Product Reviews



  • Maxtoch SN6X-2X flashlight:  As you might imagine, a good flashlight (or two, or four) is a critical part of our gear.  Fortunately, bright and affordable LED flashlights are abundant in this day and age.  However, some applications require a light with special features or exceptional brightness.  Looking down deep shafts and across huge stopes is one such application.  Most lights don't have enough "throw" due to their wide beam patterns.  The stray light reflects off wall and particles in the air and makes it impossible to see across those great distances.  Fortunately, Maxtoch has that issue solved with the 2X.

The Maxtoch 2X is the kind of light that's referred to as a "thrower".  These are often used for hunting.  In fact, the Maxtoch 2X's smaller cousin (the Sniper M24) has a body specifically designed to fit into standard scope rings on rifles.  The 2X is not a small flashlight at 10" long and almost 3" in diameter at the head.  It weighs in a whopping 19 ounces with batteries.  However, the performance you get from the 2X is well worth the size and weight.

With it's large, smooth reflector and Cree XML-L2 U2 LED, the 2X blasts out 1,300 lumens in a narrow beam with minimal spill.  It literally blasts through the darkness in a manner that's beyond impressive.  We've had brighter lights, but none of them could penetrate the distance like the X2.  Shining the beam down a shaft is a revelation.  You can see the bottom where you couldn't before because blinding light isn't reflecting back from the walls.  You can easily choose between three brightness modes and a quick to access emergency strobe mode.

The 2X is tough too with it's aluminum body and hard anodized finish.  All joints have o-rings and the manufacturer certifies the light to IPX7 waterproof standards.  The glass front lens has an anti-reflective coating and has proven to be tough and scratch resistant.  The 2X takes two 18650 type Lithium-Ion rechargeable batteries and will last up to 1.5 hours on high with 3,400mAh cells.  Speaking of batteries, due to the high draw of this light you'll want good high capacity cells (we use Panasonic originals).  As with any two cell design, protected batteries are highly recommended.  Included with each light is a nice padded storage case, quality lanyard and small spare parts kit.

The Maxtoch 2X is a truly impressive long distance light.  At around $80, it's very affordable as well.  It's just the thing for seeing what is down deep shafts, across large stopes or what's out there on the next ridge at night.  Having the 2X in our gear cache has allowed us to see things we couldn't before and has been a huge asset.

The Underground Explorers Verdict:  Recommended!

  • Coleman 70 Quart Xtreme 5 Cooler:  When we're out in the backcountry for days at a time, often in hot weather, a good ice chest is worth it's weight in gold.  Coolers have come a long way in recent years.  After several new players entered the market with high performance (and unfortunately, high cost) multi-day super insulated coolers, traditional manufactures such as Coleman and Igloo responded with long lasting coolers of their own.  Fortunately, these large manufacturers have been able to offer high performance, long lasting coolers at reasonable prices.

After fighting with our old coolers and ending up with all our ice melted after just a day or two, we decided it was time to move into the modern age.  After looking at all the options, we chose the Coleman 70 quart Xtreme 5 high performance cooler.  It offered the best balance of capacity and size.  Even though it made moving it harder, we liked the lack of wheels which can eat into the usable space.  The 70 quart Xtreme 5 fit well in the back of the Jeep and cleared the storage platform we often use for longer trips.  Best of all, it's very affordable at only $59 (with free shipping from Amazon no less).  The question we all had however, was how would it compare with specialty coolers costing five times greater (or more)?

The Coleman 70 quart Xtreme 5 cooler is well constructed with sturdy handles and hinges.  Everything is plastic and might look fragile but even after dozens of trips bouncing around in the back of the Jeep or truck and being hauled in and out multiple times each day, all the hardware is still in excellent and fully functional condition.  The body of the cooler is proven to be tough as well and we've experienced no dents or cracks.  It's not all perfect however.  The rough texture on the outside makes cleaning more difficult.  We also wish the lid didn't have cup holders molded in.  While seemingly convenient, they take away from the interior volume and also reduce the insulation factor of the lid.

A key thing to remember is that loading enough ice is critical to making your cooler last.  Even the best cooler won't do the job if you don't have room for enough ice.  The type of ice makes a big difference too.  Block ice will last much longer than cube ice.  The colder the ice is to begin with also makes a difference.  We choose the 70 quart size because it allowed us to load 30 pounds or more of block ice and still have enough room for our food and drinks.  We fill up any remaining space with cube ice to remove as much air gap as possible.

With a full load of ice, food and drinks, our Coleman 70 quart Xtreme 5 cooler has lasted an incredible five to six days in hot weather without running out of ice.  This performance was achieved with the cooler kept in the back of the vehicle or out of the sun.  We don't keep our drinks separately so the lid is opened fairly often as well.  Even though we still had ice after five or six days, the cooler needed to be periodically replenished with cube ice to keep everything as cold as we'd like, especially as the amount of food and drinks inside was reduced.  We found that to be easy to do, even on extended off-road trips.  With periodic draining of the water and replenishment of ice cubes when fueling up, a significant amount of block ice remained and everything stayed ice cold even after seven days.  For winter camping, it seems like the ice lasts forever.  Even a moderate amount of block ice is able to keep the cooler cold for week or more.

Being able to store enough food and ice in a single cooler to feed multiple people for a week or more  (winter or summer) is incredible and convenient.  That, combined with the low price, durable constriction and convenient size makes the Coleman 70 quart Xtreme cooler a winner in our book.

The Underground Explorers Verdict:  Highly Recommended!


  • Zodi Hot Tap Travel Shower:  Nothing is better after a day of dirty, sweaty mine exploring that a hot shower.  Unfortunately, that's hard to come by when your way out in the backcountry and miles from civilization.  Bag type solar showers work well, but only in certain situations.  If it's cloudy, cold, or you've been driving around all day, you're out of luck.  Fortunately, there's a way to take a hot shower in any weather, without having to plan ahead.  The Hot Tap by Zodi is a compact propane powered water heater and shower.  Since it doesn't rely on the sun, you can use it just about anywhere or any weather.  The burner is connected to a shower head and submersible pump and can be up and running in just a few minutes.  The whole thing is powered by four D cell batteries.

    Setup is easy.  Connect a one pound propane bottle to the burner and attach the base.  Drop the pump into your water source and also the shower head so the water can recirculation.  Start the pump and once water is flowing, light the burner.  The Hot Tap is an instant water heater but depending on the source water temperature (and the air temperature), it might not be warm enough for your tastes.  Fortunately, getting the water piping hot is east.  The longer you let the water recalculate, the hotter it gets.  When the water temperature suits your liking, just pull the shower head out and get wet.  When soaping, simply put the shower head back in the water source to keep it heating.

    As with any system, there are a few details to keep in mind.  The submersible pump is rather large and doesn't fit in most common water containers.  Some versions of the Hot Tap come with a storage bucket that doubles as a water container to use during your showers.  You can also use your own bucket or any wide mouth container such as the popular plastic military five liter cans (which is what we do).  The battery box on the pump seems to be a bit fragile.  We haven't had any issues yet but we're always very careful with it.  If you want to stop the pump and the flow of water, you have to shut off the burner as well.  This isn't too much of an issue since recirculation the water is desirable anyway.  You can run the pump with the burner off to save propane once the water is hot enough if desired.

    We've used the Zodi Hot Tap on many trips and have been very pleased.  We used to have solar bag showers scattered all over the place or worse, had to get by with baby wipes.  With the Hot Tap, the whole team can take a hot shower no matter the weather or time of day.  The Hot Tap is very affordable, selling for around $150 at many retailers.  The only problem you might have is carrying enough water to keep everyone satisfied!

    The Underground Explorers Verdict:  Highly Recommended!


  • Nitecore MT40GT flashlight:  We're suckers for bright flashlights.  More than that, we're always looking for the next great thing in bright but compact torches.  An even bigger draw is a flashlight with a tight beam for penetrating deep shafts without a great deal of spill or backscatter.  So, when Nitecore got in touch and asked us to test their new MT40GT, we jumped at the chance.

    The Nitecore MT40GT is a thrower.  It puts out a very bright but narrow beam with minimal spill.  With it's smooth reflector and Cree XP-L HI V3 LED, the MT40GT blasts out and incredible beam that pierces the darkness.  With its tightly focused beam, the MT40GT penetrates far down shafts and across stopes without blinding backscatter.  Even better, the MT40GT weighs only 12 ounces and has a slim 2" diameter head.  That's significantly smaller than the Maxtoch 2X we tested previously.  The difference in size and weight really comes to the fore when packing the MT40GT for a long trip underground.

    The MT40GT offers several brightness and strobe modes, including an SOS mode and multiple user defined modes.  The MT40GT is a solid light with a black HA III hard anodized finish and is rated to the IPX-8 standard (submersible to 2 meters).  The tailcap switch feels solid and activates with a audible and tactile click.  The tough mineral glass front lens has an anti-reflective coating.  The MT40GT can use two 18650 Li-Ion rechargeable batteries or four CR123 primary lithium cells.  The maximum runtime on maximum brightness is an impressive two hours and fifteen minutes (using quality 3,400mAh cells).

    The Nitecore MT40GT is an amazing long distance light.  Its very affordable at around $80 and is easily obtained from a number of retailers.  It's small size, incredible brightness and tight beam make it one of the best distance flashlights we've ever used.  Because of it's light weight, the MT40GT is now our go-to light for illuminating shafts and stopes.

    The Underground Explorers Verdict:  Highly Recommended!

  • Road Shower 2:  As you probably already know, we'd kill for a shower after a long dirty day underground.  Sometimes we're fortunate enough to get one but many times we're left dirty.  Solar showers work great when it's sunny and warm but require pre-planning (and staying in one place) and the clouds to cooperate.  Our Zodi Hot Tap propane water heater solves both those problems but it takes up space and we often don't have room for it on longer trips in the Jeep.  Carrying enough water to keep it fed can also be an issue due to limited space.

    The Road Shower attempts to solve many of these problems and the folks that make it sent one our way to see what we thought.  The Road Shower is a five gallon aluminum water tank that mounts to your roof rack.  It's essentially a permanently mounted solar shower and water tank all in one.  This solves one of the major problems with solar showers (pre-planning and staying in one place so the shower can sit out) and also the water storage problem in small (or fully packed) vehicles (by moving the water out of the cabin and onto the roof).

    The Road Shower can be pressurized with compressed air for good water pressure no matter how high or low it's mounted.  This is a real bonus for lower vehicles.  The air space required for pressurization does take away from the amount of water you can store but it's not a huge difference.  On taller vehicles, you can fill the Road Shower to the max and simply remove the cap and let gravity do the work.  The Road Shower has a pre-attached hose and sprayer nozzle which can be adjusted from flood to stream easily and quickly.  Several mounting points for the hose and nozzle are attached to the Road Shower for secure storage and easy placement for use.

    Mounting the Road Shower to our Thule rack was quick and easy.  It uses metal plates to go around the load bars and has rubber pads you can use if you're concerned about marring or slipping.  The biggest consideration we had was where the weight would be carried since our roof rack is only mounted to the fiberglass hardtop on the Jeep.  Speaking of weight, the Road Shower weighs in at 15 empty and roughly 55 pounds when fully loaded with water.  It's important to make sure your roof rack system can accommodate that sort of weight.  Once mounted, simply put in four and a half gallons of water through the large fill opening, secure the cap and then add about 20 PSI of air pressure via the Schrader valve and you're ready to go.

    We took the Road Shower on a ten day trip to Nevada to see how it worked.  We had mostly sunny skies, warm temperatures and quite a bit of wind.  We used the Road Shower often during the day to wash our hands and clean up.  Having quick and easy access to water in this manner was great.  We actually washed up more often than usual because it was so convenient.

    We took several showers with the Road Shower throughout our trip.  A full tank was easily enough for three people to shower if we were judicious with our water usage.  We took most of our showers in the late afternoon and did have some issues with the water temperature.  Even though the Road Shower was in full sunlight, the water wasn't as warm as we expected it to be (or as warm as we'd experienced in similar circumstances with solar bag showers).  Based on some experimentation, it seems like the high winds we experienced carried away heat faster than the late afternoon sun could put it in.  Airflow around the Road Shower when driving would seem to cause the same problem.  The large surface area of the Road Shower and it's highly conductive aluminum construction would seem to be a doubled edged sword.  If you take your showers earlier in the day this would be less of a problem, even with the wind.

    Being dirty on the trail or after being underground stinks (literally).  Baby wipes only go so far and nothing beats a real shower.  No solution is perfect and the Road Shower is no different.  We really liked getting the water out of the cabin and up on the roof where we had plenty of space.  Easy access to that water was also a huge bonus.  The price is something to be considered.  At $299 the Road Shower is far more expensive than a solar shower and even more costly that a propane instant water heater.  Still, you gain a great deal of convenience, spontaneity and space that other solutions simply don't offer.  With the Road Shower, you're still at the mercy of the weather to get a hot shower but out here in the desert, that's not usually a problem.  It seems like the amount of wind (or driving you do) and the time of day you need to take your shower might be the biggest X factor with the Road Shower.  Still, we found it to be very practical and convenient, not only on long trips but even day to day around town.  If you leave a gallon of water in the tank  you're be surprised how often you find yourself using it.  The Road Shower is particularly helpful for those with smaller vehicles that don't have room for five gallons of water (of fully loaded vehicles like our Jeep where every cubic inch of space is filled on a longer trip).

    The Underground Explorers Verdict:  Recommended!