Monday, January 16, 2017

Bark River Knife and Tool Bravo 1 LT in 3V Review

Its hard to understate the importance of the Bark River Bravo to both Bark River and the modern production fixed blade market.  In many ways, this is the knife that built Bark River--it is their perennial best seller, it is the knife that they use as the basis for seeming endless variations, and it is the knife that forms the template for their entire line of slab handled, full tang constructed, convex ground goodness.  And so, it is fitting that I review this knife.  But with all of the variants out there, both in size and in steel, I waited for a long time for this one, which I think is probably the very best variant they have produced.  The steel, 3V, is one of the best hard use steels around, and the LT designation is very important to me--it means there is thinner blade stock for better cutting.  The idea is that the increased toughness of the 3V allows for thinner stock--3/16" instead of 1/4"--with no real loss in durability.  And this point is noteworthy because Bark River in the only company I know of that does something like this--change a design to capture the increased performance of modern steels.  You don't see custom makers running 3V on their designs doing something like this--instead they seem to make their 3V knives even thicker--a waste of both material and design.  The last particular feature I needed was the loss of the thumb ramp that comes standard on the Bravo.  I am not a thumb ramp fan--the less points to abrade my hand the better.  So with the exact right features, I pulled the trigger on the Bravo 1.  I brought it home just in time for the Chopacolypse that I referenced in the GSO 4.7 review.  There is no question that this is a great knife, but just how great is it?  Let's see.  

As with all Bark River products, there is no product page. The Bravo 1 3V LT costs $239.95. Here is a good post on Blade Forums.  Here is a video review. Here is a link to Knives Ship Free, where you can find the Bravo 1 3V LT, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:


Here is my review sample:


Twitter Review Summary:  Stunning blade, stunted sheath.

Design:  2

The design here is the best evidence of the maxim I have adhered to when evaluating gear since the beginning--make it simple.  There is no crazy sawtooth back or nutty compound grind.  There is no silly finger scallops or other baloney on the handle.  This is as basic a knife as you can get, but in a true sign of mastery of the form, Mike Stewart's blueprint is wonderful.  There are all sorts of subtle things that tell you this is a great blade.  Here are three.  First, there is a true sharpening choil here--no weird terminating of the blade or unreachable quarter inch.  If its sharp you can sharpen it.  Yay!  Its not a big deal, but it is a sign that Stewart, et. al. are paying attention.  Second, in a reverse grip that faceted end is actually very comfortable and gives you great purchase on the blade.  And third the tip, while scoring sharp, is not so pointy it is brittle.  Stewart knows his stuff and even in a Shaker-simple design, he sneaks a few cues in there to tell you "Yeah, mutha fuckas, I know what I am doing."

Fit and Finish:  2

The fit and finish on Bark River stuff is so good, some glossy and supremely polished that I almost feel like lemons should be more valuable--like error cards in baseball cards in the early 90s (Billy Ripken anyone?).  I have owned a few Bark Rivers and handled many more and each is a gleam hunk of fixed blade perfection.  And that is no easy feat, as these are handground convex blades, something that requires a deft touch to get crisp and correct over and over and over again.  I have said this before, but like Chris Reeve does for folders, Bark River presents something of a price conundrum for custom fixed blade makers.  Making something better is often exceedingly difficult and prohibitively expensive.  Mike Stewart and gang just do fixed blades so incredibly well.  

Handle Design: 2

This is the handle that you will find on the entire line of Bravos and it is very similar to the one you find on the Gunny variants.  And for good reason--this is a very simple, very excellent handle.  There is enough of a hook to hold your hand and enough of a guard to prevent you from going too far forward.  But there is no silly groove or cut that forces you to hold this knife in a particular way.  This is a classic handle design, one, in my opinion, that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the Becker handle.  Its that good.


I will warn you that when the knife is brand new and glossier than a fashion magazine, it is a bit slippery.  Nothing terrible, but noticeable.  Once I punched in the face a bit, it got some texture to it.  Because, you know what Mike Tyson said about getting punched in the face...

Steel: 2

This is not my first rodeo with 3V, nor my first knife from Bark River with 3V.  It is unquestionably a great steel.  After pounding on this knife, and letting a 6 year old (with full safety gear, chillax helicopter parents) do the same, a few minutes with strops is all I needed to get the blade back to hair popping sharp. 3V might, however, be a little too hard for use as a chopper.  After two days of wood-splitting madness, it got sharp, but there is a small chip out of the belly of the blade.  It is far too small to photograph with my equipment and skill, but if I run my nail along the blade it can feel it.  So, the conclusion for me is simple: 3V is good, beware of some very mild chipping.

Blade Shape: 2

Drop point.  Perfectly executed.  Good belly.  Nice tip.  No bullshit.  Move on.


Grind: 2

The convex grind is easily and without a doubt my favorite grind for a hard use knife.  I like a full flat grind too, hollow grinds make me worry when I am mercilessly pummeling shit.


'Member this video from Blade HQ--yeah that was me.  Don't worry I have taken steps to prevent this in the future, no more abusing knives, though in my defense, Cold Steel promised me I could do all that shit I did.  


And here, again the convex grind has proven why its the best in this role.  After crushing the knife for two days straight, poundings its find crafted edge into green oak and maple and dulling it to the point that it no longer cut paper, some stropping (with two compounds and about fifteen minutes of time) got the blade back to where I wanted it--shaving sharp.  The convex grind is tough and easy to maintain.  If you don't want that in a hard use knife, you want something other than a hard use knife.

Ironically enough, despite the thick looking stock, seen here:


This is the LT model and it is slimmer and thinner than the "fat" model.  But even with 3/16" stock, you get plenty of hardy cutting power.  I like this thickness a lot, it is the thickness of the Becker Ka Bars and it works well here, especially with the upgraded steel.

Sheath Carry: 0

This sheath is awful on the hip.  Imagine wearing a splint, but instead of being a medically sound size, imagine if it is made of an ironing board.  It is big, wide, and inflexible.  I hate this sheath in use.


I am also not a fan of the weird, cowboy styling.  Some leatherwork, holes, and contrast stitching are blah...

Sheath Accessibility: 0

After two days of use the opening slot is shredded and the strap is already sliced to pieces.  You can see in the photo above that the retention strap as a small cut.  Now it is about to fall off.  It is a terrible idea to have the strap on the same side as the blade.  Reaching around from the other side would have been more effective.  And more effective still would be a kydex sheath.  I know they are not as cool or as hipster-y, but they work and work well.

Useability: 2

In hand, the knife has superb balance, and amazing amounts of control.  Sure it can take a beating, but it can also do some precision work.  I used it around a camp fire and made some nice shavings.  It also did some really great work in food prep.  And over time, regardless of use, it never strained my hands.

Durability: 2

Crush it.  Trash it.  Bludgeon it.  It is amazingly tough.  But unlike a lot of tough knives, it is also beautiful and remains so after all of that abuse.  Here is the knife mid baton.


And it still shaves after that. 3V is tough.  As implemented in a Bark River design, it is insanely great at absorbing abuse.  Some knives are tough and look tough.  To me, it is more impressive to be tough and look graceful after that.

Overall Score: 16 out of 20

The sheath here is a misery.  It is awful.  I am planning on getting the sheath replaced, but short of a sock from your sock drawer, just about anything else would be better.  That said, the knife itself is so nice and so great in the hand, that it is easily worth the hassle.  I am never a fan of a no-sheath blade (Busse...I am looking at you), but man, with a sheath this bad, it makes me wonder.  But just forget the sheath, sure it takes a hit on the score, but it is an amazingly sweet knife in the hand.  As you can see, the knife itself got a perfect score.  Making sheaths is hard, people. 

The Competition

Its done--the high end production shoot out is coming soon: the GSO 4.7, the Bark River Bravo 1 3V LT, and the Fiddleback Forge Bushcrafter...

Saturday, January 14, 2017

October, November, and December Carry

 NOTE: In writing the 2017 product previews, I got a little behind on the Bravo 1 review and instead of cramming, I thought I'd get this post out (which I wrote before what feels like exam week in college for me--I have written about 10,000 words on gear this week).  The review of the Bravo 1 will be up early next week.

Okay, it is really hard when you get an amazing knife to carry much else.  When you also have an amazing light, well, your IG feed gets a bit boring, which is why I did not do monthly summary posts of my carry for October, November, and December.  There is enough variation when the three months are combined, however, to justify a post and here it is.

Here is the set up I ran for most of the three months, basically as soon as the Small Shamwari arrived.  This is just about the perfect EDC, if you ask me: the Small Shamwari with M390 blade steel and sculpted titanium deep carry pocket clip, along with the Muyshondt Aeon Mk. III.  Both ride nicely in the Scout Leatherworks Pocket Protector, almost as if they were made for it.  Simply put, this does everything you want with ease and efficiency and has nothing you don't want.  Its been six years, but this the light&saber pair that fits me 100% perfectly. 

Small Shamwari, Muyshondt Aeon Mk. 3, Scout Leatherworks Pocket Protector

When I included a pen, it was often the Vanishing Point, another perfectly sized and superbly performing piece of gear.  This photo is evidence of my stupidity as included in this pocket dump is the nice by morally wasteful Vorso Spin Flat Top v2.

Small Shamwari, Aeon Mk. 3, Vorsospin Flat Top v.2, and Pilot Vanishing Point

I got a Case Small Lockback for my birthday from my sister and it is nice in the pocket.  The pocket worn finish is really great and I wish some manufacturers would try something like it.  Cold Steel, for one, could use a bit of edge easing on basically every surface of every knife. 

Case Small Lockback in Red Pocketworn Bone, MBI HF-R, and Pilot Vanishing Point

Here is the James Folsom, a knife I had in for review, that was really fun to carry.  You'll really appreciate just how slim it is when you have to carry it for a while.  It basically disappears. 

The James Brand Folsom and the Pilot Vanishing Point (yes, I love this pen)

As of late 2016, early 2017 these are my three favorite pairings of lights and knives.  Each of the knives is a superb performer and punches well above its weight.  And the CSC Boy's Knife and the Dragonfly II are incredible values.  I am consistently blown away by the finish of the Boy's Knife.  It is on par with some customs.  And the weird thing is, having owned other CSC Boy's Knives, this one is better finished than the other four I handled.  Some one was really on fire at the belt grinder that day. 

MBI HF-R and CSC Boys Knife, Aeon Mk. 3 and Small Shamwari, and Olight S1R and DF2

Christmas brought this knife:

AG Russell Lightnin' Bug and MBI HF-R

The AG Russell Lightnin' Bug.  This is an extraordinarily fine little folder, especially for the price.  The only thing that isn't top shelf is the steel--8Cr13MoV.  The handles are polished and contoured carbon fiber, the lock is a smooth but strong liner lock, and the pivot possesses a pivot so fluid opening is almost telepathic.  And the design has all of the wonders of a Russell design--maximum blade:handle, no exposed tang, and a high utility blade shape.  This is a knife that costs under $100 but feels and looks like a $300 knife.

Rounding out the carry for the last few months is this wallet--the A-Slim Yaiba.  Its in for review and every once in a while there are true rewards going outside the gear world's well trodden brands.  This is a brand I haven't heard of but its not for lack of quality.  This entire set up plays exceedingly well with a suit.
MBI HF-R, A-Slim Yaiba, Edison Pen Company Pearlette, AG Russell Lightnin' Bug

There will be more diversity in the coming months, with all of the new product launches, so I imagine I will go back to the monthly format for posts on what I carried.  Boy is there a lot of great stuff out there right now...and more is coming.  All of those previews have given me access to stuff well before it is shown to the public and there is so much awesome on its way, you might need an awesome life jacket to prevent drowning.  

Monday, January 9, 2017

Bark River Knife and Tool Bravo 1 LT in 3V Overview

There are a ton of very good fixed blades out there right now.  KaBar and ESEE make good stuff in the middle of the market, Schrade is positively dominating the low end of the price spectrum, and, as it has been for years now, Bark River has crushed the competition at the high end.  Simply put there is no production company that makes as many and as nice a knives as Bark River.  And the quintessential Bark River is the Bravo 1.  Drop in the awesome 3V steel and given it the thinner LT grind and you have a great blade.  This is the third and final piece of the high end fixed blade shoot out that has been in the works for over a year.  Here you go with a quick video:

The review comes at the end of the week. And then, soon, I should have the shoot out ready to go. This time of year, writing previews for AllOutdoor and timing them to comply with manufacturer's release dates gives me a lot of work. That and, well my regular job and two boys under 6. Busy, busy, busy. But fun.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Olight S1R and S2R Baton Reviews

These reviews are paired together because the lights are so similar.  One runs on an RCR123a (aka 16340), the other on an 18650, but other than that they are the same light--same side switch, same slightly weird UI, same tailcap charger, same delicious TIR optic, same cool white emitter.  These lights even have similar outputs, which, as you can imagine, makes the choice easy for me.  This is the end of a long line of reviews of the Baton series.  A cynic might think that this is Olight going back to the well one too many times, but the reality is these are amazing lights and you can get them in basically any format you want.  Performance and choice are a winning combination.

One mystery that I need to get out of the way is the UI.  I have now owned 6 different lights in the S series--three different S1 Batons (one when they were brand new and two later), one S1A, one SR1, and one S2R.  At least the two rechargeable have a different feel to the UI.  I am not sure if it is an actually different UI or merely different debounce times, but the result is you have to relearn the UI even if you owned a previous S series light.  Its not really on that fair to deduct a point for that because, if the light is new to you, you will never know that previous gen versions of the light were slightly different.  Furthermore the newer feel to the UI isn't bad by any means at all, it is just different.  In other words it is something that only effects completists and picky gear reviewers like me.  

Here is the product page. The S1R costs $64.95 and the S2R costs $72.95. Here is a written review. Here is a video review.  There are an absolute bevy of variants--Minis, S1, S1A, a few different S1Rs, and the S2R.  Pick your format and they have you covered, except for, oddly enough, the 1x AAA format.  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find both lights, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample of the S1R:


and here is the review sample of the S2R:


Twitter Review Summary: One very good and one very great light.


S1R: 2
S2R: 2


The basic format of both lights is based on the S10 Baton.  It is a classic.  The side switch layout is quite nice and the magnetic, flat tailcap opens up a range of uses.  Some folks complain of accidental activation while in the pocket, but over six lights in this exact format and months of collective carry that has never happened to me once.  There is no real difference in design between the two.  One is bigger than the other, but there is no design difference.  The recharging set up is amazing--easy to use and powerful.  It also lowers the use costs of the lights.  This is the best charging system I have seen on a flashlight. 

Fit and Finish

S1R: 2
S2R: 2

There has not been a single flaw in any of the six S series lights.  For a production light, only Surefire stuff has the same level of consistently great fit and finish.  The anodizing is thick and consistent.  The emitters are perfectly centered.  The optics are clear and tough.  Even the switches have a nice positive feedback.  


S1R: 2


S2R: 2


With a nice, tapered body tube, a bit of knurling, and a great position for the switch, this has always been the magic of the S series.  Even with these most advanced versions, the great attributes carry on.  Combined with all of the performance enhancements that continued improvement and interation brings, both packages are great. Even the S1R, which is the smaller of the two, is big enough not to get lost in the hand.  I like the S2R better in hand, but not by much.  Both are awesome in hand.


S1R: 2
S2R: 1

Here is where we have the first major difference.  The S2R, by necessity, is bigger in order to accommodate the 18650 battery.  The result, however, is a light that knocks around in the pocket quite a bit.  Its still small, especially compared to other 18650 lights, but it is quite a bit bigger than the S1R.  The S1R, however, is just about the perfect size for pocket carry.

Oh, let me note that the pocket clips, as usual, are 100% garbage.  In fact, the first thing I do after removing them from their package is pop off the clips.  So long as Olight continues with these chintzy clips no S series light will ever get a perfect score.  The fact that they are easily removable means I am not going to dock the lights a point, but being so close to perfection without ever closing the gap is a bummer.


S1R: 2
S2R: 1

So the little guy hits 900 lumens.  The big guy hits 1020 lumens.  One is amazing, the other is less bright than my two year old TX25C2.  The weird thing is that the S1R has cutting edge output in a small package but the S2R, in a larger package, is both behind the times for its format and only a smidge brighter than the S1R.  For me, this is the thing that makes the decision between these two easy.  Given that light is perceived logarithmically, you get two lights that are identically bright, but one is cheaper and half the size of the other.  You could stop reading now and just go buy the S1R if you really wanted to.  It is the clear winner.  


S1R: 2
S2R: 2

On low both have runtimes that are second in the production world only to Zebralight stuff.  On high, they both use the drop down trick to juice the numbers, but both are still pretty bright after the 90 second burst of super high.  No complaints here.
Beam Type

S1R: 2
S2R: 2


Given Olight's product line up I will assume that the S2R is basically a big EDC light not intended for long range visuals such as those needed in a search and rescue.  If that is the case the diffuse hotspot and nice spill are both fine and identical between the two lights. 

Beam Quality

S1R: 2
S2R: 2

Not only does the TIR optic save space, but here it makes for a smooth, diffuse beam with zero holes, artifacts, or misshapen pattern. They are identical between both lights. 

S1R: 2
S2R: 2

Again, as I mentioned above, the UI is different from my S1s, but it is quite good.  Had I not had the first UI to start out with I would not even think for a second about how good or bad the UI is.  I prefer the cleaner and simpler UI of the original S1s, but this is still well above par.

Hands Free

S1R: 2
S2R: 2


Antiroll is a bit worse on the S2R because of the fatter battery tube, but other than that they are the same and they are wonderful.  They tailstand, they stick to metal, and they don't roll off surfaces.  Both are great.  

Overall Score: S1R: 20 out of 20; S2R: 18 out of 20

It has been a long slog through the S series of lights.  I probably will never review lights like that again, but the best were clearly last.  The S1R is the best production light out there circa 2016, early 2017.  Nothing even comes close.  This light is three times brighter than the Surefire Titan Plus.  The S2R not the world beater that the S1R is, but it is still a very much above average torch for the 18650 format.  Great job Olight.  Just fix the goddam clips, please.  

The Competition

Really its between the Olights and the Zebralights.  You might be asking why these lights are better than their format counterparts from Zebralight.  This is the answer: even the second gen, slightly stickier UI on these lights is leagues better than the messy two tier, nine level UI baloney Zebralight runs.  If they consolidated their UI in to something simpler they'd best the Olights as the Zebralight clip is way better.  In the end, its a wonky UI versus a crappy clip and since the clip can come off with ease, I choose the Olights.

Nothing from Fenix, FourSevens or Surefire is even close to the S1R.  The Titan Plus is my next favorite light, but it is nowhere near as useful with no tailstand ability and 1/3 the lumens.  

Monday, January 2, 2017

Olight S Series Overview

Well, we have come to the end of the single cell Olight S series lights (and yes, I know they released the Mini while I was reviewing all of these--its an S1 that's smaller).  Here is the three compact cell lights in an overview:

and here is the overview of the S2R:

Final two lights, the S1R and the S2R, will be reviewed in a single post at the end of the week.