It’s Just Like Call of Duty 4

So yes, a while back I jumped in to the night vision arena, which was a fairly expensive jump as you’d imagine. The ‘hardest’ part was actually listening to my own years of learning in the sense that buying the cheap option to begin with will never satisfy me, knowing there’s something better available and seeing other people with that better thing. I think just about everybody who’s not a millionaire starts with more budget gear then gradually works up over time. Not everyone wants or needs to eventually buy the most gucci and expensive option of course, but I think many of you will be familiar with a wastage of money through buying something cheaper to start with, only to then sell it at a loss and replace it with the superior product. Be it a uniform set, belt, helmet, whatever.

Trying to learn from one’s own mistakes and apply that learning to something like gloves or a shirt for example is not comparatively all that painful. Applying that learning to night vision however is one of those occasions where you take a hard gulp, pay the money and sit back in your chair for a minute afterwards to process what you just did. Problem is the unit itself is just the start, because the rest of the things you’ll need in order to use that unit really securely are going to tot up to yet another pretty fat stack of cash.

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“Surely dual tubes are the top of the line?” some would ask, but after seeing Bryan’s ITS Tactical interview with John Lovell of Warrior Poet Society some time ago, I decided saving myself a couple grand and taking John’s advice was the way to go. There’s a ton of ex-SF guys in the states making videos and offering training of course and I’m sure we all subscribe to at least a few on YouTube, but listening to John talk about NV use on deployment with a clear depth of genuine experience and his general down to earth persona (certainly compared to a lot of guys in that same arena who want you to #crusheverything) I just got a good vibe overall. I’m picky on who I’ll take advice from, but in this instance I decided to listen up.

The key piece of info in the aforementioned interview was the fact that you’ve always got instant access to your normal vision through 1 eye with a single tube setup and the reality is you’re very unlikely to spend your entire time in the pitch black. You will move through different light conditions, someone might well hit you with white light that negates the NV entirely and as anyone who’s used NV will know, the technology can’t focus like a human eye. So if some bad stuff happens in bad stuff proximity there’s real value in being able to instantly switch to at least one eye of regular vision, or maybe you just have the NV focus set out to the far distance and you need to do some gear admin on yourself or weapon. There’s lots of other reasons too, but the single vs dual tube thing could easily be its’ own book and I am very far from a world expert. Another big takeaway from the interview is that absolutely every piece of NV gear has distinct ups and downs, which made for very honest discussion and of course applies to everything I just said above. Check out the video if you want to learn some really solid foundational stuff on NV use:

So what did I actually pick up?

The unit itself is a PVS-14, which is like the AR of Night Vision with shed tons of after market support. It’s a Gen 3 Omni VII setup with auto-gating, manual gain adjustment and a small built-in IR illuminator. I’ve got a LIF filter on there as well as (crucially) lexan protective discs and daylight-drilled scope covers from Tactical Optician/AM Tactical – AMTAC. The helmet shroud is the skeletal 3-hole type that came on my Ops-Core, with a Wilcox Industries Corp. L4G24 mount and the matching Wilcox J-Arm.

Many people will at this point presumably be wondering what the fuck all that means and believe me when I say it wasn’t that long ago I had no clue either. I spent a good few weeks combing websites, old forum topics, stores and FAQs teaching myself the real basics of what each part of an NV setup actually is, what it does, what I wanted to buy and how it might perform for me. As backwards as it is, I’ll be breaking all those parts down in a future blog that I think will serve as a very handy reference for anyone wanting to buy night vision but who is currently lacking knowledge of the core nomenclature.

FR Gloves from the PIG Makers

I’ve mentioned before about having an FR ensemble for work purposes, not because it’s at all likely I’d need that, but even if the likelihood of need is tiny I really do not want to have melted polyester from standard uniform covering my skin in the event of something going super badly down hill.

To that end I have issued FR MTP trousers and combat shirt, a Massifbalaclava and these Bravo gloves from SKD Tactical, amongst a few other small items. The popular Alpha and Delta gloves of course make heavy use of common synthetics and would not be FR for the most part, whereas these Bravos retain the patterning of the Alpha with a full leather and nomex construction. Interestingly there’s a vaguely exotic combination of sheep and goat leather mixed in to these gloves with no cow hide.

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Do they facilitate the exact same dexterity as the Alphas? That was my question and probably most peoples’ question. They’re close I’ll say that, pretty bloody close. The FR fabrics through most of the construction are a fair bit thicker than the fabrics in the Alphas, but the patterning is as I say the same, with the same excellent design especially at the finger tips. I only spent a few hours actually wearing this pair somewhere warm-ish but they certainly did not hinder basic weapons handling and I’ve worn lots of issued gloves which do.

They do seem to come up smaller than the Alphas and Deltas, I went with my usual size small and they were a tight squeeze to get on so if I were to buy again I’d go a size up over my Alpha sizing. The materials used however do feel supremely comfortable and supple, so I was extremely impressed in that regard.

Also despite being a fair bit more expensive than the non-FR versions these are actually some of the cheaper FR gloves on the market to come from a quality brand. The FR gloves I’ve seen from OR for example cost a good bit over $100 and I’d be surprised if they offer close to the legendary FDT dexterity. I’ll admit right away I’ve not tried the competitors, but in my search online there weren’t any I felt could beat the FDT Bravos in dexterity and they all cost more, so my choice seemed very clear cut.

For military folks this would definitely be a strong contender in my mind and I’m sure there’s plenty of other applications out there for a glove with great dexterity that can shield against burns.

LOWA, GTX Boots and Weather

There’s 3 problems with talking about boots on the internet:

1. Actually forming a genuinely informed opinion on even 1 pair can take ages, let alone the line up from a whole brand and double-let alone multiple brands. By the time you’ve figured out what’s good, they might well have stopped making that model given the market demand for constant newness.
2. To review a boot in-depth is intricate as hell, it’s also hard to define a lot of the qualities in a quantifiable manner and very, very personal. I don’t think it’s the kind of gear you can really talk about ‘just a bit’, you either go right down to brass tacks or do a very basic overview. Hard to be anywhere inbetween.
3. Unlike many other aspects of gear a person might use for a ‘tactical’ purpose, footwear of both military design and from the civilian/hiking type sphere is pretty much all applicable. There are lots of companies making amazing outdoor clothing that don’t offer camo for example, but with boots those aesthetics are irrelevant. This then opens up the range of feasible options available to levels that are almost hard to actually comprehend. The only other item that maybe gets close to approaching this issue is gloves, then maybe backpacks after that and just about everything else like uniform, helmets and load-carriage is far more specific to tactical stuff and the viable choices are made by far fewer companies.

Caveat with number 1 of course would be folks on constant deployments who can actually select their own boots, but then they’re usually pretty busy with more important things than doing detailed gear reviews (talking generally here of course).

What I will say is from my *limited personal experience* LOWA are the brand on top of my list. I’ve got an old-school black leather pair that are at least 9 years old now and have spent dozens of hours up to the ankles in bog and never leaked a drop; though they take looking after. When I know I’ll be doing the rare air force thing of actually slogging through mud and being miserable in the elements, they’re absolutely the pair I reach for. Totally the opposite build to the standard issue lightweight crap that I cut about base in when I’m doing some annual refresher that necessitates MTP instead of blues.

I picked up these Zephyr GTX models from UKTactical on a pretty sweet sale about 18 months ago (my usual delay in the gear posting queue). Now do I recommend gore-tex lined boots in general? Hell no. Should you buy nice bright, tan, suede outer layer boots for use in most of Europe? Also no. But when a very high quality product comes up at a very good price that’s also the time you should have been setting money aside for.

GTX lined shoes can and will overheat and sweat-soak your feet in any weather above ‘quite cool’ but as with anything if you make sure your kit suits your environment you can stay comfortable. So don’t wear these things in the summer. I keep them for pure and exclusive winter time usage unless I’m expecting to get very wet in the spring/autumn. The GORE-TEX® Products liner keeps in a decent amount of heat allowing a comparatively thin and light boot to work well under some physical exertion down to typical UK winter temperatures. Despite the arid climate appearances, I found the lack of any venting or mesh panels as you’d see in an actual arid climate boot to create a pretty good balance overall.

They worked borderline perfectly when paired with some good softshell trousers and moving through a lot of common British countryside terrain. Long wet grass, woodland mud and forest foliage that’s all sodden post-rain or dew; or just permanently wet through December. Far from any sort of environment that poses any real danger to anybody’s survival, but still the sort of terrain I’ve witnessed completely soak the cordura boots and cotton blend trousers other people were wearing. They spent the next 6+ hours being damp and uncomfortable, could’ve been longer had the sun not put on a strong appearance. And why did they have to do that? Because they wore all the same gear they do in the summer months and *maybe* brought a Goretex jacket, totally ignoring the kinda-shitty inbetweens that are the actual reality a lot of the time in a lot of temperate countries.

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While that sort of thing may be far from cool to talk about, it’s honestly what I think most people should be equipping for most of the time, certainly in the hobby arena. Like how often do civilians need a tourniquet vs how often do you see people pushing blow-out kits with chest seals on social media? It 100% makes sense to prepare for the worst no doubt but when I build a FAK I put in gel for small burns, plasters, tweezers etc THEN I think about maybe a compact TQ and some bigger bandages. How often have most people in their daily lives encountered an injury that’s just annoying vs one that’s really life threatening? I’m going to wager the ratio is in the region of 100000 to 1, so yes prepare for both to some extent, but definitely make sure you’re ready to deal with the niggling little things and not just the Hollywood moments.

Appreciate that seems like a real tangent, but it’s a good analogy to my mind. These boots have served me well for the bad end of the spectrum of weather that doesn’t require more niche or specific survival gear. This particular model is very light, flexible out of the box, comfortably lined inside and most importantly built to the quality I’ve come to expect from LOWA. I’ve seen the soles come away from tons of other boots, I’ve seen inadequately thin synthetic materials wear through and fail under minimal usage, I’ve seen laces snap far too quickly and eyelets pop far too easily. Not with this brand. Good shoes are crucial. A rip in a shirt? You’ll carry on pretty much just like before, not the case if your boots totally fail you.

ITS Tactical – Part 2

I’m happy to say the wait is finally over and the 2nd half of my article on uniform basics is now available on ITS Tactical.

Seeking Uniformity: Differences in Battle Dress, Field Cut and Combat Cut Uniform Bottoms

As with part one, the basic idea is to go over archetypal features on 3 styles of tactical type apparel in order to hopefully aid folks in their purchasing decisions. In this instance, having already covered shirts, I’ve gone over the old school military issued trouser, the modern commercial field cut and the ever popular combat cut. Of course there are hundreds of different brands and designs out there to choose from so I did have to generalise quite a bit, but the overall goal is that having read both parts of the piece you should be able to identify what you’d need and then go out there to the gear stores and classifieds sites and pick the right thing for you.

If you’ve ever wondered what I’m talking about when it comes to polyester and nylon blend fabrics there’s also a short section at the end going over the bare bones you will want to understand when combing through product descriptions and checking out labels.

My good mate Rob over at ITS did the vast majority of the nice formatting and added all of the ‘in the field’ shots, also thanks to The Reptile House for proof reading.

The folks at ITS have kindly invited me to write more in future which is a good sign I think. I’ve not nailed down a specific topic I really delve in to yet so no idea when that might happen, but it’s certainly been a cool experience to put some of my thoughts out there to an audience beyond my own site.


Buy Softshell, But Also, Don’t Listen To Me

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If I can recommend an item of equipment that’ll make your life that little bit more comfortable when you’re trudging through some woodland in October, it’s kinda cold, drizzling and just generally “a bit shit” then I’d recommend softshell trousers. The same thing of course also applies for proper heavy rain, even lower temperatures, snow, pushing through tall grass that’s soaked in morning dew etc.

I’ll let the pictures here do the talking in terms of the features you expect find on an issue set of PCU L5 lowers, I’d much rather extol the virtues of the item than describe the details. Any questions you have an of course go in the comments as per. Sufficed to say they’re built somewhat like an over-trouser in some areas but still absolutely 100% functional without another layer underneath. Though that insulation option is there with some Level 1 or 2s closer to the skin when all the water around starts turning solid.

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I had such a good experience when I took my Beyond Clothing L5 trousers (which are an earlier block in the Alpha Green) through a weekend game run by Warzone Battle Simulation, that it became abundantly clear these things were the way forward in non-summer type conditions. Whether you’re deployed, on an exercise for days/weeks or playing BB wars for a couple of days, the key parts of your uniform should keep the wind out, the sun off your skin, resist some rain and most importantly of all dry out quickly when they inevitably get wet. If anyone reading this hasn’t spent time wearing damp trousers because they only brought/wore their gore-tex garment for the upper body I’d be truly amazed. Wet clothing in general sucks a big one, it’s bad for your skin and hygiene over extended periods, clings to you when you want to move, weighs a ton with the water absorbed, hampers using the actual pockets and the list goes on. Softshell does absolutely all the things that matter so much better than your regular PyCo or NyCo trousers it’s not even funny.

Problem is of course the fashionable thing to do is wear the same combat pants in literally any and all weather then maybe put on a softshell jacket if the clouds roll in and the mercury drops a tad. I get the mindset entirely, I’ve been there, we all concern ourselves with our torso because the brain cares far more about the vital organs than our legs. A lot of folks really would be well served by changing their mind set in this regard however and I know this isn’t my first time banging this particular drum, but bang it again I shall and I’ll do it again in future.

The problems I see outside of the fashion issue (which actually applies to those serving just as much as those having fun) is two fold. Primarily there’s a huge lack of reasonable options on the commercial market, unlike cotton-blend uniforms. The lack of demand means lack of supply and there’s a lot of mid range companies who only seem to offer softshell jackets with no lower halves in production. Or if they do produce them, shops can’t or won’t stock them. That said, in the US at least, the SF issued PCU L5 pants go for a small fraction of the jackets on eBay, also Big Army issuing a softshell layer as parts of ECWCS means there’s an actual f*ck ton of product out there. In multicam that is.

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Problem again though is that for people who buy their own stuff there’s a lot of social media ‘influencers’ who rarely seem to mention the genuinely all-up most economical option like mil surp uniforms, because they’re too busy bigging up whatever 5.11 or LBX released just now. Those aren’t bad brands per se for airsoft or recreational shooters, but I don’t think enough people are sufficiently suspicious of folks who get stuff to ‘review’ things. Hell be suspicious of me if you want, I always say when I get free stuff to talk about and if you think I’m being way too positive about an item feel free to disregard my opinion, go find other articles/videos and form an aggregate conclusion of your own, I’ll never discourage it. This is yet another reason I think ITS Tactical is one of the few highly popular outlets that’s specific to gear and really worth paying attention to; Bryan over there could have sponsorships and discount codes pouring out his ears if he liked yet I’ve lost count the number of times on Gear Tasting he’s said to get on eBay or groups/forums for surplus kit. Exactly the same thing I always have and will continue to recommend.

Despite really not being particularly numerous in private hands, I got these Patagonia AOR2 lowers brand new in the ever popular medium-reg for an awful lot less than Crye All-Weather Field pants (pre price jump), just because the aforementioned demand isn’t really there. Granted they’ve got a few less pockets than the Cryes or other offerings from Beyond. Their biggest downfall for me is having articulated knees that totally lack a pocket to insert a knee pad and those are probably the kinds of things that cause people to stick to their NYCO Crye-type trousers. But standalone kneepads are still a thing one can buy and did you ever actually fill up all the pockets on a set of G3 trousers? I’ve never even got close. Even in work when I’ve got multiple key sets, multiple phones, notepad and gloves, plus my usual everyday things, issue PCS trousers do me fine capacity wise.

Vertx and Coconuts

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The first time I went to SHOT I swung by the VERTX booth and was shown their 37.5 combat shirts that weave some kind of fibre taken from coconuts in to the torso fabric. Now of course I was a tad sceptical about this at first, but the guy there made some strong claims in terms of their material having better antimicrobial properties than even silver does. Being a person who likes to hold off the underarm sweat stank as long as possible when I’m not in a position to shower for a few consecutive days, I picked up one of the last Recon combat shirts they had in Highlander to test out the claims.

Unfortunately I can’t report back on that just yet as I’ve been trying out other gear, but wearing this shirt and running around with gear on in some heat is high on my list. I’ll be breaking one of my own strict rules and getting it sweaty then stuffing it in a plastic bag for 24 hours to see just how well the fibres keep the bacteria growth at bay. As with anything I try out I’ll be reporting on the findings of course.

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The generally positive things about this shirt are the fact Vertx produce stuff to a good standard with more of a mid-range price tag. The sleeves here are NYCO similar a similar cut to Crye’s Gen 2 overall, which really makes sense because it’s the cut that simply works if you ask the vast majority of people who’ve ever worn a combat shirt.

The label may seem a mis-print and the English is slightly iffy, but the first number refers to the 37.5 design/tech and the percentage of polyester is the second number.

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To my mind, even if they antimicrobial performance isn’t as great as advertised (which I’ll find for myself) the $100 price tag for a combat shirt using these materials is a strong contender for value on the commercial market. Especially when some similar brands use PYCO on the sleeves with inferior materials on the body and charge very similar money.

Beyond AOR1 – The All-Stretch Shirt

Here’s another AOR shirt from the earlier days of the US using the patterns, this time from Beyond Clothing.

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It’s a fairly simple construction in most aspects, just the 4 pockets, nothing to see on the back and only buttons for closures. The stand-out weird feature is that literally the entire thing is made of a stretch fabric, vaguely akin to the nylon/spandex mixture used in the stretch panels on Crye G3 combat, but slightly lighter and with even more elasticity. It’s a very odd feeling garment to hold and wear, it doesn’t hold it’s shape at all, like the opposite of a tailored suit. If you just hold it loosely it’ll slide over itself right out of your hand, like a slinky going down stairs.

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What the intended purpose is exactly I’m not sure, I’d imagine this fabric would be extremely quick to dry which might come in handy for the sort of people who get issued AOR, but then again if they’re wearing AOR1 then going swimming is generally going to be less of a concern overall, one would assume.

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I have seen the matching trousers come up for sale one time over the years, but I’m not sure how resistant to snags and rips the fabric would really be so I decided not to take the plunge. Also, as mentioned, this fabric does just feel strange to wear. These sets were manufactured quite a few years back (the label in particular is an old Beyond design) and generally aren’t very common; but it’s definitely a cool piece I like having in the collection. Apart from anything it really takes people by surprise when you hand it to them.

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Tru-Spec Combat Shirt – Economical

The Tru-Spec 1/4 Zip combat shirt in NYCO, if you missed my video look, check it out:

I specifically bought this just to post about because I spent a long time digging through dozens of different combat shirts within the realm of commercial options and this came out right near the top of what I could see online.

I’ve recommended military surplus gear for a long time in terms of the utmost cost effective camo clothing, but colour options are fairly limited if you want to get the best price. It will usually be 1 temperate and 1 arid pattern that’s available cheaply and in large quantities in any given country. The US is a bit difference because of MARPAT and all the bad decisions like UCP and NWU1, but in the UK for example the options would be DPM, DDPM and MTP. They’re fine of course and will cost as little as a third of the price of a good commercial equivalent, but if you want more selection (i.e. stuff that’s never been standard issue) while retaining a decent quality, there’s very few ways around shelling out a bit more cash.

The Tru-Spec was certainly the best option for a combat shirt using good Nylon/Cotton fabrics I came across. They offer the Polyester/Cotton version too but it really wasn’t much cheaper at all, definitely not enough to make up for the loss in resilience and colour fastness you experience with PYCO.

The one thing I can’t commend on is the long term resilience of the torso because it did seem thinner than I would like, but the overall simplicity of the cut means it would be a comparatively easy job to stitch in a replacement t-shirt body if the original did wear out on you. Plus of course the original fabric is a real blessing in hot weather.

More Patagonia Hijinks

I have briefly mentioned before about the differences between the AOR Patagonia sets issued (to people who get issued AOR) and the multicam/solid colour sets that can be purchased online if you’ve got the right sort of ID card. I picked up both these pairs of Level 9 trousers within a short time frame so it feels like a good time to mention the comparison.

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From what I’ve read, the issued AOR gear is sewn by somewhat less skilled and motivated people by comparison to the sort-of-commercially available apparel. There’s various conjecture out there about prison labour which is entirely a possibility in the US military supply chain, but I have no hard evidence to support any theory either way.

The obvious difference you’ll notice externally here are the doubled up adjustment tabs for the knee pads on the multicam trousers and I know there are at least 1 or 2 other differences where the AOR hasn’t had quite the same work put in, but since I’m away at the moment without access to my kit I can’t comment right now.

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If you’re interested in these particular items I’ve written about them previously so you can search for Patagonia on the blog to find more. I have it on good information that Mr Crye himself was responsible for actually designing these, but the reality is I would choose the G3s any time.

Army Custom AOR2

I’ve mentioned in a previous post about the rather less common (compared to Navy Custom) Army Custom cut uniforms in AOR patterns and I very much imagine this will be the only example I ever have to show here.

I’ve absolutely no information on AOR1 vs 2 production in AC cut or indeed field vs combat type, all I have read is that there was a brief period when US Army SF (to include their really sneaky unit) did use AOR patterns around the time SEALs and the like also adopted them. But either way, personally I’m a big fan of the field cut shirts in woodland/temperate patterns, an update on the classic uniforms of the 80s and 90s if you will.

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Temperate colourways and traditional cut shirt have of course not prevalent in deployed military use during the past couple of decades given most common theatre conditions, but then there’s nothing much really interesting about a combat shirt in a multi-environment pattern at this point. So for me this shirt is something I find a lot more unique and interesting.

The few Army Custom items in AOR patterns that still exist are mostly owned by the sorts of collectors who primarily just squirrel stuff away and don’t often post online, let alone sell items from the collections. So I felt pretty fortunate to find this shirt new and in my size for less than the commercial equivalent.