Bark River Knives has developed a tremendous reputation in the knife community as well as with bushcrafters and survivalists the world over. The reason is simple: They produce high-quality knives and stand behind them 100 percent.
“BARK RIVER OFFERS A DIZZYING ARRAY OF HANDLE MATERIALS AND COLORS FOR THEIR KNIVES. FOR THE EXT-1, I CHOSE THE BASIC BLACK CANVAS MICARTA HANDLE.”
Mike Stewart, the owner of Bark River Knives, has been deeply entrenched in this industry for decades. He and his team of about 50 employees churn out, on average, 200 knives a day. While they are production knives, each is hand-finished, with extensive quality control oversight at every step of the process.
I recently picked up a couple of new knives from Bark River and here’s what I found.Fox River EXT-1
The EXT-1 is a conglomeration of a couple of longtime bestselling Bark River models. DLT Trading is one of the largest distributors of Bark River blades. Jason Thoune, the owner of DLT, pays close attention to the feedback he receives from his customers. Many of them commented that they loved the Fox River blade design and profile but they weren’t as keen on the handle. Jason mulled this over for a bit and came up with the idea of marrying the Fox River design to the handle for the Bark River Gunny.
It was a hit from the word go. Users could not say enough good things about it, so I was excited to get my hands on one.
Fox River EXT-1
• Overall length: 8.65 inches
• Blade length: 4.1 inches
• Blade thickness: 0.157 inch
• Steel: CPM 3V hardened to 60 HRC
• Handle: Black canvas Micarta
• Leather belt sheath included
• Weight: 5.7 ounces
MSRP: Starting at $299.95
Bark River offers a dizzying array of handle materials and colors for their knives. For the EXT-1, I chose the basic black canvas Micarta handle. This is typically what we might call the base model for their knives.
The knife was shaving sharp right out of the box. As part of the manufacturing process, every knife that comes out of the Bark River shop is tested for sharpness multiple times by multiple people, so this wasn’t a surprise. I have fairly large hands and the EXT-1 fits my paw perfectly.
Owing to a really stupid misadventure I experienced as a child, one of the first things I look for on a knife is the handle shape, specifically whether it offers protection to the fingers. The EXT-1 has an integral guard that prevents fingers from sliding up onto the blade during use. The handle also has a lanyard hole for those who like to add such adornments to their cutlery.
The EXT-1 has great balance. The spine is a perfect 90 degrees, which makes it great for scraping ferrocerium rods, should the need arise. The drop point blade profile is one of the most useful designs out there. Bark River uses a convex grind on most of their blades, which allows for a very sharp edge.
As with all Bark River knives, the EXT-1 comes with a high-quality leather sheath. Something worth noting, though, is that most of their sheaths that have snaps and straps are intended to have their final fit performed by the end user. Right out of the box, the strap may not seem like it will fit across the knife and snap into place. Run the strap under a little warm water, then stretch the strap and snap it closed over the knife. Let it sit this way overnight and you’re good to go.
Overall, the fit, finish, and comfort of the knife in hand were all beyond reproach. But holding a knife and actually using it are two different things.THROUGH THE PACES
I carried the EXT-1 as my primary fixed blade knife for several excursions into the field. My wife and I began taking weekly hikes in late 2016 and we’ve not stopped yet. I brought the EXT-1 along on some of our most recent jaunts and used it for some basic tasks like making feather sticks and carving. The balance and overall comfort of the EXT-1 are just absolutely stellar. After some use in the field to get used to the knife, it was time for formal testing.
One of my favorite tests is to slice grapes. This shows me not just how sharp the knife is but how well the blade geometry works. Many knives will end up crushing rather than cutting the fruit. The EXT-1 performed flawlessly from the first cut to the last. In fact, it was able to make slices thin enough to read the blade’s Bark River logo through them.
I then grabbed a hank of sisal rope and proceeded to use push cuts. Rather than slicing or rocking the blade to get through the rope, this is just, well, pushing the knife edge through the material being cut. From the first cut to the last, the EXT-1 had no trouble at all. Sisal rope is a very abrasive type of cordage and can dull an edge quickly. Not so with the CPM 3V steel combined with the stellar heat treat Bark River uses on their blades. I worked my way up and down the blade so as to use as much of the edge as possible with this test and never had a lick of trouble.
I’m not normally a torture test sort of reviewer. I don’t care if the knife will hold up under some ridiculously complicated or rigorous trial. I just want to know if I can rely on the knife to handle routine chores without issues.
That said, I was curious to see how the EXT-1 would handle just a brief excursion into, “what not to do with your knife” territory. So, I pulled an old cedar board from my scrap wood bin and firmly pushed the tip of the EXT-1 into the board.
I pried the tip to the side, splintering the wood, then repeated this several more times. Even after four or five times doing this, the tip of the blade remained in perfect condition.
As it turned out, just after completing that test, it was time to get dinner going. So, I washed off the dirt and wood splinters, then put the EXT-1 to work slicing leftover chicken breasts from the day before. It was like a laser beam, each cut precise and perfect.
If I were to give numeric ratings for the tests, each one would have scored an easy 10/10. The EXT-1 performs perfectly for every sort of task a field knife would expect to see.PRO SCALPEL II
I’ve been on the hunt for a while now for a small fixed-blade knife that would be great for EDC (everyday carry) when I’m not out on the trail. Don’t get me wrong, folding knives certainly have their place and I own far more of them than any person would ever truly need. But, a fixed-blade is generally a stronger construction as well as often more comfortable to use for long periods of time.
“I CHOSE THE PRO SCALPEL II, AS IT APPEARED TO HAVE JUST ENOUGH BLADE TO BE USEFUL AND A LONG ENOUGH HANDLE TO BE COMFORTABLE, BUT WITH A SHORT OVERALL LENGTH SO IT COULD BE POCKET-CARRIED IF DESIRED.”
I chose the Pro Scalpel II, as it appeared to have just enough blade to be useful and a long enough handle to be comfortable, but with a short overall length so it could be pocket-carried if desired.
Pro Scalpel II
• Overall length: 5.79 inches
• Blade length: 2.41 inches
• Blade thickness: 0.159 inch
• Steel: CPM-154
• Handle: Black canvas Micarta
• Leather belt sheath included
• Weight: 2.65 ounces
MSRP: Starting at $209.95
If I were to describe the Pro Scalpel II with one word, it would be “nimble.” With a blade well under 3 inches, it is a great size for pocket carry just about anywhere. Weighing under 3 ounces, it is lighter than several folding knives I own, too. Most of the weight is in the handle, which makes sense when looking at the knife.
But this also gives the knife a great sense of solidity, of robustness, giving the user confidence that this small knife can do the job.
With my large hands, the handle of the Pro Scalpel II turned out to be about a three-and-a-half finger grip. The finger choil lends comfort as well as control when wielding the knife. The handle tapers outward toward the butt of the handle, which helps to prevent a small knife like this feeling lost in the grip.
The Pro Scalpel II has a true 90-degree spine and comes with a leather pouch-style sheath that has a loop ready-made for a ferrocerium rod.HOW DID IT HANDLE?
I carried the Pro Scalpel II in my pocket for a few weeks, using it in place of a folding knife as I went about my daily life. It was comfortable in my pocket, though it did take me a few days to get used to it as, with the sheath, it is a bit larger than a standard folding knife. It handled all of the normal chores just fine, from opening and breaking down boxes to cutting food for lunch and such.
BOTH SHORT PUSH CUTS AND LONG DRAGGING CUTS WORKED GREAT WITH THE KNIFE, INCLUDING STANDING THE BOX UP AND PULLING THE BLADE DOWNWARD THROUGH THE CARDBOARD.
A knife this size isn’t truly intended for major fieldwork. While it would do in a pinch, it is truly designed for routine, everyday sorts of chores. You’re not going to baton firewood but you could certainly carve a figure-four deadfall trigger.
As I went through a few formal tests with the knife, I was just as concerned about the comfort of using the knife as I was with how it would handle cutting and slicing. This is the smallest fixed-blade knife I’ve actually used for anything, and I was very curious as to how it would handle.
I started in the kitchen, for the simple reason that I was already there after finishing up tests with the EXT-1. Carrots, celery and radishes all posed no challenge at all to the Pro Scalpel II. Because of its very short blade, I found it easiest to keep the tip of my index finger on the spine and use pull cuts through the vegetables. Chopping motions were a little awkward.
One of the most common things we use knives for is cutting open boxes and then breaking them down for recycling. I grabbed the box from a recent package I’d received and went to town on it.
Both short push cuts and long dragging cuts worked great with the knife, including standing the box up and pulling the blade downward through the cardboard. The knife was also comfortable in the grip while using it for this purpose. I held it in a standard forward grip and experienced no issues at all with comfort or control.
As routine as that chore is, cardboard is actually a very abrasive material and can dull a knife very quickly. So, when I moved to the third test, I expected a little resistance from the knife. I set out some paracord and proceeded to use push cuts to cut off small bits of cord. The knife was still razor sharp and cut through the cord without any trouble at all.
My concerns about the comfort of the knife during real-world use turned out to be all for naught. While I still generally prefer a full four-finger grip, the Pro Scalpel II’s handle is large enough to be easy to use without experiencing hand fatigue in a short period of time. The blade edge held up very well to usage, considering I never stopped to sharpen or even strop it between chores or tests.FINAL VERDICT
The Fox River EXT-1 has earned a place as my primary field knife, and I expect I’ll continue using it in that role for quite some time. It is comfortable to use and is a great size for just about any routine camp or field need.
The Pro Scalpel II is an excellent EDC knife. It is small enough to keep in a pocket or on a belt all day long, yet easy to use for a wide range of typical daily tasks.
On the whole, in my experience you really can’t go wrong with anything produced by Bark River Knives.DLT Trading
Bark River Knives maintains no retail presence. They work through a few distributors, one of the largest of which is DLT Trading. Since 2012, DLT Trading has maintained a storefront in Marinette, Wisconsin, which also houses their e-commerce business and warehouse. Jason Thoune and his team have built a stellar reputation for customer service as well as ridiculously fast response times from order placement to knife shipped.
One of Jason’s biggest passions is helping someone find the perfect knife to meet their individual needs. He’ll take into account their budget, skill level, past experience and intended use and match them with a blade that is perfect for them.
Bark River Knives
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the October, 2019 print issue of American Survival Guide.