Saturday, May 3, 2014

REVIEW: The Big Bad Mora Bushcraft Pathfinder Knife- UPDATED


Mora's new super-sized Pathfinder Knife has probably generated more excitement than any Mora in recent history.

Ever since RMB first mentioned it last year, forums and blogs have been buzzing about the Pathfinder, and for good reason. At a whopping 6.75" long and an 1/8" thick, it is the biggest and baddest Mora knife ever produced.

It is readily apparent from the Pathfinder's size and wallet-numbing $129.99 MSRP (yes folks, a $100 Mora, that is not a typo) that Mora is taking square aim at the US consumer survival knife market, which tends to favor large blades. This is definitely a risky move on their part, since they will be competing with well established, reputable US survival knife makers such as Ontario, Gerber, ESEE, KaBar, Cold Steel, Buck, SOG and many others.


As many longtime readers know, I'm a huge Mora fan, so I've been excited about the release of this knife. Will the Pathfinder live up to its hyped-up expectations? Find out as I take the Pathfinder into the Colorado backcountry to see if it actually measures up to the standards of a true survival blade.

The SPECS:

Overall length: 11.75"
Blade Length: 6.75"
Weight with sheath (as measured on a digital US Postal Scale): 8.1oz
Weight without sheath (as measured on a digital US Postal Scale): 6.0oz
Steel type: Swedish High Carbon Steel 
Coating type: Black Tungsten DLC 
Sheath type: Nylon Webbing
Country of Manufacture: Made in Sweden
Street price: $97.95 at LifeView Outdoors

FEATURES

Based on Mora's popular Black Carbon Bushcraft Knife, the Pathfinder is simply a longer version of the Black Carbon with a wider blade towards the tip. Since they are essentially the same knife, I won't rehash all the details and instead, encourage you to check out our full review of the Black Carbon posted back in November of 2012.

Size Comparison

The Pathfinder practically dwarfs the smaller Black Carbon Bushcraft Knife:
(click to enlarge)

The Pathfinder shown over top of SOG's popular Force 6" Survival Knife (middle) and Mora's Black Carbon Bushcraft Knife (bottom):

At 6.75" long, the Pathfinder's blade is nearly as long as a KaBar Knife:

The blade thickness on the Pathfinder is the same as on the Black Carbon:


SHEATH

A longer, wider blade is not the only change for the Pathfinder. It also has a new nylon webbing MOLLE compatible sheath with additional eyelets for tying the sheath to a pack or using it with a leg lanyard:


The belt loop is a bit thin for my taste, but it did hold the sheath securely to my belt on a couple of day hikes. Due to the strap's thinness, the sheath will hang loosely on your belt, similar to a dangler sheath. Since I like danglers, this was not an issue for me, but some might find it annoying if they're used to a stiffer belt loop on their sheaths.


The sheath has a plastic liner to protect it from the edge of the blade:


One issue that arose was the retention strap getting cut by the blade when removing the knife from the sheath. This happened even when I was being extra careful and trying to hold the strap away from the blade:

(click to enlarge)

FIELD TESTING

To field test the Pathfinder, I wanted to concentrate mainly on how its larger blade would perform in comparison to the shorter-bladed Black Carbon. This included making feathersticks, chopping and batoning.

Featherstick Test

I knew the Pathfinder would be better at batoning and chopping than the Black Carbon, but I was pretty certain that it would lose some of the Black Carbon's fine carving ability, which is typical of longer blades. After making several feather sticks from dry Lodgepole Pine and Douglas Fir, my first impression proved incorrect. The Pathfinder, in fact, turned out to be as good if not better than the Black Carbon with its 6 3/4" blade:


Chopping

The Pathfinder proved to be a fairly capable chopper due to the forward weighted blade and sharp edge. Unfortunately, this is where the trouble began......


While chopping through a small dead pine branch, I stopped and inspected the edge on the Pathfinder:


 I was quite surprised to see a chip in it. Here is a closeup of the edge:

(click to enlarge)


When I informed Mora of this issue, they were very concerned, and quickly sent us a newer production sample of the Pathfinder to test. This was in case the original test sample had a heat treatment issue or some other manufacturing defect. Here the newer blade is on top, with the original, darker test unit on the bottom. I could see no difference in the two aside from a slight variation in shading on the DLC coating:


I took the new test sample back out into the field and chopped some dead pine branches with it. On the 3rd test branch, the same issue appeared, except that instead of a chip, the edge rolled on the lower section of the blade:




Due to the Pathfinder's edge failing during the chopping test, I decided to discontinue any further field testing.

Conclusion

What does the Pathfinder's failure during the chopping test mean for its future as a survival knife in the US market? I think it's a major growing pain for Mora as they enter this very competitive market.

Knowing what I know about Mora and the overall quality of their knives, it is quite obvious to me that Mora's fantastic Scandinavian edge grind, which makes their knives such a dream to carve with, has met its match when dealing with the physics of chopping.

As I've illustrated in previous write-ups, Moras of different shapes and sizes have handled batoning of exceptionally tough pieces of wood without failure.  So I doubt the Pathfinder's problem is an issue with steel quality or heat treat methods. If the Pathfinder had a slightly thicker edge, I'm fairly certain it could handle chopping with no issues. 

With this in mind, I think the Pathfinder is better suited for use as a large bushcraft blade, as opposed to a survival knife, where edge strength trumps fine carving ability. As a bushcraft blade, the Pathfinder shines, because not only does it carve exceptionally well, it also can baton larger pieces of wood than the Black Carbon knife. Plus it's a better blade for tactical purposes if you're looking for this quality in a bushcraft knife.


Other issues: Although it seems well constructed, the sheath leaves a bit to be desired. The biggest problem is the retention strap, which is going to wear with hard use, due to it getting cut when the knife is pulled out of the sheath. The thin belt loop strap might also bother some users. In my opinion, it would be a good idea if Mora were to offer the Pathfinder with the same plastic survival sheath that is currently offered with the Mora Black Carbon Bushcraft Survival Knife. The Black Carbon's sheath is lightweight, functional and a proven performer in the field.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the five ton elephant standing in the corner of the room-- the Pathfinder's price. With an MSRP of $129.99, it's a "what were they thinking?" type of moment. The consumer culture that Mora created for its knives over the last several decades is one of frugality, high value, and economy with quality. What does this mean in street terms??? People just ain't gonna pay a whole lotta "bank" for a Mora knife. At least not at this stage of the game. Mora would be smart to lower the Pathfinder's impact on the wallet.


As it stands, I don't think the Pathfinder is ready for prime-time as a survival knife, due to its inability to handle chopping even small dead branches. Nothing short of a change in the edge thickness/geometry will be able to fix this problem. As a bushcraft blade, the Pathfinder falls only slightly short because of the retention strap issue on the sheath. Mora did inform us that they are looking into the issues with the edge as well as the sheath. My guess is that you'll see some type of revision to the Pathfinder soon.

Final Thoughts

If Mora offered the Pathfinder with a Black Carbon style plastic survival sheath, I think it would be a great choice for people looking for a bushcraft blade that can baton larger pieces of wood. You wouldn't want to chop with it, but you could use it just as you would any other Mora bushcraft blade. I'm going to give the Pathfinder a split review rating and recommendation, the first time I've done so at RMB.........

Survival Knife- 2 out of 5 Stars (Not recommended)

Large Bushcraft Knife- 3.75 out of 5 Stars (With a Mora Black Carbon style survival sheath, 4.5 out of 5 Stars)

For more information visit: www.industrialrev.com/bushcraft-pathfinder.html

Mora Pathfinder Knife UPDATE- Does the new revised Pathfinder stand up to the test?

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)

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