“What would you take with you for an extended stay in the wilderness?” This is a question that has been asked and answered countless times around the glowing embers of many late-night campfires. Inevitably, the conversation focuses on knives and other sorts of essential gear.
In 2015, producers at The History Channel decided to answer this question—and many more—in a truly unique way. The hit TV series, Alone, selects 10 survival experts, provides them with minimal equipment and drops them off at a remote wilderness location to fend for themselves until they are either physically or mentally unable to continue. Each participant is provided with the training and camera equipment to self-document their experience, ensuring no outside interference during their journey.
The knife selected by the men and women participating in Alone is a very personal choice. A lot of deliberate thought must go into the choosing of each piece of gear… and their knives are no exception.
During the show’s 2016 season, two contestants chose knives from one company: L.T. Wright Handcrafted Knives. Mike Lowe, a credentialed SERE instructor for the U.S. Air Force, and Larry Roberts, a seasoned outdoorsman from the backwoods of Minnesota, chose different blades from the L.T. Wright lineup.
“Asking me to choose between these two blades is no easy task. They are both exceptional designs made by skilled craftsmen with premium materials and great attention to detail.”
The Genesis, chosen by contestant Larry Roberts, was the knife that launched the L.T. Handcrafted Knives line in 2014. L.T. Wright says the Genesis was designed to be the perfect knife for bushcraft.
After handling it, I would be hard pressed to argue otherwise. It features a 9-inch overall length with a highly polished, sharpened edge of 4.25 inches. The standard edge is a traditional Scandi grind, although other grind styles are available.
The Genesis is a full-tang design and is made from premium quality, ⅛1/8-inch A2 tool steel. The spine features a razor-sharp 90-degree angle to aid in scraping wood, tinder or a ferro rod. The handle can be ordered in either Micarta or premium hardwoods and is made in the classic broomstick design. The handle will generously accommodate a wide range of hand sizes and incorporates thumb scallops, allowing for a variety of comfortable grips. The Genesis has a very simple design and unassuming look—but don’t let that simplicity fool you. This is a highly efficient and effective bushcraft knife.
VETTING THE GENESIS
The Genesis came highly recommended to me by several owners whose opinions I hold in high regard. Despite listening to several years of their recommendations, this was my first hands-on exposure to the knife. Needless to say, my expectations were high.
The first thing I do after visually examining a new knife is to get a feel for the grip. The Genesis has a very simple, oval-shaped, broomstick-style handle. The intersection of the blade’s tang and unpolished Micarta handle scales is seamless. The Micarta grips are held in place with epoxy and Corby bolts and are perfectly fitted. This is important—not only for feel in the hand, but also to prevent moisture from creeping between the scales and blade steel, which would eventually lead to corrosion issues. The included lanyard tube in the handle is made of brass and has the same level of fit as the rest of the handle. With the high quality of the handle’s fit, it was quickly apparent that hot spots would not be an issue.
Examining the blade revealed perfectly-executed grinds. The flats of the blade have an even, satin finish, and the Scandi grind has a high level of polish. The blade is made from A2 tool steel, which has an excellent reputation for toughness, edge-holding and corrosion resistance. To get a feel for the abilities of these knives, I took both the Genesis and the JX2 (chosen by the other Alone contestant, Mike Lowe) while hiking at a nearby mountain lake. My first order of business was to split some small pieces of firewood and turn them into feathersticks. This is an essential skill when tinder sources are scarce or wet.
“The Genesis has a very simple design and unassuming look — but don’t let that simplicity fool you. This is a highly efficient and effective bushcraft knife.”
The Genesis not only split branches easily into smaller kindling, it was a joy to use while making feathersticks, as well. The grind angle, acutely sharp edge and highly polished bevels made the blade exceptionally controllable. As I hiked, I noticed there were a number of pine trees dripping with resin. Pine resin is highly flammable, but it can be used to make glue and an antiseptic wound dressing. Harvesting globs of resin for future use was a simple task for the Genesis, whose tip is stout enough to do some light prying and digging while still being fine enough for more delicate, precise work.
The tip’s placement along the centerline of the blade makes it intuitive to use. L.T. Wright is known for putting an extremely sharp, 90-degree spine on his knives. The spine can be used to scrape tinder, smooth out cuts and notches, and scrape a ferro rod. It is so sharp that it could be mistaken for an ice skate. It made igniting feather sticks with a single strike of the ferro rod the norm rather than the exception.
Lastly, I used the Genesis to carve a try stick—the brainchild of bushcraft legend Mors Kochanski. Many different types of cuts and cutting techniques are used on a single stick to gauge both the ability of the carver and the capability of the knife being used. Every portion of the knife is used in every conceivable grip angle. Therefore, if a blade has any deficiencies, for general use in the woods—and for wood processing, in particular—the Genesis is hard to beat. While it will undoubtedly handle game processing and camp kitchen chores, I tend to prefer a knife with a bit more belly for those tasks.
• Overall length: 9 inches
• Sharpened edge: 4¼ inches
• Steel: ¹⁄8-inch A2 tool steel
• Grind: High-polished Scandi ground to 0 degrees; then hard-micro-buffed edge
• Handle: Micarta or desert ironwood
MSRP: $210 (black or green leather sheath)
THE JX2 JESSMUK
Fortunately, the craftsmen at L.T. Wright Handcrafted Knives have a knife that answers this need. The JX2 Jessmuk is a collaborative effort between L.T. Wright and Chris Tanner, the creator and host of the popular YouTube Channel’s Prepared Mind 101. This model was Alone contestant Mike Lowe’s knife choice.
Tanner designed the knife after spending some time with an ulu-style folding knife. He took the ulu-inspired blade design, gave it the offset spine found on Canadian belt knives and mated it with a handle inspired by the Mora Bushcraft Black. When L.T. Wright built the first Jessmuk prototype, it went through a rather unique testing phase: Tanner leads a group of YouTube knife reviewers who are collectively named the “Gauntlet.”
“The JX2 might look a little odd at first, but once you pick it up and start using it, the design begins to make sense.”
The JX2 was submitted for Gauntlet testing, and each reviewer tested the knife extensively, providing their feedback and submitting a video for public review. I happened to be the final Gauntlet reviewer for the prototype JX2 and took the blade with me to Texas for a traditional archery hog hunt. While in Texas, I was able to use the JX2 for a variety of bushcraft tasks that ultimately culminated in harvesting and processing a feral hog. These hands-on experiences with the JX2 led me to make some design improvement suggestions, which were ultimately adopted in the final version of the knife. (My video review can be found on the YouTube Channel Blue Mountain Bushcraft and Outdoors.)
• Overall length: 9½ inches
• Sharpened edge: 4½ inches
• Steel: ¹⁄8-inch 01 tool steel
• Grind: Scandi
• Handle: Black Micarta
MSRP: $235 (black or green leather sheath)
American Survival Guide: Can you tell me a little bit about your backgrounds and what compelled you to want to participate on Alone?
Larry Roberts: I am in my mid-40s. I have two great kids who are grown up and starting their lives. I’ve been married for almost 28 years and live in central Minnesota on 46 acres. I’ve studied primitive skills/survival skills since I was a kid, but it’s only been in the last five or six years that I’ve been able to devote the time and energy to really diving deep into this knowledge. Being on Alone was an opportunity to test the knowledge I have been acquiring. I actually got to play in the “big” game. For me, this was my “Super Bowl.” I proved to myself that I could live out in the woods for a very long time. I found my limits and even pushed myself a little beyond them. Not many folks get to do that.
Mike Lowe: I became interested in survival skills at the age of 15, when I began living with my aunt and uncle in Colorado. My uncle was into it big time, and his enthusiasm was infectious. That’s when I caught the bug. I joined the U.S. Air Force in 1980 and served as a survival instructor. My love of survival peaked. More than anything, though, I loved teaching about survival. Helping people learn how to survive is the biggest thrill. When I left the military in 1988, I launched Wilderness Way Adventures. Now, I teach men, women and children how to survive in their “neck of the woods.” One day, a friend suggested I apply for History’s new hit series, Alone. I checked it out and applied online. My great desire was to showcase outdoor life in a winsome way hoping it would motivate more people to spend more time outside. The following morning, I got a call from the casting agency. One thing led to another, and I found myself surviving alone on Vancouver Island.
ASG: Of all the knives you could have chosen for this epic adventure, what made you pick these?
LR: For me, the Genesis is the perfect bushcraft knife. The handle fits my hand perfectly, and the blade profile is perfect for wood working, bow drill, etc., as well as game processing. It does all the jobs I need it to do—all in one knife.
ML: I love how the bowed belly of the Jessmuk allows me to cut, carve and whittle in both directions—from heel to tip and from tip to heel. It also seems as if I get more power out of each stroke. I’m not sure why. It probably has something to do with the shape of the blade. And it is a strong knife. I can pound the blade through wood without fear of breaking the knife… within reason, of course.
HELLO, OLD FRIEND
Picking up the new JX2 Jessmuk was like shaking hands with an old friend. I had spent a week in Texas in 2015 with the prototype JX2, using it to build ground blinds, carve sticks, cut up my meals and process wild hogs. The only major differences in the final production model are the addition of thumb scallops in the scales, the slight softening of the blade spine just forward of the handle and the removal of the jimping on the spine, making this a very familiar blade.
Just as with the Genesis, the fit of the Jessmuk is perfect. There are no seams in the handle where it meets the tang, and there are no gaps around the Corby bolts or the lanyard tube. The handle has an overall oval profile to prevent unwanted rotation in the hand. The unpolished Micarta scales provide excellent traction while dry or wet without being abrasive. The Scandi grind is even and perfectly centered. While the bevel doesn’t show the same level of polish found on the Genesis, the edge is every bit as sharp. The JX2’s blade is made from O1 tool steel—the preferred steel of custom knifemakers around the world.
The JX2 might look a little odd at first, but once you pick it up and start using it, the design begins to make sense. As previously mentioned, the handle design is based on the Mora Bushcraft Black. While the contours of the JX2 handle are similar to the Mora, it has a longer overall length, allowing for a bit more versatility. The grip lends itself to a variety of different hand positions and fits my hand extremely well.
While I was in Texas, the first order of business was to build ground blinds at our bowhunting locations. Because I didn’t bring a machete, I used the JX2, coupled with a set of pruning shears and a folding saw, to cut brush and build the blinds. The JX2 was used extensively while shearing and limbing branches, and it performed every task I asked of it. The Scandi edge on the 4.5-inch O1 tool steel blade held up well to the tough Texas scrub brush. And it didn’t need more than a light stropping to bring its edge back to hair-popping sharp.
There is a lot more waiting around than there is shooting at game when hunting feral hogs out of a blind. That gave me lots of time to really get to know the JX2. I made sure I had an ample number of sticks in the blind with me. I spent many evenings carving spoons, trysticks, spear points and tent stakes.
While the JX2 is perfectly adept at all the usual bushcraft tasks, its unique design allows it to stand out where other, more-traditionally styled knives fall short. The combination of the longer handle and the edge geometry allows this knife to do light chopping tasks that many other knives of its size just can’t. The continuously curved edge allows for extremely efficient slicing cuts in both wood and game.
This blade really shines during game processing. The offset spine and ulu-inspired blade create a wide blade profile, allowing the user to directly grasp the blade, itself. Doing so makes it exceptionally controllable. When using this cutting technique, I found that looping a lanyard over my forearm removes most of the weight of the handle from my grip on the blade and allows me to perform this cutting technique for extended periods of time with little added fatigue. If you have ever skinned a wild hog, you know that its hide is like sandpaper and can quickly deteriorate the edge of a knife.
Despite this, the edge on the JX2 held up well and required no touch-up until all the game-processing tasks had been completed. While making try sticks with the new JX2, I grew to appreciate the softening of the spine just forward of the grips. I used this portion of the spine frequently during push cuts when doing detailed carving tasks. L.T. Wright’s typical sharp spine can wear your fingers out pretty quickly, so having that small section of softened spine angle was a welcome modification.
Asking me to choose between these two blades is no easy task. They are both exceptional designs made by skilled craftsmen with premium materials and great attention to detail. However, if forced to pick a favorite, I’d go for the JX2 Jessmuk. The continuously curved-edge geometry, coupled with the offset spine and the longer handle, makes this blade add up to more than the sum of its parts. There is a learning curve that goes along with the JX2, but once you master it, you’ll have a blade capable of anything you could reasonably ask of a hard-use wilderness belt knife. Of course, what is right for me might not be right for you.
Fortunately, L.T. Wright Handcrafted Knives offers a full line of knives to suit your particular needs.
L.T. Wright began his knife-making career as a solo knifemaker. In later years, he helped co-found what came to be a highly respected knife company in the outdoor community, Blind Horse Knives. Then, in 2014, he founded L.T. Wright Handcrafted Knives.
Based in Wintersville, Ohio, L.T. and his team of carefully chosen craftsmen produce a complete line of knives using premium locally sourced materials. The knives crafted in this shop have garnered a reputation for being heirloom quality hard-use knives that excel in their intended design purpose and are backed by L.T.’s no-nonsense lifetime warranty.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the February 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.