12/6/13

Field Notes Expedition Series

A while back I picked up a bunch of Field Notes' Expedition series pocket notebooks.  I burned through one, have started carrying another, and thought it might be useful to write up my thoughts garnered from carrying the model for close to a year.

Lacking a formal review system for notebooks, I'm just waxing poetic.


While Field Notes did their own battery of tests to illustrate their durability, I'm a fan of more practical testing.  In terms of durability in-pocket, the Expedition notebook has lasted the longest.  I have previously used Moleskine pocket notebooks and Field Notes' standard paper notebooks, both of which have, naturally, degraded over time.  Paper begins to tear and abrade, bindings begin to wear, and creases and crinkles develop.  In the grand scheme of things, the front pocket of a pair of jeans isn't the most forgiving of places.  That said, the Expedition notebook hasn't torn or abrade, its binding is still intact, and while there are some creases along the spine from constant flexing while riding in my pocket they're far less pronounced than those that have developed on standard paper.

The most frustrating aspect of the Expedition series is exactly what makes it stand out: the paper.  As I mentioned in a post earlier this year, the paper is quite finicky.  While it provides exceptional durability, it's simply not as versatile as traditional papers.  Only a few inks actually work effectively and they're all subject to some level of smudging and smearing, even after reasonable dry time.  Pencil is the same story.  Also, the slight jostling of pages that comes through carrying it in a pocket daily causes minor smudging and transfer of both ink and pencil to opposing pages.  While I didn't experience a catastrophic degradation in writing, it's certainly a bit annoying.

In the same thread of thought is the fact that I have been severely limited in terms of what writing instruments I can carry on my person.  I love fountain pens, and have been completely unable to use them with the Expedition notebooks.  Rather, I have been carrying a Rotring 600 ballpoint running a Fisher space pen refill.  It's a nice pen, but I wouldn't mind some diversity.


Ultimately, Field Notes' Expedition notebooks are great.  Short of ink selection, I don't have any complaints.  I almost feel that I'm doing them a disservice, not stuffing one in my pack as I embark on some wild adventure; maybe someday.

That said, after I burn through the one in my pocket, I'm thinking I will be moving back to traditional paper for a brief change of pace.

12/1/13

It's Starting to Get Chilly...


As it starts to get colder, it becomes infinitely easier to carry more stuff - all those extra pockets, and all.  That's something that should be resisted, though...

In some sort of order:
  • Maratac Pilot's Watch on a DaLuca NATO band;
  • Rotring 600 ballpoint (running Fisher refill);
  • Field Notes' Expedition series notebook;
  • Spyderco Paramilitary2;
  • Nitecore EX11.2;
  • Burt's Bees Res-Q;
  • DIY wallet;
  • Karbon hat
  • Keys;
  • Basic Paracord bracelet;
Not pictured:
  •  Droid RAZR Maxx

11/21/13

Can One Accidentally Practice EDC?

Though there seems to be widespread acknowledgement of the everyday carry discipline, there are still plenty of individuals who are unaware of the mindset.

Despite this, nearly everyone carries an assortment of things on their person.

This raises the question: "Can someone be unknowingly 'everyday carrying'?"

The snob in me wants to emphatically say, "No, everyday carry is only a conscious mindset."  That's probably the same part of me that spends months researching gear before pulling the trigger on my debit card and ponders the merits of tip-up vs. tip-down carry.

Practically, though, I'm not sure that's the case.  If we suppose that everyday carry is simply the attempt to preemptively solve problems then having anything - sunglasses, a tube of lipstick, tissues - is practicing the discipline.  Though more casual than some of us, it's still a viable approach.

Certainly, those casual EDCers among us could benefit from a bit of contemplation and refinement but at least they're in the right vein.  More people carrying things that they may need means fewer people asking to borrow my flashlight, knife, or pen, and that's just fine.

11/12/13

You Don't Need That Many Knives

I mentioned the idea a while back that "you don't need that many knives."

I wanted to elaborate a bit...

The underlying theory of the everyday carry discipline, at least as far as I can manage to define it, is the belief that having a selection of tools on one's person is more beneficial than not.  The ability to solve a variety of problems with the things in your pockets being the primary rationale.  Naturally, it is impossible, or at least impractical, to carry tools to solve every problem that might arise.  As such, tools which have a broad usefulness are often selected over those of a more specific purpose.  For this reason, we often see knives, multi-tools, flashlights, pen and paper, and other such things of exceptionally broad utility.  These items can be employed in a wide variety of ways to solve a wide variety of problems.

Importantly, an EDC kit also reflects the problems one believes may be encountered on any given day.  It is in that individual thread that we see a variety of items of specific utility; a bicycle commuter may carry a patch kit, a photographer may have a lens pen, someone with severe allergies would carry an EpiPen, and so on and so forth.

That said, one of the most prevalent items found in everyday carry kits is a knife.  Manifest in many different forms, ranging from keychain sized Swiss Army Knives to fixed blades with everything in between, knives play an incredibly important part in the EDC discipline.

Taking my data merely from the variety of pocket dump posts in various corners of the internet, I have come to the conclusion, as previously mentioned, that there are some people who carry too many knives absent a discernible purpose.  They have taken "two is one and one is none" to an unrecognizable extreme.  Multiple full-size folders in the same pair of pants as a Swiss Army Knife and a multi-tool.  It's absurd!

Why?  Diminishing return.  A concept suggesting that with each additional unit the utility derived from that unit diminishes; additionally, the utility of all units decreases.  Applied here, the utility of a knife is high.  That single blade can be used for a great number of things to solve a great number of problems.  A second blade is not as useful as the first.  Now the two knives are both slightly less useful.  One will be used, at most, 50% of the time.  The same follows for all subsequent knives; they each become slightly more useless as additional knives are carried.

Furthermore, minimalism is paramount.  Too many are infected by the disease of too much stuff.  Yes, gear is cool but bulky pockets are not.

In most instances carrying more than one knife is simply unnecessary.

11/10/13

Hiatus?

Keeping myself honest.  I'll be putting my nose to the proverbial grindstone to craft more and better content in the near future...


I've been carrying a Spyderco PM2, a Nitecore EX11.2, a Field Notes Expedition series notebook, a rOtring 600 ballpoint, CountyComm's full-size Pilot Watch, and my hand-crafted steel wallet contraption.

It works.

7/12/13

< 101 - You Don't Need That Many Knives

Chances are you've come across a photo of someone's alleged everyday carry and thought, "why does this guy (or gal) carry so many knives?"

It happens to me frequently.  I'll come across someone who apparently carries three, four, or more knives on their person.

That simply strikes me as absurd.  I can't fathom a reason to EDC more than two knives; it seems like an under-thought extension of "two is one, one is none."

The EDC discipline should be bounded by utility and utility is bounded by diminishing return.  It's simple: carry more knives, lose utility with each additional knife.

7/10/13

rOtring 600 Ballpoint Pen Review

A while back I picked up some Field Notes Expedition notebooks and became quite enthralled with their essentially indestructible nature.  The Expedition achieves this unprecedented durability through the use of a synthetic paper that, while incredibly robust, is a bit finicky when it comes to writing upon it.  The paper accepts pencil and some inks.  Through trial and error I found a number of solutions but remained disappointed with my choice of writing instrument.

The easiest and most prolific ink solution is the Fisher Space Pen refill; with its Parker style adapter the cartridge can fit into the wide variety of pens that accept the Parker refill, leaving options relatively wide open.  The trouble is this: while carrying around a Stainless Parker Jotter or other such widely available pen can certainly work it's just not exciting.

In an effort to find a solution a bit more my style I began searching for refills compatible with my rOtring 600 rollerball that has been lying around unused.  My hope was that I could find something that would be compatible with both the Expedition's synthetic paper and my rOtring rollerball.

Instead, I quickly discovered that the rOtring 600 ballpoint pens were designed around the Parker style refills.  Being quite content with the Fisher Space Pen refills I had been using I found a reasonable deal on a rOtring 600 ballpoint and hoped for the best.  I paid approximately $75.00 for the first one I picked up and about $60.00 for a second on eBay.  A simple search will yield quite a few results.

To be brief, the rOtring 600 ballpoint is nothing short of excellent and has been an excellent companion in the weeks it has been in my pocket.



As always, I'm utilizing my writing instrument review template found here.

Materials:  2/2

The 600 ballpoint's body is all metal.  This lends to a nice feel in-hand and enhances the user experience.

I greatly prefer all-metal pens as I don't find the additional weight troublesome (when compared to plastic pens) , even when carrying the pen daily.  From a construction, durability, and comfort standpoint the all-metal construction is superb.

Fit:  2/2

The barrel of the 600 screws together just above the grip section.  It mounts together quite well without any wiggle or other such annoyance.

Mechanism:  2/2

The 600 uses a standard Parker style click mechanism.  It is well-constructed and fits within my idea of how click-type mechanisms should work on pens.  The pressure required to click the pen is relatively firm and the plunger springs upward to its tallest position when the point is deployed.

Line:  2/2

The rOtring ink cartridge that was bundled with the pen (they are still available either through third party retailers or directly from rOtring) has a nice blue hue and lays down an excellent, smooth line.  For the purposes of scoring this category here, I must give the pen a 2, despite the fact that I am not using the rOtring cartridge.

Unfortunately, as much as I like the rOtring cartridge, the ink does not work very well with the Expedition series of Field Notes notebooks.  As such, I am running the Fisher Space Pen refill predominantly.  The Fisher refill leaves a bit to be desired as it is a bit inconsistent.  This, however, does not detract from the 600 as it is designed to be.

Writing Comfort:  2/2

I very much like the design of the grip section of the later 600 series (I don't have any experience with the knurled grip sections of earlier models, perhaps in time I'll pick one up).  The smooth grip area is comfortable and the slight flare toward the point of the pen gives excellent tactile feedback as to where your fingers are on the grip and allows for precise control without slipping down the whole grip.

Design Concept:  2/2

It is no secret that I absolutely love the 600 series from a design perspective.  The design is clean without unnecessary and ultimately annoying flourishes.

Markings and Insignia:  2/2

The rOtring logo is present on the pocket clip and their red ring adorns the top of the barrel.  Short of these markings the pen is clean.  It's understated and beautiful.

Carry Method:  2/2

A sturdy pocket clip towards the top of the barrel facilitates pocket carry.

Carry Durability:  1/2

The sturdiness of an all-metal pen like the 600 is unprecedented when it comes to carry durability.  You're not going to encounter any stress fractures as you might in a plastic pen and an all-metal clip isn't going to fail if you accidentally scrape it against something.

The one thing that prevents a two in this category is the fact that the 600, as with many other click-type pens, has a tendency to open in the pocket if your movement depresses the plunger.  In my time carrying the pen thus far I have had a few instances where I have pulled the pen out and found that it had been riding in my pocket with the point deployed.  Due to the fact that it's a ballpoint there is limited inking of my pocket (a fact that is further aided by the fact that I'm running a Fisher refill as opposed to a gel or other type of ink).  However, it's an annoyance that has resulted in my checking of the pen occasionally to verify that it's not in fact open.

Carry Comfort:  2/2

The 600 is quite comfortable to carry.  The ballpoint is slightly slimmer than the other models in the line (the rollerball and fountain pen, for example, are slightly thicker in the barrel).  It's not a bulky pen and the weight isn't noticeable.

Total:  19/20

Without reservation I would recommend the rOtring 600 ballpoint to anyone looking for a great everyday carry writing instrument.  Its elegant design features coupled with robust construction and versatile Parker-type refill compatibility are unprecedented in the writing world and make the rOtring 600 ballpoint an excellent addition to any pocket.


1/27/13

SOG Flash II - Knife Review

The SOG Flash II was the first knife I started carrying daily.  I've had this model (a slightly older version than the one currently offered by SOG) for nearly 8 years.  It's seen a decent amount of use and has been plenty loved.

I own the aluminum handled version with a partially serrated blade.  The following review is considering it as close to new as possible; any wear that has occurred with age will not adversely affect the score.  While SOG has slightly adjusted their locking mechanism the knife hasn't changed much since this particular model was purchased; as such, I imagine this discussion is still relevant for current iterations.  Also, it appears that SOG is no longer producing an aluminum handled model; this isn't necessarily a bad thing as the glass-reinforced nylon handles drop the price to a more reasonable level.  This is the closest model SOG currently offers.

There are plenty of variations of the Flash II.  Too many to list.  They're MSRP is around $80.00 and they can be found online in the ballpark of $45.00.


Blade Material:  1/2

For some reason SOG loves its AUS-8 steel.  I would prefer that they didn't.  AUS-8 is a mid-range steel that, in my experience, requires far too much effort to keep sharp.  After opening a stack of packages it's back to the sharpener or you're struggling with a dull blade.  I've found myself sharpening it at least twice a week just to keep a decent edge.  SOG does a decent heat-treatment on it, but it's still a bit of a disappointment.  Sure, it's relatively easy to replace the edge, but it's not worth the tradeoff, in my opinion.  In the grand scheme of things, it's not a terrible steel, but it's not high-end by any stretch.

Fit of Parts:  1/2

Lateral blade play, even when closed.  It's something that I'm so frustrated with on the Flash II that I'm willing to dock it points in both this category and on its locking mechanism.  When closed, the blade can travel the width of the inner handle area.  It is, by far, one of the most irritating things that I've endured on a knife.

Blade Shape:  2/2

The Flash II sports a basic drop point blade.  It's a great everyday carry shape and is well-suited to most cutting tasks.

Blade Grind:  2/2

The full flat grind on the Flash II is executed well.  It's a robust grind that stands up to (relative) punishment well.

Mechanism:  0/2

The lock-up on this knife is sloppy.  There is plenty of lateral play in the blade.  It wiggles visibly in a manner that doesn't engender confidence whatsoever.  I can't remember if it was sloppy from day one, or if it has loosened with use, but even if the latter is the case there is no reason that it should have.  I even had the pivot bearing and locking mechanism tightened under warranty and it didn't really change much.

Sure, I haven't experienced catastrophic failure of the locking mechanism, it hasn't closed on my hand or something awful, but a decent mechanism shouldn't allow that much (or any) lateral movement in an open (or closed) blade.

Perhaps this is a problem that has been alleviated with the newer (looking) locking mechanism, but from what I've read, it's  problem with all the Flash series.

Design Concept:  1/2

I was initially drawn to the Flash II because it's a neat looking knife.  That said, after carrying it for a long while, there are a few things that bother me.  For example, the area of the blade that engages with the lock is exposed when the blade is closed; this annoys me.  The handle could have been designed in such a manner as to avoid exposing this portion of the blade. 

Grip:  1/2

I have the aluminum handled model.  The scales are nicely textured and there is adequate purchase when using the knife.


Deployment Method:  1/2

The assisted opening system on the Flash II isn't terrible.  It can be addictive to play with but I'm not buying SOG's assertion that it has "wicked-quick blade access."  The assisted opening isn't the fastest I've played with (the Kershaw Leek springs open far quicker).  Moreover, the thumb stud isn't the best out there; it seems a bit small due to its tapered design and close proximity to the handle.  A well-designed manual blade can be just as fast if not faster.

They also say that they had the "foresight to incorporate an additional safety lock" such that there would be "added security" when the blade is closed.  I'm a bit confused by this statement.  It's a knife that features an assisted opening mechanism.  As such, it can be assumed that the knife is designed for rapid deployment.  However, the additional safety lock merely adds another step in the opening process.  Sure, you can leave it off when the knife is in your pocket but why even have it there?  It just seems like a superfluous feature.

Carry Method:  2/2

If there's one thing that SOG has done right with some of their folding knives it's their deep carry pocket clips.  I do quite like the rear-mounted clip.  It allows the whole knife to sit in the pocket with only the very top of the pocket clip exposed.  It's more discrete than other clips, which can be an asset in certain pairs of pants.  I don't mind sporting a more visible knife and I doubt others often notice when I do, but it's a great feature.

Moreover, the clip design forces tip-up carry.  While choice is sometimes a good thing, there really isn't much of a reason to offer tip-down carry on most knives.  There are no good reasons to carry tip-down.

My one gripe is the size of the lanyard hole.  It's relatively small.  My go-to lanyard material is gutted paracord and the lanyard hole on the Flash II is too small to accept a piece.  This isn't something that I would consider a glaring flaw, though, just a minor inconvenience.

Carry Comfort:  1/2

This knife is thick. It's thicker than my Para-Military2, my CRKT M16-14SFG, and various other knives in my collection.  That said, it's not uncomfortable to carry.  The knife's profile, coupled with the deep carry pocket clip, makes it sit pretty well in a pocket.

Total:  12/20


Conclusions:

The SOG Flash II could make a good entry-level EDC blade.  It's not too terribly expensive and, overall, is a decent value for your money.

1/25/13

Finding the Right Pen for the Field Notes Expedition Notebook

A while back I saw the Field Notes Expedition notebooks on Uncrate.com.  Immediately, I bought a pack of three straight from Field Notes.  They just seemed too excellent to pass up.  They're made with a synthetic paper that's water-proof, tear-proof, and from what I've seen on the internet lately, near indestructible.

After receiving my set in the mail I was ecstatic; I quickly ordered more fearing that they might sell out before I could build a decent reserve (they're still available).  I now have 12 notebooks in total and I imagine I'll be set for at least the coming year.

The trick, though, is, of course, the paper.  Most pens rely on paper being porous and absorbing ink, trapping pigments within the paper's fibers and facilitating that whole writing-without-too-much-annoying-smearing thing.  Typically, inks are water-based.  This, naturally, presents a problem when trying to write on water-proof paper.  The ink simply doesn't take; it doesn't dry and it smears forever (I tested some Noodler's bulletproof black weeks ago and it still smears today).  Pencil, naturally, is an excellent alternative.  But EDCing a pencil can be troublesome.  Traditional wooden pencils require sharpening and their point can quickly dull or break.  Most lead-holders carry the same disadvantages.  Higher-end, more durable mechanical pencils often feature slender lead sleeves at the tip that aren't retractable; a feature that can be rather irritating and can be quickly damaged in a pocket.  There are some great looking drafting pencils that fulfill all my requirements (the Rotring 800 comes to mind) but at nearly $90, I can't yet justify the expense.  Retractable-point pens seem to be the best choice, short of the fact that quite a few utilize water-based inks that simply won't work with the unique synthetic paper found in the Field Notes Expedition series.

Some standard ballpoints work relatively well (standard Parker refills, for example) but leave a bit to be desired, smearing quite a bit even after reasonable drying time.  Permanent markers also work, but I'm not a fan of carrying a Sharpie around; they're simply not well-rounded for other tasks.  The Sharpie Pen, a favorite of mine, is unfortunately (and expectantly) awful in this case.

By now I'm sure you're screaming "SPACE PEN" or something along those lines.  Yes, the Fisher Space Pen cartridge works relatively well with this paper.  It's still prone to smearing, but is not as awful as other pens.  Yes, Field Notes seems to market the Space Pen as the perfect companion to the Expedition's paper, but I'm not convinced.

The best pen for this paper that I've found thus far is the Uni-Ball Power Tank.  On a whim, I picked one up thinking that it might function well with the Expedition notebooks.  I opted for the "High Grade" series simply because of the slightly slimmer body, knurling, and aluminum construction; they just look better and that's something I value.  The High Grade comes in at $16.50 for the pen while the "Smart Series" is priced far lower at $3.30.  Both varieties use the same pressurized refill, so I imagine all varieties will function rather alike (the only difference being the High Grade refill's metal construction compared to the Smart Series' plastic construction).  I was quite pleased when it arrived and I put it to use, finding that it is, as I mentioned, the best pen I've found for the Expedition's paper.


Below is a slightly-less-than-scientific comparison of the Uni-Ball Power Tank in .7mm and a Fisher Space Pen cartridge in what they call "fine."  As you can see, the Power Tank's ink dries to reasonable levels in about 15 to 20 seconds whereas the Space Pen cartridge remains easily smeared even after one minute of drying time.  Also worth noting is the fact that the Space Pen cartridge appears to skip a bit whereas the Power Tank is rather smooth.  I've always had some trouble with the Space Pen series skipping, even on traditional paper, the synthetic paper simply exacerbates the problem.  I'm sure that the drying / smearing differences have some to do with the slightly narrower point of the Power Tank.  This also allows smaller, more precise marks, an ability I tend to look for in my pens.


I almost feel compelled to pick up another couple of these, perhaps the cheaper versions, to throw in my car and have floating around for everyday use.  My only wish is that the High Grade came in a red barrel, although brown, black, and blue are rather compelling.

In short, the Uni-Ball Power Tank is the pen for the Field Notes Expedition notebooks.  It's stylish, reasonably priced (cheaper than most of Fisher's Space Pen products), and works exceptionally well with the synthetic paper.

1/18/13

1/17/13 Pocket Dump


Ordered some felt to line some drawers; a perfect opportunity to snap a photo.

This is what has been rattling around in my pockets (pants and jacket) recently:
  • Wallet w/ Fisher Bullet Space Pen;
  • Spyderco Para-military2;
  • Field Notes Expedition Notebook (excellent, thus far, despite being incompatible with water-based inks; pencil works very well and I’m beginning to prefer it, actually);
  • Staedtler 2mm Lead Holder;
  • Nitecore EX11.2;
  • Victorinox Alox Pioneer;
  • Bert’s Bees Res-Q Lip Balm;
  • Keys w/ SOG V-Cutter and Screwdriver / Bottle Opener;
  • Maratac Pilot’s Watch on DaLuca Nylon NATO.

1/16/13

The Perfect Lanyard


A lot of people throw lanyards on their knives and flashlights.  They aid in retrieval and are an easy way to customize gear.

The most common lanyard material these days is paracord.  There are plenty of weaves and knots that can be used to create a lanyard.  The trick is finding exactly what length is best.

I recently wrestled with this question.  I wanted a simple lanyard to aid in retrieval of my primary knife.  I planned to use a lanyard knot and a simple lark's head knot to attach the lanyard.  Initially, I tied on the lanyard knot at an aesthetically pleasing length.

After using the lanyard for a few days I began to realize that it wasn't performing as well as I had desired.  When I gripped the lanyard and pulled, allowing the knot to catch between my folded pinky and palm, I was presented with a problem: the handle of the knife was too far away.  Sure, I could pull the knife from my pocket, but there was a second movement required - namely grabbing at the handle - to actually use the knife.  I realized that the knot had to be closer to the body of the knife.  Then, of course, the question of "how close" arose.

The perfect lanyard, I think, is measured by pinching the top of the object as if you're retrieving it from your pocket and measuring the distance from its end to the bottom of your hand.  Essentially, the width of your middle, ring, and pinky fingers.


This length ensures that the knot catches the exterior of my closed palm when retrieving the knife.  Anything shorter and it wouldn't be as convenient and anything longer would result in the problems described above.


Of course, depending on where you're carrying the object and how you're planning to retrieve it matters.  For retrieval from a clipped position in a pocket, this method seems to work quite well.

Other lengths may work just as well, of course.  This just so happens to be the one way I measured the length of mine.  Another option could be tying the knot such that it lands between any other two fingers, a method that could work equally well as the one I'm currently employing.

Ultimately, whatever design works is the design that should stay.  There are some designs that work better than others, though; this just might be one of them.