Monthly Archives: January 2013

Why Arc'teryx Clothing Is Expensive

There are two reasons why I am writing this article:

1. To explain what I’ve learned about Arc’teryx LEAF gear after wearing it very often for a year

2. To post photos of myself wearing said gear.

Case in point.

When I first saw how much Arc’teryx stuff cost, I was incredulous. How could this be? A six-hundred-dollar jacket? Three hundred bucks for a pair of pants? Now, a year or so on, I’m sold on their products.

Before I go any farther, I should also mention that most of my experience is with Arc’teryx LEAF (Law Enforcement/Armed Forces), their “tactical” line of clothing, and that some of the items I’ve used were given to me by either Arc’teryx or my friend Jim at Deliberate Dynamics, who sells their gear. However, I’ve also spent a significant amount of my own money buying Arc’teryx LEAF gear.

Reason # 1 – Quality

It’s easy for a reviewer to say that a product is high quality and then move on to other things without explaining further. I’d point to three specific things about Arc’teryx that make their product high quality – design, materials, and construction.

Design

When I say that there is quality in their design, I mean not only style, but that the items are intended for a specific purpose or task and they perform that task very well. They do so with a minimal amount of weight and bulk and often include clever features that are so well integrated that they might be missed at first or second glance. These design features sometimes show up on other manufacturers’ products, but they originate at Arc’teryx.

Although it is one of their more simple products, I will use the Atom LT jacket (MSRP $199) as an example of excellence in design. It’s a pretty basic insulated jacket and available in a variety of colors in their standard line, as well as black, Crocodile (sort of a brownish/greenish/tan), and Wolf (gray/grey) in the LEAF line. It was mostly unchanged when it went from Arc’teryx to LEAF, other than color, and that’s a good thing, because it didn’t need to be changed.

“Crocodile” blended in very well in Syria. Unlike my face, voice, and attitude.

What makes it so great? It weighs 11.5 ounces and is compressible. And it has kept me freakishly warm in some rather cold places, with temperatures reaching just below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. At the same time, it’s waterproof and also quite breathable.

I don’t feel uncomfortable wearing it at temperatures up to 65 or 70 degrees, and even then, I can just unzip it. That brings me to another cool design feature, which is that many of the zippers can be unzipped simply by pulling the collar of the jacket away from its counterpart. This is a lot better than fumbling with a zipper if you have thick gloves on or are wearing a pack with chest straps. On the other hand, this means that if you wear scarves like I do, the zipper will be constantly unzipping itself to a certain point unless the zipper is up all the way. Since I’m probably the only person on the “bring masculinity back to scarves” train, that isn’t a big deal.

The fact that it can be compressed and/or squished down to approximately the size of a compressed camp pillow is outstanding. And because it weighs less than a pound, it’s something that always goes with me if I think I might have to deal with even mildly chilly temperatures.

Materials

There are a lot of materials used by Arc’teryx, and I won’t try to cover them all here or describe them in detail, because that’s not my forte. What I will say about Arc’teryx materials is that every lot of, say, Gore-Tex that comes in is inspected through a number of processes before it’s used in clothing. Other manufacturers do this, but perhaps not to the same fanatical level of attention to detail. By the way, whoever managed to make waterproof fleece is a genius.

In addition, the company drives the development or modification of materials for other purposes – for example, thinner waterproof tape over seams. In the end, what matters most is that when it comes to selecting a material for a product, performance (weight, durability, insulation/breathability/waterproofing) is the determining factor, not cost.

Despite being made with as light and breathable a fabric as I have ever encountered, the Chimera shirts (MSRP $149) my teammate (pictured) and I were given to use during the 24 Hour Sniper Adventure Challenge showed no rips or tears after spending lots of time low crawling over sharp rocks and thistles/brambles.

Construction

I can be very detail-oriented at times, but before I had ever laid hands on Arc’teryx stuff, I hadn’t really considered the details of clothing manufacture. Even now, I’ll admit that having a near-perfectly stitched seam doesn’t keep me any warmer. However, when I look at the way their clothing is put together, I am simply impressed.

I took some macro photos of both my Arc’teryx Bravo jacket in Wolf (MSRP $329) and my Dickies Storm gray jacket. I paid approximately ten times as much for the Bravo jacket (the Dickies product was on closeout – I paid closer to retail for the Arc’teryx product). This isn’t intended to be a direct comparison of these specific products, just a look at how a very expensive Arc’teryx jacket compares to a very inexpensive one in an attempt to show that “you get what you pay for.” I picked the same areas of each jacket for the photos below.

With very few exceptions, the stitching of an Arc’teryx product looks like this – straight, even, orderly.

In comparison, the overall stitching of my Dickies jacket is not even or straight.

At full zoom, we can see that the fabric and stitching of the Arc’teryx product, although it has seen very heavy and frequent use, is in excellent shape.

Whether it is due to use or construction or design, the Dickies fabric and stitching appears more worn.

This joining of fabrics on the Bravo jacket, while not perfect, is quite orderly. In addition, the methods of stitching simply look robust to me.

The same area of the Dickies jacket, which is of similar design, shows a much simpler and perhaps less confidence-inspiring manufacturing method.

This internal zippered pocket of the Bravo jacket is shown at full zoom for inspection purposes only – there aren’t any internal zippered pockets on the Dickies jacket.

It comes as no real surprise to me that after almost a year of using the Bravo jacket and treating it roughly, it looks practically new. I’m also not surprised when I hear anecdotal reports from friends who use Arc’teryx stuff that it lasts for years instead of months. I’ve had my share of clothing and gear wear out prematurely, but that really isn’t a concern with any Arc’teryx product I’ve used. The only Arc’teryx product I no longer use is the Alpha jacket (MSRP $599) I loaned to an ex-girlfriend. She decided to never return it.

Reason #2 – Style and Image

I would be remiss if I ignored the fact that a certain level of panache goes with wearing Arc’teryx. Their products are made of materials that not only perform well, but look good. And the same consistency shown above at the smallest levels exists in the overall appearance. Some Arc’teryx products look like finely tailored garments. Others make average people look totally awesome. Well, almost.

A few people might replace “panache” with a slightly less complimentary word, implying some level of snobbishness. That’s fine with me – I like saving money, but I also like nice things, and I don’t really care what other people think about what I wear (except for the time I was invited to a party and found my date looking stunning in a black dress while I looked like an idiot in a t-shirt and jeans).

Negative perceptions aside, Arc’teryx clothing is, to me, quite stylish. Even if it’s been used hard.

Would Paul and I look this good if we weren’t wearing Arc’teryx? Of course not. In fact, we might not have even finished the event, because half of being good is looking good.

This is what happens when you don’t wear Arc’teryx.

To me, there is a lot of appeal in buying a jacket – say, the Bravo in Wolf – that I can wear on a hike or while sliding down a rocky hill, brush the dirt off of, and wear around town without having people look at me like I just crawled out of a storm drain. And in terms of colors, their selections are outstanding – Crocodile works in a lot of places that are brown or green, as I’ve found in places as varied as Lebanon and Arizona. Wolf looks at home in the fancy parts of an urban area but also helped me blend in to to the slums of East Saint Louis.

Should You Buy Arc’teryx Clothing?

For many, the question will be, “Is the Arc’teryx product worth two, five, or ten times as much as what I already own or am thinking about buying?”

From an objective standpoint, as one tries on respective brands in a store, the difference may not be apparent. But after weeks, months, or even years of use, the Arc’teryx jacket or shirt or pants will still be in good shape, performing just like it did when it was new. It will also retain a significant amount of value, should you ever wish to sell it. And, of course, there is the elusive value of an item that is simply “nicer” – whether that is in stitching or welding, and whether or not those details are immediately apparent. It’s hard to find apparel that is “nicer” than Arc’teryx – and that’s why it’s expensive.

If you like having nice things that last, you’ll probably appreciate Arc’teryx. If you just want a jacket for occasional use, you might want to look elsewhere.

This was my first time wearing a shirt, pants, and belt that (combined) cost twice as much as the rifle I was carrying. But it will not be my last.

I can’t make a purchasing decision for you, but I can say that I’ve bought Arc’teryx jackets – at significant expense – because I truly believe that they are a quality product worthy of my hard-earned money.

Three Critical Post-Apocalyptic Skills You May Not Have

In some circles, attention is focused on a few skills (shooting, primarily, but emergency/trauma medicine also) which are indeed crucial – at times – but are also among the sexier of the skills which might come in handy in some sort of crisis. In fact, if you have some of the below skills, you might not have to use the ones named above.

Side note – I have used “post-apocalyptic” in the title because it will attract attention. These things also come in handy in today’s world.

Tracking

If you ever leave the pavement – and sometimes even if you don’t – you’re going to leave tracks that can be followed. Being followed might be a problem. You might also need to follow tracks for a variety of reasons – finding a lost family member, for example, or tracking a wounded animal. I have only the most rudimentary of tracking skills. I can tell a deer print from a human, most of the time.

While tracking skills can certainly be developed, the tracking abilities of some people, in my opinion, border on the supernatural. A friend of mine is a member of BORSTAR (Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue) agent, and we recently discussed tracking. I learned a lot, but he’s had years of practice, and there’s really no substitute for that.

In addition to the ability to follow someone, an astonishing amount of intelligence can be gathered from prints – not only basic things like the number of people in a group, but how tired they are, how much weight they’re carrying, if they’re a pregnant woman, etc. If you have the chance to learn about tracking, I would not pass it up.

“That one’s a Sagittarius.”

 

Sanitary Food Preparation

Puking post-partaking in poorly prepared pho is pathetic.

I know because I’ve done it.

But a bad case of salmonella when you don’t have access to medical care? Potentially fatal. And everyone who’s played Oregon Trail knows how deadly dysentery is.

I first learned about sanitary procedures for food preparation and medical care from my mother, an ER nurse and gourmet chef, and later learned more from the military. If you didn’t have these advantages, don’t fret. Learning how to prepare food and water is fairly straightforward. The CDC has information on this exact topic.

Situational Awareness

When I was getting ready to deploy with 5th Marines, I was told how critical it was that I do a “5 and 25″ whenever our vehicles stopped. Unfortunately, no one ever told me what a “5 and 25″ actually was. I eventually Googled it and found that I was supposed to look for danger within 5 meters of the vehicle immediately, and within 25 meters if we stopped for a longer period of time. This was my first exposure to situational awareness in terms of armed combat.

Although scanning for IEDs isn’t the same exact thing as scanning for speed traps, situational awareness is something that can be applied across a variety of tasks. It is not as simple as constantly scanning for threats, but more of a nuanced and intuitive, and sometimes passive, observation of one’s surrounding area and in part looking for things that don’t belong.

It can also be important to know the placement of objects when stationary – for example the layout of a room and the location of the exits before it is plunged into darkness. But it’s equally important when moving, such as knowing the location of vehicles around your own as you travel down the highway, which gives you the ability to make an emergency lane change with the least possible delay when necessary.

Sometimes, simply being aware of a threat and letting he/she/it know that you are aware of his/her/its presence is enough to avoid trouble.
This snake was aware of my presence.

As your speed increases, your ability to be aware of your surroundings generally decreases. If you are running across rocky ground while tracking criminal elements, you may need to focus on where to place your feet so as to avoid falls or injury. You may also need to focus on checking the bushes and trees ahead for signs of an ambush – but you may not be able to do both of these things at once while running.

Knowledge and experience both play a role when it comes to situational awareness, as does mindset. From an academic standpoint, Gavin de Becker’s book “The Gift of Fear” is an excellent primer. But experience must be gained in the real world.

 

Thanks

It would be easy for me to bask in the accolades that have been showering upon me since the publication of the steel vs. brass ammo test. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally doing that.

But this test would not have been possible without other people. My name is at the top, but their fingers are all over it.

In Arizona:

Zach and Paul are featured prominently in lots of photos from the test for a reason. They came out to the range with me countless times to shoot lots of ammunition. Zach also helped manage the range portions of the test, which made a big difference when I had to be taking photos or examining a rifle. Zach’s wife Marina was everywhere, from shooting to loading magazines to making delicious guacamole and cookies.

Mike helped with cutting and sectioning the barrels, without which the test would have been not nearly as visually interesting. He also came out to shoot a number of times.

Nick supplied AR small parts and magazines.

Adam, Seamus and Martin of 1MOA Solutions came out to shoot, drink (not at the same time), and decorate my house with My Little Pony figurines while I was away.

Jeff not only shot, but helped haul ammo in his truck and brought a canopy to help keep everyone out of the sun.

Michelle occupied space at the range and stared at her fingernails a lot.

Jim flew in from out of town to shoot, but mostly to hang out with me while I was pulled over by the local police for driving in a manner which upset them.

Scott, Gene, Dylan, Wanda, Terry, Chris, Nathan, and other people whose names I have unfortunately forgotten helped pull triggers.

My dad let me borrow his truck to haul ammo and was only mildly upset when I brought it back covered in mud.

Everyone who shot was a big help, but I really appreciated those who returned for a second or seventh day. To the average reader, this might sound like a dream job – but after dozens of hours in the heat, firing until you can’t feel your index finger, it took a lot of dedication on their part to keep coming back.

Across America and Around the World:

Roy, Colleen, Chris, Rob, Ando, and others gave me a lot to think about when I sent them early draft versions of the post. So did Chris Bartocci and Ned Christiansen.

Paul helped with some of the technical side and Rico made me think about some things from a different perspective.

John at Rainier supplied the awesome Raptor charging handles, Earl at IWC the excellent sling mounts, and Tom at Spikes the backup uppers.

It’s easy to sum up what these people did in a single sentence, but every mention here at the very least saved me a lot of time and aggravation, and in most cases resulted in a test that was better and more complete than I ever could have accomplished by myself.

Thanks.

A 40,000 Round .223 Test, Or, the Last Six Months of My Life

I’ve been working on this comparison of Wolf, Brown Bear, Tula, and Federal .223 ammunition since July. I think those who read my blog will find it interesting. It should bring forth some real data to a number of discussions relating to AR reliability, wear, and the differences between types of ammunition…

The bushel of AR-15s involved in the test.

There seem to be some errors accessing the site right now, but it should be accessible to all soon.