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For the third year in a row we visited the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) in Tampa, FL. Held here each year because of its proximity to Macdill Air Force Base, headquarters of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), it’s always a great opportunity to interact with vendors and hear first-hand feedback from service members who have actually used the gear, oftentimes overseas in combat.
We stood outside in the blistering sun along with a thousand other people, waiting and watching for a combined-forces demonstration from several Allied nations' Special Operations teams as they assaulted a 115-foot long sightseeing yacht in the adjacent channel.
We oohed and aahed as we watched Little Birds and Black Hawks hover over the yacht, guns chattering non-stop, and then another round of cacophonous noise as the fast riverine boats blew by us and cut loose with their mini-guns. Then, like everyone else, we walked back inside the convention center to check out more booths and dine on dramatically overpriced and under-spiced convention center catering.
There were several bright spots at the show, not the least of which was finding awesome new gear and products which we hadn’t yet seen in person. Here are three products that stood out as our favorites at SOFIC 2018:
As much as we love — and continue to buy — backpacks and bags, at a certain point it becomes ridiculous. Depending on what you do for a living, 5 different bags might be a little much. In some cases, 15 bags might be overkill. But sooner or later we all get there.
The new 5.11 Tactical AMP series of packs, coming in Fall 2018, features a modular load-out system that’s easy to swap between packs. It’s based on the HEXGRID load bearing system which is a honeycomb-shaped webbing that allows you to mount or attach gear at any angle — not just straight up and down. All of the HEXGRID panels are easy to rip off and reattach to another pack, either outside or inside. So instead of having endless packs just sitting around and waiting for the right mission, we could theoretically go down to about three packs along with a long row of the modular grid panels.
Basically the AMP12, AMP24, and AMP72 (pictured above in tan, black, and OD green in respective order) are replacing the well-worn RUSH12, RUSH24, and RUSH72 packs, and it’s probably a little bit overdue. The new series has a much cleaner look, and with the HEXGRID panels removed from the outside they blend in just fine at the grocery store or at the park.
Our only concern is that the attachment webbing appears very thin and low-profile — so much so that we’re wondering just how much weight it can support, with that weight cycling up and down on the attachment point over a 50 or 100-mile walking distance. The 5.11 guys said that they considered this and overbuilt the material to withstand fatigue cycling and tearing. We’re looking forward to try one out once they’re released, and put the HEXGRID webbing through some torture tests to see if it holds up as well as the company claims.
For more info on the 5.11 Tactical AMP bags, go to 511tactical.com/fall2018-amp-bags.
We were intrigued by this identification lighting system for its apparent simplicity, durability, and imminent applicability for our outdoor adventuring. The V-Lites were designed as an alternative to chemlight sticks. Except they burn brighter, they’re more easily visible because they have a blinking option, and they’re curved to mount directly onto your helmet if you’re wearing one. They can also be slipped directly into PALS webbing or to a backpack.
They’re also extremely waterproof, with a non-replaceable battery to help keep everything watertight. This means that each one lasts for 120+ hours if burning “ON” continuously, and obviously will last a lot longer than that if it's blinking. The V-lites come in six colors right now: Blue, Green, Orange, Red, White, and Infrared (IR), and they retail for around $40.
This price isn’t cheap, but if you’re using them to help make yourself more visible to your comrades-in-arms, or to search-and-rescue crews who may be coming to save you if you’re stuck in the wilderness, we’d consider this a damn cheap insurance policy.
Some of us already wear bright orange or green tops when hiking in the backcountry or hunting in desolate stretches of woods, in case we get lost (or injured) and need to wait for rescue from folks who may or may not know our exact position. If you’re already doing this in the day, we figure, why not also have an option already clipped to your gear and running so that you can be seen at night as well?
For more info on the S&S Precision V-Lite markers, go to SandSprecision.com.
Battelle had two distinctive “sleeper” upgraded vehicles on display at SOFIC, and we instantly fell in love with them. Some of the features we can tell you about, and some we unfortunately can’t (yet), but the point is that these incredibly badass trucks are built to withstand an immense amount of abuse (including small-arms fire) and perform very robustly in a 4WD environment. Meanwhile, they blend in with any other vehicle on the road or trail in your home country.
Battelle modifies stock commercial vehicles including Toyota Hilux, Land Cruiser, and Ford platforms to provide ballistic protection as well as previously unheard-of performance, and they’ve done this on more than 300 vehicles to date. Think block-armored windows that can still go up and down, a self-sealing fuel tank, run-flat tires and extended range with a high-capacity fuel system. You can also hit a “blackout” switch to transition instantly from overt lights to IR lights on the headlights, tail lights and brake lights.
The vintage-looking Toyota Land Cruiser has an electronics and hardware package straight from the year 2020, and immediately caught our eye. It'd fit in well in the Middle East, Africa, or South America, but Battelle has plenty of other platforms available. These include some super-clean models that wouldn’t raise a single eyebrow at your kid’s soccer game in the suburbs.
High priced and untouchable for most of us? Unfortunately, yes. But even so — who hasn’t dreamed of having their own personal Rambo-on-Wheels?
For more info on Batelle tactical vehicles, go to Batelle.org.
The three products above were our favorites at the show, but by no means were they they only cool stuff to be seen. The booths and displays housed countless other interesting pieces of survival and military gear. Check out the gallery below of all the photos we took at SOFIC 2018, and follow @recoiloffgridmagazine on Instagram for more show coverage and cool new gear in the future.
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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. Website: www.reconresponse.com Instagram: @reconresponse