IMPRESSIONS OF THE WHITE RIVER FIRECRAFT FC5 AND M1 BACKPACKER PRO
I was introduced to White River Knife and Tool at the 2019 SHOT Show. I knew them by reputation and I was rather curious about their product line. I spent a little time at the booth checking out a few of their knives but had to run sooner than I’d have liked so I wouldn’t miss an appointment.
What struck me right from the start was how functional their knives are. Sure, they are nice to look at, too. But, anyone can make a flashy looking knife, decorated with bits and baubles designed to catch the eye. It takes skill, knowledge, and experience to design and build a knife that functions as good as it looks.
White River Knife and Tool is a family-owned and -operated business located in Fremont, Michigan. They offer a very comprehensive warranty on their work, which is a testament to their quality as well as their focus on building relationships with customers. They currently have a couple dozen knife models, in addition to custom offerings.
Many of their knives have a variety of color options available for the handles, and a few offer a choice between Kydex or leather sheaths, though there may be an added charge for the latter. I recently received two of their knives for review. The Firecraft FC5 and the M1 Backpacker Pro.
OUT OF THE BOX
The Firecraft FC5 was designed to be a survival knife that not only stands up to real-world use but is actually useful in a bad situation. This was evident from the moment the knife hit my hand. The first thing I noticed was the bow drill divot in the handle. This is a great feature as having a smooth socket makes the bow drill fire-starting method easier.
And it wasn’t just that White River thought to include this divot on the handle but that they designed the sheath with a hole right where the divot is located, allowing the sheath to protect your fingers from the blade as you crank on the bow drill.
That’s not the only fire-related feature, either. Along the spine is a notch that is designed to be used in conjunction with the ferrocerium rod that is included with the knife. While the spine is sharp enough to scrape sparks from the rod, this notch does help things along.
The handle is comfortably contoured, with a deep finger choil that keeps the hand from sliding up onto the blade. The handle scales are canvas Micarta, a common material used for knife handles and one that is all but impervious to damage and abuse. The blaze orange liners behind the scales add a touch of color.
Just behind the ferrocerium rod notch is a bit of jimping. The blade is a bit wider than most of the ones I normally use, measuring 1.5 inches from edge to spine. That said, the grind and edge geometry guarantee the blade to be a great slicer. End to end, the FC5 measures 10 inches and weighs in at 8 ounces.
The sheath is thick, great quality leather. It is set up with a dangler, which can be removed if the user so chooses. The ferrocerium rod fits perfectly into the loop on the side of the sheath. They’ve included a short elastic lanyard on the rod, which serves to secure it in the loop. There’s also a leather lanyard on the bottom of the sheath.
Where the FC5 is a full-fledged survival knife, the M1 Backpacker Pro is more of a utility blade. It is 7 inches from end to end and weighs a mere 3.2 ounces.
The Kydex sheath has a removable belt clip and numerous attachment points, making it easy to strap it to a pack strap or similar item. The belt clip also could be repositioned to allow the user to scout carry the knife, meaning the knife sits horizontally rather than vertically.
I chose blaze orange scales and they make it really easy to find the knife after setting it down in the grass. The texture on the scales is incredibly grippy. It isn’t obnoxious or uncomfortable, and somehow it feels as if the knife sort of bonds to the hand when you pick it up.
As with the FC5, there is a deep finger choil. Interestingly, unlike many similarly styled knives, the choil here has been smoothed out, with the edges rounded a bit. This makes the knife very comfortable to hold and use. There is a section of jimping along the spine, exactly where the thumb naturally rests when holding the knife.
It is my practice to never sharpen a knife prior to testing. Instead, I test it as is, right out of the box. The blade is not touched up in any way throughout the testing process. This gives me a good idea of how well the blade holds the edge over time and usage. I also tend to refrain from the extreme abuse sorts of tests. I don’t really need to know if my utility knife will pry apart bricks and concrete.
• Overall length: 10 inches
• Blade length: 5 inches
• Weight: 8 ounces
• Steel: CPM S35VN
• Handle: Canvas Micarta
• Includes ferro rod with Micarta handle
• Smooth bow drill divot in the handle
• Sheath: Kydex or leather
MSRP: $325 as shown
I started with the FC5 and began by slicing the corner of a telephone book. This test shows me the slicing ability of the blade as well as how well it will hold an edge. I’ll admit it is getting tougher to perform this test, as phone books are getting scarce.
The FC5 made it through from cover to cover, though it took a little effort. By the end, I was rocking the knife back and forth a fair amount to finish the cut. This isn’t a fail, far from it, as this is sort of like pushing a blade through a thick piece of wood.
Part of this test is to see how comfortable the handle is when performing a difficult cut. The ergonomics of the handle allowed me to put pressure exactly where it was needed without discomfort.
“…WHITE RIVER THOUGHT TO INCLUDE THIS DIVOT ON THE HANDLE [AND] THEY DESIGNED THE SHEATH WITH A HOLE RIGHT WHERE THE DIVOT IS LOCATED, ALLOWING THE SHEATH TO PROTECT YOUR FINGERS FROM THE BLADE AS YOU CRANK ON THE BOW DRILL.”
From there, I pulled out an old thick fabric belt and began slicing off bits. I used long, dragging cuts across the belt, and there was absolutely no hesitation from the knife. Each cut was clean and precise. I tilted the blade as I made the cuts so as to use as much of the edge as possible during this test.
Taking the FC5 outside, I grabbed a branch that had fallen from my black walnut tree and hacked away at it. I wanted to see how the edge would hold up to some chopping while paying close attention to how the knife handled with some rough treatment.
The knife is very evenly balanced, with the tipping point being behind where the handle scales end and the blade begins. This being the case, the knife isn’t really designed for heavy chopping, as you’d normally want more weight toward the blade.
That said, using a three-finger grip toward the butt of the knife solved the issue. It didn’t take much work for the knife to get through the branch, and the edge wasn’t affected in the least little bit.
Being that this knife is called the Firecraft and it comes with a ferrocerium rod, it seemed logical to see how well it would spark. After a couple of passes with the blade notch to abrascrape off the black coating on the ferro rod, I started trying for some real sparks. It took absolutely zero effort to create showers of fat, bright sparks. The combination of the blade notch and a great quality ferro rod is just perfect. Checking the notch afterward, there was no edge rolling at all.
“IT TOOK ABSOLUTELY ZERO EFFORT TO CREATE SHOWERS OF FAT, BRIGHT SPARKS. THE COMBINATION OF THE BLADE NOTCH AND A GREAT QUALITY FERRO ROD IS JUST PERFECT.”
The brilliant orange handle of the M1 Backpacker Pro makes it easy to spot instantly, no matter where you set it down.
M1 Backpacker Pro
• Overall length: 7 inches
• Blade length: 3 inches
• Weight: 3.2 ounces
• Steel: CPM S35VN
• Handle: G10
• Sheath: Kydex
This notch took about five seconds to create with the M1 Backpacker Pro.
“ANYONE IN THE MARKET FOR A GOOD FIELD KNIFE WOULD DO WELL WITH THE FIRECRAFT FC5. THE M1 BACKPACKER PRO MIGHT JUST BE ONE OF THE BEST SMALLER KNIVES I’VE EVER USED AND IT HAS FOUND A PERMANENT HOME IN MY WILDERNESS LOAD OUT.”
I then broke out the M1 to see how it would hold up. I started, as I often do, in the kitchen and sliced up some peppers. The M1 is the perfect size for this sort of task, and I wasn’t surprised in the least in how well it handled. The checkered handle is just amazing. Even soaking wet, there was absolutely no problem at all maintaining a positive grip. Yet, no hot spots at all, either. Very impressive.
Cutting cordage is another chore we typically use our blades to perform. I keep a hank of paracord in my desk drawer to use for testing knives. In this case, I used slicing motions as well as push cuts to see how the M1 would perform. Flawlessly is the first word to come to mind. No matter how small I tried to go with bits of the paracord, there were no issues at all.
I then pulled out an old cardboard shipping box to slice into bits. Cardboard is very abrasive and, as a result, is tough on knives. The glues used in making corrugated cardboard dry to rock hardness, and there are often tiny bits of sand and other detritus hidden inside. I used long, sweeping slices to make thin strips out of the box, then used push cuts to chop them up. The blade of the M1 went through the cardboard like a laser beam.
While I was outside with the FC5, I grabbed another black walnut branch and carved a quick notch in it with the M1. Using my thumbs to guide the blade, I pushed it through the branch with ever-increasing depth. It took just a few seconds to complete the notch. And again, I just can’t get over how comfortable this knife is to use. No matter what I was cutting or how long I was using it, the M1 was just a dream to hold and use.
I was suitably impressed with both the Firecraft FC5 and the M1 Backpacker Pro. I found each of them to be incredibly comfortable to use, even for extended periods. The ergonomics of the handles played a large part in that, of course, but the overall knife designs are obviously well thought out. The knives are intended for real world use, not just for looks, despite their handsome appearances.
Subtle touches are evident throughout, too. For example, the FC5 sheath has a loop for the included ferro rod, which is pretty standard. But, White River adds a small shock cord to the ferro rod, which is then looped around the rod after it is put in place on the sheath. The cord further secures the rod, ensuring it doesn’t disappear while you’re on the trail. Little things like that are truly what sets White River apart from many other knife producers.
Anyone in the market for a good field knife would do well with the Firecraft FC5. The M1 Backpacker Pro might just be one of the best smaller knives I’ve ever used and it has found a permanent home in my wilderness load-out.
WHITE RIVER PACKAGING
Most knife collectors know that having the box and paperwork for the knife increases the value. White River Knife and Tool goes so far beyond the standard white cardboard box, they are working on an entirely different level. Their knives are packaged in carved wooden boxes, with their name and logo burned into the lid. Each end of the box bears a sticker, preventing the lid from just sliding off in transit. In many ways, these boxes put one in mind of an earlier time, when things were built to last and packaged accordingly.
White River Knife and Tool
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the January, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.