Sunday, May 31, 2015

BAK Gear: MEC Elementary Book Bag

My eldest kid is almost finished Grade 1 and throughout the year she has been using the MEC Elementary Book Bag as her daily backpack. It goes on sale once in a while, but normally it costs about $43. It may seem like a lot of money for a little kid, but we look at it as a longish term investment. Unlike walmart bags or Disney bags which might last one school year, this bag will last a few years. Backed by MEC's rocksolid guarantee, we feel that the bag pays for itself many times over its life cycle.

The pack is available in an assortment of nicely complimenting two-tone colours, we opted for the Blueberry/Saltwater combination. It's designed to be carried by little bodies with enough capacity to carry books, lunch box, water bottle, with a couple pockets for smaller miscellaneous items.

The pack is waterproofed due to its PU coating over the 420D nylon. The inside is lined with 210D. The bottom panel is reinforced to mitigate flop and handle extra wear and tear. The backing is an airmesh padded foam, great for the spring time. What I also like about this pack is its extra wide shoulder straps that have hi-viz material sewn into it. These characteristics help spread the weight load across the shoulders, it also has a sternum strap to keep the shoulder straps where they are suppose to be (not to mention the buckle itself is a safety whistle).

The grab handle may not be load bearing but can definitely handle the typical loads of an elementary school kid. There's also the expected front and side compartments to carry everyday items.

Looking at these images, one thing is immediately clear - strap management. There's too much webbing hanging around - a recipe for disaster. I don't know many elementary kids who have the need for a waist belt - if their bag is so heavy that they need to redistribute the weight onto their hips, they should stop collecting rocks and stop bringing canned soup to school - try a different hobby like elastic bracelets and shit like that.

I dunno, maybe there might be use for the waist straps, for now its just extra webbing lying around. The sternum strap I do see use for. My kid's shoulders are not as wide as the pack's shoulder straps are, so having the sternum webbing enables my kid to pinch and cinch in the shoulder straps so it won't fall off her shoulder if she's wearing something slipper - like that shit they buy at Forever 21 and H&M.....faaaaaaaaaaaaacccckkk.

Ok, so one of the questions I get asked alot, is "how does it sit?" I don't know, I'm not a kid. But, judging by some of these photos, on an average grade 1'r of the type female, it looks to fit fine. Don't worry, if you are Korean, there's enough straps to hang it low to the butt.

So, what is it's true carrying capacity? Well, a typical daily loadout for the kid includes a change of clothes or a light spring jacket, lunch box, water bottle, homework, trading toys that are currently en-vogue, UV screen, widebrim hat, and other stuff.

Remember, this is meant to be a book bag, not a travelling bag or a hiking pack, so the ergo's on this are slightly different (although in a pinch it has doubled as her carry-on travelling pack when we are going from hotel to hotel to hotel and she needs to be a one-man, one-kit). She's also taken the pack on day hikes. But that's probably the type of activity I would limit this pack to.

By design, it's a deeper pack from the back-outwards, meaning if you were to stack books up against books, eventually she would tip over backwards as it would f*ck up her centre of gravity. Hence not the most ideal for packing on outward bound type activities. I would look for something that is more vertical and narrower for those kinds of activities.

From her comments after a school year of use, she's extremely satisfied with it, though she never gave it any thought really. She has expressed her opinions about other packs that were gifted to her like Disney Princess ones, or el-cheapo walmart ones - but she hasn't said much about this pack - which is a good thing because it means its comfortable.

So yes, for next school year, if you are looking for book bag for your elementary-aged kid, seriously consider this bag.

BAD Gear: Arc'teryx Blade 24


Within the past two years or so now, my role has morphed into less time in the field, and more travelling from gig to gig on contracts and consulting work, mainly at the senior manager/security executive levels. You know, working with the BTDT's now flying a desk and pushing paper rather than pounding sand. To look the part and not like I just came in from the afghan moon dust, I had an immediate requirement to acquire a pack that was more slim, low profile, greyman, and laptop-centric. I still required the durability and sexiness of what "tactical" had to offer - so I went with the Arc'teryx Blade 24 Pack.  

The Blade comes in a 24L or a 30L pack. I opted for the 24L capacity as I did not really require the seperate suitcase compartment for overnight clothes. My gigs are usually 3-4 days onsite plus whatever number of days in the field, so I'd ususually have a separate C/O, and any hardware/vest/armour etc...would either be shipped preceding myself or accompanying in a Hardigg or Pelican. 

As you can see, the pack features a very smooth faced texture, and this offers such greate advantage over my standard tactical packs which seems to get its straps and MOLLE caught in overhead compartments, lockers, etc. There's very little strap management required with this.

This pack features a suspended laptop and accessory compartment that is fleece lined and has a laminated computer protector. It also features a large document compartment, a front pocket to hold PPNS and a concealed passport/ticket security pocket.

It also features a removable 6061 aluminum stay/thermoformed backpanel shaped by an HDPE framesheet  for durable back support, a top and side grab handle, and padded bottoms and sides. The zippers are protected by molded zipper garages.

There's also two top pockets - the larger one I use to hold my Arc'teryx Squamish Hoodie, sunglasses, gum, and other things, and the smaller one I use to hold keys, coins, and ear buds. If I'm passing through a detector, I'll throw my wallet and phone into this smaller pocket as well.

The pack uses a dual-density shoulder strap configuration and has these attachment pieces for cell or other portable devices.

The outer material is a 1260D Invista Ballistic Superpack nylon, while the inside and grab handles are 210D nylon and 630D Invista Superpack nylon. The backpanel is breathable stretch-woven.

I've been using this pack for about half a year now, and so far it has exceeded my expectations in terms of capacity, comfort, camo. Yes, camouflage - to go greyman style, to blend in - nothing worse than to bring attention to yourself at the airport and paint yourself a big ass target on your head, "hey look at me, I'm tactical, I might be worth something as a hostage, or I might know company secrets."

Given how slimline it is, there are some considerations needed when packing - it is very tight fitting. Just barely enough to hold a 15" laptop. Then you have to sort of stretch the remaining space to get the rest of your gear in there. For normal folk, that's probably not a problem, but I usually pack some sort of contingency bug out kit as well. So, again in the top pocket, I'd carry my light windbreaker, shooting gloves, balclava, touque, mints, gum, secured USB with all my scanned docs, clear USB for other things, ancillary ident and smartcard access, pills (in its original blister pack = saves hassle at airport), and hand cream (cause I'm gay like that).

I normally carry two passports - one for containing visas for certain places, and the other for travelling through places that don't like seeing visas for said certain places, dog tags, tickets, travel orders, get out of jail free cards, some extra spending cash, etc. These items are secreted away in the bottom side compartment.

Again the smaller top compartment, carries only a couple of things, a set of keys, coins in a bag, and ear buds. The really slimmed down pocket is an accessory holder that I use to hold PPNS, a light, a knife, patches, biz cards, etc.

Now, how much does this pack cost? For retail its about $200 at DS Tactical. Through the LEAF program, the pricing is lower. This is not a lot of money when compared to other laptop bags of premium quality. This isn't just a laptop bag, its my backpack as a personal carry on (in addition to my actual c/o) but because it holds a laptop, its considered a laptop bag ie, a personal item through eyes of the airlines. If you are looking for a sleek, slimline, and sexy pack that can hold a laptop, some clothes, and still retain that tactical endurance, then I recommend considering this pack.

Friday, May 22, 2015

BAK Gear: Playmobil Superset 4013 Penguin Habitat

I've been absent from the blogging for a while, mainly because business has been pretty busy with renewed interest doing bad things to bad people in bad places. But, also partly because as my girls are transitioning from toddler into pre-school, the "gear" that BAD and BAM needs to haul around seem to be less and less - we can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The girls are really into the Lego, Playmobil, anything shark, and anything Superman right now. They have interests in other kinds of toys, usually the flavour of the week (Rainbow Loom, now its Shopkins...); however, their core interests lie in the aforementioned.

So today, I will review one my youngest's favourite toy, the Playmobil Penguin Habitat Superset. Out of the box, there is some assembly required, but its fairly simple, and if your 2 or 3 year old is good at puzzles, they'll be able to figure it out. This particular set is meant to contain water in the penguin splash pool so it's a fun toy for the kid. I like that this playset is relatively compact, not like the Princess ones, where the castle takes up the entire Ikea table.


We have a couple of Playmobil playsets so all the pieces have merged together, but as far as I know, it is suppose to come with 2 figurines, a couple of penguins, a pail of food, eggs, and a tree.

Just a note, that there are quite a few small pieces (penguin eggs, baby penguins, and fish) that have a super interesting texture and shape that are just the right size for curious mouths. So beware - hence the labelling for 4 years +.

For some reason, this set seems to get the most play, and I think its because there's a slide, water, hidden nesting area and animals. Alot of scenarios can be had from it, plus after seeing live penguins at the zoo, there's some context and the kids can relate and make their own stories.

This is definitely a toy I would recommend if your kid is already into Playmobil and animals. If your kid is anything like mine, they will start introducing sharks into the tank, and start eating the penguins and zoo keepers (Jaws 3 anybody!?!)

Monday, January 5, 2015

BAK GEAR: MEC Dome Daypack 9L for Kids

As my little kidlets begin to sprout, it seems not only are they getting bigger, but their packing needs are also increasing. Previously we have been using the Little Life daypacks for travelling and booting around tropical places. And for all its intent and purposes, it's served really well. I've written about the Little Life packs before and we really like it, mainly because it's ergonomically correct for little torsos and it serves to teach my bad ass kids the joys of "one man, one kit".
My only two contentions with the Little Life daysacks are the small bottle holder pockets, and the limited volume options. Even with a 6L sack, it's not sized to properly hold something like an 8.5"x11" notepad. Nor is the bottle pocket nominally useful for a toddler or school-aged child to stuff a proper bottle into. The test being the ever popular Contigo water bottles.


So we looked into something that would not only meet the current shortfalls but also the future needs of my kidlets, that is, to increase capacity of payload while remaining hi viz. Enter the MEC Dome Daypack for kids. It's total capacity is approximately 9L and it can actually hold notepad and pens. It weighs about 900gms, and features an exterior mesh bottle holder, sternum strap with whistle, a tactical grab handle, and a few pockets. Here is what MEC says:

  • Comfortable and breathable 3-D mesh back panel and shoulder strap lining.
  • Main compartment has a name and address tag inside.
  • Secondary zippered pocket on back for raincoats or mittens.
  • Top grab-handle makes the pack easier to carry when it’s not being worn.
  • Sternum strap buckle has a built-in whistle.
  • Reflective treatment on shoulder straps for nighttime visibility

This pack is priced at about 50% (15CDN) of what a Little Life goes for, and is backed  MEC's Rocksolid Guarantee.

We liked this pack so much we got one for each kid. It holds EVERYTHING each kid requires for a day's worth of tripping. Usually that means hydration, lunch, snacks, extra layers, "I'm bored" activities, sunscreen, hat, gum and shit. I like that we can machine-wash this lightweight, simple and "rugged" pack. Now, "rugged" is relative to what my kids would consider as hard use. For them, it means throw it around on the plane, in the taxi, and lately - at each other.

Some reasons I like this pack is that it is made of a 420-denier Velocity nylon which is closer to the ballistic side of nylon, its a denser weave with a smoother surface which means it can withstand more higher abuse-ish situations. It also features a mesh back and should strap - presumably to increase airflow.

The sternum strap (chest strap) is pretty key to the fit and function of this pack. Having tried other kid-sized backpacks, other than the Little Lifes (which also features this strap), this pack was the most comfortable when heavily laden. It has both vertical and horizontal adjustments, and uses a combination of standard nylon webbing plus some elastic to increase the comfort. As you can see there's also a whistle - perfect for locating missing parents.

We made the mistake of trying it out at a holiday beach, and everybody looked to the surf simultaneously for dorsal fins.

One of the major reasons we opted for this pack was the ability for my kids to shove their own water bottles into the holder. What's the point of "One man, one kit" if we have to help them pack. We found with the Little Life, it took a bit of gumption and engineering to shove a Contigo water bottle in (we did rip the mesh on the Little Life) - it cannot be done. With this pack, it can be. Just note that some Contigo water bottles have rubberized bottoms that although is good for stabilizing grip on flat surfaces, sucks for sliding into tight pockets. Once it's in there though, it is secure. I suppose the other option is just to put it into the main compartment.

Which brings me to the next feature, the main and secondary compartments. Generally the main compartment is organized so that hardest and flattest items are closest to her back, then the fluffy and odd-shaped knickknacks are stuffed outboard. The secondary and smaller zippered compartment holds her miscellaneous stuff like gum, gloves, sunglasses, torch, stuffy and other small things. Things that can be dirty.

All in all, for about 15 bucks, you get a solid kids daypack backed by a solid guarantee. You can't even get a shitty Disney backpack from Walmart for that price. Note that the kids use this pack for day trips and travelling. They use a different pack for going to school mainly for capacity reasons. I highly recommend giving this pack a go if you are in the market for a daypack for your kid. My eldest is 6 and she continues to use this as her daytripper. By abstaining from buying a larger capacity pack, we're teaching her to pack wisely and necessarily.

If I have to say one thing missing from this pack, would be a high viz strip or two located outboard, so its visibility is increased from the back as well as the front.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

BAD Gear: Chaco Z2 Z/2


It's been a while since I reviewed a personal item. So today I will review my favourite pair of sandals: Chaco Z2. In fact I've given up on other types of sandals or outdoor hi-venting shoe including Keens. I'll go into that later. I won't even talk about Crocs. pphhhhhh

I bought this pair of sandals in 2011 and its still going strong. The webbing straps are just now starting to fray at the edges (nothing a lighter couldn't fix). I've just re-soled them with another set of Vibrams, thereby saving money on a new pair of sandals and supporting a local cobbler (oh yeah, I'm probably being environmentally friendly be recycling, reusing, and reducing).

I paid $95 for a pair of these back in 2011 at VPO . I had them resoled including labour was about $50.

The original Z2 soles are Vibrams and feature a deep lug grip. The foot-bed is contoured and provides support for those with pronation. I wear custom orthotics in work boots and exercise sneakers, but for sandals I was very hard-pressed to find anything remotely supporting my bad genetics...until I discovered Chaco Z2's.

There are different models of Chacos ranging from Z1 (open toe) to Fathom (traditional) to Updraft (raised heels for the short guy). I chose the Z2 because I found I needed the stability and forefoot control the wrap-around toe loop gives me. It also features custom adjustment webbing straps that dries fast and maintains a consistent fit.



I've travelled all over the tropical and desert world with this pair and it is a very reliable and rugged. The original out-sole was a Vibram TC-1 rubber which featured a 4-5mm lug depth and was high traction (including wet) and self-cleaning as well as being non-marking. The grip is exactly what is needed from difficult trekking to multi-sport. Because of its thinness, the feedback is communicative about grip and geometry of terrain thereby prevents slipping and tripping. I find that these soles are a better compromise between performance and comfort than Keens.


The new soles also being Vibram, I am expecting the same type of performance I have with my previous soles. There was a requirement to fill in some areas at the heel where I had worn right through the outsole and into the mid-sole. All in all I haven't noticed any performance degradation in my testing of wet traction, and long'ish hikes.

The new soles seem to be performing just fine, and although the out-sole lugs are differently shapes, I am still quite happy with them.

Now the reasons I really like this as compared to other sport sandals, is because I have options for quick in and out. I don't have to utilize all the straps, I don't even need to put my toe in.


I've tried wearing Keens, and although they are a great sandal/shoe, I find that when wet, there's too much friction. Also the webbing starts to stink. And I don't like to whole covered toes thing. Keens do fulfil another type of market, but for what I do, the Chaco's are just fine. Also, Keens, don't offer me that contoured foot-bed, and I found my feet tired and ached due to lack of support for pronation.



Now my kids, they were Keens. I'll probably do write-up about Keen Kids shoes later, but for my Bad Ass Kids, Keens are sufficient. They don't slip off easily, they provide wet/dry interface traction, as well as good cushioning at all-day or multi-day affairs such as Disney, or Cuba, or Mexico, or even at home. For myself however, I prefer the Chacos

In terms of terrain and geography, these sandals have handled everything from white sandy beaches in the tropics, to basaltic lava rocks, to shit-covered rocks in Nigerian streams. I think I even went through some sort of rainforest with them. I know for sure I've climbed a comms tower with them. Did I mention these work perfectly on land and submerged underwater?



One thing to note, if you are travelling, is that they do have a bit of weight to them, about 2lbs for the pair vs 1lb12oz for a pair of Keens. We're talking about 4oz extra of booze you can't put in your carry-on's amenities kit.

Another thing to note, that is a plus, is that the webbing itself is a polyester material, not a nylon, which makes it super fast to dry, and polyester is doesn't present with  much friction when wet, unlike nylon webbing uppers found in the Keens.

So, about the webbing straps. I think it is actually constructed out of one length of webbing for the top that loops in and out of the mid-sole and uses a buckle for cinching. the back heel straps is a separate length. How you "customize" the fit, is to tug each exposed strap starting at the front and working your way to the back (like shoe laces), until you get a snug fit. You pull on the buckle to tighten everything up.

It really is an infinitely adjustable system because it uses this pull-through design to secure the fit without the necessary bulk of extra buckles and straps.

Seems pretty darn easy. Once it's set, it stays in place because of friction within the rubber midsole. To loosen I just have to release some tension from the buckle and I can easily slip my feet out.


These are also machine washable, or even better find a brush, some baking soda and some water. The open-air design really does enable me to clean these sandals more effectively than a close-toe design.

The last comment I want to make is the contouring of the foot-bed. It's what Chaco calls a BioCentric design with moulded arches that offer extra support, reliable stability, pronation control and all-day comfort. All of which are very true and I have proven it. In fact, it carries the Seal of Acceptance from the American Podiatric Medical Association - which probably means that it's good for you - just like fluoride toothpaste is endorsed by dentists.

So, some things I don't like, nothing really. Weight can be an issue if you are approaching that weight limit threshold for carry-on. They still will get stinky if you trudge in seawater, so will every other shoe, but this is by far the easiest to clean and quickest to dry.

So yes, every bad ass dad should have a pair of Chaco sandals. Because Bad Ass Dads don't let Bad Ass Dads wear Crocs.

Disclaimer

Full Disclosure: Unless noted, Bad Ass Dad has not been compensated in any means to review this gear. It is all his own, procured through pro-channels, retail, or issuance.