Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Two Year Anniversary

The site is two years old!  Happy birthday website!

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I am going to do some giveaways for this, the two year anniversary of the site.  The list of giveaways thus far has been pretty impressive, in large part thanks to folks giving review samples to the site.  I could keep them but I have some ethical issues with that, so I decided a long time ago to give them away.

Here is the list of giveaways thus far:

1.  Custom S30V Benchmade Mini Grip ($130)
2.  Inkleaf Leather Moleskine Cover ($70)
3.  Iain Sinclair Cardsharp ($20)
4.  American Cutlery Over the Top Pocket Clip ($7)
5.  Boker Exskelibur II ($40)
6.  Coated Aircraft Cable ($3)
7.  RoBoT One Piece Multitool ($57)
8. Leatherman Sidekick ($30) 
9. CRKT Ripple 2 ($30)
10. CRKT Mah Eraser ($100)
11. Steve Ku Quantum DD ($60)
12. LED Lenser M7R ($120)
13. Sunwayman M11R Mr. Elfin ($80)
14. ESEE Candiru ($50)
15. TT PockeTTools TT-7 ($30)
16. MBI CoreTi ($75)

The total, right now, is $903.  All of this free, for doing nothing more than following the blog and on occasion contributing to one of the best charities on the planet.  But me saying thanks is one thing and me SHOWING thanks is another.  Let's add another $1,000 or so in new giveaways.  That's showing thanks right?

New Giveaways: Rules and Contests

Here is the list of giveaway items. 

1. Ka-Bar Mini Dozier ($15)
2. CRKT Drifter G10 ($18)
3. CRKT Drifter SS ($18)
4. Lighthound 1xAAA light ($25)
5. Lighthound 1xAA light ($25)
6. McGizmo Haiku Hi CRI edition ($500)
7. TAD Gear Production Dauntless, Mark II Black G10 ($350)

The giveaways start immediately and all of them will end on March 15th.  To win one of the first five awesome items, just become a follower of the site and post in the comment section of this post (you can find it below the post).  Winners will be announced on March 15. 

The Haiku contest submissions need to be in by the end of February.  I will post the ones I have left in March and announce the winner then.

But, as they say on TV infomercials, that's not all.... 

TAD Gear was very kind to GIVE me the review sample of the Dauntless.  Without indication to the contrary when I finish reviews I send the item back.  I did that in this case, only to have them contact me and tell me it was mine to keep.  They sent it back to me and now I can give it away.  Let me say that again, I am giving away a TAD Gear Production Dauntless, a knife with a retail of $350 and one that sells out so fast you can't really get it for that amount, unless you happen to be very lucky.  It is an amazing knife and I am giving it away.  I decided that the best way to do this is via a donation drive for the Wounded Warriors Project. 

Here is how you enter the contest:

1.  Go to the Wounded Warriors website.

2.  Make a charitable donation.

3.  When you receive the donation receipt email, forward it to me WITH AN UNALTERED SUBJECT LINE (I need to have the subject lines be the same so I can sort them easily, you can delete any payment or other info in the body of the email if you want).  Send it to this address (ones that go to the contact address I normally use will be disregarded, I can't sort them properly):

everydaycommentary at gmail dot com

in the normal format.  DELETE ALL OF THE FINANCIAL INFORMATION IN THE EMAIL, but if you could, please indicate how much you donated.  A larger amount won't make it more likely that you win, but I want to keep track so that I can have a total.  I am working on another giveaway and this data would be a nice selling point to make that one happen. 

4. I will pick an email at random on the Ides of March ( that is March 15th; no extra meaning, it just happens to be about halfway through the month) and that person will win the Dauntless.

Again, the amount of the donation doesn't matter and large donations won't be counted more than once.   I guess you could cheat, by faking a donation receipt email, but hopefully if you do you will be enjoying your free gear on the slow, hot elevator ride to hell.  I'll post how much we raise once everything is tallied.


Thanks for reading.  It is a pleasure to write this site and tweet out information and do the podcast (see the Gear Geeks Live tab above).  The idea is that you have a wide variety of options for consuming content, all of which are high quality, consistent with each other, and marked by my distinct way of doing things.  I hope you enjoy reading this site as much as I enjoy writing this site. 

Thanks to the following folks for helping with awesome giveaways:

TAD Gear

Keep reading.  Watch the YouTube videos.  Listen (and rate and review) the podcast.  Follow on Twitter.  These first two years were awesome, but if everything goes as planned, the next two years and the next giveaways will be even better.

Oh and I normally don't brag, but these are, bar none, the best giveaways of any reviewer on the internet.  So Cajun Blaze (and every other interview gear reviewer out there), I see your Small Sebenza and raise you a Dauntless, a Haiku, and bunch of other gear as well ;)  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

EDC Primer: Explaining Emitters or Why You Don't Need the Latest and Greatest

Make no mistake I get excited when new emitters come out.  The tantalizing possibility of an even brighter and more efficient LED allows me to imagine my future perfect EDC light.  But after a few days I realize that a lot of the lights I have right now work really, really well.  I have to admit though, it was the insane 200 lumen high of my Peak Eiger AAA that enticed me to buy the light, so even I can be bit by the emitter bug.  After writing this blog for two years though I realized that old emitters, properly implemented, can run with the big dogs long after they ceased being cutting edge.

The secret of flashlight output is that it is the reflector and the optics, more than the emitter, that determines how useful your flashlight really is.  A cutting edge emitter in a substandard optics package (which is what the majority of budget lights are) can give you really great "emitter lumens" numbers but terrible and disappointing output in reality.  Emitters are important, but only a part (small part) of the puzzle.  They are, however, the thing that sells a light, so it is important to understand what all of the names and letters mean.

To that end, I am going to explain the nomenclature and a little about the more popular emitters and then give you a few things to consider in addition to the emitter that will have a big impact on the light's performance.  I am not an engineer and I have very little technical knowledge, so if I make a mistake, please chime in in the comments below.

Before I get started, here are two excellent references on LEDs: 1) photo thread of all major LEDs used in flashlights; and 2) tech specs on emitters.

A Brief History of LEDs in Flashlights

About ten to fifteen years ago LEDs started showing up in flashlights.  They were weak, produced icy cold blue light, and did not offer any price advantage over incandescent lights.  But slowly all that changed and then about five years ago the LED revolution kicked into high gear.  Instead of massive shower-head type arrays of weak LEDs combining together to get modest output, a single emitter could hold its own with an incan light.  The colors were still awful, but things were moving along. 

Three things happened that really spurred this revolution.  First, the historic explosion of manufacturing in China allowed a huge number of flashlights to be produced quickly and cheaply.  Major names like Fenix got their start as China's rise began.  This massive surge in capacity gobbled up LEDs quickly and demanded better ones.  So there was a real market for LEDs.  Second, the internet allowed people that liked flashlights to gather in a single place and swap information and lights.  Doug's old Flashlight Reviews was a mainstay of mine and reading about LEDs as they overtook incans was pretty exciting.  I still remember his first Surefire LED review.  Finally, flashlights were expensive enough to warrant the use of power regulating chips.  Without these circuits LEDs would have a hard time operating.  An incan is least efficient when it is on high, meaning most of the power used by the filament is lost to heat not more light.  The reverse is true of an LED.  It is most efficient when on high, and a low is much more taxing on the emitter.  Without power regulation, less power means greater inefficiency, which consumes more power from a dying battery and so on.  These power regulating circuits also allowed for multiple output modes when coupled with other technology.

About five years ago LEDs moved into a tie or actually outpaced incans, in every area but color rendition.  Then about three years ago, Hi CRI emitters came out.  You can read more about them here.   

LEDs: Companies and Names

There are three parts to the name of an emitter, the company or brand name, the series designation, and the bin code.  None of these things are the end all be all in terms of telling you how good a flashlight is, but they can be useful comparing models.

First, the company or brand.  There are only really eight companies making LEDs: CREE; Lumileds; Edison Opto; Led Engin, Inc.; Nichia; Seoul Semiconductor; OSRAM; and Luminus.  Of these only a few make commonly used emitters.  The most famous, as of this minute in the flashlight world, is CREE.  Their XPG and XML emitters are found on a ton of different lights.  Nichia makes some very good Hi CRI emitters, while the others have had their moment in the sun in the past.  I particularly liked the OSRAM Golden Dragon emitter I had on my Nitecore EX10.  The vast majority of emitters right now come from CREE.  They are the company producing the XLamp series of emitters (XPG, XML).    

Bin codes deal with four characteristics: flux rating, tint, Vf (voltage forward), and color.  Simply put, with most emitters, the higher the letter, the more light, given all of the other settings being identical.  A "U" bin designation will produce more light than an "R" bin designation.  Here is more information bin codes.  This doesn't however, tell you a whole lot because emitters can be configured very differently.  They are likely only helpful in situations comparing two identical lights, driven the same way.  In that case, the emitter with a later occurring bin letter will produce more light.  The bin code does not describe ANY other characteristics other than the four it is designed to represent and in a vacuum it means very little.    

The Heavy Hitters

Emitters are all about trade offs.  There are three attributes that I think are essential to evaluating emitters--max output, runtime, and color rendering.  All three are in tension with each other and all three are important.  Super high max outputs usually come from large lights and large batteries and usually at the cost of good runtimes.  Max outputs also sacrifice something in terms of color rendering.  Methods of producing accurate colors almost always siphon off a few lumens.  The best emitter, in my opinion, is one that hits over 100 lumens, can do so for about an hour (total, not all at once), and has Hi CRI color rendering.  This is, of course, very hard to achieve.  So emitters, like blade steel, can give you some of what you need, but not all of it.  No emitter does everything.  Finally, much of what we actually see, that is, what the light looks like in reality, has nothing to do with the emitter.  Nonetheless, it is probably helpful to explain a little about the big name emitters on the market now.

XPG (and XPG2):  This is a CREE emitter and the product page for the XPG can be found here.  It is no longer their highest power emitter on the market, that would be the XML, but the emitter itself is much smaller allowing for a different beam pattern and reflector shape.  The updated version of the XPG, XPG2, is much more efficient, giving you 20% more lumens per unit of power and it runs longer.  Here is CREE's product page.  Lots and lots of people still like and actually prefer the XPG series to the XML series.  The reason is pretty simple--a smaller emitter allows for more reflector surface and that, in turn, "scoops" up more of the light produces and pushes it out the front of the flashlight.  The smaller emitter also allows for different shaped reflectors, as less of the reflector surface is committed to the hole the emitter has to fall into.  This also has a little to do with the size of the light's head.  If you want the most reflector surface possible (which you should, as it means less lost light from the emitter) the XPG, because of its smaller size, will give you more reflector surface in the same sized head as an XML, all other dimensions being constant (the loss comes from the need for a bigger hole in the reflector to accommodate the larger emitter).  The XPG comes in all tints, and there are some Hi CRI XPG emitters, but they are rarely used (for more on Hi CRI see here).  The issue, if I had to guess (and it would be just a guess as I am not a flashlight maker) is that the Hi CRI XPGs score a 90, while their competitors score at least a 92 are the same or similar price and have the same or similar runtimes and outputs.  Malkoff lights, for example, are available with an XPG Hi CRI emitter.       

XML: This is also a CREE emitter and the product page can be found here.  This is the newest emitter from CREE and there are lots of variations.  The big difference between the XML and the XPG is the size of the emitter and the max output.  The XPG series emitters are 3.45mm x 3.45mm.  The XML emitter is monstrous by comparison: 5 x 5mm.  The drawbacks associated with this size are outlined above, but the advantages are pretty obvious--XMLs pack more punch.  You can get higher lumens counts on XMLs than you can on XPGs.  Significantly higher.  The jump in lumens outputs that happened last year, where lights went from 300 lumens on a single CR123a to 500 lumens is associated solely with the emitter upgrade.  A good maker can still coax amazing performance out of an XPG or XPG 2 emitter, but the easier way to get more punch, is to simply jump up to the XML series.  There is one big drawback besides size--energy consumption.  XMLs, to be used at their peak level of performance, need some serious juice.  They can run on 1.5v, such as in a AA light, but to really open them up, you need 3.0v or even more.  Ideally they'd like to be driven by something like an 18650 battery that can pass through super high voltages like 4.2v.  One other interesting feature of the XML, is the ease with which the emitter can be modified or changed.  CREE has a series of different XML emitters, all that can do different things and this is in part, I guess, because the larger emitter allows them the ability to alter the insides more easily.  If you have the batteries to really take advantage of it, an XML is probably the state of the art in terms of output.

Nichia 219Here is a good sales page with specs.  If the XML emitter is the high horsepower muscle car, the Nichia 219 is the almost as fast, but vastly more refined European sports car.  This is, in my opinion, the connoiseur's choice.  The Nichia 219 is a small emitter, similar to the XPG (it is actually sold as a direct replacement to the XPG).  It has similar power needs, outputs, and runtimes.  But, and this is a big difference in my opinion, it produces the most accurate light of any regularly used emitter anywhere.  It gives off a radiant beam of sunlight, hitting 92 on the color rendering index.  The result is an emitter that never washes out colors, that makes reds look red and greens look green.  The light I am currently testing, the Overready Edition of the Peak Eiger, runs a Nichia 219 emitter and the light is just perfect.  If you have a choice, this is the emitter you want.  There are some sacrifices though.  Hi CRI emitters, all else being equal, produce less lumens than their non-Hi CRI counterparts, so there is a bit of a brightness sacrifice (like 15% of output).  Second, they are marginally more expensive, compared to their XPG counterparts, around $10-$20 more on the consumer end.  That said, these are sacrifices I am more than willing to make.  We carry lights to see in the dark.  Why not see better?     

Other Considerations

There are a lot of things that go into making a light seem bright or correctly tinted.  Surefire lights have been able to "punch above their weight" in terms of lumens compared to perceived brightness for years because Surefire has the best reflectors you can find on a production light.  They gather all of the lumens and pump them out into a narrow beam.  Similarly, the lens on the light itself is a big deal.  If it is not as clear as it can be and treated with anti-reflective coating, it can rob you of lumens. Lens are the most straightforward so I will address them first.

Lens are pretty simple.  They are usually made of one of three different kinds of material: 1) plastic (polycarbonate); 2) glass (mineral glass); or 3) sapphire (artificial corundum).  Plastic is the least clear and least scratch resistant.  It is relatively tough.  It is made for cheaper lights.  Glass is better in terms of clarity and scratch resistance.  It is more expensive.  Sapphire is the best in terms of scratch resistance, as it is harder than steel by a substantial amount, and it can rival the clarity of some UCL glass (ultra clear lens glass).  It is the most expensive and because of that high hardness a little more brittle than glass.  The best lens, like sapphire and UCL, will ward off scratches and coupled with anti reflective coating will allow as much as 10% more light through than cheap or uncoated lens.  That's not enough for your eye to notice a difference, but if we are at the point of debating bin numbers on emitters, then we are already at the point where 10% more light matters.  Simply put--avoid plastic if you can.

Reflectors are much, much more complicated.  Designing reflectors is something that requires a ton of math and optics knowledge, far more than I have or have the ability to acquire.  Reflectors, more than emitters and lenses, can make the biggest difference in how a light performs.  A well designed reflector is, in my opinion, vastly more important than the latest emitter.  Two general points about emitters are important.

First its surface.  There are two types of surfaces, stochastic and smooth.  Stochastic surfaces are referred to as orange peel reflectors.  Stochastic refers to the method by which the surface is patterned, and a truly stochastic surface is entirely random.  Lots and lots of math and optics are needed to explain this, but simply put a stochastic surface produces a smooth beam.  The slightly bumpy surface scatters the light and smooths out the beam, giving you a clean spill and an edgeless but intense hotspot.  Novatac's reflectors were wonderful for a production light, as were the aforementioned Surefire reflectors, but nothing I have ever seen comes close to the perfect beam profile put out by the McGizmo Haiku reflector.  This is the zenith of reflector design in my opinion.  If you need a more focused beam and the rings, holes and other artifacts that are present in most lights don't matter, you can opt for a smooth surfaced reflector.  Personally, I like the floody and clean look of a textured (orange peel or very light orange peel) reflector over the swiss cheese like look of the smooth reflector. 

Second there is a new trend towards more sophisticated reflecting technology called a total internal reflector.  The TIR is not a silvery surface of domed metal at all, but an actual optic inserted into the head of the flashlight that sits around and above the emitter.  It gathers up light and sends it out the head, just like a reflector does, but it uses optics and angles to bend light from the emitter and send it forward.  Surefire has a few TIR lights.  They are known for producing better throw than normal reflectors with smoother beams.

Finally, there is the combination of a lens and reflector called an aspheric lens.  Lots of focusable lights, like the previously reviewed LED Lenser M7R (which has a TIR inside and an slightly aspheric lens outside) and the LensLight have convex lens that send light out the front in a tightly focused pattern.  These optics create a magnifying glass effect that can be used to spread out or shrink down the beam.


In the end, the performance of a flashlight is probably something like 25% emitter, 65% reflector, and 10% lens.  TIR and aspheric lens throw those ratios off a bit.  Emitter designations are important to know and you can tell a little about the light from this information, but real world performance is more closely tied to a well designed reflector.  Nonetheless, if you want the most eye scorching light ever, know which emitter is which can help.  If you can, get the Nichia 219.  The XPG2 is a nice choice as well.  If you want nothing but lumens, then most lights on the market right now that can deliver use XMLs.     

Friday, February 22, 2013

MaxMadCo Bolt Action Pen Review

I am not a pen expert.  If you are looking for a pen expert, try Pen Addict.  That said, I am a huge fan of good design and I do use a pen a lot.  Us lawyers are an old fashioned bunch and while folks in the tech industry have a iPad or other tablet as their main note taking tool, we still like pen and paper.  After I posted the review on the TuffWriter Ultimate Clicky, a reader suggested I get a copy of the MaxMadCo Bolt Action Pen (MMCBA Pen for short, as that is quite a lot of text to write over and over again).  I contacted them and they sent over an aluminum version.  MaxMadCo is a company run by Jim Madrid.  He is a machinist by trade, but his talents aren't limited by that training.  He has made a well-regarded run of friction folder knives, a series of fixed blade utility knives, and he offers a number of aftermarket watch face upgrades.  The entire product line can be seen here.  The pens are available in both stainless steel and the lighter aluminum version (which was the sample I was sent).  Here is the product page.  Here is a picture of the pen they sent:

The pen is accompanying the Peak Solutions Oveready Edition Eiger and the TAD Gear Production Dauntless.  The blacked out EDC was quite handsome, with every piece having a bit of silver on it as a highlight.

Here is a good shot of the pen all by its lonesome:

The pen is significantly smaller than the Ultimate Clicky, both in terms of girth and length.  Unlike the Clicky, the MMCBA looks and feels like a normal sized pen.  The review sample was made of aluminum and it takes a Parker insert, allowing it to have a huge variety of possible ink cartridges.  The pocket clip is bolted on with two small fasteners and the clip itself is incredibly strong.

The bolt action mechanism is quite impressive.  I was afraid that the down-over-up path would be cumbersome to navigate with one finger, but it was perfectly shaped and the spring made deployment nothing more than a quick flick of the thumb.  Disengagement was equally fast and simple.  It is a huge improvement over both a normal clicky and a twist mechanism, allowing for one hand use like a clicky, but preventing accidental actuation like a twisty.  Normally bolt action pens are bulky, but here, the MMCBA gets it right makes the whole mechanism small and discreet.  Overall, I'd have to say this is my favorite pen actuation method ever--truly excellent.     

The parts were incredibly well machined, smooth to the touch.  The threading possessed no wiggle or play.  The two pieces were so expertly fashioned that the seam between them is almost invisible.  The overall presentation of the MMCBA pen is subtle but superb.  It is utilitarian in the extreme with little flourish and no curve to the barrel.  Its appearance makes a clear statement--this is no nonsense writing tool.  This has none of the excess "tactical" bullshit that seems to dominate the EDC pen market and none of the gilded lily appearance of fancy pens.  It is an aesthetic I appreciate but some pen addicts might see as boring.  Its simplicity is made up for in terms of its craftsmanship.  Fit and finish is simply outstanding.

The MMCBA ships with a Parker gel cartridge, mine was black.  The writing experience with that ink is so so, a little to splashy and watery for me.  I swapped in two other cartridges during the testing period, a Fisher medium blue insert and the Moleskine 0.5mm black gel insert.  Both fit with no problem and both provide a superior writing experience to the stock cartridge.  That said, this is a matter of taste and I can see some folks liking the Parker insert.  This highlights the benefit of choosing the Parker cartridge format--there is an insert that suits just about everyone and every writing task.

The pen is very light overall and light in the hand.   I had a two long hearings in court while testing this pen and I had to use the pen to take notes (I have developed a shorthand, but still real time recording of witness testimony is difficult).  I never experienced hand fatigue.  The pen is slick though and that can be a challenge for writing with cold, numb hands, something that can happen from time to time here in New England.  There is no defined grip area and that is something I would count as a drawback.  A little texturing, some machined cross hatching for example, would go along way in making the pen easier to hold on to.  Having used this after the Ultimate Clicky, I am still not sure if I like heavy or light pens, but I do appreciate a well defined grip of some sort.

In the pocket the pen carries like a dream.  It is very discrete, both in terms of weight and appearance.  It is a friendly pocket companion, neither beating up other things in your pocket or being especially pokey.  I would note that the overall slick feel to the pen might make it difficult to retain in thin pants or fabric, such as in a suit.  I'd clip it to a breast pocket or inside jacket pocket if I were you.

Overall, I'd say this pen is a better everyday user than the Ultimate Clicky.  It is a bit cheaper, a bit more staid and pen-like in its appearance and only very marginally less sturdy.  Given its price, I'd look here first.  If you like heavy pens though, this isn't your game.  The aluminum version is especially light.  The only improvement I would make is some texture to the body, but other than that, this is a great EDC option and my preferred cartridge format.  Plus Jim is a great guy.  His logo is pretty sweet too: 

NOTE: I was sent this review copy.  As you know, I never keep anything I review.  NEVER.  During the testing (actually the last planned day of testing) it, um, walked away from me in court.  Court is a busy place with lots of different kinds of folks.  I had everything in a chair saving my spot while arguing and when I came back the pen was gone.  Maybe it fell and someone found it.  Maybe someone got confused and thought it was theirs.  I have no idea.  Either way I contacted Jim and insisted on paying for the pen.  He politely refused.  I do not keep anything I review and I never will.  With no place to send money to for the pen, Jim asked that I make a donation on his behalf.  Using funds from the next AdSense check, I will make a donation to the Wounded Warrior Fund on Jim's behalf, making sure that there is no possibility that anyone thinks I benefit from this site or doing reviews in any way.  All this just tells me that Jim is an awesome guy. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Two Years

I started this site because there were very few comprehensive and systematic written reviews of gear.  It was a way for me to organize my thoughts and really write something that, if I were to stumble across it, I would like to read.  It was never intended to be anything more than that.

But things change.

Just before Christmas the site had its one millionth view.  That is pretty cool, a nice round number.  We are average around 80,000 to 100,000 views a month.  Blade HQ has been kind enough to send me stuff to review.  And the ad revenue and commissions from Blade HQ have powered simply awesome giveaways.

For the second anniversary of the site I am going to give away the McGizmo Haiku Hi CRI edition.  I am going to close the giveaway contest at the end of February and then announce the winner in early March.  There are quite a few good entries.  I am still accepting some, so get them in quick.   Even if you didn't get a review in for the McGizmo I still have quite a few nice pieces of gear to give away, so check back on the two year anniversary for details on how to win.

Finally, the big surprise--there is a podcast now.  You can find it here: Gear Geeks Live.  Aaron over at Practically Everyday and I have teamed up to do a thirty minute podcast once every two weeks.  There are two episodes out right now, the initial episode I did, Episode Zero, and then Episode 1.  If you subscribe in iTunes you should have both appear on your i Device.  If you don't have an iDevice but want the RSS feed you can find that here.  The podcast, Gear Geeks Live, will be a quick look at gear.  The format for the show will probably change some over time, but right now it looks something like this:

0-5 minutes: Intro and Virtual Pocket Dump
6-10 minutes: News and what we are hunting (gear we are researching/stuff we are waiting on)
11-25 minutes: Topic of the Week
26-30 minutes: Questions

It was very informal, just me talking (Aaron was on vacation).  Really, it was just a test for hosting and posting a podcast.  Bear in mind, we are doing this on a shoestring budget.  The hosting is cheap.  We don't have mics (yet) and we are going to just use iChat or Skype.  If this works out we'll look at upgrading in the future.  Right now, we just want to get started and have something for folks to listen to on their drive to work.  You can also find it in the Gear Geeks Live tab in the tool bar at the top of the website.

When I started the site, had a few goals.  I wanted a corporate sponsor.  I wanted to give away a Haiku.  I wanted to have 50,000 readers a month.  All of that is done.  The only goal I haven't met, is that I want a review sample from Spyderco.  I have worked with many of the big companies out there, but Spyderco is still on my list.

The goals for the next two years are pretty straightforward.  I'd like to add a writer, someone with knowledge about things I am unfamiliar with--watches and pens, in particular.  I'd like the podcast to get a base of listeners and hopefully get picked up by a podcast network (like 70decibels).  Finally, some how, I want to give away a Hinderer.  I figured that it is the only thing I can reasonably afford that is in the same league as the Haiku.

All of this, however, is not possible without you the reader.  Thanks for reading.  I work hard to keep up to date, to be honest in my reviews, and put out content on a regular basis.  But none of it would be fun or rewarding without you the reader.  Keep reading.  Big stuff is on the horizon.  The week of the site's two year anniversary will be filled with giveaways, totally close to $1000 in gear, so stay tuned on how to win.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Surefire Jekyll Review

If you write about things, whether it is cars, bands, movies, or gear, you are always on the look out for that one item that you can introduce to a wider group of people, that thing that folks missed the first time.  For me, I have always hoped that I'd find a light or bag or a knife that is readily available, relatively inexpensive, and is truly exceptional.  The Surefire Jekyll is just that product.  Think of it like this:

How many framelocks are on the market?

One bazillion.

How many Ti framelocks?

Half a bazillion.

How many flippers?

A quarter bazillion.

How many Ti framelock flippers?

Five or six.

How many for under $200?

One or two (the CRKT Eros being the other).

There are the ZT 56X series, the Spyderco Southard, the CRKT Eros and the two Surefire knives that make up the class of production Ti framelock flippers.  It is a very, very small slice of the production market, even while it is perhaps the majority of the custom one.  These are knives that are hard to make, expensive to execute, but incredibly nice to use.  Aaron, over at Practically Everyday, has been something of a flipper proselytizer.  In his preaching zeal, he has convinced me.  Flippers are the only true rival to the thumb hole in terms of deployment methods.  The Jekyll fits right in.  It is a smooth, consistent, and fast flipper--a tribute to the form.

But what sets the Jekyll apart and makes it easily worth its pricepoint, around $160, is the fact that it is just the right size.  The Surefire specs are wrong.  Completely and totally wrong.  This is not a 3 inch blade.  Not even close.  Here is a good comparison shot (Mini Grip, Jekyll, and DF2 ZDP-189):

I get something like 2 3/4 inches of blade with 2 1/2 inches of cutting edge.  This is a small blade, perfect for me, and excellent to EDC.

Here is the Surefire product page (with a caveat that there is always a rumor floating around that Surefire is going to get out of blades altogether, which would be a shame).  There are no written reviews or video reviews, but here is a thread on the blade.   This is remarkable as this knife has been on the market for at least a year.  This is truly an under the radar gem.  I am delighted I can share it with you.  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Jekyll, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my Surefire Jekyll with its light&saber buddy the Peak Eiger Overready Edition:


Design: 2

This knife looks and carries like no other blade.  It has a wide blade, but a tiny profile in the pocket, something of a miracle.  It is close enough to a classic blade shape that it seems familiar, but ruggedly overbuilt enough to look and feel tough.  This is a bawdy design with beefy thumb studs and huge screws.  It looks different.  It looks tactical.  It looks VERY aggressive  And for me that is a bad thing.  But once you get beyond the "suped up Dodge Ram" looks, you find an imminently useful blade.  Its like the knife designer knew that in order to sneak his brilliant comparatively tiny design past the marketing guys he had to throw a few tacti-cool touches on it.  But the silly overbuilt look gives way not to just outright amazing utility, but also real over built features.  There is a ton of space on the blade tang for the lockbar to cross over.  It will not bottom out in my lifetime.  The pocket clip is quite substantial.  And the silly overbuilt thumb studs are actually the best thumb studs I have ever used.  Oh and then there is the flipper.  There is no bullshit here.  No stupid jimping.  It is smooth and effective.  It isn't super fast, but it can be deployed without a wrist flick.  This is a pull back not push down flipper though and the proper technique takes some practice, but you won't mind--this thing is off the charts in terms of fidget factor.

In terms of ratios, the knife does well.  Because the specs on Surefire's site are so far off, I am going to do my own measurements and list them here.  As I mentioned above, the blade is 2 3/4 inches long with a 2 1/2 cutting edge.  Closed the knife is 3 5/8 inches long.  This gives you a blade:handle ratio of .76 (.758, rounding up).  The knife weighs exactly 3 ounces, giving you a blade:weight of .91.  Both of those ratios are above average, but not the best I have seen (which, by this point, I think will forever reside with the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight).  Here is a comparison shot between the Jekyll and my Zippo.

Fit and Finish: 1

Every edge on the handle is chamfered.  Every surface is cleanly cut (though there are some machining marks on the aluminum presentation side scale, which I have to believe were left there for traction as they do provide some traction).  Here is a picture in raking light to better highlight the texturing from machining:


The blade's finish is a superb satin finish, very close to high polish.  Undoubtedly this would be a major rust inhibitor, the exact opposite of the open grain of a bead blasted steel.  A few oddities.  First, when I opened the box, the clip and rear screw were loose.  A few twists of a torx bit settled the issue, but it was so loose its like someone at the factory forgot to tighten stuff down.  The jimping on the blade is aggressive, but the jimping on the bottom of the handle isn't bad at all--grippy but not painful.  The clip is very wide, but low to the knife.  It works well. 

The one issue I have with this knife is partly a fit and finish thing.  The detent on the knife in the closed position is not terribly well done.  It is strong enough to keep the knife in the handle, but not quite strong enough to offer perfect resistance for the flipper.  It is something like nearly enough.  You can flip the knife open.  You can even do it without wrist movement (the test for all good flippers), but here it requires perfect technique, in part because of the slightly too weak detent.  Its not a safety issue really, the knife passes the shake and fall out test, but it means you have to be spot on to deploy the knife without a wrist flick.     

Grip: 2

For a small knife this thing really lock into the hand.  There are three reasons--first is positively covered in good, effective jimping; second, it has an excellent finger choil; and third, the flipper acts as a guard when the blade is deployed.  There is nothing here that makes this knife hard to hold on to.  Even the dip in the pocket clip fits your hand.  The gearing on the bottom, something I was wary about, turns out to be a non-issue.  Its not exceptionally aggressive and when you are actually holding the blade it doesn't really impact your grip at all.  Its there, it looks cool and tactical, I'd prefer it wasn't there, but overall it is neither a plus nor a minus.  Chalk it up to the knife designer having to impressive the tacti-cool centric marketing folks.

Carry: 2

When I took the Jekyll out of the box I was surprised, first by its diminutive size (given the specs) and then by just how small this thing is when folded up.   This is a wide stubby blade, see here:


But in the handle it looks and more importantly feels small.  Instead of the butter knife width of the knife deployed you get this svelte package (oh man...too many puns...):


The aluminum/titanium combination is a light one and the overall profile is excellent.  Very impressive feat of spatial engineering for lack of a better term.

Steel: 2

I am over my fear of 154CM.  Between this knife and the Mini Grip 555hg, this steel has proven itself to me.  The Sequel was a lemon.  Here the steel is finished to an exceptionally high stain polish, very close to a mirror polish.  That means the grains of the steel are less open and therefore less likely to rust.

Blade Shape: 2

This must have been the point where the knife designer told the marketing folk: "Don't fuck with my shit."  Here you get an amazing no nonsense, no bullshit great blade shape with a nice thick point and excellent amount of belly and plenty of cutting and slicing power.  An amazing, versatile, and all around excellent blade shape.  I'd give this three points if I could.    

Grind: 2

The grinds are all excellent, clean, and meticulous.  The knife itself is a flat grind.  There is a flat that is good for consistent angle sharpeners like the Wicked Edge and the Edge Pro Apex.  There is a weight saving swedge, and yet the point is still incredibly beefy.  This is right at the edge of too many grinds, but in the end, they all work, they all serve a purpose, and I guess for the tactical buyer they look cool. 

Deployment Method: 1

Again the pivot is a bit weird.  Just slightly off.  It might be the detent or it might be the pivot, but I wanted this thing to offer a little more resistance when flipping it open.  The flipper itself is excellent both in shape and size:


In the end, it works and it is fine, but it is a bit fussier than I wanted.  Additionally the HUGE thumb stud/blade stops can, on occasion snag on the lip of your pocket opening the knife as you pull it out.  It is very rare and very hard to do on purpose, but it happened to me twice.  I was wearing jeans and sitting down, but I could see it being a concern.  

Retention Method: 2

At first I didn't like it.  The clip was not tight to the body of the knife so I removed it, bent it carefully, and then reinstalled it.  Since then it has been a rock star.  Here it is up close:


The finish on this blade is amazing and the clip is no different.  The overall wore and broken in feel carries over to the clip and makes it quite easy on the pockets without being loose at all.  I never once had the knife slip out of my pants.  The clip is a very decent clip, though not a deep carry model.  I know that the ZT56X series clips fit this knife so if you want a deep carry clip that is an option.  See the mix and match clip here.   

Lock: 2

I loved this lock.  It locked up solid.  There was no blade play.  There was no lock wiggle when engaged.  It disengaged easily.  There was plenty of space left on the tang for the lock to wear in.  Nothing at all to complain about this framelock.  Great.  

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

Two small hitches with the deployment and thumb studs do not detract from the fact that this is a great little blade.  I loved the size, the design, the deployment, and the lock.  There aren't a bevy of Ti framelock flippers on the market that are this size or price.  People knock the blade for its price given the steel, but the overall design is so solid and quite rare in the production world that I am willing to overlook the slightly (if at all) below par steel for a $160 knife.  Its made in the US as well and made by one of the great gear companies (or for one of the great gear companies, I am not sure if Surefire is the OEM).  If you want something a little different, but still pocketable and equipped with a flipper, give the Jekyll a look.  When you compare it to the rest of the market, I think you'll like it.  It is an underrated blade, a hidden gem, and one of the products I am happy to trumpet.  If you missed it, go take a peek. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

EDC Primer: How to Read My Reviews

Most of the EDC Primers I have written or I am working on are about a given topic related to products covered here.  This is a little different.  This is a primer that hopefully will help you get as much information as you can from reviews on this site.   I am going to, as best I can, lay bear how and why I give out the scores I do.  

All reviews, by their very nature, are biased.  They are the expressions, ideas, and opinions of a single person.  In the case of this site, these opinions are mine.  The preferences I have shape the scores that products receive.  I try mightily to view products in their intended use, never judging a credit card knife against a big chopper.  I also try to rely on as many facts in my opinions as possible.  This gives you a sense of how I arrived at the score I gave.  But even with this and the scoring systems, there are biases of mine that may be hidden or at least not explicitly stated.  In order to fix that problem, I am going to state them here and explain why they, on occasion, might screw with the scoring systems.

What I like and Why

I like simple, easy to use, reliable tools.  I like things with intuitive designs.  I like things with good materials and things that are built with an eye towards craftsmanship.  I am a minimalist.  I rarely carry more than the following: keys (on a coated mechanics cable), a knife, a flashlight, my iPhone, my watch, and my wallet.  This gets me through almost every single task I need to perform.  At work I add only two things--a paper calendar book and a pen.  I like a tool that is more than enough, but never too much.  That is a hard line to follow, but it is easy to find in well made products.  I really like my Festool Rotex 90 sander.  It is one hell of a tool.  It is Festool's smallest Rotex, but I have no need for a monster sander.  It has all of the features I need, all of the features I want, and none of the bulk, price, or features I don't.  It is almost a perfect example of "more than enough, but never too much."

In that vein, I have found that two Spyderco knives hit that point perfectly.  The DF2 in ZDP-189 is, in my opinion, the best production EDC knife out there.  It is small, light, and compact.  But it has a great design that easily hosts a four finger grip.  The steel is top shelf.  It works, works well, and inspires confidence in use.  But there is nothing extra or superfluous about the DF2.  It is what it is and nothing more.  Similarly in hard use knives, the Paramilitary 2 is more than enough, but never too much.  You can really rip and yank on that blade and it never budges or wobbles.  It stays put and cuts for ages between resharpening.  But it does this all at a weight that still blows my mind (3.75 ounces).  I don't have a regular need for knife the size of the PM2, but if I did, I'd own the PM2 (though the shootout winner was the Cold Steel Mini Recon 1 I think I can save a few more bucks for the just better PM2). 

The Kershaw Cryo, a knife review that has caused much disagreement (go read the comments section), is an example of the opposite of this maxim.  It is not quite enough, but more than you need.  Its smallish blade is a fine size for me, but its weight, 4.2 ounces on my scale, baffles me.  It weighs more than the Paramilitary 2 and has significantly less performance.  The steel is mediocre at best and the handle scales, which add a lot of the weight, are slick.  But it has an assisted open.  And framelock.  And a quad mounted, deep carry pocket clip.  And a thumbstud AND a flipper.  It also has a Hinderer overtravel stop.  Lots and lots of things that make for a nice bullet point list on a knife seller's website, but very few things that you actually need.  If the knife is well made and the pivot properly put together, assisted opening is unnecessary.  I like framelocks, but a well-designed and well-made linerlock is equally nice and cheaper to make (allowing the company to put money into things where more cash buys better performance, such as the blade steel).  A pocket clip that carries deep is okay, but not necessary, as is the quad mounting of that pocket clip.  You don't need two ways to open a knife, especially if the thumbstud is hard to use AND doesn't act as a blade stop.  And yes, the Hinderer overtravel is a nice feature but it is not something that is strictly necessary, especially on a knife this size.  The Cryo, then, is the epitome of the opposite of my maxim for good, well designed tools.  It lacks a few of the things you need and has a lot of features you don't.

Size and weight are another place I have distinct opinions.  You might like bigger gear and that's fine.  But think of this--how many times could you accomplish what you need with something smaller or lighter?  Do you need 500 lumens to light up a keyhole?  Do you need a 4 inch blade to open a box from UPS?  Or how about this: no one, if they are being rational, likes HEAVY or BIG stuff.  If they could somehow magically store a 4 inch blade in a 2 inch handle they would.  They like the capabilities of bigger and heavier gear and so they are willing to overlook the size and weight concerns.  It is a trade off they are willing to make, but it IS a trade off.  "Oh, wait a second," you might be saying, "I like stuff with a bit of heft to it. It feels solid."  That heft feeling that you like is something OTHER than heft itself.  You like that feeling of rigidity, substantiality, and solidness.  You like the fact that you can't feel the plastic knife handle flex during tough cuts.  I get that, but look carefully, its not heft itself.  It is simply the fact that in a price point under $100 it is rare to find that rigidity you are looking for WITHOUT the heft.

But it is possible.  The Small Sebenza is one hell of a knife.  It feels incredibly solid in the hand and during use, but instead of using pure, thoughtless bulk to achieve that feeling of solidness in the hand, CRK uses superior materials and design.  That rigidity and sureness is expensive and/or requires a bit of thought, but you CAN get it without the heft.  The PM2 is another example of this.  But look elsewhere, not gear, and you will see and even better example--the Shaker ladderback chair.  Here is a chair, one of the hardest things to make in woodworking, one of the most abused and stressed pieces of furniture, and after more than 100 years you can still find these gems of design and craftsmanship in perfect working order--cane seat and all.  I actually found one last summer at the Brimfield Antique Show and it is in our guest bedroom, re-caned and ready to go for another century.  That seat has all of the rigidity you will ever need and more and it weighs like 4 pounds.  Want proof?  Its been around for 100 years and still works well.  Good design and superior materials can get you that feeling you want without the heft.  Bear that in mind and don't be suckered in by the 8 ounce $50 knife that feels rigid because it is hefty, when you can skip a few lunches out (and their accompanying calories) and get the same performance or more in a 3 ounce knife that costs $100. 

Keep searching until you find the smallest, lightest thing you can use to accomplish your tasks comfortably and stop there.  And if you disagree with this, build that in to your consideration of my review scores.  I like smaller stuff.  I like good design, good craftsmanship, and superior materials.  Its not cheap, but it is cheaper than the upgrade treadmill.  A $50 knife that is good but not great and leads you to buy the original $100 blade you really wanted is more expensive than just dropping the $100 at the beginning.  If you prefer bigger stuff, think about the ladderback chair, and if you still want big stuff consider that when reading a review of mine and give big stuff a one or two point bump. 

My Benchmarks

You'll be surprised at how many times you can get what you need done with a 2 1/4 inch blade (like on the DF2), or 30 lumens (the low on the Aeon), or one of seven tools (like on the Skeletool or SAK Cadet).  Unless I am testing something, you'll find that probably 90-95% of the time I am carrying one or more of these tools.  They are the core of my EDC rotation, the things I go back to and my benchmarks for utility.  Few things, even very expensive things, are better than these four tools.  The Sebenza is great, but it doesn't really do anything the DF2 can't.  These four items are probably the epitome of "more than enough, but never too much."  Comparing stuff to these four benchmarks is quite a challenge. 

Want to know when I fell in love with the DF2?  Here is a photo:


We had ordered a new grill and it came in this massive box.  My son was 1 1/2 at the time and wanted to play inside.  He also wanted holes to look out of, but the cardboard was insanely thick, like 3/8 of an inch.  Nonetheless I had my DF2 in ZDP-189 on me and I thought "what the hell".  I planned on cutting a little, stopping, and then getting a bigger, tougher knife, maybe a box cutter, to finish the job.  Two windows, two doors, and a chimney later, I was still able to shave with my DF2.  The handle is perfectly shaped, the hole is fantastic and the steel, oh the steel.  I love it.  For the money, for the weight, or for the size there is nothing better out there in the production world and few things in the custom world better.  At some point I am going to get up the courage to just call it like it is--this is the best all around knife available.  I am not that courageous or experienced yet, but the time is coming soon.  

Three times.  That is how many times I have changed the batteries on my Muyshondt Aeon.  It is out of production and we are waiting on the Mark II, but there is no light that I have carried more than this little gem.  In two and half years of pretty regular use I have changed the batteries three times.  The light is a simple statement--utility, performance, and diminutive size:


There is only one weakness to the light and the Mark II is going to fix that.  30 lumens, the low here, is actually quite a bit of light.  It will steal your night vision.  But if you overlook that one small thing, this is flashlight perfection.  Insane runtimes, very decent output on high, and stupid simple UI.  If anything is as good as the DF2 in the flashlight world this is it.  Until the Mark II...

Nothing is really ever going to match the sleek beauty of the SAK Alox Cadet.  Here it is in its resplendent Swiss glory:


This is the one tool I think everyone, man, woman, and careful kid, should own.  It does so, so much in a package that is so, so small.  The blade is a perfect size and the handles are incredibly sturdy.  Go look at the pocket dump thread on USN.  You'll see lots of kilobuck blades and then somewhere next to the MokuTi handles an unassuming SAK Alox Cadet.  There is a reason why--this thing does just about everything you will need in an urban/suburban setting.  There are lots of SAKs and other multi-blade knives out there.  None is better than the Alox Cadet.  The steel will dull decades before ZDP-189 but it takes only seconds to get it back to a razor edge.  In a true utility tool that is a tradeoff I am happy to make.  Here is the final bit of praise for the Cadet--Victorinox's fit and finish rivals that of the top end premium production companies and this thing costs well under $30.  Cadillac fit and finish at Hyundai prices.  How can you complain about that?

When you make a tool a handy as the Leatherman it is hard to improve on the design.  Look at the Leatherman lineup and you will see three generations.  The original PS generation with lots of size and tool variations.  The Wave/Charge generation which is very similar, but with external tools.  Then the third generation, the Skeletool generation.  Here is the bone taut design:


There is nothing wasted here, not a single tenth of an ounce.  They focused on the true core of the multitool and got this thing down to less than 5 ounces.  You get quite a few tools, all of which work very, very well in this tiny package.  And this thing is no safe queen.  I have used to cut wire, drywall, cardboard, carpet, linoleum, tree branches, plastic, pine, cherry, oak, maple, birch, thread, rope nylon rope, and a bunch of other things.  On massive home improvements (taking my office down to the studs and rebuilding it) or massive woodworking projections (my entertainment center) this guy has been in my pocket.  It saves me those annoying extra steps to get the pliers over and over again.  If you want a multitool but don't want something that carries like a bag of flour in your pocket or on your belt, get the Skeletool (and get the CX while your at it, the better blade steel, not the silly carbon fiber accents, make it worth the extra dough).

Bags are little different.  They represent very use specific items.  I like, but do not love, the Maxpedition Pygmy Falcon II.  If you need a general purpose, small backpack, this is one very good options.  The Bihn Synapse though is a simply superior design, but I don't use backpacks enough to say which is clearly better.  For a briefcase and computer bag, something I use much more frequently, the more than enough, but never too much philosophy is best seen in the Bihn Cadet (that would be an awesome cross promotion a Cadet in the Cadet).  This is a bag I hesitated in buying because I thought it was too small.  A year and some months later I can tell you it is plenty big.  Again, I got something as small and light as I felt comfortable with (actually a little less than what I was comfortable with) and it worked out perfectly fine.  The Cadet is quite frankly more than a benchmark, though it is that too.  It was the end of a long search that took me years through law school and eight years of work.  I guess its a benchmark, but for me it is more like finding that "x marks the spot" point.  This is the treasure chest, and when fully loaded with Bihn accessories, it is a joy to carry and use.    

Note that these things did not all get a perfect score (the Cadet and the Skeletool got 17/20 and 19/20 respectively).  Sometimes there is no perfect product.  I'd like better steel on the Alox and pointier pliers on the Skeletool, but there is nothing out there that I have found that does what these two tools do better.  And also note that there are perfect products I left out, such as the Leatherman PS4 or the Gerber Dime.  These products, while the best in their respective class, are not ideal options for me.  I want a little more in terms of heft to my screwdrivers and pliers.  Again, these work for me, they might not work for you.  I also thought long and hard about including the Gerber Shard in this group, but I am still not convinced that OPMTs are essential.  I like having one and the Shard is probably my favorite, but I am not sure you need one, especially if you have a Cadet in your pocket.  And bringing back my original point all four tools are more than enough to get 99.9% of tasks done but never too much for you to carry, buy, or use.


I hope this helps you in reading my reviews.  You'll know why I score things the way I do.  If something weighs more than it needs or has useless features, you know it will not score a perfect score.  You know I prefer smaller tools.  You now know how I balance out cutting edge technology and design versus price.  I like custom stuff, I do.  But there are some gems in the production world too and many, like the DF2 and the Cadet are well less than $100.  If you want to know what gear to start out with, these four pieces are an excellent place to start.  And if you can't find the Aeon because it is out of production, there are few options.  First, the Peak Eiger is a decent light in its stock formulation.  If you really want to go nuts, the Oveready Edition of the Eiger is one hell of a light and there are aftermarket clips available that turn it into a truly great EDC light.  I also think the Mini series from 47s is decent, though they offer nothing like the Aeon's runtime.  Finally, I think the Zebralight SC52 is a great all around performer, but the UI is much more daunting than that found on the Aeon.  In short, the Aeon has no readily available equivalent, but the DF2, the Cadet, and the Skeletool are all readily available.  And as always, here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the most of this stuff, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Friday, February 8, 2013

Light and Saber Recommendations: Keychain Size

This is the first in a series of articles on gear recommendations.  Sorry this took so long.  I was waiting for the CoreTi (I am glad that I did) and then other things came up.  The rules and the framework is laid out here.  Last year's version of this series, based on price instead of size, can be found under the Special Series tab up top.
This specific article will focus on Keychain Sized Gear.  I defined that in the original rules article as:

"Button cell or other super small cell lights (not including AAA or CR2 cells) small OPMTs, very small multitools, or sub 2" folders." 

The idea here is that I am going to highlight standouts.  I'd like to have reviewed everything, but that's just not possible, so when I don't have first hand knowledge, I will rely on reviews with similar products, internet feedback from reliable sources, analysis of the specs, and company reputation (in that order) to assess something.   Any discussion of keychain gear should start with this site: http://keychainpockets.blogspot.com/ It hasn't been updated in a while, but there is a lot of useful stuff there.  Additionally, if you want a broader look at keychain gear from me, there is a series I did when the site was young on all sorts of keychain items again under the Special Series tab up top.

This Recommendation is going to be a little more complex than normal because there are so many options and so many important differences between them.  I am going to break the categories down into four tools: flashlights, one piece multitools, traditional multitools, and knives.  I will make recommendations in each and then make an overall recommendation.   


First off, a general caveat: there is not a lot of quality lights that fits in the description above.  You can squint really hard and do some wishcasting and think that a Photon light from LRI is a good keychain light, but the reality is, ALL of these mass produced button cell lights suck.  I really wanted to do a review of each of the three main options--the LRI Photon, the Inova light, and the E-Gear/Streamlight Nano but each one was awful, just utterly awful.  I have carried each one for more than six months, some much longer, and the reality is they all stink.  They do not produce a lot of light.  They are all flood (like ALL flood).  Worst of all, they are kind of flimsy.  The batteries are a chore to change, requiring either ninja-like dexterity or a screwdriver.  The light they produce is awful and sickly in tint.  The batteries are hard to find.  But those are all things I MIGHT be able to tolerate. 

The true fatal flaw is that the batteries are almost always more expensive than the light itself.  Yes, I know you can occasionally run into LR42s at Harbor Freight (which is where I found them) or a flea market, but short of that it is the hardware store or Radio Shack where they cost an arm and leg (I think they think that is a fair trade for your ear, which is where most of these cells go).  I also know you can order on the internet, but shipping swamps the price savings until you get into quantities so large it is not worth it.  Yes, I can get LR42s to run my Nanostream at .17 a piece, but I have to buy 400 of them.  No thanks. 

With the entire line of Photon lights, knockoffs, and Nanostreams relegated to the garbage, what's left?  Honestly, very little.  In order to find something worth our while we have to look at higher end lights.  There are four main competitors here: the MBI CoreTi, the Lummi Wee, the Quantum DD, and the Peak Eiger 10180.

There used to be a lot more options, the TiFli, the Photon Fanatic La Pettite Killer, and both ModoMag lights, but they have gone out of production and are relegated to the BST boards on CPF.  Here is a roundup of all the lights of this size, circa 2009-2010.  It is a shame that the ModoMag lights are gone because they were, as you can see from the roundup, real screamers.

First up is the MBI CoreTi.  I just got one in for review, which is why I was holding off on the revamped Recommendation series.  The CoreTi is a button cell light, running on the same cells that the Photon does.  But unlike the Photon and its knock offs, this is a button cell worth the work.  First, the entire body is made of Titanium.  It is a thin sliver of a light, making the Photon-type lights look absolutely chubby by comparison.  Billed as the thinnest titanium light in the world, the CoreTi lives up to the hype, coming in at about the same thickness as three US Quarters stacked on top of each other.  It is not a flamethrower by any means, as the button cell power source is a pretty big limitation, but it is adequate, equal to that of a Photon.  Here is where the different electronics matter though.  The CoreTi, in my initial testing, is a much nicer, cleaner beam.  It produces a pretty and circular beam pattern with a nice neutral tint.  The maker, MBI (famed for his 500 lumen AAA light which caused an uproar on CPF and is coming soon), markets the light as a pendant to be worn around your neck.  In that capacity it would function marvelously.  As a keychain light it looks nice as well.  It is expensive given the competitors at around $60 but this is state of the art technology.  With battery it weighs half an ounce.  Ti shell, virtually weightless, and stunning--if you like Photons but want something nicer this is it.   

The Lummi Wee, like all Lummi lights looks gorgeous, both in pictures and on the specification page.

They wallop you with a wall of photons, especially for a light of their size.  They also have ingenious lanyard attachments.  But the problem with these lights is that they are Lummi lights.  I recently received information that Lummi is STILL not doing well at getting orders out.  Here is a summary of my experience and note the most recent comment is not that old.

Next up is the light that I am currently enamored with, the Quantum DD.


I wrote a review of this light you can find here.  It was the second product I received for review that got a perfect score and boy does it deserve it.  It is as small as a Wee, with nicer styling in my opinion.  Plus it has a nice charger and infinite variable output.  This is everything the Wee is, plus more.  And here is the really awesome part--it is actually available.  You don't have the roll the dice with a scam artist to get it.  There are two outlets for the light and both had them in stock as of the end of September.  Plus, unlike the Wee, they are actually affordable clocking in at $60.

In the final light I'd consider is the Peak Eiger 10180.  The Eiger comes in a ton of battery sizes, mainly the AAA size, but a few retailers, like the always awesome Oveready, have them in 10180.  It can be equipped with a QTC insert giving it infinite variable brightness light the Quantum DD.  The head is also compatiable with the larger AAA body, something that makes the Peak line extra appealing to the super flashlight nerd.  Legoing lights together is, I am convinced, half of the reason why flashlight nerds love them so much.     

Recommendation:  Quantum DD or MBI CoreTi

The three "full featured" lights are all very nice, but I wouldn't get a Lummi.  I just don't trust that my money will actually buy something.  I think the Eiger looks nice, but the Quantum DD is one of my favorite consumer products ever.  The issue is for a lot of folks a light this complex is just a hassle on a keychain.  I, myself, do not carry mine on a keychain.  Instead I have a crappy Inova Microlight.  If the MBI CoreTi were mine to keep and I didn't have to worry about beating up the beautiful finish, it would be my hands down choice.

Price No Object Recommendation: Same

There aren't any really killer high end lights here.  I guess you can drop some dough on a custom ano job for your Quantum DD.  Here is a 38DD with a great one:

Budget Recommendation: Inova Microlight

If I were forced to choose one of the budget lights, I would probably opt for the Inova Microlight.  Here is a good thread from CPF, note the date though.  No one takes these lights seriously, nor should they--they all suck. 

OPMT Multitool

There are a billion and one OPMTs out there to choose from.  One issue is that so many of these tools are really similar to a lot of other tools.  So many folks have some sort of pry tool for your keychain.  It leads me to believe three things: 1) these pry bars are easy and cheap to make; 2) people are buying them; and 3) they are paying much more than they should be for such a simple thing.

Peter Atwood, you might have heard of him, he makes a few trinkets.  JDR makes a few.  A dozen or so other folks make them.  Here is an overview that is about 18 months old, but is still a good resource.  I like the Jared Price Toucan (here is an excellent guest review of the custom version).  I'd like to try the Boker production version (I generally avoid Boker products, but this is a single piece of steel, how much can they screw that up?) just to see how it stacks up.  I really like the TT PockeTTools Chopper (product page and my review).  I also think that Atwood has a number of pieces that work well, they are just prohibitively hard to come by.

These approaches are all great, but the one tool I actually carry, the one that has stayed on my keychain the longest and the one I like the best is the Gerber Shard.  For around six bucks you can't go wrong.  I simply the love the tool complement and the overall shape of the Shard.  The fact that you get all of the normal OPMT stuff AND a Phillips driver is a huge bonus.  

One big shake up here in the past 12 months--Leatherman acquired Pocket Tools X, which made its name producing the trowel sized Piranha.  Now they have been bought out, I'd imagine the Leatherman team remaking the product line.  Watch that space for new stuff.     

Recommendation: Gerber Shard

Its $6.  It is back in production.  It is the only OPMT listed here that has a full Phillips driver (its brother the Artifact does as well, but that is the worst product I have reviewed yet).  This thing is simple, elegant, and really works.  The coating is garbage, but you can live with that.  Its perfectly sized, weighs a nice amount, and has a large lanyard attachment point for any kind of hook up.  BUY THIS THING.  Seriously.  Its so cheaping shipping is probably more than the tool itself. 

Price No Object Recommendation: Custom JDR Toucan

At a price point between $75 and $80, these aren't the most expensive OPMTs.  That would be some variant of the Atwood Mini Son of Prything, which I have seen for $500 in their most pimpy configuration.  Still, if price were no object I'd avoid them.  The squared off cutting edge looks like it would make it difficult to use the other features.  The Toucan, on the other hand, looks like it is just about perfect.  I don't necessarily need a cutting edge on my OMPT, but in this case, I'll take it.  I love the taco style kydex sheath too.  Good idea for Boker to license the design.

Special Mention: TT PockeTTools Chopper

In my opinion, this is the state of the art design.  Too bad it appears to be out of production.  That is a kick in the nuts.  Either way, this little tool has a combination of features that isn't found anywhere else (well, maybe one of Pocket Tool X tools).  The S30V steel is thicker than a phone book and the snag edge works great.  Go track one down, you won't be sorry.  Originally priced at $20-$30, I have a feeling these are going to fetch a pretty penny in the secondary market, given their utility.  GRAB NOW.

Traditional Multitools

If we move away from OPMTs we get a host of options in the keychain multitool arena.  Unfortunately the vast majority of them are total and complete garbage.  The Gerber line is populated with a series of also-ran stinkers.  The previously reviewed Gerber Dime is really the only thing worth looking at.  The Leatherman keychain line has a few good ones, but nothing that holds a candle to the Style PS or the Squirt PS4.  Both have the magic formula of tools: pliers and scissors in the same tool.  The Style PS, review coming, is a very unusual tool in that it has no blade.  This makes it total travel safe.  This combined with one of the lights above makes a really handy uber tiny set up that you can take literally anywhere.  Despite the growls from the people behind me in line, this did pass TSA review in October 2012 after a close peek and explanation that it did not have a blade.   As for the old standby Leatherman, the Micra--skip it.  It is awful.

Recommendation: Gerber Dime


All three recommendations come down to either the Dime or the Squirt PS4.  I'd opt for the Dime exclusively because of the clamshell cutter.  This is the multitool that lives in my car.  Fit and finish on my actual tool is pretty good, but there are complaints that it is poorly assembled.  At this price point and with Gerber, every tool is a crap shoot.  If you get a good Dime though, it is an excellent overall design.  If you don't want to roll the dice, go for the PS4. 

Travel Recommendation: Leatherman Style PS

The tool is probably your only legitimate choice. It looks like a miniature Skeletool, but is not anywhere near as solid.  I like the design and it is something of a necessity given strict TSA requirements.


In this category you are looking at some seriously tiny blades.  Here is a good thread from EDCF with a listing of quite a few of them.  The problem with the vast majority of blades this size is that they either are hard to open or have crappy steel or both.  If you include SAKs, the selection is a lot bigger.  AG Russell also makes quite a few nice blades in this range, like the 3" Lockback.  I haven't tried any, but they look good, many have VG-10 blade steel, well above part for this market segment.  They don't have one handed opening, but I am not sure its necessary here.  Spyderco makes a few slip joints, but I don't like the Bug series all that much (though the Grasshopper seems nicely sized).  The real stars are the Ladybug, the Manbug, and the Jester.  The Ladybug in ZDP-189 is probably the best knife you can get in this size, in terms of the steel (the Manbug is also available in ZDP-189), but the Jester has superior ergonomics.  The "nose horn" on the Jester cradles the index finger perfectly making it an excellent precision cutter.  It has a lesser steel (VG-10) but again in this market segment that is above par.  The Benchmade Benchmite is a nice thin blade, but it has "migrated" over to the Harley Davidson line in an effort to give semi-truth to Benchmade's all USA made claim.  Regardless of their product line shenanigans, its still a great knife and it has a pocket clip now, as they market it as a money clip knife.  It uses AUS-8 steel, which is okay in this application.  The SOG Micron is an interesting option, as are the Boker Biscuits (the Subcom series, called the biscuits on forum boards because of either their square shape or their delicious taste, I am not sure).   There is also the Boker Nano, but that is probably a bit big for legitimate keychain carry.

If you disagree with my assessment about size and want something a bit higher end, then you should probably opt for a custom Curtiss Nano over the production model.  The CCT from Three Sisters Forge is another extra small custom offering as well.  I also really like the Cali-legal (sub 2 inch blade) Protech Sprint.  It is a beautiful little auto and if you can legally carry it it makes a nice luxe option.  Few companies, if any, can match the glorious build quality of Al Mar and the SLB is no exception. I like my SpyFox, seen here (with my Steve Ku DD and Custom SAK Rambler):


It is a little fancy for keychain carry and lacks a lanyard hole, but it is a very good looking, well made knife, tiny as it may be.

In terms of SAKs there are bunch of options.  Bernard over at everyday-carry really likes the SAK Manager.  It is basically a Rambler with a pen and a small LED light.  Not a bad combination at all for keychain carry.  I'd still take my custom SAK (seen above) over it, but seeing as Aaron has been less than a stand up fellow, it may be one of a kind.  The Rambler itself is a bit cheaper but lacks the pen and light.  The SAK Money Clip is a poor man's version of the custom Rambler, you can use the money clip as the pocket clip, but it lacks the driver and bottle opener features.

Recommendation: Spyderco Jester

I know, I know, the steel isn't as good as its counterparts, but I have a logic to my reasoning.  First, in a knife this small you are not going to be doing killer tasks, usually opening packages and the like, so steel isn't THAT important.  Second, on knives this small you want to have a good grip and that is exceptionally hard to do with this tiny amount of real estate, so if you can get a knife that is both small and great in the hand, like the Jester, you have to take it, even if other knives have better steel.

Budget Recommendation: Boker Subcom

I am reluctant to recommend anything from Boker as I have found their fit and finish to be lacking (as has TuffThumbz, someone I really trust in terms of his knowledge about blades).  That said, virtually everyone that owns one of these has seemed to like it and have no performance complaints.  I like that Chad Los Banos, its designer, is active on forums, especially my home forum of EDCF.  I also like that this little design is so non threatening.  The deep finger choil also helps with cutting.

High End Recommendation: Custom Nano

The Curtiss pviot and overtravel mechanism are genius.  I'd love to get a review sample of the Nano to try it out.  I'd also like a CCT as well, but both are hard to get.  Either way, they get rave reviews online.

I would recommend my custom Rambler, but too many people got stiffed by Aaron for me to do so.  It is, however, absolutely sublime.  Someone needs to be Aaron's business manager and let that guy just work on blades because as bad as he is at running a business he is that good at making custom stuff.  That said, avoid him until things work out.

Overall Recommendation: Gerber Shard and Quantum DD or MBI CoreTi

The Chopper does so much in such a small package that it is hard to ignore.  Unfortunately it is out of production.  If it weren't it would be the first choice.  The Shard is a great substitute though.  At six dollars it is hard to go wrong.  Yes there are fancier options out there, but none that work better.  They are fancier for the sake of being fancier.   

The Quantum DD or the CoreTi are also excellent choices--well made designs that do two totally different things.  The learning curve and barrier to entry on the Quantum DD is a bit higher than the uber simple CoreTi, but it can do more things.  If you are looking for dead simple, the choice is clear.  If you are looking for something a bit more full featured, go for the Quantum DD.  Neither will disappoint.

None of the knives in this category are all that great, just a bit too small.  The multitools even at this tiny size are too big for me to carry on my keychain.  I want it to be a slim as possible.  I know a lot of people that do carry multitools on their keychain, but that's a personal preference.

A word to the wise: carrying either light on your keychain with the Shard (and keys) is likely to mar the beautiful finishes on these lights.  Be prepared for that and you'll be fine.