Sunday, November 4, 2018

TANDEMKROSS 10/22 Ultimate Trigger Upgrade: Fall in love with your 10/22 again!

Like the occasional sore throat or stubbed toe, factory 10/22 triggers are just a fact of life we live with. They crunch and grind along through their take-up. Then they hit a wall until the pressure on the trigger shoe dents the finger pad. The kra-chunk of the release is less of glass breaking, and more of opening a can of beer. We lowered our expectations due to the reliability and durability of the 10/22 trigger, but never gave up hope. Ruger heard our cries for help and released the aftermarket BX trigger upgrade. Ruger’s drop-in trigger module swapped out completely the entire factory trigger unit. For those of us who drank the BX Kool-Aid, we were impressed. Not necessarily how good the BX replacement is, but more of how bad the factory trigger really was. And compared to other trigger upgrades in our ARs for example, we knew it could be even better.

Enter the Ultimate 10/22 Trigger Upgrade from TandemKross. An exquisitely machined and presented trigger parts group that literally turns the 10/22 into an entirely new gun. From the aggressively textured wide flat shoe, to the polished tool-steel sear and hammer, to the precision spring, the entire Ultimate Trigger Kit is everything a top-shelf trigger must be. And the older your 10/22, the bigger the difference in upgrade experience.

By any standard, the aftermarket components for the Ruger 10/22 is deep. So much so that its easily possible to replace every single piece of a Ruger 10/22 with non-Ruger parts. Kind of like my favorite axe. It’s always been the best axe I’ve ever owned even though I’ve replaced the handle three times and the head twice. In fact, on one of my 10/22 builds, I’m just a few parts shy of a non-Ruger Ruger 10/22. And even if I swap out those final few parts, the non-Ruger will still be my favorite Ruger.

One part in particular has always defined the 10/22 and that is its exceptionally consistent trigger. No, not that the trigger consistently delivers, but that it consistently disappoints. The crunchy 10/22 factory triggers were just something we put up with, likely leveraging the low 10/22 price point to defend our low trigger standards. Even Ruger seemed not to care. It was as if a poor trigger was just another part of the 10/22 Rite-of-Passage that nearly every gun owner passed through. The Ruger 10/22 snuggled in nicely between the Schwinn Varsity and the high mileage F150. You know, somewhere between grade school and your first real job. Iron sights and minute-of-tin-can accuracy were plenty for those days, but now that we know that precision and accuracy should be givens, not dreams. The dated philosophy behind the archaic 10/22 trigger has come to an end.

By using electrical discharge machining (EDM) for the finer points on the hammer and sear, TandemKross in collaboration with Brimstone Gunsmithing has brought the mid-20th century 10/22 fully into the 21st century. Brimstone Gunsmithing, located on the opposite end of country from TandemKross (in Washington while TK is in New Hampshire), has tremendous experience with triggers of the 10/22 variety among others. Compared to many aftermarket triggers, the starting price of $135 for the TandemKross Ultimate Trigger hardly induces sticker shock. Many triggers at twice that price are common.

Learn your Gun
The installation of the TandemKross Ultimate Trigger is straightforward with just a few places where choice matters. There is an excellent video on Youtube that walks you through the process. For those gun shy about the inner workings of your guns, I suggest two things: First, do work on your gun but start with the outside stuff and work your way to the inside stuff as you gain skill, confidence and tools. Second, anyone worth their prepper salt should have at least passing knowledge of how a bolt group and trigger system works in common guns like the 10/22 and AR 15. And the easiest way to learn them is by doing an upgrade.

The video for the TandemKross Ultimate Trigger walks you slowly through the disassembly and reassembly of the 10/22 trigger group. The only hiccup I noticed is the orientation of the hammer spring. On the video, the spring is blocked in view so it takes a moment of sleuthing to make sure it’s oriented correctly. It’s one of those things that makes perfect sense after you know how to align it.

The first time I installed a TandemKross Ultimate Trigger it took me about 25 minutes, partially to do it right, but mostly to savor the wonderful experience of upgrading a gun with my own hands. The second time I did it, again in no hurry, took about 15 minutes. The video does the main trigger work in about 12 minutes of the 19 minute video. And for those new to 10/22 disassembly, the trigger group/receiver assembly may not fit back into the stock unless the safety selector button is halfway between on and off. Forgetting that is a common point of frustration.

Upgrade and Up-Upgrade
Two version of the TandemKross Ultimate Trigger are available, each in two different colors, red and black. The standard TandemKross Ultimate Trigger is for the factory 10/22 trigger group. The other offering is a TandemKross Ultimate Trigger with an extra part for upgrading the Ruger BX Trigger group. Which of course begs the question of why upgrade and upgrade? Easy answer. Because it truly is an upgrade to the upgrade. The entire feel and operation of the trigger is improved including the aggressive and colorful flat-faced shoe. Sadly, the $89 BX trigger that Ruger sells within its own aftermarket catalog should really be the standard trigger that every 10/22 comes with. It’s a good starting point with still plenty of room for improvement.

The days of substandard out-of-the-box performance should be over. But alas, Ruger, like many gun manufacturers, still sleeps well at night knowing that many of it’s guns could be so much better with just a little elbow grease and a few drops of polishing compound. As evidence of this Ruger has no shame in comparing its stock 10/22 trigger with its own BX trigger in a graph that highlights just how bad their own original trigger really is. In fact firearms seem to be one of the last strongholds where our tolerance for low manufacturing standards are still alive and well. Imagine if your truck or phone or hiking boots had disappointing flaws from the get-go. And worse, there is an entire segment of the economy devoted to fixing your just-purchased gun problem.

Anyway, at least in our current 10/22 reality, that’s how it is. Or perhaps not? During my upgrading of two different 10/22 rifles with TandemKross Ultimate Triggers, I noticed that my most recently purchased 10/22 was considerably more polished and smooth in finish work that the other one that was from the 1990s. In fact the earlier one was shockingly crude inside compared to the more current one. So that means that the older your 10/22, the bigger the perceived upgrade.

10/22 2.0
According to TandemKross, “The design of the factory spring and plunger requires a heavier spring in order to have consistent, positive resets. The “Ultimate” Trigger Kit does away with this design, replacing the spring and plunger with a single coil of music wire spring that flexes and rebounds with zero friction, binding or other trigger “noise.” This is absolutely true. In fact, so wonderful is the TandemKross Ultimate Trigger that it makes your 10/22 perform like an entirely new gun.

In my scientific trigger pull tests, the TandemKross Ultimate Triggers constantly broke at 3.2 pounds with very limited take-up and almost no overtravel. Comparing the TandemKross Ultimate Triggers to the stock trigger was more Venus and Mars than night and day or apples and oranges. The factory Ruger 10/22 trigger broke weakly at almost twice the poundage, and three times the travel. And the ride was pretty bumpy along the way. In my force vs. displacement tests, the stock trigger broke at just under six pounds, and 0.15 inches of travel. The 3.2 pound snap of the TandemKross Ultimate Triggers happened at around 0.10 inches of travel (I forgot to zero the displacement sensor so the travel is from -.05 to +.05).

Further, my graphs clearly show a distinct difference in break. The TandemKross Ultimate Triggers is instantaneous while the factory Ruger trigger seemed to need some time to think about breaking as indicated by the slope of the line rather than a vertical drop. While the factory trigger may sound to your ear like it’s obviously made up its mind when it’s time to break, the graph shows some hesitation. Compared to the redesigned sear, hammer and spring of the TandemKross Ultimate Trigger, the Ruger trigger takes its sweet time to punch the firing pin while the Ultimate Trigger shows no detectable hesitation.

Furthering the TandemKross Ultimate Trigger experience is the glorious aluminum shoe. By increasing the face area as well as flattening it, the index finger has a solid and predictable resting position that can pull evenly with little risk of slippage or rolloff. The textured surface provides a solid purchase whether skin or glove, and ensures a defined trigger shoe edge to work with. The shoe is similar to other TandemKross offerings including the Victory Trigger for both Ruger Mark and 22/45 pistols and the Smith & Wesson Victory .22 pistol.

So put a TandemKross Ultimate Trigger into your Ruger and fall in love with your 10/22 all over again. It really is that good.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Vortex 8x36 Solo Monocular: Plenty of Power in Half the Space

A monocular is little more than half a binocular. At least in principle. But in reality, more is less, and more is more.

A pair of binoculars gives a wonderful view of the world. Your eyes can relax and enjoy the far away for hours. But binoculars weigh more. Cost more. require eye alignment and diopter adjustment. And, if dropped may never again preform worth a hoot.


Monoculars, on the other hand, are much more (and less) than half a pair of binoculars. They actually weigh less than half a binocular, cost less than half a comparable binocular, contain fewer moving parts than a pair of binoculars, and incapable of going out of binocular alignment. Monoculars combine (there’s no choice really) the image focus with the individual eye adjustment. That all said, monoculars do have their downsides, but if a monocular is your thing or your need, then one glass tube to consider is the Vortex Solo 8x36 monocular.

Be a VIP

Vortex is a major player in the outdoor optics space. From binos to rifle scopes to red dots to spotting scopes, Vortex Optics. delivers a range of goods from budget overseas glass to the highest of the high end optics that sit comfortably in the four figures.

And then there is the Vortex VIP warranty. It truly has to be experienced to be believed, but hopefully you won’t need to experience it. Personally I have used it three times, and all were more than I expected. And in two cases, brand new kit showed up rather than fixed or re-manufactured gear. I should say, however, that I have also received amazing service from Leupold and have no doubts that although Vortex promotes their warranty, other top notch companies also exceed expectations.

The specs of the Vortex Solo 8x36 monocular are as follows:

Weight: 9.7 ounces

Thickness 2.6 inches

Length: 4.9 inches

Field of view at 1k yards: 393 feet

Eye relief: 18mm

Street price: $100 plus or minus

Dissecting the specs, the fun begins with the eight power. 8x is down the middle of the magnification for handheld optics. 6x is for the opera. 7x is for use on boats. 8x is for active land use. Nine and 10x is on the upper end of power for handheld optics. And 12x and above are for special purpose binoculars including bird watching and astronomy. The reason eight-power is the norm and ten is the top is because any less is of little help and any more is too hard to hold still for useful viewing. If you hike up a hill, you won’t be able to hold a pair of 10x binos still enough to get maximum use from them. Same with monoculars. As your heart pumps and your lung cycle, so do your optics bounce.

Invest in Plastics

The Vortex Solo 8x36 monocular feels stout yet light. But not so light to feel cheap. the rubber armor both protects against bumps and bruises as well as provide some sure traction for your fingertips and gloves. The coating covers a durable but non-metal housing. To reduce costs, the case materials are not the magnificent elegantly-machined magnesium of a professional Nikon camera or Leica Ultravid binoculars.

The grab-and-go nature of a monocular give the user a fast, lightweight, small viewing option designed more for speed and carry than actual long-term viewing. One of the main reasons for buying a higher-end optic is for sustained viewing and for those jobs where sorting out fine detail is critical. Binoculars are excellent at giving the user a rich closeup picture of the world, but it comes at a cost. The moving parts of a binocular weaken it. And any misalignment of the optical barrels makes them near useless at best and completely useless at worst. But either barrel used in isolation of the other still has significant merit. So why not just skip the middleman and run one barrel. Thus the Vortex Solo 8x36 monocular.

The monocular is like a small telescope meaning you have to close or cover one eye for best viewing. While open-eye viewing might work with 1x-3x scopes and red dots, at 8x keeping the second eye open causes you to struggle between which reality to follow. You cannot overlap the imagery in your brain because the magnification scales are much too different.

Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast

But the good news is that you can quickly focus a monocular without an additional individual adjustment. Adding to the focus speed is that the rotation of the focus ring from closest to farthest is about a quarter-turn. And if you are glassing targets beyond 20 yards, the focus range is about a tenth of a turn. The Solo has a minimum focus distance of about five yards which is a noted problem for close up work.

The Vortex Solo 8x36 monocular, like most worthwhile optics these days, has an O-ring sealed housing that prevents water from entering, and keeps the fog-reducing nitrogen atmosphere inside the Solo inside the Solo.

The only ornaments adorning the Vortex Solo 8x36 monocular are its belt clip, something Vortex calls a utility clip, and the embossed model name along with a lanyard (included) port 90 degrees counterclockwise from the belt clip. An extendable eyecup helps position the Solo for both naked eye use and viewing through glasses. A minor case is included with the Solo, but the case does not fully enclose the monocular. Also of note is that no lens covers are included, or in my opinion needed.


The magnified image produced by the Vortex Solo 8x36 monocular is fine for general hunting, route finding, and homeland security. However it is not exceptional. But at $100, it is acceptable. The central field of view has a fairly sharp image with good contrast, but the peripheral area loses its crispness rapidly and the far edges are blurry. As an optics snob who usually carries Leica, Leupold Gold Ring, or Nikon Premier optics, this monocular is not something you would enjoy using hour after hour. But it is fast to use, rapid on target, quick to focus, and instantly provides an 8x view of the world that is plenty sharp enough to do your work or get on with your hunt.

Choose One

Vortex makes four choices of monoculars in combinations of 8x or 10x power and with 36mm or 25mm objective lenses. For me, the best combination is the 8x by 36mm. While a few more x of power might be nice, the real challenge is holding it still for effective viewing. And with a monocular there is much less to grab compared to a pair of binoculars. The 36mm objective provides the light-gathering needed for early morning and late evening. During a bright afternoon, even the smallest objective optics work well. It’s the edges of day where the larger objectives become critical.

The Vortex Solo 8x36 monocular is a handy solution for short-term observation. The small size and speed of operation are its advantages over binoculars. And in the SHTF, advantages are what it's all about.blished by Google DriveReport Abuse–Updated automatically every 5 minutes

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The SOG Field Knife: An Excellent Cheap Blade


SOG has produced many fine knives including several now made in the USA again. I have a few and enjoy the heck out of them, but my favorite SOG ride retails for over $200. But for one-eighth that amount, SOG has an excellent basic knife that has a fine handle, an excellent blade, and a pretty good sheath. Normally I shy away from cheap blades, but this time I’ll make an exception.

A knife made in China is not automatically a bad thing. Patriotism aside, the negative issues most common with overseas production is poor quality control, substandard materials, and in the particular case of knives, inappropriate steel tempering even if the steel choice could be considered plenty good. However, SOG has a rich history of offering China-made blades that don’t suck. But many of their Chinese knives don’t rock either.

For some reason the Swedish-made Mora Knife is an acceptable non-USA made blade. German blades are exceptional as often are English blades. And Finish blades are tops even when they are made in Japan. And Japanese blades are truly some of the world’s best.

But China? Let’s just take that one knife at a time. The SOG Field Knife retails for a whopping $30 with a street price of under $25. That’s about five bucks more than a MORA. Or about a hundred and fifty dollars less than what usually catches my attention. At the minimum.


The SOG Field Knife checks in at a paltry 3.8 ounces or well within an acceptable weight of an EDC folding knife. However the blade is acceptably thick at 0.13 inches, and with an overall blade length of four inches its plenty of knife general outdoor tasks including those for bushcraft, tactical applications, hunting, and short-term survival needs.

The handle of the SOG Field Knife is a thermoplastic rubber that works well, but under hard use will likely not last a lifetime. Even a dog's lifetime. But that’s not the point of this knife. The grippy rubber handle has an index finger notch and a contained finger area ending just before the tang meaning the blade metal extends all the way through the handle and out the other side. A reasonable finger guard is molded into the grip and serves its purpose well. The protruding metal is solidly jimped and can be counted on to transfer 100% pounding force to the very tip of the blade on the southernmost blade end.

The sheath is a hard plastic form-fitting blade cover that is mostly no-nonsense. It holds on to the SOG Field Knife through a friction grip on the knife handle. Works now, but I doubt I will trust it in a year or two. A cut-out in the sheath creates a small window to access to the blade for shielded cutting of cordage.

The overall length of the SOG Field Knife is about eight and a half inches. That’s enough for most uses, and is a highly respectable size for this price point. The blade steel is fairly unexciting at a 7CR17MoV, or in other words, a room temperature stainless with acceptable knife properties. 7CR17Mov is a step above 440 Stainless which is the go-to steel for many budget knife makers. The SOG Field Knife seemed to hold its edge well and honed right up on a ceramic stone.

With its hollow grind and clip point, many good things can happen. Add to that the choil encouraging placement of a finger forward of the handle proper, and a jimped thumb landing on the spine, again forward of the handle, gives the SOG Field Knife some fine motor skills.

For general survival and bushcraft tasks, the SOG Field Knife scores high enough minimize concerns. Give it extra points of the low price, and the SOG Field Knife is a winner worthy of budget-conscious attention. And here’s were my rubber words meet the road. I am a user of the SOG Pillar since its creation. The SOG Pillar is an American-made CPMS35VN super-steel knife that weighs twice as much, an inch-and-a-half longer, and much nastier. But at arm’s reach, the Field Knife looks quite similar to the Pillar but with a street price at least six times lower.

While I don’t endorse the SOG Field Knife as my first choice, second choice or even tenth choice in a true SHTF event, it is still an excellent choice when price is a serious consideration. Or you just want anther knife.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Craft Holsters: A Solid Shoulder rig for The Ruger Alaskan .44 Magnum

I fully appreciate all the effort designers put into holsters, but when the cows come home (or the fat lady sings if you live in the city), the proof is in the pudding. Now, neck-deep in metaphors, I’ll cut to the chase; a finely crafted leather shoulder holster rules the day when packing a multi-pound chunk of stainless steel bear-repelling hardware.


Look, I get that city folk respect their CCW-IWB-OWB-APNDXcarry holsters, but those people are moving from home to bus stop to office workstation. Me? I move from home to 4x4 to great big wide open Big Sky Montana. And my low density 41st State is jam packed with reasons to carry a hand cannon in a shoulder rig.

Craft Holsters is a rock solid supplier of some of the best holsters on this planet especially shoulder holsters among their over 250 offerings. But before we go too far into the holster, let’s look at the concept. Shoulder holsters have been around forever with a Hollywood cred to back it up. From cowboy western to Dirty Harry, to Miami Vice, to Die Hard, to John Wick. If anything, the holster consuming public (which is no doubt every reader of this) may be a little gun shy when it comes to shoulder rigs due to nothing more than a lack of confidence and perhaps need. 


Shoulder holsters do extrude some serious gun creed that a belt-mounted holster cannot come close to unless accompanied by a flat dark earth thigh strap (if you know what I mean...and I know you do).

However, in my case a shoulder rig is just what the doctor ordered. And trust me...I’m a doctor. Obviously by now you know that Craft Holsters supplies an excellent array of holsters for both city and outdoor needs, not just bothering to sell low hanging gun fruit for simple carry uses and those complex ones that need a little explaining Craft Holsters delivers the goods on advanced needs too. As one who fits into the latter category of complex needs I find the Craft Holster shoulder option an outstanding variation that fits neatly between my belt rig and my heart-covering chest rig. Dare I say the best option?

The shoulder rigs by Craft Holsters are backed up with solid knowledge about the history and use of shoulder carry. Here’s the Craft backup on that intel, including a quick vid of how to draw from the shoulder rig. The particular one under discussion here is the Vertical Roto Shoulder Holster w Double Mag Pouch. And put a  finer point on it, the Ruger Alaskan will make this Craft Holster its home.

The leatherwork of this gunleather is phenomenal. The numerous adjustments and locking screws allow a wide range of custom fits and carry options. The classic shoulder deployment is a cross-draw with the strong-side hand. It takes some practice to draw with the the support hand since the gun is carried below the support-side armpit. But if the shoulder rig is appropriately fit to the wearer, it will provide enoug

h resistance to allow a gun to be pulled free even from a bit of a contorted angle. And speaking of fitting, the Craft Holsters Shoulder Holster has two belt loops that anchor the holster system to your body. The choice of using the belt anchors may depend on what you anticipate. For rough stuff, definitely strap in.

Of all my carry choices, the Craft Holsters Shoulder Holster satisfies a wide range of carry needs. No matter the outerwear, the wearing of a backpack, or simply the need for a more covert option compared to a in-your-face-chest-presentation, the Craft Holsters Shoulder Holster delivers.

The ammo supply on
the Vertical Roto Shoulder Holster w Double Mag Pouch is either in the form of a pair of rectangular magazine pouches, or two cylinders for speed loaders. And even if your plans don't require extra ammo, the counter-balance effect of a weighted mag pouch or two makes the entire system ride better.

The Craft Holsters Shoulder Holster is composed of three main pieces. Obviously there is a gun container, followed by a strap system, and finally the accessories composed of two speed loader compartments. The gun holding aspect is absolutely top notch! No seriously. I’m not overusing the exclamation point. The workmanship and fit is as good as it gets, and the snugness is so right that it took a bit of work out of the box to get the Alaskan and the leather to play well together. Once fitted, there is nothing more secure than this. Now I know that reading between the lines some might worry that quality it is optional, but let me be clear that it took a moment to get the leather stretched, but after a few tries, the snap snapped and the leather locked in a perfect fit. I would not want it any other way! And you can take that exclamation point to the bank! That one too.

The leather of the Craft Holsters Shoulder Holster is top notch. It wears well and provided ample security and fit, and will grow only better with age. The roll-out of the revolver upon deployment provides three levels of extraction. Once the retention strap is popped free of its snap, the Alaskan can be slid straight free. If a 45-degree rotation is needed, then so be it. The Craft Holsters Shoulder Holster accommodates a quick low-angle deployment, as well as a massive 90-degree plus rotation out of the shoulder configuration if needed. No matter the need, the Craft Holsters Shoulder Holster will deliver. So think of being rolled in an tree-lined alley by a grizzly bear. Yea. That’s what I’m talk’n bout Willis!

The Craft Holsters Shoulder Holster is not just carried, but worn. It blends into your wardrobe and daily routine. The adjustments offer significant options to customize the fit as well as presenting the firearm at the exact position you expect. And that’s a deliverable you can bank on.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

A Bag of Grey: Prepare to go Transparent

The concept of a Grey Man, or pretty much a grey anything is simply using the word grey as an adjective to describe transparency. Many people think that Grey means blending it, but that can be just as dangerous as standing out. Blending in means you are one of the many, and of equal value as a target. Instead, “Going Grey” in my mind is the physical and mental adjustment you can psychologically force upon others to shut off all alarm bells. Going Grey means disappearing into the background noise of whatever environment you are Greying into. In a city you should attract no more attention than a phone pole, or a stairway, or street sign even if that means standing out just like a phone pole or stairway or street sign does.

Transparent, not Opaque

Going Grey also means providing others with just enough information for them to create their own narrative for you. People are exceptionally good at creating explanations or inferences for what they see. So give them just enough narrative rope to hang themselves.

The challenge of Going Grey is that you must look Grey and act Grey while not really being the Grey. Humans, like all predatory animals, are keenly aware of actions inconsistent with intent.
If the intent is to be harmless, then anything off that mark should pull the fire alarm! Why would that harmless looking man circle back around behind me? Why would a coyote stop running when the dog stops chasing it? Why would that car drive by me twice? How come that person keeps glancing my way? Why did those people stop talking when I walked by? Why is that car backing into the alley? How come that guy didn’t look up when there was a loud noise? To Go Grey, you must behave so predictably as to become the yardstick from which inconsistent behavior is measured. And, of course, you have to look the part.

Hold my beer and watch this!

Outside of acting lessons, you can practice your Grey Skills by going passive. Let the whims of the world dictate your movements like a leaf in the wind. The key is flow. If you move out of the natural flow, you are quickly identified as something to pay attention to. Like a log floating in a river, your presence will be noted, but then ignored. That is until you snag on something and immediately fall out of flow creating many downstream changes.

During an extended backpacking trip in Alaska, a herd of caribou hung out downhill from our camp. As the days wore on, we became keenly astute to their natural rhythms. The flow indicators were how fast they moved, where they were looking (both individually and as a group), how many were laying on the ground, how quickly they turned their heads, the density of their distribution, and how long they stood still. In essence, the caribou were our alarm system for anything non-caribou that approached. Like any good hunter knows, you can tell a lot about what is going on in the big picture by noticing small details. The sum of their parts is the big picture but you don’t need to connect very many dots before the outline of the picture becomes obvious.

It’s one thing to fool the inattentive, but quite another to become transparent to someone who is watching. I remember observing a “homeless” man on a park bench near Battery Park in New York City. Something just seemed odd about him but I couldn’t immediately put my finger on it. See if you can follow this: Something was off about someone who was off to begin with meaning that something wasn’t off that should have been off. 

The homeless man’s posture was just a little too straight. His attention was a little to sharp. And his actions were just a little too stereotypical especially with the vodka bottle in his hand. Slowly the picture of an undercover cop behind those ratty clothes and bad manners emerged from the situation. So when I ran his further actions and appearance through my lens of “cop” everything else he did fell into place. I could even triangulate his attention allowing me to connect the dots until I could see that where I was standing was not a safe place to be. Something was about to go down and I wanted no part of it. A few minutes later, the cacophony of sirens proved my theory correct.

The homeless cop is just one of many examples of disruptive flow that I’ve experienced over the years and around the world. And I know many soldiers who have keenly honed their flow detectors during their hot desert tours. It is extremely hard to act differently from what’s actually on your mind so to truly become transparent, you must believe you are transparent and act accordingly. Your attitude may be more important than your appearance. And you might have to risk not looking around which is the exact opposite of the whole head-on-a-swivel thing. Like a deer, you might have to trust your psychological camo to do the job even if it means letting the danger get awfully darn close.

Another quick story. It was a pleasant afternoon when I was walking the dog. There was a housing complex across the street from the park where I was at, and I noticed a couple normal looking guys exiting a car in the parking lot of the park and walking across the street to the housing complex. Everything looked 100% normal until one of the guys looked behind him as he crossed the street. Nobody does that! Alarm bells went off in my head. Then I noticed that where their car was parked was just out of sight from the housing complex entrance. I gave a quick call to 911. You know, see something, say something. Ten minutes later, the men I saw cross the street were in handcuffs and being shuttled away in the back of a police car. While it was all great entertainment for me, it also drove home the point that in order to truly be Grey, you must act Grey even at the risk of missing something behind you. Remember, nobody looks backwards unless their guilty. A head on a swivel is also a flashing light!

Dress Up to Dress Down

One of the few famous Dolly Parton quotes is “You'd be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap! “ Not the same with the Grey look. The physical side of Going Grey is a combination of clothes and accessories. And lucky for you, a Grey Wardrobe can had for a few bucks at the Goodwill store. From head to toe, the Grey Costume must neutralize its wearer. No particular item should stand out and be an identifying characteristic. You want to make it hard to describe what you are wearing, thus ringing no bells through association or curiosity. No bright colors, but not all in black either. Aim towards navy blue, black, dark green, and brown, and of course grey. All just dirty enough to be real, but not so much to be a mockery of being unclean. Dress in obvious layers as if you were wearing all your clothes at once. Cover every inch but your hands and face if temperature permits. 

Choose a knit stocking cap over anything more modern. And avoid unworn shoes or boots. In fact, shoes are one of the fastest ways to categorize people, and even cops playing hide and seek. Just as my footwear sticks out in New York City, so too does a city dweller’s shoes here in Montana. Brands matter. I can tell those brands and styles native to the US compared to those worn overseas. And I can tell those shoes preferred by city dweller’s compared to those who live around here even if it’s the same type of shoe. Montana has more than its share of tourists so I get to practice my skills often. Even locally bought boots are not worn with the same effort as the locals do. Same with cars. Same with outdoor gear. Same with the way the person interacts with the environment.

You can have on all the tactical garb you like under your Grey Suit, but don’t let it adjust your attitude. Your exterior must be believable, not like a Sierra Club bumper sticker on your Hummer. Here is a possible shopping list to begin your Grey Journey, with bonus points for weathered, stained, dirty, faded, repaired, and too-big-for-you items. Mostly I manufacture my grey clothes locally, but when needed, I supplement my wardrobe for a buck or two. Remember, you are not going for the full homeless look, just the surviving on the edge look.

Hat: Dark blue or black knit stocking cap and/or lightly stained baseball cap with meaningless logo.

Coat: Old olive drab ancient military coat, beat up dark colored down coat, or dirty brown canvas work coat like a Carhart. The elbows must show wear.

Insulative layer: Hoodie sweatshirt of grey or dark blue. Full zips are best for their quick change, and easy access to interior items.

Main pants: Darker colored work pants with much wear and staining. Should be too big and if way too long can be “hemmed” with scissors to mildly long or too short. Holes are fine since you will be wearing another pair of pants under this pair.

Insulative pants: Another pair of similar work pants but of a different color so it is easy to see you are wearing two pairs of pants. Or you can choose a lighter layer if warm. Either way, you don’t want anything obviously as “cover.”


Footwear: Beat up work boots are best, but make sure the laces are heavily worn and show signs of being broken and tied back together. Better yet, have laces that are too long or short and tie up the boots accordingly. The soles must be well worn, but skip the duct tape since that is a dead giveaway that your condition is short term.

Grey Luggage: This is both for you and your advanced kit including gas cans. Imagine a string of bright red gas cans strapped to the roof of your Bug Out Vehicle. What can scream “Resources!” like a pile of full gas cans? Instead contain your precious gas cans in trashy looking luggage not so feebly tied onto a roof rack. And what screams “cheap crap you don’t want!” more than crappy-looking suitcases tied to a car with fraying yellow polypropylene rope.

Once you have your new threads, lay them out and look for things that stand out, or would catch someone’s eye, or could be used in a description of you. Avoid all patches, discernible writing, brand labels, and strong color contrasts.

Gone Grey

Before you ask, I’ll go ahead and share where I got my experience. I love to travel with reckless abandon. I’ve had my passport taken by border guards in Yugoslavia. I’ve had East German soldiers point their machine guns at me while hanging out around one of their bases (yea, I’m that old). And I’ve walked right through a wall of French riot police by pretending to be a photojournalist. That last one is a bit of cheating since I actually was a photojournalist in a previous life. I could go on about adventures in the seedier parts of Barcelona and New York City. How about getting pulled over, illegally searched, and then let go by the Birmingham, AL police. 

And being passed over by muggers in South Africa because, as I found out later, they could not tell if I was a local or a tourist (how do I know? I went and asked them). In every case, I went as grey as I could, and forced every hint of my confident attitude or the chip on my American shoulder dissolve into a bland bowl of tasteless oatmeal. And that skill has served me when at security checkpoints, in unwanted confrontations with authority, and when passing through intensely sketchy areas like a dark park in New Orleans, an alleyway in DC, under a bridges in Prague, a closed train station in Hamburg, the Shanty towns of Cape Town, through racially charged neighborhoods in Chicago, across “Needle Park” in Zurich at night, or a dark pathway in LA. Not everything goes a planned, and I’ve had to run from danger, but mostly it works. I’m not an expert in these matters, just a fool who pushes his luck over and over, but keeps mental DOPE mixed with sociology and psychology. So with all that said, you also need to set boundaries and, “You’ve got to know when to hold'em. Know when to fold‘em. Know when to walk away. And know when to run [like hell!].”

Come out and Play

Here are some fun exercises to hone your skills:

Wander the isles of better stores looking for their loss prevention staff (shoplifting, or shrinkage as they like to call it). Many stores have loss prevention employees that look for shoplifters, or provide “enhanced” customer service. Something is always off with these guys and gals. See if you can detect them following others around. Or see if you can draw them out with minor (but legal) actions.

Invade personal space. Get too close to people and events to initiate a response. I’ve often “invaded” secure areas like staring at a camera on an FBI building, or forgetting something during a TSA baggage search, or asking security a non-standard question like “Wow, is that an MP5?” Nothing big or dangerous, but this game serves two purposes. First, it identifies the players and rules. And second, it’s good to practice being innocent.

Play stupid. One of the biggest problems when playing stupid around family and friends is the desire for someone else to jump in and help. I’ve asked directions from multiple people (to triangulate the information) only to have a friend jump in and answer my question with the previous person's information. You need to practice hiding what you know.

Rehearse your story. At some point during an engagement with a security person, a decision will be made if you are a threat or not. If you have a story ready and engage enforcement personnel, you can tell in their body language when they drop their focus on you and shift it elsewhere. Eye contact is broken, they might step back, their chin goes up, their gaze goes back to scan mode. As long as you are credible, you pose no threat, but it takes a moment or two for that decision to be made. Just don’t over do it or you will re-engage their defenses.

Grey equals transparent, and transparent equals sincere. Without believing in your own story, nobody else will buy it either. Going Grey is one of these few survival traits that can save your life by doing nothing.