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UCO X-120R X-ACT FIT Headlamp – Gear Review

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I thought my trusty headlamp was comfortable. The elastic strap was snug, adjustable slider adjusted , it was kicked around, dropped in puddles and it still turned on. I also thought sleeping on my foam pad and synthetic bag was optimal as well. Then a great friend of mine donated a mattress to my cause. Thus changing the way I slept indoors. I’m not saying that the addition of this headlamp will aid in getting your life together, but it will open your eyes to a level of comfortable overlooked in many headlamps. The designers at Utility, Comfort, and Originality (UCO) know a thing or two about comfort; It’s their middle name—Seriously.

Based out of Redmond, WA and with over 40-years of experience in products such as storm-proof matches and candle lanterns; UCO is well versed in keeping adventurers out of the dark.

The X-ACT series headlamps uses a two piece design built to allow custom-like fitting right out of the box. Their “X-ACT Fit” system uses a conforming “X-flex” neoprene strap and adjustable strap snaps on each side; setting the fitting ranges between 19-26”. The back of the headlamp incorporates a micro-adjustment wheel, similar to bike helmets, allowing smooth fine-tuning for the perfect fit. In testing, I was able to put the headlamp on and find my perfect fit quite quickly. My only issue was when I was wearing headgear. While my head isn’t big enough to have received playground bullying in elementary school, I was using the last adjustment snaps on the sides. Pushing the headlamp to the max in order to fit it over my wool buff. However, even with the extra bulk, I was able to snug the lamp perfectly with the micro-adjustment wheel.

Piercing the night with 120 lumens and a high quality Cree XP-E LED. Plenty to shed light on the rope puzzle that those rain-fly tie outs turned into. Keeping the torch simple, the designers went with a wheel dial to control the light up front. Turning the wheel to the right engages red light mode; while left turns on flood and spot modes. The dial infinitely adjusts to increase and decrease brightness.

X-ACT FIT Headlamp
The X-ACT series headlamps uses a two piece design built to allow custom-like fitting right out of the box.

The light sits on an infinitely adjustable hinge, allowing for fluid changes in the angle of the beam. While sturdy when hiking it can become a problem when used for trail running or after small jumps. The hinge will allow the light housing angle over 90 degrees. This means if you jolt, jump, or skip with enough force, it will flop down. Turning the light on to yourself and searing your retinas like tuna steaks. This was not an issue when hiking but when trail running the light housing would make its way down slowly.

The manufacturer claims up to 160 hours of battery life with 3 AAA batteries. UCO has the available option for a rechargeable version of the X-120. This includes a micro USB charged battery with the charge port located directly on the battery itself. This was a welcome design as it allows the user to insert AAA batteries, powering the headlamp, then being able to use a power cell to charge the dead battery in your pack.

X-ACT FIT Headlamp
Adjustable hinge allows for fluid movement in the angle of the beam and easy battery changes.

The lamp comes with a semi-hard shell carrying case to keep it well organized in your pack. The case has a bit of extra room for spare batteries, charge cable, and possibly a small power cell. The carrying case is a nice addition and keeps everything cozy, however it is bulky and a bit hefty for what its is intended. Some seasoned adventurers might re-purpose the case for a home use rather than an ultralight pack-list. The zipper is not YKK for you spec junkies.

The X-120R exceeded my comfort expectations for a headlamp claiming to be “headache free.” Thoughtfully designed for comfort as well as having multiple battery power options. Running out of adjustment snaps when wearing headgear is something to be aware of. Cheaper elastic strap headlamps have the advantage of being able to adjust to become necklaces; While on the X-ACT, if you run out of adjustment snaps, you run out. The infinitely adjustable light housing is another area I would change. Locking grooves would be a more secure way to angle the light, allowing the headlamp to be used in more dynamic roles.   Besides minor preference changes, UCO nailed what this headlamp set out to do. To bring exceptional comfort to a vital piece of gear.

Deuter Gröden 32 Hiking Backpack Review

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Upon first inspection of the Gröden 32, the thing just screams German engineering. It doesn’t have the streamlined cut or traffic-stopping color scheme of many American-designed day packs. With a muted, earthy color scheme and a fascinatingly bulbous design, the Gröden behaves more like a Volkswagen than a Mustang.


As far as day packs go, I’m more accustomed to something akin to a stuff sack-like design, maybe with a couple of smaller pockets for mobiles, hiking snacks, or a map. The Gröden, on the other hand, acts like a condensed backpacking pack. Much of the volume is split between several isolated pockets, adding up to 32 litres of packing space total. I chose to test the packing limits of the pack, fitting in a couple of changes of clothes, a book, water bottle, a pair of sandals, and a couple of smaller items such as a headlamp and a phone charger. There’s lots of room for the Deuter to expand, so packing it to maximum capacity wasn’t an issue.


Like a German automobile, the Gröden has an incontrovertible exertion of Eurocool. With the Vintage-inspired design and a classic European minimalist flair, I never stopped feeling like I wasn’t hip enough to wear such a collector’s item. Deuter does well in drawing on inspiration from backpackers in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Gröden boasts the Deuter Aircomfort System, which features a steel frame, a mesh back for ventilation, and padded shoulder straps. The suspension design is practically a benchmark in most packs nowadays, intended to keep most of the weight directly off the back and weigh it more effectively to be dispersed, preventing that notorious back sweat from making a rather unpleasant and chaffing packing experience. My 50 litre Osprey pack has similar technology. I didn’t find the shoulders as luscious and comfortable as Deuter advertises, but they weren’t particularly uncomfortable either.




Regardless, this is a reliable pack. Hip strap problems aside, it fits pretty comfortable on the back, and the air ventilation system is a godsend. At $129, it’s not the cheapest small pack I’ve tried, but the engineering and design certainly justify the price tag. This pack is best for hikers who require slightly more than the fundamentals of a day pack and are looking to upgrade to something that can pack more without adding significant weight.


Weight: 2 lbs 9 oz
Volume: 32 litres
Material: Deuter-Ripstop-Polytex
Waterproof: Yes, includes rain cover
Price: $129

Klymit Insulated Static V Lite Review

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Klymit pad in use

Buying a camping pad is a complex gamble that will often take an avid backpacker years of expensive trial and error to win. Every pro has its con; foam pads are cheap, light and durable, but at the same time are bulky and are often uncomfortable. Inflatable pads are light, compact and can be extremely comfortable, but they are expensive, delicate and cold. Rarely do you find a pad that does everything right, yet does not cost the moon. In the Klymit Insulated Static V Lite, I have found that balance.

Klymit Pad with ferns

I am a restless sleeper, and there are few pads that can contain my thrashings. If I’m lucky, I’ll wake to find that only my head and shoulders remain padded. However, the Kylmit’s clever system of ridges does a marvelous job of cradling me in its center. I was also surprised by how warm it was, the insulation being good enough to keep my back from freezing too badly in the middle of a 15 degree night that left my tent coated in frost.

Klymit pad in tent

The Klymit is a cushy pad, despite its minute dimensions when packed. Lumps and bumps beneath me just disappeared. This is especially impressive considering the comparatively minimal amount of breath it takes to inflate it (a big deal to anyone who has had to inflate an oxygen greedy pad after a long day’s trek).

Klymit pad in forest 2

In the time I used it, I never experienced a puncture; the material seems hardy enough even when put to the test by my clumsy treatment. To test its durability, I tried sleeping on it on the floor in leiu of a mattress at home for almost a month. Not only did I sleep well, but I inflated and deflated it every day without any trouble. An included puncture repair kit means that you won’t lose the use of your pad mid-trip even if it does come into contact with the business end of a sharp stick.

Klymit pad in use

In all my time using the Static V Lite I couldn’t find a single thing to complain about. Even the list price of $100 is cheap in comparison with other high-end inflatable pads which can easily go for twice that sum. I can’t think of a pad that I could recommend more highly than this.

Klymit pad packed (1)

In conclusion, this is a fantastic pad in every way. Whether you’re on a budget or looking for high end comfort you can’t go far wrong with the Klymit Insulated Static V Lite.




Technical Details:

Weight: 19.6 oz

Inflated size: 72 X 23 X 2.5 in

Packed size: 5 X 8 in

Material: 30 D polyester fabric.

R Value: 4.4

What’s In Your Ditty Bag?

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If you look at your list of backpacking equipment, it breaks down into relatively few items grouped by activity: There are shelter items which will range from a tent to a simple tarp or hammock. Sleeping items may include a sleeping bag or quilt, bag liner  and a pad of some sort, either inflatable or otherwise.  For cooking you will include a stove, fuel, cooking pot, a cup and a spoon and a food bag. Finally, clothing will be customized to suit the season.

The list of individual items, however, gets longer when you start to consider all of the small items you bring along.

Why do we have these things?  Typically it is because at some time in our experience, we have wished we had X-object, and it wasn’t there.

Good example: Try doing anything without duct tape!

This is where the ditty bag comes in. I use a nylon zip top bag (in my case a medium Outdoor Research product) with all items inside in clear zip locks. For tiny zip lock bags to hold small items (such as pills or AAA batteries), I go to the craft section of my local dollar store. The bag then goes with me into my tent at night.

The items I carry break out into three categories: Hygiene and health, repair and miscellaneous.

  1. Hygiene and Health
  • Small first aid kit containg antibiotic ointment, ibuprofen, alcohol pads, anti-diarrhea, antacid, sunscreen, sting relief, moleskin, band aids, surgical tape (I wrap some around a small dowel to avoid the whole roll), small wound dressing pad and steri-strips.
  • Toothbrush and paste. I have tried to make dried paste dots many times, but haven’t mastered it, so I use a small travel tube. Folklore says to saw the handle off your toothbrush if you are a weight weenie.
  • Toilet paper. Pull the tube out of a half-used roll, then flatten.
  • Wet wipes (separately zip-locked and in the same bag as the toilet paper along with the antibiotic ointment)
  • Water purifying tabs
  • Liquid soap (in a small drop bottle)
  • Ear plugs. For others – I snore.

Ditty bag 2

  1. Repair
  • Patch kit for pad & a few squares of nylon
  • Crazy glue
  • Tenacious tape
  • Cord locks
  • Pencil (a 4.5 cm stump with eraser)
  • Paper

I also roll 6 or so metres of duct tape onto one of my hiking poles.

Ditty bag 3

  1. Miscellaneous
  • Compass. Mine has a mirror so I can see how terrible I look after a week out.
  • Headlamp
  • Spare batteries (I try to use the same batteries for all lighting)
  • Small lighter (in addition to the one in my cook kit)
  • Windproof matches
  • Small knife (Leatherman Style). I look for scissors on a knife.
  • 10 metres of 2.5mm paracord
  • Sil nylon throw bag (for hanging food)
  • Pencil flare gun with flares
  • Money and I.D
  • Book / glasses

Ditty bag 4

Total weight:  869 gms


Your ditty bag will include some of the same items and, no doubt, items that you come up with yourself. For some great ideas, look at the many videos on YouTube by searching “ditty bag”.


WoolX X303 Daily Boxer Briefs Review

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The most experience-heightening change I ever made to my gear set was switching to a  good pair of athletic boxer briefs. Gone were the days of chaffed thighs and cotton-gathered. Here to stay were the days of smooth strides and dry nethers. I wore my first two pairs of spandex running shorts beneath my pants until the seams wore out and there were holes in inopportune places. My wife made me switch to a pair of Champion polyester-blend briefs, but I’ve been wearing those on every backcountry outing for four years. While they’ve held up well, I was excited to test the Merino wool WoolX X303 Daily Boxer Brief in hopes that I was about to make a new, intimate friend.

Out of the bag, the WoolX X303 Daily Boxer Briefs are beautiful. Boxers aren’t typically on public display, but the Cobalt blue Dailys I received to test are so shiny and luxurious, I wished I could show them off. The fabric is so soft and smooth, you feel like they ought to cost three times what they do.


Wearing the Dailys was a somewhat less luxurious experience. The fabric does feel as nice against the skin as it does to my hand, and they are as moisture wicking and odor eliminating as we expect Merino wool to be, but the pleasantness of wearing the briefs stops there.

The waistband is fine. It is comfortable, but WoolX advertises the Dailys as having a “non-rub interior label.” This is not true. There is a tag in the waistband of the Dailys that is immediately irritating. Technically, it is on the outside of the waistband, but it loops around to connect to the inside. I tried wearing them without removing the tag my first couple of trips out in hopes that it would soften over time. It did not. After I cut it out, the problem was solved.

Also, legs of the briefs began to ride up on me after about two hours of activity. Once I removed, washed, and redonned the briefs, the legs regained their elasticity. For short, day trips, this wasn’t an issue, but when I wore the briefs on overnight trips, I was sorry I did.


WoolX advertises the Dailys as being good for all seasons and for all outdoor activities. I wore the Dailys in temperatures ranging from the single to the triple digits in the summer, fall and winter while hiking, biking, running, climbing, snowshoeing and snowboarding. They performed similarly each time. I stayed either cool or warm and dry regardless of what the weather was like outside my shorts. I preferred the Dailys for activities when my range of leg movement was less intensive (climbing and snowboarding), as this alleviated the issue I had with the legs riding up.

In summary, the WoolX X303 Daily Boxer Briefs are an enormously comfortable pair of undergarments to wear for short periods of time in all seasons and for all activities. They are reliably moisture wicking and odor repellant, and they are one of the softest garments I have ever worn. Remove the waistband tag before you wear them on the trail, and be prepared to pull the legs back down after a few hours of use.


Tech Specs


  • Date available: now
  • MSRP: US $34
  • Listed Weight: 5.6 oz (large)
  • Materials: 100% 7.5 micron Australian Merino wool
  • Size/Model tested: Large, Cobalt Blue
  • Colors Available: Black, Charcoal, Cobalt Blue

Salewa Alp Flow Mid Boots Review

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The Salewa Alp Flow Mid Boots are a “…tough trekking boots made of nubuck and ballistic mesh with a protective rubber edging. Innovative GORE-TEX® Surround™ Technology creates a shoe that is completely waterproof and features 360° breathability – keeping your feet at the right temperature whatever the weather.” I thrashed these boots on several long and dusty hikes up and down Mount Fuji. From hot summer days to surprise sleet storms, the boots performed very well by keeping my feet dry and comfortable.Salewa Alp Flow Mid Boots 1

“The Vibram Hike Approach sole with coarse tread ensures traction on a range of terrain. For all kinds of outdoor adventure. Features the 3F System for firm ankle and heel support, and Climbing Lacing that stretches all the way to the front of the shoe for a very accurate fit.” While the Salewa Alp Flow Mid boots did provide excellent traction and support on the trail when the going got very wet, I found the shoes did a lot more slipping than sticking. I also found the shoes offered a snug performance fit, which was great when climbing on vertical rock but was less than comfortable for my extra wide, high-arched feet.

Salewa Alp Flow Mid Boots

Icebreaker Cool-Lite Strike T-Shirt Review

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Icebreaker Manufacturer's photo

When I’m going camping, I usually throw a bunch of regular, old, cotton t-shirts in my backpack. The moisture-wicking tees that I buy at sports outlets to wear jogging stay at home in a drawer. The feel of my pack straps against cotton/poly blends is just a little too slick for me, even if that means my shirt is hanging off me, weighed down with sweat by the end of a long climb.

Icebreaker Manufacturer's photo

But the Cool-Lite Strike by Icebreaker splits the difference. It’s an excellent crossover that feels like a light tee, and performs like activewear should.

I put mine through its paces. I wore it on long day-hikes. I ran half marathons in it. I took it kayaking and SUPing. It didn’t take long for this to become my favorite shirt for sweat-related activities.

Icebreaker Kayaking photo

While some of my other moisture-wicking tees have become pungent over time, inducing all the fragrant flashbacks of my high school locker room, my Cool-Lite Strike still smells and feels like a fairly new shirt. The natural anti-bacterial fleece of the merino sheep helps with that.

That’s right: The shirt smells better because it’s more sheep-like. Go figure.

The fleece of merino sheep is a great cooling fabric. It’s what protects these alpine sheep from biting winters. When pure merino wool is used in outdoor gear, it’s usually to keep the wearer cool and protected from UV rays. But Icebreaker’s blend of merino wool and other fabrics makes the Cool-Lite Strike 40% cooler.

If these sheep ran half-marathons or spent a day kayaking, they’d want the same blend.


Tech Specs

MSRP: $99.00, but has been $59.99 (40% off) off through

Fabric type: 61% Merino wool, 19% TENCEL®, 14% Nylon, 6% LYCRA®

Colors available: Monsoon/Black/Fuse (gray, black, yellow), Aquamarine/Admiral/Fuse (turquoise, dark blue, yellow), and Spark/Metal/Lunar (orange, dark gray, light gray)

Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL



Peregrine Saker 20° Sleeping Bag

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manufacturer photo - peregrine_saker_20

I zipped into the Peregrine Saker 20 sleeping bag on a rainy, 30° F Texas evening. I was plenty toasty in Peregrine’s bag, and I’m sure it could handle even cooler temperatures. What I hadn’t planned on testing was the Saker 20’s water resistance.

It rained the entire night, and when I woke the next morning I found the tent I chose to bring (it’s over 15 years old) had some leakage issues. Big ones. The part of the floor where my feet were was soaked through. Completely. Soaked. Through.

Bad news, it’s time to retire that tent. Good news, I slept through the night and had no idea my tent was a swamp. High fives, Peregrine. You kept me from getting pneumonia. Or at least soggy socks and pruned toes.

manufacturer photo - peregrine_saker_20

Peregrine offers three types of Saker sleeping bags for three different camping temps. The Saker 0 is best for 0° F winter nights. The Saker 35 is lighter for summer nights. I tested the Saker 20, which is meant to be a middle-ground, springtime-ish bag.

The Saker 20 is a comfortable mummy bag that comes in long and regular. It has a neck baffle and a hood baffle to keep in warmth. And I love the internal mesh pocket to zip in smartphones, meds, headlamps, or whatever you might want to grab without getting out of the bag. I’ve never had a bag with an internal pocket before. It’s a small addition, but a thoughtful one.

manufacturer photo - peregrine-saker-20-stuffsack

The Saker 20 comes with a stuff sack, as well as a larger cotton bag for long-term storage. Packed, it’s slightly bulkier than other bags I’ve used. But at just $89.95, it’s a great deal. Peregrine’s not as well-known as some brands, so you’re not shelling out extra money just for a juggernaut brand name. But Peregrine seems to have what it takes to become a premium brand in the long term. So now’s a good time to grab one of their bags. You’ll get it at a lower price, and you’ll be able to say you were using Peregrine before everyone else was, too.

Tent shot with mesh interior zip pocket


Grab yourself one of the Peregrine Saker Sleeping Bags for 10% off on the Peregrine website with this coupon code: seattlesaker

Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy Review

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Mountain House

My love of camping and backpacking started in the YMCA. I went to an all girls camp where every camper went on an overnight canoeing, backpacking or kayaking trip ranging from two nights canoeing on the Manito-wish Waters, WI all the way to 52 days backpacking in Alaska’s Brooks Range. Gorgeous views, great friendships and personal growth were all takeaways from these trips— as they are on most any trip into the backcountry— but something else that I walked away with after these trips was a love of backcountry cooking. From meals as simple and comforting as Mac & Cheese, to dishes as gourmet as dutch oven baked, yeast rising crust, deep-dish pizza, I’ve always loved the experience (and deliciousness) of cooking with my camping partners.

So with that history in mind, I accepted the challenge of testing my first ever boil-in-a-bag meal: Biscuits and Gravy breakfast from Mountain House. To add even more to the rigorousness of this test, I brought along my girlfriend— a native of Atlanta, Georgia, she once upon ordering and trying a biscuits and gravy meal from a very well reviewed southern speciality restaurant said, “Eh, these don’t even come close to how Grandmama makes them.”

We packed up our gear, picked up a few friends and headed out to Lake Eleanor in Mount Rainier National Park. After a strenuous day hike to Grand Park from our basecamp at Lake Eleanor, we settled down for dinner: Chili Mac for five, cooked in a pot that had taken up a solid 1 1/2 by 1 foot space in my backpack. While definitely tasty, total cook time was about 40 minutes and, after our meal, we had a huge dirty pot to deal with.

Fast forward to the next morning: we wake up to a beautiful, bright morning on the lake, take out my friend’s 1 L pot, boil water in two minutes, pour the water into the Mountain House bag and wait just eight minutes. Already I’m pumped by how fast and easy the whole process was (I could almost feel a phantom soreness in my bicep from stirring last night’s pasta). Then it was time for the taste test— and the verdict? The biscuits and gravy were really, really good. Like, seriously delightfully tasty. The little biscuit pieces had a great chewy texture even after being immersed in the hot water, and the gravy was salty and thick (if you’ve had biscuits & gravy before, you know that those are positive descriptors). But what about our native Southerner’s evaluation, you ask? After her first bite: “Well, that’s damn good!” With further prompting she admitted that the Mountain House version still did not live up to Grandmama’s, but I think we all know that that was a losing battle to begin with.

Mountain HouseIf I were to make the Mountain House biscuits and gravy again, I would probably use a little less water— the directions give one standard water amount and one amount for “thicker gravy;” however, I thought that even the smaller water amount could have been a little lower. One pack serves either one hungry backpacker or two backpackers with smaller appetites, or an accompanying snack. The clean up— always my least favorite part of camp cooking (and possibly backpacking in general)— was a breeze, no dishes, and the resealable bag becomes a trash bag once you’re finished. At .37 pounds, the packed weight is great, and at 310 calories per serving (2 servings per pack) the biscuits and gravy will keep you going all morning.

In closing, while I haven’t abandoned my love of elaborate camp cooking, the Mountain House biscuits and gravy definitely convinced me of the possibility to go light, fast and easy-clean while still making a delicious meal. Cheers to them for making a partial convert out of me— it wasn’t easy.

As a company, Mountain House is also doing some good: this summer during their “Share Your Adventure” Campaign, in which visitors to their site could share photos from their own outdoor adventures, they donated two meals for every photo submitted to the National Association For Search and Rescue— pretty cool stuff.


AnySharp Pro Review

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Let me start by saying that I am neither a culinary professional nor a knife connoisseur. I am, however, naturally curious and the fact that the AnySharp Pro claims to be the “best knife sharpener in world” definitely piqued my interest, so I figured I would put it to the test.

AnySharp Pro
The AnySharp Pro and a few of the knives I used

To say it exceeded my expectations is an understatement. There are a couple of features in particular that I found exemplary. First, the AnySharp Pro has the patented “PowerGrip,” which is essentially a suction cup that can be activated by flipping a small lever. This feature makes it so that the user never has to actually hold the sharpener, keeping fingers out of danger. It also allows you to stick the sharpener on a fridge or cabinet where it is out of the way and easy to access.

Second, its completely idiot proof, which is totally fine with me. In addition to the fact that you don’t actually have to hold it, the sharpener is set at a 20 degree angle so that you don’t need to kill yourself keeping the knife at a perfect angle to get a wonderfully sharp blade. This also effectively reduces the amount of pressure needed for a stroke. Just a few nonchalant draws through the sharpener is all you need.

AnySharp Pro
My previously dull Wusthof sliced through tomatoes flawlessly

Lastly, and best of all, the AnySharp Pro can be used on any blade, serrated or straight, with no adjustments needed. My roommate, who happens to be a culinary professional, was astounded by this. Whether it is a bread knife or a pocket knife, the tungsten carbide technology will sharpen any blade to perfection. This means that it works equally well on your cheapest knife as it does on your nicest knife, with no worries of damaging an expensive blade.

AnySharp Pro
Culinary Professional Kate Nicholl put the AnySharp Pro to the test.

In conclusion, although this is my first knife sharpener, I am certain it will also be my last.



-Power Grip
-Tungsten Carbide
-Polymer Protector
-Small and easily accessible
-Simple to use



-May be a bit pricey for a knife sharpener



Manufacturer: AnySharp
Date Available: Currently
MSRP: $48.02
Weight: .91 lbs
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