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.