All posts by Toby Asplin

Run and Gun AR-15 Upper Build

This is the second article in our series covering the build of our “Run and Gun” AR-15. If you would like to read the first article in the series, click here.

FTC Disclosure: Some of the items reviewed in this article were provided at no charge.

One of the keys to minimizing problems while assembling your own AR-15 is having the right tools. When it comes to assembling an AR-15 upper, a vise clamp or block is absolutely indispensable. Blocks and clamps each have their own pro’s and con’s. We’ve been utilizing a clamp for quite some time and prefer a clamp to a block. The clamp holds the upper more securely and doesn’t place as much shear on the lower lips of the stripped upper. There are plenty of folks building AR-15’s utilizing blocks, though. So, if you prefer a block, by all means use a block.

AR-15 Upper Vise Clamp
AR-15 Upper Vise Clamp

If you purchased a stripped upper for your build project, the first step is to install the forward assist and dust cover. Both are relatively easy to install. We purchased a Yankee Hill upper with the forward assist and dust cover already installed, saving ourselves a bit of time and effort. If you’re having trouble installing a forward assist or dust cover, here’s a good YouTube video (skip to about 2:29 to get into the actual install).

Once your forward assist and dust cover are installed, clamp your upper receiver in your vise clamp to prepare for the installation of your barrel. In this build, we are installing a Diamondhead handguard. The Diamondhead handguard comes with a proprietary barrel nut that does not require timing. This is one of the many things that we like about Diamondhead’s handguards. Normally, the barrel nut has to be “timed” to achieve the right torque and allow for the gas tube to be positioned properly. That is not necessary when utilizing a Diamondhead barrel nut.

Your barrel should slip into your upper receiver with only a small amount of resistance. If the barrel does not slip easily into the receiver, remove the receiver from the vise clamp and gently tap the back of the receiver with a rubber mallet. Do not tap on the barrel or place the barrel on a hard surface while tapping on the receiver! There is a nub on the top of the barrel that fits into a slot in the threads of the receiver. Be sure these two are aligned.

Before installing the barrel nut, apply a small amount of grease to the threads of the receiver and barrel nut.

Grease the threads of the upper receiver before installing the barrel nut
Grease the threads of the upper receiver before installing the barrel nut

Hand thread the barrel nut onto the receiver. Torque the barrel nut to 30 lb/ft of torque. Loosen the barrel nut and re-torque to 35 lb/ft of torque. This tighten-loosen-tighten process “seasons” the threads. Do not exceed 80 lb/ft of torque on the barrel nut!

Obviously, you will need a torque wrench to achieve the proper torque on the barrel nut

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. Another handy tool, when installing the Diamondhead barrel nut, is a 1 1/4″ “crow’s foot” intended for a socket wrench (the same drive size as your torque wrench). These wrenches are available on Amazon and eBay.

Threading the Barrel Nut onto the Receiver
Threading the Barrel Nut onto the Receiver

After the barrel nut is torqued to the proper specifications, install the gas block and gas tube.

A note about gas blocks: If you’re new to assembling AR’s, gas blocks come in a variety of sizes. Be sure your gas block diameter is properly sized for your barrel. Your barrel manufacturer should list the required size in their specifications.

Another note about gas blocks: Often, gas blocks do not include the roll pin necessary to install the gas tube. We typically purchase several of these roll pins at a time to make sure we have them on hand for our builds.

Yet another note about gas blocks: Be sure to determine whether or not your handguard requires a low profile gas block. If the profile of your gas block is too high, you will not be able to install your handguard.

A final note about gas blocks (Who knew such a simple part would be so complicated?): The gas block roll pin is a unique size. Although it can be installed with a standard roll pin punch, life will be much easier if you purchase a gas block roll pin punch. We like the Geissele roll pin punch ($11.49 at MidwayUSA).

Diamondhead Gas Block Sized for Radical Firearms Barrel
Diamondhead Gas Block Sized for Radical Firearms Barrel
Proper Positioning of the Gas Block
Proper Positioning of the Gas Block – Front of Rifle to the Viewer’s Left

To install the gas block, carefully slide it onto the barrel until it covers the gas port. A very light coat of oil may be necessary. The roll pin hole should be positioned toward the muzzle of the rifle. Most barrels will have two “divots” on the underside of the barrel to index the set screws that hold the block in place.  Lightly tighten the set screws until they index into the divots. Once the gas block is in its final position, finish tightening the set screws. Do not over-tighten.

Insert the gas tube into the gas tube hole on the upper receiver. Slide the tube in as far as necessary to allow it to clear the gas block. Insert the opposite end of the tube into the gas block until the opening in the tube lines up with the opening in the gas block as pictured above.

Use a roll pin starter punch to insert the roll pin into the opening in the gas block. User a gas block roll pin punch on the other side of the gas block to hold the tube in place.

Roll Pin Starter Punch
Roll Pin Starter Punch

Once the roll pin has engaged the gas tube, finish installing it utilizing the gas tube roll pin punch.

Properly Installed Gas Block and Tube
Properly Installed Gas Block and Tube

Forward assist and dust cover installed? Check. Barrel installed? Check. Gas block and tube installed? Check. We’re getting close!

Time to install the handguard.

As mentioned earlier, we really like the Diamondhead handguards. They’re easy to install, relatively lightweight, top quality and provide a distinctive look to our rifles.

Diamondhead Handguard and Proprietary Barrel Nut
Diamondhead Handguard and Proprietary Barrel Nut

To install a Diamondhead handguard, remove the hex-head screws at the rear of the guard, slide the guard over the barrel and onto the barrel nut, reinstall the two hex-head screws, ensure that the Diamondhead rail is aligned with your upper’s rail and torque down the hex-head screws.

Told you it was easy! No timing of the barrel nut. No muss. No fuss.

Just Two Screws to Install the Diamondhead Handguard
Just Two Screws to Install the Diamondhead Handguard

One last component to install before we drop in the charging handle and the bolt carrier group – the compensator.

Your basic $500 bargain bin AR typically comes equipped with a flash suppressor/hider at the muzzle end of the barrel. The flash suppressor/hider does just that – tones down the muzzle flash … but not much more.

A compensator is designed to provide some flash suppression but primarily to counteract, or compensate for, the rise of the muzzle as the rifle is fired. This reduction in muzzle rise allows the shooter to get back on target quickly. That’s a good thing if you’re trying to put multiple rounds on a target in a short period of time.

Incidentally, a brake – which may appear similar to a compensator – is intended to reduce the recoil (often called ‘kick’) of a firearm.

We chose the Precision Armament M4-72 compensator for this build. It’s gotten some good press based on its price and effectiveness. Based on Precision Armament’s product information, it appears that their intention for the M4-72 is to reduce both recoil and muzzle rise.

Because the compensator controls the direction of the muzzle, it is critically important that it be installed absolutely in line with the vertical axis of the barrel. Incorrect installation will cause the muzzle to rise to one side or the other. A compensator must be “timed” to the barrel to ensure this vertical alignment.

Precision Armament Compensator and Tuning Kit
Precision Armament Compensator and Timing Kit

A timing kit is basically a set of washers in various widths. The washers are installed one at a time as the muzzle device is test-fitted for vertical alignment. It’s a bit of a tedious process but careful attention to detail pays off in accuracy and performance.

Start by placing the thickest washer on the muzzle of the firearm and then test installing the muzzle device.

Install Timing Washers One at a Time
Install Timing Washers One at a Time

As each washer is installed, thread on the muzzle device. The device should hand-thread to within about 1/4 turn of vertical. This will allow the device to be torqued into place at absolutely vertical.

Checking Vertical on the Muzzle Device
Checking Vertical on the Muzzle Device

We use a small torpedo level to check alignment of the muzzle device to the rifle. With the upper receiver locked down in the vise clamp, lay the level on top of the receiver’s rail. Take note of the location of the bubble.

If you look closely at the photo above, you will notice that the right side of the bubble is touching the line on the right side of the level tube. This was done purposefully. We utilize a bench with adjustable feet when assembling firearms or installing scopes. The feet have been adjusted so that a level laid on the top of the reads exactly like the level pictured above. This removes any guesswork from reading the bubble in the center of the level tube.

In order for the compensator to be properly installed, a level laid on top of the receiver should read exactly the same as a level laid on top of the compensator. If the top of the compensator is not flat, or if the receiver is not a flat-top receiver, this process will be more difficult.

Note to barrel and muzzle device manufacturers: Proof marks would be really, really nice!

Prior to the final installation of the muzzle device, place a couple drops of high temperature adhesive on the threads of the muzzle. This will help keep the muzzle device from un-threading itself over time and flying off the end of the barrel. We use Rocksett adhesive.

Rocksett High Temperature Adhesive
Rocksett High Temperature Adhesive
Slide in Your BCG and Charging Handle and You're Done!
Slide in Your BCG and Charging Handle and You’re Done!

That’s pretty much it. The hard parts are over. If you’re assembling your bolt carrier group (BCG), do so. Once you have an assembled BCG, slip your charging handle into your upper, slide in the BCG and ensure that it operates smoothly.


Run and Gun AR-15

FTC Disclosure: Some of the items reviewed in this article were provided at no charge.

When we met the folks at RISE Armament at SHOT in January, they were nice enough to invite us to the Oklahoma Run and Gun competition

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. The competition sounded like a lot of fun and … made for a great excuse to build a new rifle.

The Oklahoma Run and Gun is a 5k or 10k race that combines physical obstacles and challenges with shooting targets out to 500 yards. Competitors are required to carry a center fire rifle and pistol, ammunition for each and any other gear or water they need for the race. The race is held in mid-July so water is critically important.

The first challenge: Build a relatively lightweight, yet accurate, rifle for run and gun style competitions.

Challenge accepted!

This article will be the first in a series of three. In this installment, we’ll list out the various parts, prices and reasoning for each. In the following installments, we’ll document assembly of the upper and lower of our Run and Gun AR-15.

Yeah, we know, everyone and their brother has done AR-15 build articles and videos. Many of those articles and videos have been produced by people building their first AR. We also know that you expect more from us than to simply follow the crowd of other evil black rifle builders. Fortunately, because we know that, we intend to provide something a little different in this series of article.

First of all, we’re experienced. With dozens of AR-15 builds under our collective belt, this is not our first rodeo. You’ll benefit from our experience, learn from our mistakes and, hopefully, pick up a tip or two along the way.

Secondly, we’re building a rifle with a specific purpose. We intend to detail that purpose and discuss how each component of the build was chosen to meet that purpose.

Finally, while there are dozens – maybe hundreds – of articles and YouTube videos with relatively poor photos and shaky, out-of-focus video, there are very few with high quality photos that demonstrate some of the more intricate details of assembling an AR-15. We intend to deliver our usual quality photography to help highlight some of those details.

Run and Gun AR-15 Parts
Run and Gun AR-15 Parts

Upper Components

  • Yankee Hill Manufacturing A3 Upper Receiver: $101.50
  • Radical Firearms 16″ Mid Length Barrel (1:7 Twist, SOCOM Contour, QPQ Melonite Coating): $119.99
  • Fail Zero NiB Full Auto Bolt Carrier Group: $160.00
  • Bravo Company Manufacturing Charging Handle MOD4: $37.99
  • Diamondhead V-RST 10.25″ Free-Floating Handguard: $154.99
  • Precision Armament M4-72 Severe Duty Compensator: $90.00
  • Muzzle Brake Tuning Kit: $10.00
  • Diamondhead Low Profile Gas Block & Tube: $35.00
  • JP Enterprises Tuned Buffer Spring: $19.00
  • DPMS Buffer: $10.00

Briefly, we chose the Yankee Hill upper because we’ve built several AR-15’s on these uppers and have had nothing but good performance at a reasonable price. Tolerances are always in spec and everything always installs easily.

The Radical Firearms barrel was new to us. We were looking for an accurate barrel that didn’t weigh a lot. “A lot” is subjective but the SOCOM profile is a good, middle of the road profile – in terms of weight – and we had heard good things about the quality and accuracy of the Precision Firearms barrels. This was also our first Melonite coated barrel. Supposedly the Melonite coating supposedly increases the hardness of a barrel while decreasing the amount of expansion during the coating process when compared to chrome lining. A chromed barrel must be over bored to allow for the lining which typically leads to a barrel with looser tolerances than those of a Melonite barrel.

We met the guys from Fail Zero at SHOT Show in January and wanted to give one of their NiB (Nickel Boron) bolt carrier groups a try.

Bravo Company’s MOD4 charging handle is pretty much our standard when we build AR’s. We saw no reason to mess with success here. It’s nice to have a familiar feel to and placement of the major operating components of a rifle being used in competition.

We’ve also become a fan of Diamondhead’s handguards. They have a unique look, simplified mounting hardware (no barrel nut tuning required) and have never given us a problem.

Precision Armament’s M4-72 compensator had seen some good press, both in terms of performance and value, so we decided to give it a try.

The gas block and tube, buffer and buffer spring were chosen based on past experience and value for the money.

Lower Components

  • RISE Armament RA-535 Advanced Performance Trigger: $259.00
  • Spike’s Spartan Stripped Lower Receiver: $64.95
  • ACE Ultra Light Stock with Buffer Tube: $104.99
  • Magpul K Grip Pistol Grip: $17.95
  • Palmetto State Armory Lower Parts Kit: $49.99

As we contemplated this build, there was no question as to which trigger to run. The RISE Armament RA-535 trigger is a thing of beauty. It’s installation is simplistic. It’s performance is fantastic. We’ll take a closer look at this trigger in the lower build article in this series but suffice to say the RA-535 is a race gun trigger for your AR.

We found a deal on “blemished” Spike’s stripped lowers and have never had a problem with them in the past so we picked up one with Spartan markings for this build.

To keep the weight down, we chose the ACE Ultra Light stock. As far as we know, it is still the lightest stock on the market.

In keeping with the relatively lightweight design, we chose a Magpul K Grip pistol grip. Much like the ACE Ultra Light stock, we believe the K Grip is the lightest pistol grip on the market.

Finally, we used most of the parts from a Palmetto State Armory lower parts kit to accompany the RISE Armament trigger inside the lower.

Other Accessories

  • Trijicon ACOG 4X32 Optic with BDC Chevron Reticle: $1189.99
  • Armageddon Gear Carbine Sling: $45.00
  • Diamondhead VRS 2″ Rail Section: $13.00
  • Magpul RSA QD Sling Swivel Rail Mount: $28.45
  • GovTec QD Sling Swivel: $6.50

Although the ACOG optic nearly doubled the price of this rifle, we feel it was well worth the investment. If you’re counting on a rifle in a competition … or to keep you alive … you want the best glass you can afford with the fastest aiming possible. In our opinion, ACOG optics are winners in both categories.

After meeting and competing with Tom Fuller, the owner of Armageddon Gear, they have become a go-to source for slings, cases and other firearms-related soft goods. Their carbine sling is no exception.

The Daimondhead rail section was chosen to match the Diamondhead handguard which is not a quad rail handguard. The Magpul QD sling swivel rail mount and GovTec swivel are proven performers.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series: Building the Run and Gun Upper.

Oklahoma Run and Gun Video

We thought you might enjoy a quick look at some of the action from the 2015 Summer Oklahoma Run and Gun competition

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Oklahoma Run and Gun

Are you ready? No, I mean truly ready. What if riots broke out in your area tomorrow and you had to make it home from work without your vehicle?

The Oklahoma Run and Gun is a pretty good test of an individual’s readiness. The Run and Gun combines oppressive heat, a 5K or 10K run (or walk), obstacle challenges and shooting challenges. Competitors must carry all of their firearms, ammunition and gear over the entire course, including enough water to support them in 100° Oklahoma heat.

An invitation from RISE Armament, of Tulsa, OK, led two Trek Tech Black staffers to the starting line of this event on a hot Saturday in July.

The event began with an uphill crawl over crushed rock under barbed wire. For competitors in shorts and/or short sleeves, the Run and Gun delivered on its tag line of, “Blood, Sweat and Bullets” almost immediately.

Uphill Barbed Wire Crawl
Uphill Barbed Wire Crawl
BLOOD, Sweat and Bullets
Making Good on the Promise of BLOOD, Sweat and Bullets

The first shooting stage was called Fast and Close

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. Competitors engaged targets with pistol or rifle approximately ten yards away across a creek from various shooting positions.

After the first shooting stage, participants crossed a creek utilizing a cargo net. It was fairly obvious that many of the competitors had not negotiated a cargo net before.

Attempting to Walk Across the Cargo Net
Attempting to Walk Across the Cargo Net …
... Didn't End So Well
… Didn’t End So Well
Attempting to Belly Crawl Across the Cargo Net
Attempting to Belly Crawl Across the Cargo Net

Once across the cargo net, competitors negotiated a steep uphill climb and continued to the second shooting stage.

Uphill Climb
Uphill Climb

The second shooting stage required shooters to score two hits on torso-sized steel targets at 200, 300 and 500 yards within three minutes. Shooters were allowed to lie prone while shooting. Each shooting stage had a three-minute time limit.

A Trek Tech Staffer Engages the 500 Yard Target with a RISE Armament Rifle
A Trek Tech Staffer Engages the 500 Yard Target with a RISE Armament Rifle

After the 200, 300 and 500 yard targets, competitors slogged out a shadeless, two-mile gravel road march/run to the “Junkyard.”

In the Junkyard, shooters transitioned from a simulated rooftop to a chain link fence to the hood of a truck, finishing with two shots through a barricade all on a torso-sized target approximately 200 yards away.

With the Junkyard complete, shooters ran to a farm pond and down the dam to engage several 8″ steel targets over water at 10-20 yards.  The first three targets were pistol targets. The fourth and fifth targets were rifle targets at 10-40 yards. Each of these targets required two hits. The final target was a pistol target. Shooters were required to score one hit and fire five rounds.

The Slaughtering Hole
The Slaughtering Hole

After clearing the “Slaughtering Hole” at the bottom of the dam, shooters proceeded to a burial mound where they carried a 40 lb ammo can to the top of the mound and then engaged a torso-sized steel target from three unsupported firing positions. The first firing position was approximately 220 yards from the target. Each successive firing position was approximately 30 yards closer. A magazine change was required.

The Top of the Burial Mound
The Top of the Burial Mound

After one last bonus shooting stage, where shooters were allowed to fire one round at a head-sized steel target approximately 250 yards distant, shooters sprinted (or dragged themselves) about 600 yards to the finish line.

Biathlon events like the the Oklahoma Run and Gun have gained considerable popularity in the last few years. The organizers of the Oklahoma Run and Gun have developed an excellent test of man (or woman) and gear. Competitors bumped up against their physical and psychological limits but every minute of the event was incredibly fun. Winners were determined by equal weighting of the run time and the shooting speed and accuracy. We highly recommend it if you want to test your readiness.

We would like to offer our thanks to John, the landowner, Al and Daniel, the event organizers.

We would also like to thank the good folks at RISE Armament who invited us. We ran one of their complete RA-325 Tactical V.2 rifles and one of their RA-535 Advanced Triggers in our Run and Gun AR (Stay tuned to a series of articles on the build of this rifle) in the race.

The RISE Armament rifle performed flawlessly aiding one Trek Tech Black teammate in his third-place finish in the 5K race.

The RA-535 trigger is a thing of beauty – a race gun trigger for your AR. With a 3.5 lb single stage pull, one of the cleanest breaks we’ve experienced, a 0.0045″ pull and a 0.0035″ reset, this is definitely one of the finest AR drop-in triggers on the market. You really owe it to yourself to give it a try.

There is also a winter Run and Gun for those that want to avoid the heat. For more information, click here to visit the Oklahoma Run and Gun website.

The McKinney TX Pool Party Back Story

Texas law enforcement officer, Eric Casebolt, has resigned today after criticism from the public and his own department. McKinney, TX police chief, Greg Conley, called Casebolt’s actions “indefensible.”

As we look deeper into the story, however, it appears that Conley may simply be unwilling to come to his officer’s defense for fear of incurring the wrath of an ill-informed public and mainstream media.

One of the best accounts of the full story that we have found is on the site

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. The Treehouse story brings to light information not available in the mainstream media and clarifies what took place prior to the video that has gained so much attention.

Suffice to say, like most stories, there are three sides – yours, mine and the truth.

Messenger Bag Shootout

Messenger bags. Every “evil black” operator needs at least one to organize and carry his or her every day items. In our messenger bag shootout, we set out to find the best bag for the buck from some of the market’s less-well-known bag makers.

Methodology: Each bag was carried daily by a number of reviewers and ranked on our Evil Black Rifle Scale on its appearance, durability, features, functionality, market leadership and value to calculate an overall ranking.


  • Hazard4 Sherman, MSRP $149.99
  • Spec Ops T.H.E. Messenger Bag, MSRP $115.00 (Currently available for $69.95 from the manufacturer.)
  • STM Trust, MSRP $129.95
  • Tom Bihn Ego, MSRP $170.00
  • VVego Helluva Messenger Bag, MSRP $325.00

Hazard4 Sherman

Hazard4 Sherman
Hazard4 Sherman

Appearance: 3/5 Three Rifles

Durability: 5/5Five Rifles

Features: 5/5Five Rifles

Functionality: 4/5Four Rifles

Market Leadership: 4/5Four Rifles

Value: 4/5Four Rifles

Overall Rating: 4.167

Built like its namesake with better internal organization, the Sherman was a favorite of our reviewers. The Sherman consistently ranked as the best bag in our shootout for internal administration.

With a $150 MSRP, the Sherman certainly provides a lot of features for the money. However, if you’re looking for something even the least bit stylish, the Sherman has all the panache of a Panzer. Granted, it does have an external loop field to which a few decorative patches can be attached – sort of like painting nose art on a WWII bomber.

Spec Ops T.H.E. Messenger Bag

T.H.E. Messenger Bag
T.H.E. Messenger Bag

Appearance: 3/5 Three Rifles

Durability: 5/5Five Rifles

Features: 3/5Three Rifles

Functionality: 4/5Four Rifles

Market Leadership: 3/5Three Rifles

Value: 5/5Five Rifles

Overall Rating: 3.833

T.H.E. Messenger Bag is about as meat-and-potatoes as it gets. It is, almost literally, a blank canvas. The interior is a single, high-visibility yellow open pocket covered in Grid-Lok (MOLLE-like attachment panel). The exterior is also covered with MOLLE-like loops. This means that the bag can be configured in a nearly infinite number of ways utilizing Spec Ops’ pouches or virtually any other MOLLE-compatible pouch.

The flip side of the “infinitely configurable” argument is that the bag has almost no internal admin until additional pouches are added. One could argue that, at the current price on the manufacturer’s website ($69.95), this isn’t a very big deal. Priced at $115.00, however, the value begins to fade.

STM Trust

STM Trust
STM Trust

Appearance: 4/5 Four Rifles

Durability: 3/5Three Rifles

Features: 4/5Four Rifles

Functionality: 4/5Four Rifles

Market Leadership: 3/5Three Rifles

Value: 4/5Four Rifles

Overall Rating: 3.667

If you’re looking for a bit more stylish bag for lighter duty, the Trust deserves a look. It certainly won’t (and didn’t ) handle the abuse like some of the other contenders (Durability rating) but it’s a very nice looking bag with decent features and functionality. The main fabric is a 320D brushed poly while the bottom is a 640D reinforced fabric.

The inside of the Trust is a light color, making it easy to find items. There’s also quite a bit of internal organization, including a padded pocket for a laptop and a smart phone.

Tom Bihn Ego

Tom Bihn Ego
Tom Bihn Ego

Appearance: 3/5 Three Rifles

Durability: 4/5Four Rifles

Features: 3/5Three Rifles

Functionality: 4/5Three Rifles

Market Leadership: 3/5Three Rifles

Value: 4/5Three Rifles

Overall Rating: 3.167

Don’t misinterpret the rating on the Ego. Tom Bihn makes quality gear with some unique features. Unfortunately, our reviewers weren’t overly enthusiastic about either the form or the function of the Ego’s design. The bag, itself, is oddly pear-shaped. This pear shape translates to all the pockets and other organization.

Additionally, the fabric of the Bihn was not as stain-resistant as the other bags in the shootout and the large, flat main buckle seemed particularly subject to scratching

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Vvego Helluva Messenger Bag

Helluva Messenger Bag
Helluva Messenger Bag

Appearance: 5/5 Five Rifles

Durability: 5/5Five Rifles

Features: 4/5Four Rifles

Functionality: 4/5Four Rifles

Market Leadership: 4/5Four Rifles

Value: 3/5Three Rifles

Overall Rating: 4.167

If you’re looking for a durable, stylish bag with some fairly unique features, we saved you the best for last. We’ll grant you that this bag’s looks aren’t for everyone. It definitely stands out – OK, jumps out – in a crowd and we understand that some of our readers are looking for more of a “gray man” approach to life.

If you’re not going for the “gray man” approach, we could really only find two faults with this bag – it’s price tag and it’s lack of internal admin. If money is no object and you don’t mind utilizing a pouch or two for admin and you want a bag that stands out, not just because of its color scheme but because of its overall design and durability, we would highly recommend the Vvego Helluva Messenger Bag.

LALO Tactical Shadow Amphibian Boots

LALO Tactical Shadow Amphibian Boots, Desert Color, MSRP $350.00,

Author: Toby Asplin

Contributor: Eddie Baker

Photos: Shelly Lynn

FTC Disclosure: The product reviewed was provided by the manufacturer/distributor.

Overall Rating:  Four out of five Evil Black Rifles (Five is best.)

Four Rifles


Appearance: Three out of Five Evil Black Rifles – Very light desert tan color and 1990’s Reebok/Orthopedic Shoe appearance were off-putting to several reviewers.

Three Rifles


Durability: Four out of Five Evil Black Rifles – Handled our usual Trek Tech Black abuse over the course of three months with no signs of undue wear. We believe they would hold up well over longer use as well.

Four Rifles


Features: Five out of Five Evil Black Rifles – LOTS of features.

Five Rifles


Market Leadership: Five out of Five Evil Black Rifles – Exceptional, market-leading functional design and comfort for a water-oriented boot.

Five Rifles


Value: Three out of Five Evil Black Rifles – Relatively high price and narrow niche (water immersion-oriented missions) hurts LALO in this category.

Three Rifles


LALO Tactical’s Shadow Amphibian boots may appear to have descended from your mom’s 90’s Reeboks but they’re one of the best tactical boots on the market when it comes to operating in water.

For those familiar with operating in water and wet conditions, you know that there are two basic approaches – attempt to keep your feet completely dry or allow your feet to breathe, drying naturally. There are two flaws in the first approach. First, it is virtually impossible to keep your feet entirely dry, regardless of the technology. Second, dry boot technology tends to hold moisture in preventing the circulation of air and slowing the natural drying process.

Fill 'er up!
Fill ‘er up!

As a part of our testing, we spent time walking in creeks, ponds and lakes, filling the Shadow Amphibians with water to see what would happen. What happened was the water drained out of the boots so quickly that we really couldn’t capture the draining process in a photo.

Drain Vents
External Drain Vents

Even when slightly clogged with mud, the Shadow Amphibians’ external drain vents worked well. As expected, testers feet were wet but the boots drained very quickly. The Amphibians also have drain vents in their insoles.

Internal Drain Vents
Internal Drain Vents

Interestingly, although the boots drain well, the uppers don’t breathe all that well. In normal (dry) operating conditions, most testers experienced a fair amount of trapped perspiration.

Our testers had a few other nits and picks. The “Desert” color of the boots is very light. LALO assured us that the color is “a Pantone from the military and is the tan color that the SEAL Teams use” but it was lighter than other desert boots owned by some of our testers. The light tan color looks almost white in certain lighting conditions giving the boots the appearance of an orthopedic shoe.

The tongue flap (see feature photo) protects the boots’ laces and helps prevent them from coming untied.  A nice feature to be sure.  However, in our testers’ opinions, this feature is not as well-executed as the lace pocket on some of Salomon’s shoes and boots (our benchmark for this feature).

The finger loop on the back of the boots is fairly small

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. Testers with larger fingers struggled to fully insert their finger into the loop. This, coupled with the lack of a speed lace system, makes the boots a little more difficult than average to put on and take off.

Finger Loop
Finger Loop

Overall, however, our testers’ response to these boots was very positive. The fit was generally good out of the box. The boots are fairly stiff, however, and require some break-in time. That stiffness provides support. One tester took his test pair for a run and stepped in a hole that would normally have resulted in a high ankle sprain. With the Shadow Amphibian’s support, he was none the worse for wear.

The soles of these boots are very quiet on normally squeaky, polished floors. While the tread is not particularly aggressive, the boots provide good traction on frosty grass, water-covered rocks and snowy ground.

Shadow Amphibian Tread
Shadow Amphibian Tread

Even though these boots are relatively stiff, the ankle flexes nicely due to the flex notches fore and aft. They are some of the most comfortable boots we’ve tested when it comes to running. The compression molded insole works well for those with a forefoot-strike running stride.

Rear Flex Notch
Rear Flex Notch
Front Flex Notch
Front Flex Notch

In summary, the LALO Tactical Shadow Amphibian is a superb boot for those who anticipate a good deal of water submersion. Water-based special ops missions, GORUCK events and other similar events would be perfect for these boots. Given the Shadow Amphibians’ price, however, potential buyers should give careful consideration to their intended use before shelling out the dough. Most people don’t really need a boot like this. With that said, if you have the resources, can find a bargain on a site like or truly need a boot that handles water immersion well … we highly recommend the Shadow Amphibian.

Hill People Gear Umlindi “Guardian” of Your Gear

Hill People Gear Umlindi Backpack, Two-tone Foliage/Stone, MSRP $220.00,

Author: Toby Asplin

Photos: Shelly Lynn

FTC Disclosure: The products reviewed were provided by the manufacturer/distributor.

“Umlindi” means “guardian”, “watchman” or “caretaker” in Zulu. Hill People Gear’s (HPG) Umlindi backpack will definitely take care of your gear.

The ‘Lindi is HPG’s answer to the largest pack that can be carried without lifter straps.

We received an Umlindi with a Prairie Belt (MSRP: $100.00) for testing. The ‘Lindi’s 500d Cordura construction is an excellent blend of durability and weight-saving construction

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. Very few people truly need 1000d fabric in their packs. The 500d in the ‘Lindi is certainly adequate for the average sportsman or “evil black” user. We hauled the ‘Lindi around through dense brush, thorns and trees with hardly a blemish.

The lightweight nature of the Umlindi is an excellent foundation for a small hunting pack or larger day pack. It would also make an excellent bug out bag or get home bag.

The Umlindi in its Natural Environment
The Umlindi in its Natural Environment

Organizationally, the Umlindi is simple with a unique external compression strap system intended to work with HPG’s compression panels and stuff sacks. The straps also work well for cinching down virtually any other bulky, lightweight item. We used them for tents, dry bags, shooting mats, sleeping mats and a rifle with good success. The tool loop at the bottom of the pack makes sure heavier loads don’t slip out of the compression straps.

The Umlindi's Compression Straps Work Well for Securing Loads Outside the Pack
The Umlindi’s Compression Straps Work Well for Securing Loads Outside the Pack
Handy Tool Loop
Handy Tool Loop

The Umlindi also has dual “wand” (side) pockets large enough for a one quart USGI canteen. They also work well with 1.5 liter thermoses as pictured in our feature photo.

The Umlindi’s interior is comprised of a single cargo area with a half-depth slot pocket on the back side of the pack. Organization is left almost entirely to the user. We used dry bags and stuff sacks to keep our gear stashed just the way we wanted.

It took a bit of work and some experimentation to get the Umlindi’s harness adjusted properly. It’s a great harness but the configuration is somewhat unique. Adjustment is done by shortening or lengthening the upper and lower straps. Other packs have simpler adjustment methods but once the harness is dialed in, there’s no muss or fuss.

The Umlindi's Harness with its Unique Size Adjustment System
The Umlindi’s Harness with its Unique Size Adjustment System

The shoulder straps are nice and flat. They work well for shouldering a rifle while wearing the pack but do not provide a great deal of padding. The width of the shoulder straps spreads the pack’s weight, however, making it relatively comfortable with heavy loads.

Wide Harness Straps Spread the Weight of Loads Nicely
Wide Harness Straps Spread the Weight of Loads Nicely

Due to the combination of the pack’s removable plastic framesheet and the wide straps, we found that loads as heavy as 50 lbs were fairly comfortable – even without the Prairie Belt.

One of the features that we really liked was the external pocket for the hydration bladder. So many packs hide the hydration bladder inside the main section of the pack. This makes removal and refilling a pain. The Umlindi’s hydration bladder pocket is separate from the main cargo compartment, right next to the wearer’s back. An Osprey bladder with a center structural support slid easily in and out of the Umlindi’s hydration pocket.

Easy Access to the Hydration Bladder Pocket
Easy Access to the Hydration Bladder Pocket

Overall, the Umlindi is a high-quality pack that’s easily configurable to meet multiple needs. One of our testers even used it as a carry on bag on a recent trip. The bag fits perfectly in even the smaller, regional jets’ overhead bins and can be stuffed under a seat if absolutely necessary.

GLOCK Releases Single Stack 9mm

SMYRNA, Ga – (Mar. 20, 2015)  – Today GLOCK, Inc. announced the release of the new GLOCK single stack slimline 9mm pistol, the GLOCK 43

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. The G43 is the most highly desired and anticipated pistol release in GLOCKs history. Designed to be the answer to everyday concealed carry needs, the G43 is ultra-concealable, accurate, and comfortable for all shooters, regardless of hand size.

“The G43 is the most exciting product release to date because it addresses a variety of issues that many shooters face with pistols in the concealed carry category,” stated GLOCK, Inc., VP Josh Dorsey. “It will be the pistol of choice for law enforcement and civilians. The G43 sets a new standard for concealed carry pistols.”

A true slimline pistol, the frame width of the G43 is just over one inch and the slide width measures only 0.87 inch. The overall length is 6.26 inches. For those who have smaller hands, the trigger distance is only 2.6 inches, making it ideal for functionality. The single stack magazine holds 6 rounds and is the perfect concealed carry pistol for both duty and civilian use. The G43 is engineered to the same superior standards as all GLOCK pistols and the reliability instills confidence for all lifestyles.

The G43 will debut at the NRA Annual Meeting, April 10-12, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn., at the GLOCK booth (#633).  Shipments of the product will begin directly following the convention.

Ares Armor Acquired by Lake House Capital Management

Lake House Capital Management, LLC, a Hinsdale, Illinois-based holding company is pleased and proud to announce it has acquired all the assets of Lycurgan, Inc., (doing business as Ares Armor). Specific terms of the deal were not disclosed at this time.

U.S. Marine, Dimitri Karras, who served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, founded Ares Armor in 2010. Headquartered in Oceanside, California, Ares Armor is the leading supplier of 80 percent lower receivers, and develops and manufactures high quality American-made firearm parts to legally build your own weapons

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. The business also proudly develops, manufactures, and sells innovative tactical gear, combat body armor, and more.

“We thank and respect Dimitri Karras for his patriotism, service, and defense of our country and its Constitution,” says new Ares Armor CEO, Bryce Stirlen. “We value his vision and efforts with Ares Armor, and truly wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Ares Armor customers can expect to experience no disruption in quality or service during the management transition. But like when anyone buys a house, Lake House Capital Management has much it loves about Ares Armor, but also has some areas where it wants to make changes and add its own touches.

“Great people and great products have built Ares Armor into the successful business it is today,” adds Stirlen, a gun enthusiast, husband, and father. “Our main focus is to now build a better foundation to support the explosive growth the Company is experiencing. That said, to be clear, one area where we will not waver is in loyal defense of the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and protecting the rights of all Americans to bear arms. We are very excited about an even brighter future for Ares Armor, and believe our customers will be excited about it, too.”