Tag Archives: Equipment

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’s Full-size Fighting Knife

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.

Full-size Ka-Bar Fighting Knife (Black, Tanto) model being reviewed:

Part Number Ka-Bar 4-1259CP-2
Blade Color Black (with black blade)
Product Dimensions 12.81 x 3 x 1.125 inches (8″ blade; 0.165″ thickness)
Item Weight 317 grams (11.2 ounces)
Metal Type 1095 Cro-Van (USA manufacture)
Knife Origin Blade and grip made in USA.
Warranty Description Limited warranty of the life of the original purchaser.

Fighting Knife Sizes & Blade Lengths: The Full-size Fighting Knife is the penultimate, classic knife used by the United States Marine Corps and many other individuals that need the reliability and utility of a large knife. A perfect combination of light and strong, Ka-Bar’s full-size and short Fighting Knife styles embody the best utilities a knife can offer.

Made in the United States from 1095 Cro-Van steel like some of the other knives that Ka-Bar makes, including the Short Fighting Knife (reviewed here). These fighting knives have great durability and are easy to keep sharp. The full-size and Short Fighting Knife are both tempered to the same hardness rating of 56-58.

Ka-Bar’s Fighting Knife has an 8 inch (20 cm) blade length, longer even than the Swedish Fallkniven A1 survival knife. And with a larger handle than what is necessary for casual use. But this knife isn’t for casual use, it’s for getting you out of scrapes that you didn’t plan on, but did prepare for. To that end there’s nothing wrong with the size of the handle, but prospective buyers should definitely consider the added space it takes up compared to other knives.

The basic version of the Fighting Knife doesn’t directly compare with any of Fallkniven’s offerings due to the type of steel used in the blade and the price. But Ka-Bar does offer an “Extreme Fighting Knife” made from D2 semi-steel which is used in industrial tools and is even tougher than the best stainless steels without the expense of VG-10 high-carbon steel used in Fallkniven knives. With all the same specifications as the regular Fighting Knife the “Extreme” retails for around $180, but a savvy buyer can pick it up for $110. Meanwhile the Fallkniven A1 retails for around $350 in the U.S. but can be had much cheaper. Either version of the Fighting Knife offers excellent features and dependability for virtually any situation and at a very competitive price point.

A-00-KABARs_with_sheaths
Top: Short KA-BAR with sheath; Bottom: Full-size KA-BAR Fighting Knife with glass-filled nylon sheath.

Sheath & Portability: Both knives featured in the photo above came with a hard sheath made from sturdy, glass-filled nylon. This sheath is light-weight and rigid, making it the ideal way to transport the knife and keep it on your belt or in your bug-out-bag. A nylon belt runs vertically to allow the sheath to be attached to a belt or to be looped to another piece of nylon or MOLLE attachment system. The body of the sheath also has a number of slits and reinforced holes to tie the sheath down in an ad-hoc fashion or for securing on the leg.

The underside of the sheath is flat, except for where it comes up to protect the hand guard. This backing also serves as a clip that secures the knife’s guard in place and thus keeps the knife locked tightly in the sheath. To pull the knife out of the sheath one only needs to use a thumb to push on the sheath’s backing and then slip out the knife.

Fighting Knife sheathed and secured.
Fighting Knife sheathed and secured, one nylon belt shown. The button shows some wear.

The hard sheath is a great design that doesn’t require any additional locks or points of failure that might break in the field. However the sheath does come equipped with two nylon belts that each have buttons that will further secure the knife in its sheath. This keeps the knife hilt and handle from flexing away from the backing of the sheath, and might help in rare situations where the guard could accidentally be pushed from the sheath’s clip.

The sheath’s underside is otherwise smooth for easy storing and to reduce the likelihood of getting it caught on apparel with pockets. The sheath even has a small opening to allow water to drip out while reducing the likelihood of dirt and debris getting in while the sheath is strapped to your side or attached to a MOLLE-compatible holder.

Side-view of the Short Fighting Knife secured in its sheath.
Side-view of the Short Fighting Knife secured in its sheath.

Although most versions of the Fighting Knife have options to come with a traditional leather sheath or the hard sheath, the Tanto models appear to still only come with the hard sheath. Ultimately which one is best for you will vary by personal preference. The glass-filled nylon hard sheath can come with the clip-style knives or be purchased separately. The Extreme Fighting Knife also has a version that comes with a nylon-and-velcro sheath, similar to what comes with multi-tools and similar gear.

One advantage of the hard sheath is the two ambidextrous straps to hold the knife secure. I really appreciate the functionality of the nylon straps and button clips on the Ka-Bar which do a perfect job of keeping the knife locked tightly and noiselessly in the sheath. Ka-Bar did a great job on this and it’s equally effective in wet and sandy conditions.

Unsheathed tanto-style Fighting Knife (top) and the Short Fighting Knife (bottom).
Unsheathed tanto-style Fighting Knife (top) and the Short Fighting Knife (bottom).

The size of the full-size Fighting Knife makes it unwieldy for some basic tasks and its noticeably less portable than its smaller sibling. This is a problem for all fixed-blade knives which is why a variety of knives of different sizes (and not just blade sizes) are on the market to fit any usage scenario and portability requirement. Some trade-offs might have to be made, but the photo above illustrates just how much bigger the 12.8 inch (32.5 cm) knife is compared to the 9.25 inch (23.5 cm) Short Fighting Knife.

Features & Versatility: Both the Short and full-size Fighitng Knife have a hilt that ends in a flat butt-cap which doubles as a hammer when the knife handle is held in a closed fist. This is great for beating tent stakes into the ground or for straightening a bent nail. The grooved, Kraton G polymer grip runs between the guard and the butt and gives the knife excellent handling characteristics in all weather conditions. The Kraton polymers are patented, synthetic materials used in place of rubber because it is longer lasting without sacrificing any of the durability or tactility of a rubber grip.

High quality screwdrivers and wood-working tools have a shank that runs the full length of the handle to provide the best possible rigidity and leverage. Like these tools, the Ka-Bar fighting knives all have true full-length shank running the length of the handle, sometimes called a full tang. This feature allows the knife to be used to pry things open and to withstand tremendous strain without breaking the blade (although it could bend). In the worst-case scenario these knives have even been used to dig foxholes when an entrenching tool was not available.

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.

Ka-Bar’s Tanto vs. Clip Blade Styles: The shape of a knife’s blade will indicate the purpose it is best suited for. The tanto-style blade is designed for thrusting while the clip-style blade is best-suited for cutting, but can also perform thrusts. The clip-style blade in my opinion is a much more universally practical style and makes using the knife more ergonomically friendly. Ultimately every knife should be easy to use and not cause undue fatigue or stress on the arm or wrist, so I prefer the clip-style.

KA-BAR's tanto-style Fighting Knife (left) and SOG's tanto-style Trident (right).
KA-BAR’s tanto-style Fighting Knife (left) and SOG’s tanto-style Trident (right).

The tanto-style blade from Ka-Bar is a little different from the one that you’ll find on SOG’s knives that feature a tanto blade. Although they are fundamentally designed for the same purpose the SOG Trident line of knives with a tanto blade comes to a much more dramatic point with the spine sloping down several degrees. This creates a much more aggressive look and may prove more practical for making incisions. The Ka-Bar knives have a straight spine that leads directly to the tip of the blade. Ultimately the angle of the blade’s tip will dictate its usefulness in cutting, and can dramatically impact the ergonomic feel of using the knife. It’s important that buyers try out each knife before hand to find the one that fits their style and grip.

Final thoughts: Overall Ka-Bar’s tried and true entry in the full-size knife category has no faults and makes no apologies for its size as a utility and a very functional knife for virtually any situation. For some it’s definitely the perfect knife, but casual, non-combat users might consider something a little smaller, like the Short Fighting Knife due to its more versatile size and better portability.

Equipment & Gear: KA-BAR’s Short Fighting Knife

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.

Short Black Ka-Bar Knife model being reviewed:

Part Number Ka-Bar 4-1259CP-2
Blade Color Black
Product Dimensions 9.25 x 1.8 x 1.0 inches (5.25″ blade; 0.165″ thickness)
Item Weight 181 grams (6.0 ounces)
Metal Type 1095 Cro-Van (USA manufacture)
Knife Origin Blade and grip made in USA.
Warranty Description Limited warranty of the life of the original purchaser.

E-05-KABAR_Short_Fighting_Knife_secure-2

Overview: The Short Ka-Bar Fighting Knife is, as its name implies, the smaller version of the tried and true Ka-Bar Fighting Knife that was popularized by the United States Marine Corps. Although the Short Fighting Knife’s dimensions are noticeably smaller, and weighs in at less than half a pound, it is made of the same 1095 Cro-Van steel that gives its larger sibling its durability. It is also tempered to the same hardness, rated at 56-58, and offers effectively the same utility.

The all-purpose Short Fighting Knife boasts no special features other than an optional serrated edge. It has no hook for skinning or slicing and does not even have a hole for a lanyard. It’s not that kind of knife.However KA-BAR does have a broad selection of knives to choose from, with several specialized for game.

The single-edged blade is 5.25 inches (13.3 cm) in length, 2.75 inches shorter than the full-size Fighting Knife’s 8-inch blade (20.3 cm). 5.25 inches is plenty of blade for most applications and makes the shorter knife as a whole a much more practical size for everyday activities and hobbies. The handle is also smaller and sized for the average user’s palm, whereas the Fighting Knife’s handle is comparatively over-sized. I find that the Short Fighting Knife has much better versatility when holstered at the hip, leg, or when the knife is in the hand.

A-00-KABARs_with_sheaths
Top: Short KA-BAR with sheath; Bottom: Full-size KA-BAR Fighting Knife with glass-filled nylon sheath.

Sheath & Portability: Both knives featured in the photo above came with a hard sheath made from sturdy, glass-filled nylon. This sheath is light-weight and rigid, making it the ideal way to transport the knife and keep it on your belt or in your bug-out-bag. A nylon belt runs vertically to allow the sheath to be attached to a belt or to be looped to another piece of nylon or MOLLE attachment system. The body of the sheath also has a number of slits and reinforced holes to tie the sheath down in an ad-hoc fashion or for securing on the leg.

The underside of the sheath is flat, except for where it comes up to protect the hand guard. This backing also serves as a clip that secures the knife’s guard in place and thus keeps the knife locked tightly in the sheath. To pull the knife out of the sheath one only needs to use a thumb to push on the sheath’s backing and then slip out the knife.

Side-view of the Short Fighting Knife secured in its sheath.
Side-view of the Short Fighting Knife secured in its sheath.
E-09-KABAR_Short_Fighting_Knife_clip
Close-up of the Short Fighting Knife sheathed and secured via the clip above the guard.

The sheath is a great design that doesn’t require any additional locks or points of failure that might break in the field. However the sheath does come equipped with two nylon belts that each have buttons that will further secure the knife in its sheath. This keeps the knife hilt and handle from flexing away from the backing of the sheath, and might help in rare situations where the guard could accidentally be pushed from the sheath’s clip.

The sheath’s underside is otherwise smooth for easy storing and to reduce the likelihood of getting it caught on apparel with pockets. The sheath even has a small opening to allow water to drip out while reducing the likelihood of dirt and debris getting in while the sheath is strapped to your side or attached to a MOLLE-compatible holder.

Top: Short Ka-Bar with hard sheath; Bottom: Ka-Bar Mule Field Folder Knife
Top: Short Ka-Bar with hard sheath; Bottom: Ka-Bar Mule Field Folder Knife

Still, the portability of a sheathed fixed-blade knife compares poorly to a folding blade. Ka-Bar’s Mule Field Folder, reviewed here, provides a much more compact tool without compromising on heft or ergonomics. While the Mule Field Folder weighs in at 7.3 ounces (207 grams) the Short Fighting Knife isn’t far behind at an even 6 ounces (170 grams), not including the hard sheath. For portability the folding knife is definitely worth considering.

E-01-KABAR_Fighting_vs_KABAR_Combat-sm
Top: Full-size fighting knife for scale at 12.8 inches long. Bottom: Short fighting knife.

Features & Versatility: The knife is full-tang, meaning that it is made from a single piece of 1095 Cro-Van steel which runs through the length of the handle for maximum strength and durability. The handle ends in a flat butt-cap which doubles as a hammer when the knife handle is held in a closed fist. This is great for beating tent stakes into the ground or for straightening a bent nail. The rubber grip runs the entire 3.75 inch distance between the guard and the butt-cap and feels secure in sweaty, dirty, or cold hands.

Serrated edge of a brand new Short Fighting Knife (editor's personal knife was recently replaced).
Serrated edge of a brand new Short Fighting Knife (editor’s personal knife was recently replaced).

The optional serrated edge runs 30 millimeters, or just over 1 inch. It’s a reasonable length for an all-purpose knife, but is only two-thirds the length of the Mule Field Folder’s serrated edge. Overall the serration is perfect for quickly and decisively cutting through paracord, a small branch, or cloth.

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.

Ka-Bar’s Tanto vs. Clip Blade Styles: The shape of a knife’s blade will indicate the purpose it is best suited for. The tanto-style blade is designed for thrusting while the clip-style blade is best-suited for cutting, but can also perform thrusts. The clip-style blade in my opinion is a much more universally practical style and makes using the knife more ergonomically friendly. Ultimately every knife should be easy to use and not cause undue fatigue or stress on the arm or wrist, so I prefer the clip-style.

SOG Trident Tanto TF-6 with stainless steel finish and a US quarter and UK pound for scale.
SOG Trident Tanto TF-6 with stainless steel finish and a US quarter and UK pound for scale.

The clip-point blade from Ka-Bar is a little different from the one that you’ll find on SOG’s knives (see above) that feature a tanto blade. Although they are fundamentally designed for the same purpose the SOG Trident line of knives with a tanto blade comes to a much more dramatic point with the spine sloping down several degrees. This creates a much more aggressive look and may prove more practical for making incisions or other applications, but make it less practical in others. The Ka-Bar knives either have a straight spine that leads directly to the tip of the blade or a slight clip-point as shown below.E-08-KABAR_Short_Fighting_Knife_blade

Closing Thoughts: Ka-Bar is a tried and true brand with a history of reliability and consistent manufacturing quality. The Short Fighting Knife is my personal favorite fixed-blade knife because it is a good size and has a great balance in the hand. It offers all-purpose utility at a reasonable price (MSRP is $88, but can be had for $50). Although the steel is not as fancy as what is found in $200 knives, the 1095 steel is well-suited for field use and sharpens easily. In the 4-8 inch blade market I can think of no more reliably performing knife for its price.

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).

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

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

Outdoor Gear & Tools:

Amazon.com’s sales on outdoor equipment continue with 20% off Thule roof racks and carriers; 50% off Sierra packs and luggage; and save $20 on a $100+ purchase of select Coleman Camping gear.

Get the tools you need with an extra 15% discount on SOG knives, multitools, and other equipment. Additionally, you can 50% off Energizer Lighting and at least 15% off Surefire ear protection and flashlights.

Outdoor/Summer Apparel

Amazon.com: Save up to 60% on select men’s hiking and trail shoes and boots from brands such as Merrell, KEEN, Timberland, and Salomon. Also check out sales on Men’s, Women’s, and Kid’s Watches for deals on sport and hiking accessories from brands like Citizen and Casio.

Take advantage of USPatiotTactical.com’s 50% off Closeouts sale and worldwide shipping for steep discounts on gear and apparel from Under Armour, Franklin, Oakley, Nike, Belleville boots, Danner, Converse, Condor, and many more!

Evo.com (US, CA, worldwide) has a Spring Into Summer sale on men’s and women’s outdoor clothing, accessories, and gear. Use the promo code SUNLIGHT or HEATWAVE to get 20% off select items. Check out their outlet store for even larger discounts.

Also be sure to take advantage of Outlet Deals at REI.com which feature at least 50% off hiking gear, bags, and packs; cycling gear; fitness gear and apparel; as well as clothing and accessories for men, women, boys, and girls. Become an REI member and get 10% back each year.

Equipment & Gear: Belleville’s Waterproof Combat Boot (615)

This review is part of the three-way boot comparison between Belleville’s 615 Waterproof Combat boot, 633 “Sabre” Hot-Weather Hybrid Assault boot, and TR336 CT “Guardian” Desert Lightweight Composite Toe boot.

TR336_B615_B633_combined-cropped-small-2
Left: 615 in Sage Green; Middle: 336 CT in Tan; Right: 633 in Sage Green

My Rating of Belleville Waterproof Combat 615

Comfort:          8/10
Durability:       9/10
Performance:      10/10
Price:            9/10
Overall Quality:  9/10
Overall Rating:   9/10
Weight (pair):    1.446 kilograms (3 lbs, 3 oz.)
Notes: MIL-Spec, made in USA, Berry-Amendment compliant, Waterproof, Gore-Tex, Hot-Weather.

Waterproof Combat Boot 615 (Sage Green)

B615-01-front_laced

The model 615 Waterproof Combat Boot is Belleville’s wild-card boot and will take almost anything you throw at them. It’s fully waterproof design and use of moisture-wicking materials makes it suitable for warm and cool climates alike and can easily accommodate thick cushioned or insulated socks to make hiking in freezing temperatures comfortable. It’s durable construction makes it a good choice for hikers of any skill level and although it’s not explicitly US military uniform-approved, would be suitable for long patrolling operations that require enduring, waterproof footwear. The 615 is also Berry Amendment compliant and is proudly made in the U.S.A.

Note that while these boots are not marketed as “hot weather” boots, they lack any sort of cold weather insulation. Normally waterproof boots are quite warm due to the materials used to keep water out, however boots such as the 615 with Gore-Tex fabric uppers do wick moisture, and therefore I would personally qualify these boots as being “hot weather-compatible” but not suited for extreme desert temps.

Weight with insoles (pair): 1.446 kilograms (3 lbs, 3 oz.)

Variants: There are no direct variations of the 615 available at this time. There aren’t even any color variations. However Belleville does have a broad selection of waterproof boots, including winter boots with varying weights of cold-weather insulation in addition to their waterproof exterior construction. The current model with these features are 650, 695/795 (light insulation), and the 675/675 ST and the 775/775 ST (heavy insulation).

Price: The 615 is currently being sold at discount rates on Belleville’s website to get rid of inventory of this older model, so it can be picked up for $100. Not a bad deal for a boot manufactured in the USA. However it may not adhere to the requirements of any military branch’s dress codes.

B615-02-side

Fit & Comfort: For bare-bones waterproof boots these are remarkably comfortable with the included insole. The MeraMax polyurethane midsole and outsole are fairly stiff, with a good amount of protection between your foot and hard terrain, which makes it a good hiking boot but inferior when it comes to running. Note that it has no drainage vents for water because it is a boot designed to be fully waterproof, and thus is not ventilated as well as true hot weather boots. This will keep the temperature inside the boot higher, but the Gore-Tex fabric does a reasonable job of wicking moisture and keeping the feet from remaining too sweaty.

The laces are made of a waterproof, plasticized fabric, which should be double-knotted to keep them from slipping, but will be easy to lace or unlace in any weather conditions. The only disappointment here is that the laces are fairly long, but as shown in the photo above are short enough that they must be fully unlaced from the top-most D-rings in order to remove the boot from the foot. The boots have to be partially re-laced each time they’re put on. This makes the boot less than ideal for those in a hurry to get prepped.

The lacing structure of this boot comes down to the middle of the arch of the foot. I found that this is enough for these boots because they can be laced tightly and still remain comfortable. Since the laces do not come down to the toes it provides more room in the tip of the boot, which makes it more comfortable and slightly wider, even in a regular (D) width.

B615-03-top_toe

Durability: The toe design is uninspired, but has good hydrodynamics for moving in the water. It will also be less likely to catch on debris when walking due to the relatively smooth, sueded leather. The MeraMax outsole is of a solid construction and wraps around the bottom 1-1.5 inches seamlessly.

B615-05-inside

Above is a view inside the upper which is covered in nylon with a Gore-Tex core, a water-proof fabric that will also wicking moisture from inside the boot. On the exterior of the upper, but not on the tongue of the boot, is the same cowhide leather for durability seen elsewhere. The tongue has no padding at all from what appear to be full layers of green nylon with the Gore-Tex blend underneath. I liked the padding in the TR336, however its understandable that a boot like the 615 lacks padding that would only absorb water. See the graphic below for how Gore-Tex works.

Gore-Tex schematic (by Wart "Solipsist" Dark)
Gore-Tex schematic (by Wart “Solipsist” Dark)

There are several fabrics and synthetic blends that aid in wicking moisture and in some cases keeping water from coming in. A couple of these are proprietary solutions, including SympaTex, which will raise the price of a boot compared to an off-brand or knock-off solution. However Gore-Tex and SympaTex both have proven track records and have earned their reputations, so I’ll skip reiterating a review of the Gore-Tex when other sources provide better insight into the way the proprietary materials work.

B615-06-tread

The outsole is not made of Vibram as reviewed in Belleville’s 633 boot, but rather the more common MeraMax; however the outsole is still effective in hard-packed snow, mud, and water. Additionally the style of tread avoids accumulating dirt and mud between the teeth, which is useful for maintaining low-impact prints in the field as well as not tracking dirt into one’s living quarters.

The hard MeraMax outsole has thus far been very resilient and doesn’t look like it has worn at all. Unlike assault-style boots, the outsole of the 615 is designed for durability in wet conditions and is a very inflexible material. It is decent enough to run in, but I would not choose these boots for Physical Training, with or without the provided insoles. Vibram outsoles provide a much more flexible fit while still remaining waterproof and even the no-name outsoles and tread style on the TR336 CT give more flexibility for running.

Would I recommend Belleville’s 615 waterproof boots? Yes. Despite being an older model, these boots are still rock solid and ready for any warm and wet conditions you’ll throw at them. They come equipped with decent water-resistant insoles so they’re ready to go out of the box. If you are in the US you can check Belleville’s website for special offers which, at the time of this writing, include the 615 and 650 model waterproof boots.

My Rating of Belleville Waterproof Combat 615

Comfort:          8/10
Durability:       9/10
Performance:      10/10
Price:            9/10
Overall Quality:  9/10
Overall Rating:   9/10
Weight (pair):    1.446 kilograms (3 lbs, 3 oz.)
Notes: MIL-Spec, made in USA, Berry-Amendment compliant, Waterproof, Gore-Tex, Hot-Weather.

Things to Consider When Buying Boots or Shoes

These tips are designed to give casual hikers, weekend warriors, military, and anyone in between an idea of what to look for in footwear and how good footwear it will improve any outing.

Shoes or boots?

Buying the right type of footwear is as important for your comfort and the success of the trip as it is important on your wallet. Different adventures will require different types of footwear, but there are other aspects to consider as well such as overall weight, durability, and whether the footwear is travel-friendly.

The weight of shoes or boots impacts long-term performance and comfort, but may be a necessary burden if they do a good job protecting your feet from hazards such as thorns or snakes. More padding also increases the amount of work your feet and legs are doing and the amount of resistance your feet encounter when you flex your ankle and all of this impacts your endurance.

Boots and high-top shoes can provide a lot more protection of the ankle and foot while out on an adventure than running and minimalist shoes. But for some people minimalist shoes get the job done. Generally, larger footwear can also provide more protection from the elements by incorporating more padding behind weather-resistant materials such as SympaTex or Gore-Tex and better protect the ankle and shin.

Many airports around the world now require (or “advise”) travelers to remove their footwear before entering a security checkpoint. Some boots and shoes are now being made that are metal-free and therefore permitted to wear through metal detectors and full body scanners. For continent-hopping adventurers footwear made of fabric and composite materials could be more convenient.

If you’re traveling in style to your adventure destination it might be important to be able to pack one or more pairs of boots in your luggage. Having good packing skills becomes important to make the most of the space inside the luggage, but buying appropriate sized footwear can also alleviate space concerns and baggage weight.

What kind of activities will you be doing and how much flexibility do you need?

Your activities, such as walking, hiking, bicycling, or climbing will dictate the needs of your feet, but so will the terrain. Determine what type(s) of terrain you will have to overcome and narrow down your choices of footwear accordingly.

The terrain you’re in should give you an idea of the type of tread you’ll need. Just as off-road vehicles need deep tread for good grip, hikers and trail runners would benefit from having aggressive tread. However the flexibility of the tread will play an important role in the performance of the shoe or boot and waterproof Vibram outsoles will be more flexible than their competitors, making them a better option for trail runners and military personnel. Some waterproof boots pack on the rubber to make the outsoles sturdy and therefore poorly suited for a trail runner. However sturdy outsoles can provide more utility and better impact resistance for long-distance hikers, particularly in rough terrain where running isn’t even an option.

What type of outsole is best for you?

The outsole of the footwear is the most critical material and the portion of the shoe that has the most important design because it’s the part between you and the terrain. Different outsoles provide different features, such as waterproofing or extreme flexibility. They can also be shock absorbent which reduces impact strain on the foot and ankle as well as reducing the sound made when walking. Having silent gear is important for anyone in the military, law enforcement, or paramilitary operations. However having quiet, stealth-like gear is also important for back country hikers who don’t want to draw the attention of apex predators like bears or lions and for people on safari who want to get a little closer without startling the wildlife.

The style of tread on a boot or shoe can impact overall performance, but will be related to the outsole’s material. Some tread types are better suited for wet situations, while others offer better performance in sand or rocky terrain, and sometimes tread doesn’t correspond with actual performance improvements at all and can injure your feet.

Soles and tread style and durability will vary from boot to boot depending on their intended purpose and climate compatibility. For instance, high-end waterproof boots will typically have proprietary Vibram outsoles or a similarly-performing knockoff. But it’s best to check with a sales representative or experienced wearer of the boot to make sure that the soles will keep up with you on your adventure.

B633-06-tread-1

What kind of ankle support do you need?

Ankle support goes hand-in-hand with flexibility, but doesn’t necessarily have to be a complete trade-off. Low-profile running shoes will provide the best flexibility for cross-country runners used to running on pavement and who don’t need ankle support.

While many trail-running shoes are also low-profile and don’t go above the ankle; athletes and hikers that are less extreme might benefit from having a shoe or boot that comes up to the ankle for basic support and protection from scrapes. Properly considering the type of support for your ankle will reduce the likelihood of injury and discomfort later on. Remember that hiking long distances doesn’t feel good to anyone’s feet: it’s overcoming the challenge that feels great.

Do you need waterproofing for wet conditions?

Do you need waterproof boots, or boots that drain water? If you’re going to be knee- or waist-deep in a river having waterproof boots isn’t going to do you much good without gaiters or waterproof pants because the water will still get into the boot from the top. However waterproof boots are important for people in wet or winter conditions that aren’t regularly traveling through a water source because waterproof boots also have rugged soles that help with traction on wet or icy surfaces. Waterproof boots will also repel moisture buildup when walking in wet conditions.

Gore-Tex schematic (by Wart "Solipsist" Dark)
Gore-Tex schematic (by Wart “Solipsist” Dark)

Vibram specializes in waterproof outsoles for boots and their outsoles can be found on many popular, rugged brands of boots and shoes. Gore-Tex is a fabric membrane that is both breathable (to reduce sweat) and waterproof. SympaTex is a similar fabric to Gore-Tex which can be found in boots and clothing. A combination of waterproof outsoles and fabric technologies will significantly improve the comfort of hiking in wet conditions.

Do you need insulation for cold weather?

When you walk for a long period in boots or shoes your body will be expending energy and creating heat as a byproduct. The human foot is one area which a lot of heat is expended, however this benefits people hiking in cold climates by keeping the feet warmer. The disadvantage is that the moisture and sweat from walking can make the feet colder and in some cases cause bacterial and fungal infections such as athlete’s foot.

Hikers in temperatures above freezing likely won’t benefit from having insulated shoes or boots. The insulation will also add weight to the boot and be more tiring to wear.

Hikers, motorcyclists, and others exposed to extreme temperatures and especially wind chill would benefit from having insulated boots to keep the feet warmer. Even better would be to have good insulated boots that also have moisture-wicking fabric to avoid sweating while still retaining warmth.

What is your price range?

The cost of your footwear should be your least concern. A good pair of boots should last you a very long time and will help you save money on future adventures if you can use the same footwear. And having reliable footwear will help  ensure you get the best out of your entire experience.

You don’t need to buy the most expensive boots or the fanciest shoes, but paying top dollar for the best possible features and comfort will be a foundation for a great adventure now and in the future. So instead of looking at a specific price range, look at a range of features, such as a boot that is waterproof and insulated for cold weather. Then narrow the boots down by comfort and fit, reviews, warrant, and then cost and appearance. This will get you the best value every time.

If you’re concerned about buying from an online retailer, check to see what their return shipping policy is like. Sites like USPatriotTactical.com have free return shipping if you ordered footwear in the wrong size. Amazon.com and its affiliated sites like Zappos.com also offer free return shipping, which can save a lot of money and reduce the hassle of buying new shoes.

Another aspect to consider is whether the item was made in America or a country local to you. Usually the price of footwear will be higher for products made domestically because the people involved in manufacturing were paid higher wages and worked in better conditions than people in third-world countries that make many generic and premium brand shoes and apparel. Even if the quality of a product is not significantly better compared to the price difference, it can still be worthwhile to invest in local manufacturing and support local workers and businesses.

What is a proper fit?

A proper fit should not allow the heel to slip while walking. Additionally when laced tightly there should not be any side-to-side slipping of the foot. Toes should not touch the front of the inside of the footwear. Laced properly for ten or fifteen minutes should not cause discomfort in any position: kneeling, standing, pointing the toe.

Remember to always try on footwear with the socks you plan on wearing while on your adventure. Thick hiking socks can completely change the feel of a shoe or boot. Additionally, it’s fairly common that a person’s right foot is not the same size or width as their left foot. Make sure to measure both feet and if necessary buy different sized footwear to make you comfortable!

Also remember that when hiking long distances or traveling in hot climates that your feet will expand due to the heat, making boots that have a “snug” fit feel too tight. Similarly, when on an aircraft the cabin will be pressurized so that it feels like you’re actual altitude is as high as 8,000 ft (2,400 m), which will also affect the size of one’s feet and can cause discomfort.

Check out the selection of boots and shoes for men and women on the Back Country Gear page recommended by RedHawkAdventures and buy them direct from Amazon.com!