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Review: Hard Ready Brand HR-1 Full Blade Kit

The Hard Ready Brand HR-1 is an important knife as a model of what can be done. At just $80, it has several notable and important features that are typically reserved for knives costing 3 times as much. The HR-1 democratizes the defensive fixed blade and you should know about it.

Overview

The HR-1 is a full tang knife ground from .125″ thick German X30Cr12 Steel. It features a 2.5″ long blade and a 7.125″ overall length. The flat saber ground tanto knife has a bare tang handle that terminates in a large finger loop.

It comes with a full-size aluminum trainer and a kydex sheath with a centerline clip. It is these features that really set it apart at its $80 price tag.

Observations from Use

The HR-1, in my opinion, is a study on how to hit a price point the right way. Hard Ready Brand made several smart decisions in designing this knife that kept the price low without sacrificing function.

The HR-1’s tanto blade is an understandable choice though it likely wouldn’t be the first choice of many including myself. This blade shape offers a strong point and is easy to sharpen. It doesn’t penetrate as readily as something like a spearpoint but, in my testing, it still pokes holes in stuff. Hard Ready Brand tells me other blade shapes may be available at a later date.

The handle has something for everyone. If you like a karambit-esque finger ring, it has one. However, if you don’t like them, the handle is shaped such that you can just completely ignore it in exchange for the VERY deep first finger choil that can be used to index the knife right out of the sheath. There is a sort of bump behind the finger choil that I could do without but I do acknowledge that this is a great ledge for retrieving the knife from the sheath.

The handle is bare and very thin. This is not a utility knife meant to be used hours on end. It’s a defensive knife with a handle design that offers great retention, resists twisting, and leaves no doubt how the edge is oriented. It fits a variety of hand sizes, especially if you ignore the finger ring. If you want to add a bit of grip without adding much bulk, it is easy to wrap with hockey tape, though I don’t think it’s necessary.

The choice of German X30Cr12 Steel is a smart one. This is basically a German equivalent of 420 series steel. I can already hear the knife snobs choking but hear me out. This steel is almost an asset to the knife as 420 series steels are fairly tough and corrosion-resistant while still being very affordable. It makes perfect sense for a knife that needs to be tough, affordable, and that you will carry next to your body day in and day out. I’ve even worn mine while swimming without fear of rust.

Now we can get into the two features that really make the HR-1 an incredible feature – the sheath and the trainer.

This knife actually comes with a real aluminum training knife. That is basically unheard of unless you want to pay at least twice as much and, even then, the choices would be slim. The training knife fits the included kydex sheath which is excellent.

The sheath is kydex and, while there is definitely room for improvement, it is more functional than the vast, vast majority of knives on the market. It includes stainless hardware including a centerline clip that can be mounted on either side of the sheath. The clip is what makes this sheath. It has a tooth that grips your belt, webbing, and even the waistline of your athletic shorts fairy tenaciously. That’s right, you don’t need a belt to wear the HR-1 which puts it in rarified air in terms of sheath design. It’s not a Discreet Carry Concepts clip but it works.

All that said, the retention on the sheath could be better. It seems like the sheath needs an adjustable screw on the edges side or, cheaper still, just another eyelet. The sheath retains the trainer perfectly but it is a little loose on the live blade. It is almost as if the sheath is molded for the trainer leaving it just a little loose on the live blade. I fixed this easily by adding a ranger band which helps pinch the kydex together at the right location.

Wrapping Up

As I said in the first paragraph, the HR-1 is an important knife. This is a knife that gets the most important things right at a price that is basically untouchable. It’s not perfect but it is better than many, many other knives that think they can target this market space just by painting their blade black and adding tactical to their name.

It brings the functionality of a modern, defensive fixed blade to those who are unwilling or unable to pay $200+. It’s a bold concept and I am glad that Hard Ready Brand is trying something this ambitious.

Maybe you didn’t think you could afford a modern, purpose-built defensive knife with a trainer and centerline sheath or maybe you just don’t want to wear your $400 knife when you are wading in a creek… either way, check out the Hard Ready Brand HR-1.

HardReadyBrand.com

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Review: Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training 3rd Edition

This review of the book Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training is going to get a bit personal… not because I enjoy spewing a lot of personal information or because I want to drone on about myself. It will get personal because I’ll be honest about my fitness levels in order to give you a real measuring stick for what this book/program might be able to do for you.

Everything Before Starting Strength

I played sports growing up, especially soccer. I played several intramural sports in college and was very active in the years immediately following college. I spent some time lifting in high school, college, and beyond but mostly without aim or guidance.

Once I was married and settled into a sedentary job, I spent several years with little to no exercise and I paid the price in weight gain. I lost a significant amount of weight about 6 years ago through diet and exercise.

For the last 2 years, I have used kettlebells, sandbags, rucking, hiking, and a little running to keep the weight at bay or at least stay in shape to hike which I really enjoy. I naively thought that, through these types of training, I was building strength and to some degree I probably was. However, it wasn’t until the end of last year that I realized how weak I was allowing myself to become.

When everyone else investing guns, ammo, and magazines in advance of the election, I decided to invest in my long-term strength and capability. I viewed getting stronger as another, maybe even more important, form of prepping. I began filling out the missing pieces of a home weight lifting gym and researching a program to start. In November of 2020, 1 month before my 40th birthday, I started the Starting Strength Novice Linear Progression.

After Starting Strength

The first session, when I established my first work set weights, was humbling. My numbers were low. I was immediately confronted with how naive I had been about training. My first work sets were 165 lb low bar squats, 185 lb deadlift, and 135 lb bench press. That’s a sub-500 lb total for those who are keeping track. I was, for the first time, confronted with a quantifiable measure of my weakness and this focus on the measurable is something that is central to Starting Strength. These numbers are not at all ambiguous. These numbers don’t lie.

I found the book to be fairly easy to understand. When there was something that I did have a question about, I found that my question was likely answered somewhere on the web already. This a major strength of this program. It is extremely well supported with years worth of instructive and diagnostic videos as well as active forums where there is a good chance someone has already asked your question.

I would even go so far as to characterize this book as simple. I don’t mean simple as in lacking depth. The book doesn’t lack depth at all. It dives more than deep enough into each of the core movements and your initial programming. I mean simple in that, after you have read the book, it can be tempting to think you need to do more than what it says to do. You are basically just going to squat, deadlift, bench press, over head press 3 times a week, adding weight to the movements nearly every time. That isn’t much of an oversimplification.

I had to learn to trust the process in this book and its simplicity. I initially tried to do more like do conditioning intervals on days between lifting. I quickly found that this was spoiling my lifts and slowing progress. The Novice Linear Progression seems to provide quick results for most untrained people but it is somewhat demanding in the pace of its increases so any work outside of the program might screw with your progress… at least if you are an untrained 40 year old like me.

Once I settled into the program, results came quickly like the book said they would. You have a lot of room for improvement when starting as weak as I did. I passed a 600 lb total in less than 30 days and passed a 700 lb total in another 30. As of the time of this writing, I am just short of a 900 lb total. All of these numbers are for work sets, not max lifts. I haven’t tried heavy singles in a while so there is a good chance my total is actually higher than 900 lb.

I realize that a lot of you are putting up much larger numbers than that. We all know everyone on the internet has a supermodel wife, six-figure income, 12″ hog, and 1200 lb powerlifting total but those numbers represent a lot of hard work for me. I’ve added about 400 lbs to my totals in less than 3 months and I feel pretty good about that.

In addition to increasing my lifts, I’ve also noted body composition changes. I gained almost 10 lb but actually lost inches from my waist. I had to buy a new weight lifting belt to accommodate my narrower midsection.

Now that winter has lost its grip on North Idaho, my goals are changing. I will continue to lift but slow my progress on increasing them while starting to work in more conditioning. I’ve mostly neglected conditioning over the winter in favor of gaining strength and now I need to build that back into my routine. The amazing mountains around here aren’t going to climb themselves.

Wrap Up

This review is very experiential and it lacks a lot of depth. I am not sure I will ever become the guy who can name every muscle group and tell you about micro nutrients. I think that is part of why Starting Strength works for me. It is written to be a starting point for weak, untrained people.

I think the bottom line on Starting Strength is that, if you want to build a solid foundation of strength, it works. If this book starts a life-long passion for powerlifting, great. If it just serves as an instructional guide for being less weak, that’s great too.

I bought my copy of Starting Strength on Amazon – Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training 3rd Edition (affiliate link)

Review: Speedbox Cooler-65

Speedbox Coolers may be new to the market but they come with an already proven pedigree. You are likely already familiar with the Speedbox line of bomb-proof, rolling totes that make carrying and palletizing gear easy. It is already in use by countless sportsmen but also the military which was its original intended market. So, when Speedbox’s manufacturing partner was looking to push their already proven coolers into potential military markets, it made sense to collaborate.

Speedbox’s manufacturing partner is also the group behind other well known, best in class, roto-molded products like Jackson Kayaks and Orion Coolers. In fact, the Speedbox Coolers are basically Orion Coolers with Speedbox branding and exclusive colors… and, if you know coolers, you know that is a good thing.

Overview

The Speedbox Cooler-65 is the subject of this review. It is their mid-sized cooler with a 65-quart capacity. It should be said that it has an ACTUAL 65-quart capacity (actually just over 65 quarts) which is notable because many coolers on the market fall short of their named capacity.

The cooler is roto-molded from the same plastics used in kayaks (which we put to the test in a very fitting way). It features a minimum of 2″ of insulation on all sides which is a major aid to its performance (which we also tested). It also includes a drain plug, lift points molded into the sides, additional removable handles, bottle openers at each corner, multiple tie-down points, aluminum and rubber cam latches, and a lockable lid.

All of the above makes it sound like a typical Orion Coolers Core model but it is all the extras (and exclusive color options) that set the Speedbox Coolers apart. They include the excellent slip-resistant foam stand/sit pad for the top of the lid, a sliding internal organization tray that is removable, and Gear Track channels for attaching other compatible gear. These are all included with every cooler.

Finally, the Speedbox Coolers are certified to be bear-resistant Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee when used with locks on the lid (not included).

Testing

When it comes to high-end coolers, I am looking for two things: performance and useful features. In my experience, this cooler has both in spades. I’ll cover the performance testing first.

Ideal Conditions Ice Test

In order to test performance, I did an ice test. There are already ice tests for Orion Coolers out there on the web but they are often conducted in summer heat and direct sun to get the point across. It’s winter in Idaho where I am located so that kind of test is out of the question. Instead, I executed the test in a way that I have never seen done before – more of an ideal situation test.

I started by pre-chilling the cooler outside in the cold with some ice packs in it. This is a hunter’s trick to help a cooler keep ice longer. There is a lot of ice lost initially to cooling the interior of the cooler so pre-chilling ensures you keep more of your ice. Once the cooler was chilled, I added 6 bags of ice, moved the cooler to an interior space that would be kept between 62F and 65F for the duration of the test, and noted the time. The test plan was to open the cooler to check the status of the ice and move the ice around 3 times daily to simulate use.

2 Weeks – The remaining ice was gone sometime after midday on the 23rd.

During this time, I checked the exterior of the cooler with an infrared thermometer and found the exterior was the same temperature as the exterior of a cabinet that was next to the cooler – in other words, room temperature – on all surfaces. The slim gap where the lid sits on the body of the cooler was less than a degree cooler than the rest of the cooler indicating that the gasket works very well. The drain plug was the only part of the cooler that was appreciably cooler than room temperature at 10-11 degrees cooler than ambient temperature. Even the bottom of the cooler and the floor beneath it registered at room temperature.

The Speedbox-65 held ice for more than 14 days, with the last bit of ice melting a few hours short of a full 15 days. This cooler held ice for more than 2 weeks! That is an amazing performance but do keep in mind that this cooler was given the very best chance of this kind of performance and you can count on seeing different results in different conditions.

Durability Test

We decided to test the durability in a spectacular but totally appropriate way given the kayaking pedigree of this cooler. We floated it down a creek that was filled with snowmelt, fast-moving, and very rocky. This creek has enough water moving quickly enough that it is difficult to stand up in but it is also full of glacial bulders making almost all of it impassible to boats. It is 3-4 feet deeps in spots but rushing over and around boulders in others.

The creek did its worst. It rolled the cooler and dragged it across rocks. It flipped it on its side and spun it around, over and over again, until it reached the point where I was waiting with a large stick to catch it (the stick was so I didn’t have to wade into the freezing cold water above the height of my boots). In all, it bobbed, tumbled, and bashed its way down about 200 yards of creek.

We took the cooler out of the water and inspected it. Various surfaces of the coolers were scraped from rock impacts though not deeply. Given that is made the same way premium roto-molded kayaks are made, I wasn’t surprised that it shrugged this off.

This was actually a bigger test for the gasket because as the cooler bumps down the creek and stops on rocks, it has the full force of the creek pressing on it… especially when it flips on its side. There was some water ingress but it was minimal at about 2 tablespoons. That gasket is designed more to keep cold in (or more accurately to keep heat out) and maybe prevent sloshing meltwater from leaving the cooler. This was test went way beyond that and yet it did surprisingly well.

The interior of the cooler was remarkably dry after this test.

Observations from Use

This cooler comes loaded with some solid features which I will try to summarize, starting with the excellent handles, since this review is already longer than usual. I thought I would remove the accessory handles in favor of the integral lift points… That would have been a mistake. The integral lift points are fine but the accessory handles are extremely comfortable to use as they allow your hand to be up above the cooler and make it much easier for two people to carry the cooler. These comfortable and grippy rubber handles make this cooler much easier to transport than coolers with just fixed lift points.

The Speedbox Cooler-65 has several tie-down points which make it easy to find a way to secure this cooler. It can be locked to a boat or truck fairly easily with a cable lock. If you are like me, you probably already have cable locks laying around from trail cams or bikes. A cable lock can also be used to lock the lid closed though, if you need the bear-proof rating, you may want to pick up a pair of long shackle locks.

The cam latches for the lid are excellent. My daughters can use them easily which is not the case with some cooler latches. They also sit fully flush with the exterior of the cooler when latched which means there is nothing to snag or catch.

The included foam pad turned out to be one of my favorite features on this cooler because of how it enhances the usefulness of the cooler. Most people don’t buy these coolers just to store food. They’re going to use it as a casting stand, use it as a stool to reach their roof rack, and use it as a chair in camp. The foam pad ensures that the cooler is comfortable and slip-resistant when used in this way. My daughters used it as a stage which may or may not be useful to you.

The included organization tray is a GREAT feature. It keeps the interior of the cooler organized and lets you store items out of the ice water which can be nice for some types of packaging. It features a drain hole so that if meltwater does manage to slosh into it, it will end up back in the main well below.

There are a lot of reasons to own a cooler like this. The most obvious are for use on a boat, camping, or for transporting meat when hunting. However, I think there are preparedness and convenience reasons too. For instance, it can be used to store food in a power outage that lasts more than 24 hours, allowing you to keep your main refrigerator closed. It is also a great way to store food for road trips… even really long road trips.

Finally, I want to point out that there is a great benefit to this cooler’s pedigree. Orion Coolers already has a huge ecosystem of available accessories for their coolers and the Speedbox Coolers are compatible with all of them. They have everything from dividers that double as cutting boards, wheel sets to turn this into a cart, and even a seat back that turns this cooler into a comfortable seat with back support.

Wrap Up

The Speedbox Cooler-65 is not inexpensive but it is loaded with features and offers excellent ice holding performance to justify its price. It is also made in the USA. This is a rugged cooler may be new to the market but it comes with a proven pedigree.

You can learn more about the Speedbox Cooler line at their website: Speedbox.us.

Review: Garage Built Gear Qube Range/Camera Bag

Is it a range bag? Is it a camera bag? Is it a packing cube? Is it an organizer insert or a stand-alone bag? The Garage Built Gear Qube is all those things. You’ve probably never seen a bag that is shaped quite like it but that’s what makes it great.

It’s easy to see why it’s called the Qube.

Overview

The Qube is a roughly square shaped bag with a full panel, zippered opening. It is 11″ x 10.5″ with a 4.5″ depth.

The exterior of the Qube features an adjustable slip pocket with interior loop velcro to accept organization pouches. It also has a stout carry handle on the top and a small PALS webbing field.

The interior is padded on the back and bottom. It features loop on the back and sides to accept organization pouches and the optional foam dividers (which are shown in my review). The bag has enough structure that it holds its shape very well and protects its contents. The inside surface of the lid has a full-size mesh pocket that is closed with a zipper.

Padded Back

Observations from Use

I own a few pieces of gear from Garage Built Gear and I think what strikes me most about their designs is their unique approach to size and shape. There aren’t many bags that are shaped like the Qube and yet that shape is the secret to its versatility. It is large enough to hold a lot of gear, shaped so that you can maximize the internal volume, and compact enough to fit easily into other bags.

The shape and size of this bag, along with its user-customizable organization options, take its flexibility to another level. It can be used as a standalone range bag, camera bag, first-aid kit, tool kit, or general gear organizer. It can also be used as an insert in a larger pack like a packing cube or camera insert for a backpack. I’ve used for all of the above.

Optional padded dividers and loop lined interior

The padded dividers are a must if you plan to use this as a range bag or camera bag in my opinion. These really help organize the contents of the Qube. They are especially nice to do things like protect a lens or keep a handgun from smashing into the other contents of the bag.

The interior of the Qube is lined with loop material on the left and right sides and back. Hook-backed organization pouches may be attached to any of these surfaces but the sides, in particular, are used to attach the padded dividers. This works and offers a lot of flexibility to the user but it seems like there could be more…

Range bag

It would be nice if there was a bit more loop material on the top and bottom surfaces of the main compartment as well as on the padded dividers to allow for additional configuration options when using the padded dividers. The current design really only allows them to be installed going left to right and the placement of the one vertical divider is limited to a single location. Some additional loop material would add to the padded feel of the bag and allow for more options. This is probably a small nitpick in the end but feels like at least a little bit of a missed opportunity for a bag that seems to otherwise max out its flexibility at every turn.

The quality of this bag is excellent. The materials are top-notch. The edges are taped and there are appropriate reinforcing stitches throughout. It is a very modern-looking bag with all the durability benefits that come from its tactical sensibilities.

Stuffed with mags

I’ve already mentioned some of the ways I have used this bag and Garage Built Gear expressly refers to this as a camera/range bag but I want to highlight a couple of less obvious ways that I found it particularly useful. It is great inside of a typical EDC backpack when used as an organizer for larger gear or as a sort of packing cube. In fact, I have found that it can pretty easily hold enough clothes for an overnight trip which is a handy way to organize something like a carryon bag for travel. I also really like it as a companion to a larger range bag where it can be used to carry things like a stacks of loaded magazines.

It easily fits into another bag for use as a packing cube or camera insert.

Wrap Up

I have used this bag in so many ways and I’m sure I will come up with even more ways to use it as time goes by. Garage Built Gear seems to have a unique eye for size and shape that suits their products well. The quality is excellent and the Qube’s modern look with a tactical bent appeals to me.

Garage Built Gear typically releases their gear in batches. You can learn more by watching their website and Instagram feed.

GarageBuiltGear.com

@GarageBuiltGear on Instagram

Shown with paper targets in the outer pocket.

Review: Tyrant Designs CNC Glock Extended Slide Release (Gen 2-4)

I have a love-hate relationship with extended slide releases for Glocks. On one hand, I appreciate the larger target and easier operation of an extended slide release. On the other hand, I hate how the base of my thumb often rides onto them causing failures to lock back. The best extended slide releases for me have always been relatively compact, relying more on improved texture and shape rather than a true extension for leverage. Enter the Tyrant Designs CNC Glock Extended Slide Release.

Overview

Tyrant Designs’ Glock Extended Slide Release consists of a steel lever with an aluminum pad that has a deep chevron texture machined into its face. As with all Tyrant Designs’ parts, it can be had in a variety of anodized colors including black if you are as basic as I am.

Observations from Use

This is a very, very good extended slide release even though it hardly appears to be extended at all at a glance. While many extended slide releases rely on a much larger contact area, Tyrant chose to go in the direction that I prefer. They increased texture and provided a ledge which makes the release much easier to use while keeping its footprint minimal.

The machined chevron texture is clever because its beveled shape provides grip in both directions – down to release and up during manually locking back the slide. The shape of the upper part of Extended Slide Release provides a ledge (plus that bevel) that is extremely easy to depress. It is so easy to use, that I can hit with the thumb of my firing hand which I can’t typically do unless the lever is very oversized. I certainly can’t do it reliably with the OEM slide release.

The minimal footprint is absolutely clutch for many shooters. Internet gun forums are chocked full of discussions around brand new Glocks that lock back early or won’t lock back on an empty magazine. This is due to the shooter’s support hand contacting the slide release. Many Glock shooters have to take great care when building their grip to work around the lever and this is obviously more difficult when the lever is larger. The Tyrant Designs lever works well without being oversized. I consider that ideal.

The small footprint has another benefit. It fits most holsters. I tried all my holsters and this fit well in all of them. Is there some kind of super stiff, super specifically molded kydex holster that it won’t fit? Maybe. However, the footprint of this lever fits within the fence that Glock molds in the grip frame, a spot that holster makers already accommodate, so I don’t think you will have an issue with holster fit.

I also happen to think it looks pretty snazzy, especially if you have other Tyrant Designs gear on your Glock. Sometimes people need to remember that guns are fun and it’s fun to personalize them.

Wrap Up

This lever gets a little bit lost in the shuffle when compared to some of the more “serious” offerings out there but, make no mistake, this is a functional piece that is well suited to concealed carry. Whether you need an extended slide release that just works or you are buying for looks, this could be the Glock extended slide release for you. It certainly works for me.

TyrantCNC.com

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