Anyone looking for the ideal tactical, survival, and bushcraft knife will have their own ideas about what that knife should look like, feel like, and how it should perform. This hasn’t stopped world-class knife manufacturers from trying to create the “perfect” all-purpose survival knife. In fact, in some cases, some have come quite close to pulling it off.
In the following article, we’re going to be discussing the ESEE 4, a 9” multi-purpose beast designed by some major names and produced by a company that, while young by knife manufacturer standards, is really making waves through innovative design and well-priced, high-quality products.
- Blade - 9/109/10
- Handle - 8/108/10
- Sheath - 5/105/10
- Quality and Features - 8/108/10
From camping to hunting to hardcore survival, the ESEE 4 will perform almost any task asked of it without causing a problem. If the worst things that can be said about it are the quality of the sheath and the size of the (replaceable) handle, it’s good enough for an A- rating in my book.
|Removable micarta handles are easily replaced if needed.||Many complaints that the grip is too short even for medium hands.|
|The spine can be used to spark a flame with a ferro rod.||Quite a few hot spots in the handle reported, especially when batoning.|
|Designed by highly-regarded adventurers and survivalists.||Powder coat may restrict both batoning and feathering.|
|Currently in use by military personnel, law enforcement, and civilians all over the world.||Reported sheath mix-ups (some get kydex, some get plastic)|
|Full replacement guarantee for the life of the product.|
Tips to Evaluate if the ESEE 4 is the Right Knife for You
Evaluating a knife’s capabilities means first identifying what individual factors on the customer end will determine the knife’s effectiveness. For instance, the ability to baton wood may mean life or death in a rural survival situation, but if you live in downtown Boston when the world goes to hell, concealment and self-defense might be much higher on your priorities list.
In the following section, I’ll take a look at a few factors you should consider before deciding whether or not the ESEE 4 is right for you.
Things to Consider:
Blade Size and Shape – The effectiveness of a blade is best measured by what you need it to do. Are you concerned primarily with chopping power? How about piercing? Are serrations necessary to cut through lots of man-made materials? Answering these questions can go a long way toward saving you disappointment down the road.
Geographical Location – Steel, like all metals, performs differently in hot, cold, wet, and dry climates. Will rust be an issue? Will you be handling the blade with wet hands? How about gloves? Anticipating performance issues now is the first step to shopping responsibly.
Steel Type – Every steel blend (and there are hundreds) has its own PROs and CONs, and they need to be evaluated with your individual circumstances to determine whether your new knife will leave you happy after you put it through a hard day’s work.
Overall Weight – There are few things better than holding a good heavy knife in your hand, but not everyone can say the same after 5 hours of hacking bush. If you need your knife to perform like a machete or an axe, you’d better expect to carry something that weighs the same.
Price – Not everyone has an endless budget, so if you’re buying a brand new knife, you better make sure it’s in your price range before you swipe that high-interest credit card.
According to ESSE, the 4 was designed by Mike Perrin and Jeff Randall of Randall Adventure Training. This, combined with the ESEE crew’s dedication to providing only the types of products that they’d use themselves gives the 4 a more reliable pedigree than much of the competition.
Designed as an “all-around tactical, survival, and bushcraft knife,” the ESEE 4 is 9” evenly split between handle and blade, and offers a 4.1” cutting edge, a relatively thick spine, and a wide range of features that should make it a reliable companion in the field. How reliable, however, will depend on a much closer look.
See the sections below for just that.
ESEE 4 Specifications
Steel: 1095 carbon steel
Weight: 7.45 oz.
As survival knives go, the ESEE 4 is a bit undersized and underweighted for its class, but it doesn’t take much practice with it to understand that this is entirely by design. Where larger knives focus on heft and chopping power to accomplish tasks in the bush, the 4 also adds plenty of finesse and precision to the game.
As you’ll see in the following sections, everything from the shape of the blade to the type of steel combines to make the ESEE 4 a truly universal bushcraft tool, able to baton, feather, carve, and chop with equal effectiveness. How effective? That still requires a closer look.
The ESEE 4 boasts a 4.5” long drop-point blade made out of 1095 high-carbon steel. It has a generous 4.1” of cutting edge, and should handle both heavy-duty jobs and detail-oriented tasks with equal effectiveness. As the knife is a bit smaller than many of the “survival blade” competition, it allows for more versatility, including tactical uses like self-defense. The generous choil and the thumb jimping are also great features, as they will help the user maintain control and avoid slippage when working more precision jobs.
A sticking point among many users of the 4 is the powder coating that comes on the blade, which some claim has restricted their ability to baton or feather properly. In some cases, users have gone so far as to sand the coating off completely. Unfortunately, this solution may be a significant contributor to premature rusting.
Like many survival knives, the ESEE 4 embraces a drop-point design with a nice thick profile. Furthermore, though the belly of this blade is not particularly exaggerated, it does feature enough of a swell to save the user some energy when chopping through the undergrowth. The choil and jimping on the blade are essential to maximize control and are a welcome and logical addition to the design.
If there is a failure in the blade design, it is the lack of reinforcement for piercing, which may result in some users bending or even breaking the tip of their knife if they get over-enthusiastic. As it only boasts a thickness of .19” (where competitor blades often go for .23” or .25”), it’s surprising there haven’t been more reports of bent blades from hard use.
1095 high-carbon steel has been put through the wringer all around the knife world, and aside from its tendency to rust if not cared for properly, it has passed all tests with flying colors. Able to hold a razor sharp edge for a long time, relatively cost-effective, and ready to perform in all temperatures without becoming brittle, it has proven itself an excellent steel for any outdoor blade.
Still, it bears repeating – as the manufacturer is sure to do – that you must oil this blade quite regularly in order to keep it from rusting. Do not use the fact that it boats a nice anti-corrosive powder coat as an excuse to skip this process, it is possible for rust to appear underneath the coating and eat away at the blade long before you even see it.
Micarta is by no means a “miracle material,” but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a favorite among both knife designers and knife enthusiasts. Usually engraved with deep, grip-enhancing scales, Micarta is a reliable and cost-effective handle material that often provides a solid hold in wet conditions of all kinds.
The ESEE 4’s handle, however, has taken a lot of heat from users who claim it is far too small at only 4.5”. Some claim that it will not even fit a medium-sized hand well, even when the forefinger is placed on the choil instead of behind the finger guard. Most damning, however, are the claims that the handle is chock full of “hot spots,” and can even cause pain during batoning.
While the fact that some users have experienced issues is by no means a guarantee that it will happen to you, this is all worth taking into account when evaluating the 4’s viability as a survival knife. However, it’s also worth noting that the handle is designed to be removable and completely replaceable as well.
Putting a rating or even writing a review of the ESEE 4’s sheath is quite tricky, as even the manufacturer cannot seem to promise precisely what type of sheath the blade will come with. Users have reported receiving Kydex sheaths or cheaper, plastic sheaths within days of purchase from the same source. On top of that, reports of the quality and retention of these sheaths are similarly varied.
By most accounts, the Kydex model (which is listed as being included by most retailers) provides a nice amount of retention without making the blade hard to remove. However, users have said that they wish there were more versatile carry options available, and many have invested money in custom sheaths that better suit their needs.
In almost every case, those who have received a plastic sheath have been very disappointed with its performance.
Quality and Features
As with the majority of ESEE’s products, the quality and attention-to-detail are not in question when it comes to the ESEE 4. What is in question is whether or not this blade can perform effectively in the scenarios that a true “survival knife” would be expected to handle. And, aside from some potential issues with the powder coating and handle size, it’s fair to say that the 4 is a reliable and well-designed knife, and should be able to take on both the heaviest and lightest of jobs without issue.
This simple fact makes it an excellent choice for both newcomers and veterans. While it may not be the one they choose to take into the wilderness with
them, it certainly won’t be the worse knife you can find yourself stuck with if the world goes downhill fast.
Other Notable Points
- ESEE’s “no questions asked promise will guarantee repair or replacement if it ever breaks.
- Easy to handle and light enough for use in a lot of situations, including tactical and self-defense scenarios.
- Solid and well-balanced design. Equal parts handle and blade for a nice, reliable feel in hand.
Some Alternatives for the ESEE 4 to Consider
There are alternatives to the ESEE 4 if you want to check out other options. Here is a look at some of the best ones.
#1 Benchmade – Saddle Mountain Skinner
The Benchmade Saddle Mountain Skinner is a premium alternative to the ESEE 4, and don’t be mistaken – it comes with the premium price tag to prove it. However, it also comes with a full-tang 4.17” blade made out of CPM-S30V stainless steel, which will resist rust and hold an excellent edge for a long, long time.
Before we get too ahead of ourselves, however, we need to point out that the Saddle Mountain Skinner is designed mainly for hunting purposes, and it’s .14” thick blade is more likely to bend if you put it to too much use on thick wood. Still, by all accounts, this beautiful knife has a light feel, a reliable build, and excellent ergonomics in its G-10 handle. It also has a lifetime warranty.
Benefits / Features:
- CPM-S30V stainless steel – well-balanced, resists rust, and holds a great edge.
- Lifetime warranty includes repair and sharpening.
- G-10 handle is impervious to moisture good for extreme temps.
- Reliable blade from a reputable, high-end company.
- Large radius blade is excellent for skinning.
#2 Bushcraft Survival Hunting Knife MOVA-58
Unlike the Skinner above, the Bushcraft Survival Hunting Knife is a more equal match for the ESEE 4 in terms of price. Still, it remains a high-performance blade that offers incredible versatility and is suitable for tough jobs in tough places
The most interesting aspect of the Bushcraft is its steel, a laser-cut MOVA-58, which is naturally corrosion resistant and great for extremely wet environments. With a 3.94” blade and an overall length of 8.67”, the Bushcraft is a bit smaller than the ESEE, but should still be able to take a beating thanks to its 20” blade thickness. For added protection, this knife also features a 100% money-back guarantee.
Benefits / Features:
- High-performance bushcraft and tactical knife designed for rough conditions.
- Stainless steel (MOVA-58) is laser cut and corrosion resistant.
- Multi-position leather sheath and included fire steel.
- 100% money-back guarantee
- 3.94” blade with a full length of 8.67” and thickness of .20”.
- Comes with either a Micarta or wood handle depending on the model.
#3 Gerber StrongArm 420
The Gerber StrongArm 420 isn’t just a great alternative to the ESEE 4, it’s a legend in its own right among outdoorsmen, military personnel, and hunters around the world. Extensively field-tested and boasting a 4.8” blade made out of 420 high carbon stainless steel, this is a knife that will give and take some serious punishment.
Though nearly 10” in overall length, the unit weighs only 7.9 oz. It is built for strength, and has a great feel that most describe as “hefty but not heavy.” For added grip, the StrongArm has a nylon handle with a durable rubber overmold. For tactical carry options, lots of webbing is provided on the included sheath.
Benefits / Features:
- Designed for use in military, survival, hunting, and tactical situations
- Glass-filled nylon handle with rubber overmold for a reliable grip.
- Great feel in hand. Hefty but not heavy.
- 4.8” blade and 9.8” overall length, but only weighs 7.9 oz.
We may not all agree on what the “perfect” survival knife should be, but one thing we should all be able to agree on is that the ESEE 4 is an impressive tool for surviving and thriving in the outdoors. While it does have its flaws, they can largely be overlooked thanks to the brilliant craftsmanship and innovative features present in every inch of the 4’s design.
Is it a perfect knife? No. Still, it is a reliable and versatile blade that can be easily adapted to many situations and perform admirably in all of them. No matter what spot you find yourself stuck in, you could do a lot worse than having the ESEE 4 by your side.
For more details on the ESEE 4 click the link below.