Gear Review: MOLLE 4000 Rucksack

January 30, 2018

Military surplus MOLLE backpacks and pouches and their commercial-of-the-shelf (COTS) imitators have become a favorite purchase item for both the outdoor enthusiasts and preppers. As with most equipment designed for the military, it has limited efficiency when employed for civilian use. For example, the current modular sleep system used by the military will not fit in its entirety into the sleeping bag compartments of most commercial backpacks. Therefore, for the ultralight backpackers and adventure racers, military surplus, such as sleeping bags, are avoided. However, MOLLE backpacks and pouches are purchased and used by a wide variety of people and they work quite well when used within their designed purposes.
In recent years, an interest has arisen in the military for a backpack, whose volume falls in between the current issue MOLLE Large and Medium Rucksacks. MOLLE is an acronym for Modular Light Weight Load Carrying Equipment. The MOLLE system was first introduced in the late 1990s to replace the aging Vietnam-era ALICE (All-Purpose Individual Combat Equipment) system. New materials and manufacturing techniques drives the current philosophy of producing lighter and stronger individual equipment that is procured by the military. Once aging or unserviceable MOLLE equipment is coded out of the military inventory system, it becomes available for acquisition by civilian surplus stores for sale to the general public.

A new version of the MOLLE rucksack called, the MOLLE 4000, is being tested by the military for parachute operations. Some of the early test models submitted by vendors are starting to make their way on to the market for the general public. I purchased mine last year at a military surplus store when I lived in Virginia. These are interesting packs and reflect the genre of the military’s current designs for rucksacks. It is not known, as of this writing, if the military has adopted this particular design of the rucksack. However, it is certain that more of these backpacks will eventually find their way to surplus stores, as well as, internet vendors and will be purchased by interested consumers. What are some characteristics and features of this rucksack?

Characteristics

General Description:
This rucksack falls into the category of an external frame backpack. The advertised volume of the rucksack is 4000 cubic inches making it 65 liters. It is constructed of 1000 Denier Cordura fabric. The frame is made of high impact polymer plastic. The PALS webbing give the added value of modularity. All zippers are the standard YKK-type. The buckles are the standard heavy duty plastic, Fastek-type. The pack has the appearance of an over-sized MOLLE 3-day Assault Pack with a top flap closure instead of a zippered one. I have read others describe it as a kind of modern ALICE pack.

Volume:
The main compartment is 4000 cubic inches or 65 liters. However, because of the addition of the storm flap, the volume of the main compartment increases to 85 liters if fully packed. It has one large access pouch on the outside, similar to the ones on the assault pack and medium rucksack. The outside compartment gives an additional 20 liters in the overall volume to the pack. Therefore, the over all volume of the pack is 90-95 liters.

Features:
The main compartment has a draw-string storm flap closure. There is a zippered access point on the main compartment for easy access to the contents while the main cover is closed. It has a large cover flap for the main compartment that functions as a map compartment with a Velcro closure. There is no mesh webbing on the underside of the main compartment flap as there is on the large MOLLE rucksack. The excess strapping from the two main closure straps can be rolled up and secured in two slots on the top of the main compartment flap. It has two compression straps on each side, similar to the MOLLE Medium Rucksack. The pack frame is the equivalent to the USMC DE1606 MC frame. The frame is much more thick than the standard frame thickness of the MOLLE Medium or Large Rucksacks. The shoulder straps are sewn into the pack with the pack sitting over the frame in a similar manner to the legacy ALICE pack and LC-2 frame. There is a compartment on the bottom of the ruck that stores the parachute rigging. What are some observations about this backpack?

Observations

Because of its intended use, the MOLLE 4000 seems to be heavy for its size when empty. This is because the pack has to withstand larger stressors on it during parachute operations than a normal backpack. The padding on the shoulder straps is thicker than those on the other rucksacks in this line giving it exceptional comfort. The pack does look like a cross between the legacy ALICE pack and current MOLLE rucksack. Initial impressions of this pack are that it has great potential to become a favorite for hikers and backpackers with some modifications for non-military users. How does this backpack perform on the trail?

Performance

This pack performed well on the trail. It felt more like my older ALICE pack on my back the longer I carried it. The lumbar waist belt provides excellent comfort over an extended period of time. The PALS webbing on the lumbar belt also gives additional pouch options. The shoulder straps and the shoulder padding also give excellent comfort. However, some thought needs to be put into balancing the weight of the contents if additional outside pouches are attached. For example, I attempted to attach my Condor Nalgene Bottle Pouch on the side with a full water bottle. It caused the weight to become imbalanced, so I just packed it on the top of the main compartment under the flap closure for easy access, since I did not have another Nalgene Bottle for the opposite side. The weight of the pack with my contents started to get close to 40-45 lbs. in total weight. This was before I added the sleeping bag which pushed the pack to over 50 lbs. What is the best employment of this backpack?

Best Use of This Backpack

This pack is best used for no more than a two or three day hike. The weight of the pack combined with necessary contents for longer treks on the trail would cause the pack to become uncomfortable very quickly, especially for thru-hiking. The pack is ruggedly built, so it would be a good pack for hunters. Its dimensions make it too small to be used as a large game hauler. However, it will easily accommodate varmint hunting or trapping. This pack would also be a good consideration for bushcrafters because of the deep barrel main compartment construction. This pack would also be a good consideration as a 72-hour emergency evacuation or bug out bag. How could this pack be improved?

Suggested Improvements

If commercial manufacturers decide to produce a civilian version of this backpack, here are some suggested changes that could make the pack more user-friendly to the general public.

  • The manufacturer should consider putting in a water bladder compatible inner compartment.
  • The manufacturer should consider constructing a thinner thickness frame to reduce the empty weight of the pack for general use considerations.
  • The manufacturer should consider a titanium tubing LC-2 ALICE-type frame to replace the polymer frame for added strength and durability as well as reducing the empty weight of the pack.

Concluding Comments

Overall this backpack is a wonderful pack for no more than three days on the trail. It will easily accommodate the packing needs of most day hikers or weekend backpackers. The construction of the pack eliminates worry about damage under general-use conditions. Its volumous main compartment allows for any combination of contents for most outdoor scenarios and considerations.

 

Personal Emergency or Survival Kits for Children

January 25, 2018
The camping, fishing, hiking, and backpacking season will soon be upon us. Many people will begin to head outdoors during the Spring and Summer. It is a wonderful time for families to take advantage of nature’s beauty. Children will be taken out on the trails, lakes, and campsites across America by their parents. In such cases, some parents may assess that there is a need to put an emergency or survival kit into their children’s backpacks.

When constructing emergency kits for my children’s backpacks, there are concerns that arise when trying to decide what contents should be inside of their kits. Many of the suggested contents for personal emergency kits are made for adult considerations. One of the most common starting points for personal emergency kit construction is the SAS Survival Handbook by Lofty Wiseman. It is obvious that many of the contents suggested by Wiseman are not relevant for children when considered from a parental perspective. For example, Wiseman’s kit contents are as follows:
1. Matches
2. Candle
3. Flint
4. Magnifying Glass
5. Needles/Thread
6. Fish hooks/line
7. Compass
8. Beta Light
9. Snare Wire
10. Wire Saw
11. Medical Kit (suggested contents, tailor to personal needs)
a. Pain Relievers
b. Gastrointestinal Medicine
c. Antibiotic Medicine
d. Allergy Relievers
e. Water Purification Tabs
f. Anti-Malaria Tablets
g. Potassium Permanganate
h. Surgical Blades
i. Butterfly Sutures
j. Band Aids (Plasters)
12. Condom

Furthermore, it must be remembered that Wiseman’s personal emergency kit contents are based on legacy or dated technology from the Cold War or they are unique to the British Army, yet the concepts or principles are still relevant today. For example, beta lights (phosphorescent/tritium lights) are available for purchase but mini-chemlights are a more accessible source to the average consumer. Moreover, the items that he suggests in his kits are based on military operations and military survival training. They address situations in which pilots or ground personnel find themselves in a survival situation on the battlefield due to being separated from friendly forces. Furthermore, as the name implies, survival or emergency kits are an item of last resort only to be employed in the most desperate situations, where survival may not be possible without their use. How can a survival tin or pouch that is based on the concepts of the SAS-type survival tin be made applicable for use by children or teenagers?

First, when constructing a Lofty Wiseman SAS-type survival tin or pouch for your children, some discernment, wisdom, and common sense needs to be applied to the task. For example, a tritium light or mini-chemlight would be a great item in a survival kit for an adult or teenager; however, they could be a choking hazard for younger children. Choking hazards are a concern, as well, with other small items such as button compasses, mini ferro rods, and small magnifying glasses. Therefore, include survival items in the tin that are consistent with your children’s maturity and assessed capabilities for responsible behavior. You do not want to have a preventable emergency with your children while enjoying the outdoors.

Second, a concern when considering items for an emergency survival tin for your children is the fragility or durability of the contents. For example, when considering how to address lighting, it is best to use some type of micro flashlight that is one piece, can be turned on with a simple pressure switch, and are waterproof. Micro flashlights that have to be twisted to turn on or off are prone to being disassembled by curious toddlers or younger children. An example of this type of flashlight would be the Mini-Mag. Once this type of flashlight is taken apart in the field, parts will get lost, broken, or possibly swallowed. The flashlight will then be rendered useless, thus, defeating the purpose for it in the tin. Glass signal mirrors can become cracked or broken. Therefore, a single, stainless steel micro signal mirror or polished military dog tag would be a better item in a survival kit for children.

Third, another concern when considering items for an emergency tin or pouch for your children are cutting injuries. Those of us with children have the experience of our younger children getting a dinner knife or scissors out of a kitchen drawer in a moment when our attention is distracted. Thus, we tend to put such items out of reach for their own safety to prevent unnecessary injury or harm. This safety concern will also influence what kinds of cutting devices are in a survival kit for your children. One item that is universal for any kind of survival kit is a knife. However, putting a knife in your children’s survival kit should only be done with the utmost of care and consideration of their experience and capabilities for safe and responsible behavior regardless of their age. This same principle should also drive decisions about placing fishing or sewing items in their kits.

As we contemplate how to construct one of these personal emergency kits for our children, what are some items to consider? In other words, what kinds of item did I consider when constructing a personal emergency survival kit for my children? The following are some suggested items for a children’s personal emergency survival kit:

1. Container Options:
o Tin, Small
o Tin, Large
o Pouch
o Dry Box
o aLokSak Bag

2. Cutting Device:
o Gerber LST Ultralight Knife, Fine Edge

3. Cordage:
o 15’ Mil Spec Survival Cord, MIL-C-5040 Type 1A

4. Signaling Device:
o S.O.L. Slim Rescue Howler Whistle
o S.O.L. Micro Signaling Mirror

5. Lighting Device:
o Micro Light Keychain Mini Flashlight

6. Navigation:
o Button Compass

7. Fire Making:
o Bic Mini Lighter
o 2 x Tender Quick Tab

8. Food Procurement:
o 25’ Braided Fishing Line wrapped around a Floss Bobbin
o Basic Fishing Kit
o P-51 Military Can Opener
o Note: Snare wire is not included in my children’s kit because setting up snares and traps is an advanced skill of which they are unfamiliar at this point. The snare wire can be added in later or placed in a larger kit.

9. Equipment Repair:
o 1” Duct Tape wrapped around Floss Bobbin
o 3 x Safety Pins, Stainless Steel

10. First Aid:
o 1 x Bandage Strip, Large
o 1 x Bandage Strip, Medium
o 2 x Bandage, Butterfly
o 2 x Alcohol Wipes (Can be used for fire starting also)
o 2 x Antibiotic Ointment, packs

11. Communication:
o Golf Pencil
o 2 x Mini Index Cards

A personal emergency survival kit for one’s children is a challenge to think through and build. They can be a useful tool for teaching your children about the proper use of the contents and on their proper employment. It is an adventure, in and of itself, to sit down and think through what a child or teenager needs if they become separated from their family in some way in the outdoors. There have been many stories over the years in which children became separated and lost from their families while they were enjoying time outdoors. Toddlers may not be adept in outdoor survival skills. However, teaching them early about why we carry a survival kit in our backpacks and giving them some of the simpler items to play with, like a howler whistle, helps them to begin to make the connection in their mind about the purpose of the kit itself. In much the same way one learns a trade skill through apprenticeship, we, parents, can teach our children about operating and surviving in a wilderness environment. This will empower them in adulthood to enjoy nature’s beauty, as well as, making responsible decisions about the stewardship of the environment.

 

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My son and I out on the AT in 2017

 

Article Review: Keeping it Real with Les Stroud

“Keeping it Real with Les Stroud: Survivorman is Here to Crush the Most Common Survival Myths”, Survivor’s Edge by Michael D’Angona, Winter-Spring 2017, p.7-11.

 

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Les Stroud

The topic of survival provides much to discuss between Michael D’Angona and one of the most recognized personalities in the survival world, Les Stroud. The interview of survival expert Les Stroud gives the reader a glimpse into his mind and heart on a broad spectrum of topics that are of interest to survivalists and outdoor enthusiasts. Les Stroud is the founder of Les Stroud Productions, which produces the Survivorman television series primarily for the Canadian network, Outdoor Life Network, and has aired in the United States in cooperation with Discovery Communications since 2006. The interview covers some five pages in the current (Winter-Spring 2017) edition of Survivor’s Edge magazine.

 

D’Angona introduces the article with a general overview of the misconceptions that most people have regarding the realities of actual survival in an austere environment. He says, “Often people miss the fine points of survival when they are just reading up on it or watching a show about it.” This statement provides the theme for the discussion with Les Stroud. After the introduction, the author segues into the interview by asking Les, “What do you believe is the biggest misconception that people have about survival?” The interview then moves from the general topic of survival to specific aspects of survival (e.g. tools and equipment, survival psychology, and education and training), the article ends with a question regarding survival television with Stroud’s answers.  Les Stroud’s remarks recorded in the pages of this article are set in the context of naming and clarifying some misconceptions about the realities of survival.  Overall, the article gives those new to the survival interest some helpful tips and important advice. Those who have been fans of Les Stroud and Survivorman for many years will find some repeated thoughts that Les has articulated over the years, especially in regards to survival television.

One of the more insightful questions that Les Stroud answered was about analyzing the survival decisions of others, who are in the field. Les answered, “When they say, ‘I could do that’, I say, ‘Yes, you are absolutely right—you could do that; anyone can learn to survive.’ When they say, ‘He should’ve done this or that,’ I say, ‘Oh yeah, well, you weren’t there and until you’re in the same situation, you shouldn’t judge what someone else might do or not do to survive. Armchair survivalists are no different than armchair athletes.” This is an important perspective for those just starting out in survival and woodsmanship or they are seasoned veterans with accumulated years of field time developing their field craft. It is easy to make decisions when one’s body is hydrated, properly fed, rested, and under no psychological or emotional duress, especially as a passive observer of some else’s experience. Yet, when the realities of being stranded or lost set in, the abilities in decision-making and critical thinking become affected. It seems that changing one’s paradigm from being lost or stranded to being safe and secure at home has more of an influence on survival decisions than methodical, logically thought out progressively intentional decisions (i.e. “I got get out of here!” vs. “Ok, here I am, now how do I get out of here”). Thus, until you are in a stranded or lost situation, there is no legitimate way of knowing what kind of decisions that you would make. Therefore, Les cautions the reader to be careful about second guessing others.

The most important tip that Les offers in this interview is found in his answer to the question that relates to depending on someone else’s abilities and knowledge in a survival situation. He relates that when he is with a couple, he asks them what they are carrying and usually the husband speaks up and delineates what he is carrying for survival in his pack. Les, then, states the following, “I pull the wife aside and I ask her what she has, which usually ends up with her telling her husband, ‘See, I told you I should have my own pack!’ But this doesn’t mean that teamwork and relying on others isn’t also part of survival. It is.” This harkens to a military concept of each person carrying the same items in their rucksacks. Soldiers, Marines, and Special Operations personnel, who carry rucksacks into the field use a basic packing list of items that each member of the group is to carry in their packs. Obviously, clothing sizes vary, but some items can be collected from a fallen service member’s rucksack in the heat of a combat situation (e.g. first aid kits, signal or lighting items, fire making items, land navigation items, ammunition, knives, multi-tools, food, canteens, personal hygiene items, cordage, etc.). This is what Les is implying here in his response. The wife should have the same survival items in her backpack that are in her husband’s pack. Moreover, she should be just as knowledgeable and proficient with them as her husband. Additionally, they should be communicating to each other as to what survival items are in their packs. Then, if the husband should become incapacitated in some way, the wife can continue and not become debilitated in her survival efforts. The concept that Les is articulating applies not only to a husband/wife team but to anyone who is with an outdoors partner or group.

One of the more interesting responses that Les gives in this interview are on the topic of survival reality television. D’Angona asks Les two questions regarding survival reality television. All of which are in the context of dispelling misconceptions about real-world survival. The first question that Les fields from D’Angona is about the mixed messages that the general television audience receives from reality survival television. Les answers by making a correlation between watching the Olympics on television and attempting to intentionally do a particular event without training. The rhetorical response that Les outlines has the obvious answer that you would not do it. The same is true of watching survival television and trying to intentionally do survival outdoors without training. You would not do it. The second question that Les answers regarding reality survival television is also about how easy reality television makes surviving look verses continually working at your field craft. He goes on to give some specific names of television programs that can be misleading about survival; Man v. Wild (Bear Grylls), Dual Survival, Naked and Afraid, and Alone.

The last show named by Les, Alone, has generated some backlash against Les by some of the former contestants of the show Alone. Unfortunately, is seems that some of the critics of Les, by these former contestants of Alone, did not keep the context of the interview in mind before they took Stroud’s critique personally and began circulating their disappointments via social media. The truth of the matter is that Les (as well as Cody Lundin) is correct in his assessment of reality survival television verses the realities of actual survival. It is my assessment that Les Stroud’s comments were not a dig at the field craft acumen, survival ability, or survival endurance experiences of individuals in the field while filming a survival television program. Rather, his comments are coming from a broader perspective in articulating the dichotomy between television reality and the real-world realities of being lost at sea, stranded in a snow storm, or lost in the wilderness with so safety structure to fall back on.  Therefore, Les’ comments are a sobering reminder that there is no substitute for what Dave Canterbury calls, “dirt time”.  Les Stroud reminds us in his “Patagonia” episode of Survivorman season 7, “You can’t watch a survival program on T.V. and head out and imitate it. It’s not safe. It’s taken me years to know what I know, to have learned what I’ve learned and I practiced hundreds and hundreds of times with other people before I ever attempted anything alone.”

The interview article by Michael D’Angona with survival expert, television personality, and musician Les Stroud was an excellent read. It offers great insights and advice to survival novices and survival veterans alike. Photos by Laura Bombier give a refreshing touch to this article. Her photographs reinforce the fact that Les Stroud is a credible, experienced survival expert that everyone can learn from in regards to survival in the outdoors. D’Angona did a wonderful job interviewing Les Stroud. This article should be read by everyone interested in Les Stroud, Survivorman, survival, or the outdoors.

William H. Lavender, II

Lynchburg, VA.

 

Gear Review: Kelty Redwing 50 Backpack (M/L)

This is the post excerpt.

January 28, 2017

357caaf2-43bf-4fbb-ab84-5a5b929ed7e0The interest in hiking, backpacking, and other outdoor activities has grown exponentially over the last twenty years. The growth in materials technology has also contributed to a wider variety of gear that is both durable, safe, practical, and economical. The growth in the survival related programing on television has also helped the outfitter industries. One such company that has enjoyed the benefits of the growing interest in the outdoors has been Kelty® out of Boulder, Colorado. One of their signature backpacks is the Redwing 50. The “50” stands for 50 liters in volume.

I purchased this backpack from Amazon® back in January of this year. The reason for the purchase was that I was wanting to get away from the more tactical looking packs with all of the MOLLE webbing sewn on them along with the military looking color assortments. The pack that I was looking for had to have volume, could carry a water bladder, and carry enough essential gear for a good day hike or an overnight stay in the woods. My research revealed that the kind of backpack required for such a short stay in the outdoors had to have between a 45-55 liter capacity. This is the basic volume for a tactical three-day assault pack. The backpack that I was looking for had to also fit within my budget. Most of the quality backpacks that can be found meeting these criteria were as low as $150 USD and as high as $500 USD, depending on the vendor or retailer. To my surprise, the Kelty Redwing 50 came up on Amazon® under $100 USD. This was not a deal too-good-to-be-true. Rather, I learned later that Kelty® had made some minor design changes to the pack and this particular version was being phased out.

Characteristics

The pack arrived in the typical Amazon® logo delivery box. I was immediately impressed with how light and yet sturdy the pack was after it was removed from its packaging. Its empty weight is about 3 ½ lbs. The material that the pack is made of is 420/450 D nylon. This is a tough abrasive resistant material. It also has some water resistant properties but not completely water proof. It holds a 3 liter water bladder. Because it is considered an internal frame pack, it has one reinforcing aluminum stay that runs the center of the pack behind the torso and hip pads. Kelty designed the main compartment to be accessed either as a top-loader or to open the entire compartment like a suitcase. I found the top-load technique to be the most practical on the trail. The other way to access the main compartment is best suited for base camping or hotel scenarios. The additional pockets for storage are handy for holding your Nalgene® bottle with a GSI® stainless steel cup. I prefer the CamelBak® Chute 1 liter water bottle nested in the GSI® stainless steel cup stored in one of the spacious side pockets. The other side pocket holds my fixed blade knife and sheath. The storage pocket on top of the pack is large enough for smaller items such as a fleece cap, map, or snacks. The admin storage pocket on the front of the main compartment can hold a good selection of items for quick access.

Performance

The first opportunity to use this pack came this spring. Freedom 424 hosted a Run for Their Lives 5k run in my town. One of the professors in my Master’s Degree program encouraged his students in his class to participate. My wife, children, and I participated. I decided that this race for a charitable cause was a good opportunity to try out my new Kelty Redwing 50 (M/L) backpack. I packed it as though I was going on a day hike or overnight in the woods. The pack weight about 35-40 lbs. After putting the pack on my back and cinching up the straps, it was quickly evident that this pack was a perfect fit for my back. There was no pressure on my lower back and the weight was distributed evenly along my shoulders and back. It was comfortable to have on. I had the honor of pushing our baby in his stroller. The weight on my back was not overwhelming. I was thinking, “Why couldn’t I have had a pack like this when I was road marching in the Army?”

During the race, in which my family and I walked at a brisk pace, the pack never shifted, pulled, sagged, or rubbed hot spots on my back or shoulders. I was walking at about a 20 min/mile pace pushing the baby stroller over an undulating paved road. The pack held up beautifully. There was a light misty rain off-and-on during the race. The moisture wicking properties of the fabric could be visibly seen. However, by the end of the race, about one hour later, the moisture as beginning to leak through. The contents did not get wet. However, had I been wearing the pack during a torrential down pour of rain, the contents would have eventually gotten wet if not waterproofed prior to an activity. The raised padding on the torso and lower back allowed my back to breath while the pack on being worn. Even though I had worked up a good sweat, the pads did not become overly moist. This is a testament to the engineers who designed the pack for Kelty®. Once the pack was off of my back and out of the weather, it dried out pretty quickly.

Overall, the performance of the Kelty Redwing 50 (M/L) was excellent. It is definitely a great pack for day hiking. It performs in accordance with its design parameters. Abusing the pack by over packing, dropping off of the back on rocky surfaces, or improperly packing objects with sharp edges or corners will cause the pack to fail over time. This is a superior backpack that will last if taken care of properly. I highly recommend this pack for others to consider when looking for a quality backpack for day hikes and overnighters in the woods.

I hope this has been useful for you.

Take care and See you on the Trail!