bits out, or let it soak it for a bit. Under normal use with most foods, it's not an issue. While there are other Ti sporks out there that are lighter weight or easier to clean; folding and non-folding, none of them incorporate all the different features into one product.

Now, who is this product aimed at? Ultra-lightweight backpacking nuts (the ones who cut their plastic toothbrush handle in half) might find it heavier than a non-folding spork. But that's really splitting hairs. In fact, you'll save more weight by taking a piss before you set out. After using it for a few days, it occurred to me that it's not really a specialized item - it's aimed at just about everyone. I found myself using it instead of the crappy plastic fork and spoon off the lunch truck or cafeteria. It's for people who might have to get their food to go. People on travel. Hiker, backpackers, campers, cops, engineers etc. People who have to sometimes eat with plastic utensils. No more - the tines on this spork won't break off when you're trying to poke it through that piece of fried chicken.
It's compact enough when folded so that it won't poke you when it's in your pocket when you sit down. It's light enough to forget about it after two seconds. The pocket clip prevents holds it secure at the top of your pocket (or anywhere it'll fit) so it's not rattling around with your change or lint. Pull it out from your pocket, eat, wipe it with a napkin, and stick it back in your pocket - that's all there is to it. Wash it more thoroughly at home if needed.

I 'field tested' it in the concrete jungle (okay, at work), and the immediate reaction from my co-workers was 'that's WAY cool!' when I showed them how it worked and 'it's TITANIUM?', as they struggled with their plastic forks. So if you want to be the guy with the coolest utensils at the fast food stand or cafeteria, get one of these. Hell, I might even use it at a nice restaurant. If the wife lets me, that is.

With .45 mag for scale



Semi-concealed carry

"Field Testing"



INKA pen

5/27/07 - The Inka pen is a write-anywhere pen that always catches the eye of gadget-lovers whenever I pull it out. When closed, the pen is 3.15" long, with a stainless steel split ring for attaching to keys, bags, D-rings etc. It's O-ring sealed and watertight in this configuration. I have it attached to the neck lanyard of my ID badge for work, and have been using it every day for the past 8 months. My wife has one that she's attached to the outside of her bag, and found that other women have commented on it as well. It's the perfect companion for her Rite-in-the-rain notebook.

The main barrel of the pen is machined out of 304 stainless steel with a laser-engraved 'Inka' logo on it and a centerless ground finish. The carbon fiber 'Quick-use' pen is stored inside the barrel, and to use it, you simply pull it out. It's held securely inside with a viton O-ring that sits in a machined groove inside the stainless tube. Unscrewing the back endcap of the Quick-use pen reveals a yellow delrin PDA stylus for touch-screens. The Quick-use pen can be used as-is, or the stainless tube can be unscrewed from the split ring and the components assembled into a smart-looking full sized pen. It's funny to do that in meetings and have people pay more attention to what you're doing than listen to the meeting. 'Hey, let me see that thing - that's cool!' is the typical reaction.

The tungsten-carbide tipped Inka refill is manufactured for Inka by Fisher, who make the famous 'space pen'. It's pressurized, and the pen will write wet or dry, upside down and at any angle, at any temperature and altitude. I've not had one skip or blot in the past 8 months of continuous usage and it's still going strong.

Inka pen

Quick-use pen

PDA tip in short pen


Assembled into full size pen

ZULU Watchbands

3/5/05 - CountyComm offers replacement watch bands for military watches (including a digital woodland camo band as shown below), along with Zulu watchbands. The Zulu bands come in 20mm and 22mm widths to fit most watches, in variety of colours, including maroon, Coast Guard orange, OD green, grey ACU, desert sand/coyote, or black nylon.

Made with 316L stainless hardware, they're a 1-piece, drop-in replacement strap that won't rot or fall apart. Laser-burnt holes in the strap eliminate burrs. Besides the buckle, there are two stainless loops/keepers. For those with smaller wrists like mine, the loose end can be double-backed through the loops (as shown below). I only have an old, beat-up Timex Expedition that has lasted at least 10 years. I've been through about 3 or 4 watch bands, each time the leather strap disintegrating from sweat etc. I've spent more on bands than I paid for the original watch, but it just won't quit. It took about a minute to ditch the current band and install the 20mm Zulu. The Zulu is comfy, simple, and rugged. Finally, a strap to last as long as the Timex.

For those of you who own G-Shock watches and the original resin straps are cracking or have broken, or you just want to upgrade to a more comfortable Zulu strap, you can get an adapter kit that allows you to use a Zulu from County Comm here.

3/25/06 - Having used a couple of these Zulu bands for a little over a year every single day, they pretty much look as they did new. No elongation of the holes or visible wear on the band. They're also a snap to change out to a different colour.

20mm and 22mm OD Zulu bands, 20mm camo band

20mm on my beat-up Timex

Coyote band on newer Timex


Maratac ACQ Compass Watch

3/25/06 - The Maratac ACQ (Analog Quartz Compass) watch offered by CountyComm is made by Timex (essentially the same model as the Timex Expedition E-compass model), specially for Maratac (who make the Zulu watchbands shown above). A miniaturized digital sensor detects the earth's magnetic field and also allows the user to adjust for local declination. The ACQ comes in a black watch 'taco' case, and is supplied with a black Zulu two-ring watchband. The watchband bars are solid and non-removable, and designed to be used with the Zulu bands.

The ACQ case is made from 316L stainless with a satin finish and is water-resistant to 100m. However, it's not water-PROOF, and is not meant as a dive watch, so buttons should not be pressed when it's submerged. The white face has large, easy to read markings, with one-second tics around the dial. It's powered by a 'proprietary four hand movement', referring to the hour, minute and second hands, plus the skeletonized compass needle/hand. A small date window is located at 4:30 on the face. The two buttons above and below the crown are for activation and adjustment of the compass. The crown does not unscrew, but is pulled straight out for time, date and compass adjustments. Depressing the crown activates the Indiglo light for reading the face in the dark.
The bezel turns smoothly in both directions. North is marked by a luminous triangular insert at the top, and the other directions are marked in large letters. The bezel has 'notches' around its perimeter spaced every 10°. Using the notches, compass reading accuracy is about +/- 5°. Fine graduations at the top are for declination angle setting.

Compass - The compass hand is orange on one end and black at the other. The orange end normally points towards 12 'o'clock. Before using the ACQ, the compass has to be calibrated. This is done by placing the watch on a level, hard surface. Removing the watch band is recommended. The crown is then pulled out to the middle position and either button is pressed. The compass hand rotates two revolutions to indicate it's in the calibration mode. Then, the user rotates the watch slowly, taking at least 15 seconds per revolution, two full revolutions. The compass hand then moves back and forth to acknowledge end of the calibration, then moves to the declination angle. Using the fine scale on the top of the bezel, the declination angle is then set, which ends the calibration. To find out your local declination angle, go here. From then on, when either button is pressed, the orange hand will swing around and point to true North, and you don't have to compensate for declination.
To use the compass, you hold the watch as level as possible, and point 12 o'clock in the direction of travel. Press either button, and the orange compass hand will indicate true North. Turn the bezel so that North is aligned to the compass hand, and your heading will be at 12 o'clock, which you can estimate from the bezel. The compass hand goes back to its 12 o'clock position after 20 seconds. The strap is easily removed for using the watch body on a map.
I compared the accuracy of the electronic compass to a couple of other compasses that I have (seen in the right hand picture). The map is pointed at true North (declination has been dialed into the compasses), and you can see the orange watch compass hand also pointing towards the top of the map. Like other compasses, it's important to keep the ACQ as level as possible, when taking a compass reading. Tilting the watch causes the hand to move back and forth about +/- 10°.
Having a compass in a watch is a feature I didn't think I needed for daily use, but find myself using it to navigate in buildings with no reference to the outside. For the hiker, LE or soldier, it's a good looking dual-purpose watch that can give you a quick bearing when needed.

ACQ with black Zulu band and case

Orange needle

Side view

Indiglo illlumination

With Coast Guard Orange Zulu band

Comparison to other compasses

Marathon Tritium SAR (TSAR) H3 Diver's Watch

3/27/06 - This is the TSAR (Tritium Search and Rescue) watch, designed and manufactured for diving or SAR (Search and Rescue) use by the Marathon Watch Company (a Canadian company). It is the latest version of the Canadian SAR watch and was manufactured under contract to the Canadian and U.S. governments (NSN: 6645-21-558-0133Q) for issue to SAR personnel. It's in use by NASA divers (NSN: 6645-20-001-9382). Marathon has been around since 1939 supplies government, commercial and military clients worldwide and is currently the only contracted manufacturer of gaseous tritium watches to the U.S. government. Their manufacturing plant is in Switzerland, where the TSAR is made. The TSAR, and other government-issue watches is available through County Comm. It is made in limited quantities and each watch is serial numbered.

The watch measures approximately 1.7" from the top of the crown to the other side of the case. The case itself is hefty; cut out of 316L stainless steel, with a fine brushed finish. Maximum thickness of the watch (from dial to back) is about .53". The relatively tall screw-down crown is knurled for use with gloves and is about .2" long and .25" in diameter. It's very easy to get a grip on and manipulate. The crown guards extend about half-way up the crown. The lugs are 20mm wide and utilize conventional spring-bars to retain the band.
The engraved markings on the back of the watch list some of the specs. Swiss made, with a High Torque Quartz movement (ISA 1198 Swiss movement accurate to approx 10 seconds per month). It's rated to a depth of 30 ATM (300m or 1000ft). NSN number, government codes, date of manufacture and serial number. It also lists the total amount of millicuries of tritium as 26.

The black face is protected by a thick sapphire crystal. The dial has one second tick marks, and both standard (large numbers) and supplemental time (small numbers). The date window is at 4:30. The white baton/stick-type hands, numbers and markings are clear and legible, as the black face provides excellent contrast. The TSAR uses the unique feature of tritium vials for luminescence (instead of tritium paint), at the hour marks and on the hour and minute hands. The 12 o'clock vials glows orange. The second hand is a small red arrow at the end filled with luminous MaraGlo (non-tritium). In the dark, the markings glow brightly and are easy to read.

TSAR with rubber watch band



Side view

Rubber band

Bezel rotated and crown unscrewed

The uni-directional 120 click bezel is an elapsed time ring (120 clicks = 60 minutes) with white minute hash marks and numbered every 10 minutes. I noticed that for each positive half-minute 'click', there's another smaller, less distinct 'click' in between, so it's actually one large and one small click per half-minute increment - I guess they could be used as quarter minute increments if you counted the smaller clicks as well. The bezel can be used to indicate elapsed time, used by divers to see how much air they have in their tanks and only rotates counter-clockwise. If it's accidently rotated by brushing against something, it'll indicate less time left instead of more. Better to err on the side of caution. To use, the luminous zero indicator/ MaraGlo triangle on the bezel is rotated to line up with the minute hand. Elapsed time can be read off the clear, white bezel minute markings by looking at the position of the minute hand anytime afterwards (up to 60 minutes of course). You don't have to be a diver to use it; it's useful as a rudimentary stopwatch for timing any number of daily activities or remembering when a short task was started. The side of the bezel is slotted/grooved for a secure grip with gloved fingers.

On wrist with rubber strap

Tritium at night

Desert sand Zulu band

ACU grey band

Size comparison

The TSAR is supplied with a great two-piece natural rubber strap, which I found surprisingly comfortable and pliable. It has a smooth but matte, non-glare texture and a stainless steel buckle. While the rubber strap is fully functional, comfortable and looks good, I'm partial to the Zulu watchbands reviewed above, and like the ability to switch colours in a few seconds. One-piece bands also give me an additional sense of comfort knowing that if one of the watchband bars fails, the watch is still attached to the wrist by one bar and won't be lost.
For a dressier look, a custom, Swiss-made stainless steel bracelet is also available separately. The bracelet is made of the same 316L stainless steel as the watch case, and has 14 solid links (no hollow links), which will accomodate a maximum wrist circumference of about 8-1/8". The end links are also solid. Machining and fit on all components are precise. The clasp has the Canadian Maple Leaf logo embossed on it - a nice touch. The flip-lock and connecting components are mirror polished and contrast nicely with the brushed finish on the rest of the bracelet. There's also a diver's extension, for wearing the watch over a wetsuit (or outside your clothing). Opening the extension lengthens the bracelet by about 0.9". The bracelet is simple to install and it snaps smartly into place with no play in the end links. Six of the links are adjustable/removable, and are held together by a double screw system. The double screw is actually a pin that's internally threaded at one end where a tiny screw forms the other end of the pin. I have girly wrists, so I had to remove some links to size the bracelet. All it took were two small watch/jeweller's screwdrivers (pictured below) and a few minutes and I had it sized.

TSAR stainless bracelet

Clasp and diver's extension

Flip lock and Maple leaf

Adjustable links

Just a damn good looking watch

The TSAR is a large, very solid-feeling, darn good-looking wristwatch. At about 3.3 ounces, its heft is definitely more noticeable than my lightweight plastic Timex explorer when comparing them in my hands, but on the wrist, it goes unnoticed after only a while. For people who need a reliable timepiece robust enough to stand up to their jobs, the TSAR will fit the bill. For those who don't dive nor need something built to withstand such extreme conditions, it's just nice to know that it can. Just like many Rolex Submariner owners don't buy them for diving, the allure and appreciation of a rugged, well-made, precisely crafted and manufactured piece of equipment is enough reason for getting one.


Jetboil PCS

2/14/05 - The Jetboil Personal Cooking System (PCS) has been out for more than a year at the time of this writing, and has caused quite a stir in the outdoor industry. Winning numerous 'Best New Product' awards for innovation and honours in outdoor magazines, the PCS is well deserving of all the kudos. Inventors Dwight Aspinwall and Perry Dowst set out with the goal of making outdoor cooking easier, and through research and experimentation, input from end users, and a lot of good old ingenuity, the PCS was born.
The PCS is a self-contained cooking system that fits into a package slightly larger than a 1L Nalgene bottle. The components that make up the PCS are:

  • Cooking cup with cozy - The cooking cup is a hard-anodized aluminum cup with 1L capacity, with an integrated heat exchanger called the 'FluxRing' at the bottom. The bottom ring of the cup has exhaust vents and also serves as protection for the FluxRing and as a stand. The cozy is a removable neoprene sleeve, with a nylon webbing handle. It serves as insulation for the cup to decrese loss of heat from the cup, and also as insulation for your hands.
  • Lid - The lid snaps on to the top of the cooking cup, and has a spout for drinking and pouring. When installed, it holds all the components of the PCS securely inside the cup.
  • Burner Base - The burner base interfaces with the bottom flange/ring of the cooking cup. Two dimples in the top ring of the base mate with slots in the bottom ring of the cup, and when the cup is fit to the base and rotated, the dimples lock the cup to the base. On top of the burner base are the burner and igniter heads. The valve assembly, a Piezo igniter button and fuel flow control knob/valve are located below the steel base plate, surrounded by a plastic shroud.
  • Fuel canister - The Jetpower 3.5oz micro-canister contains propane/isobutane fuel, which will boil about 12 litres of water.
  • Bottom plastic cover - this snaps onto the bottom of the cooking cup and protects the exhaust vents and heat exchanger. It also doubles as a measuring cup.

All these components (except for the bottom cover) store neatly and compactly in the cooking cup.

PCS next to 1L Nalgene bottle

How all the components fit together

PCS components

Burner base and FluxRing heat exchanger

How it works
Detailed instructions on how to set up the PCS can be found on the Jetboil website here, so I'll defer the reader to the website rather than repeat them. It suffices to say that they're VERY simple. In a nutshell, unpack everything from the cup, screw the canister into the bottom of the burner base making sure the valve is turned off, crack open the valve 1/2 turn and press the igniter button. You've got flame. Place the base on a level, stable surface away from combustibles. Pour water into the cooking cup (it's marked halfway up the inside with a 2-cup maximum safe fill line - like anyone's NOT going to fill it up past that ;-), place the cup on the base, rotate to lock it in, and turn the gas up a bit. In a bit more than two and a half minutes, you'll have 2 cups of boiling water. It's THAT easy.

The key to the efficiency of the PCS is the FluxRing heat exchanger. This is the Elizabethan collar/unmodulated carrier wave shaped aluminum 'fins' on the underside of the cooking cup. I've forgotten all my college Heat Transfer and Thermo, so I don't know exactly how it works, but it prevents heat loss to the surrounding air, keeping it concentrated on the bottom surface of the cup. As a result, half the amount of fuel is used (as opposed to not having the FluxRing), neoprene cozy doesn't melt, and the flame is partially shielded in windy conditions.

The fuel control valve/knob is used to adjust the size of the flame, from a large flame for a rolling boil, to a smaller flame for simmering. Very important to remember is that foods with moisture content must be used. If the contents don't have enough moisture content, or are allowed to dry out, the unit can overheat. The water content in the food keeps temperatures around boiling. Use your common sense and don't let it all boil off or overflow.

PCS assembled ready for cooking

Closeup of the igniter switch and fuel control valve

Bottom of the burner base and accessory French press

Burner lit

Using the PCS
Filling the cup to the halfway mark (2 cups, or 16 fl.oz), and igniting the burner per the instructions, it took about two and a half minutes to bring the water to a brisk boil. I did keep peeking under the lid to see what was happening, though, but you'd want to keep the lid secured under normal circumstances, for quickest boiling. Heating times will vary, of course, depending on water and ambient temperature, altitude etc, so your mileage may vary. After turning off the burner, the cup was comfortable to hold by the cozy. While the burner was going full blast, I noticed that very little heat escaped past the FluxRing and up the sides of the cup.
The accessory French press disassembles and stows inside the cup, and a new lid comes with it with a hole in the top for the press rod. So if you're tired of instant coffee when you're hiking, you can now bring fresh ground for a bit of luxury in the outback.

The Jetboil PCS is an innovative, useful, well designed and manufactured product - backpackers wanting the lightest cooking system can plan their meals and food choices to make them Jetboil cookable as an alternative to carrying cookware and a conventional stove and fuel. It isn't limited to civilian backpacking/camping use - guys in the military will appreicate its packability and convenience for a quick brew, simple setup and operation. Keep it in the car for emergency use if you're travelling off the beaten path or a nice cup of hot chocolate after coming off the ski slopes. The uses are limited only by one's imagination.







Ok, I dragged some other stuff out that might be of interest to someone out there. I've more junk so I'll probably be adding more pics as time goes on...
Sleep system (pic 1)- It really doesn't get *too* cold around these parts, so this sleep system shown has worked well for me. It consists of a U.S. military Gore-Tex bivy cover/bag cover, a Snugpak Softie 3 Merlin sleeping bag, and a Cocoon Coolmax mummy liner. The bivy bag is supposed to keep moisture out (I've never put it to a serious test), and the inside dry. The Merlin bag is a very lightweight and compressible mummy-style bag, however I've found that it's not as warm as advertised (in my personal experience), hence the addition of the liner. The coolmax mummy liner adds about 8°F of warmth to the bag, and keeps it from getting dirty as it's much easier to wash. The bivy cover, Merlin bag, and liner all roll up and stuff into the black drybag that I have. I use that instead of a stuff sack because it's waterproof. It's quite a compact package as seen in (pic 2) with a phone for size comparison. A Therm-a-Rest self-inflating 3/4 length mat helps make the ground more comfy.
Shelter - Ok, so I have a tent for 'normal' camping. But if I didn't have one, and wanted some kind of roof over my head, I can use the British issue DPM basha/shelter seen at the bottom right corner of (pic 1). It's an 8ft X 5ft waterproof DPM camo sheet with 8 grommeted securing rings around the edge. It stuffs into a small sack (pic 2) with some 550 cord. Very useful. It will also double as a stretcher. It is reinforced on the edges and in the middle with webbing, and is very strong.
Misc bits and pieces (pic 3)- Here are some other things that may come in use in the outdoors -

  • MSR Dragonfly stove - this is a lightweight, multi-fuel backpacking stove that fold into a semi-compact package. Very easy to use and adjust the flame.
  • Compasses - The Brunton Eclipse comes with instructions on how to use it so I can learn when I get lost. The smaller Silva one is the one I usually carry on my person.
  • Emergency whistle - I'll start using this if I can't figure out how to use my compass ;-)
  • Brunton Helios lighter - Nice to have, but needs lighter fluid of course. Burns hotter than Bic disposables (I always have a couple of those too, plus matches). A bit sensitive to igniting at high altitudes (flame is adjustable though).
  • Mini lightsticks - Useful for marking people, pee areas, trails etc.


Outdoor Research

1/13/07 - Outdoor Research, or OR Gear is a leader in the outdoor equipment industry, with both civilian and government product lines. OR manufactures a wide variety of outdoor products, including those shown below.

SG Water Bottle Parka, 1L - The SG Water Bottle Parka is sized to fit a 1L Nalgene bottle, and designed to insulate it at extreme temperatures. It'll keep water from freezing in cold temperatures and keep liquids cool in hot weather. The bottle is insulatedby foam on all sides and the coated shell fabric resists abrasion and inclement weather. It has a zipper top lid, and outside dimensions are about 8" high and 4.25" in diameter. It uses a Qik-Stik® attachment method, which is molle compatible. Two bars are weaved through molle webbing and secured with velcro. I discovered that the SG Water Bottle Parka would also fit the Jetboil system. It's a snug fit that compresses the foam insulation, but works well. I'd like to see it in other colours besides black.

1L bottle

1L Nalgene and Jetboil

Quik-Stik attachment

Air Purge Compression Dry sack - This is a waterproof stuff sack that's a new take on the drybags that I've been using as sleeping bag stuff sacks. The advantage to using a drybag is that it's waterproof and the air can be compressed out of it for the most compact package. However, purging the air out of it completely can be a bit difficult as you're stuffing it in. The Air Purge Compression Dry sack solves that problem by incorporating an air permeable/wateproof fabric (Gore-tex) band (the olive-coloured part) that allows air to exit the bag, but not let water in. The bag is constructed of Hydroseal waterproof/abrasion resistant nylon and is 32" long with a diameter of 8" for a volume of 1418 cu. in. It will fit most sleeping bags. It's also intended for clothing.
The Air Purge works like most other dry bags - the contents are placed in the bag and compressed while rolling over the top. The air exits through the air permeable fabric, and the roll top is rolled as far as it will go then the buckle clicked to secure it and seal up the sack. There is also a vertical compression strap to further compress the sack. All seams are seam taped to ensure a watertight seal.

Air Purge dry sack

Inside, showing sealed seams

With Wiggy's desert bag

Wiggy's and Snugpak Merlin 3 Comparo




After hearing so many great things about Wiggy's sleeping bags, I decided to get one as I found that my Snugpak Softie Merlin 3 bag wasn't very warm unless I layered it. (My circumstances may have been different from others, and 'comfort' is a very subjective thing, so do NOT take my word as the final one, as others have stated that the Merlin 3 lived up to its rating, or surpassed it) I bought a Wiggy's Desert Bag Product #: 6.4.1 in Olive Green. The specs for both bags (as obtained from the manufacturers web sites) are as follows:

  • Dimensions - Wiggys (Length 80" Width 31" (chest). Tapers to 27" at the feet. Merlin (Length 86.5" Width 32" (chest). Tapers to 22" at the feet.
  • Weight - Wiggys 2.5 lb, Merlin 1.5 lbs
  • Stuff size - Wiggys 12" x 6" dia, Merlin 11" x 5.5" dia
  • Rating - Wiggys (Summer - comfort approx +40°F), Merlin (comfort +41°F) HOWEVER, these are just manufacturer ratings and numbers. The Wiggys has more loft, and as expected, FEELS warmer. After using the Merlin, I don't believe the manufacturer's comfort rating. But as mentioned above, others have been said that the rating is accurate.

Pic 1 - I'm using a drybag instead of a traditional stuff sack for my bags, because it's waterproof and practically airtight, and after I compress the bag as much as I can by sitting on it or whatever, I seal the bag opening and it 'vaccuum seals' the bag in its compressed state, as compact as possible. As you can see in the pic, there isn't too much difference in stuff size between the Wiggys and the Merlin. SIg P226 for scale.
Pic 2 - Diameter of the dry bag is almost the same the Merlin's, so it's quite a good comparison of relative stuff size.
Pic 3 - The Merlin is slightly longer, but narrower. It's a mummy style bag, and the Wiggys is more of a conventional rectangular shape. Since it's wider, there's more room to wiggle around. Rifle for scale.
Pic 4 - The Merlin opens until about a foot from the bottom. The Wiggy's zipper goes around the bottom so that the bag can be opened out flat, or used as a blanket. I like that feature.

I haven't had a chance to field test the WIggys Desert bag yet, but jumping in and out of both bags to compare them the Wiggys definitely feels like the warmer of the two. The insulation is much thicker. I was surprised that it'd compress into such a small size. The Wiggys will also easily stuff into a Kifaru back pouch along with a Coolmax mummy liner.

Update! I did a brief test comparing the two sleeping bags. Rather than base it on how warm each bag 'felt', I tried to quantify it by using a thermometer to measure the air temperature inside the bag, making sure it did not come in contact with me. I wore the same thing for the entire test - shorts and socks only. I also used a 3/4 length sleeping pad. I left both bags outside for a couple of hours to equalize with the ambient temperature. First, I recorded temperature, after leaving the thermometer settle for half an hour outside. I then tested the Merlin first. I got into the bag, zipped it up to my neck (head exposed), placed the thermometer inside the bag near my waist, about 2-3 inches away from me, and lay there for an hour. After an hour, I got out, immediately recorded the temperature, then let the thermometer settle again for 15 mins until I saw no change. By then I was feeling pretty chilly again. I got into the Wiggy's, zipped it up around my neck, and placed the thermometer in exactly the same position as before. Waited an hour, got out and immediately recorded the temperature. Left the thermometer outside, and recorded ambient temperature again. Here are the results:

  • Ambient temp at start of test: 56°F
  • Temperature reading inside of Merlin 3 after 1 hour: 70° (increase of 14°)
  • Ambient temp after 15 mins of settling: 56°
  • Temperature reading inside of Wiggy's Desert after 1 hour: 77° (increase of 21°)
  • Ambient temp at end of test after half an hour 'settling time' : 55°

Conclusion: The Wiggy's Desert felt warmer, and that was supported by the thermometer readings - at the end of the test the Wiggy's was 7° warmer than the Merlin. Given that it's 1 lb heavier with more fill, that's to be expected. I'm not saying that it's a fair comparison since the bags are of different weights, but they ARE of the same rating. At least this simple test helped produce some numbers that may help someone figure out whether the 1 lb increase in weight is worth it. The difference between them will vary depending on ambient temperature, of course.

For more detailed info, please visit the links to the manufacturer's websites that I've provided.


Oregon Aero® Portable Universal SoftSeat™ Cushion

Seat and lumbar support folded

Seat and lumbar support unzipped

Softseat Cushion in car

1-05-05 -Not specifically military-related (although Oregon Aero does make seats and cushions for all kinds of military and commercial aircraft, and military land vehicles) is another product from Oregon Aero - their Portable Universal SoftSeat™ Cushion. It's basically a cushion that can be taken and used just about anywhere. What sets it apart from conventional cushions is the use of their visco-elastic foam, which molds to the body while placing the user in an ergonomic position with correct lumbar curve and pelvic posture. The SoftSeat changes the conventional slumped-over and slouched position into a fully supported, correct and upright seating position. Follow the links I provided above for a much better and detailed explanation of WHY it works. All I know is that it WORKS for me.

The SoftSeat Cushion base comes in 3 thicknesses, 1/2" (for limited headroom or minimum bulk), 1" (standard), and 2" (for raising a shorter person 2" higher). The model shown here is the 1" thick SoftSeat with optional lumbar support, which zips on. A version with straps is available, but this one has no-skid pads sewn on the bottom, which keep the SoftSeat in position. The seat has a carry strap sewn to it. The foam is covered in fabric, which is available in a variety of colours.

My computer chair's seat cushion is almost completely flattened out from years of use, and I was piling up conventional throw cushions to help pad the seat. It wasn't very comfortable for hours of use as the cushions kept compressing, and my lower back and neck ache after an hour at the computer. I replaced the cushions with the SoftSeat and immediately felt a difference in comfort and seating position. The foam molds to my tush, while supporting it, with no hot spots or pressure spots. It won't bottom out and harden like other cushions after sitting on it for a long time.

The true test was when I put it in my car. Nowadays, my lower back and butt can't take more than an hour of driving without discomfort. I'm obviously getting older. Even sitting as a passenger in a car or plane causes my lower back and butt to ache, and it can become extremely painful after only a short time. That's why I dread long drives or flights. My wife and I recently went on a road trip and drove about 1200 miles. I used the SoftSeat the entire time and it really DID work. I was skeptical at first, but I'm not going on any more trips without it. The SoftSeat raises you its thickness, so if headroom is a problem, get a thinner model. With the standard 1" model, I was able to adjust the height of my seat to accomodate it without a problem. The non-skid pads on the bottom kept the SoftSeat™ from moving around, and it stayed put when I was sitting on it. Unlike my car seats, the SoftSeat conforms to my body, and 'fills in the gaps' between the car seat and my butt/back, providing full support. I felt that it retained slightly more warmth than the car seat, but that wasn't much of an issue. Lower back and butt pain was pretty much eliminated and let me enjoy the trip in comfort instead of in pain.

The beauty of the SoftSeat system is that it's portable, and I can use it at home or in the car (I'm sitting on it right now at the computer). If you have any sitting discomfort at home or in your vehicle like I do, I'd definitely recommend getting one of these.


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