Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Grizzly Cauldron: Return of the Gray Wolf | National Geographic Nature Documentary

This is one of the most fascinating documentaries I've seen regarding Grizzly Bears. I think you will enjoy this one!


Friday, April 26, 2013

"Made in the USA" Gear Review: AYG Men's Performance Sports/Hiking Briefs


I'm pretty sure this review isn't gonna fire up readers' imaginations the way a good bushcraft article or knife review will, but the reality is that a good pair of underwear really makes a difference in whether a long hike or backpacking trip is comfortable or not.

If you wear the wrong briefs, your thighs can become chafed, or even blistered. I'm sorry to say that I've had a few bad experiences in the past that nearly ruined my trips. This led me on a search to find a good pair of briefs that were comfortable, breathable and kept me chafe-free. I got lucky last year when our sponsor LifeView Outdoors suggested that I try a pair of AYG Performance Sports Briefs. I took them up on their offer, and it turned out to be a really smart decision.

The SPECS:
  • Quick drying, wicking, breathable
  • 4-way stretch for maximum agility
  • Anti-microbial
  • Athletic fit
  • Odor resistant
  • Fights bacteria
  • Comfortable flat seams
  • Weight- 4oz
  • Made in North Carolina, USA
  • Street Price- $19.95

To me, these briefs resemble those worn by runners and cyclists, and they do in fact share a similar design. They are made of a blend of 92% "Acclimate Dry Polyester" and 8% Spandex, and touted as "anti-microbial" and "odor-resistant." The Acclimate Dry Polyester, originally developed by PolarMax, also makes the claim "Feels like Cotton but wicks like polyester."


After wearing these briefs on numerous hikes, backpacking trips, and field testing excursions, I quickly became a believer, as they turned out to be a major step up from conventional briefs, even those made of cotton. 

These AYG Performance Sports Briefs caused no chafing, are super comfortable, breathable, and have plenty of support for longer trips to my favorite bushcrafting spots. After many washings, they also held up well and seem to be durably constructed. 

Well-made and comfortable, these AYG Performance Briefs would be a great piece of gear to add to your backpacking/hiking arsenal. And they're made right here in the USA!

5 out of 5 Stars (Highly Recommended)

AYG Performance Briefs are available from LifeView Outdoors- http://www.lifeviewoutdoors.com/outdoor-clothing-and-technical-apparel/mens-outdoor-clothing/mens-ayg-underwear/ayg-mens-sports-brief-black.html

About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ hotmail.com (without spaces)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Battle of the Compact Bushcraft Axes!


Compact bushcraft axes have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, driven in part by a celebrity endorsement from famed UK bushcrafter/TV personality Ray Mears, and by strong word of mouth through various internet forums and bloggers. This has helped compact bushcraft axes become top sellers for major axe companies.

Why have these axes become so popular? Simple -- portability and versatility. A compact bushcraft axe is small enough to be used as a one handed hatchet, yet large enough to swing as a two-handed axe for more serious chopping and splitting tasks.

Using a Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe as a one-handed hatchet to shape wood

As popular as compact bushcraft axes are, not everyone is a fan. One of their biggest critics is bushcrafting legend Mors Kochanski, who feels that carrying an axe with anything less than a 23" to 25" handle and a 2 to 2.5 pound head is too light for serious bush work.

Also, in a review of the Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe many years ago on the Old Jimbo website, they found it "to be neither fish nor fowl. It is too heavy for a backpacking or carry axe that you will always have with you and not versatile enough as an all around using axe. It is somewhat clumsy as a two handed axe and does not cut as well as either of the larger axes. I found it fatiguing to use for any length of time."

In general, I agree with these sentiments, but I still think compact axes have certain advantages over larger axes.

Why Carry a Compact Bushcraft Axe?

Since many consumers have limited budgets and are forced to choose between buying either an axe or a hatchet, but not both, a compact bushcraft axe represents a good compromise, since it can function reasonably well in both roles.

A compact bushcraft axe is also easier to handle than a larger axe, which means it will have a faster learning curve.

Finally, a compact axe is generally the largest axe you can carry inside a daypack, for instance. This is important if you want to carry an axe discreetly in your pack as a wilderness survival tool, or build a campfire on a day hike, without getting bogged down carrying a larger, heavier axe.

All three of the axes in this write-up easily fit inside my diminutive Kelty Redtail 30 Daypack.

What exactly defines a compact bushcraft axe? There have been many discussions on axe forums, but the general consensus is that it is an axe or a large hatchet with a 1.4 to 1.6 lb head and an overall length of between 17" to 21".

We would like to say a special thanks to Ben's Backwoods for providing the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe, and to Gerber Gear for sending us the Gerber Camp Axe II used in this article.

The Contenders

Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe


The SPECS:

Overall Length: 19.5"
Weight: 34.8 Ounces without sheath, 36.3 with sheath
Head weight: 1.5 pounds
Handle type: American Grade "A" Hickory
Steel- Hand Forged, Swedish Carbon Steel (composition considered a trade secret)
Country of origin: Made in the Sweden
Warranty: 20 Years
Company website
Price- $120.00, available from Ben's Backwoods

The Small Forest Axe, made by Gransfors Bruks in Sweden, is the compact axe by which all others are judged. It was popularized in the UK by bushcraft expert, author and TV personality Ray Mears in the 1990s and early 2000s. When bushcraft gained popularity in the States during the last decade, the Small Forest Axe became popular here as well.

Hand forged, and constructed using classic 19th Century American axe-making techniques, the quality, finish, and durability of these axes is now legendary. You can see a more detailed history of Gransfors Bruks and their approach to axe-making by checking out our review of the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet here.

----------------------------------------------------------

Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe


The SPECS:

Overall Length: 19.5"
Weight: 34.3 Ounces without sheath, 36.6 with sheath
Head weight: 1.5 pounds
Handle type: High grade American Hickory
Steel- Hand Forged, Swedish Carbon Steel (composition considered a trade secret)
Country of origin: Made in the Sweden
Warranty: Lifetime
Company Website
Price- $89.99, available from Ben's Backwoods

The Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe can most aptly be described as the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe's practical, budget-minded, cousin. Constructed using the same, traditional axe-making techniques as the Small Forest Axe, the primary differences between the two are fit and finish.

Gransfors Bruks' axes are constructed with greater attention to quality control and more expensive features, such as higher grade, beeswax-coated hickory handles, and more consistently forged heads. Wetterlings forgoes these subtleties and instead, focuses on creating an axe that is rough around the edges, but high on function.

This slightly lower standard of fit and finish usually means that a Wetterlings can be had for roughly $20 to $50 cheaper than an equivalent Gransfors axe, yet, performs as well as its more expensive cousin. This has led many to refer to Wetterlings as a "working man's Gransfors axe."

This cost to performance ratio has created a rabid following for Wetterlings, even in some cases rivaling the popularity of Gransfors Bruks.

----------------------------------------------------------

Gerber Camp Axe II


The SPECS:

Overall Length: 17.5"
Weight: 36.5 ounces without sheath, 39.0 ounces with sheath
Head weight: 1.6 pounds
Handle type: Glass-filled Nylon
Steel- Drop Forged, Medium Carbon Finnish Steel (composition considered a trade secret)
Country of origin: Made in Finland by Fiskars
Warranty: Lifetime
Company Website
Price- $35 to $45, available from Amazon.com

The Gerber Camp Axe II, or as I affectionately like to call it- the "Star Wars Axe," is the ultra-compact, synthetic-handled wonder axe of this group. I can seriously imagine Luke Skywalker climbing out of his X-Wing Fighter with one of these in hand, ready to chop up kindling on the Planet Dagobah to build a campfire. "Hey Yoda, campfire's ready! Bring some of that outrageously bad-tasting bat soup over here so we can heat it up!"

Don't let the synthetic handle fool you though. These "She blinded me with science!" axes are actually highly efficient choppers, splitters and fine carvers. The mad scientists at Fiskars certainly knew what they were doing when they designed these, as you'll see further down in the field review section.

For more information about Fiskars/Gerber X-Series axes, check out our reviews of the Fiskars X7 Hatchet and X15 Chopping Axe.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Let the Battle Begin!


To judge the overall winner of these three competitors, I devised seven simple, yet reliable, tests that I've used many times to test axes in our previous reviews. These tests include: Chopping, Splitting, Limbing, Featherstick-making, Balance, Overall Comfort, and Quality.

TEST #1- CHOPPING 
(30 chops per axe on two separate logs)

WINNER- Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe
SECOND PLACE- Tied between the Gerber Camp Axe II and the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe

All three of the axes chopped great for their size, but the Large Hunting Axe ended up taking the prize. It consistently outchopped the Camp Axe II and Small Forest Axe by about 10%.

The Camp Axe II and Small Forest Axe were so closely matched that they finished in a draw.

Chop Test #1 (from left to right- Wetterlings, Gerber, Gransfors Bruks)
(click to enlarge any photo)

Chop Test #2 (from left to right- Gransfors Bruks, Gerber, Wetterlings)

TEST #2 - SPLITTING

WINNER- Gerber Camp Axe II
SECOND PLACE- A draw between the Large Hunting Axe and Small Forest Axe

For the splitting test, I grabbed a few well seasoned Ponderosa Pine logs that had been bucked with a saw. Each axe was tested by splitting one of these logs into four quarters on top of a flat chopping block.

In spite of it's short handle, the Camp Axe II's wedge-shaped head clearly dominated this test, and was effective enough that it even made the log fly apart upon striking it! The Small Forest Axe and Large Hunting Axe, though not as effective as the Camp Axe, were still competent enough splitters to get the job done, albeit, with an extra swing or two. Neither the Large Hunting Axe or the Small Forest Axe felt like the better splitter, so they ended up in a draw.


Profile shot of the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe (left), next to the Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe (middle), and the Gerber Camp Axe II (right). The Gerber's wedge-shaped head gave it a clear advantage in this test.


TEST #3 - LIMBING A TREE

WINNER- Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe
SECOND PLACE- Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe
THIRD PLACE- Gerber Camp Axe II

A dead, blown-down Douglas Fir Tree was used as the "victim" for the limbing test. The longer handles of the traditional Swedish axes had a distinct reach advantage over the shorter Camp Axe and so came out on top in this test. The Wetterlings just edged out the Gransfors Bruks due to it's slightly better chopping ability, which pushed it into first place.



TEST #4 - FEATHERSTICKS

WINNER- Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe
SECOND PLACE- Gerber Camp Axe II
THIRD PLACE- Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe

In my experience using/testing lots of axes, I've found that an axe's ability to make a good featherstick is usually a good indicator of its ability to do other fine work and shaping tasks.

Out of the three, the Wetterlings really shined in this test, being the easiest to use to push-cut the wood into nice feathered curls. The Camp Axe II turned in a solid second place performance, and was nearly as easy to use, turning out a well-made featherstick.

The Small Forest Axe made the finest curls, but was the hardest to featherstick with, since it made push-cutting more difficult than the other two axes. This affected its ability to make larger feathers as well. I found this surprising, since my experiences with the Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet and Scandinavian Forest Axe have been the complete opposite.


TEST #5 - BALANCE

WINNERS- Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe and Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe
SECOND PLACE- Gerber Camp Axe II

Both the Small Forest Axe and Large Hunting Axe balanced perfectly in the hand, so they shared the winning spot.

The Camp Axe II, in comparison with the Large Hunting Axe and Small Forest Axe, balanced poorly. Just after the photo below was snapped, the heavy-headed/light handled Gerber nose-dived out of my hand towards the ground. Had I not "Used the Force" and caught the handle in mid-flight, the Camp Axe would have hit the snow with a big "ker-plunk!"

Gerber Camp Axe II

Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe

Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe

TEST #6 - OVERALL COMFORT

WINNER- Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe
SECOND PLACE- Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe
THIRD PLACE- Gerber Camp Axe II

In terms of overall comfort, the Small Forest Axe was the clear winner in this test. In my opinion, Gransfors Bruks makes some of the best production axe handles out there, rivaled only by Council Tool's excellent Velvicut handles. The design of the Small Forest Axe handle makes it feel very secure and comfortable in the hand.

The Wetterlings' handle, while also very comfortable, feels just a bit too thick by comparison. 

The Gerber's handle, though comfortable, feels a bit cramped when using it two-handed compared to its longer, wooden-handled rivals. However, using it one-handed feels nearly as comfortable as using the Small Forest Axe, since the overall shape of the handle makes for a comfortable grip.

(Left to right: Wetterlings, Gransfors Bruks, Gerber)

TEST #7 - QUALITY

WINNER- Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe
SECOND PLACE- Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe
THIRD PLACE- Gerber Camp Axe II

As mentioned in the Small Forest Axe's summary, it is the compact axe by which all others are judged, and this is not by accident. Gransfors Bruks simply makes the highest quality production axes in the world. These axes have been field tested by thousands of wilderness enthusiasts since the early 1990s. Without a doubt it is an axe built so well that you can stake your life on it. True to Gransfors Bruks' well deserved reputation, the Small Forest Axe used in the test was of impeccable quality, making it the easy winner of this category.

The Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe used in this test has been my personal bushcraft axe for several years. I'd rate its overall quality at maybe 85% of the Gransfors. I did have an issue with the edge rolling about a year into ownership, but after re-sharpening, the issue didn't return, and the axe has been a faithful companion since. The steel takes a very sharp edge, and holds the edge nearly as well as the Gransfors Small Forest Axe. The sheath is of high quality and made of heavy, reinforced leather. Sadly, in their latest models Wetterlings replaced these heavy leather sheaths with newer sheaths that use weaker button snaps. Wetterlings informed me that they are currently in the process of fixing this issue.

The Gerber Camp Axe II (which is a Gerber-branded Fiskars X-Series Axe), is of excellent quality for such an affordable axe. Yes, the balance of a traditional wood-handled axe is lacking, but for the money, it's excellent at chopping, excels at splitting, and rivals the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe in fine carving. The steel, once sharpened, takes a scalpel-like edge and holds it well.

The Gerber Camp Axe II in between fellow X-Series Axes, the Fiskars X7 and Fiskars X15


One issue that I've discovered with Fiskars axes is that they have to be sharpened BEFORE using them, or the edge will roll and dent when chopping initially. Why? Because there seems to be just a tiny bit of soft, extra metal leftover from the drop forging process that causes this issue, but once sharpened, the edges seem to hold up as well as my American, German and Swedish axes. 

Sheath comparison of the three axes (Left to right: Wetterlings, Gransfors Bruks, Gerber)

And the winner is.......

First Place- Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe


Winning or tying nearly every performance test, with excellent balance, and quality approaching the Gransfors Bruks, the Wetterlings Large Hunting Axe was the easy choice in this "Battle of the Compact Bushcraft Axes" competition. 

Yes, the handle is a little on the thick side, the quality is a notch down from a Gransfors Axe, and it doesn't split with the ferocity of the Gerber Camp Axe II. But it's negatives were relatively minor in comparison with it's awesome performance while performing various bushcraft chores. 

Second Place- Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe

Though it came in at second place, the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe still comes out on top when it comes to quality and excellence in axe design.

In spite of its third place ranking in the Featherstick Test, it is still a superb compact bushcraft axe by any measure, and one that gets grabbed as often as my Wetterlings when I head off into the bush. What the Small Forest Axe gives up to the Wetterlings in pure chopping and feathersticking performance, it makes up for with all-day comfort, dead reliability, and probably the best overall steel quality of any production axe.

A few minutes spent with a file and sharpening stone would probably improve its push-cutting ability, making it a top choice for people who prefer the higher quality of a Gransfors' axe over a Wetterlings.




Third Place- Gerber Camp Axe II


Unfortunately, "The Force" just couldn't save the hi-tek, Star Wars-esque Gerber Camp Axe II from landing in the third spot. In spite of its excellent performance in the chopping, splitting and featherstick categories, it was ultimately hampered by poor balance, along with a shorter handle that's a bit cramped when using it two-handed, compared to its longer-handled rivals. Still, with a street price of roughly $40.00, it's hard to beat, especially considering its overall performance in the test.

CONCLUSION

The truth is, all three of these axes will perform well in the role of a compact bushcraft axe. Purists will, of course, prefer the balance and feel of a fine hickory axe handle over Gerber's synthetic handle. But bushcrafters on a budget, who can't afford the steep entry price of a Swedish axe, can still add the highly capable Camp Axe II to their bushcraft arsenal without breaking the bank. The choice, of course, will ultimately come down to your budget and personal preference.


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About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft, a blog that features articles, news stories, outdoor tips and product reviews written from a bushcraft and wilderness survival perspective. Schwartz is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America. He has also written for the The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ hotmail.com (without spaces)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Test video: Chopping with a Les Stroud Bushman Axe

This is a test video I did with a pair of Pivothead Video Sunglasses while I was out chopping with a Bushman Axe. Unfortunately, the glasses didn't point down far enough to see all the chopping action, but it was a fun experiment nonetheless. I'm a complete amateur when it comes to video, so please go easy on me- I'm definitely not going to win an Academy Award for this one!

In the video, I'm retesting the Les Stroud Bushman Axe after rolling its edge in the initial field review, and wanted to see how well the edge would hold up after re-sharpening it. I performed several chopping tests since this video was taken, and the edge seems to have held up well. I will post this update to the Bushman Axe review later this week.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Gear Review: Coghlan's Hard Anodized Aluminum Cookset and Carbon Steel Family Cookset



While I was covering the Winter Outdoor Retailer Show back in January, I stopped by the Coghlan's exhibit to take look at their new line of 2013 products. I was checking out the exhibit when a Coghlan's rep grabbed me and directed my attention towards two new interesting sets of camp cookware that they were releasing this year -- packable Hard Anodized Aluminum and Carbon Steel Camp Cooksets.

Both cooksets are designed to nest together into very compact packages, and feature handy, steel swing-out handles, as well as lids with strainer holes on one side - convenient for making Pasta, etc.

Hard Anodized Aluminum Cookset

The entire Hard Anodized Aluminum Cookset weighs in at just 41.2 ounces (2.58 lbs). The complete set nests together and fits inside the nylon carry bag shown in the photo below. Each set also comes with its own pot scrubber and measuring cup.




All the cookware nested together:

The individual pots and frying pan are also light enough to pack for day hikes and backpacking trips. Here's a breakdown of the individual sizes and weights:

  • Large Pot- 2.8 quarts, Weight- 12.8 ounces
  • Medium Pot- 1.8 quarts, Weight- 10.1 ounces
  • Small Pot- 1 quart, Weight- 7.4 ounces
  • Frying Pan- 1.2 Quarts, Weight- 8.8 ounces
  • Total weight (including nylon carrying case, pot scrubber, and measuring cup)2.58 lbs

The smallest 1 quart pot (with lid) comes in at a very packable 7.4 ounces, and the 1.2 quart frying pan at 8.8 ounces. This slim weight range gives the cookset enough flexibility to be used around camp or on the trail. 




Carbon Steel Family Cookset

Coglan's Carbon Steel Family Cookset is essentially a larger, heavier carbon steel version of the Hard Anodized Aluminum Cookset. Built to withstand the rigors of heavy camp use, it features non-stick surfaces, lids with convenient strainer holes, a pot scrubber, measuring cup, and swing-out steel handles.

The Carbon Steel set is also sized differently, with the largest pot holding a hefty 4.2 quarts. Here is the breakdown:

  • Large Pot- 4.2 quarts, Weight- 37.3 ounces
  • Medium Pot- 2.4 quarts, Weight- 27.5 ounces
  • Small Pot- 1.4 Quarts, Weight- 20.8 ounces
  • Frying Pan- 1.2 Quarts, Weight- 14.5 ounces
  • Total weight (including nylon carrying case, pot scrubber, and measuring cup)- 6.39 lbs

Just like its lightweight aluminum counterpart, the carbon steel set nests together to fit neatly inside a nylon carrying case.





 The cookset nested together:

Field Testing

I wasn't able to test both cooksets in time for this review, but I did take the large 2.8 quart pot from the Hard Anodized Aluminum Cookset on a recent field trip, and used it to cook up some Ramen noodles. The pot heated evenly, strained well, and the surfaces were non-sticking.

Even without extensive field testing, my impression is that these pots are sturdy and well built. Of course, it will take a few months out in the field to see how well they'll hold up, so as summer approaches and I get to use them more, I'll post an update.

In the meantime, you can check out SectionHiker's recent review of the Hard Anodized Aluminum Cookset, which contains a more thorough field review.

Overall Impression

Both the Aluminum and Carbon Steel cooksets offer a surprising level of fit and finish, and the swing-out handles are both convenient and easy to use. Since the handles are permanently attached with heavy rivets, they can't be lost or misplaced, as is the case with camp pots that have removable handles.

The ability to pack down into such a compact size is a great space-saver, and especially important for people headed off on camping trips with tightly packed vehicles.

One major advantage of the Hard Anodized Aluminum Cookset is that it is light enough to take individual components on hiking and backpacking trips, yet large enough to use as a set around camp, which makes it a flexible option for people who want a cookware set that's a "Jack of all Trades."

The Carbon Steel Family Cookset, due to its heavier weight, is pretty much relegated to camp-only chores, but its larger size and sturdier construction make it a better choice for heavier use and cooking larger meals.

One important thing to note is that these cooksets are primarily designed for use on camping and backpacking stoves, so even though they are metal and can be used on an open campfire if needed, they are not the best option for this role. Pots with handles that allow them to hang over a fire, like Open Country Cookware sells, are better suited if open campfire cooking is your primary goal. 

If you cook mainly over liquid fuel or pressurized gas stoves, wood-gas stoves, or over wood fires contained in metal stoves like the Firebox, then the Coghlan's design should work quite well (check out SectionHiker's review showing the pots being used over a wood fire in an open metal stove).


Conclusion

The street price on these sets should be in the $60 to $80 range, and they are available through online retailers at the time of this posting. Traditional brick and mortar outdoor retailers should also have them in stock by summer.

Though a bit pricey for a Coghlan's product, the Hard Anodized Aluminum and Carbon Steel Cooksets are competitively priced when compared to similar offerings from other manufacturers. Both sets are well designed, compact, flexible, and sturdy. The Hard Anodized Aluminum Cookset, in particular, is highly recommended if you want cookware that's great for camping trips, yet  light enough to be used on backpacking excursions.

5 out of 5 Stars (Highly Recommended)

For more info, visit: http://coghlans.com/product-category.aspx?ProductCategoryID=20

About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ hotmail.com (without spaces)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Chopping with a Ray Mears Wilderness Axe


I decided to bring my latest addition (or should I say "addiction" ?) with me on a recent photo shoot/gear test outing - a Ray Mears Wilderness Axe, made by Gransfors Bruks in Sweden. I've been dying to try one of these since they came out a couple of years ago. So right before I left to cover SHOT Show back in January, I placed my order for one at the Woodlore website.

Photo credit: raymears.com

The axe took a few weeks to get here from the UK, but thankfully made it safe and sound. Unfortunately, I was so busy after I got back from covering SHOT Show, that I had to let it sit and collect dust for a few months until I could break away from other commitments to give it a try.

I've been dying to try it out and I just couldn't take it anymore! So yesterday, while I was testing some other gear, I grabbed the Wilderness Axe and took it along so I could finally do some chopping with it.

I was able to find both a dead Douglas Fir and a dead Ponderosa Pine while I was meandering through the forest, so I gave the axe a whirl.


On the Douglas Fir, the Wilderness Axe chopped a nice, clean v-notch with relative ease:


I then bucked a dead Ponderosa Pine tree in half with it. The Wilderness Axe chopped through it like a breeze:



The Wilderness Axe has a much heavier head than the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest, so this really improves chopping performance over the Scandi Axe. Definitely a good first impression, and I was finally able to get my Wilderness Axe chopping "fix" filled!


About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ hotmail.com (without spaces)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

REVIEW: Gerber Bear Grylls Ultimate Pro Survival Knife


The Bear Grylls Ultimate Pro Survival Knife was created in response to demand from consumers and knife enthusiasts, who were fond of the original Ultimate Knife, but longed for an upgraded version.

Even though the original Ultimate Knife was praised for its comfortable handle, adept wood carving ability, and handy survival features, it was frequently criticized for having overly soft steel (which required constant sharpening in the field), an anemic whistle, a hard to use diamond sharpener, and a lack of visible full tang construction. You can read more about the pros and cons of the original Ultimate Knife in our full review of it here.

To Gerber's credit, they were paying attention to these criticisms, and decided to team up with Bear Grylls once again in order to create a new "Pro" version of the Ultimate Knife that incorporated these improvements.

The Knife

The new Pro Ultimate Knife features 9Cr19MoV Stainless steel (similar in composition to American 440C Stainless), visible full-tang construction, a stronger survival whistle, an easier to use Carbide sharpener, and a new black and orange color scheme. This new color scheme is quite attractive and makes the knife easy to see when it is lying on the ground:

(click to enlarge)

The Pro Knife weighs 9.6 ounces without the sheath, and 14.1 ounces with the sheath. By comparison, the original Ultimate Knife weighs 8.5 ounces without the sheath, and 13.8 ounces with the sheath. So while the Pro Knife is heavier due to its full tang, its sheath is lighter by 0.7 ounces, keeping the overall weight of the two to within 0.3 ounces.


The Pro Knife's new exposed full-tang and beefier hammer pommel (right) shown next to the original Ultimate Knife (left):


Top to bottom comparison of the Pro Ultimate Knife (top), Original Ultimate Knife (middle) and Gerber's LMF II Survival Knife (bottom):


Handle comparison (from left to right- Gerber LMF II, Pro Ultimate Knife, Original Ultimate Knife):


Blade comparison (from left to right- Gerber LMF II, Pro Ultimate Knife, Original Ultimate Knife):


A small change is the size of the ribbing on the rubberized handle. The Pro Knife has larger ribbing than the original Ultimate Knife.


Another change is the addition of a finger choil:


Finger choils tend to generate controversy, since some people love them, and others consider them a waste of blade space.

On the negative side, they can leave less of an edge for cutting and batoning. On the positive side, they can be an asset when needing to choke up on the blade to skin small game animals, etc., and can also make the blade a little easier to sharpen. Since the edge is not butted right against the finger guard, this area can be a little easier to reach with a sharpening stone. I've included my impression of the finger choil in the field testing below.

Choking up on the Pro Knife using the finger choil

Whistle

The Pro Knife includes a more robust whistle than the previous version.


Comparison of the Pro version whistle (right) next to the original Ultimate Knife whistle (left):


The Sheath

The Pro Knife's sheath has been completely redesigned with a new black and orange color scheme, and includes several notable improvements, such as a longer firesteel that sits in an upright slot, a carbide pull through sharpener, and a new pocket at the top of the sheath for the Priorities of Survival Pocket Guide.



The Pro Knife firesteel (left) next to the original Ultimate Knife firesteel (right)

New sheath pocket:

The sheath pocket can also be used to stash an emergency fishing kit or other compact survival goodies if desired:


The back of the Pro Sheath (left) next to the original Ultimate Sheath (right). The Pro Sheath does away with both the Emergency Signals guide and the extra loops that allow for sideways carry.


The Carbide pull-through sharpener:

The sharpener can be removed by unscrewing two small T6 Torx screws (shown in the orange area) so that it can be switched for right or left handed operation, or removed for replacement:


Comparison of the Pro sharpener (left) next to the original Ultimate Knife's diamond sharpener (right):


The Pro Knife locks into the sheath in much the same way as the original Ultimate Knife, but does away with the plastic sheath-lock that was on the older version:


The sheath's new black and orange colors make it easy to find if dropped into water or snow:


The sheath also has a drain hole at the bottom to allow water to escape:


FIELD TESTING

To field test the Pro Knife, I wanted to focus mainly on the performance of the upgraded features. In our review of the original Ultimate Knife last year, I already covered many of the unchanged features, such as lashing the knife to a pole, striking the firesteel to start a fire, opening a can, and general wood carving.


In particular I wanted to test 1) the ability of the 9Cr19MoV Stainless to take a sharp edge 2) the edge retention of the new steel 3) the built-in Carbide sharpener to determine its effectiveness, and also to see how easy the steel is to re-sharpen 4) the finger choil to see how it might affect batoning and featherstick-making 5) the feel of the knife with the new full tang construction while using it out in the field, and 6) the improved survival whistle.

Survival Whistle

I had a friend stand 75 feet away with his back towards me. I then blew the whistles from both the Pro Knife and the original Ultimate Knife, and asked him which whistle was louder. I repeated this test three times. According to my friend, the new Pro Knife whistle was just barely louder, with a slightly deeper tone to it. 

Testing the 9Cr19MoV Stainless, Sharpener, and Finger Choil

In order to test the new, upgraded steel on the Pro Knife, I did some chopping on a small, dead Aspen tree, batoned and carved out a pitchwood tinder knot, and made a featherstick. After these tasks were finished, I checked the edge to see how well it held up, then used the Carbide sheath sharpener to re-sharpen the edge, taking note of how easy it was to perform this task.

Chopping

Below is a small dead, Aspen tree that I chopped down with the Pro Knife. I then bucked a piece out, simulating a wilderness survival skill to find dry wood to make fire under wet conditions. The extra weight of the Pro Knife gave it an edge over the original Ultimate Knife when performing this task.

(click to enlarge)

Batoning and carving out a pitchwood knot for fire tinder

To test the Pro Knife's ability to handle stress, as well as to see if having a finger choil would reduce the Pro Knife's ability to baton wood, I grabbed a Ponderosa Pine pitchwood knot that I cut last year and batoned and carved it into a pitchwood tinder stick.

Even though this is just a piece of pine, the wood near the base on these old growth mountain pine knots is stronger than oak, and often very twisted. I've cut hundreds of them, and have seen them chip and roll edges on heavy knives and machetes, so it was no easy feat for the Pro Knife.


Success! The Pro Knife did an excellent job of reducing this piece into a beautiful chunk of flammable pitchwood (also known as fatwood), with no degradation of the edge noted.  


Finger Choil

Having the finger choil didn't seem to affect the knife's ability to baton:


Featherstick Making

The Pro Knife, like its predecessor, is very adept at making feathersticks. The finger choil didn't seem to make that much of a difference in either a positive or a negative way with this task. 


Steel Performance/Using the Built-In Sharpener

So how did the edge hold up? -- Leaps and bounds ahead of the original Ultimate Knife's edge. The 9Cr19MoV Stainless has edge-holding that's at least as good as 440C with a good heat treatment, and possibly better. I was very impressed by its performance and was honestly a bit surprised, as I didn't expect a Chinese stainless to hold an edge this well.

The ability to hold an edge is a great quality, but not if comes at the price of being hard to sharpen. I was very curious to see how difficult this steel would be to re-sharpen, and also how effectively the built-in Carbide sharpener would perform. 

After trying the sharpener in several different positions, I found that holding the sheath as shown in the photos below was the easiest way to pull the knife through to sharpen it. Others may have different results of course, but this was the easiest way for me. 

After just 3-4 pulls on the sharpener, the Pro Knife was actually sharp enough to shave with - very impressive. In fact, I was able to make this knife sharper with just the sheath sharpener, than I ever could make the original Ultimate Knife - even when I used my best ceramic sharpening stones and a leather strop. So all in all, the 9Cr19MoV turned out to be an excellent knife steel. 


Conclusion

So will fans of the original Ultimate Knife find the new Pro version to be a worthy upgrade? Despite the $30.00 price increase -- definitely yes, in my opinion.

The steel is a significant improvement in all aspects, including edge-holding, ease of sharpening, and the ability to take a sharper edge than the original version.

The visible full tang construction and beefier hammer pommel also mean greater overall strength -- a critical feature in a survival knife. This increased strength inspires confidence that the Ultimate Pro can be depended upon in a critical situation.


The revised sheath, which includes a new, easier to use Carbide sharpener, along with a firesteel placed in an upright position, is also an improvement.

I like the slightly smaller, sleeker design of the sheath, including the attractive and easy to find contrasting orange and black color. The same goes for the knife, as the new black/orange scheme is more attractive than the original and gives the knife a slightly more serious appearance.


Negatives? Yes -- the whistle is only marginally improved. I'm not sure why a more robust whistle wasn't added, as this could have been a golden opportunity for Gerber to improve upon this useful survival feature. The whistle is still effective, but could be better.

Another issue is the velcro retaining strap on the sheath. The simple addition of a heavy duty button snap ala' Gerber's LMF II sheath would have made the strap more reliable, and given it a feeling of higher quality.

Also, as I mentioned in our review of the original Bear Grylls Ultimate Knife last year, I'm still not a fan of the extra large "BG" logo on the handle, and was hoping this might be toned down a bit in the Pro version. I'm still hoping that Gerber will come out with a less conspicuous, American-made version of this knife, say something along the lines of a fine-edged LMF II, but with upgraded 154CM or S30V Steel. That would be a very attractive proposition, and one that I'd certainly be interested in.

Despite these criticisms, I think this is a much improved version of Gerber's best selling knife, and one that fans of the original version will certainly enjoy. In fact, this might even be a knife that critics, who panned the original version, might finally consider a serious, field-worthy survival blade.

4.5 out of 5 Stars

The Ultimate Pro Survival Knife is available at Lifeview Outdoors: http://www.lifeviewoutdoors.com/knives-and-tools/fixed-blade-knives/gerber-bear-grylls-ultimate-pro-fixed-blade-knife.html

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About the author
Jason Schwartz is the founder and senior editor of Rocky Mountain Bushcraft. He is a former Red Cross certified Wilderness & Remote First Aid Instructor, and has taught bushcraft and wilderness survival techniques to the Boy Scouts of America, interned with the US Forest Service, and studied wilderness survival, forestry and wildland firefighting at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado. Jason has also written for magazines such as The New Pioneer and Backpacker, including writing the "Tinder Finder" portion of Backpacker's "Complete Guide to Fire," which won a 2015 National Magazine Award (NMA). Email him at rockymountainbushcraft @ hotmail.com (without spaces)