Category Archives: Reviews

MantisX Handgun Training Doohickey Initial Impressions

When I received an email offering a product called MantisX for review, I said to myself, “what the heck is a MantisX?” Now I know, and I’m excited for what MantisX portends.

This video is not a full review of all features and details regarding the MantisX handgun training system, but it does cover the basic operation of the unit and my initial impressions.

More Vuurwapen Blog T Shirts

After a long wait, Vuurwapen Blog t shirts are again ready to envelop you in their coolness.

Blue XL are gone.

shirts

In addition to the original colors, Union Blue and Rebel Grey:

Do you lament Sherman’s March to the Sea? If so, you’ll want a Rebel Gray shirt, even though there’s a terrible irony in the motto on the back of the shirt, “Burning Bridges Since 2009.” Actually, this color is more of a charcoal than simple gray, which makes sense since we are talking about burning bridges, after all. Or cotton fields. If you’re not a Southerner but are scared of colors, like my friend Brett, you’ll want this charcoal shirt.

Are you a proud Yankee/American, even though all those icky Northern states seem to not like guns any more? Well, Union Blue is definitely more your style. Even if you’re from the South and want a non-tactically colored shirt to tell your friends you like an obscure gun blog, you’ll probably want to break from tradition and go with blue.

…the shirts are now available in Don’t Shoot Me Red and Olympic Diving Pool Green.

As before, the shirts are Next Level Apparel poly/cotton (65/35). I have received lots of positive feedback about how comfortable they are. I wanted quality shirts that felt nice to wear and looked good, and that’s what I ended up with.

I have them in men’s sizes small through XXL in Union Blue and Rebel Grey and limited numbers of men’s medium through XL in Don’t Shoot Me Red and Prophet Muhammad’s Favorite Shade of Green. I also have a few remaining women’s sizes small and medium from the first run – these are most appropriately sized for toddlers, I think. I can’t actually imagine an adult fitting in one of them, but if that’s what you wear, let me know.

Blue XL are gone.

Cost is again $17 per shirt.

A recent advancement in technology known as the steam engine has allowed me to reduce shipping costs for the envelopes by eighty cents(!) and pass these savings on to you. Shipping options are Priority Mail small flat rate box for $6.80 or USPS First Class in a Tyvek envelope for $3.50 (the Tyvek envelopes apparently worked very well in terms of protecting the garments last time, as no one told me otherwise). I would prefer payment by PayPal to 545ar15@gmail.com, and please don’t use the gift option.

Vuurwapen Blog T Shirts

 

 

Over the years since I started this blog, many people have asked if I am going to make t shirts – at least four or five people in the last six or seven years. Well, their long-forgotten wishes are now true, and they even have a choice of colors, Union Blue or Rebel Gray!

shirts

Do you lament Sherman’s March to the Sea? If so, you’ll want a Rebel Gray shirt, even though there’s a terrible irony in the motto on the back of the shirt, “Burning Bridges Since 2009.” Actually, this color is more of a charcoal than simple gray, which makes sense since we are talking about burning bridges, after all. Or cotton fields. If you’re not a Southerner but are scared of colors, like my friend Brett, you’ll want this charcoal shirt.

Are you a proud Yankee/American, even though all those icky Northern states seem to not like guns any more? Well, Union Blue is definitely more your style. Even if you’re from the South and want a non-tactically colored shirt to tell your friends you like an obscure gun blog, you’ll probably want to break from tradition and go with blue.

The shirts themselves are quite nice, if I may say so. The design and cheeky motto with absolutely no intended reference to anything specific are printed on Next Level Apparel poly/cotton (65/35) shirts. These shirts feel very soft and stretchy. Sizing seems to run on the smaller side – kind of like a Wylde chamber, they might make you more accurate, but I am not responsible for popped primers or bulging waistlines.

And while women comprise approximately six percent of my Facebook/YouTube audience, over twenty percent of the shirts available are in women’s sizes! Inexplicably, the women’s shirts cost almost a dollar more to make each, despite their being the same material. However, I will not pass these increased costs on to you! Don’t say I’ve never fought the patriarchy!

Pricing is $17 per (~3.5-4.5oz) shirt, approximately ten dollars less than a two pack (2x2oz) of FireClean from Brownells, making it a better deal by weight. The first 20 shirt buyers will receive a free sample of FireClean! That has to at least double the value of the shirt. Add $1 if you would like your shirt blessed with FireClean.

Sizes available are mens medium, large, extra large, and extra extra lavrge. Also available are a limited number of womens small, medium, and large. As the sizes/colors sell out, I will update this post.

 

 

Shipping options are Priority Mail small flat rate box for $6.80 or USPS First Class in a Tyvek envelope for $4.30. I would prefer payment by PayPal to 545ar15@gmail.com. If this is not possible, I suppose that I could also accept check/money orders or body parts.

AR15 Muzzle Brake/Flash Hider/Compensator Comparison, Part 3

Late last year I published parts one and two of a muzzle device comparison; the third part was essentially complete at that time, but I decided to hold off on publishing it until I could verify some of my data.

Using high speed video (courtesy of Silencerco) and multiple accelerometers, I will be able to show visually as well as mathematically how effective each device in the test is at recoil reduction. During a four month period, over 1500 rounds were fired to verify g-force data from the accelerometers. The results may be surprising to some.

Rearward Forces

gforcesfinal

Not surprisingly, the most effective muzzle devices in the test were also at the loud and bright end of the spectrum in the previous tests. Silencerco’s massive Specwar triple port brake/silencer mount was by far the most effective device at recoil reduction, for example, but it was also loud and created a distinctive muzzle flash.

Downward Forces

If we think of limiting rearward forces as recoil reduction, then limiting upward forces must be called “combating muzzle rise,” right? Wrong.

Consider yourself shooting a rifle with a bare muzzle from the standing position. In scientific terms, the rifle is an arm with forces being placed upon it at the very end – the muzzle. The gases exiting the muzzle do so in a very uniform manner, with essentially no variation from side to side and top to bottom. They do not inherently cause the muzzle to move up – if the rifle were to be suspended in the air, it would move straight back.

But it’s not suspended in the air, it’s connected to your body. It has to move in some direction, because an external force has acted upon it and it is no longer “at rest.” Because your body is connected to this arm, and the rifle is long and essentially pointed at (in physics terms, not weapon terms) your body, the arm will move mostly to the rear. However, because there is much more of your body below the point where the stock meets your shoulder, and because that part of your body is eventually connected to the ground, there will be a natural tendency for the muzzle to move upwards. Unless, that is, you adjust your stance and hold to limit this effect.

In other words, the only reason “muzzle rise” exists is due to the way we position ourselves as we shoot, and we can position ourselves to minimize that, especially with a 5.56 AR-15. There is no inherent tendency for the muzzle to rise on its own. Therefore we should use devices that push the muzzle down, right?

Of course not. The ideal device in terms of muzzle control would keep the muzzle exactly where it was before the shot was fired. We don’t always fire from the standing position, and if you’re trying to shoot side prone or underneath the bumper of a car, a device which “combats muzzle rise” will be constantly forcing the muzzle left or right with every shot.

With that in mind, here’s a chart showing the downward forces caused by each device.

downwardforces

Muzzle Device Videos

For those interested in the specifics of individual devices, here are the videos, which were shot with a 16″ midlength upper on a registered full auto lower. We’ll start with the bare muzzle as a baseline and then move on to the other devices. For all videos other than the bare muzzle, the video of the rifle being fired with the specified device will be seen, semi-transparent, on top of the video of the rifle with no muzzle device being fired.

 Bare Muzzle

While a bare muzzle offers no recoil reduction, it has no quirks and recoils in a fairly straight line to the rear.

A2

The A2 did very little to retard the rearward movement of the rifle, but did force the muzzle down with every shot.

AAC Blackout

The rifle with AAC Blackout attached tracked in a nearly identical manner to the bare muzzle.

BattleComp 1.0

The BattleComp forced the muzzle down with every shot.

B.E. Meyers 249F

The 249F, for an unknown reason, tracked higher than the bare muzzle. It’s likely that this was shooter error, but all due care was given to maintaining a consistent position and stance.

BWA X-Comp

The X-Comp reduced recoil and kept the muzzle flat.

PWS FSC556

Similarly, the FSC556 reduced recoil and kept the muzzle on target.

PWS Triad

The PWS Triad forced the muzzle down more than almost any other device tested.

Proto Tactical Z-Comp

The Z-Comp did a good job of reducing recoil, but pushed the muzzle down slightly.

Proto Tactical Z-Tac

Performance of the Z-Tac was nearly identical to that of the Z-Comp.

Rainier Arms XTC

The XTC reduced recoil significantly, but pushed the muzzle down slightly with each shot.

Silencerco Specwar Brake

Recoil with the Specwar brake was minimal and straight to the rear.

Silencerco Trifecta

Performance of the Trifecta in this regard was nearly identical to the bare muzzle.

Simple Threaded Devices

The STD tracked in a nearly identical manner to the bare muzzle.

Spike’s Tactical Dynacomp

The Dynacomp pushed the muzzle down with each shot.

VG6 Precision Gamma 5.56

This early version of the VG6 Gamma reduced recoil but pushed the muzzle down significantly with each shot.

Vltor VC-1

The Vltor VC-1 reduced recoil slightly and kept the muzzle on target.

YHM Phantom

The YHM Phantom reduced recoil very slightly and kept the muzzle on target.

Overall Results

After three rounds of comparing muzzle flash, sound pressure level, and recoil reduction, how do the devices compare overall? And do I have any recommendations?

muzzledevicecompareoverall

 

For the best flash reduction, the B.E. Meyers 249F would be my choice.

For truly outstanding flash reduction at a more affordable price, the AAC Blackout is excellent.

For the best recoil reduction, the Silencerco Specwar Brake was the clear winner.

For an excellent middle ground of recoil reduction, neutral muzzle position, and fireball mitigation, the FSC556 is a great compromise.

For recoil reduction on a budget, albeit with higher muzzle flash and some downward force on the muzzle, the Rainier XTC is a good choice.

For those seeking acceptable levels of muzzle flash without cash outlays, just keep the A2 that came with your rifle.

Despite its lackluster overall showing in the test, I rather like the STD simply because of its appearance, relatively low cost, and ever-so-slight reduction in sound levels at the shooter’s ear.

Is That All She Wrote?

There may be followups to these articles as I test more devices, devise additional test methods, or write more subjective articles about each device, but this constitutes the bulk of the testing I initially set out to complete.

AR15 Muzzle Brake/Flash Hider/Compensator Comparison, Part 1

Note: While I work to verify my recoil data, I have decided to release the first part of this comparison, which covers muzzle flash.

One of the most popular accessories for today’s AR15 owner is a muzzle device. Want less muzzle flash? There’s a device for that. Want less recoil? There’s a device for that, too. Want less muzzle flash AND less recoil? Some devices even claim to perform multiple functions.

I have been closely studying how various muzzle devices perform for years, and this summer, with the assistance of Advanced Armament Company, B.E. Meyers, and Silencerco, was able to test a significant number of devices currently on the market in unique and highly educational ways. I did not manage to test all of the devices on the market, or even all of the most popular ones. I did include a good sample of different types of devices. It is my hope that after reviewing this article, the reader will be able to look at any muzzle device and be able to make an educated guess regarding its characteristics in a number of areas. As you will see, some perform quite similarly to one another.

 

 

Muzzle Flash Comparisons

 

If you would like to see how each device performed, scroll down to the graphs below. However, I feel that a preface is warranted here.

Surefire’s Micro can is not designed to reduce noise to hearing-safe levels, nor does it eliminate flash when attached to a Surefire brake.

Many manufacturers claim that their device reduces muzzle flash, and this may be true – compared to the bare muzzle. However, a bare muzzle will emit a huge amount of fiery awesomeness with most types of .223 or 5.56 ammunition. Every device tested reduced muzzle flash compared to the bare muzzle. The consumer might assume the manufacturer meant reduced muzzle flash compared to some other standard – perhaps the A2 muzzle device – which would eventually lead to disappointment.

What is your personal definition of too much muzzle flash? If your shooting only requires that you not be blinded by a huge fireball every time you pull the trigger, then nearly any device will do in this regard. However, if you want to not have bad guys see your exact position every time you shoot at them in the dark, then serious consideration must be given to which muzzle device is on the end of your rifle.

I personally feel that for combat, flash suppression is more important than sound suppression. I can hear and identify suppressed subsonic fire in my direction at over 80 yards, but if I do not have a visual reference point, I cannot effectively return fire. If someone with a very loud firearm that emits no flash is shooting at me, I am really no better informed than I would be if he had a sound suppressor. I just know that someone is shooting at me.

However, many sound suppressors, contrary to popular belief, do not do a very good job of reducing flash. So, armed with the knowledge that someone is shooting at me or my friends (from the sound) and exactly where he is shooting at me from (thanks to the flash), I would be able to shoot back with relatively high effectiveness. Of course, I would already be behind the curve, but I would have more information than the guy shooting at me would probably like. Were I the shooter instead of the shootee, this would be quite vexing.

Ammunition makes a big difference, too. Here’s the same rifle and silencer with Q3131A (the ammo used for this test) instead of S&B SS109 (the ammo used in the above photo).

With all of this in mind, this comparison uses multiple methods to evaluate muzzle flash: long-exposure photography close to the muzzle, long-exposure photography from downrange, high speed video, and high speed video using night vision equipment. Each device will be discussed individually, followed by a summary at the end of the section. Objective methods were used to analyze the results whenever possible. Winchester Q3131 was used for the still photographs and Federal M855 was used for the videos. All shots were with (unless otherwise noted) a 16″ AR15 in 5.56mm.

Images and videos are in slideshow format – look for arrows to the left and right of each slideshow photo to cycle through the images AND videos for that muzzle device.

 

 

 Bare Muzzle

This discussion must start with the baseline of “no muzzle device.”

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The bare muzzle, as stated above, allows a large (and in this case, somewhat uninspired) fireball to form in front of the muzzle. It’s by far the largest in terms of area, although with this particular evaluation method it didn’t result in the highest peak brightness. Camera settings for all shots from this angle (unless otherwise specified) were f2.8, ISO 400, 1 second shutter speed. Absolutely no modifications were made to these photos, other than to resize them.

From 80 yards downrange, it was very clear where shots were coming from – note that in this and all downrange photos, you are seeing the aggregate muzzle flash of five shots. The photos of the muzzle from the side are a single shot, but are representative of the average muzzle flash exhibited by each device in near-total darkness.

Unfortunately, we lost the high speed video file which showed the bare muzzle.

 

 

A2

The ubiquitous A2 muzzle device is sold for $5-7. It is in use on nearly all US Military M16/M4 rifles, and a significant number of civilian AR15s as well.

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Compared to the bare muzzle, the A2 offered a significant reduction in muzzle flash.

From downrange, the A2 was barely visible – I was able to spot it only because I knew exactly where the shooter was standing. If I were searching for the shooter, I would have a more difficult time – especially if he were shooting directly at me.

While photos are useful and illustrative of the overall flash allowed by each device, they show all of the light which occurred in a one second period in a single frame, which is not exactly how the human eye sees muzzle flash. The duration of muzzle flash from an AR15 with a muzzle device is approximately 1 millisecond, which is why many standard (30fps/60fps) camera videos are a poor choice for showing an entire event – a flash could be missed entirely by the camera.

High speed video, shot on Silencerco’s Phantom v12.1 at 7000fps and slowed down 10x, shows a closeup of the muzzle flash in slow motion. The duration of the visible flash is approximately 5/7000sec. It appears similar to the long exposure photography, although we can see each part as it occurs.

A still frame from high speed video, shot with a B.E. Meyers OWL night vision lens adapter, allows us to see much more flash than with the naked eye.

 

 

AAC Blackout

The Blackout is a 3 prong muzzle device described by the manufacturer as “the world’s most effective flash hider. The proprietary features eliminate muzzle flash, even on CQB-length barrels. The BLACKOUT® is inherently stronger and more impact resistant than four prong designs, while not being subject to the rapid erosion of closed-ended units.” It retails for approximately $59.

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Using the same f2.8/ISO 400/1 sec camera settings, very little visible flash was observed.

Because it was so difficult to discern the best flash hiders from one another, additional shots were taken from the side with an ISO of 1600 and no other changes. This increases the camera’s sensitivity to light, but makes the images not directly comparable to the ISO 400 shots. Only attempt to compare these shots with other ISO 1600 shots, which will be identified as such below each photo.

From downrange, I did not observe any flash. The camera captured one “spark,” but I didn’t see it until I looked at the image.

In the Phantom high speed video, only 2/7000sec of relatively small flash is seen.

Using the OWL, a small amount of flash was visible in the IR spectrum.

 

 

BattleComp 1.0

The BattleComp, according to the manufacturer, “offers muzzle control like some of the best brakes on the market, with none of their liabilities” and gives “…excellent control WITHOUT the excessive concussion and crushing blast produced by most compensators on the market — with flash comparable to an A2.” It retails for $155.

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Flash from the BattleComp was rather attractive, with tendrils of flame arcing out from the device in several directions. The muzzle flash was also immediately obvious and bright. The position of the muzzle was easily identifiable from downrange. Phantom high speed video showed significant flash which was visible for 1 millisecond, or 7/7000sec. No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

B.E. Meyers 249F

The B.E. Meyers 249F is a 4 prong muzzle device which, according to the manufacturer, “virtually eliminate(s) muzzle flash.” It was originally designed for and sold to military and government customers, but recently became available on the civil market for $149.

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From the side, almost no flash was visible at ISO 400. At ISO 1600, some flash was visible, but it was still remarkably low. From downrange, no flash was visible. Keep in mind that all downrange shots show the light from 5 rounds being fired. Using the Phantom high speed camera, a very small amount of flash was visible for 3/7000sec. The B.E. Meyers OWL showed more flash on average in the IR spectrum with the 249F than the AAC Blackout.

 

 

BWA X Comp

The Black Weapons Armory X Comp is made by Proto Tactical, and is described by BWA as “produc(ing) a light straight back recoil instead of producing muzzle rise…Most compensators and flash hiders cause the muzzle to rise up and lengthen the time required for the shooter to get back on target…The X design incorporated into the tip of the compensator and interior chamber design helps reduce the flash, which produces a much smaller signature that is normally produced by muzzle brakes.”

It’s designed to control the movement of the muzzle and retails for $120.

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Flash from the X Comp was clearly visible and rather bright. From downrange, the position of the muzzle was immediately obvious. Phantom high speed video showed a relatively large muzzle flash which was visible for 6/7000sec. No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

PWS FSC556

The Primary Weapons Systems FSC556 is a hybrid device which, according to PWS, “provides superior compensation characteristics combined with enough flash suppression to keep the flash out of your optics and line of sight.” It retails for $100.

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Flash from the FSC556 was greater than that of the A2 and clearly visible. From downrange, the shooter’s position could be identified with relative ease. High speed video showed a moderate amount of flash which lasted 5/7000sec. No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

PWS Triad

The PWS Triad is a three prong muzzle device which retails for $70. PWS say it “features a revolutionary design bringing true flash suppression together with reduced muzzle flip by redirecting gases exiting the muzzle without the overpressure created by muzzle brakes and recoil compensators.”

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Flash was visible from the Triad, and although it was not very bright, it did cover an area of decent size. From downrange, it was slightly easier to identify the position of the Triad than the A2. High speed video showed a sizable amount of flash which was visible for 5/7000sec. The video also showed the Triad rotating as the rifle was fired due to its design (devices were not torqued for this test). No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

Proto Tactical Z-Comp

Proto Tactical’s Z-Comp is a compensator with a unique angled forward end, which Proto claims “delivers significantly reduced recoil and decreases muzzle climb to help you get back on target quickly” without commenting on muzzle flash. It retails for $129.

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Flash at the muzzle was comparable to other devices of this type – that is to say, bright. Flash from downrange was very easy to spot. On high speed video, it lasted just under one millisecond. No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

Proto Tactical Z-Tac

Proto Tactical’s Z-Tac is a compensator with short flash suppressing tines on the front of the device. It retails for $129.

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The Z-Tac was rather flashy at the muzzle. From downrange, it was easy to spot, and flash lasted just under one millisecond on high speed video. No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

Rainier Arms XTC

The Rainier XTC is a hybrid device “designed to reduce felt recoil & muzzle rise with a relatively low muzzle flash. A true multi-functional muzzle device designed to do it all while looking great at an affordable price.” It retails for $57.

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The area of flash as viewed from the side was relatively small, but very bright. From 80 yards downrange, the muzzle flash was spectacular and easily seen. If you are ever stranded on a hostile planet and need to signal for help from a passing spaceship, use the XTC. High speed video shows rolling fireballs escaping out each side of the XTC, with a total flash duration of approximately 6/7000 of a second. No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

Silencerco Specwar Brake

The Silencerco Specwar Brake is a three port muzzle device intended to reduce recoil and provide a mounting location for the Specwar silencer. Its brother is the Saker Brake, which offers identical performance, but is intended to mount the Saker silencer. Both devices retail for $80.

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As you might expect, this device had a lot of flash. I think this was my favorite muzzle device in terms of flash. Turn your head sideways, and it looks like a Christmas tree. From downrange, the Specwar brake was easy to spot, but it was not as bright as a few of the other devices, surprisingly. Unfortunately, we didn’t get high speed video of the Specwar Brake. No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

Silencerco Trifecta

The Trifecta is a three prong flash hider designed to mount certain Silencerco suppressors while eliminating the ringing tone which other multi-prong devices are prone to emit when tapped on a hard surface or fired. It retails for $70.

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The Trifecta allowed a small but somewhat visible amount of flash. At 1600 ISO, the flash was easily identifiable. A small but noticeable amount of flash was visible for approximately 5/7000sec on high speed video. Although performance in the IR spectrum varied from shot to shot more than the other devices, this is a representation of the average flash visible from the Trifecta with night vision.

 

 

Simple Threaded Devices 5.56

The, uh, STD is a unique device which looks rather like an elongated thread protector and is intended to keep noise and muzzle flash from interfering with the shooter during hunting. It sells for $55.

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From the side, the STD had a noticeable amount of flash. It wasn’t terribly bright, but it was sizable. The position of the muzzle was easy enough to spot from downrange. On high speed video, the single fireball lasts just under 1 millisecond at 6/7000sec. No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

Spike’s Tactical Dynacomp

The Dynacomp is, according to Spike’s, “designed to reduce recoil impulse and muzzle climb to provide faster follow up shots.” No claims are made on the Spike’s Tactical site regarding muzzle flash reduction. It retails for $90.

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Muzzle flash from the Dynacomp is beautiful and awesome – and also bright. From downrange, the Dynacomp’s flash was immediately obvious. It was somewhat less than the XTC, but still unmistakable. On high speed video, the Dynacomp’s initial flash looked remarkably like the first microseconds of a nuclear explosion, lasting one millisecond, or 7/7000sec.

No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

VG6 Precision Gamma 5.56

VG6’s Gamma 556 is claimed to be “a muzzle brake and compensator hybrid. It virtually eliminates recoil and minimizes muzzle movement. The unique combination of both braking and compensating features inspire shooter confidence and allows the shooter to make very fast follow up shots.” No statements are made regarding flash suppression.

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Muzzle flash from the Gamma 556 was, as expected, healthy. The position of the shooter was easily identifiable from downrange. The VG6’s muzzle flash lasts 5/7000sec.

No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device, due to the excessive muzzle flash.

 

 

Vltor VC-1

The Vltor VC-1 is a birdcage-looking muzzle device that acts as a flash hider and mount for the Gemtech HALO silencer. It retails for $57.

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The VC-1 has muzzle flash roughly comparable to the A2. From downrange, it was a challenge to spot the VC-1 – again, about on par with the A2. On high speed video, the flash profile was also remarkably similar to that of the A2 and lasted 5/7000sec.

No night vision or ISO 1600 methods were used with this device.

 

 

YHM Phantom

The Phantom is advertised as a flash hider which “virtually eliminates flash and provides excellent performance with night vision.” It retails for $34.

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Although brighter than the Blackout and 249F, the Phantom provides rather excellent flash suppression for the price. At 1600 ISO, the flash was easily visible. From downrange, I could not identify the position of the muzzle, but flash was visible on camera (after 5 shots).

On high speed video, we can see a small amount of flash for roughly 3/7000s. Unfortunately, we lost the high speed night vision video of the Phantom.

 

 

Muzzle Flash Summary

It’s nice to look at photos and videos, but how do you quantify all of this information?

Photoshop was used for this. I resized the images and made them black and white, then used the Mosaic filter to create a blocky version of each image.

I then noted the relevant HSB data for each block, measured in relative terms, with 0 being pure black and 100 being pure white. For area, I noted the number of “blocks” for the up close images – the downrange shots all fell into one block.

Thus, we are able to compare muzzle flashes up close…

 

…as well as from downrange.

 

Due to the angles and distances involved, some of the devices performed better at distance than they did up close – and vice versa. However, the best flash hiders did well at all distances and angles.

The next portion of this article relates to sound, and it will be released soon.

Arc’teryx LEAF Pants: Drac vs. Sphinx vs. Talos

I have been using Arc’teryx apparel on a rather frequent basis for well over a year, and as a result, feel comfortable writing reviews or comparisons of many of their products. I have previously written about the brand but not any specific product.

The Arc’teryx logo as seen on their Sphinx pants.

Because it is a topic that seems to come up quite often, I thought I would reach into my Arc’closet and start with the Arc’teryx LEAF pants that I own – the Drac, Sphinx, and Talos. I overhear people talk about the differences between each in mild puzzlement, and while the Arc’teryx website provides a very clear technical definition of each product, a practical explanation of the differences isn’t immediately obvious.

From left: Sphinx, Talos, Drac

There are a number of similarities – all three have zippers at the fly, two snaps at the waist, velcro closures for the pockets, drawstrings at the cuffs, reinforced knees, kneepad compatibility, and so on. In addition, each item of clothing described here was made with exacting craftsmanship, as I have come to expect from the Arc’teryx brand. However, there are also a number of differences, which I will cover below.

I don’t intend for this article to talk anyone who, like me, wears $25 Dickies pants on a regular basis into buying a closet full of Arc’teryx apparel. Instead, I intend for it to help someone who wants to buy a pair of Arc’teryx LEAF pants make an informed purchasing decision. If you’d like to pick up an Arc’teryx product that offers a lot of usefulness for its cost, check out the Atom LT; be warned, it might not be the last Arc’product you buy.

Drac Pants

Arc’teryx describes the Drac pant as “Durable, breathable, wind and weather-resistant combat-ready pants constructed using smooth-sided, warm-facing stretch textiles and anatomical patterning for maximum comfort and mobility.” They retail for $298 and their overall weight is 1lb, 13.3 ounces. My pair was made in China.

In my opinion, the Drac offers the best water resistance and low temperature insulation of the three. The fabric looks and feels quite similar to many “softshell” jackets or gloves. It’s soft on the inside, which is nice for comfort as well as moisture wicking. The outside has a DWR (durable water repellent) coating and does a very good job of keeping average rainfall or snow moisture away from your body. This coating won’t last forever, but it can apparently be reapplied at the end user level – something I haven’t had to do yet.

The material used for the Drac is rather noisy. Using a calibrated sound meter placed three feet away from the pants, I rubbed the two legs together and saw the meter jump to an average of 77 decibels. In dry conditions, this would matter quite a lot, but if there were heavy rainfall, I highly doubt that any human would be able to make out the sound. This is in comparison to 68 decibels for a pair of issued MARPAT utility trousers, 65 decibels for the Talos pants, and 74 decibels for the Sphinx pants. According to this website, a difference of 10db is “about twice as loud,” while 3db is “barely perceptible.”

The thickness that makes the pants a little warmer than the others doesn’t seem to constrict movement, which I thought was a nice feature. It does make them more of a cold-weather pant. If I had to choose one word to describe the fabric, it would be “smooth.” Of the three pants, the Drac seems to be made of the “stretchiest” fabric.

It’s a good thing we didn’t get lost, because the Wolf color blends in pretty well with most mountain ranges.

My most memorable outing with the Drac pants was when they were brand new and I climbed to the top of a minor peak in the Wasatch Range with my friend Jim of Deliberate Dynamics earlier this year. The terrain, especially on the way down, was incredibly rough. I pushed through thorny bushes, fell or tumbled down snow-covered slopes, and slid into rock faces numerous times. Due to a knee injury sustained halfway up the peak, a decent portion of the way back was spent on my hands and knees, crawling. I wore them over an Arc’teryx Rho base layer and was comfortably warm all the way to the top of the snow-covered mountain.

A closeup of the Drac pant where the reinforced knee panel meets the remainder of the pant leg.
The Drac’s Burly double weave (50% nylon, 43% polyester, 7% spandex) fabric, and Cordura knee reinforcement, at full zoom.

Upon returning home, I washed the pants as I would any other garment. They came out looking like new.

Sphinx Pants

Arc’teryx describes this pant as “Durable, breathable, wind and weather-resistant combat-ready pants constructed using mechanical-stretch textiles and anatomical patterning for maximum comfort and mobility.” In the “technical features” section, they only describe it as “durable,” while the Talos and Drac are described as “highly durable.” They retail for $379 and weigh 1lb 6.8oz. My pair was made in El Salvador.

A closeup of the Sphinx pant, showing a tiny bit of wear after a lot of hard use.

I have had the Sphinx pants since July of 2012. I have used them in two endurance races as well as many desert outings, including the crossing of a number of barbed wire fences. There are a few minor spots where a single thread has pulled away from the rest of the fabric, but these are few and far between. From what I can see, the Sphinx pants seem to be constructed of the the most durable of the three – at least in terms of tear/cut resistance from sharp rocks or barbed wire fences. I cannot speak of abrasion resistance from an objective standpoint because I haven’t conducted any such testing, but from an anecdotal standpoint, the abrasion resistance of the Sphinx pants could be described as excellent.

The Sphinx pant’s Durastretch fabric up close.

The inside of the waistband is composed of a soft, suede-like fabric that feels nice when you load down your waist with guns, ammunition, and other stuff. I don’t normally have waist chafing issues, but if I did, the inside of this waistband would probably solve them. The crotch also seems to be a lot more durable – in terms of sewing and design – than a standard uniform trouser. My issued BDU pants would often tear out at the crotch after a lot of use and some decent squatting – that doesn’t seem to be a problem with the Sphinx, or the Drac or Talos, for that matter.

One word to describe this fabric? Tough.

The pocket configuration (10 in total) of the Sphinx pant is pretty much identical to the Drac, and although a completely different fabric is used – one which feels the same inside and out and doesn’t offer as much insulation against cold air – it’s also flexible/”stretchy” and not at all constraining. In hot weather, I have found them to be very breathable and comfortable. Arc’teryx doesn’t specify whether or not these pants have a DWR coating, but based on their performance in rain, they do an admirable job of not letting water in.

Talos Pants

The Talos pant is, according to Arc’teryx, a “No-melt, no-drip, lightweight, breathable Cotton/Nylon pant with knee pad pockets, and heavy-duty webbing reinforcement in the knees.” In other words, it’s a basic utility or BDU pant, done Arc’teryx style. Retail price is $229 and the weight is 1lb 9.6oz. Like the Sphinx pants, my pair was made in El Salvador.

The Talos pant up close, with cotton for the majority of the garment and Cordura reinforcing the knees and (shown here) knife/tool pockets.

I’ve only had the Talos pants a few weeks, but have worn them for some fairly intrepid hiking in some of the harshest weather southern Utah has seen in decades. This was part of the Arc’teryx Red Rock Adventure, which was held earlier this month, and was totally awesome.

In other words, it rained a lot.

They’re made primarily of cotton, which is really a wonderful fabric, and I’m not just saying that because my home state exports a lot of cotton. Cotton won’t stop outside moisture like the other fabrics and their coatings will, but it dries fast, breathes exceptionally well, and is comfortable to wear for long periods of time. It also doesn’t melt or drip when near flame, which is important for people who might accidentally (or intentionally) be close to fire or explosions.

Here, Rob Curtis of Military Times GearScout rappels while wearing Talos pants in Wolf. His mismatched Crocodile jacket, while perfectly functional, causes him to lose 50 geardo points.

Compared to the Drac or Sphinx, the Talos aren’t made of as exotic a fabric – hence the lower price. That said, they’re my favorite of the three, primarily due to their overall usefulness in many climes (as part of a layered system) or on their own as great pants. Another reason why they’re my favorite is because they are significantly quieter than the other two, as mentioned above. I’m torn on whether to use “comfortable” or “quiet” as the single word to describe cotton, but either one is quite appropriate.

Talos fabric at ant’s eye view

Summary

Drac pants are a good choice for inclement weather in colder climates where making noise is not an issue.

Sphinx pants function well as an all-weather pant and/or in areas where rain might be encountered more frequently and another layer on top of the pants isn’t necessarily desired, again, where making noise is not an issue.

Talos pants are a great replacement for a BDU or utility trouser where keeping noise to a minimum is ideal and a more durable and functional design (than a standard uniform pant) is desired.

If I could change anything about these pants, I would replace the zip fly and velcro pocket closures with buttons, to help with noise reduction.

Overall, these are great pants for work or being in the outdoors, but unlike some of the other LEAF products, I wouldn’t want to walk around town wearing them – for style reasons only. I would like to see an Arc’teryx LEAF pant with fewer side/cargo pockets and no knee reinforcement, in cotton – a less obviously tactical version of the Talos, perhaps, and one which might be somewhat cheaper. It would be like the Atom LT jacket – an Arc’teryx gateway drug.

Why Arc’teryx Clothing Is Expensive

There are two reasons why I am writing this article:

1. To explain what I’ve learned about Arc’teryx LEAF gear after wearing it very often for a year

2. To post photos of myself wearing said gear.

Case in point.

When I first saw how much Arc’teryx stuff cost, I was incredulous. How could this be? A six-hundred-dollar jacket? Three hundred bucks for a pair of pants? Now, a year or so on, I’m sold on their products.

Before I go any farther, I should also mention that most of my experience is with Arc’teryx LEAF (Law Enforcement/Armed Forces), their “tactical” line of clothing, and that some of the items I’ve used were given to me by either Arc’teryx or my friend Jim at Deliberate Dynamics, who sells their gear. However, I’ve also spent a significant amount of my own money buying Arc’teryx LEAF gear.

Reason # 1 – Quality

It’s easy for a reviewer to say that a product is high quality and then move on to other things without explaining further. I’d point to three specific things about Arc’teryx that make their product high quality – design, materials, and construction.

Design

When I say that there is quality in their design, I mean not only style, but that the items are intended for a specific purpose or task and they perform that task very well. They do so with a minimal amount of weight and bulk and often include clever features that are so well integrated that they might be missed at first or second glance. These design features sometimes show up on other manufacturers’ products, but they originate at Arc’teryx.

Although it is one of their more simple products, I will use the Atom LT jacket (MSRP $199) as an example of excellence in design. It’s a pretty basic insulated jacket and available in a variety of colors in their standard line, as well as black, Crocodile (sort of a brownish/greenish/tan), and Wolf (gray/grey) in the LEAF line. It was mostly unchanged when it went from Arc’teryx to LEAF, other than color, and that’s a good thing, because it didn’t need to be changed.

“Crocodile” blended in very well in Syria. Unlike my face, voice, and attitude.

What makes it so great? It weighs 11.5 ounces and is compressible. And it has kept me freakishly warm in some rather cold places, with temperatures reaching just below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. At the same time, it’s waterproof and also quite breathable.

I don’t feel uncomfortable wearing it at temperatures up to 65 or 70 degrees, and even then, I can just unzip it. That brings me to another cool design feature, which is that many of the zippers can be unzipped simply by pulling the collar of the jacket away from its counterpart. This is a lot better than fumbling with a zipper if you have thick gloves on or are wearing a pack with chest straps. On the other hand, this means that if you wear scarves like I do, the zipper will be constantly unzipping itself to a certain point unless the zipper is up all the way. Since I’m probably the only person on the “bring masculinity back to scarves” train, that isn’t a big deal.

The fact that it can be compressed and/or squished down to approximately the size of a compressed camp pillow is outstanding. And because it weighs less than a pound, it’s something that always goes with me if I think I might have to deal with even mildly chilly temperatures.

Materials

There are a lot of materials used by Arc’teryx, and I won’t try to cover them all here or describe them in detail, because that’s not my forte. What I will say about Arc’teryx materials is that every lot of, say, Gore-Tex that comes in is inspected through a number of processes before it’s used in clothing. Other manufacturers do this, but perhaps not to the same fanatical level of attention to detail. By the way, whoever managed to make waterproof fleece is a genius.

In addition, the company drives the development or modification of materials for other purposes – for example, thinner waterproof tape over seams. In the end, what matters most is that when it comes to selecting a material for a product, performance (weight, durability, insulation/breathability/waterproofing) is the determining factor, not cost.

Despite being made with as light and breathable a fabric as I have ever encountered, the Chimera shirts (MSRP $149) my teammate (pictured) and I were given to use during the 24 Hour Sniper Adventure Challenge showed no rips or tears after spending lots of time low crawling over sharp rocks and thistles/brambles.

Construction

I can be very detail-oriented at times, but before I had ever laid hands on Arc’teryx stuff, I hadn’t really considered the details of clothing manufacture. Even now, I’ll admit that having a near-perfectly stitched seam doesn’t keep me any warmer. However, when I look at the way their clothing is put together, I am simply impressed.

I took some macro photos of both my Arc’teryx Bravo jacket in Wolf (MSRP $329) and my Dickies Storm gray jacket. I paid approximately ten times as much for the Bravo jacket (the Dickies product was on closeout – I paid closer to retail for the Arc’teryx product). This isn’t intended to be a direct comparison of these specific products, just a look at how a very expensive Arc’teryx jacket compares to a very inexpensive one in an attempt to show that “you get what you pay for.” I picked the same areas of each jacket for the photos below.

With very few exceptions, the stitching of an Arc’teryx product looks like this – straight, even, orderly.
In comparison, the overall stitching of my Dickies jacket is not even or straight.
At full zoom, we can see that the fabric and stitching of the Arc’teryx product, although it has seen very heavy and frequent use, is in excellent shape.
Whether it is due to use or construction or design, the Dickies fabric and stitching appears more worn.
This joining of fabrics on the Bravo jacket, while not perfect, is quite orderly. In addition, the methods of stitching simply look robust to me.
The same area of the Dickies jacket, which is of similar design, shows a much simpler and perhaps less confidence-inspiring manufacturing method.
This internal zippered pocket of the Bravo jacket is shown at full zoom for inspection purposes only – there aren’t any internal zippered pockets on the Dickies jacket.

It comes as no real surprise to me that after almost a year of using the Bravo jacket and treating it roughly, it looks practically new. I’m also not surprised when I hear anecdotal reports from friends who use Arc’teryx stuff that it lasts for years instead of months. I’ve had my share of clothing and gear wear out prematurely, but that really isn’t a concern with any Arc’teryx product I’ve used. The only Arc’teryx product I no longer use is the Alpha jacket (MSRP $599) I loaned to an ex-girlfriend. She decided to never return it.

Reason #2 – Style and Image

I would be remiss if I ignored the fact that a certain level of panache goes with wearing Arc’teryx. Their products are made of materials that not only perform well, but look good. And the same consistency shown above at the smallest levels exists in the overall appearance. Some Arc’teryx products look like finely tailored garments. Others make average people look totally awesome. Well, almost.

A few people might replace “panache” with a slightly less complimentary word, implying some level of snobbishness. That’s fine with me – I like saving money, but I also like nice things, and I don’t really care what other people think about what I wear (except for the time I was invited to a party and found my date looking stunning in a black dress while I looked like an idiot in a t-shirt and jeans).

Negative perceptions aside, Arc’teryx clothing is, to me, quite stylish. Even if it’s been used hard.

Would Paul and I look this good if we weren’t wearing Arc’teryx? Of course not. In fact, we might not have even finished the event, because half of being good is looking good.
This is what happens when you don’t wear Arc’teryx.

To me, there is a lot of appeal in buying a jacket – say, the Bravo in Wolf – that I can wear on a hike or while sliding down a rocky hill, brush the dirt off of, and wear around town without having people look at me like I just crawled out of a storm drain. And in terms of colors, their selections are outstanding – Crocodile works in a lot of places that are brown or green, as I’ve found in places as varied as Lebanon and Arizona. Wolf looks at home in the fancy parts of an urban area but also helped me blend in to to the slums of East Saint Louis.

Should You Buy Arc’teryx Clothing?

For many, the question will be, “Is the Arc’teryx product worth two, five, or ten times as much as what I already own or am thinking about buying?”

From an objective standpoint, as one tries on respective brands in a store, the difference may not be apparent. But after weeks, months, or even years of use, the Arc’teryx jacket or shirt or pants will still be in good shape, performing just like it did when it was new. It will also retain a significant amount of value, should you ever wish to sell it. And, of course, there is the elusive value of an item that is simply “nicer” – whether that is in stitching or welding, and whether or not those details are immediately apparent. It’s hard to find apparel that is “nicer” than Arc’teryx – and that’s why it’s expensive.

If you like having nice things that last, you’ll probably appreciate Arc’teryx. If you just want a jacket for occasional use, you might want to look elsewhere.

This was my first time wearing a shirt, pants, and belt that (combined) cost twice as much as the rifle I was carrying. But it will not be my last.

I can’t make a purchasing decision for you, but I can say that I’ve bought Arc’teryx jackets – at significant expense – because I truly believe that they are a quality product worthy of my hard-earned money.

A 40,000 Round .223 Test, Or, the Last Six Months of My Life

I’ve been working on this comparison of Wolf, Brown Bear, Tula, and Federal .223 ammunition since July. I think those who read my blog will find it interesting. It should bring forth some real data to a number of discussions relating to AR reliability, wear, and the differences between types of ammunition…

The bushel of AR-15s involved in the test.

There seem to be some errors accessing the site right now, but it should be accessible to all soon.