REI is great

I would like to highlight the fantastic service and support of REI. I’m blown away at the helpful service I have received, and the competence and efficiency of the people who work there. I have never seen such good service in action.

I saw a special edition REI Benchmade knife online that was just what I was looking for. It hasn’t been available for many months. I thought I’d go to my local store to see if maybe they had some left over. They did not, but the salesman took the time to search inventory across the US and found three. The first store did not have it and the other two did not open for two more hours as they were on the left coast, I’m in Texas. He took my name and said he would call and let me know. He did in fact call me promptly to say he found one and it was being held for me. I placed an order over the phone.

Today I was wondering if I could get a tracking number and called the corporate REI number. Anita took my member number and my vague recollection of “I placed a phone order to an REI in New Mexico maybe, is there a tracking number?”. I received a voicemail from Rita 15 minutes later with the tracking number. It was actually Arizona and I am still impressed. Not only did a customer with absolutely asinine requests receive great service it was astoundingly prompt.

Lightweight portable hat

I have been using the Outdoor Research Radar Pocket Cap for a few months. I originally checked it out at REI because of the style and lightweight material. Upon closer inspection the bill has a seam down the middle which allows the hat to be folded and then wrapped in itself. Awesome design and material. UPF 30, super small when wrapped-up, very light, and nice fit. It is a fitted hat so trying it on is necessary. Best hat I’ve owned in awhile.

Bright pocket light

I always carry a small light in my pocket. The one I have been using is an Inova X1 AA. The light is somewhat weak but I wanted something small and AA powered. It has been reliable but not really bright. These days there is a plethora of pocket lights to choose from. Most of the brightest lights require lithium type batteries but perform very well. I wanted something AA powered because of the low price and commonality of this battery. The light I chose is the QMini AA2 by 4Sevens. My previous light cannot hold a candle (pun) to this light, period. These lights are not in the same category. They are both LED with similar styles but the 4Sevens uses two AA instead of one for the Inova.The size difference here was marginal even with the 4Sevens extra battery cell. The compact design allows you to get more voltage without sacrificing carry size or weight. In fact, the 4Sevens is noticeably lighter than the Inova and claims to be the lightest light of this type on the market.

The 4Sevens offers many features that are quite useful. It is well built, lightweight, water proof, and very bright. I am not familiar with all of the lights available but the brightness from this light on high mode is amazing. It has a clever selector and several modes. You rotate the lens-end on and within one second if you cycle to off then on again you get a different mode: low-medium-high. You can cycle through the regular modes under three seconds to access the special modes: strobe, SOS, beacon low, and beacon high.

4Sevens employs a somewhat modular system which is something I’m always in favor of. The head, butt, and body can be changed for different LEDs or more/less capacity or battery types. This particular light is very small, impressively lightweight, and the performance is great. I am very satisfied with it so far. The only downside is the probable short battery light. However, the amount of light produced on bright mode is so impressive I feel like it’s an acceptable compromise.

I took these photos in the morning when it was very overcast. The only way to show the light emitted from the Inova was from inches away on a chair. I was able to capture the light produced from the 4Sevens on high mode from a few feet. The differences here are drastic and even more so at night or in a dark room. The 4Sevens also has a lot of reach for seeing things far off. I was able to clearly see all the details of a building 100 feet away at night.

Long lasting durable watches

Casio GW-2500GD and GW 400J (the all digital one)

I really like the G Shock series of Casio watches. The main feature being shock resistance. Over the years Casio has introduced more specialized features such as magnetic resistance and watches with altimeters and thermometers etc. All G Shocks have shock resist and most have respectable water proofing. My favorite feature is the solar power and atomic time keeping. I have used Casio solar watches exclusively for eight plus years. I have had three, the above two are what I have now.

When not being worn I place the watch on an area of my desk that receives a lot of sunlight. You can fold the band in such a way that it is propped up and you can then adjust the angle. This keeps the watch charged and cycles the internal rechargeable battery. I have always done this and never had to replace a battery.

Atomic time keeping is great. Essentially the watch has a miniature radio receiver built in. Between midnight and five A.M. the watch initializes the receiver to grab the broadcasted time and then sets itself. Night is the best time because of the lower volume of radio signals. In the US we receive a signal from the cesium powered atomic clock in Colorado. Both of my watches are always perfectly in sync to the second. One of my daily rituals is to check when and if the one I’m wearing has synced. It’s almost aways 1:04 A.M. that morning.

These watches are very durable and essentially never need the time or date set. Batteries will wear out but it takes quite a long time. Five or more years on my second (sold my first one) and no issues with power yet.

Many of these G Shocks are somewhat unattractive. I am most definitely a function over form guy so that isn’t a priority for me. I do feel that the two I use strike a good mix. Casio updates the designs very frequently. There are also some made for the Japanese and European markets you can find online. Those sometimes have a better appearance and work fine in the US.

I like to buy things that are designed for the long haul and can take some abuse or extreme conditions. These are designed from the ground up to do just that and fit the bill nicely.

Day bag

Wrapping up what has amounted to my top five EDC (Every Day Carry) essentials is the day bag I use to carry my stuff. I found a small Tumi cross-body style bag on sale about two and half years ago. I was initially drawn to the tracer number plate inside and the high quality construction and materials.

The tracer program is a system that gives each bag a unique ID number. A person who has found your lost bag would follow the instructions on the tracer plate to reunite you with it. The plate includes instructions, ID number, and the toll-free phone number. If you have registered the bag (a free and worthwhile procedure), Tumi will have the bag sent to the address associated with your ID number in their database.

I used my first bag everyday for two years and I’m fully satisfied with its performance. It’s still in excellent shape, no fraying or loose threads anywhere. I’m not exactly gentle with it either. I picked up the Beale Mini Messenger last week because my older one was often too small for my needs. The Beale is part of the Alpha Bravo collection. All of the cross-body bags in this collection have the same features in different configurations. High quality ballistic nylon outer, great zippers, thoughtful design, and top-notch hardware. Plentiful with pockets, compartments, and isolated storage areas. In fact, every single compartment has either a sub-compartment, organizer, or both. Amazing craftsmanship.

I would recommend these bags to anyone. I would also recommend trying them on before purchasing. I initially went with the Alpha Bravo Annapolis. I found that having both ends of the carry straps terminate on the flat rear made it wear awkwardly and feel uncomfortable. It’s also quite difficult to gauge the different sizes from pictures and measurements. I tested the Beale Mini Messenger at the store and after using it all week I’m thoroughly stoked.

The prices are certainly in the high end but you get what you pay for here. I could see this bag taking my abuse daily for many years while never looking worse for the wear. Tracer is a nice added security feature and I can attest to the durability and high quality of these bags. The overall look is somewhat urban and understated. I went with the more subdued black. Some in the Alpha Bravo series can be had in a military green color if that’s your preference.

Anti TV tech

I have a pretty severe aversion to television. Not so much to the device as to it’s content. At my house the TV is used for viewing Netflix rentals or streaming, connected to a computer for Hulu/Youtube, or streaming video from my iMac. I haven’t seen broadcast, cable, or satellite TV for over ten years. I find it very upsetting and offensive even when it would be perceived by most as innocuous.

Many times I’ve been in a waiting room and there is a TV blasting local news or sitcoms. That’s pretty standard. I have seen in some large retail stores a TV blasting commercials at every single checkout line. Enough was enough for me so I sought out a defense.

The device above is called the TV B Gone. This device is simply a keychain fob shaped infrared transmitter containing all of the on/off codes for most of the televisions in the US. Pressing the button on the unit will begin transmitting all of the off codes one at a time for every TV stored in its memory. Within a minute the TV will usually turn off. The drawback for this device is range. It’s pretty short especially with frequent use. The included batteries are the button cell type and wear out relatively quickly. There are some mods outlined on the net to allow larger batteries and increased range .

This device will not work with TVs that have no IR port like security monitors or a TV that has the IR port turned off. For me, something is better than nothing in the battle against unwanted TV drivel subjection and I have this on me at all times.

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The king of portable headphones

I am the biggest fan of the now discontinued Sennheiser PX-100. They have everything I look for in a travel/daily headphone. Light weight, open back design, small footprint, durability, excellent ergonomics, and great sound quality. The PX-100 has been replaced by the PX-100 II. A huge disappointment and step backwards in sound quality and packaging.

The headphones shown here are essentially the PX-100 with an iPhone compatible external mic and answer button on a removable cable. The moniker for these is MM-60. Identical drivers, design, and the same excellent hard plastic carrying case as the PX-100. The iPhone related hardware raises the price compared with the originals. The venerable PX-100 just couldn’t be beat in it’s price range for sound quality and build quality. The MM-60 relinquishes that clear cut win in it’s category because of the bloated iPhone accessory and higher price. I disapprove of progress for the sake of progress and abide by the old adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. I recommend these because it’s now the only way to get a new pair of PX-100. If you have an iPhone it may be a no-brainer. I do have an iPhone and always re-cabled my PX-100s with the mic cable from iPhone earbuds anyway. Still a solid choice and a solid performer with an admittedly diluted value.


I always keep a small pocket flashlight with me. Working under my car a few months back I needed some focused light and use of both hands. Holding the light in my mouth and still struggling to see I vowed to solve this problem once and for all. I am a headlamp convert. So ridiculously useful and efficient.

The lamp I chose is the Petzl Tikka Plus2. This unit is very light weight and comfortable. Three AAA batteries power this unit. I wanted a compromise between extreme brightness and battery longevity and I feel this lamp accomplishes that. The water resistant button is great and the adjustable housing works well in pointing light were you need it. Two brightness modes, an external low battery indicator, and red night vision light fill out the features.

The amount of light produced by this model on fresh batteries is very good. For close range purposes I have no complaints at all. This is the first headlamp I have ever used and the Petzl company offers many different varieties. When looking at lights of this type the ability to adjust brightness, the overall build quality, and comfort are the features I would consider most important. In that regard this lamp does it’s job well.

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Excellent pocket folder

I’ve had this knife in my pocket everyday for approximately one and a half years. Super dependable and useful. The RSK Mk1 is the brain child of Doug Ritter. An accomplished and respected survivalist. Manufactured by Benchmade using the lauded Purdue Griptilian handle and Benchmade Axis Lock. Finished off with S30V blade steel.

I can’t think of one thing I would change about this knife. Light weight with great ergonomics. I wasn’t sure about S30V but it works very well. I love the Axis Lock, super easy one handed opening and closing. I have always had a soft spot for Benchmade and the story of how this knife was conceived is a good one. All of the details are spot-on with form following function. Highly recommended.

Well designed pocket driver

The one tool included in most multi-tools that always falls short is the screwdriver. The reach is always short and the drivers limited. The tool pictured here is the Victorinox Bit Wrench. It comes as an accessory with the Swiss Tool Plus. You can find just the Bit Tool driver and case on the net for under $20. Very compact with two driving ends. One for reach and one for torque. The driver accepts standard 1/4″ bits which is a great feature. These can be found everywhere in almost any kind of driver type. All together very compact and light. My only complaint is that the bits can be difficult to remove from the very snug plastic holder. Fortunately there are holes in the bottom to push the bits out if needed. I use this more often then I thought I would. With my multi-tool I usually won’t even attempt to use the screwdriver. No reach and much too clunky. The Bit Wrench is actually a capable driver for a wide variety of tasks.