Since I wrote my last knife review, I’ve picked up a couple of new knives. Both are fixed blade knives, but they are somewhat different in their design.
Chris Reeve Once Piece Range, Tanto 1
The Chris Reeve one piece range has been around since the 1980’s, but this style of knife was discontinued in 2009. The distinguishing features of this range of knives are the hollow handle and the fact that the knife and handle are milled from a single piece of solid A2 tool steel.
I’ve always wanted a Chris Reeve one piece knife, but never quite got around to purchasing one. With the range discontinued and the prices on the secondary market going higher and higher, I finally decided it was now or never, so I bit the bullet and bought one.
The one piece range knives were produced with various blade lengths and blade styles. The knife I purchased has a tanto style blade, 8 3/4 inches long. I don’t have any other tanto style knives, so this is a first for me. After a bit of use, here are my impressions:
The knife is beautifully made. It’s clearly a high quality tool. The blade is long enough that it makes a good chopper. I’ve used it for chopping through sticks, and even used it for yard clean-up duties, hacking through vines, bushes, and small trees. It’s got good balance and heft for these activities, and the blade has held up well under this rough duty. Some folks on the internet have complained that the knurled handle on these knives is not comfortable for chopping and long use, but I didn’t really notice any problems. I found the handle to be comfortable in use, and the knurling provided excellent security and a firm grip, even with sweaty palms (but I regularly go rock climbing on rough granite, so perhaps my hands are a bit less sensitive than some.) The sheath is a simple, functional design constructed of high quality leather by Gfeller Casemakers, a purveyor of nice leather goods. (I have one of their leather notebook covers.)
I’ve read some internet chatter about tanto blade designs not being well suited for a bushcraft and general survival knife. In use, I honestly haven’t been able to see much difference in the tanto blade design when compared with my various other knives. The blade on this knife certainly works well for battoning, and it performs adequately for other tasks as well. I don’t really do much delicate carving (I seldom have the need to carve a wooden spoon,) but the knife did well in making a bow drill fire set. It was heavy enough to chop and fashion the spindle, and made quick work of splitting a fireboard, notching a groove, and forming a starter hole for the spindle. Processing bark for tinder is simple as well, and the tanto tip is good for prying bark off of logs.
Even though the blade is a bit long for fine work, the fact that there is only a crossguard/quillon on the bottom of the handle and not on top makes it easier to choke up on the knife, effectively shortening the working length of the blade. There are grooves on the top of the blade where you can rest your thumb, providing a more secure grip when choked up. The A2 steel takes an edge easily, and retains the edge even while chopping hard woods.
The signature design feature of this knife is the hollow handle. The handle is closed with an aluminum cap, and sealed with a rubber o-ring to make it water tight. There’s room in the hollow handle to store a few small items. In the handle of my knife, I keep a small “peanut” lighter, an LED flashlight, a sharpening stone, a button compass (14mm is the perfect size to fit in the cap) a ferro rod, and a few tinder tabs. I have replaced the paracord that came with the knife with some “firecord” paracord that has a tinder cord embedded in one of the core strands of the paracord. I’ve been changing out the contents and experimenting with what will fit in the handle. I may try putting in some fishing line and hooks at some point.
The bottom line is that I really quite like this knife. It performs basic cutting tasks well, especially chopping, and the ability to store things in the handle is a useful feature, as it gives you a single solution for a number of survival needs. It’s just too bad that these knives are out of production, as it will make them increasingly expensive and difficult to procure.
Rod Garcia Skookum Bush Tool
The Skookum Bush Tool is another knife that’s difficult to come by; not because it’s out of production, but because there’s a multi-year waiting list to purchase one. I put my name on the list a while back, and then forgot about it. I was surprised when I got contacted by Mr. Garcia to let me know that my knife was finished. After more than a year having passed, I only vaguely remembered that I had ordered a knife from him. However, I happily took delivery of the knife, and have been using it ever since.
After having used the knife now for almost two years now, I can say that it was worth the wait, (even though I didn’t know I was waiting.)
My knife is made with O1 steel. Mr. Garcia offers the knife in three different steels. This is what he has to say about them on his web site:
“A2 is about 10-20% tougher than O1 and will hold an edge a little longer. O1 will be slightly easier to sharpen and also will allow the user to strike a spark off the spine using the flint and steel method of fire lighting ( A2 has a little too much alloy to get a good spark). Since A2 has a higher chromium content it will be a little more stain resistant than O1, however both will rust if not wiped down after use or abused. Both are excellent knife steels and will give you good service.”
I chose the O1 because I wanted something that would make a spark with natural flint. In use, I have found the O1 steel to hold an edge well, and sharpen very easily.
I really like the handle on the Skookum Bush Tool. The Micarta scales are comfortable, and contoured nicely to fit my grip perfectly. The blade shape and length are good for fine work, carving, and cleaning fish. You can do some light batonning with the knife, but the blade is short enough that you’re limited in the size of the sticks you split. The blade shape and ergonomics are perfect for shaving fuzz sticks and other fire making duties.
The sheath that came with the knife is set up for neck carry, and has good retention. I made a neck lanyard our of some paracord and a piece of 1 inch climbing tape. I threaded a ferro rod sparker on the lanyard for easy fire making. I tend to just keep it in its sheath on my neck while I’m around camp.
The Skookum Bush Tool has a somewhat cult-like following in the bushcraft and blade communities. I can’t say that this is the best knife ever, but I do think it’s a very functional, well crafted knife, and the price (about $200) is very reasonable. It has become my favorite smaller fixed blade knife. It’s not fancy, or particularly beautiful, but it does what a knife should do and does it very well. It is indeed a “tool” and I’m able to treat it like one without fear of damaging it. For anyone who wants a good, functional bushcraft knife, and can put up with the waiting time required to obtain it, I can whole-heartedly recommend the Skookum Bush Tool.
However, for those times when I don’t have a chalk bag with me (for example, any time I’m ice climbing) I like to have a knife clipped to my harness. Pretty much any small knife will work if you’re keeping it in a pocket. This review will focus mainly on small knives that I attach to my climbing harness.
Trango Piranha 0.7 ounces
The Trango Piranha is the smallest and lightest knife I’ve used as a carabiner clip knife. It is a relatively simple design, that is made to be attached to a carabiner. When attached to the carabiner, the blade is kept closed by the carabiner itself, which blocks the point of the blade from opening. However, the design doesn’t work with modern lightweight carabiners. When the knife shifts on the carabiner, the blade can open. This tendency is made worse because the rivet that holds the blade and body together loosens up over time, and the blade flops around. (which also means that the knife won’t stay open when you’re using it.)
Using old-school round bar stock carabiners will help solve the knife’s propensity to open while on your harness, but it doesn’t solve the “floppy blade” issue.
I had this knife open up on me while attached to my harness. Having an open knife blade attached to your harness is not safe. The weak rivet and floppy blade make this knife pretty much unusable. Overall, I was very disappointed with this knife.
Spyderco Dragonfly2 H-1 FRN 1.2 ounces
The Spyderco Dragonfly is a small, high quality knife. This particular model that I use is the “Salt Water” version made with particularly rust-resistant H-1 Steel. It came with a small pocket clip that I removed, and I tied a short lanyard to the knife to facilitate clipping it to a carabiner. The blade is sharp and the serrations make it easier to cut through rope or webbing. The knife can be opened one handed, and once open it locks securely until you release the blade.
Overall, I like this knife. It’s a high-quality, dependable tool, and makes a good climbing knife.
Spyderco Snap-It C26 C26SRD 2.4 ounces
I bought this knife because it has a built in integral carabiner clip. It seemed like a great climbing knife because it didn’t require a separate accessory biner to attach to my harness.
Like the Spyderco Dragonfly, it’s a quality tool with a sharp, serated blade. However, the gear loops on my climbing harnesses are too thick to work with the knife’s integral carabiner clip. The harness loops are so thick that the carabiner clip won’t close. You can sometimes force it and wiggle it and get it on the gear loop, but then it’s really hard to get off. This pretty much defeats the whole purpose of having a convenient, readily accessible knife clipped to your harness.
It’s really too bad that this knife’s carabiner clip isn’t a tiny bit bigger. With a bit more clearance, this could have been a great climbing knife. As it is, I don’t use it for climbing.
Petzl Spatha Small (1st Generation) 1.6 ounces
This has become my go-to climbing knife. It has a simple design, with a partially serrated stainless steel blade. The blade rotates into the open position by turning the blue ring. The large hole in the handle is designed to accept a carabiner, so you can clip the Spatha directly into a biner. However, I’ve found that D-shaped biners don’t allow the knife to move freely on the biner and so I tied a short loop of cord through the knife that I clip the biner to. This allows greater freedom of motion and prevents the knife from binding up on the biner.
The Spatha has become my favorite climbing knife primarily because of its robust design. When closed, the blade is mostly covered by the protective handle, and I like the fact that when clipped to my harness, the blade tip is pointing down, so there is almost no chance of the tip ever catching on anything and opening accidentally.
It’s easy to open and close the Spatha with a gloved (or even mittened) hand.
While the Spyderco Dragonfly2 is also a great climbing knife, the simplicity and robust build of the Spatha give it a slight edge in my opinion.
I tried the new redesigned version of the Petzl Spatha, and although it’s supposedly “new and improved” I find that I prefer the old First Generation Spatha. The new knife has a locking blade mechanism, and is a hair lighter, but it doesn’t feel as as simple or robust as the Gen I version. There’s more play in the mechanism, more of the blade is exposed when closed, and it feels just a bit more flimsy in use than the Gen I.
Baladeo 15G 0.4 ounces
This knife is NOT something that I keep on my harness. I carry this knife in the pocket of my Tufa Houdini chalk bag, so I have it with me whenever I’m rock climbing. (Review of the Tufa Houdini Chalk Bag is HERE.) The Baladeo is a very light knife. (The 15G stands for 15 grams.) In spite of its small size, it is a well made knife with a sharp blade, and an innovative design that integrates the knife handle into a locking mechanism. This knife is not suitable for carrying clipped to your harness, but if you’re looking for a small, light pocket knife for climbing, it’s a great choice. Note that Baladeo knives are now manufactured and marketed under the “Deejo” Trade name.
A knife has got to be one of the first tools that early man created. When you’re in the wilderness, you often have the need to cut things, and having a knife along can be pretty handy. Because knives are so useful, it’s no surprise that primitive people worked on making knives from flint, and later cultures spent a lot of time and energy improving knives made from copper, bronze, iron, and steel.
I have a lot of knives both big and small. I take at least one of them pretty much every time I go out into the backcountry. When I was a little kid, I was pretty sure that the most important use for a knife in the wilderness was protection from bears and other wild animals. Fanciful stories about Daniel Boone and Davy Crocket and Baden Powell reinforced this conviction.
However, as I’ve grown up, I’ve come to realize that a knife isn’t really used for doing combat with carnivorous forest predators. However, in spite of the fact that I’ve never killed a bear with a knife, a knife is pretty handy in the backcountry. This post examines my real-world use of knives and how I select which one(s) to bring with me when I leave home and head into the wilderness.
Knife Uses: Here are some of the things I use knives for on a regular basis when I’m in the backcountry and the types of knives that work best for these tasks:
Cleaning fish. A smaller knife with a relatively thin blade seems to work best for gutting and cleaning fish, although pretty much any knife will work. A fixed blade knife is easier to clean when you’re done than a folder.
Starting small fires. Making feather sticks and shaving off very small pieces of wood or other plant material to make tinder and fine kindling is best done with a knife that has a medium to medium-large blade. Fixed blade knives are ideal, but any sturdy folding blade knife will also work.
Building larger fires. Splitting wood by batoning it is a task that is best done with a medium to large knife with a thicker blade.
Shelter building. If you’re building a shelter out of natural materials, a medium-large to large knife is the most efficient tool. A knife with a thicker, longer blade will be more efficient at lopping off boughs of trees, notching logs, and other big chopping tasks associated with building natural shelters in wooded areas. A medium or large knife is also more efficient for non-chopping tasks such as cutting and collecting reeds, cat-tails, long grasses etc. as part of the shelter building process.
Trail clearing. Chopping through heavy brush to force a path through an overgrown trail or through a trail blocked by branches etc. This is a task uniquely suited for a large machete-like knife. I think I’ve only resorted to chopping my way through brush on a couple of occasions. Mostly, it’s easier (and safer) to just find an alternative route.
Fine Carving tasks. A small to medium size knife is best for fine carving tasks such as preparing fireboard and spindle for fire-making, carving deadfall triggers, carving spoons or other implements, carving fishhooks, and recreational whittling (turning large sticks into smaller sticks.)
Miscellaneous small cutting tasks. Cutting cord, cutting cloth, cutting food packaging, cutting duct tape, trimming first aid dressings. These tasks are best accomplished with a small knife.
I think that the above list covers pretty much everything I’ve ever done with a knife in the backcountry. The cutting tasks are pretty varied, and no single type of knife will be the best at any one task.
So, I choose my knife based on what I think I will be doing on a trip.
Standard Lightweight backpacking: If I am going on a standard, lightweight backpacking trip, I am typically carrying a shelter and a small backpacking stove that burns both alcohol and wood (Trail Designs Ti-Tri.) For trips like these, the only cutting tasks I do much of are cleaning fish, and miscellaneous small cutting tasks, along with making the occasional feather stick for starting a small fire. Weight is the enemy, as I am often covering lots of ground and I try to keep my carried weight as low as possible. On these trips, I typically carry only a lightweight knife.
My current favorite is the small Chris Reeve Sebenza folding knife. It has a 3 inch blade, a titanium handle, and the folding mechanism is very strong and secure. It weighs only 2.7 ounces. The Sebenza is a very high quality folding knife that is stout and solid enough that it feels like a fixed blade knife. It’s good at making feather sticks, small cutting tasks, and cleaning fish. I can open and close the blade one handed. When I’m backpacking, this is usually the knife I take.
Wilderness Survival: I’m not a wilderness survival expert, but I have taken a lot of survival and bushcraft classes, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the backcountry building shelters and doing other traditional bushcraft tasks. Just about every year, I take boy scouts out into the forest and teach shelter building techniques. Occasionally, I will test my own skills by leaving my backpacking equipment behind and going camping with minimal gear. For activities like these, having a knife with some heft to it makes life a lot easier.
I’ve got several larger knives, but my current favorite is probably the Mountain Caribou knife made by Cariboo Blades. It has a blade that is a hair over 6 inches in length, about a quarter inch thick. It’s a beautiful, hand made tool, but it is made for hard duty. It handles heavy chopping tasks almost as well as my bigger knives (Thor and Trailmaster) but its shorter blade length makes it better than these long bladed knives for carving and finer tasks. Any of my larger knives performs admirably in a heavy, wilderness survival role, but the balance, beauty, and function of the Cariboo make it my sentimental favorite.
Car Camping: When I’m car camping, I don’t have to worry as much about weight saving as I do when I’m under my own power. I usually bring an assortment of cutting tools. Typically, I pack a medium size knife (my Ray Coon Damascus) in my kitchen kit for food prep tasks and general camp chores, whittling, etc.
For bigger cutting tasks while car camping, I generally don’t use a knife. I use an axe and a saw. An axe and saw are much more efficient than a knife for large cutting tasks such as cutting firewood, or clearing deadfall from a jeep trail. My axe and saw of choice are the Gransfors Bruks “Small Forest Axe”, and the Ray Mears “Woodlore” folding saw. These tools strike a nice balance between usability and weight and bulk. They are compact and light enough to stow away easily and could easily be carried with you while hiking if necessary. They are big enough that they get the job done. The saw breaks down to a small compact bundle and fits in a high quality well-made case that also carries the axe. I have used these tools to cut my way through downed trees that had fallen across the jeep trail I was driving. I’ve also used them for various other wood cutting tasks such as cutting firewood and cutting down logs to make stools, etc. They are beautifully fashioned, high quality tools that are made to last a lifetime.
Multi-tools: Most trips, in addition to a knife, I will bring along a small multi-tool. If I’m going really light (like when I’m climbing or doing a long ultra-light backpacking trip) I will just take a small multi-tool instead of a knife. There are times when a pliers, scissors, or screwdriver can be very useful. I generally don’t take a full size multi-tool, but favor a smaller size tool such as the Leatherman Squirt PS4 which has both a pliers and a scissors. Sometimes, I take my old Victorinox Champion Swiss Army Knife. I’ve had it since I was 12 years old and it has served me well for many years. The handle scales came off of it after years of use, and I replaced them with mammoth ivory handles.
Various Knives I own and use:
Baladeo “22G“ (0.8 ounces) At less than one ounce, this is a seriously lightweight folding knife. It has a decent locking mechanism, but it isn’t really made for heavy duty activities. It’s great for cleaning fish and general cutting chores. I carry this in my backcountry fishing kit as a fish cleaning knife and as an emergency/back-up blade.
Chris Reeve Sebenza (small) 2.7 ounces This small, lightweight and tough knife is the benchmark for high-quality folders. It’s manufactured with close tolerances and quality materials. A perfect all-around small folder. My Sebenza has an Insingo blade profile that is slightly different than the traditional spear-point design. The Sebenza comes with an integral clip on it that clips it to your pocket. I didn’t really want or need this clip, so I removed it. I filled the space where the clip was with a small titanium insert from Edge Specialties.
Coon 3.5 inch fixed blade (5.6 ounces) and Coon 5 inch fixed blade (9 ounces)Raymond Coon makes beautiful, hand forged Damascus blades. They are beautiful, but also very functional. The small, 3.5 inch fixed blade knife resides permanently in my fishing vest and is used primarily for gutting fish. The larger 5 inch blade knife is my all-around camp/kitchen knife when I’m car camping. Either would make a good all-around carving/bushcraft knife.
J. Neilsen 5 inch fixed blade “Scandi-Bushcraft)13.2 ounces (includes 1.6 ounce firesteel) This is a pretty good all-around bushcraft knife. It’s blade is thick enough for heavy duty tasks like batoning wood, and it’s short enough to be useful for fine carving tasks.
Mora “Bushcraft Force” 4 inch fixed blade 5.2 ounces. Mora knives are one of the true bargains in knives. Usually, you get what you pay for. With Mora knives, you get more than you pay for. They are no-frills, plain jane knives, with solid construction and good steel that maintains an edge. The Mora is a great first knife for the aspiring bushcrafter.
K-Bar Becker “BK-7” 7 inch fixed blade 22.1 ounces (includes firesteel, sharpening stone, small “Remora” knife, and braided paracord bracelet that adds 3.8 ounces ) The Becker BK-7 is a reasonably priced solid knife that is a good all around survival knife. It’s sturdy and substantial enough for shelter building and other hard duty tasks. The blade is strong, the steel is high quality. It’s not as beautiful as a custom knife, but it’s simple effective design is a great example of form dictated by function. This knife lives in the glove compartment of my truck, and it has cut rope, battery cables, watermelon, and dozens of other things. If you need a quality, hard-working knife at a good price, this would be an awesome choice. The factory sheath isn’t fancy, but it does have pockets for some survival accessories and a small Becker Remora knife.
Cariboo “Mountain Knife” 6 inch fixed blade 29.5 ounces (Includes 4.5 ounce firesteel, and diamond stone and tinder tabs weighing 1.8 ounces) This beautiful knife is hand made from reclaimed materials. It’s probably my favorite knife in my collection. The balance and feel is terrific. It’s size and shape make it well suited for a very broad range of tasks. It’s the perfect all-around knife. The sheath has a holder for a large firesteel and a pouch for a sharpening stone and tinder tabs.
Cold Steel Carbon V “Trailmaster” 9 inch fixed blade 34.2 ounces (Includes firesteel, braided paracord bracelet, and CRKT “Minimalist” small knife that adds 3.2 ounces ) I bought this knife back in the early 1990’s when the Trailmaster was made in the USA from Carbon V steel. I don’t have any experience with Cold Steel’s current crop of Chinese made knives, but this vintage Trailmaster has been a great knife. I have used and abused it for many years, and it’s none the worse for wear. The Carbon V steel sharpens easily, keeps an edge, and is very tough. I recently replaced the factory sheath with a custom sheath by Chuddy Bear Leather. The sheath has a place for a very small CRKT Minimalist knife and a firesteel.
Fallkniven “Thor” 10 inch fixed blade 37.4 ounces (includes firesteel, diamond stone, fishing line and hooks, LED light, 20 feet of paracord, and tinder tabs that adds 4.2 ounces) This is a terrific large knife. It is made with a laminated steel blade that sandwiches a carbon steel layer between two stainless layers. This knife came from the factory with as sharp of an edge as I’ve ever experienced in a factory made knife. It was shaving sharp when new, and it has not taken much effort at all to keep it that way. Its size and heft make it a great chopper, and I’ve used it for shelter building and other heavy duty tasks with great success. The stacked leather handle was a little bit slippery when new, but with use, it has become a bit less slick. The balance on this knife is very good, and I’d have to say that this is my favorite of my big, long-bladed knives. The sheath that came with this knife was adequate and well constructed, but I wanted something a bit more versatile. I commissioned Martin Swinkels to make me a combination leather/kydex sheath for the Thor. The sheath has a holder for a firesteel, and a pouch in which I can keep some survival essentials like tinder tabs, sharpening stone and fishing line. With 20 feet of paracord wrapped around the sheath, I’ve got a lot of the survival basics covered in one package.
As you can see from the pictures, I have a lot of knives. Too many really, for how often I use them. If I had to choose just two, I’d take the Sebenza for light duty, and the Fallkniven Thor for heavy duty tasks. A good small folder coupled with a big fixed blade knife will do pretty much anything you want a knife to do.
If I had to choose just one knife to do everything, it would probably be the Caribou Mountain Knife. It’s heavy enough for chopping, is stout enough for hard work, and nimble enough for fine work.
Happily, I don’t have to make these choices, and can select the perfect knife for the anticipated situation (which hopefully never includes fighting a bear.)