When my love of nature first began to enjoy a renaissance after a period of focusing on my career and my family, I began to refine and hone my gear–my kit, as some refer to it. This process of refinement grew from my simple awareness of a fellow hiker’s Capiline shirt–his shirt was better suited for the conditions we were experiencing than my own, and this recognition of the benefits of specialized clothing and gear began a process of refinement and reflection that continues to this day.
Early in this process I decided I wanted a good fixed blade knife. While I happily survived all the years of my childhood without such a thing, some atavistic urge within me made this desire assume the urgency of a need. For weeks I researched, watching videos of people testing knives, exploring the glut of options out there. Eventually I decided that the SOG Seal Pup Elite was the knife for me, and a few weeks later I was the deliriously happy owner of a new cutting tool.
The Seal Pup was scary sharp, and that sharpness opened my eyes to wonder. My old BSA multipurpose camp knives never had an edge like this. I learned how to baton wood to reduce a log into kindling for a fire, how to shave feathersticks to start a fire. And I cut tent stakes with a few efficient strokes of the blade. I learned, too, that not everyone knows how to handle such a knife: at camp one night, I loaned the SOG to a counselor, who managed to slice open the back of his hand to a sufficient depth to expose tendon. I learned two things from this: first, that loaning potentially dangerous gear to others is not a good idea since it is impossible to know how much experience they have in using your gear; and second, my Boy Scout first aid paid off: the ER nurse said that my field dressing of his wound was among the best she’d seen! Kudos to the Boy Scouts, such a he part of my youth. But as my interest in camping and backpacking grew, I developed an interest in bushcraft, and suddenly the wicked gleam of my SOG’s clip point tip seemed like a limitation.
I “needed” another knife.
Enter Mora. I purchased the Mora Bushcraft Triflex knife after more research. The Mora company enjoys a well-deserved reputation for quality knives at reasonable prices. The Triflex was my first Scandinavian-ground knife, and I quickly fell in love with its versatility. It was an elegant, efficient tool, lighter than the SOG, and its carbon steel blade sharpened easily. I loved it!
But addictions don’t sleep. I kept researching, discovering the idea of a one-knife option: the ideal knife could do it all, from finer bushcraft tasks to heavy batonning. It must be out there somewhere. As my research continued, I came across naysayers who turned their noses down at Mora’s–“they aren’t full tang,” these survivalists said dismissively. It isn’t hard to find someone breaking a Mora on the internet, and this made me crave a knife as robust as my SOG but with a blade akin to my Mora. I didn’t have a lot of money for high-end options, so when I discovered a swath of positive reviews about the Condor Bushlore, I knew I had found fixed blade number three.
The Bushlore is mass-produced in El Salvador of 1075 carbon steel. Its spine is reassuringly thick, and yet not burdensome. Handsome hardwood scales sheath its full tang, attached with brass rivets. Finish quality is a bit iffy, but I set about finishing it and soon had a knife that felt good in the hand and worked well for bushcraft. It also came housed in a traditional leather sheath, a sheath of sufficient quality that most reviewers swore the sheath alone would have been worth the modest price of the knife. This knife was my beater blade: if it was full tang, I was going to test it. I brutalized it, developing affection for its quasi-ugly rusticity. I could tell the steel was not as resilient as it might have been, but the Bushlore was a satisfyingly robust knife that oozed tradition with its simple design, wooden scales, and thick leather sheath.
But it was heavy. Not unbearably so, but my addiction was directing me in a different direction. If I wanted to shave ounces when backpacking, how could I justify carrying a SOG or a Condor? Conveniently leaving my splendidly capable Triflex out of the equation (I needed, er, wanted another knife), my attention was drawn to the collaboration between Light My Fire and Mora, the FireKnife. After all, I was now working on my fire building skills; wouldn’t this light and handsome knife be the perfect choice? The FireKnife marked my return to stainless steel, and I have to say it is a brilliant design. It does what it should: for a very modest price, the FireKnife offers a capable fixed blade and an ingeniously embedded fire steel. It quickly became and remains my backpacking fixed blade of choice. It is sharp, light weight, and multi-use; it even batons modest thicknesses of wood, and its stainless blade is great for food processing.
But what about heavy-duty wood processing? Yes, you see where this is going. I now needed the ultimate in heavy-duty bushcraft blades, and my research led me to the TOPS Brothers of Bushcraft (BOB) Fieldcraft knife. This was out of my price range, but my parents surprised me one Christmas with this knife. Thick, well-balanced, and supremely comfortable in the hand, this is the knife I would grab if my life depended on a blade. For all its considerable mass, it is still reasonably agile, enabling me to do bushcraft chores. Because of its mass, it handles battoning with giddy ease. I like it for many reasons, but especially because it balances the size of a bushcraft knife with the heft of a heavier survival knife. This is a knife I have repeatedly pulled from its sheath just to savor its feel in my hands.
Obviously, this marked the end of my fixed blade knife collecting. Not so. Dan’s Depot advertised a Mora-style knife, the Woodsman, free with $4.95 shipping and handling. I bit and received a knife that was really a great value for the price. Was it a Mora killer? No; not close. But it was a great knife for $4.95, even if its sheath crumbled once when I sat on a log. I enjoyed putting it through the paces, testing something that no on really knew much about. My own skills were evolving, as were my understanding of what made a knife functional in a given context or for a given task.
The Mora Classic #2 was a $15 no-brainer when my next craving hit. Long lauded by bushcraft devotees for comfort, utility, and value, this venerably designed knife lived up to its reputation. The absence of a finger guard was initially disconcerting, and I was no fan of the functional, plastic rendering of a traditional leather sheath, but a first foray into Kydex fabrication gave me a new skill set to pursue–sheath making–that resulted in the #2 assuming its place in my collection.
One lovely afternoon in spring, a former student of mine appeared in my room, bearing a gift: a custom-designed, handmade bushcraft knife crafted from O1 steel. The spear point was a first in my collection, and I loved the hand feel of the small wood-scaled handle. A second Kydex sheath with fire steel loop was soon finished, allowing me to carry the knife safely. I plan to build a traditional bushcraft kit around this knife, adding to it my Gränsfors-Bruks Small Forest Axe and an oilskin pack. Given my ongoing trend of reducing my pack weight for backpacking treks, this traditional bushcraft kit will allow me to play with a different philosophy of use, and this little custom knife is ideal for this purpose.
Gear testing became a passion of mine somewhere along the journey, and I was given the SOG BladeLight Camp for a review. This knife is unlike anything I had before, combining six LEDs with a fixed blade knife. As with the Dan’s Depot Woodsman, I relished the chance to test something relatively untried. It also gave me an excuse to go camping and to indulge my night owl tendencies around a campfire while carving feathersticks or battoning wood. It remains a unique addition to my collection, one I plan to continue to test. I want to polish its edge to a mirror finish. I’m sure some survivalists would decry it as a sell-out from a company that has made “tacticool” blades, but that is too simplistic an assessment. I think it might make a nice alternative to my FireKnife as a backpacking option.
My latest addition is the Mora Companion. This–like its sister blade the Classic #2–is something of a legend in bushcraft circles, enjoyable an enviable reputation for all the same reasons that any Mora earns accolades: it is sharp, capable, and reasonably priced. I’ve not tested it yet: there is something to be said for anticipation, for slipping a new knife from its sheath and looking at the perfection of its untouched blade. The Companion’s Sandvik steels literally gleams. I know it is sharp, too, for a hasty removal from its sheath led to its edge brushing and instantly slicing open a finger tip. It was my own fault, an error as foolish as the one my fellow camper made with my SOG Seal Pup Elite, those years ago when I was first exploring knives. But I delighted in the rapidly pooling blood, for it betokened a razor-sharp blade, and bore silent witness to the joys still ahead that await me when I put my latest acquisition to the test. Latest, but not last.