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Welcome to the Urban Desert: a unique objective during unique times. Here you will see my efforts to create an independent and sustainable existence.

The pages you see here are my attempts to become prepared for a time where the comforts of society are no longer so easily attainable.

Why the Urban Desert? I live in the American Southwest, in a major metropolis surrounded by chaparral and harsh desert environments. I am faced with the exceptional circumstances of a dense population combined with the challenges of the barren desert.

I am not a radical. I do not wear a tin foil hat. I am not an extremist militia member. I am not socially or politically motivated. I am simply someone with an interest in outdoor skills and simplified living.

I am a member of the middle-class, living in an uncertain world. You may not see the latest or most expensive equipment here, but you will see what I find that works.

This is my challenge...

10 September 2011

Long time no see...

It has been a VERY long time since I have written a new post or updated my blog. Without heading into a lengthy rant about life, work, time, family, et cetera, I will simply say that I have started a new career. I love what I do and being new in my profession, I must devote a sufficient amount of time towards mastering it. Despite my new found passion involving my new career, I have never lost sight of my desire to continue writing a relevant and useful blog. In addition to the everyday challenges of life, I am committing and challenging myself to continue posting on a more regular basis.

In addition to my new career, a lot has changed in the many months since my last post. Firstly, and probably the most life-changing, I am expecting my first child to be born in the end of September. This is going to add a whole new dimension to preparedness and planning. Perhaps this will allow me to participate in a useful exchange of information with other like-minded parents.

I have acquired a lot of new gear, weapons, clothing, and equipment in the last several months. I have a lot of reviews to do!

I am hoping that in renewing my presence here on my blog, it will help me avoid the deadly pitfall that so many people get sucked into...the endless, mindless, daily worker drone lifestyle. Wake up, go to work, come back from work, go to sleep, and do it all over again. I am looking forward to engaging my mind in something personally gratifying and non-work related.

So stay tuned and I hope you enjoy the posts that will soon be coming down the pipe!

08 December 2010

Some New Weapons

Okay, it's been a while since my last post. As my last post discussed, I was on the market for a new pistol. I've made my decision!

I ended up purchasing a new Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm, full-size model. It's completely ambidextrous which is a huge bonus for a left-handed pistol shooter. It's a relatively new design, but it is already quickly becoming a favorite amongst America's law enforcement organizations.

I currently have the pistol at my gunsmith, having some upgraded parts installed in the gun. I will surely post up a range report, full review, and pictures as soon as I can get some rounds down range with it.

I've also added a .22 to my arsenal. Anyone who is serious about simple living or survival absolutely needs a .22 in their armory. My intention for the .22 is for hunting small game (in lieu of expending valuable defensive ammunition) and also for a long gun that my wife can feel comfortable carrying on the go. The .22 that I decided to purchase is yet another Smith & Wesson, the M&P 15-22 Magpul MOE edition. It is an AR-style rifle built from the ground up with the .22 cartridge in mind. .22 conversion kits are available for AR15s, but from what I can gather from online reviews, they leave much to be desired in the accuracy department and are also known to leave generous amounts of fouling and copper in the barrel.

I will be picking up my 15-22 on Sunday 12/12, and I'll be sure to post up my initial impressions, followed by an in-depth range report following some range time.

I'll keep you posted!

07 November 2010

Moving Away From The .45ACP Cartridge

I've been a hardcore follower of the M1911 platform and it's .45ACP cartridge for close to 10 years. I felt that if it wasn't an M1911, then it wasn't a serious pistol. If it wasn't a .45ACP, then it wasn't a fighting gun. Shooting is much like any other skillset: as time goes on and your experience widens, your techniques, tactics, and mindset evolve.

In addition to my own combat experience, I also perform personal research through:
* Military After Action Reports (AARs) of operations in Iraq/Afghanistan
* Actual police reports of law enforcement shootings.

I determined that there are at least two common denominators of a gun fight:
1) Shot placement always has, and always will play a role in the successful elimination of a threat.
2) Multiple shots will be necessary in order to ensure the successful elimination of a threat.

I put a lot of thought into whether or not my current platform/cartridge preference (M1911A1/.45ACP) reflected these two factors of a gun fight. In the broadest spectrum of environments and scenarios, I could not confidently say that the M1911A1/.45ACP was the best choice.

One of the most limiting features of the M1911 platform is it's magazine capacity. The standard M1911 magazine contains 7-rounds, but 8 and 10-round magazines are available also. So let's assume that the shooter is carrying a factory 7-round magazine with a round in the chamber. That's eight rounds to end a gun fight before a magazine change is required.

Statistically, a gun fight will more than likely occur under low-light conditions and against typically more than one assailant. Under these conditions, with the additional factors of stress, adrenaline, and possibly injuries, eight rounds sounds less and less sufficient.

The .45ACP is a large projectile, the largest mainstream automatic cartridge on the market. While it's generous recoil is more of a "push" than a harsh "snap", it is still more difficult to manage it's recoil than say a 9mm pistol. This makes engaging multiple targets with multiple shots much more difficult.

While I certainly appreciate the history, legacy, and capabilities of the M1911 platform, I could not allow it to be my go-to pistol. With time and more thought, my operational requirements were evolving. I wanted an accurate pistol with a larger magazine capacity and easily managed recoil. I looked to the 9x19mm cartridge...

I've got a lot of trigger time with the 9mm, mainly Berettas, Glocks, XDs, H&Ks, and Browning HPs. During my time in the Marine Corps, I became very familiar with the M9 service pistol and the handling characteristics of it's 9mm cartridge. I've always found the 9mm to be accurate, cost effective, and fun/easy to shoot.

The 9mm get's a bad rep, namely from the military, where servicemen are forced to use ineffective FMJ ball ammunition. Combine a good hollow point projectile with the velocities of the 9mm, and you have a potent combination on your hands. For example, the 9mm 147 grain Speer Gold Dot will expand to 0.62 inches reliably, despite having to penetrate heavy clothing like denim.

Within the next few weeks, we'll see how my 9mm pistol shopping goes, and what I end up with!

Before I wrap up this post, I'm sure many of you might ask: "What about the .40S&W cartridge?" The .40 fills a middle ground between the 9mm and the .45ACP, and in theory would be the best of both worlds. Having shot a number of .40 pistols (Berettas, Glocks, H&Ks, and even an XD with a ported barrel), I've never found a .40 pistol that I enjoyed to shoot.

Regardless of which platform I was shooting the .40 out of, I always found the .40 to have a very snappy recoil. A while ago, I suffered a minor injury that left my wrist sore and sensitive to movement. Believe it or not, shooting .45ACP or 9mm caused me no discomfort, but when shooting the ported XD .40, I felt a sharp pain in my wrist during recoil. The .40S&W may work for some, but it just simply does not work for me.

08 October 2010

New Field Kitchen!

As previously posted, until now I've been using an East German mess kit and Coleman Peak 1 stove as my cookset:


While I've never really had a problem with either the mess kit or the stove, the mess kit was oddly shaped, thus making it difficult to pack. It also made it impossible to store the fuel canister inside the kit as well. I knew there was a better system out there!

Enter the GSI Pinnacle Dualist cookset and Snow Peak Giga Power stove (with Piezo automatic ignitor):


The cookset is made by GSI Outdoors, while the stove is made by Snow Peak, two completely separate companies. That being said, I believe that GSI designed the Pinnacle Dualist with Snow Peak's Giga Power stove in mind. In fact, on the diagram imprinted on the side of the pot, the Giga Power in particular is shown as an example of a stove that is packable inside the pot. From hereon within this post, I will refer to the GSI Pinnacle Dualist and the Snow Peak Giga Power as a "system".

The entire system is contained in one tight package:



GSI designed the cookset's storage sack as a "sink". While I wouldn't want food particles and/or greasy residue inside the sack from using it as a sink, I do see myself using it as an improvised general water container. As you can see, the seams of the sack are welded and the interior of the sack has a rubberized feel to it:


The handle of the pot is actually integrated, no detachable or flimsy pot handles here. The handle locks in the opened and closed position, and can be released by squeezing the sides of the handle together.  The handle is sturdy when opened, and keeps the entire system together when closed. Here's a closer view of how the handle attaches to the pot:


Here's the pot, in ready-to-cook form:


The lid of the pot is transparent, complete with holes allowing you to use the lid as a strainer, a NICE TOUCH for making Ramen noodles, a favorite of mine in the field. The handle of the lid is a simple fold-down tab.


Everything compacts inside and within each component:




There is even room for the Snow Peak windscreen, designed for use with the Giga Power stove, as seen below:


The non-stick coating on the pot:

One of my initial concerns with this system was noise. I figured that if everything stored inside of other components, that an excessive amount of noise would be possible...I was wrong! Surprisingly, everything is packed so tightly together, and being held so securely by the pot handle, that it makes zero noise inside my pack. On today's hike, I ran for approximately a quarter of a mile hoping to find out just how noisy the system would be. You really can't hear a thing...

The Pinnacle Dualist comes with two collapsible sporks, or "foons" as GSI calls them. Opening/closing the foon is accomplished by simply sliding the foon down the handle:



The Pinnacle Dualist also comes with two bowls and two insulated mugs, with the mugs storing inside the bowls. One set of bowl/mug is orange, while the other is blue, allowing you to avoid sharing "coodies" with whoever you're sharing the system with:


Inside each mug and bowl are measurement markings, handy for cooking. If you click the thumbnail below, you should be able to make them out:


The mugs are insulated with a wetsuit type material, which keeps your beverages hot for quite a while.



Each mug has a detachable sippy lid:



The Pinnacle Dualist proves a felt storage sack for your stove in order to keep it from rattling around or getting damaged.



On to the stove!

The Giga Power is much like any typical canister stove but is exceptionally small and light. Setting up the stove is a simple process of threading it onto a fuel canister:


The Snow Peak windscreen is a separate accessory, but being so small and light, there's really no reason NOT to pack it. I usually like to set up my stove in a depression or shielded by myself or my pack, but even without doing that, the windscreen increases the performance of the stove and decreases boil time. In order to mount the windscreen you have to partially open the stove support legs and slide the windscreen over them. Once mounted and you fully open the stove legs, they secure the windscreen down solidly.



The Snow Peak Giga Power stove, fuel canister, and windscreen fully assembled:


The particular model of stove that I purchased features the Piezo automatic ignitor. One simple click of the gray push button ignites the stove:


On the lunch menu today was Ramen noodles, requiring two cups of boiling water. The Giga Power managed to bring two cups of water to a rolling boil in 3:46, in high winds:


The collapsible foons are sturdy enough to use for stirring while cooking, a concern from many reviews on REI and Trail Space:



Strainer lid in action, straining the broth from the noodles:


A bowl of noodles and a mug of chicken broth in less than five minutes in the field!


Future menus may include a bowl of instant oatmeal and a mug of coffee, we'll see!

The beauty of this system is that it provides a foon, bowl, and insulated mug for TWO people. In the event that I go out ALONE, I can leave half the system at home in order to make more room for spices, food, etc. If you needed to, you could use the mugs as bowls, allowing you to serve for FOUR people!

When you look at the entire system and all that it includes, it surprises you that it all fits in the pot:


Gratuitous cool-guy photo:


All in all, this system is amazingly capable with an extremely efficient use of space and weight in your pack.

29 August 2010

Larue Tactical

There are many companies in the firearms industry that boast quick-detach (QD) optic mounts, and a few of them even advertise their mounts as retaining an optic's zero ever after detaching/reattaching the optic to your weapon platform. While many companies participate in this particular market, there can only be one that is considered "The Best" and that is Larue Tactical.

Larue Tactical sets the standard for not only QD mounts for optics, but QD mounts for flashlights, lasers, magnifiers, and even pen flares. Basically anything that you'd ever want to attach to a rail system using a QD mount, Larue makes a mount for it.

I wanted to upgrade my somewhat beat up Eotech optic. I had never had a problem with it, but it was certainly starting to show it's age. Reading frequent accounts of the Eotech battery contacts failing under rapid fire added to my concerns. I decided to go with the Aimpoint T-1 optic, a small, light optic that can do everything a full-size Aimpoint can do, and even boasts a 5-year battery life.

I will do an in-depth review of the T-1 later, but the purpose of this post is to relay my excellent experience with Larue's customer service.

I ordered the T-1/Larue Mount combo through Larue at a very reasonable price, it shipped promptly, arrived well-packaged, and I can say that all correspondence with Larue staff was positive to say the least. I highly recommend Larue Tactical and their entire line of products.

Like I said, I ordered only the T-1/Larue Mount combo, but here is a picture of everything that came in the box from Larue. I was extremely pleased, pleasantly surprised, and now I have a new favorite hat!

(1) Aimpoint T-1
(1) Larue T-1 Mount
(1) Larue hat
(2) Larue bumper stickers
(1) Bottle of Larue Dillo Dust (meat spice, not bad!)
(1) Larue "Beverage Entry Tool" (high-speed bottle/can opener)


18 August 2010

New U.S. M-50 Field Protective Masks

The new U.S. M-50 Field Protective Mask is finally starting to see circulation amongst line units in the military.



The M-50 is replacing the current M-40 mask, and features the following improvements: a larger field of vision, improved protection from radiological hazards, new drinking tube design, ambidextrous canisters, light weight construction, self-sealing valve for filter exchange in a contaminated environment, improved speech capabilities, and breathing resistance reduction.

The reason why this might interest YOU, is the fact that with the M-40 on it's way out, expect current stockpiles of this now "obsolete" mask to start hitting the commercial/surplus market at a killer price.

Keep an eye out!

15 August 2010

Aquamira Frontier Pro Water Filter

I’ve long carried water purification tablets (iodine) in all of my outdoors, backpacking, survival, and tactical kits. They’re inexpensive and take up minimal space; there’s really no reason why NOT to have them.

Iodine tablets are effective against bacteria, viruses and giardia. With tablets, you obviously need to be able to halt your movement, fill a container with water, toss in the tablets, and give the tablets time to work.

I wanted something where if I needed to, I could stop at a stream, dip a hose into the water, and get my fill of relatively clean water. Enter the Aquamira Frontier Pro Water filter:


The Frontier Pro is an example of what is becoming more popular: a compact, non-pumping water filter, another example being the emergency straw water filters. Keep in mind that these compact filters are not always effective against bacteria or viruses, so the water source you are intending to drink out of can not be heavily contaminated.

The Frontier Pro is 99.9% effective against giardia and cryptosporidium. Activated Coconut Shell Carbon reduces waterborne chemicals, improves taste, and eliminates offensive odors. A Miraguard antimicrobial coating suppresses the growth of bacteria, algae, fungus, mold, and mildew within the filter media.

The Frontier Pro comes with the filter itself, four extra pre-filters (a fifth is already installed inside the filter), and a water tube.


The latest version of the Frontier Pro has the new Universal Quick Connect (UQC) fitting.


The UQC fitting allows you to attach directly to any Camelbak, Source, Platypus, or Nalgene water bladders. This way you can fill your water bladder, attach the Frontier Pro directly to the drinking tube, and continue your movement (as seen on the package cover).

The filter body is a series of removable threaded chambers, to be used dependent on the type of container you’re using.


In the picture above, you can see the attachment point for the tube, to give you the ability to attach the hose and filter water directly from a stream or other source.


The chamber containing the pre-filter can be seen above, and it’s clear to see how easy it is to replace the pre-filters as needed.

The drinking end of the Frontier Pro is a simple bite valve, protected by the plastic end cap. The end cap is held in place by rubber retaining bands, making it impossible to lose the cap. You simply pull the cap up and off the bite valve, and allow it to drop on the side of the filter body.



The “Bite Me” instruction on the bite valve is yet another nice touch, shown below (crap picture).


All in all, the entire Frontier Pro is a tight package, easily stowed in a belt or utility pouch on your rig.


In addition to it’s ability to quick-connect to standard water bladders, the Frontier Pro can be used as a hands-free gravity feed water filter (as seen on the package cover). Simply by removing the bite valve and attaching the Frontier Pro to a suspended water container, you now have a gravity feed filtration system.

The Frontier Pro’s standard threads also gives you the ability the attach the filter onto most disposable water bottles (Arrowhead, Dasani, Evian, etc.),also seen on the package cover.

Also available from Aquamira is an adapter for the Frontier Pro that allows you to thread the filter onto any standard home water heater. This will make it possible to simultaneously drain and filter the water from your home’s water heater in an emergency or natural disaster situation.

I’ve yet to do a field test on the Frontier Pro, but I will report back once I am able to get some hands on experience.

If you are looking for an emergency water filter, look no further than the Frontier Pro. So far it appears to be a well made, well designed product, yet another fine addition to Aquamira’s extensive water filtration lineup.