Saturday, November 29, 2014

Bark River Adventurer Neck Knife Review

First, as a caveat, let me say that I have never used this thing as a neck knife.  I am just not a neck knife kind of guy.  The functionality doesn't work for me at work or at home.  The feeling that I might be choked out (if it not possible) still makes me wary.  And I am not huge into the football coach look.  So I  am not going to be able to address how good of a neck knife the Adventurer is.

Murray Carter's name is something of a legend in the knife world.  If you ask who has the sharpest knives, out of the box, a ridiculous question for a whole host of reasons (how do you measure sharp? does out of the box sharpness even matter?), the answer among those in the know usually ends up on Murray Carter.  Using traditional Japanese bladesmith techniques, chisel grinds (ground on the correct side), and exotic white and blue steels, Carter's edges are mythically sharp.  How sharp? Andrew and I were horsing around on Skype and he was filleting paper with his Carter knives.  He also mentioned that he could slice paper in mid air, as it fell.  That, my friends, is sharp.  But Carter's stuff is not just great because it is sharp, its great because those edges are on amazing blades.  But the availability of Carter blades is exceedingly limited.  It only makes sense--mythical performance is not a common feature.  

Thankful Bark River has come to your rescue.  Murray Carter opened up his design portfolio and Mike Stewart took the general lines of the Carter Neck Knife, and translated it into the Bark River design language.  The end result is one of the finest fixed blades I have ever used.  But that design heritage, as impressive as it is, isn't the end of the Adventurer's positive attributes.  Nope, this knife also has a truly unique and potentially revolutionary sheath design.  And it comes with some of the sliciest (I just coined that word) steels on the planet, a high performance steel called 20CV (data sheet found here).  

Here is the product page for the Bark River Adventurer on Knives Ship Free (I can't find a Bark River page). As is par for the course, there are dozens of handle scale options.  The review sample had black scales with gold liners (go Stillers). There are no reviews, video or written.  Here is a video with the Adventurer in it.  Here is my video overview:

Here is the review sample (provided by Knives Ship Free):


Here is a link to KnivesShipFree, where you can find the Bark River Adventurer Neck Knife, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:


Twitter Review Summary: Gawd damn is this blade amazing.

Design: 2

The Adventurer isn't a huge knife, by any means, but it is a tad bigger than the Little Creek, the other Bark River knife I have reviewed.  Despite the extra length, about a half inch or so, it seems much, much lighter, in part because of the thinner steel and in part because of the balance of the knife.  With the forward finger choil the balance of the blade sits right in the hand making the knife itself seem almost weightless.  The whole tapered tang never seemed like that big a deal to me, and even though this knife doesn't have a tapered tang, its balance reminds of knives that do.  


Doing actual work with a knife so perfectly balanced is something of a joy.  Its ability to cut into materials is something that seems almost magical.  I am sure this is helped by the steel, but the balance on the Adventurer is notably superior to any other fixed blade I own.

I will concede that the design is a bit busy, with the fuller and the pinch points, but frankly, I like the look.  Busy or not this is a striking blade and it is as useful as it is pretty.  It is a small knife, not tiny like the Little Creek, but still easily pocketable.  Here it is next to the Zippo: 


Fit and Finish: 2

Bark River's fit and finish is easily on par with the best knife companies in the world--Chris Reeve, Al Mar, Lionsteel--you name it.  There is nothing even slightly picky I can say about the knife.  The sheath is not as flawless, but more on that below.  In terms of the knife itself though, this thing is a gleaming beautiful gem, superb in every way.  Put another way, you know how really well made things beg you to touch them?  The Adventurer does that.  It invites your hand in the same way that Greene and Green ebony plugs do.  This is a flawless blade.

Handle Design: 2

And the invitation isn't just a hollow preview, once there your hand absolutely locks into place.  You'll love this knife in the hand, in part because of the balance referenced above, but also because, thanks to the forward choil and excellent jimping, this knife is perfect in the hand. 


The divots on the side make excellent resting points for your finger and thumb when making precision cuts adding just a dash of brilliance to the already great design.  

Steel: 2

I had a Hinderer XM-18 in 20CV.  It was freakin' awesome.  Its pretty awesome here too.  I have nothing to complain about whatsoever.  I love this steel and it works well here.  Its something like a steel between S30V and M390 and that is a great space to be in.  Lots of folks think that 20CV is M390 by a different name and the steels are similar but the composition is not exactly the same.  Regardless of the recipe, the steel is a winner. 

Blade Shape: 2

The Neck Knife has such a simple blade shape and its one that works well, plus, as a drop point, its one Mike Stewart ALSO does well.  Here the drop point is a perfect rendition of the form.


Just spectacular.  

Grind: 2

The ZT and Kershaw Emersons give folks a chance to get an Emerson form without the chisel ground blade and while I am sure some Murray Carter Neck Knives weren't chisel ground, most were.  I like chisel grinds, but if you want something more conventional, this is the ticket.  After a few knives with convex grinds I am sufficiently persuaded; enough to say that this probably my grind of choice on harder use knives.  Maintenance is dead simple--strop when not as sharp.  Perhaps my recent investments in strops and stropping compound coincides with my new fondness for convex grinds.  They are just great. 

Sheath Carry: 2

I am not going to ever use a neck knife.  It probably has to do with how I live my life.  I am either in a suit, in jeans, or in pajamas.  There is really no instance in which I can carry a fixed blade knife and not carry it on my belt.  So I can't tell you about how this works as a neck knife.  But I can tell you that the supplied sheath does very well in pocket carry.  I actually liked it better than the much longer sheath that the Little Creek came with.  The magnet makes me wary of putting the knife in the same pocket as my phone, but other than that, I loved it.  


Sheath Accessibility: 2

Once the leather is broken in, the sheath easy to separate from the knife, though not too easy.  I still like a one handed removal like on my personally designed fixed blade (here is the video), but that is very hard to design and I am not yet willing to make that the standard for a score of 2 in this category.  As it is, the sheath is just darn good.  The magnet isn't a gimmick either, it really does work and adds just a bit of snugness to the handle to make the knife stay put.

Useability: 2

With a handle that seems to melt into your hand and a remarkably smooth finish on the handle itself, there are no hotspots whatsoever.  Even after prolonged use, making kindling for fires, the Adventurer was just an extension of my hand.  Perhaps the dead perfect balance made it so nice to wield.  Whatever, the reason, this knife never stunk.  Not even for a second. 

Durability: 2

I feel like you could stand on the knife and not break it, so in that regard, I can't take off any points, but here is the state of the sheath after I first pushed the knife all the way in:


 The side of the sheath with the magnet is really two pieces of leather and that started to separate almost instantly.  Its not actually peeling apart, it just looks ugly.  Over time I am not sure if it is going to mold to the shape of the knife and stick together or delaminate more.  Its a note, and you can always purchase the more conventional sheath or an aftermarket sheath, but its something I found surprising.  Because I am not sure how the problem will resolve I am not willing to dock the knife a point in terms of durability, especially because the knife itself is rock solid.  This one niggling concern, will however, keep the knife from getting a perfect score. 

Overall Score: 20 out of 20

In many ways this is a Murray Carter Neck Knife with Bark River touches.  Its not a forged piece, like Carter's is, but it is so superbly finished I don't think you'll complain.  But unlike a lot of production versions of custom knives, this is not a pale imitation, but something like a peer.  Bark River's fit and finish is really remarkable.  I have handled lots of high end production and custom fixed blades and they are very competitive with all but the most expensive stuff.  At around $240, in 20CV steel, the Adventurer is a knife that could be your lifelong camp knife and you'd be perfectly happy.  As an EDC fixed blade it is still decent, though a little big.  Compared to the already great Little Creek, the Adventurer is just a bit more refined and among the most perfectly balanced knives I have ever had in my hands.  The sheath is nice, though I am worried about it.  That alone keeps this in the merely damn great category and not perfect, but it is a close call.

Oh, and if you blame me for a fixed blade habit, I am hereby indemnifying MY enablers Jim Nowka and Kyle Ver Steeg.  Blame them. 


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  2. Good review, however, I believe that there is more than one reader who is dying to read your review of the CRK Mnandi, which holds a similar place (in terms of usage) that this knife does. You've been hinting at it for months, and while I doubt it will actually change the mind of anyone, it may be one of the most relevant reviews you ever do.

  3. This knife is so nice with the finger choil that allows for a four finger grip that the Little Creek doesn't look very good anymore...

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  5. Who won the knife?