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All posts for the month April, 2012

Shedding some light…on Flashlights. 

What?! Flashlights?!  Yes.  But, this is a firearms site?  Indeed.  You don’t always need one with the other, but there are times they go hand-in-hand.  In fact, if you have a firearm for home defense, a high-quality, high-output flashlight or weapon light to use with that firearm in low-light, or no-light situations is a must.  Even if you don’t own a firearm, there are many great reasons everyone needs at least one high-quality flashlight that puts out some serious candle-power!

I actually recommend three to four: one for your home, one for your vehicle, one that’s part of your Every Day Carry (EDC) system, and one for your Bug-Out-Bag if you have such a thing.  A high-quality light is just another smart, useful tool.  Useful tools give you capability and options.  Capability and options are good, especially in emergency, or dangerous situations.

After all, if you can’t see it, then you can’t find it, fix it, identify it, or eliminate it!  Nor can you find your way out of a dark situation, or find your loved ones in the dark without some kind of light. 

Now, everybody knows a good, working flashlight is necessary whenever there’s a power outage.  Likewise, anyone who’s into the great outdoors and spent time outside in low-light or no-light situations already knows the value of good illumination.  But beyond those “prepared for” situations, and those “planned for” activities, a good flashlight gives you an advantage in many situations:

  • A good flashlight can be used as a safety tool in dangerous situations:
    • In conjunction with a firearm for home defense.
    • In a pinch, a fierce burst of light directly into the eyes of a threat, possibly followed by a bevel strike, might be enough to get you or your loved ones out of a dangerous situation.
    • If you ever get caught in an emergency situation away from your home, vehicle or Bug-Out-Bag based emergency flashlight stash, an EDC light can be used to guide you and others to safety, or to signal others, including rescue personnel, to your location.
      • How many of you reading this would have a high-quality, usable light on you if the power went out in your office high-rise, or while commuting on public transportation, possibly several stories underground, or in a tunnel somewhere?

 

  • A good flashlight can also be a real value-add in many non-emergency, everyday situations, used for:
    • Throwing light on a car or home doorlock to help find the right key to quickly and easily get inside.
    • Trying to find whatever it is that just rolled under that big, heavy piece of furniture, or that fell between your car seats.
    • Trying to find or fix something in the truck or under the hood.

 

OK, so now that you realize why you need a good flashlight we can focus on who makes the good ones, what makes them so good, and give you some specific recommendations.  None of which will include those cheap plastic things with weak incandescent bulbs.  Likewise, none of which will include that old, heavy, multi-cell “C” or “D” MagLite that used to be THE Standard.  I mean, back in the day, everybody had the big MagLite, and likley its little brother, the MiniMag.  That was before flashlight technology improved so much, and before we knew better.  This post is about hard-use flashlights.

Now, believe it or not, there are a lot of people that really get into these things.  People who love to analyze and debate technicalities and specifications to almost crazy and dizzying degrees of detail.  (I’m not just talking lumen output, battery types, battery life, size and weight, etc. These people get into things like beam type, throw, side spill, the presence or lack of artifacts, light temperature, LED designs, reflector and lens materials, etc. etc.)  Suffice it to say I’m not going anywhere near that level of detail.  It’s mostly irrelevant for our purposes.  Plus, if you’re still reading this post and learning something from it, you’re definitely not one of those people.

Seriously, flashlight technology has come a long way in the past couple of years.  Its a trend I don’t see slowing down anytime soon, especially in the LED (Light-Emitting Diode) arena.  The sheer amount of lumen output, the advancements in color temperature, the number of modes available, the design, durability and overall reliability provided by the high-quality flashlights on the market today far surpasses anything available from just a few year ago.

Here are couple of great high-quality, high-output and high-value recommendations for just about every price point.  While the manufacturers site is a great starting point for checking out different models and getting technical specs, you can generally find these all for well below MSRP. I’ve included some Amazon links to give you an idea of street prices, and to make purchasing easy.

FourSevens Quark Mini

In terms of light output, number of modes, quality craftsmanship, durability and price, you just can’t beat a FourSevens Quark Mini.  It offers a high-quality CREE LED that outputs 189 lumen from one CR123 Lithium battery.  It has seven output modes.  It’s only 2.3 inches long.  It weighs only .62 ounces (zero point six two) and it retails for only $45?!

It’s powerful enough to be your primary home flashlight (though I’d typically recommend something a littler bigger and heavier, with two CR123 batteries and a tail-cap switch), yet it’s small & lightweight enough to be your Every Day Carry light.  It’s also relatively inexpensive, so you you’re not gonna be too pissed if it gets banged-up with hard use (not likely), or if it gets lost in the field.  That’s high-value.

Every member of my family has a FourSevens Quark Mini 123 hanging on their key chain.  It’s pretty much with them at all times, and comes in handy a lot.

FourSevens Preon2

The Preon2 offers similar functionality in a penlight form factor.  Output is 160 lumen, it has seven output modes and it runs on two AAA batteries.  I’d get something a little bigger and heavier as a primary home use flashlight, but this is a great light to use as part of your EDC system, to keep in your vehicle, or to throw in your Bug-Out Bag.  It’s thin, lightweight, easy to carry, very inconspicuous, throws a ton of light, and you can get batteries for it pretty much anywhere.

 

Streamlight

Streamlight has a long history of making lights for law enforcement, fire/rescue, and military uses.  More recently they’ve started focusing on the industrial, sporting goods, and auto/hardware markets, basically now making a light for every user, and every purpose.  They pride themselves on American innovation, being made by enthusiasts for enthusiasts, and on their customer service.

Streamlight Stinger

I got a rechargeable Streamlight Stinger as a gift one year, and it’s outstanding.  It’s billed as “The Standard flashlight in law enforcement the world over”, and with good reason.  It’s a solid piece of hardware, throws a lot of light and holds a charge for a long time.  It’s made with a black anodized, machined aluminum housing, a Xenon gas-filled bi-pin bulb, an adjustable focus beam and puts out 90 lumen.  Mine came with chargers for both the house and a vehicle, but different packaging options are available, and you can always add chargers.  We were camping with another family two summers ago, and when I broke out my Stinger late one night, the comment I got from my friend was, “Oh, there’s the Sun.”  It really is like rechargeable daylight.

 It’s a bit on the pricey side, and too heavy / bulky for EDC, but it’s absolutely perfect for home emergencies, to keep in your vehicle or for the Bug-Out-Bag.  Just make sure to keep it charged.  When I’m going someplace where I absolutely need a bright, tough, heavy-duty, dependable light that I know won’t let me down, I grab my Stinger. There are many good reasons you’ll see these hanging in Police, Fire and EMS departments across the Country.

Streamlight Professional Tactical Line

If the Stinger is more than you’re looking for, something from the Streamlight ProTac line should fit the bill as a more economical, good all around choice.  Check out the PolyTac as a high-value option.  It’s relatively indestructible, small, lightweight and it throws 130 lumen of light.  My friend who made that “there’s the sun” comment obviously saw the light, and he picked up the PolyTac not long after our camping trip.

 

SureFire

Like Streamlight, Surefire has a long history of making military grade, battle ready flashlights, weaponlights and lasers.  Their products are used extensively in real-World hostile, wartime situations by the military.  They pride themselves on quality craftsmanship, reliability, durability, customer service and their no-hassle warranty.  (Though you’ll probably never need that warranty.)  My Dad came across SureFire while he was on-the-job, and their thing at the time was big-time lumen from small packages, like the now discontinued E2E Executive Elite.  It was really revolutionary, unheard of illumination excellence at the time, especially for the output, size, weight and indestructible construction.

SureFire G2X Tactical

Though potentially pricey for a battery operated light, the G2X Tactical that outputs 200 lumen from a relatively small and lightweight package makes a great primary home flashlight, or even all around choice.  I have a couple of the now discontinued, older and less expensive variants, with incandescent bulbs.  Those old ones only put out 60 lumen, (very low by today’s standards), but they still work, they’re still tough as nails, and they get the job done.  Those old G2s are my general use lights.  Point being that when you decide to invest in a high-quality product, you’ll get years of dependable, reliable service from it.

 

Coleman Max Ultra High Power LED

Coleman makes great, good quality family camping and outdoor gear at very attractive price points.  Their higher-end stuff, like their legendary lanterns, some of their camp stoves and bad weather clothing are extremely high-quality and high-value.  While they’ve always made ok generic flashlights and ok battery operated lanterns, some of their more recent LED flashlights are interesting.  One example in the Coleman Max or Ultra High Power LED.  It puts out 130 – 137 lumen, which is a ton of light, runs on common, found anywhere AA batteries (though you need 6 of them), and can be had for cheap.  If you’re looking for an incredibly versatile, high-quality flashlight for all around use, there are better options listed above.  However, if sheer output for dollar is your goal, give this one a look because it does make a great home use, or vehicle use flashlight.  It’s built pretty well and its relatively tough, just not as indestructible as others I’ve listed, so it might not live up to repeated hard-use.  Also, its size and weight make it too big, bulky and heavy for me to pack on trips, or to use for outdoor activities.   Shop locally, and if you can find one for ~$25-30 then pick it up, but otherwise for ~$40, the Quark Mini 123 is a much better way to go.

 

Final thoughts and some quick tips:

While built for “your-life-literally-depends-on-it” durability and reliability, if there’s any downside to SureFire and Streamlight, it’s the price – even on some of what they consider their lower end models.  Also, depending upon what’s going on in the World and which model you choose, they can be hard to get.  Priority is given to Military and Law Enforcement personnel – as it should be – and those folks tend to snatch them up quickly.  Plus, while they’re definitely cool to have, worth the investment and will last a very long time, not everyone needs that level of performance.

  • For an all around high-output, high-quality flashlight, and especially when carried as part of your EDC system, you just can’t beat the capability, size, weight and function of the FourSevens Quark Mini.  But for even more versatility, a Nutnfancy tip is to combine your Quark Mini with a Fenix headband for an incredibly lightweight, yet extremely powerful, multifunction headlamp.  It puts my not-that-old dedicated headlamp to absolute shame.

 

  • Don’t knock that “girlie” bright yellow option where offered… it’s A LOT easier to find in the field when you drop it –especially when it’s not on, when it’s dark, and nobody else has a light.

 

So, now you that know why you need one, and what you should get, GO GET IT so you’re prepared to Light it Up.  Not only when the next major blackout, hurricane, or Nor’Easter comes rollin’ through, but anytime you need to, or just want to!  Just make sure you keep it charged and/or to have some extra batteries on hand: at home, in your vehicle and in the Go-Bag!

2012 SHOT Show Wrap-Up (Part 2) – Finally!

In case you missed it, here are links to my previous 2012 SHOT Show posts.

Anticipation – What I’d really like to see this year!

Part 1 – How we did against what we wanted to see.

In those posts, I talked about what we wanted to see at this year’s show, covered some overall industry trends, and basically judged how SHOT 2012 delivered against our wants.  (All-in-all, we did pretty damn well, especially for an evolutionary, not revolutionary year.)  To finish our SHOT Show 2012 coverage, this post highlights other guns, gear and equipment that peaked our interest, or further exemplify the industry trends we highlighted.

 

The Springfield XD-S in .45acp.  Furthering the trend of ultra concealable, small form factor pistols in larger calibers

Like the rest of the XD line, this is a polymer frame, double action only handgun, using Springfield’s Ultra Safe Assurance (USA) Action Trigger System, with a 1911-esq grip safety, and a loaded chamber indicator.  Dimensionally, the XD-S is 1″ wide, 6.3″ inches long overall (with a 3.3″ barrel), 4.4″ inches tall and weighs in at 21.5oz unloaded.  It even has an accessory rail for a light and/or laser sight built into the frame – a pretty cool feature for a gun this size.  At first glance, you’re likely to guess this is just another new entrant in the red-hot “pocket” 9mm niche.  You’d be wrong.  The XD-S is chambered in .45acp.  I find this to be a really great looking little gun.  Pleasing to the eye, it definitely has that “Second Kind of Cool” appeal.  With only a 5+1 capacity, round count seems a bit light.  I also want to shoot it myself before I pass judgment on things like recoil and follow-up shots.  It might be perfect for those guys that just like .45 acp, and want something smaller than what they’re carrying now.  Who knows, maybe there’s an XD-S in 9mm or 40 on the horizon??  Check back in after I get my hands on one at the range and shoot it, but in the meantime, here’s a link to Springfield’s site so you can check out the XD-S for yourself:  http://www.xdspistol.com/

 

Modularity

The trend of high-quality, user configurable, accurate and versatile firearms continues to evolve.  I think it’s great!!  Sure, ‘kit guns‘ have always been around.  Likewise, the military has always been focused on modularity for quick and easy combat and machine gun barrel changes, an/or quick, low-cost caliber changes.  However, current factory offerings are taking things to an entirely new level for the civilian market.  The custom hot-rod, ‘pimp my ride‘ craze has finally hit the firearms market…and why not?!

The Mossberg Flex

I’m a huge fan of O.F. Mossberg & Sons.  My first shotgun was a Mossberg 500 with interchangeable barrels; a 28″ bird barrel with threaded chokes, and a 24″ rifled slug barrel for deer and bear sized game.  It was a recommendation from my LGS owner, and a great one at that!  It is the definition of high-value, and it’s made right here in the U.S.A.  I couldn’t be happier.

While maybe not as popular as some other well known brands, Mossberg has successfully passed the stringent US Army’s Mil-Spec 3443E test and as such, has a very proud history of use in Military & Law Enforcement applications.  Additionally, Mossberg shotguns have always had some great design features, like the easy to reach, easy to operate, ambidextrous tang safety.  In my opinion the tang safety is a superior design to those offered by most of the competition.  (Doesn’t sound like a big deal until you start losing birds and other game  – or worse – because you couldn’t get that safety off fast enough.  I’ve seen it happen on at least a few hunts.)

Now, anyone who currently owns a Mossberg 500 already knows how versatile of a platform it is.  You’ve got 18.5″ home defense barrels, all kinds of different length and configurable choke bird barrels, various rifled slug barrel choices (with & without the cantilevered scope mounts) and muzzle loader conversion kits. Yes, I can make my Mossberg 500 pump gun a muzzleloader!  Hell, I think they even have a line thrower conversion kit.  O.F. Mossbertg & Sons has always been about high-value and versatility.

With the FLEX, Mossberg is capitalizing on this platform, making the 500 even easier to customize, and more versatile than ever.  Compared to a standard, or old school 500, the FLEX has some design changes to make stock and forend changes easier for the end user.  Expect numerous accessories to customize the look, operation and performance of your ride…err, shotgun.

The Thompson-Center Dimension

Thompson/Center Arms (now a subsidiary of Smith & Wesson) conjures up one of two images for most firearms enthusiasts; muzzleloaders, or break-open, single shot hunting firearms, available in both handgun (The Contender) and long gun (The Encore) configurations.  Now, if you’re familiar with these platforms, you already know that like O.F. Mossberg & Sons, T/C has a long standing history of providing high-quality, high-value, and user configurable (modular) platforms.  Nothin’ new there.  What was new back in ~2008, was T/C’s first attempt at a bolt action gun (The Icon).  It was a resounding success.  Then in 2010, T/C released an everyman’s version of that bolt-gun (The Venture), touting similar high-quality craftsmanship and accuracy in a more affordable, high-value package.  For 2012, Thompson Center has released something new that is a combination of the high-quality, high-value, modular firearm platforms they’ve always been known for, with their more recent experience and success for producing bolt-action hunting rifles. The Dimension is born.  If O.F. Mossberg & Sons just ‘pimped’ your ole’ pump-scatter-gun, Thompson/Center Arms just did it to your bolt-action rile:

 

Everything Old is New Again…

Colt Manufacturing – At one point in the not too distant past, and for a long while, Colt was synonymous with high-quality handguns – with plenty of military and LE support.  The Colt Single Action Army, aka ‘The Peacemaker’.  The Colt Python.  The Colt .45, M1911.  In the late 70’s and early 80’s, many believed that if you had a S&W revolver, and a Colt .45 M1911, you pretty much had the best-of-the-best – almost all your handgun bases covered.  Then unfortunately, at some point around the late 80s and early 90s, Colt kinda’ lost their way a bit.  Like the “bad” Harley years under AMF, it was generally accepted that Colt’s Quality Control suffered.  In ~April 1985, the Beretta Model 92 beat out the Colt .45 to become the U.S Armed Forces chosen handgun.  Around the same time, a rash of ‘new‘ companies, with some ‘revolutionary‘ handgun designs began entering the U.S. handgun market (like Glock in ~1986).  Yeah, between the perfect storm of QC issues, and then-new “space-aged” designs, people drifted away from Colt.

Well, now Colt Manufacturing is making somewhat of a comeback and enjoying a bit of renaissance.

While not new this year, except for the black finish, the Colt Rail Gun 1911, chambered in traditional .45 acp was on-hand at SHOT 2012.  Michael Bane, of ‘Shooting Gallery‘ highlighted that gun in his segment on “Most Significant Guns of the Year“.

The original mini-1911, the Colt Mustang Pocketlite, is also back.  Like the original from 1986, it has an aluminum frame and is chambered in .380.  It was on-hand at SHOT 2012, and from all the coverage I saw, it was pretty well received.  (Though personally, I’d have rather seen a 9mm).  No doubt, between Sig’s p238 and 938 offerings, Colt has some serious catching up to do… That said, you have to give them credit for bringing back an “old favorite” design. One that is as welcomed today as when the original debuted – if not more so.

Rock River Arms Polymer 1911

Rock River Arms is known for custom quality, yet affordable (high-value) AR Platforms.  Handguns?  Not so much.  Maybe until now.  The polymer 1911 in .45acp is nothing new, not even in double stack variants, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t caught on as much as other polymer framed handguns.  New for 2012 RRA has jumped into the handgun market…and their first offering is a polymer frame 1911.  From all the research I’ve done, I’m a fan of their AR platform.  Some of their AR offerings and parts ranks high on my list, so I’m anxious to see how this poly 1911 is received.  That said, and while I’m certainly no 1911 expert, I just can’t get excited about “ole’ slab sides” that is anything but….well, ole slab sides….  You can check it out here: RRA 1911 Poly 

 

 

Holsters, Knives and other gear:

Blackhawk  – High-quality gear, but probably best known for their SERPA Holster system.   New for 2012, and debuted at SHOT is their women’s line of holsters.  I’d swear I also saw a convertible IWB / OWB holster…  Check em out here: http://www.blackhawk.com/

ESEE Knives – Outstanding, hard-use survival blades.  New for 2012 are the Cadiru and Laser Strike Series – as well as the Venon Green series.  Check em out here: http://www.eseeknives.com/index2.htm

Spyderco Knives – Outstanding blades of all kinds.  Let’s just say that at a minimum, I’ve got a Delica 4 FFG VG-10 that’s with me at almost all times.  Need something for defensive, utility, everyday carry, fishing / hunting, marine or other purposes?  Spyderco has you covered.  Check em out here: http://www.spyderco.com/

SOG Knives – I won’t argue with Gunny!  SOG offers some great blades for defensive, utility, hunting and survival purposes.  Check em out here: http://www.sogknives.com/

Gerber – Innovative, high-value products, and not just great blades – entrenching tools, axes, survival kits, etc.  Check em out here: http://www.gerbergear.com/

Leatherman – Looking for something significantly more hard-use and heavy duty than the average multi-implement knife?  Hey, sometimes you need a real set of pliers with your blades and drivers – and wouldn’t it be nice if the blades and other implements locked open?  Back in the early 1990s, I bought what was then their completely revolutionary original version.  I’ve been a huge fan ever since; upgrading or getting different variants and giving them as gifts on more than a few occasions.  While there is a lot more pretty good competition these days, you can never go wrong with an original!  Leatherman is contnually innovating and improving their products, with some new offerings for 2012, and they’re all made right there, in the U.S.A.  Like my Spyderco Delica 4 FFG, you can bet there’s a Leatherman almost always on my person, or very close at hand….   Check ’em out here: http://www.leatherman.com/

Victorinox – The classic Swiss Army Knife.  Possibly a “first” or only knife for many. For 2012 are some “new” twists and re-releases of old favorites.  Victornox is also getting into the fixed blade market aimed specifically at hunting and survival.  Check em out here: http://www.swissarmy.com/us/content/swissarmy/category/1

FourSevens Flashlights – Very high-quality, high-value LED flashlights.  Because who doesn’t need a flashlight?!   For 2012 they’ve rebranded from 4Sevens to FourSevens.  Otherwise, it’s the same great products with slightly different names, and a few new, high-end offerings.  Word to the wise, if you can snag some Quark, Mini or Preon 2 products on sale with the old branding DO IT… DO IT NOW!  (That is if you can still find them with the old branding.)  Even if you don’t find a sale, FourSevens lights offer almost unbeatable value.  You’ll be amazed at the amount of light you can get from something so small and light weight – yet still tough as nails.  I got Mini 123’s for every member in my family, who promptly put them on their key chains.  Never be without a flashlight again.  Check em out here: http://foursevens.com/

MaxPedition – Hard-Use Gear Everyday.  Being an evolutionary year overall at SHOT, MaxPedition continued to show-case current favorites (like the Jumbo Versapack) and new variants on those favorites.  If you need a new adventure bag for every day carry, travel bag, backpacking or survival, give these guys a good look.  Check em out here: http://www.maxpedition.com/

 

Again, this wasn’t everything at SHOT – there are literally thousands of things at SHOT.  But beyond what I really wanted to see for 2012, this is just the stuff that caught my eye and gear I always stay current with.   Look for product reviews and links to other reviews as content expands.  Post comments, questions or check my links for additional coverage.