There is no shortage of information and reviews, both good and bad, floating around the internet about the traditional Ka-Bar combat knife. This is to be expected, as the Ka-Bar has been around for a long time, and since it is generally accepted to be a good quality blade. That being said, it was designed to be a combat knife more so than a survival knife, so it does have some shortcomings as a general-purpose blade. One of the biggest drawbacks to the traditional Ka-Bar design, as well as its imitators, is the stick tang that runs through the stacked leather grip, and the inherent weakness that this tang introduces to the design. In addition, the clip point doesn’t lend itself well to some tasks, the pommel has no provision for attaching a lanyard, and the finger guard extends a fair bit up past the spine of the blade, preventing you from choking up on the blade for fine work. With that being said, the Ka-Bar is an excellent knife, and isn’t necessarily a bad choice for use in the woods, it just isn’t the always the best option out there.
Ka-Bar listened to folks a little while back, and produced a modified version of their 1217 USMC combat knife. The new blade is the 1317 Dog’s Head model, which has a few changes as compared to the 1217. First, the pommel has been changed to a “dog’s head” shape (hence the name) with a lanyard hole- definitely a huge improvement over the original in my opinion. Second, the finger guard has been shortened on the spine side a little bit, making it possible to choke up on the blade. Third, as NC Scout pointed out to me, the clip point seems to have been tamed down and straightened out a little bit over some of the older Ka-Bars, making it more conducive to things like field dressing game. One cosmetic change is that the USMC stamping on the blade and sheath has been replaced by the “Pirate Dog” logo. The 1317 model does maintain the same stick tang, stacked leather handle, 7” blade length, and blood groove as the traditional 1217 Ka-Bar. The sheath, which is a good quality sheath made in Mexico, is also the same as the 1217 sheath, other than the stamping, and is a nice piece of leather for the money. A couple of the things I initially noticed were: the blade was pretty sharp for a factory edge- not as good as an ESEE, but it would shave hair off of my arm without much effort, and also the leather handle was very well constructed- very tight, even, and well shaped. With all of that said, let’s spend a little time performing some simple tasks with it and see how it handles them.
As you can see, the Dog’s Head can chop down a small tree fairly easily. This one was a small poplar around 2 ½” in diameter. Poplar isn’t a really dense wood, but at the same time, this blade isn’t really meant to be used for heavy chopping. I have no complaints over the performance, as it only took me a few moments to cut through it.
Again, poplar isn’t a really dense wood, but it is what I had available in the 20-year-old cutover where these pictures were taken. The Ka-Bar can be batoned through this wood with ease. I also just voided the warranty on it- Ka-Bar takes a dim view of batoning or throwing their blades. Oh well, I didn’t buy it for the warranty, I bought it to use. That being said, Ka-Bar knives are NOT the best thing to baton through wood, you will eventually break it if you do it enough. Will they baton- yes. Should you baton with them if it isn’t needed- probably not.
It took just a few moments to cut a small poplar sapling for a light ridgepole, notch it off on the ends, make a few oak tent pegs, and make a small shelter using a Mil-Tec poncho (Which has been another fantastic piece of gear as far as I’m concerned) I did use small diameter jute twine for tying everything off- for temporary, low-stress applications I like it better than 550 cord- it is light, very inexpensive, and rots away quickly. Also, I can yank the whole poncho down, if needed, without tearing the grommets out, since the jute will break easily. The pommel of the knife made a good hammer to pound the pegs into the ground, and the dog’s head shape kept my hand from trying to ride down over the pommel.
As a side note- if you are in the Southeast, or anywhere with similar forests to what we have here in Central NC, ATACS-FG, which is what this poncho is, is a wonderful camo pattern for Spring, summer, and early fall. A tiny bit of brush added to this shelter and it would have been very unobtrusive.
The Ka-Bar makes short work of stripping the bark off of some dry, dead poplar branches, and shaves some slivers off, in order to provide kindling for a fire. Dry bark from dead poplar makes excellent kindling, if you have yellow poplar in your AO. The Ka-Bar would work just fine with a ferro rod if you strip a little of the coating off of the spine as well, I just didn’t have a ferro rod with me at the time, so I used the Zippo that was in my pocket.
Just for comparison, here is the Dog’s Head Ka-Bar with a few other blades for comparison. From the left the first blade is an Ontario SP-1 that has had the back of the fingerguard removed and lives in a Ka-Bar sheath. Next is the 1317 Ka-Bar, then there is a Buck 119, and on the end an ESEE-3 that always lives on my belt as an EDC blade. Another note on the Ka-Bar- I haven’t used this blade heavily, but so far, the black coating on the blade is holding up very well- that is a non-issue either way for me, but I know it may matter to some of you.
This far from being a comprehensive test or review, but hopefully gave you a little of a feel for what I believe is one of Ka-Bar’s better offerings. Would I choose it if I had to hit the woods with only one knife? No, probably not. Would I lose sleep over having to hit the woods without any other knife? Again, probably not. I personally prefer to carry a small sheath knife all the time (hence the ESEE-3, which I love) along with a bigger blade, such as my Condor Moonshiner (which I also love) when needed. There is also usually a folding knife in my pocket, lately the Ontario RAT-2 in D2. I have been impressed with the Ka-Bar 1317 Dog’s Head, and I believe it is a good, well made, and perfectly serviceable carbon steel blade that comes with a good quality sheath, at a very reasonable price.