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


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:


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.


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. 


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

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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 @ (without spaces)

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