Monday, June 27, 2011

Randall Adventure Training ESEE-4 Survival Knife Review

Randall Adventure Training ESEE-4 Survival Knife Review

ESEE-4 Knife Review

I have lengthy experience with the knives of Randall Adventure & Training or more commonly known as RAT knives. Back in 2002, a series of no-nonsense knives hit the market carrying the RAT name were produced and marketed by Ontario Knife Co under a licensing arrangement between the companies. The knives were a hit, adopted by the military and they even ended up with several government NSN numbers. Yours truly also owned, used and loved, one of their initial Training Adventure Knife - TAK 4” bladed production survival knives which morphed into the current day ESEE-4 Survival Knife. For comparison I have included the old TAK in the pictures for comparison.

It should be no surprise that the well designed knives were a hit, Randall's Adventure & Training has been in business since 1997 as an educational entity to train military, law enforcement, and civilians in the art of jungle and outdoor survival. Through those teachings, RAT/ESEE Knives recognized the need for a better knife for the school. It developed it’s initial design and eventually other knife designs which formed the basis of the above mentioned five year licensing agreement with Ontario Knife Co.

One of the things I really liked on the old knife was the high carbon 1095 steel blades and micarta handles. They definitely were not cutting edge knife technology however for a wilderness survival knife, the design provides a highly durable and easily field maintainable edge which which shoots sparks from a fire steel and sharpened easily. Feedback from the industry on the old knife noted fit, finish and sheath issues.

RAT heard this feedback and after the end of that licensing agreement in 2007, RAT - Randall's Adventure & Training decided to produce a higher quality line of knives outside of the mass production capabilities of Ontario under their new ESEE brand.

The new ESEE Line (Formerly RAT Cutlery) is considered a "mid-tech" knife in the sense of quality and manufacturing procedures. Still the low tech 1095 carbon steel we all liked in a survival knife, however now you will notice upgrades to sheathing, fit, finish and a general higher attention to detail on ESEE knives that are typically on high end knives. Low tech steel with high tech details equals a mid-tech knife. Now with more production control, ESEE can listen and update designs more quickly, based on feedback, which is the reason ESEE knives has now become one of the most well reguarded survival knife brands in the industry.

From my perspective the new updated design result in high-end features and finish at a mid-level knife price... and for a survival knife I think this is an excellent compromise for the backpacker, soldier, outdoorsman, or survivalist.

In my case my beloved 4” TAK knife was claimed by my wife for her Bug Out Bag so I needed a replacement and ordered the new ESEE-4 equivalent to my old knife. When it arrived I was very pleasantly surprised that it was of much higher quality overall than the original with better handle to blade fit plus a choice of powdercoat finish colors and G-10 or Micarta Handle color choice during ordering. In the attached picture you can see the differences between the old TAK and new ESEE-4 knives. Although the blade has a little shorter edge to spine profile which I like, it retains the same length and thickness. Other changes are the larger index finger choil which accommodates even very large fingers for detail cutting and the handle itself is not the huge blocky format of the old knife. The handle is much thinner, re-contoured, and the length has been trimmed by nearly an inch and provides more compact knife about 2.5oz lighter than the original. The handle reminds me of a good 3” knife handle with a 4” blade attached.

The knife is still priced well at $168 MSRP and about $90-$100 street price. In the land of $300 premium steel knives the ESEE-4 with high end features but a basic steel is a very good value.

The new ESEE-4 also now has a very secure flexible mounting and adjustable tension Kydex sheath. The Chicago Screws on the top two holes of the sheath can be tighten, moved or loosened to adjust the sheath retention. There are two sheath mounting options available for purchase which both utilize the ESEE Kydex sheath, one version with a flexible and removable nylon belt loop attachment and another with MOLLE mounts which was the version I ordered. ESEE also offers a complete kit version which includes both the belt loop drop leg extension and the MOLLE clips.

For me the MOLLE clips provide all the mounting flexibility I needed and minimized weight over the added drop leg sheath extension. The MOLLE clips can be used to mount to MOLLE straps on packs in multiple vertical and horizontal positions as well as acting as belt loops. I tend to use optional BladeTech Tek-Lok’s for belt attachment anyway on my knives so it made little sense for me to add the expense.

The design and sheath upgrades were all well thought out and a big ergonomic improvement over the original design. Those improvements made the knife all around a better and more comfortable knife to carry and less chunky and clunky. The sheath allowed simple attachment and carry in a variety of methods including the MOLLE straps on my packs, lashing to the belt with the included paracord, and even with my option Bladetech belt clip.

I have preached that a crappy sheath system on a great knife makes for a crappy knife. The ESEE knives I have now own, IZULA and ESEE-4, demonstrate an attention to the fact that a great knife needs a great sheath or it will simply be left at home. The flexible sheath system in my mind is what makes or brakes or outstanding knife and the sheath was designed by by people who are experienced in knife carry.

The ESEE does not come in a big fancy four color printed box, it comes in a plastic bag which puts dollars back into the knife vs packaging. In addition to the knife, ESEE also includes complete instructions on how to use the sheath system, a RAT ESEE pocket survival card and in my case the MOLLE clips and a number of Chicago screws. Attached to the knifei s a about 20” of paracord with a paracord lock. The paracord allows attachment to a variety of points including a sturdy belt loop.

For survival and general bushcraft and game cleaning the drop point blade shape is one of the best designs. The V-ground 1095 blade with a 20 degree edge is very easy to maintain with even just a steel and takes a razor sharp edge quickly. 1095 is not high end steel in the land of new crucible steels, however it does have a 57 Rockwell hardness and will take an edge much more easily off even river stones out in the field than the super hard crucible steel. The high end stainless steel also do not produce the shower of sparks off a fire steel that a high carbon 1095 blade does and that is very important for me if all I have is a knife and firesteel to start a fire. The 4” blade is about perfect for general use unless you decide you need to become a lumberjack and start felling trees. Even for the big job of using the ESEE-4 to fell 4”-5” trees can be accomplished by “batoning” or pounding the spine with a small log.

The blade is now carries a thick coating of  textured powdercoat instead of the phosphate finish on the old blades. So far it has proven more durable than the old finish and definately cleans up better.  The 1095 steel is high carbon and will rust on the exposed edges and laser etched areas, so you do need to keep the knife lightly oiled. Another trick is to coat the exposed steel with Dijon mustard and let it sit for 24 hours. Wash it off well and touch up the edge with a steel. The Dijon mustard will oxidize the exposed steel and prevent any further rusting of all but the fine edge of the blade.

- O.A Length: 9.0"
- Cutting Edge length: 4.06"
- O.A. Blade Length: 4.5"
- Maximum thickness: 3/16"
- Blade Width: 1.25"
- Weight: 7.4 ounces (knife only)
- 1095 Steel - 57 Rc.
- Serial Number On Pommel
- Ambidextrous Kydex sheath

First off I support USA made products and this knife and accessories are all 100% made in the USA. There are a lot of options when ordering, so if you get confused give them a call. I also ordered a IZULA survival knife kit as well, but that will be another article. After testing my new knife, I have to note that I believe it is one of the top choices for a fixed blade survival knife. The knife is big enough to accomplish even the largest tasks but is still small and light enough to carry daily and most importantly has a sheath system that will accommodate all carry methods. One of the best survival knife designs I have used.

ESEE Knives


knife and life said...

Very nice post, good insights aswell. And i agree whit u regarding the knife one of the best survival-blades out there!

Greetings from Sweden!

BladeBoss said...

A stainless steel knife will produce sparks just fine from a "fire steel" if you are talking about a ferro rod when you say "fire steel". If you actually tried it with stainless steel and it didn't work, it is because the edge you were using was smooth or rounded, not square or sharp. If you got sparks from an ESEE knife in 1095 steel I can guarantee that it wasn't from one with the factory blade coating still intact in the area of the knife that you used. To sum it up, you either just said you can't get sparks from stainless steel because that is what you have heard, you were using something other than a ferro rod, or you were using a stainless steel knife that did not have sharp corners. With a high quality ferro rod you can strike it with anything with a sharp edge that is harder than it is, it doesn't even need to be metal.