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Monday, January 22, 2018

Product Review: Gerber Center Drive

Assuming your circumstances permit, the majority of preppers will have a knife, multi-tool, or both in their EDC.

On most days, I carry a pocket knife of some sort, (usually the Klein folding electrician's knife) a razor (usually the Gerber EAB) and a Gerber Center Drive*.

Years ago, Lokidude reviewed the Gerber MP400, and I feel that our readers would benefit from a similar review of the Center drive.

The Center Drive has a pair of needle nose pliers with a replaceable carbide wire cutters/stripper cutting surface, which extend by pressing the button on the side  and sliding it upwards. It also has one fine edge knife, one serrated knife, one cat's paw prying tool, a bottle opener, a file, a spare bit holder, and a ruler stamped into the frame.

Mine came with a belt sheath that can be positioned either sideways or in a standard up/down configuration and closes with a sturdy Velcro type fastener. The sheath is MOLLE compatible, and holds a bit driver set. With the exception of the spare bit holder, all of the tools lock when extended.

The tool that it is built around is the magnetic bit driver, which extends out in such a way that it is very close to the center line of the tool. When you have to remove a screw, or drive one, this can be a real life saver.

The Good
The build quality on this is excellent. The moving parts are all made to tight specifications, and all of the tool locks are either metal, or plastic over metal, with ridges built into them to allow easier use. I have had my hands covered in oil from working on a car on the side of the road and not had an issue extending the pliers.

The straight fine-edge knife and the pliers can all be opened one-handed, and both the bit driver and knife have a quality liner lock on them. I don’t use a file very often, but when I do, it is VERY nice to have on hand.

The magnetic bit holder is a lifesaver if you have to use it to drive screws. While not as nice as a dedicated screwdriver, it is definitely more ergonomic, and less slip prone, than a normal multi-tool.

I have not done torture testing on this, just daily use (and yes, I have put it through the dishwasher), but it seems to hold up well. Have to change a stuck oil filter on the side of the road? Stab knife into oil filter, rotate out, hand screw new one on. Have to fix your hot glue gun? Sure. Have to pry up a 500 lb steel plate so that you can get to the thing underneath it? Awkward, but not really a problem with sufficient grip strength and leverage.

The best part is that I have yet to have this one stolen. I have traveled with it, worked with it, taken it to conferences etc, and have yet to have someone try to walk off with it. I have lost several Leatherman tools that way, but for whatever reason (my theory is that it is not a Leatherman brand, and so people do not think of it as quite so valuable) no one has “forgotten” to return it or grabbed it out of my luggage.

The Bad
The “handedness” of the tool tends to get in the way. I can get the knife out one-handed using my right hand, or the bit driver one-handed using my left hand, and put them away the same way; but trying to open or close them with the opposite hand is quite difficult.

The Ugly
This is not the best bang for your buck. I dearly love this tool, and use it quite often, but it does not have the widest range of accessories, or the biggest knife, or… you get the idea.

There are tools that have almost all of the same features for about a third the price. That is something that you have to keep in mind with this.

Overall: 4.5 of 5
I really like the tool and the sheath. If it is within your price range, I would recommend this, preferring it to the other options I have used (Leatherman Surge, Core, Wave, Mut EOD, and Micra; a couple of other Gerbers; and a multitude of knock offs and off brands). It seems to overcome the ergonomic issues with using a screwdriver on a multi-tool, and it has a high build quality. If you use a multi tool on a regular basis, but don’t need any more exotic tools (like the M-16 cleaning tool available on the Leatherman Mut), it is wonderful.

If however you do not mind a somewhat lower build quality, and do not need all of these exact features, you can purchase a quality tool for less money.

*I use the model # 31-003073N multi-tool, and Amazon has a slightly different model, but as far as I can tell they are the same tool; mine just came with some driver bits.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Product Review: Dland 1000 Lumen LED Headlight

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
I received this headlamp at Christmas and have been using it for about a month now.

It has three settings which I have named
  1. Set Things On Fire
  2. Rather Dim, Actually
  3. Let's Induce Epilepsy!
Setting one is great for doing things at night, but beware of "light splash". Setting two doesn't have that problem by virtue of being substantially less bright, and setting 3 is basically a strobe version of setting one.

I compared this light's output to a flashlight of known power (my 420 lumen Kel-Tec CL-42)  and discovered the following:
  • The dim setting is actually brighter than 420 lm when zoomed in to spotlight mode, but not by a whole lot; when zoomed out, the 420 lm light was brighter. From this I infer that the "dim" setting is probably 500 lm. 
  • The bright setting is noticeably brighter than 420 lm in flood mode, and definitely brighter in spot mode. While I'm not sure if it's actually 1,000 lumen, it's demonstrably brighter than 500 lm and likely 750 lm at the least. 
  • The strobe mode has the same output as setting one. 

The Good
  • It is comfortable to wear, which is slightly surprising given the weight of the light in front and the bulk of batteries to the rear. 
  • The battery case has a red light in the back which illuminates when the light is turned on, making it easier for buddies to find/follow you in the dark. 
  • The light is adjustable from spot to flood and angles up and down to conveniently illuminate the ground in front of you at ranges from "where your feet are" to "twenty feet ahead". 
  • It comes with two 18650 lithium batteries. 
  • The battery case is also a battery charger and comes with three input devices: a wall outlet, a car port, and a USB cord. 
  • The price. $15 for a comfortable, bright headlamp is great. 

The Bad
  • The battery lifespan is pretty abysmal on "bright". After 2 hours of use, the light output quickly diminished; the bright setting was dim and the dim setting was practically nonexistent. 
  • It's very, very easy to dazzle yourself if you get too close to a white or reflective surface. Even adjusting the light with your hand can cause light splash if your hand intersects the beam. 
  • It's also very easy to shine the light in someone's eyes while talking to them. What is an annoyance with a regular flashlight is absolutely painful with a high-lumen beam. 
  • It might make for a good tactical light if not for the dual faults of being mounted to your head and requiring you to take a hand off your weapon to turn the light on and off. 

My Verdict
The battery life make it a no-go for bug-out bags, but the price and performance are excellent for bug-in preps, especially if you have additional 18650 lithium batteries charged and ready to go. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Banging the Pillow: .32 ACP

This week we continue our ballistic testing with one of my favorite pocket guns, the Kel-Tec P-32, and my favorite round for .32 ACP pocket guns, the Winchester white box 71gr flat point FMJ.

Next week I’ll cover the .22 Magnum out of everyone’s favorite pocket revolver!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Another Swiss+Tech Pocket Tool

Since I reviewed one of the Swiss+Tech (ST) tools last week, I thought I'd keep going with a few more reviews of their products. When I find a brand of something that I like, I tend to explore their full line to see if the quality stays the same. That's one of the reasons I like Sawyer water filters and Nebo flashlights; quality is consistent throughout their line of products.

Back in late 2015, I added my Every Day Carry (EDC) list to the ones our other authors had done. One of the items on that list is another ST tool that I received as a gift which has been with me for about eight years now. That tool is the ST66676, a six-in-one multi-tool that looks vaguely like a key and attaches to a key ring. Mine is a bit dinged and pitted from the years of riding around in my pocket, so I'll use the picture from Amazon to illustrate.

The six tools available are:
  1. Straight screwdriver: Smaller than a #1, roughly 3/16 of an inch wide. It's the squared off piece at the top of the picture.
  2. Philips screwdriver: It appears to be a #2 pattern but without the depth. You can see it on the "left" leg.
  3. Bottle opener: Functional, but the arm isn't long enough for much leverage. Also on the left leg in the picture.
  4. Straight cutting blade: The front half of the "right" leg, about an inch of blade.
  5. Serrated cutting blade: The rear half of the "right", also about an inch long.
  6. Micro screwdriver for eyeglasses: Also serves as the locking tab for when the tool is closed. The protrusion on the curved piece at the top.
My thoughts, pro and con.
  • Like most of the ST tools, this one is designed to securely lock when closed around a key ring. The latching mechanism is stout and, when coupled with the small size of the tool makes, it a challenge to open. I doubt you'd be able to open this one-handed, and good fingernails are a major plus. There's just not much to grip when opening it.
  • I'm not sure which type of stainless they used, but it has held up to several years of abuse pretty well. Mine is showing some minor pitting from the sweat and chemicals it has been exposed to, but no rust. Like the multi-tool I reviewed last week, there is no plastic in this tool.
  • The Philips screwdriver is actually made of two pieces riveted together. This probably makes the manufacturing easier while providing a groove for the cutting blade to sit in when the tool is closed. With the short length of the arms, it would be hard to get enough leverage to damage the screwdriver, so I don't think this is a problem.
  • Being roughly the size and shape of a normal house key, this tool is light enough to carry on a key ring without adding too much weight. It isn't much thicker than an ordinary key, so it adds no bulk to a key ring.
  • Being shaped like a key, the tool should be able to get past the TSA but there are no guarantees. They keep changing the specifics, but generally don't allow any sharp blades in your carry-on.
  • The cutting blade is small (about 2 inches total) and is exposed when the tool is opened. Watch your fingers when using the screwdrivers, since a slip could slice open your fingers. The blades are sharp and take a good edge, so ST uses quality stainless steel.
  • When opened 90°, the latch locks the tool open to make it a bit safer to get some leverage. This is a nice safety feature, but I wouldn't bet my fingers on it. It will also latch when opened 180°, making the knife easier to use. Be careful when closing it; the latch is quite positive and fingers of one hand will be near the knife blade.
  • Priced around $10.00, this tool is cheap enough to have several attached to various gear. They also make good gifts for like-minded people.

As part of my EDC, this is my third-level blade -- a lock-back pocket knife and BSA pocket knife are my primary and secondary -- but it's comforting to have a backup to the backup. I rarely use it since I have other tools that work better, but it is an insurance policy against getting caught with nothing. It has come in very handy at times over the years and functions moderately well. It's not an everyday use tool, but I don't think it was designed to be one.

I have a few other ST tools on order, so I'll be reviewing them in the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Prudent Prepping: Safety Alerts

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping.  

I had a wake-up call this week, and it was caused by a mechanical failure. Funny enough, it was a problem with a button.

Seriously, a button was pushed, shaking up a bunch of people.

OOPS! I Did It!
Sorry everyone, I was not in Hawaii causing havoc. I wasn't in Japan either, for that matter. No, I was at work, just getting started for the day when my phone rang. My phone doesn't ring often that early, since I start at 5 AM.
Phone: Ring, Ring!
Me: "Hello?"
Sis: "Hey, it's your sister, are you okay?"
Me: "What?"
Sis: "You sent us two emergency texts and a sound recording of footsteps and banging noises."
Me: "Uhhh, I don't know what to say. Everything is fine here, we are just setting up for the normal work day."
Sis: "Look at your phone, the whole thing should be there."
I looked over my phone, and it was all there in black pixels.

The only thing that might have caused this to happen is that my phone case pinched the phone and rapidly punched the power button to activate the emergency message function on this model. I wear my phone in a horizontal case on my belt, not in my back pocket, and the case is two years old and getting a little soft. Since I am left handed, the phone is carried on my right side and  facing screen-in, so the power button is pointed upward.

Now this is a bit funny since my sister has a habit of checking on me anyway, but it usually isn't when she is pouring her first cup of coffee, and this only happened because I went through the steps to actually set up the Emergency Alert function available on this phone.

Samsung is not the only company to have this type of program, so look through your instructions or Google your particular make and model. This is something my friends and family have done and is something everyone needs to do, especially their kids or those working odd hours and places.

To have something so simple to set up and use already in my phone, even with the possibility of a false alarm, made the decision to spend the two minutes setting it up a no-brainer,

The Takeaway
  • Personal safety can be as simple as pushing your phone's "ON" button and almost that simple to set up.
  • Pick a reliable contact and be prepared to be the recipient of a future call. 

The Recap
  • Nothing was purchased this week. 

Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

If you have comments, suggestions or corrections, please post them so we all can learn. And remember, Some Is Always Better Than None!

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

"If a Missile Alert Sounds, Prepare to Live "

Submitted by one of our readers:
It's interesting when the National Review, of all places, is giving some pretty sober, entry level prepping advice.
Please don't let the politics of the site keep you from reading what is a sensible article on what to do if the next missile alert (like the one that happened in Hawaii this past weekend) is real instead of an error.
You get alert on your phone that a missile is inbound. You flip on the television to confirm, and it’s repeating the same message. What do you do? Do you prepare to die, or do you prepare to live?
Prepare to live. As tempting as it may be, don’t spend the precious minutes between missile alert and missile impact texting family, sending tearful goodbyes on Snapchat, or attempting to reconcile old grudges. Don’t do it.
Go read the whole thing, both for the sensible advice and for the fact that a national publication is helping to normalize prepping.

However, the usual internet rule of "Don't read the comments" still applies.

Monday, January 15, 2018

USB Battery Comparison

Regardless of whether you're bugging out or just on a simple road trip, having a way to charge your electronics on the go can be a real life saver. Cell phones, tablets, even a Nintendo DS can all be charged with a USB cable, and so having a rugged, easy to maintain, easy to use power source that has a USB output plug has some serious advantages.

Solar panels are only good during the day; wall chargers are only good if you have regular power; but batteries work regardless, which is why I include them in my preps. I prefer a charger with a removable battery: 
  1. It tends to be less expensive than a dedicated battery/charger combo with the same features;
  2. You can carry extra batteries more easily;
  3. For whatever reason, the ones that I have come across are much more rugged than non-removable types. 
As such, I have three different portable USB battery packs that I have reviewed.

When I bought my DeWalt heated jacket, it came with a DeWalt USB adapter -- it actually functions as the connector between the heating system and the DeWalt 20 volt batteries that it uses.

  • Dual USB out. I can charge two devices at once with this, and it kicks out plenty of juice while I do. Both my 7 inch tablet and my cell phone have been charging on this at once, and it works wonderfully.
  • Uses DeWalt 12 volt Max or 20 volt Max batteries, and I have a ton of them sitting around. It is not advertised for this, but it will also use the 60 volt system, which gives a massive well of power.
  • Has the largest batteries, and largest battery selection in terms of charge amounta, of any of the three options here. The largest battery I have that works with this (9 ah 60 volt) will fully charge an iPhone X roughly 36 times from zero. Want to charge the kids' tablets on a weekend campout? Not a problem.
  • Really, really rugged. My USB charger has survived two motorcycle accidents (both at about 15 mph), being dropped, run over, walked on, thrown at least once, loaned to a Marine, and had a half a dozen toddlers monkey with it while it was charging a tablet for them. I know that it has a warranty, but I have not had to use it, even after the toddlers and the Marine.
  • The least expensive adapter of the three, at around $30. If you already have the batteries, this is the cheapest option.
  • Battery charge indicator means that you have some idea of how much longer you can keep things charged
  • A little loose. You can’t run around with it in your pocket as easily as the other two. The USB cable itself stays in just fine; it's the connector on top of the battery that is the issue. If you have packed it in a backpack or similar to keep it from sliding around, or keep a bungee cord on it, it works fine, but I have had issues with slipping. I have never had an issue with it sitting on a table, though. 
  • This one is the only one of the three that will not charge the batteries it uses via USB, meaning that I can’t hook this up to a solar panel and recharge things in a pinch; instead I have to have a dedicated charger on hand for this. In a long-term SHTF situation, this is a real issue.
  • This is the physically largest charger. Not only are the batteries physically larger, the charger itself is larger, and that makes this the hardest to haul around. I still keep one in my work/school backpack, but it is much harder to keep in a pocket or small handbag.
  • The batteries are expensive. Having more capacity comes at a price, and the least expensive battery that would work with this I could find for this was around $40 in December 2017.
  • To use the charge indicator, you have to take the charger off of the battery and re-seat it. Kind of a hassle.
This one is best for...
Shorter term SHTF (natural disasters/in-law visits/scout camp), or just every day use. For long-term SHTF, it requires a dedicated charger that may or may not be available. If you have a generator of some sort, and don’t require on the go charging, you can get past that.

If you already have DeWalt 12//20/60 volt tools, this is a great little tool, and can save your bacon on a job site.

I wish to point out that there is a Milwaukee USB charger that is similar to the DeWalt version above, but I don't have the compact batteries that it uses. I'm reviewing the one which takes regular Milwaukee batteries.

  • Uses Milwaukee 12 volt batteries, a basic name brand rechargeable battery that is only $25 on Amazon. There are a number of available batteries that carry a lot more charge.
  • Good energy density for a moderate price and has enough charge for approximately 1.5 iPhone charges. 
  • Can be charged via USB. It actually comes with a wall charger, and works fine with my Goal Zero nomad 7 solar panel. 
  • It uses Micro USB power in, which is actually the same standard as most cell phones.
  • Since it can be used to charge Milwaukee 12 volt batteries, this can actually be used in a long-term SHTF situation to allow use of power tools.
  • Battery charge indicator with five LED indicators. It has a button on the top that you can press at any time, and it indicates how much charge is left.
  • Pocket sized. I tend to keep this in my pants or jacket pocket as I am walking around.
  • Tight fit, with the top of the battery going into the device. It actually only takes up a very small amount of space more than the batteries.
  • Fairly rugged. I have not tested it to the extent of the DeWalt battery, but it has survived several extended outings, use as an emergency hammer, being slept on, etc.
  • At least on paper, the most water resistant of the three options. I have never submerged mine, but I have gotten soaked with it in my pockets, with no harm to it or the battery.
  • The smallest selection of batteries out of the three.
  • The USB cable comes out at an awkward angle. I am constantly afraid that I will kink the cable, even though it hasn't happened yet. This is probably not that big a deal, since the way it is positioned (look at the picture) means that it is actually much less likely
  • This cannot be used as a pass-through charger. I actually cornered a Milwaukee rep and asked him about this, and he said that he doesn't know exactly what will happen, but it is a bad idea.
    • Less of a drawback, and more a note: I asked the same rep about what would happen if you plugged the charger into itself. The rep got an odd look on his face and said “Nothing good”.
  • Requires pressing a button to get things to charge. When you press the button, it shows the level of charge left, but it can be irritating to plug something in and forget to press the button to start the charge. That may only be me, but be aware that it can be an issue.
  • Small and round, so it goes to the bottom of whatever bag it is in, but large enough to not fit into a lot of my pockets. I end up having this float to the bottom of my bookbag much more than the other two.
This one is best for...
If you have a well rounded set of preps, I actually think this is the best all-around choice. It can be used to power tool batteries, which is insanely useful post SHTF. It takes up much less space than a normal Milwaukee 12 volt charger, even if it does take twice as long to recharge a battery.

I actually like this one for my EDC. I use it when I am at school, or on business trips, and it has yet to fail me. I have even tested it with a couple of different non-brand name batteries with no problems to date.

Overall, I recommend this one. It has the power density to be useful, and the best mix of other features.

Goal Zero (Guide 10 Plus)

  • Uses four AA or AAA batteries which are available everywhere and inexpensive. You probably have them sitting around in your home.
  • Can use either rechargeable batteries or disposable.
  • Designed for use with the Goal Zero solar panels to charge. I purchased mine with the Nomad 7, and it works quite well with them.
  • Fits in a fairly small space due to the flat design.
  • Has a clear cover, so you can see the batteries inside it.
  • Lowest weight of the three, due to the smaller mass of batteries.
  • Reasonably rugged.
  • Built-in flashlight.
  • Has an “On/Off/Flashlight” switch for the USB out.
  • Metal cable built into the top makes it convenient to hang from hooks. I keep a carabiner on mine and hook it onto my backpack when I am out.
  • Secondary DC power port, so that you can use the Goal Zero charging cables instead of Mini USB when charging from a solar panel. 
  • Charges just fine from a wall outlet with a USB adapter plugged in.
  • Has an “On/Off/Flashlight” switch for the USB out.
  • Holds, by far, the least charge of any of the three. Four AA Energizer Ultimate Lithium disposables only hold enough power for four of them to charge an iPhone X approximately 1.2 times from full discharge. While a lot better than nothing, this means that four AA rechargeable energizer batteries do not contain quite enough power for a single full charge.
  • Battery door flops open a lot. I have to use a rubber band on mine.
  • Mini USB in, not Micro USB in. Micro USB is the standard that most cell phones use, and having another type of cable to mess with is a real hassle at times. If you use this type of cable, you may not have an issue, but I have found it to be less and less used.
  • The least water resistant of the three. 
This one is best for…
Long-term SHTF or 72 hour kits. Either living in a FEMA camp or similar, with potential access to new AA/AAA batteries, or very long term, mobile situations that will involve scavenging most of your supplies.

I am also a fan of this one for use when traveling by air. You can pick up new batteries at the other end if you have to, with minimum hassle, and not worry as much about the TSA.

I like the Milwaukee 12 volt. I use it in my EDC, and if budget permitted, would pick up a second one for my BOB. That said, all of these are excellent devices that have served me well, and I expect to do so for years to come, and I would not hesitate to use any of these.

Don't lick the wires, and remember to practice.

The Fine Print

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