Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review of Echo Sigma's ER2

Emergency preparedness is big business. From doomsday preppers to the walking dead, surviving the dark times has become as much about entertainment as practicality. Surging public interest has driven an entire industry of zombie survival, tactical readiness, bug out bag, and disaster thwarting products—some good, some questionable, and many downright ridiculous. Novice preppers looking for a preconfigured emergency solution are faced with a dizzying array of conflicting advertising. Wading through this storm is often frustrating. What do I actually need? Am I buying quality products? Am I spending too much? Would I be better served building my own kit?

Fortunately, the truth about guns ran a review of the Echo Sigma get home bag when I was struggling with these questions. I was impressed by E-S’s attention to detail, comprehensive approach, and commitment to creating functional tools. Looking through their offerings I found exactly what I needed—a shelter in place kit for two people that broke down into a pair of bug out bags. A few months and one tax return later and my order was placed.

From the manufacturer’s website:

The Echo-Sigma Emergency Roll-Away for Two (ER2) is an all-in-one mobile emergency preparation system. Vital for evacuation or shelter-in-place scenarios, the Emergency System provides food, water, shelter, communications and first aid for two adults for an absolute minimum of three days (much longer with rationing).

Having the entirety of the system housed in an easy to move rolling casing allows you to be able to easily locate and roll your entire system out should you need to evacuate on short notice. Once you're clear of danger or need to continue on foot, the supplied backpacks and hydration systems allow you to stay moving on foot as needed. Your options are open.

You can take delivery of your system and immediately store it in its final storage location with confidence. Every item in this system is pre-configured and ready for immediate use. Pre-configured and ready means:

Pre-configured and ready means:

• Packaging removed from all items.

• All electronics function tested.

• Documentation consolidated into water resistant packaging.

• All items arranged, organized and stowed. Ready for fast access in case of emergency.

Those are some ambitious claims. Experience has taught me that few products in this class are truly “comprehensive.” Most slap a mass of cheap camping gear in a bundle and call it good. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that E-S’s claims were no brag, just fact.


The ER2’s order page gives the customer several options. There is a base component selection included with all kits. After that you can opt to supply your own upgrades or pick from E-S’s suggestions. With the exception of the packs and roller bag, you can choose to cut all of the following.

• Color: You can choose between black and coyote brown for the rolling case and backpacks. The case and packs may be selected in contrasting colors, though both packs have to match. I opted for the classic black look since I live in an urban area. If push comes to shove I want something that has a chance of blending in.

• Multi Tool: You can choose between the Sog S44 Power Plier, its big brother the S62 Power Lock Multi Tool, its cousin the B63 Power Lock EOD multi Tool, and the anemic Gerber dime. I opted to provide my own multi tools as I prefer the solid construction of the Victorinox SwissTool—though the Sogs are quality options if that’s your thing.

• Light: You pick any combination of two from Four Sevens Quark Pro QP2A-X 336 Lumen Flashlight, Fenix LD22 215 Lumen Light, Fenix E25 187 Lumen Light, or the Fenix HL21 LED Headlamp. I chose a pair of LD22s for parts compatibility.

• Radio: Choose between the Midland ER102 Emergency Crank Weather Alert Radio, Midland XT511 Base Camp Emergency Crank 2 Way Radio, or the Etón FRX2 Multi-Power Emergency Weather Radio. I went with the XT511 since it acts as a relay point. With the hand crank, it can charge USB devices in a pinch.

• Camp Knife: You can add a SOG AutoClip Mini Folding Knife, SOG "Escape" Folding Knife, or the SOG Seal Pup Fixed Blade. I have several fixed blade knives already and so opted to supply my own.

• Camp Tool: You can add a SOG FastHawk or a SOG Entrenching Tool. I’ve heard nothing but bad reviews regarding the E-tool—really bad reviews. In contrast the fast hawk gets great reviews within its design limitations. It was a no brainer.

• 2 Echo-Sigma 3-10 Day Provision Packs. Each “pack” holds 3 MREs, 9 ration bars, and 5 liters of water or 18 ration bars and 7.25 liters of water. As the website says, “If an extended state of emergency is anticipated and resupply unlikely, these supplies could be rationed for up to 10 days per person if water and energy discipline is high.” The bigger question in my mind isn’t how long I can make the rations last. I am more interested in how long the rations will last before requiring replacement. There was a time when MREs were made with frees dried components. These would last a while. Modern MREs have a standard shelf life of 3-5 years, less if exposed to high temperatures, moisture, and/or sunlight. Depending on where you’ll be storing the kit, the MRE version may work for you. It will certainly provide a larger variety of flavors than straight ration bars. I am more interested in limiting the frequency with which I will need to refresh components. Thus, I will be making a hybrid provision kit with water, ration bars, and some frees dried meals such as from mountain house.

What’s in the kit:

In addition to the above options, the ER2 comes standard with a variety of equipment. Many of these elements are smaller special purpose packs combined here, but sold individually as well.

• 1 Rolling Load out Bag XL by Sandpiper of California. This is essentially a very large rolling suitcase with side mounted molle attachment channels. In addition to the huge central compartment, the bag has 2 zippered pockets on the right side and a zippered top pocket which can be opened to deploy a heavy webbing pull handle. My case came with a detachable pals strap and snap pouch mounted between the two side pockets. Each zipper uses a knotted cord instead of the normal metal tabs—functional, though I prefer integral tab pulls with paracord knots as a backup. The back of the bag is supported by two plastic reinforcing bars for added rigidity. Three parallel mounted wheels allow the bag to be pulled by the handle. Two pairs of heavy compression straps synch the main compartment. The central bag area can be cut down by zipping up a spacer that reduces the internal volume by about 30%. The compression straps form a very large grab handle which you could theoretically use to carry the kit. In practice the unit is so heavy and bulky when loaded that I would only want to use the handle to lift it short distances. The material and zippers are very heavy duty, strong enough that I’m not worried about breakage even with over seventy pounds of gear inside

• 2 Three Day Pass backpacks by Sandpiper of California. These are decent sized day packs. Each one has molle channels for additional accessories, fittings for a condor outdoor 2.5 liter hydration system (which comes preinstalled as part of the kit), Solid shoulder and belt straps, and multiple pockets for a few days worth of gear. These are serviceable packs—not the top of the line, but solid value day packs made by a reputable manufacturer.

• 2 Echo-Sigma Compact Survival Kits. These are scaled up versions of the Adventure medical pocket survival pack. Each pack includes a survival blanket, water purification tablets, ear plugs, a combination compass and signal whistle, duct tape, and several means of generating fire/light. The components are clearly meant for solid use and not just once and done. The kits come in a zippered clamshell case which has so many pockets and sleeves that I’ve been daydreaming about using them to organize the rest of my gear.

• 2 Echo-Sigma Compact First Aid Kits. This unit has the basics including various sizes of bandage, tweezers, tape, wipes, face mask, and pain killers. I will be adding a set of disposable gloves, an ace bandage, and some antibiotic cream. Each pack comes in a zippered pouch. All the perishable components are sealed in zip lock bags by type. It is set up exactly how I would have packed my own kit if I had built it from scratch.

• 1 Echo-Sigma Hygiene Kit. This kit has _everything_ you would need in a pinch to keep clean. Besides the obvious toiletries, it has bug spray, sun screen, nail clippers, a signal/vanity mirror, toilet paper, sanitary napkins, and 2 types of tampons.

• 1 Coleman Easy Assemble Three Adult Tent and 2 Emergency Ponchos. This is a small tent that fits a queen sized air mattress. The manufacturer calls it a three person tent, but really it’s for two people. The ponchos can be used for additional rain proofing or field expedient shelters.

• 2 Suisse Sport McKinley 0-5F Mummy Sleeping Bags and 2 survivor industries Thermal Sleeping Bag Cocoons. Depending on your area, you can use the cocoons as light sleeping sacks or as liners for the mummy bags. The cocoons are rated as water proof, so even if you don’t use them for their intended purpose, they can function as the foundation for another project. Like most of the gear in the ER2, the mummy bags are solid enough quality to get the job done, but not so top flight that they drive the cost of the kit into the stratosphere.

• 2 32oz. Nalgene Water Bottles and 1 GSI Glacier Stainless Steel Bottle Cup. These are welcome additions to the Condor hydration systems, especially if you want to use water supplements. The bottle cup is a folding handled pot designed to fit over the bottom of the bottle for ease of storage. Especially if you end up camping, this is a nice item for making soups, pasta, and the like. I’ll be buying a second one for redundancy.

• 100 Feet of Military Grade 550 Paracord and 10 Extra Large Zip Ties. Combined with the duct tape in the survival kits, you can make lots of field expedient equivalents with this gear.

• 18 AA Alkaline Batteries. If the ER2 has a weakness it’s here. Alkaline batteries corrode over time. Granted that’s a ways off when you have fresh cells, but when you’re talking about a kit designed to sit in cold storage for years at a time it’s a legitimate concern. One of the first things I’m going to do is swap them out. This is one of the few components that I would have happily paid a couple bucks more to upgrade. Even so, these cells are rated for ten years, so this is more of a want than a need.

• 2 Midland GXT1000VP4 - Two Way Radios. The midland radios are about as good as your going to get in a survival radio at this price point. They are packed with features. Since they are configured by E-S before shipment, they all come set to the same frequency. I am not a radio guy, so I went to Amazon to check them out. While reviews mark them as acceptably functional, there are consistent themes of limited range, easy charge exhaustion on random power packs, and a somewhat clunky UI. Limited testing shows them good out to 2-3 miles in an urban setting with several intervening buildings. I’m reserving judgment until I have time for comprehensive testing, but so far, so good.

• 1 Camp Trowel. This is a plastic hand tool, much like you would use to scoop light soil or sand at the beach. I can see this coming in handy for a variety of tasks. It is not a dedicated digging tool however. One of the first things I added to the kit was a steel hand shovel for real digging. I would like to see a real folding shovel or E-Tool as an option for the kit, something on par with the fast hawk.

• 2 Pairs of Leather Work Gloves, 4 N95 Rated Respirator Masks, and 2 Sets of Protective Goggles. These will be useful if you find yourself actually making it in the wild, the gloves in particular.

• 4 Coleman Hand Warmers.

• 2 Large Waste Bags.

• 1 Travel Sewing Kit. This is another one of those items that when you need, you really need. The kit comes with one; I’ll be getting a second.

• Consolidated documentation.

Design :

This is, to put it mildly, a lot of stuff. I did my time in boy scouts where the SOP was cram all your gear in your pack and hope it all came out well. Later I learned the art of good packing; but in the beginning I just hoped I could find what I needed without having to empty the whole thing on the ground first. Typically when you get a product like this everything is neatly and perfectly packaged for maximum space efficiency. Once you start messing with components, you’ll find that it’s near impossible to get everything packed back down into the ideal arrangement again. With this in mind, I was a little concerned opening the ER2 for the first time. As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about.

Echo Sigma’s design breaks down into modular components. Each piece of the puzzle is arranged so that you can sort through the bag quickly and pull out what you need without fuss. I did a quick inventory of the kit in less than a minute without having to remove anything except to verify which of the multiple kits were which. Everything fits back in its place. The heavier cardboard boxes with the provision packs sit at the bottom of the case, keeping it upright. The tent and sleeping bags are positioned in order to provide structural rigidity. Electronics are positioned facing outward so as not to bump into other elements.

The less obvious and to me, more valuable design feature of the ER2 is the thought that has gone into _every_little_detail of the unit’s organization. I’m blind as a bat and I can reach into the main kit and find anything I want, by touch, in a couple seconds. Each of the redundant kits is organized exactly the same way. So getting to the gear you want, whether it’s grabbing a component from the main kit or a sub component from one of the modular packs is about as straight forward as you can get. If you want a different configuration, all of the mini packs, save the medical kits, come with integral pals straps that can be locked to the case’s external webbing. A lot of the components are better off in the protected main compartment, but using the supplied zip ties or the paracord, there isn’t much you can’t rig to the case’s exterior mounting points. The backpacks are similarly customizable. So, whether you want to live out of the case or the packs, you can put the system together any way you want with a minimal amount of effort.

Finally, Echo Sigma’s claim of:

“You can take delivery of your system and immediately store it in its final storage location with confidence.”

Is spot on. If anything they aren’t giving themselves enough credit. Each part of this kit is removed from the factory packaging and consolidated into the Roller case—usually by means of a smaller clamshell pack. Sub components like bandages, power adapters, and matches are re-packaged with like items in zip lock bags for ease of segmentation. The radio handsets and flashlights are clipped to the webbing on one of the backpacks to keep them from battering around the inside of the case. The fast hawk was placed between the sleeping bags, in its sheath, to keep it from bashing the rest of the gear. The assembly and attention to detail is second-to-none.

Quality and purpose:

The temptation, especially if you’re a gear guy like me, is to look at the ER2 and say that’s awesome! And then bash the individual components. My impression is that E-S had a real challenge when designing this kit. On the one hand, the ER2 is meant to take two people and give them the ability to shelter in place or bug out for 3-10 days in all but the most extreme conditions. That is a very broad mandate—especially when you take into account the differences in what some people will consider “essential.” Meeting that mandate requires a lot of gear.

On the other hand, top flight preparedness and survival tech doesn’t come cheap. If one were to replace the 2 lights in my kit with Mcgizmo haiku XPGs, the ER2’s cost would double. Not to put too fine a point on it, but many of the major components, lights, tents, sleeping bags, knives, multitools, packs, and radios fall at the low end of what many gear snobs would consider worthy of their attention. I don’t consider this to be a mark against the ER2.

The ER2 is designed to sit in your closet for years at a time. When you pull it out, it’s built to get two people through up to a week of shelter in place or bugging out. It isn’t designed to help you survive the end of the world. It would be nice if it came standard with the most bomb proof tech on the market. That being said, I don’t have the disposable income or desire to drop $5,000 or more on a preparedness package that will in all likelihood spend several decades gathering dust. That’s the line Echo Sigma had to straddle with this package. They had to build a comprehensive pre-configured preparedness kit for two people while keeping the end product somewhat affordable. Given that mission, I’m very happy with the result.


Many preppers will want to use this kit as a foundation for customization. So I’m including a few of my personal modifications that haven’t been mentioned in previous commentary.

• I’m a big believer in training with your tools, not just hoping to read the manual in the middle of an emergency. I’ll be getting a second set of the midland radios for redundancy and training.

• There are two products which I consider universally useful. Between duct tape and super glue, you can fix most medical and practical problems. There’s some duct tape in the kit already, but not enough. I’ll be adding an additional package plus a couple tubes of super glue.

• Anyone who camps a lot knows how important having a good camp knife is—preferably one you can easily sharpen. I have a high quality plane edge hunting knife which I’ll be adding along with an adjustable sharpener. I’m surprised that this kit doesn’t come with at least a smith’s pocket sharpener already.

• I’m a big fan of dedicated storage. It helps organize and improve functionality. After upgrading the batteries, I’ll be adding battery cases and at least one USB recharger. Using the base camp radio, this will let me recharge cells in a pinch.


Building a preparedness kit is all about compromise—cost vs. quality, quantity of gear vs. portability, scope vs. probable use. People are going to draw those lines differently. I think a lot of people with the motivation and the resources to acquire a $1,200 preparedness setup will want to pick the components themselves. That said, the ER2 solves the problems I need solved, answers some questions I hadn’t thought to ask, and does it all at a very reasonable price. The extra steps Echo Sigma takes to organize, consolidate, and configure the package makes the ER2 the best value comprehensive preparedness kit in its class I’ve seen to date.

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