Sunday, December 30, 2012

ATS War Belt update + thoughts on mini survival kits + mini reviews

war belt battle belt condor multipurpose pouch nylon MOLLE gear
Christmas time = a new addition to the ATS War Belt; this Condor Multipurpose pouch. I know, I know, there are plenty of reasons floating around not to like Condor gear but all I wanted was a simple pouch to keep that handful of shooting supplies on me and in one place, always ready. I have no experience with Condor so I figured it was an inexpensive item to add to the Christmas list and just see how it goes if I happened to get one. I like to buy American made products if I can, and there is lots of lip service given to American made products all around this country and in popular media. There are two factors involved for me I guess. For one thing, when it comes to gear for the shooting sports and "tactical community" especially, it's nice if you can afford it and it's nice if you (think you) need it. The second factor is that it's mostly BS. Sure, you can buy all your nylon gear American made as far as I know, but you're joking yourself if you think you can buy everything you need in life US made, and you're lying if you claim to. Corporate America uses Chinese and other foreign labor to rip Americans off by charging more for less and spending less on overhead in the process. American made products seem to follow the popular misconception that "you get what you pay for". I agree with the original notion that you do get what you pay for, unfortunately today that has changed to expensive = good. People who buy things they think they need and actually don't, like to justify their purchases with old time logic that simply doesn't apply. Corporate America has created what is today, really an old paradigm, where they must expand constantly and rapidly. It seems most consumers just haven't figured this out yet. It led to the housing bubble. Money runs uphill in corporate America. If the fat cats at the very top want to keep buying new boats and take expensive trips, their American employees must be under constant pressure to find news ways to sell shit. It doesn't matter how it's done or what the product is, or if Americans even want it, they'll find a way to sell it. Finding cheap labor to make the stuff is old news, let's face it. If American employees want fat bonuses, or want to keep their job, or just get a raise once in awhile, they sell and market and sell some more in order to get it done. You do the math, that is an inherently unsustainable model in the exact same way that a building cannot appreciate in value infinitely. Mom and pop shops that stitch some tactical gear have to charge what some of them charge because of the bloated corporate economy this country runs on. Others know that a market for far over-engineered, purposefully expensive products exists in America. What gets ignored is a group of consumers who need inexpensive, simple, purposeful products that aren't just made to sell to people with money, and aren't designed for the highest end user. T.A.D. Gear is a good example. Yeah they make nice stuff, and you can argue until you're blue in the face - it's simply over priced and could easily be stitched, even by Americans, for significantly less. I am guessing the employees at T.A.D. Gear are very well paid and so are their customers. Don't get me wrong, I firmly believe in American entrepreneurs making the coolest, most well made product available. My point is that it doesn't have to be a model for all American businesses. It's nothing more than another version of keeping up with the Joneses and there is no reason that an American company couldn't make a simpler, purposeful, well-made product for significantly less.

Bottom line is, you are welcome to spend too much on stuff and believe that because it costs a lot, it must therefore be good. Chances are, it will be good - it sure as hell better be. What's more, I typically agree with all the reasons not to buy Chinese goods. Whether you're paying too much for Chinese made, expensive, branded products, or over-engineered, American made, expensive products, you are likely the victim of marketing hype. At least in the case of this Condor pouch, I actually DID get what I (someone else since it was a gift) paid for, minus all the BS. Way too much of those super special, over-priced products, regardless of what they are, are made over seas today. In the case of tactical gear, you either "need" it or you don't. People whose lives depend on their gear and/or equipment have no reason not to buy the best and that's who those products are made for. Then there are people like me. My life doesn't depend on it. I use it to have fun. But there is one more crowd out there, and they are typically the ones bashing gear like this. They "need" it because they can afford it. They might be the type of person to buy really expensive performance clothing, but about the only time it is exposed to any weather is between their BMW and the mall. Or maybe they buy expensive gear because they take a lot of firearms training. That's special. You do need gear that won't fail, but more importantly you need to look cool and fit in with the people there who actually rely on their equipment. Most importantly of all, you need it because you can afford it. I can't understand reading advice written by people who take training classes frequently, but are not law enforcement or military personnel. They tell people they shouldn't buy inexpensive guns, or gear, or equipment. If you can afford the cost of training and the related ammunition, why exactly would you own cheap stuff? You wouldn't, so what do you know about it? And ignoring the fact that you don't actually need it, why would you give advice to people who have no intention of using these products in the same way you do? You can essentially legitimize your opinion with money - that is known in America as "pay to win".

So, with my rant out of the way, this pouch seems pretty nice and fits MY actual needs and when you buy this product you WILL get what you paid for. The ATS Belt happens to be American made. OMG! Yet it wasn't expensive. In the images below you will see a Buck knife, also American made, and not expensive. I support THIS kind of business. These products are made by companies who realize there is a need for basic products for people who will use them but can't afford features they simply have no use for. That ATS Belt could have this feature, or that feature, or be made out of indestructible material, but guess what, it doesn't have to be for my needs. The Buck knife could be made from exotic steel with even more exotic handles, crafted to perfection by a master black smith. But it doesn't have to be for my needs. What these products have in common, is that they cut out the stuff that I have no use for, and focused on the core purpose. Both are very well made and do their main function extremely well, and will last me a very long time. I will buy that kind of American made product and I believe that is how American products used to be, and how American companies should be.

Schrade SCHF9 Buck Bucklite Max large Leatherman Wave Inova X1
 These are products that go along with what I'm talking about here. I am not certain about the Inova light. I believe they at least were at one point made in America, I believe they may not be any more. The Leatherman Wave and the Buck Bucklite Max are made in America and if they cost a little more than a foreign made product of similar quality or design, it's because these two companies back their product up with real warranties. That said, the Leatherman sheath is made in China and the Schrade SCHF9 is made in Taiwan. All of these items are what I consider good values where their price matches the product perfectly. As far as I am concerned there might as well not be any other multitools on the planet. The Wave is the multitool perfected. Leatherman offers a bigger version called the Surge if you need something bigger, and they offer some nicer steels and features in the version called the Charge, but essentially, nothing else really compares. I have carried this tool every single day for years and it will easily last the rest of my life. The wear parts can even be replaced should I ever use the blades to that extent. Sure, SOG and Victorinox make what I understand to be good tools as well, but I haven't found a compelling reason to try anything else. The Bucklite Max is $30.00, simple, will last forever, very well designed, and has no features that aren't necessary. It is an all purpose working tool. The SCHF9 was made in Taiwan to give consumers more for their money, it's that simple. It's a fat chunk of tough steel that would cost more to make in America than it would really be worth. It's a work horse that an average person can afford without any frills. 
Leatherman Sheath Review Delux Leather Nylon case Schrade SCHF9
 I don't like the Leatherman sheath you see in the picture. I got it hoping that the side pockets would be the same size as the old sheath that came with my Wave originally. That sheath would hold my Inova light in the elastic side pockets, this one will not. They are too small. It would seem that Leatherman got hung up on this idea that the multitool could be put into the seath with the pliers deployed. I get the concept, I have even done this on occasion, but I wouldn't consider it a requirement. In fact, it ruined this sheath. In order to put the tool in pliers deployed the sheath had to be extra wide. Even though it was made for their 4 inch tools, the Wave just flops around inside and with minimal effort I can get it out without actually opening the sheath. It was also designed to ride on a belt in a horizontal orientation - yet doesn't fit a 1.5 inch belt. I'll bet the tool would also fall out on its own if carried horizontally and you will not likely be sheathing the tool pliers deployed in this orientation either. These issues effectively defeat the purpose of the entire design.  One seemingly up side is that my light and the tool fit together perfectly inside. This might seem cool at first, but it's actually useless. I can't access or replace either one quickly and smoothly, as one just gets in the way of the other, and the Wave is really hard on the light's finish. The sheath looks really nice and seems to be well made, but it's not going to spend any more time on my belt. In a perfect world, one where they just made what I wanted, the main compartment would hold only the tool, somewhat snugly. Next, the little elastic side pockets would take common diameter 1xAA lights or perhaps chapstick on one side and a pen or bit extender on the other. I'm not real sure that there are 2 Leatherman products available to fill both pockets, so I think it makes some sense to make one of them more multipurpose.

Anyway, I also wanted to talk about mini (or pocket) survival kits. No, I don't carry these items with me every day, but these knives are tools that are useful and make up a relatively complete system without real compromise. An axe would really complete the package if I had to exist forever with hand tools. I recently did some reading about mini survival kits. I even found one blogger suggesting that they are completely useless. Years ago I read about them in a Field and Stream (I think it was) and I found them to be very intriguing. All these useful things in a tiny package. However, I never brought myself to make one like the unit in the article or anything like the variety found online. In my recent reading I also found another blog suggesting that they are useful but often made incorrectly. With the net full of information on them, I thought I'd just give a slightly different perspective.

Leatherman Wave, Gerber folder, Inova X1, Zebra SL-F1, Pilot Birdy
My EDC (Every Day Carry)
In what situation would you even use a mini survival kit, or need one? Presumably if you had nothing else. It's easy to carry and has lots of handy things inside. Why would you ever have nothing else? Well you could get separated from .... uh ... your other stuff, or you might not HAVE other stuff. I can't personally think of a situation where I would be fine one minute, and need to survive for 3 days the next minute, but let's say it happened. First of all, this means you HAVE to carry it every day in your pocket because most likely your body won't get separated from your pocket - I guess. You've got 3 days max if you don't have water on you and nothing in a pocket survival kit is going to get you through any longer than that without water. So why is there anything in it for gathering food? There is at least a 25% chance that it'll be cold when you are suddenly needing to survive out of your pocket and there are no tools in your kit that can actually help you build a real shelter. Pocket saws are shiny and all, and you might be able to make it work ... good luck. You need fire. For fun, let's talk about having to live out of it for more than 3 days. Do you actually want something useful in your hands, or a mini-everything? You need to be able to get water and start a fire, and that's about it. If you've got 3 days and nothing better to do, I guess a snare makes sense, but what are the chances that you are going to go fishing, or that you'll even be able to where you are? And remember, we're just going with this idea that you are suddenly lost, with nothing else, somehow more than 3 days from civilization. Where can you not walk to in 3 days? And if you are somewhere like that, why don't you have anything else with you? You also won't be treating any serious wounds from a pocket survival kit, so don't plan on it. Seems to me you might as well pack things that are useful, maybe even day-to-day useful like a band-aide and antibiotic ointment. But more importantly, for survival, I am thinking reliable fire starting and water purification are absolute top priorities.

Mini, EDC pens, flash lights, white light, lumens, paracord lanyard, Gerber
Close up of the important stuff
So what does this have to do with my pictures? Well, how many things are already on my Leatherman that people put into pocket survival kits? And how many of those tools are actually useful on the multitool? It's got 2 blades that will go a helluva lot further than anything that will fit in an Altoid tin and a saw blade that works, plain and simple. I could easily fit a ferro rod into whatever I carry the Leatherman in and I also carry things like a folding knife and flash light with significant run time with me every day. I even carry a few band-aides and pain killers in a little tin less than half the size of the Altoid tin. It could easily have water purification in it. I carry these things every day, on my person. I don't really know where I would stick an Altoid tin to be honest. If I am going to be someplace where survival skills are more important, I know I'd have a lot more than an Altoid tin on me and I can't think of a real scenario where I would be separated from my pack. It might happen, and going on the assumption that it could, I think I can carry significantly more useful tools on me and I think that my mini survival kit would be packed with much more useful items than what is typically found in them. Additionally, if you're going to have to do more than 3 days, it is almost imperative that you have the most useful items in your pockets that you possibly can, especially since you won't live without water beyond those 3 days anyway. A whole tin full of water purification would be better than what most people include in their pocket survival kits, as far as I can tell.   

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tactical Assault Systems/Patriot Performance Materials Multi-tool Pouch Update

TAS Tactical Assault Systems Multi-tool pouches in Wheat color
So my replacement pouches showed up yesterday and I got some photos taken first thing this morning. I like taking the pictures outside but this time of year if I get up early before work it's dark and then it's dark again by the time I get off work - that just doesn't work out very well. So you'll want to read my last post to get the back story if you haven't already and if you have then the picture to the left shows the new pouches on top and the one that didn't work at the very bottom. There are some minor differences and first among them is a website on the tag that led me to more information about the company. Feel free to look them up if you don't already know what they're all about - again, I didn't spend a lot of time. Most importantly though, the new pouches all work perfectly. I threw in my Leatherman sheath for comparison. It's worn and beaten from years of living on my belt day in and day out, but you can see that these sheaths are pretty slim.

multi-tool pouch sheath Tactical Assault SystemsIt appears that the PALS webbing is stitched higher on all of them and the MALICE clip being higher doesn't really seem to make a whole lot of difference in the end. It's such a picky thing but if I were designing them I would go ahead and put them lower the way the Coyote version was. However, I just moved the MALICE clip down a row, and everything is fine. This works nicely because it fits on a regular belt as a replacement for my poor old leather unit and two rows is plenty sufficient to support something so light on any kind of MOLLE rig. And speaking of which, it looks like the MALICE clips are a slightly different animal and are missing the indentation where a tool can be inserted to disengage the lock.

In the end if you're thinking you need something like this, stop by ebay and score yourself one. The seller operates on extremely good customer service and the item is a steal at $7.75 shipped. Single stack 1911 magazines fit in a pinch and I imagine double stackers would as well, especially for shorter length magazines used in compact-sized guns. The Leatherman Wave is right around 4 inches in length when closed, if that gives you a better indication of size. I've got six of these things now and I am confident that the one with problems is the kind of mistake that probably happens with any company.

Made in USA multi-tool pouch
multi-tool sheath comparison on ATS war belt


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Multi-tool Nylon for the War Belt

Patriot Performance Materials Nylon Multi-Tool Sheath in 1000D
So I scored these pouches on ebay for $7.75 shipped. I figured, how could I go wrong? In no time the first one was on my desk, ready to get fitted to my ATS War Belt. I busted it open and started testing it out. According to the information on the ebay page this product was made by Patriot Performance Materials in the USA of 1000D nylon, which you can see in the images. I couldn't find a lot of information on the company and their website does some redirecting to a page that appears to sell other companies' products rather than creations of their own. I didn't do a lot of digging but a few forum threads here and there reported that their products were good-to-go - there was simply no reason not to buy.

Two thoughts struck me as I attempted to insert my Leatherman Wave: one; it doesn't fit and two; it's not really Coyote Tan. It looked a little green and that is sort of reflected in the images. However, I was mostly wrong on both accounts as it turns out. The multi-tool fits like a glove for one thing and for another, I kind of like the color. It would seem to me that the perfect color is one that looks green in a green environment and brown in a brown one - and this color appears to do that. The tag does read Coyote and in the images you can see that outside it matches very closely to the Coyote Tan ATS Belt. So only a few minutes after my initial impressions I had switched from thinking it was a little lame, to really an excellent product. It is neatly made, I actually like the color, and it fits the tool as if it were specifically made for a Leatherman Wave. It is VERY low profile on the belt, being barely wider and deeper than the tool itself. I like to carry the tool "point up" if you think of it like a folding knife, and it works well that way. The brilliance of the Wave and other tools from Leatherman like the Charge, is that you can access the blades without opening the tool and 5 or 6 times out of 10 I am taking my Wave out to use the blades. Leatherman sells a MOLLE ready pouch that also accommodates bits and accessories for the Wave, and there are other good companies with similar offerings and probably at roughly the same price or slightly more. My understanding though, is that the Leatherman sheath is made in China and if you're looking for something low profile, you just can't go wrong here.

Or can you? I liked it so well that I wanted another one and Patriot Performance Material seemed to have some interesting color options beyond the standard. Specifically, they had one called "Wheat" which looked a little more Coyote, but lighter. It turns out that is exactly the case, but then the problems started. This time the tool actually doesn't fit and the pouch itself seems a little ... off ... for lack of a better word, when compared to the first unit. Take a look at the pictures and the captions for the specifics. The upside is that I contacted the seller and in order to make things right, he just sent me 4 more units to try out. That is customer service the likes of which just don't come along too often these days. As soon as they get here I will make an update post and throw in some other things I scored. My plan is to use all these extra pouches on some Kydex Knife Sheaths to carry sharpening stones or Ferro/Magnesium Rods which should make for a pretty cool project. Stay tuned.
Multi-Tool Pouch with Leatherman Wave
Left to right. The tool won't insert any further than what you see here. Next you can see that the webbing was stitched at a different height which suggests that there is just some inconsistency going on with this unit. In the third image you can see that because the webbing is stitched higher the pouch can't be cinched down as tightly as the first pouch. The flap can't reach the bottom of the pouch itself.

'38 Plymouth

Some recent work that needed to find it's way on the website. More fun with smoke brushes, a little motion and unlike some of the other versions of this image seen elsewhere, this one has the hood ornament added in, per client's request.

Shiny red Plymouth doing a massive burnout