Best Safari Knife Shoot Out – 2017 D. Troy Moritz & Austringer Outfitters From top left clockwise: The ESEE RB3 Camp-Lore, the Buck Selkirk, the Fallkniven F1 Pro and the Arthur Wright Bushcraft. Each formidable choices for a safari knife in their own right and all received recognition during our three phases of testing. What makes a knife a “safari knife” and who does it best? We logged hundreds of hours distilling the core requirements for a proper safari knife, created testing criterion and ran some of the best knives in the world through their paces. Who reigns supreme? Our requirements which we determined based upon reasonable use cases can best be described as follows, although none of the entrants actually achieved all functional and non-functional requirements: 1.) Suitable for General Field Craft. Examples of this trait would be cutting a few branches from a blind here and there, sharpening a stick or two for grilling up the sand grouse skewers for lunch over the mopane wood fire and other basic bushcraft duties. 2.) Fit for use as a Standard Hunting Knife. Can the knife dress a large game animal at least to the point of quartering, removing loins and backstraps, basic bird/fish cleaning and other standard and customary hunting duties. 3.) The tourist’s Odd Jobs while on safari. Is the knife razor sharp enough to do the near impossible task of cutting a fine Cuban cigar in the bush without destroying a fine stick? Can it act as a cigar cutter 10x in a row without being dull? What about cutting into biltong all day as you try to snack on dried cross grain cut meats and jerkys? 4.) The multi-tool of unforeseen and inappropriate jobs. Contrary to all good sense and fair judgment, can the knife do things you ought not due like pry open rusted small lock to get at the tools or tire? Can the knife endure the abuse of use as an emergency ice pick to get perfect size shavings for your gin and tonic? In short, can it endure misuse and abuse that in good conscience should void the warranty on any knife? 5.) Maintains its edge and sharpens with minimal effort. Dull knives are not useful and they serve as a particular nuisance when you’re 8,000 miles from your Japanese Whetstone. Does the knife have a Scandinavian single bevel grind that makes sharpening imbecile proof in the field? Does the steel alloy make touch ups of the blade against a leather scabbard or inside of your leather belt possible? We dulled all the blades and went on to see how easy they touch up with a quick strop knowing a proper sharpening is not likely. 6.) Proportionally appropriate for the tasks of a safari in both form and function. The knives tested all were fixed blade models that could provide slashing, thrusting and <gulp> prying abilities. Proper handles that fit adult hands with good indexing and blade geometry, reasonable 3-4” blades, quality sheaths and all within the realms of suitable “bushcraft style” knives that are clearly multi-purpose knives that would be suitable proxies for traditional hunting knives when called upon. We ran a great many contestants through their paces under many different conditions in a three phase process. Phase 1 – Over 30 knives were tested in the USA in backyard conditions to see if they held any promise as contenders. In addition to the knives featured here we looked at everything from classic WWII Kabars, Case, Bucks, Beckers, Condors, Ontario, Benchmade, Gerber, Helle, Spyderco and Moro. Phase 2 – More than a dozen knives made it past the initial testing and got to be used on an actual hunt in Texas. During this field test we field dressed several deer, started fires with ferocium rods, cut a few cigars to celebrate the day’s successes and even used them as utensils at some dinners. Phase 3 – The preliminary finalists were sent for final testing in Zimbabwe for more than two weeks of rigorous use and carry in real world safari conditions. During this third phase Professional Hunters, Clients, National Parks Rangers, Skinners and Trackers all got to put these knives through rigorous endurance tests to see just what sort of punishment was endured. In the end, we had four winners that will surely guide your decision making towards the right knife for your upcoming safari. The winners are: Best Economy Value Safari Knife – Buck Selkirk The Buck Selkirk has many virtues but is balanced by a few vices as well. But with an MSRP of $87.00 and a street price that often is just slightly more than $50.00 it deserves consideration for anyone on a budget. What we loved: The included ferocium fire starter is a great bonus as was the multi-position adjustable sheath that can accommodate many configurations. The blade was suitably sharp and reasonably thick to handle many of the duties for which it was conscripted. The steel pommel could serve useful for bashing and crushing tasks in a pinch and the micarta handles provided a steady grip while the steel guard would protect your fingers from serious injury if using it for a thrusting tool. Lets not forget that sterling reputation of Buck’s limited lifetime warranty that comes proudly on a piece of paper in every box. What we didn’t like: Kydex, Nylon or as is the case with the economical Selkirk, plastic sheaths are notorious for being loud when used on stalks and may blow your cover while trying to move silently on your hunt. The plastic whistle in the ferocium rod handle was a bit of a gimmick for our tastes and the 420HC steel held its edge for a long time but does not touch up or resharpen very easily. Lastly, the made in China stamp on the blade reminds us that this is a economy knife and not a legendary American Buck but for little more than $50.00 it is asking a lot to be made in the USA. Lastly, the drop point and the flat grind are not the most durable geometries and while dressing a game animal we broke a small portion of the tip off to the chagrin of the PH. Best Ultra Premium Safari Knife – Fallkniven F1 Pro The Fallkniven F1 Pro is really perfect for the Saab car enthusiast. If the beloved Saab carrries the banner “Designed from Jets” this Swedish maestro has a shared claim. The Fallkniven F1 Pro was designed for the pilots of Sweden’s Viggen warplanes as a true emergency survival knife. With no gimmicks and superfluous features it is a truly marvelous creation. Laminated steel ensures a razor cutting edge and soft, shock absorbent spine and case to the blade. The rubber handle secures the knife whether wet or dry while the pommel allows you to break ice, the cockpit glass on your fighter jet or any other pounding task. The blade profile has a secondary bevel and an appearance very similar to what Americans have chosen for fine hunting knives for nearly a century. Tactical, reliable, flawlessly manufactured and contemporary in its aesthetic, the Fallkniven F1 Pro is not a knife for the traditionalist but is nonetheless an exquisite piece of modern Swedish engineering. With a MSRP of over $350.00 and a US street price hovering around $250.00 the knife is not for the economy minded but it quite possibly could be the last knife you ever buy for safaris, hunting and camp life. What we loved: The Laminated CoS steel with a 60 Rockwell hardness makes for a razor sharp edge, easy touch ups and the soft laminations provide shock absorption and protection. The leather sheath (purchased separately as it comes with a Zytel sheath standard) is of a hanger configuration that was quite comfortable. The included waterproof storage box is a sure-win for reuse by the safari hunter and the included diamond/ceramic sharpening stone is a valuable accessory. The quality of the micro welds that affixed the guard to the blade were exactly what you’d expect of a world class Swedish manufacturer and while the grip is quite thin and overall lightweight, it never seemed to effect our ability to use the knife. What we didn’t like: The standard Kydex sheath is not appropriate for the safari hunter even though it is a very expensive and high quality product beloved by the bushcraft community. The clip point blade may appeal more to traditional hunters but it also means there is not a Scandinavian grind present and thus, sharpening chores require actual competence and technique instead of the “idiot proof” sharpening of a Scandi bevel grind. While neither are traditional bushcraft knives that would normally be in consideration for a safari knife, both the Fallkniven F1 Pro and the Buck Selkirk overcame critiques to achieve strong recognition for their merits in our tests. Best Traditional Safari Knife – Arthur Wright Bushcraft The A.W. Wright (Not to be confused with LT Wright!) is a glorious knife for the safari hunter and it will look beautiful in your display case when in repose. Made by trusted hands in Sheffield, England from 01 Carbon Tool Steel and hardened to Rockwell 56/58, this blade was meant for safari use. The Wright also comes in beautiful grip adornments such as Snakewood, Ebony, Horn, Rosewood or our favorite, Stag. With an MSRP of around $300.00 and a street price in the UK of about $230.00 not counting international freight, it is an expensive but beautiful knife. Here’s a great video of the manufacture and history of the Arthur Knife Bushcraft here: What we loved: The substantial, extremely hefty 3.9mm blade makes this knife suitable for all forms of torture and the scandi grind made putting an edge back on a straightforward ordeal. The handmade nature of the blade and the one of a kind natural handles give this knife the counterpoint to the Fallkniven’s space age technologies. While some knives one points for innovation, the Arthur Wright caught our eyes for its lack of innovation in its traditional, proven design, known materials and first world hand crafted nature. What we didn’t like: Jabbing the knife into some mopane wood was all it took to fold over the tip of the blade at 56 rockwell and striking the spine of the blade with a soft flint for starting a fire did scratch the spine and displace some metal. The lack of a guard is somewhat compensated by the contour of the handle and blade but it certainly is the least sure gripped choice of the lot. The beautiful handle rivets mean the stag scales aren’t coming off anytime soon but neither are you going to easily replace the handle with a piece of giraffe bone, warthog tusk or impala horn from your trophies brought back from Africa. Nonetheless, this is a forever knife and no matter how many times you polish out blemishes or redress the edge profile of the Scandi grind you’ll never wear this knife out. Cutting biltong on the back of the Toyota Landcruiser is one of the most common daily uses of a safari knife. A sharp tool is the only way you’ll get through the tough, dry meat of your favorite bush snack. The traditional Arthur Wright with its larger, heavier blade is contrasted against the ESEE RB3 that is a lighter, more agile option. Both beautiful knives that received excellent marks in our testing. Best Safari Knife Overall and Reviewer’s Choice – ESEE RB3 Camp-lore Feast your senses upon the absolute, hands down winner of the 2017 best safari knife competition, the made in America ESEE RB3 Camp-Lore designed by Reuben Bolieu. This fantastic knife got high marks for a great many reasons which we’ll enumerate shortly but first, lets talk about price. The Camp-Lore RB3 has an MSRP of $190.00 and a street price that hovers right around $110.00 in many places. The 1095 steel blade needs a modicum of upkeep to prevent rust but in return it is very easy to keep razor sharp. What we loved: The Scandi grind made sharpening the knife idiot proof and the soft 1095 steel was easily stropped on our belt to hone the edge for more than a week of heavy use. Inos, our skinner let out a frightful noise of sheer surprise when we handed it to him to dress an impala ram as he did not anticipate a “surgical sharp” instrument in the bush. Long after the knife had skinned several animals it was still cutting the caps off of very delicate Partagas Serie P No. 2 torpedo cigars without trashing that Cuban delicacy. The no-nonsense leather sheath served as a strop daily and kept the edge wicked sharp for more than a week of heavy use before it could not longer shave hair. The linen micarta handles and grip geometry were stellar and removing the three torx screws that hold on the grips would be easy should you wish to someday personalize the knife with impala horn scales or a giraffe bone scrimshaw from one of your African experiences. We loved the heritage of this knife and its association with “Randall’s Adventure & Training School of Survival” and its known history as a serious bushcraft tool that is all utility and no superfluous gimmickry. What we didn’t like: We don’t like to be told no and we don’t care for safety warnings! The first thing you’ll read in the box is that the .125” thick blade is not recommended for batoning wood as it will likely roll the edge of the knife. Acknowledged, we know that batoning any knife with mopane wood as the subject material will devastate the edge but for some reason this thoughtful warning made us feel that the ESEE warranty may not be honored if we do what we know we shouldn’t do to this knife. The sheath was not without a minor issue or two also but we have so much to say about all the sheaths we are going to give that a collective diatribe in this review. The skinning abilities of the RB3 were profound and it managed to handle all chores admirably. The sustainably harvested giraffe above was dressed using several of the reviewed knives and the meat will go on to feed 42 members of the local tribal community for nearly six months. A Few Words About Sheaths For Your Safari Knife We had an epiphany during our testing that was not a particular good realization: all the sheaths were very disappointing. Lets paint the picture properly: · The Fallkniven F1 Pro Sheath has stitching coming undone at the bottom of the sheath, perhaps from the point of the blade cutting the stitch or perhaps a manufacturer’s defect. Not acceptable for a MSRP $55.00 sheath. · The ESEE Camp-Lore Sheath was proudly stamped “made in USA” on the back of the sheath. The bad news is that it was embossed so deeply that it creates a perfect “pocket” for the blade to snag on while trying to put your blade away that resulted in us cutting the sheath! Not acceptable for a MSRP $25.00 sheath. · The Arthur Wright compatible sheath from “The Bushcraft Store UK” also had a blown stitch and required a prompt replacement from TBS. Sadly, as nice of a sheath as it is the knife falls out of it frequently contrary to their claims that the sheath will work well with the A. Wright Bushcraft knife. Not acceptable for a MSRP $55.00 sheath. · The Buck Selkirk provided no leather sheath whatsoever so we had to toil with the cumbersome and gimmick laden plastic sheath trying to move Chicago screws around to get it oriented correctly and ready for use in the bush. It was so profoundly noisy that it deeply frustrated us and the way in which it “over secured” the knife was so tricky that the PH cut himself trying to get the knife out of the plastic sheath. · For the additional two dozen knives we initially reviewed there was an even longer list of sheath maladies that we omit from this review to save space and time! In short, a sheath is a very personal thing and you must consider the notion that to be truly satisfied you will need to either make your own sheath or have one custom made from a quality sheath company such as JRE Industries that knows how to make a proper safari sheath. Of the bunch, the unsophisticated ESEE Camp-Lore RB3 leather sheath provided the most reliability but all reviewers found the idea of a horizontal sheath oriented in a cross draw or back draw configuration to be the most logical choice for the safari community. Above are several of the sheaths we became frustrated with and managed to break or damage in our rigorous tests. A custom sheath from JRE Industries may cost as much as the knife itself but it would forgo much heartache when on safari. ***About Us: As a group of avid hunters, fine weapon collectors and perennial safari tourists we've had a chance to play with a lot of nice tools over the years. Austringer Outfitters requested these knives through industry channels so we could conduct a unique review that had never been done before. Austringer Outfitters does not retail or market any of the products within this review and we provide this review free of monetary compensation for the benefit of the overall sporting community.