Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: Opinel No. 8 [Pocket Knife]

A couple years ago I saw one of these in a camping store. It looked really plain, and kind of cheap, so I passed on it.  Then I ran across a thread on an Internet forum talking about the brand, and I was intrigued by them. Compared to countries like the US, Japan and Sweden, the French aren't really known for their cutlery prowess. But they have a lot of followers, and they have a very distinct look, so I ordered one from Amazon. This one was from a seller who bundled it with a small leather sheath.

Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Product Link


Product Description


It looks like Opinel has attempted to distill the pocket knife down to its very essence: simple, practical, inexpensive, maybe even elegant. This locking pocket knife with a real wood handle comes in lots of different sizes; this one is a number 8, which seemed the ideal size for EDC. All the different sizes feature pretty much the identical design with the innovative locking collar which they are known for.

Official Specs (From Amazon)


  • Opinel #8 Carbon Steel Folding Knife
  • Beechwood Handle
  • USA made top grain leather sheath
  • Locking collar
Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Product View 1

Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Product View 2Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Product View 3

Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Product View 4



Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Product View 5

Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Product View 6

Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Product View 7

Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Product View 8


Initial Impressions


The seller I bought this from included a sheath, which is decent quality. Unlike some of the reviews I read, my sheath fits the knife perfectly. It was a pleasant surprise.

Taking the knife out, it almost looks like some well-kept antique. Its design reminds me of another, simpler era. The blade is beautiful, the wood handle is nice, but the knife itself looks hastily put together upon further inspection.

Everyone calls me cocky, but I haven't cut myself once since I started collecting knives a few years ago. The locking collar locks the knife either in the open or closed position, so you have to move the collar to open and close it. The first few times I opened and closed this Opinel, I came close to cutting myself. The collar on my sample is really hard to move. I guess it would be worse if it was loose. But the overly-tight collar is kind of a deal breaker for me as an EDC.

Blade


As I said, the blade is beautiful. High carbon steel with a full flat grind and a drop point. I've always been a fan of full flat grind blades, so it scores some points here. My sample even came with a good edge on it. This is a very utilitarian blade style that would work well for EDC tasks such as food prep, opening packages, cutting down cardboard, etc.

Not being stainless, the blade must be maintained or it will rust and corrode. That's fine with me. Some of my best knives, like the Moras are carbon steel.

Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Blade 1

Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Blade 3

Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Blade 4


Handle


The handle is made of real beechwood and decently made. It's roughly finished, which I can't decide if it gives the knife a nostalgic feel or just makes it look a little cheap--maybe a little of both. Either way it looks solid. This is a real wood, functional handle. And just like the blade, the handle has to be maintained as well. Also, the slightly rough handle makes it grip better.

Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Handle 1

Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Handle 2

Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Handle 3


Locking Collar


The locking mechanism of the Opinel is a rotating collar of their own design. There is a slot in the collar which allows the blade through as you rotate the collar, kind of like a child proof safety cap where you have to line up the arrows. Except that a safety cap does not leave your appendages close to the blade when you open the container, which is why I'm not a big fan of the design. What I do is leave mine unlocked, which basically makes it a slip joint folder.

Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Locking Collar 1

Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Locking Collar 2

Leather Sheath


When I was looking at Opinels, I noticed that some sellers on Amazon were selling theirs with a USA made leather sheath--more of  a leather pouch really. The quality is decent. Nothing special, but it fits well (unlike a few reviews I read) and appears to be durable. I'm not a leather worker, but it seems like there would be some oil or treatment to make this pouch look less dull.


Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Leather Sheath 1
Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Leather Sheath 2

Usability


The locking mechanism seems be sturdy, even if it is a little clumsy to work with. It's a functional knife. I didn't use it much, but based on the design, if you don't mind working with the locking collar, this knife seems like it would be very usable. The handle has a good, ergonomic feel and the blade is built well and has a good geometry for an EDC / small camp knife. This is a legit knife.

Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: In Hand 1

Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: In Hand 2

Conclusions


It's a beautiful knife and I can understand the following it has. But the locking mechanism just isn't my thing. Any serious collector will want to own one of these, if only to give a nod to the large following it has. I'm sure the collar would wear in about the 100th time I almost cut myself, but I just don't like having my fingers that close to the blade when I lock and unlock a knife. I very much want to continue my streak of not being cut, and there's just so many other great locking mechanisms out there.

This is one for my collection, and I don't regret buying it. The Opinel is a nice knife, but there's no way it'll beat out some of my go-to knives like the Delica and Dragonfly for every day carry.

Gallery


Opinel No. 8 Pocket Knife: Leather On Scale
At 1.6 ounces, it's a great weight for EDC

The 3-ish inch blade is a good size and geometry

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

More Go Bag Goodies

Building a disaster bag has started to become addictive for me. There's so many cool technologies and capabilities to consider for it. Sure, there's the 2400 calorie lemon bars and the 3 days worth of water. It has a simple and reliable alcohol stove with extra tinder, fuel and matches. Lightweight backpacker's tent, sleeping bag, emergency bivvy, extra tarp, paracord, guy line string, all pretty much standard stuff.

As I refine my build, I find myself adding more technology, as well as refining some of the basic things and getting more organized.

Fold Out, Ultralight USB Solar Charger

Levin™ Sol-Wing 13W Ultra-slim Highest Efficiency Solar Panel


Lightweight and durable are two rare qualities for a high powered portable solar charger. Some even contain lots of glass. Up until now, I had not found an acceptable solar charger for my disaster bag, other than the underpowered (but still cool) WakaWaka solar lantern with USB charger. With its 1.something watt solar cell, in full sunlight it would take at least 8 hours to charge a smartphone, and probably a couple days to charge a high end tablet. But it's small, and has a built in lantern, and hey, in an emergency that is plenty good. But I wanted a little better, and now that means I have a backup to the new Levin I just got.

This new one is pretty awesome. Just making a halfway attempt to aim it directly at the sun, it puts out a solid amp, which is as good as the wall charger that came with my smartphone. The good thing about the Levin is that it has no built in battery pack, so it can charge your phone or tablet directly (or any standard USB device), which is impressive. Of course even this ultralight panel weighs a whole pound, and every pound counts. But this pound is worth it because it can pretty much give one person a live-off-the-grid capability with all their electronics. That's a lot of capability for a pound.

Levin Sol-Wing Solar USB Charger 1

Levin Sol-Wing Solar USB Charger 2

Levin Sol-Wing Solar USB Charger 3


Tent Sealer

Coleman Seam Sealer

Someone once told me not to sweat the small stuff. In my experience, all that small stuff adds up, usually to a very bad day. One of those little, overlooked things is sealing your tent. Sure, they were supposed to do that at the factory, and sure, they have a money back guarantee. But if your life situation is so dire that you are now living in this small backpacking tent, contacting customer service isn't going to be your first thought when you're getting rain dumped all over you and your gear. Why chance it? The tent sealer is only a few bucks. It's a hassle to crawl around painting all the seams on not only the tent, but the rain fly as well. That's a lot of little seams. It's also a lot of points of failure that you are plugging up. I can't say what life will be like when it's so bad that I have to live in a little tent, but I know that I will be dry.

Coleman Tent Seal
Ozark Trail Backpacker's Tent
Seam Sealing Ozark Trail Backpacker's Tent


Compression Sack

ALPS Mountaineering Compression Sleeping Bag Stuff Sack


I don't normally buy cheap camping gear like this Ozark tent I got from Walmart, but this particular tent was only 30 bucks and had what seemed like better reviews than a tent in this price range should have. It's actually very light weight, which is also amazing at this price point. The consensus of the reviews seemed to be that it was a great tent if a) you seal it and b) you put it in a compression sack. It took me a while to get around to ordering the compression sack because I figured 'how bulky could it be?' and yeah, it was a nightmare getting it to fit in the bag. Some of the reviews of this tent mentioned being able to get the tent minus the poles and steaks to about the size of a football, and yep! Now the little football-sized tent fits nice in the bag, and the poles fit neatly next to the Ka-Bar machete.

Ozark Trail Backpacker's Tent Unpacked
Ozark Trail Backpacker's Tent In Compression Sack



Survival Knife

Tops Knives Fieldcraft Knife by B.O.B.: The Brothers of Bushcraft


Again, the little stuff. Having a sharp, durable knife. Sounds simple, but that aren't that many great knives under $200 that really caught my eye as far as replacing the perfectly good one I already had in the bag. And just like the one I already have, this one comes with its own fire steel built into the Kydex sheath. It was a little pricey at $120 but it's superbly made. And Tops has a pretty good following.

This Tops is an absolutely fabulous survival/bushcraft knife. Holding it in my hands, it looks like I could use it to chop up lesser knives. It looks indestructible. It probably is indestructible. But I've told myself that since this thing weighs almost a pound, something else has to come out of the bag, and I've been trying to think of what to trade it for. Also, there is already a Mora Light My Fire knife in the bag, which this Tops Fieldcraft knife would replace. The Mora is a fraction of the weight and has a sterling reputation. So I'm trying to decide if the step up in quality and durability justifies the increase in weight, or whether it's overkill.

Tops Fieldcraft BOB Fixed Blade Knife 1

Tops Fieldcraft BOB Fixed Blade Knife Next To Sheath

Tops Fieldcraft BOB Fixed Blade Knife: Closeup Of Blade


Tool Pouches

Custom Leathercraft 1100 Multi-Purpose Clip-on Zippered Poly Bags


Most of those "stuff sacks" just look too flimsy for what I want in a disaster bag. I searched and searched for the perfect little bag or pouch to keep things like electronics and batteries. One day I was walking through Ace Hardware and saw exactly what I was looking for. I liked them so much I noticed they were even cheaper on Amazon. The price fluctuated up and down and I finally bought them when they were about 6 dollars and of course 2 day shipping with the wife's prime.

These tool pouches are durable and nice and thick. A little heavier than the ultralight stuff sacks, but I use them sparingly.

CLC Zippered Tool Pouches








Saturday, June 7, 2014

Choosing A Flashlight For Your Emergency Kits

My sister spent years in the Peace Corps, travelling the world and usually living out of a tent with no power. So she has taught me a few things based on her experience, and one thing she usually harps on about is the importance of having good emergency kits, and a "go bag" aka "bug out bag" aka "72 hour bag". I just call it a disaster bag since that is the first thing we will grab in an emergency. We also have lots of smaller emergency kits (made by my sister) for the glove boxes of our vehicles and a larger one for my truck.

Every one of our emergency kits has at least one flashlight. And because I'm a "flashaholic" I've upgraded these kits based on my experience owning and handling so many different kinds of flashlights for my blog. I've spent quite a bit of time pondering the best flashlights to put in my kits, and I've come up with some criteria, which others might find helpful.

Common Form Factor


My emergency kits must have at least one common form factor such as AA or AAA. Whether it's the Zombie apocalypse or Hurricane Whatshername, these types of batteries will be easy to find, whether it's from random remotes and gadgets around your house, to your neighbors and the local market. And there are very good rechargeable like Eneloop or Eneloop Pro, which can be charged with any number of solar charger setups.

From Left: Jetbeam BA10, Thrunite T10S, Spark SF5 NW, EagleTac D25A Ti, Olight S15 Ti, Fenix E12, L3 L10, Thrunite T10, Eneloop Pro AA
From Left: Jetbeam BA10, Thrunite T10S, Spark SF5 NW, EagleTac D25A Ti, Olight S15 Ti, Fenix E12, L3 L10, Thrunite T10, Eneloop Pro AA


Lithium Primary Batteries


Must be able to use lithium primary batteries with a 10 year shelf life. Never use alkaline batteries in any emergency kit or long term in any device, period. Any good swings in temperature will cause them to leak and destroy your devices virtually 100% of the time.

The solution is lithium primary batteries, which not only have a super long shelf life, they are much better working at low or high temperatures and they are safe to store in the device which uses them.

Lithium primary batteries come in most of the common form factors: AA, AAA, and CR123A

Lightweight


Having spent the first years of my career travelling the country on business, I've always packed a little heavy, but I've always tried to pack smart. Packing for an unknown emergency for me is no different; I'm going to travel a little heavy. But that doesn't mean I want to be wasteful either, so bulky lights or lights made of steel or other heavy alloys are out of the question. Most of the time this means an aluminum twisty rather than a bulkier, heavier model.

Efficient Circuitry


Not all flashlight drivers are created equal. Some manufacturers use technologies like PWM which can drastically reduce the run time of the flashlight at lower modes. They often to do that to improve the tint, but in an emergency you would much rather have run time rather than tint.

Every light in my emergency kit is either a one-mode with no driver or multi-mode with a constant current driver.

This Orange L10 has the latest Cree XP-G2 emitter and is compact, efficient and powerful

Multiple Modes


It's nice to have a flashlight the size of my index finger light up the entire forest. But a light that size can only do that output for an hour, if that. The same tiny flashlight can 5 or 6 hours on medium or the same number of weeks on the so called 'moonlight' modes. So if a single AA on moonlight mode lets me walk around in the dark for a few hundred hours, and I have 4 lithium AA cells packed with it, that means I could travel around in a cave for months with just that one flashlight.

In an emergency, you want the ability to manage the output of light versus how many batteries you have and what your need is. It's nice having the flexibility to light up the forest if I hear a noise in the bushes, and put the light back to low to finish setting up my tent, which is also in my bag.

Solar Charging


It's nice knowing that my 10 year batteries will power my flashlights in an emergency. But these days it's an emergency being without a mobile phone or tablet, so I made sure that everything I wanted to charge would adapt to a USB charger, and I went out and got a couple solar USB chargers like the Levin and the Waka Waka. The solar charger coupled with a few USB battery packs lets me store up extra capacity if I need it. And then I found a USB AA/AAA charger which rounded off my setup. Now I can charge AA and AAA batteries as well as a mobile phone, tablet, whatever charges from USB. It's a beautiful setup, and it even allows me to charge something in the dark using the 10k and 20k mAh battery packs I can charge from the solar chargers.

The solar chargers allow me to power all my electronic devices in an emergency, including flashlights. It's also really nice for tent camping. I keep 4 Eneloop Pro AA batteries inside my Sunwayman D40A strapped to the outside of the bag as well as the Eneloop in my L10, clipped to the shoulder strap.

The Levin Sol-Wing above, directly charging a cell phone from the sun

Above the Levin Sol-Wing is attached to my SwissGear Ibex laptop bag, charging a battery pack in its zippered cubby

The good thing about the Waka Waka above is that it has an internal battery

Above the Waka Waka is charging itself attached to my SwissGear Ibex laptop bag

Above the Waka Waka solar charger is charging a cell phone from its internal 2000 mAh battery

AAA batteries being charged by USB battery pack above

What's in My Go Bag


Flashlights:

1. L3 Illuminations L10 (1xAA)
2. Crelant CH10 Headlamp* (2xCR123A)
3. Sunwayman D40A (4xAA)

*There's no USA seller for my headlamp that I'm aware of.

Batteries:

4xAA Lithium Primaries (10 year shelf life)
8xCR123A Lithium Primaries (10 year shelf life)
4x Eneloop Pro (inside D40A)
1xEneloop (inside L10)
2x CR123A Lithium Primaries (inside Headlamp)

Chargers / Power Packs:

Levin Sol-Wing 13W ultralight solar panel with 5V USB output
WakaWaka Power solar lantern with 2000 mAh  power pack and USB output
AA/AAA USB charger
Cheap USB power pack and charger



Charging the wife's Kindle from the battery pack, which itself can be charged from the solar panel



Sunday, June 1, 2014

Review: Spark SF3 [1xCR123A EDC Flashlight]

The Zebralight SC52 has intrigued me for a while, but every time I went to order one, they seem to be out of stock. And after that I kept putting off buying one because I heard they were having quality problems. People swear buy them, so I've been meaning to buy one. Then Spark came out with their SF3 and SF5 versions, and even included a NW (neutral white) tint option. The BLF forums had a group buy with hkequiment offering 44 bucks a piece for the NW versions of these babies, so it was hard to pass up.

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight With Spyderco Dragonfly 2 and Smith & Wesson Self Defense Pen
Shown with Spyderco Dragonfly 2 and Smith & Wesson Self Defense Pen

Product Description


The Spark SF3 is a CR123A size flashlight with 4 modes, featuring the latest Cree XM-L2 LED emitter, a recessed electronic switch, and it even comes with two different reflectors: a textured orange peel type, and a "mule" reflector, which basically gives you the raw output of the LED.

And if you like your flashlights stylish, the SF3 features a carbon fiber ring with a cool 3D looking pattern. This is definitely a "give the people what they want" design, with a deep carry clip, tail cap lockout and compact size. Compact, powerful, stylish; what more could you ask for in a flashlight?

This model comes in both neutral white (NW) and cool whit (CW) tint variants.

Official Specs (From hkequipment)


  • Cree XM-L2 T5 Neutral White LED
  • Premium aluminum alloy machined and Carbon Fiber Sleeve with hard anodized finishing
  • 5 Modes operation with last mode memory:
  • Super 350lumens-0.8hr, Max 180lumens-1.8hrs
  • Med2 60lumens-6hrs, Med1 8lumens-30hrs, Low 1lumens-12days
  • Powered by 1x CR123A or 16340 battery
  • Working range 1.6v - 4.2v
  • Reverse polarity protection circuit
  • Electrically conductive aluminum body provides EMI/RFI shielding
  • Impact resistance SCHOTT ultra clear lens with 98% transparency
  • IPX-8 waterproof
  • Covertible Flood / Throw reflector kit
  • Size 70mm x 24mm
  • Weight 40g
From Left: NiteCore SRT3, Thrunite Neutron 1C, Sunwayman V11R, UltraFire RJ118, Nitecore Ex10, Spark SF3, SolarStorm SC03
From Left: NiteCore SRT3, Thrunite Neutron 1C, Sunwayman V11R, UltraFire RJ118, Nitecore Ex10, Spark SF3, SolarStorm SC03
Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight Product View 1

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight Product View 2

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight Product View 3

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight Product View 4
Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight Product View 5

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight Product View 6


Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight Product View 7
Shown with its bigger brother, the Spark SF5

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight Product View 8
Another view alongside the SF5
Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight Product Cap Removed

Initial Impressions


Being the nit picky guy that I am, the first thing I noticed was that the carbon fiber band had several little nicks in it toward the edges. And then I popped in an EagleTac 750 mAh 16340 cell and started to play with the modes. At that point it dawned on me that I was holding one of those gems that I knew would stand out in my collection.

I liked the user interface from the start, though I think I like the UI on the Olight S series a little better. The double click to turbo is cool, but I would've liked a shortcut to low as well. But it has a mode memory which I really like, so that's OK. Flashlights that make me go through turbo to get to moonlight don't often make a good impression with me, so whatever it takes to be able to turn on the light in a strange place like a campground and not blind everyone around me when I have to use the restroom.

A couple things really stood out from the get go, such as the terrific neutral tint and the feel of the electronic switch. Most "flashaholics" are snobs about tint, and this NW version does not disappoint. The feel of the switch is almost perfect, though it is inset enough to make it awkward for people with long fingernails to operate, like my wife. The upside to the switch being inset is that it doesn't tend to turn on in your pocket like the Olight S series, which it's raised switch. So it's kind of a trade-off and personally I prefer the inset switch of the SF3 by a small margin. So I guess it's a trade-off either way.

One thing I found out pretty quick is that the double-click to turbo function is hard on even the best batteries! It's very picky about cells. My AW cells trip the protection and power the light off after about half a minute. I have one EagleTac and one TrustFire flame cell that will go a couple minutes without tripping the protection. Other folks at the Budget Light Forum have noticed the same thing. I bought a Spark SF5 at the same time as this SF3, and the SF5 does not have the same problem on turbo with a 14500 cell, so that's something to think about. People I have talked to suggest IMR cells, which can take the higher current of this thing. The SF3 has a higher output on turbo than the larger SF5!

Overall, my first impression is that this thing is a badass beast and I need to find me some IMR cells if I want to run turbo.

Fit and Finish


Overall, good. There's a few nicks in the carbon fiber ring which are hard to see with the naked eye, but the camera picks up. There's also some irregularities on the insides of both reflectors, which do not affect the functionality of the light and the reflector has to be taken off to see them. The tail cap threads are a little gritty and need to be cleaned. That's about it for my gripes.

The rest of the unit is superb. The grey anodizing is uniform with no scratches, nicks or tool marks from production. The carbon fiber band looks beautiful but I wonder how it will hold up. Everything else ticks all the check boxes: the XML-L2 LED is perfectly centered and the snap-on clip holds on well to the body and has a solid feel to it. The reflector, product markings, rubber button, button ring--everything looks great.


Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Closeup Of Threads
Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Closeup Of SwitchSpark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Closeup Of Tail Cap


Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Closeup Of Textured ReflectorSpark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Closeup Of "Mule" Reflector

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Closeup Of Spark Logo
Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Closeup Of Emitter Star
looks like a modder's dream

Modes


This model has 5 modes: moonlight, low, medium, high and turbo, all accessed via an electronic switch near the head. A quick click will turn the light on and off, and holding down on the button will cycle through the modes, from lowest to highest. It also has mode memory and will remember the last mode you were in.

The photo below was taken at ISO 100 F/5.6 1/5 with AWB

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Animated Modes
Animated modes: Moonlight, Low, Medium, High and Turbo


PWM


The light has no detectable PWM and appears to be constant current on all modes. Some manufacturers use high frequency PWM to improve the tint, but here is proof that it's possible to have efficiency and good tint!  Constant current flashlights are a requirement for my emergency kits because they provide long run times with their efficient circuitry.

User Interface


The UI on this model is fairly typical for an electronic switch. A quick click turns the unit on and off. Keeping the button depressed when it's on cycles through the four modes fairly quickly, and when you turn the unit off, it will remember the last mode when you turn it back on.

Quick double clicks will put the unit in and out of turbo mode and will cycle between turbo and whatever mode it was in when you went into turbo. So if you double click when the unit is off, it will enter turbo mode, and another double-click will turn the unit off. If the unit was already on when you did the double-click, another double-click will put the unit back to the previous mode.

There is no shortcut to the lowest mode, and there is no hidden strobe, or other so-called "disco" modes. This is where they dropped the ball, and where Olight's S series really stands out, since it has both.

Note: If you plan on using turbo mode a lot, then you probably shouldn't be using protected 16340 cells in it since for whatever reason this unit (and has been reported by others) likes to trip the protection circuits on even the most expensive batteries if left on turbo for more than about half a minute. Other strange turbo-related behavior has been reported such as flickering.

Switch


The switch is the electronic variety. I like these types of switches because they are much more durable than a clicky type switch or even a twisty. An electronic switch can be cycled many more times than other types of switches. Even twisty type lights will wear the contact material off and eventually fail for good.

It's obvious that Spark put a lot of effort into this switch. First of all, it's recessed so it won't accidentally come on in your pocket like other types of flashlights with electronic switches. It also has a durable and stylish-looking polished metal retaining ring.

But best of all, the switch has an absolutely superb feel to it, better than any other light I own. Though it must be said that my wife hates the recessed switch because she has long nails and can't press it with the tips of her fingers as intended.

Beam


Textured: The reflector is a fairly typical for an "orange peel" style. It's a little on the shallow side, so don't be looking to this model a thrower to light up something far away. This is a closeup wall of light even without the mule reflector, though the texturing gives it a nice smooth beam.

Mule: The mule reflector is not even a reflector. It's just a chunk of metal to protect the LED. This type of 'reflector' has the LED just sitting there putting off a huge arc of light with no real beam pattern. The mule is ideal for very closeup work such as you would use a headlamp for.

Tint


I ordered the neutral white (NW) version of the SF3, and the tint is exactly as advertised. It's almost purely neutral, though I never mind when they error on the side of being a little warmer tint than advertised, such as its big brother the SF5 NW, which has a decidedly warm tint to it.

The photo below was taken at ISO 100 F/5.6 1/30th with AWB

Neutral Tint Comparison, From Left: Spark SF3 NW, Spark SF5 NW, Olight S15 Ti, L3 Illuminations L10-219
Neutral Tint Comparison, From Left: Spark SF3 NW, Spark SF5 NW, Olight S15 Ti, L3 Illuminations L10-219

Tail Stand


This model can tail stand, but it's a little precarious since the design only gives it a small surface area on the bottom. It's not nearly as stable as I would like it to be.

Tail Cap Lockout


This model has a tail cap lockout feature, where you can loosen the tail cap about a quarter turn and prevent the unit from powering on. Since the unit has a standby current that all flashlights with electronic switches have, the tail cap lockout will prevent the unit from draining the battery when you don't want it to.

Dual Reflectors


The SF3 comes with two different reflectors: a textured, "orange peel" reflector, and a so-called "mule" reflector which is just a shallow, metal plate with no reflective properties. The textured reflector gives the unit a smooth, floody beam, where the mule reflector puts out a solid wall of light, more suitable for a headlamp or lantern.

Not only is the extra reflector an interesting and cool touch, it also opens up possibilities for flashlight modders since the LED star is exposed without the reflector on and looks like it is very simple to replace for someone handy with that sort of thing.I haven't done any mods yet, but this might be a good candidate for my first attempt.

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Shown With Both Reflectors
Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight -Closeup of Both Reflectors

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Closeup of Textured Reflector: FrontSpark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Closeup of Textured Reflector: Back
Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Closeup of "Mule" Reflector: BackSpark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Closeup of "Mule" Reflector: Front

Clip


The clip is the snap-on, deep carry type. I didn't used to like this type of clip because of the tendency of some of them to come off easily in your pocket, leaving you with a missing clip or worse: a missing flashlight. But there are a few companies that do this type of clip right, and Spark is one of them.

The clip itself is solid and appears to be well-built. And like I would expect from most manufacturers, the quality of the clip is lower than the flashlight itself. There's just not a lot of companies that put as much effort into the clip as they do the product it's attached to.

So while not the perfect clip, it appears to be plenty sufficient, and hasn't come off yet in my pocket.

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Closeup of Snap-On Clip


Tail Cap Measurements


Measurements taken with an EagleTac 750 mAh 16340 battery. Note that there is a stand-by current of .106 mA, which some think excessive but I think is fine since the SF3 features a tail cap lockout.


ModeAmps
Turbo.95
High.55
Medium.20
Low.07
Standby.00106

Run Time Tests

All tests below run with an AW RCR123A 750 mAh li-ion cell.

ModeAmps
Turbo About 30 seconds before it trips protection circuit
High55 minutes exactly
Mediumtodo
Lowtodo


Usability


So far this has been great for every day carry. It's compact, light and powerful. It sits well in my pocket, and it's light enough to where it doesn't bug me if I'm wearing shorts or sweats. I like the user interface. Not quite as much as Olight's UI, but overall I like it for an EDC role. I wish it had the shortcut to moonlight like the Olight S series, but the shortcut to turbo is sufficient. If I can't have a shortcut to moonlight, then the mode memory is also sufficient. My goal with moonlight mode is to be able to turn the light on in a strange place and find my way to a restroom without waking up and/or blinding those around me. For a light to travel on the road or go camping with me, it must have that ability.

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - In My Hand 1

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - In My Hand 2

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - In My Hand 3

Conclusions


This thing is a beast. A well designed beast. The Spark SF3 and SF5 are just fantastic lights. I wish they would tune turbo done a smidgen on the SF3 but I might feel differently once I purchase some IMR cells. But everything else is brilliant. They probably have the best feeling switches of all my lights, and the included "mule" reflector and felt pouch are a nice touch.  So is the efficient, constant current circuit with no trace of PWM.

I've been mostly carrying the SF3 NW and SF5 NW since I got them, and I'm having a hard time deciding which one I like better. I'm also tempted to get the head lamp versions: the SG3 and SG5. I do not own the Zebralight versions of these lights, but I'd be skeptical that could be better than these state-of-the-art Spark versions. Especially considering I paid 43 bucks for the SF5 and 44 bucks for the SF3 with the group buy and the price war.

The carbon fiber ring looks cool and all, but it doesn't really do much for me. I haven't used the "mule" reflector much, but it's nice having that option. All in all, I think I got a great deal with the group buy for my 44 bucks. This model normally sells for 59 bucks. These two new lights hold their own in my collection, which includes titanium versions of the Olight S15 and the EagleTac D25A Clicky, and that's saying something. Spark is turning me into a fan boy, and now I find myself wanting to try out their head lamps as well.

Gallery



Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Box 1

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Box 2

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Box 3

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Box 4

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Unboxed

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Pouch
Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - Next To Ruler

Spark SF3 1xCR123A Flashlight - On Scale With EagleTac 750 mAh Li-Ion Cell
Weight includes the EagleTac 16340 li-ion cell in one of the top photos