by Fordy Smith
I recently reviewed the AK Operators Union two day class that I attended in October 2015 at the Valor Ridge Range in Harrogate, Tennessee. The follow is a gear review for all of the hardware that I ran at the class.
UW Gear Swamp Fox:
Like all UW Gear products, this rig is magazine specific (for proper fit) and comes with their tabs that hold the mags in place. It’s not as fast as some other solutions, but its close, and does an excellent job of keeping the mags secure until you need them. It’s also silent to get to the mags and doesn’t have scream annoying velcro mating call.
The Swamp Fox holds 4 mags in single stack configuration with some webbing on the side that you can fasten some extra things if you want. I almost didn’t get this rig because while it holds 4 mags, it would have held 5 if they didn’t include the gap in the middle. I initially thought this was wasted space. After running it for a day I saw real quick the logic behind that.
The gap in the center makes it easy to open the rig up and get fully prone, as well as helps you stay cooler than solid designs. It holds mags securely and you don’t even notice you’re wearing it. The only negative, if you can call it that, is putting mags back in the pouch one-handed when its wet takes a little effort. This is only an “on paper” issue for when you are running a high volume class with constant mag changes all day. It’s also a fraction of a second slower than some other “speed reload” rigs.
This is also not of any concern for any application other than recreational competition. You’re not going to burn through five 30 round mags without hiding behind cover and regrouping anyway, so a few lost tenths of a second is meaningless, and if you ever intend on going prone with a double (or triple LOL!) stack mag rig please let me know so I can be there to laugh and be amused.
This was the best kit I’ve ran or seen ran. Put it on your short list, but they are usually backlogged for several months, as is often the case with craftsmen who make good things and make it well. In the dozen or so pieces of kit I have or have seen people use, I’ve seen exactly zero defects of any kind. None. Not one loose thread or anything. I highly recommend all of their gear, but this is the best designed and thought out one they have. It carries what you need, keeps it secure until you need it, keeps you cool and keeps you low.
UW Gear Bandoleer:
This is more of a grab and go rig. It holds 3 mags (they have a version now that holds 4 mags in a double stack configuration with space for you to weave in something else) with pouches the same as the Swamp Fox. It’s primarily designed to sit on the side/hip area, but can be rotated to act like a de facto canted chest rig, and you can pull it to the side if you need to go prone.
It’s a good rig for what it’s designed for, but the Swamp Fox is clearly better for almost every application. For a quick grab and go rig though, its hard to beat. Very good design and excellent quality and craftsmanship.
Blackhawk Knee Pads:
These are quality, heavy-duty knee pads that can be had for really cheap despite their name. Like under $20 cheap (in 2015) if you shop around. Good for some training and competition applications, but probably a little too bulky for all day (or more) usage. Knee pads are kind of catch 22 anyway; you only really need them when you’re doing a high volume of repetitious training, but if you use them for that you will likely build/reinforce negative training habits like slamming your knee into the ground harder than you otherwise would.
They are good pads, but it’s probably better to go with something lighter/less bulky or nothing at all and just train around reality instead of huge padding you probably won’t have on when you need it in the first place anyway.
Beltman Bullhide Belt:
These are exceptional leather carry/duty/EDC belts. I wanted to run this because it’s what I wear a lot, and I knew I didn’t want to wear some tacticool wrestling champion double bling belt system just to carry a pistol and a couple mags. A good belt is the anchor of most holster/mag carry systems, but leather belts are not exactly the best kit for high volume training classes getting prone and crawling through muddy gravel all day. It did its job well and didn’t fail, but wet muddy conditions with that much movement would have been better for a good quality, simple web belt.
Bravo Concealment Holster and Double Mag Pouch:
Tough, durable, nothing ever came loose. What you would expect from a good Kydex maker? There are many good companies out there that make Kydex stuff, but they are definitely a good one.
PIG FDT (full dexterity tactical) Gloves:
These are some of the best 3 season gloves you can get for this application. Excellent protection and dexterity. Highly recommend them. Way better than Mechanix and others and well worth the extra cost. That said, do not spend more for the “alpha touch” gloves that supposedly work on touch screens. Not only do they only marginally and inconsistently work for me on screens, they fit differently (tighter) than the regular ones.
Circle 10 Mags:
These are some of the best mags you can get, period. Yes they are one of the more expensive mags, but they are absolute tier one gear. The magazine is the heart of the rifle. Don’t skimp on mags for any serious application. There are great mags out there at lower price points, especially some steel mags, but quality control and current condition vary wildly on a mag by mag basis. Each individual steel mag needs to be tested and vetted many times to take it from “range mag” to a mag you know you can count on. Most of the few AK issues were mag related, and none of them were Circle 10 mags.
Arsenal Saiga SGL-21 with AK-74 Style Brake:
Gun performed flawlessly, as did everyone else’s who used one. These are getting very hard to find outside the used market and prices are climbing, but they are excellent if you can find one. No issues from anyone’s there. It ate any ammo fed to it.
The only issue was the trigger. Fortunately this was discovered in pre class testing at the range. Not only do Arsenal triggers feel like a gritty sponge, but it wouldn’t reset for the next round on its own unless you jerked it so it became a single shot rifle. Screw that. I wasn’t about to take a 1000 round class while having to press and then pull the trigger back into position every shot, so I did a quick Tapco G2 replacement. Not the greatest trigger either, but it worked well enough.
Their triggers are very well thought out but poorly executed. They have a little lip on the hammer that simulates a double stage feel (sort of) and does an OK job of letting you take out the (crappy, gritty and excessive) pull before the break, but that’s a poor habit pattern to get into with an AK anyway. There are just too many affordable trigger options out there that are way better to justify using the crappy Arsenal trigger.
Tula, Wolf and Brown Bear ammo, FMJ and JSP:
Ammo cans mixed with all types, sometimes 2 or 3 types in the same magazine. No accuracy or feeding issues noted.
AK Iron Sights:
These sights get a bad rap from people who aren’t used to them, don’t know how to zero them, and have little if any experience behind them actually trying to learn them and get better with them. I was one of those people. That’s why I decided to run the entire class with stock irons. I adapted, and so can you. It didn’t take long to shoot almost as well (and as fast) as the guys with red dots.
Before you hang a ton of stuff off your AK (and definitely before you go screwing with the sights themselves) just stop and think how is it possible for so many millions of soldiers for generations (continuing to this day) to run these sights and pass infantry qualifications at every level? AK iron sights don’t suck; operators behind them who don’t learn them suck with them, that’s all. The sight radius is the same as a stock M4, and the much aligned front sight post only covers 25cm at 100 meters.
Even if you want to run scopes or red dots, you still need to be proficient at AK iron sights. Do it for you. Do it for Lieutenant General Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov. Do it for AK. Do it.
Savvy Sniper Sling:
Good sling. High quality made in the USA gear. Works as advertised. The only thing to think about is what kind of attaching method you want (QD, mash, HK, etc). There’s a lot of slings out there that will do the job and this one isn’t cheap, so it’s not necessary to spend this much, but you’ll be glad you did if you do. The only thing I would improve is to add a 2” padded section for the times you go double point and it hangs around your neck if you run it like that (pistol transitions) but otherwise its fine.
Glock 19 with XS Big Dot Sights:
This was mostly a rifle class but there was a handgun component. Rifles were all AK variants, but handgun was whatever you wanted. Most brought Glocks but there were a few other types here or there. I ran XS Big Dots because I’m not that experienced with them and want to learn them.
They take some getting used to. At first they will probably increase the size of your groups, and at this point most people will freak out and stop using them. Larger groups frustrated me as well, but I went into it knowing that lots of really good shooters that know a lot more than me say they are some of the best handgun sights you can get so I made up my mind to learn them.
After a few “fliers” that were 100% me, I had several groups just as tight as I’d expect from conventional 3 block pistol sights. More practice is needed, but these sights are very quick to put on target and probably the best for adrenaline dump/gross motor skill degradation/tunnel vision situations.
Slip 2000 EWL and EWG:
What’s the best caliber? What’s better AR or AK? What’s the best “gun lube”? Nothing sets the internet on fire quite like any opinion on anything gun related. Fortunately when it comes to what lubricates the best, we have a clear and proven answer: your mom.
When it comes to semi auto rifles, I decided a while ago to use Slip 2000 for a while to see how it works. I first used their degreaser, and then their “Extreme Weapons Lube” or EWL, and then applied a normal quantity of “Extreme Weapons Grease” (EWG) on the bolt lugs and rail areas.
After 1000 rounds and crawling through the mud, cleanup on everything (except the gas piston which is dry to begin with) was very easy. It seems to lubricate very well and the 1000th round cycled just like the first. It’s also non toxic, which may not be a big deal on any given day cleaning guns, after decades of cleaning a lot of guns…
There are other non toxic options out there. One of the most notable is FrogLube, which I also like and use. I use it on most of my handguns and single/double barrel shotguns. But for semi auto rifles I don’t fully trust it under cold outdoor conditions. There are just too many reports of it gunking up the action because it wasn’t applied correctly. Common mistakes are not degreasing it properly (it doesn’t play well with others) and putting it on too thick. There are plenty of videos and reviews “debunking” these criticisms and showing that it works just fine in cold conditions, but I wanted to try Slip2000 and have been very pleased.
Another popular option is motor oil and lithium grease. There’s nothing wrong with these, and they are certainly cheaper. But I’m happy with Slip2000 and its non toxic and makes clean up a breeze and to me that’s well worth the cost, which isn’t “expensive” to begin with.
LAPG Operator Pants:
I got these cheap on sale at LA Police Gear. All the features of the other much more expensive brands at a fraction of the price. I’ve had and used their name brand products for years and they are usually very good. They do in my experience suffer from a small level of quality control though. For example you will occasionally see a button fall off or a small seam start to unthread, but I’ve never had a catastrophic blowout with any of their branded gear. Any free sewing kit from a hotel and its fixed in a couple of minutes. Good quality, cheap and easy, just like your mom.
We didn’t use knives for the class, but most people had them as part of their EDC. Spiderco obviously makes great knives. However several people had their knives (all brands) fall out onto the ground from their standard deep pocket clip carry while crawling around prone in the gravel and mud. They ended up spending the rest of the class sitting in ammo cans. Just something to think about. This wasn’t a Spiderco issue, as it happened with other pocket clip knifes. Just something to consider.
Baseball Cap with Button Removed:
While not a “gear review” by any means (more of a “life hack”) lots of shooters use ball caps, and they are often required at some ranges or agency requals. But the button on the top sucks when you wear a headset, and serves as a little self-contained skull crushing ball peen hammer if you get hit on the head with anything. The vast majority of hats don’t need them, so do yourself a favor and pry that crap off.
- Savannah Arsenal’s Ak47 / AK74 Page
- AK Operators Union / Center-T Class
- AK Philosophy / Thoughts / Takeaways / Personal Opinions
- Nutnfancy’s AR vs. AK