Outdoor (or just plain 'neato') Kit Page 1, 2, 3
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
The tools incorporated into the Crunch are:
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.
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).
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
for U.S.-based inquiries (Cima Sports is the North American representative
for Source Vagabond Systems)
New Source Hydration reservoirs
- 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.
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.
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 email@example.com for U.S.-based inquiries (Cima Sports is the North American representative for Source Vagabond Systems)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
All these components (except for the bottom cover) store neatly and compactly in the cooking cup.
How it works
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.
Using the PCS
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...
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.
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
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:
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.
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:
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
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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