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The 2017 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) is produced each year by the National Defense Industry Association (NDIA) and the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). It’s held in Tampa every year, since the USSOCOM is based in the same city at Macdill Air Force Base. The point of the conference is to allow the providers of Special-Operations-related technology and services to interact directly with their clients in various military units, and to ply their wares to entice new military contracts.
SOFIC began as a chance for service providers and manufacturers of weapons, gear, and vehicles to interact directly with USSOCOM representatives. This provides an opportunity for ground-level feedback and interactions between all parties. You’ll see generals slowly walking through the aisles with their aides by their sides, or sometimes being cornered by industry execs in suits or polo shirts. But you’ll also see soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen by the hundreds lining up to hold the latest and greatest guns and gear.
The show is a great chance to find products which are designed for teams operating in remote areas with virtually zero outside support. This also makes the show an excellent resource for survivalists looking for the next great gear that will give them a leg up. But members of the media are thoroughly vetted before obtaining credentials to take photos and video, so we were lucky to get a glimpse into this heavily-restricted event.
We saw all kinds of things we would love to spend our money on, but the following items really caught our attention. Read on for our top three pieces of survival gear from SOFIC 2017.
The Mariner desalinization system from Fluid Technology Solutions uses deceptively simple small plastic bags which can be submerged in saltwater. The bags use a semi-permeable plastic membrane which allows ingress of water and removes 97% of its salts using forward-osmosis technology. As the less-salty water interacts with the chemical compounds inside the bag over a period of several hours, it creates a high-calorie survival drink that is perfectly safe to consume.
We loved it mostly for its simplicity — the ability to simply drop a bag into undrinkable water and 8 hours later obtain 480 calories of energy drink in potable water? That’s some kind of survivalist black magic right there. The Mariner system is currently being used in service by the United States Coast Guard, and we plan to have it packed and ready for our next blue water expedition as well.
Although we haven’t been able to test it in the field yet, by all appearances the Badger Shelter from Catoma Outdoor looks like a great choice for a shelter and is small enough to pack into your bug-out bag. We were amazed by the way this double-wall tent, which looks so large and substantial once set up, could pack down into such a small space. It even weighs less than three pounds. The single-person shelter offers moisture protection with its built-in rain fly, and its center height of 27” gives you some room to sit up and move around without feeling like you’re stuffed into an anchovy can.
It packs down to a size of just 13” x 13” wide and 3.5” deep, and this isn’t just achievable in a lab. We actually watched them pack it down for us at the show, and couldn’t believe just how easy it was to take down. And when you pull it out of your pack, you can have your shelter set up in less than a minute. The 70-denier, 1.9-ounce ripstop nylon is flame-retardant and comes pre-treated with permethrin insect repellant to ward off would-be blood-suckers.
Across the street from the actual convention, in a hotel conference room with zero signage or advertising on the outside, we met with some of 5.11 Tactical’s crew at their “other booth” which is more like an executive suite stuffed with their gear. This room is an invitation-only gathering place with sofas, chairs, and coffee tables set up for high-profile individuals who need a low-profile haven to speak directly with the decision-makers at 5.11 Tactical.
We were able to sneak in between some of their meetings to lay hands on the newest gear, and also meet with their lead bag designer, Scott Lambert. Scott designed the Urban Casualty Response (UCR) Slingpack which is a specialized medic bag for mass shooting events inspired by Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (TECC) guidelines. He also designed the UCR IFAK Pouch, which with its bungee tie-downs has a place of honor mounted to the back of our vehicle headrests. In short, we’ve used enough of his gear that we felt like we knew Scott before we met him.
His newest brainchild was hidden in a secret compartment underneath the coffee table. He glanced furtively around the room, making sure everyone present fell under the “trusted” column, and then pulled out his soon-to-be released DART18 backpack. The intent of this pack is to pick up where the company's COVRT18 left off. Basically, it's a CCW-focused pack that doesn’t look out of place at the grocery store. They also were responding to end-user feedback to bring the price point down to below $100.00.
The pack’s sleek exterior features trimmable labels, because not everyone needs to know you like guns and (probably) have one on you. The articulating strap anchor points also help the pack to fit a variety of torso shapes, ensuring that this pack will be more comfortable than what you’ve been accustomed to from 5.11. Last, the removable modular board insert will let you attach gear for a specific mission profile and then quickly swap out the board for another as your environment and requirements change.
It’s funny — in talking to Scott, we learned about several other neat features he had wanted to incorporate, but didn’t make the cut in the effort to bring the price point down. Too often in the past we’ve complained about gear without thinking. “Why couldn’t they build it this way? They should have thought of this!” When in reality it’s very possible that the designer or the company did, in fact, think of exactly that, but couldn’t include it due to budget constraints. That’s why we laugh sometimes when companies make two- and three- and four-hundred dollar backpacks, trying to do everything possible to build the best bag and/or manufacture it in the USA to higher quality control standards, only to have users complain that the cost is crazy. It’s a game that sometimes manufacturers can win, and sometimes they can’t.
We wish we had space to mention every single one of the cool things we saw at SOFIC this year, but like some of these manufacturer booths, we sometimes just can’t squeeze in everything that ought to be there! Check out the gallery below of all the photos we took at SOFIC 2017, and follow @recoiloffgridmagazine on Instagram for more show coverage and cool new gear in the future.
Andrew Schrader is a licensed professional engineer and is certified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as an Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Structures Specialist. His company, Recon Response Engineering LLC, advises state and federal government organizations on the subject of urban search and rescue and building collapse. He recently assisted the U.S. Department of State’s Italian Consulate in the development of their post-earthquake response and rescue protocol. You can follow him on Instagram at @reconresponse.