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Phillosoph

Beyond the Pail: Buckets for Survival

Why a bucket?
Recently I blogged on the topic of dish-washing. Today, I want you to imagine that you are somewhere far from civilized plumbing. You may want to wash your cookware, clothing or you may want to wash yourself. What do you do?
Some of you, I suspect, may suggest that you head for the nearest body of water and wash there. We will assume you have been prudent and lucky enough to have placed your camp within an easy travel distance of water. Not too close, to limit hassles from insects.
Washing yourself or your dishes in a body of water is not ideal. Even in parts of the world where that water is not inhabited by crocodiles, alligators, mosquitoes, schistosomiasis or similar.
The problem is that your activity generates what is known as “greywater” or “sullage”. Dirty water, soap or detergent, and also suspended fats, grease and food particles.
Even if you use biodegradable products, biodegradation takes time! While this process is on-going, your greywater may have various effects on the body of water, including changes in pH, viscosity and changes in oxygen level.
A much better approach is to cast your greywater on to the soil, some distance from the nearest body of water. The creatures of the soil can deal with greywater much better than those of the water, and any effects are more localized. Choose ground that is absorbent, and do not use the same place on consecutive days.
OK, so you have seen the wisdom of washing some distance from the water source. Just how do you get the water to wash with to the desired location?
Your water bottle or bladder probably only holds a litre or three. You have probably treated the contents to make them safe for drinking, so using this for washing is a little wasteful. Your canteen cup probably only holds half a litre or so. You may have larger cooking pans, but for efficiency these will only be a couple or litres capacity or less. Many modern designs do not have handles suited to carrying a couple of kilos of liquid any distance.
You could fabricate a water carrier from local materials. Kephart has a whole chapter on making utensils from bark. Such crafts take time, and suitable materials will not be available in every environment or season.
Would it not have been useful if you had brought a plastic bucket with you?
Grey Plastic Bucket

Buckets for Preppers

I recall being in a bar decades ago. I had just rented a new place, actually my first real flat with multiple rooms I did not have to share with anyone. I was chatting to a young woman and told her: “I have brought a plastic bucket and bowl, so I am all set!” Many years and many locations later, that same bucket and bowl are still with me. Used the bowl just a few weeks back to soak the grill of my halogen oven.
Some will scoff! “I'm a backpacker! I go ultra-light! There is no room for a bucket!”.
Empty buckets weight very little. Being mass-produced, they cost very little too! Shop around!
If you pack the bucket full of foodstuffs and other stores, it will take up very little room in your pack. It actually provides them with some protection. Oddly, some larger capacity buckets pack better than their smaller cousins. More on capacity later.
Camouflage 5 litre bucket

What Use Is a Bucket?

What uses can we put a bucket to? We have already mentioned carrying water for washing, dish-washing and laundry.
• A friend of mine gave me a folding camping sink that holds about ten litres. Not a priority for the bug-out bag, but he thought it might be useful for more recreational camping trips. I now look at this item and wonder just how I was supposed to fill it. Ten litres of water is around 22 pounds! A filled, folding sink is not something you want to carry from a standpipe. I would have needed a bulk-water carrier, or a bucket.
If you have tried the techniques in my dish-washing article, you will know that you do not need a large capacity vessel to wash most items.
You can use a small bowl or bucket of water to wash a large diameter item such as a plate, frying pan or yourself!
Use a cup, or your hand, as a water ladle to wet and rinse. The dirty water does not go back into the vessel, so it is cleaner and more efficient.
I doubt that folding sink will ever see use. I will find a bucket that fits into my pack. A bucket will probably be more durable than a sink/bowl designed to fold.
• Read through a survival manual or book on woodcraft, and you will probably come across references to soaking things to make them more pliable or more edible. You cannot fit much in a mess-tin!
• Cannot reach the water source? Bucket on a rope may solve that problem.
• Let the water come to you! Place your bucket to collect rainwater.
• Successful day fishing or squirrel shooting? Carry your windfall back to camp in a bucket.
• Find a patch of berries? Your bucket will hold as much as you can carry.
As a quick aside: In one of Ray Mears shows one of his local hosts had an interesting berry-picking technique. She simply swiped the bush with her basket. Enough berries apparently detached and ended up in the basket for this to be a considerable labour-saving. Something to experiment with in berry season!
• An empty bucket can be used as a drum to guide companions back to camp, or just let them know dinner is nearly ready.
• A bucket can be used to dig through soft snow or sand.
• A up-turned bucket makes a useful stool and (if sturdy enough) can be used as a step.
• If you have trouble squatting when attending to “calls of nature” an up-turned bucket can be a useful support while you hang your nether-regions over a “cat-hole”.
• And if it is really nasty outside the shelter, as a vase de nuit.
Any party of more than a couple of individuals should include a bucket in their equipment.
Smaller parties and solo travellers should give them serious consideration.
Any vehicle, be it boat, SUV or APC, should find room for a bucket. The interior of the bucket can be used to store other useful items. In an emergency, grab the bucket and be instantly equipped with useful assets.
Some companies even offer 72-hour kits packed in buckets.

Green ten litre bucket

Choosing a Bucket

For backpackers, cyclists and lightweight travellers, the bucket chosen needs some consideration.
Obviously, we want a bucket that will fit easily into our pack, with little wasted space.
There is little point in my recommending a bucket of a certain capacity. In my kitchen I have two buckets, not counting one for floor-washing. The five litre bucket is too narrow at the bottom. It will fit in a daysack, but it is space-inefficient. The three (Imperial) gallon bucket is about twice the capacity (13.6 litres) but is too wide at the top for even my largest rucksacks.
The interior dimensions of your pack will be more significant than bucket capacity. Taking your pack down to the hardware store and trying some buckets for size is not that bad an idea. Remember the bucket will be riding above your softer pack items, so perhaps put a sleeping bag and a realistic load of clothing in the pack before you hit the hardware store.
Depending on intended role, you may want bright colours or natural and neutral. The outside of a bucket can easily be spray-painted.
Cylindrical buckets, with the bottom of similar diameter to the top, may be a better choice than more conventional tapered designs. Between five and ten litre size may be a good option for these.
If you decide to buy a bucket on-line, bear in mind that perfectly suitable items may be available under various other names, such as “paint kettle” or “storage tub”. There will be bowls and various other containers that can be made into buckets with just the simple addition of a handle.
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Phillosoph

Camouflage: Light, Dark, Neutral and Natural

Camouflage is about “not being seen”, which is one of the most fundamental of survival strategies. If you cannot become “invisible”, you may be able to appear insignificant, uninteresting or become easily “lost in a crowd”.
You may have spent good money on the latest designer camouflage, but it is of no use to you hanging up at home. The most likely source of threat is other human-beings, and you are most at risk when other people are around.
Miyamoto Musashi tells us in the “Book of Five Rings”:
“In all forms of strategy, it is necessary to maintain the combat stance in everyday life and to make your everyday stance your combat stance. You must research this well.”
In clothing terms, what Musashi tells us means your everyday wear should be selected with a mind to decreasing your “visibility”.
Camouflage-patterned clothing does have a place in a prepper's wardrobe. There are, however, times when using camouflage-patterned clothing may be counter-productive. In cosmopolitan cities, clothing in camouflage or camouflage-like patterns may attract little attention. In other parts of the world, its use may attract unwelcome attention, or get you wrongly identified as military, paramilitary or a poacher.
Even if restricted to unpatterned clothing, there are strategies that we can adopt that will still decrease our visibility.
In previous blogs, I have touched upon a concept that might be called “camouflage without camouflage”. One can make oneself less observable by using a mix of non-camo-pattern clothing.
By using a variety of shades and hues, the basic identifiable human-shape can be broken up and become harder to distinguish. I have advised that you select clothing items in neutral and natural shades and colours.
While this remains good advice, a little more thought needs to be given to the system and some additional explanation may be warranted.

What is a Neutral Colour?

“Neutral colors are muted shades that appear to lack color but often have underlying hues that change with different lighting. Examples of neutral colors include beige, taupe, gray, cream, brown, black, and white. While neutral colors are not on the color wheel, they complement primary and secondary colors.”
On this blog I have stressed “neutral and natural”. Not all colours classed as neutrals are suitable for concealment.

Black

Regular readers should already know that “black is NOT a camouflage colour”.
In the movies, the bad guys, and often the hero will be dressed in black. It looks great on screen, and makes the actors stand out. This is exactly the opposite of the effect we want our clothes to have!
Even at night, black is to be avoided. In many partially lit conditions, black can be too dark, and stand out. Seldom is it dark enough for black clothing.
The special forces in Vietnam who dyed their gear black knew the colour would soon fade to a more useful dark grey.
Pure black clothing also tends to show the dirt, so you might like to rethink its usefulness as general wear.
If you want a dark suit for weddings and funeral, buy charcoal-grey rather than true black.

White

White is another colour that stands out and should be avoided. Like black, white really shows up any dirt.
The only time to wear white is when there is snow on the ground.
White garments used as snow camouflage should be uninsulated. If they are warm, you will be tempted to wear them all the time, they will quickly become dirty and will no longer be effective as snow camouflage.
Improvised Snow Camo
Obviously snow-camo should be unlined and of a material that is easily laundered.
Avoid white underwear if you can. Outer clothing can get damaged, and being exposed may expose you. Select underwear in neutral and natural tones.
If you have to wear a white shirt at a formal occasion, you may need a white undershirt to avoid the colour of the undergarment showing through.
If you have to wear a white shirt for work, carry a neutral colour scarf  or keffiyah you can cover it with when outdoors.

Blue

Not all shades of blue are neutral. Some that are neutral are not that natural. Neutral shades of blue or blue-grey can work in a winter or urban environment.
Light blue is generally a “cold” colour and can be used in the snow. Some snow-camouflage patterns use light blue and white to break up the shape.
Watch some nature footage of polar bears in the snow and ice and note how much the terrain appears blue, grey or blue-grey. Interestingly, the bears often appear yellow-white.
In an urban environment, light blue is often encountered as faded or mid-blue denim. Light blue is a good colour for a button-up shirt.
Darker blues are probably less useful for concealment. A blue blazer is supposedly an essential in a gentleman's wardrobe (I don't have one!). If you want one, select a neutral shade of navy. If nothing else, it will at least go better with whatever other colours you may wear with it.

Undershadow

Many animals have lighter colouration on their undersides. This makes the shadow that their bodies cast less distinctive and is an example of counter-shading. The animal appears less three-dimensional and blends in better with the surface that it is upon. Behaviours such as crouching low further reduce the shadow, and the animal will often remain immobile while it thinks it is observed.
Interestingly, many aquatic or amphibious animals show an abrupt change from light underside to darker upper. When swimming near the surface the dark upper makes the animal very difficult to spot. A predator looking up from beneath will find the light underside difficult to see against the sky seen through the water surface.
A light underbelly, or clothing to simulate it, is of little use to a human, since we spend a significant portion of our time upright and bipedal.
Keeping close to the ground and remaining still is good tactics, however. If you are concerned with being observed you should never be reluctant to crawl if necessary.
An interesting example of trying to apply counter-shading can be found in the book “Second World War British Military Camouflage”, p.27-8 by Isla Forsyth.
Solomon J. Solomon was one of the early pioneers of modern camouflage. During the First World War he proposed “alterations to [British] soldiers’ uniforms to reduce their visibility, such as the darkening of the soldier’s cap and the lightening of his trousers.”
Upper surfaces catch more light, and correspondingly, need to be darker. Body areas that are commonly thrown into shadow need to be lighter.
Watch some videos of soldiers in action, and you will see they often appear as man-shaped blobs, darker than their surroundings. Modern combat gear often uses exactly the same pattern for headgear, torso and legs. The chest area is often shaded by the position of the arms, yet often the equipment worn here is actually darker! Even in desert environments, soldiers wearing black or woodland-pattern body armour or load-bearing gear are still seen.

Illumination

When considering camouflage, a lot of attention is paid to colours and patterns. More attention should be paid to shade, light and contrast.
I have advised you to select items in natural and neutral shades, but how dark should they be?
If you have to hide in a dense wood, particularly at night, a mix of clothing items in medium or dark shades of natural and neutral colours may serve you. There will be lots of shadows, so use them. Camouflage is about behaviour as well as colouration.
Suppose you leave the wood to move across a neighbouring field. How well will your dark and medium-coloured clothes serve you then?
Even at night, the surfaces you move over may be relatively light. Grass and hay may reflect any available light, even that from the moon and stars. If you go prone, you may appear as a dark blob that attracts investigation. During the day you may be even more conspicuous.
Most of us spend a significant proportion of our time in urban areas. Even at night, this is an environment with many light or medium-shaded surfaces, and many areas are illuminated by artificial lighting. Dark outfits may make you stand out.
Discussions of camouflage often mention shade and shadow. Level of illumination in the surroundings is often not given that much attention. Clearly, if you are in a shadow, you are illuminated less, but it should be clear by now that light level has a much wider significance to camouflage and concealment.
In really deep shadow, what you wear probably matters little. There is no light, or more correctly, there is none escaping. Not all shadows or unlit areas will be this dark, however.
Stronger light can have interesting effects on concealment. Suppose someone is wearing a sand-colour outfit and lays down in a grass field on a sunny day.
You might think that someone in yellow would be easy to spot in a green field. One thing that would prevent this is that shade is more significant than hue. If the sand-coloured clothing appears a similar shade to the grass at the viewing distance, the figure can be over-looked. Another factor is that light materials reflect. Sunlight hitting the grass causes them to reflect green light. This green light may in turn be reflected from the light-coloured cloth, causing it to appear to have a green tint.
Effectively, your world should be viewed one of light and shadows.
Some areas are “shadow-dominant”. These include deep forests and jungles, and poorly-lit building interiors.
“Illuminated” areas include desert, open fields and many urban exterior areas.
This status may be changed by time of day, weather or season. At night, a wood may become even more shadow-dominant, yet in winter it may become better illuminated.
In shadow-dominant areas, clothing of medium-shade, with some dark items may be most effective. In better lit areas, lighter clothing may be less conspicuous.
Your movements may take you from light to dark areas or the reverse, so what should you wear? Having to deal with both light-dominant and shadow-dominant areas may explain why most attempts at a universal camouflage pattern have only ever proved partially effective.
In the early days of camouflage experimentation, a number of double-sided items were fielded or tested. Some had a spring-summer pattern on one side and a autumn/snow pattern on the other. Jungle/desert and green-dominant/brown-dominant were also tried.
The needs for the different patterns were thus either separated by season or by geography. As far as I know, no double-sided garments based on patterns for differing illumination levels have been tried, which is a shame.

Camouflage Patterns

For camouflage patterns for illuminated areas there are a number of options. Some of the patterns designed for desert use may prove useful in a wider range of environments. Make sure the pattern has sufficient element-size and contrast to disrupt shape and outline. Off the shelf, “tropentarn” seems to work well, although I would wish for a grey rather than green in the pattern.
Tropentarn Camouflage
Some urban patterns are good, although some use too much white or are too greyscale and could use some browns and tans.
Some newer patterns such as multicam use lots of colours and small elements, resulting in garments that appear a single colour beyond a few metres. This very much depends on the material and print. I have seen some camouflaged gaiters in these patterns that look like they might work. Polycotton trousers and shirts in the same pattern tend to blob-out at a relatively short distance. Generally I would avoid these patterns. They may be no more effective than cheaper single-colour items. Many of these patterns are also too green-dominant for a multi-terrain pattern.
For shadow-dominant terrain, you should probably consider “older” patterns such as US m81 woodland, flecktarn and British DPM. Canadian Cadpat is presumably intended for deep woods, although the green looks a little bright in some examples I have seen. Unfortunately, these patterns vary considerably. Browns can range from natural-looking shades to chocolate. Greens also vary and the lightest shade may be either light-green or a more useful tan. Contrast between elements and overall darkness may also vary.
Many of these patterns have too much green. While green is good for summer woodland and lush jungle, a pattern with more browns and greys would be better for other dark environments and seasons.
You may also encounter fashion/police patterns consisting of blacks and dark greys. These are too dark and lack sufficient contrast between the shades to disrupt the shape.
Ways to improve camouflage
Personal Camo-min

Camouflage without Camouflage

As was stated earlier, you cannot always wear a camouflage pattern. You may not have a garment such as camouflage parka (see below) with you.
How can you become less distinct wearing monotone clothing or “civvies gear”?
The first step is to mix it up! Different items should be different colours or shades. Obviously, what you select should be in neutral and natural colours suitable for your surroundings. Select medium and light shades unless the illumination level requires different.
Whilst you may not be able to wear a camouflage pattern, other patterns may have a disruptive effect, providing they do not use bright or primary colours. Some garments have pockets, collars or panels in contrasting colours, which may break up the shape.
You probably know that several thin layers of clothing will keep you warmer than a single thick garment. You can also regulate your insulation more easily by removing layers. What many people do not appreciate is that a layered clothing system can be used to change your appearance and for camouflage.
For example, on the street you may be wearing a light-tan hoodie over a dark-grey bomber jacket. If you move into a darker area, you may move the bomber jacket to being your outer layer.
More layers often means more pockets. Thus you can carry a spare scarf or more than one hat, letting you further change your appearance.
Some hoodies or jackets are reversible. Generally I think you are better off with several thin non-reversible garments. They will cost you less and offer you more options.
If your garment is lined, ensure the lining is a neutral and natural colour too.
There is another advantage of having a wardrobe that is mainly neutral colours. Neutral colours go with just about anything. Most suggestions for a capsule wardrobe are based on having a versatile selection of garments in neutral colours.

Face and Hands

When James Bond wants to skulk around at night, he wears a black polo-neck. He never bothers to cover his face nor hands. He must leave a lot of fingerprints!
There is little point using camouflage if you do not cover your face and hands. Irrespective of your skin-shade, human skin can reflect. Hidden troops are often detected from the air since someone always has to look up at the spotter aircraft. Even at several thousand feet, an uncovered human face pops out and cries “Here we are!”.
Skin can be darkened and matted down by various means. Do not overlook local resources such as dirt, soot and soil. These do nothing to conceal your hair. Face-paint or dirt are also difficult to remove easily if you want to later appear innocuous.
You should carry suitable head and face coverings. A full-face balaclava/ski mask in a medium to dark shade of grey or brown would seem a good choice. However, some cops have been know to label these “ninja masks” and treat their possession as intent if they feel inclined.
Various face and head coverings can be constructed by combinations of suitably coloured and patterned bandannas, neck gaiters, scarves and knit-caps.
Gloves will be needed, and of a suitable shade and colour. Olive meraklon glove liners are a good start. Fingerless leather gloves (aka “recondo gloves”) are worth considering in milder climates. They provide some protection to the hands when climbing or crawling, so you may be more inclined to “go low” when needed. They can be found in tan-brown, or you can cut down old gloves that are surplus to requirements.

The Lower Body

There is no reason why your lower body has to wear a camouflage pattern that matches that of the upper body. The legs are a different shape to the torso and larger than the arms, so may need a different pattern to disrupt their identifiable shape. Using a different pattern for the legs may help break-up your overall recognisable human shape.
How well the concept of countershading can be applied to the human form probably warrants further investigation. Having your trousers lighter than your upper body is worth considering.
Desert patterns are suitable for trousers. UCP/ACU might also be worth trying for leg camouflage.
If we are considering monotone garments, our choices are probably various neutral tones of light-blues, greens, tans and greys.
Many style guides for capsule wardrobes recommend trousers that are lighter than the jacket.
Personally, I am wary of light-blue outside urban or winter environments. I actually don't own any jeans, wearing cargo trousers instead. Much of my EDC is in the pockets,
Greens are good for many rural settings, but may stand-out a little more than some other colours in urban areas. Some shades of green will stand-out in rural areas. Even neutral shades of green are less common in certain rural areas or seasons that one might expect.
Tans and greys are your most versatile choices for monotones. Tans and browns have the advantage that mud does not show up so much on them. On the other hand, the contrast of mud on grey trousers probably has a disruptive effect that breaks up the leg's shape.
Gaiters should be of a suitable camouflage pattern or neutral and natural colour. Since these are seldom worn in town, bows of textilage can be added to break up the shape. Ensure any materials used for textilage will not soak-up water.
Langdon-Davis had a lot to say about the distinctive appearance of black army boots. Footwear should be natural and neutral colours and matt finish when possible.
Black socks are supposed to make your legs look longer. I am not sure that works without black shoes and dark trousers. I generally wear boots so the socks are not visible.
In town I often wear white cotton sport socks since they are cheaply available in quantity. In the field spare socks may be used as extra carrying pouches tied to the outside of a pack. These should be neutral and natural colours.

Camouflaging Gear

The institutional military mind likes uniform, regular and symmetrical.
This may be part of the reason why personal camouflage has waxed and waned as a priority for soldiers.
Improving the camouflage of an item becomes unpopular when the additions must be stripped off for every parade or inspection. If you are outside of the military, then such restrictions will not limit you.
Previous blogs have discussed methods to improve the camouflage of your backpack. Similar methods can be applied to a chest-rig, contributing to the camouflage of your torso. Base colour for a chest-rig should be light or a desert pattern, since this area will often be shaded.

Camouflage Smock

A useful technique is to have a “camo-smock”. You put it on when you need a camouflage pattern. Roll it up and carry it when you want to appear non-military. You can carry more than one, and wear the most appropriate for the conditions.
Your bug-out outfit should include an item that can be used as a camo-smock.
My main camouflage item is a German Tropentarn desert-parka. Get this as big as possible so that it can form a camouflaged outermost layer over anything you may be wearing. There is a nice liner for it that makes it into a nice cold weather coat.
Without the liner, it is unlined so can be worn for camouflage in relatively hot weather. There are vent zips under the arms.
Being a parka, it comes down to mid-thigh so will fit over anything I might wear under it and partially conceals my legs and body shape.
Sleeves are long enough to conceal my hands and keep the wind and rain off them.
If this is a “field only” item, add some bows of textilage to the sleeves and shoulders.
How to add camoflage bows of textilage
The pockets of the smock/parka include items that can be used camouflage my hands, neck, face and head. Little point in camouflaging yourself without covering your extremities!
For darker conditions, I have a several metres of camouflaged scrimm that can be worn over the parka like a poncho. Bows of suitably covered material or scraps of camouflage cloth have been tied to the scrimm.
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Phillosoph

Adding a Pin to a Swiss Army Knife

The tools on a Swiss Army Knife sometimes end up performing tasks you never imagined! A few months back I went to unlock my front door, only to have the entire barrel of the lock detach and come away with the key! The metal file/saw proved to be ideal for reaching to the back of the lock and turning the bolt.
My girlfriend’s son had asked me why I always carry my SAK. Exactly for times like the above!

The Early Years

For the first few years of my early adulthood I carried a Chinese-made version of a Swiss Army Knife. I vaguely recall there were actually two, although I do not recall why I had to replace the first. To be fair, these were quite nice knives, with a good assortment of tools. The only problem I actually recall is a time when the corkscrew straightened out as I attempted to open a bottle of wine.
Back in those days, they were all I could afford, and they served well.
Once I had some money, I invested in a genuine Victorinox Swiss Army Knife (aka SAK).

Victorinox Champion

The model I selected was called the “Champion”, not to be confused with the “SwissChamp” that had become available a few years previously. The longer named Champion was less bulky than the Champ, lacking the pliers.
Swiss Army Champion
The seven-layer Champion was about the ideal maximum size for a SAK, and had a really useful selection of tools.
Sadly, my Champion was lost in an unfortunate chain of events that do not need to be told here. Even worse, the Champion had been discontinued, so I could not buy a replacement.
There was no ebay back then, so little chance of locating a second-hand one.
All the features of a Champion

Rise of the Ranger

As a replacement of the Champion, I selected a Ranger model. The most obvious difference between the two was the Ranger lacked a magnifying glass, fish scaler and Phillips screwdriver:
Swiss Army Ranger
• The Phillips screwdriver had proved useful at times.
• I don’t recall ever using the fish scaler/ hook disgorger, at least not for its intended purpose.
• I didn’t make much used of the magnifier either, although now that I am older and more decrepit, I suspect it might prove more useful. As an aside, the magnifying glass on the Champion was very cleverly thought out. Its focal length was the same as the magnifying glasses’ height. In other word, if you placed your knife on a map, the detail under the magnifying glass would be in focus. This may have been the case for other models that had the magnifying glass. I wonder if the same applies to the newer pattern of magnifier?
Since I wear glasses, an early addition I made to both the Champion and the later Ranger was to add the mini-screwdriver that fits into the corkscrew. Originally this tool was only included with the SwissChamp. They were sold as spares, however, so I acquired one. This has proved very useful over the years, often coming to the rescue of companions rather than myself. Half a lifetime ago I repaired the glasses of a grateful Swedish beauty in old Jerusalem.
Corkscrew Mini-tools
Victorinox now offer three alternate tools, each with a different coloured end.
I have carried the Ranger for many decades now. The lack of Phillips screwdriver is compensated for by the Leatherman Squirt mini-tool I also carry. If you are in the market for a medium-size (91mm) model SAK, the Ranger must be one of the best options. The Huntsman model is a good choice, but I have often found uses for the file/metal saw of the Ranger.

Swiss Army Knife Wiki

Recently I came across the Swiss Army Knife Wiki. This site is worth a look around.
Some interesting information on how to use the various tools, and some applications for them you may not have known. My Ranger had a Phillips screwdriver all along and I never knew! I discovered that the tip of the can-opener is actually intended for use with Phillips screws as well as slot.

Adding a Pin to a SAK

The original reason I have been thinking about Swiss Army Knives recently is that I came across a blog post discussing the pin carried in the handle scales.
Below is a video on possible uses for “needles” [sic pins]. The channel has many other videos on various features of Swiss Army Knives.


Even before I watched the above video, I was thinking about adding a pin to my Ranger. I own a number of very fine drill bits, so creating a channel for a pin would not be too difficult. I could probably add a pair.
I have lots of cheap pins. I decided to try and find the pins actually used, since they were probably better quality and the head looked a little wider.
A number of ebay vendors offered replacement pins for Swiss Army Knives. The one I chose got my money since they offered another idea. Included with the five pins was a small magnet. This magnet was sized to fit in the can-opener. With such a magnet, a pin could be magnetized as a compass needle.
The bits arrived this morning.

Fitting the Magnet and Pin

The 5.8mm magnet was a perfect fit for the can-opener. The vendor included the advice that the tool next to the can-opener usually needs to be opened before closing the can-opener with the magnet stored in it. If this is not so, the magnet tends to pull out of position, attracted by the neighbouring steel. Although stainless steel, the blades of a Swiss Army Knife are magnetic.
Magnet in Can-Opener
Finding a drill bit small enough for the pin was not a problem. Problem was most were too short to drill a channel as long as the pin. The other problem was my Ranger has solid scales. It lacks the airspaces found on some newer and alternate scales.
Drilling a channel deep enough and straight enough proved problematic, and inevitably the very fine drill curved and the channel exited on the inner side of scale. This actually proved to be fortuitous, allowing me to file a notch on the inner side for end of the pin to rest in.
I settled for adding just one pin for now. Most of the alternate positions for a pin are obstructed by the rivets the scales snap on to.
Ranger Knife Modified
My Ranger with pin added (blue arrow) and notches on scale (green arrows). If the balloon goes up, I am ready!

Other Modifications

Incidentally, the back scale of my Ranger has two additional non-standard features.
One is a chip, where an idiot friend used my knife as a bottle-opener without using the bottle-opener! I could fix this damage, but it is a useful reminder to be more cautious of whom I trust.
More useful are a series of three notches. The second is five millimetres from the first, the third 57mm for the first.
The first and third notch are used to draw a circle of 57mm radius. The first and second are used to mark the circumference in five millimetre increments. Each millimetre of the circumference closely approximates one degree. Such a compass face can be used with various improvised modes of navigation.
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Phillosoph

Soft-Core Pack: Military Version

The battle order suggested in the previous blog raises an interesting question: How does the soldier carry his poncho? Items such as bayonets and ammunition have obvious places on the webbing. Not only must a poncho be carried when not worn, but it must be protected from unnecessary damage.
The official solution was most probably to carry the poncho in the butt-pack. As I have discussed in previous posts, there are objections to using a butt-pack or similar. Its capacity is a temptation to carry extra gear. Its position makes it hard to easily access and it is inconvenient if sitting in a vehicle for any time.

Military Soft-Core Bag

In a previous post I described my “soft-core bag”. This idea can easily be adapted to military applications. The military version of the soft-core bag would actually be lighter than my version. Items such as the fire-kit, first aid kit and sweets can be omitted, since these roles will already be met by items carried on the soldier’s webbing or person. For the same reason, the water-bottle can be omitted unless operating in particularly arid conditions.

Contents

What should the military soft-core bag contain?
• A poncho. This should ride at the top of the bag for easy access.
• Accessory clothing items such as warm hats, gloves, spare socks, bananas, shemagh. Many outdoor coats lack sufficient pocket space to carry such items, and you may need your pockets for more tactical items. The soft-core bag is a practical solution. Wrap in plastic bags to waterproof them.
• A spare shirt, jumper, jacket or liner. Useful if the temperature drops or you reduce your actively level. Wrap in plastic bags to waterproof them.
• Toilet roll in waterproof bag. As well as the intended use, good for fire starting.
• Items such as cordage and space blankets are optional for the military soft-core pack. You may decide these are better carried in your trouser or shirt/jacket pockets.
• A “non-soft” item of equipment that might be carried in your soft-pack are your goggles. These can get in the way if you are not wearing them. When not in use they need to be covered for camouflage purposes. Stowing them in your soft-core bag is a very practical solution. Place them in the middle of clothing to provide padding and protection.

Carrying Bag

Like the other version, the military soft-core bag fits in a simple draw-cord bag. This is stowed in the top of your rucksack so the poncho or other contents can easily be accessed if needed. When you stow your rucksack you pull out the soft-core pack and wear it as part of your battle-order. When seated in a vehicle the soft-core pack should act as additional padding for your back.

Camouflage

Ideally, your draw-cord bag should be of an effective camouflage pattern. A grey-beige-brown scheme may be more versatile than the green-dominant examples shown in the photos. Sewing some textilage to the outer side is a good idea too. If you cannot get a camouflaged example, a suitably neutral-coloured bag can be camouflaged with a few passes of spray paint. Making a camouflage draw-cord bag will be within most reader’s capabilities. Note that the bags shown have carrying cords created by taking the cord down to eyelets at the bottom corners. If your bag lacks these, they can easily be added. Dark or unsuitably coloured cords are easily replaced with something such as “desert-camo” paracord.
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Phillosoph

Tactical Bed Rolls

I came across an interesting article called “Pedomic Mobility” in the October-November 1960 issue of “Infantry” magazine.
Pedomic_compressed
In the narrative, an officer watches his company conducting a “ruck attack” on a position. A ruck attack is an assault where the troops wear their rucksacs. This slows the soldiers down, makes them larger and more obvious targets and tires them out more quickly. Shooting from a prone position may be problematic if the pack prevents the soldier raising his head. Despite the obvious disadvantages, the ruck attack remains common in certain armies, both in training and actual combat operations.
The officer watches his near exhausted men and ponders if there is a better alternative.
The proposed solution has two parts. The first is the attacking force should be equipped thus:
• Clothing appropriate for the climate, season and weather
• Load-bearing equipment
• Helmet
• Weapon and ammunition
• Bayonet
• Water bottle, cover and canteen cup
• First aid packet
• Gas mask
• Poncho.
Personally, I consider a canteen cup a backpack item. The dynamics of operating in a platoon or company may change this, however.
If the unit was to stay in one place for any time, a bed roll for each soldier would be brought forth. A bed roll, as described in the article, consists of:
• Shelter-half with poles and pegs (“pins”)
Blanket
• Air mattress
• Sleeping bag
• One or two changes of socks and underwear
• Towel
• Toiletries
• Field jacket liner and trouser liner*
*The jacket and trouser liners were included if it was a “seasonally transitional period”. The mention of the blanket and insulated boots suggest the cold of Korea was still fresh in many soldiers’ minds.
If you have read Kephart, you will know that an outdoorsman’s pack was once exactly that: a package of items wrapped in canvas (above).
Soldiers carrying tactical bed rolls
Bed Rolls in Action. Note the man at the rear has transferred his entrenching tool to his bed roll for more comfortable carrying.
The bed roll was primarily intended to be moved by truck or jeep. When necessary it could be carried by the infantryman. The author suggest re-rolling the item into a horseshoe roll, or fitting the bed roll with a rope or carrying strap.
The use of a shelter-half for the outer layer is particularly clever. Being made of canvas, it is robust and relatively damage tolerant. It is better suited for this roll than a poncho or more modern nylon tent might be. Shelter-halves were widely available from military supplies and easily replaced. A shelter-half could be put to a number of other uses other than as a pup-tent. See this video for a “pegs before poles” method of setting up a shelter-half tent. The only objection to using a shelter-half is that most are green, rather than more versatile dull brown or camouflage finishes.
Also notable was this officer understood that toiletries were not something a soldier needed to carry on his person.
Can we adapt this concept to more modern equipment? An all-weather blanket that can serve as a ground cloth and for other uses would be a good addition. Air mattresses are not common with modern users. I do know some soldiers who use self-inflating sleeping mats. Most, however, use foam kip-mats. Even when trimmed down, these tend to be bulky. Similarly, a poncho liner is rather bulky when rolled. I am not sure you could roll these up in a shelter half with a sleeping bag and still have a roll only a foot in diameter.
In the article, mention is made of stowing bed rolls in waterproof bags. An obvious extrapolation of this is to carry a bagged bed roll within a medium-sized rucksac. Packs would be clearly marked with name, squad, platoon and company, for example: Grant N. 471, 3-2-B. The pockets of a rucksack are a more convenient place to carry a wash-kit, canteen cup and some other items. A foam kip mat can be rolled separately from the bed roll and carried along side it within or outside the pack. Kip mats have uses in addition to sleeping on, so having them separate is more convenient.
When bed rolls are brought forward, rations and ammunition will probably be brought with them. If a unit has to fall back the rucksacks used to move the bed rolls can also carry some of the rations and ammunition too.
The specific contents of a bed roll with vary with climate and other factors.
When in transit, experianced soldiers will keep their bed roll close to hand. If baggage gets misdirected or delayed, the soldier still has the essentials necessary for a good night’s rest.
The article Pedomic Mobility was written for infantry companies conducting operations within range of support units. It may, however, provide some inspiration for independent outdoorsman both as to how and what they may carry.
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Phillosoph

Bandoliers for Budget Burdens

This interesting photo is from the Osprey publication, “Armies of the Vietnam War 1962-1975”.
Caption for the photo reads:US soldiers with Bandoliers

Soldiers of the 196th Light Inf.Bde., Americal Div., examine a VC cache near Chu Lai in December 1970. The abbreviated rifleman's equipment is typical of short-range operations at this period. Bandoliers are used to carry both magazines and grenades, and spare M-60 belt is looped around the riflemen's waists. The two XM203 grenadiers at the right wear the special grenadier's ammo vest; the man at far right also carries his rifle magazines in a spare canteen carrier, and ration toilet paper packs in his helmet band. Third from right has a Kabar knife sheathed in his trouser cargo pocket, and fourth from right has a civilian hunting knife on his belt.

A lot going on in that photo. The bandoliers used to replace, rather than supplement, the issue “ammo case” [pouch] are of particular note.
A previous blogpost discussed stripper clips or chargers. In this photo the bandoliers are being used to carry grenades and 20-round magazines.
More recent examples of bandolier can also accommodate 30-round magazines. In the photo below, a light-coloured thread is visible. Removing the thread makes each pouch deep enough to carry a 30-round magazine rather than a pair of stripper clips.
Bandolier with pull threadM16 Bandiolier
If you shoot 7.62 x 51mm (or 6.5mm Creedmore) you needn’t feel left out. Below is an Australian bandolier intended for use with the SLR/FAL.

Aussie Bandolier for SLR

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Phillosoph

Selecting a Handgun

When choosing a handgun it is easy to be swamped in opinion. If you wish to be logical about your choice, there are several strategies that you can adopt.

Choice of Model

Hollywood, video games and even some writers often tell us one model of pistol has a superior performance to another, despite that in real life the two may use the same ammunition! The chambering of your handgun is probably the first aspect that you should consider. Once this decision is made, you can select a model based on size, mass, capacity, budget and other factors.
Ideally, you want an automatic pistol of about 7"/ 180mm overall length. As a primary weapon for concealed carry, you want a weapon of small bulk. As a secondary weapon for overt carry, a weapon of low weight is desirable, since you probably have a rifle or shotgun and enough other things to carry. Hence the recommended handgun is of compact/ sub-compact size.

Performance

If you are shooting someone in defence of your life, you want to make a big, deep hole in them. Yup, size does matter!
The optimal pistol round for this is the .45 ACP. The .45 ACP is compatible with a semi-automatic action, allowing for easy and fast reloading. There was a time when it was hard to find a .45 that was not a large, single-action weapon with a single-figure magazine capacity. Now we have a variety of compact and sub-compact double-action weapons, with useful magazine capacities. Thanks to US military aid, .45 ACP ammunition is reasonably easy to find in many parts of the world.
The standard load of the .45 is subsonic, making it a good choice for general military applications that may include the requirement for weapons to be suppressed. A .45 round that fails to mushroom will often make a wider wound channel than many 9mm and other medium-calibre rounds that do mushroom. .45s that do mushroom make very big wound channels.
The Textbook of Small Arms, 1929 notes:
“Rapidity of fire is an essential in pistol shooting, and though the double action of a revolver may well be ignored when it is considered as a target arm, it is of the highest importance when the pistol is considered from the active service point of view as a weapon…
“The value of the calibre of self-loading pistols and revolvers has been much obscured by theory, but practice of recent years has amply proved that small calibre plus high velocity, although developing many foot-pounds of energy, yet lacks stopping or shocking value. There have been many attempts to substitute a high-velocity cartridge of ·38 calibre, as a Service equivalent to the traditional ·455. In practice it has been found that the small calibre sometimes fails to stop its man and that the large-diameter leaden plug of the ·455, moving even 300 or 400 feet a second slower than the high-velocity, small-calibre projectile, is yet far more effective. Recent experiment has, however, developed a new experimental ·38 cartridge [.38/200 of 200gr] whose efficiency is, so far as ballistic tests can ascertain, not less than that of the ·455.
A hit with a ·455 anywhere literally [sic] knocks an adversary over. This quality of efficiency depends to some extent on the massive soft-lead bullet and the relatively low velocity rather than on any inherent magic in the calibre, for the ·455 or ·45 self-loading pistol firing a lighter nickel-covered bullet at a higher velocity cannot be depended on to produce equal shock effect.
The efficiency of the ·455 revolver cartridge is due to combination of the large calibre with the soft material, the mass, and the relatively low velocity of the projectile. These combine in such a way that the adversary experiences in his body the maximum development of shocking as distinct from penetrative effect. This is just what is wanted in an active service revolver. ”
It is interesting that nearly a hundred years later, this passage remains a good account of the issue, superior to many things written since. I am well aware some readers will get distracted by the semantics of some of the terminology used. Perhaps the most significant change since this was written has been the creation of jacketed hollow-point (JHP) ammunition that will feed reliably through an automatic. This has narrowed the gap in terminal effect between large-bore revolvers and self-loaders. Advances in bullet design intended to improve the performance of light, medium calibre, high-velocity bullets are even better applied to heavy, large-calibre rounds.

Logistics

You may regard logistic considerations over effectiveness. The most common combat pistol round is the 9mm Luger, also known as the 9 x 19mm or 9mm Parabellum. This is the NATO standard pistol round, but its military and civilian use dates back to the 1900s. It was the round of the German, and other armies, for two world wars. The majority of sub-machine guns are chambered for this round. There are very few countries in the world where 9mm Luger cannot be found.
The medium-calibre 9 x 19mm is not as effective as the large bore .45, although many try to convince themselves it is. If you have very small hands, a 9mm model may offer a slimmer grip without compromising magazine size. Guns like the Berretta M9/92 are too big for roles other than as a primary overt weapon. As for 45s, a compact or sub-compact model is preferable.
In nations that have received Soviet or Chinese military aid, the 9mm Makarov round, aka 9 x 18mm, may be more readily found than the 9mm Luger. The 9mm Makarov is designed to be the most potent load that can be accommodated by a light, blowback-action pistol. Velocity and bullet weights are lower than the more powerful 9mm Luger. The 7.62 x 25mm round may also be common in countries that use Soviet or Chinese weapons. Most Soviet sub-machine guns, and their Chinese copies, are chambered in this round. In handguns, it is usually found in the TT33 Tokarev/ Type 51/ Type 54 and a few other Warsaw Pact designs, such as the Czech vz.52. Some of these weapons are still in use in certain parts of the world. The round is effectively identical to the 7.63mm Mauser round, so may be encountered in countries where the C96 Mauser “Broomhandle” was popular. The 7.63mm Mauser/ 7.62 x 25mm/ 7.62 Tokarev is a high-velocity round noted for its high penetration and flat trajectory. The small calibre creates a narrower wound channel than many other combat pistol rounds. W.E. Fairbairn was familiar with the round from his time with the Shanghai police. He suggested that the round was more effectively used if aimed at shoulder level, where the high-velocity round was most likely to shatter bones and create secondary missiles. This is fairly good advice for any pistol round.

Convenience

Automatics

The gun you have with you will always been more effective than the one you left at home because the latter was inconvenient to carry. There are some lightweight, low volume automatics in 9mm Luger. The 9mm Luger round requires a locked breech. Many smaller automatic pistols are simple, blowback weapons and therefore use cartridges other than the 9mm Luger. If you opt for a pocket automatic, the best choice is a weapon in either .380 ACP or 9mm Makarov. Pocket pistols in 9mm Makarov are fairly rare, but many duty weapons, like the Makarov PM/ Type 59, may be compact enough. A wider choice will be found in .380 ACP, also known as 9 x 17mm, 9mm Short or 9mm Kurtz. The .380 is slightly weaker than the 9 x 18m. Like the Makarov round, it is well suited to small, blowback pistols and is a better choice than smaller calibre options such as the 7.65mm/.32 ACP and 6.35mm/.25 ACP. Having less energy and momentum than a 9mm Luger or .45 ACP, hollow-point ammunition in .380 or 9 x18mm may be less reliable. 

Revolvers

Many small-frame models of revolver such as the Smith & Wesson J-frames and Colt Detective weigh under a pound, but only have five or six shots. Small medium-calibre revolvers in .38 Special, .357 Magnum and 9mm Luger are preferable to smaller-calibre weapons in .32 or .22. The 9mm Luger has the edge over the .38 in velocity, but the merit of revolver rounds is that they can use rounds that would not reliably feed through an automatic. The .38 and .357 cases can be loaded with wide-mouthed, soft, malleable, hollow-points, ideally of 200gr or more, that are likely to be more effective than any medium-calibre round an automatic can fire. If fired in an emergency from within a pocket, a pocket revolver has no slide to catch in the pocket lining. For similar reasons, models with concealed or internal hammers are preferable.

Special Purpose

.25 ACP, .32 ACP, .380 ACP, 9 x 18mm and .45 ACP are all subsonic in standard loadings. The smaller rounds are sometimes preferred since they allow the use of a smaller weapon and suppressor.
Most .22 rounds are subsonic when fired from pistols, so are also suited to suppressed applications. .22 weapons are useful for target practice or for foraging. .22 revolvers often offer the option of switching between .22LR and .22 Magnum by exchanging cylinders. Some .22 revolvers can chamber more than six rounds.

Non-Runners

Other than the exceptions already suggested, revolvers are not recommended. After more than a century of military service it is finally being accepted that claims that revolvers are more reliable than automatics are more theoretical than practical. Possibly, only in the instance of a misfire, does a revolver offer an advantage. This is offset by the greater ease in reloading and the usually larger ammunition capacities. For a given calibre, an automatic tends to be lighter and more compact than the equivalent revolver. You may be adept at quick wheel-gun reloads on the range, but under the stress of real combat it is better to keep dexterous actions as simple as possible.
Rounds such as the much hyped .40 S&W, .375 SIG and 10mm Auto are not recommended. These are all medium-calibre rounds, most loads trying to emulate the performance of the .357/125gr. Essentially just faster 9mm Luger. Unsurprisingly, performance is inferior to the .45. Logistically, ammunition in these chamberings may be difficult to find outside the US.
If a big deep hole is better, why the .45 ACP and not rounds such as the .44 Magnum or .50 AE you may ask? The answer is that we need control as well as power. For many shooters a quick follow-up shot with a .44 Magnum or similar may be difficult. No round can be guaranteed to always neutralize a threat first hit, or to always hit, for that matter. Another reason for using the .45 ACP is that most of the loads that exceed the .45 ACP in power are primarily revolver loads. For many reasons, not least its mass and bulk, the Desert Eagle is not recommended as a defence gun. The .45 Long Colt and .44 Special are more manageable, but usually found in revolvers, so the .45 ACP remains the best choice.
Both “Attack, Avoid, Survive” and “Survival Weapons” have advice on the use of firearms.
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Phillosoph

Pec-Knives and the Gerber Strongarm

Pec-Knives

The pectoral position is a very useful position to carry a knife. It is accessible with either hand, and if the wearer is seated or prone. It can be readily utilized to cut a jammed seat harness, or when rolling on the floor with an aggressor.
This topic came up in one of my discussions on soldier’s load. Modern servicemen have a lot of gear to carry, and many do not believe carrying multiple knives is warranted. If you are going to carry a single fixed blade knife, then the weak-side pectoral position is a good place to place it. This influences the form of the “pec-knife”. Pec-knives are discussed in “Survival Weapons”, and their use in “Crash Combat”. The more general discussion of knife use for defence in “Attack, Avoid, Survive” are also relevant.
You sometimes see quite large knives carried in this position, but for most of us an overall length of less than eleven inches is more practical. There is a wide choice of fixed blade knives in this size range. Harder is finding a knife of sufficient thickness and robustness. If this is going to be a soldier’s primary blade then it must stand up to some rough treatment.

Gerber Strongarm

A few weeks back I encountered the Gerber Strongarm. This just seemed to shout “I will be a great pec-knife!” Just before Christmas I got an email telling me the variant I wanted was back in stock. Money was short, but I had had a rotten day and a few minutes before midnight I gave into temptation and ordered a Strongarm. It helped that the price listed was about 30% less than most other stockists! Would you believe it? I looked the next day and the price had jumped a big chunk. I had ordered just in time! A few days later the Gerber Strongarm arrived. I wish I had had the money for another, but as it is I may run out before the end of January. Buy books please, people!

The Sheath and Extras

An important component of a potential pec-knife is the sheath. This mode of carry is most convenient with the knife inverted and the pommel downwards. Obviously it is necessary that the knife is fully secure in this position, but still capable of being easily drawn when needed in a hurry. The sheath of the Stongarm has a large clip that engages a depression on the hilt. Note that this releases with an audible click, which may affect your tactics in some scenarios. In addition to the clip, the smaller-width hanging strap has a retention strap with a popper. The latter feature is one of the few I have issue with. This is a little tight, the slight increase in grip width my lanyard has added making it sometimes fiddly to close. The length of strap past the popper is also on the short side, and may be difficult to pull on if wearing some gloves. It may be necessary to sew an extension onto this part.
An important feature of this sheath is that it is ambidextrous, so the knife can be inserted securely with the edge either to the left or right. This is useful for a pec-knife, it being considered to be prudent to carry your knife with the main edge outwards, away from your throat.
A couple of accessories are included in the box. I have already mentioned that the smaller-width belt hanger has the retention strap. This affixes to the sheath by a strap and popper. A larger width belt hanger can be attached to the smaller by poppers. Both belt hanging loops have poppers, making the easy to detach or attach without rethreading a belt. A device that allows the sheath to be mounted horizontally is included, as is a device allowing easy attachment of the sheath to MOLLE/ RALS systems.

The Knife

The knife itself comes with either a semi-serrated or plain edge, and is available in either black or a more practical coyote brown shade. The blade is 4.8 inches long, and 3/16th thick. Overall length is 9.8 inches and weight is given as 7.9 oz. Blade material is 420HC stainless steel with a dark grey coating. Grip is a rubber coating over glass-reinforced nylon. There is a resemblance to Gerber’s LMF II knife. The LMF II is heavier (c.12 oz) and costs more. I have not handled a LMF II, but the Strongarm seems a better choice for the pec-knife role.
The butt of the Strongarm ends in a blunt triangular point that might serve for applications such as window breaking. This feature is thoughtfully provided with a lanyard hole. I know I have said this before (yesterday actually!) but it really is surprising how many expensive knives are not provided with provision for a lanyard or other features to reduce the chances of loss.

Making a Chest Rig

There are plenty of good reviews of the Strongarm out there, so I will concentrate on specifics of rigging it as a pec-knife. This is actually very simple. Obviously, you can mount the sheath directly on your webbing, but what if you are not wearing such? The Strongarm is potentially a very useful knife, and you may want it when you are not in full tactical gear. I have seen the Strongarm described as a cross-over” knife, good for urban and wilderness.

Take about two metres of paracord. I know frugality is a virtue, but it is prudent to have a little too much rather than start again. The Strongarm sheath has a number of “screwholes” down each side. Pass one end of your paracord through a hole near the sheath mouth, and the other through a hole on the opposite side, second from the end. This should be made clear from the photos. Experiment with what arrangement suits you personally. Pull both ends of paracord so the middle makes a snug length across the front of the sheath. Now take both lengths, hold them together and tie a single knot in both. This can be an overhand knot but a figure-eight may be more comfortable when worn. You should have created a large loop with the knife sheath threaded on it. This loop should be large enough to pass your weak-side arm through, the knot sitting somewhere between your shoulder-blades. Take the long, free ends and form them into a second loop using the knot I call a “slip-bend” in my free book on knots. Place your other arm through this loop and tighten it by sliding the two parts of the slip-bend apart. The Strongarm sheath should be hanging just before your weak-side armpit. If you have the small-width belt hanger still attached this may be used to anchor the sheath to a belt, if you wish. Note the snap-link, added by a magnus-hitch. The lanyard can be attached to this when greater security is wanted. It also proves useful for holding other items. I later relocated the snap-link to below the sheath, where it helps keep it in position.
A chest-rig for a knife can cost tens or hundreds of dollars. This one is simple, lightweight, comfortable and costs just a couple of metres of paracord. If you like this, throw some of the money you have saved this way!
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Phillosoph

Designing a Fighting Knife

In a recent blog I had a wander into the field of fighting knives. Today I would like to share some additional musings.
Firstly, it is valuable to recognize that names such as “fighting knife”, “combat knife”or “tactical knife” are in actuality rather euphemistic, particularly in modern applications. A knife vs knife duel is unlikely. There is an adage that if you find yourself in a fair fight you did not plan properly, and this should be remembered when considering knife use. Knives are generally used either as weapons of desperation or advantage.
One of the points I made in the previous post is that probability of use did not justify carrying a large combat design. A multi-role survival blade is a far better encumbrance, and most such designs usually serve well in a defensive or offensive role. It is no secret that I regard the kukri as superior to most fighting knives on the market. If a dedicated fighting weapon is needed, it should be a small to medium-sized design that compliments the large and small survival designs likely to be carried as well.
That said, what are useful features to have in the hypothetical situation where carrying a large combat blade is prudent? Something for you time-travellers and trans-dimensional trippers to consider 🙂 Some of these comments may be relevant to medium combat knives too.
Firstly, we will ignore the field of swords and stick to knives and daggers, not anything longer than a cubit.
A point ignored by many manuals on knife use is that even relatively light clothing can provide a surprising amount of protection from a knife cut. The garment may be shredded but very little damage may reach beneath the skin. Even if you are using a knife defensively with the intention of “cutting and running” it is important to use the point first against any clothed area.

Pesh Kabz

The second consideration for a fighting knife is with respect to whether the opposition will be utilizing armour. One of the most useful designs for use against armour is that of the pesh kabz. Mechanically a knife is a wedge. The pesh kabz blade tapers in both width and thickness, and has a T-shaped cross section. In effect the blade is an isosceles triangle in all three planes. The blade is narrow enough to find its way through openings in the armour, yet retains a useful cutting edge if needed. Some time back there was a vogue for non-metallic knives, including those in a tanto configuration. A pesh kabz configuration would have been far superior. As stated in “A Glossary Of the Construction, Decoration and Use Of Arms and Armor In All Countries and In All Times” by George Cameron Stone, “The knife is obviously intended for forcing an opening in mail; and as a piece of engineering design could hardly be improved upon for the purpose.” (p.494) Pesh kabz are either straight or have a recurve that brings the point closer to the axis of the hand. The latter are often very attractive in form. I have an example of each, and I would not complain if issued one of these instead of a Fairbairn-Sykes. A modern pesh kabz has a useful potential as a knife among modern medium fighting knives.

Bagwell and Bowies

Shortly after writing the recent blog, I came across some references to Bill Bagwell, who claimed to have identified the features that were most desirable on a combat bowie. This included a distal taper, convex profile and edge and a sharpened false edge. The false edge is often quite long, creating an acute point. The blade is over nine-inches long, and over an inch or more wide.

Pugio

If you are going to have a long, sharpened false edge, an obvious question is why not have a double-edged cut and thrust blade? Historically, one of the cut and thrust weapons par excellence was the Roman gladius. The gladius was a sword, but if you shorten the blade you have what is effectively the Roman pugio. I have seen it claimed that a Roman soldier who lost his gladius could still fight effectively with his pugio. The width and length of pugiones give some credibility to this claim. Supposedly the Gerber MkII was inspired by the Mainz-pattern gladius. Pugiones seem to have retained the more attractive, wasp-waisted leaf-shape of blade long after the gladius had become straighter-edged and more utilitarian looking. This may have been that swords were issued while daggers were commonly a private purchase. In other words, a pugio-type design offers a broad blade, acute point and the cutting advantage of curved edges. A central rib was a common feature, increasing the capability against bone or body armour. A flat blade with a rib is effectively a pair of pesh kabz back-to-back. Fullers might also be included in a modern design, and some use of them was made in ancient pugiones.

Jambiya

Another good design for a large or medium combat knife is the jambiya. Indian/ Middle Eastern designs such as the jambiya and pesh kabz tend to be neglected in the west, but have much to offer. The interest in kerambits/ karambits shows knife-users are open to the potential of curved blade designs. Fairbairn himself experimented after the war with a jambiya-like knife he called the “cobra”.
Modern Reproduction of Fairbairn Cobra
Like the pugio, the design of a large tactical jambiya could include fullers and a central rib. A slightly curved blade can create an initially wider wound than a straight blade of similar dimensions. This is illustrated in the figures taken from Richard Burton’s “Book of the Sword”. The very curved blade cuts a wide channel, but needs considerable force to penetrate sufficiently. Incidentally, the primary cutting edge of a jambiya is the concave edge. You will commonly see it held or photographed upside down. Examples with a false edge and the geometry of some grips make it clear that the main edge is the concave. The jambiya is held like a claw or hook. This has the tendency to drive the point into a target rather than causing it to glance off. The blade can also reach over and hook limbs. The curved edges give a cutting advantage.

The Russian/ Caucasian/ Georgian khanjali/ kindjals/ qama have straight or curved blades that resemble gladius, pugiones and jambiya, but some are long enough to be considered short swords.

Some decades ago, a knife called the “Hobbit” gained some attention. This was effectively an inverted jambiya. The main edge should have been concave and the serrations would have been more useful on the convex side. A modern, medium tactical jambiya would also be a welcome addition to the market. Many years ago I attempted to sketch what one might look like

Length

Around 1922-24 the British Army conducted an extensive series of experiments. The 17" sword bayonets then in use had proved to be unwieldy and too heavy for trench warfare. Their reach against cavalry was no longer needed and they were poor multi-purpose implements. On October 2nd, 1924, a report by the Small Arms School stated:
“ (a) It has been conclusively proved during the war, and since, with our present system of training in the bayonet, that ‘reach’ is not a main factor but that ‘handiness’ is. A man with a short handy weapon will beat an equally skilled man with a longer cumbrous weapon practically every time. As regards length of blade for killing purposes, the Physical Training Staff went into this in considerable detail during the war, and came to the conclusion that a 6-in. blade was sufficiently long to deal with the most thickly clad of our enemies—potential or otherwise. The most thickly clad was taken as being a Russian in winter clothing.
…(c) The bayonet suggested for future adoption on the Mark VI rifle is one of about 8 inches in length, cruciform in section, and without the useless handle and cross-piece”
reproduced in The Lee-Enfield Rifle (p.135). Maj. E.G.B. Reynolds.
Also found in “The Bayonet Book” by Johm Watts and Peter White, quoted p.8 (“Short and Sharp”) of The Times Literary Supplement Oct 17 1975.
The Roman Vegetius famously declared “…a stab, though it penetrates but two inches, is generally fatal”. He was talking of a stab from a broad gladius blade, rather than a narrow bayonet or knife, however. Many authors clarify “two inches, in the right place”, the latter condition not always possible to achieve in combat!
Some of the criteria for a primary fighting knife are different to those for a bayonet. A blade of between nine and eleven inches seems to be the optimum, and was the size of most pugiones. The blade should be at least one and a half inches at its widest. Specialist fighting designs, such as main gauche, may need to be longer.

Grips

If we look at pugiones, kindjals and jambiya we find something of a consensus on grip form. Most examples feature a relatively slim grip with a broad, flattened butt. A narrow grip between two wider areas often gives a good grip for a single hand. If you hold the knife or sword with the blade flat and level and the knuckles upwards you will find the pressure of the palm on the butt nicely counterbalances the weight of the blade. The pugio usually had an expanded section in the middle of the hilt which improved grip, functionally similar to the ridge on a kukri handle. Any grip should include provision for a wrist loop. It is surprising how many knives costing hundreds of dollars lack this useful feature!
On the subject of grip, how a knife is gripped is a topic that some authors treat in some depth. Fencer grip, hammer grip, sabre grip, ice-pick grip, foil grip, ninja grip and so on. Only recently I noticed that the actual orientation of the hand was seldom mentioned. Elsewhere I have discussed the “paintbrush grip” for double-edged blades. This tends to place the blade with the flat of the blade in a horizontal direction. When I hold a single-edged knife I place the blade in a similar orientation, although my finger positions will be slightly different.
The reason for holding the knife so is not so the blade will slip between the ribs. Whenever possible you should avoid thrusting at the ribcage. If you do have to strike the ribs there are advantages to a horizontal blade angle, however. I have seen it claimed that a horizontal blade that strikes a rib is more likely to glance past or split the rib than be stopped by it. The main reason I hold a blade horizontal is that it makes more sense to me to have the edge as well as the point directed towards the threat. If my hand is pronated (palm down) the blade slopes in. If palm up, it slopes outward, but in either case the main edge is towards the enemy rather than down towards the floor. Some older sources describe holding the blade edge up, but this limits manoeuvrability.

Guards

The guard of the fighting knife is something that is not usually given sufficient thought. If the knife has a guard, it is typically a simple crossbar or equivalent. A simple crossbar works well on a sword. It will usually be wide enough to protect the hand. Enemy blades seldom touch it since a sword is long enough to parry attacks a foot or more away from the hand. Some writers claim the main function of a sword guard was originally to stop the user from hitting his knuckles on an enemy shield. The crossbar on a knife is seldom wide enough to effectively protect the hand. At best, it acts as an arrest to reduce the chance of penetration beyond the blade and to compress tissue for deeper penetration. Even when the crossbar is long enough, it only provides protection in one plane. Suppose, for example, you parry or block an attack with your blade. Since the blade is shorter, the contact point is going to be much closer to your hand than if you were using a sword. Contact point is most likely to be on the flat of the blade, so the strike is very likely to glance down and hit your thumb or back of your hand. Potentially very nasty
In a Modesty Blaise novel a character observes that Willie Gavin makes a steel against steel block, and reflects on Gavin’s skill, knowing that this is the most difficult of defensive movies with the knife. Substitute “bloody dangerous” for “difficult”! Certain styles of knife-fighting base themselves on sword fighting, so techniques involving parrying may be encountered.
One of the lessons here is to avoid using your knife (or your other hand) to parry, if possible. Avoid letting your enemy make any contact with your weapon or hand. If you do make contact execute a “beat” and strike to the hand and arm beyond. Keep both hands moving, and keep moving yourself. Use your ginga and the other techniques in my books to avoid and attack rather than parry and block.
As an aside, the above implies there must be some length of blade over which parrying becomes practical. Drexel-Biddle taught parrying, but had his students were training with hand-held sword-bayonets. I would be fairly confident parrying with a ten-inch kukri. Shape and design probably contributes too. The forward curve of a kukri or jambiya increases control and compensates for length.
All that said, if I am designing a primary fighting knife, I would include a guard. Down-curved quillons that can catch a blade would be nice, although how realistic this is is debatable, and such a feature certainly needs to be backed by protection for the hand behind. An oval or ovaloid guard, such as found on a tanto, might be a good option. As I understand it, “tanto” actually means (very) short-sword and it is not technically a “to” or sword unless it has a to-type guard and other sword fittings (Cameron Stone, p.604). Most modern knives sold as tantos would not be classed as such, and the wikipedia article is erroneous [!]
A guard that provides protection in two planes may be problematic to wear. One option is to offset the disc so less of it is against the body but it still protects the outside of the hand. Renaissance daggers often combined quillons with a “thumb ring”, the latter a misnomer since it was positioned to defend the outside of the hand rather than involve the thumb.
Categories
Phillosoph

A True Survival Bowie?

Sometimes a diversification can let us view a topic from another direction, casting new light on it.

Size Matters

The last blog made it clear to me that the many medium-sized (6 to 8") general-purpose knives that I have do not really have a role. That includes my beloved Buck 119 and the various five to eight inch kukris that I have acquired. If SHTF or TEOTWAWKI occurs, I will be reaching for one of my larger blades and complementing it with one of my puukkot (plural of “puukko”). I have my favourite ten-inch sirupate kukri ready to go on a belt alongside a Mora Companion. A small pouch on the belt contains a fire kit and Lansky multi-sharpener. Nearby is my barong-handled machete and a crowbar, ready to be added to the rucksac. Already on my person I have my Swiss Army knife and mini-Leatherman, along with other items.
If you are planning to spend good money on survival knives, the sound advice is to “go big” and “go-small”. Buy yourself a good chopper that can produce a fire and shelter with minimum effort when they are most needed. Get a good fixed blade small knife that can handle more intricate duties. Puukkot are hard to beat for value and quality. Get what folders you want for EDC.
Another topic I touched on was that most of the original Bowie knife designs were designed to be primarily weapons. This can be seen in the shape of their point profiles, which are often combined with a long false edge.

The Bowie/Machete

With the above in mind, I will share a passage I came across in “Gun Digest Book of Knives, 4th Edition”, p.111-113:
“Another category of knife is the hybrid Bowie…The Bowie/Machete is made by Collins Machete, Case Knife, Western Knife and Legendary Arms.
Bowie/Machete came about when a South American customer went to Collins and wanted a machete made like a Bowie knife.
The result was a wonderful knife. It is one of the finest large skinning and butcher knives ever made. It is one of the few knives that can hold its own with a commercial slaughterhouse curved skinner and large butcher knife. These purely single-purpose knives are hard to beat at their specialities, but the shape and curvature of the Collins design is a most useful compromise of their features in a large knife.
The oversize butcher knife shape with the Bowie clip blade has a deep enough belly and enough sweep at the point to approximate the sweep of the professional skinning knife. In the hands of an expert, it is the best knife for skinning and butchering large game. For use as a small machete, the deep grind employed on these knives allows the same cut a much thinner machete would make. While a little light and short for heavy woodcutting. this is still a practical short machete knife.
For a working knife to carry in South America where it was intended, or anywhere else for that matter, this is a hard one to beat. When used as a fighting knife, it is an excellent chopper, while its broad blade produces more damage on thrust than lesser knives…
It should be noted that the simple tapered grip with the pronounced neb to anchor the hand found on these is an elegant masterpiece of a functional grip in its own right. These knives feel good in the hand where they lock in and go to work naturally. The hand is positioned for proper leverage with a heavy double guard to bear against at the front and a neb at the rear similar to the grip taken with an Indian Talwar sword. It is most effective for a working knife and far better than gimmick grips on some custom knives. Remember. everything possible with knives has been tried. This is an old, standard, elegant solution to the grip. Like the rest of the knife. it is conservative and effective all the way through.”
This sounds interesting! No image of the “Bowie/Machete” is in the book. There is a photo of a Legendary Arms Bowie that it might be, but unhelpfully the blade is in its sheath! Websearching on “Bowie/Machete” proves useless. The Cold Steel design of this name post-dates the book, and it is evident from the shape that the Cold Steel offering does not have the features described.
Cold Steel Bowie Machete

The Bowie/Machete Identified?

Eventually I pieced together enough clues to suspect that the model described is the Collins & Co. Machete No.18. Not actually a machete as most of us understand the term these days, but that was how the company designated it. In 1942 the 10-inch Collins was adopted for survival kits of air crews operating in the Pacific, including at Guadalcanal Canal. The marines took notice, and the model was widely used by the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion. Maj. James Roosevelt, son of the then President, was involved in their procurement, and carried one numbered “30”. One of my references (“Fighting Knives. An Illustrated Guide to Fighting Knives and Military Survival Weapons of the World” by Frederick J. Stephens p.67) confirms that wartime production of this model was also undertaken by Case Cutlery, Western Cutlery and an Australian source. “Knives of War” by Hughes, Jenkins and Buerlein adds a company called Kinfolks Inc to the list. It is from Case that the frequently used, but incorrect designation “V44” or “V-44” seems likely to have been acquired. (The V42 discussed in the last blog was a Case design.) Knives of War p.68-70 calls it a “Gung Ho Knife”, “Survival Bowie” and mentions an aviator’s example labelled “9-inch machete”. Actual dimensions are given in Knives of War as a blade of 978" and 2" at its widest. Total Length is 14½".  I believe the blade was ¼" thick. Minor variations between manufacturers can be found, variations including grip shape, grip construction and whether the false-edge was sharpened. Some Collins examples had a grip of green horn, which has a very attractive camouflaged appearance. Some sheathes had the tip cut-off to improve drainage.
Knives of War p.69: Former Marine Raider Rosenquist reports: “It was a real good, multi-purpose knife. We used it for opening ration cans, coconuts, cutting fire lanes, etc. It was handy as a small hatchet for cutting small trees and coconut-log bunkers and in combat as an effective fighting weapon.”Marine Bowie Horn handled Bowie Horn handled Bowie Black handled Bowie

The No.18 Today?

This is a Bowie design with a proven record of survival utility, not to mention it might also find its way to certain kitchens or meat-packing plants. As well as its practicality, it has historical connections. Many people understand the value of preparedness, and Americans love Bowies, so you might think a number of companies would be offering “Gung Ho/ No.18 Survival Bowies” and they would be flying off the shelves!
Raider Bowie replica Raider Bowie box
Well, I have not had much luck locating any! There is a reproduction “V44 Raider Bowie” (above). This is apparently low-quality steel, since it is intended to sit on a shelf rather than be put to use. Note that it is not a particular accurate reproduction, the blade having a single broad fuller rather than to two narrow fullers of the actual No.18.
No.18 Bowie Throwing Bowie
Legendary Arms offers a Bowie and a “Throwing Bowie” that has some resemblance (above), but note both have a short bevel grind rather than the blade section of the originals.
W49 Bowie
Western Cutlery is now Western Knives, with production in Asia. Their W49 (above) is/was not their version of the No.18. Dimensions are slightly smaller and the blade has a short bevel.
Ontario Bowie
Best candidate seems to be the Ontario SP10 “Marine Raider” (above). Despite the name, the blade form is different. The SP53 is probably closer to the No.18 in spirit, but is not a Bowie. Most obvious difference for both of these is the grip. I quite liked the machete-style grip of the original Collins. As regular readers will appreciate, a flared or hooked grip is a very good feature for a chopping knife.

The Future?

Ideally, someone would bring out a nice No.18 Bowie blade blank that I could fit with a grip.
If anyone has been inspired by this to bring out a modern day No.18 Bowie, I would suggest having a good look at the modified original shown below. The upper quillon has been removed and the lower bent so that it is out of the way when the strongest part of the blade is used for tasks such as batonning through material.
Horn handled No.18 Bowie