I’ve been on a knife kick lately. Why not?! I carry a knife every single day – everyone should! While most of the time I carry a small utility, EDC or “gentleman” folder, I do agree with the experts who recommend having a “one tool option” in your collection. So, with that in mind, but knowing a “one tool option” is something I’ll rarely use, I forced myself to choose a product from the more broadly affordable end of the spectrum, from a lesser known knife maker, instead of going my usual best of breed, high-end, well known route. I got my hands on the Pathfinder Exclusive, Jeff White Heavy Duty Camp King, which retails for $175 with a leather sheath, but there are MUCH BETTER options!!
First, I gotta say the Jeff White HD Camp King is really a great looking knife. It looks beautiful. The overall design is based on the classic French Trapper / French Trade knife commonly found on the American frontier throughout the 18th Century, but still today a very useable design. The rough, blackened bade, complete with hammer strikes and makers marks, the curly maple scales with simple brass pins all combine to give it an authentic, unfinished look. This knife has gobs of Second Kind of Cool.
Second, the Jeff White HD Camp King certainly ticks all the boxes, and has the stuff to make it a “one tool option,” at least on paper:
- 6-1/4 inch cutting edge (most experts recommend at least a 5″ blade for a one tool option.)
- 3/16th inch thick (anything thinner than 5/32 is generally considered too thin for a one tool option because it could bend under hard, heavy use, such as batoning through hard woods.)
- 1095 high carbon steel (even though they rust easily, O1 and 1095 are considered great one tool option steels, because they take a wicked edge, sharpen relatively easily in the field, and can throw sparks from a flint.)
- 90* sharpened spine (useful for tasks like throwing sparks from a ferrocerium rod and for general scraping, in any situation you may not want to use your blade.)
- Full, exposed tang construction (full tang construction is extremely important for overall strength and durability, especially under hard, heavy use, as it significantly reduces the risk that the cutting edge will break away from the handle.)
Third, the convex grind, an inherently strong design, came razor sharp out of the box.
The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men
Unfortunately, despite my research (there wasn’t much out there in InterWeb land on this particular knife), and despite how good the Jeff White Heavy Duty Camp King looked on paper, I was very disappointed when I finally put the knife in hand. There are a few fundamental design flaws, one I consider downright dangerous, that ruin an otherwise potentially viable one tool option.
- Purely for reference purposes, I wear a men’s Large glove, though I’m no gorilla, and I found the length, and shape of the Jeff White Heavy Duty Camp King handle very uncomfortable. I just couldn’t get a good, comfortable hold on the knife. As you see in the pictures below, my hand felt cramped between the butt and the blade in what I would consider a normal hold, and gripping the knife further back on the handle, as if for chopping, was no better, as it didn’t feel like I really had control of the blade.
- More importantly, I believe the design of the Jeff White HD Camp King knife is downright dangerous for any real-World use.
To be fair to Jeff White, my understanding is that he specializes in 18th Century Reproduction Knives and Accessories, primarily for the reenactment crowd, which is a scene I know very little about. That said, and while I mean no disrespect to anyone, to me, that sounds like more show than go, more bark than bite, more about looking the part and acting, than real-World hard use.
Net-net, I do not recommend choosing the Jeff White Heavy Duty Camp King for a current day, one tool option. Just like everything else, and while still extremely useable, the original French Trapper / Trade design has evolved for the better over the last three hundred years or so. Jeff’s version is a little too true to the original – which makes sense when you consider his primary target audience.
BETTER Competitive Options, for less money!
There are much better competitive options for the same money, or less! The ESEE-6, KA-BAR Becker 7, Ontario Knife Company RAT-7, and Cold Steel Recon Scout all immediately jump to mind as better options, and can all be purchase for ~$100 – 140.
Just note all of those competitive options are coated. Ya know, industry trends are funny thing. Some years back, everyone wanted coated high carbon steel blades, to help prevent rusting. Back then, it wasn’t a real survival knife if it didn’t have coating. Of late, coatings have fallen out of fashion. Some folks simply don’t like the look. Some say it impedes slicing and cutting performance. Some fear the coating will rub off over time, possibly into whatever you’re cutting. In my experience, this can happen during batoning, but is not at all likely while processing game or other food. Some say it could harbor bacteria. I’ve never let my blades stay dirty enough to test this out. Anyway, apparently now, in late 2015, you need an uncoated blade to have a real survival knife…haha. I call TOTAL BS on that!! If the coating bothers you that much, simply strip, or sand it off before using.
Let’s be honest. If you’re really in a situation that truly requires your one tool option, and if you’re lucky enough to have your one tool option with you at the time, you’re gonna have much more important things to worry about than whether or not your blade is coated! I strongly suspect a blade coating won’t be the deciding factor in your survival or sustainability.
Spending a bit more gets you a MUCH BETTER semi-custom blade, and puts you on a higher level.
If you must have an uncoated blade from the factory as your one tool option, or just want to take your knife collection to the next level, Battle Horse Knives (BHK), Bark River Knives and Doug Wilson from Yellow Hawk Custom Kydex all make excellent alternatives for your one tool option, all of which, again, are based on the traditional French Trade / Trapper design. Just expect to pay in the $250 – 400 range for the choices below.
- Battle Horse (BHK), offers the Scout Knife and the PLSK1, which can be had in exclusive Pathfinder Editions, or directly from BHK, though they might not be called the exact same thing.
- Bark River Knives offers a few good choices from both their Professional and Search and Rescue Series. Me thinks the Fox River II and Magnum Fox River are winners!!
- Doug Wilson, of Yellow Hawk Custom Kydex, offers the BMF2 system. While I believe his original BMF2 system is still available for immediate purchase on eBay, click here for info on Mike’s newest BMF2 prototype. After recently working with Mike on a custom sheath for my Jessmuk JX2 (look for upcoming reviews on both that knife, and the YHCK sheath) I can’t wait to get my hands on one of his new BMF2 designs. Now that I personally know just how kick-ass, and high-quality his sheath systems are, as well as how much the sheath alone can cost, I really don’t think you’ll find a better value than his BMF2 system!!
There you have it. My thoughts on French Trade / Trapper influenced knives that could serve as your One Tool Option in a bet-your-life-on-it situation, including why I don’t think the Pathfinder Exclusive Jeff White Heavy Duty Camp King is a realistic option, and what are some better choices.
Be Aware! Be Prepared! Be Safe!
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