3 Outstanding Survival Knives For Backpackers

What are the 3 outstanding survival knives for backpackers?

What are the 3 outstanding survival knives for backpackers? The backpacking world has many trekking methods. There is thru-hiking, ultra-light hiking, multi-day hiking, day-hiking, and rucking. All of these styles of backpacking have their associated gear. The common gear items among them is a fixed blade knife, multi-tool, and folding blade knife.
The subject of the best knives or tools for outdoorsman is a matter of opinion and experience. Most articles that one reads reviewing knives and tools often reflect the personal preferences of the authors. Arguments are given for the various reasons as to why a particular knife or multitool gets top billing. Ultimately, settling on the best knife or tool is up to you, the consumer and end-user of the products that are on the market.

Criteria For Selection

The following list of budget-friendly knives reflects my personal use of these knives and my experience with them in the field. There are three basic levels of cost for purchasing knives: budget-friendly or low cost, middle range cost, and high-end or expensive. In this article, I will cover the best budget friendly survival knives for backpackers. The criteria for the selection of the individual knives is: cost (less than $100), quality, and practicality for hiking or backpacking.

1. The Light My Fire® Swedish Fire Knife® (Stainless Steel)

 

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The Swedish Fire Knife is one of the best knives that a backpacker can carry on the trail. The knife is a collaborative effort between Light My Fire® and Morakniv®. This knife is a Morakniv. Morakniv produces some the best budget-friendly knives on the market. Many of the outdoor and survival experts agree that a Morakniv product is a wise choice for those with limited resources. The Swedish Fire Knife is one of the more versatile of the Mora knife products.

 
This knife produced by Morakniv for the Light My Fire® company is a versatile and durable knife for backpackers. Unlike bushcrafters, backpackers carry most of their needs on the trail. Primitive skills or bushcrafting skills are an added bonus if a backpacker has these skills. However, most backpackers carry gear that addresses their needs. Therefore, a standard bushcrafting knife might be overkill for most backpackers. The Swedish Fire Knife is perfect for the needs of the backpacker.

Overall Impressions

There are several great qualities with the Swedish Fire Knife that backpackers should consider. The first positive with the knife is its blade. The blade is made of stainless steel with a satin finish. However, there is a carbon steel blade version of this knife. The characteristics of the blade allow for ease of maintenance in the field. The knife will stay sharp and will not rust or corrode. These qualities in the blade make it an ideal knife for backpackers, especially day-hikers and weekend backpackers.

 
The next positive aspect of the knife is the blade length. The length of the blade is just under 4 inches. The blade length makes the knife ideal as a belt knife that will not be cumbersome around the waist when wearing a backpack or mounted on the shoulder strap of your backpack.

 
Another great quality with the knife is durability. The Swedish Fire Knife has both a stainless steel blade and a rubberized handle. The implications are that Morakniv designed the knife to last in the field under normal use. I have also noticed that the rubber handle reduces slippage on the hand when the knife is being used in wet weather. That is a great quality when you are trying to set up your bivouac area when it is raining.

 
A third great quality of the knife is its practicality for use with backpacking, hiking, and other recreational outdoor applications. The knife has a fire steel (ferro rod) built into the handle. The feature allows for a fire making tool that is not attached to a knife sheath or on a separate lanyard. Because the knife has its own fire steel, the blade is ground to a sharp 90° angle. This blade feature allows for scraping tree bark or using with a larger ferro rod. Additionally, the knife blade is thin enough for processing fish or small game.

2. Morakniv Garberg (Stainless Steel)

 

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The Morakniv® Garberg is Mora’s full tang knife. It was initially marketed with a stainless steel blade. More recently, Mora began offering the knife with a 1095 high carbon steel blade. The stainless steel blade seems to work best for those who spend limited amounts of time outdoors. Therefore, the Garberg with the stainless steel blade is recommended.
Furthermore, Morakniv also offers two different sheaths for the knife: leather and polymer. The polymer sheath is called the Multi-mount Sheath. It allows for a traditional belt mount or PALS mount configuration for MOLLE gear. The Garberg is a great full-tang knife option for those wanting a more traditional, yet budget-friendly, bushcraft survival-type knife.

Overall Impressions

The Garberg is very versatile in the tasks that it can be used for in the field. It can help with making wooden stakes or toggles for setting up your tent or tarp. The knife is good for processing wood for making fires. This knife also is useful for processing fish or game. The blade spine is a robust 90°. Therefore, it is excellent for striking sparks from a ferro rod or scraping tasks to make tinder.

3. Ontario Knife Company® Air Force Survival Knife (499)

 

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The Ontario Knife Company® Air Force Survival Knife (499) is another outstanding knife for backpackers. The Air Force Survival Knife has been around since the late 1950s. It was the standard survival knife issued to U.S. military pilots for almost fifty years. The longevity of the knife’s use by the U.S. military is a testament to its quality. The knife saw its most extensive use in the jungle warfare of Vietnam in the 1960s. Later, it was adopted by many recreational outdoorsman in the 1970s and 1980s. The Air Force Survival Knife is a great addition to your kit if you are looking for a quality, budget-friendly fixed-blade knife. If you want to know more about the Air Force Survival Knife, you can read my article The Short History Of The Air Force Survival Knife.

Overall Impressions

The Air Force Survival Knife is a great knife for backpacking. The blade is not too long. Yet, the blade is made of 1095 carbon steel. This steel allows for making sparks with flint rock. The notched spine is excelling for small notch making tasks. The flat part of the spine near the hand guard is ground to 90°. This feature makes it compatible for use with a ferro rod. The fine edge on the blade makes for ease of sharpening in the field with the accompanying sharpening stone.

One drawback with the knife is that its sheath is only compatible for wearing on a belt. Therefore, for those wanting a MOLLE compatible sheath for a fixed-blade knife will have to seek one from another company. Some critics make complaints about the hand guard between the handle and blade is not necessary. However, those who make that criticism are seeking a bushcrafting knife. The Air Force Survival Knife is not a bushcrafting knife.

Final Thoughts

Backpackers love the outdoors. As such, it is wise to carry a fixed-blade knife with you. There are many great knives on the market at various prices levels. Those wanting to stay within a budget will find that these knives meet that criterion. These are quality knives and will not let you down when you are on the trail. Therefore, consider wisely the knife that you carry on your next adventure.

A Short History of the U. S. Army M-1950 Lensatic Compass

The history of the U. S. Army Lensatic Compass is relatively unknown. Yet, the origins of the compass are interesting.

The U. S. Army lensatic compass is an iconic land navigation device. Its decades of use by the U. S. Army, Air Force, Marines, and SOF make this compass one the best ever produced. Furthermore, the history of this piece of military gear is relatively unknown. Much like the history of the Air Force Survival Knife, the background about the military lensatic compass is minimal. The compass is undoubtedly not the first to employ the lensatic sighting system. However, it did standardize the use of the lensatic sighting system. Yet, the origins of the compass are interesting.

Origins Of The Lensatic Compass

The Schmacalder Compass

The current version of the U. S. Army Lensatic Compass finds its roots in similar compass styles in use before World War II. The current lensatic compass is an evolution from the older hand-held sighting and surveyor’s compasses in use during the 19th and early 20th centuries. For example, on March 5, 1812, Charles Augustus Schmacalder, an optician and instrument maker, received a patent for his prismatic sighting compass design from the Royal Patent Office in London. His design is the first to feature a folding prismatic sighting mechanism that is similar to the one on the current military lensatic compass. The Schmacalder Compass was the standard prismatic compass in use by the British Army throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s before World War I.

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The Schmalcalder Compass

The Verner Compass

Later, Colonel William Willoughby Cole Verner of the British Army improved Schmacalder’s design for a pocket compass. Verner’s compasses are sometimes referred to as marching compasses. These marching compasses were used for moving mounted and dismounted infantry units across the late 19th-century battlefield. Verner’s compasses are the first to look more like the modern military lensatic compass. It had a folding lid, folding wire sight, and folding prism eyesight. They were carried in a leather pouch that was attached to a British officer’s waist belt. Verner’s compass became the standard pocket field compass for the British Army throughout World War I.

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The Verner Marching Compass

The U. S. Army Needs A New Compass

The Pocket Watch-type Compass

By contrast, the pocket or hand-held compasses that were in use with the U. S. Army during World War I resembled modified pocket watches. The reason for this phenomenon is that most of the compasses in use by the U. S. Army during that era were manufactured by watch companies. Examples of such compasses are the Waltham Watch Company Pocket Compass. Cruchon & Emons of London and the Plan, Ltd of Neuchatel Switzerland also made pocket compasses for the U. S. Army during World War I. The C&E and Plan company pocket watches are early attempts at a mirrored pocket sighting compass.

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Waltham Pocket Compass

The M-1938 Lensatic Compass

Undoubtedly, U. S. Army service personnel became aware of the Verner prismatic compasses while serving with their British counterparts in World War I. The Army authorized research and development projects to develop a new compass at the request of the U. S. Army’s Infantry School in Fort Benning. The first of these R&D projects for a new compass was issued on March 21, 1928. The agency responsible for the research and development of compasses for the U.S. Army, at that time, was The Engineering and Topographic Laboratories at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Additional research projects were issued until 1938. Special Project 280 (SP-280) was authorized on October 21, 1938, to find a suitable commercial lensatic compass for the Infantry that met the Infantry School’s requirements. The Engineer Board did not discover a commercial compass that met the standards published by the Infantry School. However, two companies, The W. &L. E. Gurley Company and The Taylor Instrument Company offered to make new compass prototypes based on the Infantry School’s requirements. After the testing and modifications of their compasses, they were recommended for procurement in 1940. Both manufacturers supplied compasses to the U. S. Army during World War II. Their compasses were designated as the M-1938 Lensatic Compass.

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M-1938 Lensatic Compass

The M-1950 Lensatic Compass

Liquid Filled Dampening

The U. S. Army continued to suggest improvements to the M-1938 lensatic compass throughout World War II. For example, there were several attempts to solve the mechanical dampening problem with the lensatic compass. In short, they were attempting to find ways to keep the compass needle from oscillating when taking a bearing. Reducing oscillation of the needle helps to gain a more accurate reading when taking an azimuth and bearing for land navigation. A liquid was commonly used for dampening in the lensatic compasses through most of World War II. The use of liquid dampening was a better option for the technology of the times. However, experimentation with the dampening process continued throughout the war.

Induction Dampening

According to Pennington, the Superior Magnetic Corporation discovered how to dampen the lensatic compass without using liquid through the employment of the induction dampening principle. Induction dampening uses the electromagnetic field to control needle oscillation instead of liquid. The compass well was made of copper which allowed the magnetic field to act as a dampener on needle movement. The company’s effort resulted in the lensatic and wrist compasses incorporating induction dampening by the middle of 1945. These new compasses were quickly procured and issued to military service personnel in the waning days of the war.

Standardizing The Lensatic Compass

In 1947, there was a renewed emphasis on developing a more standardized lensatic compass. The push for a more standardized and improved compass was part of a more extensive program of standardizing equipment across all of the services after World War II (see my article on the Air Force Survival Knife). The Taylor Instrument Company and the Brunson Instrument Company submitted prototype compasses that met the published specifications and standards by the U. S. Army. The Brunson compass was accepted, and the project for developing a new standardized lensatic compass was completed in 1952. The new lensatic compass was designated Compass, Magnetic, M-1950.

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The Brunson Lensatic Compass

The Modern U. S. Army Lensatic Compass

The M-1950 Lensatic Compass is a design that is still in use by the various military services of the United States Department of Defense. Improvements and modifications have continued on the compass. However, the basic look, construction, and employment of the compass has mostly remained unchanged over its nearly seventy-year history. The government contract to supply the lensatic compass to the military has changed hands over the life cycle of the compass. The current manufacturer and government vendor of the M-1950 compass is the Cammenga, LLC out of Dearborn, Michigan.

The Cammenga Lensatic Compass

Cammenga produces two versions of the M-1950 compass for the U. S. Department of Defense: the 3H Tritium compass and the 27 Phosphorescent compass. The only real difference between these two compasses is the material used to meet the self-illuminating features required by the military standards. Cammenga also offers the compass in two magnetic orientations: northern hemisphere (needle points to the magnetic north pole) and southern hemisphere (needle points the magnetic south pole).

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Cammenga 3H Lensatic Compass

Concluding Thoughts

The U. S. Army Lensatic Compass has proven its value over the last sixty years. Its development can be traced to the first prismatic and pocket compasses of the nineteenth centuries. The endurance of the design and construction of the current lensatic compass is a testament to the innovative engineers at the Brunson Instrument Company. Cammenga carries on the high standards for the construction of the M-1950 compass. The M-1950 Lensatic compass is an essential piece of gear for those heading to the outdoors. It requires some practice in using it, especially in land navigation. However, one will not be disappointed by the U. S. Army Lensatic Compass.

For additional information see the following articles:

https://olive-drab.com/od_soldiers_gear_compass_lensatic.php.

http://northingeasting.blogspot.com/2012/05/history-revealed-origins-of-army.html.

Gear Review: The Buck Knives Omni Hunter 10 Pt Fixed Blade Knife

The Buck Knives® Omni Hunter™ 10pt knife is an ideal fixed-blade knife for hikers and backpackers. Let’s see why.

The Buck Knives® Omni Hunter™ 10pt knife is an ideal fixed-blade knife for hikers and backpackers. I was searching for a budget-friendly, fixed-blade knife that was more practical for backpacking rather than for bushcrafting, hunting, or tactical applications. Many kinds of knives function well on the trail. The Morakniv® Bushcrafter™ and Garberg™ are examples of such knives. However, I desired to find an American-made knife that has the characteristics that are useful to hiking or backpacking.

My searching for a good knife useful for hiking or backpacking led to a knife meeting specific criteria. The knife had to have the following features. The blade has to be one that is fixed and full-tang. The blade grind needs to be flat, scandi, or hollow. The blade material 420 HC stainless steel or better. The blade length can be no longer than 5.5 inches. The handle or scales must be durable in all kinds of terrain and weather. Additionally, the knife should be able to fit a belt-worn or MOLLE compatible sheath. Why should a knife have these criteria to make it compatible for backpacking?

Backpacking Knife Criteria

These knife features are best for hiking and backpacking due to personal field experience and the way knives are used on the trail. A fixed-blade and full-tang blade is the standard configuration for a field knife. There are many good reasons for this kind of knife configuration. Yet, for backpacking the main concern is safety. A fixed-blade knife does not have a locking mechanism that may fail under pressure like happens, at times, with a folding-blade knife. The blade grids are the easiest to keep sharp in the field with a pocket sharpener. A stainless steel blade does not rust under wet or humid conditions. Furthermore, this kind of knife is user-friendly to the recreational hiker or backpacker. Those serious about bushcraft, hunting, fishing, or survival preparedness will use more sophisticated and expensive knives.

General Description

The Buck Knives® Omni Hunter™ 10pt knife is listed by the manufacturer as a hunting knife. Its retail price is $48 on the company’s website. This price puts the knife in a category that is competitive with the Morakniv® and Ontario Knife Company® products. The total length of this knife is roughly 7 ¾ inches. It also comes with its own nylon sheath that can be worn on trouser belts two inches wide or less. What are the features of the Omni Hunter™ 10pt knife?

The Blade 

Measurements

The blade length on this knife is 3⅜ inches in a centerline measurement from point to handle. Buck Knives® lists the blade length as 3¼ inches. This is the measurement of the cutting edge of the blade. The blade is ⅛ of an inch thick and 1⅝ inches wide. The knife is small for many in the outdoor community.

Blade Shape

Blade shape of the knife is a drop point. The drop point style gives a knife blade more strength. It allows for heavier tasks like picking or prying. The form enables the knife to function effectively for general work applications, such as making feather sticks or notching tasks. The drop point helps to lower the risk of making accidental punctures when processing small or medium game. This blade is full bellied with a robust and thick point for more intense tasks.

Blade Material

Blade material for this knife is the 420HC stainless steel. 420HC is high carbon (HC) stainless steel that has excellent corrosion resistance and durability. One can easily sharpen the blade in the field. The edge stays reasonably well once sharpened. The blade is hardened to a Rockwell hardness of RC 58.

Blade Grind

The blade grind for this knife is a hollow grind with a secondary bevel. This is the most common knife grind. The hollow grind on a knife blade is best suited for cutting flesh and soft woods. Since this knife is categorized as a hunting knife by the manufacturer, it is understood that the primary purpose for this knife is processing game. However, for a weekend backpacker or hiker, it is adequate for cutting cordage or textile materials, processing fish, processing fire tinder, or making small game traps (e.g., figure four or snare trap).

Blade Spine

This knife has a unique blade spine. The blade has a curved 90° flat ground spine. The curve is shallow enough that it can be used to scrape a ferrocerium rod to make sparks for starting a campfire. The best place on the spine for striking sparks from a ferrocerium rod is just in front of the jimping. This is the technique that I use, and it works pretty consistently on the ferrocerium rod. The spine also has ¾ of an inch of jimping (notches) that start at the base of the handle. The spine notches enable holding the knife steady when doing carving tasks.

The Handle

The Omni Hunter™ 10pt does not have handle scales. The knife handle is encased in thick Alcryn® Rubber. The handle material reduces slipping when in use in rainy conditions. The handle has an ergonomic curve that fits well in your hand. It also has notches on the underside handle curve for added grip. The knife handle also has a lanyard hole if one chooses to put in a lanyard.

Additional Thoughts

This fixed-blade knife is outstanding for backpacking and hiking applications. It is not too large or too small for most people. People that wear large or extra-large gloves will have trouble with this knife. The Omni Hunter™ 12pt may be a better option for those will larger hands. However, it is perfect for those who wear small or medium size gloves.
Moreover, you may want to use another sheath than the one that comes with the knife, such as a custom Kydex® sheath. Overall, this knife is one the best suited for backpacking and hiking. Those that prefer the Morakniv® products might enjoy putting this knife to test. As with any knife, the Omni Hunter™ 10pt is not for everyone. Yet, this knife is for you if you are looking for an American-made fixed-blade knife that can compete with your trusted Morakniv®.

6 Awesome Christmas Gifts For The Backpacker

Christmas is just around the corner. Here are my top five gift considerations for the backpacker on your Christmas list.

Christmas is just around the corner. As we enter the holiday season, Thanksgiving is next week. We all know that the day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday; that first official day of Christmas shopping. As we consider what to purchase for our backpacking friends, here are my top five gift considerations for the backpacker on your Christmas list.

The Warbonnet Outdoors Traveler Hammock

The Traveler Hammock by Warbonnet Outdoors is a simple, no frills, end-gathered design. This hammock is a lightweight packable solution to your hammock needs. It was designed for people on the go. It will fit conveniently in your multi-day backpack, emergency kit in your car, or in the saddlebags of your motorcycle. You can check out my full review of this hammock accompanied by a video review at the following links:
Warbonnet Traveler Hammock Written Review
Warbonnet Traveler Hammock Video Review
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Warbonnet Traveler Hammock Purchase Links:

Sigma 3 Survival School Store

Warbonnet Outdoors

Columbia PFG Storm Rain Jacket (Packable)

Raingear in a backpack can occupy a lot more space than a person might expect. Packable raingear is the best solution for saving space in your pack if you are anticipating rain. The best rain gear that I have discovered is the Columbia PFG Storm Rain Jacket. This jacket packs into its own pocket so it’s easy to carry and always ready. Moreover, Columbia’s PFG line of clothing are designed for the fisherman with UV protection infused into the fabric of their shirts, pants, and headgear. However, they are great products for backpacking also. This a bonus for those spending time outdoors on the trail. The PFG Storm Rain Jacket is a great compliment to the PFG line and is a great solution to your raingear needs as a backpacker.

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Columbia PFG Storm Rain Jacket (Packable) Purchase Link:

Columbia Outdoors

Amazon.com

 

Tilley LTM6 AIRFLO® Hat

The Tilley LTM6 Airflo Hat is a wonderful piece of head gear. I personally own one and use on the trail. It is a lightweight brimmed hat with a storage pocket on the inside crown. It also has UV protection integrated into the fabric of the hat. Additionally, the rain repellant qualities of the hat fabric also gives it some buoyancy in water.

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Tilley LTM6 Airflow Hat Purchase Link:

Tilley

Amazon.com

MSR MugMate Coffee/Tea Filter

There are many backpackers that love to brew and drink coffee while out in the backwoods. After setting up your campsite it is nice to sit and enjoy a fresh hot cup of coffee. MSR has produced a unique and versatile reusable coffee/tea filter for backpackers. It is the MugMate Coffee/Tea Filter. This reusable filter fits and stores in almost any mug or cup. It features two side tabs that suspend MugMate in hot water for effective steeping.

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MSR MugMate Purchase Links: 

MSR.com

Amazon.com

Leatherman Signal Topo Multi-Tool

Leatherman always produces a quality multitool. The Leatherman Signal Topo Multi-Tool is another quality product from Leatherman. This tool features a stainless-steel blade, needle-nose/regular pliers, wire cutters, screwdrivers, saw, awl, can/bottle opener, carabiner, safety whistle and a fire-starting ferro rod. Stainless-steel construction provides years of dependable service. Moreover, each tool is heat-treated to optimal hardness for its function. Additionally, it has a diamond-shaped sharpener that allows you to sharpen the knife blades while on the trail.

 

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Leatherman Signal Topo Multi-Tool Purchase Link:

REI.com

Amazon.com

Garmin inReach Mini

The Garmin inReach Mini is an awesome device to meet your emergency communication and location solutions. Garmin sets the industry standard for GPS devices and emergency communications that are accessible to the average outdoorsman. This small, rugged, lightweight satellite communicator enables two-way text messaging using the 100% global Iridium network (satellite subscription required).

The inReach Mini comes with a lot of features to enable your emergency communications. Trigger an interactive SOS to the 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center (satellite subscription required). You can access downloadable maps, U.S. NOAA charts, color aerial imagery and more by using the free Garmin Earthmate app and compatible devices. An optional inReach weather forecast service provides detailed updates directly to your inReach Mini or paired device. There are basic and premium weather packages available at an additional cost. You can send and receive inReach messages through compatible Garmin devices, including connected wearables and handhelds.
NOTICE: Some jurisdictions regulate or prohibit the use of satellite communications devices. It is the responsibility of the user to know and follow all applicable laws in the jurisdictions where the device is intended to be used.

 

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Garmin inReach Mini Purchase Link:

Garmin

Amazon.com

A Short History of the Air Force Survival Knife

The genesis of the Air Force Survival Knife goes back to the 1950s at the dawn of the jet age. Here is the basic history of this knife.

June 21, 2018

Many of us have been exposed to the fixed blade knife known popularly as the Air Force Survival Knife. We have seen it in outfitter stores, marketed on the internet, and may even have owned one. Possibly, some may have had one issued to them while serving in the military. This knife has been around for many years. It used to be a standard piece of gear for anyone, including backpackers, who was a serious outdoorsman and wilderness adventurers back in the 1970s and 1980s, before the Rambo movies made popular the Rambo-type survival knife. I became curious about the background and history of this knife about a year ago. It was enlightening to discover that there is very little information available on the background and origins of this knife. Most of the information that I have collected about the knife comes from blogs and knife forums on the internet. After vetting the information against the published government standards for this knife and the government procurement process, what emerged was a unique story of an iconic knife that has found its way from the military to the civilian outdoor world and into the hearts of many owners and users.

Origins Of A New Survival Knife for Military Aircrews

Robin Olds Survival Knife2The genesis of the Air Force Survival Knife goes back to the 1950s at the dawn of the jet age. The U.S. Defense Department published to private industry requirements for a standardized fixed blade knife to issue to pilots and aircrews of the various service branches. Before this requirement, knives of several types were procured by the individual branches of the military and dispensed to their members. By contrast, the current DoD procurement process is much more refined and regulated. Thus, the current standards, methods, and procedures were not necessarily applicable to the procurement process that brought this knife into existence. As such, finding a definitive history of the development and procurement of this knife is difficult to reconstruct. It is assumed that such information resides in the archives of the companies that have manufactured the knife as well as the files of the DoD. However, based on the information that I have collected, vetted, and coupled with my own experience with the DoD procurement and testing process, here is the basic history of this knife.

The story of this knife seems to begin in 1953, when the DoD announced to private industry their specifications for a standardized survival knife for pilots to interested vendors in Military Specification MIL-K-8662 (16 October 1953). Companies interested in gaining the government contract received these requirements and submitted proposals for consideration based on those requirements. As the development and testing process began to take shape, updates to the original specification documents were published. The 1954 update calls for the knife to have a sharpened clip point blade and an additional rivet to the sheath. That same year, the Marble-Arms Corporation (now known as Marble’s®) began work on designing their prototype for the survival knife based on the government specifications. In 1957, the Marble-Arms Corporation submitted to the U.S. government a design based on their Ideal Hunting Knife design. This design was accepted, and the military specifications documents were updated to reflect Marble’s concept in MIL-K-8662A (04 November 1957). This military specification document would become the standard for further improvements and changes to the pilot survival knife throughout the years.

Marble produced several thousand knives for field testing and delivered them to the U.S. Air Force between 1957-1959. After the completion of testing and bidding competition between Marble, Camillus Cutlery, and the Ontario Knife Company (OKC), Camillus was awarded the contract to supply the new Jet Pilot Survival Knife (JPSK) to the Department of Defense instead of Marble. Camillus produced the knife with a 6-inch blade from 1959-1961. In 1961, updates to the military specifications called for a 5-inch blade. Camillus produced the Jet Pilot Survival Knife with a 5-inch blade from 1961-2006. It appears that in 2006, Ontario Knife Company became the current vendor to the DoD of the Jet Pilot Survival Knife under the National Stock Number (NSN): 7340-00-098-4327. The Ontario Knife Company identifies this knife as the 499 Air Force Survival Knife on their website. Additionally, OKC is the only company selling this knife commercially.

The Air Force Survival Knife Introduced to the Commercial Market

The Air Force Survival Knife was introduced to the commercial market by Marble after not being awarded the DoD contract to supply the new survival knife to the military. The reason behind Marble selling their knife to the general public was due, in part, to pre-maturely manufacturing several thousand knife blades and parts in advance of learning who would be awarded the government contract to supply the knives to the military. To recuperate some of the money that they had spent producing blades and knife components, Marble offered a civilian version of the knife to the public in 1961. Their commercial version of the survival knife had a polished blade instead of a subdued or blued blade, brass guard, and polished pommel. These knives became popular with outdoorsman. Later, after service members began returning from Vietnam, the military-grade issued knives began to be seen on the market. Currently, the military-grade Air Force Survival Knife is only manufactured and sold by the Ontario Knife Company.

Design Features for the Air Force Survival Knife

The primary document that describes the various features of the Air Force Survival Knife is Military Specification MIL-K-8662 (16 October 1953). Over the decades, this document has been updated. The current edition of this document is Aerospace Standard SAE-AS-8662. However, the essential features of the knife have remained constant throughout the life of the knife. What are the unique features of the Air Force Survival Knife, as outlined in the U.S. Government specifications?

Basic Description:

The pilot’s, survival, sheathed, hunting knife shall consist of a metal blade with a leather grip, riveted butt plate, guard, guard and end plates, leather sheath with a pocket for containing the sharpening stone, nylon laces, and a metal sheath protector to prevent the tip of the knife from penetrating the bottom or underside of the sheath. The intended use of the knife is for pilots as required in survival situations.

The Blade:

  • The blade is to be a “through tang” blade blanked from AISI 1095 steel conforming to MIL-S-8665 Steel Bars, Carbon, AISI 1095, Aircraft Quality.
  • The blade will be tempered to a Rockwell Hardness of C50-C55
  • The cutting blade is to be 5 1/8 inches long and 3/16 inches thick.

The Sheath:

  • The sheath shall be made of leather in compliance with Federal Standard KK-L-271 Leather, Cattlehide, Strap, Vegetable Tanned.
  • The sheath leather shall be 8/64-inch-thick
  • The sheath welt shall be 3/8-inch-thick and 2 ½ inches in length.

The Handle Grip:

  • The grip will be made of leather in compliance with Federal Standard KK-L-165 Leather, Cattlehide, Vegetable Tanned and Chrome Retanned; Impregnated and Soles.
  • The leather for the grip will be cut into washers, 1/8 inch in thickness.
  • The leather will be treated with para-nitrophenol fungicide.
    • Paranitrophenol fungicide:
      Paranitrophenol was first registered in the United States in 1963 as a fungicide incorporated into leather products and hides as a preservative. A second fungicidal product was registered in 1967. Both products contained a second active ingredient, salicylanilide. However, the registrations for all registered products containing salicylanilide as an active ingredient have been canceled. Currently, one pesticide product is registered to contain para-nitrophenol as an active ingredient. This registration, granted in 1980, is for use of paranitrophenol as a fungicide incorporated into leather for military use, at a concentration not to exceed 0.7% on the basis of dry finished leather weight. In 1983, this registration was amended to add the use of the product for incorporation into cork insulation for military use.

The Sharpening Stone:

  • The sharpening stone shall be fabricated from silicon carbide, grain size 280, hardness P, vitrified bond.
  • The sharpening stone size shall be 3 inches long, 7/8-inch-wide, and 1/4 inch thick.

Some Comments on the Design Features of the Air Force Survival Knife

The Air Force Survival Knife was designed to meet a particular requirement for the military. As such, this knife was not intended as a frontiersman or bushcraft knife, per se. The design features for this knife came about through various inputs from servicemembers, survivability researchers, and training developers. Moreover, the requirement for having a standard survival knife for pilots and aircrews across the DoD was due to economic considerations and budgeting constraints at the time which fostered standardization across the military services. Furthermore, standardization of equipment reduces costs upon the logistical system. These influences upon the procurement system tempered the DoD design features of the knife.

Additionally, the jet age in military aviation increased the number of gear pilots and aircrews had to carry on their flights. Thus, finding ways of reducing the bulk of the Aviation Life Support Equipment (ALSE) assisted in the overall weight considerations for flying. Consequently, the knife blade being reduced from six inches to five inches allowed it to retain some of the qualities necessary to carry out survival tasks, but small enough that it could be easily stowed on an aircrewman’s vest without causing interference for aircrews trying to carry out their duties while flying.

In particular, some questions that arise with this knife are those regarding two specific features of the knife: the saw-toothed spine and the two holes in the handguard. The serrated spine on this knife is part of the functional requirements for this knife. One of the tasks that this knife was designed to accomplish was helping pilots and aircrews egress their downed aircraft or to help first responders extract them from their downed aircraft. The serrated spine was designed to cut through the aluminum skin surrounding the airframes of Korean and Vietnam War-era aircraft. The sharpened clip point on the blade allows the pilot to punch a hole in the aluminum then use the knife spine as a hasty saw to cut through the aircraft skin during an aircraft egress situation.

Additionally, synthetic composite materials like Kevlar had not been fully integrated into aircraft construction until the late 1970s and 1980s. Thus, this knife became obsolete for its original intended use when the majority of military aircraft incorporated composite materials. However, it was still adequate for survival situations and therefore remained in the Federal Supply System.

The second question that arises concerning some of the features of this knife is the purpose of the two holes in the blade guard. As best as can be ascertained, the two holes are used as lashing points for cordage for survival tasks in the field, such as creating a hasty spear. However, there is not enough information in the literature to determine with certainty the purpose of the holes. As with many uses of military equipment, service members use considerable ingenuity in the field when employing their equipment and therefore, the use of the holes in the blade guard for cordage lashing points may have been a field expedient use of the knife rather than as an intentionally designed purpose. So, as stated earlier, the archives of Marble or the DoD may reveal conclusively if the reason for the holes in the handguard.

Further Developments of the Air Force Survival Knife

In the early 2000s, the U.S. Army published requirements to private industry for an aviation survival knife to replace the aging Air Force Survival Knife. As a result, the Ontario Knife Company developed a prototype based on the 1957 design that was first submitted by Marble. Ontario’s model became the Aircrew Survival and Egress Knife, System (ASEK) based on the published requirements by the U.S. Army. Ontario’s knife became procured by the U.S. Army and was issued a National Stock Number, NSN: 1095-01-530-0833 within the Federal Supply System. However, this was not the end of the aging Air Force Survival Knife. It is currently still in inventory with the DoD through the GSA. As a further development on the Air Force Survival Knife, the Ontario Knife Company offers a second-generation civilian version of the knife in its Special Purpose SP® series of knives. It is the SP 2, Survival Knife.

Some Concluding Thoughts

The Air Force Survival Knife has had a storied, yet obscure, history. The knife has been in continuous service with the Department of Defense for over sixty years. The iconic design features of the knife, that have characterized its look, have remained unchanged since its inception. This is a testimony to the ingenuity of the design team that developed the knife at the Marble’s company. As well, it must be remembered that this knife was designed to address a specific need for the U.S. military and was not intended to be used outside of that context. However, because of Marble’s premature manufacturing of the knife before it was awarded a government contract, the rest of the world gained the privilege to own this knife.

The Air Force Survival Knife will be around for a very long time. Even if the Ontario Knife Company discontinues their production and the DoD phases them out of their inventories, the knife will be around for commercial purchase. Surplus stores will purchase them in bulk through U.S. Government auctions, collectors will buy them at auctions, military museums will display them, and they will continue to be available for purchase on the internet. It is also suspected that knife makers will begin to find ways to improve the knife and manufacture their versions of the knife similar to what knife companies are doing with other legacy knife designs.

The journey of this iconic knife has been exciting to discover. I own one as a backup knife for my backpacking, outdoor, and emergency needs. The Air Force Survival Knife is an excellent knife. Those who do not currently own one should purchase one. It will not be long before you are won over by the versatility and practicality of the Air Force Survival Knife.

jet_marble_rtn800
The Original Design Proposal Submitted by Marble for a Pilot’s Survival Knife

 

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Advertisement for the Camillus Air Force Survival Knife
Marbles-233
The Marbles Commercial Pilot Survival Knife

 

 

QN-ASEK
The OKC Aircrew Survival and Egress Knife (ASEK) System

 

on8305-ontario-sp2-air-force-survival-8305
The OKC SP 2 Air Force Survival Knife

Gear Review: MOLLE 4000 Rucksack

There is a new version of the MOLLE rucksack called, the MOLLE 4000. What are the features and characteristics of this pack?

January 30, 2018

Military surplus MOLLE backpacks and pouches and their commercial-of-the-shelf (COTS) imitators have become a favorite purchase item for both the outdoor enthusiasts and preppers. As with most equipment designed for the military, it has limited efficiency when employed for civilian use. For example, the current modular sleep system used by the military will not fit in its entirety into the sleeping bag compartments of most commercial backpacks. Therefore, for the ultralight backpackers and adventure racers, military surplus, such as sleeping bags, are avoided. However, MOLLE backpacks and pouches are purchased and used by a wide variety of people and they work quite well when used within their designed purposes.
In recent years, an interest has arisen in the military for a backpack, whose volume falls in between the current issue MOLLE Large and Medium Rucksacks. MOLLE is an acronym for Modular Light Weight Load Carrying Equipment. The MOLLE system was first introduced in the late 1990s to replace the aging Vietnam-era ALICE (All-Purpose Individual Combat Equipment) system. New materials and manufacturing techniques drives the current philosophy of producing lighter and stronger individual equipment that is procured by the military. Once aging or unserviceable MOLLE equipment is coded out of the military inventory system, it becomes available for acquisition by civilian surplus stores for sale to the general public.

A new version of the MOLLE rucksack called, the MOLLE 4000, is being tested by the military for parachute operations. Some of the early test models submitted by vendors are starting to make their way on to the market for the general public. I purchased mine last year at a military surplus store when I lived in Virginia. These are interesting packs and reflect the genre of the military’s current designs for rucksacks. It is not known, as of this writing, if the military has adopted this particular design of the rucksack. However, it is certain that more of these backpacks will eventually find their way to surplus stores, as well as, internet vendors and will be purchased by interested consumers. 

Characteristics

General Description:

This rucksack falls into the category of an external frame backpack. The advertised volume of the rucksack is 4000 cubic inches making it 65 liters. It is constructed of 1000 Denier Cordura fabric. The frame is made of high impact polymer plastic. The PALS webbing give the added value of modularity. All zippers are the standard YKK-type. The buckles are the standard heavy duty plastic, Fastek-type. The pack has the appearance of an over-sized MOLLE 3-day Assault Pack with a top flap closure instead of a zippered one. I have read others describe it as a kind of modern ALICE pack.

Volume:

The main compartment is 4000 cubic inches or 65 liters. However, because of the addition of the storm flap, the volume of the main compartment increases to 85 liters if fully packed. It has one large access pouch on the outside, similar to the ones on the assault pack and medium rucksack. The outside compartment gives an additional 20 liters in the overall volume to the pack. Therefore, the over all volume of the pack is 90-95 liters.

Features:

The main compartment has a draw-string storm flap closure. There is a zippered access point on the main compartment for easy access to the contents while the main cover is closed. It has a large cover flap for the main compartment that functions as a map compartment with a Velcro closure. There is no mesh webbing on the underside of the main compartment flap as there is on the large MOLLE rucksack. The excess strapping from the two main closure straps can be rolled up and secured in two slots on the top of the main compartment flap. It has two compression straps on each side, similar to the MOLLE Medium Rucksack. The pack frame is the equivalent to the USMC DE1606 MC frame. The frame is much more thick than the standard frame thickness of the MOLLE Medium or Large Rucksacks. The shoulder straps are sewn into the pack with the pack sitting over the frame in a similar manner to the legacy ALICE pack and LC-2 frame. There is a compartment on the bottom of the ruck that stores the parachute rigging. What are some observations about this backpack?

Observations

Because of its intended use, the MOLLE 4000 seems to be heavy for its size when empty. This is because the pack has to withstand larger stressors on it during parachute operations than a normal backpack. The padding on the shoulder straps is thicker than those on the other rucksacks in this line giving it exceptional comfort. The pack does look like a cross between the legacy ALICE pack and current MOLLE rucksack. Initial impressions of this pack are that it has great potential to become a favorite for hikers and backpackers with some modifications for non-military users. How does this backpack perform on the trail?

Performance

This pack performed well on the trail. It felt more like my older ALICE pack on my back the longer I carried it. The lumbar waist belt provides excellent comfort over an extended period of time. The PALS webbing on the lumbar belt also gives additional pouch options. The shoulder straps and the shoulder padding also give excellent comfort. However, some thought needs to be put into balancing the weight of the contents if additional outside pouches are attached. For example, I attempted to attach my Condor Nalgene Bottle Pouch on the side with a full water bottle. It caused the weight to become imbalanced, so I just packed it on the top of the main compartment under the flap closure for easy access, since I did not have another Nalgene Bottle for the opposite side. The weight of the pack with my contents started to get close to 40-45 lbs. in total weight. This was before I added the sleeping bag which pushed the pack to over 50 lbs. What is the best employment of this backpack?

Best Use of This Backpack

This pack is best used for no more than a two or three day hike. The weight of the pack combined with necessary contents for longer treks on the trail would cause the pack to become uncomfortable very quickly, especially for thru-hiking. The pack is ruggedly built, so it would be a good pack for hunters. Its dimensions make it too small to be used as a large game hauler. However, it will easily accommodate varmint hunting or trapping. This pack would also be a good consideration for bushcrafters because of the deep barrel main compartment construction. This pack would also be a good consideration as a 72-hour emergency evacuation or bug out bag. How could this pack be improved?

Suggested Improvements

If commercial manufacturers decide to produce a civilian version of this backpack, here are some suggested changes that could make the pack more user-friendly to the general public.

  • The manufacturer should consider putting in a water bladder compatible inner compartment.
  • The manufacturer should consider constructing a thinner thickness frame to reduce the empty weight of the pack for general use considerations.
  • The manufacturer should consider a titanium tubing LC-2 ALICE-type frame to replace the polymer frame for added strength and durability as well as reducing the empty weight of the pack.

Concluding Comments

Overall this backpack is a wonderful pack for no more than three days on the trail. It will easily accommodate the packing needs of most day hikers or weekend backpackers. The construction of the pack eliminates worry about damage under general-use conditions. Its volumous main compartment allows for any combination of contents for most outdoor scenarios and considerations.

 

Boots That I Would Wear Outdoors: The Danner® TFX

us_army_acu_danner_desert_tfx_rough_out_tan_gtx_2_grandeA boot that I would wear outdoors in North America or Europe would be the Danner® TFX boot.[1] I wore this boot from 2006 to 2014 while serving in the military. This boot is one of the finest everyday-wear boots that I have worn. It is made of top grain cowhide leather (roughed out suede). There are two versions of this boot: a Gore-Tex® lined version and a hot weather version. The hot weather version has small drainage holes on the insteps.  This boot appears to be Danner’s tactical version of their Proghorn series.[2] I have worn these boots deployed to Iraq, the rifle and pistol training ranges, and in the office. This boot was comfortable to wear always. It stood up to the rigors of military life both in the field and out of the field.

Is this boot good for hiking and backpacking? Yes. I have worn this boot hiking and it performed in an excellent manner. It provided stability for my ankles while carrying my backpack. It provided comfort and breathability for my feet while on the trail. The boots work best with a good thick boot or hiking sock. I found that athletic socks made for running shoes work satisfactorily for short hikes, but not for multi-day hikes. Maintenance and care for the boot requires minimal effort; however, one drawback is that if the boot becomes water logged or caked with mud, then it will require several days for it to dry after cleaning.  The laces tend to wear out and break with extensive use. Therefore, replacing them with paracord or heavy duty work boot laces should be considered.  If you are planning to have an outdoor adventure that may involve extensive activity in wet conditions or snow, the Danner Proghorn will most likely be the better boot to wear.

Overall, this boot is a joy to own and wear while hiking or backpacking. If you are interested in this boot, you can find it at the links below.

Enjoy and see you on the trail!

[1] “Desert TFX G3 series”, Danner Boots, online. Accessed March 9, 2017. http://www.danner.com/men/military/desert-tfx-g3-8-coyote.html.

[2] “Proghorn Series”, Danner Boots online. Accessed March 9, 2017. http://www.danner.com/productfamily/pronghorn/men:hunt/.