One of those things that stick out in my mind, and is dear to my heart is a new lever-action rifle from Marlin. The 1895SBL is basically a Guide Gun on ‘roids. It has an XS lever rail for various optics for the user to install. It has a laminated stock, and it sports a six round ammunition tube instead of the Guide Gun’s four round version. Nice huh? Well, they didn’t stop there. They also added an enlarged loop lever that will come in handy for those with gloved hands using the rifle on the trail during cold weather. I already own a Guide Gun, but I am greatly impressed with this iteration of the rifle because it adds a few enhancements that I had already considered myself. Marlin saved me the trouble. Combine all of this with the Guide Gun’s stainless barrel, and you’ve got a handy package for beating down the brush in even the wildest areas of this continent or any other. Kudos to Marlin for taking the extra step in augmenting an already great rifle!There were other nice products as well. We had a chance to take a look at a large number of companies that sell different types of LED lights. One manufacturer of LED lights that continues to amaze us is Fenix Lights. We had a chance to speak with a representative from Fenix Lights U.S.A. that gave us an inside look of some of the newly available products and the products that are coming out soon. One of those is the weapons light (showed in the picture) that is activated via a pressure switch. While this is not really anything new in the market, it’s good to see Fenix Lights stepping into this arena because they are producing excellent products at a very reasonable price, and that translates into fantastic value. We were told that a couple of items would be sent our way for evaluation, and as soon as we can follow up and get those product in-house for hands-on time, we’ll let you know our impressions. To date, every Fenix light we’ve tried has been an exceptional value. Another booth where we stopped by and saw some great items was Adventure Medical Kits. We’ve long been a fan of the products that Adventure Medical Kits put out in the past. But, they’ve stepped up their game in the last couple of years by introducing products that deal with outdoors survival, and not just having to do with medical needs. This move was precipitated by their collaboration with Doug Ritter of Equipped To Survive when he put together his Pocket Survival Pak. More recently, they’ve taken to marketing not only some of the individual products found in the Pocket Survival Pak, but they’ve also stepped it up by introducing other kits for that niche market as well. One of those products is the S.O.L. 3 Kit which includes items for medical, survival, and repair needs out in the field. We mentioned this kit in a previous article, but since it’s new to the market, we want people to be aware of its existence as it provides a nice selection of gear for those that either don’t have the time or the inclination to put together a kit for themselve. Adventure Medical Kits also has the advantage of using higher end equipment that can be relied upon out in the wilderness. Such things as the whistles, fire starters, and signal mirrors, aren’t the typical low-quality stuff you might find in cheaper kits. The company recognizes the confidence and trust the consumer puts in them for these types of items, and they take that trust seriously. This can be illustrated no better than with the excellent small book they offer in some of their larger kits. "A Comprehensive Guide To Wilderness And Travel Medicine" was written by Dr. Eric Weiss, a long recognized expert in the area of wilderness medicine and first aid. Dr. Weiss packs a lot of information into the little manual, and quite frankly, some of it is material that I am surprised to see in such a book. A lot of companies blanche at the thought of providing too much medical information or how-to instructions because of liability, but AMK and Dr. Weiss don’t hold any punches with the knowledge they provide in this great little manual. Even if you are the type to make your own kit, this book is well worth acquiring and tossing into it for future reference. We got a copy while we were at the SHOT Show and will be doing a review on it at the same time that we review AMK’s Trauma Kit. Look for it on our site in the very near future.
But, it wasn’t all just medical kits, survival gear, and flashlights. There was also a phenomenal assortment of packs, bags, pouches, and every other type of load-bearing item you could think of. I have several companies that I respect immensely in this field of endeavor. Blackhawk and Eagle industries are both respected leaders in providing load-bearing packs and hydration systems as well. Blackhawk and Eagle Industries both focus more on the military and police markets, and there’s certainly plenty of demand in that area at the present time. As seen in the picture, one of Eagle Industries’ new packs, the Yote, is designed to carry a small load and a soldier’s helmet. It’s due out in the first quarter of this year. Camelbak is another company that also focuses on those tactical fields as well, by providing hydration systems for the soldier on the police officer. But, Camelbak also engages the regular consumer market as well. They design and distribute packs for every type of outdoors enthusiast you can imagine. Climbers, hikers, bikers, kayakers, and even hunters each have packs designed for them by Camelbak. While at the show, we were provided two evaluation units from Camelbak that were designed with the hunter in mind. The Camelbak Commander XT is going out to Colorado to one of our writers who spends a lot of time hunting in the Rockies, and the Camelbak Raider is going to stay closer to home to be tested out on the trails of the Appalachin Mountains. Again, a lot of information is going to come your way in a very short time.Along those same lines, I was also able to spend a good amount of time at the booth for Mystery Ranch. For those that are unaware, Mystery Ranch designs and distributes backpacks. The company was founded by Dana Gleason, the original owner of Dana Designs. I have been a long-time fan of Mr. Gleason’s designs, and have had years service from my Bomb Pack purchased many moons ago. After selling the Dana Designs company, Mr. Gleason began another start-up doing essentially the same thing. One of the most interesting facts that I gleaned from his son, Dana Gleason III, is that close to 70% of the company’s business is done with the U.S. government. And, there’s good reason for that. Once you sit down and really give their packs a good inspecition, you can see the detail and thought that went into each of them. A well thought out design is their Sniper Pack that allows for the wearer’s rifle to be carried in the pack. A matching pillowcase-type sleeve fits over the part of the barrel sticking out of the pack. This allows the operator to move in and out of the area without having onlookers know that he is indeed a sniper. It’s a low-profile system that’s yet another method of keeping our guys safe out in the fog of war. Another of their packs that I liked is their NICE Crewcab. It’s a convertible, modular pack that can be converted from a 2,000 cubic inch day pack into a full-blown pack nearing 6,000 cubic inches with the addition of various modules including a lid pack. Dana (the son) indicated that this particular pack has found favor with a number of hunters because it’s open center section where individual load cells are packed can be used to help carry out dressed game. I really liked this pack for its versatility and its ability to be converted into various sizes depending on whether the user was going for a day-hike or a full week expedition. If one doesn’t wish to use the center area for game carry, Mystery Ranch provides individual Load Cells to pack even more gear into the package. This particular pack comes in foilage green, coyote brown, and a multicam design as well. True to their history in the business of making packs for people that love the outdoors, the products put forth by the Gleason family are of superb quality and excellent finish. If given the opportunity, you need to try one for yourself, and you’ll understand why we were so excited to meet with them and get some insights for how they design packs and the reasons why. Of course, where there are guns, there are knives and multi-tools. There was no end to the number of companies offering up there bladeware for everyone to look at and handle. One such example was the Gerber Splice (in picture) which is a new introduction this year. Sibling to the Gerber Vice, both of these tools are intended to be compact for easier pocket carry. In fact, if you like, they fold up small enough to even attach to your keyring. Gerber also has a couple of new assisted-open folders that they are bringing to the market. These are the Covert Fast and Mini Covert Fast. Both of these boast a titanium coated blade and G-10 handles for a sure grip. The especially nice point of most of the offerings that Gerber had was that they fall into the medium price-range where most consumers can feel comfortable making the purchase and not fasting for the following two weeks. Of course Gerber wasn’t the only company offering multi-tools. Leatherman is synonymous with the multi-tool concept, and they have updated their line by bringing in the Freestyle which is an extension of the Skeletool architecture that was introduced last year. The Freestyle is slated to be out sometime in the spring of this year. I am a multi-tool addict, and I’m anxiously awaiting the products from both of these companies. Even with all the various products available for viewing at SHOT Show, I’m sure it comes as no surprise to everyone that it was the "Black Rifle" that was the star of the show. There was one area of the convention center that was dedicated to Law Enforcement and tactical sales, and it was swarming with vast numbers of people. It just goes to show you that tactical products sell. To be more precise, tactical firearms almost have the same appeal as apple pie and baseball–at least if your judgement was based on the reaction of folks at the show. There was no shortage of companies available with their own version of the AR platform, and HK was no exception. HK announced its new civilian-available rifles dubbed the MR556 and MR762 after their respective NATO calibers. These rifles are based on the work that HK did on their 416 and 417 rifles which were, what they considered, an improved design over the normal AR design. Rather than the regular AR mode of operation, these rifles both use a gas piston operating system which a lot of people consider to be much more reliable. Currently, the MSRP on these two rifles are unavailable, but I would be highly surprised if they were available for less than $2,000 U.S. HK has never been accused of offering inexpensive firearms, and I am sure (at least in my own mind) that these will be no different. My only concern is that HK may have come to the party too late. Both rifles are not slated for release until late 2009, and with the current political climate, it’s a distinct possibility that these rifles may never make it to the market. Let’s cross our fingers and hope they do!
Fortunately, HK is not the only high-end player in the Black Rifle Market. Sig Sauer has their new rifle, the 556, and it’s already on dealer shelves. Introduced some time ago, the 556 has already won a lot of gun enthusiasts’ hearts with its great looks, realiable operating system, and its heritage with the original Sig 550 model. Yes, my heart beat a little quicker when the new 556 hit the market, but I’m not one that likes all that ugly furniture all over the rifle. I just need a place to put my optics, and I’m good to go. I want a rifle that’s got clean lines and looks sleek. Obviously, I’m not the only one, because Sig Sauer has now introduced their new version of the 556 and has named it the "Classic", referring to its appearance being similar to the original 550. Now, we’re talking!! It comes with a two-position gas piston system for reliable operation, a folding stock, and those nice clean lines I was talking about earlier. Sig Sauer hit a home run with this one as far as I’m concerned. You may be wondering if there’s any gotchas with this new package. Depending on your financial status, there might be a gotcha for you. If you can actually find one on a dealer’s shelf with all of the hyperactive gun sales recently, one of these are going to set you back almost $2,000 U.S., and that’s before you get a nice scope to mount on it for more surgical use. To me, $2,000 is a lot of greenbacks for a rifle, but as my Grandpa once said, "Good things don’t come cheap, and cheap things rarely come good." So, your mileage may vary on this point.
For me, however, the high point was getting to meet the people that make this industry come together. Whether it’s the dealers, makers, writers, or designers, there’s a huge cross-section of folks that make it all work. One of the things I like to do is audio interviews that I convert into podcasts for people to listen to on their computers or MP3 players. I like interviewing industry insiders not to try and get the hard news to catch somebody at something, but just to get a behind the scenes look at how things work, why they started the business they’re in, and just to share stories that are either informative or entertaining for the audience. While I was at the SHOT Show, I was able to secure tentative arrangements for interviews in the near future with such people as Jeff Randall and Mike Perrin of RAT Cutlery. These two guys have done it all with their expeditions into Peruvian jungles to teach survival classes to interested parties and with their new, innovative blade designs. Chris Reeve, of Chris Reeve Knives is also a well-respected and very knowledgeable person that we’re going to interview very soon. He’s the designer of such knives as the famous Sebenza and the integral hollow-handled knives tooled out of solid steel. And, then there’s Ethan Becker who’s had a great career both in designing knives and climbing gear and as an authority on cooking with his participation in keeping current the famous book, "The Joy Of Cooking". And, finally, it was the time shared with my friends and travel partners as we made the trip to Orlando to peek around and find our own way in this great industry. I went to the show with Joe Flowers, a writer for Woods Monkey and Tactical Knives and with Terrill Hoffman, a writer for Tactical Knives, international hunter, and knife photographer extraordinaire. In Florida, we hooked up with our other cohort, Tim Stetzer, another writer for Tactical Knives, and we had the time of our lives checking out all the latest gear and meeting with the movers and shakers of the outdoor industry.
As we come to the close of this wrap-up, I’d encourage you to get out and enjoy the outdoors sports. There’s something for everybody out there. I’d also ask you to come back and visit us again. We haven’t even touched the surface yet with what we found down in Orlando. Over the next year, we’ll be testing and evaluating the latest gear to provide our feedback, and we’ll be doing more how-to articles to help you out in the woods. Finally, we’ll keep with our pursuit of talking to those interesting folks throughout the outdoors industry to try and glean some knowledge and take away some ideas that will help us with our own adventures down the road. Thanks for checking in with us, and we hope you have a great year!