Thursday, May 29, 2014

Wiggy's poncho

After my post on wearable sleep systems I did some more poking around about Wiggy's insulate poncho. I did finally find some more pictures, including the MARPAT version that I am interested in:

The second picture is from a foreign language survival forum, so reading his review was spotty thanks to google translator. But my research left me with more questions then answers, for instance, why the heck is his hood a different color? From what I could tell he didn't request it and I think Wiggy's has a narrow view on custom work anyway. Also my research indicates that the reason Wiggy's lists the insulation as "lamalite/climashield" is because the two types of insulation are from the same company and are very similar, but at least one source claims Wiggy's uses a non-hollow fiber with a heavier silicone coating. But if lamalite is similar to climashield why on earth does the poncho have such intense quilting? One of the main advantages of climashield is that you don't have to quilt it, eliminating cold spots (such as Kifaru's woobie and slick bags). None of Wiggy's main sleeping bags use quilting, only their cheaper summer bags and blankets. I've been told that Wiggy's glues (laminate: lamilite) their insulation to the sleeping bags but quilting is used in their cheaper options to keep prices down. This makes sense but if Kifaru can get away with NO quilting at all, couldn't Wiggy's at least get away with very wide spaced quilting? The quilting on the new USMC 3-season bag (which uses climashield) is spaced horizantally in about 12" intervals, and the MSS black bag (which also uses climashield, or at least a similar insulation from the same company) has vertical quilting in about 8" intervals.

When I'm actually ready to buy the poncho I think I will call Wiggy's and see if I can talk them into a custom poncho with no quilting, or at least half as much. I will update as the adventure continues.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sweater Quest: Norse edition

Some family friends introduced me to Scandinavian sweaters several years ago (the same ones that introduced me to Swanndri, expensive friends to have) and I've been on the lookout ever since. I've scored two Dale of Norway sweaters in the last few years, one with their Gore Windstopper liner and one without, but because of the wide range of patterns and sizing discrepancies I haven't found my perfect one yet. I thought I'd post some of my best Norse sweater finds, most are from eBay, and many of them are Dale of Norway but there are several other brands mixed in. The line between ugly and awesome is quite thin in this case.

I've found I quite like the deep placket on a lot of these sweater for putting on over hats as well as tucking scarves into. I also think the pewter clasps are way more interesting then buttons (which I've never really liked on sweaters) but I still feel some draw to the henley pattern. In case you couldn't tell I also like the contrasting yoke that may of these have, as well as the short stand collar.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

eBay find: Ibex Ventile

I had no idea that Ibex, famous for it's merino garments, dabbled in ventile. I like the deep-zipper opening but I'm not a fan of hand pockets placed so close to the side seams.

Monday, May 19, 2014

eBay find: REI backpack

I found several things interesting about this pack:

1) The color scheme (obviously)

2) The compression straps reach all the way around the front of the pack and are routed through what appear to be 4-way plastic webbing slots. This means you can lash stuff any which way on the front of the pack but you have to use the side compression straps to do so. The usual arrangement for front compression is to be independent of the side straps (osprey, granite gear) or to open in the middle, rather then the sides (Hill People Gear, Mystery Ranch).

3) The front compression straps adjust at both the bottom and top, but are independent from the lid.

4) the inward facing d-rings off the webbing slots. If 4 directions of webbing isn't enough mounting options it's time for some bungee cord!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Chinese cargo pocket

The chinese have managed to design something innovative while trying to knock off American tactical pants. While browsing eBay for some Kyptek clothing (I have yet to try any out) I found a pair of pants from China with this pocket:
At first I thought it was just a gimmicky feature to lure in highschoolers with large airsoft budgets, but the more I looked at it the more impressed I was. I have mixed feelings about cargo pockets in general but one of my main complaints is loosing small things in the corners. This design creates a lot of usable space for large items (watch caps, gloves, notepads), but the bottom of the pocket is much smaller, meaning that small items will congregate to the front of the cargo pocket for easy retrieval.
Another cool feature is that the dual gussets are set in the middle of the pocket rather then the edges, which cuts down on snag potential (a small beef I have with TAD and Riggs cargo pants).

Unfortunately the inseam selection means that these pants aren't on my shopping list, unless I decide I really need a pair of Mandrake cargo shorts.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Bizarre backpack of the week

Another odd external, I am at a loss as to the advantage of this design over a normal closed loop. The packbag does seem to use the ears to attach to the frame, but otherwise this just seems weird to me.

Monday, May 12, 2014

eBay find: AOR2 Granite Gear Chief

I used to think these were rarer, but I'm starting to see more of them pop up now. Until recently I thought multicam and coyote were the only two colors these were available in.

Two things stand out to me:
firstly, even the suspension side is completely patterned. Most of the AOR2 packs I see are Mystery Ranch rucks that have black mesh on the back panel and inside hipbelt. I'm sure it doesn't matter but it is impressive that GG can source all their fabrics in AOR2.
Secondly this pic shows there are in fact plastic stiffeners in the belt, which might explain why these are rated for so much more weight then their backpacking cousins with a very similar looking belt.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mountain Hardwear knee articulation

Not really sure what the model name of these pants are but I found the knee construction interesting:
Rather then just have a double set of darts like most pants out there they added a whole extra circular panel to the inside of the leg, I couldn't say without holding them but it has the potential to add quite a bit of knee room to the pants. 
Also notice how the crotch gusset extends down the entire inside of the leg.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The M1916 Wool Shirt

After publishing the last post I did some digging around about the M1916 shirt, I had ran across it some time ago but since most specimens were commanding collector's prices on eBay I had written it off as a source of pull-over wool shirts. Revisiting to subject I came across these images:

Particularly notice the one-piece sleeve placket and elbow reinforcement, if anything I like it even better then Best Made Co's design. Elegant simplicity at its best.

Best Made Co: The Wool Pullover

I couldn't say were I first heard of Best Made Co, but I've had a love/hate relationship with them for some time now. As with any similar company it is easy to dismiss them as a marketing-centric style-over-substance brand, but I have to begrudgingly admit they have put out a few killer products. Whether it is the hipster-filled photo-shoots, the repainting-affordable-axes-then-adding-a-huge-markup scheme, or simply my own suspicions of an "outdoorsy" company born and headquartered in America's largest city, I'll admit I watch them with a mix of interest and disdain. When they released their Wool Pullover though, I was willing to forgive quite a lot.

I'll preface this post by saying I've been a Swanndri fan for a number of years, and have gotten a lot of use out of their secondary-flagship product (is that a term? I don't know what ship follows flagship in the pecking order) the Swanndri Ranger bushshirt.
The magic of Swanndri is that they can almost universally overcome the wearers better judgment and earn huge esteem despite their obvious faults. Despite still loving my rangers I have become more honest with myself; the cuffs suck, the center front gusset is dumb, the fit is pretty poor, the zipper isn't the best and the weave is pretty loose. I have taken in the sides of two of my rangers (because my waist is actually smaller then my chest, despite what the swanni designers expect) and made one of them a short-sleeved garment and have found them much more useful for it, but with the lack of wind resistance they really are closer to a sweater then a shirt in their use.

So what does the BMC pullover offer? By all appearances a much tighter weave, smarter fit, large flap pockets, a button front, better cuffs, and overall a more refined appearance. 
Some of those are guesses, but I have not seen a Pendleton wool fabric that is looser then the swanndri ranger, and all of the photos suggest a heavier-then-shirtweight that very much appeals to me. Even just the rounded pockets and flaps speak of higher attention to detail then the relatively crude swanndri. The placket is deeper than the swanndri as well, extending to the bottom of the pockets for better venting and easier donning and doffing. I've no doubt that the designers were aware of the ranger when they made this but they have certainly improved on it. The other design they obviously were inspired by is the WWI wool Army shirt:
Pendleton and Woolrich both have examples of wool pull-over shirts in their histories, but often with only one pocket or a zipper opening.

The icing on the cake for me though is one feature I have never seen before:
An elbow reinforcement that is one piece with the sleeve placket. Someone was really thinking when they came up with that one (or had access to vintage garments I've never seen before). Echoing the army pullover but thankfully not being limited by it. 
My hesitation with elbow patches is that often they don't actually end up under the users elbow during use, but the photos imply that these in fact do:

What don't I like about this garment? well I'm not to keen on the cotton lining and I'd like to see a second button on the sleeve placket but those are hardly dealbreakers. The price is out of my range but hardly out of line with a small run american made wool garment.

I have found a heavy wool pull-over shirt to be a very versatile garment in my wardrobe, something akin to a heritage softshell jacket and the BMC pullover appears to be the best game in town currently.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

REI Yosemite 75

I stopped by the grand opening of my now closest REI store this last weekend and took the opportunity to put my hands on a few packs I hadn't had the chance to look at in person (they didn't have the Exped Lightening so I couldn't take a second gander at it).

The first new pack I noticed was right next to the very excellent REI XT-85 (I have the older version and I was checking to see what they had changed). I was about to walk on by it when I noticed something fishy about the bottom sleeping bag access.

the observant will notice a more-or-less direct copy of the Mystery Ranch bottom access system, where the buckle opens up the two wings that have a zipper running the whole length which allows the opening to expand much larger then if the zipper was only the width of the bag. This also takes some stress off the zipper, protects it from external damage, and means you don't have to have the zipper running 3/4 of the circumference of the pack bag, limiting a potential failure point. Even if the zipper completely fails you can buckle it up and make due.

Side by side the similarities are unmistakable. In fact, I pointed the pack out to two separate friends from across the store (maybe 75 yards) and they both immediately recognized the Mystery Ranch DNA. This is an extremely elegant solution and I don't think it is something you can patent, I'm honestly surprised you don't see more people ripping off that particular feature. While I have mixed feelings about the whole thing it's just such a darn good way to do it and Mystery Ranch simply does not make a mid weight backpacking bag so I'd be inclined to let it slide.

Beyond this feature the Yosemite has a lot going for it in my book, 2 simple quick-release compression straps per side (as it should be), a pretty beefy ruggedized bottom (without being silly about it, it's quite a bit lighter then some of Gregory's over the top pack bottoms), spacious stretch front pocket, no silly side zipper access,  and 2 water bottle pockets low on the sides. The bottle pockets are the new-fangled front entry type that I have yet to try, but I don't see any problems with them.

When you get to the suspension side there are quite a few unique features that deserve mention. The frame is a traditional two-stay arrangement and the shoulder harness (the darker colored section of the back panel) slides up and down on said stays and velcros in place. There is not a huge amount of adjustment but the system is much simpler then most. The only frame sheet is in shoulder harness, but the foam adds a bit of rigidity as well. The stays themselves are quite flexible but seem up to the task.
The shoulder straps have a unique feature, in that the top fabric recedes around the neck area and the soft under fabric wraps around to meet it, I'm assuming this is to alleviate neck chafing.

The lumbar pad fits into the backpanel with a stiff plastic sheet holding it in place rather then velcro much like the older Osprey packs do (I heartily approve), but underneath the lumbar pad is the most unique feature of all. I cannot find a picture online yet and the product video on the REI website glosses over it entirely, but he hipbelt is built as two completely separate halves that attach to their respective stay independently. Each half has two stay pockets so the hipbelt can expand and shrink to mimic a medium or large hipbelt. unfortunately on the smaller setting the halves overlap in the middle and I noticed some pressure through the lumbar pad, I didn't have time to load it up and walk around with it so I can't say if that is a big deal or not. As soon as someone posts a picture up I will put it up here because to my knowledge this is the first time something like that has been done.

REI continues to impress me with their designs, I think they are really giving the major gear companies some competition.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Granite Gear CHIEF patrol pack

The Granite Gear CHIEF pack continues an ongoing trend for civilian outdoor gear companies to produce small quantities of tactical gear for the military market, particularly special forces groups that have more freedom of choice and bigger per-head budgets.
 When I first heard about it I thought "Oh good, GG is making a tactical pack, maybe it won't be a million pounds."
Well, almost. 7lbs is pretty hefty for a 500d pack with no metal frame, but at least it's better then the 10lb behemoths that most companies put out. For a point of reference Kifaru makes a 500d pack with a 2-stay internal frame frame that is only a hair smaller and weighs just over 5lbs.
I'm wondering that given the 100lb load requirement if they had to use heavy enough plastic in the frame sheet that it ends up being heavier then a traditional 2-stay internal frame. There is certainly something to be said for a rigid frame sheet, less barreling, increased flex, and in some ways more durability.
Another feature I'm sure adds more weight then needed is the two-layer shoulder straps. The stated purpose is that when wearing body armor you can't feel the padding anyway (very true) so you can take the pads off to minimize bulk. While not a bad idea, the more I use straps like the Hill People Gear shoulder harness the more I think pack makers can dial back the shoulder padding a bit in the first place, and thus making the bulk a moot issue. But military personnel do have a long and proud history of ignoring hipbelts and relying entirely on the shoulder straps, so perhaps GG knows their market.
Granite Gear loves them some massive zipper access, and tactical pack users tend to agree. Myself coming from a backpacking perspective would much rather have a clean toploader with no major failure points on the bag itself (I tend to think that the vulnerability of zippers is usually overstated, but all the same I don't need them). For some reason tactical users tend to have one of several problems:

1) They think it is just a duffle bag with comfier straps

2) They chronically pack some needed piece of gear at the bottom of the pack. As often as I hear about this I don't know if it's a trained behavior or a genetic problem that is more common in warriors.

3) They are convinced whatever they brought they will at some point need it RIGHT THE ---- NOW.

All of these contribute to the perceived need for such a massive access point, and with the intelligent use of internal compression straps I'm sure it's quite durable.
To wrap it all up though, the one feature I wanted to highlight is those hydration ports. How has no one come up with that before? the hose always comes off the bottom of the bladder anyway and having to route the hose all the way up the inside of the pack, run over your shoulder and then turn the hose around to point at you when you want a drink never seemed to be the best solution. Routing the hose from the bottom means a much shorter hose is needed and drinking is a much simpler affair. It also seems to require a simpler attachment method since the hose is hanging and not draping over your shoulder.
The one downside do this is the hassle involved in removing and replacing the bladder, but I don't see it as being too much more work then a normal hose port, and the advantages seem more then worth it.
I'm a little surprised I haven't seen anyone else use this feature yet, if I was going to give up my water bottles for a bladder again I'd consider cutting my own lower hose port.