Anytime the Woods Monkey looks at a new product from a well established maker, there’s a good bit of hype we have to hack through to get to the nuts and bolts of it. In the case of Gerber’s newest offering, the Bear Grylls Ultimate Knife, that hype is larger than usual considering the new blades namesake. In this offering, Woods Monkey takes a practical approach to review the much anticipated Ultimate Knife.
Say what you want about Bear Grylls, it’s probably been said before, but the guy certainly puts himself out there. One thing he’s particularly good at is entertaining, something that helps keep his show both interesting and successful. So when I had an opportunity to review his knife collaboration with Gerber Knives, I took to the opportunity with an open mind. I thought I might have to bite the head off a lizard and skydive onto a deserted island to properly test this knife out. Thankfully, none of that was necessary. I was able to test the knife out just like I’d test any other piece of gear the Woods Monkey offered up, in the real world under normal uses the typical outdoorsman might encounter.
First off, the Ultimate Knife (what a statement!) is more of a total package than just a knife. The knife is a fixed blade design, built around a nylon sheath that houses a sharpening plate, ferrocium fire starter, whistle, lanyard, and signaling instructions. For one package to do all of this is pretty impressive. Being able to do any of it reasonably well, at a decent price, is pretty impressive. But this is the second Ultimate Knife I’ve had for review, and this one had to live up to a higher standard than the first.
The knife itself is the kingpin of the package. If you look at a picture of the BG Ultimate Knife you may recognize its design lineage from the Gerber LMF II. Grylls and Gerber took that general design, adapted it for woods use and added a few notable changes. First off, the blade is made with Gerber’s normal stainless steel. Which stainless steel is a bit of a mystery, but my experience with Gerber’s imported stainless has been positive in the past, so I don’t have much concern about this. The blade has an overall length of right at 4.75 inches with about half of the edge length being serrated. In use, the knife feels like a little more is serrated than plain, but that may have to do with the shape of the plain edge portion of the blade. My personal preference is for a full plain edge, but for a survival knife that may get carried a lot and used a little, I can see the advantage of the serrations.
The knife handle is an overmolded design, with a built in guard and pommel. The handle is nicely textured and has a tacky feeling that stays put in the hand. The end of the handle has a steel pommel, which is deeply checkered and designed to be used as a field hammer. The problem I had with the first review knife was in the pommel to handle attachment. During testing of the first knife, I was batoning some Juniper and Pine in the normal fashion. Nothing too heavy and the wood was free of knots. Unfortunately, the vibrations from the batoning caused the pommel to loosen, and crack free of the knife’s handle itself. The pommel was so loose that I was able to simply pull it off the handle without much effort. Upon inspection, it appeared as if the pommel was simply molded into the plastic handle, with no attachment to the tang of the knife.
After hearing of this and seeing my pictures, Gerber decided on a redesign of the knife, and told me the updated version would be heading my way for review. Gerber has likely experienced this issue from more than just me, as I know of at least one other version of this knife that failed in the same way during testing. On one hand, I’m a little disappointed that the Ultimate Knife failed in what I believe to be a simple, necessary test. On the other hand, I’m impressed that Gerber didn’t slough this off as a manufacturing defect. In reality, Gerber went back to the drawing board for a redesign, and told me that a new knife would be on the way for review as soon as possible.
The replacement, which is the knife featured here in this review, arrived a few months later. It should be noted that after the first knife’s pommel broke off, the knife was still useable in all other regards. I was anxious to give the new version a real run for its money, so I set straight to the testing. The plain edge arrived sharp and evenly ground on both sides. The serrated portion was so sharp it was tacky to the touch. The sheath, which is equally functional for both right and left hander, held the knife securely throughout testing. The accessories, the sharpener, lanyard with whistle, and ferro rod fire starter were all put together nicely.
I began testing the knife with all the simple cutting tests. The Ultimate Knife performed nicely on lodgepole pine, juniper, and aspen. While fuzz sticks and long curls would be a little easier with a full plain edge, I was surprised with how well the serrations performed. After cutting and slicing all the different woods I could get my hands on, I went straight to the batoning test. Properly done, batoning is a safe and reliable way to split wood with a knife in order to reduce it for the fire and get to the drier inner sections. Earlier, I removed the lanyard and whistle from the knife to keep it out of my way, as this always seems more comfortable for me. The updated version of the Ultimate Knife zipped right through every wood I could find. Using a section of lodgepole as a baton, I was able to split everything down to manageable chunks quickly and easily. Checking the pommel, I found it to be secure and solid after the batoning.
For a further test on the pommel to handle attachment I decided a few improvised tent stakes while back on some BLM land near my house. In about fifteen minutes I had four similar sized stakes from some baton split aspen. Aspen is a fairly easy wood to work with, and when I have it available, I always prefer to use it for whittling chores. Making a not so pointy stick turn into a pointy stick was straight forward. Using the serrations I was able to make the stop cut for the guy line anchor point. With the plain edge section I push-cut the undercut leaving a clean area to tie down a tent or tarp. All four stakes were cut out the same way, and I was ready to test drive them into the ground. Using the pommel, the first three stakes went without issue. On the fourth stake, I decided to turn the blade flat, hold the handle, and drive the stake with the flat side of the blade. Again, this was not an issue, and all four stakes were properly set in terra firma.
Since this is a knife that will potentially be carried in all sorts of situations, I felt that simple wood tests weren’t sufficient. Back at my house I stepped into the garage and used the knife for all I could in the course of my regular tinkering. Working on wiring had me thinking, what if you had to cut and splice wire on your ATV with just the Ultimate Knife while in the back woods? Using a 2×4 as a block as a backer, I simply chopped though the 14 gauge wire… a lot. After two dozen chops, I was able to use the plain edge to trim out the insulation for use. Straight from the wire I went to some water 1.5 inch automotive water hose. This water house is thick walled, and has woven mesh reinforcement between the inner and outer layer. After the first few cuts, the Ultimate Knife was starting to drag. I switched to mainly using the serrated section of the blade and was able to make six more cuts through the water hose.
Through all the testing I never sharpened the Ultimate Knife. After the wire and water hose, the edge was noticeably slow in the cuts. Separating the hard sheath from the nylon backer reveals a diamond coated sharpening plate on the back side of the hard half. Using the diamond sharpener is a straight forward affair, and I was able to get the plain edge back into shape very quickly. The serrated section was another story. While you can’t sharpen serrations with the flat plate, I found that I didn’t actually need to. The serrations continued to cut rope, 550 cord, string, duct tape, cardboard, zip-ties, and everything else I threw at it with no attention at all.
Moving on from the knife, the second main feature of the Ultimate Knife is the ferrocium fire striker rod attached to the outside of the sheath. There’s no doubt of the importance of fire when stuck out in the wilds, and having a means to make fire directly attached to your knife makes it all the easier. One thing I particularly like about ferro rods is that they work wet, cold, and when you muscles slow down from exhaustion or the symptoms of hypothermia. I have become fairly proficient with a ferro rod, and using the inner bark from juniper I can easily get fire going. Using bark from juniper causes no harm to the tree, as juniper continually sheds its bark in large, stringy, thankfully dry pieces. The first time I tried the Ultimate Knife’s ferro rod I was impressed. The ferro rod through a shower of hot, large sparks that burned for quite a while. When I first tried the ferro rod on the juniper bark I go fire on the first spark. Later tests were just as impressive. I don’t know who manufacturers the ferro rod for the Ultimate Knife, but they’ve built a fire starter that will easily hold its own with the major name brands. While I wouldn’t buy the knife for the ferro rod alone, I would certainly buy any quality knife that came with this good of a fire starter, especially in this price range.
The ferro rod stays surprisingly secure in the sheath. I was initially afraid it would come loose during use, but after carrying the knife on my belt, in my back pocket, and dropped in my backpack, I never had an issue. As a little insurance, I ran some orange string through the lanyard hole in the ferro rod and laced it through the attachment on the back of the sheath. This probably isn’t necessary, but I feel like my means to make fire should be secured to something. The versatility of the sheath is also fairly impressive. The knife itself has a flat spot on the spine specifically for striking the ferro rod. This section of squared off steel bites in and throws serious sparks! At my fire pit on my back porch, I managed to get a short video showing the Ultimate Knife starting a fire with the juniper bark. You can see in the video I got fire in my first to attempts, but ‘fiddling’ with it kept it from staying on. The third spark took very quickly and fire was easily had in under a couple of minutes. (video link at the end of the article)
Able to be carried vertically, horizontally, and both right and left handed, the Ultimate Knife can be used and carried by anyone. Also with the sheath, you get some great signaling instructions on the back, as well as a survival pamphlet tucked into the pocket behind the signaling instructions. . The lanyard and whistle originally came on the knife itself. But I really don’t care for lanyards on my knives, so I just attached it to the knife sheath where it would be handy if needed. I found the whistle to be loud and clear. Certainly, yelling and banging pots and pans together might get you noticed, but I’d much prefer to carry a whistle and make things easy on myself.
All in all I think the Ultimate Knife needs to be viewed through the eyes of the price. Some simple searched found major online retailers selling the Ultimate Knife for $39.99. Most shops I came across were asking a price in the mid-$40’s. This is a knife that may get purchased and dropped in a boats storage box, a 4×4’s tool box, or a hunter’s backpack. For under $40, I would feel confident purchasing the Ultimate Knife and using it for any of those purposes. While rumors from Gerber are that a plain edge may be in the works, the half serrated blade may be the best of both worlds for folks that need a knife to work to get them home in one piece. With the MSRP of $69, I feel the mid-$40s street price tag makes this a great by for a knife that may get carried for years and never used. If you need to use it, the updated version of the Ultimate Knife will start your fire, signal your help, build your shelter, keep itself sharp, and bring you home in one piece.
Check out the Ultimate Knife from Gerber at www.gerbergear.com
Ferro Rod Video: youtu.be/RkyO04EQIDQ
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