Wanderer by Duluth Packs

This week, Jared Peltz of Swanson Media Group takes a look at the Wanderer by Duluth Packs, and gives us his thoughts and feedback.

It isn’t every day that I get the opportunity to review a product from a company that has been in business since the end of the Civil War Reconstruction Era. This was a time in US History when the west was still being settled and covered wagons were the SUV’s of society.

Even more rare when the product is made with the same care, attentionon, and craftsmanship today, as it was when they were founded. The sad fact is, in this digital day and age of instant gratification, most things are simply not made the way they used to make them. This month’s article takes a look at a pack that is the exception to this rule, the Wanderer.  


This backpack doesn’t come with an iPhone holder, slots for earbud wires, bottle openers, Molle attachments, or a number of other things you may consider necessary. If you can get past that, the Wanderer is the pack for you from a company about as “old school” as it getsEnter Duluth Pack. This company has been manufacturing canvas backpacks and products since 1882 in Minnesota. Know any other companies that used to repair covered wagons? No? Me neither 

How could a company that hasn’t molded to the modern world still make it in today’s time? Simple, by providing quality products that function and last. Take the Wanderer pack that I had the pleasure to review recently. It is a scaled down version of their very popular Rambler pack designed for bushcrafting, hiking, camping and other rigorous outdoor activities. The Wanderer is made from 15 oz. canvas and a simple box style design. The top flap straps are copper riveted with premium leather and roller buckles. They were surprisingly thick straps in comparison to the buckle down side and front pockets.  

In addition to the thick leather straps, leather reinforcement is provided for all riveted and high stress seams. The pack offered a main compartment measuring 16” high, 15” wide, and 6” deep for the main storage area. The side pockets are approximately 9” high, 4.5” wide and about 2” deep. The front pocket measured about 9” high, 8” wide, and 1.5” deep. Idefinitely had enough room for a quick day+ pack. Much more than that, the original Rambler may be a better option. This one came in Olive Drab, but there are thirteen options to choose from, one of which is waxedIf you are going to consistently be in wet or damp environments, I would recommend the waxed option. Given an opportunity in the future, I would likely consider trying the waxed edition. A second option Duluth Packs offers is a canvas wax kit for those who wish to wax their packs later after purchasing one of the other packs  

The roomy, unobstructed main compartment is cinched closed via a leather draw cord with a fast and easy to use cord lock. The long leather straps attached to the top flap offer 7 holes of adjustment to allow for a bedroll to be placed on the inside of a fully loaded main compartment and still be cinched down to give the roll protection from the elements as well as the rest of the inside contents. Along the top was a well-supported “grab and go” handle for hanging the pack or simply loaded and unloading into a vehicle. The wide shoulder straps were designed from cotton webbing. Four leather re-enforced attachment points for lashing any additional gear was located around the top of the pack. Keeping with the simple design, you won’t find however, a waist belt for long-range lower back support 

So, just how well did the pack work over the 5-month test period, you ask? Not bad. I took the Wanderer on a couple kayak trips, used it as an office work bag, took it out on family outings for blueberry picking, and a few hikes. I found the Wanderer was easily used as a day pack. The canvas is solid, but didn’t offer much breathability as was expected. The cotton shoulder straps are slightly angled to allow ease of use, but made for awkward adjustment at times. The side pockets are buckled with noticeably thinner leather. This made opening and closing easier, but left me feeling that they were a little too thin compared to the sections of leather boot that hold down the top flap.  Since the design is a simple box style, users may find the pack sag or load shift without a supporting frameIn reading other comments about the pack online, I had found one suggestion about using a small office waste basket to give the main compartment structure. I didn’t find it an issue as most of my outings had the pack filled to capacity. 

One of my favorite points about the Wanderer was the fact there were no plastic zippers in the design to burst open or break off. The leather strap system was easy to use and offered a sound piece of mind that my load was secured. I loved the overall simplistic look and rugged feel of the Duluth Wanderer. It carried well and filled the role of a medium day pack just fine. waist support could have been helpful on a few heavy loads, but the pack performed well without it 

With a quality product and a lifetime warranty on craftsmanship and hardware, the Duluth Pack Company can provide a well-made pack for a number of scenarios and uses was glad to see the packs were proudly made in the USA sadly unlike too many products in our industry today. The old-fashioned attention to detail with the Wanderer was just as impressive as the overall classic look of the pack. Oh, by the way, did I mention you can rent a pack whenever you plan a trip around the Boundary Waters or Quetico area near the company’s base of operations in Duluth, Minnesota? Sounds like a good excuse to plan your next adventure. For more information on the Wanderer and other great products from Duluth, take a look at www.duluthpack.com and see where a Duluth Pack can fit in your life. 

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The NeoMag Magazine Carrier 

Trampas Swanson takes a look at The NeoMag Magazine Carrier for TheGearLocker.net.  If you are looking for ways to carry a spare magazine as part of the EDC, keep on reading.

The firearms industry is a wonderful microcosm of the world financial market to observe with its trends, growth, rise in popularity and success from big business and small entrepreneurs alike. For shooters like me who love the industry so much that we invest our careers into both the “hardware” (guns, ammo and equipment) and “software” (training) aspects of it, one must always stay on top of the newest techniques and products. As a firearms instructor, I have noticed a huge increase over the past 10 years in people from all walks of life pursuing their state rights here in the US to obtaining a concealed carry permit for their handguns. As a direct result of this trend, the request from NRA instructors such as we employ with my business, the Swanson Training Group has sharply risen as well. As the managing editor of the Swanson Media Group, my fantastic team is always flooded with new firearms, gadgets and holsters claiming to make concealed carry easier, more comfortable and efficient.  

During my trip to this year’s largest firearms industry event in the world known as the SHOT SHOW, I had the pleasure of meeting a sharp minded inventor by the name of Graig Davis, owner of a company by the name of NeoMag. Graig and I discussed a few issues about carrying concealed which face people who do so all the time. The first was the lack of people carrying spare ammunition. I mentioned to Graig the fact that when I was in law enforcement, we carried not only the ammo in the pistol but an additional 2 spare mags as well but when I was off duty, I normally just carried the gun. The reason why was because when I was on duty, I had a large utility belt to hang handcuffs, gloves, holsters, batons, keys, and mag pouches on. Off duty, I could only fit my wallet and cell phone into my Wrangler jeans. If I tried to toss in a spare magazine, it would sink to the bottom of my pocket wedged under my wallet or tangled into keys. As a strong supporter of the right to carry a firearm concealed, Graig wanted to create a minimalistic way to carry a spare magazine that would help promote gun owners in carrying spare ammo.  

Using the best quality materials available, Graig set out to build a magnet based pocket clip versatile enough to be used with a wide range of magazines. All Graig’s research and efforts resulted in a product known simply as the NeoMag. Made from CNC machined steel with a black nitride finish, the NeoMag has a titanium pocket clip and powerful neodymium rare earth magnet. The steel black nitride finished wings come in small, medium and large to secure magazines from twisting out of the grasp of the magnet. 

I left the show with samples of each size to try out once I returned home to Florida. My choice in a daily carry firearm is often dictated by weather and clothing choice and can range from as small as a Glock 42 .380 (size small) and as large as my custom Les Baer 1911 .45 ACP (size large). The highest percentage of the time will find my Glock 19 9mm in an inside-the-waistband holster with a size medium NeoMag. What makes the NeoMag so versatile with only 3 size options is the open frame design which accommodates single and double stack magazines. The titanium pocket clip has a very strong retention to prevent it from working loose out of your pocket.  Even with a full-size magazine sharing my front pocket with my wallet (you can thank my chiropractor for that habit) the NeoMag comfortably holds the magazine upright and ready for quick deployment.  

Currently, I am well into my third month using the NeoMag carriers daily and I do not leave the house carrying concealed without my spare magazine and NeoMag. Retailing for $44.99 each regardless of size ordered, you will find they quickly pay for themselves compared to other systems on the market you would order and only use once or twice. I should point out, if you are a fan of using aftermarket pistol magazines built mostly from polymer such as Magpul and ETS magazines built for Glock pistols, these mag carriers will not work due to the lack of metal in its construction. The good news is, if you use Glock factory magazines, the NeoMag works perfectly! Look for NeoMag to become a household name for shooters in 2017!  

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Q Series Batons by SOG 

Trampas Swanson of Swanson Media Group takes the SOG Q1 and Q2 runs them through their paces as daily EDC Items.

Over recent years, the market has been flooded with a wide range of “multi-tools”.  This is due to an increased demand in “all-in-one” products for the growing public with the trend to streamline their lifestyles and yes, even their tools.  A general rule of survival, even in the “urban jungle”, is to carry items that serve at least three functions or it is just perceived as added bulk to your daily carry. Products range from bottle openers to lasers but all similar in shape and size. Truth be told, the multiple purpose tool platform has rarely changed from its Swiss Army knife roots starting in 1891. Over the years, various manufacturers have only added bulk and reduced user friendliness in the process. Earlier this year, SOG Tools debuted their take on the multi-purpose tool in the form of what they titled the “Q” series at the industry only SHOT SHOW in Las Vegas, Nevada. This new series of tools takes the platform in a new and different direction by simplifying and slimming down the traditional form by putting it into a small baton. While only the pre-production models were on display at the show, I arranged to get a sample of the first two batons in the four-part series once they were released.  

A few months later after a pair of push backs on the actual production release, the SOG Q1 and Q2 batons arrived at the Swanson Media Group office for review. Each baton comes in a clear plastic box similar to a new cell phone accessory with only the baton and a one page instruction guide. Each baton was roughly shaped like a medium size highlighter in a very attractive black and matte grey anodized finish. Both offered a SOG branded metal clip to hold the baton upright in a pocket or backpack.  


Q1 Specs 

Closed: 5.6” 

Weight:2.4 oz.  

Features: Replaceable pressurized ball point pen 

Flat screwdriver 

Bottle opener 


MSRP: $54.00 


Q2 Specs 


Weight:3 oz.  

Features:Straight edge blade 

75 Lumen LED flashlight 

Bottle opener 

Flat screw driver 


 I have been carrying both the Q1 and Q2 batons regularly for over a month in my range pack and daily “go” bag with mostly positive results. Let’s take a look at some quick “pros and cons” have found during my time with these SOG tools.  


I liked that the batons are slim and easy to slip into my pocket or even clip into an outside Molle loop on one of my bags if I need to quickly store them. There was no noticeable bulk and did not flop around in my gear like a traditional multi-tool would.  

The Q1’s replicable pressurized pen came in handy when needed because I habitually do not carry an ink pen in my kit although I am always finding myself in need of one. The fact I can easily find inexpensive replacement cartridges for the pen is a huge plus.  

The Q2’s straight blade arrived out of the box razor sharp and ready for real world use. I have used the blade regularly without having to re-sharpen it yet.  

The Q2’s 75 lumen LED light is bright, easy to use and holds up to having been accidently dropped several times on tile, hardwood and concrete. It’s tough, bright and very user friendly. Changing out the battery is fast and easy. The use of a very common AAA battery is a huge plus because it doesn’t involve a trip to a specialty store to replace.       

With the Q1, the scissors feature a few years ago would not have very much use other than being the only allowed cutting device to fit TSA standards. However, at this point in my life, I am a father for two young daughters who are constantly buying clothes, toys and other items in need of having tags, strings and wire holders cut off in a hurry before the world ends. My formerly lease favorite multi-tool feature has now become one of my most used. While a straight knife blade could do the same task, the scissors offer a quick and safe way to cut small items while having small children hovering about in the zone a straight knife may swing once finally cutting through. 


As with any product, there were things not very useful for my daily duties such as the bottle opener. Again, looking at social trends, the world is moving away from traditional bottles without twist-off tops which made the bottle opener feature on both the Q1 and Q2 an archaic item for my needs.  

The flat head screw driver on the end of this opener tool was also not much use as the world is predominantly full of Phillips head screws if not individually licensed proprietary patterns. This space on each baton would be much better suited by eliminating two items for one decent sized Phillips head driver.  

While I liked the Q2’s straight blade, I did end up poking myself in the finger with it a couple of times when I first learned out to fold the baton to expose it. The end of the blade is very close to the top of the baton where the hand naturally wants to apply pressure to fold it. There is a definite self-correcting learning curve built in for most end users.  

 Final Thoughts 

Coming away from the SHOT SHOW, I was concerned about the MRSP of the Q series ranging from $54 to over $100 with the Q4. The product offers a limited number of features for the price of some full-size tools. After spending time with the Q1 and Q2, I clearly see where the value lies. Both batons reviewed were very well-made, light-weight, easy to use and very durable. SOG has built a great reputation for quality products in the industry and the Q series looks to be yet another hit for this respected company. If you are looking for easy to carry daily items that meet the needs of urban survival, I urge you to check out the Q series from SOG for yourself and find out which is right for you.

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Hoffman Blacksmithing: Camp Axe

Trampas Swanson takes a look at Hoffman Blacksmithing’s Camp Axe in this month’s review.

Deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, lies the small town of Newland, home to a young man who has devoted his life to keeping the art of blacksmithing alive. What sets this young blacksmith apart from those many others helping to do the same in shops around the country is, Liam Hoffman just may be the next true blade master of our time. From the age of 13, Liam taught himself to move steel through heat and hammer. By the time he reached the age of 19, his skills were strong enough to catch the eye of those in charge of the popular TV show on the History Channel called, “Forged in Fire”. This show weekly features top blade makers from all walks of life picked to compete in building knives under time and pre-determined specifications in hopes of winning a check for $10,000. In 2016, Liam competed on one of the show’s highest rated episodes and took home the grand prize after beating out 3 other skilled competitors to become the show’s youngest winner ever!

As a huge fan of “Forged in Fire” as well as a native North Carolinian prior to our move to FL just a few years ago, I decided to reach out to the Hoffman Blacksmithing shop after a great conversation with one of the show’s judges, Doug Marcaida. I won’t get into all the details of my private discussion with Doug, but basically it recognized Liam’s talents seem to be well exceeding his journeyman title as a blacksmith and more along the lines of top names in the industry. The only difference being, most of those top names have taken over 30 years to get to where they are in their craft and Hoffman is now, 20 years old and still getting even better!

Once I contacted Liam, we spoke at great length about the industry, his journey thus far in it, his experience with the show and most importantly, life after winning the competition. To my delight, Liam is a lifelong bushcrafter having grown up in an artistic and very supportive family. It didn’t take long to decide on doing a project together that would fit well with our focus on high quality bushcrafting tools you can confidently trust your life to. Fortunately, Liam was about to start on another batch of camp axes very soon and would toss in an extra billet to construct mine.

Over the next few weeks, I kept an eye on the Hoffman Blacksmithing shop’s Instagram feed to see photos of Liam hard at work at the forge with cherry red billets of steel. Each day, he would post photos as the small blocks of 4142 chrome / moly steel took shape into 2.25 lb. axe heads. Once this was completed, detailed images of Liam hand carving each 19” handle out of local North Carolina Ash. This process of handmaking all aspects of the camp axe before properly hanging the head to the handle takes time and skill that few others can devote to crafting such fine tools.

In less than a month, my new camp axe arrived for review. As I unboxed the axe, the first thing I noticed with the deep markers mark stamped into the right side of the head proudly displaying Liam’s initials, his home state of NC and that it was made in the USA. Covering the “bit” or edge of the axe was a beautiful handmade sheath made from thick USA vegetable tanned leather. From the rivets to the burnished edges, everything about the sheath was very impressive down to the easy to fast snap that holds the axe in place.

Once the sheath was removed, the axe looked as if it belonged in a museum. The sides of the axe on either side of the “eye” in which the handle goes through the axe, were rough textured and displayed hammer markers down the “cheeks of the axe in contrast to the high polished areas to show off the fact this was handmade. The edge was razor sharp and cleanly sliced through a sheet of paper after shaving hair off my forearm. The “pole” or rear of the axe, sometimes referred to as the “butt” was squared and polished for use as a hammer for pegs, stakes, poles, etc. The head itself was very symmetric and each side were perfectly matching in appearance.

The Ash handle was just as impressive as the axe head knowing it was all hand carved. As I admired how the handle curved down to the well-crafted knob, it was clear Liam has taught himself how to be a top-notch leather and wood worker as well as blacksmith. One of my pet peeves about commercially produced axes has always been the lack of options for gripping them. Some companies either add rubber to the throat of the handle or ill placed scales that limit how high you can choke up on the axe. The Hoffman camp axe’s handle allowed for heavy swings using a low grip using the knob to anchor the grip or a high grip just under the head for more detailed work such as carving, splitting kindling or hammering pegs.

As with a lot of our gear we receive for testing, it was quickly off to the bushcrafting area of our private training facility, The Swamp. Packing the camp axe along with gear on my day pack from First Tactical was no problem due to the 19” handle. I found it to be compact enough to not catch on foliage and other gear but still long enough to give me more than enough leverage for heavy chopping. During the initial trip and several follow up occasions to work with the camp axe, I was very impressed with how well the axe performed. The axe made short work out of small trees under 6” in diameter as well as cleaning branches off to make poles, stakes and toggles for use with cordage. Much of the timber was split and used as fuel for small camp fires.

I noticed during heavy chopping, the camp axe cut deeper than a lot of axes I have previously used but did not “stick” after the chop as I would have thought. I consider this to be a product of two specific things, the first being the cheek angle of the axe’s head to be thin enough to cut but thick enough to keep a wide enough wedge for retrieval. Secondly, the razor-sharp edge bit direct from Hoffman’s shop. If there is a sharper knife, axe or other hard use tool that ships from the manufacturer, I have yet to see it in my years doing reviews. If a sharp blade is a safe blade, you can’t get much safer than this axe. Between trips to the testing grounds, I kept the edge honed and oiled myself but once I see performance drop off, it will be sent to my good friend, Simon Michael at Atavistic Edgeworks to professionally sharpened to the high quality he has done with all of my blades over the past two years. I can see this axe easily outlasting me and my needs well into the next generation it will be handled down to.

Priced at $300, this axe is not for the diehard Gerber or CRKT axe fan. Liam builds axes for those who understand the value of a hand built tool that you can use hard and still pass down to your children and grandchildren. Several seasoned axe users, including myself have noticed advantages and design improvements over top axes in the market including Hults Burk, Gransfors Burk and Wetterlings after using the Hoffman Camp Axe. This is no slight on the traditional big names of the industry, just recognition of how Liam has taken into account for his and other American preferences such as what is sometimes considered a “high centerline” as opposed to flatter angled “cheeks” as those found on the Gransfors Burk axe. Overall, to categorize this camp axe, it’s definitely a “chopper” but can perform “wood splitter” for camp fire needs very well for its size. My perfect load out for a weekend of bushcrafting would be a smaller, high quality utility knife such as those made by Two Rivers Knife Co and the Hoffman Camp Axe for all my medium to heavy use needs.

During my time reviewing the Hoffman Camp Axe, I found Liam to be a professional in the truest sense. Unlike most found on YouTube, Liam’s channel prefers to let his work do the talking for him. It is clear Liam Hoffman is just an old soul in a new body who still believes in the art of steel and fire. After getting to know Liam better and spending time working with one of his handmade creations, I couldn’t help but feel like this is every much the same opportunity as if I was able to travel back in time and meet a 20 year old Ernie Emerson or Gil Hibben. If you are in the market for a quality, handmade tool you could bet your life on, I highly recommend having Liam Hoffman build your next knife or axe. This is one blade maker that will be fun to watch as his skills continue to grow with his business over the next 20 – 30  years!

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Two Rivers Knife Co: Bushcraft Blade

When the average person thinks about what a “survival” knife would look like, one conjures up images of large “Rambo” style blades with saw backs and gimmicky storage compartments or even grappling hooks. Seriously, grappling hooks! Unless you’re Adam West or Burt Ward as Batman and Robin scurrying up a wall, let’s go ahead and take this option off the table before we start. The point is, these are mostly images from what people see in movies dreamed up by Hollywood prop masters to capture an audience’s attention. These style blades are put into mass production because fan boys buy them as fast as they can be made with no intention other than to wave them around online in hopes of gaining some sort of odd “credibility” for owning one.

For those who have ever truly hiked miles carrying gear, you will know ounces become pounds quickly. Likewise, for anyone who has done time in the woods camping or bushcrafting, you realize a smaller knife is far more useful in everyday chores than a large bowie.  Real outdoorsmen know the value of a good quality, small blade.

As a huge proponent of seeking out local talent around my home in Jacksonville, Florida, I discovered Two Rivers Knife Co, founded by an avid outdoorsman, John Galeani earlier this year. Over the following few weeks, I had the pleasure of getting to know John and find out more about the custom knives he makes. It didn’t take long to see John was clearly cut from the same cloth as those men I trust to know what’s really needed for survival in the wild. Whether its building blades and listening to the feedback from the diehard end users or making his way through mountain trails on vacation in western North Carolina bushcrafting, John continually studies the needs of survival and works it into the knives he creates.

Last month I had the good fortune of receiving a blade for review from them. Immediately, as I viewed it, I was pleased at the knife design that arrived. To the untrained eye, the knife wasn’t shiny, high polished or a safe queen. To those who know what a real bushcrafting knife should be, the everyday carry (EDC) knife John sent was beautiful! Everything about its brushed forge finished high carbon 1084 steel blade and oil finished walnut handle screamed “Let’s get to work!”. Measuring approximately 8“ overall length with a 3.5“ razor sharp blade, the knife fit my hand perfectly. The stainless steel pins were smooth as glass, inset into the scales perfectly to the point I could not feel them at all when handling the knife. The knife was housed in a simple, no-frills Kydex sheath that allowed a quick draw of the blade while still retaining it well when being carried and even shaken upside down.

As a longtime fan of both bushcrafting and pioneer firearms such as black powder rifles, my first thought on the EDC was it was very similar to the classic patch knife that is very popular in those circles. Although the Two Rivers blade was a slightly larger than a traditional patch knife used for cutting the patch used as wadding for the lead ammo used in black powder rifles, both knives were meant to be used for every day utility task such as peeling apples, cutting meat, making traps etc.

Too add to the frontier effect, I reached out to the skilled craftsmen at Northwest Traders for one of their beautiful leather neck sheaths. While I liked the Kydex sheath that arrived with the Two Rivers knife and it performed well on the belt, I do like a neck carry option for a utility blade. When it comes to period correct sheaths, Northwest Traders is well known for their beautiful work. Just handling this knife and sheath made me eager to get to our semi-famous training grounds affectionally known as “The Swamp”.

Much to my delight, it was only a matter of days before I could get out to the bushcrafting area of our training grounds to put the Two Rivers knife through the paces. I started with a bit of feathering sticks for future fire starters. The handle gave me a good purchase on the knife to control the short strokes without skipping away from the stick. The razor-sharp edge provided by Atavistic Edgeworks, who does all the finial sharpening on blades produced by John’s company, did great in holding a crisp cutting surface throughout the day. I then used a bit of thumb pressure on the reverse side of a few sticks to cut a few “U” and “V” shaped notches typically used for traps and tools. Again, the edge held up well with a good amount of sharpness remaining.

As one of the key factors in bushcrafting, I decided to see how the Two Rivers knife would handle cutting cordage. Having a good amount of cordage and an efficient way of cutting it can mean the difference between life and death in a survival situation. I decided to take 10’ of the ever popular 550 paracord and cut it into small 6” – 8” sections and then slice an apple. I’m happy to say, the edge held up well as I made small loops and ties out of my length of cord. The apple ended up well sliced and delicious!

As I mentioned in the opening of the article, people may quickly conjure up imagines of large knives when discussing bushcraft knives. A reason for this is because of the use of some field knives used for chopping small trees down for tent poles, wind breaks, and such. Even those who do carry a large knife into the woods almost certainly carry a knife the size of our test blade for the finer tasks. My personal choice is to always have a knife such as the Two Rivers blade and carry a small camp axe to perform axe-type tasks.

Retailing for $150 – $175 depending on handle material, the everyday carry bushcraft knife by Two Rivers Knife Co is a fine example of what a handmade fixed blade knife should be. The clean lines, strong blade edge and comfortable grips made for a real pleasure in testing for this review. In the realm of custom knives, Two Rivers Knife Co blades are a great value for the quality and performance the end user gets from each knife purchased. To wrap up this review, I not only highly recommend Two Rivers Knife Co knives to serious bushcraft enthusiasts, I am proud to have been as a local business in my area. To learn more about the custom knives produced by this company check them out on Instagram ( @tworiversknifeco) Facebook or visit them at www.tworiversknifeco.com.

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