Non-Destructive Testing

I don’t very often play airsoft these days, but I always enjoy the social aspect of going with friends and to what sort of funny antics go down.  As sporting type hobbies go, the actual single day skirmishes definitely give you something in terms of a good run around, provided you’re not lazy and just stroll about of course; you get out what you put in.  As much as some super duper serious people who’ve never tried it will scoff, I’ve found airsoft is not a bad way to wring out basic issues with any gear in a comparatively entirely safe environment.  Once you put all your shit on, fill your pouches with mags, sling your rifle etc and jog about for a few hours, you will definitely identify any baseline problems.  Pouches that are too hard to access or don’t hold your mags securely, belts that ride up, slings that chafe you, any kit that constricts or binds your movement etc; all problems I’ve flagged up when using a new piece of gear for airsofting.

I attended a game at ‘Strikeforce CQB’ in Gloucester a couple of weeks back, which is set in what I’d imagine used to be a manufacturing building that’s been completely stripped down to a big, rectangular room and then been fitted with a lot of pallets and string to hold up wooden barricades and hanging curtains.  Compared to some other close-quarter/urban type sites I’ve played in the past it’s not the biggest, but it’s enough to not feel cramped and provide a bit of variety.  Engagements often occurred at 2m or less but also stretched out to 25-30m.  This isn’t a review of the site, but sufficed to say I enjoyed it and wouldn’t be at all adverse to visiting again.

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Since a lot of my equipment was having its’ first outing, I thought I’d highlight some stuff that did and didn’t work.  As opposed to just listing my loadout, which tends to imply that all of it worked perfectly and in turn, potentially gives folks the wrong impression.

The Bad News

To highlight my earlier point about gear that surprises you with problems when you actually try and use it, the first issue I had was with the modular setup I’d created for the front of my plate carrier.  If you want to use placards or chest rigs to the Mayflower/Vel Sys spec (the HSP D3CR falls in to this category) via an adapter kit on a plate carrier that isn’t specifically designed for such applications, you need to position the female QASM buckles such that there is a gap of 2 rows of PALS in between said buckles and your field of loop (which itself needs to be 5 rows high).  The buckles need 2 rows to mount to, making a total of at least 9 rows needed on the 2 outermost columns either side of your front plate bag.  Unfortunately the medium SAPI cut FirstSpear Strandhogg only features 8 rows on the outer columns, meaning the placard hung about an inch too low.  I left it like this for a short period but, as I expected (but wanted to test to check), the hook backing chewed up my combat shirt really nicely in very short order.  Luckily I had some loop handy from my belt rig to cover up the over-hang and save my shirt.

The only other issue that I encountered and would class as at all ‘significant’ was with my dump pouch.  I had a Plat-A-Tac roll-up SSE type pouch on my belt which is supremely small when folded and incredibly lightweight; but the main body of the pouch is constructed using a multicam fabric that is so thin it’s borderline transparent.  Now this will work just fine when you’re stuffing it full of things you need to recover, but I was shooting a GBB rifle and those mags weigh the same as a full 30rnd 556 whether they’re full or empty, so the swinging pendulum effect created when I’d stowed 1 or 2 mags was seriously impressive.  Sufficed to say I’ll be swapping to a much beefier, multi-layer pouch made from 500D in future.  Sometimes going too light on kit isn’t the way forward (again, a lesson I’ve really picked up these past few years of moving in to the realm of modern, lighter nylon gear).

Another minor grievance reared it’s head in the vision department.  My eye/face pro combination of ESS Turbofans and ‘rental mask’ plastic lower continue to work pretty much perfectly and I can’t foresee any other combination of similar PPE serving me better as far as airsoft goes.  Unfortunately however, I did find that the tinted lens, combined with a killflash on my Primary Arms red dot and the indoor light did make aiming a little tricky.  It would probably have been fine if I was either outdoors or using a clear lens and it wasn’t as if I couldn’t use my dot, it just made the view through the tube less than ideal given the overall dark sight picture and the metal mesh generally cluttered things up.

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Always Get The Good News Second

Good gear is gear that does it’s job and you don’t even notice it.  For example, the Beyond Clothing Lvl 9 set; seen in this case in US woodland, but it’s available in Multicam for a little bit more and then FR Multicam for quite a lot more.  When I was searching for a modern, combat cut set in US woodland there weren’t many (to put it mildly) good options out there, but I rang up Beyond and they sorted me right out.  The specific version of the A9-A trousers I have isn’t entirely compatible with the Crye knee pads, but I feel that may be a deliberate move, for reasons.  Anyway…  I generally prefer to mix apparel, but I’d owned the Beyond set for a while without using it and I wanted to try out the full set in one go.  As far as just wearing it and running around a bit went, there were no issues and it was comfortable enough to meet that criteria of simply not being noticed.  Much like some of the lesser-spotted Crye combat apparel, The Beyond L9 clothing features buttons for closure on the arm and thigh pocket (as well as velcro); buttons which I can’t say I’d want to try and use in a hurry, even less so with cold hands.  But then again they are impervious to snagging (being covered as they are) and I’d rather have a button that I can choose not to utilise on land, yet remains available if I was someone who, for example, spends time in combat gear underwater.

On the day in question I also tried a velcro interface belt configuration for the first time and as I’d very much predicted, it was excellent.  I’ve found in the past that having any sort of belt stay in place without having to thread it through the loops on your trousers was pretty much down to luck in terms of your kit selection.  I’ve managed it with some other cheaper belts and seen other people manage it ok with certain belts depending very much on their body type, but it was never hard and/or fast as to what would work and who it would work for.  With a loop covered trouser belt and a hook lined war/PALS outer belt (FS slimline AGB sleeve in this case), staying in place is a sure thing.  Short of something seriously extreme, your belt line will never, ever ride up on you.

 

As in the past, the PIG FDT Alpha gloves, Peltor Comtac XPs, BFG/Magpul amalgamation sling, FS plate carrier, HSGI TACOs, G-Code SOC rig, Arc’teryx BAC and Source bladder all performed flawlessly.

Fits like a… ?

Oh Mechanix, Mechanix… what shall we do with you?

I’m not sure whether I’m perhaps just cursed to be let down by certain brands that are hugely loved the world over, but I don’t think I’ll be buying many (if any) more of the gloves from the tactical line by Mechanix in future.  I know I’m going to have a very significant majority percentage of the people reading this thinking “I’ve had many pairs for years and they’re all great!” and believe me I’m not here to bash the brand in any way, that’s not the way I work.  The only time I’ll give a company anything even vaguely resembling that treatment is if their product costs a bomb, turns out to be terrible and the customer service response is severely lacking.

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Now at this juncture I own at least 7 pairs of tactical gloves from Mechanix (most are back home but 1 pair travels with me just about everywhere), as well as 1 pair that’s not from their tactical line.  Spoiler alert: it’s the odd-one-out that’s really done me proud.  To cut right to the case on my experiences with their tactical offerings, my main issues have been with sizing.  I picked up a set of M-PACTs about 18 months ago in a medium which has always been my size in Mechanix gloves, but those were simply too large in every respect.  Then more recently a set of the Originals in Medium which fitted in most areas, but the fingers are too long.  This being in spite of the fact I have another 5 pairs of Originals in Medium which all fit just fine.  Change in spec perhaps?  I don’t know, perhaps my hands are just weirdly freaskish and out of proportion, but other brands all fit me just perfectly.  On top of said dimensional issues, another pair of my Originals in one of the non-tactical colourways has torn on the side of the right-hand 3rd finger, despite being used only for filming YouTube content with zero abrasive or strenuous usage.  It’s only a small tear admittedly, but when an item fails under such incredibly light strain that’s a particularly bad sign in my books.

Now while Mechanix may not be a high end brand, I’d certainly say the materials used, options available and general design are all overall really pretty good for the comparatively low entry price that you’re paying in a shooting type glove; they wouldn’t be as prevalent and visible as they are if they hadn’t built up such a following over the years.  Unfortunately, QC seems to be their issue and when you’re manufacturing in the far east to extremely large volumes at a relatively low retail price point, it’s not too surprising.  The thing I find even more frustrating is that my non-tactical Mechanix held up to an incredible amount of usage like absolute bloody champions.  They no longer produce the exact model I have, but the revised equivalent can be seen here:

http://www.mechanix.com/cold-weather/winter-impact-pro

For 3 winters (roughly 16 months or so of daily us) at my previous unit I wore these gloves all day during the working week.  Constantly lifting and carrying extremely large quantities of ammunition contained in steel and wooden boxes wearing said gloves, they never displayed any signs of failure.  The wooden ammo boxes in particular were incredibly good at abrading fabrics, since they were entirely unfinished externally and overall just designed to store and transport bulk quantities of 5.56mm blank cartridges as cheaply as possible.  It was those boxes we moved the most of by far on account of the continuing insistence by military commanders that the most effective way to train troops is clearly to have them get wet and cold in the woods for weeks on end and put wear on their weapons (as well as making them filthy dirty) by shooting endless quantities of nothing but hot gases at essentially imaginary enemies.  The below image is the closest I could find online.

But I digress.  After all that heavy use, the Winter Impact Pros’ only issue was one of the loop cuff closure pieces starting to come away and I was taking those gloves on and off at least 10 times per day minimum, sometimes 20 or more.  They did a frankly amazing job of keeping my poorly-circulated hands from getting cold while still maintaining enough dexterity to write on paperwork with a Bic, something the issued leather cold weather gloves do not do.  Yet on ‘the other hand’, some of the tactical line ‘Originals’ can’t hack being worn to merely point at things?

It’s a shame in a way, but given my vastly superior experiences with the PIG FDT-Alpha gloves from SKD Tactical, the Mechanix just don’t tick my boxes unfortunately.  I appreciate they’re keeping up with trends with their recent releases of wolf grey and US Woodland hot on the heels of Multicam, but I can’t help get the impression they’ve done that largely to cater to the airsoft crowd and not the military one.  While I can’t prove that and it’s certainly still a positive for people who like those colours/camos and all matching gear, that policy overall to me does rather taste of caring more about aesthetics than for quality and function in design.  Again if aesthetics are what you want then that’s great, but I’d personally far rather buy a glove I know will fit the way it should and won’t fail me until I really put it through the wringer.

14.5″ Mid-length G&P AEG

Aesthetically, this is one of my preferred AR builds.  I’ve long felt that all-black is a bad move camo wise for firearms in general and just about any other ‘tactical’ colour works better, even if not necessarily suited to the environment.  That and with 99% of the metal parts on all the guns out there being black, having something different is appealing.

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I can’t remember the exact name of the base model, but G&P had a phase of producing a lot of guns that gave zero fucks about trademarks and used Mapul or VLTOR style lowers with the VLTOR MUR uppers.  They also had VLTOR MOD series stock clones and TangoDown pistol grip clones with 9″ replica DD quad rails on the front, as well as either 10.5″ or 14.5″ barrels tipped with the VLTOR ‘flower’ type flash hiders (or again, copies thereof).

As with all of my airsoft ARs, I only ever really buy for the receivers, buffer tube, hop unit and internals, everything else gets changed (and obviously sometimes I change internals as well).  At the time I bought this AEG originally, the new standard for mid-length gas systems on ARs had taken off in the states and both Magpul and PTS were producing the mid-length MOE handguards.  So when a company called Crusader released an outer barrel that placed the gas block in the right place to replicate said gas sytem, I picked one up along with the new style handguard.  At that time I also learnt that G&P uppers are different to most other companies in terms of the area inside the barrel meshes with, so if you have a G&P and want to change barrel, stick with one also from G&P; there’s tons of them out there.

Along with the new longer MOE handguards I went for a PTS MOE grip and sourced a Magpul Industries MOE stock all in the matching FDE.   I then added a first gen Magpul rear MBUS to go along with the King Arms copy of the VLTOR gas block that integrated a flip-up front iron sight.  This was a nice, light configuration that didn’t cost a lot to put together compared to the quad rail monsters that were popular at the time, but a year or so ago I decided it was time to update.

I’d already converted a couple of airsoft AR uppers to take actual firearm barrel nuts by re-profiling the threads using an appropriate die nut, so I did just that again on this gun.  I saw Weapon Outfitters offering the Parallax Tactical rails with a Cerakote finish option (various colours available), so I moved to a low profile gas block and acquired and fitted the 13″ ‘FFSSR’ in KeyMod from Parallax.  Price wise it’s around the mid range for an AR rail, but only weighs 8.6oz alone or 12oz with the barrel nut and screws, which is very much as light as a feather compared to a 13″ Quad picatinny rail.

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I kept the PTS pistol grip since it was and still is one of the very best of the market and stepped up from the MOE stock to a B5 SOPMOD Bravo, which at the time (around 18 months ago) was a big step ahead of Magpul who had been rather stagnant in their stock offerings for a while.  Luckily the colouring of the forend and receivers happens to match up perfectly, leading to my primary liking of the aesthetics of this AEG.  I’ve stopped bothering with BUIS for airsoft usage because there’s really no need for back up sights when the ranges you’re shooting are so short you’re just point shooting most of the time.

There’s a PTS AEG-specific Magpul ASAP plate on the rear which works very nicely with a Magpul sling in the 1 point configuration and a newer PTS licensed replica of the Griffin Armament compensator.  Overall a very ergonomic package that remains light and easy to manoeuvre with tons of modularity options.  I still need to put in a nicer selector lever and charging handle just as finishing touches; possibly a mag release button too if I can find a nice airsoft product that both copies a real item and will fit and function in this gun.  Interally the gearbox has had a spring downgrade and a general check up and re-grease/shim check from LCs Engineering Outpost and it definitely sounds smoother than stock form for having that done (though still not amazing given G&Ps very ‘average’ parts).  Long term it could really use a MOSFET and a higher torque motor because as mentioned, G&P stock internals are the definition of mediocre and ‘just about do the job’ to my mind.  But for indoor/close range airsoft it’s not like you need a super high performance replica anyway.  I also feel this replica is a good example of how airsoft can be setup to be a supplement for live firing, given that the usage of real parts makes the ergonomics extremely close to a real equivalent rifle using those same parts.  That and the weight is also very close to an AR configured with the same parts and accessories.

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