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The concept of a Grey Man, or pretty much a grey anything is simply using the word grey as an adjective to describe transparency. Many people think that Grey means blending it, but that can be just as dangerous as standing out. Blending in means you are one of the many, and of equal value as a target. Instead, “Going Grey” in my mind is the physical and mental adjustment you can psychologically force upon others to shut off all alarm bells. Going Grey means disappearing into the background noise of whatever environment you are Greying into. In a city you should attract no more attention than a phone pole, or a stairway, or street sign even if that means standing out just like a phone pole or stairway or street sign does.
By Doc Montana, a Contributing Author to SHTFBlog and SurvivalCache.com
Transparent, Not Opaque
Going Grey also means providing others with just enough information for them to create their own narrative for you. People are exceptionally good at creating explanations or inferences for what they see. So give them just enough narrative rope to hang themselves.
The challenge of Going Grey is that you must look Grey and act Grey while not really being the Grey. Humans, like all predatory animals, are keenly aware of actions inconsistent with intent. If the intent is to be harmless, then anything off that mark should pull the fire alarm! Why would that harmless looking man circle back around behind me? Why would a coyote stop running when the dog stops chasing it? Why would that car drive by me twice? How come that person keeps glancing my way? Why did those people stop talking when I walked by? Why is that car backing into the alley? How come that guy didn’t look up when there was a loud noise? To Go Grey, you must behave so predictably as to become the yardstick from which inconsistent behavior is measured. And, of course, you have to look the part.
Hold My Beer and Watch This!
Outside of acting lessons, you can practice your Grey Skills by going passive. Let the whims of the world dictate your movements like a leaf in the wind. The key is flow. If you move out of the natural flow, you are quickly identified as something to pay attention to. Like a log floating in a river, your presence will be noted, but then ignored. That is until you snag on something and immediately fall out of flow creating many downstream changes.
During an extended backpacking trip in Alaska, a herd of caribou hung out downhill from our camp. As the days wore on, we became keenly astute to their natural rhythms. The flow indicators were how fast they moved, where they were looking (both individually and as a group), how many were laying on the ground, how quickly they turned their heads, the density of their distribution, and how long they stood still. In essence, the caribou were our alarm system for anything non-caribou that approached. Like any good hunter knows, you can tell a lot about what is going on in the big picture by noticing small details. The sum of their parts is the big picture but you don’t need to connect very many dots before the outline of the picture becomes obvious.
It’s one thing to fool the inattentive, but quite another to become transparent to someone who is watching. I remember observing a “homeless” man on a park bench near Battery Park in New York City. Something just seemed odd about him but I couldn’t immediately put my finger on it. See if you can follow this: Something was off about someone who was off to begin with meaning that something wasn’t off that should have been off. The homeless man’s posture was just a little too straight. His attention was a little to sharp. And his actions were just a little too stereotypical especially with the vodka bottle in his hand. Slowly the picture of an undercover cop behind those ratty clothes and bad manners emerged from the situation. So when I ran his further actions and appearance through my lens of “cop” everything else he did fell into place. I could even triangulate his attention allowing me to connect the dots until I could see that where I was standing was not a safe place to be. Something was about to go down and I wanted no part of it. A few minutes later, the cacophony of sirens proved my theory correct.
The homeless cop is just one of many examples of disruptive flow that I’ve experienced over the years and around the world. And I know many soldiers who have keenly honed their flow detectors during their hot desert tours. It is extremely hard to act differently from what’s actually on your mind so to truly become transparent, you must believe you are transparent and act accordingly. Your attitude may be more important than your appearance. And you might have to risk not looking around which is the exact opposite of the whole head-on-a-swivel thing. Like a deer, you might have to trust your psychological camo to do the job even if it means letting the danger get awfully darn close.
Another quick story. It was a pleasant afternoon when I was walking the dog. There was a housing complex across the street from the park where I was at, and I noticed a couple normal looking guys exiting a car in the parking lot of the park and walking across the street to the housing complex. Everything looked 100% normal until one of the guys looked behind him as he crossed the street. Nobody does that! Alarm bells went off in my head. Then I noticed that where their car was parked was just out of sight from the housing complex entrance. I gave a quick call to 911. You know, see something, say something. Ten minutes later, the men I saw cross the street were in handcuffs and being shuttled away in the back of a police car. While it was all great entertainment for me, it also drove home the point that in order to truly be Grey, you must act Grey even at the risk of missing something behind you. Remember, nobody looks backwards unless their guilty. A head on a swivel is also a flashing light!
Dress Up to Dress Down
One of the few famous Dolly Parton quotes is “You’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap! “ Not the same with the Grey look. The physical side of Going Grey is a combination of clothes and accessories. And lucky for you, a Grey Wardrobe can had for a few bucks at the Goodwill store. From head to toe, the Grey Costume must neutralize its wearer. No particular item should stand out and be an identifying characteristic. You want to make it hard to describe what you are wearing, thus ringing no bells through association or curiosity. No bright colors, but not all in black either. Aim towards navy blue, black, dark green, and brown, and of course grey. All just dirty enough to be real, but not so much to be a mockery of being unclean. Dress in obvious layers as if you were wearing all your clothes at once. Cover every inch but your hands and face if temperature permits.
Choose a knit stocking cap over anything more modern. And avoid unworn shoes or boots. In fact, shoes are one of the fastest ways to categorize people, and even cops playing hide and seek. Just as my footwear sticks out in New York City, so too does a city dweller’s shoes here in Montana. Brands matter. I can tell those brands and styles native to the US compared to those worn overseas. And I can tell those shoes prefered by city dweller’s compared to those who live around here even if it’s the same type of shoe. Montana has more than its share of tourists so I get to practice my skills often. Even locally bought boots are not worn with the same effort as the locals do. Same with cars. Same with outdoor gear. Same with the way the person interacts with the environment.
You can have on all the tactical garb you like under your Grey Suit, but don’t let it adjust your attitude. Your exterior must be believable, not like a Sierra Club bumper sticker on your Hummer. Here is a possible shopping list to begin your Grey Journey, with bonus points for weathered, stained, dirty, faded, repaired, and too-big-for-you items. Mostly I manufacture my grey clothes locally, but when needed, I supplement my wardrobe for a buck or two. Remember, you are not going for the full homeless look, just the surviving on the edge look.
Hat: Dark blue or black knit stocking cap and/or lightly stained baseball cap with meaningless logo.
Coat: Old olive drab ancient military coat, beat up dark colored down coat, or dirty brown canvas work coat like a Carhart. The elbows must show wear.
Insulative layer: Hoodie sweatshirt of grey or dark blue. Full zips are best for their quick change, and easy access to interior items.
Main pants: Darker colored work pants with much wear and staining. Should be too big and if way too long can be “hemmed” with scissors to mildly long or too short. Holes are fine since you will be wearing another pair of pants under this pair.
Insulative pants: Another pair of similar work pants but of a different color so it is easy to see you are wearing two pairs of pants. Or you can choose a lighter layer if warm. Either way, you don’t want anything obviously as “cover.”
Footwear: Beat up work boots are best, but make sure the laces are heavily worn and show signs of being broken and tied back together. Better yet, have laces that are too long or short and tie up the boots accordingly. The soles must be well worn, but skip the duct tape since that is a dead giveaway that your condition is short term.
Grey Luggage:This is both for you and your advanced kit including gas cans. Imagine a string of bright red gas cans strapped to the roof of your Bug Out Vehicle. What can scream “Resources!” like a pile of full gas cans? Instead contain your precious gas cans in trashy looking luggage not so feebly tied onto a roof rack. And what screams “cheap crap you don’t want!” more than crappy-looking suitcases tied to a car with fraying yellow polypropylene rope.
Once you have your new threads, lay them out and look for things that stand out, or would catch someone’s eye, or could be used in a description of you. Avoid all patches, discernible writing, brand labels, and strong color contrasts.
Before you ask, I’ll go ahead and share where I got my experience. I love to travel with reckless abandon. I’ve had my passport taken by border guards in Yugoslavia. I’ve had East German soldiers point their machine guns at me while hanging out around one of their bases (yea, I’m that old). And I’ve walked right through a wall of French riot police by pretending to be a photojournalist. That last one is a bit of cheating since I actually was a photojournalist in a previous life. I could go on about adventures in the seedier parts of Barcelona and New York City. How about getting pulled over, illegally searched, and then let go by the Birmingham, AL police. And being passed over by muggers in South Africa because, as I found out later, they could not tell if I was a local or a tourist (how do I know? I went and asked them). In every case, I went as grey as I could, and forced every hint of my confident attitude or the chip on my American shoulder dissolve into a bland bowl of tasteless oatmeal. And that skill has served me when at security checkpoints, in unwanted confrontations with authority, and when passing through intensely sketchy areas like a dark park in New Orleans, an alleyway in DC, under a bridges in Prague, a closed train station in Hamburg, the Shanty towns of Cape Town, through racially charged neighborhoods in Chicago, across “Needle Park” in Zurich at night, or a dark pathway in LA.
Not everything goes a planned, and I’ve had to run from danger, but mostly it works. I’m not an expert in these matters, just a fool who pushes his luck over and over, but keeps mental DOPE mixed with sociology and psychology. So with all that said, you also need to set boundaries and, “You’ve got to know when to hold’em. Know when to fold‘em. Know when to walk away. And know when to run [like hell!].”
Come Out and Play
Here are some fun exercises to hone your skills:
Wander the isles of better stores looking for their loss prevention staff (shoplifting, or shrinkage as they like to call it). Many stores have loss prevention employees that look for shoplifters, or provide “enhanced” customer service. Something is always off with these guys and gals. See if you can detect them following others around. Or see if you can draw them out with minor (but legal) actions.
Invade personal space. Get too close to people and events to initiate a response. I’ve often “invaded” secure areas like staring at a camera on an FBI building, or forgetting something during a TSA baggage search, or asking security a non-standard question like “Wow, is that an MP5?” Nothing big or dangerous, but this game serves two purposes. First, it identifies the players and rules. And second, it’s good to practice being innocent.
Play stupid. One of the biggest problems when playing stupid around family and friends is the desire for someone else to jump in and help. I’ve asked directions from multiple people (to triangulate the information) only to have a friend jump in and answer my question with the previous person’s information. You need to practice hiding what you know.
Rehearse your story. At some point during an engagement with a security person, a decision will be made if you are a threat or not. If you have a story ready and engage enforcement personnel, you can tell in their body language when they drop their focus on you and shift it elsewhere. Eye contact is broken, they might step back, their chin goes up, their gaze goes back to scan mode. As long as you are credible, you pose no threat, but it takes a moment or two for that decision to be made. Just don’t over do it or you will re-engage their defenses.
Grey equals transparent, and transparent equals sincere. Without believing in your own story, nobody else will buy it either. Going Grey is one of these few survival traits that can save your life by doing nothing.
Hammocks are no longer just for the warmer months. Not if you have the North American from Clark Jungle Hammocks. The North American is a 4 season hammock and it is the survival/bug out shelter I use when I go out into the wild. I didn’t start hanging in the trees. I like most children slept in tents when my family took me camping. It wasn’t till I was 10 that my father decided to take me backpacking and when we went to the outfitter he didn’t buy me a tent. He bought me a net hammock and a tarp. From that point on I was hooked and it is my preferred method of transportable shelter today.
Now there are pages upon pages on forums discussing/arguing which is better, tent or hammock. I am not going to delve into that. To be truthful I am fully capable surviving in a shelter on the ground or hanging between some trees. So instead of why a hammock, I am going to focus on why this particular hammock.
To start off with it is designed as a 4 season hammock. This already puts it in good standing with me because I do not just bug out in the warm months I bug out in all 4 seasons. Yes there are other hammock companies that have 4 season hammocks but of them all I didn’t find one that was as all inclusive as the Clark hammock. One stop shopping. I get the hammock, the fly, the bug netting, and the weather shield. Its basically a suspended tent with an awning. So you have easy of purchase and ease of setting up. Down the road if you wish to customize it, as we often do once we figure out how we want it, then by all means, but as a foundation you will be hard pressed to do better. Then you tack on that it comes in camo and is made in America. Plenty of positives to be sure.
Of course if you want that pie in the sky or perhaps in the trees for this situation you will have to pay for it and not only in price. At 360.00 dollars it is a pricey hammock. You will also need to purchase an under quilt or pad for those really cold seasons. You will also pay in weight because it weighs a little over 3 lbs and that’s not including tree straps. I have some heavy duty tree straps and the drip rings and it bumped it up to 4 lbs but I feel the weight is worth it given all its features.
If you like life hanging in the trees I strongly suggest you head over to Clarks to see the North American or their other models. With countless nights in all types of weather my North American has kept me high and dry. That is a testament to their quality. Oh and if you are a tent person, who knows maybe you will be converted.
You’re all talk. Yeah, that’s right, I’m talking to you, dear reader. Yeah, you say you’re a prepper. Or a survivalist. Or an outdoorsman. Or whatever. Yeah, you say you’re all set to survive after a SHTF event drops down around your ears. Your bug-out bag is packed and your AR-15 is oiled, sparking clean, and ready to go. You’ve got your stockpiled Dinty Moore and ramen noodles and MREs and rainwater barrels and your compass cost you a hundred bucks. But you know what? You’re full of shit. And you know what? I am, too.
Yeah, nobody likes hearing (or admitting) that fact. But here’s the deal: unless you’ve actually gone out and executed a real bug-out (hopefully before all that terrible “world-ending” type of stuff), and put your money where your damn mouth is, you’re full of shit. Long story short: you need to put yourself and your gear to the test before you can say with confidence that you’re good to go when the balloon goes up. I wasn’t happy with not being confident – so I’m bugging out.
Taking the First Steps
I’ve always considered myself an outdoorsman. My entire life, I’ve hunted, fished, camped, and hiked all across this great nation of ours. I’m very comfortable in the woods, and have spent countless days (and several nights) in the wild – and I loved it all. However, all this time spent in the outdoors was on MY terms – I knew where I was going, I knew what I would be doing there, and I knew how long I’d be there. Other people had been told where I’d be in case of emergency, and I had long beforehand printed topo maps and scouted any new areas – or I went places that I’d been going since I could remember. And while this is all well and good, I don’t exactly go out whitetail deer hunting with a bug-out bag while thinking I may never return home due to a catastrophic event. There’s a big difference between waking up bright and early in the morning to go spend a relaxing day hunting or fishing and waking up to find that if you don’t leave your house in ten minutes you die. So I wanted to explore that undiscovered mental territory.
I also wanted answers to questions I had: Would the gear I have with me – from every day carry (EDC) items to my Bug-Out Bag to the kit in my truck – keep me alive in an unknown area over an extended period of time? Would I need to make any adjustments? Did I have the knowledge and skill sets necessary to survive in the wilds of northern Maine (or elsewhere) while others could not or would not? What would I be up against that I didn’t even expect?
I also wanted to check myself out before I started preparing to bug-out with my family; if I can’t keep one person alive, I sure as hell probably couldn’t keep four people alive in a survival situation. Having the basics in my mind of what I wanted to achieve and discover, I went forward with planning the actual bug-out.
In Case Of Emergency: Break Glass, Bring Bob
While “BOB” in this article translates to the traditional acronym for “Bug-Out Bag”, I also enlisted the aid of fellow SHTFBlog | Survival Cache writer Jarhead Survivor – who goes by “Bob” in his civilian life. Jarhead Survivor lives about two hours from my house, and we usually meet up once a year or so to go outside and camp or try out gear for reviews. He’s a hell of a good guy and we’d been planning a camping trip, so I suggested the idea of a Bug-Out trip. He was all aboard, and we went forward with planning. We had some basic emails back and forth but kept things slightly vague to keep the unknown spirit of a bug-out at the forefront of our minds.
In full disclosure: we did eventually decide that once we acted accordingly and set up a camp, we wanted to have an evening of an actual enjoyable getaway camping trip too. Therefore, we agreed to bring a few beers and some decidedly non-bug-out food (sorry, we had to have camp-grilled burgers. So sue us). However, the overall premise was there and agreed upon. We were bugging out, and that mindset would drive our actions.
We were all over the place about where we wanted to go and what we’d bring, so I decided to create a basic scenario to guide our actions and reactions. While this may seem corny, dramatic, or lame to some, I would heartily encourage coming up with a big reason to bug out – be as detailed or a vague as you want. Coming up with a scenario for your bug-out forces you to evaluate the world around you and identify possible areas or events that could trigger a SHTF event; a scenario also makes you think about the follow-up events that would happen immediately after a catastrophe in your area, and you can prepare to act accordingly. In our case, Jarhead Survivor lives about 30 miles northeast of a major navy shipyard, so I went with that. Our hypothetical bug-out context is as follows:
I made the trek to Jarhead Survivor’s house to meet up with him to discuss blog posts, then head out for some canoeing in a large nearby river. Jarhead’s wife and kids are visiting family in Canada, and my wife and kids were away on vacation – so we both had some time away from responsibilities to enjoy ourselves for a day on the river.
A few minutes after we sit down to chew the fat, the power goes out suddenly and a couple seconds later, a rumble shakes the house. After a couple minutes of “what the hell?” and realizing the power likely wouldn’t go off BEFORE an earthquake, we get a hand-crank radio to work. Not much is coming in, but we finally get a working station broadcasting a repeating warning that states several military sites across the northeast have been subject to nuclear strikes. The message provides no other real information.
Jarhead Survivor and I do some quick mental math, and realize that with the 10-15 mph NE prevailing winds, we have to get out of dodge fast – his house is smack dab in the path of incoming fallout and other nastiness. We look at a map and decide to head Northwest – perpendicular to the wind – this should get us clear of the incoming fallout in the most expeditious fashion. Figuring we have about two hours left to load up and get clear of the danger zone, we take stock. First check: the vehicles. Luckily, Jarhead Survivor’s truck starts up, has a mostly full tank of gas and runs smoothly, so we decide to take his vehicle. I have my Bug-Out Bag, my Sig Sauer P220 .45 ACP and a couple loaded magazines, a Ruger 10/22 takedown, my 16 foot Old Town canoe and its accessories, a #10 can of freeze-dried Mountain House Chicken A La King, a 10” cast iron skillet, and a cooler with some food and beer. Jarhead Survivor has his hasty pick of the equipment at his house, but grabs his bug-out pack, some clothes, a ground pad and sleeping bag, tarps, a LifeStraw family-sized gravity water filter, a Henry AR-7 .22 rifle, and other sundry items to eat and make the misery of survival a bit more comfortable.
Reviewing our Maine Gazetteer maps and planning a route that avoids major roads, we find a secluded lake with a large island, well off the beaten path about three hours northwest. This is our destination for the immediate future – devoid of people, out of the way, with (hopefully) plenty of resources to give us time for the emergency to settle, gather info, and help us form our plans for the long-term future.
Pedal to our Mettle
Writing the rest of this article (and following articles in the series) AFTER our bug-out trip, I should explain why we did what we did using the above scenario. Yes, I realize there may have been inconsistencies in the story – I have no freaking clue how a real nuclear strike would affect people and electronics and vehicles 30 miles downwind; we were simply using this “situation” as a general guideline to work with for a first bug-out trip.
The full-on intent was to go out with relatively limited supplies, just like you would have to do if you only had a half hour to get to your house, plan what you needed for yourself and anyone with you, grab the gear, pack the truck, and GO. I truly feel that though we had a rough idea of what we were doing before we took the trip, almost everything that we stuffed in the truck and took with us – canoe included – was considered, gathered, and ready to go within our self-imposed time constraints. We also needed to ensure that we were mobile with our equipment once we left the truck – and that meant fully man- and canoe-portable.
The canoe was decided upon because it gave us extra flexibility to get away to an island, which we deemed to be desirable to limit our exposure to any indigenous or visiting people to the area. The lake itself was quite large, with only a couple rental camp outfits on the southern end. We decided to head to a rudimentary boat launch on the eastern end of the lake, park there, and launch the canoe to make for the island at the northern end of the body of water.
In the event of an actual bug-out getaway, we thought an island would be much less likely to receive unwanted attention. The canoe has a very low noise signature, so getting to the island could be made with as little attention drawn as possible. A canoe is also extremely portable, so the ability to drag the craft out of the water to be camouflaged onshore was deemed desirable. Provided the half-mile long island was anywhere close to habitable, we’d be set to evacuate to the island, be in close proximity to needed resources such as water and firewood, and be able to disappear off-grid to evaluate our situation – as long as we were careful. As things turned out (next article), we had a lot to learn. Speaking of learning…
Lessons Learned Before We Even Left The Driveway
The first thing I learned in this exercise was: Have a plan! Between Jarhead Survivor and I, well, we have a lot of camping and survival shit. Granted, in our hypothetical survival situation, we were not aware there would be a large-scale catastrophe that ruled out bugging-in. Therefore, I was limited to what I brought with me (more on that in a bit.). If Jarhead Survivor was on his survival game – and he was- he should have intimate knowledge of his available gear, location, and priority in the plan if a bug-out was called for. So stop number one on the knowledge train: Plan before a bug-out occurs. Know your gear, where it is, and what you need the most based on your perceived needs and go-to location(s). Make a physical list and prioritize the items in order of need. Perhaps even have gear cached at other locations in different directions.
The next lesson I learned is this: What you have when your bug-out kicks off is what you have. A bug-out, by its definition, probably isn’t going to be decided and acted upon in the most convenient of times. In our little scenario, I was at Jarhead Survivor’s house, and as a consequence I was stuck with the gear I had in my truck and on my person. Going home and grabbing the AR-15 and a bunch of food and sub-zero rated sleeping bag wasn’t in the cards. This hand was dealt the second I started my truck and departed the homestead. Make sure your kit is portable – it’s no use if you can’t bring it along.
The third lesson I garnered right off the bat was: Know the capabilities and mindsets of the people you are with. I was with a seasoned survivalist former US Marine who had his shit squared away. His outdoors skill sets are very accomplished, his gear is top notch – and more importantly – he knew how to use it. I knew I was in good shape for the duration of our little bug-out fact-finding mission. However, if shit went down while I was at work, well, we’ll just say that I would be aggressively encouraging people to not come with me. Don’t be afraid to ditch people who will drag you down, are ill-trained or ill-equipped, or will get you killed through ignorance. Hell, if their very presence is intolerable on a day-to-day basis for any number of reasons, don’t feel obligated to hit the hills with them unless they have something substantial to offer. You could very feasibly be stuck with someone for a very, very long term in a SHTF survival situation. Do you want someone who isn’t ready – or doesn’t have the survival mindset – to be with you during those stressful times? I think not.
More to Come
There will be at least two more follow-up articles written on this bug-out trip: the next post, part two, will focus on what we actually did for the trip and what happened – we were thrown a curveball at the end for sure! Part three (and maybe more to follow) will explore the lessons learned on this self-induced bug-out trip – there were many that Jarhead Survivor and I came up with post-trip. Some were affirmations of the expected, some were honest learning points neither of us anticipated.
The point of all this is: before you have no choice, choose to make the unknown as known as you can make it. Get out there with your gear and make sure it works and you work and your plan works. You DO have a plan, right? Because if you don’t have a plan and you don’t know if your constitution can handle the stress of an actual emergency, well… you might as well scroll back up to the first paragraph and re-read it.
Questions? Comments? Critiques? Sound off in the comments below!
On my second Bug Out trip “Winter Warning” I made a mistake. Being new to the survival world I had not done enough research before tackling below freezing temperatures. The mistake was not having a pad to sleep on. I can still remember the endless night and the frightening chills that ran down my spine. Needless to say upon my return I sought out to find the pad that I continue to use today and it is the ThermaRest Neoair Xtherm. Knowing that I would be continuing to venture into the wild to further test myself and my gear in all 4 seasons I knew I was going to need a pad to match that.
With a R rating of 5.7 the pad has successfully kept my skinny body protected on the ground and in my hammock to temperatures below 0°F. Not only did I stay warm but I was comfortable as well because the inflatable pad reaches a thickness of 2.5inches which when laying on rocky ground those inches help out. No one would think with such a high R rating and thickness that weight would be a problem but ThermaRest did it again with having the pad only weigh 1lb 4oz.
Unfortunately all these great features come at a price and a steep price at that. At 200 dollars this will be one of most expensive pads you purchase. You could say that its worth it, ( I do. ) but if you are not going out in freezing temperatures frequently then this might be a bit much. It is also an inflatable pad and anytime you blow something up there is a worry of punctures and then you have no insulation or comfort. Speaking of blowing it up. I would highly suggest you don’t try to blow it up by mouth but use the inflation bag that comes with it instead because it takes a lot of air and time.
At the end of the day I greatly enjoy this pad. I have been using it for over 4 years on many trips and not once have I had a rip or puncture nor have I had a cold back. Is it expensive? Yes, but as a survivalist and a Bug Out Boy I never know what Mother Nature is going to throw at me and I would rather be prepared for the extremes than suffer another night like I did years ago.
Benchmade knives are often the gateway drug to the upper end of folding knives, and the Benchmade Griptilian is the gateway drug to Benchmade knives. For many, their first handling of the Griptilian is met with disappointment. The Griptilian, although a solid knife, does not have the heft and density often expected as the retail price goes north of $100. In reality a few minutes of use tells a different tail, but the lightweight and nimble mechanics of the Griptilian attest to its popularity.
By Doc Montana, a Contributing Author to SHTFBlog and SurvivalCache.com
Benchmade Griptilian: A Modern EDC Classic
There are several primary choices with the Griptilian including size (regular and mini), blade shape (drop point or tanto), steel choice (154CM or S30V), and color of scales (black and orange are popular but there are many other colors). From here the choices just continue including handle materials, blade coating, and edge serrations. In Benchmade parlance, each knife model is designated by a number that may or may not ever make sense. The Griptilian family of knives will be variations of 55x from 550 to 557.
What all Griptillians have in common is Benchmade quality and their famous Axis Locking mechanism. For those unfamiliar with the Axis Lock, it is a dual-sided lever bar that slides parallel to a deployed blade. The spring loaded lock is retracted away from the blade allowing the blade to swing freely. With the blade stored, the Axis Lock provides enough resistance to keep the blade in place, but easily lifted out of the handle as desired. However, with the blade extended, the bar of the Axis Lock snaps over a shelf in the blade back securing it to the point it will not fail under normal use, and even a considerable amount of abnormal use.
Even better, the Axis Lock can be used in conjunction with a minor wrist flip that deploys the blade with a very satisfying snap. After a few practice flips learning to coordinate the Axis Lock retraction and the wrist flip, the Griptilian can go from pocket to action in one clean fast move. Oddly, there is a Griptilian blade style called a Sheepsfoot containing a deployment hole like a Spyderco knife. Personally, I have no need for such a hole with the effectiveness of the Axis Lock. Even so, the other Axis Lock versions have thumb studs for a less overt blade opening.
The Gateway Drug To EDC Knives
And speaking of overt, sometimes carrying an orange handled knife looks much less aggressive than a black or FDE colored handle. With a healthy 3.5 inch blade on the regular sized Griptilian and a just under three inch blade on the Mini, the handle color might affect the attitude of those around you when whipping out your EDC blade at the office.
Here’s a quick demo video I made for the Benchmade Griptilian
The company Benchmade offers some services to its customers after the sale. One in particular is what Benchmade calls their LifeSharp program. At any time, you can mail your Benchmade knife to the company and they will professionally sharpen it and replace any normal wear and tear on the mechanism, springs, screws, bolts, and replace the pocket clip if needed. More work can be done at a minimal cost including replacing the blade. There is no charge beyond the one-way postage to Benchmade headquarters in Oregon. I’ve used the LifeSharp service many times with many knives, both fixed blade and folding. It always over delivers.
The old saying that two is one and one is none is based on the most likely reasons gear won’t work; loss and failure. The problem with doubling up due to anticipated loss is that many feel prepared by having two half-quality items rather than one full-quality tool. And failure might be closer than it appears since simple tasks under a blue sky take little sophistication for a knife. But once the difficulties start to compound, two 50% quality knives can never add up to more than 50% quality.
Enter the Benchmade Griptilian, a high quality tool that plays with the big boys, but has a price point closer to the usual suspects. The features of the Griptilian line include a rock-solid blade pivot and locking mechanism, and excellent form-fitting handles of durable and replaceable material. But best of all, a high quality Benchmade steel capable of more than most. Benchmade’s house steel of 154CM is an excellent steel, and easily makes the cut into the realm of so-called “Super Steels.” But there are other options available both at point of purchase, and later should you want to upgrade your Griptilian.
So don’t let the light weight and pretty colors steer you away from the Benchmade Griptilian. It might be cheap for a Benchmade, but its every bit a Benchmade.
Several years ago when I sat back on my porch, looking out into the woods, I came to the realization that if I got lost in there or was dumped off, I would not know the basics for me to survive. I quickly went to the all knowing internet and found the idea of a “bug out bag”. Watching and reading I quickly latched on to this idea. A bag that would contain the essentials of survival. Something that if things got rough and I had this bag I could leave the dangerous area and be able to survive for at least 72 hours. Countless videos and blogs laid out all the items one would need to optimize your bug out bag but one thing the majority failed to convey was the importance of Walking Your Bag.
Everyone is telling you what to put in your bag and how much of those items. Some are stuffing it in an old high school book bag, others in some tacticool pack with or without a frame. Is the type of pack important? Yes. Are the items inside important? Yes, but what good are either of them if you cannot get them to your safe area. When I first started being a survivalist I went with a well built bag from Triple Aught. No frame and I loaded it up with all the gear that I thought was necessary. My shoulders quickly found out that 20 to 25lbs of gear was all they could take for a multi mile hike. I also found out that where I lashed or stowed equipment mattered. Many of these lessons I learned by walking my bag so now let me explain.
Walking Your Bag is like a test run. Not everyone has the time or place to go out and bug out, camp, or practice a survival scenario, that’s life. I do believe everyone has some time to pick up their bag, strap it on, and go for a walk. It doesn’t have to be a hike in the woods. If you are trying to leave a city it will be many miles before you see woods. Put on your pack and walk the distance that you feel is necessary for you to find a safe area for your particular scenario. Mind you I would suggest you don’t have arrows, bullets, and knives hanging off of you but pack all your food and especially water. Water is very heavy at roughly 9lbs a gallon. Feel how the bag/pack sits on you. What aches? What chafes? Does something get caught, rattle or make you off balance? Can you achieve the distance that you intended? These are all discoveries that you can make, adjust and fix long before you have to set out on a real and unforgiving survival situation.
Since my early bug out days I have changed my pack once and I have walked it many times. Each time making adjustments and learning. Will everything be perfect when I go out on my next Bug Out trip? No, but at least I know what to expect and what can be mitigated. I know where to stow things to minimize fatigue. I know at roughly what mile the hips or shoulders will start to ache. I know how much weight I can carry for a particular distance. Knowing these things gives me the power to make informed decisions and how to adapt and endure in an ever changing survival situation. So do yourself a favor and Walk Your Bag.
Everyone needs clean water and most people hope that the water coming from their tap is clean and safe. But year after year, the world’s water supply is getting worse and worse, not better. It seems like every time we turn around there is another “boil water advisory” or “water contaminant advisory” being sent out by local water municipalities or appearing in the media. It is no longer just Flint, Michigan with a water crisis, it is everywhere in the modern world. With this in mind, we felt that it was necessary to review all of the available water pitchers/jugs and rank them for 2018.
Contributed by By Mark, Former Marine Reconnaissance Team Leader, Marine Infantry Officer, Cross Fit Coach, Endurance Athlete, and Survivalist.
1. Epic Pure Water Filter Pitcher
Award: Best for Contaminant Reduction & Versatility
This water filter pitcher has all the design features you would want plus two choices of super strong American made filters for removing water contaminants like lead, bacteria, viruses & fluoride. Epic Water Filters products have been tested by multiple labs and last for 150 gallons which is 3 to 4 times longer than their competitors. How do they do it? Simple, each filter really has 3 independent filters inside? When one becomes clogged, the other two are still working. The first filter we tried was the Epic Pure filter which is gear towards common tap water contaminants like lead, fluoride, PFOA, PFOS, trace pharmaceuticals, and heavy metals. The other filter we tried that fits on the same pitcher was the Epic Nano, which also removes bacteria, viruses, giardia, cryptosporidium, and microbial cysts.
PROS: This pitcher received a major redesign for 2018. Epic Water Filters has made a ton of improvements on their already popular water pitcher, the Epic Pure Water Filter Pitcher. The new design improvements include: a new secure lid, better ergonomic handle, digital filter replacement alert, clear reservoir to see water level, reservoir design improvement to eliminate cross contamination between water in reservoir and filtered water in bottom of the pitcher, and one handed fill up operation. What we really like about this water pitcher is that this is one of the few filters to be tested to remove over 200+ contaminants including fluoride, lead, chemicals, pesticides and pharmaceuticals. In addition, Epic’s new filter, the Epic Nano which is made in the United States, also removes bacteria, viruses, and cysts. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people in the United States get sick due to drinking contaminated water with one of these waterborne pathogens both in the city and from wells.
We do not know of any water pitcher on the market that is doing nanofiltration like the Epic Pure Water Filter Pitcher. In addition, millions of people in the USA are unknowingly exposed to harmful contaminants in the water like Lead, PFOA/PFOS, and Pesticides. We like the fact that the Epic Pure Water Filter Pitcher has a strong filter, removes more contaminants, and they provide 3rd party testing on their website. Also, taste matters and the water from the Epic Pure Water Filter Pitcher tastes fabulous, it was by far the best tasting water out of the jugs we tested. The Epic Pure Pitcher is available in either white or navy blue.
CONS: The Epic Pure was great but the Epic Nano filter was slower than the other filters we tested but it was also the only filter to remove bacteria, viruses, and cysts. I guess if you want clean water, it takes a little bit of time to remove all of those contaminants. It is also the most expensive option out of these water pitchers but that might be the price you pay for clean water.
2. Camelbak Relay Water Filter Pitcher
Award: Good For A Quick Filter & Made From Durable Plastic
PROS: The Camelbak Relay looks pretty cool and the filter is crazy fast, as much as 10x faster than a normal Brita filter. This radical new design also works well to fit into small refrigerators and can fit into most refrigerator doors. I also like that the Camelbak Relay comes in several different colors, so hipsters can now get a purple water pitcher to match their kitchen. Camelbak Relay also made the water taste pretty good, it came in second in the taste test.
CONS: With a fast filter comes low filtration. The Camelbak will change the taste of your water but that is about it. If you are looking to remove contaminants from your water, you might want to look elsewhere. Lead, Chromium 6, PFOA/PFOS, Chemicals, Pesticides, Herbicides, all pass right through this filter and into your glass. Also, when we first put the lid on the snaps they were really tough to secure. The snaps became more user-friendly after a very short time.
It’s small in size (but this could also be a plus, depending upon preference. I like the small design, for example, and my husband would like it bigger). Other than chlorine and “odors,” it’s not clear what the filter removes from water.
3. ZeroWater Filter Pitcher
Award: Good for TDS
If you believe in the TDS meters for water quality, and a lot of people do and a lot of people don’t, then ZeroWater might be the filter for you. Made in China, the filter will get you water down to zero TDS rating for the first 20 gallons.
PROS: While we don’t expect the ZeroWater pitcher to be winning any awards for artistic inspiration, we did find the ZeroWater pitcher to be a more ergonomic experience overall. In addition to being easier to hold and to pour, the handle felt more comfortable in our hands. It was still more bulky and heavy compared to the Epic Pure Water Filter Pitcher but if you are trying to decide between Brita and Zero, go ZeroWater all of the way. This pitcher filter is also pretty cheap.
In addition, the ZeroWater 10-Cup Pitcher has a spout on the bottom of the pitcher, which makes it easier to pour water into a glass without taking the pitcher out of the refrigerator completely. For young children or the elderly, both of which can sometimes struggle with wrist strength, we think the ZeroWater pitcher is a good option. We also liked that ZeroWater removed some contaminants but again, nothing compared to the Epic Pure Water Filter Pitcher.
CONS: Comparing the taste of different water filters is difficult, largely because it is simply so subjective. Nevertheless, we did set up a taste test, and found that Epic Water Filters & Camelbak beat ZeroWater overall on taste. We actually found the taste of Brita to be better than ZeroWater as well. The ZeroWater pitcher is also so cheap, it makes us wonder what the filter is doing and how it is made. Just say… Also, we did not like the big bulky filter – it feels like a small torpedo, seems a little bit much.
4. Pur Water Filter Pitcher
Award: Mr. Average
PROS: The filter on the Pur Pitcher was quick and the water tastes great. The cost was “cheap as chips” so if you are on a budget, this might be the water filter pitcher for you. The ergonomics of the pitcher are fine and the operation was easy and straightforward.
CONS: The Pur filter only lasts for 40 gallons and it appears to be fairly cheaply made. According to their website, they do remove some contaminants but again you are sacrificing clean water for speed. Personally, I would rather wait a few extra minutes and know my water is clean. Also, this filter does not remove bacteria, virus, or cysts and with 20,000 boil alerts in the United States over the last 3 years, this statistic might be worth considering when making your water filter pitcher selection.
5. Brita Water Filter Pitcher
Award: Least Expensive
PROS: What water filter pitcher list could be complete without including Brita? Brita is pretty straightforward, good design, fast filtering, water tasted good. They have been in the business for awhile so they know how to put together a water filter pitcher. The pitchers are cheap and you can buy generic replacement filters for next to nothing.
CONS: When you peel back the curtain, you find out that the Brita does not really remove a lot of contaminants. So if you are concerned (Like me) about things like lead, fluoride, chloramine, TTHMs, trace pharmaceuticals, herbicides, pesticides, heavy metals, and a lot more in your water, then you probably won’t be using a Brita. If you are on a budget and just want to change the taste of your water from Chlorine to something more tolerable, then you have found your match in Brita.
After reviewing testing results for contaminant removal, testing the flow rate of the pitchers, the ergonomics & operation of the pitchers, and the all important taste test. We have concluded that the Epic Pure Water Filter Pitcher is the best water filter pitcher for 2018. With a “Love it” or your money back guarantee and high levels of contaminant removal, it is hard to go wrong with the Epic Pure Pitcher.
Being successful at prepping is a lot more difficult than most people think. In fact, the failure rate for fully prepared survivalists is pretty high on a deployment level. This is nothing to be ashamed about, because nobody ever said that life itself was going to be easy. Prepping effectively just adds extra stresses and budgetary restraints to everyday life survival. For sure there is nothing new about that.
However, if you elect to strike upon the path to preparing for disasters and SHTFs at any level, there are some tasks that must be accomplished to be reasonably ready for any threat. As you begin the process, here are ten areas of concern that could very easily bog you down. You need to know these up front to fully accept the challenge of prepping.
1. Failure to Prep
Remember Harvey, Irma, and Nate? Nice sounding group, like people you might have over for a backyard BBQ. Except these were hurricanes that disrupted the lives of tens of thousands of residents. Remember the clogged highways of escapees, and what happened to those unwilling to evacuate? Some of them are dead. Why? Because they were ill prepared to weather a storm or have sense enough to heed the advice to leave the area.
You cannot reasonably expect to withstand a storm or any SHTF unless you have prepared to do so. That means a commitment to prepping at a most basic level. If you sit on the fence forever, you are likely to die there. So, if you never elect to begin the process, you are a failure to start with. But, of course, that can be easily reversed by stepping up to the plate.
2. Fail to Plan
Ok, you bit the bullet, but not all the way through. In your mind, you wanted to start a prepping process for you and your family, but so far, nothing has happened. Like a diet or exercise (tell me about it) following through can be the tough part just to jump off center.
Prep planning is really quite simple and indeed can be a fun and challenging trial. First, buy a basic how-to book. Pick a basic one that would seem to cover all the basic bases. It might take a couple volumes or more. These works will get you to thinking about all the steps involved in prepping for a bug in or out, or other SHTF scenarios.
Naturally continue to read the article posts here at SurvivalCache.com and our sister site at SHTFBlog.com. There is a wealth of common sense advice here at both the elementary and advanced levels. Check out the sidebars, too for supplies and gear to purchase at Forge Survival Supply.
Start a prepping notebook. Build sections or folders containing ideas, plans, do-lists, gear needs, supply needs, and everything else. This notebook should become your prepper’s owner’s manual. Prepping is a lifelong process, so kick start that baby now.
3. Fail to Supply
Many wannabe preppers I have advised simply fail to initiate the process by stocking up on all the essentials they will need to survive a SHTF. Be it a hurricane, flood, wildfire, tornado, civil unrest, or economic collapse, it is going to take supplies of every description to withstand the downfall. This may be for 72 hours or 72 days or more. Who knows?
Again, build your needs lists and little by little as you can afford it, start to create a survival cache of supplies to hold you over. Go for water, food, medical, and security core supplies. Collect them, rotate them by use, and be ready.
Just as with the life supplies mentioned above, there will be a number of vital hardware items needed too. This might be a chainsaw to remove downed trees or limbs after a storm in order to get down the driveway. It might be gardening tools and supplies to plant your own food producing garden. It could be installing and maintaining a hand pump water well in the backyard. It could be something as simple as a couple fire extinguishers in the house or shop.
You may need all kinds of mechanical tools to fix stuff. This includes typical mechanics tools from screwdrivers to wrenches. You may need carpentry tools to build things or repair stuff around the homestead. You may need at least one gas powered electric generator to run drills or saws.
Gearing up can be a slow process and an expensive one. All your tool acquisitions do not have to be new ones. Think about garage and yard sales, pawn shops, and other ways to pick up some items without having to pay retail prices. Take small bites on this one, but keep eating away at the lists.
5. Failure to Become Weaponized
Shocking to some but not others, the idea of buying guns, having guns, and using guns is not particularly comfortable, especially if you were not raised up around them. For others, they often make the mistake of too much emphasis on guns and ammo to the neglect of other critical aspects of prepper survival.
Push comes to shove you cannot eat a gun. Unless you intend to turn rogue and take supplies from others, survival weapons are primarily intended for defense measures. You want to be able to protect yourself and your family from external threats to your life. This requires more than a Bible and a pitch fork. It takes a gun.
Do some reading, ask around, visit some gun shops or gun shows, and shooting ranges. Do a lot of research and don’t get talked into anything. To start all you will need is a basic handgun, revolver or pistol, a good 12-gauge (or 20) shotgun, and a defensive rifle. The later can be the last to acquire if funding is tight. There are entire books on this subject so buy one, even my own, Basic Prepping Essentials-Weapons to start out.
6. Failure to Assess Threats
This is a public awareness aspect and the initiative to stay tuned into the world around you. This includes across the street, in the neighborhood and town where you live as well as the state. It also means our country and the world. Include in this regular daily monitoring of the local, regional, and national news and weather. Know what is happening around you and you are more likely to be ready for anything.
7. Failure to Train
This not only or just includes the security aspects of self-protection, but learning to do all the tasks required to survive. For sure learn to handle, shoot and maintain your stash of firearms, but how to hunt and clean wild game. Know how to start a fire under all kinds of circumstances. Learn to cook over an open campfire and to set up an emergency camp.
Most of us preppers fall very short in this area. We have a lot of stuff, but can we use it all and under the stress of an emergency? You better know. Sign up for training programs in all sorts of areas like carpentry, auto mechanics, small engine repair, plumbing, sewing, gardening, hiking, camping, shooting, and much more. Don’t forget first aid and medical skills training, too.
8. Fail to Map a Bug Out
If a hurricane is 48 hours out from your location, do you have the faintest idea where to go? Do you know the many viable escape routes and have you traveled them just to inspect the availability of services, and supplies along the way? Have you identified the gas stations, hospitals, police stations, grocery stores, camping areas or hotels? You best know, and have alternatives mapped out as well. Then take weekend trial runs to check them out. Are your Bug Out bags packed and ready to go at a minute’s notice?
Practice is different from training. First you learn how to do something correctly, then you put it into use by continuing to practice the skills on a regular basis. If you took a golfing lesson then never played golf again, what good did it do? The same with any other skill you acquire from shooting to running a table saw, or operating a welding machine.
10. Failure to Secure a Bug In
While a lot of preppers gear their planning toward an escape, which is prudent, don’t forget the Bug In option. It may become your only option, or indeed the best one available. For us senior preppers, a Bug In may be the only serious option, but we have to recognize the possibility that we may be forced to leave as well. But for now, our home is our fort.
A Bug In requires additional work on security and lock down measures to withstand a strong storm or an assault threat if it comes to that. Contingencies have to be in place for water supplies to drink, cook, and for plumbing. An auxiliary power generator may be needed. Partnering with neighbors might be an option, too, but all that has to be worked out in advance.
While the thought of failure at anything is not a pleasant idea, without proper planning and initiative to supply, gear up, train and practice, it is a serious factor of reality to consider. But, it does not have to be. The secret is to get engaged as soon as possible and keep grinding away at your plan and readiness.
Hollywood is an easy target for the teaching of poor to impossible gun skills. The number of errors and impossibilities in any gun-filled movie gives the general population a wildly distorted understanding of guns, shooting, and expectations of a bullet; all a good thing in my survival book. As long as potential adversaries are living in a fantasy world, there is a direct and severe survival advantage to a confrontation where Hollywood’s magic has taken its toll. The list of humorous gun behavior is long. From the inevitable click whenever a gun is pointed, to the ability to send someone airborne with a well placed hit, to anything and everything sparking when touched by a bullet, we come to expect the fairy tales of film firearms.
By Doc Montana, a Contributing Author to SHTFBlog and SurvivalCache.com
But all that comic book action can be a good thing. Here are seven wonderful misconceptions that are sure to take the neophyte gun owner into bad territory when it really Hits the Fan.
The pre-shot pause: Most movies build tension during an armed conflict through dialog and well planned pauses. What that teaches is indecisiveness and introspection at the absolute wrong moment. When a couple of cowboys with antique wheel guns are squaring off fifty feet apart there is a poker-faced dance taking place. Not just draw speed but also hipshot accuracy. But in a true survival situation, Magpul got it right with its unfair advantage catch phrase. No reason level a tilted playing field by a calling time out. Act fast and without discussion.
The lack of aiming: This fallacy hardly needs explanation. It’s misfires on two fronts. First is the wildly skewed probability of a successful hit that Hollywood encourages. And second is the ease at which one can hit a target with a moment or two of actual aiming. Especially moving targets. Aiming a gun takes practice and is a perishable skill so knocking a few cans off a fence post twenty years ago is not of much comfort today. But the opposite is true. Even a little occasional practice can keep your shots in the center of mass rather than in the ceiling.
The bottomless supply of ammo: Usually the easiest criticism of any Hollywood gunplay, the belief in endless ammo is pretty common. Outside of Dirty Harry counting his shots, most shooters have no idea how many bangs went bang and most importantly how many bangs have yet to go bang. Add some stress to the poop salad and who’s counting? Right, nobody. So plan accordingly because they aren’t.
Weightless guns:Anyone who has really carried a long gun around for any length of time knows that the weight and size of the rifle makes a difference on what you can do and where you can go. Not many of the untrained can run through a forest with a rifle, nor tread water let alone swim while carrying a useful firearm even if the stock is made of wood. Walking from pickup to range table is not a workout. Ten hours of stalking during a mountainous hunt is a good start. Even after a couple hours of carrying around your rifle I can guarantee that you will want to set it down no matter how much you think you love it.
Easy long shots: Whether a headshot from 200 yards while standing in a row boat (Bob Lee Swagger) or knocking a helicopter out of the sky with a .380 (James Bond) or bouncing a metal bucket at a quarter mile with a Sharps rifle, (Matthew Quigley), taking time to aim can make an accurate shot possible, but still unlikely. The movie Shooter did put an opposite spin on this theme as well by making a long shot seem superhuman. So illusive in fact that only a few snipers on earth could do it. In reality only a few snipers on earth are ever given the training and opportunity for a verified quarter-mile plus shot, but anyone with a bit of money, time, skill and a wide open space can ding steel at a thousand yards.
Loud but not too loud: It would really a be a downer if the good guys always went deaf during a shootout. In reality there would be very little dialog following gun fire. Just a lot of confused looks and bleeding ears. Now double all that when shooting inside a car. Triple it when shooting next to someone’s head. In real life, guns are absolutely silent until they’re not. And when they are not, gunfire is one of the loudest things anyone ever encounters in life. That fact is hard to portray in the movies, and really is a buzzkill for plot lines. Actual gun loudness is ignored. Perhaps that’s why silencers are so common in movies. It’s a Star Trek fix to an obvious physics problem.
Faith in bad shots: The film vaults in Hollywood are stuffed full of movie footage where thousands of rounds zinged back and forth with not a meat hit in sight. There’s some truth to the accuracy outcomes of spray-and-pray, but the statistics of sustained auto fire in general directions lean heavily towards something bad happening. The happy takeaway here is that the uninitiated might suspect a positive outcome when hiding behind a telephone pole waiting for your reload.
We all owe Hollywood a collective thank you for planting the seeds of misconception in the general population. Tactical advantages are where you find them. Long before Hollywood, about the fifth century BC to be exact, Sun Tzu penned (or penciled, or scratched or whatever the heck they did back then) that letting the enemy believe the world is what it seems is truly an Art of War.
“Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.”
I’ve been on a quest for the perfect headlamp pretty much forever. And I’m as close as I’ve ever been to headlamp happiness. The Fenix HM50R Headlamp has almost all the features I want in a useful and highly productive form factor. Where the Fenix HM50R Headlamp really shines in the small details that refine its design and use. But to appreciate the nuances of the Fenix HM50R Headlamp, one would need to have developed frustrations with previous designs. So here are some obvious improvements with the Fenix HM50R Headlamp. First and foremost is the light throw. With a turbo mode of 500 lumens, this light screams in the dark. And the steps down in brightness of 130, 30, and 4 lumens are exceptionally good choices give all types of darkness the proper amount of light.
By Doc Montana, a Contributing Author to SHTFBlog and SurvivalCache.com
For comparison, my first headlamp was four D-cell monster with a dim incandescent bulb that probably threw two dozen lumens on a good day going downhill and with the wind. The pound of batteries were worn on the belt in a big red plastic case. A wire ran from the case to a bulbous unit mounted on a two-inch wide rubber strap. At the time it was like the light from a Maglite but with the advantage of a headlamp. Overall, it was awful, but since it was the only affordable option in town, we didn’t know any better. Today, however, our standards are much higher, our expectations much greater, and our tolerance for poor design much lower.
In order to control headlamp lighting, a simple interface must power the light on and off and through the settings in an intuitive way that is watertight and works easily in the dark by feel as well as when wearing gloves.
Another consideration is beam control. Headlamps by design are to be worn on the head. This means a significant amount of control is possible just by moving one’s head. This works with gross movements, but what about when precision is needed such as with close-up work (think medical or mechanical interventions) or when moving through terrain with hands full and limited head movement? Generally a headlamp points forward or rotates down placing the center of light closer to the eyes. Lateral adjustments are from simply revolving head strap around the head. The Fenix HM50R Headlamp is essentially a cylinder in a cuff meaning it can spin 360 degrees around the vertical. The cuff is a rubberized plastic material that connects light to the headband. My Surefire Minimus headlamp uses the same attachment concept, but in a heavier, beefier design that requires a tool to adjust the tension. Normally I would prefer a Surefire light over almost any other brand, but the number of design flaws in with the Surefire kept me looking for a better light even after I dropped more than a Benjamin Franklin on it.
The Fenix HM50R Headlamp runs on a single CR123 battery which is my preference with headlamps, powers this light for two hours on full power and 128 hours on low with 14 hours and 48 hours respectively for the middle two settings. However, the Fenix HM50R Headlamp ships with a rechargeable 700mAh 16340 battery that extends the top end light by half an hour but lowers the runtime somewhat. The included battery recharges in the light through a micro-USB port, or outside the light in a charger. A similar Fenix light, the HL50 caught my attention with it’s ability to run either CR123 or AA batteries but required a extra tube extension if running AA batteries. That means one must carry the extra piece when running a CR123 battery in the light and nobody wants to do that. Well at least me anyway. Plus the HL50 headlamp had a metal attachment ring that was captured in between the battery tube and the end switch in order to keep the light attached to the metal clasp on the headband. That meant that you had to disassemble the light in order to remove it from the headband. With the newer Fenix HM50R Headlamp, all you need to do to set it free from the headband is to pull it out from the rubberized collar. For reference, the Surefire Minimus also requires a tool to remove it from the headband because the entire attachment system must be dismantled.
So why would you want to remove the headband from the light? Many reasons, notably that the Fenix HM50R Headlamp is a great flashlight on its own. The 90 degree angle-head design is like a mini military “moonbeam” D-cell flashlight. By the way, the first flashlight appeared around 1899 and was powered by D-batteries. So for almost 100 years, the D-cell ruled the flashlight world. Today I have no D-cell electronics except for a pair of 1950’s era Civil Defense Geiger Counters.
What’s Your Angle?
As an angle-head flashlight, the Fenix HM50R Headlamp can stand upright, upside down, and sideways. Often tail standing a flashlight requires a reflective ceiling to capture the photons from escaping out into space. The Fenix HM50R Headlamp on the other hand can sit still on a table firing the light forward or upward if you like. On the Surefire side, even if you remove the light from the headband, only one end of the cylinder shape has a flat-enough face to tail stand.
The Fenix HM50R Headlamp has a battery charge indicator in the form of a glowing or blinking green or blue light in the switch. When clicked quickly, the switch lights up indicating the rough amount of charge in the battery. This is a tremendously welcome feature for several reasons. First, it’s always good to know your battery’s condition. Second, as a rechargeable flashlight, the Fenix HM50R Headlamp can be topped off before adventuring so a quick charge indication will tell you both if you need to charge, and with charging experience, about how long that will take.
And third, the subtle green or blue light does not interfere with the operation of the light whereas the Surefire Minimus begins an irritating blink sequence when its battery runs low. My lone complaint here is that the blue glow indicates a lower charge. Blue? Why not red? Red would make so much more sense, and Red is universal indicator of too much (redline) or too little (in the red). The meaning of blue must be memorized. And worse, if you use a Fenix rechargeable 16340 battery with built-in micro-USB port, the light on the battery glows red when low and charging, and blue when charged. So even within the Fenix family, a blue light means both fully charged and almost dead. May I suggest that the Fenix Flashlight engineers spend a few more minutes a week talking with the Fenix Battery engineers. It is those little things that are maddening.
Regardless of the indicator light oversights, I highly recommend getting the ARB-L16-700mAh rechargeable batteries. The chief complaint about using CR123 batteries is their initial cost, and slightly less available presence in low-volume battery sellers like back road gas stations and small town grocery stores. So those same recharging superpowers that the Fenix HM50R Headlamp has are equally available in the ARB-L16-700mAh battery. Yes, the battery has its own port and can be charged just like a non-Apple cell phone.
Something to think about with headlamp batteries is that you just might have to swap them out in the dark…with cold hands…in a hurry…while on the run. With the Fenix HM50R Headlamp all you have to do is spin off the only cap, swap batteries, spin the cap back on, and fire it up. This is so very different from one of my 3-AA headlamps where the entire light must be unsnapped from its headband bracket, then cracked open like an oyster, then replace each AA battery in the proper configuration, then reseal the housing in the right direction, reconnect it to the bracket in the right orientation. In other words, you need time, patience, and an understanding of the battery replacement sequence prior to the lights going out.
Another great feature of the Fenix HM50R Headlamp is the minimal weight. My other Fenix AA headlamps had some heft to them causing the light to bounce up and down on my forehead when running or biking, and being a noticeable weight on my head. So much so that a hard bump can knock the headlamp around if not wearing the strap that runs over the top of the head. With the Fenix HM50R Headlamp, no third strap is needed which makes donning it much easier especially when helmets and hats are involved.
The durability of the Fenix HM50R Headlamp seems above and beyond. The aluminium chassis of the light conveys solidity to everyone. The fine threaded aluminium cap with O-ring seal is part of the IP68 rating of this light. IP68 decoded means IP for International Protection standard. 6 means complete protection from dust, dirt and sand for eight hours. And the 8 rating means water resistance at 1.5m for at least 30 minutes.
Head of the Class
Fenix seems to have upgraded its headband material. Compared to my other Fenix lights seems less snaggy (if that’s a word) with a tighter textile weave and with a grippy strip across the forehead. A few features missing from the Fenix HM50R Headlamp include that there is no strobe, no red light (to preserve night vision) and no SOS mode. You know, if it comes down to when I need to telegraph an SOS signal with my headlamp till the battery runs dry, well then I’ll regret the missing feature. But I will also likely forget that feature even exists if I ever have to use it.
So as noted, I am thrilled with this particular Fenix HM50R Headlamp. While there is some obvious room for improvement, the room is small and probably only apparent to those who have used many other headlamps and developed specific preferences. Either way, I have no reservations about this headlamp for general use, emergency use, and survival use.