We took a look at some rugged folding blades last week here at GnZ. In that group review I made it pretty clear that a fixed blade was the only way to go when it comes to building large shelters or breaking down decent sized firewood. Tasks such as batoning are really hard on the knife (beating it on the spine with one log to split another down the middle). You need a serious lump of metal for that. You may need to pry (possibly in urban environments or vehicles) which puts tremendous torque on the end of the blade. On top of the strength challenges you need a keen cutting edge which stays sharp as you may need to prep game or fillet fish. A pretty tall order. Be tough but retain a graceful edge.. Sounds like a guide to life!
I have tried to select a number of blades that represent different budgets. The blades also have differing abilities, some excel in specific areas. They must remain at least proficient in all areas to share the title of Wilderness Blades.
The knives in this article are:
The Parry Blade
The knives have all had at least a few hours hard use in both rain and heat. The tasks for each knife were:
Delimbing branches to approximately 1″ thick.
Prying out a dead tree trunk.
Cutting smaller wood for tinder.
Making feather sticks and fine tinder.
The Esee 5.
Esee knives are the brainchild of two guys (Jeff Randall and Mike Perrin) who own Randalls Adventure Training. They have been training people how to survive in remote areas since 1997. Esee knives were born from their realisation in the early days that the tools available were not ideal. Machetes were a little to thin and lacked strength while traditional sheath knives were not able to chop and baton. They designed their first knife, the RTAK to cover both bases. That core concept stayed with them and and is evident in their knife designs.
The ESEE 5 has become an icon among those using knives in hostile/remote environments. The 5 was designed by both ESEE and SERE instructors. SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. It is a specialist training school within the US military that was originally designed for Aircrew at risk of going down in enemy territory but later encompassed other scenarios and personnel too.
The ESEE 5 is designed to be tough enough to cut or pry your way out of a damaged aircraft or vehicle and remain sharp enough to chop wood and prep game – a crow bar, an axe and a razor rolled into one!
The first thing you notice about the ESEE 5 when you pick it up is the thickness of the blade and the weight. The spine is epic at 6.35mm.. There is no doubt that this blade will be able to chop and pry. The knife I have has a coating on the blade in a drab green. Which has proven incredibly durable. Most blade coating start dropping off in the first few minutes of hard use. Not so with this model. The blade features the awesome R.A.T. skull motif which is cool if you are a collector.
The heavy spine features jimping for the thumb which is deep enough to gain traction without being sharp. The handles are micarta.
The micarta scales sandwich that huge slice of steel in the middle which ends in a glass breaker and lanyard hole. This glass breaker is something else.. Door breaker would probably be a more fitting term. The weight of the knife is 16oz without sheath which aids with any sort of breaking you might do with the butt end. Obviously 16oz is pretty hefty so you will know that you have it hanging off your belt. In any other situation I might give a negative comment regarding such a weight but a capable wilderness blade needs to be heavy or it will never be able to chop. I am sure many of you have tried to employ light weight blades for chopping. I certainly have. They just bounce off of the wood.
The ESEEs weight being mainly in the spine works very well when chopping as it transfers directly forward causing the cutting edge to bite in nicely.
The 5 in the name denotes blade length – as do the ESEE 3 and 4. The five is actually 5.25 inches long. The blade has a serrated area which I find very useful when cutting vines or certain types of rope and webbing. ESEE went with 1095 high carbon steel which I am a huge fan of. 1095 is a high carbon steel.. HC steels lack the Chromium content of stainless which make them less resistant to rust but harder than stainless. HC steels can be sharpened to a very fine edge relatively easily (1095 is certainly easier to sharpen than 440C). Now I have said this numerous times but I will say it again – there is no such thing as a completely rust resistant steel. It will all rust given enough moisture, air and time. Yes some steels will take longer to rust. My point is you shouldn’t get to caught up in rust resistance unless you are buying a specific dive knife. If you take care of the blade and wipe it down with an oily rag (natural oils if you are doing food prep) then you will never have an issue. Of course if you were a downed pilot fighting for your life then you wouldn’t give a hoot about some pitting and rust spotting as long as the knife stayed sharp and worked. No danger of having to worry with this knife it would take a hell of a long time and neglect to rust it beyond being useable.
The blade itself is incredibly sharp given the thickness at the spine.. It is almost mind boggling! The sabre grind and excellent heat treatment both play a part. When heat treated correctly 1095 is considered on the level with any top end steel when it comes to a sharp edge. The sabre grind begins half way down which maintains that thick spine, gives a fine edge and a useful axe like shape which you need for splitting the bigger logs. Esee and the SERE guys did an outstanding job with this blade.
ESEE really put some thought into how you might carry the Five. You get a Kydex sheath which is well made and solid. The sheath has a hole in the base for drainage. The really neat feature is a screw at the side of the sheath which effects retention. If you push it down the blade can be pullet out of the sheath fairly easily. Pulling the screw up increases retention and at the highest setting the blade is held solid. I am guessing it could still come lose with a severe impact but Esee have covered that angle with the molle attachment. The Kydex holster can be fastened via four screws to a clever bit of molle webbing. The webbing has a handle retention flap which can be fastened down. This is said to make the Esee 5 “jump safe” which was obviously something the SERE guys were keen to ensure.
For people like myself who are not jumping out of exploding aircraft it could be useful if you were running or climbing and wanted to totally ensure the knife stays where it should. The molle webbing can be changed around to give added carry options. The standard option seemed fine to me. If you don’t need the molle option you can just screw in a tough kydex belt clip instead. I preferred this as it gives easy and quick access. I found the retention was superb and never felt like the knife would fall out. Overall I love the thought that went into carrying the knife, something which many companies overlook or seem to offer as an afterthought..
The weight and power of this blade is unbelievable. It is a very capable chopper. It will happily baton all day long but you are obviously limited to the size of wood you baton by the 5″ blade. Yes there are longer knives that are better for the job but can they do the fine work as well? In a word – No, but the Esee can. The excellent blade is very happy to produce tinder and take on delicate tasks. Although the Esee 5 is weighty it felt well balanced and remarkably easy to use. The micarta handles are very comfortable but the grip is quite large. If you have really small hands you might want to try the grip before you buy. The handles have indents should you require a bow drill divot. I have made bow drills before and one of the tedious parts is cutting a clean divot for the stick to sit in. If your stuck out with the Esee that is one less job to do…Or just use a fire steel 😉
I couldn’t resist trying the Esee 5 out on some urban leftovers. An internal door and a pallet were both obliterated in a minute or so. I used the blade to pry at a crack in the door and really torqued on it. The door split open – the blade felt indestructable.. I have no doubt the Esee 5 could be used as a secondary breaching tool or to cut your way out of a dwelling. It is just phenomenal at wrecking stuff!
The Esee 5 can be found in the U.K. for around £180 and the same figure in USD. Considering the carry system and the capabilities I would say that is reasonable. Esee go one better though and offer a lifetime user transferable warranty. If you sold the knife then the new user is still waranteed. They do not even require a receipt. Send it back and it will replaced if broken. If you have been lax and let the blade rust then that is not covered in the terms of the warantee. Ill say it again – look after your knives!
The Esee 5 is one of my all time favourite knives. It really is a brute with multiple capabilities. However it isn’t the only brutish option..
The Parry Blade.
We did a full review of the world famous Parry blade only a couple of weeks ago. You can read it here – http://www.gunsandzen.com/reviews/the-parry-blade-a-do-it-all-survival-knife/
I had to bring it to this group review and although I won’t relist the full spec I will make some comparisons to the other knives on test.
The parry blade dwarfs all the other knives here. The front heavy 8 and 3/4″ steel is at its best chopping wood and battoning. I managed to half a sizeable log and delimb branches with ruthless efficiency. I would say the Parry has the edge over the competition regarding the heavy work. Of course you do pay a price for that in size and weight (19oz)..
The Esee, Mora and the Schrade can be used to eat with, in fact the Schrade SCHF42 is a real pleasure to use for personal food items. The Parry blade is almost machete like and just to big. They will all do carcass prep but again the smaller Schrade and the Mora pathfinder are a little more able to perform the more delicate tasks when prepping game.
The Parry and the Esee 5 are the thugs of the bunch. They can break you in or out of pretty much anywhere that is physically breakable. They can provide firewood all day every day. If I were carrying a primary and secondary blade into a long term wilderness situation I would go with the Parry and a smaller locking knife such as the DPX H.E.S.T.
If I could take only one blade it would be the Esee 5 just because its size allows it to fulfil a wider ratio of tasks.
The Parry will continue to be used at GnZ and at the moment holds the crown of most capable survival chopper.
I have reviewed and owned Moras before and it is no secret that I love them. They have long been my favourite budget knives because the pricing was out of this world (£10 for a capable bushcrafting knife!!). You can check out the review of the Morakniv Companion here – http://www.gunsandzen.com/reviews/morakniv-companion-best-value-bushcrafting-blade-ever/
Now Mora have a new knife on the block. As far as I am aware the Pathfinder is the first Morakniv to be aimed towards the survival/wilderness big blade sector. Previously their offerings have maintained similar size and concept. Lets see if they have done the bigger blade justice..
The Pathfinder retains some of the concepts that I have come to love about Moras. The handle is soft, rubberised, durable and supremely comfortable. It was great both with or without gloves and I always felt fully in control when using it. The handle fully encompasses a stick tang which has been the subject of hot debate on the internet. I have seen quite a few comments bemoaning the stick tang and asking Morakniv to produce full tang versions. What I haven’t seen are any posts showing Moras which broke at the tang under normal use.
Self proclaimed experts seem to like finding fault when there is no issue to begin with. If any of the Moras I had owned had broken I would be agreeing on full tangs. As it is I have really abused a couple of Mora companions and they just will not die. The only way to kill a Morakniv is lack of blade care or ridiculous stress testing (hammering them into dead trees and such).
I was slightly disappointed to find that Moras plastic sheath has been replaced with a molle/webbing affair on the pathfinder. Some people hate the plastic sheaths found on the standard Moras but I love them. They hold the knife well, are hard wearing and they float. The webbing sheath is certainly satisfactory, it houses a plastic insert to protect the material from the blade. When worn it hangs quite loosely which might be irritating when going through brambles and thorny areas.
Moras Swedish high carbon steel blades are epic. They are capable of razor sharp edges and are easy to work with. One of the reasons that Moras make a superb first knife. You can work these blades to scary sharp with nothing but a steel and a strip of leather. Like any high carbon steel they do like to rust so keep them oiled.
The blade on the Pathfinder is 6.75″ long and 3.2mm thick (the thinnest in the group). The blade has a very good anti rust coating which can take a bit of abuse. I clubbed the Pathfinder through some branches and batonned a couple of small logs and the coating remained intact. The blade has a bowie style influence – the belly deepens nearer the end. It certainly looks the part..
The area in which the Morakniv struggled was chopping. The Pathfinder is the lightest in the group (6oz) and has the thinnest spine. A thick spined blade really helps with chopping because of the weight and the axe-like profile it gives you. This is especially true with batoning. The thicker the spine the less you have to “cut” through the wood. The thicker spine will actually split the wood outwards as it is driven down. I did manage to use the Pathfinder for these bigger jobs but it was not ideal. The blade stood up to the abuse though and it remains sharp (as it came from factory) which says something for the edge retention.
The area where the Pathfinder really excelled is in the Bushcraft domain. It was absolutely excellent for feather sticks, small kindling, striking fire steels, notching and building personal shelters. As a camping or hiking tool it really is a great choice. Essentially I used it just as I would a companion or bushcraft black but with an extra couple of inches to make those bigger branches easier to deal with.
The other thing I like about the Pathfinder is that it will work very well in game and food prep. The razor sharp blade with thinner profile is well suited to gutting and filleting. It is also elegant enough to function as a table knife at camp should the need arise..
After being used to Moras bargain prices I was a little suprised the Mora pathfinder was not the cheapest knife of the group. The Schrade beats it! In the U.K. you can buy the Mora Pathfinder for about £65. In the USA you are looking at about $80. Mora have almost shot themselves in the foot regards pricing. Their previous knives are so ridiculously cheap that anything will seem expensive in conparison. I think it is fairer to say how does the price compare to rivals. In those terms the price is pretty good for a knife which can be put to so many uses.
I would recommend the Mora Pathfinder to anyone getting into “going bush” for a few days. It may not be able to pry off doors like the Parry or Esee but then do you really need to pry any doors off? If you just want a few nights in the great outdoors with a knife that can do what you need and be easily returned to sharp then the Pathfinder is for you. In a more hostile environment the Pathfinder teamed with a machete or an axe would be a winning combination. Let the axe/machete do the heavy chopping and use the Mora for the rest..
Schrade have really suprised me over the last 12 months. They reguarly field products at prices which are much lower than their competitors yet they keep being great. Now I am not a knife or kit nerd nor am I patriotic when making purchases. I am only interested in what works. You might notice that I don’t tend to make many negative comments. That is because I wont publish a review of a crap item on here. I have bought a few bits of kit over the years which was straight up junk. I do not have the time to bring it to review when there are so many good items around I can talk about. I have several Schrade items and every single one has been good enough to warrant appearing in a review. Even if you doubled their prices they would still be good! Anyway onto what I think is not only Schrades best value blade but possibly the best value blade I have come across since the iconic Morakniv Companion…
The SCHF42 is dubbed the “Frontier” and was designed by Brian Griffin a well known knife designer and reviewer. The Frontier features a 5.12″ 1095 steel blade. The contstruction is full tang and tremendously robust. The spine is 4.76mm thick nearest the handle and tapers out to the tip. That is a pretty serious piece of metal.. The taper is actually a pretty cool aspect of the knife as it gives strength where its most needed (down by the handle). It also save weight overall and improves the piercing capability of the tip.
The knife is at first glance a very simple looking design. The knife has subtleties which become apparent as you use it. The gentle geometry provides an excellent grip and feels comfortable. Control of the blade is made easier with jimping on the spine and a choil below which functions as a hand stop.
Another neat feature is the jimping on the pommel/lanyard hole. Its position is ideal when you take a reverse grip. Schrade seem to have found a good balance between grip and comfort.
The handles are made from Grivory which is actually a very cool material.
Grivory is a trade name for polyphthalamide. Wikipedia gives us an insight into the properties and benefits.
“Properties of polyphthalamide include: high heat resistance, high chemical resistance, abrasion/corrosion resistance, high tensile strength, high dimensional stability, direct bonding to many elastomers to give plastic-rubber composites, and is also approved for direct contact with drinking water and food.”
The SCHF42 Frontier comes with a very well made heavy duty leather sheath. Personally I like leather sheaths but I agree that they do not suit all environments. The humidity of tropical jungle and leather are not a great combo.. Am I going to use this knife in a tropical jungle? Probably not.. I spend most of my time in the woods of England and leather gets on just fine here. If you were to be in the jungle there are a number of people making custom Kydex sheaths such as http://clevelandkydex.com
The knife is secured by a single press stud which retains it well. The leather sheath looks great, feels good to wear and is really very well done. Considering the materials used in both sheath and knife it leaves you wondering how Schrade are making any money when they sell it but we will get to the price later..
As I mentioned earlier the blade is 1095, an excellent steel used by many companies manufacturing top end knives and swords. The steel has been powder coated and the finish is very pleasing – a subtle sparkly grey. The coating seems to be pretty resillient to dings and has remained intact on this one so far. The shape of the blade is also subtle yet very efficient. It has a recurve which gives it a belly for chopping and a recessed mid section for fine work.
The tip is sharp and strong and although it isn’t quite a “pry bar on steroids” like the Esee and Parry it is certainly capable of digging in and creating leverage. The blade came super sharp out of the box. Sharp enough to shave hair or slice thin paper, impressive given the hefty spine. The full flat grind is excellent for bushcraft type tasks and reasonably easy to sharpen. If you are using a stone then care must be taken not to remove the blade coating which comes with practice. I would suggest practicing your wetstone work with a non coated blade (Morakniv companion for example) before trying your luck with the SCHF42. You can always use a rod or blade medic type sharpener until you feel your wetstone skills are honed (excuse the terrible pun..)
The SCHF42 was never going to beat the Esee or the Parry when it came to heavy chopping.. Weight alone sets them apart – The SCHF42 weighs 8.6oz, a nice middle weight. That is not to say the Schrade is a bad chopper just that it in the company of two chopping Legends!
It puts many other fixed blades to shame. It batons and chops like a pro and exceeded my initial expectations. I hammered it into some logs of about 5″ across which it split easily.
The real suprise comes when you begin making tinder and feather sticks. The middle portion of the blade is just built for it and I produced long thin feathers which burnt well. The knots and rough sections were no bother at all as they might be with a lighter blade.
The geometry of the blade is perfect for food prep. Whether you are cleaning a carcass or cutting up your dinner the SCHF42 is totally at home. It is a really good size for food based work and retains that razor edge required when working with game. Anyone who has tried to prep game with a blunt knife will testify to that. I no longer hunt, when I did it was mostly rabbit. The cuts needed to be precise, poking about with dull blade just made the job more tedious and unpleasant especially in the freezing cold. The SCHF42 took everything I could throw at it and more. The price for such a capable piece?
The price point is just unreal given the materials and quality. In the U.K. you can find this knife for about £55. In the U.S. it can be had at around the same price in USD. In terms of value this knife just cannot be beaten. If you want a heavy camping/Bushcraft blade and you are on a fixed budget then look no further, buy the SCHF42. Simple.
There should be something for everybody here. Most of you (like me) will never really “test” these blades. They are all capable of efficiency in environments far beyond the norm. From freezing cold through to desert sun these are the knives that will keep going and going. If you take care of them they will last a lifetime (or several). For general use in a “normal environment” (camping trips in the developed world) then I would go with the Schrade or the Morakniv. If you are dropping out of a helicopter into the jungle then go with the Esee or the Parry. If you just love knives and collecting then any of these will make an excellent addition and be a pleasure to own.
Scorpion Knives – http://www.scorpionknives.com/mel_parry.htm