Please Don’t Thank Me For My Service

When people thank me for my military service, I am put in an awkward and uncomfortable position which I do not like at all. Through conversations with other veterans, I have found that almost all of them dislike being thanked for their service as well.

I know that most people mean well, and think that they are lifting our spirits by thanking us for our service. I know that previous generations of veterans did not receive warm welcomes when they returned home. I don’t wish to sound ungrateful. I would certainly rather feel awkward than ashamed.

It’s just that the guys I have spoken to all say the same thing – we didn’t join the military so that we would be thanked for it ten years later. Even when it’s obviously sincere, it leaves us unsure of what to say.

Speaking only for myself, many times it comes across as hollow. It’s as if they don’t know what to say about us being in the military, so they pay lip service to thanking us and move on to talking about the weather.

As to exactly why it makes me feel awkward – it is a reminder of a time that I don’t really like to visit or dwell on unless I’m with very close friends (who were in the military, generally). In real life, I avoid attracting attention to the fact that I was in the military – no veteran plates or military stickers on my cars, almost no military shirts other than my French Paratrooper shirt and a 5th Marines shirt which I wear during workouts, and if people ask me about being in the military, I try to leave it at “I was in the Navy.” But as I said above, I’m not alone in this awkward feeling.

The other day, I heard a few men talking to a guy who had been severely injured during the first part of the war in Iraq. They discussed his injury (largely without his involvement) and then capped it off with a “thanks for your service.” To the men, it probably seemed respectful. To me, it seemed like the Soldier was an animal in the zoo, a creature to be examined and praised and then ignored once a socially acceptable amount of time had been dedicated to the topic. I could see from his body language and lack of a response that he was very uncomfortable. I later spoke one-on-one with him, and he confirmed that it felt “weird” to be thanked.

On the other hand, I was in a bar with one of my Marines – a man I had not seen in seven years – last night, and somehow a bar patron found out that we were in the military (the details are slightly hazy to me). He thanked us for our service and insisted upon buying us drinks, which in my case was Macallan. Perhaps it was hypocritical of me, but I can’t turn down a good single malt, so I accepted.

In most cases, though, I simply want to be left alone. In the abstract I can appreciate the thought when it is genuine, but please don’t thank me for my service.

De Facto Gun Registration Exists In The United States

What is contained in this article is entirely anecdotal and I have no substantive proof of anything written here. I am not a conspiracy theorist, I am a realist. I have unintentionally collected this information over the last six or seven years. To me, it adds up to the ATF creating a database of who is buying what firearm.

– In 2007, I had a chat with a very nice elderly couple, owners of a small gun store. They told me that during an ATF audit, the agents had scanned or otherwise made copies of 4473s (Firearms Transaction Record). I thought to myself, “Maybe they were just confused.” I mentioned it on a gun forum and was told that it couldn’t possibly be true.

– When I worked (briefly) at a gun store later that year, it was part of my job to scan 4473s into a computer. I asked where they were going, and a manager told me that they went to corporate, and then on to ATF.

– Last year, I was sitting at home when my doorbell rang. Two polite and professional ATF agents informed me that the number of firearms I had purchased from 2007 to 2010 did not match my income. I was disappointed to learn that this fact did not come with some sort of prize or award, but suddenly wondered how they knew what I had purchased. They knew of 5 AR receivers transferred to me on one 4473 (in 2010), for which no background check had been performed. I told them that those receivers, along with most of the firearms I had transferred to me during that time, were provided for free by manufacturers for T&E purposes, and told them about my blog.

When later I asked the FFL about that transaction record, they told me that the ATF had audited their records but didn’t appear to have copied any information – although that is literally the only way they could have known about those five receivers or even the transaction itself. The receivers came from two different manufacturers, and the only time they appeared together was on that 4473, which is supposed to be only retrieved by the ATF if there is a need to trace a specific transaction (and there was no need to trace that transaction). Federal law prohibits their doing so.

– A friend was recounting an ATF audit at his gun store, and mentioned that the agents were copying information from 4473s.

I am not the first person to notice this.

What does this mean?

I think that ATF Industry Operations agents are using the excuse of auditing the quality of FFL recordkeeping to create a database of firearm owners – or at the very least transferees of certain types of firearms. This is, in essence, a defenestration of the law.

AR15 Muzzle Brake/Flash Hider/Compensator Comparison, Part 2

Following up on the gargantuan first post of this comparison is a relatively short yet no less important portion. Especially to civilian shooters, the sound and blast of a muzzle device can be a huge turnoff. Yeah, that new brake keeps the muzzle on target, but if the noise rattles your friends every time you shoot the rifle, and other shooters on the firing line give you dirty looks and move away? Chagrin might give you second thoughts about your purchase.

For this portion of the test, a Brüel & Kjær 2209 Impulse Precision Sound Level Meter was used. Despite having been introduced in 1971 and looking quite like it could be an important quest item in Fallout 3, this is the device specified by the US Military and used by many silencer manufacturers to measure sound pressure level. The particular meter used for the test was provided by Rob Silvers of Advanced Armament Corp.

Since I forgot to take a better photo of the device, here's a cell phone pic.
Since I forgot to take a better photo of the device, here’s a cell phone pic.

As with the previous installment, scroll down to the charts if you’d just like to see the results.

Of course, all firearms are going to be loud. Even a silenced firearm with subsonic ammo makes noise. A rifle firing supersonic ammo without a silencer? Very, very loud. We are dealing with degrees of very loud here, but the difference between the loudest and quietest device (measured to the left of the muzzle) was approximately 8 decibels. Considering that a 10 decibel difference makes something sound twice as loud, these differences should not be considered entirely minor. If you would like to read some scientific papers regarding muzzle blast and gunshot acoustics, read this, this, or this.

But now, the charts.

First, using the military standard of 1 meter left of the muzzle and 1.6 meters above the ground, using Speer Gold Dot 64gr 5.56mm. These numbers represent the average of 10 shots.

spl1meter

After I had expended every round of .223 and 5.56 in my house, I used 5.45 to measure sound pressure levels at the shooter’s ear.

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To be entirely sure of these results, I actually shot them all twice, on four separate days.

As you can see, there is a pretty clear line between muzzle devices intended to reduce recoil and those intended to reduce flash.

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.

Civilians Who Carry Long Guns In Public Should Be Tarred And Feathered

News of the open letter from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, a polite request for gun owners to not bring guns to Starbucks, has set the gun world on fire – or at least my Facebook feed.

A condensed version of events: Starbucks has in years past not taken a stance on firearms in their stores. They’ve said that local, state, and federal laws are enough. Some gun owners took that as a version of support for open carry in their stores, and went so far as to walk into such establishments while carrying AKs, ARs, and shotguns. Because…other people were doing it, and it seemed like a good idea at the time?

This is sheer idiocy.

Understandably, the result is that Starbucks now doesn’t want guns in their stores. It’s not a hard rule, but a polite request. They didn’t want to be involved, some folks dragged them into it, and they felt their only choice was to make a public statement about the topic.

I have heard a few statements repeated by extreme open carry advocates in recent days, and I would like to address them here.

“Because I can! It’s my right and you can’t take away my rights!”

There are a lot of things you “can” do. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should, with great power comes great responsibility, etc etc.

Furthermore, you don’t have a right to carry a firearm onto private property without the permission of the owner. And since the Supreme Court has ruled that the government can place some restrictions on the carry of firearms, I don’t think California’s ban on open carry (which came as a direct result of open carry demonstrations in the state!) will be overturned any time soon. You certainly won’t be granted the ability to carry a firearm onto private property without the permission of the owner.

In other words, you can blather on about what you think should be reality, but actual-reality is different. It doesn’t matter what you think or what I think. Stop participating in Second Amendment circle jerks on the Internet and face the reality that your actions have consequences.

“F*** you, Starbucks!”

First, if you are unable to articulate your position on a sensitive topic without expletives forming a significant portion of your statements, please stop talking. Your words reflect poorly on gun owners as a whole.

Second, every single private business in America is not a battleground for gun rights. Most business owners want to sell a product, employ people, serve people, whatever. Their business is not about us, and it is selfish, immature, and stupid for some gun owners to make everything about them. It is stupid to organize a boycott simply because a company wants to be left out of a heated discussion.

Finally, even if a company takes a stand against firearm ownership, so what? Life is too short to spend time hating people who don’t like guns. I find it delightfully ironic that some of my Kenneth Cole clothing conceals certain firearms very well.

Variations on this theme: “We need to desensitize people to firearms!” or “People need to stop being uncomfortable around firearms!” or “You don’t have a right to not be offended!”

So let me get this straight, long gun open carry advocates want average citizens to get used to firearms, and their plan to achieve this goal is to do something that they know is going to scare/offend/startle people?

Like I said, sheer idiocy.

I am comfortable around firearms. I carry a concealed firearm every day. I have too many guns, including scary black guns. I’m actually not as vehemently opposed to open carry as some others in the gun industry. Open carry has its place – Starbucks not included.

But if I was enjoying a Chai Tea Latte in my local Starbucks and saw a dude walk in carrying a shotgun, I would become very uncomfortable, very fast. I can only imagine how people who don’t trip on five guns when they get out of bed would react. There is no need to make people upset in order to reach them, unless you are an attention whore.

What extreme open carry advocates seem to not understand is that we are winning this particular culture war – and that they are not helping. Politicians love to talk about what percentage of people support this gun control measure or that, but the number of people who own guns, and the number of people who think it’s okay for average citizens to own guns? Those numbers are increasing, not decreasing. We might differ on the details of the type of gun and how they might be acquired, but gun owners are not facing a hostile US population.

That is, we aren’t as long as we don’t do stupid crap like carry AKs into Starbucks. What have massive open carry demonstrations achieved? Restrictions on how firearms may be carried in a major US state and a major US business chain.

We’ll win over far more people if we show them that gun owners are intelligent, thoughtful, and polite.

My Thoughts on Various Gun Oils and Lubricants

- BreakFree CLP – I use CLP fairly often just because I have a ton of free sample packets and try to keep them in my cars and range bags and so on. It works fine as a lubricant in most conditions as long as you have put it on the firearm recently. It offers good corrosion resistance for storage purposes, but isn’t all that great for a carry gun prone to rusting. That problem is better solved by a more durable finish.

– Dry film lube – No.

FireClean – I chose this as the lube for the 40000 round test because it was new on the scene and thought it deserved a shot at some good publicity. It works really well as a lubricant. I don’t think it is advertised to provide great corrosion resistance, and I haven’t tested that. Compared to CLP it cleans better, but I don’t think this property is entirely unique to FireClean. I probably wouldn’t buy it because I think it is rather expensive. I have had a lot of problems with the bottles leaking, which would be more annoying if I had paid for them. I have started putting all my FireClean bottles in Ziploc bags, otherwise my entire range bag will become covered in expensive gun oil.

FP-10 – This is probably my favorite lubricant in terms of what it does and how much it costs. A 4oz bottle is twice the size of the Fireclean 2oz bottle but costs about half as much, so by volume it is a quarter of the price. It is a great lubricant (after shooting an AR without lubrication until it malfunctioned, or approximately 2700 rounds, a single drop of FP10 returned the firearm to proper function for another 150+ rounds) and in my opinion offers corrosion resistance nearly as effective as CLP for storage. It cleans fairly well also. The bigger bottle is harder to lose or misplace.

– Froglube – I have never used this and do not see why I should make plans to do so.

– Graphite – No.

Hoppe’s Elite – I have used it as a lubricant a few times with good results. I have not thoroughly tested it. One time I broke a bottle of Hoppe’s #9 on my workbench and I smiled every day for the next six months that I walked past that workbench. Unfortunately Hoppe’s Elite does not smell like Hoppe’s #9.

– Mobil 1 – On the few occasions when I have been at the range without oil (such as when a bottle of FireClean has decided to leak all over my range bag/car/backpack) and find myself or others in need of oil, I pull the dipstick from my car and use whatever my fingers wipe off said dipstick. It will get me by for a range session. I don’t use it all the time. I think it does not have the right viscosity and other properties for firearm lubrication.

– RemOil – I look at people who use RemOil the same way I look at people wearing socks with sandals.

SlideGlide – This is a grease which I use sparingly (I have been using the same two small tubs for over six years) on pistols with a lot of metal to metal contact, such as 1911s or Sigs or Berettas. I think it is a fantastic product to keep such pistols running. I would not use it for corrosion resistance purposes or cleaning, but it is worth using for its other properties. Sig puts TW25B on pistols from the factory, but I think SlideGlide is superior for most purposes.

I probably have some sort of opinion on other products which I cannot recall at this time. I will be happy to answer questions.

Vuurwapen Concepts Training Course Info & Dates

Now that we have two training courses under our belt, Jim and I have made some further adjustments to the Vuurwapen Concepts course curriculum. The second course incorporated some pistol shooting, and all subsequent courses will expand on that. Most notably, however, we’re moving to a three-day course format (with an optional fourth day at the beginning for refreshing fundamentals). This will allow for additional training and evaluation time over the two-day format, although the course fee remains relatively low at $450. We’ve scheduled courses for October 11-13 and November 8-10, again at Sniper Country in northern Utah.

Low light pistol shooting at the July 27-28 class.

Also relevant to potential students is that we have added approximately half a dozen instructors, all of whom have special operations experience in military or federal government units or agencies (or both). Their expertise varies from breaching to trauma medicine, although all are extremely proficient with firearms and capable of passing these skills on to others. We’re working on bios and further information, but a lot of these guys are still working in their respective fields, so various security concerns may require that some information be withheld. I know this sounds super secret squirrel, but trust me, these guys are really impressive. Their expertise is also very relevant to the courses we’re teaching (including the concealed carry portion of the class), and will allow for expanded course options in the future.

We will have at least three and most likely four instructors at each course. This will allow us to move from course module to course module smoothly while providing as much one-on-one instruction as possible.

Soon I will also share the Vuurwapen Concepts website and other cool stuff. Things are moving along quickly and I’m excited for what the future holds.

What’s In My First Aid Kit And Why

As a Corpsman, my job in the military was to put band-aids on Marines and hold them when they felt sad. I received a decent amount of medical training during that time and also had a small bit of hands-on experience (mostly treating wounded Iraqi children and inept terrorists). I was not a SARC and did not go through the 18D pipeline. Before joining the Navy, I worked in an emergency room as a physician’s scribe. These experiences have shaped my outlook on emergency medicine and the equipment I carry for first aid purposes.

Recently, I have noticed more people talking about what first aid kit or trauma kit they carry or own, which is a good thing. However, having a band-aid is only part of the equation when it comes to treating a cut. Unlike being in a gunfight, for which not bringing a gun is a cardinal sin, first aid can often be improvised with available materials while help is summoned. Some of the most serious injuries I have ever dealt with were treated with inadequate supplies. Realize that as a first responder, the best thing you can do is to get your patient to a higher level of care as soon as possible.

Vitriolic Tangent About Training

While it is popular in the gun world to “get training” (and I definitely think you should attend the ones I teach!), it does not seem as popular to get training in other areas – driving, first aid, etc. Think about it – how much time do you spend driving each day versus how much time you spend in a gunfight each day? How many people are killed by drunk drivers each year versus armed criminals or terrorists? Why would you bias all of your training towards firearms instead of spreading out your expendable income to include a high performance driving course? Similarly, why go to more than one firearm training course before you know basic first aid? Excuses for not attending Bondurant include the fact that it’s really expensive, but basic CPR and first aid courses are generally available through the Red Cross for affordable prices.

If you haven’t kept current with first aid in a while, a refresher might not be a bad idea. For example, CPR, which was once called “rescue breathing,” has now changed into “continuous chest compressions.” A few years – or maybe a decade – ago, there was a pretty wide separation between military and civilian medical training. Lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to have trickled down to those in fire departments and EMS, although I can’t say that everything is now being taught the same way on both sides. However, whether you go through a Red Cross class or a Combat Aidsman course, I think you’ll be well ahead of someone who hasn’t bothered to get any first aid training. For that matter, a 12-year-old Boy Scout with his neckerchief and a stick will be light years ahead of someone with a fancy trauma kit and no idea how to use it.

Okay, back to the topic at hand.

Stuff I Generally Keep In My Car

I have a lot of medbags thanks to my time in the military – mostly Unit Ones and a big London Bridge bag. However, one of the most useful first aid kits I own was purchased after I got out: an Adventure Medical Kits Guide 1. It was discounted heavily on Steep and Cheap, so I didn’t pay $270 for it. However, I’ve gotten plenty of use out of it and try to keep it replenished. I’ll cover individual items later, but a good kit like this will cover most of your needs. Even a $20 kit at Walmart or Target has the basics.

I originally posted this photo on Instagram. You should follow me on Instagram @vuurwapenblog, or else.

Although the Guide 1 has some items for treating trauma injuries, I also carry a kit of my own assembly. This generally consists of tourniquets, pressure dressings, chest seals, 14 gauge IV catheters, SAM splints, ACE bandages, abdominal bandages, and Water-Jel. Putting together something like this from scratch with the basics (mostly just tourniquets/pressure dressings) shouldn’t be too expensive. I like using brightly colored bags or keeping the kit in a larger, easily recognizable bag so that I can tell someone to run to my car and grab “the big red bag” or something like that, rather than tell them to grab the khaki pouch in the trunk full of khaki, coyote, tan, and brown items.

I use the CAT tourniquet because I have seen it work well, but I would not be too particular about the type as long as I could apply it to myself or others without too much difficulty. Some people say that the CAT windlass breaks easily, but I haven’t seen that – it’s something to consider, but as long as you know how to apply it properly, you will be fine. I was issued Cinch-Tight pressure dressings and have not seen a need to look for anything else.

Chest seals – I was taught to improvise them (using an ID card taped at three corners over the wound, allowing air to escape but sealing fairly well against the entrance of air) as well as use the Ascherman, although the HALO is supposedly better; I have not had occasion to use the HALO, but much like the CAT, the Ascherman works well if you know its failure points.

The IV catheter is for relieving tension pneumothorax. I was trained how to use it, although it’s up to you as to whether or not you carry one. If you take my advice and seek out training, this won’t be an issue.

The SAM splints and ACE bandages are for joint immobilization; this can be improvised if the patient needs to stay in place, but if you need to move to a pickup point, having good supplies for joint immobilization might be invaluable.

Finally, the Water-Jel is for treatment of burns.

I also like having an axe or large hammer in my car, and a knife in my pocket. These items can help free someone if they are trapped. Oh, and I bring nitrile gloves, too. I also have a prepaid cell phone with up to date service with a different provider than my normal smartphone just in case said normal smartphone is dead or doesn’t get service when I need help.

Stuff I Carry With Me In A Pack

It’s okay to put a big bag of stuff in the trunk of my car, but do I carry all that stuff with me on a day hike? No. I’ll generally bring a small kit with band-aids of various sizes, Neosporin, alcohol pads, ammonia poppers (to wake up dead people), gloves, ACE bandages, Kerlex, some 4×4 gauze pads, NSAIDs (generic Naproxen most of the time) as well as an Epi-Pen (I don’t have allergies, but other people do). You’ll notice that I don’t bring the majority of trauma kit items, and that’s because they’re far less likely to be needed. You don’t want to be the guy standing there saying “Sorry about the scraped knee, but I can only help people who have been shot in the chest or leg.”

Final Thought

Understand the human body, the mechanisms of injury which it is likely to encounter, how the body responds to these injuries, and how you can help the body in this fight until help arrives. Have appropriate tools if possible, but focus on understanding first.

guns and stuff