One thing I learned from SERE was the value of a really good knife. Not because I took a really good knife to SERE, or that I was issued one…no. I know the value of a really good knife because I took a really crappy one.
After I got orders to SERE, I went looking for a “survival knife” with a few buddies. We ended up at a pawn shop in downtown San Diego, because we didn’t have a lot of cash, but wanted something decent. Unfortunately, I was a naive city kid and didn’t know the difference between high carbon steel and cast iron. Yeah. What I walked out of that pawn shop with was something I can only describe as cheap-plastic-hollow-handle-Taiwan-made-Rambo-knife-meets-Inspector-Gadget. I still have the knife, amazingly, but it’s never going to see the light of day for two reasons: it’s junk, and I don’t want to be laughed at.
To make a long story short, I learned the hard way, from the school of hard knocks what a cheap knife can, and can’t do. When I graduated form SERE school, I bought a bunch of different knives over many years, experimenting with different brands and styles. As of the last couple of years, I have settled on an Ontario Knife Co. RAT7. I can almost hear the groans from the ESEE guys…
To begin with, it’s beefy. But not beefy in the way your kind-hearted mom would describe a sluggish fat kid kind of way. Beefy as in it’s solid. Strong. Substantial. It fits well in my hand (and I don’t have huge paws, either). It’s a extremely well balanced knife, too. The center of gravity sits RIGHT at that first screw in the handle, closest to the blade, making this 130z knife one of the most comfortable knives I’ve ever used.
The Blade: The RAT7 has a 0.19″ thick, 6.5″ long 1095 carbon steel blade with a rockwell hardness of 55-57 HRC (62 is about the highest for most knives, your typical camp axe is about 45-55 HRC). Note: 1095 is very easy to sharpen, but tends to rust easy, so more care is needed for them than say, a stainless steel blade. But no worries, the RAT7 comes with a black textured powder coating that prevents rust on almost the entire blade, except the edge. This knife is just big enough to turn a good sized log into firewood, but maneuverable enough, with a well placed finger choyle, to feather tinder and carve notches for traps, tent stakes, etc. Jimping on the spine of the blade also facilitates more delicate work, while the 90 degree edge on the spine make for VERY easy sparking of fero rods.
The handle: made from very rugged, very non-slip, but also very good feeling micarta. I prefer this material for larger knives, because it doesn’t want to slip from your hand when your hands are sweaty, as is frequent when working in the field. I’ve used some other brands, with other types of material on the handle, and I personally don’t feel the knife is as secure in my hand when chopping away, as I do with a knife with micarta handles. Best part is, the micarta seems to work better the more you use it. The full tang of the blade extends past the bottom of the handle, which makes for an excellent smashing tool, without beating up the end of the micarta handle. Ontario thought this blade out well, the top of the handle is symmetrical, meaning it does not matter which way you put this in the sheath. This is especially useful in the dark, when you don’t want to be fumbling with which ways your knife gets stored in it’s sheath. Trust me, that kind of sucks.
The sheath: made of very rugged Cordura nylon. Has an accessory pocket (fits a sharpener & a fero rod easily). Nothing fancy, but it’s made well and does exactly what it’s supposed to. I actually like this sheath, as it’s comfortable to wear, and quiet (unlike Kydex). Sheath weighs 5.5 0z
Downsides: I wish they had cut a round divot into the micarta handle for use with a fire drill, like the Tops knives Tahoma, Fieldcraft and C.U.B. blades. Other than this, no issues.
Overall: I give this knife 5 out of 5.