What do a sports car, jet fighters, and Gerber’s new knife the “Descent” all have in common? The underlying theme in all of these sleek fast movers – less can be more.
Lighten an object in the right areas and you can increase its usability and efficiency without sacrificing function. This is tremendously easier said than done, however. It requires an attention to detail and understanding of end use that one can easily fall shy of. So, let’s dig in and see how the folks at Gerber have done together.
Gerber has engineered this open face folder to entice the backpacking and climbing community. It seems to be very well suited to these parameters, more on this later though. After testing the piece for about a month now, I can confidently say that it would be fair to consider it for a back up blade for anyone’s ruck. I say this for two reasons. First, due to the experience during the test with the knife I can state that it is a dependable blade. It seriously outperformed its meager MSRP of $25, which may be slightly lower once retailers bat the price around a bit. Secondly and slightly less test based is weight and profile. Now, I want to reassure you that this next sentence is no typo, it has been checked. The blade weighs in at a scant 2.71 ounces; you quite frankly can forget it is there in your pocket. Gerber is able to achieve this by means of the open face design which does away with a portion of one of the scales. This sounds like a comfort nightmare but the simplest way to explain it is that the portion of scale that is left is where it needs to be. The portion remaining nests nicely into the palm and all contact points are smooth. I will note that due to the design, a right handed person will find the knife much more comfortable than a left handed person. That is not to say it can not be used by a lefty, it’s just that the dual thumb studs will be back and not forward in the pocket. Also, the pocket clip cannot be moved to the other side.
The Descent has a closed length of 4 inches even and a width of 1.19 inches across at its widest points. Overall open length is 6.35 inches and blade length is 2.60 inches. Coming up is another figure I assure you is correct; the thickness is a mere 5/16ths of an inch for the whole knife. This rises only to 7/16ths if you include the highest point on the pocket clip into the measurement. A notable feature of the pocket clip is that it’s entirely removable. When it is removed, by means of two T6 screws, it reveals that the clip is retained in a milled recess. This leaves the back of the Descent smooth if you choose to pocket it without the clip or utilize the other carrying means.
Another means to carry the blade you say? That’s right; being marketed to backpackers and climbers, the designers had the foresight to include a sprung carabineer clip at the tail of the piece. I want to make a confession of sorts at this point. I was at first less than impressed with this clip upon initial inspection. It didn’t open far enough it seemed, and the spring felt like it might fail at some point. I decided to make it a little habit to cycle this spring habitually whenever I could to see how much it would take. I can say now that I was amazed and impressed it didn’t give. To be honest, I tired well before it did every time. Now, the confession I offer is one of short sightedness in regard to how far the clip opens. I tried it on the D-rings of several different packs and it fit all without issue–always readily releasing and not once failing. I actually grew to really like it hooked to my left side chest ring. A short reach across my chest and a flick of the fingers and there it was each time. Now about my mistake – even though the clip held up to my use I still would have liked to see it open further. It wasn’t until a mere 2 days before I began actually writing this review that it dawned on me why this was folly. You can see that the clip opening is much wider than it is deep; this is the key to the distance the clip opens. The opening actually is slightly narrower when open than the recess is deep. Basically, if the carabineer will slip over a ring, it will not be able to get stuck or wedged on it. This is a truly fantastic feature that I nearly overlooked. If a climber had this knife on his harness or pack this feature could save someone’s life by assuring the knife will carry free and ready.
Small, light, durable, and reasonably priced I think you will agree that the pros are stacking up for this knife quickly. Here, I offer a few more that I think are more observed than engineered. First in this list, and what I feel to be a truly handy item, is the frame lock. The frame lock on this knife is stout, engaging across a full ¼ inch in the locked position. In testing, I never once was able to slip the lock once it was engaged. The lock has a detent pin to make it stand off the blade in travel to the open position. This gives the knife a smooth opening action and a crisp report as the lock snaps into place. A typical problem with frame locks is that, hidden between two full scales, in most cases you can only get the tip of you thumb or thumbnail into the space to actuate it. This virtually eliminates the ability to unlock the blade with anything more than the most modest gloves. Or, if you’re a “big fella” like me at 6’4”, your fingers don’t fit into small spaces readily. The beauty of this frame lock is the full and absolute elimination of these problems. Oddly, it has nothing to do with the lock; it has to do with that open face design again. The partial scale on this side of the knife leaves full access to the frame lock in its entirety. Another great feature is that the pocket clip on this knife rises to the top of the knife. This means that virtually nothing of the knife shows in a standard pocket carry, save for the clip itself. I will list comfort as a feature as well, not of the scales as was already discussed earlier, rather for the unique profile to the back of the leading edge of the blade. The sweep in the back of the blade is in part necessary to meet the profile of the scales in the closed position. Past that, the designers have placed a truly useful sweep into the spine. In the open position holding it like you would to carve a tip on a stick to roast hotdogs the thumb falls nicely into the blade. This provides additional leverage too a rather small blade for carving.
Function of the knife is on par with what we have come to expect from Gerber. The 440a blade comes to us hollow ground with a keen polished edge. Most of the 400 series stainless steels are best tended with ceramic or high grit diamond and stones. Once used, the knife readily took back a new edge. The one I got to test is serrated but I am told they will be offered in both serrated and fine edges. The serrations are rather more like spaced file work on this knife, but their efficiency on rope and cordage was as good as other serrated knives I’ve used.
So now that I have sung the praises of this knife from tip to tail, you may ask about faults. In truth, I can only report one true dislike for the knife. The period in which I carried the knife to test it found it on my pack when I had one but in my pocket the bulk of the time. The same small side scale that accounts for some of the knives best features also gives it its only draw back I didn’t care for. The thumb stud on this side is the most prominent thing on the knife. This means if you have something else in your pocket you are reaching for you have to slide your hand past this stud. They are machined with three small steps around the stud. It seems paltry but I tell you it is irritating. As a suggestion to fix this, I believe it is a simple as leaving the stud proud because it does help with opening, especially with gloves. I would simply suggest rounding the stud as opposed to having the sharp profiles it now has.
The Gerber Descent proved a better knife than expected quite frankly. The rather unique design has provided us with a knife which is light, thin, comfortable, durable, and reasonably priced. All told, a good thing in a small package. Though marketed to the backpacking and climbing world this little guy might feel at home in almost any arena. Is this the only knife you need to survive a week in the wild? – probably not. But it is a long standing joke amongst survivalists and bushcrafters that the most important knife to have with you is simply: the knife you have with you. This little beauty is light enough and priced reasonably enough that you could throw one into each pack or vehicle and be none the worse off for weight, space, or pocket money.