Most people would agree if you need a rugged, tough blade then fixed is the way to go. A fixed blade generally has no joins or obvious weak points making it ideal for challenging environments. However a fixed blade is not always a viable option. You might work in a role which requires you carry a knife discreetly for example. Equally you may carry a fixed blade which is to large for some of the smaller tasks at hand such as prepping game/food and making tinder. The folder definitely has a part to play if you are out in the backwoods and this round up aims to show you a few that we at GnZ found to be excellent. We have also tried to provide knives which suit different budget levels while still fulfilling the “rugged” title.
The folders we will be looking at are:
DPX Gear H.E.S.T
CRKT Hammond Cruiser
Rugged is a fairly open ended term and means different things to different people. We are not going to be jumping out of Helicopters and covering 200 miles on foot in dense tropical rain forest. Lets be honest and say that represents a very small minority of knife users. For most of us “rugged” would suggest the knife is capable of prolonged hard use on deployments, hikes, camping trips, range trips and at work in a variety of different weather conditions..
I also think we should bear in mind these are folding knives and as such have limitations. They are not designed for prying, batonning or hammering.. If you had to do those things then an axe or a large fixed blade would be your tools of choice.
DPX Gear – H.E.S.T 2.0
The H.E.S.T. stands for Hostile Environment Survival Tool. It is version 2 of the knife which has been designed as a hard use tool by Robert Young Pelton the man behind DPX Gear. Mr Pelton has spent some 30+ years as an adventurer and correspondant visiting some of the most dangerous people and places on the planet. It would be fair to say he knows a thing or two about tough kit which gets the job done..
DPX knives are made by Lionsteel Italy who have a superb reputation for making high end blades.
One of the first things you notice when you pick up the H.E.S.T is the light weight – 5.1oz. The frame is made of a Titanium alloy which forms the back of the knife. The front face is a thick but very light G10 scale. If you are using the H.E.S.T as a secondary blade or for covert carry then these weight savings will be appreciated. For general users weight is not such a big issue but it is still beneficial, if your clipping it inside a pocket, you hardly notice it is there.
The frame lock holds the blade firmly in place and can be locked in with a rotating bezel. I personally did not find a need to lock the blade using the additional rotolock as the primary locking mechanism felt firm and adequate as it was.
The rear end of the H.E.S.T houses a Torx driver slot which could certainly prove useful in urban environments. The rear end also features the deep carry pocket clip and glass breaker. A glassbreaker is very useful for emergency personnel and as an emergency escape tool for individuals. If you are stuck in a house fire and windows are locked then you would be very glad you had it. DPX do give you an additional screw which can replace the glass breaker if for some reason you did not want it. They also provide a nifty tool which will remove the glassbreaker and adjust blade tension. The mini tool is actually pretty cool and offers a pry bar edge as well – ideal for clipping to your key ring.
The 3.25″ blade is made of D2 tool steel. The blade is reassuringly thick with a deep belly and a razor sharp edge. D2 is an excellent steel and provides good resistance to wear and abrasion. D2 also offers resistance against rust but it is not a true “stainless” and will tarnish and rust if not looked after.
The blades edge has remained sharp enough to shave with during testing which has included working with wood and cardboard so I would say the hardening process was done right – edge retention is superb.
The torx slot at the rear and the bottle/blade opener just beside the thumb stud can be seen here.
The blade has duel studs for single handed opening and a recess which doubles as both a blade opener and bottle opener. The blade opening feature works by snagging the pocket hem as the knife is pulled out. With minimal practice you can remove said blade from your pocket and open it in one swift movement.. Very similar to the Emerson wave feature. The bottle opening aspect also works well and I had a couple of cold beers in the name of thorough reviewing..
I have carried the blade on outings and kit reviews. I have used it for work and basic tasks. It took a couple of days for the newness to wear off and the action to become smooth. The DPX H.E.S.T performed without a hitch and its ability suprised me considering the light weight. The rear of the blade features deep jimping which also serves as a wire stripper. It does indeed strip wire but I found it more useful in terms of the control it offered giving traction to the thumb. The H.E.S.T makes light work of kindling and prepping small branches for firewood. If it was all you had I have no doubt you could press it into use batonning bigger stuff but I felt that was a little beyond the role of a folding knife.
The DPX H.E.S.T retails at between $175-$230 depending on where you can find it. In the U.K. the price is around £190. This is not a cheap knife and that may put some people off. However DPX offer a lifetime warranty with their products which puts the price into perspective. As long as you don’t lose it then you have lightweight capable tool which will last.
Schrade are a well known brand and produce some very innovative pieces at fantastic prices. I have used their 301S for a while and been thoroughly impressed in terms of its durability. I figured it would fit well into our rugged folder recommendation.
The 301s is a beast of a knife. It has a solid steel frame which has a real heft to it. To be honest I think you could probably run this knife over with a tank and the frame would be intact! For those who are not worried about saving a couple of ounces in weight this may well be of interest.
As I mentioned this is a heavy knife. It comes in at just over double the weight of the lightweight H.E.S.T. Before everyone groans I think it is worth bearing in mind that heavy tools are sometimes just what the job requires.
Heavy usually equates to tough and durable. The knife feels great in the hand and the weight gives it excellent control. Light knives can often feel a bit skittish when taking on a really challenging job. Ask yourself what the knives jobs are likely to be? Do you need 5oz saving?
The 301s is a framelock design and feels rock solid. The frame looks to be made from the same steel as the blade – 9Cr18MoV. This is a very reasonable steel which compares to 440c. The steel has been given a coating which is listed as “Titanium”. It gives it a nice matt feel and rather pleasing look. The frame has excellent large jimping both behind the blade and on the butt end. The butt end jimping is a very nice touch as it allows you to hold the knife blade down if required (working on large game and cutting away from yourself for example).
The belt clip is robust with strong spring. I wore this knife in the pocket and it stayed rock solid.
The blade is a thick agressive looking tanto with serrations. I chose a serrated versions because I reguarly need to cut webbing and cord. The serrations are a big help for that and allow you to saw through in a controlled fashion. As mentioned the blade steel is comparable to 440c.
I have no issues with the steel, it holds an edge and is easy to sharpen. The blade came sharp except the tanto end which I touched up with a blade medic. There are thumb studs either side of the blade and a flipper. The flipper is particuarly useful as it launches the blade with ease and lines up with the curved frame to function as a very effective handstop. The blade is 3.7″ long and definitely feels capable. The lock up is solid with no movement at all.
I have used the SCH301S in the same fashion as the other folders on review. Both at work and during rural expeditions the thick durable blade has proven to be reliable. I have used it at a push to make a one stick fire and it coped. Ideally that is work for a heavy fixed blade but at a push you can have this folder do it without it risking damage to it. It is an incredibly strong tool. I must confess I have also used this knife to pry, cut peel washers and punch into a sealed tin – none of which are ideal tasks for a folder. It performed and remained unscathed other than a few light scuff marks..
This is where you have to give Schrade some real credit. Their prices are some of the most competitive in the industry. No they are not made in America or Germany or the U.K. but they are great quality and that is all I am concerned with. The SCH301S is available from Taylorbrands at $37.. That is great value for such a well made piece.
CRKT Hammond Desert Cruiser.
I have owned and used this knife for 3 years and it has recieved a ton of abuse. I picked it up cheaply as something for the tool box to use for horrid jobs at work. Cutting old carpet up, cutting electric cables, rendering 100s of boxes into small pieces for recycling weekly. It has dealt with everything. I have even dropped it onto concrete on several occasions. It still works very well. CRKT always turn out some nice knives so the Hammond line at the current price point is a no brainer to me.
The Hammond cruisers are available in a variety of colours and with serrated/non serrated blades. Mine is the “desert” option which features sand coloured zytel grips and a matt satin finish blade. The HCs are big knives and fairly weighty at 6.1oz. They feel very comfortable in the hand considering the bulk due to the well thought out contours. The front underbelly of the handle features a deep recess or choil for the finger and acts as a handstop.
The liner lock is robust and features a secondary lock which attracts the “virtual fixed blade” type comments. I tend to take those with a pinch of salt. No folder is ever going to stand the abuse a fixed blade can whichever secondary locking system it uses. The secondary lock can be turned on/off with ease and has never hindered me (I just leave it off..)
Another nice addition to the HCs is the large and effective pocket clip. It allows reasonably deep carry, holds firm and can be swapped for left/right and tip up/tip down carry. I carry left side so options are always a good thing.
The HCs have a long 3.75″ clip point blade made from 8CR14MoV steel. The steel is Chinese and very similar to the Schrade. It takes a good edge and is easy to sharpen. Rust resistence is fair. The blade flips out very smoothly via thumb studs or a flipper due to Teflon blade bearings. The blade has a “thumb ramp” with light jimping. This provides you with a very secure grip and offers control for finer work.
As I mentioned previously the HC is my most abused knife. I would never normally cut electrical wiring and piles of carpet with a decent knife (use a stanley or a throwaway) but I am ashamed to say I did with the CRKT HC. I fully expected it to last a few months and die on me. After 3 years it still locks rock solid and the blade holds the edge I put on it every month (sometimes bi monthly depending on workload).
The blade deploys smoothly with the flipper and it still does to this day. I have taken the knife apart once to froglube everything (Do not do that unless you have some experience, putting folders back together can be hell). Despite thousands of blade deployments I can see no signs of significant wear and the blade play is solid in all directions..
The HC is no chopper (none of these are) but it is capable and reliable in terms of small to medium weight jobs..
The blade takes a good edge with a little wetstone work..
CRKT are also known for good value and they really smashed it with the HC line. These knives are going at $19.95 in the U.S. and £19.95 in the U.K. There are few if any blades I would recommend at that price but I do not hesitate in recommending the CRKT HC to all. Durable, lightweight, adaptable and feels great in the hand. .
I saved the Fantoni Hide until last because it offers something a little different yet remains “rugged”. Fantoni (Italy) have a long reputation for producing beautiful looking pieces to tight tolerances with premium grade components. The Hide personifies that concept.
The first thing you notice when you see the Hide is the stunning finish. Both the wood work and metal components are a sight to behold. The knife is likely to inspire adoring comments from all who see it. You may think its looks suggest it is a knife that should be treated with kid gloves and never seriously used but that is part of the Hides deceptive charm. Underneath that silky veil lurks a very tough and capable tool.
The Fantoni Hide is the smallest knife on test. It is also the lightest at only 3.6oz.. If you are an adventurer/mountaineer where grams matter then that should prove attractive right away.
The design is a back lock which is reasonably rare these days. One of the reasons for that is a back lock takes a little more engineering to get right. It requires tight tolerances in order to hold the blade secure without any play. Fantoni have done that and then some. The detail of engineering and finish on the Hide is grade A. The locking mech works perfectly and gives a very positive crisp click as the blade is extended. Deploying the blade is done via a thumb stud on either side. You will probably find deployment loosens up nicely over a few days (that was the case with this one). Once it was worn in a little the blade slides out smoothly.
The deep carry pocket clip is set about as deep as one can go – fixed to the butt of the frame. The clip holds the knife securely whilst allowing smooth extraction from the pocket.
The front end of the frame has jimping while the opposite side is nicely sculpted to provide a comfortable grip on such a small bodied piece. Although the polished wooden handles on this one do not add to the grip you can order the Hide with micarta scales which may be something hard users would prefer.
This is where things get interesting (and expensive!). The blade steel is CPMS30V – a steel specifically formulated for high end knives by Dick Barber and Chris Reeve. They wanted the ultimate corrosion resistance and edge retention. The chemistry involved promotes Vanadium carbide formation which give superb hardness and edge retention. The only downside is that people new to knife sharpening may find it a little more difficut to hone to a razor edge due to those carbides being so resillient..
Some people have suggested that CPMS30V is the pinnacle of all knife steels. I am not sure about that but what I can say is it provides a razor sharp edge which stays sharp in use. It also looks wonderful.. If you look at the blade close up then the grain of the metal is apparent and reminds me a little of the Hamon you see on traditional japanese edged weapons (swirls from the quenching process).
The 2.9″ blade is a traditional and very functional shape. When locked out the jimping on the blade meets the jimping on the handle providing a good surface to gain traction and control with your thumb. For me the blade seemed very well suited to game prep and food prep and would make an excellent secondary blade for such things if your out on expedition. The knife as a whole is to small to function as a primary blade on trip but due to weight and capability it would be an ideal backup/food knife.
I admit I have not abused the Fantoni at all. It would feel akin to slapping an elegant lady! The Hide is far to lovely for me to cut through wires and tin cans at work. I have however been taking it out on woodland trips and using it for food prep and bushcrafty chores. It has been a pleasure to use and the only drawback was that I wasted considerable time just turning it in my hand and gazing at it!
It was fantastic for feather sticks because the blade is thinner than the others and possibly stayed sharp longer due to the high end steel. Sometimes producing really fine tinder is the difference between having a fire and staying cold. The hide can make tinder all day every day.
Combine that with the virtually rust proof high end stainless and I would say it earns the Hide a place in the rugged line up.. A real wolf in sheeps clothing…
The model I have with snakewood handles is somewhat rare and if you can find one retails at around $300. The micarta version seems to be widely available and in the UK prices are about £190. Not cheap but then the components and finish are high end so it was never going to be bargain of the week.. It really comes down to personal preference. For some people the knife is like a watch.. The form is almost as important as the function. Some people pay £20 for a watch and others pay £20,000. Both work well enough but if aesthetics and craftsmanship please you then it is money well spent.
All four of these knives are capable of supporting the user in rugged environments. It really boils down to preference and budget. I haven’t picked a “winner” for that very reason. If I were seriously mountaineering or on expedition/deployment I would go with the DPX Gear H.E.S.T. It is light yet very tough and has useful features which would save you packing additional kit (bottle opener, torx driver..) For situations where weight is not a problem and you want ultimate grunt and heft then Schrades offering will take some beating, especially considering the price. The CRKT excels as another affordable option which is light enough to carry all day every day yet large enough to be put to hard use when needed and even mildly abused!
Lastly the discerning gents rugged folder – the Fantoni Hide – just because some people want beauty and function in one package..
*Legal bit.. Our readership is international. As such it is impossible to advise on legality of carrying/using knives due to differing laws in countries and states. Please seek out the relevant information in your country and local area before carrying or using any sort of edged tool.