Friday, May 30, 2014

Gear Review: CountyComm SERE and Thumb Tac Miniature Survival Compasses


For some time now, I have been looking for a small but reliable compass that I could stash anywhere for emergency use. Although many respected compass makers make small versions, I have yet to find one that was as reliable as their full sized compasses. I'm not sure why small tends to equal lower quality, it just seems to be the way of things. After lots of searching, I ran across CountyComm's SERE Compass and Thumb Tac Compass.

CountyComm is a government contractor that designs, manufactures and sells select products to federal, state and local government agencies. They sell some of their excess inventory to the public through their website.

FEATURES

Constructed of machined brass, and utilizing "dry" construction (no liquid inside), which CountyComm claims "will not freeze or develop bubbles," the SERE and Thumb Tac compasses are built to rugged military aircrew escape kit specifications.

The impossibly tiny Thumb Tac Compass is literally as small as the head of a thumbtack. Per military specifications, it is small enough to be sewn into hidden areas of the clothing of a pilot or special ops soldier, where it would be hard to detect should either get captured and held prisoner.

Thumb Tac SAS Compass:
Photo credit: CountyComm

CountyComm's SERE (SURVIVAL, EVASION, RESISTANCE, ESCAPE) Compass is the Thumb Tac's bigger brother. When I say "bigger" however, I mean that it's bigger "relatively speaking." The SERE Compass is in actuality only slightly larger than a dime.

The SERE Compass features a Din sealed brass case, and is threaded with 45 lb braided nylon fish line.

SERE (SURVIVAL, EVASION, RESISTANCE, ESCAPE) Compass:

Photo credit: CountyComm

The directional markings are coated with luminous paint to aid in nighttime navigation:


CountyComm also has a Youtube video on the SERE Compass which you can see here.

FIELD TESTING

To test the compasses, I carried them with me on several mountain hikes and checked them against a full-size Brunton O.S.S. 50M compass to see if they pointed in the same direction. Both compasses were dead-on with the larger Brunton compass.


I also took the SERE Compass with me on a night hike to see if the luminescent paint glowed bright enough to navigate. The SERE compass worked as advertised and the directional markings were easily visible in the dark.

Conclusion

I came away impressed with the diminutive CountyComm compasses. The military-spec construction makes them rugged, reliable, and accurate. 

Though both compasses functioned well, I prefer the larger SERE Compass for real world use. The SERE Compass' larger size makes it easier to use, the lanyard makes it easier to carry without losing it, and the luminescent markings make it functional for night navigation. 

The SERE Compass is also small enough to fit in the spare compartment of most survival knife sheaths (such as my Ontario SP50), as well as an Altoids-can-sized personal survival kit (PSK).

On the negative side, neither compass has degree markings or adjustable declination, so they're definitely not a replacement for a full-sized baseplate/orienteering compass if you want to navigate with a topo map. The SERE and Thumb Tac compasses are designed to be very basic survival compasses that will help you determine direction and rough headings.

All in all, the CountyComm compasses, especially the SERE Compass, are great tools to throw into your micro-survival kit. They also have an undeniably cool "James Bond" appeal, with the functionality and military toughness to back it up.


4.5 out of 5 Stars (Highly Recommended)

For more information visit www.countycomm.com



About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ hotmail.com (without spaces)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Testing the SOG E-Tool Shovel, eating Grasshopper, enjoying the Sangre de Cristo Mountains


After burying my head in my laptop for the last 2 weeks, trying to catch up on a boatload of new material I plan to post this summer, I finally got a chance to trek around the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains. They really are an awesome place to be in the late Spring. While I was out, I also played around with SOG's new Elite E-Tool Ultralight Entrenching Tool and had a grasshopper snack in the process.

(click on photos to enlarge)

While hiking around the edge of the San Luis Valley where it meets the Sangre de Cristo mountains, hunger pangs caught up with me. Just then, I spotted a big, juicy grasshopper on the ground in front of me - snack! (Ok, it's not my first choice for food, but I like to eat them from time to time to keep myself conditioned to eating "lesser" survival foods).


The SOG E-Tool's shovel head and lightweight construction came in handy because I was able to use it like a net to pin the grasshopper down and catch it. After processing the grasshopper, I dug a small pit in the ground and made a fire to roast it. All the grass and other small tinder in my vicinity was wet from a recent thunderstorm, so I carved the dry inner wood from a dead Chokecherry branch to make tinder to get the fire going.

Chokecherry tree:

The SOG Shovel made a great tinder holder for the Chokecherry shavings:

Here is the pit I dug with the SOG. First impression-- very good. The SOG E-Tool really came in handy while weighing much less than a traditional steel E-Tool. It seems to be durably built, but of course, only long term testing will tell if it's as tough as it seems. I plan to carry it with me on future adventures, where I will test the saw and use the shovel in harder ground to see how it holds up. You can check our SHOT Show 2014 review of the SOG E-Tool here.


Ready for roastin'! I wanted to make the grasshopper a quick snack, so I put it on a short stick and used my Leatherman to hold it close to the fire to roast it:


Grasshopper isn't the greatest tasting food, but compared to Carpenter Ants, it's almost gourmet. If you've never eaten roasted Carpenter Ants - they are very nasty! They're much better if you roast them and grind them up to add to a stew. That seems to lessen the bitter taste.


Actually grasshopper tastes a little like....(no, not chicken) shrimp! Bon appetite'!


About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ hotmail.com (without spaces)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

DUAL SURVIVAL: Cody Lundin says Discovery Channel defamed his character, says legal action is under way


Dual Survival star Cody Lundin pulled no punches in a Facebook post he wrote today titled "Dual Survival Defamation." In the post, Lundin accused the Discovery Channel of defaming his character, and said that his lawyers had sent cease and desist letters to Discovery prior to the broadcast of "Journey's End to a New Beginning" in an attempt to prevent the episode from airing.

Cody further stated that "What Dual Survival fans don’t know is that last night's "behind the scenes" episode was Discovery’s "Plan B" at attempting to explain why I am no longer on the show. "Plan A," which I refused to participate in, is far more interesting, informative and damning to those involved."

With lawyers getting involved, it sounds like this is only the beginning of an increasingly ugly battle between Cody and the Discovery Channel, which started with Cody's firing earlier this year.

Here is the full text of Cody's post:

Dual Survival Defamation

Hi Campers,
Taking the high road does not involve letting disingenuous people dump on you. I have heard that Discovery Communications and Original Media (the production company) tried their best to defame me on last night’s program, even dredging back into season three. Like herpes, just when one thinks the last boil is gone, another one appears. A cease and desist letter for defamation was sent to both companies by my attorney weeks ago. It seems this was ignored. For executives to purposely pick and edit footage out of context at my and the viewers expense, all the while knowing the real back story, is without conscience. Once again, these actions are uncalled for and have forced my hand to defend my professional reputation.

What Dual Survival fans don’t know is that last night’s “behind the scenes” episode was Discovery’s “Plan B” at attempting to explain why I am no longer on the show. “Plan A,” which I refused to participate in, is far more interesting, informative and damning to those involved.

On a positive note, I am overwhelmed by the support I have received from fans. Thousands of you have sent notes of well wishing in letters, emails, voice mails, facebook, and on my blog. Many of you expressed sadness at my parting, but were grateful for the integrity. One couple who had used my role on the show to teach their children outdoor skills is now using my termination as a teaching point to remind their kids to be true to themselves regardless of the apparent cost. Brilliant! We can all lose jobs, we can all lose friends, but if we lose our integrity and honor, we all lose. I appreciate your supporting qualities that cannot be bought.

Remember, the Light never fails!

Stay true, Cody


Do you think the Discovery Channel tried to defame Cody Lundin?

About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ hotmail.com (without spaces)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

DUAL SURVIVAL: Former 'Man Woman Wild' star Mykel Hawke speaks out about the firing of Cody Lundin


Mykel Hawke, survival expert and former star of Discovery's 'Man Woman Wild' and Travel Channel's 'Lost Survivors', reacted strongly yesterday to Cody Lundin being fired by the Discovery Channel. On his Facebook page Hawke, who at one point was Dual Survival co-star Joe Teti's commander when they served together in the California National Guard, did not mince words in reacting to the incident.

In the post, Hawke exclaimed "This is not about a man who was hired for not wearing shoes for 20 yrs and 4 seasons on a show, and then fired for the same thing. It's about what changed. That change came with a truck load of falsehoods. Those got 3 men dead. Now this real survival guy (has been) fired. 

It is easy to see the fake drama created to make the new 'expert' look like a hero, but his real record is anything but, and now, he continues to risk more folks' safety. Sorry, truth hurts sometimes. Anyway, next article in the installment of soap opera drama, and somewhat belittled again, by the media, failing to grasp the real issues. Nonetheless, I share, as was shared with me. Judge as you will."

This is certainly not the first time Hawke has spoken out about the Dual Survival show and its co-star Joe Teti. Last August, Hawke wrote a series of angry posts on his Facebook page accusing Teti of being a fraud, which RMB covered in this post.

Hawke also did an expose with the Air Force Times recently called 'Discovery Channel reality show star trades fire over combat experience,' in which he challenged the credentials Teti used to get on Dual Survival, and also claimed Teti was trying to steal sponsors that he had worked hard to get during his career.

How to Identify Poison Ivy

This is a great illustration about how to identify Poison Ivy courtesy of Canadian outdoor adventure site Treks in the Wild:


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Headed for the Southern Rockies!

Good morning RMB friends,

Hope you all are well!

I am leaving for the beautiful Southern Rocky Mountains this weekend to catch up on some writing, and won't be back to the Estes Park area until next month. I plan to use my time there to finish a number of articles and reviews, many that I've been wanting to post since last year. These include a tree identification article on the Pinion Pine, more axe and knife reviews, gear reviews, edible plant identification, commentary on bushcraft and survival, as well as the Chiappa Double Badger field review.

PLUS-- we will be giving away a couple of brand new Kelty backpacks and a pair of US made Wolverine hiking boots!

The Sangre de Cristo mountains are incredibly beautiful, so I'll be sure to share photos with you while I'm out hiking around. In other news, Rocky Mountain Bushcraft is getting ready to pass 1.8 million pageviews!

Leah and I really appreciate all of your support and for continuing to visit RMB.

Cheers!

Jason

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

First Impression: Mora 150 and 098 Fishing Knives- "Survival Fishing Knives"?

With warm Spring weather finally arriving after a dreadfully long winter in the high country, my thoughts are quickly turning into daydreams about visiting my favorite mountain fishing spots. With this in mind, I wanted to share a couple of cool pieces of fishing gear that I'll be testing this summer-- Mora's 150 and 098 Fishing knives:



 

What's interesting about the 150 and 098 knives is that they are as thick as Mora's Companion series bushcraft knives, so they could technically be pressed into service as survival knives if needed. Of course, this thickness comes at a price-- decreased filleting/slicing ability compared to standard fishing knives, which have ultra-thin blades.

I thought a fun test would be to filet some rainbow trout with these knives, then use them to make a fire (baton split wood, make kindling, feathersticks, etc) to cook the trout. Talk about multitasking! Can't wait to see how they work out.....



Check back as summer approaches and I should have an update posted!

Cheers, Jason


About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ hotmail.com (without spaces)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

REVIEW: The Big Bad Mora Bushcraft Pathfinder Knife- UPDATED


Mora's new super-sized Pathfinder Knife has probably generated more excitement than any Mora in recent history.

Ever since RMB first mentioned it last year, forums and blogs have been buzzing about the Pathfinder, and for good reason. At a whopping 6.75" long and an 1/8" thick, it is the biggest and baddest Mora knife ever produced.

It is readily apparent from the Pathfinder's size and wallet-numbing $129.99 MSRP (yes folks, a $100 Mora, that is not a typo) that Mora is taking square aim at the US consumer survival knife market, which tends to favor large blades. This is definitely a risky move on their part, since they will be competing with well established, reputable US survival knife makers such as Ontario, Gerber, ESEE, KaBar, Cold Steel, Buck, SOG and many others.


As many longtime readers know, I'm a huge Mora fan, so I've been excited about the release of this knife. Will the Pathfinder live up to its hyped-up expectations? Find out as I take the Pathfinder into the Colorado backcountry to see if it actually measures up to the standards of a true survival blade.

The SPECS:

Overall length: 11.75"
Blade Length: 6.75"
Weight with sheath (as measured on a digital US Postal Scale): 8.1oz
Weight without sheath (as measured on a digital US Postal Scale): 6.0oz
Steel type: Swedish High Carbon Steel 
Coating type: Black Tungsten DLC 
Sheath type: Nylon Webbing
Country of Manufacture: Made in Sweden
Street price: $97.95 at LifeView Outdoors

FEATURES

Based on Mora's popular Black Carbon Bushcraft Knife, the Pathfinder is simply a longer version of the Black Carbon with a wider blade towards the tip. Since they are essentially the same knife, I won't rehash all the details and instead, encourage you to check out our full review of the Black Carbon posted back in November of 2012.

Size Comparison

The Pathfinder practically dwarfs the smaller Black Carbon Bushcraft Knife:
(click to enlarge)

The Pathfinder shown over top of SOG's popular Force 6" Survival Knife (middle) and Mora's Black Carbon Bushcraft Knife (bottom):

At 6.75" long, the Pathfinder's blade is nearly as long as a KaBar Knife:

The blade thickness on the Pathfinder is the same as on the Black Carbon:


SHEATH

A longer, wider blade is not the only change for the Pathfinder. It also has a new nylon webbing MOLLE compatible sheath with additional eyelets for tying the sheath to a pack or using it with a leg lanyard:


The belt loop is a bit thin for my taste, but it did hold the sheath securely to my belt on a couple of day hikes. Due to the strap's thinness, the sheath will hang loosely on your belt, similar to a dangler sheath. Since I like danglers, this was not an issue for me, but some might find it annoying if they're used to a stiffer belt loop on their sheaths.


The sheath has a plastic liner to protect it from the edge of the blade:


One issue that arose was the retention strap getting cut by the blade when removing the knife from the sheath. This happened even when I was being extra careful and trying to hold the strap away from the blade:

(click to enlarge)

FIELD TESTING

To field test the Pathfinder, I wanted to concentrate mainly on how its larger blade would perform in comparison to the shorter-bladed Black Carbon. This included making feathersticks, chopping and batoning.

Featherstick Test

I knew the Pathfinder would be better at batoning and chopping than the Black Carbon, but I was pretty certain that it would lose some of the Black Carbon's fine carving ability, which is typical of longer blades. After making several feather sticks from dry Lodgepole Pine and Douglas Fir, my first impression proved incorrect. The Pathfinder, in fact, turned out to be as good if not better than the Black Carbon with its 6 3/4" blade:


Chopping

The Pathfinder proved to be a fairly capable chopper due to the forward weighted blade and sharp edge. Unfortunately, this is where the trouble began......


While chopping through a small dead pine branch, I stopped and inspected the edge on the Pathfinder:


 I was quite surprised to see a chip in it. Here is a closeup of the edge:

(click to enlarge)


When I informed Mora of this issue, they were very concerned, and quickly sent us a newer production sample of the Pathfinder to test. This was in case the original test sample had a heat treatment issue or some other manufacturing defect. Here the newer blade is on top, with the original, darker test unit on the bottom. I could see no difference in the two aside from a slight variation in shading on the DLC coating:


I took the new test sample back out into the field and chopped some dead pine branches with it. On the 3rd test branch, the same issue appeared, except that instead of a chip, the edge rolled on the lower section of the blade:




Due to the Pathfinder's edge failing during the chopping test, I decided to discontinue any further field testing.

Conclusion

What does the Pathfinder's failure during the chopping test mean for its future as a survival knife in the US market? I think it's a major growing pain for Mora as they enter this very competitive market.

Knowing what I know about Mora and the overall quality of their knives, it is quite obvious to me that Mora's fantastic Scandinavian edge grind, which makes their knives such a dream to carve with, has met its match when dealing with the physics of chopping.

As I've illustrated in previous write-ups, Moras of different shapes and sizes have handled batoning of exceptionally tough pieces of wood without failure.  So I doubt the Pathfinder's problem is an issue with steel quality or heat treat methods. If the Pathfinder had a slightly thicker edge, I'm fairly certain it could handle chopping with no issues. 

With this in mind, I think the Pathfinder is better suited for use as a large bushcraft blade, as opposed to a survival knife, where edge strength trumps fine carving ability. As a bushcraft blade, the Pathfinder shines, because not only does it carve exceptionally well, it also can baton larger pieces of wood than the Black Carbon knife. Plus it's a better blade for tactical purposes if you're looking for this quality in a bushcraft knife.


Other issues: Although it seems well constructed, the sheath leaves a bit to be desired. The biggest problem is the retention strap, which is going to wear with hard use, due to it getting cut when the knife is pulled out of the sheath. The thin belt loop strap might also bother some users. In my opinion, it would be a good idea if Mora were to offer the Pathfinder with the same plastic survival sheath that is currently offered with the Mora Black Carbon Bushcraft Survival Knife. The Black Carbon's sheath is lightweight, functional and a proven performer in the field.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the five ton elephant standing in the corner of the room-- the Pathfinder's price. With an MSRP of $129.99, it's a "what were they thinking?" type of moment. The consumer culture that Mora created for its knives over the last several decades is one of frugality, high value, and economy with quality. What does this mean in street terms??? People just ain't gonna pay a whole lotta "bank" for a Mora knife. At least not at this stage of the game. Mora would be smart to lower the Pathfinder's impact on the wallet.


As it stands, I don't think the Pathfinder is ready for prime-time as a survival knife, due to its inability to handle chopping even small dead branches. Nothing short of a change in the edge thickness/geometry will be able to fix this problem. As a bushcraft blade, the Pathfinder falls only slightly short because of the retention strap issue on the sheath. Mora did inform us that they are looking into the issues with the edge as well as the sheath. My guess is that you'll see some type of revision to the Pathfinder soon.

Final Thoughts

If Mora offered the Pathfinder with a Black Carbon style plastic survival sheath, I think it would be a great choice for people looking for a bushcraft blade that can baton larger pieces of wood. You wouldn't want to chop with it, but you could use it just as you would any other Mora bushcraft blade. I'm going to give the Pathfinder a split review rating and recommendation, the first time I've done so at RMB.........

Survival Knife- 2 out of 5 Stars (Not recommended)

Large Bushcraft Knife- 3.75 out of 5 Stars (With a Mora Black Carbon style survival sheath, 4.5 out of 5 Stars)

For more information visit: www.industrialrev.com/bushcraft-pathfinder.html

Mora Pathfinder Knife UPDATE- Does the new revised Pathfinder stand up to the test?

About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ hotmail.com (without spaces)