Reviews

Initial Impression: Trijicon TA-110 3.5×35 LED ACOG

TA110 ACOG Right Side

As a retirement gift of sorts for my leaving the Air Force, my [awesome] wife bought this scope. The TA-110 is essentially a battery powered TA-11, which has been among the most popular ACOG models in the competition world due to its balance of longer eye relief and good field of view. I mentioned the TA-110 briefly in the Spring of last year, but I didn’t have plans to purchase one.

I had originally wanted to pick up the dual illuminated fiber optic model, the TA-11. I recommended that optic to a friend, and I was suitably impressed with it on his rifle. However, the more I thought about my real world uses (and not TEOTWAKI zombie apocalypse), I realized that I find more utility in user controllable battery illumination. This allows me to turn off the illumination when I need more precision (as opposed to the notable blooming of the fiber optic in full sun), and also lets me keep good illumination when lighting is poor. This question of battery vs fiber optic illumination was ultimately the deciding factor in why I went with the ELCAN over the TA-11 back in 2015.

I purchased the green horseshoe-dot reticle calibrated for 308. You may wonder why I would buy a 308 calibrated reticle and put it on a 5.56 rifle. The answer is that the 308 BDC is actually a closer match to 77gr SMK and 75gr TAP than the standard 5.56 reticle. That’s not to say that it’s perfect match. Some work will have to be done to determine actual holdover points, but it is closer. Using the 308 reticle also gives me the interesting option of mounting the optic on my M1A or 308 AR.

These are the specs found on Trijicon’s web site:

Magnification 3.5x
Objective Size (mm) 35mm
Bullet Drop Compensator Yes
Length (in) 8.0 in.
Weight (oz) 16.8 oz. w/out Mount
Illumination Source LED
Reticle Pattern Horseshoe Dot
Day Reticle Color Red
Night Reticle Color Red
Calibration .308
Bindon Aiming Concept Yes
Eye Relief (in) 2.4 in. / 61.0mm
Exit Pupil (mm) 0.39 in. / 10.0mm
Field of View (Degrees) 5.5
Field of View @ 100 yards (ft) 28.9
Mount Comes With TA51
Housing Material Forged Aluminum
Batteries Single AA Lithium or Alkaline Battery
Battery Life Over 12,000 hours on setting #4 using supplied alkaline battery at 21ºC (70ºF)
Adjustment Increments (Range to Target) 2 click per in. @ 100m
Adjustment Range 40 MOA Total Travel
Illumination Settings 6
Dimensions (LxWxH) 8.0 x 3.0 x 2.6 in, 203 x 76 x 66mm

With the notable exception of using AA Lithium (or Alkaline) batteries, which last about 12,000 hours (about 500 days) on setting #4, these specs are almost identical to the TA-11. Setting #4, by the way, appears to be a great general purpose illumination level for overcast days and evenings. Setting #6 is extremely bright, as you will see in the photos.

The ACOG arrived in a nice hard sided case with egg crate foam. Upon opening the case, my immediate gut reaction was, “Ooooohhhhh Niiiiiiiicceee.” That instant positive feeling was admittedly lacking when I first received my ELCAN a couple years ago.

The TA-110 weights two ounces more than the TA-11 due to the battery housing. Trijicon supplied an Energizer AA Lithium with the optic. With the TA-51 mount, the total package weights 21.35 ounces. The scope is no lightweight by any means. For comparison, my ELCAN SpecterOS 4x weighs 18.85 ounces. I like that Trijicon saw fit to include retention lanyards on the turrets and battery cap.

Size wise, the TA-110 is a bit larger than my ELCAN.

ELCAN SpecterOS 4x next to Trijicon TA110

With the deletion of the fiber optic housing from the TA-110’s body, Trijicon has added a second forward position for mounting a miniature red dot sight like the RMR.

 

Important to me is eye relief, and the TA-110 delivers. I find it much more comfortable to get behind than my ELCAN, and the sweet spot seems much more forgiving. That’s not to say the SpecterOS is bad by any means, but the TA-110 is just excellent.

ThroughTA110

When it comes to illumination, the TA-110 is very bright. There is an off position between each of its six settings. This allows me to find the setting that I like, click one notch off of it to remove power, and then quickly get back to my preferred illumination level when needed. The illumination knob is large and easy to grab, though not quite as large as the Specter’s. I find the illumination on the TA-110 to be brighter than the ELCAN. The green reticle jumps out at me much better than the smaller red center crosshair of the SpecterOS.

I took some comparison photos at 11:30 AM and 4:45 PM. Unfortunately, the mid day shots were ruined by large amounts of glare (you can see it a bit in the photo above). The evening shots were better. The illumination on both is at full strength, and I used my iPhone 6s for these. It was my perception that the ACOG appeared just a bit clearer and brighter than the ELCAN under these conditions. However, after cleaning dust and debris from the Specter’s lenses, there is much less difference.

You will notice that the field of view on the SpecterOS is slightly wider than the TA-110. That was expected, and the difference probably isn’t enough to worry about. Something I haven’t quite figured out is why the photos through the ACOG to be more magnified than the ones taken through the SpecterOS, since the ACOG is 3.5x and the ELCAN is 4x. It is probably my own lack of skill with taking such pictures.

I mounted the TA-110 on my BCM 20″ upper and moved the SpecterOS to a 16″ BCM lightweight upper and set off for a range day. The TA-110 performed well, though I did run into the rather infamous issue of ACOG adjustments needing to be “knocked in.” I would make adjustments on the turrets and have to fire a few shots to see where they really ended up. I didn’t help matters by forgetting to bring an actual zeroing target with gridlines, so I had to improvise with Appleseed “Red Coat” targets.

I was able to squeeze a good bit of precision out of the horseshoe-dot reticle, especially with the ability to turn illumination off, but I do find the simple crosshair reticle of the SpecterOS to be more useful in that regard. The horseshoe-dot is built for speed more than precision. Against a bright sandy background on a sunny day, I had zero issues picking up the bright green illumination when turned up to max. In comparison, the ELCAN’s red center crosshairs looked red, but certainly not “OMG LOOK AT ME” bright.

I don’t want to talk group sizes, because I simply wasn’t prepared. My lack of practice lately showed in my shooting. I did manage a couple three shot groups in the 1 to 1.5 MOA range off a bipod or backpack, but they weren’t the norm. My positional shooting was poor, and I can tell that my muscles and joints are out of practice (and in need of stretching). I will report more after additional range sessions.

Overall, my initial impression of the TA-110 is very good. The TA-11 has a solid reputation behind it, so I see no reason that it wouldn’t apply to this one as well. It is not a lightweight optic, so I wouldn’t suggest it on any super light builds (maybe a TA-33, though).

 

 

 

General, Reviews

Initial Impression: MVT 3X Special Forces Chest Rig

 

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My awesome wife recently bought me an MVT 3X Special Forces Chest Rig as a gift. This is intended to compliment my belt, which has undergone several changes since I first wrote about it. I’ll talk about those in another post.

I have been eyeballing a chest rig for years. In my time with the military, I’ve noted that wearing gear on the chest, as opposed to the waist, has become the de facto standard procedure. There are a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which is the prevalence of mounted operations where a chest rig (or plate carrier) is much more comfortable than a loaded belt with pouches around the back for sitting in vehicles. Chest rigs also offer less interference with the waist belt on large rucks. In the past, wearing a large ruck meant either removing the load carriage belt, or removing the the ruck. The former option reduced your fighting capability, and the latter created higher risk for injury. Chest rigs offer benefits of mobility as well, since bulky items on the belt line interfere with clearing obstacles and navigating tight spaces.

There are drawbacks, of course. From a weight bearing standpoint, the hips remain the best location to transfer weight to the ground. Chest rigs, and plate carriers, keep the weight high on the chest and can create extra stress on the spine. There are ways to mitigate this through load balancing with a backpack, but putting weight on the chest will always be a “second best” solution compared to the hips when it comes to load bearing. The simplest way around this is to not overload the chest.

A few of the rigs I’ve intended to purchase in the past, but never did, include the VTAC MOLLE Assault Rig, Esstac’s Bush Boar A1, SKD’s PIG Universal Chest Rig, Tactical Tailor MAV, Mayflower UW, and the Haley DC3R. For various reasons, I never committed the money to any of these, though they all appear to be very well made pieces of gear.

I came across posts from MVT (short for Max Velocity Tactical) while researching load bearing methods. In fact, much of the philosophy behind my original battle belt configuration came from his earlier blog posts. Max runs a training facility geared towards teaching the skills to the public beyond the standard weapons handling methods typically seen from well known training outfits. He is a veteran of the British Para Regiment, has done contractor work in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and a veteran of the US Army Reserves. His writings are excellent, and I recommend reading them if you are inclined, but beyond my typical focus areas.

At some point, Max teamed up with Mike “Diz” Dismuke to design gear. Diz is another long-time veteran of the US military, and his work with designing functional load bearing gear for 25 years is rather well known among a few pockets of professional users with the leeway to invest in such small-batch customized stuff. Diz was known for producing the “Diz Rig,” which was fabled among much of the shooting community. He also later built a custom rig that became the basis of the much sought after, but no longer manufactured, BCM 03 Chest Harness.  He was integral to the formation of UW Gear, though it seems he has since moved on. I bring this up in order to show that even though you probably haven’t heard of MVT, they have top notch people designing and building gear.

Max and Diz have gone through several iterations of chest rigs, with each generation building upon lessons learned from running the previous one through Max’s notoriously intense training programs. These programs include land navigation, rucking, small unit tactics, simulated combat in wooded environments against pop-up “Ivan” targets, and CQB. Reading Max’s blog over the years has been a great source of insight in how various gear configurations work (or don’t work). I respect how MVT is willing to change their own product lineups quickly in order to support what they think works best.

The 3X Special Forces Rig is an evolution of Max’s Responder rig, and was done at the request of a professional user group. The main difference is the addition of a integral radio pocket.

The rig is made entirely in the USA of 1000D Cordura, so it is going to put up with abuse. I know 1000D has fallen out of favor compared to 500D, but this rig is minimalist enough that I hardly notice its weight. The rig I received appears to have top notch stitching, with no loose threads in sight and nice straight stitches. In email conversations I’ve had with MVT’s manufacturer in Georgia, I get the sense that they take great pride in being a small shop and want to produce the best gear that they can.

There is ample adjustment range, and you can see in the above photo that I taped down the excess adjustment length. The H-Harness straps are wide and flat. This provides very comfortable load distribution while not getting in the way of also wearing an assault pack or ruck. There is a single row of MOLLE running vertically down the harness strap for lashing items or attaching hydration hoses.The straps can also be removed and the main chest piece attached directly to a plate carrier via fastex buckles, if so desired. If it were me, I’d rather keep the plate carrier slick and wear the rig on top.

The 3X rig is designed to carry four 30rd AR-15 magazines. Each integral magazine pouch includes a formed kydex insert that grabs the magazine for very good retention. The tension is just right in order to create very positive insertion and retrieval of magazines without slowing anything down. The kydex inserts and interior of the pockets are lined with hook and loop in order to keep the inserts in place. Previous iterations of the rig included shock cord pull tabs, but Max and company found that the kydex provided more than enough retention for Average Joe, who isn’t jumping out of airplanes.

Legal Note: I don’t have any 30 rd magazines at home to test this with (thanks, California!), but being active duty, I was able to test it on a military range with a mix of 30 rd PMAGs and USGI 30rd aluminum mags. I just wanted to get that clarification out of the way.

kydexinsert

Behind the magazine pouches, there is a map/notebook pocket and a orienteering compass pocket. The compass pocket includes a small loop of material for dummy cording. Why an orienteering compass as opposed to a lensatic like a Brunton or Cammenga? It’s a matter of experience. The British troops prefers the thinner orienteering style like a Silva Expedition, so that’s what Max built his rig for. Not being a land navigation expert myself, I can’t really comment on one or the other. The map/notebook pocket nicely fits a Rite in the Rain notebook with room to spare.

Mapandcompass.JPG

On each end of the rig, outside the four magazine pouches, there is three rows and four columns of MOLLE.

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Stock photo from MVT’s store of the complete rig
I picked up a few of MVT’s admin pouches as well. Max makes it a point to eliminate noisy items from his gear, such as velcro and zippers. In order to do this, the pouches utilize a “Tuck Tab” or “Tuck Tunnel.” This means that there is a stiff sewn end of material on the flap that inserts into a sewn in tunnel on the pouch. This method appears very secure, almost totally silent, and easy to use. I have seen this same design on pouches from UW gear, so I assume it is a specialty of Diz’s. I have not seen such a design anywhere else, which is a shame. The same method is used for securing the MOLLE straps sewn on the back of the pouch.

The medium pouch is sized to fit a FLIR Scout. It also holds my Vortex Solo R/T 8x monocular very well. I also picked up a small pouch, but am not using it at the moment.

Beneath the outer rows of MOLLE is the radio pouch. This is a special feature of the 3X rig versus its predecessor, the Responder Rig. On each side of the 3X rig is a pancaked pouch sized to fit a PRC-152. It also fits two P-Mags, or just about any other handheld radio. Two loops have been sewn on the bottom of the rig for routing antennas. There are also two more slots on each side for inserting narrower objects like flashlights, markers, ChemLights, multitools, or bottles of weapon lubricant. The two Multicam rig photos below are stock photos from Max’s store.

In wearing the rig, I find it pairs well with my battle belt. The combination offers a lot of flexibility in that i can go from a “bare minimum” fighting capability with the battle belt, and then add the chest rig for more ammunition and options. Also, I found that this chest rig can be comfortably worn under my Vertx smock for a lower profile appearance.

Overall, I am very happy with this rig. It provides all the right capability without creating excess bulk, loose straps to snag, or other things getting in the way. Over the next few months, I will put it through as much use as I can and really get a feel for it. Whatever the result, which I expect will be positive, it is nice to see another well made piece of American gear on the market.

 

 

General, Reviews

Initial Impression: Faxon 18″ Gunner Barrel

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I received this in the mail over the weekend. It is a Faxon Firearms 18″ Gunner barrel. Here are the key stats from Faxon’s web page:

  • Barrel Type: Button Rifled
  • Barrel Caliber: 5.56 NATO
  • Barrel Twist: 1:8
  • Barrel Length: 18″
  • Barrel Profile: GUNNER Light Hybrid
  • Barrel Gas System: Rifle Length
  • Inside Finish: QPQ Nitride
  • Outside Finish: QPQ Nitride
  • Muzzle Thread: 1/2-28 TPI (Threads Per Inch)
  • Gas Block Diameter: .625″
  • Gas Port Diameter: .093″
  • Gas Block Journal Length: 1.9″
  • Barrel Extension: M4
  • Magnetic Particle Inspected!
  • 11-degree Target Crown
  • Weight: 1.44 lbs

This is part of my KISS walk-around rifle concept, which I wrote about a while back. The intent is for a lightweight iron-sighted rifle that would make a great companion for walking around in open areas, or handing off to someone as an introduction to marksmanship. This is my original mockup done through Gunstruction.

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I already have the lower assembly complete, which leaves the upper receiver, operating parts, and final assembly.

This barrel makes a very positive first impression. The QPQ/Melonite/Nitride coating is a nice even black. While not as flat as a parkerized barrel, it is not really shiny, either. The machine work appears very clean, with no sharp edges or burrs in the threading. I don’t have a bore scope or lathe to check for runout or rifling quality, but the buzz on the internet was that both have proven to be good.

The profile is the most interesting part to me, though. Notice that it continuously tapers from chamber to the gas block journal (which is sized to accept a standard .625 FSB), and then continues the taper down to the end. The muzzle end flares out a bit again to allow for solid contact with a muzzle device. The section in front of the gas block journal might be one of the thinnest profiles I’ve seen on an AR.

I happened to have enough spare parts on hand to get a better mockup and play with weight/balance a bit. I grabbed my old Spikes stripped upper, standard barrel nut, Samson/Rainier Evolution rail, and a birdcage flash hider and slapped it together (nothing fully torqued, of course). I borrowed a BCG and charging handle from another rifle.

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I’m not going to lie, this feels pretty damn nice. I’m almost tempted to mount a gas block, torque it all down and call it good. The rifle feels very spright in the hands, with a good rearward balance at about the middle of the magazine well. The Samson/Rainier rail weighs 11 oz, not including the standard barrel nut. The Mapul MOE Rifle handguard I will be using weighs just a bit more, at 12.2 oz. I also have to include another .8 oz for the handguard cap and delta ring assembly, which I don’t have mounted here.

In any case, a bit more forward balance by a few ounces would still leave a very nice handling rifle. I still need to order a few more parts, and then send it off to have the FSB drilled and taper pinned. I will probably have final assembly done at the same time.

The more parts that come in, the more excited I am to have this project complete.

Reviews

Product Review: GORUCK GR1

 

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The GR1 is like one of those mythical objects that people on the internet talk about, but nobody you know actually has. To be fair, paying nearly $300 for a backpack that, from a distance, is nearly indistinguishable from a Jansport might be considered…excessive. As the saying goes, though, you get what you pay for. In this price range, there is a lot of competition from other gear makers like Kifaru, Mystery Ranch, Crye Precision, London Bridge Trading, and more. All of these are considered top notch. Yet, when you search around the web, the GR1 consistently has loyal advocates.

The company was founded by Jason McCarthy, a veteran of the Army 10th SFG. The story goes that he wanted to start a company to be a voice for good and take care of fellow veterans. Furthermore, he wanted to take the best elements from various rucks and packs that he carried and roll them into one exceptionally well-designed pack that would stand up to the abuse of combat. Sales were slow, but Jason slowly built a reputation by partnering with Tough Mudder and using his packs during their races. At the conclusion of each race, he sold his packs off the back of a truck. This partnership eventually led to the creation of the GORUCK challenges that the company has become known for (the above link is actually quite a good read about the origin of the challenges).

GORUCK also makes a variety of packs in different sizes ranging from  the 10L bullet to the 40L GR2. All of them are built to the same “bombproof” standards, but the GR1 remains the flagship of the brand.

I picked up a Ranger Green GR1 several months ago in preparation for the GORUCK Tough (GRT) challenge in Santa Barbara on August 5th. Unfortunately, due to a back injury flaring up, I had to move my registration to a different GRT event in December. I did still use the GR1 in a GORUCK “light” event. I was holding off on finishing the review until I completed at least one GORUCK and traveled a bit with the bag.

IMG_0916.JPGThe GR1 comes in two different sizes: 26L and 21L. Pictured at the top is my Ranger Green 26L GR1. I also purchased a black 21L GR1 for my wife (it has the curved straps to accomodate different anatomy, but it is not a necessity, by any means). The pack is relatively nondescript from the outside, save for three rows of MOLLE on the front and sides, a front slash pocket, and a 2″ x 3″ hook and loop panel on the front. There is no branding on the outside, which helps it comply with Army uniform regulation 670-1. That regulation forbids corporate logos from the exterior of backpacks. From a distance, you are hard pressed to tell the difference between the GR1 and any other simple school backpack. When you pick it up, however, it becomes a very different story.

The GR1 is made entirely out of 1000D Cordura. While 1000D has fallen out of favor as a gear material due to its relative weight compared to 500D, there is no denying that the pack feels tough. As one individual I work with put it when he handled it, “This thing feels like it is going to last forever.”

The stitching is top notch and overbuilt. The YKK zippers are beefy and appear to be easy to maintain. A nice touch is the removal of metal pull tabs from the zippers and replacing them with heat shrunk 550 paracord pulls. This helps cut down on noise as you are moving with the pack and provides a unique look. The zippers run the length of the pack, allowing the front flap to clamshell completely open. The GR1 has one main compartment. Once open, there is a sleeve that works well for laptops, hydration bladders, notebooks, rucking weights, or really any laptop-sized item. This pouch would also make a great host for a mobile transceiver like the Yaesu 817ND or other similar sized module. MOLLE is sewn into the top of the pack for attaching admin pouches, carabiners, or really anything you can tie down.

One of my favorite features is actually pouches sewn into the inside of the pack front. There are two pouches here: one at the top, and a mesh one taking up the rest of the space. The location of these make for easy access to items (cell phones, keys, headphones, whatever). I usually keep a folded up poncho in the mesh pocket, which has been great for impromptu picnics with the family and unexpectedly rainy ruck workouts.

The GR1 also has a zippered sleeve between the main compartment and the back padding. GORUCK calls this the “bombproof laptop compartment.” The 26L can hold a 17″ Macbook Pro, and the 21L holds a 15″ Macbook Pro nicely. Alternatively, I put my 30 lb ruck plate in this spot, or a water bladder. There is a removable polymer frame sheet located inside a discreet sleeve on the padded portion. It feels as though this frame sheet has molded to my back a bit over time, making it very comfortable and distributing loads well. The bottom of the ruck has extra padding to help protect the contents of the pack. Both the main compartment and laptop compartment connect to a hydration tube port at the top of the pack, right under the carry handle. Speaking of which, the top carry handle is extremely strong, likely designed for those moments in the challenges where you lose strap privileges and must carry the weighted pack by that handle for a few miles.

The shoulder straps are beefy, with a good 1/4 inch of padding. The combination of padding and 1000D Cordura is so sturdy, in fact, that it took a month of near daily use (with weight) to break them in. There is a single row of vertically stitched MOLLE running the length of each strap. This works for lashing items, or even attaching accessories. In my case, I simply put an ITW web dominator for controlling the loose end of a hydration tube. The straps are designed to be quickly cinched and carry the load high on the back, which works well for weighted rucking workouts.

Lacking from the package is a sternum or waist strap. Both are available as accessories for relatively low cost. The ones designed by GORUCK weave into the available MOLLE located on the sides of the pack or on the shoulder straps. GORUCK’s explanation for not including them is that they wanted to keep things simple and stripped down (alternatively, I’ve also seen that they didn’t have a good final design for these items until recently). For the amount of money that these packs cost, I would like to have seen the sternum and waist belts included in the package and leave it up to the user to decide if they want to use them or not.

That gets me to usage. To date, I’ve used this pack for EDC at work, picnics, hikes, farmers markets, cycling around town, diaper bag, range bag, laptop bags, a gym bag, a business trip, and a GORUCK event. It has performed flawlessly in every circumstance. I think the real benefit of the GR1 is that it is so generically designed. A lot of “tactical” packs have multiple compartments and sleeves for things like knives, pens, multitools, flashlights, etc. While nifty, a lot of those features end up going unused on a day to day basis. If I load up my SOC Three Day Pass for the range, it is one thing- but using it as a daily pack really doesn’t work well because of all the things I don’t need and the space I then have to do without.

The genericness of the GR1 means that it is not specialized for anything, which makes it pretty useful for just about everything (up to a point, which I’ll get to). The main compartment can be configured and organized as I see fit, rather than being forced into what someone else envisions me using it for. With the MOLLE on the outside, I can choose to add IFAKs, canteen pouches, ammo pouches, cell phone caddies, admin pouches, or leave it slick. Youtube is full of “one baggers” who efficiently pack it for trips up to a week or longer. The only real exception is the slash pocket on the front, which isn’t much good for anything other than flat items once the pack has some bulk. I really only use it for some patches, reflective bands, and maybe a thin Rite in the Rain notebook. If you are going to load up the bag with stuff, do try to keep it organized and compartmentalized. It’s one thing to lay out everything nice and pretty when the bag is laying flat, but unless you have actually organized properly, the contents will “tumble” to the bottom in a messy pile (as seen below).

Now, here is where I’m going to deviate from a lot of what has been said about the pack. As a daily use backpack for a variety of circumstances, the GR1 is awesome. For “tactical” use, I think it makes a great 24 hour assault pack to compete with the likes of LBT, Eagle, and Mystery Ranch. But I hesitate to call it a “Ruck” in the traditional sense. It’s one thing to carry 30-40 lbs in it for a workout, which it does well it. I would NOT want to use it if there was more weight or distance involved. The shoulder straps are good, but the truth is that putting large amounts of weight on your shoulders for extended periods is going to mess with your back. If you plan on rucking with 60+ lbs, you need a sturdy waist belt. I’m not talking about the GORUCK waist belt, either, which is mainly designed to help stabilize the pack during movement. I’m talking serious hip belts that transfer weight to your hips/legs, as you see on large hiking packs.

Realistically, those who have spent time doing serious hikes, backpacking trips, and ruck movements understand this and wouldn’t use the GR1 for that purpose. I’m sure there are some devotees out there who sincerely think that putting 60 lbs in the GR1 and moving long distances on a regular basis is a good idea, though. While it can be done, you really shouldn’t.

The Bottom Line

Pros:

+ Crazy tough construction to withstand nearly any abuse
+ Generic design/size is both discrete and extremely versatile
+ Comfortable for carrying loads (within reason)
+ Just flat out good looking
+ Very high quality

Cons:

– Price is perceived as high for “just a backpack”
– Does not include relatively inexpensive sternum or waist straps
– Takes some time to break in

The Final Verdict, Who Should Buy This:

This is one of those “nice to have” items that probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. There are a lot of great packs on the market that fall into roughly the same category. If you were comparing the GR1 to offerings from Mystery Ranch, Kifaru, Camelbak, and other quality manufacturers, I’m not sure there is anything here that definitely makes the GR1 better than all of the others. They are all in roughly the same price point and share high levels of quality. If versatility without being overly tacticool is a priority for you, then the GR1 is a great pick. The GR1, to me, represents the absolute best version of the classic backpack. If you need more built-in organization or the ability to carry heavier loads for long distances, then something else might work better.

Reviews

Product Review: SORD Shooting Mat

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When I started off on my marksmanship journey, I had a nice padded shooting mat from Triad Tactical in ATACS-FG. That mat served me very well through all of my range sessions and an Appleseed shoot. Sadly, I accidentally left it behind at the shooting range one day and never saw it again. Oddly enough, my excellent Range Pro Target Stand from Challenge Targets was also left behind that day, but I did get it back. Perhaps the person who found my gear assumed the target stand belonged to the range.

I will miss my Triad mat, but its loss also presented an opportunity to look at other products as a replacement. I went nearly seven months without a mat before my lovely wife bought a new one for me from SORD USA. This mat has several differences from my old Triad mat that make it more useful, but also present some new challenges. It costs $150, and is only available in Multicam.

The SORD mat is designed to be a bit of a hybrid of a fully-featured precision shooting shooting platform and a minimalist mat. It is only 39″ long, about 3′ 3″, making it shorter than the average. When I use it, the mat ends just below my crotch; it’s really designed to keep the torso and elbows protected. The reasoning is that this mat is intended for a more combat oriented use, where people might be less concerned about dirty boots and pant legs while valuing higher mobility. The overall shorter size helps keep the mat lighter, at 1.5 lbs, despite its heavier material and padding.

The mat features fold out “wings” covered in a grippy rubberized texture to help keep elbows in place. With wings deployed, the mat is 33.5″ wide. Folded, for stowing, the mat is 17″ wide. The corners of the wings have loops for staking the mat down in a windy environment. The middle portion of the mat features a large zippered compartment for accessory stowage as well two hook and loop panels that can be removed or swapped back and forth. One panel is covered in MOLLE webbing for accessories like ammunition holders. The other panel has a flip-up sun reflection cover over  a transparent plastic dope sheet/range card protector. At the front edge, there are three loops for connecting a supplied ITW G-Hook, the hook is attached to a bipod loading strap. In the photos below, you will see that I have attached my Triad ammo wallet to the MOLLE webbing and inserted a standard range card (along with quick reference reticle holdovers) in the clear protector.

The bipod strap is actually pretty nifty. You can attach it to the center, left, or right sides depending on your preference. Simply insert the legs of the bipod into the “Y” loops at the end of the strap and get behind the rifle. The strap length, and tension, is easily adjustable by pulling the “tail” of the strap. With body weight on the mat, this enables you to put a significant amount of loading pressure on the bipod and help stabilize the rifle during recoil, regardless of the type of ground the bipod is resting on.

The mat does not roll up. Rather, it folds and fits nicely into an assault pack. When folded, it is secured with a hook and loop fastener that can be removed all together if desired. This is a personal preference for folks, and you have to be willing to get your stuff dirty if you’re going to put the mat inside your pack with other gear. Another option, and the one this mat was designed for, is placing it between an ALICE pack and frame bars. The Triad mat rolled up and could be lashed to the outside of a pack. The trade off of that configuration is exterior bulk. The photo here is the mat placed into my GORUCK GR1. The mat looks bulky because of the extra attachments I have on it, which add quite a bit of volume. Still, it is internal space being taken up by a shooting mat.

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The mat features 1/8″ of foam padding sandwiched between a bottom layer of 500D Cordura and a top layer of 350D. All together, it weighs 1.5 lbs- a full pound lighter than the Triad mat, which has the same amount of padding throughout.

From my use and observation, the SORD mat is built for harsh military environments. I have no doubt that it will last a long time. However, it is clearly designed around bipod shooting (it even says so on SORD’s web site). With a bipod, it is normal for both elbows to be set to the sides where the rubberized material is found on this mat. For traditional prone shooting, the firing elbow will be placed right in the middle of the accessory area. This isn’t really an issue if you don’t have a lot of bulk to deal with, but you do lose the rubberized grip texture benefits. My old Triad mat had the rubberized material all over the front of end of the mat to accommodate both shooting styles, but lacked any accessories or pockets for stowage. I have not found it to be a problem either way on the SORD mat, as even placing my elbow on the padded MOLLE webbing is still a significant improvement over concrete or dirt.

The Bottom Line

Pros

+ Quality materials and tough design
+ Innovative features like bipod strap and foldout wings
+ Modular attachment area for tailoring to your preference
+ Sized for carry inside of packs with minimal bulk

Cons

– Might be too short for some users preference
– Grippy texture found only on outside wings, not ideal for positional shooters
– No good solution for lashing to the outside of a pack

Final Results, Who Should Buy This

Honestly, the cons are more of a personal preference thing than anything- and I certainly don’t think they outweigh the pros. This is a mat built for hard use in the field for people who don’t care about keeping gear (or themselves) pristinely clean. If that idea speaks to you, and you have use for the extra features, then I say get it. If, on the other hand, you want something longer, simpler, with more grippy texture under the elbows, then you might look elsewhere (I suggest the Triad mat, but others like TAB would work as well).

Reviews

Long Term Review: Trijicon Accupoint TR24G

 

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I started my first AR15 build way back in 2010. I somewhat chronicled that build early on in this blog’s life. At the tail end of that first iteration, I was agonizing over what optic should go on top of my “general-purpose-SHTF-WROL-ZPAW” build (obviously, my priorities and maturity have changed a lot since then). At the tail end of 2011, my choices came down to the TR24G and a TA33G-H ACOG. Obviously, I chose to go with the TR24G. Since then, the number of choices in the 1-4x optic class has grown by leaps in bounds with new reticle designs and all sorts of whiz-bang features. Despite that, the TR24 still holds its own.

I have used this scope in amateur three-gun, mid-range range precision, and my own practical shooting quest right here at this blog. In five years, the only hiccup I’ve had was when one of the turrets popping up from the “locked” position inside the cap and lost my zero right before a three-gun stage. That was easily rectified with a quick field zero.

The optic itself is 10.3 inches long, has a 24mm objective, and a 30mm tube. The tube is IMG_0623made of 6061-T6 aluminum and it weighs in at 14.4 ounces. Add another 7.1 ounces for the ADM Scout Mount and the total comes to about 21.5 ounces. Measuring it myself on my food scale with theTR24G, ADM Scout Mount, and a 3gunstuff cat tail, the total was 20.9 oz. That is on the lighter end of low power variables on the market, but heavier than a quality fixed magnification optic like an ACOG (even the larger ones like the TA11) or my ELCAN SpecterOS 4x.

The TR24 comes in three different reticle patterns: either a triangle post (what I have), a German #4 crosshair, or a simple duplex. The latter two have only a tiny illuminated dot that lends itself to better precision. The lighted triangle of my model is geared more towards speed. Regardless of version, the reticle is in the second focal plane and the capped turrets are in 1/4 MOA.

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Eye relief is advertised at 3.2″. I found it to be about right, if not just a hair shorter. Some will talk about the changing eye relief of the TR24 as you zoom through its magnification range. This is not actually the case, though. Really, what they are seeing is the changing size of the exit pupil. Now, at 1x, you can move way behind the scope and still have a usable sight picture, but that doesn’t mean your eye relief is changing. If you use a proper cheek weld and position the scope accordingly (while at 4x), you will never have to move your head as you zoom back down to 1x.

The field of view at 100 yards is 97.5 ft at 1x and 24.2 ft at 4x, or about 4.2 degrees at 4x. That is eight feet less than my ELCAN SpecterOS 4x, but more than the 19.3 ft of the competing TA33. The pictures show the TR24 on the right and the ELCAN on the left looking down a street in front of my house; you can see what the wider field of view looks like. I will not say that looking through the TR24 is like looking through a straw, but it does feel like a narrower field of view compared to the ELCAN or one of the larger ACOGs (TA11 and TA31, specifically). However, the TR24 has the advantage of zooming down to 1x and practically appearing to be a red “dot” sight.

Please take these two photos with a grain of salt, as I took them through the scopes with my iPhone and then cropped, zoomed, and tried to color correct the images to a better approximation of how it looks-I didn’t do a great job

The glass is Japanese and very clear, as is standard for Trijicon. It is not as clear as the ELCAN, but the difference is very minute and not worth worrying about in realistic terms. I see no issues with edge to edge clarity, or fish-eye effects. Some have complained that the scope is “not really 1x”, but my observation is that they forget that the image is “taken” from the front lens which is a good 14″ in front of your eye. Past about 10 yards, it is effectively zero magnification.

The reticle in the TR24G (like the 24R and 24A) is a simple post and triangle. The triangle on the post is illuminated by fiber optic spool located by the ocular. There is a rotating cover that lets you control the amount of light entering the fiber optic element (something that I wish the ACOG had). This is useful for days where I want maximum sharpness on the reticle, and blocking illumination makes the post become a nice sharp black triangle. In full sun, the fiber optic is almost retina-searingly bright- washout is never a problem.

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Like an ACOG, there is a tritium vial embedded in unit to provide some illumination in a low or no-light environment (you cannot control the brightness of this component). The tritium illumination works best when your eyes are already dark-adjusted, and it work  well. Some people try to judge tritium illumination by walking into a dark room and looking through the optic; this is not a good representation because your eyes need at least thirty minutes of darkness to chemically adjust to the low light environment.

Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that slowly decays into helium. It has a half life of about 12 years. how long the tritium in my scope lasts has a lot of factors such as when the vial was made and how much tritium is required in oder to sufficiently illuminate the fiber optic. Here I am at about five years after date of purchase and it is still going strong.

At 4x, the triangle of the reticle is 4.2 MOA tall. The post and triangle design limit the usability of the reticle for holdovers and BDC references. ACOGs have useful stadia lines for a nominal ballistic calculation, and other newer 1-4x scope designs use MOA or Mil markings that are paired with ballistic data for various loads. Due to the lack of usable reference marks, this post-style reticle is best geared towards point blank zero shooting methods (also seen in other methods like the S4G system of the Swiss). I consider the post reticle of the TR24G to be just fine from point blank to about 350 yards (depending on the chosen PBZ).

Obviously, it is nice to have an optic that can be easily used to 400, 500, 600, and 700 yards. Being realistic, the 5.56 cartridge and M16 rifle were developed primarily for warfare at 300 yards and closer. For what it’s worth, the TR24G is a great general purpose optic in this regard for a “set and forget” type of zero, but will be outclassed by some of the newer designs out there.

The adjustments are in 1/4 MOA increment. The turret itself is locked only by pressing it in until it clicks. Once set, the turrets are capped with threaded aluminum covers. Again, “set and forget.” As I said earlier, I once had an issue with the windage turret popping loose within the cap and losing my zero. I cannot explain how it happened, and it has never happened since then.

I’ve tried replacing this optic over the years, yet I keep finding myself coming back to it. The ELCAN I purchased last year has been the best replacement, yet, and it now sits on my “serious use” rifle while the TR24 has found its way back on my marksmanship training rifle (I know…I probably shouldn’t have these as two separate rifles). The next optic I try is going to be a TA11, which gives me the longer eye relief and battery-less illumination along with usable stadia lines for distance.

Trijicon has since come out with a 1-6x optic as well as the Accupower line which are constructed similarly, but using battery power instead of fiber optics. The newer Accupower line has a few new reticle designs that include MOA hash marks or BDC stadia lines in addition to the illuminated center points. If I could have my ideal scope, it would be an Accupoint (1-4 or 1-6) with a fiber optic center aiming point and MRAD hash marks on the vertical and horizontal planes.

The Final Word

20" AR with A5 and AFAB 556

This optic is ‘old reliable’ for me. With a carefully chosen point blank zero, this little scope is very fast to use. It really shines from 0 to 350 yards or so. It is not as precise as a dedicated crosshair, nor as useful at range as an ACOG (or any scope with BDC stadia), but it is faster than both- especially given that it has a 1x setting that effectively makes it a big glowing green-“dot” sight.

The Pros:

  • Great glass
  • Battery-free illumination that is very bright
  • Light weight for class
  • Very fast for usable distances
  • Generous and consistent eye relief through magnification range
  • At 1x, the relief is practically limitless and usable from awkward positions

The Cons:

  • Reticle is rather limited in use
  • Maximum of 4x magnification is lower than competing models

So who should buy this? Well, that’s a tough one. This optic is clearly showing its age in design features compared to scopes that are new on the market. Trijicon itself has updated the Accupoint line with a 1-6x version that is priced about the same. The scope is well designed and tough, and is still on the high end of the market in that regard. It is very fast, and makes an ideal scope for situations in which speed is more important than precision, especially for the realistic distances an AR-15 will be used. However, when precision becomes important, the lack of usable reference marks and covered turrets limits your options.

Would I buy it again? Absolutely, but I would definitely be shopping my options among the ACOG line and other newer battery-powered options.

AFAB with accuwasher
Reviews

Product Review: Precision Armament AFAB Hybrid 556

AFAB with accuwasher

I posted my initial impression of the AFAB last month. The machining of the device is top notch, and I’m not entirely sure how they are charging as little for the device as they are. Since that post, I went ahead and purchased some armorers tools (Magpul armorer’s wrench and a Geissele reaction rod) so that I could do the job myself. PRECISION-ARMAMENT-EFAB-HYBRID-SBR-FLASH-HIDER-COMPENSATOR1

I received the AFAB, which stands for Advanced Flash Arresting Brake, as a Christmas gift from my lovely wife. The device is a hybrid of muzzle compensator and flash hider. Precision Armament has gone through a few revisions of the design: AFAB, AFAB Mini, and then this newest AFAB 556 that replaced both of the previous generations. The company settled on this final design using some lessons learned while designing a sister device, the EFAB (Enhanced Flash Arresting Brake, pictured to the right).

The AFAB is 2.225″ long and .865″ wide and weighs 3 ounces. It is made from 416 steel bar and finished with black matte ionbond. It retails for about $110, which is slightly more than other devices in its class but less than the very popular Battlecomp (and way less than anything with KAC on the side of it). In comparison, a standard A2 flash hider is 1.75″ long and .875″ wide. It is made from 4140 CMV steel, weighs about 2 ounces, and retails for about $9.

 

 

The machining on the AFAB is top notch. It is very clean, with no sharp edges or burs to be seen. There is a pin hole pre-drilled on the 6 o’clock side for pinning/welding the device on a 14.5″ barrel. At the corner of each exterior square is a small vent hole drilled into the internal cavity. There are no vent holes along the top or bottom.  On the inside, there are a series of concentric chambers that help capture expanding gasses and redirect them through the vent holes. The squares on the outside appear to assist with the flash arresting nature of the compensator. At the front end of the device is a fairly typical three prong configuration found on many other flash hider designs.

 

Installation is straight forward. Precision Armament explicitly says that the AFAB should not be mounted using a crush wafer. As with suppressors, the tolerances on the inside of the AFAB are pretty tight, and any misalignment could result in the bullet striking the internals of the device rather than cleanly exiting through the front. They recommend a shim kit, of which there are several on the market. Note that if your muzzle threats are poorly cut and not concentric with the bore, then even a shim kit may not stop the bullet form impacting the internals (which again, is why I keep repeating how important it is to buy from quality manufacturers). I picked up Precision Armament’s own Accuwasher kit for $25. This kit comes with 18 different washers of varying thicknesses. They are marked with a series of thin and fat hash marks to signify where they fall in the sequence of 1-18. Each increment equates to about 20 degrees of rotation. The kit also comes with easy to use instructions, and should be good for installing an average of nine devices. Once I had everything I needed, I set off to installing it on the 20″ musket.

IMG_0596To mount, you place the thickest washer on the shoulder of the muzzle and then hand tighten the device. You then eyeball about how much more rotation you would need and choose the corresponding washer (the instructions also have a handy chart correlating the amount of rotation needed with the correct shim). In my case, I needed about 270-280 degrees of rotation.

Once the shim is in place, simply tighten and torque the device into place with 20-30 ft lbs. I did this once, backed it off, applied some Rocksett, and torqued it into place again. Easy. So easy, in fact, that I may go back and reinstall all of my other muzzle devices using these shims. As a tip, you should try to use the minimum amount of torque necessary to index/time the device. Using excessive force can cause problems with crown deformation as the muzzle heats during repeated firing. I recall reading that the Army Marksmanship Unit runs devices just past hand tight on their rifles for this reason.

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Range Test

Once I got to the range, I immediately putting the AFAB through its paces. In short, this is a fantastic little compensator. The musket is now one of the smoothest and most stable rifles I have ever had the pleasure of shooting. Keep in mind, though, that the musket was already a very smooth shooting rifle. The addition of the AFAB simply made the muzle extremely stable, almost like shooting a laser. From nearly any position I tried, I found that the sights stay on target very well. My primary use is slow fire, but I found rapid fire to be very easy to keep the rifle still and keep the sights aligned.

I cannot say that the AFAB is much louder or quieter than the A2 I was running before, but I did note that the report has a sharper pitch to it. The BCM Gunfighter comp on my 16″ AR, which I also brought along, sounded much louder and had much more concussion with each shot. I’m sure the muzzle report of the AFAB would be louder if I put it on the 16″ barrel instead of 20″ due to the increased pressures, but I simply don’t have the time or equipment to do such a thorough comparison.

A 20″ barrel is not really a fair test of a muzzle brake/comp, though. The reduced muzzle pressure and complete burn of powder charge means that just about any device will perform well. The real test is on shorter guns with higher pressures. From my reading of others who use the AFAB, it performs equally as well for them as it does for me.

Something else to keep in mind with the AFAB, which is true of all closed chamber muzzle brakes like the Battlecomp, Spikes Dynacomp, Griffin Flashcomp, and others is that there will be a slight increase in bolt carrier velocity as it cycles. This is due to a little bit more resistance around the muzzle, causing just a bit more back pressure (though nowhere near as much as a full suppressor would). With my 20″ rifle gassed system operating on a full weight BCG and Sprinco Green spring, the effect is negligible. If you are running a shorter system, then be aware that a closed chamber compensator like this may actually increase your felt recoil at the shoulder (as minimal as it is on a 5.56 cartridge). I would argue, however, that this effect is mitigated by the extremely stable muzzle. Remember, compensators serve a different purpose than muzzle brakes.

Flash Testing

I did not test low light conditions, but the word is that the AFAB performs admirably. This is a photo I found showing the previous generation AFAB-mini next to an A2 flash hider and a “Leading Multi-Purpose Flash Hider/Compensator” (my guess is a Battlecomp). I would note that the AFAB 556 that I installed has supposedly further improved on the AFAB-Mini’s flash suppression.

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From the looks of it, the AFAB has more than adequate flash mitigation for a hybrid device. It won’t perform as well as a dedicated advanced flash hider such as the AAC Blackout, Smith Enterprises Vortex, or a BE Meyers 249f, but it still does a decent job. In fact, TTAG did a more scientific comparison of several flash hiders and hybrid designs, and the AFAB performed quite well, especially for a hybrid design.

Should you buy this comp? I’ll put this in the category of, “Why not?”

The AR-15 is already a soft recoiling weapon. Muzzle stability can be achieved with proper training and without the addition of muzzle devices. With a full size AR in the 20″ class, this devices makes an absolute pussycat of a rifle, and would be very comfortable for new shooters. It also makes it quite stable for less-aggressive positional shooting where your body mechanics don’t allow for vigorous muzzle control.

On a shorter weapon, I can see the benefit of a device like this for those who want to go fast and shoot fast. It does help greatly with muzzle stability, and does not present the usual problems with muzzle flash that comps and brakes are known for.

If you already have a flash hider, comp, or brake that you enjoy shooting, then I don’t think you would see any great benefit of switching to the AFAB.

The Final Tally

Pros

  • Very nice machining
  • Looks very cool
  • Great compensator performance
  • Low muzzle flash for a compensator device
  • Little increase concussion/noise over A2

Cons

  • Relatively high cost
  • Requires purchase of additional shim kit (so don’t forget to factor it into the price)
  • Adds almost half an inch to the length of the weapon over the A2

Rating: Buy it if you want to, as it does great work at the things it is supposed to do. But don’t use it as a substitute for proper shooting form.