I see a lot of people spending a lot of money on features they either don’t need or that don’t make sense when it comes to survival knives. There are quite a few survival knife manufacturers out there. In the following video, take some time to touch on some of the survival knives that I have used or seen used in hard use environments for extended periods of time. As always, the video merely serves as a primer. Figure out what you need and what your price point is and go from there.
The ESEE-6 is one of the best survival knives you can own. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as all products put forth by ESEE Knives/Randall’s Adventure & Training have been met with nothing but high praise. The ESEE lineup is exactly what we want our gear to be, not just made in the USA, but the absolute best and second to none.
The ESEE-6 blade is made of 1095 carbon steel. You’ll see 1095 steel used for most survival knives on the market. The reason being is that it is fairly inexpensive to produce, but it is also a tough steel that is going to be able to take the incessant abuse one would put it through in a survival situation. The blade is easy to sharpen and will retain its edge fairly well. The only downside of 1095 steel is that it is going to be more likely to corrode. The coating on the ESEE knives do help but will eventually come off so be prepared with non-toxic oil or grease.
The ESEE-6 is slightly thinner than the ESEE-5 which was designed with downed pilots in mind (who would need to use the knife to pry metal) but it is the longest blade of the ESEE line, offering a lot of real estate to work with. This makes tasks like batoning wood effortless. Some enthusiasts fervently oppose using a knife to baton wood but rest assured, Rowen Manufacturing has an excellent heat treatment process that produces much tougher steel than its competitors.
My one and only gripe with the ESEE-6 is the standard molded sheath that comes with the knife. While the same plastic sheath secures the smaller ESEE models quite well, the ESEE-6 doesn’t seat securely and rattles. I don’t have experience with any specific aftermarket sheaths, but I recommend you forgo ordering the molded plastic sheath from ESEE and instead find a Kydex sheath elsewhere.
Are there much better survival knives out there than the ESEE-6? Yes. Depending on your needs and operating environment, you might need a knife with different specifications or features. However, the ESEE 6 is the perfect archetype for most survival situations, especially for its price. I’ve stood by ESEE Knives for good reason and have observed nothing short of high-quality craftsmanship in every model I’ve owned or sampled. The ESEE-6 deserves a spot in everyone’s adventure or bug-out bag.
*All photos courtesy of the author, Matt Jin
ESEE knives are popular amongst Loadout Room writers. From the SERE instructor to our editor, ESEE knives receive a lot of praise and for a good reason. I have owned an ESEE 6 for years, but I only recently got my hands on the ESEE-3 MIL, and it certainly does not disappoint. The ESEE-3 MIL may be the smallest out of the ESEE lineup, but its a versatile knife tailored to meet the needs of military personnel, law enforcement, and bushcrafters alike.
- Overall Length: 8.31″
- Cutting Edge Length: 3.38″
- Overall Blade Length: 3.88″
- Maximum Thickness: .125″
- 1095 Carbon Steel, 55 – 57 Rc.
- Weight: 5.2 Ounces (Knife Only)
- Weight: 9.3 Ounces (Knife w/ Sheath)
- Molded Sheet & Clip Plate
My thoughts and review
Superior heat treatment process
Knife experts know that Rowen Manufacturing uses a superior heat treatment process that makes ESEE Knives some of the best outdoors knives in the world. For those of you who are unfamiliar, heat treatment for knives is the process of altering the properties in the steel by putting it through extreme temperatures. You can have two knives of the same exact steel, but depending on the heat treatment applied, one can immensely outperform the other. The heat treatment process will determine how hard and tough your knife is as well as how well it can hold its edge. For this reason, heat treatment processes are proprietary and therefore a manufacturer’s reputation is monumental to its success. Rowen Manufacturing and ESEE Knives have a prestige that is well-deserved and never fails to disappoint.
For those of you more interested in learning about the heat treatment process, you can check out this 15-minute video for an expert illustration.
The ESEE-3 MIL’s size is probably the most important factor to consider. I can’t offer any general reassurances on the matter, but I can say that I find the knife to be a convenient size and weight. The handle feels small in the hand, but it isn’t so small that you can’t achieve a strong grip on the knife. The blade’s choil and aggressive jimping along the spine help tremendously with controlling the knife. I find that the ESEE-3 MIL’s size adds to its versatility rather than being a drawback. In certain environments, carrying a smaller fixed blade may be preferable to avoid appearing too menacing. For those of you who want a concealable knife, the ESEE-3 MIL is a practical size to do so. The biggest appeal of this knife is that you can always have it on you without having to worry about additional weight, bulkiness, or discomfort.
1095 steel isn’t something you would see in an EDC folder, but it is popular for bushcraft and survival knives for a reason. 1095 is a high carbon steel, it is designed to hold up to the abuse that you can expect to put it through in a survival situation. In addition to being an ideal steel, Rowen Manufacturing’s heat treatment brings out the best of the steel. The ESEE-3 MIL is going to be a knife that sharpens well, but still holds its edge, and doesn’t break on you when you need it most. The one downside for all of its perks is that it isn’t corrosion-resistant. ESEE Knives require continued maintenance, but the upkeep is minimal. A word of advice, if you plan to use your ESEE knife to prepare food, ensure that you are using a non-toxic oil or lubricant when maintaining it.
If I could change one thing about the ESEE-3 MIL, it would be to replace the Micarta handle. Micarta makes for a strong and durable handle, but the material offers poor texture and therefore, a poor grip on the knife. Fortunately, the scales are replaceable, and there are other aftermarket options. The Micarta handle isn’t an absolute deal-breaker though. It looks good on the ESEE-3 MIL, it just isn’t the most practical material that I would want on a handle, especially if I might have to use it in a wet environment. I will say that the canvas Micarta does feel slightly more textured than the linen Micarta handles, but certainly not as much as it looks to be (looks can be deceiving).
ESEE boasts a 100% unconditional lifetime guarantee. According to their warranty page, “This means if you break it, we will repair or replace it. We will not question the validity of your warranty claim for a broken knife. Warranty is lifetime and transferable.” Considering that the ESEE 3 is about a $100 knife, more than an average Joe would want to spend, it’s comforting to know that you can push your ESEE knife to its absolute limits.
- Lightweight (5.2 oz)
- Superior heat treatment
- Tough enough to handle any task
- Micarta handle can feel a little too smooth
- Will easily rust if not maintained
ESEE knives have rightfully earned their place among the military, bushcraft, and outdoors communities. Their popularity stems not just from their aesthetic look, but their proven and reliable performance in the field. The ESEE-3 MIL may not be a heavy duty bushcraft knife like its big brothers, but its combination of features makes it the most versatile knife capable of performing many field tasks. The ESEE-3 MIL is my fixed knife of choice when it comes to a day hike or short wilderness trip. If the ESEE-3 MIL seems too small for your liking, consider the ESEE 4. At the time of writing this review, the ESEE-3 MIL has an MSRP of $188.60 but is available for about $100 from other online retailers. Additionally, ESEE offers exclusive discounts for all law enforcement and active duty military service members.
As always, if you have any experience with ESEE Knives, let us know what you think in the comments below!
I wiped my brow and looked at my students going through S-V80A, more commonly known as SERE training or Survival school. It was a bitter, cold afternoon in mid-February, the snow was a minimum 4 feet deep and we had pulled into camp several hours before for our first day of Survival training in the field. I had just finished cutting down a tree and bolting it up into kindling. “Alright” I said, “Make big sticks little sticks”. And my students gathered their wood and prepared to do so, drawing their issued Ontario Company Air Force Survival Knives or as we called them, “bolt knives”.
My students prepared to split their wood using the “beater stick” method. Wherein they place their bolt knives on top of the bolt of wood, cutting edge into the wood, and use a large stick to beat the blade through in order to split it. I was sheathing my issued ESEE 4 knife when I heard a soft twang. “Shiiiiittt” muttered one of my students holding up his bolt knife which had broken in half at the hilt. This is far from a rare occurrence and I almost count on it at this point. The bolt knife just isn’t suited for the type of hard survival work that we teach our students. When I think of a survival knife I think of something I can hammer through a tree. The bolt knife while technically “full tang” has a tendency to bend easily and break within a short period of time.
Since 2014 USAF SERE Specialist Trainees are issued ESEE 4’s once they arrive at Fairchild AFB to begin training. If you finish training you keep the knife. I’m not here to say that the ESEE 4 is the best survival knife currently made. Far from it – however, what I think it is, is a viable option for those who don’t wish to spend a lot of cash but want a lot of performance. The ESEE 4 is a full tang, 1095 steel blade that is 3/16“ thick with a full flat grind and is had for right around 100 bucks. I have no doubt there are other knives out there that will perform better or as well for the less or the same price but I’ve yet to personally use them. Most knives that I’ve seen students and SERE Specialists bring to the field that cost around the same tend to break or not perform for as long as the ESEE 4 has.
The Good, the bad, and the Ugly.
The ESEE 4 for better or worse uses 1095 steel. It holds an edge well and isn’t difficult to sharpen. You can easily get this knife “shaving” sharp. However 1095 is fairly susceptible to rust, unfortunately, the coating used on the ESEE 4 comes off fairly easily. I’ve read reviews from other authors who state that they’ve used the ESEE 4 for months and the coating never comes off. Clearly, their definition of use differs from mine.
Admittedly SERE Specialists are notoriously hard on knives as we take them through a variety of different environments and temperature ranges. We expect much. I’ve found that the coating on the ESEE 4 knives that we’ve been issued begins to come off after 2 weeks of hard use. The exposed 1095 steel on the knife can then rust very easily depending on the environment. I’ve remedied this in the past by using coatings of clear coat or spray paint before heading out to the field. When the finish inevitably wears off I apply chapstick as a expedient method to stop rust when I have no other options. I’m looking to have a more permanent coating put on in the very near future. The blade thickness feels perfect for me. The 3/16” thickness gives it the perfect amount of weight. I’ve hammered this blade, pried with it, drilled with it, and whittled with it. The finger choil allows me to choke up on the blade for fine work and makes sharpening the bottom of the blade closest to the hilt much easier.
The ESEE 4 that I was issued uses a canvas Micarta grip which is adequate in most environments that I’ve found myself in. When I first held the ESEE 4 in my hand the grip felt thin compared to the bolt knife I was used to using. However, I grew used to it and the ESEE 4 has now grown on me. The grip feels perfect when using gloves though admittedly thin without.
The ESEE 4 isn’t perfect, the finish comes off easily, 1095 is susceptible to rust and the grip feels thin without gloves. However, this knife has gone through 2 years of survival, evasion, resistance and escape training in every environment known and in inclement weather. I’ve treated this knife as the survival implement it is. While it has its shortcomings I’ve found that for the price it’s a good knife that performs and won’t let you down when you need it. I would not feel under gunned if I had this knife in a survival situation.
Fans of ESEE will remember we recently covered the Expat Cleaver. The Expat Cleaver was the first of many planned Expat knives designed by ESEE forum member and world traveler “Expat”. Like all Esee knives, the design comes from folks who are noted survival experts. At SHOT Show 2018 I had the chance to connect with the awesome crew at Randall’s Adventure/ESEE. There I saw the second and soon to be released third knife in the Expat line. Today we are talking about the second, the Expat Machete, known as the Libertariat.
A Machete is a Machete right?
The Libertariat is a little different than the standard machete. It’s only 14 inches long, with a 9-inch blade. The end is squared off into a non-point and when sheathed it looks more akin to a fixed blade knife. The small size was to make it a light and easy to carry survival tool. It only weighs 13 ounces and it’s hard to notice on your belt. ESEE makes plenty of machetes, but the Expat Libertariat Machete is something entirely different. It’s small, easy to swing, and it slices and dices very well.
Putting the Libertariat to Work
The Libertariat is a pretty machete. The wood handle, square blade and the Condor Classic finish just gel well together. When you consider the fact that the Libertariat is a limited run of only 550 machetes it seems crazy I wouldn’t make it a wall hanger. That’s just not our style. If you want to see pretty pictures of pretty gear there are plenty of magazines and websites for that.
Instead, I cut a tree down.
The Libertariat is a working tool that just happens to be a limited edition and eye pleasing. My first bit of work was to be clearing a small section of brush I have in my backyard growing around a tree stump and a boulder. With my son’s infinite six-year-old imagination the tree stump and boulder have become a playground for him. It certainly needed a good debrushing.
I used the Libertariat and only the Libertariat Machete to put to work. I sliced and diced through vines, palmettos, and even cut down low hanging branches that were several inches thick. Even with stopping to take photos it took me less than an hour. Once you master the proper means to chop and slash it becomes easy to chew through what was in front of it.
Surprisingly enough the handle staid comfortable and I never felt hot spots, or discomfort when chopping.
That tree I cut down earlier… Well, I decided I needed to chop it up a bit. So I made a nice little pile for burning a bit later. Admittedly midway through chopping through this log my hand was a little tired. That’s an exaggeration, my hand was tired as hell. My right hand is still tired as I type this.
Using it to Baton Wood
The Libertariat’s spine is thick and flat which makes it nice for batoning wood. Batoning wood is basically splitting wood with a knife. You plant the Expat Machete’s blade into the wood and use a second log to hammer the blade through the wood. Being capable of doing this makes the Liberteriat a mini hand ax when necessary. I haven’t batonned much wood in my life, but I figured it out pretty quickly when wielding the Libertariat.
A Draw Knife
The hole in the top portion of the blade isn’t there to reduce weight, or to allow you to hand the machete up, it there to turn the Expat machete into a draw knife. Or at least as close as you can get to a draw knife.
You stick a strong stick through the hole and use it as a secondary handle. Then you use the machete to strip the bark from a tree or to shave off tinder. This isn’t as easy as a real draw knife of course, but in a pinch, it works. It’s not a woodworking tool, but a survival tool, so remember that carpenters.
Striking a Match
The Expat machete features a 90 degree curved spine which may not mean much to you if this is a yard working tool. However, for a survival or camping tool it’s a nice touch. It makes striking a ferro rod for fire easy and possible. The blade is short enough that this isn’t a hazard and the sharp corner of the spine makes it easy to strike a ferro rod.
The only downside I really have is the sheath. While it’s completely suitable as a sheath and carries the machete well, it just comes up to high. It eats half the handle, and pulling it out is a little tricky. A minor complaint for a fantastic knife.
Overall the Libertariat is a robust, and capable machete. It’s like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, little but fierce. It’s strong, sharp, and an excellent bushcraft tool. If you need to hack through small trees, vines, limbs, and more It’s up to the task.
A bit earlier this week I received the ESEE-4 made by Randall’s adventure and training out of Alabama. The ESEE-4 is a fixed blade knife with a 4-inch blade, and the blade itself is made from 1095 carbon steel. The ESEE-4 is a full tang and feature two grip panels. The first time I pulled the knife out of the box I was impressed by the heft of the thing. At 7.7 ounces this little knife is a fat bottom girl. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s immediately apparent the ESEE-4 is made for hard work. This isn’t a toss around camp knife, but a knife that is designed to be used heavily.
First and foremost the grip is nice and thick. The grip panels are made from the always popular canvas micarta material. The grips are nice and thick, with a rounded profile on each side. When you are planning to use a knife for hard work, actual rough stuff, the grip width is important. A thin grip is going to wear on the hand quickly, forcing cramps and fatigue to set in. In the hand, the knife is superbly comfortable, and if you’ve never felt canvas micarta grips you don’t realize how awesome the material is. Canvas micarta grips are designed to last significantly longer than wood or standard plastics and rubbers. The material is soft in the hand but stippled for extra grip. It doesn’t feel rough and stippled, but run your thumb over the material and you’ll see how the grip material naturally grips skin.
The blade is .125 inches thick, which makes it strong and durable. You also have plenty of room on the back of the blade to rest your thumb for extra leverage when cutting heavy. The blade is coated with a rough blade finish that clings to the blade to protect it from rust and reduce glare. 1095 carbon is an excellent choice for a survival or outdoor’s knife because it is designed for hard use and capable of being extremely strong. The only downside is the material can and will rust and stain. Randall’s does give the knives a strong finish, but you should always ensure the blade is cleaned and oiled.
The knife also comes with an excellent leather sheath. It’s a hard, strong leather that covers and protects the entire blade. There is no active retention device like a thong or snap. The holster works off passive retention, but trust me when I say it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. This holster keeps the knife firmly in place regardless of any jumping, bumping, falling or climbing. It’s difficult for me to pull the blade out of the sheath, so retention isn’t an issue. The hard black leather holster has ESEE carved firmly into it. The holster itself is pretty attractive, though, and retain a simple, but classic appearance.
Overall the knife appears to be well built, simple, and comfortable to use. As a survival tool, it appears to be top notch. The next task will be to toss it into the wilderness and see how it fairs. I only wish it was hunting season and I can test it as a skinner. However, I have a few things in mind that I think will give me a better idea at what this blade can do. I have to mention the knife comes in a pragmatic box, which has the backed covered in awesome survival instructions, tricks, and tips. It also comes with two wallet sized cards with similar tips and tricks. Lastly, Randall covers the knife with a no questions asked warranty that is fully transferable between any and all owners. The only thing they don’t cover is rust, and if this rusts it’s your fault anyway.
Overall Length: 9.0″
Blade Length: 4.5″
Blade Thickness: 3/16″
Ambidextrous Molded Sheath with MOLLE Back
Weight: 7.4 oz.
Photos by author