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A serious compass, a serious fire starter, and a serious survival knife; together these make a Basic Three survival kit.

An old hunter’s proverb states that a smoker has the best chance of surviving being lost in the woods. The logic is that fire is the element most needed for warmth and to signal for help, and a tobacco addict is seldom lacking a source of flame. On the premise that no survival tool is useful if it isn’t available, there has been a push among minimalists toward ultra-light skeleton knives that give no reason to ever leave them behind. It isn’t a new philosophy, but only in recent years has outdoor gear actually become convenient enough to carry unnoticed.

Knives of Alaska’s new Xtreme survival line features knives large enough for most prying, whittling, and butchering jobs associated with real-life survival, but compact enough to be carried forgotten until needed. Company President Charles E. Allen describes the Xtreme line as austere, without frills or extras, but I think that definition understates the importance any of the five new skeleton-style knives in this collection could have in an authentic survival situation.

Big Brother
Largest in its line, the Model V shares the same ultralight skeleton design and strong D2 tool steel construction of its four brethren, except for a blade length of 5 inches, and an overall length of 10.5 inches. Hardened to a respectable 59-61 Rockwell, the edge-holding flat-ground blade measures 0.120-inch thick by 1.325 inches wide at the choil, with a 20-degree cutting edge that was shaving-sharp out of the box. The spine of the blade arcs gently downward in a drop-point configuration that provides both good piercing power and a generous belly for skinning game or processing food.

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