Up, Up and Away

This Sunday, me and two of my colleagues will be heading off to the Northern-most top of Sweden again to support our employer’s yearly trekking event, Fjällräven Classic. This is always a great opportunity to meet colleagues from across the company, talk directly to customers who just finished a 110K hike and have been using our gear on the trail, and to head out into Sweden’s Great Wide Open.

It’s also a good opportunity to test some newly acquired gear myself. Over the last few months I bought a new pair of shoes, a new daypack and a new shell jacket as well as some shirts and vests, but I haven’t had a good opportunity to put them to the test. The weather forecast in Abisko for the next week-and-a-half isn’t great (lots of rain and showers, and temperatures below ten degrees Celsius) but that’s just the right weather to try out some new stuff and see how it performs.

I’m really looking forward to spending some time in the outdoor lover’s playground that is Abisko National Park again. It’s a really nice place I highly recommend you visit at least once in your life. Hopefully we will have some clear nights so we can see the stars and the predicted meteor showers: it’s one of the few truly dark places left in Europe – except during the summer…

Stay tuned for some reviews and pictures!


Quick update

Sorry about the lack of new content, but things have been a bit hectic with a number of job interviews, current work and preparations for upcoming travels. The good news is that I’ll probably be switching to a new job in a few months after the holiday period, which will create more financial stability (aka, more money for geardo things…).

I’ll try to post something new and interesting in the next week or so, but I have to find the time to actually write it. I just did a trial-packing for my pack for an upcoming cabin hike through the Slovenian Alps and that turned out better than expected, so that’s good. I could even shave some weight and space on the contents if I want to but I’ll have to wait what the weather does in early September…

Stay tuned!

A Little Bit of Genius: First Spear Missing Links

Some of you doubtlessly have had this problem: you wanted to mount pouches to a 4cm wide tactical belt, but it didn’t have MOLLE loops, resulting in pouches flopping about annoyingly. The tactical industry has, through the years, come up with a variety of solutions to this problem 1) sewing some MOLLE loops onto a tactical or rigger’s belt (and jacking up the price ridiculously); 2) making special belt mount pouches (and jacking up the price ridiculously); and 3) making padded MOLLE sleeves for your belt (the ‘Battle Belt’ solution). Personally, I’ve never liked any of these solutions. While the first two of them work just fine, I could never justify the costs, and the third one just adds so much unnecessary bulk to your waist that it’s never been an option for me.

Until recently, I came up with a very DIY solution to this problem: tie-wraps. They do their work almost flawlessly. They hold pouches in place pretty damn well and don’t bend the belt in such a way that it becomes uncomfortable (together with duct-tape and WD40 tie-wraps are kind of like my DIY holy triumvirate). There’s just one BIG thing they absolutely suck at:


Good luck re-using a tie-wrap if you want to move pouches around for a different type of set-up. Changing something on your belt means that you have to use a new tie-wrap. Now, some of you may never change anything on your gear, but I’m one of those guys who are never satisfied and want to move stuff around for different mission requirements.

Well, that introduction got out of hand fast…

Let me just say that First Spear’s missing links are the perfect (and I do mean perfect) solution to this annoying problem. Essentially nothing more than two loops of paracord sewn onto either side of a nylon strap backed with hook Velcro, these do exactly what they are made for: securing MOLLE pouches onto a tactical, rigger’s or duty belt not equipped with loops. They do so wonderfully well, even better than expected. My belt is equipped with hook Velcro on the inside to attach to the loop Velcro inner belt I, and a few of my teammates, use. You’d expect this to be a problem, as two hook side Velcro sides don’t attach as well as hook-and-loop. But due to the small tolerances, they do so pretty well, good enough for my setups.

I’m now able to switch around pouches to my heart’s content without blowing through a bag of tie-wraps like they are candy! Thanks First Spear!

Further Reading





Guest Review: The Tasmanian Tiger Mission Pack

This review is not written by me but by one of my old army buddies, who transitioned back into civilian life around the same time as I did. 


Since I’ve turned my back onto the military and became a civilian again, I haven’t stopped living by that good old military mind-set of the love of good gear. Whether it’s a jacket, boots or a pocketknife, it has to function flawlessly under any condition. My trusty  old high school Eastpak rucksack that I carried in a dozen countries all over the globe was finally finished after more then a decade of wear and tear. May you rest in peace! So, I picked up studying again and I was in for a new rucksack to fulfil my needs.

I was looking for:

  • Minimum of 40 litres, same amount as the Eastpak
  • Tactical look and feel
  • 2 main compartments, no top loading pack as I have to get to my books or laptop fast
  • Waterproof as much as can be
  • Durable
  • A rucksack filling the gap between my 30-litre Karrimor Sabre and my 55-litre Nomad top-loading rucksack.

When looking at tactical and 2-main compartment packs, there aren’t a lot out there on the market unfortunately. To cut a long story short, the choice came down to the Warrior Assault Systems brand, a brand I hear a lot of positive stories about, or the Tasmanian Tiger Mission Pack. With a difference in price of over 100 euros, the choice was easy for me, being a poor student again. I picked up the Mission Pack for around 130 euros.

About the rucksack and its specs

Rumour has it this bag packs a decent 40 litres, and I have to admit the main compartments are big. With big double zippers running almost all the way to the bottom of the pack it’s easy to cramp your rucksack full of stuff going out for the weekend and easily get to the bottom of the pack in no time without having to throw all your stuff out first. Just lay the pack on its back, undo the zippers and fold the bag open, and reach in.

The pack is made of 700D Cordura, so it’s quite waterproof but doesn’t pack a lot of weight with 2 KG. Using it as my day-to-day pack commuting to and from university by bicycle I sometimes encounter Dutch showers of rain but my stuff never gets wet. You’re not convinced about water tightness? This pack has a feature quite unique in the tactical world: in the bottom there is a small compartment packing a detachable rain cover in the same colour as your pack, so no need to worry about water. It comes standard with this feature.


Packing heavy stuff? Or hiking? This pack has a detachable waist belt that holds a small compartment, ideal for using a GPS device during hiking that you want to stow away quickly. The waist belt is attached by sturdy double Velcro to a small area inside the back panel of the bag, so even if you take the waste belt out, no one will notice.

The rucksack comes with a lot of MOLLE to enlarge capacity if you think you are running short. It also offers enough space for storing my 15-inch laptop safely. Also, it as a bendable back plate so you can form the back plate to your own preferences.


I won’t go into details of all the different smaller compartments but I can assure you, you have plenty of space to fit your needs!

My review

I’ve been carrying this pack now since January 2016 and I’ll admit it: I love it. I went out for a weekend with it, used it every day to get groceries or to go to university… No problem at all. Although I can imagine that some of you would wonder: why is he carrying a 40-litre rucksack to university? I surely need it with the laptop, adapter kit, books, big lunchbox et cetera.


I use it every day and after almost 5 months it doesn’t show any signs of wear. The zippers are sturdy as hell so you won’t demolish them easily. It’s also a comfortable rucksack to wear. The shoulder straps are fully adjustable and not too far apart so even for not-so-broad-chested guys like me it doesn’t tend to come off your shoulder while walking or running. Also, it offers me plenty of room to stow away my stuff and still have space left to buy some groceries.

Having mentioned the 700D Cordura, I haven’t felt the need for using the rain cover just yet while only commuting, but while hiking for hours in the rain I would advise using the rain cover. It’s a free extra and better safe than sorry, or, better dry than having your cloths wet.

Any downsides to this Tasmanian Tiger? Well… No. Or, looking at aesthetics, it looks a bit bulky. Having said that, I DON’T CARE. Period. It’s a great rucksack and I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a bag that fits the list as mentioned above.

Further Reading




After Action Report: OP Eagle Fury, STANTA 08-10/04/2016

There comes a point in a lot of airsofter’s lives that they become fed up with day skirms and playing Capture The Flag or Team Deathmatch. For us, that moment came about 18 months ago. Having only played for three years in total, we’re still relatively new on the scene. Still, we decided to gradually switch mostly to milsim events: weekenders with a more realistic approach to gameplay, often including scenarios and role-play elements. We wanted more immersion, storylines and actually developing events. Milsim is where this can be found.

In Europe, the best milsim scene exists in the UK. I think the main reason for this is that the British Ministry of Defense is not scared shitless of the airsoft sport and has agreed to let some of their training sites to organizations willing to adhere to the MOD’s rules and demands. This creates the possibility to play at such diverse sites as STANTA’s FIBUA village, or at Catterick or Copehill Down. Especially compared to the usual Dutch ‘polder’ fields or indoor industrial locations, these give a freedom of movement that’s unparalleled – and a more realistic vibe to boot.

After a year-and-a-half of getting our kit at a point where we were confident enough it would be able to handle a more strenuous form of airsoft – and getting our mindsets at the same level – we thought it was time to give the UK a try. Combat Airsoft Group’s event Operation: Eagle Fury would be our first excursion to the milsim scene across the pond.

In a lot of ways, it was exactly what we expected. In some other ways, not so much.

Logistically, our trip to the UK went off without much of a hitch. Yeah, there were some traffic jams slowing us down a bit, but overall we didn’t have much of an issue. We drove down to the Canal Tunnel, took the train across and drove north to Thetford, Norfolk, the location of the STANTA training village.

At arrival, we checked in, prepped our gear and awaited the first briefings. At 2100 local, the safety and operations briefings took place, which were necessarily long. After that, we retired to our FOB to await the first operational order. Our first tasking was to act as QRF for one of the other units, who were tasked to take an urban observation post overlooking one of the enemy areas of activity. I guess they must have been good at their job because our callsign remained at the FOB until the morning call to prayer in the village mosque woke us up and we got into our standtoo positions overlooking the western flank of the FOB – the only action we (sort of, due to lack of NODs) saw that night was a probing attack on our base. Hopefully, day two would prove to be different.


Day two didn’t start out too exciting. We were told to standby to standby. We discovered that we had to actively hunt for taskings, otherwise we wouldn’t really get them – so we did. This resulted in us clearing a few buildings and compounds, patrolling through possibly dangerous areas and probing for enemies. While we were happy to leave the relative safety of the FOB compound for a while, nothing really exciting happened during these missions. That changed during the late afternoon. We were tasked to set up a perimeter outside an enemy compound so that one of the Special Forces units of our Task Force could clear it. We ran into heavy enemy fire and were basically pinned down in place – a harsh reminder of the complexity of urban operations.


For me personally, this was a demotivating experience. Luckily, it was all up-hill from here.

Saturday evening we were combined with another Special Forces unit to probe into that same enemy area, however this time after nightfall. This is where the technical advantages of Western forces naturally come in. NODs help to infiltrate without making a sound and without being spotted, while still being able to observe. Regretfully, our own callsign did not possess any so we were totally dependent on the SF unit we were accompanying. We cleared our objective without any difficulty and returned to the FOB. Returning there, we were told to get a good night’s sleep for tomorrow morning’s mission.

We happily complied.

Sunday morning proved to be the moment that made the event for us.


It started with another probing attack on our compound but this time we were not going to sit it out. First we took the building right across our FOB, clearing out two hostiles taking potshots at our buddies. Then we pushed up with elements from another callsign, right into enemy held territory. Fighting building to building is always dangerous, so we regretfully took a few casualties – however we linked up with a number of friendly callsigns and cleared the entire village of remaining hostiles. Mission accomplished.


The last day really made the event a success for us. I can’t help but notice that this is becoming somewhat of a tradition…

There are a few things we learned during this event. The most poignant of these is that getting a feel for the operational tempo is really important. We expected to get taskings on a regular basis, because rotating operations through callsigns is a realistic way of doing things. However, we sensed that to get the fun taskings you simply had to be ready at the right time. For me, this was the biggest takeaway.

Then there’s the geardo side of things. Normally just an ornament, helmets actually served a purpose during this CAG event. The medic rules were set up in such a way that helmets acted as an actual protector and thus a force multiplier. I’m definitely getting one for the next event, because it made you able to crack on with the fight that much quicker!

Nighttime Observation Devices are another story. They are the true force multiplier. Darkness is your friend, and being able to see in the dark while your enemy is not almost makes you superhuman. The problem, however, is that really good ones are ludicrously expensive. I’d love to have one, but for now it’s just not a realistic prospect to spend too much on such an item. Maybe I can start saving up soon. Rumor is that some of my teammates are thinking of buying some good units…

Some pointers for the organization’s next event, while we clearly saw the effort put into this and we are by no means experts yet: getting a base commander to take care of rotation and base security, intel presentation and unit information would streamline the entire FOB life. This has to be someone from the organization, not a random player who feels like it needs to be taken care of. Rotating tasks ensures everyone can have their moment of glory, while it also creates the possibility to rest and rearm.

Have a big map of the AO in your ops tent so all the TLs can see what any one unit is doing in an instant. Have a layout of the FOB, including where every unit is sleeping. This streamlines handover of stag (ie. it makes it possible to kick the new unit out of their sleeping bags…).

Gameplay-wise, I would prefer a somewhat slower build-up. The first probing attack on the FOB was already quite a large one, with sustained direct and indirect fire. This made the mindset of everyone already quite kinetic from the outset. In my mind this limited the possibility of ‘hearts-and-minds’ operations.

All in all we had a blast and I hope to return to the UK for such a game at least once every year. However, what I really hope is that the scene in the Netherlands and surrounding countries matures enough to support this type of events on our side of the canal – although we regretfully have a space problem here. Here’s hoping that changes sometime in the near future and bigger sites become available for airsoft events on this scale.


Book review: the rising tide and urban insurgency

Out of the Mountains by David Kilcullen

‘Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.’

-T.E. Lawrence

This perhaps famous piece of advice by the First World War legend T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) is something that popped in my mind while reading one of the most interesting books I have picked up in years: Out of the Mountains (2013, Oxford University Press) by David Kilcullen, one of the counterinsurgency experts of the modern age. To be sure, this is no book solely about Arabia or its surroundings. It’s not even a book solely about counterinsurgency. Even more so than one of Kilcullen’s previous books, The Accidental Guerilla, Out of the Mountains is mainly a theoretical treatise about one of the current and future problems of our planet. (continued below)


Conflict (armed or otherwise) is mostly a social interaction, and thus takes place where people live. Where and how people live (the conflict climate, so to speak) is currently driven by four megatrends: population growth, urbanization, littoralization and connectedness. What this basically means is that (1) there are more and more of us, (2) more and more of us live densely packed into small urbanized areas (3) close to the shore of either lake, river or ocean, and (4) we’re more and more connected through internet, phones, TV, radio or other communication technology.

In countries with functioning governments and a strong economy, a (reasonably) high standard of living and strong civil society this is already strenuous enough – but manageable. The problem is that for the largest part, these four megatrends are taking place in countries with no or only partially functioning governance and low – in some areas within those countries even falling – living standards.

Population growth is forcing people to go where there’s some work. This is causing urbanization. In a large number of cities around the world, public services are stretched beyond their breaking point, causing the rise of large shantytowns in which there’s no government presence. This power vacuum tends to get filled by organized crime and/or insurgents. Often they simply take the place of the government through what Kilcullen calls a system of competitive control – the insurgent group simply starts doing tasks the government can’t, or won’t, do. To top it all off, this is all taking place in cities close to large bodies of water with an immense amount of traffic flow above, below, on, or close to this water – and its inhabitants are more and more interconnected through communication technology.

Kilcullen mentions some examples. Of those, the Lashkar-e-Taiba attacks in Mumbai in 2008 are the most telling. For all its high-rise luxury and tourist visitors, most of Mumbai is a mega-slum close to the Indian Ocean, situated close to one of the busiest international ports of the region. First, the attackers used their time to get a feel of the flow of the city. They scouted their (social) route of approach in such a way that they would use busy places with barely any government presence. Second, they used the immense water-based traffic flow as an infiltration cover. Third, they chose targets with a large number of tourists present, such as popular hotels. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, they operated in small teams connected, through cell phones, to what comes down to a Tactical Operations Center in a house somewhere in Pakistan. There, their commanders kept a close eye on Internet news feeds (the Indian government was notoriously leaky with information about their counterterrorist plans) and fed important information back to Mumbai so that the ground teams had Situational Awareness to stay one step ahead and execute their plans with brutal success. Because of this approach, the Mumbai attacks of 2008 are still one of the more high-profile attacks in recent history. In some ways, the Charlie Hebdo attacks of January and the Paris attacks of November 2015 echo this approach.

So, what to do about all of this? Well, there’s no simple solution to this. Counterinsurgency in general is already a complicated subject – let alone when it takes place in an unplanned urban mess close to the ocean. As we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, militaries have a tendency to kill a city in order to save it. Not strictly in a literal sense, although that regretfully happens as well. Through the establishment of checkpoints and military presence, the city loses its life – its social blood is unable to go where it normally would.

From a strategic perspective one of the solutions is co-design (this is where Lawrence’s quote popped into my head). No plan, however well intended or executed, will succeed if the local population or government doesn’t want it to succeed. Outside experts, however smart or knowledgeable, often lack the local contextual knowledge to make their plans work. This is where the locals come in. Vice versa, they often don’t have the skills, tools or resources to combat their problems on their own. In a counterinsurgency security is either a very large part or a very small part of the total solution, but however big of a part it is, it is most definitely the first problem to tackle. This is very often a problem in which outside help (kinetic or non-kinetic) will be necessary.

Being a former military officer, Kilcullen ends with some advice to military leadership and political decision makers. First, military forces in an urban insurgency mission need the ability to be flexible. They need to be able to aggregate and disaggregate quickly, meaning size and force composition needs to be adapted to a certain situation incredibly quickly. Second, they need special tools for the littoral job: basically, they need mini gunboats capable of operating in shallow waters at speed. Some Special Forces components are already making extensive use of such riverine craft, but they need to become as ubiquitous as the MRAPs in Afghanistan or Iraq. Third, troops need to make a change of mindset. Deployments will change. Whereas the last ten to fifteen years we saw the rise of enormous FOBs which were basically a city within a city (straining already taxed local resources even further) the future is probably more bare-bones. As Kilcullen says: ‘Troops need to become hikers again, not campers.’

Most importantly, troops and politicians must understand that rural counterinsurgency operations will most likely not be the new normal. They must not make the easy mistake of preparing for the last war.

Further reading and references

Chandrasekaran, R. (2006) Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad’s Green Zone Bloomsbury Publishing

Kilcullen, D. (2013) Out of the Mountains: The Rise of the Urban Guerilla Oxford University Press

Lawrence, T.E. (1997) Seven Pillars of Wisdom Wordsworth Editions (first published in 1935)

My new favorite jacket: Arc’teryx Acto MX Hoodie


A little over a year ago one of my coworkers offered to sell one of his jackets to me and, being quite the gearwhore, I almost immediately said yes without giving it much thought. I like dead bird stuff. Don’t we all?

However, there was one not so small thing bugging me about this particular model from the outset: Sleeve length was spot on but the hem width was a little too much (should I do more squats?) Recently though, I bit the bullet and took it to a tailor I knew I could trust. After a bit of an argument – he didn’t particularly like cutting into the taping – he agreed to tailor the hem to my size so I could wear this baby without harsh winds cooling me down. An extra plus is that it looks so much better now!


So, now that I’ve been wearing this jacket extensively I thought I should give it a proper overview. It’s an old model by now but Arc’teryx offers quite a few jackets which are similar in terms of functionality, fit and style so I thought I’d write one up anyway.


There are few outdoor brands that rival Arc’teryx in terms of sheer attention to detail and quality control throughout. Flatlocked and taped seams make this jacket look clean on the outside and in, and make it extremely comfortable to wear, with or without pack. The ends on both the sleeves and the bottom of the jacket are finished with a thin line of grey fabric, which seems to be glued on – no stitching visible.


The face fabric is 100% nylon with a very thin layer of grid fleece on the inside, giving the jacket just a tad of warmth and a high degree of wind resistance and breathability. The fleece’s composition (96% polyester and 4% spandex) gives the jacket its slight stretch. Due to the taped seams it’s tough for chilling winds to creep through – although they don’t make the jacket waterproof or fully windproof. Don’t mistake this for a Gore-Tex jacket! That’s not to say it doesn’t shed water – it’s exceptionally water-resistant. Since picking it up from the tailor I haven’t put on another shell jacket, and I have not been soaked once – and let me tell you that it has seen some rain in that month! This is to be expected: MX stands for Mixed Weather; meaning garments from that range should be able to cope with changing circumstances. Even then, I have never worn a soft-shell more capable of repelling water than this one. And it is still breathable like a fleece!

True to Arc’teryx form, all features and details (more on those later) are carefully designed so they don’t interfere or stand out, making for a clean look and clutter-free jacket.



This jacket has been designed with climbing and trekking in mind. That means it’s a very clean jacket with only a handful of well-designed features useful for those activities. It’s a short jacket, just barely touching the hips – although it’s slightly longer in the back than at the front. It won’t interfere with a climbing harness or with a rucksack hip-belt, more so due to the fact that it does not have hand pockets. It only has two spacious Napoleon pockets on either side of the main zipper. These will hold your essentials such as maps, compass, GPS devices or gloves and other cold-weather accessories.


The hood is spacious and adjustable so that it can be made to follow your head movements. The cut is generous enough for a helmet but I’m not a climber myself so I haven’t tried so far. It also has a brim stiff enough to block wind and rain while still providing ample peripheral vision. The drawstrings are minimal, saving weight and clutter.

The zipper pullers are large enough to grab them while wearing thin or waterproof gloves, but I suspect winter gloves and especially mitts might give some problems. Then again, you’d probably be wearing a different coat in such weather conditions.


The fit can be summarized in one word: generous. Granted, I’m not a big guy but with 1,78m at 70kg the sleeve length is spot on. However, the body size originally was a little… big, hence the trip to the tailor. Now it sits perfectly on my hips with more than enough room to layer up underneath. The shoulder width is still a bit excessive but this also creates freedom of movement and room for layers without becoming annoying in the armpits so I’ll just say it’s a double-edged sword. Luckily, the cut is not annoying while wearing a pack (which I do almost every single day). Sometimes, a generous cut leaves too much excess fabric in the armpits, which bungles up while wearing a backpack or load-bearing equipment. This has not happened so far, which is good.



As far as functional trekking and outdoor jackets go, this is a very clean and minimalistic one so its details are few but well placed. No Velcro sleeve cuff adjusters here, just a slightly stretchy ending just tight enough to block winds but wide enough for thin gloves when needed. The Napoleon pockets have a mesh inner, so they can double as core ventilation ports when necessary. The main drawstrings of the hood lead to the inside so they don’t clutter the outside of the jacket. Finally, the zipper is designed to allow opening with one hand. That means it doesn’t lock very well in its fully closed position, which is annoying to some but a godsend to others (cyclists and climbers mostly) – don’t be afraid; it doesn’t come down on its own.  



Being a shell jacket its primary purpose is to block the elements. It does so very well: it’s extremely resistant to moisture for a non-laminated jacket and it’s a quite capable windblocker. Due to the grid fleece on the inside it is able to give some warmth but don’t expect the world: due to circumstances I have worn this in a stationary position in cold, wet and windy conditions (+/- 5 degrees Celsius, not compensated for wind-chill) with just a tee underneath and it wasn’t pleasant… The upside was that even then I remained dry, meaning it is able to shed water even when worn directly on the skin. I intend to use it quite a bit this year: it has been the only (and I do mean only) shell jacket I’ve worn the last month in extremely varying conditions including quite heavy rain, and it hasn’t let me down once. It positively surprised me on a number of occasions, which is good. Its real test will come later this year, when I intend to go cabin trekking in the Slovenian Alps.



Beautifully simple

Attention to detail

Quite windproof

Extremely water-resistant

Well-placed details

Adjustable and roomy hood



Original fit off for me

No internal drawstring at hem



Overall this is a great jacket with only one major drawback that might not even be an issue for other people – its fit. After a bit of customization it has been greatly improved and now it’s one of my favorite jackets. Even more than my Fjällräven Keb Jacket it’s a jacket suitable for almost any situation and weather condition. Its water-repellent ability is the best I’ve ever seen in a non-waterproof jacket, and due to the taping the seams don’t diminish that. It has a nice clean look, which delivers on the streets as well as in the mountains. Thanks to a minimal amount of very well placed and thought-out details it performs extremely well without a large amount of clutter.


Further reading