Saturday, July 23, 2016

DPx HEST Urban Review

If you are even slightly aware of baseball you will know the legend of Mike Trout--wunderkind that showed up, like Athena, fully formed and ready to dominate.  He was worth 10 wins all by himself in his first full season.  He has been worth nothing less than 9 wins since his debut.  He came out of the gate swinging and has never stopped.  In fact, when asked about his son's success, Trout's father told the media that baseball is tough and eventually his son was going to go through an 0-21 streak.  I am not sure if that has happened yet.

The reality is very few things are superb from the get go.  Most of the time product design, like people, takes time.  The original Dragonfly had a very odd shape (it was made prior to Spyderco standardizing the distance between the thumb hole and pivot at 1.1 inches).  The first airplane didn't land, it crashed and it only traveled 120 feet.  You get the idea--Mike Trout is a rarity.  A small stumble out of the gate is the norm.

Here the DPx HEST Urban does so much well, that even with one huge drawback, it is still a well above average blade.  I like this knife a lot.  But that one thing...ugh...what I wouldn't do for something just a tad bit different in the clip department.  I have struggled to think of a knife with a worse clip than the Urban.  And what's more, I know they know there is a problem.  Alas, Trout and Athena are the rarity.

Here is the product page. The sterile version of the Urban costs $281 from Kickstarter directly on the early bird.  There were three other versions all of which were more expensive.  Its not out yet so I don't know what the retail will be. There are no video or written reviews yet.  Here is my review sample:

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Twitter Review Summary: A Tale of Two Cities...best of times: knife; worst of times: clip

Process Feedback

The Urban was the first folder that launched a Kickstarter after Kickstarter changed is policy regarding knives.  About a week later Darriel Caston launched the Kadima.  Both ran WAY over the projected ship date, something that is common on Kickstarter.  DPx did a great job with updates and communications.  They also added extras to the project, in my case a sheath, because of the delay.  Given my prior experience with Kickstarter, even with the delay, I think DPx did a good job here.  The knife, other than the clip, is superb and worth the wait related to the tweaks that were made in the production process.    

Design: 2

The Urban sure is a beautiful looking knife.  Its proportions and lines are just perfect.  I love everything about this knife's size and shape.  I also like that they were mindful of details.  Here is one:

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Its not a big deal, and it is probably not strictly necessary, but I really appreciate that DPx went to the trouble of making the lockbar accessible.  There are many knives, many very good knives that don't bother.  In fact, there are ton of touches like this on the Urban, little signs that they know that we are paying attention.  

I am not sold on the multitool functionality here, it just seems forced.  But, fortunately, it generally stays out of your way, never impacting the knife's main task.  The glass breaker that is included and functions as a screw for the pocket clip, was a bit pokey, but they give you a replacement screw that doesn't tempt you to smash windows in the mall parking lot, so I am not going to ding them for that.  In general, I have no idea why companies feel the need to cram a bunch of extra "features" on a knife, but if they are going to try to do that, this is the best result--complete functional invisibility.

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The performance ratios are middling, mostly because this is a chunky blade.  The blade:handle is  .77 (2.875 inches/3.75 inches) and the blade:weight is .66 (2.875 inches/4.34 ounces).  These are both a long way from the record, but ratios don't tell the whole tale.  

Fit and Finish: 2

The Urban was subject to some pretty lengthy delays.  It was supposed to come out at the end of January but didn't arrive to the first backers until late April, early May.  DPx claims that they were tweaking the fit and finish.  If this is the result of that delay, I am fine waiting.  The knife is just rock solid.  No blade play in any direction at all.  The knife's handles are all finely finished.  The entire thing looks like a million bucks.  Compared to something like the Bradley Alias, which is a good knife, this feels a step above.  There is the pocket clip issue and an issue with the grind, but other those two things, the whole knife feels wonderful.

Grip: 2

I am not so convinced that the wire stripper/jimping is necessary (it is good as jimping, I am just not sure you need it), but that's because the whole knife fit in the hand so well.  The original HEST that I reviewed was great in the hand and its little brother is no different.

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Between the simple handle shape and the nice chamfered edges, the Urban just works. It also helps that this knife isn't MASSIVE.  It's stout, don't get me wrong, but it is not excessively long or wide in the pocket.  

Carry: 2

Thing is, the clip is so wretched that most of the time I just drop the Urban in the pocket and even then it is quite good.  Again, DPx nailed the size and shape here.  The HEST wasn't a huge knife, but it also wasn't small.  This knife fits that sweet spot for me that is occupied by the Mini Grip and other really good EDC-friendly knives.  It is a bit heavy, but not insanely so.

Steel: 2

S30V, you vex me.  On some knives you never take an edge.  You taunt me as I strop you and try to resharpen you on the Sharpmaker.  In other knives you are good citizen--holding an edge, not rusting, and being relatively easy to sharpen.  Perhaps it is because you are getting on in years, something of a middle aged knife steel, and you have experimented with different heat treats for different results.  Either way, here on the Urban, I liked you.  On other knives, we just aren't friends anymore.

Blade Shape: 2

If you are releasing a knife on Kickstarter, a platform open to the world, go with a classic blade shape, something that the mainstream and Internet hipsters will approve of.  Here, DPx did just that.

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The sneaky thing is that this blade shape is actually a bit nicer than the typical drop point--it's almost that Mors Kochanski preferred "continuous curve" shape.  There is a lot of belly here and only a smidge of straightaway, but I like it a lot.  

Grind: 1

Three nagging issues that add up, together, to one point off.  First, the actual cutting edge is a little uneven.  Nothing too bad, nothing enough to affect performance, but definitely visible.  Second, because of how the plunge was cut, DPx left some edge unsharpened.  This doesn't effect performance either, but if there is edge to be sharpened, I want it sharp.  And third, there is this:

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This isn't so much a plunge line as it is a ramp.  I have never seen this on a knife before and while it doesn't impact performance, it seems like something that should not happen.  Perhaps it is that we have been conditioned to look for crisp sharp plunge lines as a signifier of a high quality knife.  Whatever the reason, this is just jarring to my sensibilities.  It too does not impact performance, but it is is noticeable.  Altogether this stuff is worth a point.  It's all aesthetic stuff, but with so much of this knife done perfectly this trio of grinding gaffes sticks out. 

Deployment Method: 2

Bucking convention sometimes pays off.  In a market saturated with bearing pivot flippers, the Urban's bearing pivot thumb stud is quite different and fun to use.  The detent is perfect and the thumb studs are nice, resulting in an assisted-like feel and speed.  Of all the parts of the Urban that tell me this is a great knife, the deployment is the one that stands out the most.  I really, really like kicking this knife open with just a bump of the thumb stud. 

Oh, and yes, the bottle opener does work perfectly as a rapid deployment method.  Too bad it is 100% stymied by a terrible pocket clip.  In the event that you do get everything working right, it will pop this knife open in less than a second.  And let me cut off some Emerson fanboys at the pass.  Number one, the patent on the Wave is either lapsed or going to lapse very soon, so DPx isn't stealing anything.  Number two, DPx had this feature on their fixed blades a long time ago and basically imported it, unchanged, on to their folders.  It can't work as a Wave feature on a fixed blade and so importing just led to a happy coincidence of function.  

I am not willing to indulge what some on the Internet have posited as the ultimate Emerson fanboy conspiracy theory--that DPx dropped it on a fixed blade first, knowing its functionality on a then-yet-to-be produced folder, so as to insulate themselves from IP issues in the future.  The reality, as I have written here before, is that all of these patents and trademarks by these small companies are pretty useless--only a few in the knife business have the capital to defend them in court.  That doesn't address the moral issues related to IP theft, but I don't think that is what happened here.

Retention Method: 0

And here we have the culprit, the thing that brings the Urban down to earth from a potentially Trout-like debut:

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When I got the knife the clip stood off from the handle by about an 1/8".  It was noticeable and obvious.  It was clear that this was not a mistake.  I thought it was an odd design choice, so I took the clip off and bent it back towards the handle to close the gap.  I reinstalled the clip and to my disappointment it was still a little bit off.  I tried the knife in my pocket and I noticed that even with the gap, I couldn't wedge it in.  Try as I might, pushing and pulling, I could not get the knife in my pocket, clipped into place.  Eventually I got it in, but the problem remains.  This clip is awful.  It does not have enough spring to it to allow the clip to flex out.  It also has so much bead blasting on it (and the handle) that sliding it in and out of a pocket, even on material as thin as suit pants, is impossible.  The clip is also a pretty awful shape, with the turned up portion of the clip sticking out way too far.  This is a paint scraper of the first order.  Your houses's door jambs will hate the Urban.

Given how pronounced the gap was and how awful the clip is if the gap is closed, I cannot believe that DPx is unaware of the problem.  The "floating" clip wasn't an accident, it was a compromise necessary to "fix" an otherwise unusable clip.  In the end, this is the worst pocket clip I have ever used.  By a long shot.  But I need to be honest and tell you that while clips are important, I no longer think they are the end all, be all.  A bad clip on a good knife is a shame, not a deal breaker.  And the rest of the Urban is so great, I am not deterred in liking the knife simply because of a wretched clip.  

If I were DPx I would offer a replacement clip with thinner or springier titanium.  You could also polish the clip and handle and that would fix a bit of the problem too.  In the end, if you are making a bead blasted clip and handle, you need to the the tension of the clip JUST right.  It's possible to do this, just look at the Sebenza, but it is not easy.  If it weren't for the clip, this would be one of the best knives on the market and one of the best debuts we have seen in years.  Alas...

Lock: 2

Dead perfect lock up.  Dead perfect.  Here is the engagement:

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I can't imagine something better in a framelock.  It snaps into place with authority and it is disengages with ease.  The percent of the tang engaged is just right for me (I hate this silly early lock up fad).  And there is zero blade play in any direction.  They nailed this.

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

As bad as the clip is, the rest of the Urban is awesome.  I really liked carrying and using this knife.  Despite the thick stock and visually messy grind, it was a good cutter.  The thumb studs worked well, and everything had a pleasing size and shape to it.  More importantly, the Urban has the "it factor" that make some knives your first choice if you are staring down at your knife collection trying to figure out what to carry.  All this makes the gaff with the clip more painful.  With a great clip, this would have been a debut, both for DPx and Kickstarter that would have introduced a whole new group of people to knives.  

As it is, DPx, by in large, pulled off the most important new release for knives in ages.  By going through Kickstarter, using a good gimmick of being Made in the USA, and releasing a very nice product, there is a good chance that they have brought new people into the hobby.  Those people might not get the irksome nature of the pocket clip immediately, but once they use and carry the knife for a while they will understand.  If the case wasn't so big I'd consider using it and going clipless. 

The Competition

Overall, this is a very fine first offering, on par with something like the Strider PT and just a smidge behind the Hinderer XM-18 3 inch.  The PT was a below par cutter, but this knife, thanks to a very dished out hollow grind, is actually quite good.  The Hinderer is a more complex piece of machining and has a bit more polished feel with its polished then stonewashed finish.  This knife is a better deploying knife than the Hinderer, so it is a very tight race.  

As between this and the Sebenza, well, I think the community benchmark comes out ahead.  The clip on the Sebenza is an inspired design.  Everything else on the knife is just about perfect too, and so it seems to me that the choice is clear--the Sebenza is a better knife.  But that can't mean that this knife isn't worthwhile.  I think it is.  If we only concerned ourselves with knives BETTER than the Sebenza we'd be left with only talking about the Mnandi and a handful of customs.  Everything else, including quite a few custom makers in the "tactical" genre are just worse knives.  

Sunday, July 17, 2016

DPx HEST Urban Overview

The Urban is a superb little knife with one hideous flaw, like boil on Abigail Rachtford's face.  Here is an overview, with the review to come at the end of the week:


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Wonderment

In our world, with humanity having reached the moon and the deepest sea, we rarely encounter mystery unless we are looking for it.  Not often is the thing that is a surprise also a mystery.  We read a book about a detective and anticipate a mystery.  We go to a movie that is a Whodunit and encounter a mystery just as planned.  We wander out into the backyard late at night, look into the heavens and are curious as we expect to be.  We as human beings seek out mystery.  But rarely do we find it when we don't expect it.

To encounter mystery by surprise is so fun, so delightful, that the only word I can think of to describe the sensation is wonderment.  And when, fellow gearheads, has a piece of kit filled you with wonderment?

I recently ended a long wait for a Scott Sawby Swift.  It was so long a wait I actually forgot I placed the order.  But when it came up, I was delighted.  A month and ten days later when I took the knife out of the USPS box I was truly blown away.  It was like switching from a bike to a motorcycle in terms of speed.  I did not realize what the true knife elites were capable of and what it would look like sitting in my sweaty hand.  The Swift shares qualities with knives we are used to--its sharp, it folds, it has a lock, but it many ways its pure, insane polish pushes it beyond what I have dealt with thus far on this site.  I have handled a lot of great blades.  This knife redefines what great is, so much so that everything that come before looks a bit poorer by comparison.

The Shirogorov Neon was spectacular.  It was smooth in ways I didn't know knives could be, but its really just a very nice version of a knife we have all seen and held before.  The Swift is something different entirely.  Let me give you an example.  Looking at the Swift, holding it in my hand, and analyzing it closely I still can't tell you even basic things about it.  How is it constructed?  Beats me.  How does the lock work?  I dunno.  Does it have a backspacer?  I think so.  The knife is so spectacularly made and designed that it is a mystery right there in my hand.  It is like a bit of well done close up magic--the closer you look the more awed you are.

In the end, the Swift reminds me of the Arthur C. Clarke rule about technology--any sufficiently advanced technology appears to be magic.  And the Swift is that much more advanced than the knives we are used to.  It is magic.

It is heartening to know that even after six years of close and intense watching, the gear world can still blow me away.  The Swift has changed how I see knives and how I understand the tiers of makers.  It has also challenged my long held, but heretofore undisclosed belief that knives cannot be art.  The Swift is art.  My old notion was wrong.  Good thing I didn't say anything before. 

What an amazing craftsman Scott Sawby is--he gave me an object that filled me with wonderment...not just about how it was made, but how it is that a human being could make it.

What more could you ask for from a blade?

Or to summarize this entire post in one simple phrase: even Grayson would be impressed.

Here is the overview:

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

June 2016 Carry

June is one of my favorite months of the year, as it is my eldest son's birth month and the first month of summer.  This year was a big change.  After working as a public defender for more than a decade I went into private practice.  Switching jobs meant a total redo of what I carry.  I wanted to be more discrete and to that end, I carried by Quantum prototype, the Steve Ku 40DD.

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I was also pretty infatuated with the Benchmade Mini Griptillian in G10.

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Benchmade 555-1 G10

Benchmade has really lost a lot of momentum among knife knuts, while its brand recognition among the mainstream is as high as it gets.  It's a weird place to be.  For a lot of folks, even the G10 refreshes aren't enough, but for the mainstream folks, they might seem like an overpriced version of an already good enough knife.  For me, I am quite happy with the update.  I have always loved the look and performance of the sheepsfoot Mini Grip, so coupling that with an excellent American made steel like 20CV is a very good thing.

Another knife I carried a lot was the DPx Gear HEST Urban.

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Edison Pearlette in Indigo Flake, DPx Gear HEST Urban Sterile Edition, Muyshondt Aeon Mk. III in Al
 
A full review is in the works, but let me say that this is a very good knife with a very bad clip.  The whole package, sans clip, puts me in the mindset of a Strider PT--a phenomenal reduced size version of a good knife.  In fact, much like the PT, I think the reduction in size actually improves the overall feel of the design.  This is an excellent blade in hand, it opens like a very good custom, and the lock up is rock solid.  All of this just underscores how bad the clip is.  On a knife with other flaws, perhaps isn't so noticeable.  First, there is the problem that it is too tight.  When I got it, was significantly out of shape, about an 1/8" from the handle at the touch point.  I bent it back into shape and now it is all but impossible to use.  It is hard to get on and nearly impossible to get off.  I'll go more into in the review, but suffice to say, this clip is one of the worst I have ever used.  

A few old classics managed to sneak in there.

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Benchmade 555-1 and McGizmo Haiku

The McGizmo Haiku may only have 138 lumens on high, but when the emitter is great and the reflector is the best ever made, you get so much use out of those lumens.  It feels significantly brighter than 138 lumens.  And to this day, this is one of my favorite shaped objects ever.  I still pick it up and feel thrilled to hold it.  What a wonderful design.  

My Edison Pearlette has been my pen of choice for a while now and with a more office centered job I am less worried that it will get destroyed.

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Muyshondt Aeon Mk. 3 Ti, Canal Street Cutlery Boys Knife in Gold G10, Edison Pearlette in Indigo Flake

It's a great pen and if you haven't tried a stub nib, buy a cheap one and see if you like it.  I probably will never go back to a regular nib.  It makes writing so fun, I find excuses to use the pen all of the time. 

Well, there you have it.  I have a big item coming for July, one I have waited for for about four years, so look for that.  I am also going into month four of the Busse wait.  No sheath, four month wait, for a $450 fixed blade...I am just saying.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Muyshondt Aeon Mk. 3 Review

It's perfect.  Go buy it.

Want me to run through the whole thing?  Alrighty, if I have to :)

How good is the Aeon Mk. 3?  Its significantly better than the Mk. 2 and that was a light that Enrique made to my specifications.  It is significantly better than the prototype, which I was lucky enough to handle and use.  It is better than the S1 Baton--more refined, smaller, with a better tint, and with better runtimes.  It is better than the Surefire Titan Plus, with a better UI and a superior clip.  Its better than the Spy 007, significantly smaller and better in the pocket.  Its not a firebreather, but we have all moved beyond judging a light by its lumen count, right?

This is the best light available, price no object.  And if you want exotic, Enrique has you covered with both a Moku Ti and Mokume Gane version.  For normal folks there are aluminum versions and titanium versions.

Here is the product page. There are five versions: aluminum ($295); copper ($385); titanium ($450); mokume gane ($1,495) and moku ti ($1795).  Here is the link to my assessment of the prototype.  The only place to buy them is either Enrique's site or for an exclusive bead blasted version, try Urban EDC Supply.

Here is my review sample (Enrique sent me both a titanium and blue anodized aluminum version to check out):


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Twitter Review Summary: Don't mess around...this is the light to buy.

Design: 2

There is simply nothing I would change here.  It is notable that the few issues I had with the prototype--the gushy button, the sharp tailcap edges, and the clip, are all fixed.  So everything that I said in that post, works here.  But repetition isn't enough to convey the design's greatness.  Sure, it's small, compact, and convenient, but this isn't a dainty flower.  Enrique pushes and tests his stuff to the limit, doing things to flashlights that make Cold Steel's "Proof" videos look positively cuddly.  It's one thing to stuff a boot full of meat and cut it with a folder.  It is another thing entirely to send a flashlight into near-space, recover it, and demonstrate that it still functions perfectly.  On a recent trip, Enrique took the light to the gear equivalent of Hell--the Dead Sea--exposed it to the salty elements and reported no damage or loss of function.  This from the guy that used his previous design to saw through lesser flashlights on a lathe.  Even without this nuclear grade toughness, the Mk. 3 would be awesome.  With it, I think it is safe to say that we have reached a new pinnacle in light design.  If you want to know what justifies the increase in cost over something like the Olight S1 Baton, this is it--the zenith of convenience and performance coupled with ruggedness that exceeds what almost everyone on Earth would ever need.  

The lumens:weight is 114 (160/1.4); the maximum total output cannot be given because there is no runtime data available at this time.

Fit and Finish: 2

The prototype was gorgeous with smooth threads and nice surfaces.

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This light is better.  The pokey points on the tail end of the light are gone and the clicky feels just right.  The anodizing on the blue model is flawless--a bit purple, but flawless.  The polish on the titanium model is downright crazy--gleaming without a single imperfection or machine mark.  After two months of use, I could not find a single flaw.  

Grip:  2

Flashlights this tiny can be a bear to hold on to, but with a rear clicky and some knulring on the body, not to mention a very good clip, this light is just right in the hand.  I never got that "trying-to-squeeze-a-BB-in-the-palm-of-my-hand" feel.  It was small, but always enough to hold on to.  This is just a damn fine design.  

Carry:  2

The prototype had a friction fit clip, which are, universally, terrible.  This clip is both sturdier and a bolt on design.

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But it is not so bulky that it interferes with the lights ability to ride in your jeans.  Everything about this light just works.  It hides well, it rides well, and thanks to a clip you have the option of making it readily available at a moment's notice.  

Output: 2

You'll have a no difficulty finding a light this size that is brighter.  The S1 Baton is basically the same size and the FourSevens CR2 light is as well, and both are brighter.  But I feel safe in saying that if you are reading this site you have moved beyond evaluating lights SOLELY based on their lumens.  But lumens do matter to some extent and here, with an output around 200 lumens, you have plenty of photons to do what you'd need to do.  The low is perfect, around 1-5 lumens, and the medium hits right at 30-40 lumens, giving you a nice spread as well as a useful low and a very good high.  In short, if you have moved on from lumens=awesome, then you'll be more than satisfied.  As a EDC light this does a lot quite well. 

Runtime: 2

If you have read even one Muyshondt review you know this is Enrique's thing.  He coaxes run times out of batteries that no one else can.  Maybe he was across the street from Robert Johnson when the Devil gave him his musical ability and Enrique asked for electrical engineering prowess.  Whatever the source, Enrique does what no one else can do.  In other words, best runtimes out there. 

Beam Type: 2

This is a very compact reflector and so the beam is all flood.  In an EDC light that's not a problem.  You don't expect to search mountaintops with this light, so all flood is not really a problem.  But, and this where it is nice to have the touch of a custom light, there is a good balance between hotspot and spill. I have reviewed enough lights that I feel like I can almost identify a light by looking at the beam pattern. Huge halo with tight hotspot--Surefire.  Very nicely blended hotspot into a tight spill--Armytek.  Big hotspot and big spill--HDS.  Here you get basically the same pattern as the original Aeon and the Aeon Mk. II--a smallish overall profil with a tight hotspot and a good spill.  It's not quite Surefire-level distinction between the two areas of the beam, but it is close.  

Beam Quality: 2

It goes without saying, simply because Enrique is one of the best out there, that there are no holes, rings, or oval shapes in the beam thanks to a perfectly designed, custom parabolic reflector.

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Perfect circles, with even disbursement of light.  But, unlike all of the production lights in this size, you get a wonderful Hi CRI emitter.  It's so nice you'll be shocked if you are coming from a traditional emitter.  This, along with the runtimes, are what set this light apart from production models.  

UI: 2

The clicky is really good--much improved.  The UI, of course, is simple.  Click once for on, while on press and release quickly to go up a mode.  The light defaults to low, which is how it should always be on a general purpose light.  If you need high right away, get a tactical light.  There are no hidden modes and the denounce time is just right (the time you have to hold and release to switch modes).  Awesome, simple clicky.

One thing to note--if you are a person that wants to be able to get to high or low immediately from off, you can't do it here.  Also, while us flashoholics are used to all the finger gymnastics, a twisty like on the Aeon Mk. II is more newb-friendly.  Still, for us, this is a perfect, simple, implementation of the clicky UI.

Hands Free: 2

Tailstands like its waiting in line, won't roll thanks to the clip--this light does everything in this regard.  It's even easy between the teeth, though as always, I don't recommend that.  

Overall Score: 20 out of 20, PERFECT

The Aeon Mk. III is a notable upgrade from an already great light in the Aeon Mk II.  It is small, bright, and has a wonderful double dip clip.  All of the flaws from the prototypes have been corrected.  It's just a wonderful piece of gear.  How good is it?  Well, it easily got a perfect from me (though if you are Mr. Scurvy, you'll eschew its inability to go directly from off to high or low and in that case, drop a point).  The real question is whether this is best product I have every reviewed. It just might be.  It's right there with the MBI HF-R and the Spyderco Dragonfly II in ZDP-189.  This is one of my favorite pieces of kit ever.

Its pricey, sure, but the aluminum version is fine for everyone that is not a hoarder of pocket frosting.  Is the price justified compared to something like the S1?  I think it is.  Getting that last bit of performance is always a daunting and expensive proposition and here you get a truly superior clip and a Hi CRI emitter.  Its not something everyone will purchase, but if you crave that absolute pinnacle of EDC flashlight performance, this is it.  And that is expensive.  

Oh, and by the way, I had planned this out pretty carefully and now that it has worked out, its quite nice that the Mark III is my THREE HUNDREDTH product scored and reviewed on the site. 

The Competition 

There is really only one light I think that is in the same league as the Mk. III and that is the aforementioned MBI HF-R.  That light is smaller, brighter, and has a UI that is both easy to use and let's you go from off to high or low with one input.  But it runs on batteries that are positive hassle to charge and there are no primaries that work.  But both lights are so good that you are basically going with preference.  For me, I don't know which I would choose--the insane runtimes of the Mk. III or the photon bomb high of the HF-R.  Either way, these are world class lights and objects of thoughtful creation and design.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Mission Statement

I listen to the great, enlightening, and fun podcast on pens called the Pen Addict.  The podcast is hosted by one of the best podcasters in the business, Myke Hurley, and the cohost is Brad Dowdy.  Dowdy was kind enough to come on my podcast twice, once to discuss pens, and once to discuss getting your grail knife.  In a recent episode they had on another online acquaintance of mine and great writer for Everyday Carry, Ed Jelley.  They talked about burnout.  I have been very fortunate and not had a bout of burnout yet.  With the podcast, schedules are tough, especially when my 1 year old decided to go on a sleep strike, but if I could I'd record every week.  I haven't missed a week of posts here ever.  Suffice to say, I have no burnout issues.  But they brought up the idea of a mission statement for a blog and I thought it would be a good think to lay out.  In part, this helps me organize my thoughts, but also I think it might help new and old readers understand where I am coming from, which could, in turn, make the review scores more helpful.

So, without further ado, the Tom Wolfe, stream of consciousness style Everyday Commentary Mission Statement.

The mission of this blog is fourfold:

1. To start a conversation via useful, thoughtful, and consistent information about everyday carry gear in as comprehensive a scope as possible;  

2. To explore what I have called the "enthusiast mindset" and good design; 

3. To ruthlessly and gleefully destroy any form of hype--including but not limited to brand loyalty, bandwagonning with trends, and marketing bullshit; and

4. Bring to light great undiscovered or overlooked stuff at any price range.

As a side effect of these four things, we, as a community, have given an enormous amount back to charity.  In life in general and in my online life, I think it is important to tie all endeavors back to a pro-social goal if possible.  Here, on this blog, I am fortunately to get and buy review samples, and so twice a year I run giveaways with the review samples as prizes.  In the past six years, I have given away more than $8,000 in gear and we have raised close to $6,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project and my state Drug Court program.  I feel like doing this insulates the blog from worries I have about it being nothing more than a worship of material things.  

The mission statement warrants a bit more explanation.  

Thorough Reviews

When I started this blog there was very little in the way of systematic reviews of gear.  There were a lot of folks on YouTube, and a few that wrote, that reviewed gear, but not much of it was in a format that applied the same standards from item to item.  Dan of BladeReviews was and is the absolute pinnacle of the form and so, using his general ideas as a template, and harkening back to my beloved EGM from my childhood, I developed scoring systems for each piece of gear.  I still have a few in the bank, one of which will be revealed some time in July.  These scoring systems allow me to evaluate products the same way, looking at the same attributes over time.  This, hopefully, gives you an idea of how products compare to each other.  When doing research on what to buy, people don't just want to know if something works, they want to know if it works better than something else, and the score allows you to do that in a quick and easy way.  But the text is also important as it fills in the gaps where the score alone might leave you guessing. 

So the scoring system is the first part of this.  But the second and more important part is the comments section.  The dialog in the comments section is the very heart of the site.  If someone just read my review they would be missing something 60% of the value of said review.  Reader comments and reactions are exceptionally informative as they widen the experience pool, giving you a real and meaningful sample size of feedback.  Furthermore, I have been lucky in that the comments section, instead of devolving in the usual internet wastewater, has risen to be something great, thanks to very knowledgeable readers.     

As a quick side note, I work very hard to get comments up as a fast as possible, but spammers have slowed this process.  With the advent of these spammers the comments section has become the single most time consuming aspect of the website.  For whatever reason the site does exceedingly well in SEO terms and Google consistently ranks this site's reviews as the #1 hit or, in the worst case scenario, never less than the #10 hit.  That, however, causes spammers to attack the site daily and I do my best to manage them. 

Finally, choosing what to review is also important to the blog.  I want to review everything.  Yes, everything.  I want to review classics and new stuff, expensive stuff and cheap stuff, mainstream items and boutique pieces.  I want you to be able to go to the Review page and find anything you want to read about there.  It's not quite there yet, but its getting there.  I also want a wide range of stuff, from custom knives to cheapo stuff.  I don't want to miss anything. 

Enthusiast Mindset

With the rise of the Internet and huge reservoirs of information like CPF or Instagram, people's nerdy tendencies have morphed into a very efficient and very comprehensive way of processing information.  A person new to knives quickly arrives at the Sebenza.

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Twenty years ago, it may have taken years for a person to realize just how good that knife is and how important a place it has in the market.  Now, a few Google searches and you are there.  But the enthusiast mindset is not just about gear, I have found it very useful in all kinds of research.  The method of sifting through piles of data has made me a better lawyer.  I can say that with ease.  Those of us with this bug know how it is useful.  We don't both going to subpar restaurants or waste time looking at information sources that aren't reliable, whether it is about buying a car or finding that lanyard bead you need.  

Similarly, with good design.  Handling thousands of pieces of gear and reviewing more than 300 hundred, has taught me in an experiential way what good design is, to a limited degree, and I like exploring that with each new knife or light I get.  

Hype Busting

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Groupthink is the enemy of rational thought.  The idea that something is correct simply based on the number of people that believe it is, absent election results, a classic form of cognitive distortion.  It infects every aspect of our lives, but it is especially pernicious (not in terms of its impact, but in terms of how widespread it is) in the gear world.  The notion that production knives are lesser blades compared to customs is one example.  The obsession over lumens is another.  But the worst form of this cognitive distortion comes in the form of brand loyalty.  I do not and have never understood the idea of being a fanboy.  It is a bill of goods sold to us by marketing people.  Screw them.  If Topo Designs wants to put out an array of twee shit and pretend like it is real, well design, capable gear, that's fine.  Just don't expect me to go along with that notion because you have models with beards in your ad copy or a faux authentic quirk feel on your webpage.  

An offshoot of this group think is the Shill Site.  Shill Sites are my #1 enemy.  They are the archnemisis of this site.  As aside, in life I have always found it helpful to have an archnemisis, whether it was a snooty a-hole in my philosophy classes in undergrad or another lawyer who treats me like I am a five year old simply because he passed the bar when my parents were in diapers.  I have turned away opportunities and left others because they strayed too close to the line of "say nice things about this thing you have never seen, touched or used".  Like most people that have been in the gear game for a while, I can judge something based on specs, sure, but to write line after line after line about a product that is pretty underwhelming spec-wise just because it is new or because they paid me is something I can't do.  I like the editorial independence I have here and my two other writing gigs (AllOutdoor and Gear Junkie).  Neither AllOutdoor or Gear Junkie have ever asked me to tone down harsh, hype-busting text.  NEVER.  In other places I have written for or have been asked to write for I was asked to change my opinion, always to make it less harsh, by the way, and when that happened I told them one thing: I quit.  I don't do this as a living.  I don't do this for the money or the gear.  I do this because it is fun to interact with you the reader.  So when someone asks me to do something that is violative of that fundamental principle the reaction is the same--I quit.  I am a big quitter in that way.    

Is your knife a Hinderer design?  Better be good, because I don't care who's name is attached.  Is your backpack super minimalist because that's what sells?  I don't care.  Is your light designed by the single greatest flashlight designer and electrical engineer in the history of flashlights?  So what.  If you want hype, go elsewhere.  I could monetize this site in a bunch of ways that would force me to buy into the hype more than I do.  And to that I say--I quit.  Whoops, not that sassy automated response.  Or actual, because I never started, NO WAY.  

Gem Finder

Muyshondt's lights are the best in the world.

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I have no doubt about this having handled and reviewed lights of all prices.  No question.  But I am just as excited to review the soon to be released $39 Klarus Mi7 as I am to review the Aeon.  Finding great stuff, either from a small batch maker, or a budget production company, that you might have overlooked is one of the most fun things about reviewing gear.  I love it.  So if I have to dig through the crusty forgotten parts of the Internet to find that gem awaiting some attention, I'll do it.  

In the end, I write this site for you the reader.  I like interacting with all of you via email, social media, or the comments section.  I like going on this journey with folks.  I like being a surrogate for experience.  I understand that I have been given a great opportunity through this website to see and use a metric ton of gear, and I know that lots of folks don't have that same opportunity.  So my goal is to not be an expert, but to be a surrogate.  To tell you in as much detail as possible why I like something or don't like something and to tell you why I think you might agree.  

Keep reading.  And thanks.



Saturday, July 2, 2016

Best Flashlights

I redid the Knife Top 5 and so I thought I would do the same thing for flashlights.

There has been something of a renaissance in flashlights in the past twelve months.  All of 2014 was sad.  2015 had a few releases.  Now, we have great new production lights and custom lights coming in almost weekly.  Again, the idea here is not to give you an ordered list, which was kind of hard use, but a list of lights that are the best for various applications.

Best EDC: Olight S1 Baton

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When I get an email that asks me what light to get, this is the 100% easiest suggestion.  It is cheap, relatively speaking, powerful, and compact.  Once you pry off the horrendous clip you have a form factor that lives well in pockets and on night stands.  The sideswitch is great and the UI is state of the art for clickies.  It lacks some high end features like a Hi CRI emitter, a built-in rechargeable battery, and a more sophisticated UI (see: MBI HF-R), but for an unobsessed person, these things aren't a big deal.  You want a light?  Get the S1 Baton.

Best EDC for a Flashoholic: Muyshondt Aeon Mk. 3

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For an obsessed person, the lack of a Hi CRI emitter is a fatal flaw in the S1.  Thankfully Enrique is here to correct the problem.  The Mk. 3 is, simply put, the best light ever made.  Sure there are ones that are more expensive and complex (see: SPY 007) and ones with more complex machining (see: Photon Fanatic's Indian Princess), but if you want a light that does everything and does it well, get the Aeon Mk. 3.  You will never be disappointed in any way.  Oh and if you want to go into near-space and not have to worry about your light, the Aeon Mk. 3 will do that too.

Best Light for a Nonflashoholic: Surefire Titan Plus

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Your Dad doesn't want to fuss with all your weirdo batteries.  He also doesn't want to do Morse code to turn on his light.  He wants something that works like the Mini Mag, but you want something he can rely on, that wasn't made by an a-hole, and has a competent emitter.  The Titan Plus is for you to give to your Dad.  The regular Titan would work here too, but you don't get the blazing high or the pocket clip.  For those reasons, I'd suggest the Titan Plus.  It also happens to be a great light for enthusiasts too.  Surefire's emitter still holds the crown for highest output on a single AAA.  It's been that way for a year now and in the flashlight world, that's like having the fastest car on the market for two decades.  

Best First Flashoholic Light: Eagletac D25 AAA

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If you are new this whole EDC thing and you are looking to round out your kit with something that is truly high performance and yet doesn't break the bank, the D25 AAA is a spec monster.  With 145 lumens on high from a single AAA it is quite good, trailing on the Titan Plus in terms of lumens in the 1xAAA format.  It also has a Hi CRI emitter, a good pocket clip, well-spaced outputs, and a TIR optic.  Even two years ago, this would be a $100+ light.  Now, you can have all that for well under $35.  Plus, it's tiny and runs on a common cell.  If you want a good light, this is the place to start.  

Best Light for Post-Apocalypse Use: HDS Rotary

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A construction project in remote China dug up something weird in a lake and a few days later the construction crew got sick.  Then it spread to a village.  Then to Beijing.  Then, through the airways, to the USA and Europe.  The disease starts out as a hell of a cold and ends with people being mindless brain-eaters.  You grab a shotgun and an enough shells to last a lifetime before you pile into your suped-up Jeep.  What light do you throw in there for those dark nights when even the birds stop singing?  The HDS Rotary.  This light is bombproof, perhaps literally.  With a great UI that allows you to turn it on in any output mode, the light is great to use.  It is also a true beater with thick aluminum walls, a stainless steel crenellated bezel, and fully potted (encased in resin) electronics.  Henry released a brilliant clip last year, completing the package.  If the world ends tomorrrow and you survive, this should be your light.  

Best Photon Cannon: Eagletac TX25C2

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Sure there are brighter lights out there, but if you want a light that crosses the 1K lumen threshold that isn't bigger than a Coke can or costs $350 (see: Mooddular), this is the way to go.  With a true 1K output, a great side switch, and the best pocket clip on a flashlight, the Eagletac is just damn good.  18650s aren't my favorite battery, but they do last forever.  

Best Headlamp: Still waiting

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I love the Wirecutter.  If you need good information on products fast, it is the place to go.  So when the posted something on flashlights I was intrigued.  When they recommended a headlamp over anything else I was curious.  When they said it was a lamp under $50, I bought it.  A year and a few month later, I am still not convinced.  I am working on a review, though I am still not sure if it fits the scale just right. The problem is there are just so few opportunities, even when you are trying, where a headlamp makes sense over a flashlight, despite what the Wirecutter says.  If you WORK in the dark, there is no question that a headlamp is better.  After all generations of miners can't be wrong.  But if you are merely in the dark, the awkwardness and head tilting that a light requires doesn't work.  Plus, many of the best models have complex, multi-activation set ups with putrid colored emitters.  I am still not convinced that for an average person a headlamp is a necessity.  I am also far from certain that what's out there is good.

Best Bond Light: Steve Ku Quantum D2

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Q comes to Bond and places a bullet in his hand.  "James, do be careful with this.  It make look like a bullet, but it actually a fabulous little flashlight."  Bond smiles and says "I'm always careful."  Q grunts in frustration and walks away.  BTW, John Cleese as Q is brilliant.  But this light--well, I have been carrying it a lot lately and if you want a disappears in your pocket light, this is.  With the nice charging kit, the Hi CRI emitter, and the perfectly dialed in QTC UI, the Quantum D2, which is very hard to find now (sorry about that...there is not a lot out there in this uber tiny space that I find worthwhile...but that might change soon...hint, hint), is packed to the gills with high tech stuff.  This is definitely Bond's light.  Just don't expect to signal passing airliners.  It tops out at around 60 lumens, which is fine for casual get-around-in-the-dark situations.  

Best Light to Hide in Your Briefcase: 47s Preon 2

The redesign looks great, but it's the guts of this light that make a difference.  With a good high (200 lumens) and an okay low (10 lumens), this light has you covered.  If you want to carry something discretely clipped to your pocket or in your bag at work, this is it.  Only the most observant will think it is something other than a pen.  There are lots of alternatives here--Streamlights, Eagletacs, and the like--but this is the best.