Every knife enthusiast, hunter, and outdoorsman has an opinion on what knife is the best for a given situation. Most of us have even been drawn into this debate around a fire or when squatted in our favorite patch of timber. The point is, we all have our opinions on what makes a good knife, a great knife, or the best knife for us. SOG has thrown their hat in the ring for consideration with one of their latest all around knives, the Northwest Ranger.
The SOG Northwest Ranger is offered as a general use knife to the outdoor enthusiast. To quote the manufactures website – “outdoor enthusiasts require a knife that can fulfill a variety of tasks, is easy to carry, and can perform in a wide range of environments. With an elongated clip point blade, flat ground bevels, and compact size, the Northwest Ranger is more than up to the task.” We think you will agree with us that this is a bold claim. When Woods Monkey was approached with the request to review these particular knives the review process came with a few suggestions. Normally our reviews consist of a trial period of 1-3 months and SOG has requested that each of their knives be reviewed by not one but two qualified reviewers. Also, they have asked that the review process be longer and in two parts. SOG has asked for an upfront review of 30 days, kind of a first impressions type of thing, followed by 1 year review to show the full scope and abilities of the knife. We feel this is a great show of faith by SOG in their products. But as we’ve said before, SOG’s website blurb makes for some big shoes to fill, let’s see how the Northwest Ranger did in the preliminary test phase.
First impressions are a tricky thing. You either are spot on, over impressed by a piece, or tentative about the item’s performance claims. This is a hard thing to repress as a reviewer. If you are correct right out of the gate I guess you’re just a good judge of a piece. If you are taken in by the proposed hype of an item, it is sadly a let down to disprove the claims. The best scenario for a reviewer is the latter, being tentative and letting the item do the convincing by performing up to its claims or surpassing them. Now it just so happens that both Scott and I are custom knife collectors and makers. This was not a point in the favor of the Northwest Ranger. Being a production knife it was a sad truth that the knife was going to have to earn its stripes. We talked before we received the knives and agreed to receive the knives separately, use them for about a week, and then get together for photos and a proper torture test. We also agreed to keep our opinions of the knife to ourselves until we got together for discussion.
Once we met and took our new toys to the woods for a little play time we discussed our initial take on the knives. In truth neither of us were overly impressed with the knife right out of the package. Don’t stop reading here though; the period of being unimpressed was short lived. Throughout our discussion it became apparent that, we were not wowed by the knife simply because of its functional design. Neither of us were pleased that the knife was made in Taiwan, but this is just a personal opinion and the knife was quick to make us forget this small grievance. After our brief discussion of being overly judgmental we went on to discuss the points we appreciated about the knife. The simplicity of the knife is one of the positive points after you get past its understated appearance. Full tang construction and a clip point blade won’t make a knife stand out from the pack on looks, but it will make it a dependable performer. The Northwest Ranger’s esthetic points are a cross hatched Kraton rubber handle, squared off spine with a healthy dose of thumb serrations, a short half guard with file work, and full grind blade bevels.
Looking at the handle we both agreed it was simple, comfortable, and above all else functional. The rounded pommel and barrel handle make for a comfortable grip in many different holds. The rounded pommel also allows for long use in drilling without to much hand fatigue. Both of us agreed the cross hatched handle provides secure purchase and the Kraton rubber give you a sense of security with wet or viscera covered hands. File work on the bottom of the half guard can be appreciated in standard grip but tends to shine in the reverse allowing the thumb to lock in place. It is very different having something there other than smooth metal and Scott made mention that this would either need smoothed up some more, or filed off completely for his liking. A lanyard hole is present and is just begging for paracord lanyard. This made all the difference in chopping with the knife and allowed it to show it’s prowess in this chore. Overall a simple, straight forward design with some strong, well placed highly functional accents.
On to the blade!! The blade of the Northwest Ranger is a clip point design with full grind bevels and a length of 5.2”. Blade thickness is .150” and the steel is AUS 8. A word on AUS 8, not many US manufacturers use AUS 8 so we thought it might be worth a brief mention as to the composition. The closest thing we have in the US to compare it to is 440B, since AUS 8 has a comparable .75% Carbon. Edge holding ability comes in just under ATS-34 as it is not as hard, but it is also a bit tougher than ATS-34 because of this softness. Also the 440 grades of stainless don’t have vanadium but the AUS 8 does so we expect to see better wear resistance in this alloy. So what does all this mean? Well, you can wax metallurgic all day long but the proof is in the pudding, as they say. The Northwest Ranger came to us with a nice factory edge; the initial testing was done with this edge to test it “out of the box”.
Shaving and carving chores turned out to be a breeze. We decided since the knife was billed as an all around outdoorsmen’s knife we should test it in those avenues. In no certain order we made fuzz sticks, tent stakes, trap trigger notches, and many other carving and shaving items. The edge performed very well, again making believers out of us both that this knife has a good chance of making good on it’s bold claims. Once we had tested the finer points of the blade we decided it was time to up the destruction. One of the roughest chores a knife can stand up to is batoning; the sudden shock of batoning can wreak havoc on a blade. We were both happily surprised at how the Ranger stood up. We took it through some aged elm and wild cherry and starting with pieces nearly as thick as the blade was wide. The knife performed very well indeed, the traction and shock absorption of the Kraton rubber handle was very nice to work with. A quick test of the edge after the batoning showed that we hadn’t lost much sharpness at all. Once we saw how well the blade held up to batoning we decided to try some chopping.
Now, the Northwest Ranger weighs in at just 6.2 oz. and has an overall length of 9.925”. This hardly falls into what most consider the chopper category, but the knife held its own in this arena as well. With the addition of a short paracord lanyard we were able to choke back on the grip and allow for some confident swings. The full grind profile of the blade helped ease freeing the knife when stuck and we made it through some timber in record time. Again the edge came through the torture very well without chipping or much loss of sharpness. Touching the blades up later was very easy; they took an edge readily from belt and stone. We should have learned our lesson at this point not to be so judgmental but we pushed on and kept trying to find a flaw.
One of the abstract things we decided to check out was to see if the knife would work with a ferro rod. Not all production knives are heat treated high enough or have a square enough spine to use with a ferro rod. If you can avoid it you should never use your ferro rod off the edge of you knife. Not only will it eat your edge quickly but it is a recipe for disaster with respect to cutting yourself. The anxiety of starting a fire this way can cause you to pay less attention to the knife and more attention to the tinder, always pay attention to the knife! The first strike of the ferro rod produced such a shower of sparks that we decided to grab the camera, we didn’t think anyone would believe how well it did. We used a Light My Fire army model and the Northwest Ranger to light a fuzz stick like a strike anywhere match. Looking into it further we attribute this to a healthy Rockwell and a good square spine. It appears the spine is milled after profiling which leaves a crisp edge just perfect for striking. The knife wasn’t marred up by the heat either.
The sheath that comes with the Northwest Hunter is a rather basic, thin black leather belt sheath with about a 4” belt loop. A grip loop with a snap closure does a good job of retaining the knife and it is reasonably easy to resheath. It is a fine sheath but if there was a quick fix to make this knife better it might be in the sheath system. Personally a dangler would make this knife a more woods friendly performer. The design of the knife lends itself to a kydex sheath as well, and we’d be anxious to see it in one. Certainly with the ferro rod performance, a loop to hold a ferro rod would be well advised. So far not much else has come up in terms of short comings or suggestions. The MSRP is $95, but a quick net surf found a street price of $54.63. Though not quite a poor boy special, we feel this is a lot of knife for the money. As we said this is merely an upfront review and we will be using the knife over the course of the next year to see the strengths and weaknesses in a fuller light. Right now we stand ready to move forward with this knife with a fresher outlook. The SOG Northwest Ranger has thus far fulfilled its claim of being an all around outdoor knife, stayed tuned for the secondary review to see how it held up.