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29 Oct

I’m Packing It In

Posted by Mark Harris on

In preparation for my annual fall trip to the Great State of Tennessee, I started to weigh my options – literally.  Over the course of a year, I find all sorts of cool stuff that I think needs to go in the pack I keep in my car, and the pack grows in weight.  This year, I was determined to pare down my pack weight, in hopes that I would make it to the top of the mountain without having to be airlifted out as my camping buddies snickered and split up my gear.  There must be some kind of volcanic activity in the area, because the mountain gets taller and steeper each year.

The heaviest thing in the pack is always water.  I carry a gallon for an overnight… staying hydrated, cooking, coffee… no shaving, but I do enjoy clean teeth, so I couldn’t cut corners there.  I cut out quite a bit of weight by ditching doubles of things that are normally in the pack – during the rest of the year, it functions as a sort of grab and go bag, and there are duplicates of the stove, pots, miniature fry pans and drinking cups, some canned and dehydrated food, so if my wife and I end up at a hotel unexpectedly, waiting out some storm, blizzard or natural disaster, we can maintain some semblance of normalcy by being able to cook a meal for two and eat together by emergency candle light, instead of taking turns with the one available set of cookware.

I’m thoughtful like that.

Since I keep the grab and go bag filled with items to support two persons, instead of having to repeat the annual Dumping Of The Bag ceremony and repacking it for much lighter solo use each fall, I would just put together two separate bags.  Genius, huh?  And that’s how I ended up dragging just about every camping/hiking/preparedness item I own out onto and surrounding our dining room table to evaluate each item's suitablility.

I put my monocular in the solo pack, a Vortex 8×32 Solo R/T.  It’s a favorite of mine – the shape fits my hand well, and it saves weight because I’m essentially carrying half a binocular.  I’m looking at the two piles of items that I’ve separated for the light solo pack and the grab and go bag, and it dawned on me: I need a binocular.

Why a binocular, since I mentioned the weight savings of the monocular?  Comfort and familiarity.  Here's why:

Since I was building a separate grab and go bag, I was putting in two of many items – collapsible bowls, alcohol stoves, cups, utensils – also familiar comfort items,  small single servings of wine for my wife, her favorite licorice, a miniature deck of cards.  Airline size bottles of bourbon for me, and, well, more airline size bottles for me.  I decided that instead of having another Solo R/T monocular in the grab and go pack, I would select with something everyone is familiar with – a binocular.

The new bag is black, with no knives on the outside.  People stare when you check into a hotel with this.

I’ve noticed over time that everyone I hand my monocular to seems – well, befuddled.  It works perfectly for me, as one eye is kind of goofed up from a blood clot.  But other folks seem unable to understand the concept.  They’re not sure which eye to use, they’re surprised to see the ranging reticle in the Solo R/T, they invariably start with it upside down because the eyecup is turned for my left eye – and they just seem to not be as comfortable with it as I am.

I wanted something in the grab and go bag that would be as familiar as the deck of cards or as comforting as a cup of Starbucks Via, which is also packed away in both bags.  Simplicity was important, as was weight.  Not being able to wait until I got to work to start researching my purchase, I grabbed my iPad and typed in

Because I fancy myself an informed consumer, I narrowed the search to a single brand: Vortex.  We show 41 different binoculars by Vortex, but I immediately saw exactly what I was looking for – the Vortex Vanquish 8 x 26 compact binocular.

It’s not the most expensive binocular Vortex offers, but it’s one heck of a lot of binocular for the money.  I had used these before, and I was sold before even looking through them.  If you’ve ever held one of the Taurus revolvers with the ribbed grips, you will be familiar with the feel of this binocular.

There are flexible ribs that let you get a good purchase on the binocular in dry weather, and act sort of like the rain tires in Formula 1 racing by channeling away water if you’re out in bad weather.

Same concept, but the Vanquish will fit in your pack, and is more comfortable on a strap around your neck.

A single focus wheel at the rear is positioned perfectly for fine adjustments with an index finger, the right eyepiece has a diopter, and the entire unit feels like it was designed by someone who had actually picked up a binocular and held it for a few minutes.  Ergonomic, I believe is the correct term.

Look at this – you want one.  You know you do.

They feel gooooood.

But, as good as they feel, they perform even better.  I’m not going to be out in the early dawn or late dusk looking for game with these, I’m maybe going to be using them to see what the traffic jam ahead is, or see if that group of people coming this way are wearing ears on a string around their necks – you know, bug out stuff.  The light-gathering capabilities of the 26mm objective will suit my needs just fine.

Brief aside: I was trying to determine why the shape of the reverse porro prism design appeals to me (narrower in the front than the back) and I thought maybe it resembled something I had seen in one of the Star Wars movies.  Thinking “how many binoculars can there be in Star Wars movies?” I foolishly went to Wookipedia (the Star Wars Wikipedia) and…

Apparently THAT many binoculars. And now, back to our regularly scheduled blog:

I’ll be placing my order for the Vanquish 8 x 26 binocular in a couple of weeks, and another feature will be apparent – the price. I’ve mentioned often that Vortex products perform above their price points, and the Vanquish 8 x 26 is no exception.  This is the perfect product for my application.  While it is a quality optic, if I have to abandon the grab and go bag and the Vanquish 8 x 26 to drag my wife to higher ground to avoid the advancing tsunami here in Illinois (hey, could happen), I can afford another Vanquish.  Choose between my gear and the wife?  The wife comes first.

Now, if it was a Vortex Kalibab HD 20 x 56 binocular

Just kidding, hon!  Hon?  Hello?  Aw, c’mon… you KNOW it’s you, AND the wedding photos, right?  Hon?

I may be using that solo bag at a hotel sooner than I had planned.

Mark H.


Mark, who feels uncomfortable referring to himself in the third person, was taught to shoot at age 5 by his father. Mark grew up, or at least increased in age, in east central Indiana. After realizing that he was not going to become an astronaut, he attended design school and spent 25 years in commercial printing before a trip to the emergency room convinced him to abandon this folly. The online purchase of a holster led Mark to OpticsPlanet where he is happier than any person has a right to be, except that his wife refuses to let him buy a dog or a motorcycle. She is, however, pretty darn cute, according to Mark.

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