Last summer Executive Editor Tim Stetzer and I sat down and had a conversation about creating a modern “Nessmuk Trio” as one of the prizes for the Team Woods Monkey Leukemia and Lymphoma Gear fundraiser using products from SOG. In my ignorance, I asked what a Nessmuk trio was.
I honestly had no idea that Nessmuk was a real person nor that it was the alias for George Washington Sears, a famed turned of the century outdoorsman who authored the book Woodcraft and Camping. Nessmuk was a style of bush craft knife that I had seen online and in magazines. Tim handed me a modern reprint copy of Nessmuk’s book and told me to read up.
He informed me that he envisioned a double bladed hand axe, and large sized fixed blade knife and a multi-tool as a modern, 21st century take on a Nessmuk trio. I thought it was an interesting idea and at volunteered to test out the trio to expand my rather limited knowledge on the subject. SOG graciously donated a trio for the fundraiser and when the items arrived we inspected the axe, knife and multi-tool and were impressed enough to acquire another set for testing purposes. After the fundraiser and a thorough reading of Nessmuk’s book this fall, I got down to testing out the modern Nessmuk trio.
Chapter two of Nessmuk’s book Woodcraft and Camping provides details on the three ideal tools to take into the outdoors. In his book he recommended a double bladed hand axe, a hunting knife and small dual bladed folding knife. Nessmuk was a slight, elderly figure that was not in the best of health and as a result he desired minimal yet functional gear. The chapter goes into a lot detail on his journey to have the double bladed axe manufactured including cost and time spent on the project. He includes less detail on the hunting knife and pocket knife. However, included in the chapter is a drawing of tools that he used in his hiking kit. The idea behind the modern trio was to mimic the original but with a 21st century twist. SOG’s selection of knives and tools makes a lot of sense given the lightweight and durable materials available today. Rather than a small two bladed folding knife as detailed in the book we chose to use a multi-tool to update the Nessmuk trio.
SOG’s Power Lock multi-tool is solid and well built. It is constructed of stainless steel and has 22 tools contained within its frame. It measures 4.6 inches closed and 7 inches when opened. The main tool is a pair of needle nose pliers that also has grippers and wire cutters. On the back side of SOG’s patented compound leverage mechanism is a wire crimper. The compound leverage system does live up to billing compared to other multi-tools that I have. The handles have two small rulers etched into frame that displays both inches and millimeters. When the handles are straightened out you have a ruler with a total length of just over 9 inches. Handle covers protect the tools held within the frame. The one handle contains a saw, awl, large screwdriver, Phillips screwdriver, and a can opener with a small screwdriver and a file. The other handle contains a partially serrated knife blade, folding scissors, bottle opener with a medium screwdriver and ¼ inch driver. Each tool locks into place and can be released by a piano lock. The Power Lock also has a small lanyard that is attached to a hex bolt. I found it very interesting that the hex bolts can be removed and the tools can be taken out and cleaned or rearranged. The entire tool weighs 9.6 ounces and has a heavy feel compared to other multi-tools in my collection. Finally, the Power Lock comes with nylon sheath with a Velcro closure and a plastic belt clip.
Testing the SOG Power Lock multi-tool was a bit of a challenge. I wanted to use as many of its features as possible. One of the first uses was for some leatherworking as I used the awl to punch a couple of holes in a belt that needed adjusting. I used it to assemble a new vacuum cleaner and removed screws that secured a window air conditioner to the window sill. I really liked the Power Lock’s saw. I have a couple of old walking sticks that I am no longer using and the saw bit through them with ease. The partially serrated blade cut through lengths of nylon cord with minimal effort and I used the wire cutters to cut through copper craft wire. The bottle and can openers are functional and the assortment of screw drivers gives the user a lot of functionality.
The Aura Camp is part of SOG’s Aura line and measures just shy of 11 inches in overall length. The blade is made of 6 inches of 7Cr13 satin polished stainless steel that has a thickness of .16 inches. Compared to other Bowie styled knives I have handled the blade thickness is very thin. However, it works for the Aura and makes the blade really easy to use. The blade is reasonably sharp and I was able to shave a little bit of hair off of my arm with the Aura out of the box. The Aura’s handle is made of glass reinforced polymer that is over molded over the tang of the knife that is very comfortable to hold and provides great grip while using the knife. Included in the handle is small carbide sharpening rod that screws into the handle that can be used to the hone the blade after use as well as sharpen fishing hooks in the small groove cut into the rod. I think this is really neat idea and its inclusion makes sense. My Dad was a meat cutter for 25 years and prior to using his butcher knives he would make several passes on a sharpening rod. The Aura comes in two other models that include a hunting model that has a gut hook blade and a seal model that looks more like a bowie knife with a partially serrated blade that is coated in black titanium nitride. The Aura Camp weighs 8.6 ounces which I find very light for a knife that is nearly a foot long overall. It comes with a plastic reinforced nylon sheath with a Velcro clasp that secures snuggly around the handle.
The Aura line of knives, according to SOG, is based off of an original design from Rezin Bowie. I am not a Bowie knife collector but the Aura Camp’s blade does not remind me of any of the Bowie knives I am familiar with. I did some Internet research on Bowie knife blades and styles and there are several knives that could have been the basis for Bowie’s famed knife. The museum at the Alamo in Texas has several versions of Bowie knives that all look a bit different. Historical arguments aside, I really like the overall look and feel of the Aura Camp knife. The molded handle is comfortable to use and the choil protects the hand from slipping on the blade. This knife is awesome to use. It is easy to control and gives the user a lot of maneuverability when used for cutting and carving. I used the Aura Camp to carve and debone a 16 pound ham a couple of weeks ago and to be honest it worked better than a couple of dedicated kitchen knives I have. I used the Aura for a number of kitchen tasks and so this knife would make a good tool to use in a camp kitchen. In addition, I think this knife would be great at skinning and gutting. I do not hunt but my father in law who does is of the opinion that it could function quite well in this capacity. Another version of the Aura does have a gut hook so it is a safe assumption that SOG meant the Aura Camp to be used for non hunting purposes. The Aura Camp proved capable of creating small kindling for a fire as well as carving notches in branches for emergency tent stakes.
SOG’s Double Headed Axe is constructed from 420 stainless steel that has been coated in Hardcase black. Both axe blades are straight edged and measure 3.25 inches in length. The axe blade is secured to the fiberglass/nylon handle by a couple of screws and a metal collar. It weighs a reasonable 31 ounces and is protected by a nylon sheath that uses four snaps to keep the axe blade secure. According to SOG’s website the axe is based off a traditional tomahawk design. However, the axe head is manufactured a bit heavier and can be used for a variety of chopping duties as well as for military purposes such as door breaching. Based on the axes construction and feel it is truly a multi-purpose tool that can be used in many different environments.
I used the Double Headed Axe mostly in my backyard this fall to make quick work of several bushes that had grown wild over the summer. The heaviness of the double blade when combined with the light fiberglass handle means that you don’t have to swing particular hard to accomplish most tasks as momentum does the work for you. Clearing brush and vines with the axe worked extremely well with minimal effort. The handle is long enough that you can use two hands for heavier work. I found the handle comfortable to use but would recommend gloves over long periods of time and when using in rainy or wet weather. The axe head is also small enough that you can use it for more fine work such as shaping tent stakes or making shavings for fire starting.
Out of the three tools I like the multi-tool and camp knife the most. The selection of tools in the Power Lock is excellent and I used it when doing some minor leatherworking which definitely appealed to me. I used the Power Lock to assemble a vacuum cleaner and remove window air conditioners for winter storage. I also like the Aura Camp knife a great deal. The thinness of blade gave the Aura a kitchen knife feel that reminds me of my professional kitchen knives that I own. The handle was very comfortable to use and I think the inclusion of the honing rod in the handle is an interesting choice and certainly functional. Even though I favor the multi-tool and camp knife I definitely do not dislike the double bladed axe. Axes are heavy and I am not particularly good at using them in the woods. I definitely prefer a larger knife with a thick tang to use for batoning a pile of fire wood. In my experience it is more efficient. That being said I hope to get a camping trip in this spring and plan on taking the axe as part of my kit as I could definitely use some practice with an axe.
The only mechanical issue I had with the trio was the Power Lock Multi-tool. I somehow managed to bend one of the handle covers that popped off easily when trying to access tools held within the handle. Despite numerous attempts to bend the prongs of the handle cover back into the correct shape with the needle nose pliers of the multi tool it is still a bit loose. In the grand scheme of things the handle covers are not that big a deal but they sure do make using the Power Lock more comfortable to use over long periods of time. The minor issue with the handle cover will not prevent me from using the Power Lock in the future in my survival gear or around the house. Compared to other multi tools I own, the functionality and tool selection of the Power Lock exceeds my expectations. I also feel that the edge of the Aura Camp could be improved. I had an easier time cutting nylon rope with the knife in the Power Lock multi tool than I did with the Aura Camp knife.
In conclusion, I plan on using these three tools throughout the year around the house and hopefully on a couple of adventures into the woods. I definitely plan to write a follow up to this article early next year. SOG’s manufacturer retail price for the Power Lock multi-tool is $114.00, the Aura Camp retails for $53.00 and the Double Headed Axe asking price is $80.00. All three items in the trio can be found on the Internet for less than retail. Even so, putting all three tools together does come at some expense. However, I think it is completely worth it considering the quality of SOG’s knives and tools. Over the last couple of years I have become a fan of SOG’s products and I think they are well worth the price. While you are at it pick up a copy Nessmuk’s classic Woodcraft and Camping for an interesting and worthwhile read. Nessmuk’s idea concerning the perfect set of camping tools holds a lot of merit today. Buying, developing and practicing with modern Nessmuk trio is well worth the time.
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