SKD Tactical (a store you need to bookmark if you haven’t already) had a pretty deep discount on their Oakley line in a sale a few months back, so in spite of the fact that I’ve deliberately avoided purchasing a pair in the past and opted for Smith Optics instead, I decided to pop my big-O cherry in order that I at least be able to form a slightly valid opinion of the brand.
I’m going to make an analogy now that some folks won’t agree with and even less will like, but it’s one that occurs to me none-the-less. In this bloke’s opinion, Oakley are the Apple of the apparel world. Whether that is a good or a bad thing to you personally is entirely subjective. I wouldn’t use the word ‘bad’, but personally I’d not say it was an entirely positive trait overall. The reasoning behind this analogy isn’t massively complex nor is it all-encompassing, but comes down to a couple of key points. First is the area of the market which Oakleys fill, i.e. high/top end, but also functional without being a purely 100% aesthetic or fashion product; of course the prices are reflecting of this. Their prices average around the $140-150 mark but you can go down to around $100 or right up to around $200 depending on the actual style, lens features and colouration. Overall, from what I’ve seen of offerings within the realms of tactical eye protection, ESS and Revision products tend to price a bit lower overall with Smith Optics filling in the middle. This tends to apply to both purely functional military type eye protection as well as impact rated sunglasses from all of the aforementioned.
That said, the truly stand-out point about the entirely Oakley operation that causes me to relate them to Apple is found within their product descriptions. Apple phones and computers use just the same basic technologies and types of systems as all their competitors, but Apple have done a great job over the years of convincing the uninformed that their shit is somehow hotter than everyone elses by attaching meaningless, superfluous names to various features of their releases. As if somehow calling a type of liquid crystal display a ‘Retina’ makes it a totally different beast entirely; the truth is of course they’re just great at marketing and all the clean, white and crisp imagery combined with the affluence-oozing terminology does a top job of shifting units. Does this make iPhones bad? No, clearly not, I just wouldn’t choose to buy one and carry it around with me, using it frequently throughout the day, because I do not like companies who try to bullshit me. Given the nature of modern smartphone hire-purchase type contract arrangements, it’s not like you can easily dip in and out of a certain platform a couple of times each year, however with a pair of sunglasses the bar of commitment is far lower, making the Oakleys a more viable purchase for me personally and with the SKD discounts I ended up getting these SI Gascans (entirely standard base model) for a few notes under $100.
Now let’s take a look at a few of these BS terms for reference:
1. ‘O MATTER® frame’ – Sounds pretty sci-fi huh? Fact is, these shades are not weightless, they’re not bulletproof, they’re not indestructible and to be honest they actually feel slightly more brittle than my Smith equivalents. Are the frames high quality? Absolutely, the plastic is incredibly smooth, moulded perfectly and shaped to near-enough perfection. It’s still just plastic though. It’s not been mined from recovered meteorites or birthed from between Jennifer Lawrence’s thighs.
2. ‘XYZ OPTICS® lenses’ – According to Oakley, the quality of their lenses assures 100% viewing clarity regardless of which direction your actual eyeballs are pointing. XYZ of course being a pseudo-clever sounding reference to the 3 axis within which we all can travel, implying freedom of space and movement, stirring up feelings of limitlessness. Can I say I’ve noticed any blurring or additional darkness when viewing through the edges of the lenses in another brand of eyewear? No I cannot, be they Smith/ESS or cheap, no-brand, entirely pedestrian sunglasses. Again, I’m not saying the Oakley lenses don’t appear to be of a very high quality, but I would infinitely rather hear some of the actual details of how exactly the lenses are supposed to be the best, rather than there just being an arbitrary label slapped on to them.
3. ‘PLUTONITE® lens material’ – The lenses within these shades will block all UV radiation and are touted as entirely scratch proof. Great features to have for sure, I’m not going to shine a UV source at my eyes or deliberately rub my shades against the road to test these things, but I’m happy to trust the features are indeed present. However, do not treat me, the consumer, like a moron; tell me how and why (obviously within the bounds of not giving away company secrets) this lens material is made to be the best possible thing to have in front of my eyes. I’ve looked at various eyewear retailers FAQ sections and YouTube channels and they are chocked with explanations and videos that go in to the meanings behind these utterly stupid non-words. Why are they chocked with them? Because when you look through the comments on video reviews it’s clear how many people read the marketing terms and are simply left wondering what the hell they’re actually buying. It’s just a polycarbonate and on the very base level, I’m sure it’s the same as everyone else’s.
Problem is of course, just like iThings and despite all the bullshit, you handle these products and go a little bit gooey inside and just want to buy them, because they just look and feel so bloody nice. In the case of these Oakleys I’d certainly say they’re a great way to protect your eyes because the materials used in both the lenses and frames are absolutely up to the job and will resist both physical forces and degradation by chemicals and extreme environmental conditions. As long as you don’t run them over with a car they’d quite possibly last a life time of flat range usage.
They’re supremely light and comfortable, they look and feel sleek, the arms lock in to place when opened very positively and they’re made in America. The storage bag is made in Cambodia which seems like an odd choice since they’re ludicrously simple items that a child learning to use a sewing machine in school could construct without much difficulty. But if you buy your Oakleys from SKD you do get a free (and oh so tacticool) US made storage bag in multicam from Patrol Incident Gear.
The very outdoors’y looking well bearded chap you see above, is not me; I’m contractually obliged to shave every morning and that is also a real self-loading rifle he’s holding; something I can’t touch outside of work because my parents’ generation allowed the government to take them away. The man in question however is as skilled as anyone who works at a top level gear manufacturer when it comes to putting together cordura and webbing in useful combinations with a heavy duty sewing machine and he’s (very stylishly) modelling my new plate carrier here for me with his own mags and radio.
Now I’m not going to break down all the details on this PC here because it makes more sense to do that once it’s actually in my hands rather than across the Atlantic, but I wanted to take this opportunity just to put up the first pictures that I’ve been furnished with, since they do look rather nice indeed.
For those who’ve been following the Facebook page for a while, you’ll have seen my previous custom PC in Coyote that integrates scratch built components with some FirstSpear items in to one package and what you’re seeing above is the ‘Gen 2’. Every gear purchase is a learning experience and based on the things I discovered by using the Gen 1 carrier I made a few changes to the specs of this iteration, which should make for an all round better rig, but of course maintain the key features.
Previously I tended to ‘hold on’ to pictures like these in order to release all the information and media in one go once I’d gotten everything in place, but I’m feeling that isn’t necessarily the best way to do things. There are big manufacturers out there who will rip-off new ideas and not give any credit (not saying necessarily from me), but end of the day I’m not in a position to manufacture and sell these designs anyway, so I’ve decided not to worry about that going forward and just talk about new ideas as I work on them. Either way I only come up with the basic concepts, in this case my buddy there is the one who takes those loose ideas and actually turns them in to something physical that works.
On top of the new carrier I also ordered 5 new placards in the Mayflower style/spec. These are all the same size with the same buckles and all backed with hook, so they’ll all work on my CB carrier, this carrier in RG as well as the adapter kit for my entirely FirstSpear rig. At the moment I’ve only got the one such placard which is all PALS in CB, but I wanted the option of either completely PALS (to facilitate the mounting of any after-market pouch I may wish to use) or something STANAG specific, obviously each in matching colours with all my carriers.
The 3 panels you see on the left here are saggy and not much use right now, but they’ve been built along the same lines as the mag pouches found in the Haley Strategic D3CR and hence will fully securely mount the HSP MP2 moulded plastic inserts. My previous experience trying out the KYdex Wedge Inserts (KYWIs) from ESSTAC convinced me that pouches utilising an internal plastic piece were absolutely the way to go. The fact the MP2s are shorter at the front than at the back (4 and 5 rows of PALS respectively) combined with their integration with a strip of PALS at the top for security and their commercial availability made them the best choice for this application to my mind. I find the classic 5-row-tall shingle pouches to be awkward in that they leave far too little of the magazine exposed for the operator to actually grab on to, whereas a HSGI TACO is just 4 rows tall and that makes life far easier. TACOs however do have their advantages but to ensure a tight hold on any 30rnd 556 mag they need to be tightly adjusted and will close up slightly when empty, hindering reinsertion. If all goes to plan, this design integrating the MP2s will remain wide open at the top whether full or empty, while still providing reliable retention without the need for a lid or bungees, ensuring maximum speed and ease of reloads.
Stay tuned to the blog if you’d like to read more as I’ll have all this gear in hand to look at in detail in another month or two.
A little back the Haley Strategic Partners store had a big sale on and they were offering these Bravo Company Manufacturing angled grips for $10 a piece, which is about £6.50 ish. For a US made product from BCM it seemed rude to not at least give them a try at that price.
The above pictured doesn’t give the best representation of scale, but sufficed to say if you’re expecting something the size of a Magpul AFG2 you need to shrink your expectations somewhat. The Kinesthetic Angled Foregrip is somewhere between an actual foregrip and a handstop; perhaps leaning slightly more towards the latter. It’s only as wide as the plane upon which the KeyMod slots are cut, where the AFG is wider than a picatinny rail, so there’s not a lot of meat on the KAG. Personally I’m somewhere between a small and medium in gloves and only about half of my palm actually sits on the angled surface, which personally I have to say I’m not a fan of ergonomically, for me it just doesn’t feel all that great.
What this device does do with the hooked section in the plastic is provide a solid, non-slip traction point for the shooter to secure the weapon firmly back in to the torso without any fear of their hand slipping back, no matter how much rearwards pressure they exert. Again, due to the thin profile it’s not exactly super comfortable when doing so, but it does what is required from a hand-stop with minimal cost and barely any weight. The serrated back surfaces give you a good point to apply forwards pressure should you be using the front hook against a wall or barricade.
I’m not going to smash one of these against a wall to see how it fares but I can tell the BCM plastic is clearly not cheap, brittle stuff and the attachment hardware is of course to the quality you’d expect from Bravo Company. The versions I have here are KeyMod but at the time of writing you can pick these up from the BCM store in KeyMod and Picatinny flavours in either FG, FDE, Black or Grey for around $19.