Category Archives: Gear

Whistlemania IV – Sound Off…


Whistlemania is back!! This week we broke out the sound meter to see how loud our whistlers could get.

Let me first say that measuring decibels is just one more variable to consider and a loud rating on the sound meter may, or may not, correlate with the distance heard on the ground. Nevertheless, decibel ratings are often used as a marketing tactic by whistle manufacturers.

For the testing I used an Extech SL10 Personal Sound Meter, my lungs, and the lungs of Jake, a 9 year old, athletic boy weighing 67 pounds.

Forty five years ago, on this very weekend, a six year old boy went missing in the Smokies and was never seen again. This tragic story and lessons from the huge search effort helped to shape the search and rescue techniques and protocols of today. A whistle is one of the best items to equip your kids with in the woods, so it makes sense to see which whistles work well for them.


The Dennis Martin story:

Thanks to my pint size partner, we can also extrapolate the effectiveness of each whistle for an adult with a chest injury or condition preventing the full use of the lungs. Last year, I was routed to respond to a hiker that had been pinned under a tree for a day, after a tornado rolled through the park. I never made it there, getting redirected to another emergency, but that scenario could easily crush ribs or restrict your lung capacity. Furthermore, COPD, asthma, and a host of other lung ailments restrict the breathing ability of millions each day, so value may be found for them as well.

I asked Dr. “Hunk” Miller the ins and outs of lung volumes and this is my lay person understanding. If one were to blow on a whistle, you would use both your Tidal Volume (TV) and your Expiratory Reserve Volume (ERV), which equals out to be 22 ml/kg.


Jake, weighing in at 30.5 kg, has around 670 ml of potential air to blow his whistle. That would be the equivalent of a 135 pound person with only one lung or with a chest compressed so it cannot fully expand. If you weigh 135 pounds or more, one could assume that a good performing whistle for Jake would function equally as well if you had an injury that restricted your lung volume or a chronic breathing problem.

This is all important if you consider that if you are using your whistle, there is a high chance that your are injured and/or under the effects of adrenaline, potentially affecting your breathing rate and capacity.

Here were the testing parameters:

1. Decibel level measured at the meter. I assumed, and testing supports, that manufacturer’s claims are done at this distance

2. Decibel level at a distance of 4 feet by a 200 pound adult. Notes on how hard or easy to blow each whistle are in parentheses. Resistance seemed to be the determining factor and can been seen in the duration of the whistle blast in seconds. “Hard”, in this context, means that the whistle provides an amount of resistance greater than the other two categories and does not connote difficultly in use.

3. Decibel level at distance of 4 feet by 67 pound boy. Notes on how hard or easy to blow each whistle are in parentheses based upon Jake’s opinion.

I chose 4 feet for tests 2 & 3 because two other field whistle tests were done at this distance and following that standard will allow comparison.



Jetscream Micro –  

  • Meter – 113 dB
  • Adult –  97 dB   (easy) 2 seconds
  • Child – 95 dB (easy)

Fox 40 Classic – Manufacturer claim of 115 dB

  • Meter – 111 dB
  • Adult – 99 dB  (easy) 2 seconds
  • Child – 90 dB (easy)

ACME 660 –

  • Meter – 126 dB
  • Adult – 103 dB (medium) 4 seconds
  • Child – 101 dB (medium)

ACME Tornado 635 –

  • Meter – 124 dB
  • Adult – 100  dB (easy) 2 seconds
  • Child – 102 dB (hard)

Hammerhead – 

  • Meter –  124 dB
  • Adult – 100  dB (medium) 3 seconds
  • Child – 99 dB (hard)

Tin Whistle – 

  • Meter – 129  dB
  • Adult – 103  dB (easy) 4 seconds
  • Child – Fail – fingers were too small to cover chamber openings

Fox 40 Mini – Manufacturer claim of 109 dB

  • Meter  – 116 dB
  • Adult  – 96 dB (easy) 2 seconds
  • Child – 94 dB (easy)

AMK or SOL or Fox 40 Micro –  Manufacturer claim of 110 dB

  • Meter 119  dB
  • Adult – 93  dB (easy)  3 seconds
  • Child – 82 dB (easy)

ACME Tornado 636 –

  • Meter – 115  dB
  • Adult – 97  dB (easy) 2 seconds
  • Child – 87 dB (hard)

SOL Slim Rescue Howler –  Manufacturer claim of 100 dB

  • Meter – 123  dB
  • Adult – 105  dB (hard) –  5 seconds
  • Child – 102 dB (hard)

ACR – 

  • Meter – 124  dB
  • Adult – 104  dB (hard) – 5 seconds
  • Child – 106 dB (hard)


Coghlan’s 5 in 1 Survival Aid – 

  • Meter – 125 dB
  • Adult – 105  dB (medium)  3 seconds
  • Child – 102 dB (medium)

Zipper Pull Whistle – 

  • Meter – 105  dB
  • Adult – 90  dB (hard)  5 seconds – lip placement must be perfect
  • Child – 87 dB (hard)

Coghlan’s 4 in 1 Whistle – 

  • Meter – 123  dB
  • Adult – 100  dB – (easy) 2 seconds
  • Child – 96 dB (hard)

Sternum Strap Whistle – 

  • Meter – 126  dB
  • Adult – 102  dB (medium) 5 seconds
  • Child – 98 dB (hard)

LMF Swedish Firesteel Army 2.0 –  

  • Meter – 112  dB
  • Adult – 93  dB (hard) 3 seconds- lip placement must be perfect
  • Child – 94 dB (hard)


Windstorm – 

  • Meter  – 130  dB
  • Adult – 109  dB (medium) 3 seconds
  • Child – 105 dB (hard)

Hammerhead Mighty – 

  • Meter – 129  dB
  • Adult – 104dB  (medium) 2 seconds
  • Child – 99 dB (hard)

Lifejacket Whistle – 

  • Meter – 119  dB
  • Adult – 98  dB (too easy) 1-2 seconds
  • Child – 84 dB (easy)

FOX 40 Eclipse – Manufacturer claim of 115 dB

  • Meter – 119 dB
  • Adult – 98 dB (too easy) 2 seconds
  • Child – 97 dB (medium)

Storm – Manufacturer claim of 130 dB

  • Meter – 130  dB
  • Adult – 112  dB (medium) 3 seconds
  • Child – 102 dB (medium)

Scotty Lifesaver –

  •  Meter  – 112 dB
  • Adult –  91 dB (medium) 2 seconds
  • Child – 89 dB (easy)

ACME Tornado 2000 – 

  • Meter – 118 dB
  • Adult – 98  dB (too easy) – 1-2 seconds
  • Child – 91 dB (medium)

FOX 40 Sonic Blast – Manufacturer claim of 120 dB

  • Meter – 120 dB
  • Adult – 103 dB (too easy) – 1-2 seconds
  • Child – 90 dB (easy)

UST Jetscream – Manufacturer claim of 122 dB

  • Meter – 109 dB
  • Adult – 95 dB (easy) 2 seconds
  • Child – 93 dB (hard)

Whistles for Life – Manufacturer claim of 120 dB

  • Meter – 121 dB
  • Adult – 103 dB (too easy) – 1-2 seconds
  • Child – 86 dB (too easy)

Promo whistle –  

  • Meter – 109 dB
  • Adult – 95 dB (easy) – 3 seconds
  • Child – 92 dB (easy)

FOX 40 Sharx – Manufacturer claim of 120 dB

  • Meter – 125 dB
  • Adult – 104 dB (too easy) 2 seconds
  • Child – 92 dB (medium)

ACME Cyclone 888 – 

  • Meter – 118 dB
  • Adult – 97 dB (easy) 3 seconds
  • Child – 100 dB (hard)

ACME 649 – 

  • Meter – 115 dB
  • Adult – 97 dB (easy) 2 seconds
  • Child – 95 dB (medium)

BigPig Outdoors Ear Ringing, Spit Flying Observations:

1. Most of Jake’s scores were very close to mine, a few higher, and some a bit lower. This suggests that lung volume to achieve a loud whistle blast is not much of a factor. Jake outperformed me on several whistles and in one of the linked studies, the child routinely got higher scores.

2. I am not a fan of the “Too easy” to blow whistles. The largest difference between Jake and my scores were seen with these and a few of the windier “easy” whistles. A little resistance by design or by a pea, allowed a more efficient use of the expelled breath in my opinion.

3. Some whistles require perfect alignment or placement of lips that could prove challenging under stress or while injured. These whistles were also tough for Jake to manipulate, and would therefore be poor choices for little ones.

4. The decibel scale is logarithmic, so my lay person understanding is that a 10 dB gain doubles the loudness. In perceived loudness, the 5 – 10 decibels can make a big difference. Source:

5. Like I stated earlier, I think decibel ratings are not as important as the distance that a whistle can be heard, which is a factor of loudness, terrain, and frequency.

Stayed tuned as Whistlemania hits the woods and lakes to see how the whistlers perform at distance…


Resources: Adiittional whistle tests based on decibel levels

If you are new to the blog and wondering why anyone would spend such an inordinate amount of time on researching whistles, start here:

then go here:

and then here:


Whistlemania III – Slippery When Wet…


 If you are a boater, raft guide, lifeguard, sailor, swift water rescuer, or anyone that works around water, this episode is for you. I guess since 70 percent of the earth is covered by water, then this episode is really for everyone.

So crank up the Bon Jovi as our our gladiators hit the lake to find out which liked to wet their whistles and which ones needed water wings…

Test 1:  I pulled out my life jacket from my old raft guiding days, strapped it on, and went into the drink. The test was simple. Completely submerge and then see how many blasts it took to clear the whistle of water when I popped up.

Test 2: Some manufacturers boast that their whistle floats. I think this is a non issue, since it should be attached to your lifejacket by a lanyard. I tested them anyway.

Test 3: Some manufacturers claim their whistles work underwater.

According to “It’s patented design allows the Storm whistle to be heard up to fifty feet underwater, due to its unique sounding chamber forcing out all water when the whistle is blown.” 

I assume this is just boasting about the easy clearance as I am not aware of any practical value of underwater whistle blowing. Anyway, I went under and tried them out.


How did they do? Scroll on down to find your pick..


Jetscream Micro – 2 blasts to clear, floated, worked underwater

ACME 660 – 2 blasts to clear, floated, worked under water

Fox 40 Classic – 1 blast to clear, floated, worked under water

ACME Tornado 635 –  2 blasts to clear, floated, did not work underwater

Hammerhead – 1 blast to clear, floated, worked under water

Tin Whistle –  2 blasts to clear, sinker, did not work underwater

Fox 40 Mini – 1 blast to clear, floated, worked under water

AMK or SOL or Fox 40 Micro –  2 blasts to clear, floated, worked underwater

ACME Tornado 636 –  2 blasts to clear, floated, worked underwater

SOL Slim Rescue Howler –  2 blasts to clear, floated, worked underwater

ACR – 3 blasts to clear, floated, worked underwater


Coghlan’s 5 in 1 Survival Aid – 3 blasts to clear, floated, did not work underwater

Zipper Pull Whistle – 4 blasts to clear, sinker, did not work underwater

Coghlan’s 4 in 1 Whistle – 2 blasts to clear, sinker, did not work underwater

Sternum Strap Whistle – 2 blasts to clear, sinker, worked underwater

LMF Swedish Firesteel Army 2.0 –  4 blasts to clear, sinker, worked underwater


Windstorm – 1 blast to clear, floated, worked under water

Hammerhead Mighty – 1 blast to clear, floated, worked under water

Lifejacket Whistle – 3 blasts to clear, floated, worked underwater

FOX 40 Eclipse – 1 blast to clear, floated, worked under water

Storm – 1 blast to clear, floated, worked under water

Scotty Lifesaver – 1 blast to clear, floated, worked under water

ACME Tornado 2000 – 1 blast to clear, floated, worked under water

FOX 40 Sonic Blast – 1 blast to clear, floated, worked under water

UST Jetscream – 1 blast to clear, floated, worked under water

Whistles for Life – 2 blasts to clear, floated, worked underwater

Promo whistle –  2 blasts to clear, floated, worked underwater

FOX 40 Sharx – 1 blast to clear, floated, worked under water

ACME Cyclone 888 – 1 blast to clear, floated, worked under water

ACME 649 – 1 blast to clear, floated, worked under water

Test 1 Observations:

  • 1st blasters – Easy. The pealess, like the Fox series, seemed a little easier than versions with a pea
  • 2nd blasters – It wasn’t too hard to clear them. I wouldn’t discount a 2nd blaster
  • 3rd blasters – I found it funny that the “Lifejacket” whistle ended up here
  • 4th blasters – Both are multi-purpose and not likely to be your water rescue whistle


Test 2 Observations: 

  • Shame on you if your whistle is not tethered or clipped to your jacket as it could be dropped, swept away by the current, or waves.
  • Realistically, the sternum strap, zipper pull, and ferro rod striker are attached to something that may float or may sink


Test 3 Observations:

  • Both the Storm and the Windstorm did seem to perform best underwater. If you have gills then maybe these are the whistles for you.


Tune in next week to see how your pick fares..

If you are late to the party and need to catch up, click the following links;

Whistlemania I –

Whistlemania II –

Whistlemania II – The Iceman Cometh…


What happens when you hold Whistlemania II in sub-freezing conditions? Carnage.. frozen carnage.

Right now it is 59 degrees and raining, so I had to create the sub-freezing arena. First, I gave the Whistlers a good dunking.

You may wonder why I didn’t save up and store a quart of saliva for “real-world” testing. I would be lying if I said the thought didn’t cross my mind, but my wife already has enough stories to attest to my grossness without adding any more.


I then pulled them out of the water for a quick shake and dumped the water out of the box. The whistles were then placed in my freezer for two days, rooming next to some deer and hogs.


I recognize that this experiment does not exactly replicate coating a whistle with spittle in freezing temps, but it still holds value in my book. In a ways this may be more extreme due to complete immersion.

Some manufacturers claim that their whistle does not absorb water..

Will the pea in the whistle swell if exposed to water?

Absolutely not! This is a myth perpetuated in the manufacturing industry to try and differentiate various products. We use pore-filled natural cork. The pore filling process closes any natural voids found in cork, giving it a consistent sealed surface. Water coats the cork, but does not penetrate to any signifigant volume. We have tested whistles submerged for over a week and they perform exactly as a dry whistle. The 2 additional pea-less chambers will also operate in any weather or survival condition.

And another claims their pea to be resistant to freezing..

The Pea whistle has always been flawed – until now.

Users have always found the peas in their whistles to jam, freeze, or deteriorate quickly under regular use. This is because the peas that are in standard whistles today are made out of corks – or similar moisture-absorbent materials. The wooden cork peas in conventional pea whistles absorb wet agents, such as saliva and moisture in the air, which in turn creates mold. Hammerhead peas are constructed out of materials that fight mold and bacteria.

Hammerhead peas are waterproof, specially weighted, and designed to outlast the competition in any weather condition. No more jamming, no more freezing!!__pea-technology

Myths, marketing, and mayhem, they may be cold, but they’re ready to rumble..


Jetscream Micro – Pass

ACME 660 – Pea froze, but whistle still worked

Fox 40 Classic – Failed due to ice blockage

ACME Tornado 635 –  Pass

Hammerhead –  Pea froze, but whistle still worked

Tin Whistle –  Failed due to ice blockage. This was the only metal whistle tested, but the concern for metal sticking to your lips in freezing temps might have some validity. Here is a quote about the problem during the “Ice Bowl”  –

Referee Norm Schachter had a metal whistle freeze to his lips. When he tried to rip it free, it took the skin off his lip, leaving a frozen, bloody lip! Referees then had to simply yell out commands instead of blowing the whistle to end plays.

Fox 40 Mini – Pass

AMK or SOL or Fox 40 Micro –  Pass

ACME Tornado 636 –  Pass

SOL Slim Rescue Howler –  Failed due to ice blockage

ACR – Failed due to ice blockage


Coghlan’s 5 in 1 Survival Aid – Pea froze, but whistle still worked

Zipper Pull Whistle – Pass

Coghlan’s 4 in 1 Whistle – Pass

Sternum Strap Whistle – Failed due to ice blockage

LMF Swedish Firesteel Army 2.0 –  Failed due to ice blockage


Windstorm – Pea froze, but whistle still worked

Hammerhead Mighty – Pea froze, but whistle still worked

Lifejacket Whistle – Pass

 FOX 40 Eclipse – Failed due to ice blockage

 Storm – Pea froze, but whistle still worked

 Scotty Lifesaver – Pea froze, but whistle still worked. Failed to blow over 100 decibels.

ACME Tornado 2000 – Pass

 FOX 40 Sonic Blast – Pass

 UST Jetscream – Pass

 Whistles for Life – Pea froze, but whistle still worked

Promo whistle –  Failed due to ice blockage

FOX 40 Sharx – Pass

 ACME Cyclone 888 – Pass

ACME 649 – Pass

BigPig Outdoors Pseudo-scientific Opinionated Conclusions:

1. Peas may freeze, but the whistles still worked. All the “frozen pea” whistles blew over 100 decibels at arm’s length on the meter.

2. Tiny air channels hold water that may freeze and cause blockage. ACR, SOL Slim, and the Promo have the tiniest air channels.

3. Carrying your whistle around your neck and under your coat in cold weather should remedy all problems.

4. I have not had a freeze up in actual conditions, nor have I read about any in an outdoor emergency scenario. If you have a first hand account of a whistle freezing up or can link an article, please share your experience in the comment section.

Tune in next week for Whistlemania III and if you missed the first one, go here:

Whistlemania I – Weigh Ins…


What in the hell is Whistlemania? Well, it is the Battle Royal of 30 of the world’s toughest whistles. Back in 1986 at Wrestlemania II, twenty of the world’s strongest, fake wrestlers and NFL players fought it out in a ring to a scripted battle leaving Andre the Giant as winner.

Unlike professional wrestling, Whistlemania pulls no punches, has no script, and no Pay Per View fee!!

Before you sound off the nerd alert, let me give you the two-fold back story. First I was looking for a good whistle for my future online store and kids classes, and only the best will do.

Second, my good friend was looking for an emergency whistle for his kids, so he said..

“What be-eth the best whistle good sir?”

I replied.. “I do not knoweth Sir Coop, but I will find out in short order”

Spurred by noble goals and “Over-The-Top” syndrome, I tapped into my twelve year old, Wrestlemania-watching forebrain to create a 7 part whistle torture test. That’s right, tune into to future posts to watch the drama, and truth, unfold.

Yeah, maybe whistles aren’t as cool as AR’s, flashlights, and knives, but one of the most rewarding moments in my career was watching a family be reunited after Rambo Ricky and I found the lost grandparents using whistle blasts in dense vegetation. Whistles work when your voice gives out. They are lightweight, inexpensive, and essential. Whistles save lives.

Want to spend a lifetime wallowing in anguish and regret? Don’t spend $5 on a whistle for your kids and you may get to if they wander off in the woods.

Whistles aren’t just for kids though. Try yelling for help repeatedly and you will soon find out that your voice will give out and you will wish you had a whistle. I carry one every time I hit the woods and usually have a backup version on my sternum strap or neck lanyard.

So what is the best whistle? If you said the one you have on you, you are right. Carrying any whistle is better than not, but hopefully this series will sort through the myriad of choices if you are hunting for a new one.

“Whistlemania 1″ will focus on the size, weight, cost, ruggedness, and my general impressions. I only measure length and width on whistles that were slimmer than 1/4” and did not test the expensive titanium whistles because they cost too much for your average woods trekker. There are some other good whistle reviews, and I will link them at the end of the series for inquiring minds.

I figured the worst thing that could happen to a whistle in the woods is get stepped on, so the “ruggedness” test consisted of my boot crushing the whistle with all 200 pounds of pressure on a hard surface. 28 out of 30 survived this test and I will showcase those failures at end of this post.


Enough talk, time for the show. The contestants are ready for weigh ins, so let’s see the divisions and meet the gladiators..


When I think of “Lightweights”, I think of whistles that I wouldn’t mind having hang around my neck. These would also be the class for smaller PSK’s, Personal Survival Kits., that you carry in a cargo pocket. Weight wise, they all weighed in under .30 ounces.

Jetscream Micro – Ultimate Survival Technologies. Around $3. Really small. Pealess.


ACME Thunderer 660 – About $6. Has a pea. Has been on my SAR chest pouch for years.


Fox 40 Classic –  $6. Pealess. Keels on bottom can be shaved off to give a flatter profile.


ACME Tornado 635 – $7. Pealess. Non-traditional design.


Hammerhead – $4. Has a pea. Unique design projects sound forward. Specialized pea claims to prevent freezing.


Tin Whistle – Free. I was first shown how to make these by Mors Kochanski using aluminum flashing. This one was from a can of Rotel and you can also make it from a coke can. I will blog how to do it at the end of this series. I included this one because I have seen people use it for their primary whistle.


Fox 40 Mini – $6. Pealess. Smaller than the Classic. I shaved the keels off years ago and I don’t know what the melted goo on it is, maybe pine pitch. At least I hope so.


AMK or SOL or Fox 40 Micro – Several names and costing about $8 for a 2-pack. Nice slim whistle.


ACME Tornado 636 – $5. Pealess. Nice size and well built. S.O.L.A.S. approved


SOL Slim Rescue Howler – $6 for 2. SOL rebrand of the ACR whistle, but tone is a little different. Flat and pealess. No tooth ridge.


ACR – $5. Pealess. Dual tone. No tooth ridge. Flat. USCG/SOLAS approved



Next up is the “Multi-purpose” division that boasts whistles as a side benefit or in conjunction with other tools.


Coghlan’s 5 in 1 Survival Aid – $5. Has a pea. Whistle, compass, mirror, match case, and a ferro rod. I wouldn’t want to count on the ferro rod for a fire, but I did light a cotton ball with it.


Zipper Pull Whistle – $5. Pealess. Replaces the zipper pull on your jacket.


Coghlan’s 4 in 1 Whistle – $5. Pealess. Whistle, compass, magnifying glass, and thermometer. The magnifying glass is convex on one side and flat on the other. I am no physics geek, but I think that reduces performance. I did manage to light a fire with a piece of punk wood transferred to a tinder bundle.


Sternum Strap Whistle – $5. Pealess. Replaces sternum strap buckle on your backpack. May require sewing to switch out.


LMF Swedish Firesteel Army 2.0 – $19. Pealess. Scraper has a built in whistle. I carry this rod on my knife and the scraper on the neck lanyard. The whistle works, but has a sweet spot.



The big boys are ready to rumble…


Windstorm – $5. Smaller version of the famous Storm whistle. Has a pea.


Hammerhead Mighty – $5. Larger version of Hammerhead. Has a “non-freezing” pea and unique design to project sound forward.


 Lifejacket Whistle – $3. Belt clip on back. Pealess


 FOX 40 Eclipse – $9. Updated version of the classic.



 Storm – $6. Has a pea. Claimed to be the world’s loudest and to work underwater. Largest of the heavyweights. USCG/SOLAS approved


Scotty Lifesaver – $8. Two peas and an anti-choking collar.


ACME Tornado 2000 – $6. Pealess. Another claimed to be the world’s most powerful whistle.


 FOX 40 Sonic Blast – $9. Pealess


 UST Jetscream – $6. Pealess.


 Whistles for Life – $5. Has a pea. Official whistle of NASAR. Very wide mouth piece. USCG/SOLAS approved


Promo whistle –  $5. Get your logo printed on this one. Bass Pro, TOPS Knives, etc. Pealess


 FOX 40 Sharx – $6. Pealess


 ACME Cyclone 888 – $7. Pealess


ACME 649 – $8. Pealess. SOLAS & NATO approved.



The 2 whistles that failed the crush test were the ACME Tornado 635 and the Tin Whistle, no surprises there. The Tornado still worked after bending it back, but the plastic is obviously stressed and the tone may have changed. The Tin whistle worked after bending it back into shape as well.



Place your bets ladies and gentlemen and tune in next week for Whistlemania II.


Too funny not to post –





Zàijiàn Blunnies, G’day Redbacks


noun: loyalty 
  • the quality of being loyal to someone or something
  • a strong feeling of support or allegiance

Loyalty is what I have shown the Blundstone boot company for a majority of my life. Living “Down Under” for eight years as a child and having an Australian mother has also ingrained a sense of divergent nationalism. Sending some of my money back that way has kept alive a feeling of kinship with my childhood home, but lately I feel cheated.

Despite hiking thousands of miles in Blundstones and defending my boot of choice to naysayers over the years, the last couple of pairs have crapped out. The soles on this last pair lasted less than a year before they wore down, started crumbling, and then the toe gave out. My last pair did the same. This is in stark contrast to the several years of use I would get out of a pair ten years ago.



Apparently, Australian boot quality is not high on the list of U.S. news reporters. Late to the party, I recently found out that the quality control went to hell when Blundstone shipped manufacturing over to Asia a couple years ago. This all jives with my experiences with the last couple pairs.

But as luck would have it, that fateful day, deep within my research induced mania, I found another 100% made in Australia boot that has now filled my needs.

Enter Redbacks. Not the deadly spiders that I was taught to fear as a kid, but Redback boots. $168


Before I delve into the finer points of these boots, I will first tout the benefits of a lightweight, no-laced existence. At least a dozen Rangers and friends across the country now sport this style of kicks thanks to my anti-lacing propaganda. If your department or agency requires a polishable leather boot and you wished you could wear running shoes, then this is your boot. Sit back, relax, and let me describe a world without laces…

1. No laces means easy on and easy off, which means you won’t track mud in the house. No laces = no mud = happy spouse.

2. No laces also mean you won’t lace them too tight, constricting blood vessels and causing cold feet. Alternatively, your feet sweat about 2 cups per day and that is absorbed by your socks. When your socks get wet, greater conduction and reduced insulative value means your feet get cold. Easy on and easy off means that changing into dry socks is a breeze. No laces = dry socks = warmer feet

3. Lightweight and tough. A extra pound on your feet is equal to five on your back, and these boots are light, 2 lbs 12 oz. for the pair. Not too shabby for a leather boot. A pair of Danner Mtn. Lights, a common boot in the ranger ranks, weigh over a pound more at twice the price.  I can hike farther, faster, and harder in this style of boot than my heavier boots. Need scientific proof, here is a great article that has the facts.

4. Faster break in time. The polyurethane mid sole is more like trail runners than boots. A couple days and they will feel great.

5. Ankle support comes from strong ankles and a good heel cup. If I put braces on your legs, would they get stronger?

6. They are damn comfortable and the reason most people convert. Here is an exploded view of the construction:

7. I wore trail runners a lot in my first season hoghunting because they were lightweight at around 2 pounds. These boots offer a good compromise of weight, water resistance, and protection for off trail travel that the trail runners do not for only 12 more ounces.

8. In regards to hunting, I like to think of them as moccasins with updated soles. Fexible and offering better sensitivity than a regular hunting boot is better for stalking and walking on top of logs. I would put the sole right in the middle between vibram shanked boots and trail runners, flexible, but stiff enough for hard abuse. Image

Warning: If you wear these boots, expect admin personnel and supervisors that fear ankle snapping, off trail travel to curse your “slippers”, but smile knowing that Australia was colonized by convicts and misfits, and you are wearing outlaw boots. That deviant bloodline that courses through my veins has weathered years of taunting, only to watch my army of laceless brethren grow.

The con’s: Heavier than trail runners and they can get pulled off in knee deep mud if you aren’t careful.

A lot of co-workers have questioned me in disbelief over the years that you can go where I go in these boots. Off trail in the Smokies is tough, and tougher on boots. My day usually starts out scrambling up this..


and a whole lot of climbing through this..


Up mountains, down mountains, sidehilling, across creeks, and in the snow, bushwhacking life is tough on my boots. Here are the brand new Redbacks after the first week before I treated the leather.


In the last three weeks, I have put over 100 miles on the Redbacks, a majority of that being off trail. It took about two days for them to break in and feel like my old boots. I have crossed creeks, falling in once, and have been impressed with their water resistance.

Most impressive is their aggressive tread, which is more substantial than my old Blundstones.


Leaving an imprint of a deadly spider in my tracks is definitely a bonus.


There you have it.  I am glad to find a replacement lightweight, quality boot that fills my needs. The fact that some of my hard earned money makes it all the way back to my childhood home, makes it one better.

Are these boots right for you? I don’t know. Everyone’s feet are different and boot choice is very personal, but at least you know why I choose to slip them on everyday. Check back in a couple months and I will review them after another couple hundred miles.

Redback offers the same boots in black and a safety toe version as well. Make sure you read the sizing info as Australia is on a different system. I wear size 11’s, so I ordered a 10 in Redback UK size and they fit great.

US Distributor:

Redback Australia:

If you are LE, firefighter or first responder, shoot Darcie an email and tell her I sent you

Pimp my lighter…


Friction fires are the sports cars of the survival world. They are cool, sexy, and chicks dig them, but once you learn how to make one, you will always carry another way to start a fire. Don’t get me wrong, I love friction fire too, but when you really need a fire in bad weather or if you are injured, there are better choices. You show me a one-armed, 100% made in the field, friction fire set, in foul, crappy weather, and I will show you my $1.85 lighter that will accomplish the same end goal a lot quicker and can be done by the average person.

The two firestarters that I rely on a daily, are a metal match (a.k.a. firesteel, ferro rod), and a Bic lighter. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but they complement each other well, forming a good team. The open flame of the lighter can overcome moist, unprepared, and stubborn tinder, has 1.5 hours of fuel (I have timed them), all while weighing a little over a half ounce. I will showcase my metal matches later, but your local Stop ‘n Rob can get you started on this lighter kit today.

Lighters get a bad rap from failures due to cold temperatures and from getting wet. In my region, the cold has not been an issue as I keep one in my chest pocket, under my coat. Warming them up under your armpit or crotching them are also ways to warm them up if they are being finicky. If you live way up North, my guess is that matches may be in your kit and you probably have your own solutions up there already.

While there are tricks to dry a lighter out, prevention is always best and while we are at it, we will add some waterproof tinder and an o-ring to prevent fluid leaks.

You will need:

Bic lighter – Arsonists love white lighters because you can see the fluid level. Be like the arsonist, pick white. If you already have a light colored one, you can shine a flashlight through the body to tell the fluid level. Just switch to white in the next run.

Duct tape – Orange will make your lighter stand out if dropped and can be used as improvised flagging strips, among ,many other uses.

Balloon – Orange is a good choice here too. This is ‘Ol Humpy’s signalling device for getting picked up on the lake bank.

3/4 O-ring 

Petroleum jelly soaked cotton ball in wax paper – I wrap mine in wax paper like a piece of candy. This keeps them from getting everything greasy and getting water logged if you take a swim,

Needle nose pliers


Step 1: Peel off the sticker. Pull out the child safety if you aren’t a child.


Step 2: Wrap 3 feet of duct tape around the body, just under the logo. This will still allow you to see the fluid level when you turn the lighter on it’s side.


Step 3: Slide the O-ring over the the lighter and wedge it under the button. This will prevent the lighter off gassing if the button is pressed in your pocket or pack. When you need flame, just roll the O-ring down.



Step 4: Slip the PJ ball and the lighter into the balloon and tie it off.


Now you have a 1.5 ounce pyromaniac’s delight, complete with three available tinders, an open flame source, and a mini-firesteel striker. There is even more room in the balloon for another PJ ball or two if you wish. I believe in redundancy of key items, so one balloon kit goes in my first aid kit in my pack, one balloon kit in my survival kit in my cargo pant’s pocket, and I carry a non-ballooned lighter for everyday use in my chest pocket. Putting the lighters in balloons has the side benefit of limiting use except in dire need, so keep an unwrapped one handy.


If everything is wet and you need a little help getting your fire started, the PJ ball will go for over six minutes. And thanks to the Alaskan natives that burned up all Danno’s duct tape, I learned years ago that it makes a great waterproof tinder, just don’t let it stick to your hands. By carefully untying the balloon you can re-use it, use it as a makeshift water carrier, or for signalling. Cutting or ripping it open is always an option and will yield over a minute of burn time.


Even if you use up all the gas, the lighter is still in the game. Just pop off the metal shroud and you will have access to the “flint” striker (ferrocerium for the purists out there) that will light finer tinder like cotton balls, cattail fluff, seed heads, etc.



So the next time the earth quakes, poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Just do what ‘ol Jack Burton does.

Look that big ‘ol storm right square in the eye, tell it to give you it’s best shot, and flic your pimped out BigPig Bic…

Interested in learning more practical survival skills, a few spots are still available in next weekend’s class:


Evolution of a hunting jacket


What happens when you take a couple 25 year old guys, put them at a remote ranger station, and tell them to kill wild hogs? Well, they do their job and when they are not working, they talk about three things, in no particular order. Hunting hogs, camo, and girls

That is what my dinner conversations revolved around in my mid-twenties. Nowadays, “Girls” have been replaced by “Wives”, but camo and hoghunting are still holding strong.

Here is where I work, 500,000 acres of beautiful wilderness. Average winter lows are in the mid-twenties and highs can be in the 50’s. The wind on the lake makes it one of the coldest places to work in the park. Rain, sleet, and snow, we get it all, and it is a constant layer shuffle throughout the day.


When you hike for a living, weight starts to be a factor. Every ounce counts and my daypack that can keep me out overnight in 30 degree weather, runs around 13 lbs. I will post my pack contents soon, but tonight it is another camo jacket discussion, right Danno?

Why does all this matter to you? Because your clothing is one of THE most important survival tools you carry. With a good jacket that can keep your body warm and dry, you can make it through a cold night if forced to stay out. If you are injured, build a shelter and fire may not be an option, so your clothing is what will keep you alive. I know guys that balk at me spending $170 on a jacket, but will drop over $100 on a knife or a grand on a rifle. In an email correspondence, a WT rep said they are working on blaze orange as an outer shell option. If you are not a hunter, the WT jackets are available in other colors as well.

My original jacket was the Columbia Gallatin Range wool one, weighing in at 2 lbs. 14 oz. It is heavy, not water repellent, soaks up snow, and had cotton lining in the hood which I cut out. I am a fan of wool, but not as my outer layer anymore. I find it heavy, and even heavier when it gets wet. Wool is great around a campfire, but I have managed not to burn myself up wearing the other jackets.

The Wild Things Gear primaloft sweater was a big improvement, weighing in at 1 lb. 6 oz. Used as a insulating layer, it works great, but as a stand alone outer jacket, it lacks a water repellent coating and is quilted. Quilting can allow moisture to enter and your warm air to exit. Here you can see water soaking in and the quilting.


My new jacket is the Wild Things Gear multicam Insulight jacket, weighing 1 lb. 11 oz. Like the primaloft sweater, it has 4 ounces of Primaloft One. Unlike the sweater, it’s exterior is not quilted and has a DWR coating, which you can see below. I carry a rain jacket in my pack, but this will get me through a light rain and keep snow from sticking to me. Fleece lined pockets, a great hood, and a mesh interior pocket keep it simple, but effective.


Why not down? It is light and warm, but down compresses when wet and loses much of it’s insulating properties. I have not tried the DriDown yet. Another downside would come from all the briars ripping at me on a daily basis. I have another WT jacket that got ripped, but the insulation is still in place.


Primaloft One:

Wild Things Gear:

Wild Things Gear 25% sale until 12/24/13

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Yep, I am one of those guys. The kind that buys his wife something practical for Christmas. When she says she needs some “cute cold weather clothes”, my man brain translates that to mean “performance outdoor clothing” . When I saw Wild Things Gear had a 25% off sale I jumped at the chance to open negotiations.

I have been wearing and abusing Wild Things gear for years now and will do a full write up when this new jacket gets in, but I wanted to get this info out while the sale is still on, in case you wanted to take advantage of the offer. In my opinion, a quality insulated jacket is one of the most important pieces of practical survival gear.

I have two WT Primaloft 4 oz. sweaters that have been keeping me warm on the job and adventures for years. The older versions have a quilted nylon shell, while the Insulight jackets sport a non-quilted DWR treated shell. Wild Things also offers a “Design your own” feature that allows you to choose your outer material, insulation thickness, colors, and a whole lot more.

Designing your own was a good selling point as I touted the benefits of a WT jacket over some junk jacket on Etsy. Good quality gear, made in the States. After ordering one for my wife, I decided Santa should bring me a new camo one as well.

Hooded 4 oz. Primaloft One jacket for $181.70 each, including shipping.

Wild Things Gear coupon:

Information on Primaloft, including it’s performance when wet:

Tactical Fruit Picker..


Well not really. That was just my wife poking fun at me this morning when I told her I was going to do a “gear” review this morning.

Why do you have to call it “gear”? Are you going to call it “tactical” too?

Living in two different worlds can be entertaining at times. The overuse of the word “tactical” in the youtube reviews she has overheard is nicely balanced by the ubiquitous usage of the word “consciousness” in her videos. While butchering a wild hog the other day I explained to her that in the past I would have been a prize catch for my hunting and trapping skills, to which she curtly replied “Well, I don’t eat my friends“.

The list goes on, but one thing that we both agree on is that dried pears are good.

I have been running my dehydrator non-stop over the last couple weeks after I found a “feral” pear tree growing in the yard on some land I trap. I call it “feral” because it is not pruned or managed and the landowner just lets the fruit rot on the ground. That is great for me, the only problem is that even standing on the roof of my truck, some of the pears are out of reach.

Enter the “Tactical Fruit Picker” and BPO’s first “Gear” review. I first saw one at the Wildfood Festival being used for pawpaws, so I knew it was the answer. Only $9.75 plus shipping

It attaches via hose clamp to any pole about 1 inch or so in diameter. I attached it to one of my telescoping gigging poles. Once attached, I could not resist the urge to yell “Spartans” and playfully attack my wife.

How did it do on pears though? Great. Solid construction and you can fit multiple pears in the basket. A good buy for the price, even though it is not available in Multicam.