The new ElZetta Charlie HO is astonishingly bright for a hand-held light.

ElZetta High Output Lights: New, Tough, and BRIGHT

As I left the 2011 SHOT Show, I found myself seated next to Dave Barnett. Dave had been at the show, but it’s a huge show, so I had never been by his booth. Dave demonstrated his very high quality flashlight to me- I was especially impressed by the intuitive and easy switch between modes by a quick twist of the rear bezel- and when he had a tester available, I reviewed the ZFL-M60 here. I’ve owned a lot of lights in my life, but I like the ElZetta so much I not only bought one for myself, but also ones for several of my closest friends.

When I talked to Dave at the 2013 Show, he said ElZetta would be coming out with a new line of even brighter lights. In late August, Dave emailed to say he had one of the new High Output lights ready to ship.  ElZetta has renamed their light to reflect that some of their LED modules are now made by them instead of the Malkoff Devices used on all lights previously.  ElZetta offers 5 different tailcap options, as well as 8 degree and 20 degree flood modules and front bezel options. I received the “Charlie” (3 cell) model with a strike bezel and high/low tailcap.

The New ElZetta Charlie HO.

The New ElZetta Charlie HO.

The Charlie HO had the flawless finish and perfect machining on the body that one would expect from a premium light, and that previous ElZettas have all displayed.  I of course immediately tested the light beam, and WOW, it was bright!  I was interested to see what the differences were, and more importantly, verify that the new HO models are as incredibly tough as the originals.

New compared to old modules.

At a glance, the most obvious difference in the original ElZetta head and the new HO head is the length.

M60 head on the left, HO on the right.

M60 head on the left, HO on the right.

While the strike bezel does add a minor bit more length than the low profile head, the HO unit would obviously be longer even without that extra 1/4″ or so projection.  It’s also a wider diameter.

Low-profile M60 head on the left, strike bezel HO on the right.

Low-profile M60 head on the left, strike bezel HO on the right.

Another difference is that the Malkoff module is a single-piece unit held in place by the bezel cover.  In the new HO module, the acrylic lens separates from the bottom of the unit, and is held in place by top bezel ring.  The light was obviously ridiculously bright, but I wondered if the different construction would result in less strength.

New HO at top, M60 on bottom.

New HO at top, M60 on bottom.

· Dave told me that the 2-Cell Models produce 650 lumens, while the 3-Cell Models produce 900 lumens.  The HO head can be purchased separately, and retrofitted to existing 2 or 3-cell ElZettas.  ElZetta has a patent-pending system that allows the HO heads to automatically adjust their output to suit the body they are mounted on.  The standard lens can be replaced with a flood lens for $15.

I immediately began using the Charlie on my nightly walks around my neighborhood.  On the first night, I spotted a fox slipping into the woods about 90 meters away.  I also had the opportunity to compare the new Charlie HO with my favorite ZFL-M60 2 cell.  The original ElZetta is extremely bright.

ZFL-M60 2 cell on high.

ZFL-M60 2 cell on high.

The new Charlie on high is astonishing.  I have had custom flashlights pulling 13.5 volts that did not produce a brighter beam, and the perfect optics of the ElZetta really maximize how far your throw extends.

The Charlie HO is so amazingly bright.

The Charlie HO is so amazingly bright.

Dave told me that the new HO heads have an even “warmer” tone than the already very nice tone of the M60, and this was clearly true.

M60 beam on the left is "cooler" than the HO beam.

M60 beam on the left is “cooler” than the HO beam.

I switched the HO head onto my M60 2 cell body and used that as well.  I found that I liked the 2 cell HO better for most things, especially in the “splashback” that happens when the high beam is shone on a close surface that is even semi-reflective.  While the Charlie can be carried without much inconvenience in the pocket of your jeans, the Bravo is even easier, and the larger front bezel doesn’t add an uncomfortable amount of bulk.

After carrying and using both 2 and 3-cell versions, it was time to do some testing.

I started with the 2 cell body that ElZetta now calls the Bravo.  I first replaced the batteries with new Rayovac lithium batteries.

Ready to start Bravo run time test.

Ready to start Bravo run-time test.

A rifle rest was used to hold the ElZettas during the test.

A rifle rest was used to hold the lights during the run-time test.

A rifle rest was used to hold the lights during the run-time test.

I tested the HO head on the 2 cell ElZetta body first.  I projected the beam 12 feet from my loft onto a section of wall opposite.  This is what the beam looked like when first on.

Beginning run-time test.

Beginning run-time test.

The beam did not noticeably change size or shape for a long time.  The light did begin to heat up, with noticeable heat by 20 minutes into the test.  At 35 minutes, the light was quite warm, and by an hour of run-time, the 2 cell was hotter than comfortable, but probably not quite hot enough to burn.

30 minutes.

30 minutes.

At 1 hour, the ElZetta beam appeared to be the same as when first turned on.

2 cell HO after an hour of runtime on high.

2 cell HO after an hour of runtime on high.

80 minutes after beginning test.

80 minutes after beginning test.

The ElZetta was noticeably cooler by an hour and 20 minutes into the test. Probably not coincidentally, the beam was perceptibly dimmer. By 90 minutes, the ElZetta was completely cool.

HO at 90 minutes.  The light body is completely cool at this point.

HO at 90 minutes. The light body is completely cool at this point.

 

At 2 hours and 10 minutes, the ElZetta was outshone by my $12 2AA flashlight, so I decided the high output test was done.  It is only fair to note that the ElZetta was still capable of illuminating the front door from the loft, which is the longest straight-line distance in the townhouse.

The high beam after 2 hours and 10 minutes.

The high beam after 2 hours and 10 minutes.

The Charlie test was next.  I expected to be able to get a significant amount more burn time, besides being 50% brighter.

Charlie HO test begins.

Charlie HO test begins.

15 minutes into the test, the Charlie HO was hot enough that it would probably burn if kept in contact with skin for more than a few seconds.

15 minutes, and very hot.

15 minutes, and very hot.

At 30 minutes, the Charlie HO was too hot to touch for more than a second or two, easily hotter than the 2 cell ever got.

30 minutes into Charlie run-time test.

30 minutes into Charlie run-time test.

At about 35 minutes in, I was startled to see a quick flicker.

40 minutes

40 minutes

At 40 minutes, I had seen an occasional flicker, and the Charlie was too hot for me to touch for more than a brief instant.  At 46 minutes, the light began flickering constantly.  This was not a “flash” or strobe, the light was changing in intensity instead of just winking off for an instant.  I was about to shut the light off, when (after about a straight minute of flickering), the beam stabilized.

About to stop the test.

About to stop the test.

I would have continued the test, but the Charlie began flickering again.  I then attempted to turn off the Charlie to avoid potential damage to the unit.  I say attempted because the light was so hot that I couldn’t hold onto it for more than the briefest touch!  I managed to shut off the light on the 3rd try.

Charlie just before I shut it off at 47 minutes, 30 seconds.

Charlie just before I shut it off at 47 minutes, 30 seconds.

With the run-time test out of the way, I wanted to find a way to really see how tough the new HO modules are.  I decided to repeat the freeze test I did with the original ElZetta, but with some modifications.

I used plain tap water this time, so I would get a harder freeze quicker.  I filled a plastic container with about 4 inches of water, turned the Charlie on low beam, and placed the container in the freezer.

I tested the sturdiness of the HO unit by freezing it in water.

I tested the sturdiness of the HO unit by freezing it in water.

In 3 hours, the water in the container was mostly frozen.

3 hours into the freeze test.

3 hours into the freeze test.

The water was completely frozen before 2330.

Completely frozen.

Completely frozen.

After six more hours in the freezer, the Charlie was still shining, with no apparent diminishment.  This was expected, but if the new head was significantly less resilient, what I was about to do next should show it.

Charlie after 15 hours in the freezer.

Charlie after 15 hours in the freezer.

I heated a pot of water until it was boiling, and turned the heat off.

About to rapidly change Charlie's temperature.

About to rapidly change Charlie’s temperature.

Video of the actual test is here, but the short version is that freezing and then dumping the frozen Charlie into boiling water did not break the light.

After the freezing and very rapid temperature change from the boiling water, I am satisfied that the new HO heads are also very hard-use, durable units just as the original M60 units are.

Conclusions.

“There ain’t no free lunch”, Heinlein and others said, and I believe this is the case with the new ElZetta HO lights.  The original M60 is an absolutely terrific light, and I believe the high/low option is the best overall choice for most people.  The new HO options offer an incredible amount of additional light at very minimal cost increase- but is it needed or wanted, and do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?

I believe the new HO ElZettas definitely do have their place in some toolboxes.  They greatly extend the range possible to shine a beam from a light small enough to easily fit into a pocket or on a belt.  The heat put out by the Charlie HO when left constantly on will rapidly make the light unusable: fortunately, hand-held tactical lights are rarely left on for more than a couple of minutes at a time, so this should hopefully never be an issue. The downside of the 900+ lumens of the Charlie HO are that it’s so very powerful, light reflects off even some near black surfaces such as asphalt.  Near surfaces that are light in color reflect enough to be painful.  At the same time, if spotting movement in the dark at more than 50 meters is a goal, I have never seen a better portable light to do it with than the Charlie HO.

My first choice for most situations would be the Bravo 2 cell with low profile bezel and high/low tailcap, or “B133″ in the new terminology. This light still has the very useful low beam of the M60, only now it’s even better than the original.  For the few times when super light is needed, the high beam on the Bravo is over 2.5 times as bright as the M60, but not so bright that it reflects painfully back from any near surface that is at all reflective.  The Bravo is also small enough to easily fit into most pant pockets.  If purchased directly from ElZetta, this light will cost you $210, exactly $20 than the original ElZetta in similar configuration.

For those who need or want an extremely bright, sturdy light that is small enough to easily pack or slip in a pocket, the new ElZetta High Output lights are definitely worth a look.  They are shipping now from ElZetta.com.

The new ElZetta Charlie HO is astonishingly bright for a hand-held light.

The new ElZetta Charlie HO is astonishingly bright for a hand-held light.

DSC07286

The Biggest Little Knife: Daily Kiri Long Term Review

As tool users and consumers we are often subjected to advertising that is, by any standard, over the top. Nearly every piece of gear from boots to watches is either “X-treme” or offers “X-treme” performance, promising to turn the purchaser into a hardcore “Tier-1″ operator. Here at Shooting Reviews, one of our foremost goals is to separate the wheat from the chaff. We endeavor to offer gear reviews that are based on performance under real world conditions. To that end, we offer this extensive review of a very simple knife.

(Don’t forget to click the pics for high-rez versions.)

Now on with the show!

 Simplicity.

Simplicity.

Meet the Shirley-Owens Daily Kiri, one of many collaborations between John Shirley and Sam Owens. John is a martial artist, army reserve officer, combat veteran and editor and frequent contributor here at Shooting Reviews. Sam is a craftsman of the old American type specializing in the restoration and reconstruction of timber framed structures. (If you read the recent TacProGear plate carrier review, you may have noticed that Sam is also a giant of a man.)

Inspired by the stunningly minimalist traditional Japanese utility knife, the kiridashi, the Daily Kiri is designed with the goal of placing as much utility as possible into a knife that is small enough to be constantly carried and used in all but the most strictly controlled environments. The Daily Kiri exists in several variants, but the one that we will be discussing is a Daily Kiri Extended Choil in 440C.

Less than a handful.

Less than a handful.

All Daily Kiris are hand ground from bar stock by Sam Owens. Heat treatment for stainless knives is by Bos.

Now, this is a small knife by any measure. The Daily Kiri has roughly 1.5″ worth of edge and the blade is 1.75″ in length when measured from choil to tip and an overall length of 4.5″. Stock thickness is a nominal 1/8th of an inch. Despite being a fixed blade the Daily Kiri is is smaller than many common “midsized” folders when closed.

 1.5" edge length

1.5″ edge length

...and just a bit more to the point.

…and just a bit more to the point.

The grind is very high and efficient.

 It wants to cut!

It wants to cut!

While not a knife designed purely for aesthetics, the Daily Kiri does sport the particularly handsome Shirley-Owens logo.

Shirley-Owens

Shirley-Owens

People shove all sorts of oddly shaped objects into their pockets.

People shove all sorts of oddly shaped objects into their pockets.

Despite being a fixed blade the Daily Kiri is is smaller than many common "midsized" folders when closed.

Despite being a fixed blade the Daily Kiri is is smaller than many common “midsized” folders when closed.

A survival cord wrap serves to make the Daily Kiri EC more grippable while minimizing bulk.

Wrap pattern is a bit like Ito found on traditional Japanese blades.

Wrap pattern is a bit like Ito found on traditional Japanese blades.

The single piece construction allows the thickness of the knife to be minimized.

The Daily Kiri is dwarfed by a SAK and a Kershaw folder.

The Daily Kiri is dwarfed by a SAK and a Kershaw folder.

As a mode of carriage Sam Owens provides a simple, well formed, Kydex sheath. It is difficult to get proper retention with molded kydex on a knife this flat. This sheath is perfect.

Simplicity part II.

Simplicity part II.

I chose to wear this Daily Kiri as a neck knife, but some people carry small fixed blades in their pocket by looping the chain around a belt loop or their belt.

The kydex that the sheath is formed from is quite thin and adds very little bulk to the package.

Slim and trim.

Slim and trim.

Now, 1.5″ isn’t much blade length, and it begs the question, “What can you do with a knife that small?” To answer that question I’ve began carrying the Daily Kiri exclusively for six months in lieu of a folding pocket knife. My two goals were to test the Daily Kiri extensively, and to also see if the recent trend by some knife users to carry a small fixed blade instead of a folder had any merit, or is just a passing fad. In that time I’ve used the Daily Kiri for nearly every reasonable task that an EDC pocket knife could be expected to handle and quite a few unreasonable ones.

The Daily Kiri has opened innumerable boxes in the time that I have had it. By choking up on the blade the tip is able to be safely and efficiently used as a box-cutter without the chance of over-cutting into the package. This is the grip that I used to cut away a patient’s Carhartt jeans to access his broken leg after my trauma shears self destructed.

Boxcutter

Boxcutter

The slim tang allows the Daily Kiri to be easily used with a pencil grip for detail cutting. It gave good service cutting out stencils and working with adhesive vinyl.

 No X-Acto? No problem.

No X-Acto? No problem.

The tang has enough length to fit three fingers and a pommel swell serves to enhance retention.

 By way of comparison, I wear a Medium size glove.

By way of comparison, I wear a Medium size glove.

The grip is quite secure when held in a strong saber grasp but the cord wrapping does have some give. Textured micarta or G10 would have been superior in this regard but would have resulted in both increased cost and a little more weight. Micarta IS an option but no texturing is available as standard.

 Sabre grip.

Sabre grip.

Upon receipt of the knife one of the first tests that I undertook was to evaluate the knife as a weapon. Mind you, this was not the intended purpose for this knife, but it was more than adequate in this role considering the diminutive size of the Daily Kiri.

The knife was employed to “fight” a variety of targets including but not limited to cardboard shipping tubes, corrugated paper sheets, pizza boxes, rolled damp periodicals and the dreaded pink pool noodle. I fully expected to lose the very pointy, very thin tip but it survived intact. This speaks well of the quality of the heat treatment. The small size of the grip and shortness of the blade hamper the wounding potential of the Daily Kiri, but this is offset by its ease of carriage. It is small, it is light, it is very flat. When carried as a neck knife it is nearly unnoticeable and I found myself getting into the habit of patting my sternum to make sure it was still there.

While only having 1.5″ worth of blade, the extreme angle of the edge allows all of the edge to be used in a thumb driven pushcut. This makes for pleasant whittling and carving. As a kitchen knife doing food prep, the Daily Kiri does not fair so well as the short blade limits clean slicing ability to very small foodstuffs. Large onions or tomatoes are a no-go. However, as a table knife the Daily Kiri is much more successful and it is a tool par excellence for cubing steak or chicken breast by presenting the edge against the meat and pressing straight down into the cutting surface. Nearly every can opened in my kitchen for the last six months has been punched and levered open with the Daily Kiri.

In the roughly six months I have been using the Daily Kiri I have worn it nearly constantly, and much of that time the knife has been soaked in sweat. I repeat, SOAKED. The survival cord wrapping soon began to acquire a rather “piquant” odor. The solution to this problem was to simply begin wearing the Daily Kiri while in the shower. Usually I remembered to take the knife off before bed. In any case, this is a knife of bare 440C steel, subjected to corrosive sweat all day, sometimes used in the kitchen and only ever cleaned with soap and water.  To test the rust resistance of the Daily Kiri, it was never oiled.
(Editor’s note: all knives should be regularly oiled. If the knife may be used to cut food, vegetable oil or mineral oil can be used.)

The right side of the blade is more corroded.

The right side of the blade is more corroded.

This speaks highly of the corrosion resistance of 440C. I didn’t expect it to do so well.

Removing the cord wrapping revealed only minor rust speckling. My expectation was for much more corrosion where the cord had held moisture.

 Approximately 5 feet of cord wrapped the tang.

Approximately 5 feet of cord wrapped the tang.

The Daily Kiri isn’t perfect and it isn’t a impeccably finished objet d’art to impress your friends with. It is an unapologetically utilitarian cutting tool suitable for a relatively broad range of tasks.  The cord wrap works fine for occasional use, but I believe heavy users interested in the Daily Kiri will be happier paying a little more for micarta or G10 scales.

Depending on final particulars and steel a Daily Kiri with sheath will cost $55-$75 and has a lead time of approximately 2 months from Sam Owens.

Benchmade 530 SBK

Benchmade 530 Axis Lock Long Term Review

Enter the Benchmade 530

In the fall of 2006 I once again found myself deployed with the USAF to Balad Air Base, LSA Anaconda, Iraq. I was already carrying a personally purchased Benchmade Griptilian on duty in my DCU pants pocket. I decided I wanted something thinner and easier to carry clipped inside the waist band of my PT uniform while off duty, or as much as one can be off duty when deployed in a combat zone. Since I already owned the aforementioned mentioned Griptilian I was familiar with Axis Lock, and Mel Pardue’s folding knife designs. So, I decided to give the ultra slim Benchmade 530 SBK * Axis a try.

The Benchmade 530 in Iraq

The 530 turned out to be perfect for my intended uses. Its light weight, very slender width, and low top to bottom height made the Benchmade 530 very comfortable to carry when clipped into the waistband of my PT shorts.  For those who aren’t familiar PT is Physical Training, so PT shorts are little more than issued uniform gym shorts. Thankfully I never had to use the 530 to poke anyone to protect myself. Had I been forced to do so, I have no doubt that the 530 would have been well up to the task with its dagger like blade held securely in place by the ultra strong Axis Lock. In a very useful but unintended twist, the Benchmade 530′s slender spear point blade also made it a great letter opener and box opener for care packages.

The Benchmade 530 as a Civilian EDC Knife

Less than a year after the start of that last deployment I reached the end of my enlistment, and was honorably discharged. Once I transitioned to civilian life I found myself carrying the Benchmade 530 far more than I carried my Benchmade Griptilian. The 530′s ultra thin profile (see pics below) and incredibly light 1.88 oz weight allowed into slip into blue jean and khaki pant pockets far more easily than any other knife I owned at the time. It’s also very easy to carry in casual shorts and lightweight fishing or hiking shorts. Because of this the 530 has become one of my favorite summer time every day carry folders. In fact, the Benchmade 530 is still one of the thinnest and lightest folders on the market, outside of the ultra tiny key chain knives. Because I carry my 530 SBK so much, it’s gotten quite a bit of use over the nearly seven years I’ve owned it. I haven’t used the 530 SBK as hard I used my Griptilian, but the 530 has more than made up for that in quantity of use. It’s opened countless envelopes, packages, and boxes. It opens food packages, slices meat, and frequently serves as a cigar cutter. Despite my initial desire for a full plain edge the serrated rear section of the 530 SBK’s blade has proven to be very useful for cutting mono-filament fishing line and other small, tough cordage.

Conclusion

The Benchmade 530 has a 3.25″ long blade of 154 CM steel, and a 4.17″ closed length. The roughly two third length skeletonized steel liners under the textured Grivory scales combine to make a high strength handle that provides excellent grip without being abrasive. As noted above the 530 features Benchmade’s ultra strong Axis Lock. The clip is the standard Benchmade three screw type. In summary, the Benchmade 530 is a very useful EDC knife that’s so light and thin you’ll forget you’re carrying it.

Benchmade has adopted a MAP (Minimum Advertised Price) price control structure, so online pricing is consistent at $92.50 and up for the satin finish blades, and $106.25 for the black coated blades. Note that the MAP structure does not prevent retailers from offering separate discounts, so be sure to check for coupon or discount codes. Pricing is inline with knives from Spyderco featuring their Caged Ball Bearing Lock, and knives from SOG featuring their ARC Lock; which are the Benchmade Axis Lock knives most direct competitors.

For more thoughts see my Benchmade 530 YouTube Review.

*The SBK suffix simply denotes that it’s a partially serrated blade with Benchmade’s BK black blade coating. I prefer plain edges, but I wanted the black coated blade, and the 530 BK was not available at the time.

Benchmade 530 SBK

Benchmade 530 SBK

The Benchmade 530 is thin!

The Benchmade 530 is thin!

Benchmade 530

The Benchmade 530 still offers a full size grip.

 

Drawing from the Universal Pistol Wheel.

TacProGear Rapid Assault Plate Carrier

I met Dan Lounsbury of Tactical Products Group a couple of days before the 2013 SHOT Show, while waiting for my luggage in the Las Vegas airport.  He told me a little about his company, who supplies tactical gear for government agencies and businesses.  I got on the TacProGear email list. The gear in the emails looks well-made, and is usually priced very competitively.  I was especially interested when I got an email listing their “Active Shooter Defense Kit“, which includes a plate carrier and two Level IV “stand alone” plates for under $400, shipped.  This was a terrific deal.

Plate carriers can be used in one of two ways.  They can be used as primary armor for individuals for whom speed and maneuverability are more important than the more extensive coverage traditional body armor offers, or they can be used as reinforcement over soft body armor for the proverbial really bad day.  I have seen plate carriers used mostly the first way, by some combatants while on combat deployments, but I know some police officers carry plate carriers in the trunks of their squad cars for situations where there is a known threat of taking fire from heavier calibers than their soft body armor can handle.

The Active Shooter Defense Kit came with the Rapid Assault Plate Carrier and two Level IV stand alone plates.  In practical terms, this means that without any additional reinforcement, one of these plates should be able to stop any rifle round smaller than the really big magnums.  (Detailed explanation of the NIJ standards can be found here.) I emailed Dan about getting one of the Active Shooter Defense Kits to review. Most US military reserve members’ field gear is issued by their units, so if a service member goes to another unit that is not immediately deploying, he may be waiting for months before receiving his gear.  (In my current unit, I am advised that the delay is usually six months, and I am in a “frequent deployment” specialty!)  This means that I have had to borrow gear to do some unit training, such as fire on qualification ranges.  The RAPC would let me have a plate carrier and magazine-mounting system I could use while waiting for my issued load-bearing gear and IOTV body armor to arrive, and I could use it for my own personal training after I received my “TA-50″.

Front of the RAPC

Front of the RAPC (with CZ75 in UPW)

The RAPC comes in black, OD green, coyote, and MultiCam.  It’s covered with MOLLE/PALS webbing on the front and back, with hook and look (“Velcro”) patches to put identifying name or unit tape. The 10×12″ plate carrier pockets are secured at the bottom with a hook and loop tab.

Plate carrier pocket closure.

Plate carrier pocket closure.

The shoulders are padded, and the insides have a textured surface that allows for more air circulation.

Inside the RAPC.

Inside the RAPC.

The sides are open, and secured by adjustable straps with Fastex buckles and an elastic keeper to hold the excess length after the strap is tightened.

Side strap and quick-release buckle.

Side strap and quick-release buckle.

The shoulders are secured by adjustable straps with hook and loop tabs on the end.

Adjustable shoulder straps.

Adjustable shoulder straps.

The front of the RAPC has an additional large pocket in front of the plate carrier pocket.  This pocket has a zipper on both right and left sides, and the rear wall of the pocket is lined with “loop” material.

Front Pocket

My immediate impression on receiving the RAPC, was that it seemed well made  It was very lightweight, and when I put it on, it was comfortable.  After installing the plates, the carrier was still very comfortable and allowed almost full mobility.  The RAPC is much less bulky than standard full coverage body armor with rifle trauma plates, so I decided to try it under a cover garment.

Even with no magazines, the RAPC is pretty obvious under clothing.

Even with no magazines, the RAPC is pretty obvious under clothing.

While it might not be obvious at night, from a distance, the plates in the carrier add a significant amount of bulk that will be obvious under most circumstances.  I did wear it around the neighborhood a few times during low traffic times of the day, and moving with it reinforced how comfortable the vest was.

I took the RAPC with me to my unit, and had several Soldiers look at it and try it on.  One of the Soldiers has put on a lot of extra weight after seeing several of his troops blown apart on his most recent deployment.  His extra width forced the RAPC to ride higher than it should, even with the shoulder straps at full extension.  I determined to find other body types that were large but not fat to test the RAPC on.

I wanted to set the RAPC up as I might use it in combat, so I purchased two commercial M16 magazine carriers.  I then encountered another issue.  The RAPC is just a little too thin to fully hold some three-wide M16 magazine carriers.

Rapid Assault Carrier is slightly too thin to fully anchor standard 3-wide M16 mag holders

Rapid Assault Carrier is slightly too thin to fully anchor standard 3-wide M16 mag holders

I have Army-issued three-mag carriers with three MOLLE straps on the back, and I purchased a six magazine carrier with six loops on the back.  A single loop wider would be enough for the carriers that have two straps per magazine compartment, or the two partial loops on each side of the front could be consolidated into a single full loop- this should give the exact same amount of frontal area, but it would be more usable.

Magazine carriers with 3 MOLLE straps.  This fits.

Magazine carriers with 3 MOLLE straps. This fits.

Magazine carrier with 6 MOLLE straps.  Only 5 fit the front of the carrier.

Magazine carrier with 6 MOLLE straps. Only 5 fit the front of the carrier.

I also attempted to mount my typical duty knife in its usual position, high on my non-dominant side.  I immediately discovered that there was not enough room to mount my knife without it interfering with my rifle magazines.

Not enough room to mount fixed blade in my standard position.

Not enough room to mount fixed blade in my standard position.

A mounted knife should be in a position where it can be immediately drawn and used, so I mounted an Ontario Knives EOD Karambit to the front of my magazine pouch.  Since there is only so much room on a compact carrier like this, I was not upset at not being able to use my usual knife and mounting preferences.

Alternative position and fixed blade.

Alternative position and fixed blade.

When I had Sam Owens try the RAPC on, it reinforced my idea that more adjustment room in the straps was needed.

Not enough coverage for very large people.

Not enough coverage for very large people.

A standard trauma plate is 10×12″, and obviously that is not going to cover all of a large person.  What it should cover, though, are the most vital organs.

The lack of adequate adjustment is clearer from the sides...

Just not enough plate for a really big person.

My natural tendency is to want to cover lower on my abdomen than very high, if I have to choose.  This was “fact checked”.  A radiologic technologist provided me with images from a fine slice CT scan which demonstrate the difficulties in covering abdominal organs without leaving vital vessels in the chest exposed, when the length of the plate is 12″.  I am forced to conclude that leaving the plate riding high, protecting the aortic arch at the top of the heart and the connecting arteries, is the best of the bad options if a large person happened to be wearing this or any other standard plate.

The need for additional adjustment room is most obvious from the back.

“Standard” plate looks small on a big man.

I called Dan and discussed my impressions with him, and especially described the need for more adjustment length in the shoulder straps.  He said TacProGear would work to make the change in the next RAPC generation.  Dan also asked how I liked the Universal Pistol Wheel.

Pistol wheel?

I had not received the pistol wheel.  Dan had one sent out.  The pistol wheel is a disk backed with “hook” material that mates with the “loop” material in the front pocket.

TacProGear Universal Pistol Wheel

TacProGear Universal Pistol Wheel

The Pistol Wheel has a hook and loop strap that can be adjusted to fit a wide variety of handguns.

Tighten the strap to secure handgun.

Tighten the strap to secure handgun.

Once adjusted to hold your handgun, the wheel can be placed in the front pocket, positioned for a right or left-hand draw.  The picture shows a full-sized duty handgun, which was held very securely.

Drawing from the Universal Pistol Wheel.

Drawing from the Universal Pistol Wheel.

I took the RAPC with me for a couple of weeks of active duty at Fort Story, and wore it on a march, along with an assault pack.  This would be the exact amount of gear certain small US military units use when out on missions.  Worn with a fully loaded assault pack, the RAPC was still very comfortable, and stayed relatively cool in the humid Virginia summer.

There are some things I like about this carrier.  It is extremely reasonably priced, and very comfortable.  It allows a high degree of mobility.  The Fastex side buckles make putting the RAPC on very quick and easy.  The Universal Pistol Wheel allows a convenient way to carry a sidearm.

There are some thing I don’t like about this carrier.  I think the side straps could be a designed a little better- just adding another elastic gather on each side would control the extra tongue left dangling on smaller people.  The plate carrier pocket would be better if it opened at the top instead of the bottom.  All hook and loop fasteners eventually fail, and a pocket that opened at the top would prevent spontaneous ejection of the trauma plate when this happens. The front MOLLE loops can easily be reconfigured to make the best use of the width that is there, and allow six full rows of usable loops.  My initial conclusion was that the absolutely most important change to be made to the RAPC was making the shoulder adjustment straps longer, to allow the plates to cover “center mass” for shooters who are wider or taller than average. After much discussion and looking at x-rays, I don’t believe this any more.

I think the Rapid Assault Plate Carrier as it is now could be a good choice for someone of small to average build who wants a plate carrier for occasional use.  Even without plates, it works fine to mount a carrier for six M16 magazines, if a military-issue carrier with three anchoring straps is chosen.  It definitely allows carriers with less than six straps to mount securely.  The Universal Pistol Wheel would allow someone who keeps a plate carrier in a squad car or locker to quickly access armor, ammunition, and a sidearm, in a form that can be put on in just a couple of seconds. I think anyone who is much larger than average build would be better advised to choose a carrier that will allow mounting a larger plate.

Available for a little over $100 from sites such as Optics Planet, with MultiCam about $10 more.

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Ontario 1-18 Machete: The Old Soldier

Though the machete is a nearly omnipresent tool throughout most of the developing world, made by dozens of manufactures to hundreds of patterns, we in the United States only have one domestic manufacturer of quality affordable true machetes.

The Ontario Knife Company has been stolidly churning out quality edged goods for over 120 years and during that time has contracted the production of many different tools for the the US Government. Among them, the M1942 machete remains an issue item in slightly modified form 71 years after being type specified. (Or at least it would be a generally issued item if US American service-folk would ever get deployed to a locality whose scenery consisted of anything other than dust, sand, rocks and the foul precipitate of militant Islam.)

Currently produced for the commercial market by the Ontario Knife Company as the 1-18 “Military Machete” (NSN 5110-00-813-1286), occasionally sold as surplus from the DOD to the public, the 1-18 is one of the most widely distributed and common machetes in the US.

Lets give it a look.

 A very pedestrian appearance.

A very pedestrian appearance.

The OKC 1-18 generally conforms to the perception of a plain-vanilla “latin” style machete having a straight back, extended ricasso and not-particularly-pointy point. There are some clever subtleties in the design as the blade gently broadens from the ricasso to give a more weight forward balance.

The blade is ground from stock a full 1/8″ thick and is untapered. While not “thick” to the common US American perception of what constitutes a “heavy duty” knife, when compared to most actual working machetes the Ontario seems massive.

 Ontario on the Left,IMACASA on the Right.

Ontario on the Left,IMACASA on the Right.

This extra thickness isn’t necessarily a good thing since it comes at the price of increased user fatigue and decreased control but does increase chopping performance on light hardwoods. OKC offers a lighter (but still thick by machete standards) “Econo” line of machetes with a .08″ blade thickness.

The blade is coated in an even black phosphated finish. Note that this sort of finish has minimal rust preventative properties unless kept well oiled. In any case, the finish isn’t very durable will soon wear off with usage.

 Pure utility.

Pure utility.

Most machetes are usually shipped dull and the Ontario is no exception. Expect it to be totally dull and unusable out of the box. Usually the OKC machetes will require less finish filing or grinding to establish a working edge as the bevels are closer than on most central or south American machetes.

 Tips are usually left very thick and will require extra work.

Tips are usually left very thick and will require extra work.

Ontario uses 1095 steel for their machete blades. While the desired hardness for machete blades is low, OKC’s 1095 will offer better edge retention than most imported carbon steel machetes but can fail catastrophically if pushed beyond its limits. To put it another way, I’ve seen more broken OKCs than I have bent OKCs. Remember folks, it isn’t an axe and it isn’t a prybar.

While the blade of the OKC is of the utmost quality, the grip as delivered is an ergonomic disaster seemingly intended for the inhuman grasp of some sort of anthropomorphic steam driven automaton.  The scales will also be poorly fitted to the tang. No surprise in this regard, and quickly and easily remedied by the use of a rasp or other abrasive tool.

 Par for the course.

Par for the course.

 Slightly under par.

Slightly under par.

The poorly fitted grips aren’t the issue. It is the profile of the grips. While nicely rounded to the rear, the edge side of the scales are knuckle-achingly square.

 This is fine.

This is fine.

 Possibly designed for GI Joe with kung-fu grip, not for Joe Public with human hands.

Possibly designed for GI Joe with kung-fu grip, not for Joe Public with human hands.

The shape of the grip may even preclude the use of a proper thumb and forefinger grip without great discomfort for some users. (Specifically those of us possessed of the standard flesh and blood hand configuration.)

The plastic handle scales do have enough thickness to allow the sharp corners to be rounded but another critical flaw exists.

 Careful sanding can be used to round the corners taking care to not cut too deeply.

Careful sanding can be used to round the corners taking care to not cut too deeply.

The compression rivets that are used to secure the scales are notorious for repeatedly working loose. Very annoying if you are depending on the tool in the field. If only someone at OKC was paying attention to these endemic flaws and had worked out a fix…oh, what is this?

The improved grip.

The improved grip.

Well how about that?

This one piece molded-on grip solves most of the issues that the standard 1-18 grip has. No loose rivets. No sharp edges. Well molded, lightly textured with a rounded oval profile. While the D guard does offer some small protection for the hand under limited circumstances this small utility is more than outweighed by the manner in which the guard interferes with the handling of the tool. To restate in more succinct terms, the D guard is often in the damn way. Thankfully it can be easily sawed off and discarded.

 Much better.

Much better.

The OKC 1-18 usually retails for around the $25 mark from most vendors, and the “improved” version with one piece polymer grip is a few dollars more. While the handle scales of the 1-18 are sub-par they are easily removed and it is a fairly simple (and very rewarding) task for a handy person or blade aficionado to pin on better scales. For those seeking a hard use tool to use with minimal investment of time and effort the “improved” grip is undoubtedly superior.