The importance of a good solid knife is known by all practitioners of bushcraft, survival skills, and serious outdoorsmen alike. The ESEE-5, made by ESEE, formerly RAT Cutlery, is a beefy, no-nonsense knife that should fit the bill for serious outdoor endeavors, but one that you will probably want to leave at home for a day hike. This knife was, according to ESEE, designed and created with the help of Military SERE (Survive, Escape, Resist and Evade) Instructors as a hard-use downed pilot survival knife, and boy can you tell.
The first thing that should jump out at you from a quick review of the knife’s specs is the weight of this thing. 16z. Yes, this knife weighs in at 1 whole pound without the sheath, with the sheath it’s more like a 1.5 pounds. This is not a light or even medium weight knife by any stretch of the imagination. The weight of this bad boy comes from the fact that, at the knife’s spine, it is a whopping quarter inch thick and the blade itself is just over an inch and a half wide. The knife is only 5.25” long but, the last two stats should alert you to the solidness of this knife. As with any other ESEE products, this knife comes with a lifetime warranty that covers the knife for the life of its use even if traded or resold. The only things not covered by the warranty are misuse or rust damage.
ESEE choose to use 1095 carbon steel so oiling and care of the knife blade are important in the long run otherwise you will certainly run into rust issues. That said, I don’t know how you could misuse this knife in bushcraft setting. I have literally used this knife to baton through a log that normally one would split with an axe. As a knife designed for downed Airforce pilots, it is theoretically supposed to be able to help the pilot escape from the cockpit of the aircraft that he/she finds them-self trapped inside of after crash-landing. With a glass breaker on the pommel and the girth of the blade itself, this knife is as prepared for the task as any knife could be. The saber grind of the blade is well equipped for all sorts of cutting tasks and if you opt for the partially serrated model you would be more than equipped to cut right through aircraft aluminum. Since most of us who will own or use this knife will probably not have to worry about cutting our way out of the cockpit of an aircraft, the ability of this knife to handle normal bushcraft cutting tasks is probably a more pressing concern when considering this knife for your kit.
Again, this knife has a saber grind, and this grind is well-suited for many cutting tasks. I took this knife with me to Mountain Shepherd Wilderness Survival School in Virginia and throughout the entire course, I used solely this knife to complete all of the bushcraft tasks that we learned and practiced. These tasks included, processing medium size timber for shelter building, processing medium to small-sized timber for fire-craft, finer work creating feather sticks and small tinder from larger sized wood, as well as any other menial cutting tasks I needed to perform such as cutting lengths of paracord, opening packaging of food, digging in dead logs for wood roaches. (according to our instructor, when roasted they taste oddly shrimp-like).
Since the steel is 1095, the blade can be made razor sharp without huge effort and for most normal use tasks maintains that razor sharpness for a good period of time. Even with heavy use, like felling a tree, the blade has still maintained an above average level of sharpness in my experience. In the pictures below you will see that the knife blade, while not quite as long as one might prefer for a chopper, is fully capable of chopping through small trees. (I also included a picture at the end of the sequence of how the knife does with shaving wood or creating a feather stick) I would attribute the weight and heft of the knife to its chopping ability as this weight helps provide some driving force behind each chop.
The handles of the knife are made out of Canvas Micarta scales and are extremely durable and hold a good grip even when wet. With a bare hand or a gloved one, I have never felt that a different material would be better suited for the handles of this knife. These scales come standard on the knife when ordered but certain dealer’s websites offer custom G-10 handles for the ESEE-5 in various patterns and colors if you want to customize your knife. The stock handles include a bow drill divot that is intended to be used when creating fire with a bow drill. Depending on the size of the drill that you use this divot is either very useful, or completely useless, but is a functional feature on the knife none-the-less. The size of the blade stock plus the handles attached makes the grip of this knife relatively chunky for my hands, (I have medium-sized hands) so someone with smaller hands might find the grip of this knife rather cumbersome.
The sheath that comes with this knife is great! It is injected molded Kydex and has a safety device built into it for retention of the knife during hiking or climbing. The fit of the sheath to the knife is outstanding, even with the safety “off”, when fully pushed into the sheath the knife is very tight and doesn’t stand much chance of jumping out. With the safety “on” there is no possibility at all of the knife falling out of that sheath, even if you are rappelling upside down off of a cliff face, it’s not going anywhere. The Kydex is durable and has survived some falls, both by itself and with my full weight on it. My only complain about the sheath is the belt clip. The clip is fairly tight and stays attached well to the belt but I feel that it is the one weak point on the sheath, and would be the first place that the sheath is going to give. Also, because it is only a fixed belt-clip, there is a lack of options for attaching and wearing the knife to you or your kit. ESEE does make a MOLLE sheath for the knife that is much more customizable in its attachment but this does not come standard and must be bought separately.
The knife is relatively affordable compared to other knives of the similar quality. ESEE lists the knife and sheath at an MSRP of $262 but you can find the knife with sheath through most dealers between $130 and $160. You can purchase this knife in many different color options from OD Green like mine, but also black, tan, venom green, with different options in scale color as well. You also have the option of a partially serrated blade or not. It certainly isn’t the cheapest knife, but with the lifetime warranty through ESEE and the quality of the knife, it is an outstanding buy and a knife that will last through years of heavy use and abuse if you know how to properly take care of it.
I would highly recommend this knife to anybody who is going on any extended trips in the backcountry or is looking for a heavy use knife in extreme conditions where durability is of extreme importance. I would NOT recommend this knife for somebody who is looking for a knife to accomplish very delicate tasks such as whittling or skinning an animal. There are plenty of knives that are cheaper and much smaller and lighter that can accomplish these tasks better and without adding so much pack weight. Admittedly, when I go backpacking I bring this knife but also bring a much smaller fixed blade skinner or similar folding knife for small delicate tasks. Despite that, this is a great knife for an affordable price that is beyond rugged and can handle almost anything you throw at it, including the fuselage of an airplane. Knife Specs from ESEE’s website Overall Length: 11.0″ Blade Length: 5.25″ Thickness: .25″ Steel: 1095 Carbon, 55-57 Rc Finish: Textured Powder Coat Blade Width: 1.56″ Grind: Saber Weight (Knife Only): 16 Ounces Handles: Canvas Micarta Sheathing: Kydex Sheath W/ Clip Plate Features: Glass Breaker, Bow Drill Divot Spine: Thumb Jimping ESEE’s website http://www.eseeknives.com/esee-5.htm