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The Perfect Outdoors Knife

Oh, I can see it now.  Some of you have already gotten your hackles up at just the sight of the title for this article and you’re ready to get sideways with somebody real quick.  You’re settling in with your fresh cup of coffee ready to pounce on whatever I say.  Some of you "savvy" knife affionados already think you know what’s the best blade.  Well, don’t bother getting yourself into a lather.  What I’m going to write in the following paragraphs is the gospel and there’s no point in denying it.  What I say is the perfect outdoors knife is absolute fact whether you like it or not.  I have been around knives my entire life and personally know some of the best knife makers in the business, so I think I pretty much know what you need to have on your person as the perfect knife for all occasions.  Capisce?  (Full Article On Next Page)

A Swiss Army Knife Can Be Put To Good Use In The Wild
Heh, heh.  Before you have a stroke, let me calm your nerves a bit.  Some of the statements I just made are pretty much what you hear a lot of in the conversations regarding "the best all around knife".   Everybody’s got an opinion and they are all 100% correct without question–at least in their minds.  If you’re a hard-core knife enthusiast, then this article isn’t going to hold much helpful information for you.  You’ve already got enough knowledge to make the decision that’s best for you.This article is aimed more at people who engage in outdoor activities that don’t typically carry a knife on their person, but might find themselves needing one at some point in their outdoors career.  That includes day hikers, kayakers, rock climbers, rappellers, mountain bikers, snow boarders, geocachers, and dozens more activities that one can engage in out in the wild. The one rule that’s stuck with me through the years, and I’ve mentioned previously, is that man’s ability to survive in the wild comes down to the ability to cut things and make fire.  That’s it.  That’s probably the philosophy behind those folks whose answer to the question is "the knife that you have on you at the time" is the best all around knife.  On one hand, that’s usually true, but’s it’s also a tad over-used, trite, and just a little too much "Zen, one-with-the-blade" kind of answer.  Just about any knife is better than none.  But, that doesn’t mean you should go off into the wilderness with a Pakistani knock-off boot knife or a $7.00 copy of Rambo’s knife that you got at the weekend flea market.  Yes, they are technically knives and make of some kind of metal, but they aren’t blades that you would want to bet your life on when the going gets a little rough on the trail.

Spyderco Clip-ItThat in mind, let’s take a step up from the Zen answer to the question and say, "It’s the quality knife that you have on you at the time".  Now, from there, you’ve got some real room to work with in making the right decision for yourself.  So, what kind do you get and what do you look for in that perfect knife to depend on if an emergency ever occurs?  Well, that depends on what kind of activities you enjoy and what you’re willing to compromise to carry a blade with you.  First, the type of activity that you are doing is going to dictate a lot of factors with the kind of blade you carry.  For instance, maybe it’s just part of a little survival kit that you put together like the one in the picture.  Or, rock climbers will want to have something as light as possible and won’t impede their manueverability during their climb.  That’s usually going to be a small folder of some sort.  Even someone through-hiking the Appalachin Trail will be looking for the same thing so they can have more space available for food or other essential items for their long trip journey.

White-water rafters and kayakers typically dress in less clothing since they are in the water, so they might want something that can be affixed to a life vest and they’ll probably want something that resists rusting since they’ll be around and in the water most of the time.  That’s going to call for a stainless type blade and maybe with a synthetic or textured handle that won’t slip in their hands when it’s wet.  Also, maybe a kydex sheath is in order because that usually has more ways to tie it onto a vest or other piece of apparel.  And, kydex isn’t going to rot and degrade when exposed to water like leather will over time.  Even mountain bikers have special needs.  They might prefer some sort of multi-tool that not only has a blade, but also has other tools specifically designed to be used to make repairs on their bikes.  For intance, one such company that offers these kinds of multi-tools is Topeak and you can see some of their products here.  I’m not an avid mountain biker (though I have a mountain bike), but I’m already drooling over some of these pieces of gear, and Topeak is very well-known for the quality of its offerings.

The point of some of these examples is to demonstrate that each outdoor activity requires specific tools that are tailored to that individual sport.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach to selecting the right tools for your outdoors activities.  However, there is a common thread that weaves through just about any outdoor activity and that’s the possibility of ending up in a situation where everything went wrong and your life depends on the knowledge that you’ve acquired and the tools you have on hand.  That’s why I mention research, thought, and always having a "quality" knife on hand–not just letting fate decide what knife (or not) you have on you at the time.

Aside from the kind of activity you are doing, there are considerations to be given as to what type of steel you prefer, handle materials, blade style and length, and so forth.  There are all kinds of wonder-steels on the market.  You’ve got Busse Combat’s infamous INFI steel which is legendary for its strength and near-indestructability.  There’s the recently popular S30V and S90V stainless steels which are strong, have few impurities and hold a a sharp edge for a very long time.  The drawback is that those blades are a little harder than others to sharpen once dull.  But, with good technique while sharpening, S30V and S90V are excellent cutlery steels.  But there are other options out there that are just as good a choice even if they’ve been around a while including 1095, ATS34, 154CCM, D2, A2, Carbon V (if you can find it any more) and several others.  High-carbon steels like 1095 and Carbon V are easier to sharpen for the average person, but will need to be touched up more frequently than others.  They also will rust quicker because of the carbon content, and that’s why some folks will opt for some of the other more rust-resistent steels.  But, every blade should be cared for because just about any kind of steel will corrode at some point or another.  It’s just a matter of exposure and time.

All of these steels, however, are quality materials to make knives as are countless others like O-1, VG-10, and 440C.  As much to do with the quality of the knife is how its made and its heat treatment process.  That’s every bit as important as which particular metal was used.  So, even more research and due diligence on your part is required in that area as well.  But, you’ll probably find that with the technology and information available in today’s world, just about any knife made by a reputable maker or company will more than satisfy your needs.  Beyond that, what else to consider?  Well, again, you’ll have to consider whether you want to have a fixed blade or a folder, or maybe even both.  Some hard-core folks, when pressed to empty all their pockets might be found to have 4-5 knives of one kind or another on their person at any given time.  Maybe they’ve got a sheath knife, folding knife, and a pocket tool.  There’s some redunancy for you, and redundancy’s not a bad thing if you can afford the extra space and weight that it requires.  An old mantra in the military is "two is one and one is none."  Essentially, that means having a back-up is always a good plan.

If your perfect all-around outdoors knife is a fixed-blade, then there are plenty of makers out their to sate your appetite.  You just need to figure out what kind you want.  Some very respected and skilled indivuals I know are quite happy with a 4-5" blade on their fixed-blade knives.  A knife that size can allow for fine detail work in carving wood for tools or traps–besides just general cutting.  Also, a shorter fixed blade can be maneuvered more easily when performing such tasts as skinning game.  Right now, we’ve been running a poll on this site for over a month asking what people’s favorite outoors knife is, and short, fixed-blade knives are leading long, fixed-blade knives 33% to 24%. 

Blind Horse Knives JP Pro Hunter in D2 Steel
But, what of the large fixed-blade knives?  What are the advantages to those style blades as opposed others?  Generally, larger knives make for better choppers.  You can usually get them with thicker blades to add weight to help with momentum while chopping.  While not the ideal tool for chopping trees for shelter or wood for the fire, large fixed-blade knives are still easier to carry all the time in comparison to an ax, so the compromise is worth it most of the time.  Also, larger and thicker blade knives will typically hold up better under stressful situations such as batoning through wood or at prying objects.  And, yes, I have heard the sage advice that knives are for cutting, not for prying and that one should always use the right tool for the job.  Ideally, I agree 100%.  If we could have the right tool with us for every task at all times, then the oracles are correct.  But, in a life or death situation where the only tool that you have available is a knife, there is a certain comfort to having a blade that’s a little heavier and thicker to allow for use in some tasks that it just wasn’t made to do.  That’s the real world, but that’s also a decision you have to make for yourself.  Our intent isn’t to poison the well and push our beliefs onto anyone else.  The goal is to educate people on not only the variety of tools and choices that are available but also to encourage them to do their own homework to choose what’s best for them.

Chris Reeve Project II in A2
But, while on the topic of fixed-blade knives, we will point out some makers that have good reputations and whose products we have used with great success and confidence.  Busse Combat is one such maker.  Almost two years ago, their Fusion Battle Mistress LE (first article picture) came onto the market, and we quickly snatched one up as soon as it was available.  It had a 5/16ths" thick blade with thick micarta slabs to fill the palms and to top it off, it had a very wide blade that reached out over 10" long.  It is quite the beast and it is also very heavy.  But, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better sharpened pry-bar on the market today and its weight and grind help make it an excellent chopper.  Stepping down the size ladder a bit, you’ll find that Chris Reeve enjoys a fantastic reputation as a knife-maker for not only his fixed-blade knives, but for his Sebenza folders as well.  I currently possess a Chris Reeve Project II model which sports a 7.5" long clip-point blade that’s just a hair over 1/4" thick.  One of the really attractive features of most of Chris Reeve’s fixed blades is that the entire knive is tooled from a single block of A2 steel, and he drills out the handle to create a cavity where small survial items like matches, fish hooks and line, or flint and steel can be stored.  Once done, a cap is threaded and fitted to the end of the handle with an O-ring to seal the storage area from the elements.  Normally, we would advise to avoid the hollow-handle knives because they are usually cheap knock-offs with a second piece welded onto the main blade.  That’s not the case with Chris Reeve’s knives.  They are one solid piece of steel that can be relied upon to perform in the field without concern for failure at seams or weld points.  While a little pricier than most common knives of the same sort, Chris Reeve’s knives are at the top of the pack when it comes to quality and finish.

Fallkniven S1 With Desert Ironwood Grips
One knife brand that always surfaces quickly in conversations about the best outdoors and fixed-blade knives is Fallkniven.  Honestly, I don’t have the much experience with Fallkniven blades having just picked up my first knife from them a few months ago.  But, there are a couple of things that I do know.  Several outdoors people that I know and respect hold the Fallkniven knives in high regard.  Also, I am aware of the benefits of laminated steel for different uses.  Laminated steel is like an oreo cookie where you have a layer in the center that is designed for a hard and sharp edge for cutting and  for edge retention, but the outer layers are stronger to be much more resistent to bending or warping to the blade when put under stress.  That’s why you will find quality high-end swords using this type of construction.  It provides the best of both worlds in one blade.  Now, in all truthfulness, I wasn’t on a full-throttle search for a Fallkniven knife, but when I came across one in April, I knew I had to have it.  I have a weakness for Desert Ironwood handles, and a maker had taken a new Fallkniven S1 Forest Knife and replaced their Thermorun handle with the prettiest set of Ironwood slabs that I’ve seen on a knife in a long time.  Combined with the stainless blade, it was a striking combination, and it was soon to be mine.

Fallkniven S1 in Sheath With Custom Fire Steel
It was especially serendipitous for me that I also have a Army Model fire steel also fitted with a Desert Ironwood grip.  Once paired together in a leather sheath, I had in hand the two most essential abilities that I spoke of earlier–to cut things and make fire.  The Fallkniven S1 Forest Knife is touted by the company as "probably the best hunting and fishing knife ever made."  I don’t know about that.  That’s an awfully strong claim, but the crafting of the blade and its finish is superb, and the long curved blade would be ideal for skinning.  Aside from that, there’s still enough heft to the knife for light chopping work as well, and I do believe the laminated slabs would help keep the knife’s integrity if pressed into more strenuous service than a knife will experience typically.  But, I can’t tell you that from personal experience because I just haven’t used mine yet.  It’s such a beautiful knife with those handles, it’s hard for me to put the first use mark on it.  However, I have never encountered an owner of a Fallkniven knife that had anything negative to say about it.  In fact, it’s more to the opposite extreme to the point that you think they might have taken a sip of the Fallkniven Kool-Aid.  I suppose the Fallknivens are just that good.  In fact, I am in negotiations right now to acquire another Fallkniven blade that’s a regular production model with the Thermorun handle so I won’t feel so bad about taking it out and putting it to work.  And, if the A1 Swedish Survival Knife, A2 Wilderness Knife , or the S1 Forest Knife aren’t substantial enough for you as the perfect outdoors knife, Fallkniven also offers their NL1 "Thor" model which has a 10" blade that’s comprise of .28" of laminated goodness.  The outer layers on this model are made of 420J02 Stainless Steel which Fallkniven claims provides 20% extra strength for the blade.  And, to top it all off, the Fallkniven blades boast a convex edge which many knife enthusiasts prefer.

So, as you can see, there are all kinds of blades out there that can fit the bill for the perfect outdoors knife just in fixed blades alone.  Why, it wasn’t too long ago that a close friend of mine polled close to a hundred people over at Knifeforums to get all of the characteristics they believed would make up the perfect outdoors knife.  Once he gathered that info, he took the most prevailing characteristics in the poll (such as point type, blade length, steel type, etc.) and combined them into his own knife design that he had built and is currently distributed by Charles May.  This knife was designed by Terrill Hoffman (knife writer, photographer) and dubbed the OSK-1 in honor of the Outdoor Survival Forums at Knifeforums.  The OSK-1 is built Hell-for-stout with a 5/32" thick S30V blade that’s 4.25" long.  The handle is a nice, comfortably sized 5" long for an easy, yet strong purchase by the user.  As mentioned, S30V is one of the more popular steels as of late because of its strength and edge-holding properties.  Once Terrill received the OSK-1, he abused that knife more than just about any other he’s had in his possession.  His goal was to develop what he felt was the perfect outdoors knife for him, and he wanted to make sure if he was going to depend on that knife in an emregency situation he wanted to be sure that the blade would stood up to whatever he threw at it.  It did, and he found the perfect knife for him.  Terrill also designed the Hoffman Harpoon which is distributed by TOPS Knives.  Now me, I’m more partial to clip points for some reason.  Clip Points aren’t as inherently strong as spear points, but I just think they are more aesthetically pleasing.  Go figure.  Different strokes for different folks.

One of the more interesting developments in this area of late was the entry of Doug Ritter’s RSK Mk3 fixed-blade knife developed in conjunction with Benchmade Knives. Doug Ritter is the founder of Equipped To Survive website which has been online for many years.  Doug is a widely recognized expert in the area of disaster preparedness with a particular emphasis on the aerospace sector.  He spent many years doing gear reviews on his site, and has decided in the last couple of years to introduce his own designs.  A direct descendent of his RSK Mk1 folder, his objective with the Mk3 was the same as with the Mk1.  He wanted to provide a quality knife with premium materials at a price that was more affordable than those offered by custom makers.  Most of the knives I mentioned above run from $200.00 to $700.00.  That kind of price range is out of reach for the every day user, especially those with no great devotion to knives other than having a tool on hand to use.  Now, the Fallkniven S1 will run in the $120.00 range minus the custom Desert Ironwood Handles, but that’s the least expensive of the models that I mentioned above and doesn’t sport an S30V steel blade.  The Ritter RSK Mk3 runs in the $165.00 range, but provides the consumer with a extremely high quality knife with an S30V blade (usually found on higher end custom knives) that’s approximately .14" thick and has a high grind that makes this item a terrific slicer.  The blade is 4.5" long and almost balances perfectly with the handle which is 4.6" long.

Ritter RSK Mk1 Folder In S30V Steel
As we’ve already discussed the advantages of S30V blades, a specific advantage to this particular knife is that its .14" thickness cuts down on the overall weight of the knife making it very easy to carry or pack along with you.  Born out of the partnership with Benchmade to make the original RSK Mk1, the Mk3 fixed-blade version provides the end user with an extremely portable knife that has custom features at an almost proudction type price.  It’s one of the best values on the market for a high quality fixed blade knife that can be acquired without paying custom-maker prices.  The same thing can especially be said for the Ritter RSK Mk1 folder.  Designed with the same value-for-money objective in mind, it was the first model released by Doug Ritter and Benchmade, and it can be had for around $115.00.  That is an exceptional value in a knife with the attributes of the Benchmade Axis Lock and an S30V blade usually reserved for custom knives.  I have a production model Buck Mayo TNT with an 3 1/8th" S30V blade and its street price is right at $200.00, and that’s for a production knife, not a custom unit!  I only bring this up to point out the fantastic value that the Ritter RSK Mk1 (with a 3.44" S30V blade) offers to the average user.  It’s a folder that’s just hard to pass up, and that’s why one rides in my right pocket every single day.

Spyderco FRN Foilage Green Delica
While on the subject of folders, we’d also like to point out that there are many viable models out there that can serve as the average outdoors person’s all-purpose knife.  Besides the Ritter models, Benchmade also offers various other designs that can be seriously entertained as a main knife.  Another popular company that makes a wide assortment of high-quality folders is Spyderco.  Spyderco gained rapid fame in the mid 80’s when they hit the knife industry scene with their innovative thumb-hole blade that allowed for easy one-handed opening.  From there, the company skyrocketed and today, they offer one of the largest varieties of folders available.  Though most of their models are not custom knives, they are of the highest quality and they are sure to have a model to fit the needs of just about anyone.  As mentioned, folding knives might have to serve as the all around blade for those who either need to pack very light or have very little clothing (or room in their clothing) as a result of the kind of sport they are engaging in at the time.  For instance, you’ve got the aforementioned climbers, kayakers, and ultra-light backpackers that might require the smallest, lightest, and most unobtrusive knives available.  Such models can be found at Spyderco with handles of aluminum with lightening holes cut out or their FRN (Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon) handles.  A couple examples of these would be their FRN Foliage Green Delica, their "S" model, and their Atlantic Salt model which is particularly suited for work around water with its rust-proof and sheep’s foot style blade.  Of course there’s always a trade-off when trying to cut down on weight and size and that’s usually in strength of both the blade and the lock.  But, they have other models available with heavier and stronger handle and lock materials if that’s what you’re looking for instead. 

Spyderco Military in Foilage Green G10 Grips And S30V Steel
I recently acquired both their Chinook III in S30V and their Military Model in D2 steel, both of which house the strongest blade locks that Spyderco offers.  Now the Chinook III probably wouldn’t be the knife I reach for as an all-purpose outdoors knife since it’s designed as a fighting knife, but I trotted out these examples to show the wide diversity of bladeware that Spyderco has available.  Take a trip over to their site and explore all of their models.  You can sort them by handle material, blade steel, and even by their "design".  You’re sure to find something there that will meet your needs if a folder is what’s required for your outdoors set-up.  So, after all this blather, did you figure out what I think is the perfect outdoors knife?  In case I digressed too much throughout the article, I’ll clarify and summarize right now.  To me, it’s like trying to find the perfect woman or for women, it’s like trying to find the perfect man.  Neither exist.  What we have to do is find the person that’s perfect for us.  The same goes for the perfect survival knife.  You have to determine what your needs are, research the available models, and make the best decision on your own. 

Everything mentioned above was just a foundation from which you can begin.  I can only write about those things I have experience with or close knowledge of, so that’s why I brought up the specific models discussed earlier in the article.  You have to find what’s right for you.  Also, what’s perfect for you today while you’re out hiking in the woods might not be perfect for you next weekend when you’re making a run down your favorite set of rapids.  Other than a couple of things I’m going to mention below, I’m really not going to push any company or model onto anyone because I’m not standing in their shoes.  And, as my grandfather always said, never pass judgement on or for someone else until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, that way, when you’re done, you’ll be a mile away and you’ll have their shoes.

A couple of things I will try to foist upon the reader as far as my opinions go are basic pieces having nothing to do with brands.  In my opinion, if you’re looking for a fixed blade knife, get one that you know has a full tang that’s integral to the knife, not welded on or anything like that.  Avoid getting a knife with a stick tang.  If faced with an emergency situation out in the wild, you’re not always going to be able to follow the maxim of "Use the right tool for the job".  Sometimes, what tools you have on you might be pressed into serving different functions than intended.  With that in mind, and with the fact that your life may depend on that tool, you’ll want something that’s reliable, strong, and that you can use with confidence.  ‘Nuf said on that point.

Charles May Stump Knive in D2
The second thing to do is take your time and don’t be in a rush to make the purchase for several reasons.  You want to make sure that you make the right choice for the activity you’ll be doing and you’ll want to be sure of the type of materials you want in the knife as well.  Maybe you can sharpen one kind of steel easier/better than another kind.  It’s always good to practice and find out.  Maybe you need something that’s a little lighter than the model you’re eyeballing right now, and so on.  Finally, and certainly not the least of considerations, is that you want to get the best value for your dollar.  I hate to say this, but you’re usually not going to find the best deal in a brick and mortar store.  That’s not always 100% true, but it’s usually the case.  You might find a great deal at a Wal-Mart, but at a Mom and Pop’s store or your typical hunting or outdoors store, you’re usually going to pay more than you should.  Search the net and find the best deal that’s out there.  You’d be surprised how much money you can save by shopping online versus jumping in the vehicle and driving twenty miles to the local outfitter’s establishment.  I’ve had the same experience with camera gear.  I want to support the local camera store, but when they want to charge me $1900.00 for a lens I can get for $1400.00 online, where do you think I’m going with my money?  It’s sad, but true.  But, you do have to be careful of buying from just any store on the net.  Check out their reputation with other people that you know and that have dealt with them or check reseller ratings if they are available.  And, if you’re looking at purchasing from a custom maker, check out the forums at Knifeforums and Bladeforums first to make sure that the maker has a good reputation for delivering what’s ordered and paid for before tossing any money their way.

Spyderco Chinook III
Believe it or not, one of the best places I have found to buy knives is right on E-bay.  There are tens of thousands of people out there that have set their store up online.  This saves lease costs, property taxes, utilities, insurance, and requires less employees to man the store.  All of these savings get passed right along to you in the form of much lower prices.  When I purchased the Chinook III, I looked at multiple retail knife sites online, and the price was between $180-$210.00.  I jumped over to E-bay and found a brand new one from an authorized dealer for about $120.00.  That’s about 1/3 off the normal price.  I don’t know about you, but I enjoy those kinds of savings and after two or three of those, you’ve got enough pesos for another quality piece of gear.  When shopping on E-bay, look at the seller’s number of transactions first.  Look for someone that’s in the thousands.  They’re out there.  Once you find that, look for a positive feedback rating of 98.5% or more.  If they’re a good quality vendor with lots of transactions, there’s no reason they they shouldn’t be at that level.  If they aren’t pass them over and go to someone else.  Personally, I’ll only buy from someone with a 99% or higher positive feedback rating because if they are doing thousand of transactions, they shouldn’t have enough issues or problems to cause them to drop below 99% in my opinion.  There’s plenty of vendors on Ebay with great prices and very high feedback ratings.

Insisting on avoiding stick tangs and doing your own homework and research is about the extent of the pressure I want to put on you.  Truth be told, there are numerous companies out there that provide a quality product at a good price.  And, if you want to be a little more spendy, there’s plenty of custom knife makers that will accomodate you as well.  The only other thing I would ask you to consider is making sure that you’re prepared to be in the enviornment that you’re playing in, no matter what the activity is or how innocuous it might seem.  I’ve read about hunters capsizing their canoes and barely making it to shore and then having no way to make tinder or start a fire.  I’ve also read about people going out for just a quick dayhike and not having water or gear to sustain themselves when they make the wrong turn.  We’ve all heard and read the stories.  Let’s learn from those stories and while we’re playing outdoors, let’s make sure to be ready for whatever comes our way! 

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