Gear Spotlight with Kevin Estela: Part I

Posted by Kevin Estela on Apr 26th 2024

5 Backcountry Gear Items to Consider

This week’s blog is a departure from the usual content you would expect from me. Instead of focusing on a set of skills, a trip review, commentary on mindset, an after-action report, or something along those lines, I’m using this space to highlight some of the equipment I’m currently evaluating in the field and on courses I’m teaching. With any gear under review, it’s important to note how the equipment is being tested and how it performed. Spoiler alert: If the equipment is featured here, it earned my approval in one way or another.

Otto Engineering NoizeBarrier Micro

The Otto Engineering NoizeBarrier Micro is a set of in-ear rechargeable plugs for the range. Rick Lofton, who instructs pistol and carbine, turned me onto these earlier this year and raved about them numerous times on each course he taught. Rather than using a set of muffs that are worn over the ear and often create a pinch on the temple and a corresponding headache, the NoizeBarrier Micro plugs are less obtrusive. The carrying case serves as a charge station and each time they are placed back into the case, they recharge when not in use. The case also has storage for the optional foam plugs that replace the ear inserts. The entire package is slightly larger than a deck of playing cards and accepts a Micro USB cable. In my initial testing, I found the plugs to be extremely more favorable than traditional over-ear muffs, especially on hot days and when traveling as space is often a premium. I deliberately tried to shake the earplugs free and sprinted with them to find them in the same place they were when I started. This setup comes with a small cleaning tool for the earpieces since earwax is a natural occurrence and changes in elevation (while traveling) tend to bring it out. Pro tip, use some Q-tips prior to inserting the NoizeBarriers. I’m far from done evaluating these (waiting on a wet-weather range day) but so far, they are impressing me and will continue to do so.

Sako Model 90 Rifle

There is no secret I’m a fan of Beretta shotguns. I’ve developed a great relationship with that company and am currently testing out a rifle from one of the other brands under the parent company. I had the opportunity to handle the Sako Adventure 90 at the Western Hunt Expo. This rifle piqued my interest as it has a beautiful threaded and fluted barrel, integral Picatinny receiver rail, adjustable comb for that perfect cheek weld, and legendary Sako smooth action among other features. Since this rifle is equipped with a synthetic stock and a TungstenCerakote-coated stainless steel barrel/action, it will deliver all-weather performance in the absolute worst conditions that my hunting usually takes me to. This rifle came to me chambered in the Lord’s caliber, 300 Winchester Magnum, and it was ideal for an upcoming bear hunt I have planned in Idaho. It is not a true ultralight mountain rifle and it is far from I mounted a Leupold VX-6HD 3-18x44 optic in a set of QRW rings and used a Wilderness Tactical Basic Carry Sling and Talon sling swivels to mount it to the rifle. The only other modification I’m making to this one is setting it up for a Spartan Precision bipod/tripod with the sling swivel stud attachment. This rifle is a shooter and it lives up to the sub-MOA guarantee with Hornady Precision Hunter ammo.

Ti Grayl Geopress

The Grayl has become the primary method of teaching water treatment in my Modern Survival Skills course. Working from the strongest methodology back, the Ti Grayl Geopress is my top recommendation for collecting and treating water on the go. Having used the Ti Grayl Ultrapress for over a year, the new Geopress is slightly larger and comes with a lid for the titanium nesting cup. Recently, on a course, I used the Grayl Geopress to treat water running off from a horse farm in a creek with plenty of algae and aquatic life. Without hesitation, I collected water paying close attention to keep the floaters out of the cup. I pushed the filter core down like a French press and in seconds, I drank from the bottle. Each filter is good for about 300 treatments or until water won’t push through the unit. Replacements are around $30 and widely available. From an EDC perspective, this water treatment unit works great everywhere from remote backcountry camps, to airports, to shady hotels, and all points in between. The ability to treat water in seconds instead of settling in place and either boiling or using pills for minutes is great for increased mobility. If I had to choose between the smaller Ultrapress or Geopress, I’d go with this slightly larger unit and wouldn’t think twice about it.

Streamlight Enduro Pro Headlamp

A good pocket flashlight should be part of your EDC. If you have room in your pack, you should EDC a headlamp too. Recently, my friend Kevin Burger from Streamlight sent me the Enduro Headlamp to test out. An instant improvement over my previous EDC headlamp is the micro USB rechargeable battery. I try to limit how many batteries I carry and don’t like mixing AA, AAA, CR123, and others if I can only carry one. Those batteries help produce as high as 200 lumens to as low as 15 when you toggle between settings and flood and spotlight settings. Battery life is listed as 6.25 hours on high and up to 48 hours on low. I haven’t tested this personally as I generally limit the amount of time I use my light around camp and inside my shelter. This headlamp weighs in at a scant 3.53 ounces. It easily fits over my large head and the body of the headlamp tilts down to limit the amount you have to bend your neck down. I already carry the Streamlight Microstream USB flashlight and this headlamp uses the same charging cable. An inexpensive upgrade is a split “Y” charging cable that is number 22082 for about $7.50 on Amazon that allows me to charge both pocket and headlamp at the same time. Overall, if there were a con, it might be the bright yellow housing as I prefer darker tones but then again you can pull that yellow casing off for an all-black look.

Knives By Nuge Wicket XL

Back in November 2023, I attended Georgia Bushcraft’s Fall Gathering. I camped across the way from Knives By Nuge and had a chance to meet the man himself and discuss his knives. He expressed interest in sending me a knife to use with ZERO expectation of feedback or anything in return. Instead of taking an easy freebie, I decided to put the Wicket XL to task. This knife is made from Nitro V steel and has a natural micarta handle. While Scandi grinds are not typically those found on hunting and butchering knives, I used them to process both chickens and rabbits at the rewilding event in South Carolina on the Sorinex property. Even in the presence of blood and sweat, the knife never picked up a single spot of rust. When it came time to touch up the blade, I used a King 1000/6000 grit whetstone, and the edge polished up easily. The Wicket XL came with two sheaths. One sheath is a kydex sheath made by Nuge himself and the other is a leather deep pocket sheath made by John Maynard of Badger Claw Outfitters. Neck carry is better with the Kydex and belt carry with the BCO. I’ll continue using this knife in my travels and will make it available to my students in courses.