Monday, May 25, 2020

Cheap & Awesome Handgun Training with Airsoft

Cheap & Awesome Handgun Training with Airsoft

We live in an amazing time where we no longer need to bang away with high priced ammo and can now reach for many of our same gun models chambered in cheap-to-shoot caliber options. For handguns we have numerous clones of popular defensive caliber handguns now in airsoft options hit the market in the last few years. Let’s take a look at a few of the great options available. 

UMAREX Options - Umarex offer various air-powered pistols from Beretta, Browning, Colt, Elite Force, GLOCK Airguns and Airsoft, Heckler & Koch, Smith & Wesson, T4E, Tactical Force, Umarex USA, UZI, and Walther. If you want to train cheap, Umarex delivers really great quality and reliability with a legacy of great support. 

Walther USA also owns Umarex USA which is the definitive source for air powered BB, Pellet, Airsoft, Training, and paintball marker pistols that mimic the look and feel of the real defensive pistols. In fact all are licensed versions of each respective firearm company. 

Walther PPQ M2 - The PPQ has a well renowned reputation as the world's most comfortable handgun. My PPQ 9mm gets shot a lot, but thankfully I have options that are less expensive to shoot. Among those options within the Walther family is a complete series of Walther PPQ M2 pistols in various 9mm & .40 S&W PPQ defensive pistols, PPQ .22LR models, and then a host of PPQ pellet, BB, airsoft, and marker pistols from Umarex for training use. One of the primary reasons I love my PPQ format is that I can seamlessly train from the same holster with my 9mm, .22LR, airsoft, and paintball marker pistol versions and for the most part they all give me a similar weight to the 9mm version.

With the airsoft and paintball models, I can move into a backyard, or urban training environment with a high margin of safety for more dynamic and realistic person to person training. In the midst of COVID backyard airsoft training has been such an amazing tool. In most cases you can shoot airsoft for about $20 per 5000 rounds which is exponentially lower in cost than even .22LR ammo. My personal favorite backyard targets are the Rubber Dummies rubber targets. Even Airsoft rounds will flake off paint and indicate hits on this target. I probably have 50K+ rounds through the three PPQ airsoft models I own - phenomenal training fun.

Walther also offers BB, Pellet and .43 caliber Marker pistols. I recently picked up a Marker pistol to add as a backup for paintball but it is a much more serious training option. The PPQ Marker is part of the Umarex/Walther T4E training solutions for LEO and military departments. For force on force training, airsoft hurts and delivers the needed indicator that a shot has landed. The .43 Caliber Marker pistol pictured here is even more of an incentive to think about how you are engaging opponents with the option of both paintball and the even more painful reusable .43 caliber hard rubber ball ammo. For those that are extremely adventurous there are also aftermarket .43 caliber pepper mace ammo available which could be used as deterrent ammo in a defensive situation. Umarex markets the marker pistols and airsoft line as significantly less expensive options to expensive simunition rounds. Across the PPQ training stack, there is a model to choose to fit your training needs even if you prefer a pellet or BB option.

Glock - At one point Glock took itself way too seriously and would not consider .22LR or airsoft versions of their G19 and G17 pistols and the result were knockoff pistols that lacked a lot of reliability. Times have thankfully changed and now there is a Glock G44 .22LR for cheap and reliable range training and licensed partnership with Umarex offers a variety of GLOCK Airguns and Airsoft branded models in airsoft, pellet and BB pistols. Our Glock trainers shown in this article are the G44 which has already had thousands of rounds of .22LR pushed through it as a low cost range training and plinking option of the G19 format pistol. The G44 has been a fantastic little pistol, however I do wish I had a suppressor option for it. 

When we get into non-lethal training options, I personally love the sub-cent cost option of the Umarex Glock Training airsoft G17 especially for room clearing training and doing drills which could be potentially dangerous such as very close target draw, charge, and shoot drills. 

There are plenty of options on the market now, but these are some fantastic options. In the midst of our global containment, many of us are not getting to the range as much as we would like. The result is either not training or getting out to training with non-lethal options in our garages and backyards. When we do get to the range, why not save a bit more cash with a rimfire option. Get out practice, train, and save some cash.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Holster Modifications for Comfort and Safety

Holster Modifications for Comfort and Safety

If you are a new concealed carry owner, one of the most frustrating things is to find a holster that fits, is safe and comfortable to fit your daily lifestyle. There are a ton of great holsters out there, however every body shape is different and even the most incredibly comfortable holsters on the market can benefit from a little tuning to make them fit better, chaff less, and remain comfortable longer.

I have been doing leatherwork since I was about eight.. so a while, and have done a bit of kydex work as well. Over the years, I have learned a few tips for holster modifications that can transform an uncomfortable chafing holster to one which seems like it was made for me. There really are only a couple key inexpensive tools I use: a lighter, combo 180 & 240 grit nail black files, Bick’s Leather conditioner, threadlock, and occasionally a ¾-inch piece of shrink wrap. Generally I like to wear a holster and mark the pain or discomfort generating areas with a Sharpie, some of these will be sharp edges, some will be over-formed kydex, stiff leather, or pop out areas of kydex that can be sanded down flatter. Other times that will be non-skin side areas that are delivering unusual wear to my cover garment, belt or pants.

Lighter - Kydex is an extremely forgiving material. A little heat on each side of an area of the holster that is digging into you, an over-formed contour, or an edge that could be bent inward a bit can easily be heated and adjusted again and again. A lot of times I am heating and bending in the top and edges of holsters and tucking in other edges. Some holsters have gaping openings which can be molded into the gun a bit better for increased comfort. A lighter is an amazing tool to tuck in those edges and deliver huge comfort gains.

Combo 180 & 240 Grit Nail File - Leather will break in and round naturally and Kydex can be heated and bent. Often I find that the edges of kydex and leather are cut with sharp edges and sanding a rounded 45-degree bevel can deliver a life-changing comfort level. Sand a bit and try it. It is hard to believe that a simple nail file can really deliver huge improvements with a few sanding tweaks in areas where you are chafing. A small strip of sandpaper or round file can be used to round plastic and kydex belt loops to prevent them from chewing up your belt.

Bick’s Leather Conditioner - For hard or stiff leather a good soak down with Bick’s Leather Conditioner can clean up and condition a sweat stained leather or loosen up stiff new leather. The awesome part about owning a bottle of Bick’s is that anything leather will look spectacular again with a wipe down. For hard leather holsters there is no quicker way to get them broken in and comfortable.

Shrink Wrap - Steel belt loops can tear up pants and belts. An appropriate large sized shrink wrap over the steel belt loops can prevent pants and belts from getting chewed up. 

Threadlock - If you have any holster with screws you need to use red permanent thread locker to lock every screw down. Even if they seem tight, they will loosen at some point. Pull every screw and thread lock them.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Why Arlo Cameras Suck for Security and A Few Great Alternatives

Simpli-Safe is a better option
Why Arlo Cameras Suck for Security and A Few Great Alternatives

A few years ago, we decided that in addition to our security system we wanted to add some Arlo cameras for wireless flexibility beyond our wired system under the assumption they would be easy and flexible to use - We were wrong.

Initially, the idea of the Arlo camera marketing hype is easy setup, HD video, and remote anywhere video monitoring all with the convenience of wireless battery operation. The Arlo system has a lot of limitations that make it almost useless as a security system; notable problems are significant live video latency, very short battery life, poor night vision, very limited range, flaky app and overall system, requirement for high number of resyncs, and some truly mind-reading mystical stuff that seems to shut the system down any time you actually want to use it for something important.

We bought the Arlo system via a Costco value pack and once we had laid out that $300, we added to it with replacement, upgraded and newer camera versions - looking back we should have just returned the whole thing. With that noted, if you want a completely wireless system that is battery operated the Arlo Pro is still a horrible choice with better options being the Blink XT2 and EufyCam E with solar panel option for significantly less money.

The dependency on the very limited range of the base station is problematic at best in a realistic home setup. The overall latency on the system with live video is pretty bad at about 10-30 seconds depending on the teenage-girl mood swing of the Arlo system that day. Arlo also seems to have an extremely sketchy voodoo-esk ability to sense when you need to see what is going on the most and then go completely offline. There is also the insanely short battery life on the Gen 1 models which eat CR123 batteries at a rate that was shocking. The Gen 1 cameras also had a high failure rate for me of 50% in the first two years. The newer rechargeable versions with audio were better, but the range was still horrible with the base station and a new updated based station did nothing to improve my performance. 

When they do work, the Arlo system is still problematic, only working 20-30% of the time and are slow to respond even when they are working right. The joke in our household is to shoot first and look at the Arlo later and a friend jokingly noted that Arlo cameras are basically to record the aftermath. Access to Arlo has three major problems, the range and connectivity to the base station is horribly short, when Arlo video does work it is slow to start up with a huge lag between the live feed and reality and the entire system mysteriously goes offline with high frequency. If you do have power failures, mini-blackouts like we do, each Arlo has to be power-cycled individually and sometimes completely re-synced with each power cycle. There is also an obvious scaling issue - the more cameras the slower your camera response will be.

So I don’t get deluged with Technical Tom to the rescue of how awesome Arlo is, be assured I already went the route of working with the retailer, working with Arlo support, and spent weeks online cruising support sites. The reality is that hundreds of others have the same issues I have experienced. The problems are not isolated to the Arlo components I have, my network, my wireless carrier, or the app on my phone. In short “I” am not the issue, the Arlo system is just extronarily lacking compared to many other systems like wired systems, Simplisafe or other wireless options I have tested in my home. For the money SimpliSafe seems to be leagues better with video when you need it, but a wired system is the way to go for reliability and speed every time.

Troubleshooting my base station’s range issues required me to relocate a hard wired connection to a geographically central base station location to allow connection to the cameras around the house and accommodate the ridiculously short base-station range. That did resolve the range issue, but every camera still has average level connectivity. It is ridiculous a system designed to be used in a home that requires the base station to be moved around to tune in the cameras like an old fashioned TV antenna. Not sure how I can have triple the range of my WiFi around the outside of my home, but a security camera manufacturer only has a realistic 25 ft range in a home - the Arlo tech is just a bad system all around.  Simpli-Safe has a base station and does not have this issue at all. 

Response, lag and latency - Whatever the lag or delay is, the battle is over to see who is at the door before the Arlo image comes online. Even your more patient friends are screaming “WTF dude answer the door”. When the system is actually online, it is a good 30-60 second wait to see what is going on 90% of the time.  Arlo will not deliver the information you want to see at the speed you want to see it when bumps and bangs happen in the night. If this is why you are buying Arlo move on to something else.

The night vision is OK but very limited in the range, the Gen 2 with talk-back and listen features is marginally better. If you think that you can put an Arlo on your deck overlooking your driveway, the built in IR light is just not powerful enough to deliver visibility. My workaround was to leave my drive lights on all night and it actually did work well, but there was no night vision involved. Realistically the IR night vision is good across one “smalls” room only.

The last problem is so infuriating it makes me want to turn all the cameras into skeet fodder for my shotgun. The problem is that somehow Arlo seems to sense when I have left the house and have a pressing need to remotely see if the delivery was left, why a sensor alarmed, or just to check that my Dad and dogs are alive while traveling. Arlo works perfectly when I am home, but any time I really want to see what is going on, ARLO is freaking OFFLINE. Why it does this apparently Arlo or no one on the internet knows, however there is another work around for a system that has worked somewhat. We use a Wemo WiFi plug and remotely reboot the Arlo base station and hope like hell that it comes back online and that the cameras do not need to be resync’ed when they come back online. It works about 40% of the time, but the rest of the time Arlo requires multiple reboots and sometimes requires an insanity inducing process of pulling down all the cameras and resyncing all the cameras which never…. ever want to sync up the first time. 

Here are some options that I think work well as alternatives:
Run the Wire for wired Camera System - If you want reliability and fast response without latency, just run the wire for a $1000+ multi-camera wired system. I have yet to talk to someone who notes these wired systems do not work right. My recommendation is to stick with POE - Power Over Ethernet using CAT5e or CAT6 ethernet cable. This is basically network cable but carries power. Almost all the outdoor security systems use this as a power source - thought they may need a power adapter. CAT5e and CAT6 cabling are thicker wire cables than standard CAT5 and in theory can carry more current/power. I used all CAT6 in my wiring and have never looked back. As I added SimpliSafe cameras to my wired system, you can buy POE power adapters to run anything that is USB powered, so even the USB plug-in powered SimpliSafe cameras can be powered via some remotely located POE CAT6 Ethernet network cable. You can daisy-chain things together with POE CAT6 like also powering an outdoor wireless hotspot or support very long runs for wired security cameras. If you have long-runs and want to support longer ranges, I would go with a wired system. A word of advice, if you are going to take the trouble to pull one CAT6 wire, pull two or three as spares.

USB Powered System - We recently added a Simpli-Safe system as a replacement for Arlo and it worked well, but has the condition that it needs constant USB power provided via a very long USB power cord and AC adapter. I have powered a few exterior Simpli-Safe cameras with POE adapters and overall been really happy with the system overall and the camera doorbell is excellent.

Other Wireless - It is too bad that the Arlo system just does not work as advertised, the idea is cool, however with competitors like SimplySafe, XT2 and EufyCam E with solar panel option, there is no reason to consider Arlo as the only option.

TrailCams -  If you really just want to capture what happened from a historical perspective, I highly recommend a HD Trail Camera. There are now about $100, deliver higher resolution and better night vision than any security camera I have tried and can record hours and hours of video and thousands of pictures. Most people use security cameras to see what happened in the past versus to see real time feeds, so in my mind this is a better option for most people.