Survival Life

Survival & Emergency Preparedness

The latest posts from Survival & Emergency Preparedness

Over on Survival Sherpa, Todd Walker has a nice article on how to make jerky, pemmican, and parched corn. These were traditional foods used on the trail up through the 19th Century.

Check it out here.
Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: August 13, 2014, 11:53 pm
Many ham radio operators like to build "go boxes" which allows them to transport their rig(s) and operate right from the box. Some of these are very elaborate, incorporating power supplies, batteries, various meters, and antenna tuners. For example, the Arfcom Ham Radio forum has a long thread with links to many of these builds

I didn't want to create such an elaborate or heavy setup for my own portable ops, but I did need something better than the old Yuengling beer case that I've been using.

On the IC7200 Yahoo group someone mentioned that the radio will fit into a Harbor Freight #69318 18" x 6" x 13" aluminum toolbox. Today I took a ride to the nearest HF store to look at them in person and bought one. Note that HF sells two very similar toolboxes. The #69318 is the one that comes with pluck-to-fit open cell foam and dividers. The #69315 appears to be identical but does not come with the foam.

Here is the one I bought:

As shown in the sticker on the box, it also comes with an insert for holding tools. I removed this because I needed the interior height.

It took only a few minutes to pluck out the foam pieces so that my radio is nicely cradled in the box:

An oblique view shows the depth relative to the radio and LDG IT100 tuner:

(The tuner is secured to the radio with Gorilla tape.)

The box closes with a bit of pressure on the lid and keeps the rig from moving around. I have copies of my ham and GMRS licenses tucked behind the egg crate foam in the lid, along with a print out of the ARRL band plan.

Many go boxes are watertight. This one is not, but my use for it is transport to and from a campsite in my truck. Likewise, it's only one part of my portable setup: I still need to bring a separate power source, netbook, and of course, the antenna and mast. But, this will be easier to transport in my truck, easier to carry, and it was cheap. With a 20% off coupon the toolbox was about $25 out the door. I might pick up another one for the laptop and assorted other gear.
Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: August 3, 2014, 7:33 pm
Last weekend I was back up in Tioga County and managed to get some ham radio in.

That's my Icom 7200 radio, LDG IT100 tuner, Hawaii EARC end fed antenna attached to a 31' Jackite kite pole, which is slipped over a 4' piece of rebar pounded into the ground, and a Harbor Freight Cen-Tech 12V portable power source. The Icom's power cord is terminated with Anderson Power Poles, so I got a Powerwerx Cigbuddy adapter so that it can connect to the 12VDC outlet on the Cen-Tech battery.

The laptop is my old MSI Wind U100 netbook running 32-bit Windows 7 Ultimate. At some point I want to replace the hard disk with an SSD for a slight performance boost, but mainly for improved battery life.

I'm running FLDGI on the laptop for digital modes (PSK31, Olivia). After I replace the HDD I'll probably set it up as a dual boot system with Windows 7 and openSUSE 13.1 using the LXDE desktop environment.

Before the trip I'd received a KF5INZ Easy Digi interface to let me use my iPad 2 or iPhone 5 and PSKER instead of the laptop for PSK31. (Reviews on eHam here.) The interface itself is a nice little unit but I've been having trouble getting VOX setup correctly on the IC7200, so I wound up using the netbook this trip.

Aside from playing on HF I also got to try my new Baofeng UV5RA HT. One of my friends who just got his ham ticket (0 to General in one setting) got one for his first radio and I found it too cheap to pass up, as a backup to my Yaesu VX5RS. A follow up post on the Baofeng is planned.
Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: August 1, 2014, 1:35 pm
On my trip to Tioga County on Field Day, I wanted to try operating my Icom 7200 from battery power. As mentioned in my AAR, this didn’t happen because I had issues with my battery. So, shortly after getting back home I swung by Harbor Freight and bought a Cen-Tech 3-In-1 portable 12V power pack, item number 38391. I had a coupon so I was able to get it for $39.99 plus sales tax.

Cen-Tech 38391 3-in-1 Portable Power Pack with Jump Starter
Photo borrowed from HF.

The Cen-Tech power pack has three functions:
  • It’s a jump starter for vehicles with 360 cold cranking amps.
  • It has a small work light. It’s a 3.6 watt incandescent bulb and probably will get little to no use by me.
  • It has a 12V cigarette lighter-style outlet on the side for powering electronics.
All this is powered by a 17 amp hour sealed lead acid battery. Since it’s SLA, you must keep the battery charged or it will be damage. There’s a voltmeter on the front that allows you to check on the state of the battery.

The unit weighs about 14 pounds, so it’s easily portable.

Upon getting it home I removed the back cover of the power pack to verify that all of the connections were secure. That taken care of, I proceeded to charge it for 48 hours per the quick-start guide. Recharges should take 34 hours. Aside from a wall plug it also comes with a charger that allows you to plug it into a vehicle’s 12V outlet, but the manual warns you that it won’t charge the battery as well as mains power.

To go with the Cen-Tech unit I bought a Powerwerx Cigbuddy from Ham Radio Outlet.
Powerwerx CIGBUDDY
Photo borrowed from HRO.

As you can see, it’s a 12V cigarette lighter outlet to Andersen Power Pole adapter. This allows me to plug my Icom 7200 into the HF box.

As I write this I have the Icom 7200 monitoring 14.070 MHz and viewing PSK31 signals on the FLDIGI waterfall, on battery power.

Harbor Freight has a deserved reputation for varying quality when it comes to its products. This model was recommended by Sparks for use as portable 12V power supply* and so far it seems OK, but of course, only time will tell. At $40 it was worth a try.

We’re heading upstate again at the end of July and plan to bring the Cen-Tech battery pack with me for powering my radio.

*He posted a picture here and I asked him about it on Facebook.
Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: July 18, 2014, 12:26 am

From Jun 27 - 29, 2014 three of my friends and I took our respective kids up to Tioga County, PA for a camping trip. We had a total of 10 kids ranging in age from 8 to 11.

We are experienced campers, and have taken our kids on local overnighters, but this adventure was a lot more involved due to the distance involved and the fact that this time we were staying out for two nights. Along the way, we learned some lessons that are applicable to both recreational camping and a buyout situation.


We first met at the Cabela’s in Hamburg, PA. On other trips we’ve used FRS/GMRS radios for inter-vehicle commo. This time we ran into some difficulties with the privacy codes that were enabled on a couple of the radios, preventing us from hearing one of the other units. The privacy codes also caused inter-operability problems between Motorola and Midland units. Unfortunately, none of us had our radio manuals with us and we couldn’t figure out how to disable the codes. The codes just prevent you from hearing other FRS/GMRS users not sending the correct sub-audible tone. They don’t prevent other people listening in on you. IMO, they are more trouble than they are worth.

I’ve been working on my friends to get at least a Technician level ham radio license (I have my General and I’m studying for Amateur Extra). If we all then got the same model of radio programming them would be simpler, and of course we could just pick a simplex frequency on 2 meters to use without any privacy codes to worry about. Even HTs would work, especially with an external antenna.

CB would also be a viable option.

From Cabela’s we convoyed upstate with a planned break for lunch at a rest stop on I-80. We had packed our lunches ahead of time but the rest stop does have some of the park-style BBQ grills available for use, which could be handy. One of my friends used his canister stove and a French press to make coffee at the rest stop.

Our next stop was at Walmart in Mansfield. We had decided that rather than buying food ahead of time and having it sit in the hot vehicles for most of a day, we’d just get it in Mansfield, about a half hour from our destination. IMO, this was a mistake. As soon as we got out of our vehicles it was like unleashing a swarm of locusts. As we shopped we had to corral 10 kids running this way and that. It would have been better to just get the food and paper goods ahead of time, or to send one or two guys into town to shop, while the remaining vehicles continued on to our campsite, about a half hour away.

On the way up my girls were able to keep themselves occupied in the back of the car with their iPhones. One of them has an app that is teaching her French that she played with that for a couple hours. My wife and I aren’t into electronic parenting at home, but smartphones or tablets are great for keeping children occupied on a long road trip.

Our vehicles consisted of two minivans and two SUVs: a Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Honda Pilot, and a Nissan Xterra. The minivans are great for hauling a lot of gear, get decent gas mileage, and have a lot of amenities. The Pilot is a nice ride with a good amount of storage space, and handles the rough driveway of my friend’s land better than the minivans. My Xterra is the only true offroad capable vehicle in the group, but it lacks cargo space compared with the others. I had to use a roof top cargo bag to augment the inside space, since I couldn’t lower the rear seats as I normally do on camping trips.


Once at camp we setup three tents (one of which is huge and handled one adult plus 7 girls). The large tent is a Walmart Ozark Trail 10-person tent and has been used during all seasons, even though it’s a three-season tent. The design is well thought-out but now that it’s a few years old, the fiberglass poles are starting to break. During our Spring trip one split and we repaired it with duct tape. This time, two more split and had to be repaired by wrapping them with bailing wire and then covering the wire with duct tape. (I keep both in my truck toolbox.) The lesson here is that if you’re going to rely on China-Mart quality control you must be prepared to fix it when it fails.

The other tent was a Coleman (not sure what model) and didn’t give us any problems.

The third tent was my REI Basecamp 6, which I’ve used numerous times and never had a problem with. The other tents had plain blue tarps underneath but I sprung for the REI footprint when I bought mine. For warm weather like we had I wouldn’t mind a little more ventilation, but for cold weather use you can really button up and keep out the wind. Since we pitch camp on top of about a foot of gravel, this time I brought along 4 landscaping spikes that I had laying around for use as stakes. They worked well but I couldn’t remove two of them. Two were stuck fast so I just pounded them in flush with the ground when I struck the tent, so they wouldn’t be tripping hazards.

Finally, the property has a 16’ x 24’ steel-roofed pavilion that we use to get out of the sun or rain. At some point my friend is probably going to wall it in, have a cement floor poured, and then we’ll have a cabin to use.

We used a mix of cots, foam pads, and air mattresses for beds. I used my Big Agnes air mattress and while it’s well-made and doesn’t leak, unless I’m sleeping under a tarp, from now on I’m going to squeeze my cot into the truck no matter what. At 46, cots are easier to lay down and get off of, and give you storage space underneath.

Most everyone used a sleeping bag but I used my old, GI-issue, woodland camo poncho liner. Nighttime temps got down into the 50s. I was comfortable in my woobie, a t-shirt, and shorts, but my daughters were a little cold even in the 40* rated sleeping bags, so they put on hoodies inside their bags. This demonstrates how small kids often don’t handle cooler temps as well as adults.


During our time there we realized that children raised in a modern American middle class household have no concept of water discipline or a limited supply of things like paper plates, bottled water, or paper towels. For example, we setup a 7 gallon jug and unless we watched it like hawks, the kids were prone to using it just like a faucet, i.e., turn it on and leave it open while washing hands. None of the adults remembered to bring a big container of hand sanitizer, which would have conserved a lot of water.

Likewise, some of the kids were prone to grabbing a bottle of water, taking a few sips, forgetting where it was, then going and getting another bottle when they got thirsty again. We took to marking their initials on a water bottle and then locking the cases in a vehicle. We experienced the same thing with paper plates and bowls.

One of the guys didn’t bring enough spoons and forks for his kids so we ran short. We were also short on cups. I suggested to him that he get a Rubbermaid Action Packer box and put all his camping gear in it so that it’s always ready to go. Going forward, each kid will be issued a cup and a spork and be held responsible for it.

Checklists are a good way to prevent you from forgetting things.

In the past we’ve done a lot of cooking on the campfire but last year a park style grill was put in at the site. This is easier to use because it’s at a convenient height. Hot dogs, hamburgers, sausage, and steak was cooked on it using Kingsford briquettes. We use a couple chimney starters to get the briquettes going. Saturday night we made chili (win a cast iron Dutch oven, using briquettes for heat.

Breakfast on Saturday and Sunday was oatmeal. We used my Kovea Spider butane canister stove to boil water in both a Walmart grease pot and a Kelly kettle. I also used the Kovea stove for making coffee in a stainless percolator. (I know it’s a figment of my imagination but coffee tastes best when made in the perc over a campfire, but this time I didn’t have to clean soot off of it.)

My water jug will leak a little when laid down so you can use the spigot. I’ve taken to keeping a roll of Teflon plumber’s tape wire tied to the handle, and use it to seal the cap threads.


I use the first aid kit in my truck on pretty much every camping trip for scrapes and cuts. This trip was no exception. On the second day my youngest stubbed her toe on a tent stake and peeled back some skin from the tip of her right pinky toe. I was able to patch her up but had to bum some triple antibiotic ointment from one of the other guys. This was a reminder that I needed to do the annual inventory and replenishment of my first aid kit.

As I mentioned in the section about shelter, I had to break out my toolkit for some onsite tent repairs. I keep a small bag with basic hand tools, duct tape, bailing wire, electrical tape, and WD40 in my truck at all times. I’ve also used the kit to fix air mattresses. One time we had to wire a valve shut, while this time another guy’s mattress had a pinhole leak that I was able to patch with duct tape. Make sure you bring good duct tape. "Duck” brand is good, as is Gorilla tape. The 3M brand duct tape that I’ve bought recently at Lowe’s is not up to snuff, in my experience

One of my buddies brought a Thermacell and damn, it works great. He set it on the table where we do food prep and it kept all the bugs away. I did pick up a few black fly bites when I was away from the area covered by the Thermacell. I need to add some After-Bite to my first aid kit.



All the kids had the chance to catch bluegills and one got a small catfish. We like the Zebco Dock Demon fishing rod sets with spin cast reels you can buy at Walmart.(I’d avoid the Dock Demons with spinning reels if you’re buying it for a kid, unless you want to spend a lot time untangling fishing line.) They are a good size for smaller kids and are cheap. They also seem better made than the rod sets sold specifically to kids, e.g., the Spiderman or whatever themed sets.

When dealing with 10 kids it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hooked. We used only barbless hooks, made by squashing the hooks’ barbs with a pair of pliers. This also makes it more like that the fish we release will survive. I have a small multi-tool that I got at Cabela’s for about $10 that I keep in my tackle box and used for this. I also used it to remove hooks from the mouths of fish.


My friends and I also got to get a little shooting in on Saturday afternoon. I helped one guy zero the red dot on his new AR-15 and he also tested out the CMMG .22 LR conversion that he bought for it at Cabela’s. We were pleasantly surprised to see that it ran OK with CCI Standard Velocity ammo. He noticed that even after less than a full box of ammo his receiver was filthy inside, so keep in mind the need to clean it before switching back to 5.56 if using one,

I got some plinking in with my 1948-vintage Remington 550-1 semiauto .22. I tried two kinds of .22 LR in it: Remington .22 CBees and Aguila .22 LR Subsonics. It functioned just fine with either. Both rounds were pretty quiet out of the 24” barrel. The Aguila ammo shoots OK but seems to be on the dirty side, even for .22.


This turned out to be a total total SNAFU on my part. Our trip coincided with ARRL Field Day, when amateur radio operators practice under field conditions.

First, I had a problem trying to get my Hawaii EARC end fed antenna up in a tree. My slingshot didn't have enough oomph to launch a 1 oz. sinker tied to some 550 cord high enough, and then it broke. I should have used fishing line or maybe mason’s twine for the leader rope, since they are lighter. I may want to use a heavier sinker, as well, so it can drag the leader line down through left branches. Another option would be to use a plastic water bottle with the line tied to it, and just toss it up. I wound up finding a downed sapling and used that as a mast, with the end of the wire duct taped to to the top. It wasn't quite as along as I would have liked but it would have worked OK, I think, had the radio worked.

After I got the antenna up, my Icom 7200 radio wouldn't power up from my battery. {Insert string of profanities here.} I just got a clicking sound when I hit the power button. The battery had been on a trickle charger but it may just well be shot.

I'll be using a different option for power next year and an alternative means of hoisting my antenna. For power, last weekend I picked up a Centech 3-In-1 Jump Starter and 12V Power Supply at Harbor Freight for $39.99 + tax using a coupon. It has a 17ah SLA battery inside. I decided to get this particular one because (1) it’s cheap, and (2) it was recommended by Sparks. Before plugging it in for its initial charge I removed the back panel and verified that all the connections were snug. The downside to the SLA battery is that I need to top it off every month or so, or the battery will go bad.

Next time I may just bring my Jackite 31’ telescoping fiberglass pole instead of relying on a wood pole cut onsite. It’s one more thing to bring but being much lighter, will be easier to erect.


Our kids all had a great time and I don’t think any of the dads picked up too many new gray hairs. It reinforced the necessity of trying out your gear and testing your plans before you rely on them in earnest. It was a lot of fun and good practice if we ever find ourselves in a bugout situation.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: July 9, 2014, 12:15 am

Over on The High Road, “marb4” posted a thread in which he tested the penetration and expansion of several different loads from small handguns.

The loads tested were:

  • 9mm Speer Gold Dot 115 grain JHP
  • Federal .380 ACP Hydrashock 90 grain JHP low-recoil
  • Winchester .380 95 grain FMJ flat nose
  • Remington .38 Special 148 grain wadcutter
  • CCI .22 LR 40 grain Mini Mag lead round nose.

The penetration of the two .380 loads and the CCI .22 LR Mini Mags is especially impressive. I load Federal 95 grain FMJ-RN in my Ruger LCP .380 because I’ve been concerned that .380 lacks penetration. It looks like some of the modern .380 JHPs may actually penetrate deeply enough.

I've always suggested Mini Mag solids for someone who must use a .22 for defense, because (1) solids penetrate better than hollowpoints, especially from a .22 rifle, (2) CCI rimfire ammunition has the most reliable priming in my experience, and (3) Mini Mags work reliably in every .22 autoloader that I’ve tried them in, something I cannot say for any other type of ammunition.

My Springfield XD9 is loaded with 9mm 124 grain Gold Dots.

With the popularity of the Kel-Tec P32, I’d like to see similar testing done with a few different .32 ACP loads. Many people, including myself, recommend a European-spec .32 FMJ load to get adequate penetration. It would be nice to see if any of the modern JHPs can penetrate at least 12”.

Kudos to marb4 for providing us with some additional data on with which to choose carry loads.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: June 21, 2014, 1:12 pm

This morning I had surgery to fix "trigger finger” on my right thumb. It was done under a local anesthetic and only took about a half hour. It went well and I really didn’t start having any pain until after almost eight hours, but my hand is wrapped with a bulky bandage that I have to keep it dry and clean for a week.

The trigger finger started last October and was temporarily resolved with a steroid shot into the base of my thumb. That was fun. Not. It started recurring about midway through April and I finally got the surgery to permanently fix it today.

Thankfully, it’s my right hand and I’m a lefty. But the experience is making me more appreciative of having two properly functioning hands.

One tool I’m currently unable to use is a regular slip joint pocketknife, like my favorite Victorinox Pioneer. Because of the side that the nail slots are on the blades, I find them very awkward to open with my left hand. I use the blade everyday, and frequently use the bottle opener for a beer after dinner. (I won’t be drinking anything as long as I’m taking Tylenol 3, though.) So, until I regain use of my right thumb I’ll be relying on my Kershaw Leek assisted opener.

Prior to the procedure it was quite difficult to rack the slide on a semi auto pistol. Right now it would be very, very difficult if not impossible. Loading mags would be hard without something like a LULA. A revolver will be easier to use. I could probably run a rifle or shotgun without too much problem, however.

Doing any work in my home shop is a no-go, since getting cutting oil and metal ships embedded in the bandage wouldn’t be good.

My biggest worry if TSHTF now would be avoiding infection for the next few days. I’d have to take extra steps to protect the incision and keeping it dry. I’m thinking that plastic wrap and/or tape would serve to keep it from getting contaminated. (I’m on the antibiotic Clindamycin as a prophylactic for a few days.)

Taking a shower tomorrow morning will be interesting.

Compared to the medical issues some other forum members have experienced this is a small potatoes, and I should be returning to work tomorrow, but it’s a hassle nonetheless. I expect my hand to heal rapidly but this could be more than a hassle under the wrong circumstances.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: June 17, 2014, 10:13 pm

A little while ago I picked up a 6 – 40M end-fed matchbox antenna from the Hawaii Emergency Amateur Radio Club, for field use. It operates using similar principals to the Ultimax 100 that I use at my QTH.

Both units consist of a single wire antenna with a matching unit at the feed point, however, the Ultimax is advertised as being usable from 6 to 80M. I haven’t had much luck with Tx on bands lower than 40M.

The matching unit on the HI EARC is much smaller than the one on the Ultimax, so it’s better suited for portable operations.

Today I got the chance to try out the HI EARC antenna and while this is hardly a comprehensive test, my first impressions are good. Rx during my daytime 20M test seems comparable to the Ultimax 100 as does my Tx propagation, according to pskreporter.info.

My quick and dirty test setup looked like this:


I used some electral tape to attach the end of the antenna wire to the tip of a Jackite 31-foot telescoping kite pole, then propped up the pole with the magnolia in my front yard. The pole wasn’t long enough to fully extend the wire so I put the matching unit with feed point on the plastic lawn chair to the left.

For a feed line I used a 25-foot piece of RG-8X coaxial cable coming from my LDG IT-100 tuner. With my Icom 7200 and this antenna setup I was able to get a QSO with a station in Windsor, Ontario, using 50W on 20M PSK-31. I can’t leave it up for long because the XYL threw a fit about me having this in the front yard. Future tests will be in the field.

I’ll post a follow up after I get the chance to use the antenna some more.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: May 17, 2014, 6:18 pm

In my ongoing search to find a comfortable way to carry a gun while hiking, including when wearing a pack, I bought a Hill People Gear Kit Bag. I ordered it last Thursday and received it on Monday.

HPG is a small, family-run business located in Colorado. The Kit Bag is a chest pack with three compartments. Overall dimensions are 11.5” wide by 7.5” tall by 2” thick.

The outer zippered pocket is the smallest. I replaced the Slick Clips that come attached to the sewn-in loops with mini carabiners, which I find easier to use. One biner has a Fox whistle and an REI compass on it. The other has a Nitecore T0 flashlight on it, and I also use it to secure my keys. Other items I put in this pocket include some tarred bankline and some 550 cord, a ziploc bag with mixed nuts, and a Benchmade Griptilian folding knife.

The middle compartment opens up and has two pockets on the far side. The third and furthest from your body is a slash pocket again with two pockets, this time on the side closest to you. This pocket also has nylon webbing loops for dummy cording items.

In this compartment I keep a Cliff Bar, small first aid kit, an SOL Survival Blanket (space blanket), water purification tablets, an empty 0.5 liter Platypus water bottle, and a fire making kit with strike anywhere matches, Mini Bic, and three Esbit tablets, and a GI triangular bandage for use as a bandanna.

The pocket closest to your body is meant for the gun, and has a strip of the loop half of Velcro running vertically down the middle, so you can secure something like a Maxpedition universal holster to it. Here I have it packed with my Beretta M9 with a spare mag secured with just such a holster.

The gun compartment is plenty big to handle almost any full size pistol you’d want to carry.  E.g., I tried my S&W Model 625 N-Frame with a 5” barrel and it fits (But I don’t think a 6” N-Frame will fit.)

The Kit Bag comes with straps and fittings to enable you to “dock” the pack to your backpack straps, to better distribute the weight on your shoulders. I decided to remove these because (1) I don’t want to dock it, and (2) for me the Grimlocks attached to the bag got in my way when trying to open the gun compartment.

The suspension is a new take on chest pack design. Chest packs have been used at least since World War I, when some gas mask bags were carried in this fashion. The Kit Bag’s suspension consists of nylon shoulder straps about 1.5” wide in an H-harness arrangement. The straps attach to a mesh panel that rides on your back. The side strap that goes under your right arm has a quick-detach Fastex buckle near the bag.

It’s designed for use while wearing a backpack, but depending on how you adjust it to ride, I think you could use it in conjunction with a shoulder bag.

The Kit Bag is made for HPG in the USA by First Spear from 500 denier nylon, and the workmanship is outstanding. All seams are well done. There were no loose threads or ugly stitches. The zippers are high quality.

One should be careful not to overload the Kit Bag. It has enough space so that you could do so easily. I limit mine to what’s shown in the pictures above, but I may add a monocular, and might put my iPhone in it, depending on what else I’m wearing. Anything else will go in another bag or my pockets.

According to what I’ve read by HPG, the Kit Bag wasn’t designed as “tactical” gear. Rather, it’s for outdoorsman. That said, I’ve read of at least one US Army officer using one while deployed in Afghanistan.

Today I took the Kit Bag out for a hike in French Creek State Park. My walk covered only a few miles but it was over rough terrain, with a vertical rise of about 300 feet in the first half mile or so. I wore the Kit Bag for about 2.5 to 3 hours, in conjunction with my Maxpedition Baby Condor day pack, and I’m very pleased.

For me, the HPG Kit Bag is the most comfortable way I’ve ever worn a pistol. The H-harness with wide shoulder straps carries the load very well, and when adjusted properly the bag doesn’t move around. The temperature was in the 60s but due to exertion I was sweating, but my chest didn’t feel uncomfortably clammy under the bag. The back panel was very comfortable.

If you’re into hiking and have been searching for a way to comfortably carry a sidearm and a few other supplies, while wearing a backpack with a waistbelt, the Hill People Gear Kit Bag is an excellent solution. Based on the quality and utility of the Kit Bag, I’m looking at making further purchases from Hill People Gear.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: May 9, 2014, 12:20 am

An interesting article with discussion and stills from the video, here.

Full video:

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: May 4, 2014, 2:56 pm

One pistol that it’s taken me a long time to warm up to is the Beretta 92, AKA M9. Compared with more modern pistols like the Glock, Springfield XD, or S&W Military & Police, the traditional DA/SA trigger is obsolete. Further, the M9’s size is very large for the cartridge it fires. Many people with small hands have a difficult time comfortably gripping the piece due to the bulk of the grip. This last point had always soured me on the gun.

However, opinions chance over time. Back at the beginning of April I picked up a Beretta CX-4 Storm 9mm carbine which uses Beretta 92 magazines. I regard the CX-4 as a good choice for a defensive carbine and the idea of a pistol that would take the same magazines is something I find very attractive. So, I went over to my parents’ and took another look at my father’s M9. I wound up buying my own about a week later.

The pistol came in a blue plastic hard case with a manual, warranty card, lock, two 15 round magazines, and a Jello mold or shot glass.

(Actually, it’s there to help keep the case from getting crushed in transit.)

I’m a bit surprised that it doesn’t come with a basic magazine loader. Double column/single feed pistol mags are a bitch to fill to capacity without a loading tool. In any event, I highly recommend the Butler Creek LULA magazine loader. It makes loading double column pistol magazines a breeze.

Note that in the pics of the gun above, it has a Mec-Gar 20 round magazine in place. Mec-Gar has made mags for Beretta in the past and currently make a flush-fit 18 rounder. Their 20 rounder is the bod of an 18 round mag with a +2 extension on it. Were I carrying the gun in the military or as a police officer, the Mec-Gar 20 would be my preferred magazine, with the 18 rounder as my second choice.

I bought the M9 at Surplus City in Feasterville, PA for $599 + tax. I immediately took it to the range, field stripped, cleaned and lubed it, and fired it alongside my Springfield XD9.

On the initial outing I put 111 rounds through the M9, including some Brown Bear with lacquered steel cases, PMC, and Federal American Eagle. The Brown Bear and PMC were 115 grain FMJ, while the FAE was 147 grain FMJ-FP.

One of the things that impressed me was how easy it is to shoot the Beretta accurately in SA. In the picture below, the left hand target is 50 rounds through the M9 while the right target is 30 rounds through the XD9. Distance was 10 yards.

On the target I shot with the Beretta all the fliers were my fault.

The other thing that made a favorable impression upon me is how pleasant to shoot the M9 is. It’s not an especially heavy gun because the frame is made from aluminum, but it’s bulky and the grip spreads out the already mild 9mm recoil across your hand, rather than concentrating it in one spot.

The following weekend I brought it with me on a camping trip to Tioga County, PA, where my friends and I ran a couple hundred more rounds of CCI Blazer Brass 115 grain FMJ through it, shooting at steel plates.

As an aside, on this trip I also got the chance to do night firing for the first time. I used a Fenix LD20 flashlight held in my right hand while shooting the M9 with my left. The only ambient light was from a campfire. The hardest part about getting hits was acquiring the front sight, but when I was able to do so hitting a 10” gong at ~15 – 20 yards wasn’t too hard.

One of the valid criticisms (IMNSHO) of the M9 is the trigger pull. It’s flat-out heavy and long in DA. Combined with the weapon’s girth, this makes it hard for those of us with small hands to get off accurate DA shots. I’m not normally one to tinker with a gun until it’s got through a 500 round break-in period, but in this case there is an easy, cheap fix.

The factory hammer spring is rated for 20 lbs. This was specified so that the gun doesn’t have any problems firing ammo with even the hardest of primers, e.g., some SMG ammo. I don’t have to worry about that, so I replaced the OEM spring with a a Wolff hammer spring rated for 16 lbs. This drops the DA pull down several pounds and the SA pull a pound or two. The gun is now much easier to shoot, especially for the first shot in DA.

Last night I put another 110 rounds of CCI Blazer Brass through the gun. I’m now up to ~400 rounds down the pipe and it hasn’t had a single malfunction. My father shot his M9 last night, bringing the total in his gun up to 1100 rounds, and he has yet to experience any malfunctions.

Unfortunately, the M9 doesn’t have a rail under the dust cover, so for me to mount a light it will require an add-on. (If this is critical to you, the 92A1 or M9A1 come from the factory with a rail.) Brownell’s sells a rail section that can be affixed to the dust cover which I’m considering getting. Surefire also makes a no-gunsmithing rail that secures to the trigger guard.

The Beretta’s safety/decocker is mounted up on the slide and unless you have gorilla hands, it’s difficult to reach with your thumb, without radically changing your grip. There’s a simple solution to this: don’t use the safety. IMHO it’s superfluous on a DA autoloader anyway. If the gun is being carried in a proper holster the chances of an AD are pretty much zero. I use it strictly as a decocker.

I’ve done a total 180 on the Beretta M9. It’s a big, old fashioned DA/SA autoloader, but it’s accurate, pleasant to shoot, and reliable. If you’re in the market for a 9mm pistol it’s worth a serious look.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: May 4, 2014, 2:34 pm

Now that I've had my German Flecktarn parka for over a month and have worn it several times, I can offer some additional observations:

  • It's pretty much windproof.
  • It's not waterproof or even water resistant as it comes, but it'll keep you dry in a drizzle if you give it a couple coats of Tectron water repellent spray.
  • I still find Euro zippers with the pull on the left side annoying. I might take it to a seamstress to have the zipper replaced with one that has the pull on the right side.
  • One of my friends bought one and one of the German Border Guard wool blanket coat liners to use with it. He added acetate inside the blanket liner's sleeves to make it easier to put on. This combination worked well for him during our camping trip last weekend with night time temps down into the 30s, with plenty of wind.
  • I wore mine over a Cabela's 110 gm. Primaloft insulating layer. This combo worked well for me.
  • The parka has the right amount of pockets -- not too many nor too few.

I highly recommend this coat.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: April 30, 2014, 1:59 pm

One topic among shooters that generates a lot of disagreement is the pros and cons of pistol caliber carbines (PCCs). I previously owned a Marlin Camp Carbine in .45 ACP, have a couple of leverguns in handgun cartridges, and I recently picked up a TNW Firearms M-31SA Suomi in 9x19 and a Beretta CX-4 Storm 9x19, so this is something I’ve been pondering.

TNW M-31SA Suomi

For the purposes of this article, I’ll mainly discuss PCCs chambered for 9x19, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, .357 Magnum, and .44 Magnum. Certainly there are other PCC rounds like .45 Colt, but they are less common. Also, it is a mistake to class the M1 Carbine as a PCC. The .30 Carbine round was developed for the Carbine. Handguns chambered for it became available decades later.

I’d like to look at the con first, and in my opinion there really is only one.

PCCs have the bulk, length, and weight of a rifle, but fire handgun cartridges. If you’re toting a rifle sized package, why not have rifle ballistics? This isn’t an idle concern. True rifle cartridges offer better terminal ballistics against game and people, and rounds like .308 or 7.62x39 offer greatly improved penetration against cover.

On the other hand, PCCs have several potential pros for modern American shooters:

  • Ammunition that can be shared with your handgun, simplifying logistics.
  • Depending on the model, magazines that can be shared with your pistol. E.g., Kel-Tec makes a Sub 2000 which takes Glock magazines, and the Beretta Storm takes Beretta pistol magazines.
  • With autopistol cartridges, PCCs offer slightly improved performance, along with much reduced noise and blast, and low recoil. This is a big deal with inexperienced shooters, IMHO.
  • With magnum revolver cartridges, PCCs offer significantly increased performance, again with reduced noise and blast. The recoil of a .357 Magnum carbine isn’t bad, but the .44 Magnum still has significant recoil from a carbine.
  • Many indoor ranges allow shooting PCCs but forbid shooting rifle cartridges. This makes PCCs more valuable to shooters who don’t have access to an outdoor range. This is increasingly common among urban and suburban shooters.
  • Semiauto PCCs chambered for autopistol cartridges typically employ a straight blowback design, which is very simple and easy to maintain. Lever actions chambered for magnum revolver rounds are more complex, however.
  • Some of the semiatuo PCCs have very innovative, useful designs. For example, the Kel-Tec Sub 2000 folds in half, while the TNW Aero Survival Rifle easily takes down. Either can be carried and stowed in something like an old laptop briefcase.
  • Despite the ballistic advantages of true rifle caliber carbines, PCCs are plenty effective for self- defense, as demonstrated by this case of a Detroit mother who defended her home and family with a Hi Point PCC. And let’s face it, this kind of use is going to be a lot more common than any SHTF scenario.

Some of the PCCs currently on the US market include:

  • Beretta CX-4 Storm
  • Kel-Tec Sub 2000
  • TNW Aero Survival Rifle
  • Just Right Carbine
  • Rossi Model 92 lever actions
  • Marlin 1894 lever actions
  • Hi Point 995, 4095, and 4595
  • Thureon Defense AR-like carbines

There have also been a number of PCCs which are semiauto-only clones of submachineguns, such as the TNW M-31SA Suomi, Sterlings, Uzis, AR-15s, and HK-94s.

Historically, one draw of carbines and handguns taking the same cartridge was simplified logistics when you were away from easy resupply. In the 21st Century this is less of a consideration. On the other hand, I can see the value of having to grab only one type of ammo if you’re in a bugout situation. Likewise, a carbine and a pistol that can share magazines simplifies logistics.

In my opinion, PCCs are worthy of consideration by preppers looking to add a rifle to their arsenal.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: April 6, 2014, 12:26 am

Last week I ordered an unissued German flecktarn camoflage parka from Centerfire Systems and it arrived today. I thought I'd share some pics.

First, the outside and inside.

Pocket inside the left breast. If it's not obvious from the picture, it closes at the top with Velcro.

Manufacturer's label, showing the size and fabric makeup of 80/20 cotton/polyester.

Pit zip.

Left sleeve pocket. I am assuming that what looks like a button hole is really so you can dummy cord a compass to it.

And finally, the importer's sticker.

Initial impressions:

It's well made of good quality fabric. The sewing is neat without a bunch of excess threads. This was sold by CFS as an "XL" and that seems pretty true to size although the bigger guys may find the sleeves too short. I wear a 34" sleeve in dress shirts and they are just right for me, however. There is room for layering a fleece or sweater under the smock. I am 5'6" tall and the bottom hem of the smock falls right above my knees, so it'll provide good coverage. The hood is sized so it'll fit comfortably over a cap, without being huge. There are two chest pockets which snap shut and two lower pockets closed with zippers. The left chest pocket has pencil/pen loops sewn into it.

This parka is a German equivalent to the British windproof or SAS smocks, but priced far less, at $25 + shipping. The camouflage pattern works very well in the woods of the northeastern US. I'm looking forward to getting a lot of use out of this jacket.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: March 10, 2014, 11:37 pm
Over on Blog O'Stuff, I have a review of the TNW Firearms M-31SA Suomi carbine. I didn't buy this as a prep item, just as an historical curio. That said, it appears to be reliable, and 9mm gains 200 to 300 FPS from a carbine barrel compared with a pistol barrel, so it could be a useful defensive carbine, even if it's heavy enough to break down a brick shithouse.

Go take a gander.
Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: March 7, 2014, 6:18 pm
I've been otherwise occupied for the past couple of weeks and had not made any more progress on the capote. Last night I sat down and ripped the seams holding on the sleeves and redid them to eliminate the hole's I'd left in the armpits when I screwed up attaching them the first time.

Remaining work to be done:

  • Attach the pockets and cut slits through the coat so they can be used.
  • Make and attach flaps for the pockets.
  • Add a storm flap.
  • Remove some material from the hood so I don't look like a reject from a Ronnie James Dio video with it up.
More pics to come as I make more progress.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: March 7, 2014, 6:14 pm

In Part 3 I add buttons, holes, a hang loop, and start on the pockets.

When sewing the body together I used black button and carpet thread. This is stronger than regular sewing thread. To sew the buttons on I used artificial sinew from Track of the Wolf (I actually have another spool of this stuff around here somewhere but I’ve misplaced it, so I ordered one along with the buttons).

The buttons are 1.5” in diameter, which is on the large size, but appropriate for this kind of coat. They should also be easier to use with gloves or mitts on than smaller buttons.

Yeah, they’re shiny. I’m either going to let them tarnish or use something to dull them to a patina.

Also shown in the pic above are the pockets I made from the legs of jeans I made into cut off shorts a couple years ago. While looking around for some suitable fabric I ran across these in my closet. Waste not, want not. The pockets will be sewn to the inside of the coat and accessed through slits cut in the outside. I’m also planning to add flaps cut from some leftover blanket material.

To wrap up this post, here’s the hang loop that I made from a short piece of gutted 550 cord. I like all of my coats to have hang loops.

One thing this exercise has done is made me appreciate the value of a sewing machine. I’m entirely hand stitching this capote together, mostly with a blanket stich. Not only is this time consuming but it’s hell on my left thumb (I’m a southpaw). But, it’s good practice.

In Part 4, I’ll get the pockets sewn in and flaps on.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: February 16, 2014, 2:54 pm

In Part 2 I’ll show how I cut the blanket and how the capote looked after my first round of sewing.

First, I cut/tore the blanket to make the body. I'm going to use buttons to fasten the front rather than a wrap, so I narrowed the blanket by a few inches. If doing this again I'd leave it full width for more overlap, but this will be OK. I made it with a 40" length, which brings the bottom hem to the back of my knees (I am 5'6" tall).

Note that one blanket came with the stripes while the other did not. IMO, the stripes add a nice detail to a coat.

Next, I folded the body in half and made the slits for the arms. The inquiry.net instructions say to make them ~7", to be lengthened later. IMO, you could make them 9" right from the get go.

Next, I cut out the sleeves. Here is one laid out on part of the blanket. I would normally use chalk to mark the lines but didn't have any handy, so I grabbed a bar of soap.

I then used this as a pattern to trace around for the second sleeve. I forgot to take a pic of the hood before cutting it out or sewing it onto the body.

And here's how the capote looked after a lot of hand stitching:

The instructions for the inquiry.net pattern aren't the greatest when it came to attaching the hood but I eventually figured it out. Also, I changed the sleeve design a bit to omit the fringe, but I now have holes in each armpit that I need to fill with a gusset.
To sew the pieces together I used black carpet and button thread. I'd planned to use artificial sinew but couldn't find my roll. The black thread is inconspicuous from more than a foot away so it's probably a better choice, anyway. I used a blanket stitch for all seams.

Here’s a detail shot of the hood after I sewed down the triangular flaps.

I went to the local Joann Fabrics to look for buttons but didn't see any I liked. So, I ordered some copper capote buttons from Track of the Wolf.

Work remaining includes:

  • Add a couple slash pockets,
  • Sew on the buttons and make button holes, and
  • I may add a storm flap to the right side from the front opening. The instructions I followed said to cut/tear the blanket to the width that I did, but I’m thinking I want more overlap. So, I can take some leftover material and sew it to the right side (as worn) going from the collar down to the bottom of the stripe. This should keep drafts out.

In Part 3, I’ll get the buttons sewn on, button holes made, and the pocket linings sewn.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: February 16, 2014, 2:21 pm

One of article of clothing which was developed in the 18th or 19th Century and which is still useful today is the wool blanket capote. It’s simply a coat made from a wool blanket or blanket material. Natural fabrics such as wool have some advantages over synthetics, specifically they are much safer around a fire and they are quieter when moving through the bush. Additionally, if you make your own capote from a surplus blanket, you can have a nice, warm winter coat for under $40.

If you do some searching you’ll come across several sites which sell completed capotes, capote kits, and sewing patterns. This thread on BCUSA has a good list of capote patterns and info. The Sportsman’s Guide sells a capote that’s received good reviews on BCUSA, and I considered buying one but really wanted to make my own. I decided to use the pattern found  at The Inquiry Net for a Hudson Bay Capote, with some modifications.

For my raw material I’m using a Bulgarian military surplus 100% wool blanket that I got from keepshooting.com. They were on sale for $14.95 each plus shipping, so I got two for a total of about $40.

Like many milsurp wool blankets the Bulgarian blankets smelled strongly of mothballs. They reeked. The best way to deodorize them is to hang them in the sun for as much as a week to air them out. As I understand it, the UV light in sunlight helps to break down the napthalene. I haven’t tried it but I’ve also read that napthalene is soluble in alcohol, so you can use a spray of diluted vodka to help along the process. (Finally, a productive use for cheap booze.) If you have experience with this please post a comment.

Anyway, sunlight has been in short supply around here this winter so I decided to throw my blankets in the washer. The one which I’m making the capote from went through three times. Twice on cold and once on hot. I dried it in the gentle cycle after each of the two cold washes and then on hot after the hot wash. Make sure you clean out the lint trap!

Now, generally it’s advised to not put 100% wool into a washing machine, much less the drier, but I seriously doubt the Bulgarian Army had a dry cleaning service for their blankets. Also, I wanted to tighten the weave and preshrink it, to make the material more windproof and warmer. Shrinkage was minimal. This is how wool felt is made, by the way.

Note that if you run a mothball soaked blanket through the wash, it’s gonna stink really bad. My laundry room smelled like you stepped into a box of mothballs.

In Part 2, we’ll start cutting the blanket and sewing it up.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: February 16, 2014, 2:09 pm

Last week I ran across a link to Bulgarian military surplus wool blankets on Keepshooting.com for the low price of $14.95 each, plus S&H. Wanting to add a couple more wool blankets to my stash, I ordered two. They arrived Saturday while I was out on my last camping trip.

Keepshooting.com packed them well in a big box. Upon opening the box I was met with a very strong mothball smell, which intensified when I pulled one out to look at it. Aside from the odor both appeared to be brand new. The description on their web page is accurate.

Tonight I washed one of the two that I got. I used cold water and Dreft in the washing machine, set it to delicate, and extended & second rinse. I then dried it in the dryer for 70 minutes on delicate with a dryer sheet. It came out fine and there is just the barest hint of a mothball smell remaining. I laid it out flat on the floor and measured it -- no noticeable shrinkage. It seems a little fluffier. I'll probably wash the other one tomorrow.

You can of course use Woolite instead of Dreft (which is what I had on hand). I've also read of guys using shampoo. Wool is hair, after all.

I'm seriously considering using one as the raw material for a bushcraft hoodie. One of these would be perfect for keeping in your car for emergencies, or for camping.

For ~$40 for two of them shipped, this was a great deal.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: February 7, 2014, 2:10 am

Last night I did an overnighter with a friend and his daughter, outside of Pottstown, in SE PA.

We dragged our gear up to the camp using kid's sleds.

On the sled is my Ridge Rest foam mat, East German combat pack containing long johns, socks, and my PCU Level 5 soft shell pants, Swiss poncho, my USGI MSS, a folding camp chair, axe, H&R 20 gauge shotgun, and hunting vest. We wound up not doing any hunting, and I didn't need the extra clothes, but it was still better to have them just in case.

We built a long fire although we didn't use it to heat our shelters. It still made a nice fire to sit in front of and gave off a lot of warmth. You can see the pot and lid from my Swedish mess kit in the lower right. I used it to melt snow so we had warm water for cleaning dishes, etc.

Dinner was beans and franks cooked in a dutch oven my friend dragged up, and some hot dogs grilled on a Biolite stove belonging to another friend who couldn't sleep over. I didn't get any good pics of these.

Here's the hootch I slept in. It's a USMC field tarp over my MSS. Under the MSS I had a Big Agnes insulated air matress, Ridge Rest foam pad, a USGI casualty evacuation blanket, and snow. :) The air mattress, foam pad, and casevac blanket provided plenty of insulation from the cold ground. I used the sled to partially block off the side of the shelter near my head.

To hang the shelter I used 550 cord tied through the bungee loops that come with the USMC field tarp. This allows the tarp to give a bit if there is a gust, although I didn't have to worry about that last night. When prepping for the trip I cut a half dozen 3' pieces of 550 cord especially for this purpose. I used plastic tent stakes through bungees to secure the back of the lean-to.

Since I'm in my 40s I had to get up in the middle of the night. ;) I noticed that the underside of the tarp had a lot of condensation on it. In the morning the top side had a good coating of frost, too. It got down to about 25*F but I was warm in this setup. We didn't have much wind and it mostly came from the direction in back of the tarp.

My friend and his kid slept in this 3 season Coleman tent. Even though it's extremely well ventilated it too had a lot of condensation in the morning.

I told my friend's daughter to look like she was enjoying the zombie apocalypse this morning.

Finally, I got to try out my Kovea Spider stove under field conditions. The temp was around freezing when I took this pic.

We also used the stove to boil water for oatmeal in my friend's Kelly Kettle. To do so we had to fold the legs slightly so that the KK would fit over it, but it worked great. We'd normally use twigs like the KK is designed for, but all the wood was wet, so this made it a lot easier.

It was a fun night out and a good gear test. The USMC field tarp isn't as light as some civilian tarps, but it is very rugged. It's a good size for sheltering one person and has snaps, so you can attach more than one if you need to make a larger shelter. This was my first time trying the MSS in an open shelter and it also worked great. I wouldn't want to carry it far due to its weight but if you don't need to hump it, it's probably one of the best deals available in rugged outdoor gear.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: February 3, 2014, 1:26 am

With Winter upon us, I wanted to post a quick review of a few pieces of cold weather clothing that I’ve been using.

Duluth Fire Hose Pants.  Strictly speaking these aren’t cold weather pants, but they are heavy enough that I wouldn’t want to wear them in the Summer. I have two pairs of these, one of which I’ve owned for over a year. They don’t get a lot of use but one thing I like them for is cool/cold weather practical rifle matches. They allow very good freedom of movement, have well designed, deep pockets, and the fabric is bombproof. On my last trip to Tioga County, PA my friends and I did some grouse hunting, which involved going through some nasty thickets. The Duluth Fire Hose pants shrugged off briars like they were nothing. The pants are pretty wind resistant as well, and snow doesn’t wet them through quickly. Highly recommended.

German surplus wool pants. Wool milsurp clothes are becoming increasingly harder to find as militaries the world over have gone to synthetics in the past couple of decades. I wanted some wool pants for cold weather woodsbumming, camping, and hunting, and found these German surplus pants in my size at  armynavysales.com. There are a few features that I don’t care for. Most annoying, the top button faces inward. I had that replaced with a hook and clasp. I don’t care for the flaps on the front pockets, and I dislike the button fly (something which you’ll find in a lot of older surplus). That said, they are extremely well made and warm. I plan to get a set of suspenders to use with them because they are a little long and feel like they are falling down, due to my lack of a behind.

Alpha Industries N-3B Parka. If  like me you were a boy in the 1970s you probably had a snorkel parka. They were based on the USAF N-3B parka adopted in 1958.  I’ve been wanting a heavy Winter coat for sub-freezing temps that I could just throw on without putting on multiple layers, and decided to go retro. This coat meets that need in spades. Design-wise, it’s a bit dated when compared with stuff you see at REI. For example, the number and size of pockets, and the buttons used for securing the wind flap.  However, it is probably the warmest coat I’ve ever owned. The night I bought it I took walk in 23*F (-5*C) weather with just a t-shirt and a cotton button down shirt underneath and was perfectly warm. I spent a fair amount of time today outside wearing the N-3B, clearing snow, and taking my kids sledding, all in temps under 20*F (-7*C), and stayed warm and dry the whole time. Tonight I went out for a walk while it was 9*F (-13*C). I wore a cotton t-shirt, a light cotton flannel shirt, a light polar fleece jacket, and the Alpha N3B parka. I started getting hot at the end of the walk.

The Alpha N-3B currently sold on the American civilian market has some differences from the USGI parkas, most notably the material used for the shell. Functionally, though, I think it’s as good as the original. There are some other brands of N-3Bs but you’re probably best of sticking with the Alpha. This is one of my favorite recent purchases. I bought mine at I. Goldberg’s in Philly, because I wanted to try it on first. The XL seems true to size, so if you don’t have a local source you can probably buy it online without too much worry about the size being off. Amazon carries it, here.

Swiss Surplus Wool Sweater. I wrote about this last month, so here’s the link in case you missed it. To update my original post on it, I’ve worn it several times, including during a party when we hung out by a fire pit in mid-30s weather for a few hours. It gets two thumbs up from me.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: January 4, 2014, 2:58 am

About a year ago I posted pics of the two antennas I have up on my roof. What I’ve found is that the Ultimax 100 that I’m using for HF is pretty directional for Tx when mounted as a sloper, as I currently have it. So, I’ve decided to remount it vertically.

Since the radiating element is a piece of wire, I’ll need a way to support it. This morning I ordered a Jackite 31’ telescoping fiberglass pole from Amazon. Jackite manufactures their telescoping poles for use in flying kites and windsocks, but a lot of amateur radio operators have adopted them for supporting antennas. Mounting the antenna vertically will give me an omnidirectional radiation pattern, and just as importantly, a lower takeoff angle. For my needs I think this will work better for me.

The pole should arrive Saturday. The weather forecast for Sunday looks good so I hope to have it up then.

Assuming it works out as expected I will probably buy a second pole and then another similar antenna for field use.

Updates to follow.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: December 24, 2013, 6:16 pm

I recently posted about an easy to make alcohol stove. Alcohol stoves are great in that they are cheap to make, easy to use, employ a relatively safe fuel, and work pretty well. However, if you need a stove that will boil water more quickly then there are better alternatives. One such type of stove is the canister stove, fueled by disposable canisters filled with liquified gas fuel. A nice overview of the different types of fuels used in these canisters is available at Zen Stoves.

I had some credit in my Amazon account, so I decided to add a Kovea Spider backpacking stove to my toolkit.  Here’s the stove, piezo electric igniter, instruction flier, and carry sack. It weighs less than 6 oz. sans fuel. I chose the Kovea after reading a couple reviews, here and here. Both reviews have some good detail pictures, along with performance data.


A closeup of the stove. The copper tube next to the burner is part of the fuel line. By running it close to the burner, it can be used to gasify liquid fuel before it gets to the burner itself. This is useful in very cold temperatures when you need to run the canister upside to get liquid fuel out.


Butane canister stoves are attached to the fuel canister in one of two ways. The most common is screwing directly to the top of the can. An example of this is the MSR Pocket Rocket. The other method, employed by the Kovea Spider, is a remote connection using a tube.

The direct connect stoves are a bit lighter and more compact. The remote connect stoves give you a lower center of gravity, allow you to place a windscreen tighter around the stove and pot when in use, and some can be used with the canister inverted, which may be necessary in cold weather. For these reasons I chose a remote connect design.

The butane/isobutane/propane canisters are widely available at sporting goods stores, Walmart, etc. I picked a few up at REI while I was waiting for the Kovea to arrive.

Along with the stove, I ordered a windscreen. Since it’s a remote unit and I don’t have to worry about overheating the canister, the I got a 12” tall windscreen by Solo. This screen can be used with canister, alcohol, or wood stoves. There are wire stakes on both ends which allow you to anchor it to the ground. It’s made from aluminum so it’s very light, and packs into a nice carry case.

To test the Kovea Spider I took it out back while the temperature was in the lower 30s F. I used it to boil 12 oz. of water to reconstitute a Mountain House Pro Pak freeze dried spaghetti and meat sauce dinner.

To use the stove, first make sure that the valve is completely closed by turning it clockwise. (The valve handle is the rectangular wire thing.) Then screw it to the canister. Unfold the stove and set it down away from the canister. Turn the stove on by opening the valve, then light the gas.

I first tried to light the stove using the supplied piezo electric igniter. Perhaps I was doing something wrong, but I couldn’t get the miniscule spark to light the stove. So, I turned off the gas flow and got a ferrocerium rod out of my bag, then tried again. After a couple strikes the stove lit.


Here’s my test setup, showing how closely you can wrap the windscreen around the stove and pot.


The 1.5 cups of water in my Walmart grease pot took about 3 minutes to come to a rolling boil on the Kovea. Impressive.


To extinguish the stove simply close the valve again. The canisters can be disconnected from the stove and reused until empty.

As for dinner, the Mountain House Pro Pak spaghetti and meat sauce was pretty good. The package was for a 16 oz. serving. After opening it and discarding the dessicant pack, add 1.5 cups (12 oz.) of boiling water, mix it up, and reseal the bag. Wait 8 or 9 minutes, mix it again, and dig in.

Kovea is a Korean company and fairly new to the US market. The reasonably-priced Spider is well made from good materials and as shown above, offers good performance. Because it can be used with the fuel canister inverted, it will be useful to lower temperatures than stove not supporting that mode of operation.  It’s lightweight and compact. In fact, it will nest inside a Walmart grease pot along with a fuel canister. The one item I wasn’t happy with was the piezo igniter, which doesn’t make much of a spark. So, I plan to keep a ferrocerium rod and striker, and/or some matches along with the stove.

The combination of a liquid fuel canister stove and dehydrated food is very convenient. It’s a good combination for day hikes, camping, or keeping in your bugout bag.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: December 14, 2013, 12:40 am

As a fan of wool clothing I’ve been on the lookout for a good sweater to add to my wardrobe.  Wool, of course, is great because it still provides some insulation even if it gets wet, and is more fire resistant the synthetics.

I came across Swiss military surplus sweaters on a few sites, most of which had used sweaters. SwissLink had some new ones for $59.99, so I ordered one on November 27th. It arrived on December 5th. Not bad for shipping over a holiday weekend.

The sweater is in perfect, new condition as described on SwissLink’s site. It is a heavy 70% virgin wool / 30% polyester. It’s itchy against bare skin but I don’t plan on wearing it without a shirt underneath.

The collar and cuffs have a ribbed knit pattern. SwissLink describes it as having a quarter-zip, but it’s actually closer to a half-zip, which I like because it makes donning or doffing it easier, and allows for better ventilation.

The workmanship is top notch. There aren’t any loose threads and the plastic zipper operates smoothly. It actually looks nice enough that it wouldn’t appear out of place if you wore it into the office. That said, I bought it for field use.

The sweater I received is marked with the European size 56, which converts to American sizing as a 46 according to this site. SwissLink lists them using American sizing ( M, L, XL, and XXL).

I am 5’6” tall but carry my own survival rations around my waist, so I ordered the XL. It fits well although the sleeves a bit long. I can roll the cuffs over so that’s not a problem and would allow me to pull them down over my hands if I don’t have gloves.

Some measurements from the garment:

  • Height from top of collar to hem: 31”
  • Width at armpits: 26”
  • Sleeve length (along top edge): 26”

Unlike a lot of milsurp this didn’t come with a funky smell. In fact, it smells pretty much like my Land’s End lamb’s wool sweaters.

Hopefully I’ll have enough cool weather to wear it often.

Author: Dave Markowitz
Posted: December 6, 2013, 3:58 pm

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