Review: 5.11 Covert Boxpack – Very Tactical, Very Covert, Very Nice.

I’m a gear junkie, and as such, I’m always excited to try new pieces.  5.11 Tactical designed and built the Covert Boxpack, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.  The company has never before produced a roll top pack, and I think this one came out great.  They advertise the Boxpack as being “engineered for speed, agility, and dependability in any environment” – agreed.  I used this pack for a couple of weeks as my EDC(Everyday Carry), a couple of weeks as my range bag, and out in the field several times in between.  So how’d it go?  Read on.

Overview

The 5.11 Boxpack has an internal capacity of 1,872 cubic inches which puts it in the 24 hour class.  Your color choices are Black, Tundra(tan), Storm(light grey) and the limited Edition Multicam Black™, which I was lucky enough to test.  I have to tell you, the Multicam Black™ is just simple and sexy – you gotta see it.  Come to think of it, you WILL see it!  Fabric is a 5.11 covert boxpack roll top1680D Ballistic Polyester, with a water resistant finish.  As with any high-end pack, the Covert Boxpack is set up with invisible YKK zippers and Duraflex® buckles.  This bag is definitely designed for specific purposes.  As I mentioned earlier, the top closure is a roll top design.  If you ask around, roll top bags are hit and miss, but I think this one is definitely more the former than latter.  The idea behind a roll top is that the main storage area is only as large as it needs to be, depending on what you’ve packed.  In essence, the pack scales, so if your load out changes mid trip, you just cinch the top down further, and you’re not left with a bunch of empty bag flapping around as you navigate.  To me, the word ‘versatility’ comes to mind, and I think that was one of the driving principles behind the design of the Boxpack in the first place. You’ve got nice, really comfortable shoulder straps, with sternum strap, and a very conservative amount of laser cut P.A.L.S. webbing which adds utility while maximizing the covert nature of things.  There’s even a hip strap, but I’m not a big fan of these on smaller bags, so I didn’t use it – read the Notable Features section below for my thoughts on this.  Last but certainly not least, the back of the pack is (thickly) padded and fit into my back very well.

Let’s talk about pockets, and storage compartments.  The 5.11 Covert Boxpack is *not* for packing toiletries, a bottle cap collection, or your fishing tackle.  But why would you want a tactical bag for that anyway?  The Boxpack *is* all about simplicity, and so compartmentalization is thoughtfully kept to what I would call a “logical minimum”, which I 5.11 covert boxpack bottom compartmentreally liked.  This bag has a total of six (external) storage compartments, all but one of which are accessible by zipper.  The one pocket without zipper closure, is instead bound by Velcro, which was made specifically for your concealed carry needs – more on that later.  The main section which is most of the entire bag, is accessible by way of the roll top, as well as a larger zipper entrance in the back.  This is highly convenient if you’ve got a lap top in the very back, and need only to slip it out without unrolling the top, and disturbing the rest of the load out.

Each side of the Boxpack has a fairly large compartment, each with an internal elastic strip sewn toward the front, which happens to be the perfect size for a double stacked pistol magazine.  There’s plenty more room in each of these pockets though, and if I had to describe the size to you for the purpose of mental scale, I’d say you could probably fit a full sized brick into either of them.  On the bottom of the pack, lies another compartment which is padded, and held my earmuffs and eye protection with much room to spare.

Moving up the center of the bag, you’ll find a pocket designed specifically for your concealed 5.11 covert boxpack ccw pouchcarry firearm(CCW).  This section is fully lined with the soft side of Velcro material, which is nice, because it not only protects your pistol, but allows for a Velcro holster to be used. I don’t have a Velcro holster, but I’m definitely getting one like this after using this bag.  The CCW compartment is easily big enough for my Glock 19(gen 4 MOS), but I’m certain something larger, like a 1911 would fit quite nicely as well.  I like the Velcro on this pocket instead of a zipper because you can have 5.11 covert boxpack ccw pouch2your firearm out immediately. You’ll also notice that the CCW pouch is fully padded on the outside, so there is no printing at all.

Above the CCW pocket, is a small horizontal zipper. Inside is a soft lined compartment meant for storing eye glasses, or anything else which needs to be protected.  This compartment also pulls out, and can hang over the back side of the pack to display a unit badge, or other type of 5.11 covert boxpack pull out pouchidentification which might be pertinent to your operation(s).

Lastly, inside the main compartment, there are two separate sections, one which to me, became a place for my laptop.  It’s a fair amount larger than my 13″ laptop, so I would imagine a full sized 15″ laptop would fit just fine, but I didn’t have one handy to test with.  Inside the laptop compartment, is another division which serves as an admin sleeve, sporting a few cavities for pens, a flashlight, etc.

Notable Features

One thing which is very consistent with this bag, is its deceiving size.  Literally every compartment looks small on the outside, and is huge on the inside, which is a good thing.  I like the roll top because you can pack light, and the bag presents small and orderly.  On the other hand, there’s plenty of room for a full 24 hour load out.  Regardless of what I put inside this pack, it was pretty comfortable, and I never felt the need to use the waist straps, because the 5.11 covert boxpack backbag just really doesn’t flop around very much.  My favorite feature is a contest between the roll top, and the CCW pouch.  5.11 just did such a good job of implementing these features together. I also like that you’re able to access the main compartment through a rear zipper as well, which is a serious convenience thing.

Pros

  • CCW pouch with super fast access
  • Roll top design – very well implemented
  • Dual access to main compartment
  • Magazine retainers inside the side pockets
  • Very comfortable

Cons

  • Little zipper pouch(above the CCW pouch) is awkward to use (more on that below)

Conclusion

The 5.11 Covert Boxpack is a purpose built pack.  It worked out pretty well as an EDC, but I think where it really shined the most was as a 24 hour pack, on hikes.  It loads extremely well, and is very comfortable on my back, not flopping around a bunch.  It’s like a smaller, more practical A.L.I.C.E. pack, and immediately reminded me of my Marine Corps days.  The A.L.I.C.E. pack had a large main section(cinch top), and three large external pockets.  The CCW pocket really seals the deal if you have a carry permit as well.   There’s only one thing I would change about the design, and that would be to either re-design the horizontally zippered pull-out pouch, or nix it all together.  The opening was a bit too small for my hand, and once I get my hand into it, this pouch, like all the other compartments on this bag, just seemed to go on forever.  I sort of felt like I was digging around blindly for what I was looking for.

While I took it to the shooting range multiple times, 5.11 does make bags specifically for this purpose such as this one.  It was still nice to show it off – I’m telling you… the Multicam Black™.  In the end, if you’re looking for a super low-profile bag, and one which stays that way no matter how full you stuff it, you’re going to need to check out the 5.11 Covert Boxpack.

Questions?

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Review: 5.11 Tactical Apex Pant – Marriage of Purpose and Comfort

The folks over at 5.11 Tactical came up with a pair of pants which I think will please the pickiest of tactical shoppers. I’m going to come right out and drop a bold statement: The 5.11 Apex pants are the best pair of pants I have ever worn in my life. I was very excited to try these, and I’m equally excited to share my thoughts here on the Military Backpack Guide. Let’s not delay any more, and get right to it.

Overview

The Apex pants are marketed as a “next-gen cargo pant” ideal for tactical, casual or covert wear. I’ll expand on that, and argue that I think these pants are ideal for every situation imaginable. I can’t think of any reason not to wear these pants. The “cargo” part of the pant is very low key and almost indiscernible. The Apex pant is available in (7) colors which are Black, TDU Green, Dark Navy, Battle Brown, Tundra, Khaki and Storm(sort of a light grey). Available waist sizes range from 28″-44″ in even numbers except 31″, 33″ and 35″ sizes. Inseams are 30″, 32″, 34″ and 36″.

The Apex pants are constructed of 6.4oz Flex-Tac® which is 511’s own blend of mechanical stretch Polyester and Cotton which is also Teflon® treated. This fabric is definitely stretchy, but feels really durable as well. I haven’t had these pants very long, and have only worn them about 8 times or so as of right now, so only time will tell. As with most things, 511-apex-pant-frontlongevity will vary depending on how you’re utilizing your gear.

No shortage of pockets on these bad boys either. There are a total of (8) visible pockets if you’re including the rear pockets which are essentially a two-for-one. Each side of the rear has a large, normal sized back pocket, and just inside that, there is an almost half-sized pocket as well, which serves quite well for a couple extra pistol magazines, but is also perfectly sized for an AR magazine. Inside each of the side cargo pockets, you’ll find (2) AR sized pockets close to the leg, and then the full sized cargo pocket itself. The Apex also has a few covert pockets. Inside the waist band, you’ll find a spot for flex cuffs, and another small pocket inside the rear waist band area. There’s also a small pocket on the inside of the left leg cuff – that’s the most covert of them all. So, visible, hidden and covert, these pants have a whopping 15 usable pockets in all.

511-apex-pant-magazine-cargo-pocket

Inside of cargo pocket with a 9mm Glock magazine

The stitching and general design of these pants is well thought out. There are multiple locations which are Bartacked for strength, and the fabric is gusseted in all the right places. 5.11 also threw in some locking(more on this in the next section) YKK zippers – no expense spared? Check.

Notable Features

511-apex-pant-boot-cuff-pocket

Hard to see but this is the little pocket inside the left leg cuff

The first footnote in this section is going to be the stretchy waistband. I’m a 34×32 and these pants fit me perfectly. However, there have been times(particularly the last 2 months of every year) when that 34 may or may not become closer to a 35. For that reason, my hat’s off to 5.11 for the stretchy waistband, because it’s not only perfect for those of you who carry a firearm inside the waist, but equally perfect if you carry an extra inch of waist itself at certain times during the year. What happens though, when you’re out of shape and you carry inside the waistband? Don’t answer.

Also worthy of a special shout, are the locking YKK zippers. I had actually never heard of a locking zipper until I saw these pants. I noticed the feature on or about the second donning of these pants, and it’s a pretty neat idea. If the zipper tab is straight up or straight down, it will not unzip. If the zipper tab is perpendicular however, it’s unlocked and easily glides up or down. Not sure how important of a feature that will be to many folks, but I for one, really like it, and it’s something you won’t find on a cheaper pair of pants.

Pros

  • Comfort – you’ve just got to try them to see what I’m talking about.
  • Locking zipper
  • Stretchy waistband
  • Almost no printing when the pockets are reasonably loaded up

Cons

Move along folks – nothing to see here. I guess if you haven’t actually had these pants on your body, you could argue the $80 price tag. But believe me, once you don a pair of Apex pants for the first time, you’re going to forget about the cost. Not only that, but these pants are so well made, they’re easily worth the price anyhow. Again, take me at my word – you can thank me in the comments:)

Conclusion

You have got to try a pair of 5.11 Apex pants. I have only one pair of these, and it’s in Dark Navy, but I’m considering grabbing a few more pairs in various other colors because they’re just so damn comfortable. Easily my favorite pair of pants to date, and ones which I will grab for more than anything else I own. Plenty of pockets so you’ll have no shortage of places to put gear, and to top it all off, they look great! In what universe does a pair of tactical pants look nice enough to wear out to a casual dinner with your spouse?

5.11 Tactical did an absolute superb job with their Apex pants, and I highly suggest you pick up a pair – you won’t be disappointed.

Questions?

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Internal vs External Frame Backpacks

What’s the difference between an internal and external frame backpack?

Internal frame backpacks are completely different than external frame models.  The only real similarity they share is that they both hold stuff.  Once you get past that, you’re dealing with two very different animals.  One is made to carry copious quantities of gear while the other is designed to feel like it’s part of your back.  We’re going to examine both styles so you can have a better idea of which to choose.

 

External Frame Backpacks

These have a frame that is -you guessed it- external to the pack itself.  These backpacks are basically a frame with a backpack strapped to them.  Although this type of pack is widely external-frame-packconsidered “old school”, there are a couple distinctly positive characteristics which you will only find on an external frame design.  First is the ability to easily organize your gear.  Not only are these types of packs known for their many small compartments but, it’s also quite easy to attach gear externally to the frame itself.  Ventilation is also a strong point for these packs.  The way these packs are designed to sit up against your back, there is always a space between your back and the pack itself.  This provides a great channel for air to move through.

External frame packs were designed to carry lots and lots of weight and encourage a more upright posture while hiking.  They transfer load very easily and cost about half what you’d pay for a comparable internal frame backpack.  However, every proverbial rose has it’s thorns.  One of the downsides to a backpack like this is due to it’s sheer bulk, it’s not the most stable thing out there.  A backpack like this is much less balanced overall than it’s internally structured counterpart.  With a lack of compactness and bulky feel in general, anyone can see that the external frame backpack was designed for wide, clear trails.

 

Internal Frame Backpacks

Internal frames seem to be the “in” thing.  Not just in the past couple of days but over the last decade or so, these packs have solidly positioned themselves as the De Facto camping/hiking/backpacking/survival packs.  Internal frame backpacks have a full frame as well, it’s just completely hidden and strategically integrated within the pack material.  This internal-frame-packstyle pack is known for it’s form fitting characteristics.  Once you strap one up, you’ll feel that it really hugs your body.

These packs promote outstanding mobility.  Because they form to your body, it’s almost like they become part of you.  This allows you to have more overall balance and control on your hike and, because they are all-in-all slimmer than their external frame counterparts, you can safely maneuver through the tightest of trails and paths.  Another great thing about internal frame backpacks is because they have become the industry standard, the selection is second to none.

Despite the overwhelming popularity of internal frame backpacks, they too have their own unique set of disadvantages.  Ah yes, there seems no escape from life’s Yin and Yang.  I suppose the most frustrating thing about this style is that they all seem to have one massive compartment.  Yes, there are multiple access locations to this compartment, but that doesn’t mitigate the time it takes to pack your gear in the most intelligent order.  It never seems to fail, the piece of gear you figure you’d least likely need, you stuff in the back or bottom and VOILA, it’s the first thing you need!  In addition to that, carrying heavy loads in these packs is cumbersome at best.  Because they mold to your body, there’s really no decent weight distribution or transfer.  It’s like a big heavy backpack that also kind of sits on your waist.  One last thing I’d like to point out is that its very difficult to attach external gear.  Try strapping a rifle to one of these backpacks and you’ll quickly see what I mean.

I threw together a quick comparison table of these two backpack styles.  It may not be as detailed as it could be but it’s a good nuts and bolts side by side to illustrate the points I mentioned in this article.

[table “4” not found /]

So, what do I use?  Internal or External frame backpack?  Both.  I know, that’s the worst answer because it really doesn’t accomplish anything.  Let me explain, if I’m going on a weekend camping trip to one location, external frame pack all the way.  If I’m going on a 3 week backpacking excursion where there’s a different site each evening and the entire thing is backwoods, I go with the internal.  It’s like a huge backpack that holds the necessities.

What do you prefer?

 

Questions?

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The Maryland HQL – How I obtained mine and details on what to expect

First off, I want to say that in addition to being a former US Marine, I’m a huge fan of the US constitution, and particularly fond of the 2nd amendment.  This article is all about the Maryland HQL(and how to get it), but I just couldn’t help myself, and had to include my thoughts on the 2nd amendment, “gun control” laws, and the fact that you actually need to possess a license to purchase a handgun in the state of Maryland.  In case you’re not interested in reading my thoughts(no offense taken), and simply want to learn about the process by which to obtain your Maryland HQL (Handgun Qualification License), I’ve tucked my rant away at the bottom of this page.

What is the Maryland HQL?

In the state of Maryland, the rule used to be if you wanted to purchase a handgun, you had to fill out a few papers, and wait (7) days for your identity to be cleared.  In the mid 90’s, the NRA pushed to have the waiting period replaced by an instant background check known as the National Instant Check System (NICS).  The anti-gun, anti-constitution politicians got a hold of this, and as a result, not only do we have the NICS *and* a 7 day waiting period, but as of October 1, 2013, you need a license to purchase a handgun.  You do not need this license to continue to own whatever you owned prior to October 1, 2013.   Yep, thanks in large part to the efforts of your good buddy, former Maryland Governor, former Baltimore City Mayor, Former Democratic Presidential candidate,  Martin O’Malley(did I miss anything?).  As of October 1, 2013, to purchase a handgun in the state of Maryland, you need to have a license called the Handgun Qualification License, or HQL for short.  Now to be fair, before you get your pitch forks and light your torches, I don’t disagree completely with this new law – only mostly.  At the end of this post, for those interested, I’ll make a strong case for what is possibly the only common-sense portion of this new law.  I can promise you that the case I make for the law was never considered a “plus” by the politicians, rather it’s a mere positive side effect,  of this completely ridiculous waste of legislature – not to mention our tax dollars which pay the salaries of these morons.

How do I get a Maryland Handgun Qualification License (HQL)?

Before I describe the exact process for which you use to apply for your HQL, I want to point out that there are some folks whom are exempt from needing the HQL.  Below is a brief excerpt from the Maryland State Police website, which outlines a list of folks whom do not need an HQL in order to purchase a handgun.

Exceptions to possession of the HQL License

  1. A Licensed Firearms Manufacturer.
  2. Active law enforcement officer or a person retired in good standing from a law enforcement agency of the United States (Federal Law Enforcement), the State, or a local law enforcement agency of the State.
  3. Active or retired member of the United States Armed Forces or National Guard and possesses a valid military identification card.
  4. A person purchasing, renting or receiving an antique, curio or relic as defined in federal law.
  5. Maryland licensed firearms dealers. (Sole Proprietors)

Now that we’ve listed the exceptions to possession of the HQL, there is another list of exemptions, but these folks still need to possess an HQL, they just don’t need the (4) hour training class.

Required to have the HQL, but exempt from the training component

  1. Someone who completed a firearms safety training course approved by the Secretary of the Department of Maryland State Police.
  2. Has completed a course of instruction in the competency and safety of firearms as prescribed under Natural Resources Article, §10-301.1, Annotated Code of Maryland. Application for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Hunter Safety Course Certificate can be obtained from here and may be used in lieu of Qualified Handgun Instruction.
  3. Is currently a qualified handgun instructor.
  4. Is an honorably discharged member of the armed forces of the United States or National Guard.
  5. Is an employee of an armored car company who has a handgun permit issued by MSP.
  6. Lawfully owns a regulated firearm, you do not have to complete the training to apply for the Handgun Qualification License.

I am covered under exception #4 in the above list, but I didn’t know that at first, and had already paid for my class.  I figured, if I paid for it, I may as well go.

For everyone else, you’ll need a Maryland HQL, and getting it is not hard, provided that you do not have a criminal or mental background.  I say that it’s not hard, because it isn’t, it just takes time and money.  How much time and money?  A minimum of 30 days and about $200 give or take respectively.  Like every law and rule, there are exceptions to this law, and I’ll go over them in a bit, but for now, I want to focus on what 95% of Marylanders will need to go through on their quest for this license to shoot.  You can visit the Maryland State Police website and read about there HQL requirements here if you like, but you might just take my word for it, that their site is really convoluted and confusing – very hard to understand.  Lucky for you, I’m going to outline the requirements for the Maryland HQL quite simply:

  1. Complete (4) hours of handgun training (I’ll go into detail in a bit)
  2. Complete “livescan” fingerprints
  3. Complete Maryland State Police Handgun Qualification License Application

Simple right? I’m going to break this down into detail for you so that you fully understand what is required.

Step 1 of 3:  (4) hours of  training – $100

There are a few ways you can go about this.  For most folks, by far, the easiest is to attend a class specifically tailored toward the HQL.  I live in Bel Air, MD, and the closest firearms dealer which offered a class happened to be Horst & McCann on Fountain Green Rd.  This is a small gun dealer but they have an indoor shooting range which is required, because during the class, you will be firing a weapon.  The class was taught by the owner, Mike Horst, and he was very friendly and laid back.  Mike had a few pistols with him for the class – a Beretta Model 92(9mm), Colt 1911(45 ACP), Glock 17(9 mm) and a revolver by Smith & Wesson which was chambered as 38 special.  Mike talked about the parts of a pistol, and then covered basic safety principles such as muzzle awareness.  After that, we went over some local laws, including how to transport the weapon legally and safely.  The final part of the class involved a live-fire exercise in which we fired at paper targets.  It was a pleasant experience overall, and I will say again that Mike Horst makes for great company.  The cost of this class was $100, and included everything, so all I had to do was show up.

Step 2 of 3:  Livescan Fingerprints $54.50

There are a number of places in which provide this service and nearly all of them charge the exact same price.  The procedure takes about 5 minutes and is very easy.  Basically, the Livescan operator records your fingerprints electronically through a specialized scanner.  After your fingerprints are recorded, they are electronically transmitted for several types of background checks including the Maryland Criminal Record Check and FBI National Criminal Record Check, after which you receive a printout with a bunch of numbers which will make no practical sense to you, but you need one of these numbers (the PCN, see a copy of mine here) for your HQL application that we will talk about in a bit, so don’t misplace that paper!  You can see the full list of Livescan providers in Maryland here.

 Once you complete your fingerprinting, you will receive a letter in the mail, of which at first glance, makes you look like a not-that-great person.  That’s because it’s from the Department of Corrections!  So, if your husband, wife, or children get the mail that day, be prepared to answer some questions! Inside is actually just a letter which (hopefully) says that you don’t have a criminal record – at least mine did. Here’s a screenshot of my phone the day that letter arrived. This is the actual text message from my wife whom was apparently the mail-checker that day.

Step 3 of 3:  Application for Maryland HQL – $50.00

Once you’ve finished your training course, had your fingerprints taken, paid a bunch of money and run through numerous security checks, now you’ve been green-lighted…  You’ve almost earned the right to exercise your 2nd amendment right in Maryland!  It’s almost like being an American citizen, but don’t celebrate yet, because you aren’t finished with applications, nor are you finished paying fees.  Your final step toward obtaining your Maryland HQL is to actually apply for it.  The application -like most government regulations- is not easy to navigate.  It’s convoluted, confusing and highly irritating.  Lucky for you, the HQL application is done online, and *should* only take about 5 minutes.  I should note that if you take your training class at Horst & McCann, they will literally do the application for you, and I can’t recommend this approach enough.

 When you complete your (4) hour training class, you’ll receive a paper signed by the instructor.  Also, when you get your fingerprints done, you’ll receive a receipt.  I recommend (if you have the ability) scanning these documents.  The reason is because during the HQL application, you have the opportunity to “upload” supporting documentation to go along with the application.  I attached these documents, and while it may actually not help at all, I figured when it comes to Maryland, if there’s anything that can possibly delay getting your hands on a gun, it will – so I chose the “better safe than delayed” route and attached these two documents.

To complete the application, you have to be using an outdated version of Microsoft Internet Explorer.  I know, “why would they insist I transmit sensitive data through an antiquated interface with all sorts of security gaps?” – because it’s the government silly!  Seriously though, no other browser will do – not Chrome, not Firefox, not Opera, not Safari, not Microsoft Edge, not even Microsoft Internet Explorer version 9 – forget it.  To be perfectly clear, if you have a computer which is less than 8 years old(as of 2016), you can be all but certain that your software is too ‘new’ to properly interact with the Maryland State Polices’ online application.  The good news, is that you don’t have to buy an old computer from a pawn shop to fill out this application.  Newer versions of Internet Explorer have what’s called “compatibility mode” which allows them to “pretend” like they are an older version of the web browsing software.  Compatibility mode is exactly what I had to use on my home computer in order to complete the online application.  This is an excellent resource on how to activate compatibility mode.

Filling out this application is self-explanatory.  You should have answers to all the questions at this point in your HQL journey, so just fill it all out, and submit!  Now it’s time to wait.  Ah yes; there’s nothing better than being a legal citizen of the United States, and waiting to see if after $200 of fees and training costs, you might be approved to exercise your 2nd amendment birthright – I love Maryland.  Can you imagine if you had to pay to APPLY to exercise your 1st amendment right(you better know it’s free speech)?  What about your 6th amendment(fair trial)?  Can you imagine being charged $200 so that you could *maybe* be approved for a fair trial?  I digress.

How long does it take to be approved for a Maryland HQL?

maryland hql - my licenseThe Maryland State Police say that it can take up to 30 calendar days.  Mine took 24, and in the current political state, I would just figure on 30.  Marylanders are so scared of a “gun-grab”, that every time there’s talk of new gun-control legislation, they all flock to the nearest dealer to make a purchase – can you blame us?  None of us even know what might happen to the laws in the future, but we do know that the state of Maryland does not observe the US constitution in terms of guns, so whatever *might* be in the pipeline, causes us to take shelter and hope to be grandfathered in to what is current law.

I checked the Maryland State Police HQL website literally 3 times daily, waiting for my license status to go from “pending” to “active”.  Here is what I was looking at until the 24th faithful day when the word “pending” was changed to the word “active”.  WOOHOO!

My argument for the new law, and a rant about the 2nd amendment right in Maryland (or lack of)

 

My argument for the HQL law (a very limited argument)

Even though I was exempt from taking the training class for the HQL, I took it anyway because I had already paid and figured that I may as well be in it for the experience.  I quickly realized that I could have taught this class.  Mike Horst did a fantastic job with this class, but I’m a former US Marine, and not only that, but my job in the Marine Corps was 2111 “Small Arms Repair”.  Couple that with the fact that I shot “expert” on the Rifle and Pistol range each and every time, and you end up with a guy whom really doesn’t need to learn about “sight alignment”, “sight picture”, or “muzzle awareness”.  I was telling my wife about the process, and the class, and she said “that’s what I mean when I say “gun-control”.  I think every new gun owner should have to take a class about gun safety, and how to lock your guns up so your kids can’t get to them.  I think these people should have to learn the basics of how to safely own a gun before they are able to purchase one”.  That, folks, is brilliant, and I agree 100%.    If that’s what politicians meant when they say “gun-control”, even the NRA would be for it.  It’s not what they mean however.(more on that in a second)  What my wife said, really got me thinking, and I came to the conclusion that she’s completely right in her statement.  Every new gun owner should have to learn basic gun safety prior to their purchase.  That’s where I am for the new law.  My problem, is the fact that this notion was never part of the considerations of the new law.  This new law is designed to make it harder to get a handgun, and that’s horrible, because it only affects law-abiding citizens.  Baltimore City had 344 homicides in 2015 – 344 – and that doesn’t even account for “non-fatal shootings” which basically means that some dumbass doesn’t know how to shoot, and attempted to kill someone but the bullet missed it’s path and the recipient lived, thanks to our amazing hospital trauma teams.

There are the facts, now here is the supporting problem:  Criminals use weapons to break laws, whereas law-abiding citizens use weapons for recreation or to protect themselves.  This new law makes a law-abiding citizen jump through some expensive hoops just to *apply* for their 2nd amendment right.  It’s no lie that the “anti-gun” political movement is generally like-kind with the “we need to help the poor, helpless people of Baltimore”.  The fact of the matter, is that there are so many good, law-abiding citizens in the city of Baltimore, whom live in low-income, crime-ridden neighborhoods.  Doesn’t this new law force them to spend money which they don’t have?  How does a single mother of (4) children, living alone, with little or no income afford $200 just to see if she *qualifies* to purchase a firearm in which to protect her family from the drug thugs just outside her front door?  The answer is that she can’t, and I’d call that, at best, systemic racism.  Think about that for a second.  I mean really let that simmer a moment.  So, basically, as Americans, our only constitutional right which explicitly deals with defending and preserving our lives, is only available to those with enough money.  That’s disgusting to me,  but, as they say in politics, “we’re all equal, but some of us are equaller than others”.

I don’t think I have to elaborate any more for you to get the point.  The legislation is complete garbage, and although it has a positive side-effect, that’s about all it has going for it.  For all other intents and purposes, it’s very harmful to many people whom truly deserve the right to exercise their 2nd amendment right to protect themselves and their families.  It’s disgusting that politicians claim to fight for the rights and well-being of the poor communities of America and yet don’t actually fight(but continue to be elected).  These same politicians argue against the voter ID requirement.  Their argument is that folks from poor communities “simply cannot afford” the cost of a photo ID.  Well if that’s the case, if it’s really true that we should not require a photo ID for voting because poor people can’t afford the ID, then we should make the entire handgun application process free -that is, if we are really fighting for the rights and betterment of these people – no?

Not to mention – and this is a huge “not to mention” – why is it that I can walk into a Walmart and for less than $150, purchase a shotgun and box of shells, and in 20 minutes(provided my record is clean), walk out of there, armed and ready for whatever.    So why apply the rules to handguns only?  I can kill more people with a shotgun for sure, and the ammo is cheaper.  If the aim is to make sure any new gun owner knows the safety ins and outs of gun ownership, why not apply the rules to all firearms?  That’s not gun control, that’s bullshit.

My rant of the lack of constitution in the state of Maryland

I promise this is shorter.  It disgusts me that ANY state has different versions of the US constitution.  I think it was pretty clear when our founding fathers wrote the constitution.  It was written in English, and in plain ink.  *some* people say “the constitution is 200 years old, it is due for some changes.  Well, it has been changed – 27 times.  All you need is 2/3 majority in the House, 2/3 majority in the Senate, and 3/4 of the United States.  If you can’t meet those requirements to get it changed, then your cause must be unjust, or rather, unpopular.  The fact that we live as “United” states, but yet each state has a different plate of bullshit with which to serve you is nothing short of a disgrace.  I’m going to take only the 2nd amendment for example here.

 “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED.  SHALL NOT F*@#*@#* BE INFRINGED.  So why, in the state of Maryland, has it been infringed?  I’m not saying that I disapprove of the NICS background check system, but that’s it and that’s all.  If I’m cleared electronically via the NICS, I should be able to purchase and walk out with as many firearms as I like from my local dealer.  The same goes for the coveted “wear and carry” permit.  In Maryland, you basically have to be a business owner, or have a police record showing threats on your life.  What the hell is that?  The State Police should ask me why I want to carry a firearm and my response need not be any other than “2nd amendment right under the US constitution”.  I should have my permit right then and there.  The 2nd amendment doesn’t apply in Maryland, and unless it has broken away from the continent called “North America”, I’m pretty sure it, and all of its residents should be endowed the rights of the US Constitution of which they were born into.

 

Questions?

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REVIEW: GORUCK Rucker – Lightweight Pack Designed for Everyone

We last published our review of GORUCK’s flagship ruck sack, the GR-1.  Since then, the military-grade gear manufacturer has created a backpack meant exclusively for rucking, otherwise characterized as walking extended distances while carrying heavy weight.  The GORUCK Rucker can fit special weighted plates, as well as standard gear meant for hiking or camping. Whether it’s for rucking or conventional backpacking, the Rucker is marketed as a goruck-rucker_2_200multi-functional, highly resistant and resilient pack with ample room for supplies and impressive back and chest support. With the Rucker boasting such impressive features, we had to try it out for ourselves to see how they backed up their big talk, and we found some impressive results in the process.

Overview

The Rucker comes in two sizes of 20 liters and 25 liters, with the smaller size recommended for customers under 6 feet tall. They also come in four possible color schemes: Blue, Green, Red and Tan. The material used for its construction is of a grade on par with materials used by the Special Forces, featuring weather-resistant YKK zippers and highly durable 1000 denier Cordura fabric. The GORUCK Rucker is primarily designed to carry weighted plates for the goruck-rucker_4_200purpose of rucking, or hiking with added weight. However, the Rucker can easily carry alternative items, such as a laptop or liquid bladder, even touting additional accessories meant to facilitate some such items. In addition to a hose retainer for a fluid bladder, extra features available to discerning customers include a carabiner for holding a key ring, a pocket for water bottles, and a strap to provide additional sternum support when rucking.

Notable Features

As previously mentioned, this GORUCK product is designed with Special Forces-grade material. The zippers used have been proven to withstand highly corrosive environments such as deserts, and the high thickness of the Cordura material ensure it can hold excessive weight without tearing or causing discomfort. The added option of a sternum strap ensures weight is goruck-rucker_6_200distributed evenly throughout the back when rucking, and can engage the core as well as the back during strenuous physical activity. Even without purchasing an additional sternum strap, the Rucker supports a hip strap, which still provides weight distribution and core support when traveling with heavy weight.

As a pack meant primarily for transporting weights, this rucksack has been exhaustively strength tested, and has been verified to support up to 400 pounds comfortably, which we have confirmed with multiple field tests. The pack opens flat, making storage simple and ensuring supplies stay neatly organized, even after we traveled several miles. The outside material is waterproof with a small section of Velcro near the top, perfect for adding a custom decorative patch. Unfortunately, while this pack can support a laptop, it is not designed to store them; it is only designed to carry weighted plates and camping equipment. For this reason, we goruck-rucker_7_200do not recommend using this product as a laptop bag, even though storing one is possible, simply because there is no guarantee of the device’s safety. The manufacturer recommends one of their other packs for such use. Finally, GORUCK offers a lifetime guarantee for this product, meaning any issues such as torn pockets or damaged straps can be handled free of charge through the manufacturer.

Pros

~ Highly resistant Special Forces grade material
~ Different color schemes
~ Extra chest and hip support
~ Lifetime guarantee ensures return on investment

Cons

~ Above average price point
~ Additional accessories needed to fully utilize fluid bladder
~ Not recommended as a laptop bag
~ Less storage space offered in smaller model for shorter customers

GORUCK Rucker Conclusion

The GORUCK Rucker is a thoroughly impressive product that withstood everything we threw at it. As a high-end rucksack, we recommend this product to any avid camper, hiker or rucker, goruck-rucker_8_200especially those looking to compete in the GORUCK Challenge. While it can certainly contain the heavy textbooks and laptops of a student, we do not recommend purchasing this product for use as a book bag or laptop bag, simply because it is not designed for that purpose. There are several cheaper options for a discerning student looking for a sturdy bag, with the manufacturer even offering some enticing alternatives. However, should a student want to use this product as a book bag, they would find it to facilitate their needs expertly, if at a price point higher than normal.

The ideal customer for this product is a fitness-motivated individual who may compete in strength challenges and wants something made of highly resistant material that can keep up goruck-rucker-colors_200with their active lifestyle. The higher than normal price point signifies that this is a specialty item, meant for use by those who know what they’re doing. An amateur or journeyman in rucking or camping would perhaps be satisfied with a cheaper product, but they wouldn’t know what they’re missing: any fitness-oriented individual can gain quite a bit from using this pack, and the highly resilient construction and lifetime guarantee ensure that this is a pack that will be used for years to come. For these reasons, and after performing exhaustive field tests on this product, we believe the GORUCK Rucker is worth the price of admission, providing everything a rucker needs in a convenient package. Go wild, and happy rucking!

Questions?

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Best Survival Books – 7 Titles Handpicked by a US Marine

I’m a former US Marine and IRAQ veteran, and this is my list of the absolute best survival books.  Books you can learn from, and live by.  The problem is that there are a ton of books about survival but lots of them are, well, junk.  Not junk in the sense that the author didn’t try, just more like books that tend to be a compilation of other books, original works that have been consumed and regurgitated, and every other “not that great” reference in between. That’s one of the reasons why this is the “top 7” and not “top 10”.  I refuse to stuff this thing with unnecessary entries just to make a number.  This is officially  the best collection of survival books this side of Mars– neatly organized, and updated for 2015.  Of course, if you’re not a book learner, there are plenty of survival schools throughout the world too.

Survival comes in many flavors – Desert, Woodland, Jungle, Mountain, you name it.  You need a book that fits your needs and that’s exactly what we aim to help you find.  In an effort to avoid information overload, we have listed (in no particular order) our favorite 7 survival books – that is, of course, in our opinion.  Although we’ve been through each of these books, I will say there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to reading and learning.  That’s because we’ve all got different reading styles.  I’m confident you can find something you like within this selection.  If you have a few spare minutes, I’ve also written a couple words of wisdom, which I’ve gleaned from my experiences as a US Marine – you will find that at the bottom of the page.  If you have any questions about a particular book, email me and I’ll do my best to address them.  Also, don’t forget to have a look at our article on basic survival gear.  Alright, I’m done yapping – enjoy.

Our top 7 Best Survival Books – in no particular order:

Wilderness Survival 2nd editionbest survival books - wilderness survival second edition

Author: Gregory J. Davenport
Published: 3/31/2006
Pages: 304

Former USAF Survival Instructor Gregory Davenport discuss in detail his five basic survival elements – finding food and water, personal protection, signaling, health and travel. His focus is on remaining calm, in control and alive until help arrives. Gregory runs a wilderness education program called “Simply Survival” in Stevenson, Washington and has appeared on 48 Hours, NBC Nightly News, CBS News, ABC PrimeTime Thursday as well as the BBC and Outdoor Life Network.

SAS third editionbest survival books - sas survival handbook

Author: John “Lofty” Wiseman
Published: 11/11/2014
Pages: 672

Lofty’s SAS handbook has long since been a venerable desk reference on the topic of survival. This is the third edition which includes survival scenarios that we haven’t thought much about until now, such as terrorism and urban settings. When I was in the Marine Corps, we extensively trained in Close Quarters Combat(CQB). I never would have thought then, that scenario-specific training would ever prove useful in a setting outside of the military. Nowadays, with all the nonsensical goings-on in the world, I think we can all use some basic survival skills that aren’t necessarily tailored to being lost in the woods. No matter how many survival books you have, this one deserves a spot on the shelf.  I really love this book, and while I don’t want to sound partial, I sort of am when it comes to this one.  This book, without any doubt, is absolutely one of the most useful survival books you’ll ever purchase.  It’s like the “Joy of Cooking” for survival.

Prepper’s Long-Term Survival Guidebest survival books - preppers long term survival guide

Author: Jim Cobb
Published: 3/25/2014
Pages: 240

This is an interesting read. The Prepper’s Guide is focused on long-term survival in the event of a serious disaster. He’s not so much talking about how to catch and cook a rabbit when you’ve gotten lost on the trail or how to craft a make-shift distillery whilst stuck at sea. Instead, Jim talks specifically about how to make do when things don’t go back to normal – for a long time. Imagine the power grid was destroyed along with Natural Gas lines and there was no drinkable water anywhere for hundreds or thousands of miles – would you make it?

Survive!: Essential Skills and Tactics to Get You Out of Anywhere – Alivebest survival books - survive essential skills and tactics

Author: Les Stroud
Published: 11/11/2008
Pages: 373

Les Stroud is an amazing survivalist, and this is unquestionably one of the best survival books on the market today. He(Les) is so passionate about this topic that he created and produced his own television series “Survivorman”. Les also took some time to write this great guide on his favorite topic. What’s different about this book is that it hits on survival skills for every climate and locale. There’s also a heavy emphasis on adapting your own, personal set of skills – taking from broad, general survival theory and making something that fits your style. Les is a very entertaining man and I think you’ll be pleased with this book from cover to cover.

Wildwood Wisdombest survival books - wildwood wisdom

Author: Ellsworth Jaeger
Published: 1992
Pages: 520

Wildwood Wisdom is a classic. Published in 1992, you may consider this to be outdated but I encourage you discover this book as more of a historical textbook. This book was originally written in 1945 and is based on life in the 1800’s. You won’t find any state of the art techniques, zombie apocalypse references or ways to make a parachute from a drinking straw and paper clip like MacGyver.  Instead, Wildwood Wisdom is packed full of old-world, traditional survival skills and techniques.  Humans have been surviving for thousands of years and I would say if anything, the classic theories have been proven effective and will always be the basis for modern concepts.

Hawke’s Green Beret Survival Manual: Essential Strategiesbest survival books - hawkes green beret survival manual

Author: Mykel Hawke
Published: 10/2/2012
Pages: 640

Mykel Hawke wears many hats.  He’s a retired Army Special Forces Green Beret, author, television show host and one hell of a survival expert.  You may recognize him from his show on the Discovery Channel “Man Woman Wild” or “One Man Army”.  Mykel has serious experience and he shares his knowledge in this 640 page guide to Essential Survival Strategies.  Hawke’s Manual is a massive reference that includes anything and everything you can think of.  I like to think of it as “The Joy Of Cooking” of survival technique books.  If you’re a hobbyist or trying to learn serious skills, this belongs on your shelf.

Primitive Wilderness Living & Survival Skillsbest survival books - wilderness living and survival skills

Author: John McPherson
Published: 1/1/1993
Pages: 408

Here’s a book that teaches technique step by step.  This oldy but goodie has hundreds (more than 700) pictures and diagrams so you can’t get it wrong.  Based on primitive skills, John describes each chapter of his book as being “written as a complete book”.  Have a go with this one from cover to cover and you’ll have the desire to take a week long backwoods camping trip immediately.  Reminded me of when I was a child and I got some new piece of outdoor equipment – like my first hatchet – and I would spend entire days in the woods discovering all that I could do with this new tool.  Gotta read this!

Keep Calm and Train On

You will undoubtedly benefit from a skilled survivor’s recommendations of the foremost survival books, but that doesn’t change the fact that learning the art of Bush-craft takes time – a lot of time.  I’m reminded of my Marine Corps days, which taught me patience when it comes to learning and mastering techniques such as survival cooking, fire making, shelter construction and hunting.   There are plenty survivalists out there who have dedicated their existence to wilderness living – but nature doesn’t discriminate and neither does physics.  It doesn’t matter if you’re an outdoor enthusiast, Marine or professional survival trainer – you’ll get nowhere without patience.  This is equally true if and when you find yourself in a legitimate situation where your very life may depend on your ability to keep your cool.  Emergency kits don’t come with concentration.  I may be pulling my own chain, but I can promise that if you’ve read this far, you are interested in learning, and there’s not better way to learn than from a handpicked list of the best survival books a US Marine could find – trust me.

Learning is a two part recipe

If you are going to succeed in the wild, there are two components of learning and mastering survival: Theory/Concept and Practical Application.  To learn theory, you can watch YouTube videos; survival shows or just hit the books.  But for practical application, I suggest you just pack up your bag and head out to the field.  Books can only take you so far, and you have to use your imagination to visualize yourself executing these tactics you’re reading about.  A wise Gunnery Sergeant once told me “nothing trains fire-building faster than a cold night”.

Common wisdom

I think there are a few things you are going to find in common within the chapters of not only the absolute finest survival books, but also the books that are on the lightweight side as well.  These would be the basic survival skills – fire making, shelter building, basic hunting, etc..  Realistically, you need to have a foundation for these basic survival skills but at the same time, know that some of the books in our top 10 have a little more meat in certain areas.  So check them all out and make an informed decision.  Happy trails!

 Got a suggestion for my list of best survival books?  Did I miss one you think is unquestionably amazing?  A read that just simply can’t be passed over?  Post a comment below!

Questions?

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REVIEW: GORUCK GR-1 Pack

The GORUCK GR-1 is a military grade rucksack that is proudly constructed in the USA(along with every other pack they make) with a lifetime warranty. GORUCK makes many military MOLLE backpacks, but this review is going to be focused on their original, be-all, end-all 24 hour ruck, the GR-1. Conceived and created by Jason McCarthy, a member of the 10th Special Forces Group from 2006 to 2008, this GORUCK pack brings together the strength of the military with the determination and aspirations of the civilian world. It is for this reason that we chose the GR-1 to review during our two-week wilderness survival trip.

made in usa

GORUCK GR-1 Overview

This high-grade, MOLLE backpack measures 12x20x6.75 and is constructed from the most durable of materials; ballistic grade double layered 1000D CORDURA®, YKK zippers, gutted 550 parachute cord, 2″ x 3″ Velcro, comfort padding, and superior strength double stitching. Although the visual size of this pack seemed as if it would not be practical, there was more than enough room in the 26L case. We took the basic Black model, but the GR-1 also comes in “Sand” and “Wolf Grey”.

Notable Features

We were astounded by the silence of the zipper compartments when utilized which allowed us to observe our surroundings and access our cameras, binoculars, and other necessities at a seconds notice GORUCK GR-1without spooking the wildlife and causing it to flee. This is quite possibly a “mission critical” feature in certain circumstances. Ultra quiet zippers and sturdy pulls really stand out on this ruck.

SCARS LIFETIME WARRANTY

I thought this little tidbit deserved it’s own headline, because it’s that good. GORUCK stands behind all of their packs with what they call the Scars Lifetime Warranty. We actually have a nice little piece we wrote specifically about eh SCARS warranty and why it has so much value – check it out here.  The folks at GORUCK are really easy-going when it comes to repairs. Right from the website:

“GORUCK-built gear gets better with time and use, and is not meant to be replaced.” “No proof of purchase required, we can recognize our own gear. We’re happy to stitch up any GORUCK built gear that’s been burned, shot, slashed or sawed for a reasonable repair charge”
GORUCK GR-1

Field Test

Because of the sturdy construction, padded arm straps, and comfortable wearing design, it was no problem collecting shelter materials, firewood and edibles. We had a discussion on how effective this would be as a field or rucking pack with an incredibly compact size backing an extremely heavy load capacity. Our packs may have appeared to us to be small at first observation, but they proved to be the best for comfortably transporting our heaviest of finds back to our camp. After reviewing the Dragon Egg, I’m a serious fan of bags that feel small, but pack huge.

It rained for 3 days straight(torrential downpour actually), and to say that we and all of our gear became quite wet, would be an understatement. The contents of the GR-1 however remained *totally* dry. This pack isn’t listed as “completely waterproof”, but I’ll tell you that it’s pretty damn close. Despite rain water literally sheeting and cascading off the pack, everything inside(including my laptop) remained absolutely dry – whoa.

GORUCK GR-1We really liked the following features as we tested this pack:

  • Storage – Although this pack appears to be compact, we discovered that there is more than enough room for the hauling of the essential field gear and supplies. The interior extra storage and zipper side pocket assure that users will be able to haul all of the needed items without the possibility of gear falling off or out of an exterior pocket.
  • Mobile Device Pocket – The inclusion of the bombproof compartment offers extra security and protection for essential mobile devices when on a mission or in action.
  • Webbing – The GR1 rucking pack is loaded with internal and external webbing for extra gear such as MOLLE supplies or any other essential items. We utilized the webbing to contain our many loose cords and office supplies that we writing enthusiasts can not live without.
  • Accessibility – The ability of this pack to open to a flat area makes for easy packing and unpacking of supplies.

Pros

GORUCK GR-1AMERICAN MADE!!!  That said, the feature that we found to be the best was the lifetime warranty.  That stands out as a feature which is unique and sets the GORUCK GR-1 apart from its competition.  Additionally, our entire team was impressed with the function and silence of the zipper compartments as well as the amount of storage space of these areas. Having a versatile pack that is waterproof(for all intents and purposes) and lightweight is the answer to any outdoor enthusiast or rucking person’s dream.  Also, the minimal design of this pack is perfect for trekking and rucking alike. This bag sits perfectly on the back with a sleek design meant to keep packs from becoming caught or tangled in surrounding fauna when traversing dangerous or overgrown areas.

Cons

The negative aspects of the GORUCK GR-1 were rather difficult for our team to nail down. It seemed as if for every negative point that one of our members brought up, another member was able to turn it into a positive attribute in some way. If we had any complaints about this rucking bag, the only one would be concerning the fact that a few of the members who could just not stay disconnected were not able to carry their mobile devices and use the water bladder at the same time. Poor old Ron. He did survive.

Conclusion

In spite of this packs incredibly skilled and expert construction, it may be only useful for short excursions or quick missions. The overall capacity of this bag is adequate for the transport of essential items and survival supplies, but hardly the capacity for packing for a weeks trek into the unknown. Adaptable to MOLLE instruments and supplies, this model of backpack is the perfect size for a high energy, low supply ruck. After all was said and done, this backpack shares the throne with other top-shelf 24 hour rucks.

Questions?

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FYI: A few words on GORUCK’s “SCARS Lifetime Warranty”

I’m a huge fan of GORUCK products, and if you’re a fan of this site, you’ll remember when I reviewed their GR-1 rucksack.  GORUCK has a small roster of products by comparison to other companies, but every single product they make, is made 100% right here in the United States by Americans, and to me, that makes all of their products intrinsically valuable in its own right.

GORUCK is big on community involvement and making personal fitness fun, but if you’ve ever shopped their inventory, you’ll notice that many of their products are also big on price.  Because of this, I wanted to write a short piece today on “value”, and after that, I intend to share with you, the value GORUCK offers through its SCARS Warranty.  If you’re too impatient to read on, then I’ll offer you a spoiler:  If you buy a GORUCK bag, they’ll basically offer to fix it for you forever – try that with any other company.

 “GORUCK-built gear that has defects in manufacturing, materials and normal wear and tear will be replaced or repaired at the discretion of the GORUCK SCARS repair crew. No proof of purchase required, we can recognize our own gear.”

Value is something of an interpretive word, and as such, it defines itself differently for everyone.  What is value anyway?  Value is an aspect of something that has worth – to you.  For example, if you wanted to open a checking account, you would have dozens of choices.  However, only a few banks offer “mobile deposit” which allows you to deposit a check using your cell phone.  If you’re the type that likes to go into the bank and deposit checks the old fashioned way, the mobile deposit feature would have no value at all to you – a completely useless offering.  But, maybe you’re on the run all day and it’s easiest and most convenient for you to deposit checks in the evening while you watch TV and wind down.  Suddenly, the tables are turned and you will only consider 3 banks because the mobile deposit feature is such a high value to you.

Shopping for a Military or Tactical-grade backpack is a perfect opportunity to explore the idea of value, because there are many brands, all of which offer features they think will be a high value to you.  Triple stitching, extra hydration compartments, flush PALS webbing as opposed to the gold standard 1″ weave – you name it, and the manufacturers of military and tactical gear are working on developing it and including the features in their products.  Remember how I said “value” is different for all people?  Here’s where the rubber meets the road: damage.  If you use your pack enough, in time, it will become damaged.  It doesn’t matter what company made it, or if it used 500D or 1000D Nylon – it’s gonna get shitted up at some point.  That’s where GORUCK brings HUGE value to the table, because one of the features of every single product they make, is that it includes their SCARS lifetime warranty.

The SCARS warranty does not mean they will fix your gear for free, forever, no matter what.  If you shoot your pack with 00 Buck, you’ll have to pay to have it fixed.  I will say, however, I’ve never seen a more fair company when it comes to taking care of their own(the customer). Even when you abuse their gear, they are still very fair about fixing it.  The SCARS warranty is a lifetime service program.  GORUCK loves their products, and it might be true to say, that the only thing they love more, are the people who buy them.

 “We’re happy to stitch up any GORUCK built gear that’s been burned, shot, slashed or sawed for a reasonable repair charge – or to help you get a new one, if it can not be repaired. Stuff happens and part of our mission statement at GORUCK is Do Right By People and we live by that.”

Those statements are a powerful testament of what GORUCK stands for.  I think there’s an extremely high value in a company standing behind their products this passionately.  This isn’t the most interesting or exciting read – I know that – but I thought it might be nice to take a step back, and mention the SCARS warranty, because sooner or later, your pack is going to break, and I promise you won’t worry about it if it’s a GORUCK.  They are definitely not the cheapest rucksack out there, but they are however, backed up like no other.

Questions?

Tweet out to me so that others can benefit from your question too! Tweet to @SurvivalBloke

The Best Flashlight Brands and their Most Popular Models

If you’re looking for a rock-solid flashlight, whether you need something tactical or just one, high quality light for your home, you won’t find it at Walmart or Home Depot.  Box stores have been flooded with cheap, sub-ten dollar LED flashlights and I can’t say I blame them either, because most folks aren’t willing to spend over $100 for a flashlight.  Even if you do find a light made by a reputable company, like Streamlight, it’s likely the only model you’ll find is their entry-level offering.  If you’re anything like me, entry-level won’t cut it, and over the past year, I’ve been asked dozens of times – “What are the best flashlight brands?”.  In this article, we’re going to talk about (4) of my favorite high-end flashlight manufacturers, and we’ll provide a brief review of one of their most popular models – let’s go!

SureFire

SureFire had its beginnings in 1969 with the founding of the Newport Corporation, which worked on the industrial applications of lasers. With the development of the first laser sight, Laser Products Corporation was spun out into its own company in 1979, making laser sights for police departments until it became SureFire, LLC in the year 2000. Today, they are one the best flashlight brands specializing in tactical flashlights and mountable weapon lights, which are favored by military, law enforcement and emergency personnel. The have over 100 flashlight models and for some government agencies, such as the FBI and the Federal Air Marshal Service, SureFire tactical lights are standard issue. Other SureFire products include sound suppressors, flash suppressors, muzzle breaks, combat utility knives, batteries, hearing protection and earpieces for tactical communication.

Surefire G2X Pro Dual Output LED Flashlight

Surefire_G2X

This is a top selling flashlight with two brightness settings, one that provides the maximum 320 lumens of brightness and another low setting of 15 lumens that preserves battery life and prolongs runtime up to 45 hours. It is powered by two CR123A lithium ion batteries, which are included and have a shelf life of ten years. The switch is located in the tail and can be pressed for momentary low light, clicked once for continuous light at the low setting, or clicked off and on again for the high setting. Unlike conventional bulbs, the LED emitter does not have any filaments, which can burn out or break, making it nearly indestructible. Micro-texturing on the reflector smoothly widens the beam for more peripheral illumination. The window is made from a durable polycarbonate that can withstand impacts as well as abrasions and scratches. Anodized aluminum comprises the bezel and the body is constructed from Nitrolon to guarantee toughness and resist corrosion. O-ring and gasket seals ensure weatherproofing for reliable operation in harsh environments. Weighing about 4.5 ounces and measuring only 5.2 inches long by 1.5 inches wide, the Surefire G2X Pro is a compact but powerful flashlight that is ideal for emergencies or routine use.

Find more Surefire flashlights here.

Fenix

Fenix Tactical is a Canadian company established in 2004 that specializes in manufacturing high performance LED flashlights for a variety of users. They have over 200 models available and are one of the best flashlight brands catering to a range of purposes. Their tactical flashlights are made for use by military and police and constructed with exceptional toughness to endure the extreme conditions they encounter. They are also designed with an excellent grip and high efficiency, digitally regulated optical systems to reliably produce a substantial amount of light, which can be crucial in dangerous situations. Fenix produces lines of smaller flashlights for conventional use and other products like camping lanterns, headlamps and bike lights.

Fenix UC40 Ultimate Edition CREE XM-L2 U2 LED Flashlight

Fenix_UC40

This flashlight has a bright 960 lumen beam with enough focus to light distances up to 223 yards. The Cree XM-L2 U2 LED incorporates high efficiency circuits into a design that digitally regulates the output for maintaining steady levels of brightness and allows the safe dissipation of heat. The protective glass lens is exceptionally clear with a non-reflective coating. A Fenix Tailored 3400 mAh high performance rechargeable battery is included along with a USB charging cable. There is also the option to use two CR123A batteries or a single 18650 battery, which is convenient, but the flashlight will not recharge unless a Fenix battery is in use. A side switch allows easy access to the four different settings and a strobe function, each of which will consume power at varying rates that are determined by the intensity of the beam. The lowest setting of 10 lumens provides light for up to 150 hours, the medium setting of 110 lumens runs for about 16 hours and the high setting of 400 lumens lasts for just under four hours. The turbo setting outputs a maximum of 960 lumens, taking around one-and-a-half hours to deplete the charge and the strobe feature also expends power at a similar rate. The body is fashioned from aircraft grade aluminum, designed to minimize rolling and resist slipping without being abrasive. The bundle comes with AC and car adaptors, spare O-rings, lanyard and holster.

Find more Fenix flashlights here.

NiteCore

NiteCore began as an OEM/ODM in 2001, which originally manufactured products and parts to specification for other companies to sell. After drawing years of experience, NiteCore began creating high performance LED flashlights of their own in 2007 and today they have more than 600 models, all of which are designed with precision and ease of use in mind. Flashlights are upgraded with the recent advances in LED and other technologies as quickly as they are made available, something few other companies do. This makes NiteCore products some of the most powerful on the market, appealing even to those with exacting standards and intense performance requirements.

NiteCore P12 2015 Version 1000 Lumens Precise Tactical CREE XM-L2 LED Waterproof Flashlight

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A smart design and impressive range of brightness has made this flashlight a popular favorite for those working in the military, emergency services, security and law enforcement. A Cree XM-L2 U2 LED provides a precise and intense beam distances up to 253 yards at maximum output. It runs on either a single 18650 battery or two CR123A batteries; the runtime will depend on the intensity level of the light. The voltage can be monitored with the power indicator’s secondary function. The flashlight runs for just over an hour with an output of 1000 lumens on the high setting, about six hours with an output of 240 lumens on medium and 28 hours with an output of 70 lumens on low. There is also an incredibly efficient lower setting that can last up to 520 hours by minimizing output to just 1 lumen. The preferred brightness setting can be stored by the internal memory for quick access. The power switch is located in the tail-cap and the side button controls levels of brightness and can activate features like the SOS, location beacon or strobe light. The body is durable enough to withstand falls between four and five feet and can resist submergence in water up to a depth of about two yards. A pocket clip, holster, lanyard and tactical grip ring are included with the flashlight.

Find more Nitecore flashlights here.

Streamlight

Streamlight, Inc. was founded in 1973 and is based in Eagleville, Pennsylvania. They currently design and manufacture a variety of lights used by military, law enforcement and rescue professionals. Along with tactical lights, Streamlight has products geared towards more casual use like mechanical and automotive work, while others are better suited for outdoor sports and activities. There are currently over 900 models available worldwide and all have the benefit of Streamlight’s outstanding customer service. The company is very feedback driven, taking into account customer suggestions and needs when improving or updating their designs. They also have one of the best warranties that covers any defects for the lifetime of the product.

Streamlight 88850 Polytac Flashlight with Lithium Batteries

Streamlight_88850

This competitively priced flashlight is excellent for everyday use in the house or on the job, yet still durable enough to withstand unfavorable conditions like extreme weather, making it also suitable for camping, hunting and other outdoor activities. The LED light features C4 Photonic Crystal Technology, which nearly triples the level of brightness compared a conventional LED. It also has no filaments or glass, so breakage is not an issue. The brightness output is 130 lumens and solid-state power regulation ensures the level of illumination remains consistent throughout the period of use. Two included 3-Volt CR123A batteries will power the flashlight for up to three hours and have a shelf life of 10 years. The tail-cap switch is easy to use; a slight amount of pressure will provide momentary light and a click of the button switches on a constant beam. The reflector is specifically engineered to deliver the best possible focus through the sealed Borofloat glass lens. The body is composed from a sturdy nylon polymer that has a PX7 rated design capable of tolerating impacts and remaining waterproof at a depth of 3 feet for half an hour. Streamlight guarantees this flashlight with a manufacturer’s limited lifetime warranty.

Find more Streamlight flashlights here.

If you have any questions, or can think of a great light not mentioned, let me know by leaving a comment!

Questions?

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INSTRUCTIONS: MOLLE Vest Setup

Overview

Much like Wifi did for the internet, the MOLLE standard really opened up a lot of options for the Military Gear market. MOLLE is a whole new generation of gear sets, and with such, we pack differently than we did in days past. Back when I was in our beloved Corps, we had what was called “782 Gear” which consisted of a few different pieces of equipment, all tied together through the Load Bearing Vest or LBV. As the centerpiece, the MOLLE vest functions as the heart of our personal gear, and I think it’s important to discuss a topic that comes to me in email all the time: MOLLE vest setup. If you’re not here to find different setups for your gear, and instead, you’re shopping MOLLE vests, take a look here. It’s a fantastic list of proven gear with personal reviews and opinions.

A brief history of the MOLLE vest

When MOLLE replaced ALICE military-wide, many changes came. MOLLE offered incredible improvements in the modular sense due to the PALS webbing which it was based on. ALICE had been more like a normal piece of gear you would wear with built in pockets. For example, if you purchased a camo vest, and it had a certain number of pockets built in, you could put whatever fit in those pockets in them, and organize yourself in that manner. However, due to the adoption of PALS webbing in the MOLLE standard, a whole new level of organization was born. Because the PALS webbing makes up most of the MOLLE gear’s surface area, you can attach whatever MOLLE pouch you want, to wherever you want on a piece of MOLLE gear. So, instead of having a vest with pouches, we’ve got a vest with PALS webbing, and you can attach whatever gear you like, wherever it best suits you, be it from a logical standpoint, or ergonomic argument. The MOLLE setup is truly modular, and in my opinion, very superior.

How to set up a MOLLE vest

Oh my… Setting up a MOLLE vest(or plate carrier as it is often referred to) is such a personal preference, and to ask how to do it, is almost like asking “how should you cook eggs?”. I for one, am a minimalist. I like to take as little gear as possible every time I go out. Before I go any further, I want to point out my favorite MOLLE vest on the market – the Condor Quick Release Plate Carrier. I think that MOLLE vest setup needs to start with a question: What are you doing? When I was deployed to the Middle East(almost 20 years ago), we took bullets and grenades. Although, to be fair, we had ALICE gear, and not MOLLE stuff. But the point is still made that we were going out in the field for a purpose. Now, that said, I would love to have been able to put all of my M16A2 magazines in one spot, my chewing tobacco in another, and a multi tool somewhere else. ALICE didn’t afford me that convenience but MOLLE does. When I’m asked “What’s the best way to set up a MOLLE vest?”, I always answer the same way – “What makes the most sense to you”. Enough overview though, let me give you some examples of what I mean.

Most important carry

This is a concept which I think is most overlooked when rigging any type of gear. In this example, we divide your vest load into three parts – (1) frequently needed – (2) sometimes needed – (3) might need. If you’re anything like me – ADD like mad – then you’ll appreciate the compartmentalization I suggest here. I’m the type of guy that can’t focus on everything at once, or I get overwhelmed. On a road trip, I break it down in 50 mile increments. When I vacuum a floor, I quarter it, and when I drink beer, it’s one at a time. That said, you need to declare what type of a situation you are rigging for, and then you can categorize your gear into the three sections I mentioned. To give you a point of reference, I consider “frequently needed” something that you need many times during an excursion, such as a flashlight. “Sometimes needed” comes in with something like a multi-tool or knife, and “might need” would be something like first aid gear. Because the setup of your vest is such a preferential process, I think it’s extremely important to understand that every situation is different, and you must pack for the occasion. Would you take a sleeping bag on a day hike? OK, I do realize that things could go horribly wrong, and you might need the sleeping bag, but for arguments’ sake, let’s keep it basic. Here’s a few scenarios and general, very basic suggestions.

Natural Disaster

first-aid-molle-pouchI suggest a first aid set up here. You’re going to want mostly first aid MOLLE attachments, and to boot, I cannot recommend highly enough, Condor’s Breakaway pouch (although I think it has a different name). Please know this is only a pouch, and it does not come with any contents. You’ll have to build your own first aid kit, but to be lazy, you can just buy a ready-made kit like this one, and put it into the Condor bag. You’ll undoubtedly want your vest to have a water feature. Actually, that’s good advice no matter the scenario. Condor makes an amazing MOLLE water pouch – check it out here. Keep in mind that you still have to have a bladder to put into it. So, in a nutshell, the emergency/disaster MOLLE vest setup will involve water and first aid gear for the most part.

shtf(shit hits the fan)

I admit, “shtf” is a generously ambiguous term, but surprisingly, I think the vest setup would be similar regardless of the details. Here, you’re going to want a first aid pouch, knife sheath shtfand ammo pouches as well. Honestly, if it were me, and the proverbial shit really did enter a fan of any sort, I can tell you right now, I’m running lightweight, and fully armed. I’d suggest some “put anything in there” molle pouches like this guy from VISM. My thought train on this is that if it were me, I would want my full armament for personal protection, and then lots of empty space for anything I might pick up along the way. Survival technique is a very personal preference. We are all programmed to live, but how easily we make it on ourselves has everything to do with preparedness and good information.

My take on MOLLE vest setup

You know, I was once told that opinions are just like… Oh wait, you’ve heard that one? Well, when it comes to gear setups, I take myself very seriously. Having been a US Marine, I know that how you pack will directly affect how well you live in the field. Setting up gear is such a personal thing, and some folks are wicked-organized, while others just can’t seem to grasp the concept. That’s why I think it’s a good idea to categorize your gear like I did in the section titled “most important carry”. As it has been said. “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, and that goes for gear staging just as much as anything else. Take your time, rig properly for the event, and you’ll be happy when the time comes. If you’re just looking to rig for a one-size-fits-all event, go with the “shtf” setup. It’s more of a general bug out recipe and won’t let you down.

Questions?

Tweet out to me so that others can benefit from your question too! Tweet to @SurvivalBloke