Equipment Reviews and News

Hammocks. They're a bit like sex. At first you're not quite sure what's going on but eventually you'll have it figured out and you'll be able to get it up and done in a jiffy. So it was that I took to the DD Frontline Hammock to give it a damn good thrashing. Last time I used a hammock would have been in Belize on JW training and my memories of hammocks then were one of hassle, strife, discomfort, sudden drops and occasional tears. Not so with the DDFH. As I looked through the packaging and bits and bobs that had arrived, I found a typed note attached inside which gave a warning reference the mosquito net which we'll look at later and a comment that it might be worth while looking at their website for the set-up instructions. I would like to have thought that basic instructions would be provided as no doubt some purchasers of the DDFH would be first time hammock users who might not have online access. Yes, granted, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out what to do, but still, a basic A4 sheet with simple instructions wouldn't go amiss. It's also a good way to prevent injury when they do get the setup wrong and fall on their arrse when it collapses. Anyway, first impressions of the stuff sack it comes were non-committal. A decent enough sack of good proportions with a pull-cord at the top to close it off but it's not a compression sack and it doesn’t feel particularly robust. Then you get the hammock itself out and you think, “Give it a month, tops.“ It just feels so damn fragile. As it comes with a mosquito net attached it obviously is more fragile than a straightforward issue hammock as there are more seams, more places to rip, so on so forth. However, that's the price you pay for luxuries. The luxury in this case is the pre-mentioned mossie net. The first thing that happened upon getting the DDFH out of the stuff sack was that the mossie net promptly got caught on some sharp and spiky ground foliage. Now if I'd kept tugging at it, I'm pretty sure it would've ripped, so I stopped to extract it as delicately as I could. This is a failing of any mossie net though; it has holes, things get caught in holes, small holes become bigger holes. So due care is required when setting up the DDFH as would be with any other bit of similar kit. It was in the setting up of the DDFH that it began to shine through that this could be a winner. The cord at either end used to tie the DDFH up is thick and robust which whilst it's prone to fraying and snagging is thick enough that unlike an issue hammock you won’t have any problems untying the bugger. With an issue hammock once the cord gets wet it's too thin to easily manipulate. It was this frustration that led to tears in Belize as you'd give up trying to untie the drenched cord and simply cut it, meaning by week four you've got about ten inches of cord left at either end. I purposefully tied the cord as tight as I could and no matter how hard I pulled or tugged I could still relatively easily undo it again, yet it would still hold once I got into the hammock itself. Once the hammock itself is up you then have to elevate the mossie net by the elastic cord provided which comes in 2x2m which proved no great shakes and the cord is good quality elastic. The net itself has two loop seams, one at each end, and it's on these main seams you can find your fabric loops to run the cord through. You have to run through both ends to get the net off of your body and I can't help but feel it would have been easier had they simply made one loop seam down the middle to create a tipi effect. So, hammock up, mossie net up, it was time to climb inside. The first time is always the worst as you tentatively rest your bum down whilst keeping a beady eye on those end knots, watching the cord slip half an inch down the tree. Then the first foot comes up, the right one solid, ready to support should it all go south. Eventually you've slowly eased yourself in and you've not cracked your backside off the ground. This is where the warning about the mossie net comes in. Because you've elevated the mossie net separately on separate cord you have to be careful that you don't then put the mossie net under massive strain once you get in the hammock. As the hammock sinks, the mossie net won’t budge if you've given no slack in its cord, so it may even rip right off. It took a few goes to get a nice balance, but once sorted it was happy days. Inside it's comfortable, spacious, and there are four side pockets provided, two at either end on opposite sides. A nice idea but I feel perhaps bigger pockets would've been a bonus or even a hanging shelf sewn in to the top of the mossie net as found inside the issue mosquito dome tents. Somewhere you can stick your socks to air of a night. There are loops inside which you can use to hang things from, although it does state 'light gear' so obviously no weight. Very handy to stick your head torch strap through and have a dangling light. There are four zips, two either side which seal you in. You need to be wary of trying to sit up and reach forward to close / open them as you may take a header out the side as I almost did, but that's just practice. The good thing about a hammock in a combat environment is it may take you minutes to get in but seconds to fall back out! There is also two layers for the base of the hammock where you can put a foam pad or therma-rest for insulation. The issue therma-rest fits without problem and in warmer climes a summer dos bag would probably do nicely just for extra comfort when it's too hot to actually get inside it. Overall, there was enough base layer to surround me and come up the sides, so I was able to sink in away from the net and thus hamper any really determined bitey things. It was comfortable, relaxing and solid. Unlike the issue hammock I didn't doubt the stability provided by the DDFH and knew it would hold. The cord thickness is a good reassurance. There was one piece of kit that got me slightly excited and that was the Hammock Sleeve. This funky bit of kit allows you to basically sheath your hammock in a protective sack whilst it's still tied up. Nifty, eh? You have to pre-prep but all that's involved is feeding the rope through one end of the sleeve, grab it at the other end and then pull the hammock through. The whole thing shrinks down into the sleeve and you're left with a fully enclosed hammock with only the cords hanging out at either end until you stuff them in too. So you can pack it away like that (it squeezes down fairly small) and if you wanted to set it up from the sleeve you simply pull both ends of cord out at either end, tie them up to the trees you're using and then pull the sleeve back to reveal the hammock. It really speeds up deployment and take-down time. A massive bonus point for the DDFH. However, as you may have noticed, it is a hammock we're talking about and so you're open to the elements. What options do DD provide for overhead cover? They have the DD Tarp which is a 3x3m with no less than 19 attachment points, four guy ropes and four pegs. It's big enough to cover you comfortably in your hammock and as long as your poncho craft is high you should be able to easily mitigate the risk of water reaching you underneath. The pegs bend easily and so you need to be careful with that, I could bend them by using mong strength alone, so they're not great. The cord provided is of the same construct as the hammock cord and again solid and reassuring but prone to fraying. It's in one massive length though so you'd no doubt end up cutting it into lengths. Although I'd potentially rather use it for the fall-line (Where you run a line several times back and forth directly above your hammock. The intent is that if something decides to drop out of the trees it'll hit the taught line and bounce away from your fragile, slumbering body.) . Overall then? For what it costs, it's a good bit of kit, it feels fragile but I believe it would take a fair bit of abuse. I tried to bite through it to see if it was squaddie proof and all I achieved was a sore tooth. It does have a mossie net but in the UK would it be a big sell? I believe DD do a camping hammock which is fully enclosed. Possibly a better option. For theatre though it would be a winner as we know how much we love our hammocks as opposed to all that rock and sand crap. Six year update: This hammock was a great little thing, but obviously of limited use. It came with me to Kenya and the Falklands (but there's no trees?) and it worked well in both environments. For the Falklands, I was on Range Safety so I actually slung it up across the back of the bedford and would have naps in between runs. It failed once, which was my own fault as I hadn't tied it up properly. I had the joy of swinging from my hammock in Kenya whilst everyone else was screaming and trying to deal with a sudden Scorpion infestation in the tent - hah! It's been used in the UK as well on various camping trips, but the main tarp vanished some time ago, so it's inclement weather only. Overall, another time proven product that's worth the money.
Debating whether to get full gull wings or not on my short back. For anyone that has had them done: are they of any use on a short back, and do they make it possible to use a short back without webbing? If not, then I'll just go with the back protector. Any help would be much appreciated.
Hello All, I am currently studying A-Level Product Design, this involves identifying a problem and developing a product to solve it. As an aspiring officer (currently applying for the scholarship scheme) I have chosen to explore the theme of the military. I am therefore researching problems with military equipment, and it would be really helpful if you could tell me about any issues you have encountered. I have also made a questionnaire about problems in the military, and I would really appreciate it if you could fill this out to aid my research. Problems In The Military Many thanks! **@Bad CO has given permission to post this.
"You lie like a cheap Chinese watch." We've all heard the culturally inappropriate phrase so let's clear up a couple of points before we continue. Orient watches are not Chinese. Orient is owned by Seiko, but run by Seiko Epson, which is a separate division from the rest of the Seiko watch business. The watch in question is not a dive watch and should not be regarded as one. It is not ISO 6425 certified, for a start. (Yeah, I looked that up - it's a real thing.) Describing it as a "Splashing about watch" doesn't make for good advertising copy, however true it might be. Also - horrible phone photos - mea maxima culpa, get over it. If you're in the market, there are more than enough excellent pics for your Googling pleasure. With that out of the way, what follows is my personal opinions/experience of my Orient Ray 2 Black. (No Ferraris, ocean voyages or WW2 wreck diving expeditions feature in any of those experiences.) In the interests of transparency, this watch is a grey import which I intend to mod sometime in the near future, so I bought it via Amazon International at the ridiculously cheap price of £108. If I break it, well, hard cheese, old man. Just a caveat on pricing at the time of this review. A current search on Amazon show the best price is about £150. Guess I got lucky. Bear in mind that if you can get one for under £200, then my closing remarks still stand. If you're being asked to part with more than that, have a look at other brands. Specs: 41.5mm case diameter 13mm case depth 8mm screw-in crown 22mm strap width 47mm lug-to-lug (length) Orient F65 Auto/Manual 22-jewel in-house movement Mineral crystal 120-click unidirectional bezel The Ray 2 comes in a sturdy dark blue box inset with a brushed aluminium plate with the Orient logo. Inside, wrapped around the usual squidgy foam cushion is the watch with its serial number plastic fob and a tear-off warning about how removing the rubber strap will invalidate your warranty. Both duly torn off. The included rubber strap is useable, if not a little overpowering for those with smaller wrists (editing note: do not use the word "noodle" during this review.) and there is plenty of adjustment available. The strap is adorned with a double dolphin logo - a repeat of the logo etched on the watch back. Don't ask me why the logo is two dolphins and not two rays. Having said that, my natural curiosity has forced me to drop an email to Orient to ask them. I don't expect an answer, but I have to try if only for my own satisfaction. As shown in the photos, the Ray 2 wears comfortably with a Sniper Bay NATO strap, if somewhat high because of the double strap thickness between the watch and wrist. On a metal bracelet or two-piece strap, this is not an issue, although the NATO strap means you won't get sweaty-watch-back-syndrome. Moving on the watch itself is the Marmite moment - the bezel. It tapers down to the edge which is quite narrow and needs, shall we say, some commitment to turn it. It is aided by extra-deep notches at he odd-numbered five-minute intervals, but it feels stiff. No bad thing in a unidirectional bezel which doesn't budge a fraction of a millimetre in reverse. In it's favour, when you set it, it stays set. Nothing worse than a sloppy bezel. The face is surprisingly detailed and of excellent finish given the price of the watch. Luminous markers are trapezoids at the 6, 9 and 12 with large dots every five minutes bar the 3 mark. Here sits the day/date display, with white on black text except for Sundays. The window, is framed (like the lume markers) with a high-polish surround also carried over to the hands and maker's logo on the deep black matte face. All of this adds an understated glint when you view the face from some angles and it's none the worse for it. The hands are a sword shape for the minutes with a stubby syringe style for the hours. The only colours on the face are the second sweep tip , the filling of the "O" in Orient and "Sun" in the date display - all red, very understated. The second hand sweeps round the dial at six ticks a second which appears smooth and majestic compared to the regimented one tick per second of years of quartz watches. A few words on the luminosity (lume) - it is excellent. Truth be told it's probably the main reason I bought this model of this watch; my night vision is terrible and I swear I've dropped my phone more times than not when checking the time when I wake up in the wee small hours. Even after a few hours in the dark the markers are clearly legible and the lumed 12 o'clock pip confirm you have the thing the right way up. Next, on to the crown and the sausage-fingered among us will surely appreciate the challenge of unscrewing it to get to the features. It is a tiny little 8mm thing protected by steel horns fore and aft. When you finally unscrew it the first click out takes you to the forwards/day, backwards/date adjustment (bilingual days of the week) and a further click out stops the second hand (known as "hacking", though nothing to do with horses, coughs or computers) and allows the time to be advanced or retarded. Once you push the crown back in to the "no-clicks" position, you can hand-wind the watch up to its stated forty hours reserve. This procedure is recommended if you're going to binge-watch a box-set of anything on the TV. Finally, there's the brief struggle to push Tiny Crown into place and screw him shut for that full two-hundred meter water resist feeling. Which brings me to the conclusion. The Orient Ray 2 is not a diver's watch. It's a diver-style watch, not something a working diver would or should consider, and rightly so. I'm sure that bezel will free up a little after some fettling - let's face it, normal users only ever rotate the bezel whiling away the hours in a doctor's waiting room or outside a dress shop fitting room. Besides, normal users will use their smart phone to time things, right? I'd like a sapphire crystal instead of the mineral, but that would push the base price up somewhat, so I'm going to do a DIY on it. I might do something about the bezel at the same time. Neither of which is relevant here. It's a beater watch for outdoorsy types. An indoor watch for office, shop and van. A squaddie watch. A weekend watch that doesn't need to hide its face on a formal night out. Get it wet, get it muddy, spill (non-corrosive) fluids on it. Run it under the tap and give it a wipe. It's not an investment or an ornament. It's a bloody good watch at a bloody good price.
Just had this press release in. Obviously I'll be seeing if I can get a pair to review! HAIX, specialist manufacturer of functional safety footwear, announces its latest addition to its range of rugged and hardwearing military boots – the COMMANDER GTX. Armed forces personnel are on the move around the clock, crossing a variety of challenging terrains. That’s why HAIX® has designed the COMMANDER GTX boot to deliver exceptional functionality, without compromising on comfort. The sturdy leather boot can withstand long marches hauling a heavy pack while offering exceptional support and comfort. Military wearers expect all their gear to provide the highest standards of utility and protection, wherever the action takes them, and footwear is no exception. Constructed from hydrophobic, breathable leather, the waterproof upper keeps feet dry, with Sun Reflect® technology working to reflect the sun’s rays and reduce internal boot temperature, keeping feet cooler. The boots’ GORE-TEX® Performance inner lining maintains waterproofing while being highly breathable, ensuring wearer comfort through all seasons and long periods of wear. Being constantly on your feet throughout a day patrolling through varied terrain puts the lower body under high stress. Foot injury and pain is not only a massive hindrance to morale, but can also lead to long-term conditions that can put personnel out of action, from lower limb disorders to back pain. The dimensionally stable sole unit and HAIX® 2-zone lacing system give wearers optimum pressure relief, cushioning and muscular support, ensuring correct foot posture – essential for maintaining comfort and minimising the risks of strains or long term foot injury. The COMMANDER GTX has slip-resistant Rubber/PU soles that guarantee traction across surfaces, even those covered in petrol, water or oil. The torsional support ensures stability on every surface, without compromising on the flexibility necessary for the natural movement of the foot. The superior bending comfort and grip make the combat boot perfect on and off duty, from intensive training sessions to adventures on leave. The robust rubber bumpers at the toe and heel extend the combat boots’ resilience, with protection from abrasion, giving the boots improved longevity. “Theory is one thing. Practice, however, is quite another. We develop our boots with a quality of workmanship that reflects the support, comfort and durability needed by those facing the reality of the field,” says Simon Ash, HAIX® UK sales manager. “Combat boots are often associated with discomfort and injury and we’re proud to break that perception. The COMMANDER GTX boots are designed so that you’re ready for action, wherever and whenever you’re needed, and you can rely on boots that work to keep injury at bay”.
Following on from Bad CO’s review of the Elliot Brown Holton Professional (available here), I was offered the chance to review a different watch from their extensive range. Very generously they said “just pick whichever one you want and we’ll send it out.” A quick glance through their website raised some serious levels of want. Everything on there looks the business and it was a very tough decision to choose which one I’d like to put through its paces. First world problems indeed. The Bloxworth range alone comes in 15 different colour / strap combinations. There are currently 76 different watches available on their website and that’s before you even begin with special editions and collaborations. Eventually I settled on the Bloxworth with a black face, blue bezel and black rubber strap. Now I’ve been holding off on doing this review for a while. I’ve been trying hard to come up with something interesting that does this timepiece and Elliot Brown some justice. Bad CO has done a sterling job reviewing the Holton, with some great phots of it under the sea, diving on wrecks and what not. I wanted to do something equally as cool. Turns out testing a watch is quite difficult. I mean what exactly do you test? It tells the time and er...... has a little window for the date? It’s even more difficult to get interesting action phots of a watch that aren’t just...... well...... pictures of a watch. My usual gig of reviewing boots and outdoor clothing is a piece of piss in comparison. Just go for a walk up a mountain, see how much they leak and how much your feet hurt afterwards. Job jobbed. I had a few Naval adventures planned that would potentially be good hunting ground for content, but Covid put paid to all the sexy stuff this year. No razzing around on speedboats for me. I’d have to settle with a fairly run of the mill engineering trip on an RN survey ship, some range time and just the normal stuff I get up to on a day to day basis. So first things first, let’s talk about Elliot Brown, who dey? Ian Elliot and Alex Brown both come from watchmaking / engineering backgrounds. The roots of the business can be traced back to cool 90s surf and extreme sports watch company Animal (remember them?) With Elliot Brown, they wanted to make something special. Watches with extreme durability, attention to detail and a typically English character, all at a very reasonable price. Watches so good, they put their names on them. The brand has certainly caught my attention a few times, with their interesting collaborations with Land Rover, Mountain Rescue, RNLI and various sneaky beaky military units (Elliot Brown are based in Poole and have recently made an issue watch - it has an NSN and everything - for a mysterious un-named elite unit. Wonder who that could be?) They were definitely on my radar and I certainly fell very much into their target audience of being a bloke, who likes watches and lives a reasonably active lifestyle. Now it’s no secret that I once worked for a big luxury goods conglomerate who’s core business is luxury watches. I’ve been to a few watch factories and service centres over the years. I’ve seen watches that cost more than a house. I was looking forward to seeing if a smallish English brand could stand up to the heavy hitters in Switzerland. And so I awaited eagerly for the watch to arrive. Like a kid waiting for Christmas morning. It didn’t disappoint. It arrived in a nice quality presentation box with the usual strap tools and other bits and pieces. They also chucked in a few stickers which I’ll slap on the Landy so people think I’m one of those brand ambassadors who gets paid to put stuff on Instagram. First impressions of the watch were a combination of “bloody hell, that’s pretty” and “bloody hell, it’s massive.” Point of note, this is a big watch. 44mm case and 13mm thick. Like the old rat pack Yorkies, this is not for girls or people with weak wrists. (Edit: Ladies and those wanting something a little more elegant should look at the Elliot Brown Kimmeridge collection). It feels absolutely solid. I mean you could use it as a weapon if nothing else came to hand. More about its durability and suitability as an improvised weapon in a sec. Looks wise, this is everything I would ever want in a watch. I mean it’s beautiful. Stunning brushed case, deep blue bezel. This will look good with a suit and tie or a wet suit. And as mentioned above, their range is so extensive, there is something there for everyone and every occasion. It’s very eye catching and a bit different. I could see some of the watch fiends at work checking it out in meetings. As a smart watch it really works. A colleague of mine who owns two Panerais even commented on it. High praise indeed. Don’t be fooled by the good looks and charm though. These are not dress watches and have been built for a purpose. “Unsurpassed Durability.” Before getting this watch, I did my due diligence and Googled the shit out of the company to get an idea of what they were about. Quite modestly, they don’t really hark on too much about some of the destructive testing they do to their watches, but other people on the internet do. Let’s look at some of the stuff they’ve done..... Every watch is pressure tested 3 times to at least 200m. Watches are shock tested by having a 3kg stainless steel mallet dropped on them. Buttons are depressed 5000 times. They stuck one watch in the bottom of Poole Harbour for 6 months to see how it would fair submerged in deep cold salt water. They even stuck one to the front of a racing yacht and sailed 40,000 miles around the world, over the space of a year just to see what would happen. Of course the watches passed all the tests with flying colours. They wanted these watches to be capable of withstanding anything their owners could put them through. Climb Everest? Jump out of a plane? Deep sea dive? No problem. What you’re getting with an Elliot Brown is something that is completely reliable and durable in any situation. This is important for me. I’m an engineer who is either sat at a desk in an office environment or covered in nasty oils and chemicals taking stuff apart. I spend a lot of time onboard Royal Navy warships with narrow passageways just full of metal obtrusions that have been specifically placed to smash your watch on. I live on a farm in the Lake District. When I’m not at work, I’m outside in all weathers riding quad bikes up mountains and chasing sheep. But I’m also a flash ****** who likes nice cars and expensive clothes. I think I’ve found the perfect watch for me. Something at home in every situation I find myself in. Every watch I’ve ever owned is scratched to shit and showing years of abuse. This is the first one I’ve owned that I feel totally confident in not being able to break. To create a watch that couples this durability with looks that impress in a board meeting is quite an achievement. I’ve had this watch for nearly 3 months. Despite being bashed about on the farm, on a ship and during an ill fated Land Rover adventure that resulted in some hasty repairs in the pissing rain, there isn’t a scratch on it. Other stuff: Price - £525 for the model tested. A bargain in my opinion. Movement - Ronda Calibre Swiss Quartz. As used by Tag Heuer, Raymond Weil, Victorinox and many others. Fans of automatics can go for the Elliot Brown Tyneham at £845. Personally I have absolutely no beef with a decent Quartz movement, especially one that’s used in 4 grand Tags. They keep better time anyway. One directional bezel - a nice safety feature and a bit of attention to detail. Means if you accidentally knock the bezel while diving and using it as an oxygen gauge, it won’t show you’ve got more air than you actually have. Massive love for this watch and Elliot Brown in general. A huge thanks to them for the opportunity to test this.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a review. A lot of my equipment reviews are lost in the ether of the now defunct Kit Reviews site. I might have done these before, I might have not. I don’t think I’ve ever done a side by side comparison though... Up for your consideration is the Jack Wolfskin Gossamer and the Hi Gear Soloista. I was originally looking at a Snugpak Ionosphere after seeing a mate’s one. I really liked it but it was fairly new at the time and still pretty pricey. I spotted the Jack Wolfskin which appears to be largely the same if not identical, save for some branding details. Found one in a sale for 50 quid. An absolute bargain in comparison to the 160ish for the Snugpak. This has been my go to mountain tent for years now. It’s robustly made with thick stitching and aluminium poles as opposed to fibreglass. Even the pegs are nice thick ones that are hard to bend. As with all these sort of tents, it is not very big, but that’s the point. Upside is it packs small and is lightweight, downside is you’ve not got a lot of space in there. I’m 6’2”, I fit in it fine, but my pack has to stay outside. There isn’t really a porch to speak of. No where for your boots etc. It’s also quite low to the ground, great when you want to be stealthy, no good for administering yourself when it’s raining outside. You aren’t gonna be sitting up in this tent and you’re better off getting dressed outside. Having said that it’s fairly wide. At a push you could get two small adults in there. I’ve slept in it with my dog a few times. With a fly sheet hydrostatic head of 4000mm, it’s kept me dry in some seriously bad weather. I bought the Hi Gear one as a spare for when mates come up to stay and want to hit the hills with me. It was 20 quid from Go Outdoors. For that price you can’t really go wrong. I believe the same tent, or something very similar is also made by Gelert. This thing is even smaller than the Jack Wolfskin, it’s like a coffin inside. It’s actually shaped like one. However, you get a bigger porch that could take a day sack and boots. All the same problems exist. You can’t sit up in it etc. But the bigger porch and side entry mean you could potentially lie on your side and cook next to it. Something you can’t really do with the Jack Wolfskin due to the entrance being at the end. The Hi Gear feels cheap in comparison to the Jack Wolfskin. Materials aren’t as nice, poles are fibreglass, stitching isn’t a patch on it. However at this price I can’t complain. It’s stood the test of time and I’ve had a few good nights in it out in the Lakeland Fells. The HH is only 1500mm but it still does the job. It also packs a little smaller and weighs a little less than the Jack Wolfskin. I keep having to remind myself that it was only 20 quid. It’s probably cost me less than a pound a night if you tot up all the use I’ve had out of it. Either of these tents will do you proud if you’re after something really small and compact. It’s certainly a step up from just a bivvy bag. For hill walking, cycling, motorcycle touring, kayaking, or any other adventure where you want to keep weight down, these are both great. The Jack Wolfskin is definitely the one to go for if you can stretch to it, it’s as good as tents that retail for 3 times the 50 quid I got it for. The slight extra space is also a massive win. The Hi Gear does what it says on the tin and is not to be sniffed at for 20 quid. If you’re on a budget there is absolutely no reason not to get this one.
The sound of thunder rolled ominously across the grey sky as people ran for cover. On the distant hilltop, the black outline of four mighty steeds with four motionless riders sat atop could be seen. People fell to their knees, arms outstretched, begging for mercy as the Apocalypse fell upon them. Or at least, that’s what must’ve happened, as it appears the MOD Procurement have got something right for once, and we all know it’s a snowy day in Hell when that happens! After many many long centuries of soldiers wearing completely and utterly inadequate footwear for the intense tasks at hand, we can stand with a tear in our eye and wave goodbye forevermore to the likes of Ammo boots, designed to slowly kill the soldier from the foot up with trench rot and which was phased out around 1918 for the Field Service Boots which were simply sexier wellies. We can sniff appreciatively at the slipper like Direct Moulded Sole (DMS) introduced around 1958, which like a slipper, offered bugger all protection against anything. DMS, having been taken round the back of a shed and shot during the mid-1980’s, was succeeded, relatively unsuccessfully, by Boot, Combat High or Boot, Cardboard Horrible or By Christ it Hurts or… etc, etc. Renowned for causing acute tendinitis due to the relatively inflexible nature of the boot heel, it was loved like a bastard offspring from a one-night stand. Finally, we can all stand, arms around shoulders and heads bowed as we remember our dear friend, Combat Assault Boots (CAB), which were designed with the shareholders of Kiwi boot polish in mind. Still basic, it had a somewhat better design that those gone before but was, still, ultimately, crap. Looking at that list of fine specimens, we wonder why on this green earth, it took so sodding long to realise that boots needn’t be made wholly of leather, that boots needn’t demand polishing (which usually only serves to reduce the breathability of the boot by blocking the pores of the leather) and that we didn’t need boots that crippled soldiers. To replace these abominations, we can wave in a new era with the, rankly and in terms of issue boots, the revolutionary Pilgrim GTX FG in MOD Brown, otherwise known as Combat High Liability Boot. Based on the AKU Pilgrim GTX Mk II, which was a frankly stonking bit of footwear, the new Pilgrim GTX FG is possibly one of the first examples of an issue boot matching it’s retail brother almost to a mirror view. Before however we start slavering with excitement, let’s start from the beginning. The Pilgrim GTX FG retails for £199.95 from or free if you happen to be employed in one of the finest professions known to man. It’s available in brown or black and sizes 3-15 which is ideal for both the petite persons and performing clowns alike, and it also has a medium and large option for width. From the bottom up, the Pilgrim GTX FG is the proud owner of a Vibram Foura sole. Immediately, the signs are good due to the presence of a brand name we all know and trust. Made from black rubber Nitrile, the Foura is abrasion, slip and heat resistant as well as being anti-static and resistant to a variety of POL (Petrol, Oil, Lubricants). The treads have a decent pronouncement from the sole which gives the Pilgrim GTX FG better grip and increases longevity against wear and tear and the boot is designed and tested around supporting a weight of 45kgs. We all know that we often carry substantially more weight than 45kg, but it doesn’t mean the Pilgrim GTX FG will fail, it just means that the increase in compression on the midsole, etc, may cause a slight dip in the comfort and support provided. The footbed, which sits just above the sole is a Cambrelle Ehtylene-vinyl acetate model, again another strong brand name with decades of experience to fling at a boot. We can see that for once, cost doesn’t appear to have been the overriding factor in the contract specification for a new general issue boot. How refreshing! So far, we’re looking at a boot that has excellent grip and control and which will support you over a wide variety of terrain, as tried and tested. The Pilgrim GTX FG is exceptionally close to its retail brethren in the Pilgrim range at this point and you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference. Moving up the boot, we now spot one big change – the previous AKU Pilgrim GTX MK 2 had the Air8000 system for the upper textiles. This doesn’t. Instead the Pilgrim GTX FG has 100% HT Polyamide 6.6 Cordura which gives high abrasion resistance and is breathable and water resistant. You would now expect there to be a sacrifice in terms of how the boot breathes. I mean, we’re using a lower spec bit of material here so, it’s obvious… isn’t it? Well in fact, it doesn’t really make that much of a difference at all. Again, AKU have decades of experience and know how to put a boot together. Your feet come out of the Pilgrim GTX FG more or less in the same state as with the AKU Pilgrim GTX Mk 2, relatively dry (depending on your exertion level) and comfortable. The boot still seems to breathe just as well. Even as a boot snob, I can’t tell the difference. There is Full Grain Bovine leather up the front of the boot for the lacing system – full grain being the best grain and again another sign of money well spent. It will last and provide that protection and support needed for one of the most stressed parts of the boot – the laces. Neatly onto that subject, the laces are high abrasion resistance Polyester and Nylon with a good level of water resistance and wicking which means they dry quickly; the actual D-Loops are iron and steel, riveted into place securely enough that you won’t have to worry about them breaking loose or spinning round. The collar of the Pilgrim GTX FG is another area where there is a difference compared to the AKU Pilgrim GTX Mk 2 – the collar is slightly thinner than the retail, giving slightly less padding and comfort though again, the difference is absolutely negligible. Once the lacing system is done up, the Pilgrim GTX FG are still incredibly comfortable, and the inbuilt Achilles protection means there’s enough flex down the back of the boot to mitigate the risk of injury. Looking inside the Pilgrim GTX FG, we can see that GORE-TEX lining, designed to give protection against the ingress of water through the boot whilst still letting the foot breathe. It does exactly that. As with the AKU Pilgrim GTX Mk 2, the GORE TEX is fixed in place with glue, but rather than a complete layer of glue, it’s microscopic dots of glue that create a honeycomb layer, which still gives the strength of hold but increases the boots ability to breathe. The GORE TEX protection is complete, including tongue and up to the collar, so unless the water goes over the top of the Pilgrim GTX FG, it’s not getting in. This again has been proven in tests over a two month wear period, and it’s absolutely spot on. Down the bottom of the inside, we have the insole itself which is a curved and ergonomic style, nothing too fancy but better than many of the old issue insoles you’d get (Green feet graters anyone?). It doesn’t hold a smell and so the hygiene of the boot is kept to quite a high level, though again you can always swap this out with an Ortholite or whatever your fancy is. Underneath the insole of the Pilgrim GTX FG is the 3D Midsole which is designed like a cradle to support the foot rather than again, just a flat surface for it to rest awkwardly on. The boot really does feel very comfortable and does an excellent job of cushioning and supporting the foot throughout, be it walking over rough terrain or running like the legend you are, it keeps the impact to a manageable level. The big plus, is that it’s a Pilgrim, so it looks good and could easily double up as your daily footwear if you’re so inclined – I wear Pilgrim every single day and the Pilgrim GTX FG is a robust, resilient boot which fills you with confidence over any terrain, and makes you want to kick someone in the head (in combat of course, not just walking down the street because that wouldn’t be nice) just to see how it feels. Full disclosure on this, I have worn the AKU Pilgrim MK 1, Mk 2 and now this since pretty much 2011 almost every single day – they’re my default boots. I dress like I’m about to ascend a mountain, so in terms of comfort, they hit a ten. In terms of style, they hit a ten. In terms of flexibility they hit a ten, because you can use them tactically or casually, and you can enjoy an increased level of support, comfort and control with them. The British Army has finally taken one huge, hulking leap forward. Forget about your UOR armour and weaponry. This is probably the single most important development for the individual soldier since they added strawberry porridge to the ration packs. There is one key point to remember with the Pilgrim GTX FG. These aren't boots for hipsters. These aren't exactly your casual street wear boots, even if they can double up for that. These are boots designed for soldiers. These are boots designed for war. These are boots designed to be dragged through mud, dirt and blood. With these boots on, as you storm over the enemy position and skewer him through the face with your bayonet, you can stand easy in the knowledge that the last thing he’ll see is that AKU logo swinging towards his face to cave his skull in, and as he kneels on the ground with that last breath escaping from him, he’ll gaze up at you with those bloodshot eyes, not out of fear, but out of respect, and say with that last breath, “Nice ******* boots.” £199.95 from – go buy a pair, now. See our full review on youtube:
So you’re thinking of buying a roof tent to stick on your 4x4. They look cool, people with Landrovers use them for crossing deserts and stuff. It is the ultimate accessory for the “look I go on adventures” brigade. Roof tents appear to have had a massive boost in popularity recently. It might be just me, but I’m seeing them all over the place. I live in the Lakes and most journeys you spot a blinged up Defender with a big box on the roof. Mini even offer a very overpriced branded roof tent as an optional extra. Why? Well these are undoubtedly good. You get a proper rugged canvas tent which will obviously last a lot longer and outperform a cheaper tent. Proper adventurers like them because they lift you off the ground where you are less likely to get eaten by a lion or other wild animal. They are quick to erect and take down. You just take the cover off and unfold it in one swift move. Four pegged out guy ropes (only really required in rough weather) complete the set up and you’re ready to go. It even has a memory foam mattress built into the floor. You don’t need roll matts or inflatable air beds or anything. Kids will undoubtedly love it. There is definitely massive novelty value in climbing up a ladder and sleeping on the roof of your car. With the world in a pretty shitty state at the moment, foreign holidays are generally off the cards. We were supposed to be heading to Gran Canaria on Thursday but that ain’t happening. Camping in the U.K. it is. We have a few tents already but my neighbour has a roof tent and kindly lent it to us. No idea what brand it is, there are no labels on it anywhere but for the purposes of this review it doesn’t really matter. The concept of these tents is pretty much the same regardless of brand. Some pop upwards out of a streamlined roof box, the type we’re using folds out and has a waterproof cover for when it’s stowed. Either way, it’s a tent on the roof of your car. Of course the novelty value attracted me to it and the idea of being able to put it up in under a minute when we get to a beauty spot. No messing with poles or anything here. In theory we should also be able to carry less gear because it has a built in mattress. Valuable space inside the car will be saved by not having to carry a tent or roll matts / mattresses. In theory. Prior to any trip I like to test out my set up to avoid any unexpected surprises. Last night I fitted the roof tent and me and the sprogs set off to a quiet corner of the farm to spend the night in it. It performed exactly as expected, easy to put up, reasonably easy to take down. Comfy and spacious inside. The kids loved it, sitting on the roof and watching the sun go down was great. All good. Except I still wouldn’t buy one. As the night wore on I started to have a real think and realised there are quite a few good reasons not to bother. 1) Cost. These things cost an absolute fortune. Starting at about 800 quid and going up to thousands of pounds. I’m not completely sold. For comparison, the OEX Jackal III back packing tent I reviewed last week was 89 quid. Internal space in the OEX is largely the same. 2) Storage. When you aren’t using it you have a giant 1.5x1.5 ish metre box that you have to find space for in your garage. Again, compare this to a normal tent which you can just stash in a cupboard. 3) It’s heavy and a pain in the arse to fit to your car. Obviously you need a decent roof rack for this thing. It’s a two man lift to get the thing on there and then a good 45 minutes fiddling with bolts to secure it. 4) It will completely kill the fuel economy of your car. I’m yet to properly test this having just driven down to a field on the farm, but my experience with a supposedly streamlined roof box tells me I’m gonna be spending a lot of time at the pump. 5) The thing that makes this unique and fun is the thing that also makes it a massive pain in the arse. It is on the roof. To get in and out you have to climb a ladder. Need a piss in the night? You’re undoing a load of zips and stumbling down a ladder in the dark with no shoes on. Any time saved by being able to put it up and take it down quickly is lost when you have to empty all your kit out of it in the morning. This is a two man job again, someone needs to be in the tent passing stuff down to you. 6) The internal storage you’ll save inside the car isn’t actually worth writing home about. This comes with a big tent extension which we didn’t use this time, but for extended trips you will want it. The extension comes in its own separate bag which is about the size of an infantry bergen which will take up most of your boot. Also because you’ve got the tent on the roof, you can’t fit a roof box, losing more valuable storage space. So the only real benefit I can see here over a standard tent, is the fact it lifts you off the ground and you won’t get eaten by lions. Not really a massive problem in most parts of the U.K. Great fun but a decent 3 man backpacking tent and a roof box is a much better bet for 99% of people.
Extreme performance demands extreme testing. For a dive watch developed for a ‘specialist branch of the military’ that means finding somewhere deep, cold and dark which is why a trip to the world-famous ship wrecks that lie off Malin Head on the NW coast of Ireland seemed like the ideal test ground. These slowly collapsing hulks lying on the seabed of the Northern approaches to the UK are the legacy of the battles during both World Wars between the German U-boats sent out to cut off the maritime supply lifeline and the brave merchant fleet trying to get through at all costs. The area has the largest number of sunken ocean going liners and U-boats anywhere in the world which makes it a mecca for divers. Examples include the vast 32,000-ton Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Justicia, cargo ships of all sizes, Royal Navy escort vessels and 116 U-boats. Although the wrecks range from the coast all the way out to the Atlantic Shelf, and beyond, most are in the depth range 60-120m which is far too deep for the vast majority of scuba divers. Diving at these depths, and in the conditions found in the Atlantic, is possible for the small number of technical divers who have the suitable qualifications, experience and equipment for this high-end extreme sport. The Malin trip started with a dive on a second world war casualty called the Empire Heritage that now lies in 65m of water. It was carrying a cargo of vehicles, including Sherman tanks and half tracks, that now lie scattered over the sea bed making it one of the best-known, and most photogenic, wrecks in the area. As the week progressed, the depth slowly increased until it culminated with a dive on the wreck of the RMS Amazon. This Belfast built 10,000-ton liner was torpedoed without loss of life on 15 March 1918 and now lies on the sea bed in 116 metres. At that depth the pressure is nearly 13 times that found on the surface which creates huge challenges for all the equipment used. Ideal conditions to test the Holton Professional (green dial model ‘000) with which I had been supplied. The brief for the Holton Professional watch was to be able to withstand some of the most hostile conditions imaginable, be operated by a single gloved hand and comply with the exacting requirements of a very specialist user. Elliot Brown who developed the Holton Professional are based in Poole, Dorset – we’ll let you join the dots. The company was created by Ian Elliot and Alex Brown who are respectively the co-founder of Animal and former head of the Animal watch department. That’s an impressive pedigree when it comes to the development of action watches. Although I’m sure it wasn’t part of the official brief, it is also important that a watch looks good and the Holton Professional absolutely ticks the ‘ally’ box. During the month that I’ve been wearing it, at least ten people have questioned me about it. You’d expect a watch suitable for tactical use to avoid any bling but the small details do stand out in a way that makes it quite unusual and desirable. I particularly like the small crow’s foot that is barely visible above the number six on the face, the blank space on the back where an NSN can go and the stubby ‘sword’ hour hand. For a watch that is expected to be used in demanding conditions, the case and coating seem totally bombproof. The profusion of heavy, solid equipment required for technical diving means that everything gets banged and knocked. Despite a week on a boat in some pretty rough sea conditions, there isn’t a single mark, scratch or dent on the Holton Professional. This has to be a testimony to the quality of components and manufacturing standards. The Holton came with two watch straps; one was constructed from soft olive drab rubber and the other is an extra long G10 webbing strap similar to that fitted to issue watches. The rubber strap is resistant to pretty much everything and super comfortable and this is the strap that I wore for day to day use. It isn’t long enough to go round a drysuit sleeve, or over diving gloves, so I switched to the G10 strap when diving. Changing the straps is a doddle using the supplied tool and the solid steel strap bars which hold the watch to the strap inspire total confidence. I’m sure everyone has seen these fail on cheap, and not so cheap, watches so this is a really important factor. The Holton Professional has a Swiss Ronda calibre 715 movement that kept time very accurately and the high grade C3 SuperLuminova luminescence on the face and hands meant that even in the pitch black at depth it was easy to read. The 120 click uni directional bezel gave the impression of considerable quality and functioned smoothly throughout the depth range. Just as importantly it also stayed where it was set which can be an issue with some diver’s watches. This is a very important function as diver’s use the bezel to identify when they went down or, alternatively, what time they need to come up. After a month of wearing the Holton Professional and a week of exposing it to the harshest possible diving conditions available it is impossible not to be impressed. Understated ally-ness, top class performance and extreme durability give it all the qualities of the specialists to whom it has been issued. Quite simply this watch is fit for the most demanding purposes.
First Tactical have appeared on ARRSE a few times now, and each time the kit has shown itself to be exactly what you need in terms of reliability and durability. As such, it’s no surprise that the First Tactical V2 trousers meet the same high standards as set before with the First Tactical Defender trousers. Taking a different approach from the First Tactical Defenders which were more of a heavy duty tactical trouser with pockets galore, the First Tactical V2 is a more refined and elegant trouser that easily passes muster not just as a tactical trouser but also as an everyday wear item. Designed with First Tactical’s own ARMS fabric technology, the trousers are 65% polyester and 35% cotton mix with micro ripstop and a Teflon treatment for a stain repellent stitching. The material is also designed to give a two-way mechanical stretch which means the trousers flex and give as you move, ensuring you’ve got full range of movement without any hindrance. The flex itself is actually very noticeable if you just grab and pull at two parts of the trouser – the whole area around it will stretch both ways with minimal resistance and you know that whatever the obstacles ahead, you’ll tackle them without constraint. Throughout the trouser the overall integrity is maintained by double and triple stitching around key areas although, and I noticed the exact same on the Defender, there’s a line of stitching at the front of the knees which always seems to come away from the fabric. I’m not sure if that’s a design issue or some particularly weird way I’m wearing or using the trousers, but it’s never been an issue as it doesn’t spread any further down the stitching. The fabric is also dyed at the fibre stage then dyed again once the fibre is woven into fabric. This gives a longer wear to the colour and resolves an issue first identified in the Defender initial run where the black started to fade out after several washes. This shows testament to the philosophy at First Tactical and of Dan Costa, previously of 5.11 Tactical, in that quality matters and problems are there to be solved, not avoided. The Defender weighs in at 181 grams compared to the 195 grams of the Defender. Whilst again, they’re two totally different trousers for different needs, it’s interesting in that although the weight difference is minimal, the wear experience of the First Tactical V2 is much lighter and cooler than the Defender. The polycotton mix also gives a good range of strength whilst remaining breathable and comfortable and that comfort can be reinforced via the inclusion of internal knee insert points so you can slip in a First Tactical knee pad, which is now available in the UK market. Pockets, in comparison to the Defender are considerably less. This in of itself is not a bad thing, as even over a year later of wearing the Defender, I still get confused as to which of the many pockets holds what I need! The defender simplifies things a bit, replacing the map pocket zip with a Velcro flap which avoids the issue I had on the Defender of the internal pocket loop getting caught on the zip. The internal compartments are still there and you still have eight pockets in total for all your carrying needs. I do miss the ankle pocket however, but that was because it really was very useful for my needs. You’ve got a YKK zip for the crotch and a Prym snap plus button for securing the waist with stitched fabric belt loops. With the ARMS system and that stretch, you get a really comfortable fit and I find the sizing of these trousers to be particularly accurate – sometimes it can be hit and miss, especially when it’s a US company. The end product is a robust, comfortable and flexible pair of trousers that not only work well as a tactical trouser, but as I mentioned, they fit the bill for everyday wear as well. I’m absolutely not a fashion person at all – yet I’ve had several compliments passed about the First Tactical V2 and how good they look, and they do look good. I think the khaki colour pulls off a much more refined and all round look than the others and when combined with a pair of AKU Selvaticas for example, it creates a definite style that works well in most scenarios. As noted, they are marginally lighter than the Defender but the overall wear experience is significantly improved – the Defender wear was never bad, but I always knew I was wearing them if that makes sense. Not so with the V2. Even when I’ve had to run (which I try to avoid if I can!), the ARMS two way stretch really let me open up and go for it; there was no catching around the front of the knee as the trousers try to fight against the upward lift, or drag around the crotch as they struggle to give the leeway needed for a good running stride. More importantly, at £60 compared to the Defenders £139, they’re far more palatable on the wallet and I feel like I can justify that spend without breaking out in a sweat at what I’m about to pay for a pair of trousers. Also, if I’m being honest – yes, the Defenders are excellent and have a lot more engineering about them but I really don’t think the V2 is a million miles behind and has a lot to offer, so in that respect, they’re an absolute bargain. If you need a pair of tactical or just good, sturdy, man about town with pockets and rip stop trousers, then I’d highly recommend them. They’ve fallen into my daily wardrobe selection and do a great job both in work and out. The First Tactical V2 is available in Black, Midnight Navy, OD green and Khaki and retails for £59.95 from the First Tactical website. Pictures courtesy of First Tactical
The Rab Neutrino Pro Military - a modern take on their classic jacket with input and investment from Trekitt of Hereford. The Rab Neutrino Pro is a long-established jacket with an excellent sales record to match, especially to those in the military who want a top-spec, high performance Down jacket to keep them cosy whilst bimbling about in the field. Trekitt, those retailers of a multitude of outdoor and tactical wares, knew this, but also knew the jacket could be just that little bit better. So, having approached Rab and offered some suggestions, they were given the option to fund a complete production run of 500 of the Rab Neutrino Pro Military jackets. That’s quite a gamble for any company – the financial investment is significant and it of course carries a high level of risk with it. It therefore begs the question, is the jacket worth £270 with the changes Trekitt have implemented? Let’s find out. First of all, the Rab Neutrino Pro Military is available in Small, which is a 37” inch across the chest, up to XXL which is a 48”. It’s only available in black, and as noted, retails for £270 direct from Trekitt and only Trekitt. This is in effect a limited edition run. Starting with the look, the first change from Trekitt is that the black colour of the jacket has been enhanced to a ‘discrete’ level by the removal of the shiny Rab logo, having it replaced with a dark grey version, close to the jacket’s black. This means you’re not getting night light reflection off the logo which was an issue previously. Interestingly enough, this was also the hardest change to implement due to brand protection, etc. The jacket looks as good as it always has, still utilising a stitch-through baffle construction. This gives it the seamed look and it basically means the outer material has been stitched directly to the inner material, creating baffles or compartments for the Down to sit in. This stitching technique can sometimes result in a jacket which isn’t as warm as a version with a box construction (big sections rather than the compartments version you get from the baffles), but this is more than taken care off by the quality of the Down that’s been used. The jacket is filled with Certified European Goose Down which is hydrophobic, and each cluster has been treated with Nikwax to give it the hydrophobic feature. This is a major change for the Neutrino Pro – the original wasn’t hydrophobic and so, whilst a good jacket, drank water like a desert Camel. As soon as it rained, the jacket would absorb the water, the feathers would absorb it, and the heat retention would pretty much fail, leaving you with a heavy and lumpy jacket. The Down is rated to a Fill Power of 800, 900 being around the top of the table. The Fill Power relates to how many grams of feather are required to fill one cubic centimetre; this means that the feathers are nice, big elongated feathers that capture a lot of air and insulate really well. It also means the jacket dries very quickly. The outer material is made from Pertex Quantum Pro – a 20 Denier material with a nylon rip-stop layer in the middle. It’s rated to 1000mm Hydrostatic Head for water repellence. To ascertain this figure of 1000mm, the fabric is wrapped skin-tight around a cylinder which is placed in a tank of water. The water level is increased and the rating comes from how much water the material can resist before the pressure and weight of the water forces its way through the fabric. 1000mm means it survived 1 metre of water. A higher number such as 2,000 means better levels of protection but also lead to a heavier jacket. Overall Rab have gone for the best warmth to weight ratio possible by combining high Fill Power with a decent Hydrostatic Head rating. The jacket because of this is light to wear and compresses down to a decent size, and it’s also breathable thanks to the Pertex – you’re not likely to find yourself soaked in sweat with this jacket even with a bit of activity and movement. The zips on the outer pocket and front zip are YKK, and the pockets are big, deep pockets that’ll easily take a thermos. I conducted a highly scientific experiment and could fit eight tennis balls in each pocket, just in case you’re one to be invited at short notice for mixed doubles! All the zips are made from water repellent material and the main body zip has a sacrificial liner to prevent water ingress but also stop the zip from catching on the jacket. Inside, you have two mesh dump pouches. Again, deep and generous spaces that’ll take a brew mug or ten tennis balls each! This is one of the key features of the Trekitt take on the jacket. It works really well, and even with both inside pouches filled and outer pockets filled, the jacket never feels at bursting point. The hood of the jacket is filled with the same Down as the rest of the jacket, which is a really nice touch. It creates a warm, comfortable space and shows the thought put into it – often the hood is just some flaky material with little effort. It’s got two pull-tight toggles to close the hood down and you can really burrow down in there for almost complete protection from the elements. The overall wear of the jacket is great – it’s comfortable, light and looks bloody good. It’ll protect you from light rain and wind driven snow and I’ve had it out in the rain, still dry inside and still a light jacket. It dried out in minutes as well once back indoors. The wind doesn’t breach it either, so it provides a really snug shell to hide in. On that note, if you’re expecting heavy rain, do take a shell with you – remember, it’s water repellent not water proof. So £270 is a lot for a jacket, let’s not muck around with that. It’s Rab, it’s a brand, but it also has pedigree to support that price. More importantly, this is something that’s been brought to the market by Trekitt who feel it’s a smart move and gives the jacket that little bit more relevance to our industry. If you want a Down jacket, sure, you can buy a £30-£40 jacket, but you’re kidding yourself if it’ll perform as well as this combination of Down and outer fabric. If you’ve got the money to spare, this is a recommended purchase; the only thing I’d suggest is that it comes with a basic stuff sack. Spend a few bob and get a dry bag with rip-stop or something similar to give it that robust protection when transporting and stowing it.
Time has finally caught up with the hexamine stove and it has now been replaced by a modern eco-friendly stove from BCB International using their sustainable, ethanol based 'Fire Dragon' fuel. I've been fortunate enough to have received a sample so thought I'd offer you my thoughts. The first observation is that it is definitely lighter than the hexy stove which I'm sure will delight anyone who has to carry it more than a short distance. The actual metal stove is also significantly smaller, and I'd guess is approx two thirds of the size. Where it loses out against the hexy is that you can't store all the fuel tablets inside the stove which has the effect of making the whole thing slightly more bulky. I managed to squeeze half of the tablets (three) inside the stove but it wasn't a particularly elegant solution. Using the stove is a doddle and very similar to its predecessor. Simply open up the double hinge on the metal stove, remove the foil from the fuel pack and place it in the centre. Lighting was much easier than hexamine and the Fire Dragon fuel was going as soon as it was exposed to a naked flame. Unlike hexamine I couldn't smell anything whilst the fuel was burning and I was also able to cook inside knowing that the smoke is non-toxic. The MoD requirement for the stove was for it to boil half a litre of water inside 11 minutes and the manufacturer claims that the FireDragon can do it in approx 8. My test was done under less than scientific conditions but I obtained boiling water in approx 10 minutes which was just less than the burn duration of a single fuel tablet. Once cooking was complete, there was no nasty residue on the stove and only some soot on the bottom of my cooking cup. This was very easily removed with a dry rag without need for any sort of washing or scouring. So overall this is a very nice improvement to the antiquated hexamine stove and modern soldiers are very lucky to be getting them instead. It is easy to light, burns very cleanly, can be used indoors and will stash easily in your kit. Obviously it isn't going to rival a JetBoil or similar for cooking performance but it is a fraction of the size and cost. It also has the added advantage that you can always rely on the CQMS/SQMS having a plentiful supply of them!
On my recent adventures to the AKU factory in Italy a pair of these trainers were thrust into my hands with the bold claim that I simply had to see how comfy they are. Now I wasn’t massively drawn to them looks wise to be honest. In amongst all the other stuff in the AKU range I wouldn’t have picked these out of the crowd. If im honest I don’t really wear trainers except in the gym. I’ve got a pair of the issue Magnum trainers for outdoor phyz and some ancient Fila running shoes for indoor phyz. Other than that it’s smart shoes or boots for nearly every occasion. Hence why these didn’t really appeal to me at first. I’m just not a trainer guy. Now these are marketed as a shoe for “easy hiking, travel and leisure time in contact with nature.” Basically they’re trainers but with a rugged sole for grip on the rough stuff and Gore Tex to make them waterproof and breathable. They’re the sort of thing you see people wearing as they wander around outdoorsy shops in the Lake District, dressed in their Rab gilets and Rohan trousers. Like a sticker that says my other car is a Porsche, these say my other shoes have crampons on. So fairly unconvinced and after a long day testing the new AKU Pilgrim boots, I begrudgingly tried a pair on, more out of politeness than curiosity. Well the first thing I noticed was that they were too small. I’m a 10 for the Pilgrim boots but these were definitely a little tight on the toes. I went a half size up and they were fine. Interestingly I have this problem with most trainers and sporty shoes. I’ve gotta say it didn’t take long for things to click. Bloody hell these things were comfy. Like a pair of old slippers. I don’t use the term walking on air lightly but it applies here. I took a few strides around the shop and immediately knew I had to have a pair. I didn’t care about the mountain climber Walt looks, or the fact that the best colour they come in is Silver Shadow grey (Black and Brown also available). On comfort alone I was completely sold. At this stage I need to point out that these aren’t cheap. At 149 quid a pair they’re by far the most expensive trainers I’ve ever seen. Even with the very generous 50% off that AKU we’re giving us they’d still be the most expensive trainers I’d ever purchased in my life. Are they worth it? Well yes, I think they probably are. Let me explain. A huge amount of research and development has gone into these to make them as comfy as possible, as well as rugged and long lasting, while still being incredibly comfortable and lightweight. They’re Gore Tex of course (hence the GTX in the name) which means they’ve been through all the usual Gore Tex quality control for water tightness, breathability, longevity and drying time. They are also the culmination of years of AKU’s experience making very very high quality footwear. On to the comfort. This is achieved by using AKU’s special footbed which is designed to follow the natural contours of your foot and aid the roll of your foot as you walk. When you walk you start on the outside edge of your heel and roll your foot diagonally until it reaches the inside of the ball. The shape of the footbed rolls with your foot so it almost feels like you’re always walking slightly downhill. The sole is super flexible (despite being rugged and grippy) which allows a more natural stride. Coupled with this, they weigh hardly anything at just 320g per shoe. There is also a wider toe area than found on most trainers and of course the breathability provided by the Gore Tex. £149 lighter (I bought 2 pairs, one for me, one for the missus), I knew I’d made the right choice. These have now become my all round phyz shoe. Just at home running cross country as they are in the gym or doing some light hill walking (I’d still always opt for something with ankle support for proper hill climbing). The missus agrees, she loves her’s and is doing the Great North Run in them in September. We live in the Lake District and are quite “outdoorsy” so they’re kind of perfect for the lifestyles we lead, walking the dogs, mountain biking etc. etc. We also fit in with all the other twattish couples in matching gear when we go shopping in Keswick now. ;) Other points of note: also available in a cheaper non Gore Tex version at £129. They come with two sets of laces so you have a choice of the toggle lacing system or standard lacing. Ladies version have a lighter grey sole and pink lace loops as opposed to red on the men’s.

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