Random Thoughts: A Mindful Miscellany

from Marcus Wynne

Posts Tagged ‘Gear Reviews

An Appreciation of Spyderco Knives

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I’m fond of knives. I’m half Welsh and half Filipino, which according to some of my witty friends makes me a maudlin drunken poet who sings beautifully in the shower and is given to violence, on occasion, with edgy/pointy things. Maudlin, yes; drunken, no; poet, on occasion; sings beautifully? I wish..; given to violence? Hardly. I abhor violence.

My Filipino blood sings with steel, though. Maybe it’s because the first living thing I killed was with a knife, at the ripe age of 3, when my grandfather Eustachio (according to village legend, a man-killer times 14 with his knife) held my hand on the grip of his knife as he finished a big boar for our neighborhood pig roast. Or the many chickens I helped my grandma kill for supper. We were never romantic or idealistic about the knife; it was and is a tool — for utility or for killing.

Here’s an excellent link to a Filipino knifer and the real-world non-martial arts view of the knife as daily tool for work or killing, courtesy of Greg Ellifritz’s excellent blog at http://www.activeresponsetraining.net : http://forcenecessarytv.blogspot.com/2015/02/a-knife-is-for-killing.html

But I digress. Today is all about Spyderco and my friends Sal Glesser and the astonishing Joyce Laituri. A good friend and training colleague from the Israeli Naval Commandos sent me this picture today; it’s the Philippine Ambassador to Israel, Neal Imperial. He’s a knife practitioner, and at my request, Sal and Joyce sent a beautiful Szabo folder as a gift to the Ambassador to carry and use in his training.


My relationship with the Spyderco family goes way back. I think the first Spyderco product I ever purchased was the one I still use the most: a Spyderco SharpMaker. It is simply the finest, easiest to use sharpening set-up there is. I have dozens of expensive whetstones, files, hones, sharpening rigs, sander set ups, and there is NOTHING I’ve used in over 50 years of carrying a knife that is easier to use and keep a hair-popping edge with than a Spyderco SharpMaker. https://www.spyderco.com/catalog/details.php?product=77


Shown here with the Michael Janich designed Yojimbo, an excellent Wharcliffe utility/fighter. https://www.spyderco.com/catalog/details.php?product=707 I can’t wait to get the fixed blade version, the Ronin. https://www.spyderco.com/catalog/details.php?product=49

In the 80s and the 90s, being a young gun-slinger on an erratic income, I shopped hard for the best quality for the best price in all things. One of my partners from those days opined: “Marcus, all you got in the world are fancy knives, fancy guns, fancy women, and a duffel bag of books.” Well, I’m not too fancy in anything these days, especially fancy women, but I always was fond of Spyderco for the combination of extraordinary quality coupled with a very reasonable price point…and the best customer service ever.

In the 90s, when I wrote regularly for mags like COMBAT HANDGUNS, SWAT, POLICE, POLICE MARKSMAN, GUNS AND WEAPONS FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT, BACKPACKER, OUTSIDE, and other magazines, I was a go-to reviewer for knives, clothing, and outdoor gear. My long-standing relationships with various military, police and specialized security operations meant that I could (still can, on occasion) get good gear directly into the hands of people who would buy them in quantity to equip those who go in harm’s way. A recurrent feature at that time was the latest from Spyderco. Sal and Joyce, especially Joyce, the Goddess of Spyderco Steel, always made sure I got blades to review, and blades to put into the hands of those who went in harm’s way. Spyderco was always part of my load-out when I rolled to work, as you’ll see here:


I was young and foolish then, here with my brother-in-arms Dennis Martin of CQB Services, on the job in sunny Africa:


One thing Spyderco has ALWAYS done on their own, as well as when I requested, is support our serving military, especially our operators, as well as those friendly foreign operators, by sending knives to those who go in harm’s way. They did an amazing job of putting this logo on the knives below for some very good people:



These Scandinavian special operators appreciated the Spyderco blades Joyce and Sal sent with me on a training job:


In some Scandanavian Naval Special Warfare operators’ hands:



And being used in the real-world while rendering first aid:


A lot of my American readers/friends roll with Spyderco; this Naval operator sports an Ed Schempp Rock Salt quite well during deployments. Provided to him by Spyderco:


So what do I roll with personally?

Yojimbo: https://www.spyderco.com/catalog/details.php?product=707

Rescue knife: https://www.spyderco.com/catalog/details.php?product=12

Forester: https://www.spyderco.com/catalog/details.php?product=246

Many thanks to Sal Glesser, for making great knives and supporting those who go in harm’s way, and to the amazing Joyce Laituri, who does the best job in the industry of getting those knives out where they need to be. Thanks, you two!

Written by marcuswynne

March 22, 2015 at 4:04 pm

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Random Thoughts on Gear Hacks: Tac Med Ankle Med Kit Hacked…

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I like Tactical Medical Solutions Ankle Medical Kit: http://www.tacmedsolutions.com/product/ankle-medical-kit/


It’s a clean, simple solution for low-key carry of essential trauma gear when working in plain clothes (if you’re a tacti-cool person) or if you want to carry a higher standard of first aid out and about on your everyday civilian biz.

I got one to hack on for a specific mission.

There’s a young guy I dearly love who is in his full-blown ‘tween years. He’s a Type 1 Diabetic. As a Type 1 Diabetic, he has to carry around a significant amount of medical kit. For a young ‘tween entering those ever-so-cruel teenage years, it’s hard enough fitting in with a health challenge; it’s harder still if you have to carry around a f***ng fanny pack (very unhip these days) with your teenage pals (especially the gal-pal types).

I turned my reasonably experienced (40+) years of tweaking tacti-cool equipment to serve my nefarious purposes, or those of whom I worked with, or whom I like, to see how I might make that burden of carriage not only easier but significantly more low-key.

In other words, could I make this stuff disappear till he needs it.

This wasn’t my first pass at it. I’d originally recruited the Maestro of Custom Gear Concealment, Brian Kroon (protege of the late great Mitch Werbell), designer of the best M-65 jacket evolution, a fusion with the SAS/Para smock and the US Army field jacket, the Recce Smock. http://www.dropzonetactical.com/clothing/recce-smock/recce-smock.php

Brian fussed around and built a custom computer bag that hid a gaming laptop as well as a full complement of diabetes gear. Awesome bag, but not as discreet as a teenager might like.

I think it was the Pencott camo.

I also experimented with the SmarteVest, which is a fine solution, but not as cool with teens as it is with portly middle-aged men; then the SmarteVest cotton hoodie, which is fine for teens, but way too warm for a Minnesota summer.

Back during Gulf One, I had to flit in and out of some hot locales, and found it difficult to conceal various items in and around my waistband. I was significantly thinner then, but it was still too hot to stuff too much in one’s waistband. I’m of the generation that used and trained with ankle holsters for snubbies, and Lou Alessi built me one that I still have (though I have to send it my friend Jack, who bought it from me three years ago– sorry Jack!) and I modded my ankle holster to carry various items around and I was quite happy with it.

Unlike a professional acquaintance of mine who neglected his gear maintenance, and ended up kicking his Sig Sauer P-225 down a jetway in Karachi, Pakistan, when the snap failed, but I digress.

Back to the problem: conceal a full complement of necessary every day carry diabetic medical equipment: syringe pens, needles, sharps container, meter, test strips, lancets, glycogen emergency syringe, gel packs, gauze pads.

I bought a stripped ankle wrap from Tac Med. Laid out here is the wrap and the gear necessary to carry.


The wrap worked great to contain the gear, but the velcro flaps and cut-outs are custom sized for the medical kit that Tac-Med supplies. Great for them and for standard users, but not for me. So I took the wrap down to my friend Alec who is a second-generation master leather-worker/repairman/cobbler, and in about five minutes he stitched the bottom seam of the wrap closed, essentially creating a pocket the entire length of the wrap.

Once he did that, all the necessary gear fit in perfectly:


And then it wrapped, again perfectly, around a very large teenage ankle:


It disappears under even slim-cut designer jeans, let alone the fashionably baggie jeans worn by ‘tweens and teens these days.

And so a certain teen can go out on his first date (with a girl his own age; his first date was an older woman he stole from me, the little dawg…) and have both hands free, and fit in with everyone else till he has to excuse himself from the pizza table to take care of his medical bidness.

Thanks to Tac-Med for making a fine product, thanks to Alec for his superior craftsmanship in helping me hack it into a low-key solution.

http://www.tacmedsolutions.com (extremely well thought out tactical medical gear)
http://oldworldcobbler.wordpress.com (an old school master of leather work and repair)

Written by marcuswynne

August 14, 2014 at 9:51 pm

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The Attache James Bond Wishes He Had, or the Jack-Sack that Jack Bauer Would Kill For

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When I was a tyke, back in the Dark Ages when there were only 3-4 TV stations, and James Bond was the one and only (pre-Sir) Sean Connery, Q hooked up Bond with the ultimate briefcase — a classy leather attache case that concealed, among other things, a suppressed machine pistol. I’m sure it was influenced by Mitch Werbell’s case, which concealed a Mac-10 and a Cobray suppressor, but then I diverge on one of my historical rants.

Back to Cool Guy Attache Cases.

I’ve gone on before about Hill People Gear, the brain child of the Brothers Hill. http://www.hillpeoplegear.com — As a long-time outdoorsman, including a stint as a professional backpacker in the airborne infantry, I appreciate good (great) gear. And HPG does astonishingly great gear. See my previous gear reviews on their Mountain Serape, etc.

HPG products have caught on in a quiet way with some of the professional grey men our military and government deploys in various places — primarily because the gear is simple, clean, robust, elegantly designed, and, when appropriately outfitted, very low key and unobtrusive.

And you can run all kind of goodies in plain sight in one. I’ve seen one with a rifle plate slid into the computer sleeve, and the First Spear fabric that lines the main compartment rigged with holsters, radio pouch, spare mags, and a very cool three-cigar carrier I kinda wanted to steal, if I wasn’t afraid that the owner would hurt me.

My own decidedly low speed, high drag configured bag is pictured below.


As you can see from the book inserted for size comparison, not a big bag…


…and even when fully packed with EDC stuff and all my business and computer bumf, not too thick…


…the computer cut out…


..main panel opened up, fully loaded…


…and the Ranger School Day One, Block One, layout…

What do I like about it? It’s a lean, clean bag. The compact size forces load discipline on the user. I tote around a computer, back up drive, cell phone, cables, back up batteries, and then all my EDC gear you see there. The bag size and cut forces me to ask myself if I really need to throw one more thing in there. It’s fairly loaded, but honestly, I have everything I need to run my business(es) anywhere in the world, and can deal with any contingency that might come up, from nuclear war to a random date with a lovely woman, with the EDC selection laid out there.


Get yourself one while you can. Attache of choice in certain locations in and around Virginia Beach, Harvey’s Point, Fort Bragg, MacDill AFB and other choice environs.

Written by marcuswynne

June 26, 2014 at 2:41 am

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Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoodie Jacket on Sale at REI!

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I’ve heard about Arc’Teryx outdoor gear for years, though until I purchased an Atom LT Hoody I’d never owned any. While doing research for one of my novels I asked some of my friends who are involved in military and police special operations what the cool kids in the tacti-cool community wear these days, and I was told “Everybody who can rocks The Dirty Bird”.

“The Dirty Bird” is one of the outfitters of choice when it comes to tactical haberdashery (though Brian Kroon of Drop Zone Tactical, protege of the legendary Mitch Werbell, has legitimate claim to the title of Tactical Haberdasher) for elite military special operators.

I bought an Atom LT Hoody in my size and favorite color (Grey Man grey) for a ridiculously low price at a local REI. My initial impressions were favorable: great fit, well thought out hood, light weight and compressible.

It looks cool, too.

But I don’t buy gear to look cool or because extraordinary individuals wear it. I buy my gear to hold up to the hard use I put it through out in the real world. I travel a lot and I get to go through a wide variety of climes and terrain as I wander the world. The Atom LT Hoody was tested on early morning beaches in California, in freezing blizzards in the Utah mountains, during the icy cold wind chill blowing through the Wisconsin foothills and across the barren plains of frozen Central Illinois.

Things that rock: This jacket is designed as a close-fitting mid-layer, that can double as an outer layer with its water repellant surface. Shove it under a shell and over a base layer and it can replace all your old fleece in the worst conditions. Why? It’s way lighter. Way more compressible. Way more thermally efficient than several layers. Way more water resistant. I wore it in light rain and in bitter cold with a wind-chill down in the single digits. The outer shell material turned the wind, and I stayed toasty with a mid-weight base layer, hat and gloves. Ventilation is easy, if you know how to run your clothing like equipment: unzip the body and drop the hood when moving, zip up and hood up when stopped; use your hood pulls and hem pulls as necessary to keep that cold air outside and that warm air where it belongs, right next to your body. The slick surface makes it easy to shoulder a pack without snagging, and the material didn’t catch on brush during bushwhacking. The exterior pockets can hold a water bottle, snacks, a hat and gloves if you don’t mind mussing the otherwise trim fit. The hem cord allows the lower edge of the jacket to be snugged tight and above a holster if you carry a pistol openly, and can be loosened to be pulled over one if you carry concealed, though you’ll need to make sure it doesn’t snag when you clear it for presentation.

Things that don’t rock: Small details — thread on the zipper of the inside pocket started coming undone after light everyday use as my main stash pocket for keys and sunglasses; elastic at the wrist once wet, stays wet for long time, unlike the rest of the jacket.

Things that *might* not rock: Long term durability under hard use is an area I have questions about. Light and fast is important, but durability — as in lasting a long time — is also important, especially when you pay the premium for an Arc’Teryx product. I polled some friends about how it stood up to hard use on rock, on firing ranges, and daily wear by military and police — none of them had owned the jacket for more than a year and even with daily wear they were careful with it. So the jury’s still out.

Despite my quibbles and some minor quality control issues with the stitching on the inside pocket, I have to rate this jacket as a big time keeper. The versatility, the superior thermal efficiency and packability make it a must-have for travel and everyday wear.

It normally retails for $220. Between 24 August – 3 September you can get it at REI for $149.99 (sometimes less). http://www.rei.com/product/787706/arcteryx-atom-lt-hoodie-jacket-mens

Highly recommended.

Written by marcuswynne

August 22, 2012 at 3:12 pm

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Hill People Gear’s Mountain Serape

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Hill People Gear’s Mountain Serape is one of the finest pieces of insulation kit on the market. Period. I’ve been an outdoorsman and backpacker since the 70s, tested gear professionally for outdoor magazines through the 90s and the early 2000s, and I’ve written hundreds of reviews of all kinds of tactical and outdoor kit.

So I’ll say it again: HPG’s Mountain Serape is one of the finest pieces of insulation kit on the market. Period.

Take the classic poncho liner, a staple in the rucksack, truck or backpack of just about every infantryman since the Viet Nam era. For those not familiar with poncho liners, think of a lightweight blanket with a nylon shell. When you add a water resistant shell, a hood smack dab in the middle like a poncho, strategically placed zippers that convert the MS into a duvet-like overcoat or lightweight sleeping bag, you’ll have the Mountain Serape.

There are many versions of the poncho liner on the market, ranging from Chinese knock-offs of the GI issue liner, to Kifaru’s Woobie and Doobie, and a host of other manufacturer. The HPG Mountain Serape is the only one I’ve seen that incorporates some elegant design modifications that take it into the Best of Class — in fact, the Only One In It’s Class — Category.

Things that rock: Warmth to weight ratio. Compressibility. Water resistance. Wind resistance. The hood, the hood, the hood. Simple conversion into a great coat or sleeping bag.

Things to use it for: Hunters of both two-legged and four-legged game will *love* this. You can pull this out of your ruck and throw it on in a stand, and be toasty; if there’s wind, zip it into greatcoat configuration and sit out a drizzly windy wait in comfort. For climbers, backpackers, and other folks that normally pack an insulation layer-jacket, replace that with this multi-purpose item that doubles as a ground cloth, a sleeping bag or a lay-out liner for gear check. Search and rescue personnel will appreciate this as a superior casualty blanket as well as a warmth layer that can be thrown on over a small 24-hr pack when on break. I had an opportunity to offer it to a mom and child while working on their car in the early winter; the mom loved being able to throw it on over herself and her baby, zip it up and keep them both cozy.

She also said, for the fashion-conscious, that it looked and draped like Issey Miyake’s Japanese-inspired coat designs.

I used the MS as a hasty warmth layer on an exposed ridgeline with 20-30 mph gusts at 15 degrees F in Wisconsin, as an emergency blanket while providing aid, and as a general lightweight utility blanket for day trips, which included reading in the park and picnics with lovely women.

It’s replaced my Norwegian Jerven Duk — gifted to me by friends in the Norwegian SOF — for emergency bag carry. The Jerven Duk has superior water resistance and is designed primarily as a shelter tarp and secondarily as a blanket-type wrap; the Mountain Serape is superior as an insulation layer and not designed to be a primary shelter layer. So what I’ve done is combine the MS with a sil-nylon tarp and cordage for my baseline 3-season shelter package. The whole thing weighs about a pound and a half, and disappears down deep in my Amron MAP-3500 rucksack. The Jerven Duk stays handy in my back-up gear, though, because in a hard driving rain or sleet, it beats this particular combo for shelter purposes. Adding that hard-shell protection and reinforced grommets to the Mountain Serape would create a whole different beast, and maybe we’ll see that from the young geniuses at Hill People Gear.

Keep your eyes on Hill People Gear — they’re relatively new in the market, and just getting started. I think they’ll be the Kifaru or Mystery Ranch of the future. Check them out, and tell Evan and Scott that I sent you.


Written by marcuswynne

May 27, 2012 at 8:10 pm

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Hill People Gear

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Keep an eye out here for a detailed review of Hill People Gear. These are a couple of guys who've taken some brilliant concepts and rendered them into rugged and efficient designs for very reasonable prices. I'll be testing their Kit Bag and Mountain Serape, which is very much like my favorite piece of kit, the Norwegian SOF Jerven Duk gifted to me by some of my friends.

Written by marcuswynne

February 28, 2012 at 1:08 am

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