Category Archives: Gear

Gear for hiking, survival, and outdoor activities.

Accessorize Your Adventures: Patches (Part 1)

Accessories. Definitely unnecessary to a safe and wholesome adventure, but sometimes a little something extra is worth bringing along to share your pride, have some fun, or both!

Patches are one of those accessories that even ultra-light hikers can get behind to lighten up the atmosphere even if the 1 ounce (28 gram) piece of flair doesn’t lighten the load. Here is our first batch of overviews for Velcro/hook-and-loop patches that highlight some ways to stand out.

Camelbak hydration system with G&C American flag.

Above: Camelbak Thermobak (or click here for referral link to support us) hydration system which features a durable 500D nylon construction, 3 liter (100 ounce) capacity, and thermal material to keep your water at or below ambient temperature. Also check out the latest Thermobak Omega with new-generation camouflage (or click here to support us). I added on a green/forest green  American flag patch from Gadsden and Culpepper to add some flair. G&C-made or sourced patches are the best quality I’ve come across, so don’t be fooled by cheaper imitations!

Tactical Tailor Fight Light Operator Removable pack with 5.11 Eagle patch.
5.11 Eagle patch on a Tactical Tailor Fight Light Operator Removable pack .

Above: Tactical Tailor proudly designs and manufactures their equipment, like this Fight Light Operator Removable Pack (or click here to support us), in the USA. Although a little smaller than a typical backpack, this durable and functional is equipped with a quick-attachment system to add this pack to a larger piece of kit, such as a MALICE pack or traditional backpacking pack. With a 3×5-inch (7.6×12.7 cm) patch panel a variety of patches can be added including name, rank, blood type, or morale patches like the 5.11 Eagle patch.

Condor MA54 T&T pouch with ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Awesome Mix Vol. 1 cassette patch.
‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Awesome Mix Vol. 1 cassette patch on a Condor T&T pouch.

Above: The Condor MA54 T&T Pouch (or click here to support us) is a 10×7.5×1.5-inch (25.4×19.0x3.8 cm) pouch with MOLLE attachments and MOLLE straps to attach or be attached to other gear. It works reasonably well as a writing surface when attached to a chest rig, but can also act as a catch-all utility bag due to its internal pockets.

The Awesome Mix Vol. 1 patch (or support us here) is made by Titan One and is based on the prop from the comic book super-hero movie adaptation ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’ A fun 2.0×3.5-inch (5.0×8.9 cm) patch for large patch panels! Also sold as an iron-on!

Shown below is also a 5.11 patch depicting 5-ace-ace (5-1-1), the company’s own name, on the T&T Pouch. There’s plenty of space for multiple morale patches or to stick on other gear with a hook-and-loop/Velcro attachment.

Condor T&T pouch with 5.11 cards patch.

Above: One of the smallest pieces of gear to hold odds and ends, this Condor Pocket Pouch (or support us here) is a handy zippered, fold-out pouch with a standard-size 2.0×3.5-inch (5.0×8.9 cm) patch panel. Shown beside the Condor MA54 T&T Pouch for scale, it stores all the smalls you need to carry with you. Pens, a small notepad, identification, a small multitool, and anything else that is worth keeping within hand’s reach will fit into this 6.75×4.75-inch (17.1×12.0 cm) pouch. MOLLE strips will attach this to any appropriate tactical gear or carry it separately as a discreet, pocket-sized EDC bag.

Whether or not a pouch this size is useful will vary by individual and their existing gear, however some of the Condor Pocket Pouches are even sold as a set with a Condor American flag patch (standard size), which makes this an especially good deal for those that want it.


Stay tuned for more accessories, including a credit card-sized multitool, self-defense gear, and more morale-boosting gear.


As always I have used embedded links to the products which I’m reviewing. As I’m not sponsored by any organizations or companies it’s important to me that I provide “safe” and direct, referral-free links to the items I use, review, and may ultimately donate to conservationists and anti-poaching rangers in the field. However I’ve also included, in parenthesis, links to the same products while using a referral code. Following these links and placing an anonymous purchase through Amazon supports my adventures and future gear purchases and means I don’t have to rely on advertisements. All support is greatly appreciated.

Equipment & Gear: Ka-Bar Mule Folder Knife (2-3051-6)

KA-BAR (usually pronounced kay-bar) has a long history of use in the United States and became famous for being a dependable and choice pick for American soldiers during the Second World War. The brand name Ka-Bar also has an interesting origin and the fighting knives carrying this branding are known for being manufactured by Union Cutlery Co. in Olean, New York, USA.

Ka-Bar Mule Field Folder Knife model being reviewed:

Part Number Ka-Bar 2-3051-6
Blade Color Black
Product Dimensions 9.125 x 1.625 x 0.75 inches (0.125″ thick blade)
Item Weight 208 grams (7.3 ounces)
Metal Type AUS-8A Stainless Steel (Taiwanese manufacture)
Knife Origin Blade made in Taiwan.
Warranty Description Limited warranty of the life of the original purchaser.
Ka-Bar MULE Folder knife, made in Taiwan/China.
Ka-Bar MULE Folder knife, made in Taiwan/China.

Preface: The Mule Field Folder is not a folding version of Ka-Bar’s world-renowned Combat Knife. It differs from its larger counterparts in a variety of areas including where the blade is manufactured and the type of steel used in its construction. Yet it still carries the full backing and quality of Ka-Bar knives.

I bought this knife with intention of finding a pocket knife that had the same versatility and same utility as the  SOG Trident Tanto Assisted Folding Knife which I use frequently and have a review of here. Based purely on the specifications of the knife blade, as well as the price, I assumed that these two knives, while obviously  different, would provide a good apples-to-apples comparison of the two company’s efforts at fulfilling the market’s need for a good, long-lasting folding knife that didn’t break the bank. And at around $40-60 either of these knives promise to be inexpensive enough that losing them would not weigh heavily on one’s conscience, while also being the sort of durable tool that could be passed down to another family member.

KABAR Mule (top) and SOG Trident TF-7 (bottom).
KABAR Mule (top) and SOG Trident TF-7 (bottom).

However I didn’t take into account the differing ideologies that shaped these knives and ultimately the intended uses that these two knives were designed for. Just picking them up it becomes apparent that two very different sets of ideas went into making these knives, despite that they can be used for identical purposes.

Size & Blade Length: The Ka-Bar Mule Folder is a true pocket knife in the sense that it has a 3.875-inch long blade that fits in your pocket. The knife’s 208 gram (7.3 ounces) weight will not ever go forgotten in your pocket or on your belt. And being just more than twice the weight of the SOG Trident TF-7 gives a much more commending presence in the hand. Dispensing with weight restrictions this pocket knife incorporates a hefty Zytel handle with rubber grips that, while made of a similar material as the SOG, is thicker and ergonomically shaped to fit in the user’s closed hand.

Top: Ka-Bar Full-size Fighting knife with 20-degree "Tanto" style blade shape. Second from top: Ka-Bar Small Fighting Knife with 20-degree "Clip" style blade. Second from bottom: Ka-Bar Mule Folder with 15-degree "Clip" style blade. Bottom: SOG Trident with a "Tanto" blade.
Top: Ka-Bar Full-size Fighting knife with 20-degree “Tanto” style blade shape. Second from top: Ka-Bar Small Fighting Knife with 20-degree “Clip” style blade. Second from bottom: Ka-Bar Mule Folder with 15-degree “Clip” style blade. Bottom: SOG Trident with a “Tanto” blade.

From end to end the Mule (see above; second from bottom) is a whopping 9.125 inches long when opened. Closed it’s a more modest 5.25 inches. This is a very respectable size and as the blade is just shy of 4 inches it’s legal to carry in many states and provinces (but always check before purchasing a knife!). For comparison Ka-Bar’s Short Fixed-blade Fighting Knife is 9.375 inches and the larger Full-size Fixed-blade Fighting Knife is 11.75 inches.

At the thickest point Ka-Bar claims the Mule’s blade is 1/8th of an inch thick, a bit less than the thicknesses of the Small and Full-size Fighting Knives (0.125 inches compared to 0.165″).

About half of the blade’s edge is serrated with deep teeth perfect for cutting through nearly anything. The serrations are more pronounced than I’ve seen on other knives in this category and work extremely well on the basic things that I have intentionally and unintentionally cut with it: paracord, double-walled corrugated cardboard, and my thumb.

Ka-Bar Mule Field Folder

Versions & Modifications: The Mule comes in serrated- and non-serrated edge versions and some versions offer a polished steel blade finish or a black blade. A variety of handle colors are also available, including a neon green zombie edition.

The belt clip is designed to be taken on and off as needed can can be reversed for left- or right-side use. In my opinion the belt clip is also not comfortable when the knife is in-hand, so I removed it out of personal preference. Buying a polyester, Leatherman-style holder is more practical for carrying the knife on a belt anyway.

Side note: In order to take off the belt clip a Security Torx driver will be required with sizes T5/T6/T8 used on the various screws. As most people don’t have such small sized specialty drivers some of the screws will seem impossible to remove. A very small Allen wrench may also get some of the screws out, but this is not recommended and may damage the screw heads.

Blade and Edge: The AUS-8A blade is designed with the same ultimate utilitarianism as the handle: it’s thick and has the largest serrations on the blade that I’ve come across short of a saw. It’s the sort of knife that has no problem dealing with the abuse that comes from real, rugged work on a daily basis. And the Mule’s blade is thick enough that if it got run over by a truck I’d be more worried about the safety of the truck than the blade.

Top: Ka-Bar Full-size FightiKa-Bar Small Fighting Knife with 20-degree "Clip" style blade. Middle: Ka-Bar Mule Folder with 15-degree "Clip" style blade. Bottom: SOG Trident with a "Tanto" blade.
Top: Ka-Bar Full-size FightiKa-Bar Small Fighting Knife with 20-degree “Clip” style blade. Middle: Ka-Bar Mule Folder with 15-degree “Clip” style blade. Bottom: SOG Trident with a “Tanto” blade.

The AUS-8A steel chosen by Ka-Bar for the Mule Folder has a Hardness rating of 57-59, not significantly different from the 56-58 rating found in many of SOG’s folding knives at similar price points. These numbers are comparable to the 56-58 rating for the basic Ka-Bar fighting knives, however they use 1095 Cro-Van steel to achieve different sharpening qualities.

Shape & Cutting Ability: The 15-degree edge angle helps the Mule to cut like a dream. It’s a universally practical design that doesn’t deviate too much from the 20-degree edge angle of its fixed-blade cousins. Overall I don’t think that the Mule suffers in any respect compared to the other Ka-Bar knives I have reviewed (or will review soon) and does a better job than the SOG Trident TF-7. I do find the Trident easier to access when in a pocket or holster, but unholstering speed should not impact cutting ability for anyone except for vegetable-dicing quick-draw artists.

The factory edge is excellent and the slight unevenness to the grind suggests that the blade was manually sharpened in Taiwan where the blade was made.

Ka-Bar MULE Folder knife, made in Taiwan/China.
Ka-Bar MULE Folder knife, made in Taiwan/China.

Features: The locking mechanism of the Mule’s blade feels tight and secure and rather than a thumb-release lock there is a depressed button on the palm-side of the handle. The Mule Folder is not a switchblade and does not have assisted-opening technology which does make it less convenient than their competitor’s “SOG Assisted Technology.” The Mule’s blade can’t accidentally be closed, but the location of the lock also means that it can’t be closed with one hand as with other kinds of blade-locking mechanisms. Still, the durability and sheer ruggedness of the knife will appeal to the kinds of people who don’t need to be able to fold open and closed the blade with just one hand.

Overall Impression: I rate this knife very highly. It’s a fantastic tool with all the right features that would make it an obvious choice to be packed into a bag for an adventure. But this wouldn’t be the first knife I consider for an “every day carry.” It’s weight would throw off a lot of people, especially hikers that pack by the ounce, and the serrated edge isn’t necessary for my every day usage scenario. I commend Ka-Bar for bringing a great knife at a great price, but it’s disappointing that this wasn’t manufactured in America.

For more gear reviews please check the RHA Blog’s Gear page or visit the main website’s master list of equipment reviews. If you’re interested in purchasing knives & utilities or other items for your adventure you can buy direct from Amazon.com through RHA’s Back Country Gear storefront which features products shipped and sold by Amazon.com and its merchants. We will receive a small portion of the sale’s proceeds.

Equipment & Gear: Wigwam Ultimax Down Range Fusion Sock

This review is for the Wigwam brand Down Range Fusion heavyweight sock made in the United States.

My Rating of the Wigwam Down Range Fusion sock

Comfort:          8/10
Durability:       10/10
Performance:      9/10
Price:            7/10
Overall Quality:  9/10
Overall Rating:   8.6/10
Weight (pair):    123.5 grams (4.35 oz.)
Notes: made in USA, tan, calf, boot sock, cold-weather.

Wigwam Down Range Fusion Sock (Tan/Gray)

Wigwam_DRF-001

Warranty & Durability

Wigwam socks come with a 2-year guarantee which should become an industry-standard for high-performance American-made socks. Unfortunately competitors like Thorlo have not yet embraced this consumer-friendly . However Thorlo does offer a “30 day no risk trial” so that if you don’t like them for any reason you can send the socks back, along with the receipt, and get a refund. I haven’t tried this myself, but the 30 days is much shorter than the 2-year warranty on some Wigwam socks.

I’ve had good durability results from Wigwam socks in general and these Down Range Fusion socks in particular. That should come as no surprise as the fully-cushioned construction from toe to calf is designed to take a beating and keep on going. The merino wool construction and synthetic fibers are all intended to last a long time and also be easy to wash and dry. I expect these socks to last longer than some of the merino wool Thorlo socks, but I find the Thorlo socks more comfortable in their material and fit.

Sizes, Colors, & Weight

Wigwam Down Range Fusion socks. Right sock is inside-out to illustrate the cushion weave and liner.
Wigwam Down Range Fusion socks. Right sock is inside-out, depicting the weave and liner.

Although these socks appear to be discontinued by the manufacturer there are black/black and tan/grey color options have been available in the past and may still be available from some retailers.

Normal adult sizes were available, however I find the fit to be a bit loose compared to other boot socks of the same size. In part this is due to the materials used in the construction, but also due to the dimensions of the toe section and the intended looseness of the calf section. The socks weigh 123.5 grams, that’s about 4.35 ounces. This comes out to be a hair lighter than Thorlo’s Thick Cushion Combat Boot sock (reviewed here), however the socks take up about the same amount of space when folded. I would say the Thick Cushion Combat Boot socks compress better, but this isn’t a fair contrast as they are not made out of merino wool and might not be used in the same weather/hiking conditions.

Materials

Wigwam Down Range Fusion. View of the heel, outside (left) and inside (right).
Wigwam Down Range Fusion. View of the heel, outside (left) and inside (right).

The liner is made of 100% Olefin, a high-warmth and lightweight synthetic fiber that is commonly used in warm base-layer garments. It’s sole purpose is to retain body heat while allowing moisture to be absorbed away from the body. Despite being billed as a “2 in 1” sock, this is all one piece and there is no risk of blisters from rubbing or bunched fabric.

According to Wigwam’s product page the outer sock is composed of natural and synthetic fibers which provide a number of benefits to the wearer for adventuring in extreme conditions.

  • 55% Merino Wool – dense, wind and cold resistant, moisture-resistant natural fiber. It is also one of the few fibers that retains heat even when wet.
  • 25% Stretch Nylon – adds resilience to an already durable sock while also lending itself to a secure fit after many uses.
  • 17% Olefin – resists moisture, deterioration, and stains.
  • 3% Spandex – improves fit.

Wigwam doesn’t readily specify where the merino wool comes from, but it’s possible that it comes from US wool producers. The goal in making a sock of merino wool is to create a moderately heat-trapping weave to keep the wearer warm but not hot. If it trapped too much heat the feet would sweat making it that much more difficult to be comfortable while on the move. The Down Range Fusion socks do this reasonably well, but they are not very warm socks overall. A heavier blend of wool, or even wool and silk, would provide similar comfort and moisture-wicking but also be warmer for brutally cold weather conditions.

These socks are not advertised as anti-bacterial or odor-resistant socks like many of their competitor’s offerings. However by nature of utilizing moisture-wicking and mildew-resistant materials these socks should perform and keep feet reasonably healthy even in unideal conditions. However people with specific foot health concerns might take a look at Wigwam’s or Thorlo’s other products that might feature more health benefits.

Design

The sock is a two-in-one solution for those looking for the sweat-wicking performance of a liner and the comfort and durability of a sock. The build quality is good and while there seems to be some loose stitching in some places this has not impacted long-term durability of the sock. This is particularly noticeable near the neck of the sock, where nylon is used to create a tight fit around the calf.

Neck of the Wigwam DRF, showing weaves on outside (left) and inside (right).
Neck of the Wigwam DRF, showing weaves on outside (left) and inside (right).

The Down Range Fusion socks are not over-calf, but instead sit at about the middle of the calf. A large band of nylon/spandex helps to grip the calf and keep the sock in place, however I suspect that as in older styles of sock that the Down Range Fusion is intended to ride low and bunch up at the top of the boot to provide an insulating pocket. On athletic people with moderately- and well-toned calves there will be a lot of slippage and I find this annoying while getting boots on or off, but not troublesome while hiking.

Wigwam DRF. Close-up of the inside of the toe section.
Wigwam DRF. Close-up of the inside of the toe section.

The toe section is a larger point of contention as it is proportionately wider than I would expect. This screws up the fit of the sock when getting it on and off or when putting on boots. It’s not a big deal, but it detracts from the ideal fit. I would expect that people with a shoe size (for instance 6)  toward the lower end of the shoe size range of a pair of these socks (5-9.5, for instance) would experienced a bit more “extra” width in the sock than is necessary. Experiences will of course vary based on foot width, as well, and the Down Range Fusion seems to accommodate larger, wider feet reasonably well.

Wigwam claims the Down Range Fusion sock has a “seamless toe closure” which is fairly accurate, but the seam is slightly noticeable in some places when being worn. It’s not enough to detract from the comfort but it is more noticeable than Thorlo’s seamless sock construction.

Heel and toe cushioning on the Down Range Fusion by Wigwam.
Heel and toe cushioning on the Down Range Fusion by Wigwam.

The dark gray at the heel and toe denote areas, presumably using merino wool, with a weave specifically to provide cushioning without relying on less-comfortable fibers used in the rest of the sock. This is particularly important in the heel where much of the impact is absorbed, but also good to see that the toe section gets some attention too. Overall the cushioning in the toe area is about the same density as the tan blend of materials (Olefin, wool, nylon), and therefore may have a slight difference in warmth.

Cushioning in this area can also be nice for steel-toed boots, however the Down Range Fusion unfortunately fails to provide a comprehensive section of cushioning over the top of the toe due to the placement of the seam which is a low-profile effort to transition between fabrics without creating a bulge. Whether or not this trade-off in cushioning comfort for seam comfort is worth it is up to the wearer.

Overall I like the down Range Fusion socks and will continue to keep several pairs at the ready for cooler temperatures. But when I hike in extreme cold I’ll be choosing something warmer.

Equipment & Gear: Thorlo Thick Cushion Combat Boot Sock

This review is for Thorlo brand Thick Cushion Combat Boot socks which are made in the United States.

Thorlo.com has a limited-supply offer for a free pair of socks based on your foot health and needs. Choose from several types of usage scenarios and then see if you qualify for your free pair.

My Rating of the Thorlo Thick Cushion Combat Boot MCB sock (olive)

Comfort:          10/10
Durability:       10/10
Performance:      9/10
Price:            8/10
Overall Quality:  9/10
Overall Rating:   9.2/10
Weight (pair):    125 grams (4.4 oz.)
Notes: made in USA, green, over-calf, anti-bacterial, boot sock, neutral-weather.

 Thorlo Thick Cushion Combat Boot sock (olive)

Thorlo_CBS-001-sm

Warranty & Durability

Thorlo socks come with “30 day no risk trial” so that if you don’t like them for any reason you can send them back, along with the receipt, to the manufacturer and get a refund. I haven’t tried this myself, but the 30 days is much shorter than the 2-year warranty on some Wigwam socks.

Generally I’ve had Thorlos last a long time regardless of whether I washed them after every use (as the care instructions dictate). Even old socks have remained durable after many uses and I am still getting use out of Thorlo Light Hiking Socks that are 12 years old and they’re only slightly less comfortable than the same model of socks I bought a year ago. So I expect to get several years out of these socks and put a thousand kilometers on them before I worry about replacing them.

Sizes, Colors, & Weight

Thorlo socks come in all the expected sizes for males and females and even kid sizes (US sz. 13-4) are available on the manufacturer’s store. Most varieties have enough acrylic and stretchy nylon material to provide a comfortable, snug fit at the arch, heel, ankle, and calf (if they reach that high), so finding the right size and fit shouldn’t be an issue. However I do see a few retailers stocking Extra-Small as only “Women’s Small” however as far as I know all the Thorlo socks are marked Unisex on their box.

As expected in an over-calf sock this model comes up to just below the knee. This is quite high for most hikers, especially for people that hike in shorts, but the combat boot style is specifically designed for the needs of someone who needs shin protection and maybe an extra layer between one’s skin and tough pants for the sake of comfort. Due to the types of fibers and materials used the sock stays snug against the calf and doesn’t ride down very much. Some socks without enough elasticity at the top will bunch up around the ankle, but I haven’t experienced this with the Thorlo socks after many days of use. In fact, they hardly feel like they’re on my calf at all, which is really remarkable compared to the overly tight spandex used by some sock manufacturers.

The Thick Cushion Combat Boot socks are available in black, desert sand (off-white), coyote tan, foliage green, and olive drab (green) from the manufacturer. Retailers may carry different selections and at different prices, but the Thorlo’s store lists the socks at $15.50 which it claims is the lowest price available. Regardless, it’s important to compare this price,and the features of a padded, antibacterial sock to its competitors to get not only a sock that is a good value, but one that will suit your needs for years to come.

These socks weigh about 100 grams (3.5 ounces), which is not bad for cushioned over-calf socks that reach to just below the knee. However such long socks will take up a lot of space in a backpack or bag as they don’t compress well, which is probably why they’re so comfortable.

Materials

The material a pair of socks are made from define its durability, warmth, moisture-wicking capability, fit, comfort, and ability to keep the feet healthy. In short the list of materials is the most important metric in determining the right sock for the job.

The Thick Cushion Combat Boot socks by Thorlo are made from:

  • 86% THOR•LON® Acrylic: a trademarked type of acrylic fiber designed to maximize comfort and durability without sacrifice.
  • 13% Stretch Nylon: adds resilience to an already durable sock while also lending itself to a secure fit after many uses.
  • 1% Spandex: improves fit around the calves.

Although these socks don’t advertise extreme moisture wicking performance with Thorlo’s own “Thermolite” or “CoolMax” trademarked polyesters the proven Thorlon Acrylic does provide moisture-wicking which benefits the foot by keeping it dry. The special acrylic also helps to reduce growth of bacteria and fungus that can occur when the feet are frequently sweaty and over-insulated. Thorlo also sells “Anti-fatigue” over-calf socks that look very similar, and cost $2.00 more, but are made with a slightly different balance of materials to provide different performance characteristics. Overall personal preference will determine which is the better sock.

As these boot socks don’t contain a blend of wool, silk, or generic polyester these socks are not “rated” for cold weather conditions. However it’s important to keep in mind that activity generates heat, especially in the feet, so socks that are good for neutral temperatures are often sufficient in cold weather and moderately warm weather as well. For extreme climates it’s better to go with a sock that will keep you warm or cool and help to wick moisture to reduce skin diseases such as athlete’s foot and promote comfort. This is particularly of note for people involved in long expeditions in conditions below freezing or above 26.5 Celsius (80 F).

Design

Thorlo Thick Cushion Combat Boot sock. Close-up of toe section showing the way the fabric is sown as a plush, loop pile.
Thorlo Thick Cushion Combat Boot sock. Close-up of toe section showing the way the fabric is sown as a plush, loop pile.

The materials a sock is made from are imperative to long-term comfort and durability but the design of the sock supports all the features that the materials are to provide. Thorlo and many other hiking/work/activity socks typically feature specific regions that are strengthened for resilience or padded for extra comfort. Some regions will also feature moisture-wicking performance fibers and in the case of Thorlo socks this material tends to be woven throughout the sock to maximize foot health and comfort without detracting from feel or durability.

In the case of the Thick Cushion Combat Boot variant most of the sock has cushioning, even along the shin. The photo above best captures the way the fibers are woven as a plush, loop pile, just like you can buy in a high-grade carpet. This design creates padding against impacts and helps to wick moisture away from sweaty feet. Similar cushioning at the heel also provides protection against impacts and form-fitting arch support keeps the toe and heel sections from slipping around which could cause blisters. The shin cushioning in particular provides excellent abrasion and impact resistance with tough boots that lace high up the calves.

Thorlo_CBS-006-sm
Thorlo Thick Cushion Combat Boot socks. Left: inside of sock showing shin cushioning and heel cushioning. Right: outside of sock showing low-profile seams.

 

Looking at the inside of the sock we can clearly see that the weave as well as the materials used help to provide that cushioning support necessary to reduce discomfort on long treks.

These combat boot socks are particularly notable for having low-profile seams. The seams at the toe are low profile and can’t be felt while the sock is on. Nor can the seams anywhere else in the sock be felt, inside or out. This makes the sock very easy to slip into, but also makes it easy to slip the foot into a boot. These sorts of practical designs are what make this simple sock an excellent choice for neutral-weather adventurers of all types.

Holiday 2014 Roundup: Sales on Outdoor Gear, Apparel, Knives and Equipment (Amazon, Evo, REI)

For residents of the U.S. and Canada I’ve collected a few sale links from around the web highlighting camping equipment and gear sales that might be of interest for hikers, campers, and backpackers.

Outdoor Gear, Electronics, & Tools

From November 1 -December 22, 2014 get 15% off select SOG knives and tools when shipped and sold by Amazon.com.

Save 10% on select Anker products, including portable Li-Po batteries, USB car chargers, and solar panels shipped through Amazon.com. (code: J4DNCPXG)

Save 25% on the Garmin eTrex 20 Worldwide Handheld GPS Navigator with color display and 20+ hour battery life. Amazon.com. ($149.99) Click here for all of Amazon’s navigation deals.

Save 40% (Friday only) on the Garmin eTrex 30 Worldwide Handheld GPS Navigator with color display, altimeter, compass, and 20+ hour battery life from REI.com. ($159.99+tax)

Get great deals on cameras, camcorders, and action cams from Sony, Garmin, and GoPro, with additional deals during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, on Amazon.com.

Save up to 70% on SanDisk memory cards, USB flash drives, and SSDs. Solid-state storage is the perfect way to keep your photos and video of your adventure from being ruined by an accidental drop and some products can even protect against water damage.

Outdoor/Winter Apparel

Get started on REI’s Black Friday sale for great prices on gear, GPS, backpacks, and apparel.

Shop Evo.com’s Black Friday Outlet sale with deals as much as 60% off on skiing gear, boarding, and winter apparel.

Get up to 20% off select Burton outerwear, backpacks, and accessories from Evo.com.

Up to 30% off select Patagonia outerwear, backpacks, and accessories from Evo.com.

Deals on car racks from top manufacturers at Evo.com.

Ride safe with up to 20% off select SEENA products, including helmets and communication devices, from Amazon.com (through December 31).

The Right Head Wear for the Adventure: Protection, Survival, and Concealment

Hats are great fashion statements and can be extremely practical pieces of apparel. But they serve an important means of staying comfortable, safe, and alert. On trips volunteering in southern Africa I have been surprised by how many people failed to prepare for the weather and environment by bringing a simple hat. Some people planned ahead, other people didn’t bring the right type of hat or didn’t bring one at all. Hopefully these tips will help others prepare for future adventures with the right head wear.

Zim14_game_walk_02
A couple of IAPF volunteers, a guide, and an IAPF ranger.
Survival over Fashion

Stay warm, dry, and bug-free. Crucial to having a healthy, alert state of mind is remaining comfortable. If it’s cold you want to be warm and if it’s hot you want to be cool. If it’s wet you want to be dry, or at least keep moisture out of your eyes. Proper clothing and head wear will assist in regulating these conditions (a wide-brimmed hat helps most with this), keeps pests away from you, and also keeps branches out of the face while on a hike.

Wearing a hat during cold weather is a good way to keep warm — about 7-10% of your body heat is lost through your head, more if the rest of your body is well insulated — and an important aspect of thermoregulation which contributes to human homeostasis. It’s also important to keep your head cool during hot weather, which can mean covering up and preventing strong sun from baking your head. This helps your body adapt to different climates and retain homeostatic regulation, the purpose of which is to maintain regulated body functions. Meanwhile thermoregulation aims to keep a reasonable core temperature that doesn’t exhaust you through over sweating (to keep cool) or burning too much energy (trying to keep you warm).

Properly regulating your body temperature can then have a beneficial impact on your metabolism and save you from burning too many calories and more quickly becoming hungry or tired. Regulating the calories burned and levels of exhaustion can be critical when hiking in the back country with limited supplies or when on a patrol with limited rations. Many animals have evolved interesting ways to thermoregulate in this regard. Some African wildlife like the African Elephant and the Wild Dog have large ears that are thought to both help with hearing as well as act as a radiator, cooling down blood as it flows through these extremities. Elephants are thought to have another feature of thermoregulation which scientists believe may affect their core body temperature by as much as 6 degrees Celsius: they can eat up to 450 kilograms (992 pounds) of vegetation per day with only a 40% efficiency turning that into energy. But what doesn’t get turned into energy still passes through their digestive system, warming up, and then gets excreted as dung. The dung comes out very warm and rids the inner-most parts of the body of excess heat. Probably the most commonly seen way that Elephants keep cool is taking mud baths and throwing water and particularly wet mud on their bodies. The hot sun evaporates the water on their skin, creating a cooling effect just like sweating in humans. But their favorite thing, if they have enough water, is to go bathing all day!

Elephant in water, feeding and keeping cool. Botswana 2014.
African Elephant in water, feeding and keeping cool in the morning. Botswana 2014.

While humans probably should not be constantly eating and pooping as a means of regulating their body temperature, a hat made of the appropriate sweat-permeable material does help keep your head at a better temperature. This has major implications on a person’s temperament as well as mental fatigue. No one likes being too hot or too cold and a bad mood can be devastating to a mission or hiking group and put the group in danger.

The amount that you sweat will be unique to your physiology, but is also relative to the air temperature and humidity. In dry climates if won’t feel like you’re sweating, but you still will be, so it’s important to remain hydrated and to wear clothing and a hat that breathes to keep you cool and wick moisture. The same is true in cold weather situations where evaporation will be even more difficult and unneeded moisture should be removed as quickly as possible to keep dry and warm. A hat helps by both covering your head and wicks moisture away from your body. It also improves the surface area that is available to absorb sweat and be wicked away.

Woman_wearing_Keffiyeh-by_Jean-Francois_Gornet-CCASA2-sm
Woman wearing Keffiyeh (by Jean-Francois Gornet – CC-ASA-2.0)

Protection from the sun and weather. Headwear doesn’t just protect your head from rain and strong sun that can be intense in tropical and sub-tropical regions, it also protects your eyes and your skin. Melanoma and other skin cancers can be caused as a result to prolonged sun exposure. While not typically fatal, skin cancers are the most common forms of cancer worldwide and account for tens of thousands of deaths each year. Light-skinned people are at higher-risk of sun-burn and skin cancer because of a reduced amount of melanin and melanin helps to regulate ultraviolet rays penetrating the skin. However symptoms of skin cancer or burns can be more difficult to detect in darker-skinned people, who still need to be conscientious of how much sun exposure they receive.

Wearing suntan lotion is a good measure of protection against the sun but it’s not perfect and isn’t the same as keeping sun off you completely. As well, suntan lotion and other products may only last as long as 90 minutes in wet environments such as the beach or on a sweaty hike. Reapplying these products must be done frequently for it to be as effective as possible, but even then the amount you sweat will impact its effectiveness. Therefore some form of head wear is a good idea in addition to suntan lotion. A hat with a brim is probably the best choice because it also provides physical protection against branches, tall grass, and other things that you might run into while trailblazing or walking through the woods. A brim will also help keep falling insects from targeting you, particularly ticks which look for warm-blooded animals to pass beneath and then drop onto them.

Hats with a brim and even some styles of wearing a headwrap will not only protect your head from the sun but also reduce eye fatigue from squinting against the harsh rays of the sun. Taking care of your eyes is a crucial aspect of maintaining an accurate sense of your surroundings, being able to quickly identify danger, and for keeping composed in stressful situations. In the field fatigue from the heat and brightness can take a toll on a person in fewer than two hours and is referred to as going “bush blind.” When this happens the person’s ability to recall short-term events is decreased and their ability to evaluate their surroundings and pay attention is severely diminished. And overheating in general, which wearing a hat or sweatband can help prevent, increases stress and will cause poor physical performance and a reduction in endurance. Physical stress is enhanced by mental stress and stress management need to be consider before setting off on a journey where other people (or yourself) may depend on your insight and ability to visually evaluate your surroundings.

July 26, 1968 - Two 1st Cavalry LRP teams, Quang Tri, Vietnam (Attrib: Icemanwcs)
July 26, 1968 – Two 1st Cavalry LRP teams, Quang Tri, Vietnam (Attrib: Icemanwcs)

Camouflage and concealment: Covering the nose and cheeks with camouflaging paint or makeup is crucial in concealment because natural oils in the skin are most reflective in these regions of the face. This reduces the ability to be seen by other people or animals, but having a good hat adds to the effect by covering the forehead and changing the perceived shape of the human head so it looks less characteristically human. Observation skills in both humans and animals are largely based around discerning movement and interpretation of silhouettes.

Blending into varied terrain can mean wearing a hat with suitable camouflage or changing hats during your travel or patrol. But being able to adapt to these changing situations means bringing methods of concealment that suit each individual location and that can take up vital space in your pack. Head wraps, balaclavas, and crushable hats are more portable than most stiff-brimmed hats and are a better option for the individual that needs to continuously adapt.

The soldiers of the IDF Combat Engineering Corps display their new logistic and operational abilities at the Mitkan Adam military base. Sniper wearing a ghillie suit made for the grassland.

Specially-crafted ghillie suits (shown above) for the specific terrain you’re in do the best job of concealing the entire body and break up the human form. However they’re impractical for any mission or patrol that doesn’t require absolute stealth. The hat that provides a common compromise of form and function is the boonie hat (also called a bush hat) which has a brim that can be bent at various angles and has a “foliage ring” allowing the wearer to add elements from the surrounding terrain to make the silhouette of the hat more natural and obscure. Bucket hats provide a similar form, but a smaller brim less suitable for protecting the neck and ears from sun exposure. Boonie hats and their variants are the hat of choice for many military and paramilitary operators in environments where adaptation to terrain and preparedness for any weather situation is paramount for survival and successful operations.

Hats & Headwear Types
A Vietnam era styled “tiger stripe” boonie hat, shown with side brim upturned.

Boonie hat or bush hat: An iconic symbol of the Vietnam War era, they were locally sourced and used by U.S. Army Green Beret, other special forces, and allied Australian and Vietnamese units. The hat and variations offer an important advantage over other hats by breaking up the “human silhouette” shape that stands out like no other animal. The boonie hat’s brim can be modified to help reduce the obvious shape and work with the local foliage to produce an effective means of camouflage.

Various cowboy fedora shapes: There are many variations on the classic North American cowboy fedora or Australian bush hat. These hats can significantly reduce sun exposure on the face and neck and help somewhat to break up the human silhouette. Due to their rigidity they provide some protection from strong wind.

Source: Under Armour/US Patriot Tactical
Source: Under Armour/US Patriot Tactical

Baseball cap: Dating back over one hundred years this is a very popular form of head wear and modern versions offer a broad range of features. It secures tightly on the head and the bill/visor provides sun protection from the front (when worn forwards). Various adjustment types are available for the baseball style cap, allowing it to adjust to the user’s dimensions and secure against strong winds.

Trucker cap: Similar to a baseball cap, a trucker cap is typically characterized by a taller crown and a mesh back for breathability.

Royal Marine Commandos attached to 3rd Division for the assault on Sword Beach – 6 June, 1944.

Beret – Worn by British Commandos in dress uniform during the Second World War, the green beret has become a symbol of units with a history tied to fighting with the Commandos or are worn by special forces units specializing in unconventional warfare tactics. As
a hat the beret does not provide much advantage in the field.

Keffiyeh ( كوفية ) / Shemagh ( شماغ ) / Head Wrap: A mainstay of middle eastern cultures for many years, it’s been popularized in the west by its adoption by western military forces operating in that part of the world. The shemagh and related head wraps offer versatile protection from the elements and can easily transform to suit one’s needs and comfort or be easily tucked away into a bag.

Directions for using the "Spec Ops Recon Multi Head Wrap"
Illustrated directions for using the “Spec Ops Recon Multi Head Wrap”

Balaclava / Ski mask – Popularized during the Crimean War (1853-1856), the balaclava has become an icon of “nefarious” individuals including criminals, terrorists, and unconventional warfare fighters and insurgents. Legitimate individuals including law enforcement and various military groups also wear the balaclava. However the mask has achieved widespread, mainstream use among skiers and snowboarders who need protection from cold weather conditions and precipitation. Modern balaclavas are made with materials that stretch and fit comfortably, protects against moderate wind, and improves concealment of the face. Masks can also work as helmet liners, neck-gaiters, or other under-wear to make hats and outerwear fit better and improve moisture wicking.

Kerchief/Bandana/Do-rag: Like a shemagh or keffiyeh a bandana is a versatile piece of gear that can keep the sun off your head, wick moisture, and work as a helmet-liner. Also doubles as a napkin or cleaning cloth.

Beanie/Skullcap/Helmet liner: The visor-less beanie dates back more than 70 years in the US and similar head wear dates back hundreds of years throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. While not great head wear on sunny days, modern skullcaps are great for staying warm at night. They’re also essential for comfortable helmets, whether you’re a ranger or a rider.

Gore-Tex schematic (by Wart "Solipsist" Dark)
Gore-Tex schematic (by Wart “Solipsist” Dark)
Materials
  • Cotton: Your standard, low-cost material for basic needs. Can provide warmth, but depending on the weave may not effectively wick moisture or dry effectively when wet.
  • Infrared-neutral fabrics: Patented, compliant clothing and fabric offer near infrared-neutral absorption or reflectivity, allowing the wearer to blend into the surrounding terrain when viewed with some types of infrared or thermal-imaging scopes. Compliant fabrics are also used on water carriers to prevent water and other equipment from warming in the sun.
  • Nylon/Gore-Tex waterproofing: Nylon and Gore-Tex offer among the best protection against wind and precipitation, but is not as breathable as non-waterproof materials. Gore-Tex is more common in jackets and coats, with or without hoods, particularly those geared towards poor weather conditions.
  • Nomex: Flame-resistant material suitable for extreme head wear such as gas masks.

 

(Main photo “Pontoon over Crocodile River at Malelane, circa 1930s” © SANparks Archives)

Equipment & Gear: SOG Trident Tanto Assisted Folding Knives (TF-7 & TF-6)

The SOG Trident series of folding, assisted open knives is my favorite knife and among my favorite tools for outdoor use. They come in a range of blade lengths with straight edge or serrated blades, different blade finishes, and handle styles. The Trident line of knives have very good balance, solid durability, and have comfortable handles; they also all feature the patented SOG technologies which make these knives great, long-lasting tools.

SOG Trident Tanto folding-knife models being reviewed:

Part Number TF7-CP
Blade Color Black (TiNi Coating)
Product Dimensions 8.5 x 2 x 0.2 inches
Item Weight 103 grams/3.6 ounces (4.8 in packaging)
Metal Type AUS-8 (Japanese manufacture)
Knife Origin USA
Warranty Description Lifetime of the original purchaser.

 

Part Number TF6-CP
Blade Color Stainless Steel (Polished)
Product Dimensions 8.5 x 2 x 0.2 inches
Item Weight 3.6 ounces (4.8 in packaging)
Metal Type AUS-8 (Japanese manufacture)
Knife Origin USA
Warranty Description Lifetime of the original purchaser.
TF-7 (top) and TF-6 (bottom) with a US quarter and UK pound for scale.
TF-7 (top) and TF-6 (bottom) with a US quarter and UK pound for scale.
Description & Overview

Size & Blade Length: The SOG TF-6 and TF-7 folding knives are a good, average-sized knife, with a lot of versatility. I find them much more portable and pocket-friendly than fixed blades or long slim-jim style knives. The handle is large enough to feel comfortable in large and small hands and the blade is substantial enough to be useful without infringing on the utility of a good boot knife. The total cutting length of the blade, from base straight to point (not perimeter of blade) is 87mm (3.42 inches). In the “tanto” style shown above the longest length of a cutting edge is 63mm (2.48 inches) while the point’s cutting edge is 27mm (1.06 inches).

The TF-7 and TF-6 models specifically being reviews are considered to have 3.75 inch blades and therefore is legal to own and carry as a pocket knife in many states (4 inches is a typical threshold). I’m not sure why the actual blade length is stated as 3.75 inches when the most relevant length is the cutting edge, which by my measurement is about 87mm, just under 3.5 inches. A difference of a quarter of an inch is significant enough to notice.

Folded, the TF7 is 127mm (5 inches) in length including the built-in, removable belt clip. For comparison, this is almost exactly the same length as a 500 mL (12 oz) can. With the blade extended and locked in position the total length of the knife is 220mm (8.66 inches).

TF-6 (3.75" model) showing overall unofficial measurements taken by RHA.
TF-6 (3.75″ model) showing overall unofficial measurements taken by RHA.

Shape & Cutting Ability: The Trident series comes in a range of blade shapes, from the standard knife blade design to the Japanese “tanto” style made famous by the samurai of the Kamakura period and re-popularized during the Showa period prior to the Second World War. The blade shape has become popular in the United States for military and self-defense uses due to the superior cutting ability when the knife is thrust. The shape of the end of the blade also creates some differences in the way it slices compared to a knife with a traditional western blade.

Overall the hardness and sharpness of the blade is excellent, but the shape of the blade’s point does bear consideration for all-purpose use. Because of the angle involved there are a number of applications where slicing is performed slightly differently than with a knife with a traditional western style blade. Cutting thin objects, or cutting precisely, with the very point of the blade is still the same experience, but the style of the handle will affect the angle of the wrist during the slicing motion. Cutting with the point is mandatory in most situations and because of the pressure and weight exerted in this motion makes it less “surgically precise” than other blade types, in my experience. Cutting through objects with the point is the same experience as a traditional blade, however the straight edge at the end of the blade may improve the straightness of the cut. For general thrusting and slashing motions the tanto design is without parallel.

SOG Trident Tanto TF-6 shown with 550-pound strength paracord
SOG Trident Tanto TF-6 shown with 550-pound strength paracord

The factory edge on the blade is usable, but a good sharpening wouldn’t hurt. This is especially important for people that want to cut string or twine using the blade groove. While the groove built into the handle is a great idea, in function it falls short because the blade does not sit deep enough in the handle to effectively cut. Anything of a similar diameter to traditional 550-pound paracord will be too thick to cut, greatly reducing the practicality of the groove feature. In future versions SOG needs to address this problem with the Tanto style blades and the other blades in the Trident line if applicable.

Weight and Durability: The TF-7 weighs roughly 100 grams (3.6 ounces) with the blade comprising slightly more than half that heft, giving it a good balance in the hand. The handle is made of abrasion- and impact-resistant glass-reinforced Zytel (a fiber-glass nylon composite) patented by DuPont and frequently used in the construction of firearms. This composite material is virtually indestructible and in the construction of the TF-7 two solid pieces are fitted and screwed together to create the handle of the knife. The blade folds part-way between these two pieces that make up the handle and feels very secure in its place whether the blade is locked or not. More than 50% of the blade is concealed when folded.

The AUS-8 (8A) stainless steel, roughly equivalent to 440B steel, is among the strongest steels used in knife crafting and is produced by Aichi Steel Corporation in Japan. SOG claims to have chosen this steel for its durability and resilience in holding its sharpness. And the process that is used in creating the blade for SOG sounds as high-tech and strong as one would expect from a serious knife. While the carbon content is similar to 440B steel, AUS-8 has vanadium added which is said to improve the toughness and wear resistance while simultaneously making the metal easier to sharpen.

The tanto style blades crafted by SOG and its competitors are not made from forged steel pain-painstakingly crafted by a process of hammering and folding until the blade is stronger at an atomic level than the original steel (however SOG does sell a knife with a Damascus steel blade made with 15 layers of nickel and steel). Instead of that very labor-intensive process SOG knives go through a more modern process. SOG’s patented cryogenic heat treatment process takes 48 hours to complete: The metal in annealed in a process which heats the metal to a critical temperature and then  cools to below -185 degrees Celsius (-300 degrees Fahrenheit) and slowly warmed, allowing for the molecular structure of the steel to become more dense and even stronger.

For SOG knives that have black, Titanium Nitride-treated blades there is an additional process which applies the coating to ensure additional hardness, scratch-resistance, and durability. The black TiNi treatment also adds the tactical element to the knife, reducing the reflectivity of the metal it covers, improving the stealth aspects of the knife.

TF-7 (top) and TF-6 (bottom) with a US quarter and UK pound for scale.
TF-7 (top) and TF-6 (bottom) with a US quarter and UK pound for scale.
Features and Considerations

Knife Features: The primary feature of SOG knives is their patented “SOG Assisted Technology” (SAT) which allows the blade to easily flick out and lock into position with only one hand. Similarly, the blade can safely and securely be unlocked, folded down, and then locked securely so that the blade can’t accidentally be unfolded.

The knife is not a switchblade and therefore is legal to own and carry in most states (however you should always consult your region’s laws before buying a knife). With SAT it’s also more reliable and safer to use, even with one hand, than unreliable, traditional spring-powered switchblades.

One thing they did very right in the design of the knife was creating a handle that is not only comfortable to hold, but is comfortable regardless of which hand is holding the knife. The belt clip is removable and reversible to suit left- or right-handed people, however some people have found that it can be loose after reattaching. In such a situation the most important thing would be to screw in the bolts little by little, then once they’re all secured tighten them and make sure the fit is secure.

SOG Trident Tanto TF-6 with blade folded closed. Lock engaged.
SOG Trident Tanto TF-6 with blade folded closed. Lock engaged.
SOG Trident Tanto TF-6 with blade folded, unlocked (red is showing on the lock)
SOG Trident Tanto TF-6 with blade folded, unlocked (red is showing on the lock)

Seen above are two photos of the TF-6 with the blade closed and locked and the lower photo depicts the blade closed and unlocked. The red on the lock shows that the knife is ready to be opened, however in my experience it’s difficult to see unless there is a lot of light getting into that small space. But after getting used to using the knife for over a year it’s easy to distinguish by feel whether the blade is locked or not. Unfortunately the lock does collect a lot of dirt and pocket lint, but isn’t hard to clean with some water/alcohol.

Are blade coatings worth it? The average stainless steel knife blade is very visible and is among the most overt tools at one’s disposal. However having a black Titanium Nitride coating does have benefits as stated in the Weight and Durability section above. The scratch- and dirt-resistance is a key feature for anyone that regularly uses their knife in the field, but the benefits also include additional strength and durability for the lifetime of the knife, which makes it practical in many life-saving situations.

Additionally, the polished finish of the stainless steel blade is easy to get dirty and while reasonably easy to clean, will not necessarily be something that one can wipe on their pants and be done with. On the TF-6 dirt and adhesive is still visible on the blade after being wiped and rinsed off (as one would do the field). A bit of soap and warm water will easily take care of most filth you’ll find on your blade, but not everyone carries that into the field.

Since SOG offers a variety of knives with and without the TiNi coating people can make their own decision about which blade suits their needs. There are also other varieties of blade lengths and alloy types to choose from, depending on your price range and needs of durability. Overall I’m very pleased with the quality of the knife and its components and its compact nature.

For more gear reviews please check the RHA Blog’s Gear page or visit the main website’s master list of equipment reviews. If you’re interested in purchasing knives & utilities or other items for your adventure you can buy direct from Amazon.com through RHA’s Back Country Gear storefront which features products shipped and sold by Amazon.com and its merchants. We will receive a small portion of the sale’s proceeds.