Friday, December 24, 2010

Fire Starting With A Firesteel and Wood Shavings

I just got a Kodak Playsport pocket sized camcorder and made my first video.

Hope you find it informative.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Waterproofing Cotton Canvas

A lot of very useful military surplus gear is made from cotton canvas.  Canvas is rugged and depending on the sample, may be somewhat naturally water repellent.  When wet, the fibers swell and keep out more water.

However, if you expect it to be exposed to drenching rain you'll want to treat the canvas with something to make it more water resistant.  Traditionally, this was done with a variety of substances, ranging from boiled linseed oil or beeswax, to alum salts or parafin.

One waterproofing treatment which has been available over the counter for several decades is Sno Seal.  Its main ingredient is beeswax and it's been sold for the purpose of waterproofing leather.  I've been using it for years on stuff like my boots and leather possibles bag.  It's also good for use on holsters because it does not soften the leather.  Last night I decided to give it a try on some canvas.

A few years ago I bought this canvas shoulder bag at a gun show.  It was marked as being a Czech bread or gas mask bag.

It's a nice little bag suitable for carrying some stuff on a day hike.  Here's what it looks like now that I've given it a coat of Sno Seal.

The Sno Seal slightly darkened the canvas and gives it a waxy feel.  If you look closely you can see some beads of water.  After waxing it I held it under a runng faucet for about 20 seconds.  The water ran right off.

If you want to try this I suggest applying some Sno Seal onto a small, inconspicuous area of whatever you're trying to waterproof in case you don't like either the color or feel.

While modern materials have many advantages over traditional outdoor gear, the older stuff still can work well.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lantern Fuel Warning




We have started receiving reports of lanterns developing "run-away" flames where the flame flares up and runs out of control.

When this happens, the only way to extinguish the flame is to smother the lantern.  Place an inverted bucket over the lantern, or shovel dirt on it to extinguish the flame.

Upon investigation, we have discovered that the W.M. Barr & Co. is now packaging Paint Thinner labeled as Klean-Strip® 1-K Kerosene.  I have personally spoken with a representative of the W. M. Barr & Co. to verify this fact.  Here is the link to the MSDS sheet showing that the product they are selling as kerosene is actually paint thinner, and has a flash point of 101 degrees Fahrenheit, and thus should not be used in oil lamps and lanterns.

KLEAN-STRIP 1-K KEROSENE is sold nationwide, and should not be used in any oil lamps or lanterns.


The W.M. Barr & Co. also produces Klean-Strip® Klean Heat® Kerosene Substitute which has a flashpoint of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, can be used indoors in oil lamps and lanterns.

Sunnyside Corporation 1-K Kerosene has a flash point of 124 degrees Fahrenheit, and can be used outdoors in oil lamps and lanterns.

Please be careful with what you put into your lanterns.  Use proper fuel!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Upon buying a new gun …

… the first thing you should after getting it home is to field strip, clean and lubricate it.


A few reasons:

1. You want to verify that it’s in good condition.  As with any factory produced good, sometimes lemons slip out the door.  And with used guns, you want to be sure that there aren’t any hidden signs of neglect or abuse.

2. New guns are frequently shipped not with lubricant but with a long-term corrosion inhibitor.  For example, the blued Ruger P-90 which I used to own came from the factory slathered in an anti-corrosion grease, which was rather sticky.  Others are shipped bone dry, e.g., the stainless Ruger SP-101 which I bought last week.

3. Used guns are frequently filthy with powder and metal fouling and congealed lubricant.   For example, this year I bought myself a birthday present in the form of a WW2 vintage S&W Victory Model revolver.  This is what it looked like inside before I cleaned it:

After a proper clean and lube the action works very smoothly.  Prior to doing so, it could be charitably described as “gooey.”

4. By field stripping, cleaning and lubing a gun that’s new to you, you’ll gain familiarity with the mechanism, which will help you troubleshoot if you run into problems.

If you buy a new gun you should get a owner’s manual with it, detailing proper care.  If not, locate the maker on the web and either call them for a manual (most will mail you one for free) or download a manual.

Manuals are also available from some other sites.  For example, Steve’s Pages is a treasure trove of shooting related information, including a large collection of owner’s manuals in PDF format.  I’ve also seen owner’s manuals on Scribd.

So, before you take a new gun to the range, take some time to learn how to properly maintain it.  Doing so will help ensure that it works when you need it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saturday Night Range Report

Over on Blog O'Stuff, I've posted a range report about three pistols:

  • My old reliable Browning Hi Power Practical.
  • My new Ruger SP-101.
  • My father's new Rock Island Armory M1911A1.

Check it out.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Wool Shirt Update

Last month I wrote about the two wool field shirts I bought, one American and one Canadian.  Now that the weather has cooled down I’ve had the chance to test them out some more.

The American shirt is noticeably softer and less scratchy.  On the other hand the Canadian shirt is a bit heavier and more wind resistant.  I wore the American one as a shirt-jac this morning on my Harbor Freight run and found that it offered little protection against the wind.

After getting back from HF I switched to the Canadian shirt for the time I was out mounting the security light, and I also wore it this afternoon when we all went up to the local playground.  The temp today peaked at about 50 degrees F. but it felt a lot colder due to a constant strong wind.  I was much more comfortable with the Canadian shirt as my outer layer.

Keeping in mind their respective limitations I am very happy with both shirts.  I just wish it was easier to find either of them in size XL.  Even with shipping from Canada, the Canadian shirt was quite a bit cheaper than newly made commercial equivalents.

Harbor Freight Run

I got a flyer from Harbor Freight (the home of cheap Chinese tools)  earlier this week, so this morning after clipping some coupons, I took my younger daughter on a trip to the local store.

Aside from deals on leather work gloves, a cheap set of mechanic’s gloves,a set of hole saws, and a kite for the kids, I picked up a couple things which may be of interest to preppers.

First was a 9 LED flashlight powered by 3 AAA batteries.  With a coupon from the flyer it was free.  Based on past experience with similar Chicom made lights, these cheap LED flashlights work fine for light use.  It’s no replacement for a good flashlight like a SureFires or a Streamlight, but for leaving in the door pocket of my truck as a secondary flashlight , it’s perfect.

More interesting was the 36 LED Solar Security Light (item #98085) with a motion sensor which I got for under $20.  I mounted it to the side of my shed facing my driveway.  It’s powered by a 6V NiCad battery pack which is supposed to charge in 6 to 8 hours of sunlight.

Before mounting it I wrapped some electrical tape around the seam where the front and back meet, in order to improve the weather resistance.  I’m going to look into making a better seal for where the plug from the solar panel attaches to the light itself.

I ran into one problem when mounting it.  The mounting holes on the back are marked as being 2-11/16th” apart.  In reality they are about 2–1/2” apart, which meant I had an extra hole in my shed to fill with some silicone sealant.  That was annoying.

Tonight I reread the instructions which came with it and it said to leave it off for 2 or 3 days before first use, in order to fully charge the unit.  When I went out to turn it off it detected me and lit up the area nicely.  The amount of light it provides is pretty good for my application – lighting up the top of my driveway when we come home at night, and lighting up any nighttime interlopers.  If it works out well I may get a couple more.  Even if the battery pack lasts only a year or two, it’s made up of several AA NiCads, which I can replace easily.

Being NiCads, it’ll be interesting to see how well it works in colder temperatures.  I suspect to see some degradation when it gets below freezing.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Just One Rifle

I recently got this question from a reader:

I was wondering with all you testing of assault rifles, which one would you chose if given the choice, " I can have only one" ?????

First, to be pedantic, an "assault rifle" is a select fire rifle which fires an intermediate power cartridge.  However, in modern American vernacular the term has come to mean a military style semiautomatic rifle.  The meat of my answer follows:

It's not an easy question to answer. Pretty much off the bat I'd narrow my choices down to an AK, an AR-15, and M-1 Carbine, or a VZ-58. Rifles like the FAL, CETME, or G3 are great pieces but I'd want something lighter.

I think at this time I'm leaning towards a Kalashnikov with the following features:

1. Chambered for 7.62x39. With softpoints it offers better terminal ballistics on either criminals or medium game than 5.45x39 or 5.56x45. Ammo is plentiful and cheaper than 5.56, though military surplus 5.45 is the cheapest available centerfire rifle ammo.

2. Folding stock, for storage and transport. I have AKs with fixed stocks, an Ace folder, an East German folder, a Tapco T6 M4-style stock, and an underfolder. The Ace is the most comfortable of the folders but the E. German folder is probably the most robust. A regular fixed stock is the best for comfort and durability. (An exception for me are the Yugoslav fixed stocks. The comb is too high for me to shoot them comfortably.)

3. A flash suppressor. This is mostly to protect the shooter's night vision, not so much conceal him from anyone else. The Norinco Type 84 flash hider seems to work well. Muzzle brakes reduce recoil but greatly increase blast and flash.

4. A red dot sight. My eyes ain't getting any younger and one area a factory stock AK lacks is in the sights. They are OK at short range but suck for work beyond 100 yards. Worse, they are hard to see in low light. Also, if for some reason I don't have my glasses then I can hardly see the iron sights even under perfect conditions. The Combloc side mounts work well but most of them place the optic too high for a good cheek weld. Tonight I installed an Ultimak on my SAR-1 and mounted a Bushnell TRS-1 RDS. This setup is light and mounts the optic so that it cowitnesses with the irons. I.e., I can use the iron sight through the RDS if the latter dies.

5. A milled receiver is nice but not a must-have. In my experience, a milled receiver rifle just feels smoother and more solid than most rifles with a stamped receiver. On the other hand, my Yugo underfolder with a 1.6mm stamped receiver feels as solid as my milled Bulgarian rifles. For some reason my MAK-90 which also has a 1.6mm receiver doesn't feel quite as solid.

6. Plastic handguard with a steel heat shield, like those from K-Var. All you have to do is fire off a couple magazines in quick succession to understand why. Wood handguards, or plastic without a heat shield can get so hot you can't even hold them.

The main reasons for choosing an AK over an AR-15 is ease of maintenance and long term durability. AR-15s are reliable rifles but have a lot more parts, some of which are small, and overall the rifle requires more maintenance. Also, an AR-15 can be rendered inoperable if the buffer tube gets dented or bent. An AK could be made inoperable with damage to the gas tube but it's easier to replace than the AR's buffer tube. That said, the AR-15 has better ergonomics and is generally more accurate, often quite a bit more accurate.

For decades the AK had one big advantage over the AR-15/M-16 in the magazine department. Aluminum AR-15 magazines are about as robust as a soda can. As far as I'm concerned with the advent of the Magpul P-Mag it's now a wash.

My Century Arms VZ-2008 (VZ-58 clone) has turned out to be a reliable piece, after a break in period. My reason for not choosing it is that at least in the US, it's still a bit of an oddball, with comparatively limited access to spare parts or magazines.

Other rifles like the Robinson Arms XCR or the MSAR STG-556 are quality arms but like the VZ-58, spares could be an issue unless you stocked up in advance.

I'm a big fan of the M-1 Carbine. In my experience they've been reliable and they are certainly fun to shoot. However, they are 100 yard guns and .30 Carbine ammo is no longer as plentiful or cheap as it once was. And while .30 Carbine JSPs by all accounts work extremely well on bad guys, it's a marginal round for any game animal larger than a coyote. So, if it came down to having only one semiauto rifle, I'd have to pass on an M-1 Carbine.

Of course, I reserve the right to change my opinion at any time. :-)

Monday, October 04, 2010

US and Canadian Military Surplus Wool Shirts

With colder weather coming soon it's time to start thinking about Fall and Winter clothing.  One old standby for cold weather wear is the USGI M-1951 wool field shirt.

The M-1951 shirts are easily found and cheap, even in near new condition.  Unfortunately, most are size S, M, or L.  The XLs are getting difficult to find.  Last weekend I checked one of the surplus dealers at the Valley Forge gun show and came home with a size Large M-1951 for $15.

The Canadian military issued a nearly identical copy of the M-1951.  I found a Canadian seller on eBay with them in stock and ordered one back on 9/10.  It arrived on 9/21.  After shipping the cost was about $33.

Both shirts appear to be unissued.  The fabric of the Canadian shirt is a little darker than the US shirt, and the Canadian one is made of coarser wool.  The US shirt is noticeably softer to the touch.  Both shirts are made from 85% / 15% wool / nylon.  I'd say construction quality is about equal between the two but the US shirt had more loose threads to snip.

Both shirts feature seams in the back taking in their girth.  If the shirt feels tight around your midsection you can carefully tear out these seams to make it a little larger.

The US shirt is a size L, the Canadian is XL. I am 5'6" and weigh about 180 lbs. (beer gut/built in SHTF food reserve). I wear 34" sleeves and 17.5" neck. The US shirt fits me OK but it would be nice if it was an inch or two longer. The Canadian shirt fits a bit more loosely in the shoulder area, which I find more comfortable. I tried layering them and the Canadian shirt fits comfortably over the US shirt.

I tried each one individually as a layer underneath my Mountain Hardwear Alchemy softshell jacket. For this use the US shirt works better due to the slim cut of the softshell's sleeves.

I wore the Canadian shirt as an outer layer when I went to the range yesterday.  Conditions were partly sunny with temps were in the 50s and it worked well as a light jacket.  Once the temperature got past 60 I had to take it off, since I started to get too warm.

Tonight I wore it on a one mile walk around my subdivision in a light rain with a little bit of wind.  I was especially interested in how weatherproof it is, even though it's not really designed as a wet weather jacket.  I was out for about a half hour and I stayed dry, however.  The contrast between my arms and torso and my legs, which were covered by my jeans, was dramatic.  As expected, the denim of my jeans quickly wet through.  The shirt did not allow any water to pass through until I stuck my arm under a stream coming off the corner of my roof.  The wool shirts won't be replacing my softshell for wet weather (especially if there's wind), but it's nice to know that if I'm wearing it and I get caught in some light rain, my core will remain dry.

One big advantage wool clothing has over modern technical garments is that it's  safer if you're around open flame, including campfires.  If a burning log pops and a spark lands on your wool shirt, no big deal, it'll go right out.  If that same spark lands on fleece, a soft or hardshell, it'll melt a hole in it.

The US and Canadian milsurp wool shirts are old technology but they still work very well.  The USGI shirts can frequently be found for under $20.  Even at $33 shipped, the Canadian shirt is a bargain compared with a similar commercial product.

Friday, October 01, 2010

East Coast Super Soaker

Here on the East Coast we've had a few days of rain, saturating the ground.  Last night we got another heavy storm which dumped about ten inches of rain in my area.  Some places got up to 21 inches.  That, plus the saturated ground resulted in widespread flooding.  The local news is currently showing some deep flooding in Delaware County, including a half-submerged school bus.

When I pulled into the parking lot at my train station this morning there were only a handful of cars.  I parked, turned the radio to the local AM news station, and pulled up SEPTA's web page on my Droid.  Service had been suspended on my train as well as the two other lines I can use as a backup to get into center city Philadelphia.  Parking a full size SUV in downtown Philly would cost me at least $25 for the day, plus getting home would be a real PITA.  At that point I decided to just work from home today.

Some things to keep in mind when dealing with storms involving heavy rain and wind:

  • Pay attention to the weather reports on the radio, TV and/or web.  Keep an ear open for flash flood warnings.
  • Related to that, a smartphone can be very handy for accessing situation reports on the web, aside from communicating via voice, SMS, and email.
  • Keep up with household maintenance such as your gutters, drainage ditches and make sure that any trees near your house are trimmed back.
  • Be aware of road and mass transit conditions, so you don't get stranded somewhere.
  • If possible, have alternate routes, but be aware that you may be stuck in one location for awhile.
  • Since you may get stuck somewhere for awhile, keep enough cash and a credit card with you.  It's also a good idea to keep some emergency supplies in your vehicle.  Don't forget a poncho.
  • Do not try to drive through deep water.  You won't know how deep it is and you can't see what's in it, which could damage your car.  Just as bad you could get stuck.  In some situations you may get swept away.
  • Employers should give strong consideration to allowing employees to work remotely via VPN or other remote access technologies like LogMeIn.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fixing Up a USGI Aluminum Canteen

Last weekend I went to the gun show in Valley Forge and found a 1945 vintage USGI aluminum canteen and carrier for $25.  (I remember when they were a few bucks.)  I like the old metal canteens because unlike plastic vessels you can heat water in them.  Plus, compared with plastic canteens, they're just cool.

The canteen and cap were in good shape but the cork gasket was missing.  So, I went to Lowe's in search of a replacement.  I'd read of using a silicone end cap for for pipes as a source for gasket material, but couldn't find any in stock.  Naturally, the store staff was nowhere to be found.

I did find over in the adhesive section some DAP food/aquarium grade sealant/adhesive. (The link is to Grainger.)  I put a layer a couple millimeters thick inside the top of the cap, being careful to keep it off the threads.  Then I let the goop cure for a couple of days.

Tonight I filled the canteen with water, screwed on the cap, and shook it vigorously.  It didn't leak, so I'm going to chalk up this experiment as a success.

One mod I may make is to attach the cap with a snap link to the body of the canteen.  That will allow me to remove the plastic cap and place the canteen over a fire.

A cheaper alternative to the USGI aluminum canteens are the surplus French aluminum canteens.  They appear to have a wider mouth than the US canteens, which could be handy if you wanted to put ice cubes in it, for example.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bannock: A Simple Camp Bread

A traditional camp food, and one that's easy to make without a full fledged kitchen, is bannock.   I just tried my hand at making bannock for the first time and it came out good.  I used the recipe found here.  In case that link disappears, here is the recipe:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 pinches of salt
  • Sometimes people will add other ingredients like cinnamon or berries.
Mix the ingredients well then mix in enough water to make a dough.  I used regular all purpose flout but you could use whole wheat flour for a more nutritious meal.

Since I was making it for only myself I halved the measurements. 

To cook the bannock I used a new 8" cast iron skillet that I bought this morning at the local supermarket.  I first cooked a few slices of bacon in the skillet to start seasoning it, then drained most of the grease and then put in the dough.  It took up the whole pan but I was able to flip it over after about 5 minutes using a spatula.  Flip it when the bottom is golden brown.  Another five minutes or so and it was done.  Check that it's done by poking the center to make sure the dough is cooked.

I topped the bannock with some grape jelly and had it for lunch along with the bacon.  Tasted great and it's filling.

Depending on how sticky you make the dough (which depends on how much water you add), you can cook bannock by making a "rope" and wrapping it around a stick and then cooking it over a campfire.  I've also read of it being cooked on flat rocks heated in a fire.

For camping or an emergency evacuation, one could make up premixed Ziploc bags of bannock dough, sans water, then cook them up upon reaching a rest stop or campsite.  According to the link above, cooked bannock also freezes well.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Improved Hobo Stove

A few years ago I wrote about a hobo stove which I made from a coffee can.  I got home early today from work and decided to see if I could improve it.  I succeeded and posted my results, along with some pictures, here.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Garmin nuvi GPS Recall

From Garmin:

Garmin is voluntarily recalling certain nüvi devices that contain a specific battery that was manufactured by the battery supplier within a limited date code range. Garmin has identified potential overheating issues when certain batteries manufactured by the third-party battery supplier within a limited date code range are used in certain Garmin nüvi models with a specific printed circuit board (PCB) design. It appears that the interaction of these factors can, in rare circumstances, increase the possibility of overheating, which may lead to a fire hazard. Although there have been no injuries or significant property damage caused by this issue, Garmin is taking this action out of an abundance of caution.
The recalled devices include a small subset of the following nüvi model numbers:

  • nüvi 200W, 250W, & 260W
  • nüvi 7xx (where xx is a two-digit number)
You can determine your nüvi model number by looking at the label on the back or bottom of your nüvi.

Go to Garmin's site and enter in your device's serial number.  It'll tell you if your unit needs to be sent in for service.

Thank you

Thank you to those readers who have purchased stuff after clicking on a link to from this site. Every so often I get a gift certificate from them which helps on my own Amazon orders.

By no means am I making any significant amount of money from my Amazon affiliate links, but their gift certificates are a nice surprise when I do get them.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Standalone vs. Cell Phone Based GPS

A family trip this weekend reiterated for me why I do not think that cell phone based GPSes are viable 100% replacements for dedicated GPSes in your car.  At least, not yet.

We went up to Sullivan County, NY visit with some of my family.  The route we take to get there passes through NE PA, including the Delaware Water Gap.  My cousin, who's house we went to, lives in a rural area in which cell phone signal is spotty and often depends on how you orient your phone.

For navigation we had directions but also brought my Garmin Nuvi 200W, and both my wife and I have Android-based smartphones (a Droid and a Droid 2) with GPS integrated with Google Maps.  The Droids use the Verizon 3G data link to download maps on the fly.  In contrast, the Garmin stores maps locally.

We had no or poor cell phone signal, or no 3G for a good part of the drive.  Notably, the times when we had no signal were the times when the GPS was most needed.  I.e., rural back roads with poor signage and no street lighting.  If we had needed to depend on a phone-based GPS we'd have been out of luck.

There are a few applications designed to allow you to download and store maps offline in case you lose your cell phone signal, e.g., Maps (-).   However, this may not help you if you need to significantly deviate from your route, or if you need the GPS in an emergency and the cell network is down.

If your cell phone GPS usage is limited to areas with good cell coverage and don't consider your GPS unit as part of your emergency preps, then you don't need a standalone unit.  As for me, I'll be updating the maps in my Garmin soon.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

New SAS Smock

In the past I've posted about a couple of cotton jackets which I own, my replica Second Pattern Denison Smock and my EOTac Field Jacket.  Both are nice pieces of kit but I've had a hankering for one of the more modern British combat smocks.  However, I wanted one in olive green, not DPM camo, since OG doesn't stand out as much when wearing it in an urban or suburban environment.

Unfortunately, non-DPM British combat smocks are not easily found on this side of the pond.  Sportsman's Guide currently lists desert DPM camo surplus smocks, along with Mil-Tec branc British-style smocks in CCE camo (which is French, AIUI).  Also, I've seen well-used woodland DPM smocks at I. Goldberg's in Philly, but not in my size.

That left me with one option: ordering a smock from the UK.  I've been eyeballing the smocks from S.A.S.S. for awhile and by all accounts, they are extremely nice.  However, they are really spendy.  Like over $200 after shipping is taken into account.  I really didn't want to spend that amount of money right now.

After some more searching I found the eBay store of "CFI-Military."  He listed a "British Military Army SAS Green Windproof Combat Smock" L42.99 + L25 shipping.  When I ordered one on August 1st, the exchange rate worked out to a total cost of $110 and change.

I was rather pleasantly surprised when the smock arrived a mere five days after I ordered it.  Here is a picture of the smock:

And the garment tag:

The smock is made from olive green 65/35 poly/cotton gabardine fabric.  It has four bellows pockets on the front, two on the chest and two at the bottom of the smock.  There's a map pocket on the top left inside, and two poacher's pockets at the bottom of the smock on the inside.  Each of the poacher's pockets are big enough to hold a field stripped MRE.  There's a pocket on the right sleeve big enough to hold a space blanket or bandage.  On the left sleeve there's a pocket for a pen and a small notepad.

Map and poacher's pockets:

The hood and the shoulders are lined with a second layer of fabric.  The hood had a drawstring in the front and a second one in the back.  I cut the front drawstring to prevent getting choked and put cord locks from REI on each half.  There are drawstrings at the bottom and midriff, which I also added cord locks to.  The two-way, full-length zipper is covered by a stormflap which can be closed with Velcro.  There are rank tab slides (basically vertical epaulets) on both the front and back.  I may remove one or both of these.  The cuffs are adjustable with Velcro tabs.

Cuff detail:

Rather than being sewn directly to the fabric, the buttons are sewn to cotton tapes which in turn are sewn to the fabric.  This makes them easier to work with gloves on.

Detail of pocket flap and button:

Back of the smock showing hood adjustment tape and rank slide:

Upon first inspection, the smock appeared to be generally well made but with a number of excess threads which needed trimming.  However, a closer inspection revealed one defect which would have caused me to return it for an exchange had I purchased it from a domestic supplier.  Specifically, the stitching around the buttonhole of the lower left pocket was very bad and had unraveled.  Since I didn't want to mail it back to England I just got out my sewing kit and redid it myself, which took about a half hour.

I ordered an XL, although it's marked with the metric size 180/108 (height/chest in cm).  Wearing it over a t-shirt there's plenty of room without feeling like I'm wearing a tent, but it also fits comfortably over my Polartec 300 SPEAR jacket.

The sleeves are a little long on me but not uncomfortably so.  The body is long enough so that it covers me down to mid-thigh.  CCW with this smock will be easy.

A couple nights ago I wore the smock on a walk around the block.  It was drizzling and there was a 10 MPH wind, with temps in the 70s F.  Not much of a test but I felt no wind through the tightly woven gabardine.  I'll be able to test it out better once the temp drops about 20 degrees.

Yesterday I washed it in warm water then dried it on the delicate cycle.  I didn't notice any shrinkage.  This morning I sprayed it down with a can of Scotchguard to make it more water repellent and stain resistant.

One may wonder why I'd want a cotton outer garment when I already have modern technical outerwear.  As I've written about previously, cotton or blends have a a few advantages over modern hard and softshells.  First, they are more breathable.  Second, they aren't as vulnerable to sparks flying off a campfire.  Additionally, they are quieter in the woods and may be less reflective of IR.  That said, because cotton is not waterproof like a modern hardshell, when there's the possibility of encountering wet weather it would be prudent to carry either a poncho or a light weight modern waterproof jacket, like my Marmot Precip.  The latter can be worn between the smock and your insulating layer.  Doing so protects the waterproof jacket from wear and tear, is quieter, and allows you to access gear in the smock's pockets.

I'm in the process of equipping the smock so that in effect, it's a wearable survival kit.  So far I've added a first aid kit carried in one of the poacher's pockets, a Silva pocket compass/thermometer in the top left pocket, and a Fisher Space Pen in the left sleeve pocket.  I'll be adding things like a bandanna, a cigar tin based kit with fire starting stuff, a length of paracord, and a few other things.

These smocks are practical wear for when you're out in the woods if you keep the limitations of cotton or poly/cotton garments in mind. The Brits still issue similar smocks as part of their combat kit. Overall, I think the SAS smock from CFI Military is a pretty good deal for us Yanks looking for this type of garment.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Book Review: The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse

I've been meaning to do a review of The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse, by Fernando "FerFAL" Aguirre for quite awhile now.  Well, here it is.

Most of the survival guides which I've seen, such as Tappan On Survival or the works of John Wesley, Rawles (he spells his name with the comma) recommend heading for the hills in the event of a socio-economic collapse, or better yet moving out to an isolated rural location before the SHTF.  This recommendation is based on the theory that if the economy collapses, the have-nots will soon turn their attention to the haves and loot them for food, luxuries, and the womenfolk.  Thus, it's best to maximize the distance between yourself and the urban looters who will come for your stuff once their foodstuffs and supplies are exhuasted.

FerFAL takes a different approach, one worth listening to, because unlike Tappan or Rawles, he has actually lived through an economic collapse.  In his case, it was the 2001 collapse in Argentina, and its aftermath.  Rather than telling you to move to a rural retreat, FerFAL recommends you stay in "civilization" and enhance your skills to cope with how society evolves after a collapse.

One very important point the author makes regarding isolated rural retreats is that if you are attacked, help is a long time coming, and likely won't arrive until well after the criminals are long gone.  Examples of this are white farmers in rural Argentina, South Africa and Zimbabwe, who have suffered horrific home invasions in recent years.  If you're located in an urban area or a suburb, there is a much better chance of help arriving in time.  As with many things, choosing where to live is a balancing act and you need to weigh this factor, along with many other.

Although Argentina's economy collapsed in 2001, by and large the country did not devolve into some Mad Max-esque post-apocalyptic wasteland.  Although crime skyrocketed, people figured out ways to cope.  For example, private security became a booming  field.

While it may not be The Wasteland, property crimes and robberies have become much more common in Argentina.  FerFAL spends a lot of time discussing how to deal with this, from situtational awareness to carrying a pistol for self defense.  American survivalists often fixate on the best rifle for a SHTF scenario. In reality, the most important gun to have in the one you can take with you.  IOW, a pistol.  FerFAL favors a Glock and also likes the Argentine FM Hi Power (a Browning Hi Power produced under license from FN).  In general, he likes high capacity modern pistols since there are numerous cases where a good guy is confronted with several assailants.  Here in the US most defensive gun uses don't even require shots fired since criminals are generally loather to confront someone resisting with deadly force.  In the aftermath of an economic collapse, criminals may be more desperate, and thus more willing to take risks.  This is something to take into account if things ever get to that point in the US.

That said, after you get a suitable pistol and holster, you should still have a suitable home defense rifle or shotgun.

Aside from the dramatic increase in crime, one thing FerFAL emphasizes is that in the aftermath of an economic collapse, one of the keys to survival is adaptability.  In other words, you may need to change how you make your living, and may need to do a variety of things rather than holding down just one job.

FerFAL also discusses the use of precious metals (PMs) as barter material/alternate currency after a monetary collapse.  Reading his take on this (both in the book and on his blog) caused me to reevalute my own position on PMs, which I'd previously dismissed.

FerFAL's book is not without its faults.  The book is self-published.  English is not his first language and it would benefit from the attention of an editor.  There's also some coarse language which some people may find offputting.  That said, this book is unique (or nearly so) in that it is based on the real life experience of living through an economic collapse.  As such, it deserves a spot on the shelf of anyone concerned about the direction in which the US is heading.

Heimo's Arctic Refuge

Heimo's Artic Refuge is a 53 minute video about the Korth family, some of the last people living a real frontier lifestyle in the wilds of the Alaskan Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

If you liked Alone in the Wilderness with Dick Proenneke, you'll like this.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Amazon Sales on Swiss Army Knives

FYI, Amazon is heavily discounting Swiss Army Knives. No emergency/survival kit is complete without one.  (Yes, that's an Amazon Associates link.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Safepacker Holster

In a previous post I recommended bringing a pistol along with you when taking a walk in the woods for defense against both criminals and animals, especially wild or unrestrained aggressive dogs.  When carrying a pistol it is important to have a good holster which will both protect the gun and allow for easy access.

The gun I've carried the most frequently is a Smith & Wesson Model 640, which is a small 5 shot revolver.  It's small enough to fit into a pocket.  I've frequently carried it in a pocket holster in a cargo pocket in my EOTac Field Jacket.  However, I've wanted to pack something with a bit more punch and that's easier to shoot under stress. I also wanted something with a higher capacity, after encountering a couple of unleashed dogs simultaneously.

Since I don't need to be concerned with large wild animals in Pennsylvania (I am not worried about black bear), this meant one of my 9mm autoloaders -- a Springfield XD9, Browning High Power, or SIG P225.  (I might be willing to go with a 6 shot revolver if it's a medium frame piece in .38 Special or .357 Magnum.)

Concealed carry was also desirable.  Although open carry is legal Pennsylvania (including in Philadelphia so long as you have a concealed carry permit) it tends to draw unwanted attention from law enforcement and urbanites unaccustomed to anyone other than a cop carrying a pistol.

Based on these requirements and reading several reviews posted on some online forums, I decided to give the Safepacker from The Wilderness a try.  I ordered on in the "Commander" size which would fit any of the pistols mentioned above.

The Safepacker is made from nylon fabric over a closed cell neoprene foam core.  The main body of the holster has two compartments, one for the gun and the other for a reload.  The main compartment is covered by a flap which is secured by a fastex buckle.  The front edge of the main compartment is closed with Velcro, allowing an easy draw.  The flap also has hidden pocket secured with Velcro.  On the back there's a wide belt loop that wraps around and secures with Velcro on both the back and the front.  The top has a hand carry loop and two D-rings for adding a shoulder strap (not included).  The Wilderness ships Safepackers with a small carbiner snapped to one of the D-rings, to hold your keys, etc.

My Safepacker is black and could be easily mistaken for a case for binoculars or other gear, as it doesn't really look like a holster.  Fabric and stitching are of high quality and don't look like they would show appreciable wear for quite some time.

After receiving the Safepacker I tried it out with a few of my pistols.  As expected, the XD9 and Browning High Power fit perfectly.  Out of curiousity I also put my Springfield M1911A1 in it.  The Springer is a full size 1911 with a 5" barrel and despite my Safepacker being labeled as the "Commander" size, my full size 1911 fit fine.

I also tried it with my 1952 Polish Tokarev which fits well, as does my 2" S&W Model 15 revolver.  It would probably take up to a 3" K-Frame as long as it had a round butt.  A 2" J-Frame fits with plenty of room to spare. I'd like to find a 2.5" Ruger Speed Six to try but they are pretty uncommon.  Anything larger will require the "Government Model" size Safepacker, or larger.

As with any holster, how comfortable it is when carrying depends in large measure upon your belt.  You can have the best holster ever made, but if you hang it off some wimpy belt it will flop around, droop, and generally be uncomfotable.  For the past several years my everyday belt even when I'm not packing has been a Mitch Rosen gunbelt purchased from Dillon Precision.  It's stiff and supports the weight of a holstered handgun well.  The Wilderness sells their "Instructor" belts which are also suitable for use as a gunbelt, but would look out of place in my normal business casual dress.

After using the Safepack for the first time I am quite pleased with it.  The wide belt loop stabilizes the entire unit on my belt and it's comfortable to wear.  The loop will allow you to attach the holster to a backpack's waistbelt, something most holsters cannot accomodate.  Accessing the pistol is similar to other full flap holsters, though I find the Fastex buckle especially easy to undo while still being secure.  It's definitely easier than releasing the flap on a GI M12 holster, for example.  Further, the design of the Safepacker lends itself to use as a pistol case for transport to and from the range or for storage.

If you're in need of a well made flap holster which offers excellent protection for your gun, while at the same time not looking like a holster, you should give the Safepacker from The Wilderness a very close look.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Do You Have a Backup Water Supply?

Most Americans take a reliable supply of safe drinking water for granted.  For most of us, it's a given.  However, this weekend the greater Boston metropolitan area was placed under an advisory to boil water due to a rupture in a gigantic underground water pipe.  Over two million folks were affected.

In other locales safe water supplies have been interrupted, for example, many areas of the Gulf Coast lost most major utilitites, including water, after Hurricane Katrina.  Aside from natural disasters, there's also the specter of terrorists contaminating the water supply or attacking treatment plants.

 There are a few things you can do to prepare yourself for a water supply interruption:

  • First, store some water in your home.  Empty 2L and 3L soda bottles work well for this.  Clean them out thoroughly with hot soap and water, add a drop or two of plain, unscented sodium hypochlorite bleach, and store in a cool dark place.  Bottled water from the store is of course fine, but more expensive than doing it yourself.  FEMA recommends storing a minimum of one gallon of water per person per day, for at least three days' worth.  This is really cutting it close, especially for hot environments when you may be expected to be exerting yourself, e.g., cleaning up hurricane damage.
  • If you have advanced notice of a possible water supply interruption, fill your bathtubs and any buckets you have.  Even if this water isn't drinkable you can use it for flushing toilets.
  • Second is having a water filter.  The small hand pump units sold for use by hikers work but require a lot of manual effort.  Better are gravity based units.  I recently bought a Katadyn TRK Drip Gravidyn Water Filter from  The Katadyn unit basically consists of two stacking plastic buckets and three filter elements.  You pour contaminated water into the upper bucket then wait for it to drain through the filters into the bottom bucket.  You can then get your filtered water via a spigot in the bottom bucket.  The Big Berkey Water Filter System with 2 Black Berkey Filter Elements
    is a similar system but is made from stainless steel instead of plastic.
  • It's also a good idea to keep a gallon or so of chlorine bleach around for disinfecting water.  The EPA recommends using 8 drops per gallon, while the American Red Cross recommends twice that.
  • When disinfecting water, whether by using bleach or a filter like the Katadyn or Berkey, it's a good idea to strain it through something like a coffee filter or cloth first, if it's at all cloudy.  Doing so will extend the life of your filter and help remove unpleasant crunchy bits.
  • In my opinion, boiling water is the last resort for making it safe to drink.  Boiling takes time and uses fuel, both of which may be in short supply after a disaster.
Safe drinking water is critical for sustaining life.  Think ahead and get prepared so that if your supply is interrupted you have something to fall back upon.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Some Random Observations After a Walk in the Woods

Over the past few weekends I've been able to get out in the woods a few times.  Some random observations:

1. BDU pants are better than jeans for woods loafing.  The looser fit makes navigating steep trails easier.  The BDU's tighter weave may also be somewhat less water absorbent than denim.

2. A hat with an all-around brim is better than a ball cap.  On my walk yesterday I wore an OD boonie hat which I picked up last week at I. Goldberg's in Philly.  The 360* brim provides better protection against sun and rain, especially for your ears and neck.  Also, compared with a hood, a hat allows you to better hear your surroundings.

3. In dense woods you'll frequently hear people well before you see them, if you're not making too much noise yourself.

4. If your pack has a sternum strap use it.  Without the sternum strap, the shoulder straps of my Maxpedition Baby Condor sometimes slip off my shoulders.  The sternum strap keeps them in place and also seems to put a little weight onto my chest, further distributing it.

5. Waterproof footwear is good.  If it's rained recently you're going to run into muddy spots on the trail.  I'm quite pleased with my Merrell Moab Gore-Tex cross trainers.

6. A walking stick makes traversing steep terrain a lot easier.  I've been using my Irish Blackthorn walking stick from Fashionable Canes.  Aside from steadying yourself, a walking stick can be used as a pole for a fly, and in extremis makes a decent weapon.

7. Related to no.6, carry a pistol if you can, especially if you will be in an area in which you'll be encountering people.  Unfortunately, there are bad people in the woods, but just as frequently you'll encounter dogs.  Now, I like dogs but they are potentially aggressive, dangerous animals.  And a lot of people seem to think it's perfectly OK to let their dogs roam free, and if you run into one that's less than friendly, you're going to want something to defend yourself with.  Against a pack of dogs a walking stick isn't going to cut it.

8. Whenever you venture into the forest there's the possibility that you'll need to stay overnight.  You could get lost, bad weather could blow in unexpectedly, or you could get injured.  Bring some supplies with you to make it more comfortable.  At a minimum, bring the following:

* Water in a canteen or bottle, a metal cup in which to heat water.
* At least two ways of starting a fire (e.g., matches and a lighter).
* Tinder.  In an emergency you don't want to be searching high and low for dry tinder.  Take a ziploc bag full of dryer lint and/or commercial tinder like Esbit hexamine tabs.  A couple sticks of fatwood will help you get a fire going quickly.
* A flashlight and/or headlamp.  The latter is very handy because you don't need a hand to use it.
* A poncho or lightweight tarp.  I like a poncho because it's more of a multipurpose item.
* At least 20 feet of strong string.  I like paracord (AKA 550 cord).
* A sharp knife.  It doesn't need to be big.
* Some high energy snacks.
* A pocket sized space blanket.  These will help break the wind and retain body heat.  The silver or gold color also makes you more visible to rescue parties.
* Some method of signalling for help. If you're in an area with cell service, nothing beats a cell phone.
* Don't forget to let someone know where you're going and when you expect to return.

Friday, April 09, 2010

A Couple New Traditional Knives

I just picked up a couple new traditional knives from SMKW.

(Click thumbnails for full sized pictures.)

First, a Condor Nessmuk knife:

Condor Nessmuk Knife

For a knife that costs less than $30, it's not bad.  Fit and finish are OK, not great.  It's comfortable in the hand and slices pretty well, now that I sharpened it and polished the bevel.  (The edge needed work out of the box.)  I may smooth the matte finish of the rest of the blade then give it a nice patina with vinegar or mustard. The sheath is good, heavy leather and was stitched well.

Next, we have a Case Trapper with chrome vanadium blades and red jigged bone handles.  Workmanship is excellent and both blades came shaving sharp.

Case CV Trapper

Finally, I put them together with a 'hawk I've had for awhile, for a "Nessmuk Trio."

Nessmuk Trio

Not much you couldn't do in the woods with these three tools.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Important Info About Credit Cards

One of the most important things about emergency preparedness is getting you financial house in order.  For the past several decades, credit cards have been a critical part of most Americans' finances.  How they will be issued and the fees associated with them will be changing.

This article from Yahoo Finance gives you a summary of how things will be changing.  If you don't use credit cards, great.  If you're like most Americans and you do use them, read the article to get an overview of what to expect.

Monday, March 08, 2010

PSL-54C Range Report

A couple of weeks ago I picked up a PSL-54C rifle.  Anyone in need of a semiautomatic centerfire rifle firing a full power round, which is easily scoped, should give the PSL a look.  If the PSL meets your needs the combination of relatively low cost and cheap ammo makes it a worthwhile option.

I got the PSL to the range for the first time yesterday, and posted a report over at Blog O'Stuff.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Smartphones and Facebook in the Aftermath of the Haitian Earthquake

I ran across this story from Haiti today, about how a smartphone and Facebook were used in the aftermath of the recent earthquake.

You cannot count on cell phone or Inter service being available in the aftermath of a disaster, but you should be prepared to take advantage of them if they are available.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Commuter SNAFU

Tonight's commute home turned into a real SNAFU and an example of why you should be prepared to deal with unexepected situations, especially during Winter.

Background: I work in Center City Philadelphia, PA, and commute to and from there on the SEPTA R6 line.  In the past week, we had two Nor'easters blow through, dumping around 40 inches of snow in the  Philadelphia region.  (We're at 71.6" of snow for the season, making it Philly's snowiest on record.)

My ride into town today was delayed about 45 minutes.  My train home was a few minutes late leaving Suburban Station, then when we got a bit past Temple, sat on the tracks for about 40 minutes.  Apparently, a switch was frozen in place, preventing my train from getting on the correct track for the remainder of the trip.  Eventually, we got diverted to Wayne Junction, a station not on the R6 line. Incidentally, it's not in what I'd call a good neighborhood.  More like, "Da hood."

I got off the train at Wayne Junction and called my wife and asked her to come get me.  Thankfully, she exactly where to meet me, since she drives by the station on her way to work.  I had to wait at least 45 minutes for her to arrive, however, due to heavy Friday night traffic and poor road conditions left over from the storms.

OK, so why is this a preparedness post?  A few reasons:

1. The temperature was in the 20s.  I was appropriately dressed in a fleece vest, Wall's Blizzard Pruf jacket, wool gloves, ball cap, and Merrell Outlander boots with wool socks.  I started to get cold about 10 minutes before my wife showed up but I could have held out a while longer.  Many of the other people on the train weren't as well dressed for the conditions, most notably in the lack of a hat and/or hood on their jacket.  Also, while tight pants and high heeled boots look great on fit young women, they don't insulate all that well, nor are such boots good for walking in snow.

2.  I was stuck down in the 'hood and needed someone to come get me.  Commo was in the form of my cell phone, a Motorola Droid.  This helped me in identifying exactly where I was with the built-in GPS and Google Maps.  My battery was getting on the low side so I was able to swap it out for a fully charged spare.  (This is one reason why I won't get an iPhone -- no user-swappable battery.)  If the Droid had failed I also have a Blackberry on me, which I have because I'm a floor captain at work.  I'd say for most folks a second cell phone is overkill as long as you have a spare charged battery, or some kind of booster that you can plug into your cell phone.

3. On the way home, we got diverted onto a side street.  Now I understand why Philly schools have been closed since Wednesday.  The roads in Philly are atrocious.  The side street was covered in a good 6" of hard packed snow with ruts.  My wife's Mazda 5 got caught in a rut so I got out an pushed, to make sure she didn't drift into a parked car.  I was really glad I was wearing my Merrells.

Two things I will change: I'll add a knit watch cap and a snack bar or two to my bag.  I already have a 24 oz. Nalgene bottle of water, a flashlight with spare batteries, first aid kit, and even a space blanket.  Had it been raining or snowing I had an umbrella to keep the precipitation off.

Just because you're within the realm of "civilization" doesn't mean you won't have to deal with some uncomfortable situations.  Be prepared. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snowpocalyspe Gear Review

As you may know, the Mid-Atlantic region just got hit with the second Nor'Easter in less than a week.  This has given me the chance to wring out some gear.

Troy-Bilt 5524 snow blower: I bought this about five years ago directly from the manufacturer.  At the time it was their smallest two-stage unit, with a 24" wide by 18" high cut.  It's worked spendidly this week, though the 5.5 HP engine did get bogged down a bit at one point by the heavy wet snow we got this time.  As long as I took care not to try and force it through too much snow at a time.  I believe that the current model is a little more sophisticated than mine, e.g., it has a crank to adjust the chute.

Wall's Blizzard Pruf Jacket : This is a traditional cotton canvas work jacket with a hood that I picked up at WalMart last year.  Carhartt and Dickies sell similar jackets.  It's fleece lined and warm into the upper 20s with no extra layers underneath.  Because it's cotton, I sprayed it down with a NixWax water repellency treatment, which helps a little.  I wore it for several hours out in blowing snow yesterday and I stayed warm and dry, but even after brushing off most of the snow, it got wet once I came inside and the snow melted.  It takes a long time to dry, too.  Good for work around the house but I wouldn't want it in the field if I expected foul weather, unless I had a shell or poncho to put over it.

Mountain Hardwear Alchemy Softshell Jacket
: I bought this at REI last Fall and have worn it a lot while commuting.  It's very water resistant -- unless you're in a sustained downpour it'll keep you dry.  It's also windproof.  I wore this over a wicking t-shirt, flannel shirt, and my REI Polartec 200 fleece vest when I went out last night to clean off the cars again and wound up staying outside for about a half hour to do one more run with the snowblower.  Even though it was in the 20s with a strong wind I stayed warm and dry.  I wore it again today when cleaning up after the snowplow came through and it was plenty warm.

If I was sedentary in this weather the Alchemy wouldn't be warm enough, but for strenous activity it's fine.  The main thing I'd change on this jacket would be to make the cut a bit less slim in the sleeves, to facilitate layering over a fleece jacket.  Also, pit zips would be nice, and the next softshell jacket I buy will probably have a hood.

Orc Industries PCU Level 5 Softshell Pants:  These are USGI technical softshell pants. I ordered these factory direct on February 2nd, after Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow.  They arrived yesterday.  I wanted something that I could wear over jeans, BDU pants, sweats, or even just long johns that would be water resistant, wind proof, and more breathable than my German surplus rain pants.  I am quite pleased with them.  Note that these are not waterproof, but the only moisture that made its way inside was when I sat on a chair with some snowmelt, and even then my behind didn't get too wet.  They are very windproof, as well.  IMO, these make a good, less expensive alternative to civilian technical pants.  Unlike some civvie softshell pants, these have no fleece lining, so they're just a shell.

One feature of these pants that I took advantage of are loops inside down near the hem on each leg.  I used these today to tie on some paracord stirrups to hold the pants down over the tops of my boots to seal out the snow.  I didn't do that yesterday and they rode up exposing my ankles.

Military Morons has a good review of the Orc pants here, which find I very on-target.

REI merino wool hiking socks: I wear these or similar socks from Wigwam every day, unless I'm wearing sandals.  Comfy and warm, even when wet.

Merrell Outland Mid-Height Boots:
These are waterproof and although not insulated, in combination with my REI merino wool socks are warm enough down into the teens when I'm active. They come up a bit over my ankles so for this storm I could've used higher boots.  (Once I made paracord stirrups to prevent my softshell pants from riding up this was a non-issue.)  The Merrells have good Vibram soles which provide good traction on slippery surfaces.  The one downside to these boots is that they are not very breathable, resulting in sweaty feet if it's warm.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

New Address and Site for The Shooters' Bar

The Shooters' Bar -- the Internet's oldest freely-available list of pro-RKBA attorneys has a new site and a complete site redesign.  Updating TSB had become a bit of a pain as the list grew.  The new site has one page per state and allows me to more easily update it using RapidWeaver, from where I can then upload the changes to the Web.

The new address is

If you maintain a page which links to the old version, please update your link.

Finally, along with the new site are some new attorney listings.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Marmot PreCip Jacket Review

Yesterday while up at REI checking out their Winter clearance sale I wound up coming home with a Marmot PreCip rain jacket (which unfortunately was not on sale).

For several years I've taken a layered approach to outerwear since it allows you to combine different garments to meet changing climate conditions on the fly. I have a couple of hardshells and a softshell. One could say I've become a bit of a jacket whore. What caught my eye about the Marmot Precip was the very light weight, which I find attractive since I spend a couple hours each day commuting on a train to and from work in Center City Philadelphia. A heavy jacket is nice if I'm waiting for the train but can get uncomfortable once I'm actually on it.

Anyway, Marmot bills the Precip as "value-oriented rainwear for backcountry and urban travelers." It weighs only 13 oz. and is made using Marmot's PreCip DryTouch breathable laminate. Note that the laminated is bonded to the outer ripstop nylon shell and there's no lining. Some reviews have noted delamination after a few years but Marmot has replaced those jackets under warranty. Other features of the jacket include a generously sized, adjustable hood which fits comfortably over a hat, pit zips for ventilation, two zippered pockets, a shock corded hem, double storm flap over the zipper, and taped seams. The hood can be rolled up and secured with a Velcro tab. The PreCip jacket is available in a variety of colors, ranging from subdued to putrid. Mine is "Dark Cedar," which is very close to USAF sage green. It's a nice low key color that looks good in the city or the woods.

Marmot notes on their site that the PreCip is sized for layering over a fleece or softshell. I found the sizing to be good, fitting comfortably over my Polartec 300 SPEAR fleece or my REI Polartec 200 hoodie. Compared with my other hard shells the sleeves seem better sized for layering, allowing more freedom of movement.

Yesterday was nice with a temp around 50 degrees F. and a good breeze. I took a one mile walk with my family around the neighborhood in the new jacket. I had it layered over a couple t-shirts and the REI fleece hoodie. The combination was comfortable but after about 10 minutes I opened the pit zips. Today the weather was more typical of January: upper 30s with a steady rain and some wind. I took another one mile walk, this time wearing the PreCip over a t-shirt, cotton flannel shirt, and an REI fleece vest made from Polartec 200. This combination was comfortable for the half hour I was out. The PreCip blocked the wind well and kept my upper half totally dry, even when I stood under a fairly heavy stream of water dripping from a tree in my yard. Again, the pit zips were welcome. The hood fit well over my ball cap and kept my head and face dry. It doesn't "batten down the hatches" as much as the hood on my Mountain Hardwear Exposure II parka, but this shell is more of a rain jacket than the mountaineering-oriented Exposure II.

A couple changes which would improve the PreCip jacket in my opinion would be a mesh lining for better ventilation and protecting the waterproof laminate, a Napolean pocket and perhaps making the body a couple inches longer. If Marmot does lengthen the design they should add a two-way zipper, as well.

The lightweight PreCip packs up into a small space and would be a good choice for a traveler needing a shell that can be stowed in a carry on bag. It protects well against rain and wind. The light weight does come at a price. I can't see the PreCip as being as durable as heavier hard shells. For brush busting in the woods or activities like three-gun, in which you might find yourself rolling around on the ground, something heavier will stand up to abuse better. However, for trail hiking, travel, and commuting, the PreCip looks like it should be a good choice.

ECWCS Fleece SPEAR Jacket

For a little while I've been looking for a new fleece jacket, since my trusty old Columbia Titanium jacket is starting to show its age.  However, spending North of a hundred clams for something made from recycled soda bottles wasn't sitting well with me.  For example, I am very unimpressed with the very popular Denali from The North Face, and the only heavyweight fleece from Mountain Hardware that my local REI carries is the Monkey Man.  No thanks, I don't want to look like Sasquatch.

So, in looking around online at the beginning of January I ran across the "Polartech Fleece Jacket, ECWCS Liner" at Omaha's.   This is a black fleece jacket made of Polartech 300 issued to GIs as part of the ECWCS layering system.  I've seen the same jacket advertised as a "SPEAR (Special Personal Equipment Advanced Requirements) jacket."  For $39.95 and made in the USA, I figured it was worth a shot.

The shipment from Omaha's arrived six days after I ordered for the jacket, along with a few other items.  Upon inspection, the ECWCS Liner is a pretty standard fleece jacket.  The labels inside show that it was made for Goodwill Industries and there is a NSN (NATO Stock Number).

It has two handwarmer pockets and two large mesh pockets inside.  The zipper is two-way.  The ends of the sleeves are adjustable with Velcro tabs.  There is a windproof nylon yoke, along with nylon patches along the outsides of the forearms.  The yoke does not cover the back of the two-ply collar, which is a bit disappointing.  Also, the collar cannot be fully zipped all the ay up over my 17" neck.   Sizing in the rest of the torso is a little generous.  I ordered a Large and while the sleeve length is perfect the body is a bit long, which is OK because it won't ride up if I bend over.  (I am 5'6" tall, with a 44" chest, 34" sleeves, and a beer gut.) I suspect a Medium would've fit but this fits comfortably over a sweater.  The armpits have pit zips for ventilation. The bottom hem can be tightened with elastic shock cords on both sides.

Like most fleece jackets, the ECWCS Liner is not very wind resistant.  To test it I took a walk around my block the night it arrived.  The temperature was 29 degrees F., with a 5 MPH breeze.  I wore the jacket over typical city clothes: a cotton undershirt and a cotton/poly button down Oxford shirt.  What I found was that as expected, the breeze -- whether from my walking or the wind -- penetrated the fleece easily.  Until I warmed up from the walk I felt a chill where the breeze was blowing against me.  However, it wasn't too bad and I could tell that if worn under a shell, the ECWCS Liner would provide good insulation.   I tried it out under my EOTac Field Jacket and my Mountain Hardwear soft shell, and it seems to layer a bit better than my Columbia jacket.  The sleeve adjustment tabs slip inside the outer garment more easily.

Since getting the ECWCS jacket I've worn it into work a couple of times.  Once was under my soft shell and once by itself layered over another fleece, on a calm day.

I am happy with this purchase.  The jacket is warm, comfortable, pretty well made, and a good alternative to the high priced fleece jackets from name brands.