What would be that ‘one knife’, that if the rest of the world went to hell, that you could strap on your side and do just about everything you’d need a fixed blade to do?
That’s a tough question and one I bet more than a few of you battle on a regular basis. I do, and I’ve carried knives I picked into hell with me, only to later find something that fit the bill just a bit better. It seems like with each wilderness trip, class, or hunt I end up with new wants in a blade. It hasn’t got any better since I got that first Air Force Survival Knife (aka the Jumpmaster knife) I borrowed from an AWOL kid’s kit so long ago. Doubt he missed it. That knife did everything I ever asked it to, is easy to sharpen, and doubles as a combat effective fighting knife. And for a long while it served me well, and still absolutely could had I not retired it when I returned from Afghanistan. But would it be my first choice today? Probably not; designs have evolved and I’ve got a number of knives that fit the general purpose bit a lot better, and one of them is Ontario’s Ranger Assault Knife.
Combat knives are always a fun topic of discussion and one that’s often highly personal. That old USAF design was meant to be a jack of all trades and it excelled at a few. Like most of its contemporaries, it is a stick tang short Bowie-type with an integrated handguard to prevent the user’s hands from slipping up the blade during a stab but also to protect against glancing blows. Mine slayed MREs, 550 cord and tubular nylon just like everyone else’s- even skinned a goat we picked up from a local village in Afghanistan. Its also made notches, battoned wood, made fire and processed domestic game with the best of them.
I’ve always loved tactical knives and fighter-type blades. But the reality is that most often a tactical knife, with many serrations, odd grind angles and ultra-hard steel is more a hindrance than an enabler for most mundane survival tasks. What’s basic and simple, at least in my experience, has become the preferred blade to a lot of the more tactical-oriented types. It’s a view that’s neither good or bad, its just personal choice based on what we call on our tools to do. Some of these tasks include:
- Skinning and processing game
- Light Chopping
- Making feather sticks and tinder bundles
- Striking of Ferro Rods
- Batoning through small limbs
- Be easily re-honed in the field
Lets look at the list. Any knife can skin and process game- in fact I’ve skinned more animals with my decade-old Buck-Strider folder than any other knife I’ve owned. And likewise for feather stick making, any sharp knife with decent edge geometry can do that. But for the heavier duty tasks a good fixed blade is what’s needed. For battening through limbs, a full-tang knife is really the best option. I’ve done it with the old USAF knife, but a full tang construction is best. And when striking ferro rods, high carbon steel and a squared spine gets the job done without having to use the knife’s edge. Speaking of, the ability to bring back a good working edge in the field is paramount. S30V, 154CM and the like are excellent for edge retention, but what happens if your edge does take some damage during use? 1095 is easier to bring back even from severe damage while using a small field stone or diamond plate like we use in the First Line Course, along with a small piece of leather as a strop.
So that brings us to Ontario’s Ranger Assault Knife (RAK). Justin Gingrich, founder of Ranger Knives and Green Beret, partnered with Ontario Knife Company several years back to mass produce his tactical and survival blade designs. I’ve used an RD-7 for a number of years now as a general purpose woods blade and its a highly functional design. His knives are a no-frills, hard use utilitarian types over the elegance of say, a Randall Made or Blackjack. These are not exactly lookers, but they will do everything asked of them and probably much more. The Ranger Assault Knife was something of a crossover design; combining the attributes of a functional fighting weapon and qualities you’d want in a simple survival knife.
Looking over the design you’ll notice the spear point of the 6 inch blade. It’s as great for stabbing as it is choking up on the knife and making finer cuts with the tip. Being 3/16in thick and having the full width go to the tip, its very strong for any prying task you might be called on to do in the wild. Fortunately choking up on that blade is made easy by the very large (yuuuge!) choil. It allows you to control the blade for power cuts but also to accommodate the guard as part of the design. It’s one solid piece of 1095 steel, hardened to 53-55rc, which is hard enough to retain an edge a reasonable amount of time while still soft enough to flex when prying or batoning to prevent chipping. And the knife has no issues batoning- hard wood, soft wood, anything reasonable it breaks down pretty easily.
The blade itself sports a thick saber grind with a short, flat secondary bevel. I prefer a full flat grind for pretty much everything I do with a knife, but on this blade it works to the advantage of the design by maintaining the knife’s strength. Since the parameters of the intended use include aircrew survival, that strength is required when possibly cutting through aluminum airframes or punching out glass. The pointed pommel serves as a glass breaker also, the same way the older RAT 5 and ESEE 5 knives do. And that leads me to my only real complain with it; that spike pommel is borderline obnoxious. Everything else about the knife is excellent, and since I don’t plan on needing to egress from an aircraft anytime soon, I’m thinking of grinding it down a bit. And the stock sheath is a flimsy nylon piece of junk. I threw it in the trash and had a kydex one made. But that’s it; the steel, the heat treat, the edge retention, and the flat out utility of this knife is excellent.
My Final Thoughts
For what this blade costs, around $65, it’s an excellent buy and well worth picking up a couple. You’ll need a better sheath but honestly I’m rarely happy with most stock sheaths. The design is definitely a jack of all trades and well thought out as a utility blade for those going into harm’s way. And as easily as it can be used in combat, it finds itself at home with a wide variety of survival tasks. Would it be that ‘one knife’ to use if the world went to hell? I think it could be. You could spend a heck of a lot more money and not come close to what you get out of this blade.
If you’re interested in survival training with a small unit twist, covering primitive tools, flintknapping, land navigation, shelter making and basic recovery skills, check out the First Line Course. I would love the opportunity to train with you.