Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Extrema Ratio Ontos Selvans Survival Knife Review

Extrema Ratio Ontos & Selvans Survival Knife Review

If you are knife nut like myself you may lust after the sexy Italian Extrema Ratio knives like motorcycle enthusiasts lust after a Ducati 999.  In this case the Extrema Ratio Ontos and Selvans survival knives are without a doubt the most exotic of the production knives designed for the actual hard use of the Italian Military and Special forces. Yes they are different than a typical drop point survival knife, a different blade tip, different look, a more substantial heft, and different feel, and certainly more money than almost any other knife, however this out of the box thinking performs spectacularly and worth every cent when your life is on the line. If you have the money, the Extrema Ratio Ontos and Selvans have proven to me to be the ultimate survival knives.

Extrema Ratio received many inquiries and requests for a purpose built survival knife and the result of those request, much testing and research with their military connections and survival experts resulted in the ONTOS (from the Greek language “the thing”) and SELVANS (God of the woodlands) knife kits. I picked up both Extrema Ratio Knife kits from here in the US for testing.  What sets these apart from other survival knives was starting with a clean slate and asking what was needed in a pure survival knife.
My point of view is that there are several types of survival which all require a bit different knife, Defensive, Urban/Military, and Uninhabited/Outdoorsman. Defensive knives need to be at least 4” long to reach vital organs, with deep edge grinds to deliver very deep snap, slashing and thrusting cuts and preferably have a pommel/endcap suitable for defensive striking.  Characteristically defensive knives are soft material and tissue cutting focused with long, thin low angle edge grinds with sharp but delicate edges, generally light, and are not particularly useful or durable for anything other than defense.  Urban/Military survival knives are the most prevalent and are forced into duty for back up defense, prying open things, cutting tough man-made materials and perform well at a variety of tasks without breaking. The result is a thicker blade to increase prying strength, serrations, increased grind angle to prevent chipping and deeper blade profile.  
These geometric changes to the blade profile mean this big fat blade are not going to slice through through as as well as a thin sharp blade. For knives suited to Uninhabited/Outdoorsman survival, defense is less important, because after all it is uninhabited.  If you are down to one cutting implement for Uninhabited/Outdoorsman survival, you need a knife capable of good game cleaning, tissue cutting, and bushcraft precision as well as one that can chop and fell larger sized trees which can be a tough balance to strike.  Most knives in this category have low angle flat grinds, but thicker blades. This provides the strength to perform bushcraft tasks, while still offering the sharp scalpel like tissue cutting abilities for game dressing and slicing. 
The Extrema Ratio Ontos and Selvans are certainly both highly capable defensive knives, however the focus was to deliver two cross-over knife kit systems with the Ontos addressing Urban/Military survival and Selvan addressing the needs of Uninhabited/Outdoorsman survival.  

The knives share a few similarities such as look, full tang construction, .25” thick Austrian N690 (58HRC) cobalt vanadium stainless steel blade, Forprene handle, tanto pointed chef knife blade profile, and base knife sheath platform. This is where the similarity stops.  The knife kits handle and cut differently with different contents in each survival kit. 
The ONTOS Kit provides a complete survival kit for the military and urban survivalist and fills the quintessential SERE (Survival Evasion Rescue and Escape) role perfectly.  The big heavy .25” thick 6.5” blade is just a little longer but not as tall as the Selvans.  The Forprene handle is extraordinarily comfortable and the handle inlets lock the fingers in during thrusting and heavy cutting. The pommel/end features a hole for a paracord lanyard and an extension which can be used for hammering, a defensive contact point, and proved to be a great glass breaker.

The Ontos features a front faux secondary top grind for increased piercing and a rear portion with serrations to cut through the tough man-made materials and provides a sharp edge regardless of how heavily the main edge is used.  The design and higher edge grind angle maximize blade and edge strength without compromising the ability to take a shaving sharp edge.  Ultimately Extrema Ratio choose a good compromise of sharpness vs. durability for the intent of this knife and if you feel the edge needs touching up a diamond sharpener is attached to the sheath kit.  
This brings me to my next point on both kits which is the quality of components in the kit.  Generally survival kits these days are filled with a bunch of poor quality gear just to hit a price point... Extrema Ratio only cares about one thing; making sure their own Italian Military has the best equipment possible to survive.  Each component is the kits were of very high quality. The only component in the Ontos kit I would swap would be the mini- multi-tool for a higher quality and larger Sog or Leatherman. 

The intent of the Ontos kit was to provide a general purpose survival kit if the rest of a soldier’s pack was last during the mission or emergency situation.  The Kit is housed in a MOLLE compatible nylon case attached to the knife sheath and can be detached and mounted to the belt or pack separately for increased comfort or flexibility. 

One side of the case houses a diamond knife sharpener and the other a 12 hours chemical light stick.  Inside the quick release buckle interior is the Extrema Ratio Ultimate Survival Kit which includes: Ziplock Water bag, Condom, Tampon, Nylon cord, Button compass, Candle, Ferro rod flint & striker, Fishing kit, Mini multi-tool, Matches, Sewing kit, Water purification tablets, Single edge razor, Mayday mirror, High output Whistle, Snare wire, Wire saw, Pencil, Survival instructions all packed into an aluminum clasped box with silicon sealed water tight lid.  The box can be used for a cooking and boiling container as well.  There is even a little room left to tuck in a mini-lighter, cotton for tender, band-aids and Neosporin or other personalized accessories.

The SELVANS is a pure woodlands subsistence and survival knife developed later after the Ontos in cooperation with master instructor Daniele Dal Canto of F.I.S.S.S. (Italian Survival Federation).  Daniele wanted to tune already popular Ontos design to increase the performance of the knife as a working tool with a longer handle and heavier blade and lower angle edge grind for improved chopping and cutting for the needs of extended subsistence survival.  

The blade on the Selvans is quite different that the Ontos. The Selvans blade as taller, a little shorter 6.1” length, and omits the faux top edge grind to increase weight.  Instead of the serrations, Extrema Ratio left the top edge squared for use as a fire striker or bone breaker for large game.  The edge itself is a lower grind angle extending over 1” up to the full blade width for a much finer and sharper edge.  
The handle is also different and has been extended to a hand and a half length which provides comfortable normal, choked up and a solid grip at the far end of the handle which greatly improves chopping strikes. The striking glass breaker pommel has been removed to provide greater comfort when using the extended grip... and besides there is not much glass in the wilderness.

The Selvans was designed under the assumption that many of the atypical survival kit items would be in a primary pack. The result is an attached survival kit with a different intent and contents including: whistle, pocket chain saw, water purifying tabs, full sized compass, copper wire, ferro rod flint and striker, led micro torch, 2.5 meters of paracord and a diamond sharpener.  
These are the tools you would need out away from your campsite while scouting, foraging, gathering materials, and hunting with a few survival items in case you get stuck on the way back to camp. The Selvans pouch is considerably smaller but completely packed with little room for more than a few matches and cotton for tender.  Like the Ontos, the Selvans Kit is housed in a smaller MOLLE compatible nylon case attached to the knife sheath and can be detached and mounted to the belt or pack separately for increased comfort or flexibility. 
The base sheath platform shared by both the knives is the best feature rich sheath system I have seen to date. The backside is fully MOLLE compatible with loops and clips, two top/bottom vertical and two left/right horizontal 1.5” nylon leg/belt loop lashing points, MOLLE loops on the front side which are used to attach the nylon survival kit cases, remove-able/adjustable leg loop with elastic for stretch and give, primary double snap tang knife lock, secondary double snap handle knife lock mounted to a removable belt loop.  All that and the sheath can even be mounted to the belt without belt removal. Truly an outstanding versatile sheath with near limitless mounting and carrying options.

The blade contours on each knife are consistent and edge grind is perfect with no casting seams on the Forprene handle.  The N690 steel is a cobalt based stainless steel similar in performance to the expensive VG-10. N690 is quite resistant to rust or corrosion, however Extrema Ratio finished both the blades in a unspecified burnished black finish which appears to be carbo-nitride or oxide of some sort. Whatever it is, the finish on the blades was consistent, durable, and cleaned up well.

The Ontos and Selvans blades arrived arm-hair shaving sharp and remained so through testing which is somethign I would expect from any knife with a steel similar to the VG-10.  Both functioned extremely well for all the basic chopping and cutting chores.  The Ontos edge is more of a hard use general purpose splitting edge with a lot of strength for surface cuts of varied materials which might damage a thinner blade profile.  It is an edge that can you can abuse a bit more before chipping or blade damage occurs. The Selvans is more of a deeper slicing and cutting edge which will take a sharper edge.  It will also cut deeper on wood where the Ontos will produce chips.  
Cutting up a chicken, carrots, onions and celery was easy with the Selvans’ decreased edge grind angle which gently tapered up over 1” to the full .25” blade thickness. It felt like I was working a standard chef knife except I was able to cleave right through an entire chicken without any efforts.  This cleaving power would be infinitely handy breaking down joints on larger animals. The Ontos transitions from the cutting edge to the full .25” thickness in only .5” which means it does not perform as well as a slicing and cutting blade, but it does deliver a more durable edge and still delivers excellent large wound/chip cuts.  Both edges are good but have a different purpose.  The Ontos will take the hard Military/Urban survival abuse without damaging the blade edge and the Selvans finer edge is tuned to food prep and woodland bush-crafting activities.  

These knives were not designed to be really thick for the intent of improving prying strength.  There are better and far less expensive prying tools than a $500 knife, however both should stand up to even less than sensible amounts of abuse. These knives were designed thicker and heavier to have enough heft to deliver stunning cuts which both do effortlessly.  The Selvans performed so well it actually out-cut my favorite woodland accessory the Woodsman’s Pal and the Ontos matched the Woodsman’s Pals abilities... impressive since the they are nearly half the blade length.  These are both amazing chopping blades that sail through material.  The extra handle length and weight delivered more impressive cuts than my 9.5” Cold Steel Trailmaster which I though would never happen.  Both knives proved to be quite outstanding firewood splitters. Without a doubt either of these knives easily provide the cutting ability of a short machete and camp axe.

Working with was a new retailer experience for me, but provided great customer service and very fast shipping and the best prices I could find.  I was told they are also the largest retailer and importer of Extrema Ratio knives in the US, so I suppose it should not be surprising they have the largest selection of Extrema Ratio knives as well.  I will definitely work with them again.

The Ontos undoubtedly will be the more popular of the two knives due to the kit and blade serrations. It would be my choice as a survival knife for general everyday utility, military and urban type survival.  It will be the knife in my everyday Bug Out Bag and provides everything the minimum of of everything needed for 72-hour emergency survival situation in one simple durable package assuming you have some survival training.  The survival kit is well thought out and still provides room for customization.

The Selvans is one hell of an impressive chopping and cutting knife.  That weight, long handle, and low angle edge grind work together in unison to just cleave through small saplings.  With that thick blade backbone your would never have to worry about breakage during any wilderness activities.  For an extended subsistence survival Bug Out Bag or trail bag the Selvans would be my choice.  

Honestly I wanted to test both these knives because I thought they just looked cool and I collect knives, however the performance really stunned me. I have tested and owned literally hundreds of knives over the years and these two knives changed my mind about what a survival knife should look like, feel like, could be and can do.  Expensive yes, however when you find a knife that performs so much better than anything previous, you have to take note.  My expectation is that some point my life may depend solely on these knife kits and I would rather spend the money now for custom knife performance than pay the ultimate price later. Each are exceptional pieces of kit of the highest quality. Pair these with a quality multi-tool and you have everything you will ever need for survival cutlery.

WEIGHT:   400 g -.88 lbs
BLADE LENGTH: mm 165 - 6.5”
TOTAL LENGTH: mm 298 - 11.73”
MSRP $588
STREET $439.00
SHEATH Nylon, Green or Coyote Brown

WEIGHT: g 424 - .93 lbs
BLADE LENGTH : mm 155 - 6.1”
TOTAL LEGTH : mm 310 - 12.2”
BLADE TRICKNESS : mm 6.3  -.25”
MSRP $634-$759
STREET $422-$493
SHEATH Nylon, Green or Coyote Brown

Xtreme Knives

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