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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Rain, Waterproofing, and Jungle Rigs

I have been thinking much lately of waterproofing, and gear designed to work in constantly wet conditions. I got rained on a lot in Poland, almost constantly in Iceland, and then came home to many days in a row of rain.

Waterproofed

My rain gear has gotten a workout, and I have been re-waterproofing much of it to handle it better. Gore-tex doen't easily wear out, but the micro-permeable layer is on the inside. The surface of your jacket can also soak up rain, get heavy and cold, and be unpleasant. Periodically you need to re-waterproof your gear. 

My favorite is definitely wash-in waterproofing. Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-in Waterproofing is easy to use, and the most effective thing I have used so far. I apply it to all sorts of stuff when it looses waterproofing. Tents, packs and pack covers, hats, and more.

Use the directions on the bottle for the amount, but I do not ever risk getting a waterproof washing machine, and just do it in a bucket or a sink. A spare sink or wash basin in the basement, not the kitchen sink. Agitate and rotate your gear so it gets evenly soaked, rinse it out, and let it dry fully.

The wash-in will be fine as it is. Use sprays (the matching brand usually, as it's the same stuff) to touch it up as it starts to loose waterproofing resistance over time, especially on high-impact areas like the sleeves and shoulders of a rain jacket, where the rain falls directly on you. 

Water-Sealed

But not everything is or can be under a waterproof cover. One lesson of jungle warfare especially is that some gear has to just be able to tolerate wet conditions all by itself. 

Sometimes this is you rifle, radio, optics, and electronics. They cannot live their life in waterproof bags, so need to be designed to accept being wet all the time, without leaks or corrosion. 

Maintenance is an important part of this. Many of us may thing of cleaning and oiling metal parts, but plastic, electrical, and water-sealed components. 

Every time a new electronic device comes to me, and periodically for maintenance or when they clearly need to be cleaned, I remove all battery doors and other removable panels. Many seals and panels get silicone to assure they do not stick, and gaskets or o-rings get white lithium grease. If possible, remove the gaskets and o-rings to grease both sides. 

Without suitable lubrication, you won't be able to tighten the panels, seals won't move into place or can even erode and tear. Dry seals are not waterproof. 

Electrical items, like the battery screw caps on your Aimpoint, need the same treatment, but we need to make sure the electrical contact work. Most of these devices pass electricity through the cap into the body of the device; corrosion can prevent this from working, but so can some oils and greases. 

Instead, do the same treatment with dielectric grease. It's simply electrically-conductive grease, and works very well for this. 

Water-Loving

The jungle has always been the worst environment, and lessons have been learned at great cost about the right gear to wear and carry, from the Philippine Insurrection right on through to today. 

Of course we like to forget the lessons of the past, so almost everything learned from the Pacific campaign was lost by the time Vietnam rolled around, but since our various post-war jungle insurgencies, the US, France, the UK and others have maintained jungle warfare schools to keep the skills alive and push for suitable equipment. 

While the jungle is the most extreme version of the relentlessly-wet environment, there are bits and pieces of it all over, which make their lessons very relevant. Many times I have been walking along a creekbed in Missouri that is covered in ferns and moss, with a layer of fog indicating 100% humidity. And it's like this all day, all year round. 

For those environments, and for the periodic rainy seasons we get, we learn that some items cannot be waterproofed, or worn under cover, but have to learn to live with constant dampness. Slings, belts, and load bearing equipment are the tip of the spear on this front. 

There are a few lessons in finding and configuring equipment for this: 

  • materials that do not retain water... not canvas, not padding
  • drains... and this is more complex than you think; every time there are two layers of fabric, water can get trapped between them
  • nothing that can corrode, or rot — drain grommets are all too often the solution to drainage, but are not great
  • f
  • Do not cover too much of the body. The soldier has to be not overheated 

In the past, you simply couldn't meet all these requirements, so spent a lot of time making sure your gear could dry out, trying to apply waterproofing materials, cleaning them, and replacing worn bits. Or, they were so waterproof (vinyl and other rubbers) and heavy they were fatigue-inducing for the soldier.

Today, technology is not just more phone apps, but materials that give thrilling options to meet these needs really well. Lightweight synthetics like Hypalon, and many proprietary laminates are offered that have zero water absorption. They also are built in interesting ways, to reduce weight, complexity, and avoid padding and spaces which can trap water.

While several companies make such things, two leaders of note are Velocity Systems, especially with their Mayflower line Jungle Kit, and Blue Force Gear, which has a whole line of Helium Whisper pouches, and a line of Minus load bearing gear with laser cut slots and holes instead of MOLLE webbing sewn on.

(Note, Blue Force Gear seems to be discontinuing some of their Minus rigs, so if you want one, today is the time to get them while on closeout)


My Jungle Rig

I have used a lot of load bearing gear. ALICE, the SDS RACK, commie chest rigs, belt lines. A few years ago, I took that info, sewed my own, and it had some fun features but it got worn out so at the beginning of 2016, I started looking to replace it. Had some wish list ideas, etc. but I stumbled across a MACHS (a Hellcat Mk2 with extra pouches) for a steal, and wrote about that.

It had some relevant features which make it work well. A lot of the design is very nice to avoid chafing, or trapping water. The shoulder straps for example are wide webbing without padding. But it's still a little over-built, and despite some customizing on my part it cannot meet all my needs simply because it is a 5.56 only rig.

Jungle Kit

Recently, I went to a friend's store, and tried on a number of things to meet this need. I started with a lot of assembling and trying the Mayflower Jungle Kit. It was not me. But let me explain.

First: It’s nice. So nice that if you love ALICE or other belt setups I cannot suggest it more highly. It is very stable, very well built, and very light. And, meets all the other needs outlined above about comfort and water retention.

But I personally have settled very much to where I like to wear my rig (high) and know how belts work for me. They don’t much. The pouch bottoms stab me, and tilt, and snag on my ruck belt, and so on. I want a platform tall enough to mount the pouches TO, not hang them FROM. If that makes sense.

Front or Back Adjustment

The other thing worth considering is the overall layout. Both belts and chest rigs are of a fixed diameter. They have adjustable straps which allow them to fit your body — and which must adjust as you change clothing for the environment, have fat days, or choose to wear or not wear armor.

For belts, the adjustment is in the front. This is super convenient to adjust, but it means the fixed point of reference for the belt attached items is at your spine, in the back. As you adjust, items move to or away from your centerline.

For chest rigs, split at the front or not, the adjustment is in the back. While it can seem like you are wasting space with this gap, generally you can fill it with back panels — the hydro carrier is a common one. Anyway, on a chest rig, since the adjustment is to the rear, when your diameter changes, the front-relative position remains the same. When you reach for stuff, you find your snacks, pens, lightsticks, and magazines always at the same place.

Again, these are not bad things. Just choices. Your choice may very well be different from mine, and that is just fine. 

SplitMinus

Being a cheapskate, I was thrilled to find the Blue Force Gear discontinued page, and immediately got a SplitMinus, and a few pouches. And over the past few weeks I have put together… this:



Because of the video I noticed the back upper straps weren't adjusted right, have fixed those. And the IFAK pouch is being replaced with something smaller.

For the record, as shown it is (my left to right):
  • 10-speed 7.62. Gray for some reason I cannot recall, but once assembled I hit it with some Rapco Khaki paint. Works great. Carries anything at all. Can dump the mags when transporting the rig, so I added elastic cord, simply woven through the back of the rig cutouts and molle webbing. Knotting at each tension needed, so no noise from cordlocs. 
  • Folding pouch from some UK pack. Roll top and velcro. Using it for pens, lightsticks, squinchers, etc. 
  • SAW pouch. Also UK issue. On my other rig I have SpecOps X6, and ideally I'll get some Helium Whisper SAW pouches but at $80 a pop, not eager to do that. Left one here has velcro sewn to the top to hold the patch indicating that it has a (home-sewn) IFAK pullout. 
  • Mayflower Jungle Buttpack (empty here and the straps stupidly hanging down) woven through the back 1" belt of the rig, and the D rings attach via the little velcro tab things to...
  • ... a First Spear hydro pouch. Accidentally got the small one, but in the end, perfect as I get a little stowage below, and less weight in water above. A lot of times I wear an assault pack it's just to have backup bottled water and rain gear. Buttpack can handle those duties I think, lightening me up. 
  • Another SAW pouch, empty. This is my Mission Specific Stuff pouch. Day optics, LRF, thermal, batteries, food, small water bottles, gloves, etc. It varies, but is a great solution for that, been using for years. Where the idea of the SAW sized pullout came from.
  • Bang pouch. I have none of those, but a few mini-smokes, and if those dry up will turn it into something else. Previously was on the shoulder so this is probably better use of the space.  
  • And back around to the matching 10-speed 7.62
Not visible is: Nothing. A big benefit of these modern rigs is that there are fewer features! There is no inside pocket for example. I have never been able to use these properly. They are too small, only work with flat things, never have loops to keep pens and lightsticks upright, etc. And they do add weight, bulk, and trap water even when made of mesh. So good riddance.

I also did mod it to have tubes. The laminate they are using is NOT hypalon, so hypalon or vinyl glue techniques do not work. The tubes are in vinyl (either Tempur door scraps or FMTV cargo bed scraps… I cannot recall which) I tried some good glues and techniques and it was meh. Holding, but not trustworthy. So ended up sewing, and it sews like gangbusters.

The cordura (?) finish layer is nice for glare and noise, but it does soak up water pretty good. There’s not much of it, so it doesn’t get super heavy, but if was doing jungle or maritime stuff full time, I’d give the whole rig a waterproofing soak (stupidly, I just spent the weekend doing that to a bunch of other stuff of mine, forgot to do this…)

The laminate is very shape-supporting. It doesn’t compress and fold up and squish like fabrics. Putting the repair tubes into the slots I glued/sewed was a bear. Very doesn’t work like fabric/webbing loops. Even more so, when you just wear it around; the SR-attached front was nothing to write home about, but with the tubes, the whole mountable panel is rock solid. The rig is now not hanging off me, but as I have always liked (and gotten my home-sewn ones to do especially) is practically bolted to me. Nothing wobbles, and everything is where I expect it to be every time I reach down.



So, who is ready to ditch ALICE, cotton canvas, and old "bombproof" cordura things? What rigs are you running, and how are they going?

1 comment:

  1. I've been sticking with my USMC chest rig for 5.56. Working ok but looking to replace the issued straps with something narrower and attach a small hydro pouch.

    Also, on it's own, it needs a 2nd line such as a belt rig.

    ReplyDelete

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