Archive for the ‘Tools of the Trade’ category

GSARGear Review: HG Solar Pod

March 12, 2012

This is the High Gear SolarPod.

It is a small 5.5V solar panel with a self-contained 3.7V 650mAh Li-ion battery, designed to charge all kinds of phones and gadgets.

Form: A little, stylish orange-and black panel with a carabiner, it’s quite the looker. It feels just a little bit plasticky, but held up fairly well to several days of travel through mountains and swamps.

Function: Charges fully in about 8 hours of strong sunlight, or 4 hours if plugged into a computers USB port.  It features a carabiner to clip onto the outside of a pack, and doesn’t come off even under rough conditions and use.  It has an LED on the front that indicates whether it is charging or discharging, and a set on the back that indicates how full the battery is.
It works fairly well while riding on the outside of a pack to keep your phone or other device charged, but charging from empty takes quite a while(~8 hours).  It comes with a variety of tips, but also has a USB socket port, meaning that you can use just about any type of charger that plugs into a computer. (Apple 30-pin etc) Speaking of which, the Solar Pod does not charge the iPad and similarly sized tablets. It just doesn’t have that much output.  But for GPSs(GPSes? GPSii?) and phones, it works very well.

Cons:
When the charge is getting low on the device, instead of stopping flow, the Solar Pod keeps trying to charge, and losing power, then attempting to charge again.  This  causes the phone to light up and vibrate every time the charging recommences. The point is that it will run down your battery to a level below that of what your phone originally was.  This can be mitigated by regularly checking on the charging status, but can cause a problem if you forget.

All in all, this is a very good little charger. It probably won’t replace your wall-charger, as it doesn’t hold a huge charge or during cloudy weather,  but for emergency power or topping off, it works very well.

GSARGear Review: Boker Rescom

January 6, 2012

This is the Boker Rescom.

It is a very small, (4.5″ open) light,(2.4oz) simple extrication tool.

Form: The handle is a simple shape, identical to the Subcom lineup. It comes in black and dark red. It has little notches running around the edges and back of the blade for grip, and the handle is covered in a stylish cover of nylon scales. The blade is an angled AUS-8 steel cutter with serrations running the length and ending in a sharp hook. There is a sturdy belt-clip on the back, and a lanyard hole on the tail end of the grip.

Function: The Rescom works very well for its intended purpose: slicing seatbelts. It doesn’t do much else, but it’s small, clips anywhere, and is always handy when you need it. The blade opens very smoothly, the frame-lock is easy to manipulate, and the serrations and hook do their duty without complaint. The thumbstuds are ambidextrous, and the pocket clip is reversible, so you can clip it to a backpack or belt.

Cons: The knife is just a little on the small side, it can be difficult to maintain a grip on and use any force, especially when used with gloves.
In addition, the blade doesn’t feel like it has any kind of coating on it whatsoever, and rusts extremely easily when exposed to sweat, blood or other fluids.

Over all though, this is a great compact tool that stays out of your way until you need it to slice through seatbelts or webbing.

GSARGear Review: Sunwayman M20c

November 21, 2011

 

The Sunwayman M20C R5 is a high-powered, easy-to-use flashlight.
It is powered by two CR123s or a 18650 battery, with excellent output regulation and efficiency.

Use:

The M20c is powered on by your standard tailcap click switch, easy to use with gloves, but is slightly recessed to prevent accidental activation.

The M20c has four light modes with varying runtimes:

280 Lumens (1.5 hours)
50 Lumens (25 hours)
13 Lumens (100 hours)
Strobe mode: 280 Lumens (Untested, due to proctor blindness)

You can cycle through these modes with their unusual “Magnetic Sensor Control” system, a rotating magnetic band near the bezel of the light.

 

The light throws very well, with a smooth beam pattern and decent flood, clearly outlining human figures out past 200 meters.

Dimensions:
Length: 5.24″
Head diameter: 1.26″
Body diameter: 1.0″
Weight: 120g, unloaded

Cons:

My only issue with the light is the smoothness of the handgrip. It can be hard to keep a hold of, especially when covered in blood or oil. This is mitigated somewhat when used with their included tactical ring, but more knurling on the grip would be much appreciated. A flashlight with a tendency to leave your hand can be a major problem in the field.

Other than that, the M20C is an excellent flashlight, and with minor revisions, would be perfectly suited for use in SAR.

 

GSARGear Review: M550 Stealth

July 8, 2011

MXI M550 Encrypted USB drive review.

SAR and support units from differing agencies and organizations all need a secure, portable way to transfer mission-critical files easily between different types of computers and operating systems. Software solutions
are very time consuming and not standardized, and with unsecured flash drives, any confidential or sensitive mission data can easily be accessed if it falls into the wrong hands. MXI offers a quite strong solution to this problem with their hardware based encryption drive, the M550.

Form:

It is compact, narrow enough to not block adjacent USB ports when plugged in, but not so thin as to feel flimsy or breakable. It is extremely solid, inside and out.  It has a tough magnesium enclosure which is crush, water and dust proof to IEC60529 IP57 and MIL-STD-810F. That’s pretty impressive for a flash drive.  There’s no rattling or any give whatsoever between the sheath and the drive itself, it’s just a really compact, solid drive.

Weight: 19g
Dimensions: Enclosure on (H x w x L): 12.5 x 21.5 x 76 mm
Dimensions: Enclosure off (H x w x L): 12.5 x 21.5 x 75 mm

Encryption:

The M550 has integral hardware based encryption, running off of their FiPs 140-2 Level 3 validated processor, automatically encrypting any and all data, applications or digital identities placed on the drive with AES-256 bit algorithms. The M550 can handle multiple PKI Digital identities and RSA SecureID soft tokens as well. MXI bundles their own ACCESS software with it, including antivirus programs, partitioning and user account administration software, and all kinds of configurable security options.  Because all this takes place on the drive itself, with no need for drivers or software installs on the individual machines, it is far less prone to being compromised and can be used cross-platform with no problems.

The MXI M550 Stealth Drive is a secure, rugged, feature-rich flash drive, and has now proven itself in the SAR field. I would highly recommend getting these into the hands of field teams, they are secure, simple, rugged, and reliable.

GSARGear Review: Recon I

May 21, 2011

GSAR GEAR Review: Cold Steel Recon I

This knife is a rugged, reliable cutter.
Weighing in at 5.6 oz, with a 4″ blade and a 5 1/3″ handle, it’s a serious heavy-duty knife.

Form:
The Recon I features the following:
-Large cutting blade available in several different configurations.
-Black teflon finish for protection from rust and other damage and easy maintenance
-Contoured G-10 scales on handle give a solid non slipping grip
-Pocket clip, reversible for left or right handed use
-Rounded thumbstud for one-handed opening, also reversible

Function:
The Recon-I is extremely solid and well-balanced. Extremely sharp right out of the box. The blade is manufactured from AUS-8A Stainless and finished with a nice black coat, and doesn’t scratch too easily. It holds the edge very well, not showing marks even after cutting aluminium and the other hard materials. The teflon starts to flake away after about a year of hard use, but the blade is still in great condition, and the tip handles all sorts of prying and puncturing jobs without issue.
I have the partially-serrated tanto blade, and it is perfect for all kinds of situations. It cuts very smoothly and evenly through all materials, and provides a nice long cutting stroke, thanks to the 4″ blade.

The Tri-ad locking mechanism is extremely solid, if a little slow to open, and holds the blade very securely until released. It also helps retain the blade in the closed position to prevent it from opening accidentally. The mechanism also makes a satisfying ‘click’ when engaged, providing audible feedback that the knife is not closing until you decide it should. The lock release on the spine requires a good bit of pressure to depress, which is good, considering its location.

The Recon-1 requires little maintenance. I’ve used mine in deserts, underwater, forests, and urban situations, and it doesn’t rust or get jammed up inside. A little oil and a rub-down every once in a while makes it run even more smoothly.

The reversible pocket clip is very tight, and will not fall off of whatever you have it clipped onto accidentally. The clip is also much smaller than most, it doesn’t interfere with your grip or cause blisters over long periods of time. It holds the knife slightly higher than most if you’re pocket-carrying it, and people will probably notice you have it there. It rides well in a pocket, just not very discretely.
The G-10 scales are extremely grippy, and the Recon-I will not slip out of your hand accidentally, even when covered with oil or blood. The scales are rough, but the handle is nicely contoured and is is quite comfortable in either hand.

As you can see, this is a large, no-nonsense, cut everything knife. It might scare people at your local command post, especially in the more aggressive models, but it does what is required of it, and will last a long time.

GSARGear Review: Gerber Suspension

April 27, 2011

The Gerber Suspension is a stylish, compact and capable multitool.

Form:

At the first sight of the ‘web’ design, the Suspension appears very nice, and almost fragile, but once you pick it up, you feel the familiar solid heft of Gerber tools. The ‘web’ is reinforced, and won’t break under considerable pressure and drops.The butterfly mechanism flips open smoothly and easily, revealing the spring-loaded needlenose pliars.   The titanium nitride coating keeps the frame nice and scratch-free.

Dimensions:
Length closed 3-7/8”
Width Closed 1-7/8”
Thickness 7/8”
Length open 6”
Weight 8.9 oz

It features the following:

Wire cutter and crimpers on the needlenose pliars.

Wood saw-2-1/8” -Very short for any serious cutting

Drop point style blade-2-1/8”-Nice design, but again, very very short.

Serrated Blade-also about 2-1/8”

One stubby phillips-head screwdriver and two small flat bladed ones

Awl and lanyard hook.

Bottle/can opener.

All blades and other items lock in the open position, and never pull along another item, no matter how dirty they are, thanks to some cleverly designed spacers.

–Function

The pliars, unlike most of the Gerber lineup open in a butterfly motion instead of the usual slide-up action. They’re extremely nice to use, the springs are just the right tension, nice and crisp, but not too difficult to press at all.

The blades, as mentioned before, are very short to do any sort of serious field work, but they seem sturdy enough.

The blades and scissors lock in the open position, and unlock using two safety sliders on the sides of the suspension. These are a pain to operate, but you get used to it.

Summary:

The Suspension is a very nice and good-looking multitool. However, I don’t think it’s really cut out for heavy field work. The tools are just too short and stubby to really hack it for really heavy work.  The screwdrivers are a marked improvement over other gerber ones I’ve used, and the wire crimpers and cutters work really well.      At ~$30, it is a very nice general use solid multitool, definitely worth getting.

GSARGear Review: CRKT Bear Claw ER

February 8, 2011

GSAR GEAR Review: CRKT Bear Claw ER
The CRKT Bear Claw ER  is an outstanding purpose-built rescue knife.
Form:
At 5.75″ long and weighing in at 3.4 oz, this knife is a uniquely designed extrication knife designed to quickly and easily cut through webbing, seat belts, lines or just about anything else in between a rescuer and the victim.

It has great ergonomics. The large finger hole is easy to use even with gloves, and the Hi-Viz orange Zytel grips contours line the blade up perfectly with your hand.

Function:
The polished full-tang stainless steel blade is machined from AUS 4 and holds up against corrosion very well, even with constant exposure to salt water.   The blunt tip keeps the blade from puncturing life preservers or rafts or people, making it excellent for cutting in close to the victim. The serrations are extremely well designed and can easily cut through just about anything with ease.

The black sheath is also manufactured from durable Zytel. There are a lot of mounting options, thanks to several belting slots and lanyard holes, with two points of attachment to screw on the black stainless steel pocket clip.  The sheath is extremely well designed, and the amount of pressure required to release the knife from it is just perfect. It’s stiff enough to where the knife will never come out by accident, but designed to slide smoothly out if you pull it correctly.

All in all, this is a nigh-on perfect knife for SAR, or boating or any other activity requiring a safe, efficient cutting tool.