One of the most interesting projects I have done as a TK writer was interviewing about a dozen well-known wilderness skills experts to find out which knife or knives they carried and considered most useful for survival. What I discovered was that though there was some overlap, the choices were as diverse as the experts themselves. A few days ago I pulled out my notes and got the bug to revisit the question of knife choice.
This time around I went not to famous experts, but to regular folks with whom I have run the woods. I have been blessed with a lifetime of opportunities to be out in the timber. In my travels I have shared campfires with friends whose competency with woodcraft and survival skills I have witnessed up close. So begins a discussion of knife choices of the Regular Joes.
The Men And Their Knives
ERIC KNUDSEN is the son of the outfitter with whom I have worked for many years, running canoe trips in the wilderness of Ontario and Quebec. Eric guided for his dad and has collected an impressive resume of wild Canadian rivers including the Hurricanaw, North Knife and Great Whale. When in his 20s, Eric worked for Outward Bound, where he instructed and had the opportunity to become expert in dog sledding, guiding trips in the Boundary Waters and as far north as Baffin Island. Eric’s knife of choice fits the north where he has lived the life. Eric carries a Grohmann #4 Survival. That Grohmann has seen over a decade of steady, rugged use in North America’s harshest environment. Eric stands by that knife.
ED ARNOLD comes from a lifetime of outdoor pursuit. From years of hunting, trapping and fishing to time in the Air Force to wilderness experience in Colorado, canoe trips in the Quantico and survival camping in the mountains of Pennsylvania, Ed has developed into a well-rounded and skilled practitioner of survival skills. Ed and I have camped together and he has assisted me in several of the classes I teach. Lots of guys talk the talk; Ed is very mindful of walking the walk. We speak once a week or so and it never fails that when I call, he is just getting in from either practicing his skills or working out. The guy knows his stuff. Ed is a serious knife buff and has an arsenal of quality edged tools. When it is time to get up and go, he packs his TOPS Harpoon. With the Harpoon, Ed about does it all. He likes a sturdy knife that is more than a sharpened pry bar. The Harpoon is a versatile knife capable of the harshest treatment as well as performing the more delicate tasks necessary for wilderness survival.
MIKE HEITER brings on a slightly different twist on the conversation. Mike’s life, day in and day out, is a test of all Mike’s equipment including his knife. Mike and his five sons farm and log the fields, hills and hollows of central Pennsylvania. From Mike’s farm you can see the ridgeline of the Appalachian Trail as it winds through the Alleghenies. The Heiters work as folks did a century ago. From sunrise to sunset they hit it hard. From the start of deer season, when the guys aren’t working, they are hunting or trapping. Venison makes up much of what feeds the family and furs supplement the family income.
I met Mike years ago through my firewood business. We have since become good friends. One Christmas, I brought gifts up for the guys. I gave each an EKA Swede 92. The Swede is a sturdy, lockback folder in Sandvik stainless. The Swede soon became their knife of choice. When I go up to the farm, sooner or later there is knife work to be done. Be it cutting rope, twine or burlap, scraping gaskets, or dressing and skinning game, a well-used Swede is produced and work proceeds. I get the feeling that there isn’t any cutting chore that needs to be done that this knife in those hands can’t do. And after all, isn’t that the definition of a survival knife?