Choosing A Primary Knife
There are few basic tools that we all need in our survival kit. A good blade is one of those. These days, the amount of options on the market are almost mind numbing. It’s easy to get lost in the different models and types. There are serrated blades, drop point blades, tanto blades and the list goes on. In the end, you have to figure out what fits your needs for the specific mission at hand.
For myself, I want a blade length of about 5 inches. I want a full tang, handles that provide a good feel and grip in my hand and of course a decent sheath to go with it. As it is with everything, I just didn’t come to this conclusion by accident, my concept of a survival knife has evolved over the past few years of field training. After some basic research on the interwebs, I found the Ontario RAT model lineup. I’m not going to go deep in the history of the RAT linup, but suffice to say that the current owner of ESEE, used to work with Ontario and the RAT model was a product of that collaboration.
I’ve owned Ontario products in the past so I figured that the Ontario RAT-5 would be a good buy and fit the role that I intended it fill. After some more researching, I found a good deal for the knife and the sheath, shipped for $80. A week later the knife arrived and like usual, I’m the kid on Christmas morning, ripping open the package to reveal the prize inside. First impressions were excellent, the knife had a good balance and fit in my handle. The blade finish looked good, the edge was a little dull but nothing a wetstone couldn’t solve. The only “disappointment” was the sheath, but when you’re getting a 1095 Carbon Steel full tang blade for $80, don’t expect some high speed leather or kydex sheath. I had to pony up some extra cash to get a basic Kydex sheath for it and by the time I was done, I had about $100 into the full package. Like the knife, the sheath arrived about a week later, I adjusted the sheath to fit to the blade and then sat it aside.
Before we dive into the actual review, I figure it’s best to share out the specs on the RAT-5. As result of my experiences with this blade, I’ve been paying MUCH closer attention to the blade material and to the Rockwell Hardness scale.
Blade Length: 5-1/4″
Overall Length: 10-1/2″
Blade Thickness: 0.19″
Blade Material: 1095 Carbon Steel
Blade Grind: Flat
Blade Color: Black
Blade Finish: Powder Coat
Blade Stamp: RAT-5-OKC-USA
Handle Color: Tan
Handle Material: Micarta
Handle Thickness: 0.76″
Sheath Color: Black
Sheath: Nylon and Kydex
Weight: 11.5 oz.
Made in USA
The Field Test
It wasn’t till a month later I had a good chance to take the RAT-5 out for a spin. Nothing major, just going through some basic tasks, a little batoning, clearing a shelter site, things of that nature. As I would expect out of any 5 inch full tang blade, it was easy to baton with and the length provided a decent swing for clearing out small patches of brush. I took down 4 small trees and collected enough dead wood for a mini shelter. The finished product turned out good and after some more exploring of the area, I headed home. Sorted out the kit, wiped down the blade, put on a light coat of oil and sat it aside.
Time passed and winter arrived. For some reason I couldn’t tear myself away from my old tried and true Gerber LMF II. I continued using it and left the RAT-5 at home, only using it for chores around the house. It was around this time I started to notice some issues. Even though I kept the blade oiled, I noticed some rust forming near the tip and each one of the screws that held the scales on the blade were also rusting. I figured it was time to take it out again for another round of work. Returned to another one of my favorite training sites and got down to business. After 5 minutes, I started to see the finish start to chip. To make matters worse, the nice edge that I took so much time to put on, was history. Gone after just a few minutes of detail work on a piece of kindling. Then it just so happened that life got in the way and I had to pack up and head home before finishing up with the knife.
2 Hour Functionality & Usage Test
Then once again the knife sat until a few weeks ago. This time I was ready to really give the RAT-5 a chance to shine or maybe fail. I decided to go hard on the blade, not enough to damage it, I’m not the kind of person to put my tools through torture tests. But enough hard use to see if the issues with chipping and resulting rust would persist. After a few hours, I had enough video and time with the blade to give a fair and honest review. So here goes, I’m going to lay out what I liked, what I didn’t like and what was a complete no go:
Blade design is well balanced, gentle thumb ramp provides a good stable grip
Micarta scales are solid quality and give the knife a fibrous feel in the hand
The finish is not wearing, but instead chipping off on various sections of the blade.
Rust has set in both in the screw heads and in the parts of the blade that are exposed.
The edge is quickly lost and I found myself having to touch up the edge more than once
Mounting this knife on your belt will result in the “sharp” pommel jabbing you in the ribs
every time you made a move. For this knife or any blade with a pommel, I recommend a hanger
or drop leg sheath.
Overall the knife was up to the tasks I expected it to perform. However, if the finish of my knife can’t hold up to maybe a total of 4 hours of work in the field, then we have some issues. I have no problem maintaining the 1095 steel with oil, but for the finish to chipping off at the rate it is, well that’s unacceptable. I expected more from Ontario, I guess its time their Quality Control department got their act together. Aside from the chipping, there is the issue of the blade not holding the edge. Bear in mind that it is quite easy to sharpen as you would expect from 1095, but the edge is gone after some light chopping and batoning. When you’re processing wood for your fire, one must obviously baton with the blade to split the wood down to size, but also you may want to make shavings or tinder from that kindling. The RAT-5 was not up that level of detail work due the edge being destroyed from batoning. Compare this to my LMF II which will baton an entire oak and still have an edge to make some feather sticks and shavings, no problem.
If I had to do it over again, I would have saved up another extra $40-50 and went with an ESEE or another blade which had a good (Kydex/Leather) sheath included in the purchase and also had a better quality in regards to the finish.
For now, the RAT-5 will return to my gear bin or maybe get tossed in my vehicle evac kit since it is a good blade, it’s just not cut out to be my primary blade at this time. I’ll continue the hunt and hope to find myself a good quality “bushcraft” blade in the next few months. If you are interested in comparing the specs on the RAT-5 to the LMF II which I mentioned earlier, here are some links for you to do your own research:
If you want to see the RAT-5 in action, check out the video review shown below and as always, thanks for dropping by and reading the blog!