I've noticed that my requirements for a fixed blade knife have changed over the years as my backpacking, hiking, and bushcraft skills have developed. I won't be getting into a debate here about fixed blade versus folding knives. I have both and love them equally for different reasons. What I will be doing is comparing my three favorite fixed blade knives and describing their good and bad points based on my usage and general observations.
The three knives I'll be looking at represent a good cross section of price, ranging from $10 to $100. They are (from top to bottom):
Let me start by saying that I am not a knife collector, for two very good reasons - I don't have the money to be, and I actually use all of my knives. The three knives shown here represent the gradual evolution of my knife skills and knowledge of knife design, as well as a more fundamental personal exploration of the true purpose of knife as a functional outdoor cutting tool.
Evolving Cutting Needs
As I said at the beginning of this review, my knife skills and usage have changed over the years as I have become more familiar with the right way to do things. The knives reviewed here represent three very significant changes in my use and understanding of a knife's purpose. For me, the most common use of a knife is for cutting wood.
There are many, many wood cutting tasks that get performed during an extended stay outdoors, but if I had to summarize them it would be: making feather sticks, carving tent pegs, cutting notches, batoning through thick branches, and sharpening points on sticks. These types of tasks crop up more than anything else. After wood cutting, the most common uses of my knife would be for cutting food and smaller items like rope or cord. Very rarely do I need my knife for gutting an animal or skinning a pelt - it just doesn't happen on a normal backpacking trip - at least not for me :)
The Seal Pup was my first purchase and was bought because of it's size, reputation, and price. The Pup is a well tested and reliable 'survival' knife that has earned an amazing reputation and respect from many - what could be bad? Well for me it turned out to be the serrated edge which was in exactly the wrong place for many wood carving activities. After many months of persevering I started to be on the lookout for a better knife.
My next purchase was the Fallkniven F1 - arguably one of the most well known and sought after knives in the world. Eight intensive years of research went into this knife, and resulted in it being selected as the official survival knife of the Swedish Air force - the rest is history as they say. The problem I had almost from the start with the F1 was that despite the convex grind it would get stuck or pinched tight when trying to make deep cuts in wood, making it less than ideal for heavy duty bushcraft activities. I also started to become more concerned with the knife than it's function - being overly cautious not to damage the knife because it was not cheap.
The Eriksson Mora 711 is my latest (and I hope last) acquisition. I had read so many good things about these knives that I simply had to get one to try it out. The high carbon steel, the classic bushcraft Scandi grind, the comfortable rubberized grip, all had lead me to want to see what all the hype was about. Let me tell you that despite the low price (1/10th of the F1) it has very quickly become my favorite fixed blade knife. It has a razor sharp edge that genuinely will shave the hairs on my arm, it's very comfortable to hold, and the Scandi grind seems to make every wood cutting activity a complete delight.
So let me break this down into the individual components of what I think are the most important considerations when buying or selecting a knife.
To me, the main purposes of a sheath are to protect the knife, retain it securely, and to allow me to carry it with the confidence that it can't easily get separated from my person. If it can't do any one those three things then it probably has been designed properly and isn't worth considering unless you plan to make your own sheath or know that you will be getting or using one that will.
In my opinion the SOG Seal Pup has the most functional and well made sheath of these three and here's why. The sheath is made from extremely strong high-grade ballistic nylon that will take considerable abuse without showing the slightest signs of wear. The blade section of the sheath has a hard Kydex inner liner that grips the blade very securely with a solid 'snap' and that protects the nylon webbing from getting cut by the razor sharp blade. In addition to the secure grip of the sheath liner, the upper handle snap fastener is perfectly placed and just snug enough to hold the handle in place without being hard to snap closed. The SOG's sheath also has a extra front pocket for carrying a sharpening stone or some basic survival kits pieces with an oversize Velcro flap to keep everything safe inside.
A great feature that I make use of are the webbing Molle straps sewn to the back of the sheath that attach to standard 1" Molle webbing or easily allow you to wear the knife in a horizontal fashion on your belt - which is my preferred way to wear this knife.
The sheath of the Fallkniven F1, while well made, just isn't to the same highly functional standards as that of the SOG. When I purchased my F1 I chose the Zytel sheath over the leather version and somewhat regret that now. At the time I thought it would be more robust and longer lasting than leather, but I found that although the rigid Zytel bottom section of the sheath is very rugged, the top belt loop is made from rather flimsy ballistic nylon webbing that makes the whole sheath/knife wobble around on my belt - even when I use a cord through the bottom two holes to fix it to my leg.
Another downside of the floppy belt loop is that the knife handle moves very easily against my hand as I reach to my hip to grab it. There's no resistance or firmness in the sheath to keep the knife exactly where I want it. This may be perfect for some people, but for me it is a continual annoyance. I am planning to purchase a hand-made JRE leather "Cricket" sheath made specifically made for the F1 that mimics the SOG horizontal carry functionality to some extent and looks very much like the sheath that comes as standard with the Bear Grylls knife.
The Eriksson Mora has most simplistic and somewhat minimalist sheath of the three, born out of cost reduction and the demands of mass production more than anything else I'm sure. That said the Mora's sheath performs extremely well which is proof that it doesn't have to be expensive or overly complicated to work properly. The Mora's sheath is a one piece, injection-molded, thermoplastic sleeve with what looks like a very slim/narrow belt loop sticking up. In fact it's not a belt loop at all, it's actually designed to snap over a button attached to your pants and then your belt goes over the top of the plastic loop keeping the sheath securely snapped on to the button. I read a lot of complaints about the belt loop of the Mora sheaths simply because the intended purpose is misunderstood.
Another important feature of a sheath is a drainage hole, especially sheaths made of non-porous materials like the two plastic ones here. Both the Fallkniven and the Mora sheaths have large drainage holes in the bottom to let water out. This is especially important for the carbon steel blade of the Mora that can rust easily. The picture below illustrates this nicely with the Mora sheath at the top and the F1 sheath below.
There are some significant differences in the types blades represented by these three knives that justify a bit of a deep-dive here too. The blade of the F1 is a full-tang slab of laminated VG10 stainless steel hardened to 59 HRC. The blade length is 3.8" designed in a classic clip point style. The grind of the F1 was something of a new experience to me. Initially it looked like a full flat grind, but after closer inspection I could see that it was actually a full convex grind. (Blade grinds explained)
Full convex grinds are extraordinarily simple and inexpensive to maintain which may disappoint those with a love of blade sharpening gadgets. In fact, if a full convex ground blade is not allowed to get too dull, stropping will usually restore the edge to full sharpness and you can probably make an excellent sharpening kit out of an old mouse pad and a couple pieces of wet/dry paper.
I have to say that I was extremely impressed with the beautiful satin finish of the F1 blade as you can see for yourself in the picture above. But more than that, the convex ground blade has proven to me that it cuts better than a hollow ground blade and is much less likely to snag or pinch up in deeper cuts.
The SOG Seal Pup has a full-tang AUS-6 steel blade hardened to 57-58 HRC and finished with a 440A non-reflective powder coating. The overall blade length is 4.75" with a 1" serrated section near the handle. At first I thought the serrated part of the blade was very clever and it still may be for some people, but for me it has ruined what was very close to being a perfect knife.
The annoying serrated section of the blade close to the finger guard is in exactly the wrong place on the knife. It’s positioned just where a sharp plain edge is most useful for fine work. I guess the serrations help give the Seal Pup that tough ‘tactical’ look, but for me they ruin the blade so much that I'm seriously considering grinding them out. It's probably great for cutting small cord or even sawing through thick rope, but the serrations are practically useless for bushcraft purposes like cutting notches and making feather sticks, two tasks I perform frequently when outdoors. You could argue that this isn't a knife intended for bushcraft tasks and I'm sure that it true, I'm just disappointed that such a well made knife let me down because of such a minor thing.
The Mora has a .098" thick, high carbon 4" long blade hardened to 59-60 HRC. The blade has a full Scandinavian (Scandi) grind which is a wide flat bevel that runs to the edge of the blade. There is no significant secondary bevel as seen on the Pup. The angle is engineered to match the quality of the steel and intended use. The result is a keen edge, which can easily be sharpened to be razor sharp.
Another advantage of the Scandi grind is that it can be resharpened until the blade is worn away, without changing the angle of the edge. No jigs or other gadgets are required. All that is required is to lay the bevel flat on the stone, and work the entire surface of the bevel. It's significantly wide enough to forms it's own guide. The Scandinavian grind also gives excellent control in woodcarving. If you carve wood, you will probably find that the flat bevels give you better control of the cut.
Unlike the F1 and the Seal Pup, the Mora's blade isn't as well finished which can easily be seen on the back spine of the blade which is somewhat rough and shows the marks from its manufacturing. From what I see on the spine of the blade, I'd have to say these are cold pressed steel blanks. But don't let that fool you, the high carbon steel blade has a razor sharp edge from the factory and performs superbly for every task. It is a knife designed purely for function and will not let you down. As you can see from my other two knives, I have some very high quality ($$$) knives that I really do like, but this cheap ($10) little Mora has grown on me since the day I received it in the mail. Every single cutting task has become a delight when performed with this knife and the edge qualities of this blade put the other two to shame.
The only regret that I have about this knife is that it does not have a full tang blade. As you can see in the x-ray photograph below, the stick tang of the Mora's blade stops about one inch short of the full length of the handle.
However, the tang does extend through the handle to the point where your little finger is holding the handle, which is pretty much the entire length of your grip - so it's not terrible by any means. I've also put this little knife through hell and it has never failed or shown any signs of damage. I've used it to baton through 3" thick branches with no trouble at all and of the three knives shown here, the Mora continues to be the best knife for feather stick making, something I attribute to the quality of the edge and the Scandi grind.
One word of warning about high carbon blades. They are prone to rust and discoloration. You sacrifice the non-corrosion qualities of stainless steel for the superior quality edge retention of high carbon. that's fine with me because it takes less than a minute to use some slurry from a whetstone to polish up the blade like new. A regular wipe down with light oil will easily protect the blade from rust. Just be aware that it can tarnish and treat it accordingly. If you do it should last you your life time.
Below is a photograph of all three knives showing their relative blade thickness. you can easily see that the Fallkniven F1 on the left has a massively thick blade at 4mm thick. The Seal Pup in the center has a substantially thick blade that certainly feels up to any task you can think of. The Mora on the right is significantly thinner than the other two and at first glance you might think that it is too think to be effective, but it's not at all. The Mora's blade is extremely strong and doesn't show any signs of bending or movement even when being used to pry with the tip. I thought it would make for a great comparison photo at the very least.
All three of these knives have injection-molded handles made from various materials. The F1's handle is made of a material called Thermorun. Themorun is a high performance Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) that's lightweight, rock-hard, protective, and weatherproof - making it ideal for use as a knife handle. The blade tang of the F1 runs through the entire handle and extents out the end to provide a hitting or smashing surface. There are no visible handle rivets, just a single lanyard hold that is finished with a nice polished tube.
The Pup's handle is made from Zytel that has been reinforced with glass fibers. The handle is injection molded around the entire blade. This provides a solid, secure feeling as well as making it nearly impossible to separate from the metal. Of the three knives, the SOG has the most comfortable and secure grip of the three. The diamond shaped checking on the handle provides truly excellent traction even with wet hands. I also liked the flared finger guard which really helped when making thrusting cuts into hard materials.
The Mora has a very wide rubberized grip handle that feels very comfortable to hold. The harder red plastic, that can be seen at the finger guard and on the pommel, runs through the entire length of the handle and is used to encase the blades stick tang. The black rubberized coating is perfect for wet or sweaty hands and thankfully doesn't leave any black residue on my hands even after prolonged use.
I've seen several handle mods for the Mora 711 many of which include grinding down the finger guard to make it less pronounced. Be warned, the finger guard is the part of the handle that snaps the knife securely into the plastic sheath, if you trim it down you'll most likely find that the knife no longer snaps in firmly - why would you run the risk of the knife coming out and being lost? Leave it alone, it's just fine the way it is :)
For me the weight of a knife is of little consideration. Obviously I don't need or want to be lugging around a Rambo style knife, that's totally unnecessary, but as I typically carry a knife attached to me and not my pack I don't factor it into any base weight calculations for my pack. As it happens these three knives are all within a few ounces of one another so there really is little difference, but in an effort to be as complete and thorough as possible here are the weights (including their sheaths). The Fallkniven F1 weighed in at 6oz, the SOG Seal Pup weighed in at 5.4oz, and the Mora 711 weighed a mere 4.25 oz.
As I said at the beginning, these three knives represent an interesting price cross section. The Fallkniven F1 will set you back about $100 depending on where you order it. There are some fantastic deals to be had online right now with free shipping, The SOG Seal Pup typically sells for $50 - $60 and can be found at most of your local sporting or hunting stores. Mine was given to me as a gift, but I'm pretty sure it came from our local Dick's Sporting Goods store. The Mora is an exceptional deal at $10. That's right, only ten bucks! Don't let the low price of the Mora fool you though, the high carbon steel knife has a razor sharp edge and performs superbly for its price. It is a knife designed purely for function with no frills.
Choosing a knife is such a debatable topic and it really depends on the individual's preferences and needs. The majority of people reading this blog wouldn't be caught dead with something as heavy as a Fallkniven when for their needs a Swiss Army knife would do the trick. But for those of you that do want to carry something a little more robust I hope you find this helpful.
The SOG Seal Pup was the knife that I really wanted. It spoke to me and made me think I could do anything with a knife like that, and for the most part I can as long as it doesn't involve a lot of wood carving. It has a superb sheath that I still really like, but in the end the darn serrated edge killed it for me.
The Fallkniven F1 was the knife that I really liked the look of. The history and pedigree of this knife made me believe it was perfect for what I needed, and to a large extent it still is. I just wish the same blade came with a Scandi grind - then it would be amazing.
The Mora 711 is the knife that I wanted to debunk. A cheap, no frills work horse that had a loyal following in the bushcraft world. To my utter surprise I loved the knife from the minute I got it. As I've already said, don't let the cheap price tag fool you. This is an excellently made knife with a high quality carbon steel blade that holds a razor sharp edge. For my purposes it performs flawlessly and costs a fraction of the price of other knives. This has become my got to knife for backpacking trips. And if it breaks or get's lost, I'll just buy another one. For $10 I'd recommend that everyone should give a Mora a try and see what they think. Who knows, like me you may be pleasantly surprised by what you discover.
I'd love to hear about what knife, if any, you take with you when backpacking. Leave a comment or response on this post and I'll do my best to follow up. Thanks!
Disclosure: The author owns these products and paid for them using their own funds.