Thursday, June 30, 2016

Sleeping Bag Care

Sleeping bags have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Mom used to change our diapers in a tent, so I've been camping longer than I can remember.

I was digging through the basement at my dad's place recently and ran across the sleeping bags we used when we went camping 50 years ago. Dad got them at Sears in 1963, along with most of the other camping gear we used for decades. Sleeping in them in tents, pop-up campers, and several times out under the stars, those bags have seen some hard use. They've been retired to comforter status due to their wear, but the zippers still work and they'd still function as a lightweight sleeping bag today.

If you have a sleeping bag tucked away as part of your BOB, or just use one occasionally for getting away from civilization, you want it to last for a long while. Taking care of a sleeping bag isn't difficult, but it does take some thought and time.

Ground Preparation
  • Before you unpack your bag and get ready to crawl in for a much-needed rest, take some time to clear the area you want to lay it on; rocks, sticks, insects, and cacti will puncture a sleeping bag and prevent a good night's sleep. They will also damage your bag, making it less efficient and harder to use. A down-filled bag with a hole in it is worse than you'd imagine. 
  • Using a ground cover will put a layer between you and the dirt. This will prevent heat loss through conduction and keep your bag cleaner and drier. A foam pad is great if you have one, but a waterproof piece of plastic will at least keep you from absorbing the moisture from damp soil. 
  • Cots, hammocks, and air mattresses have their uses. If you're in a semi-permanent location, do what you can to get your sleeping bag (and you) off the ground. All three are also easy to move out of the way in the morning to free up floor space. 

Keep It Dry
Water is a great conductor of heat. Since the reason for using a sleeping bag is to prevent body heat from getting too far from your body, you want to keep your bag as dry as you can.
  • Use a shelter if at all possible: Tent, cabin, debris hut, snow cave, whatever you have or can make to keep the weather off of you and your stuff. 
  • If you're keeping the weight of a BOB down, a bivvy sack like the one that came with my surplus ECWS sleeping bag is a good idea. Bivvy sacks are more than just a cover, but not quite a tent. A proper bivvy sack will “breathe” and let moisture out, but keep droplets from getting in, which is why the Army uses Gore-Tex fabric for theirs. Gore-Tex can be expensive and hard to find, so I've dug up plans for a cheaper, more common material: Tyvek. (Another good version is found here.)

    Tyvek is the white plastic you see wrapped around new home construction as a vapor barrier. The heavy home wrap version is water-proof and very tear-resistant, and is easy to find if there is any new construction going on in your area. Ask around, or check the dumpsters for scraps large enough to use. You can also buy it by the roll; a 9 foot wide x 100 foot long roll goes for about $110 at home improvement stores (I don't have any experience with the Chinese version sold online) if you need enough to outfit several people or want to experiment with making your own tent. Tyvek doesn't hold stitches, though, so you can't sew it together; you'll need to use tape on the seams instead. You can find the tape in the same home improvement stores.
  • Humidity from your body and breath gets trapped inside your sleeping bag, so take time to air out your bag whenever possible. If weather and time allow, turn it inside out and hang it up somewhere to dry for an hour or two every day, preferably before storing it. Occasional sunlight will kill any mold or bacteria that might cause sour odors, but the UV component of sunlight will also start breaking down most plastics, so be careful. 

Keep It Clean
Since it is unlikely that you will be showering every night before crawling into you bag, you need to take steps to keep the inside clean. You want it clean for a variety of reasons -- mainly hygiene and sanitation -- but also because dirty, oily cloth wears out faster than clean cloth. Sleeping bags are a pain to launder in good times, so keeping them clean in difficult times makes sense.
  • Use a liner. If you're going to spend more than a few nights in a sleeping bag, invest in or make a liner for it. A flannel sheet folded in half with some Velcro tabs to hold it to the inside of the bag is a lot easier to wash than the whole bag. A good liner will also boost the insulation of the sleeping bag, making it more comfortable in cold weather.
  • Pajamas are an option and make sense if you are staying in bear country. You do not want to crawl into a bag wearing clothes that you wore while cooking food if bears are around; they'll just think you're a burrito. Wearing clean socks or washing your feet before bed are advised, since feet tend to stink after a day of walking and that stink will stay with the bag for a long time.
  • Don't wear clothing inside the bag unless it is needed for insulation. Traveling all day, with the various tasks involved, means your clothes are likely going to get dirty. Crawling into a bag wearing dirty clothes is just going to make the inside of the bag dirty. It will also make your clothes damp from your overnight perspiration, and therefore less comfortable/insulating for the next day.
  • Keep bug sprays and other petroleum products away from the bag. Most sleeping bags are made of synthetic materials that are petroleum based, so fuels and bug sprays will deteriorate them. This goes for the inside of the bag as well! If you have doused yourself with bug spray during the day, try to wipe off as much as you can before crawling into your bag or put on pajamas to keep it off of the material.
  • Spot clean as needed. A damp rag and mild soap will usually take care of most spots of dirt; read the tag or directions that came with the bag for recommended methods.

Get to know your sleeping bag before you need to use it. Make sure you have what you need to keep it working, or at least a work-around for common problems.
  • Bags, packs, cases, and tents all tend to have zippers and they all tend to stick. Rub a candle down the length of the zipper when closed to lubricate the plastic teeth. Graphite from a common pencil works better in extremely cold weather, but doesn't last as long. 
  • Tears and rips are easy to patch with duct tape, but are best repaired with patches. Sewn-on or ironed-on patches should last the life of the bag. You do carry a needle and thread in your BOB, don't you? 
  • Have a back-up plan. If your zipper (the only moving part in the system, and the most likely to fail) blows out on the second day of a month-long trip, you should have a secondary way of closing your sleeping bag. Most of the multi-bag systems have redundant zippers when you put the bags together; the military ones have snaps as well. Pieces of 550 cord sewn every few inches along both sides of a busted zipper will keep most of the heat in.

    • Most new mummy bags are best stored in a stuff sack. The fill, or insulation, works best when it is crammed into a small sack in a random manner. Compression sacks are stuff sacks with adjustable web straps sewn on. After stuffing the bag into the sack, you tighten the straps to force out as much air as possible, making a smaller package to haul around. 
    • Older bags and rectangular bags are normally stored rolled up. Typically you'll fold it in half lengthwise and roll from the top down to the bottom. Most bags designed to be rolled will have some sort of ties at the foot that go around the rolled up bag.
    • If your bag is going to be stored for more than a few months, unroll or unstuff it once in a while to let it air out and regain its loft. This is also a good time to check it for rips and do whatever maintenance it may need. 
    • Make sure your bag is clean and dry before putting it away. There's not much worse than unrolling a sleeping bag at a campsite and finding that it has mold growing in it. (It tends to ruin the mood, and will make you quite ill if you choose to sleep in it.)

    I've learned a few things over the years, and some of them I don't always remember that I know until asked about it. As always, if you have questions or would like to see a topic discussed, please leave a comment here or on our Facebook page and we'll see if anybody had the experience to cover it.

    Wednesday, June 29, 2016

    Midweek Update

    Not actually Erin.
    & is used with permission.
    Hi everyone!  I've been told that folks (who clearly don't follow my personal blog -- tsk tsk!) want to know what's going on with Blazing Sword, the effort to connect LGBTQ people seeking gun operation and safety training with gun owners who have volunteered to teach LGBTQ people gun safety and operation free of charge. So here's a quick chronological breakdown of what happened:

    Monday, June 13
    My original article is published. Later that night, I do an email interview with Miss CJ from Chicks on the Right.

    Tuesday, June 14
    The Chicks on the Right article is published and Larry Correia mentions us on his Facebook page. To quote Mortal Kombat, It Has Begun.

    Wednesday, June 15

    The Internet crashes upon me like a tidal wave made of bricks. Larry Correia mentions us on his blog, we get Instapundited (twice), and are the focus of a lovely article by Tom Knighton at PJ Media. Later that night we are Imgur'd.  I wake up with 200+ emails a day.

    Friday, June 17
    I go shooting with a BBC crew and then get interviewed. The interview doesn't air for a while, but if you want to read about how it went, go here and read my blog about it. After returning home, I discover that Operation Blazing Sword has been mentioned in the India Times. We're international!

    Saturday, June 18
    Dave Kopel of the Volokh Conspiracy writes a wonderful article about us in the Washington Post.

    Sunday, June 19
    I notice that Joe Huffman has posted a wonderful graphic for OBS. I say "notice" because he'd mentioned us at least once before, but in my defense I was so swamped that week I barely knew my name.

    Monday, June 20
    I am "interviewed" by "radio" host Cary Harrison on the Progressive Radio Network. I use quotes on the latter because it's basically a live podcast on a webpage with terrible audio quality. I use quotes in the former because... well, just listen to the interview, it's only 10 minutes.

    --- Things start to slow down by this point --

    Wednesday, June 22
    We have our first success story as Sean Sorrentino takes an LGBTQ fellow shooting and they both have a good time. I also drop by my local newspaper and give an in-depth interview (this has yet to be published.)

    Thursday, June 23

    Friday, June 24
    At the recommendation of fellow BCP blogger Chaplain Tim, I appear on News Radio 1110 KFAB (an ACTUAL radio station, thank you very much) during one of their morning talk shows. I'm scheduled for only 15 minutes, but told I might get the whole hour if I prove interesting.

    I get the whole hour. (When the segment gets uploaded to their website I'll post it.)

    Monday, June 27
    My interview with the BBC airs. Out of nearly 2 hours of talking and shooting, they give me... 2 minutes 15 seconds. And the report itself is only 16 minutes. I guess I expected an hour long show.

    Tuesday, June 28
    Even though it was published on the 20th, I only just now find out that my third email interview, this time with Vocativ, has been published. This one is just about me and my work with Blazing Sword, and it's delightful. 

    This brings us to today -- Wednesday, June 29.  Thanks to everyone who's spread the word!

    Prudent Prepping Field Testing: Using the LaserMax Spartan SPS-G

    The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Now we concentrate on what to do in, and how to plan for, the long term via Prudent Prepping.

    This is Part 2 of my Test & Evaluation of the LaserMax Spartan SPS-G. Part 1, installation and first impressions, is here.

    Spartan SPS-G Field Test
    Last week was my first opportunity to run the laser on my Sig-Sauer P220, since the previous weekend was Father's Day and I spent most of it with my Dad and other family.

    LaserMax Spartan at 7 yards, demonstrating its high visibility
    I stopped at the closest indoor range to me, the Dublin, CA location of Guns Fishing and Other Stuff. I usually stop by in the middle of the afternoon on weekdays and have never had to wait for a lane, and when I went this past Sunday there were even fewer people shooting. Staff is very professional, the rentals are well maintained (from what I could see) and the range is clean. Give them a try.*


    To show how much of an improvement the laser makes, here is a "before" picture: my best 8 shots at 7 yards. At this distance, I'm not great -- but an attacker would still be dead.


    Here are my first few shots with the laser on. I was running things like I would in a low light situation: looking at the laser dot only while completely ignoring the sights. As can be seen, the shots were a bit low and right (okay, a lot low), which is partly me stabbing at the trigger as a Lefty and partly needing to zero the laser with my pistol.

    This is where I had the only problem while using the LaserMax Spartan: the printed marks for adjusting where the laser points were too small for me to see. I mentioned in last week's post that the Laser Warning sticker was extremely small, and it turns out that the molded in "L" and "R" were also too small and hard for me to see at the range under their lights. (I usually have 'cheater' glasses with me, but I've never needed them before at the range; I now have a pair in my bag.)

    After a bit of trial and error, I figured out which way was which and made the proper adjustments. The windage and elevation adjustments were easy, with very positive 'clicks' that moved the laser a noticeable amount each time.

    More adjustment was needed to cover the dot, as well as more practice to prevent flyers.

    After making the correct adjustments to the LaserMax Spartan, I moved to the factory printed bullseye for one magazine. The cluster of holes at 3 o'clock in the orange and the flyer in the yellow are the best 8 shot string I had all day with the laser!

    The Recap
    With that green dot showing how much I'm wiggling and wobbling, my aim is dramatically better. The laser is very helpful in catching my many shooting faults:
    • Stabbing the trigger
    • Over-gripping the frame
    • Anticipating recoil
    I believe having a spotter to catch my bad habits would have shortened the time needed to get me on target and given me more time to try the laser.

    • The bright green laser is easy to see.
    • Presentation problems are extremely easy to spot.
    • Adjustments are positive and easy to make.
    • If I keep the laser mounted, I will need a new holster (or two).

    (Okay, minor quibbles)
    • The adjustment marks were hard to see at the range.
    • If I keep the laser mounted, I will need a new holster (or two).
    The Takeaway
    This is the first laser I have owned, and compared to one other I have seen and tried, the LserMax Spartan wins in terms of brightness and ease of installation. I like everything about how the Spartan performs: its simple and fast point-of-aim adjustment, the auto off function, its ambidextrous controls, and how the molded in-rail makes it convenient to add an extra light.

    The only thing I do question (I really can't call it a complaint) is the use of Phillips head screws instead of socket head cap screws to mount the laser.  I had to search for a good #1 Phillips screwdriver before attempting installation. Allen keys are a much more positive tool for tightening screws.

    But overall, I really, really like this! The LaserMax Spartan SPS-G is a product I will recommend to my friends.

    LaserMax Spartan SPS-G: $135 MSRP; $125.41 on Amazon & free S&H. 

    EDITOR'S NOTE: A less expensive red laser version, the SPS-R, is also available. $99 MSRP; $82.39 & free shipping from Amazon.

    *Guns, Fishing and Other Stuff has given me no gifts of any kind. They run a good shop and have earned this recommendation on their own.

    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, June 28, 2016

    Water Bottles

    Everyone ought to know by now that you can go 3 days without water before suffering permanent harm. But to have water, you need a way to carry it. Fortunately, water bottles are everywhere, and can even sometimes be acquired for free. A dilemma only arises when you try to determine which water bottle is appropriate for the situations you prep for. With a host of materials and construction styles, this can seem like a daunting task. Like most large tasks, though, it can be broken down and simplified.

    A sturdy vessel is also needed for water purification. While this is a subject we've covered thoroughly, please consult those articles as you consider what kind of bottle to choose.

    The first metric I consider in a water bottle is the material it's made from. Plastic bottles are cheap and common, and work great for things like trips to the gym and days at work, but their big weakness is that they don't hold up to high heat well. This is important when you try to boil water to purify it! With that in mind, any bottle that I may need to cook or pasteurize in is made of stainless steel and is single-walled (see below). I still have and use a plethora of plastic bottles around the house, but they're not in my camping/bug-out gear or in my EDC pack.

    Wall Construction
    Bottles are available in single-wall (not insulated) and double-wall (insulated) varieties. Double wall bottles are awesome at keeping hot things hot and cold things cold. I carry a double wall bottle to work, so that my summertime water is cooler and I can keep tea or cider hot in the coldest Utah winters. However, that same insulation keeps me from heating water in the bottle. Single-wall bottles don't insulate worth a darn, but they allow the contents to be heated readily.

    Single-wall stainless bottles are still available in a variety of pretty colors and designs. Coatings can react poorly with heat, though, possibly releasing toxic fumes. With that in mind, look for a plain stainless bottle for your purifying needs.

    I like my bottles between 20-32 oz, with a personal preference for larger bottles when I have a choice. Below 20 oz, you're not carrying enough water to be useful; above 32 oz, you're packing quite a bit of weight and bulk. I also am a fan of wide mouths, because I find them personally easier to fill and use, especially if you want to add ice cubes to your drink. Two very good examples are commonly available, and Kleen Kanteen also offers 40 and 64 oz versions, if you have particular need for them.

    Another Option
    If you don't want a bottle you can heat in (and there are many perfectly valid reasons why not), your alternative is a small pot. I carry this in my Bug-Out/camping pack. Pots like this weigh virtually nothing, hold a useful amount of water, and allow for the easy use of a WAPI.

    No matter what vessel you choose, water is critical to life, and you should always have a way to carry safe drinking water handy. Determine your needs, then fill them appropriately.


    Monday, June 27, 2016

    Why you should always have a first-aid kit handy...

    ...and why it needs more than band-aids and antibiotic.

    This needs to start with a comment by Roger:

    Short version: while helping my daughter get a bunch of tree trimmings and trunk cut up, a machete glanced in a really bad direction and sliced my leg.

     To put the following events in sequence:
    1. I grabbed the cut with my left hand and put pressure on it*, 
    2. which slowed the bleeding considerably, 
    3. and set the machete down with the right hand while thinking "Aw, crap, how bad is it and how much time will THIS eat up?".
    * Various people, including a doc or two, in the past have said 'Direct pressure is better than most bleeding-stopping stuff.** ' Having had that stuck in my head, it was the first thing I did. The gloves I was wearing now look like something found at a crime scene, but it worked.

    ** Yes, I have some Celox gauze and pads in the kit; if the pressure hadn't worked, I'd have used one.

    Daughter went for the first-aid kit in her house.. which turned out not to have any gauze or tape. "Look in my truck in [this spot] and grab my kit." I said. I've had a kit of some sort in the truck for years; in the past, the most I've used from it was antibiotic or burn gel and a band-aid. This is the first time I've been around a more serious injury, and I was really glad to have it handy.

    I used the water she'd brought to clean off the wound (the bleeding was down to just a drip at this point), then dried the area, then put a folded 4"x4" gauze pad over it. This was then taped tightly (another time when pressure is your friend) over the wound. 

    That pretty much stopped the bleeding while we went to an urgent-care office, where the wound was examined (both in general and to make sure the damage wasn't deep enough or bad enough that it would require a hospital and not just stitches), cleaned far more thoroughly, numbed, and stitched up. Which, due to the angle as well as depth, required a bunch of stitches.

    So I'm sitting here now, trying to figure out how to keep my leg propped-up and still be able to type, and going over things.

    Things Learned:
    1. I have nothing like sterile saline for washing an injury. At home that's no problem; I'll just get a bottle and keep it in the drawer with the house kit. For the truck, I'll have to figure where and how to keep it, because it won't fit in the bag.
    2. I should've had twice as many 4x4 pads in the kit (this has now been remedied). Happily, the two in the kit took care of this, but if I'd needed more we'd have been using something less proper for the purpose.
    3. The tightly-taped gauze pad did a world of good for both preventing more bleeding, and keeping crap out of/off of the wound; in a situation where you can't hop in a vehicle and get to medical assistance, both these things could be critical.
    4. Yes, I have a surgical stapler in the kit; no, I did not think of using it for more than a second or two. In 'There is no help for a long ways/time' situations, it might be necessary, but not when there's proper assistance not far or long away. 
    I'm sure there's something I'm missing, but those are the big ones.

    If you don't have something in your vehicle, get something. It doesn't have to be fancy, and you can get a lot of things (gauze pads, gauze wrap, elastic bandage) at a dollar store, so it doesn't have to be expensive to get a lot of basic stuff for it. Later on I'll have some pictures of mine, but for now I'm going to find a better place to sit and prop this up.

    Sunday, June 26, 2016

    Gun Blog Variety Podcast #97 - Adam's Big Announcement

    In this Very Special Episode of the GunBlog VarietyCast, Adam makes an announcement that will forever change the future of the podcast.
    • Erin Palette talks with Sean's wife about the car emergency kit they built together.
    • Tiffany Johnson suggests that people should think about what they are saying before running their figurative mouths off at the keyboard.
    • That embarrassing moment when your child outs you as a concealed carrier -- Beth Alcazar considers the question of what, and when, you should tell your child about the fact you carry a gun.
    • Barron notes that as soon as Congress fights off a challenge to due process when it comes to firearms, everyone changes sides and argues the other direction about computer privacy.
    • And Weer'd dissects our President's latest speech about guns, post-Orlando.
    Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and now on Google Play Music!
    Listen to the podcast here.
    Read the show notes here
    Thanks also to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support.

    And a special thanks to our sponsor, Law of Self Defense. Use discount code "Variety" at checkout for 10% off.

    Upcoming Law of Self Defense seminars:
    1. August 7 - North Carolina specific - Raleigh, NC
    2. August 13 - Oregon and Washington specific - Sherwood, OR
    3. August 20 - Tenessee and Kentucky specific - Nashville, TN
    4. September 10 - Alabama specific - Talladega, AL
    5. October 1 - Pennsylvania and New Jersey specific - Bensalem, PA
    6. October 16 - New Mexico and Texas specific - Las Cruces, NM

    Saturday, June 25, 2016

    Saturday Shout: Caliente!

    Not actually Erin.
    & is used with permission.

    This is PROBABLY a typo.

    But I'm too scared to go outside and find out.

    Thursday, June 23, 2016

    Sleep Systems

    Earlier this month, one of our Facebook readers asked "Sleeping bag and accompanying stuff/compression sack, or simple bedroll?" and it kicked off a series of thoughts that I wanted to get down in writing.

    A bedroll is a pair of blankets, or canvas pieces sewn together at various points, that will keep you off of the ground and provide some warmth against the early morning cold. That roll of cloth behind a cowboy's saddle? That's his bedroll. The round bundle that Confederate soldiers carried slung over one shoulder and tied at the opposite hip? Bedroll. Bikers often carry theirs on their handlebars.

    The canvas versions are usually waterproofed to protect you from morning dew and wet ground, and are roomy enough to let you line it with a blanket if you need to. Adding a couple of bear skins or buffalo hides would make sense for winter use in areas that get snow. Lightweight, fair weather gear for the most part, bedrolls are easy to make and carry.

    Sleeping Bags
    Sleeping bags are more modern and more complex. Unlike the bedroll, they can be closed to trap your body heat inside, hence the “bag” part of the name. They come in two general forms:

    These resemble a bedroll in that there is a top layer and a bottom layer. The bottom is sometimes treated to be water resistant/proof, but the top isn't so that moisture from your body can get through. Most are sewn together along one long side and one short side (the toe), with a zipper along the other long side; the other short side (the head) is left open.

    Many of them have a zipper that runs along the long side and the toe, which allows a user to open the bag and lay it out flat. A second bag of the same brand and model can then be opened and laid on top of it, the zippers matching up to create a double-sized sleeping bag. Handy for sharing body heat, couples, larger people, and people who have claustrophobia.

    Mummy Bags
    These are built to wrap around a sleeper, with the zipper running down the top of the bag from the head to the toe (not all have full-length zippers). There is a distinct resemblance to an Egyptian mummy when you crawl into one, leaving only your face exposed. Since the bag is body-shaped and is only open at the face, they are much better at conserving body heat than a rectangular bag.

    They aren't a good choice for claustrophobia sufferers, since they (mostly) move with you as you roll, toss and turn. It's very easy to wake up facing the bottom of your bag with a “turtle headache” from breathing your own exhalations all night. For this reason they are also not a good choice if you suffer from excessive flatulence (although the other members of your crew will get a giggle out of it).

    Which One Do I Get?
    Choosing a sleeping bag is like choosing a pair of boots. You'll need to consider the temperature, precipitation, and ground condition of where you're likely to sleep. Inside a cabin on an air mattress, a light rectangular bag would work fine; sleeping in a snow cave, I'd want a waterproof mummy bag with a temperature rating at least 20° below the worst night of the season. 

    Temperature Ratings
    These are like fuel-economy claims for new cars: take them with a grain of salt. Your mileage may vary and probably will, just like a bag rated at -20°F may be worthless below freezing.

    The actual insulation of the sleeping bag is important, too.

    It's a good insulator by weight, but a pain to clean. and loses its insulating properties when wet. It also migrates inside the bag, leaving cold spots and lumps. Made from the secondary layer of feathers from a variety of birds, down has been used for centuries as an insulator. I used down-filled bags for years (surplus military bags rated at -15°F), but they finally wore out. Lining material breaks down, and I was waking up looking like a duck due to the feathers leaking.

    If all you need is a light bag for warm weather, a couple of wool blankets can make a suitable bedroll. Heavy, but it will still insulate even when wet, and is fairly easy to clean. Don't use heat to dry it or it will shrink.

    Too numerous to list all of the various types on the market, synthetics have the advantage of being lighter and less prone to migration than down, but they lose “loft” or volume if stored improperly. Do your research on the fibers that you're interested in: look for something easy to clean, that won't hold water, and holds its loft (doesn't compress and stay compressed).
      • Easy to find almost anywhere in the US where there is water, and easy to replace as needed, the“down” from cattails makes a fair insulator. If all you have is a couple of sheets or blankets, sewing them together with baffles (to reduce fill migration) or quilted pockets, which are then filled with the fluff of a cattail head will make an expedient sleeping bag.
      • Foam rubber, like that found in car seats, can insulate quite well but doesn't allow any air flow unless it is broken up into small pieces. Sleeping mats and other cushions are the same way; great for holding in heat, but also trapping moisture. Shred it and put it between two layers of fabric. 
      • Avoid fiberglass. Unless you're making a sleeping bag out of plastic or Mylar, you won't be able to keep fiberglass away from your skin. It's not conducive to sleep, trust me... I've installed plenty of fiberglass insulation in houses and the itching is not pleasant.
        What I Use
        My most recent bargain was found at a local gun show. An older gentleman had a table full of odds and ends with a plastic tub at the end of the table. I recognized the sleeping bag in the tub as an Army Extreme Cold Weather System (ECWS) modular sleeping bag and asked him what he wanted for it.“Make me an offer” was the reply.

        Now, I know what these are worth; even used, they sell for $200 on Amazon, and I let him know that I didn't have enough on me to make a good offer -- I'm not out to screw anybody, that's not my role in life). He was tired of dragging it around to shows, so he took the $100 I had and I got a new, with tags, three-piece (should be four-piece, but the stuff sack was missing; no great challenge to replace) sleeping bag system.

        It's called a modular system because it is actually two separate bags and a Gore-Tex shell.
        • The lightweight green “patrol” bag is good for summer weather;
        • the black, medium-weight bag is designed for spring and fall weather when it gets a bit cooler; 
        • and you slip the green bag inside the black bag to get a heavy-weight bag for winter. 
        • The GoreTex “bivvy” (short for bivouac, a military term for camping) sack is basically a waterproof cover that will let moisture out but not in. Think of it as a one-man tent that fits around the sleeping bag. 
        There are commercial versions of the same type of system available; we bought our son one years ago when he was in Boy Scouts, and it served him well through a couple of Iowa winter camp-outs. For where I live and the weather that I face throughout a year, this is a good match for me. Were I to be living in Florida or most of Texas, I wouldn't need more than the green bag and the bivvy sack.

        Next Week
        I'll cover use and care of sleeping bags next Thursday. A little TLC can make a sleeping bag last a long time, and once you start looking at good bags that cost as much as a car payment or more, you'll want to take care of them. As always, any questions or requests for topics to be covered can be left here in the comments section or on our Facebook page.

        Prudent Prepping Product Testing: the LaserMax Spartan SPS-G

        The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Now we concentrate on what to do in, and how to plan for, the long term via Prudent Prepping.

        This is my very first Product T&E for Blue Collar Prepping! As it says in my postscript, "Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such."

        As it turns out, our lovely and ever-more popular Editor Erin Palette (you HAVE seen the Operation Blazing Sword info, right?) was at the NRA Annual Meeting last month and she secured several different products for testing, with this laser being just for me!

        LaserMax Spartan SPS-G 
        ($135 MSRP; $125.41 on Amazon & free S&H)

        LaserMax has been offering several different laser systems for over 25 years now, with one of their original and best known items being a combination laser/guide rod for most pistol brands. Erin has one in her Glock 26, with a review on her blog here.

        The Spartan series was launched in 2015 with several new ideas:
        • The Spartan features revolutionary Rail Vise Technology™ (patent pending) which eliminates the need for multiple laser housing options or clumsy adapters 
        • The Spartan is equipped with LaserMax’s patented integral rail feature*, enabling attachment of ancillary accessories such as weapon lights or infrared lasers 
        • The Spartan is ambidextrous and features an automatic off feature to reduce accidental battery drain. Battery life may be as long as five years, depending on use. 
        • Dual mode laser: pulse or steady beam.
        Model SPS-G
        Mounting the laser was very simple:
        1. Follow safe firearm handling practices! Clear your gun and engage any available safeties! 
        2. Loosen the two Phillips head screws. (Yes, Phillips screws, not hex head screws.) 
        3. Slide the laser onto the rails in a position that is comfortable for your trigger finger to activate the paddles.
        4. Tighten until you feel resistance, and then 1/4 to 1/2 turn more. Do Not Over-tighten! There should be no wiggle after correct installation.
        I spent more time opening the box and removing the laser from the display pod than actually mounting it on my gun. My total install time was less than two minutes from start to finish.

        I also spent over five minutes finding an undamaged #1 Phillips screwdriver to use on these screws.
        Screws shown and laser mounted to my spec.
        Secondary Picatinny rail allows you to mount another accessory, like a weapon light. 

        Also included in the box is an Allen key, used for adjusting the elevation and windage, and a "Laser Hazard" warning sticker.

        The sticker is the size of a penny!
        I found the elevation did not need any adjustment after mounting, and the windage was so close to being accurate that I may have been able to use it right out of the box.

        I am unsure exactly where the safety sticker is supposed to be mounted, but I assume it is meant to go on the side of the unit. I use +2.5 cheater glasses for really close work, and  I have difficulty reading that print even with those, so what purpose is there in using it? I think it's likely a legal requirement for any laser product, like including a trigger lock with a new firearm.

        Due to the past weekend being Father's Day and having family obligations, I was unable to field test the laser at our local range. I will be working near an indoor range later in the week, and plan on stopping in for an actual bit of shooting. This range is also part of a gun shop where a friend is employed, and I hope to run this laser against one of his guns with a Crimson Trace.

        The Recap
        What I Like (so far)
        • The green laser is bright and (supposedly) more easily seen in daylight -- more testing is required.
        • An ambidextrous on-off switch for easy off-hand use --  also super convenient for Lefty's like me! 
        • A very easy install -- less than two minutes (including adjustments), so someone with zero mechanical skill can mount this in less than five. 
        • Fast mounting of a secondary light on the provided rail.
        • No extra shims or spacers needed to fit multiple firearms. If there is a Picatinny Rail, you have all you need to mount the Spartan. Having seen older laser mounts, I expected a complicated job requiring a divine intervention.
        • Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price is $135 -- quite competitive in today's market.
        • Available from Amazon for $125.41 and free shipping & handling. 

        What I Dislike
        Nothing at all, so far. As stated above, an actual shooting test will come later this week and will be detailed in my next post.

        The Takeaway
        Ease of mounting and adjustment, battery saving auto-off feature,  competitive pricing and the ability to add other lights makes the SPS-G very attractive. I am holding off giving a final grade until I can shoot this laser against another brand.

        EDITOR'S NOTE: A less expensive red laser version, the SPS-R, is also available. $99 MSRP; $82.39 & free shipping from Amazon.

        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, June 21, 2016

        Gun Safety: The 4 Rules Plus a Little More

        With the explosively growing interest in learning to handle firearms, the topic of safety naturally comes up. In addition, it is handy to have a resource to point at so people have a head start when they do start learning. This is my attempt at that resource.

        There are four basic rules of firearms safety. They interlock wonderfully, in that you have to violate multiple rules for someone to be injured. They are as follows, and in order.

        #1 All firearms are always loaded.
        It doesn't matter if you're sure that the gun is empty. It really doesn't matter if someone else told you that it's empty. Until you physically verify that the gun is empty, you have to consider it loaded and ready to fire.

        #2 Do not point a firearm at anything you do not want to destroy.
        In the event that the gun in your hand fires, whatever it is aimed at is going to be broken, injured, or killed. Be mindful of this and of where your muzzle is pointed. It is a habit that should become ingrained, and with safe practice will become second nature. In addition, be aware of where other muzzles around you are pointed, so that you're not what's being aimed at.

        #3 Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.
        A modern gun that is not broken or malfunctioning will not fire unless and until the trigger is pulled completely to the rear. If your finger is not on the trigger, bullets will not leave the gun.

        #4 Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
        You are responsible for every round that you fire. If you cannot clearly identify your target, do not fire. If you have any question about where your round will go if you miss or the round passes through the target, do not fire. Wait until you can fire safely, move to a safer position, or simply pass up the shot.

        In addition to the Four Rules, there are two other important safety bits to consider.

        Let It Go
        The first is never attempt to catch a falling gun. There's a saying that "a falling gun is all trigger." Attempting to catch a dropped gun seems to almost always result in the trigger getting pulled and a round going off. Modern guns are tough, and built with safeties to handle moderate drops, so let it fall. The gun may be damaged, but the damage is likely to be minimal, and with a far lower bill than a gunshot wound.

        Dress for Safety
        The second additional consideration involves range attire. Keep in mind that hot pieces of metal are ejected from the rear of the gun each time you fire, and that they can bounce unpredictably before they hit the ground.
        • Wear solid shoes with a closed toe and a minimal heel to prevent foot injuries or trips and slips.
        • Eye and ear protection are mandatory, so don't wear anything that will prevent their use. 
        • Hats are an excellent way to protect your head and face from bouncing brass. 
        • And finally, wear a shirt with at least short sleeves and a crew-neck collar. Ladies, I know you want to look cute, and I do appreciate it, but a piece of hot brass to the cleavage will make your shooting experience sub-optimal. The same goes for the guys; I get the appeal of the tank top, but hot brass stings our chests as badly as it does the gals. Pass on the fashion in favor of safety.
        Shoot often, shoot well, and be safe.


        Handloading: Priming Tools

        If you handload your own ammo*, one of the things you have to do is seat a new primer in the case.** There are a number of tools for the purpose, and I'd like to provide a short primer (sorry) on them.

        We will start with the nomenclature of a cartridge case:

        And in the base, the primer pocket:
        The hole in the center is the flash hole: the flash from the primer goes through there to ignite the propellant.

        The most basic tool is an arm that fits into a loading press:
        1. You put a primer in the cup
        2. Lower the lever to raise the ram
        3. Swing the arm into place
        4. Raise the lever to lower the ram and seat the primer into the primer pocket. 
        The advantage with the press lever is that you have lots of leverage. The disadvantage is that it's slow.

        Then you have a fitting that screws into the press like a die, a piece that fits into the ram like a shell holder, and two primer holders, one for large and one for small.
        1. Put the shell holder for the cartridge you're priming in the die
        2. Insert cartridge case
        3. Put a primer in the rod (the end is a spring-loaded cup; when it reaches the case, the cup sides slide back out of the way so the ram can seat the primer)
        4. Lower the lever and seat the primer.
        You could also get a dedicated priming tool:
        1. Put the shell holder in the top
        2. Insert a plastic strip loaded with primers
        3. Work lever
        4. Repeat.

        Then there are hand tools, like these from Hornady and Lee.
        1. You put the primers into the tray
        2. Put on the cover
        3. Insert a cartridge into the shell holder at the bottom
        4. Squeeze the lever to push the primer into the pocket.
         They're easy to load and use, and you can prime cases as fast as you can put them into the holder and squeeze the lever or at least until your hand gives out.

        Which is the problem for some people with these hand-held tools: if you've got arthritis or some other problem, it can make using one difficult, especially if you've got a bunch of cases to prime. Which brings us to this new one from Lee:

        It mounts on your bench.
        1.  Load the tray with primers
        2. Put in the proper shell holder
        3. Place a case in the holder
        4. Pull the lever back
        5. Raise it
        6. Change cases.

        Personal Experience
        I've been using one of the Hornady tools for years, until it actually started wearing out. Then I picked up a Lee; it works, but the lever (notice it hinges at the opposite end from this Hornady) gives my hands trouble at times (health, not mechanical issues). So when I saw the ad for the bench-mounted Lee tool, I wanted one. I finally found one, mounted it on a board so it could be clamped to the bench and removed as needed, and gave it a try. 

        So far, I like it a lot; it's definitely easier on the hands than the squeeze-type tools, and has no more problems (primers getting tipped, things like that; they're machines, you can always have problems) than the others.

        I've been told match shooters prefer the press-mounted or dedicated tool because it gives them more feel of when the primer is fully seated. The hand-held types are faster, and you can sit anywhere while you prime cases. If you know people who handload, you might try out their priming tool(s) and see which you like before you buy.

        *For those who are new, this means taking a fired cartridge case, cleaning and prepping it, and then building a new cartridge on it.

        **The primer fits into the base of the case, and is what the firing pin strikes to ignite the propellant and give you a bang.

        Sunday, June 19, 2016

        Gun Blog Variety Podcast #96 - It's On Like Voltron

        Form feet and legs! Form arms and body! And Adam and Sean will form the head of the GunBlog VarietyCast!
        • Erin Palette gives us the lowdown on her new and exciting life as National Coordinator of the LGBT Friendly Firearms Trainer map. And she wondered if she was ever going to make a difference! We all knew better, didn't we?
        • It's amazing how many people try to write laws about things they just don't understand. Tiffany Johnson brings in well-respected firearms trainer Tom Givens to give an exact definition of an "Assault Rifle", and why that definition matters. 
        • Everyone remembers their "First Time." Beth Alcazar tells us about her first time. Her first time carrying a gun in a holster, that is...
        • You'd think being a "Chief Technologist" for the FTC would mean you were safe from getting your phone hijacked, right? Wrong! Barron explains how, when it comes to security, people are once again the weakest link.
        • And Weer'd finds us a doozy. It's either an amazing example of a pro-gun group hiring a woman to write the most awful song in the universe in order to parody the gun-grabbing mommies, or this is further proof that some of these people have zero idea about how they sound. Give a listen and let us know what you think!
        Thank you for downloading, listening, and subscribing. You are subscribed, right? We are available on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and now on Google Play Music!
        Listen to the podcast here.
        Read the show notes here
        Thanks also to Firearms Policy Coalition for their support.

        And a special thanks to our sponsor, Law of Self Defense. Use discount code "Variety" at checkout for 10% off.

        Upcoming Law of Self Defense seminars:

        • August 7 - North Carolina specific - Raleigh, NC
        • August 13 - Oregon and Washington specific - Sherwood, OR
        • August 20 - Tenessee and Kentucky specific - Nashville, TN
        • September 10 - Alabama specific - Talladega, AL
        • October 1 - Pennsylvania and New Jersey specific - Bensalem, PA
        • October 16 - New Mexico and Texas specific - Las Cruces, NM

        Friday, June 17, 2016

        Adventures in Oklahoma

        If you will recall, OkieRhio has been talking about our adventure together in Oklahoma. Well, there is at least one story that she can't tell you because she wasn't there for it.

        Rhi had gone back to OKC and I was chilling at our campsite by myself for a few days. I decided to go over to the pond and toss a line in for a while, just to relax and pass the time as I had all the camp chores done If I caught something, it was going into the stew pot that day.

        After about an hour, I decided to call it quits and head back to grab some delicious, wonderful well water water from the hose. As I was walking back up to the house, I happened to glance over at the calf pen,  and I noticed that Little Red was out and bucking around.

        They had four calves at that point in the pen, and I did a head count. Three.

        Something was wrong. I charged into the field towards the pen only to find a calf, Erika the Red, was in big trouble.

        Somehow she had managed to wedge her head into the gate. Her head was under it, and the full weight of her body was twisted around and sitting on top of the gate. She also wasn't visibly breathing.

        My only thought at this point was "Shit. I'm going to have to explain to Jen and Craig why their prize calf has a .45 in the back of her head."

        I started tugging on her legs, trying to get her untwisted. When I got her weight off of the gate, she heaved a huge breath and looked at me as if to ask, "All right, human. What now?" 

        I was crying at this point, just straight up bawling and talking to her. This was a situation where if she panicked again, she could snap her neck or kick me in the head.

        After tugging her into a position where she could breathe easier, I started looking at the gate for where it connected to the fence. Thank the Gods, the owners had only used bailing wire.

        Moments later, I was able to disconnect the gate and quickly began sizing up how I needed to move it. I started hauling it up on its side and adjusting Erika's head as I went, trying to untwist her neck enough to where she could slip out.

        However, once the pressure from the gate let up, she began bucking and spinning herself in a 360, which caused me to lose my grip on the gate. Then I tucked down and caught the gate with my back
        as Erika came crashing down beside me.

        She looked at me again. "Now what, genius?"

        I extracted myself out from under the gate, and went back to trying to haul it up to where she would be able to work her head out. I got it standing again, and she got to bucking again, but at this point the two of us had managed to get her into a position where she could twist herself free.

        One turn, two turns, three turns, and on the fourth turn she managed to get free... and then came down straight onto my left foot. She weighed about 200 - 350 lbs. at that point.

        I managed to keep hold of the gate as she got herself clear, and then shoved it over with no small amount of disdain. Then I turned and looked at her. She took several steps away and kept giving me "I meant to get my head stuck." looks

        "Are you going to let me check you over?"

        "Hell no." Ericka the Red became Ericka the Dumb.

        I limped my way back over to the ranch house -- maybe 30, 40 yards -- and plopped into a chair with relief. I had managed to keep a prize calf from suffocating to death. Honestly, that's the second worst kind of death after drowning in my book. I didn't have to shoot her to put her out of misery and I would have not felt good about that.

        Now, saving Ericka was crucial for the Masseys (the people who own Knight's Rest). This is a $4,500 dollar calf! She is a back-breeding of a Viking Red sire out of a Jersey Dame. and this is a rare breed -- though I'm not entirely sure why,  as they are super milkers. Ericka's sister is 15+ years old and still milking strong on a farm out in California. Assuming Ericka doesn't do anything else stupid, she will be a boon and blessing for the Masseys in about a year.

        And my foot? After Craig Massey returns and I explained what happened to him, he invited me in to chill on the couch and ice it. The next day I had no bruises and no broken bones. Ericka had come straight down on me, and if she had been an inch in any other direction, I'd have been calling Renee to come get me and we'd have been sitting in a hospital for a few hours.

        And the only scolding I got?

        Was for giving myself a hard time over it taking me a minute and a half to figure out how to save Erika.

        Yeah, you read that right. I'm still pissed at myself at how long it took.

        My story here is an example of how quickly things can go wrong on a farm, and that you have to be willing to get dirty and hurt to save your livestock sometimes. They are your life, and they are your keys to a good future.

        Just be sure they don't have half the personality Ericka does.

        Thursday, June 16, 2016


        The human body runs on a mix of chemistry and electricity, and electrolytes are a major component of both systems. They are kept in balance by our kidneys, and too little water in the body (hypernatremia) or too much (hyponatemria) will skew the balance of sodium and potassium and cause problems.

        Hyponatremia is a lower than normal amount of sodium (also known as Natrium, the source of the chemical symbol Na for sodium) causing the cells in the body to swell due to osmotic pressure. Sodium is also needed for the proper function of muscles and nerves, which is why headaches, muscle cramps, and fatigue is associated with heat injuries.

        A modern form of college hazing involves forcing a pledge to drink several gallons of water in a short period of time leading to hyponatremia, which has symptoms similar to being drunk. The excess water dilutes the normal concentration of electrolytes and the constant urination removes them, causing further imbalance in the body. This is a life-threatening condition that needs medical treatment just as much as the alcohol poisoning that it replaced.

        Drinking plain water while working in the heat can cause the same imbalance because the salt lost through sweating is not being replaced. Sodium, and to a lesser extent potassium, need to be replaced in order to treat or prevent the symptoms of heat exhaustion.

        Consuming too much salt, or not enough water, leads to an increase in electrolytes, which causes the cells of the body to shrink and leads to brain damage and irregular heart rate.*  Losing water through sweating can reach the point where blood volume is lowered and blood pressure will drop, leading to the symptoms of heat stroke. This is known as hypernatremia

        Replacing water lost through sweating is fairly easy: drink until you have to urinate, and keep drinking water until your urine is light yellow in color.See the chart to the right for examples.

        Fruits and vegetables are also a good way to replace water and electrolytes, since most of them are 75%+ water by weight, and the fructose (fruit sugar) helps by giving a little energy boost along with the water content. Watermelon is a favorite around here, but plums and apples work well; citrus fruits are more common further south and provide a Vitamin C boost as well. Canned vegetable juices like V8 are a also good choice, if you like the taste.

        Replacing lost salt is almost as easy. Salt is a (too-)common preservative used in preparing food, and the normal American diet contains plenty. There are various sport drinks like Gatorade that will provide the electrolytes you need in a variety of forms. I buy mine when they go on sale, and keep a few cases (usually quart bottles) in the basement for use through the summer, but the powder form is handy for storage and comes in sizes from individual packets for mixing up a pint to industrial-sized bags that will make gallons. Working in a group, in the heat, I prefer a 3-gallon cooler full of iced Gatorade with a supply of paper cups.

        For those of you who like to DIY, there are lots of recipes out there:

        • The military used to suggest a mix of ¼ teaspoon salt + ¼ teaspoon baking soda added to a quart of water, but has switched to prepackaged drink mixes. 
        • WebMD and several international websites suggests ½ teaspoon of table salt + 6 teaspoons sugar in a quart (or liter) of water for ages 12 and up, but don't have a specific recipe for children. Children need a more dilute mixture because their bodies are still developing the mechanisms for dealing with heat. Oneof the sites recommended adding ¼ teaspoon of salt substitute (potassium chloride) as a source of potassium, which makes sense.

        Prevention is Part of Preparation
        This summer seems to be start a bit early around here and I've seen some record high temperatures in other parts of the country as well. Stay hydrated and keep your salts in balance; you're not going to be doing anything useful if you are lying on the ground with cramps and nausea, or are being transported to the hospital. 

        * This is acute (short-term) salt intake, not the commonly derided high sodium diet common in America that has ties to high blood pressure and heart disease.

        The Fine Print

        This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

        Creative Commons License

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