Friday, June 30, 2023

Prepper's Armory: Magazines, Part 1

As semi-automatic magazine-fed handguns and rifles are the two most common categories of firearms currently encountered, I thought it would be useful to go over the different types of magazines as well as some details on their care and maintenance.

Detachable magazines come in two main types: single stack and double stack.  Single stack magazine have the cartridges lined up one above another, creating an even column of rounds.  This makes for a slim profile, but limits capacity in magazines of reasonable length.

With double stack magazines, the cartridges are staggered in a zig zag pattern. Basically, two columns of rounds offset by half a cartridge diameter.  This provides for more capacity in the same length, but at the cost of a wider magazine.

Magazine Types

With double stack magazines, there are also two ways the cartridges can feed into the firearm’s action: single feed and double feed.

In single feed, the rounds are positioned to the centerline of the magazine and then stripped out by the firearm mechanism.  All single stack, and the vast majority double stack, handgun magazines operate this way.

With double feed, the rounds are presented first to one side then the other and are stripped out by the mechanism alternately left then right.  Nearly all rifle and sub-machine gun magazines are of the double stack, double feed design.

Single Feed (L) vs Double Feed (R)

This feeding characteristic also affects how magazines are loaded. At the top of a magazine, the sides of the magazine body come towards the middle and hold the cartridges in place. These are called the feed lips.

On a single feed magazine, the space between the feed lips is smaller than the diameter of a cartridge. This means that when being loaded, the round must push down the follower, or preceding round, in front of the feed lips and then be pushed to the back.  Once in place, the pressure of the magazine spring will hold the round against the inside of the feed lips and prevent it from coming out until needed.

On double feed magazines, the space between the feed lips is wider than a single cartridge.  This means that you can load rounds into the magazine by aligning them at the back and pushing straight down until they’re retained by the feed lip on one side or the other.

After some use, just like any other component, magazines need to be cleaned. At a minimum, the follower, feed lips, and outside of the magazine body should be wiped down with a solvent dampened cloth. Avoid getting solvent or oil inside the magazine body as this can contaminate the ammunition, potentially causing misfires, hangfires, or squibs

If they’re really grungy, magazines may need to be disassembled for thorough cleaning.  This can be simple, tricky, or profanity-laden, depending on the design.

Warning: Magazines contain compressed springs! Wear eye protection and take reasonable precautions throughout this process.

If the magazine doesn’t have a removable baseplate, the disassembly process is usually fairly simple:
  1. With the empty magazine in hand and the base on a firm surface, use a non-marring tool to depress the follower about halfway down. 
  2. Use a punch or pin through one of the witness holes to trap the spring in this position.
  3. Make sure the follower is still free to move.
  4. Invert the magazine and the follower should fall out.  This may require a little gentle shaking or slight manipulation.
  5. With the follower out, position the mouth of the magazine over a soft pad and carefully remove the cross pin. The spring will release with some force.  
  6. Take note of the orientation of the spring as it’s removed from the magazine body.  This is important for proper function.
  7. At this point, the magazine is fully disassembled and can be cleaned.
  8. Make very sure no solvent or oil is left on the spring or inside the magazine body. The best things to use on magazine internals are dry lubes, like Mag Slick by Krunch Products.

Stripped Single Stack Magazine

Magazines with removable baseplates generally disassemble in a consistent manner:
  1. Remove the baseplate. This may be easy, or it may require a special tool.
  2. Once the baseplate is removed, there may be a locking plate in there, or only the spring and follower. The spring in double stack magazines is also under tension, so make sure there’s a way to control it before the baseplate is all the way off.
  3. The follower may be attached to the magazine spring or it may rest on top, held in place by spring pressure.
  4. Once again, take note how things fit together.

Stripped Double Stack Magazine

Reassembly for all types of magazines is generally the reverse of how they were taken apart.

In addition to cleaning, you will also need to perform occasional maintenance. Springs weaken from cycling, not from load; what this means is that if I were to load a magazine and leave it in a comfortable environment for fifty years, that spring would be just as strong as the day it was loaded. However, if you take that same magazine and load and unload it twice a day for a few months, the spring will be noticeably weaker.

One way to tell it might be time to replace the magazine spring is if a specific magazine stops locking the slide or bolt back after firing the last round in a semi-automatic firearm.  This can have other causes, but if it’s a particular magazine, replacing the spring is a simple solution.

Sourcing springs is not a problem. Wolff Gunsprings has springs for pretty much any firearm, both modern and vintage. They can also be sourced from Brownells and other resellers.

If we take care of our magazines, our magazines will take care of us.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Nordic Walking Poles

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.

Last month I talked about using trekking poles for my nightly neighborhood walks and I stated that "my results are inconclusive because I feel like I haven't yet gotten the hang of Nordic walking." In the time since I wrote that post, I have learned the following:
  1. Trekking poles actually did help relieve the strain on my lower back while walking. 
  2. While walking with trekking poles eventually became more fluid, it never really felt natural and left hand was always numb halfway through a mile walk. 
  3. All of this is because I was using the wrong pole for the task. While trekking poles can be used in Nordic walking, they are far from efficient at it. A suitable analogy would be "Yes, you could use a soup ladle to paddle a canoe, because they're both tools for moving water, but there's a difference between scooping and pushing."
The short version of how I came to this realization goes basically like this: I didn't like my hand going numb, so I looked for poles that had shock absorbers. I found some poles which had such a thing, and they weren't that expensive, so I bought them. These poles were actual Nordic walking poles and not trekking poles, and the performance difference is profound, like going from a fixed-gear bicycle to a ten-speed. 

I should perhaps feel dumb about this, but I don't. As an example, the new poles I bought are literally listed as "ATTRAC Trekking Poles Classic 27-53 in Sticks for Hiking with Anti-Shock Cushioning - Lightweight Nordic Walking Poles Telescopic Adjustment Aluminium with Cork Grip". Notice that "trekking poles" comes before "Nordic walking poles"; I just assumed that they were more or less the same thing, with perhaps minor cosmetic differences. Poles is poles, yeah?

Yeah, no. Not at all. So let's talk about the differences between these Nordic walking poles and my Cascade trekking poles

Non-Slip Cork Handle
In my previous post I said that "No one can seem to agree if cork or foam grips are better" and I honestly can't find any performance or comfort difference between the two. Advantage: neither. 

Adjustable Wrist Strap
Perhaps one reason I can't tell the difference is because I don't have to grip the pole at all due to the fact that my hand is connected to it through a wrist strap. This definitely has its benefits; my left hand no longer goes numb because I don't need to grip the handle. Instead, I can relax my hands  and still get the benefit of a walking pole. On the other hand, having a pole lashed to my hands makes it very difficult to do anything else with the hand, such as tie a shoe, use my phone, or draw and use a pistol for self defense.  I can't even unhook myself quickly, because the strap threads through a plastic loop and folds back on itself, and I have to pull the strap nearly out of the loop to extricate my very small hand.

Advantage: the ease of use and elimination of numbness would make the Attrac a clear winner, except that the inability to hold anything else while tethered to it eliminates that benefit. It's a wash for me, but if you don't have issues with gripping a pole for extended periods then this would definitely put the Cascade trekking poles in the lead.

Anti-Shock System
I thought that a shock absorber on a walking stick was a luxury I could do without. I was wrong. The anti-shock system redeems the Attrac's issue with the tether, and it makes walking a much less jarring and therefore much more comfortable experience. Every pole I buy from now on, be it trekking or Nordic, will have one of these. 

Advantage: the Attrac by a huge margin. 

Safety Reflector
If you're walking at night and you don't have a light or a reflector already on you, these are unlikely to help you. 

Advantage: the Cascade doesn't have this, but this is irrelevant. Wear a headlamp and/or safety reflectors like a responsible adult. 

Telescopic Function
Both the Cascade trekking poles and the Attrac Nordic walking poles telescope. However, the Cascade's lever-lock system is superior, both in speed of use and reliability of locking, to the Attrac's system of twisting left to unlock and twisting right to lock. I can adjust the Cascade mid-walk quickly and without issue, but if I need to adjust the Attrac, I have to stop and give it my full attention... and there's a better than average chance that I won't fully engage the twist lock, resulting in a suddenly collapsing pole at an inconvenient moment. 

Advantage: the Cascade, by a huge margin. 

Both poles came with mud baskets, snow baskets, boot tips, and small tips. Only the Attrac came with asphalt tips, however. 

Cascade Tips:

Attrac Tips:

After a month of walking one to two miles a night, the asphalt tips are worn down such that they have no visible tread, but I don't need the tip for traction; I need it to protect the carbide pole tip, and it does that adequately. I'll let you know when I need to replace the tips. I haven't needed to use the baskets so I have no opinion on those as of yet. 

Advantage: technically the Attrac, but I could just as easily use the "forest" or "boot" tips on them as that's what I used with the Cascade. 

In Conclusion
I like walking with my Attrac poles, but they're far from perfect. I don't regret buying them, because they make my walking so much easier; I can now easily do two miles per night, whereas with the Cascades, or without poles at all, I could only do one. As exercise equipment, they're great, but speaking as a prepper and concealed pistol carrier, the loss of manual dexterity is a price I really hate paying. 

In my ideal world, I would have Nordic poles with the following qualities:
  1. A rapid lock-unlock system for the wrist straps that I could toggle with the thumb of that same hand. 
  2. A built-in shock absorber. 
  3. Lever locks on the extensions. 
While I'm certain poles like this exist, I haven't yet been able to find them. My concern is that when I do, they will be expensive ($50 or more). 

I've been enjoying my nightly walks, though. Walking is a low-impact exercise, and I'm able to listen to audiobooks while I walk, so I have been able to effectively "trick" my body into thinking this isn't actually exercise and is, in fact, fun. I'm willing to spend more money on making my walks a better experience, so I'm committed to finding a pole that does everything I need and want it to do. 

When I do, I will let you all know. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

The Case Against the Nalgene Bottle

Polish your pitchforks and light the torches, because I'm about to make one of the most controversial statements I've ever put forward: Nalgene bottles are overrated and really not that good from a prepping standpoint. There, I said it, I stand by it, and I'll even bring facts to show how I got here.

If you somehow don't know, a Nalgene bottle is an inexpensive single-walled plastic drinking bottle. While there are a few variations, they are most commonly seen in a 1 liter / 33 oz. size with a wide mouth. All of these things make it a fine drink bottle, but also make it less than ideal beyond that.

Let's start with the plastic, single-wall construction. While this makes the bottle inexpensive and lightweight, it also means that it doesn't handle heat at all. Purifying water with heat or flame isn't possible, and even trying to drink a hot beverage from it can burn your hands. This means that filtration or chemical purification is required, and it's only useful for holding cold drinks (great in the summer, not so much in the winter).

The gigantic mouth makes it easy to fill the bottle with water and ice, but also makes drinking on the move a very sloppy affair. Additionally, this leads to the biggest fallacy of the Nalgene bottle: the concept of the Water Bottle Survival Kit. With a very wide mouth and lots of space inside, a Nalgene bottle seems like an ideal way to carry all sorts of survival gear. First aid kits, fire kits, a spare knife, a space blanket; they all fit in the bottle with room to spare. The rigid material also protects the contents from damage, and that's great.

However, a problem arises when you need a water bottle and you've got all this great gear standing between you and the ability to carry a drink. But if you empty the bottle to fill it with water, where do you put all the loose hardware you had to dump out? Like so many other prepping notions, this is great in theory but bad in practice.

Don't read any of this as a general indictment. I have several Nalgene bottles and clones, and they're great in their intended work space. I frequently carry one at work, and always have one handy in the house; I drink a lot of water, and they're a great mix of easy to keep with me and large enough I'm not constantly filling it. Beyond that, however, is where their performance starts to fall off and where I start looking for other bottles to carry my water.

Now that I've put arguably the most popular water bottle in the free world on blast, where do we go from here? If you don't get a Nalgene, what should you be getting? In my opinion, water bottles are a pretty personal item. Instead of telling you what to buy, I'll lay out some considerations and then I'll tell you what I use.

If you're going to heat or boil water in it, your only real option is a single-wall metal bottle, because the insulating nature of a double wall bottle will prevent heating, and a plastic bottle will just melt. You'll want something either uncoated, or with a heat-resistant finish, possibly anodized or enameled. You should do a test boil in your bottle to make sure that the coating won't burn or melt off before you use it in the real world.

With that said, my preference is for a double-walled metal bottle and a separate pot to boil my water in. I know my pot is safe to heat water in it, since it's intended for exactly that. It also has a wide opening, making it very easy to pour water into and out of it. I can see when it's boiling, or use a Water Pasteurization Indicator. The insulated bottle prevents burning my hands and keeps warm drinks warm if I need them to be.

Make your choices based on your needs, test your gear, and be safe.

Stay hydrated, my friends.


Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Prepper’s Pantry: Onions

In my February 22, 2021 post on container gardening, I mentioned how easy it can be to grow onions from onions. But how many kind of onions are there and how versatile are they?

The answers are lots and very. Onions are members of the allium family along with garlic, scallions, shallots, leeks, and chives. They have been cultivated for over 7,000 years and their origin plant and location are not actually known with any certainty, although there is some evidence they came from Central or Southwest Asia and spread along trade routes.

Onions come in varieties from sweet to sharp and can be eaten raw, cooked in a variety of ways, dried, pickled, and more. The types of onions most likely to be found in the average American grocery store are:
  • Yellow: by far the most common onion on the market, the yellow onion makes up around 90% of onions grown in the United States. It has a stronger onion flavor than many other types and is used in dishes such as French Onion Soup, stews, kebabs, and other dishes where its vibrant flavor is welcome.
  • Sweet: when most people think about sweet onions, the first one that comes to mind is the Vidalia, named after the city in Georgia where they were first grown. However, Texas has their 1015 sweet onion, named for the optimal planting date, and Washington State has the Walla Walla sweet onion, named after the county of origin. There are others sweet onions, but these three dominate the market.
  • Red: not as popular as yellow or sweet onions, red or purple onions are frequently used in eastern European and Italian recipes. They tend to be sweeter than yellow onions and sharper in flavor than sweet onions. In my family, a slice of red onion was traditionally added to a bagel with cream cheese and lox during the break-fast following Yom Kippur.
  • White: this type has a mild flavor and is also sweeter than yellow onions, though not as much as sweet onions. They are commonly featured in Mexican and European dishes that call for some onion flavor without the risk of overpowering the rest of the dish as some of the other types might do. White onions are also the most likely of the family to be used raw, such as in a salad.

In general, the sweeter the onion, the shorter its shelf life. However, onions can be canned for longer term storage, and for those with a dehydrator, onions can also be diced and dried. Onions refrigerator-pickled in a jar of balsamic vinegar with a little sugar can make a savory treat as a side dish.

In addition to being edible, onions have numerous other uses. For example, onion oil can be used as an organic pesticide, and are an ingredient in some hair oils. Onion skin can also be boiled down to make dye.

Obviously this pungent vegetable is not for everyone, but for those who enjoy it, there are many options for the table. However, avoid sharing them with our furry friends as onions are toxic to dogs, cats, guinea pigs, and many other small animals.

Just like ogres, onions are made up of many layers.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Improvised Targets

In addition to grilling season, sport shooting season is also here. When shooting on private property, the choices available for targets may be more broadly interpreted. Sure, we can use commercial products like steel plates or Tannerite, but those are expensive. While I strongly advise against shooting things like glass bottles, ceramic dishes, car batteries, or other items that can leave harmful or dangerous residue, there are a number of more environmentally friendly targets available for the shooter on a budget.

First up is the ubiquitous paper plate. Available everywhere, generally at a very low cost, these simple white (or patterned) disks make great targets for both new and experienced shooters. Combine them with an indelible marker and we can create all sorts of combinations.

The tin can is a timeless and classic target. In fact, the term plinking purportedly comes from the sound made when using these metallic cylinders during informal target shooting sessions. For added excitement, fill them with water before shooting. Just make sure to gather up all the debris after shooting is done.

Crackers are an option that doesn't need to be cleaned up after use. Due to their smaller size, they can be a real test of accuracy, and after the range session is over and people have left the area, birds and other small animals will take care of any leftovers.

Another biodegradable option are fruits and vegetables. A range I used to belong to would buy crates of pumpkins after Halloween and make them available to the members for target practice. I've also used apples, though not in the William Tell manner. The only concern with this type of target is unexpected plants the following year.

Then there's candy, which is probably one of the more challenging improvised targets due to their size. Earlier this spring, a friend came over and brought a box of Peeps, the little puffed sugar chicks. We set them up in my home range and tried shooting them, starting with handguns in .22 Long Rifle and working our way up to 9mm pistols. We learned that if we hit them solidly, they'd just fall over. However, if we hit very close to them, but without a solid hit, the blast of clay from the backstop would launch them into the air. We joked that we should have been competing for height and distance instead of accuracy as the "yeet treats" went flying. They were also reusable even after taking several hits.

I'm sure our readers can come up with other improvised target options in addition to those listed here. Just keep in mind, whether at a public or private shooting range, we need to be responsible stewards and leave the area better than we found it by being considerate and cleaning up after ourselves.

Have fun, and safe shooting.

The Fine Print

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

Creative Commons License

Erin Palette is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to