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Review: SAR Eclipse Signal System

Signal mirrors have proven their worth as survival gear time and time again. A well made signal mirror can literally save your life, but even the best survival gear is of no use to you if you leave it at home.

The patent pending SAR Global Tool Eclipse Signal System (ESS) is a signal mirror that is the size of a dog tag and weighs less than 1/2 of an ounce. It is small enough to slip into a single section of MOLLE webbing or the coin pocket of your jeans. It can be laced into your boots or clipped in the business card slot of your briefcase. It can be seamlessly integrated into whatever gear you are carrying. This is the kind of tool that you will actually have with you when you need it.

And if all of that isn’t enough to get your attention… It works at night.

Details

The ESS is a cleverly designed stack of dog tags that have been riveted together. The top dog tag has the SAR Global Tool logo, an aiming hole, and a ring of highly reflective SOLAS (USCG approved, Safety Of Life At Sea) tape around the aiming hole.

The next dog tag down in the stack is a mirror polished reflective surface. It is protected from scratching by the top dog tag. The top dog tag has a slight bend in it that allows it to be close over the top of the polished tag without contacting anything but the rolled edge of the tag. It is an ingenious way to protect the mirror polished surface.

The basic model only has the two above dog tags. SAR also offers a model with a third dog tag in the stack. The third dog tag is bent into a clip that allows you to clip the tag to fabric, webbing, paper, or any other relatively thin material.

There is an additional model that has a fourth dog tag. The fourth tag is made from titanium and has a sharpened carbide knife edge. The edge is small but it is enough for dressing small game, cutting cordage, or other survival tasks.

In this review, I will be looking at the basic model and the model with the clip.

The clip allows the ESS to be mounted on MOLLE webbing. In this picture it is turned in to prevent unwanted reflection.

 

The ESS can serve as a "cat eye" when attached to your gear.

Aiming

To aim the ESS in the daytime the user holds the ESS up to their eye with one hand so that they can look through the aiming hole. The user extends the other hand in the direction that they wish to signal. The user forms a “V” with the index and middle finger of the extended hand and then brackets the intended target in the center of the “V”. Finally, the user moves the ESS so that the sun’s reflection is visible on the fingers that are forming the “V”. You can wiggle the ESS so that the reflection is passing back and forth from finger to finger in order to create an attention getting flash effect. The sighting hole acts a rear sight and your fingers act as a front sight. It is easy to do but it should be practiced.

Your extended hand makes an excellent "front sight" when aiming.

You do not need to be as exact when aiming the ESS at night. The SOLAS tape is extremely reflective and, while it will appear brighter when it is aimed completely square to the light it is reflecting, it is very forgiving. I found that the easiest way to aim it was to just look though the aiming hole at my intended target, trying to keep the ESS square to that target. Just like during daytime use, a slight wiggle of the ESS can create an attention getting flash.

The ESS is 40 feet from the camera and illuminated with a 4 lumen white light.

The ESS is 40 feet from the camera and illuminated with a 4 lumen red light.

In Use

I have been able to test the ESS in a variety of conditions. SAR has tested the ESS all the way out to 10 miles. I have tested it as far as 300 yards with excellent results. At 300 meters the flash is very attention getting. If someone was looking for you, they would certainly see you. The ESS performed as advertised.

At night, the ESS will amaze you. It is so simple to use. I was able to test it all the way out to 100 feet. At that distance, an 80 lumen Surefire G2L lit up the SOLAS tape like a beacon. The real test however came when I used a 4 lumen green CMG Infinity. The CMG Infinity is a very early 5mm LED light. Even with just 4 lumens of green light, I was able to illuminate the SOLAS tape plainly. I replicated the same test with a 4 lumen white LED and 4 lumen red LED as well. That is incredible performance.

Alternate Uses

Signal mirrors can be used for more than signaling rescue. The ESS can do even more than the typical signal mirror.

If you have ever tried to use a sighting compass at night and in tree cover, you know how difficult it can be. It is extremely difficult to take an azimuth when you can’t see any landmarks. If you have at least 2 people in your party, the ESS can be used as a night time navigation aid. Send one person ahead with the ESS while another person stays on the known azimuth. The mobile person points the ESS at the stationary person while the stationary person aims a compass and light at the ESS. Once the azimuth is established, the stationary person can walk to the reflection of the ESS and then repeat the process until the destination is reached. This is exactly the same technique that many people use during the daytime in dense foliage that doesn’t allow the compass user to view a distant landmark.

Thanks to the extreme reflectiveness of the SOLAS tape, this can be done relatively discreetly using a small red colored LED. I have tested a 4 lumen red LED out to 100 feet and I am sure it would reflect further. The actual effective distance will vary based on terrain and foliage.

Conclusion

The patent pending Eclipse Signal System is a life saving tool that is very easy to live with and extremely versatile. It is small enough that you can forget that you are carrying it until you need it. The reflective surface is protected from scratches that can reduce its performance (unlike most signal mirrors). On top of all of that, it is usable at night. Amazing.

You can find more pictures and information at SAR Global Tool’s website.

Disclosure: The patent pending Eclipse Signal System was provided to me, free of charge, for this review.

Benchmade 915 Triage

Benchmade’s new 915 Triage is purpose built for first responders, but others might find some of its life saving features useful, too. The Triage features a sheepsfoot blade profile, a glass breaker, and an innovative fold out safety hook cutter.

The 3.5″ sheepsfoot blade is ground from .130″ thick N680 steel. This is an excellent blade shape for working in and around flesh because it lacks a point. It allows the user to slide the spine of the knife against a surface (like a person) that they do not want to damage or harm while they cut away clothing or a seat belt. The blade utilizes the excellent AXIS locking mechanism.

The fold out 440C steel safety hook feature provides an even safer option for cutting belts or clothing. It folds out from the knife’s spine at the opposite end as the blade. It features a thumb stud for easy one hand access.

The Triage also features a carbide glass breaker set in the base of the knife. It will be available with orange or black G-10 handles with a black coated or uncoated blade. The buyer will also have the choice of a plain or combo-edge (partially serrated) blade. The pocket clip is reversible for left or right side tip up carry.

Check out the 915 Triage at Benchmade.com.

Review: Tactical Watch Cover

A watch is an integral part of the gear that we carry everyday. It can also be a significant investment that needs to be protected. I have found that time spent on the shooting range can be very hard on a timepiece so I set out to find a way to protect my watch when I train.

I came across several options. I could leave my watch at home, but I like wearing it on the range. I could also purchase and install a watch band with a built in cover. However, these watch band covers don’t really blend in an office environment which means I would constantly be swapping out the watch bands. I couldn’t find a solution that I liked until I found the Tactical Watch Cover.

Description

The Tactical Watch Cover is a simple 1 7/8″ wide black neoprene band that can be placed over your watch, band and all. The band has a 1″ diameter hole cut in the center that allows you to view the watch face. The stretchiness of the neoprene material allows the band to stretch enough to accommodate most watches. It also has a flap that can be secured with hook and loop material.

Fit, Finish, and Details

The Tactical Watch Cover seems to be very well made. It is made from a single piece of neoprene that is doubled stitched onto itself to make the flap that covers the watch face. The hook and loop material is sewn around its perimeter. The neoprene material is about 1/8″ thick and has a very slightly shiny appearance.

In Use

Neoprene is the perfect material for this watch band. It is very stretchy which allows it to move with you and makes it very comfortable. It is also excellent at protecting the watch from impact. I have worn the Tactical Watch Cover all day on several occasions and I basically forgot that it was even on my wrist.

I like to use the Tactical Watch Cover when I am running through my dry fire drills at home or when I am on the range. Training with an AK can wreak havoc on a watch. When I need to reach the bolt handle during a reload, I reach under the AK and use my index and middle finger to pull the charging handle to the rear. This has lead to several impacts between my watch and my AK. This motion can put the watch face in a precarious position, but the Tactical Watch Cover protected the face of my watch admirably.

If you break a watch band pin, the Tactical Watch Cover can retain your watch. Your watch immediately falls off of your wrist if one of the 2 watch band pins in a typical watch band breaks. If this happens at an inopportune time, you may never see the watch again. However, the Tactical Watch Cover can actually keep a broken watch on your wrist. You might not even notice the broken pin until you remove the cover.

The Tactical Watch Cover also serves to reduce the visual signature of your watch. If you don’t want glare from your watch face or glowing watch hands to announce your presence in the dark, the Tactical Watch Cover might be perfect for you. I generally don’t have to worry about my watch giving my position away in the office but there people out that that need this functionality.

Viewing your watch when the Tactical Watch Cover is in place is very simple. You can pull the flap completely open or simply push it to the side. The stretchiness of the neoprene allows you to stretch the flap enough to see the watch without undoing the hook and loop material.

Conclusion

The Tactical Watch Cover is an elegantly simple product. It is a great design that has been constructed with the perfect material. It works.

Members of the Usual Suspect Network can purchase the Tactical Watch Covers on the forum or the seller can be reached via email at fosters@socal.rr.com.

I have a few of these to give away, so keep an eye on the blog for more details.

Peak LED Solutions Matterhorn – Accidental Torture Test

I have been using flashlights from Peak LED Solutions for years. My favorite of their products is the Matterhorn. The Matterhorn is a simple flashlight that uses 5mm LEDs and accepts AAA batteries. It is blindingly bright but it doesn’t have to be. It serves wonderfully as a small, pocketable back-up light. The light itself is barely larger than the AAA battery that powers it yet it still provides a useful amount of light for a long, long time.

In December of last year, I noticed that the Matterhorn was missing from the pocket where I usually carry it with my keys. I searched high and low but I couldn’t find it. I sadly conceded that I must have unknowingly dropped it in a parking lot somewhere and that I would likely never see it again.

Then, just this week, the prodigal Matterhorn flashlight reappeared in one of our flower planters – a place that I rarely go, especially in the winter. It seems that the diminutive flashlight took a trip through the snow blower at some point this winter and was deposited far from where I dropped it getting into or out of my truck. Not only did it go through a snow blower but it has been sitting in the soil of a flower bed, exposed to an unusually cold and snowy winter for around 3 months.

At this point you may be wondering if a flashlight that took a trip through a snow blower and was exposed to the winter weather for 3 months still works and what it looks like. It does still work with the same battery that was in it when I dropped it and it looks pretty much like it did when I dropped.

This is what a Peak Matterhorn looks like after a trip through a snow blower and a whole winter spent outdoors.

The Matterhorn is made from hard anodized aluminum which makes it exceedingly tough. It basically has only two main parts: the head and the body. The body is just a machined aluminum tube. The head is also machined from aluminum. The 5mm LED and electronics are actually potted (encapsulated except for the battery contact) in epoxy inside the head. This makes it basically impact and element proof.The simple construction, potted small parts, and small size allowed this little light to run through a snow blower unscathed.

The only thing that really seems to show any sign of the ordeal is the o-ring that seals the joint between the head and body of the light. It is intact, but a little bit dry. That is easily fixed with some grease.

I should also note that when I was taking the picture for this post, I knocked the Matterhorn off the table and onto a patio stone. It landed on its head but survived. This is one tough little light.

Review: Fallkniven DC4 Diamond/Whetstone

Recently, I spent some time looking for a new knife sharpener to use when I am out in the woods. I wanted something compact, lightweight, and capable. After spending some time looking over various options, I settled on the Fallkniven DC4. At just under 4″ by 1 1/4″, it is certainly compact and it is quite light at only 3.7 ounces. I’ll share more about what makes it so capable later in the review.

The DC4 comes with a leather slip cover.

The previous sharpener that I was using utilized only diamond abrasives to hone the edge. The diamond abrasive cut quickly but it didn’t leave the edge very refined. In order to refine an edge, you need a fine sharpening stone or a leather strop. A quality whetstone or strop will polish the edge instead of just cutting the material.

The Fallkniven DC4 solved a problem for me. It features a diamond stone on one side and a fine whetstone on the other. This combination of sharpening surfaces gives you the quick cutting performance of a diamond abrasive and the ability to refine your edge on a whetstone. The DC4 also comes in a leather pouch that is not only useful for protecting the stone, but also for stropping the edge of your knife to put a final polish on it.

The diamond side of the DC4 makes short work of very dull edges.

The DC4 is simple to use. It does not require any water or oil, but it would be a good idea to clean the surfaces periodically with soap and water. If your edge is very dull, you start with the diamond abrasive. It removes metal relatively quickly so that you can reset the edge of the knife. Once you are happy with your progress, you can move onto the fine whetstone which helps refine the somewhat rough edge that diamond hones can leave. Additionally, if you want to refine the edge even further, you can use the leather cover of the DC4 to strop your edge. If your edge just needs a touch up, you can start with the whetstone or even just strop it on the leather cover.

Fallkniven does not advertise the leather cover as a strop but it actually works very well. Just put the DC4 in the cover so that you have a rigid backing and pull the edge across the surface of the leather with the edge trailing (the opposite of how you would typically sharpen, edge first). The cover has Fallkniven’s maker’s mark embossed on one side so you will want to use the opposite smooth side of the leather.

The fine whetstone side of the DC4 refines the edge and is great for quickly touching up your edge.

I was disappointed initially with how coarse the “fine” whetstone was. However, like the Fallkniven website says, it has become much more smooth over time. Mine is already quite smooth and it is getting smoother with each use.

The Fallkniven DC4 is a compact, lightweight, and capable all-in-one solution for keeping your knives sharp in the outdoors. In one small, slim package you have the ability to rehab a very dull edge, touch up, and even refine an already sharp edge. It is extremely versatile and it has become a fixture in my hiking, hunting, and even my every day carry pack.

Tactical Watch Covers

These Tactical Watch Covers feature a very clever design. Unlike other watch covers that are integral to the band of the watch, the Tactical Watch Cover slips over the watch that is already on your wrist. It features a cutout that allows the wearer to view the face of the watch and a flap that is secured over the face of the watch with hook and loop. Since the Tactical Watch Cover is not connected to the watch, it can easily be removed and moved from one watch to another.

The design of the Tactical Watch Cover is based on watch covers used by the Israeli Military. It covers the face of the watch to eliminate the chance of someone seeing the glow from your watch in the dark or reflections off the face of your watch.

The cover is made from neoprene which is the perfect material for this application. Neoprene provides more impact protection than other bands that have covers made from webbing. It also stretches and moves freely with the wearer which makes it very comfortable. The tight fit that the stretched neoprene provides also serves to retain your watch even if a watch band pin breaks.

Even if you are a cubicle dweller who doesn’t really need to worry about the visual signature of their watch, you will appreciate how this cover protects your watch when you shooting, hiking, hunting, or any other outdoor pursuit that tends to be hard on your watch. They also happen to be extremely reasonably priced.

Members of the Usual Suspect Network can purchase the Tactical Watch Covers on the forum or the seller can be reached via email at fosters@socal.rr.com.

I have some of these inbound for a full review. Stay tuned.

Review: EXOTAC nanoSTRIKER

Ferrocerium is a metallic material that produces a shower of hot sparks when scraped. This ability to produce sparks without the need for fuel and in spite of environmental conditions is what makes ferrocerium rods (ferro rods) so popular as survival fire starters. However, even the most effective survival items are useless if you don’t have them with you when you need them. The best survival tools are not only effective but are also easy to carry daily.

The nanoSTRIKER from EXOTAC is a ferrocerium based fire starter that is both easy to carry and easy to use. It features a modular design that allows it to be carried in a smaller, self-contained collapsed form and then reassembled into a ferro rod with a full sized handle and an included scraper. The modular design is the genius of the nanoSTRIKER.

Part of the Whole

The nanoSTRIKER consists of 4 main parts: the ferro rod, the rod holder, the cover/handle, and the striker. The ferro rod is made from ferrocerium and threads into the rod holder. The rod holder and cover/handle are made from anodized 6061 aluminum. The cover/handle can be threaded into either side of the rod holder so that it can act as a cover for the ferro rod or a large handle when the nanoSTRIKER is in use. The striker can threaded into the rod holder when the nanoSTRIKER is collapsed. It sounds complicated, but it is extremely simple to assemble.

Modular Design

The modular design offers 4 main advantages. It makes the nanoSTRIKER compact enough to carry every day, large enough to use comfortably in all conditions, is user serviceable, and protects the ferro rod from environmental factors.

The benefits of being compact enough to carry every day are obvious. If something is small enough and convenient enough to carry all the time, then you will have it when you need it. The nanoSTRIKER is less than 3 1/2″ long when collapsed. It about the same diameter as a typical ball point pen. It comes with a small split ring that makes it very easy to attach to your key chain. In fact, it is very similar in size to keychain lights that take AAA batteries. The best survival tool in the world is of no use to you if it is sitting at home on a shelf when you need it. The nanoSTRIKER is compact enough to leave you without excuse for not carrying a fire starter every day.

Small tools are often a compromise. You accept a tool that is harder to use in order to have a tool that is easier to carry. Small handles are difficult to grip when your hands are cold and wet but the nanoSTRIKER, when fully assembled, has a large gripping surface. The same piece that serves as a cover when collapsed can be reinstalled on the opposite side of the rod holder as a handle. The handle is large enough to be useful in just about any condition. The bit holder also has deep groove around its circumference that is a natural pinch point for your thumb and forefinger. The nanoSTRIKER is easy to hold and easy to use.

If you were to misplace any part of the nanoSTRIKER, you could easily replace the missing part. Most ferro rods must be discarded when they are completely used. However, the nanoSTRIKER’s modular design allows the user to replace components like the ferro rod or striker very inexpensively.

Ferrocerium is a metallic material it will corrode when exposed to the elements. The rods are typically coated to protect them, but once the rod has been scraped, the exposed material is vulnerable. Over time, an unprotected ferro rod can become difficult or even impossible to use due to this corrosion. The nanoSTRIKER protects the rod from the elements by sealing it air and water tight inside the handle. The threaded junctions of the nanoSTRIKER are o-ring sealed (spare o-rings are provided). When you need it, the nanoSTRIKER will be ready.

Working Parts

The two working pieces (ferro rod and striker) of the nanoSTRIKER are just as impressive as the modular design. The ferro rod component is of very high quality. It throws an impressive volume of sparks. It is very easy to determine the quality of a ferro rod once struck. Lesser quality rods produce lower volumes of sparks. The nanoSTRIKER produces plenty of spark. I had no trouble lighting fatwood shavings, cotton balls, dried grass, and jute twine. The ferrocerium material used in this rod is of excellent quality.

The striker is one of my favorite things about the nanoSTRIKER. It features a small handle with a lanyard hole. There is a short section of para-cord included in the box that can be affixed to the lanyard hole. This is my one disappointment with the nanoSTRIKER. EXOTAC designed the rod portion so well to be large and easy to use but then provided such a small handle on the striker. This is a small issue however because the lanyard helps with grip. The part of the striker that actually does the scraping is shaped like an I-beam which gives it 4 striking surfaces. If one begins to dull, you simply rotate the tool to use one of the other surfaces. Then, when you have a chance, the striker can be sharpened so that all 4 points will be usable again. It is a very clever design.

Conclusion

The EXOTAC nanoSTRIKER is an example of how modular design can really improve a product. The modular design allows the same object to be both compact and full sized which is pretty amazing if you think about it. The ferrocerium material used in the rod is of excellent quality and the striker design is ingenious even though the striker’s handle is a bit small. Overall, this is an amazing tool that you are very likely to actually have with you when you need it.

Check out the different color options and the titanium version of the nanoSTRIKER on the EXOTAC website.

Thank you EXOTAC for providing the nanoSTRIKER for review.

Boker Plus Vox Access Tool

Knives are for cutting, not prying. However we all still occasionally find ourselves in situations where we have to pry something and a knife is the only suitable tool that we have on hand. The risk is that you will break the tip of the knife, ruin the edge, or slip and get a nasty cut. If you had a light weight, easy to carry tool that was purpose built for prying, there would be no need to risk ruining a knife (or loosing a finger).

The Boker Plus Vox Access Tool, or VAT, is made from 5mm thick titanium which makes it very strong but still very light weight. It weighs less than 1 ounce and is 3 5/8″ long so it should be very easy to carry in a pocket or on your key ring.

The VAT has several functions. It has a pry tip, a bottle opener, a carabiner, a nail puller, and a glass breaker that is protected by two rubber o-rings. A tool like this also tends to have many improvised uses that you will discover as you use it.

Save your knives for cutting. Consider adding a pry tool to your every day carry gear.

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