Tag Archives: Ka-Bar

Equipment & Gear: KA-BAR’s Full-size Fighting Knife

KA-BAR (usually pronounced kay-bar) has a long history of use in the United States and became famous for being a dependable and choice pick for American soldiers during the Second World War. The brand name Ka-Bar also has an interesting origin and the fighting knives carrying this branding are known for being manufactured by Union Cutlery Co. in Olean, New York, USA.

Full-size Ka-Bar Fighting Knife (Black, Tanto) model being reviewed:

Part Number Ka-Bar 4-1259CP-2
Blade Color Black (with black blade)
Product Dimensions 12.81 x 3 x 1.125 inches (8″ blade; 0.165″ thickness)
Item Weight 317 grams (11.2 ounces)
Metal Type 1095 Cro-Van (USA manufacture)
Knife Origin Blade and grip made in USA.
Warranty Description Limited warranty of the life of the original purchaser.

Fighting Knife Sizes & Blade Lengths: The Full-size Fighting Knife is the penultimate, classic knife used by the United States Marine Corps and many other individuals that need the reliability and utility of a large knife. A perfect combination of light and strong, Ka-Bar’s full-size and short Fighting Knife styles embody the best utilities a knife can offer.

Made in the United States from 1095 Cro-Van steel like some of the other knives that Ka-Bar makes, including the Short Fighting Knife (reviewed here). These fighting knives have great durability and are easy to keep sharp. The full-size and Short Fighting Knife are both tempered to the same hardness rating of 56-58.

Ka-Bar’s Fighting Knife has an 8 inch (20 cm) blade length, longer even than the Swedish Fallkniven A1 survival knife. And with a larger handle than what is necessary for casual use. But this knife isn’t for casual use, it’s for getting you out of scrapes that you didn’t plan on, but did prepare for. To that end there’s nothing wrong with the size of the handle, but prospective buyers should definitely consider the added space it takes up compared to other knives.

The basic version of the Fighting Knife doesn’t directly compare with any of Fallkniven’s offerings due to the type of steel used in the blade and the price. But Ka-Bar does offer an “Extreme Fighting Knife” made from D2 semi-steel which is used in industrial tools and is even tougher than the best stainless steels without the expense of VG-10 high-carbon steel used in Fallkniven knives. With all the same specifications as the regular Fighting Knife the “Extreme” retails for around $180, but a savvy buyer can pick it up for $110. Meanwhile the Fallkniven A1 retails for around $350 in the U.S. but can be had much cheaper. Either version of the Fighting Knife offers excellent features and dependability for virtually any situation and at a very competitive price point.

A-00-KABARs_with_sheaths
Top: Short KA-BAR with sheath; Bottom: Full-size KA-BAR Fighting Knife with glass-filled nylon sheath.

Sheath & Portability: Both knives featured in the photo above came with a hard sheath made from sturdy, glass-filled nylon. This sheath is light-weight and rigid, making it the ideal way to transport the knife and keep it on your belt or in your bug-out-bag. A nylon belt runs vertically to allow the sheath to be attached to a belt or to be looped to another piece of nylon or MOLLE attachment system. The body of the sheath also has a number of slits and reinforced holes to tie the sheath down in an ad-hoc fashion or for securing on the leg.

The underside of the sheath is flat, except for where it comes up to protect the hand guard. This backing also serves as a clip that secures the knife’s guard in place and thus keeps the knife locked tightly in the sheath. To pull the knife out of the sheath one only needs to use a thumb to push on the sheath’s backing and then slip out the knife.

Fighting Knife sheathed and secured.
Fighting Knife sheathed and secured, one nylon belt shown. The button shows some wear.

The hard sheath is a great design that doesn’t require any additional locks or points of failure that might break in the field. However the sheath does come equipped with two nylon belts that each have buttons that will further secure the knife in its sheath. This keeps the knife hilt and handle from flexing away from the backing of the sheath, and might help in rare situations where the guard could accidentally be pushed from the sheath’s clip.

The sheath’s underside is otherwise smooth for easy storing and to reduce the likelihood of getting it caught on apparel with pockets. The sheath even has a small opening to allow water to drip out while reducing the likelihood of dirt and debris getting in while the sheath is strapped to your side or attached to a MOLLE-compatible holder.

Side-view of the Short Fighting Knife secured in its sheath.
Side-view of the Short Fighting Knife secured in its sheath.

Although most versions of the Fighting Knife have options to come with a traditional leather sheath or the hard sheath, the Tanto models appear to still only come with the hard sheath. Ultimately which one is best for you will vary by personal preference. The glass-filled nylon hard sheath can come with the clip-style knives or be purchased separately. The Extreme Fighting Knife also has a version that comes with a nylon-and-velcro sheath, similar to what comes with multi-tools and similar gear.

One advantage of the hard sheath is the two ambidextrous straps to hold the knife secure. I really appreciate the functionality of the nylon straps and button clips on the Ka-Bar which do a perfect job of keeping the knife locked tightly and noiselessly in the sheath. Ka-Bar did a great job on this and it’s equally effective in wet and sandy conditions.

Unsheathed tanto-style Fighting Knife (top) and the Short Fighting Knife (bottom).
Unsheathed tanto-style Fighting Knife (top) and the Short Fighting Knife (bottom).

The size of the full-size Fighting Knife makes it unwieldy for some basic tasks and its noticeably less portable than its smaller sibling. This is a problem for all fixed-blade knives which is why a variety of knives of different sizes (and not just blade sizes) are on the market to fit any usage scenario and portability requirement. Some trade-offs might have to be made, but the photo above illustrates just how much bigger the 12.8 inch (32.5 cm) knife is compared to the 9.25 inch (23.5 cm) Short Fighting Knife.

Features & Versatility: Both the Short and full-size Fighitng Knife have a hilt that ends in a flat butt-cap which doubles as a hammer when the knife handle is held in a closed fist. This is great for beating tent stakes into the ground or for straightening a bent nail. The grooved, Kraton G polymer grip runs between the guard and the butt and gives the knife excellent handling characteristics in all weather conditions. The Kraton polymers are patented, synthetic materials used in place of rubber because it is longer lasting without sacrificing any of the durability or tactility of a rubber grip.

High quality screwdrivers and wood-working tools have a shank that runs the full length of the handle to provide the best possible rigidity and leverage. Like these tools, the Ka-Bar fighting knives all have true full-length shank running the length of the handle, sometimes called a full tang. This feature allows the knife to be used to pry things open and to withstand tremendous strain without breaking the blade (although it could bend). In the worst-case scenario these knives have even been used to dig foxholes when an entrenching tool was not available.

Top: Ka-Bar Full-size Fighting knife with 20-degree "Tanto" style blade shape. Second from top: Ka-Bar Small Fighting Knife with 20-degree "Clip" style blade. Second from bottom: Ka-Bar Mule Folder with 15-degree "Clip" style blade. Bottom: SOG Trident with a "Tanto" blade.
Top: Ka-Bar Full-size Fighting knife with 20-degree “Tanto” style blade shape. Second from top: Ka-Bar Small Fighting Knife with 20-degree “Clip” style blade. Second from bottom: Ka-Bar Mule Folder with 15-degree “Clip” style blade. Bottom: SOG Trident with a “Tanto” blade.

Ka-Bar’s Tanto vs. Clip Blade Styles: The shape of a knife’s blade will indicate the purpose it is best suited for. The tanto-style blade is designed for thrusting while the clip-style blade is best-suited for cutting, but can also perform thrusts. The clip-style blade in my opinion is a much more universally practical style and makes using the knife more ergonomically friendly. Ultimately every knife should be easy to use and not cause undue fatigue or stress on the arm or wrist, so I prefer the clip-style.

KA-BAR's tanto-style Fighting Knife (left) and SOG's tanto-style Trident (right).
KA-BAR’s tanto-style Fighting Knife (left) and SOG’s tanto-style Trident (right).

The tanto-style blade from Ka-Bar is a little different from the one that you’ll find on SOG’s knives that feature a tanto blade. Although they are fundamentally designed for the same purpose the SOG Trident line of knives with a tanto blade comes to a much more dramatic point with the spine sloping down several degrees. This creates a much more aggressive look and may prove more practical for making incisions. The Ka-Bar knives have a straight spine that leads directly to the tip of the blade. Ultimately the angle of the blade’s tip will dictate its usefulness in cutting, and can dramatically impact the ergonomic feel of using the knife. It’s important that buyers try out each knife before hand to find the one that fits their style and grip.

Final thoughts: Overall Ka-Bar’s tried and true entry in the full-size knife category has no faults and makes no apologies for its size as a utility and a very functional knife for virtually any situation. For some it’s definitely the perfect knife, but casual, non-combat users might consider something a little smaller, like the Short Fighting Knife due to its more versatile size and better portability.

Equipment & Gear: KA-BAR’s Short Fighting Knife

KA-BAR (usually pronounced kay-bar) has a long history of use in the United States and became famous for being a dependable and choice pick for American soldiers during the Second World War. The brand name Ka-Bar also has an interesting origin and the fighting knives carrying this branding are known for being manufactured by Union Cutlery Co. in Olean, New York, USA.

Short Black Ka-Bar Knife model being reviewed:

Part Number Ka-Bar 4-1259CP-2
Blade Color Black
Product Dimensions 9.25 x 1.8 x 1.0 inches (5.25″ blade; 0.165″ thickness)
Item Weight 181 grams (6.0 ounces)
Metal Type 1095 Cro-Van (USA manufacture)
Knife Origin Blade and grip made in USA.
Warranty Description Limited warranty of the life of the original purchaser.

E-05-KABAR_Short_Fighting_Knife_secure-2

Overview: The Short Ka-Bar Fighting Knife is, as its name implies, the smaller version of the tried and true Ka-Bar Fighting Knife that was popularized by the United States Marine Corps. Although the Short Fighting Knife’s dimensions are noticeably smaller, and weighs in at less than half a pound, it is made of the same 1095 Cro-Van steel that gives its larger sibling its durability. It is also tempered to the same hardness, rated at 56-58, and offers effectively the same utility.

The all-purpose Short Fighting Knife boasts no special features other than an optional serrated edge. It has no hook for skinning or slicing and does not even have a hole for a lanyard. It’s not that kind of knife.However KA-BAR does have a broad selection of knives to choose from, with several specialized for game.

The single-edged blade is 5.25 inches (13.3 cm) in length, 2.75 inches shorter than the full-size Fighting Knife’s 8-inch blade (20.3 cm). 5.25 inches is plenty of blade for most applications and makes the shorter knife as a whole a much more practical size for everyday activities and hobbies. The handle is also smaller and sized for the average user’s palm, whereas the Fighting Knife’s handle is comparatively over-sized. I find that the Short Fighting Knife has much better versatility when holstered at the hip, leg, or when the knife is in the hand.

A-00-KABARs_with_sheaths
Top: Short KA-BAR with sheath; Bottom: Full-size KA-BAR Fighting Knife with glass-filled nylon sheath.

Sheath & Portability: Both knives featured in the photo above came with a hard sheath made from sturdy, glass-filled nylon. This sheath is light-weight and rigid, making it the ideal way to transport the knife and keep it on your belt or in your bug-out-bag. A nylon belt runs vertically to allow the sheath to be attached to a belt or to be looped to another piece of nylon or MOLLE attachment system. The body of the sheath also has a number of slits and reinforced holes to tie the sheath down in an ad-hoc fashion or for securing on the leg.

The underside of the sheath is flat, except for where it comes up to protect the hand guard. This backing also serves as a clip that secures the knife’s guard in place and thus keeps the knife locked tightly in the sheath. To pull the knife out of the sheath one only needs to use a thumb to push on the sheath’s backing and then slip out the knife.

Side-view of the Short Fighting Knife secured in its sheath.
Side-view of the Short Fighting Knife secured in its sheath.
E-09-KABAR_Short_Fighting_Knife_clip
Close-up of the Short Fighting Knife sheathed and secured via the clip above the guard.

The sheath is a great design that doesn’t require any additional locks or points of failure that might break in the field. However the sheath does come equipped with two nylon belts that each have buttons that will further secure the knife in its sheath. This keeps the knife hilt and handle from flexing away from the backing of the sheath, and might help in rare situations where the guard could accidentally be pushed from the sheath’s clip.

The sheath’s underside is otherwise smooth for easy storing and to reduce the likelihood of getting it caught on apparel with pockets. The sheath even has a small opening to allow water to drip out while reducing the likelihood of dirt and debris getting in while the sheath is strapped to your side or attached to a MOLLE-compatible holder.

Top: Short Ka-Bar with hard sheath; Bottom: Ka-Bar Mule Field Folder Knife
Top: Short Ka-Bar with hard sheath; Bottom: Ka-Bar Mule Field Folder Knife

Still, the portability of a sheathed fixed-blade knife compares poorly to a folding blade. Ka-Bar’s Mule Field Folder, reviewed here, provides a much more compact tool without compromising on heft or ergonomics. While the Mule Field Folder weighs in at 7.3 ounces (207 grams) the Short Fighting Knife isn’t far behind at an even 6 ounces (170 grams), not including the hard sheath. For portability the folding knife is definitely worth considering.

E-01-KABAR_Fighting_vs_KABAR_Combat-sm
Top: Full-size fighting knife for scale at 12.8 inches long. Bottom: Short fighting knife.

Features & Versatility: The knife is full-tang, meaning that it is made from a single piece of 1095 Cro-Van steel which runs through the length of the handle for maximum strength and durability. The handle ends in a flat butt-cap which doubles as a hammer when the knife handle is held in a closed fist. This is great for beating tent stakes into the ground or for straightening a bent nail. The rubber grip runs the entire 3.75 inch distance between the guard and the butt-cap and feels secure in sweaty, dirty, or cold hands.

Serrated edge of a brand new Short Fighting Knife (editor's personal knife was recently replaced).
Serrated edge of a brand new Short Fighting Knife (editor’s personal knife was recently replaced).

The optional serrated edge runs 30 millimeters, or just over 1 inch. It’s a reasonable length for an all-purpose knife, but is only two-thirds the length of the Mule Field Folder’s serrated edge. Overall the serration is perfect for quickly and decisively cutting through paracord, a small branch, or cloth.

Top: Ka-Bar Full-size Fighting knife with 20-degree "Tanto" style blade shape. Second from top: Ka-Bar Small Fighting Knife with 20-degree "Clip" style blade. Second from bottom: Ka-Bar Mule Folder with 15-degree "Clip" style blade. Bottom: SOG Trident with a "Tanto" blade.
Top: Ka-Bar Full-size Fighting knife with 20-degree “Tanto” style blade shape. Second from top: Ka-Bar Small Fighting Knife with 20-degree “Clip” style blade. Second from bottom: Ka-Bar Mule Folder with 15-degree “Clip” style blade. Bottom: SOG Trident with a “Tanto” blade.

Ka-Bar’s Tanto vs. Clip Blade Styles: The shape of a knife’s blade will indicate the purpose it is best suited for. The tanto-style blade is designed for thrusting while the clip-style blade is best-suited for cutting, but can also perform thrusts. The clip-style blade in my opinion is a much more universally practical style and makes using the knife more ergonomically friendly. Ultimately every knife should be easy to use and not cause undue fatigue or stress on the arm or wrist, so I prefer the clip-style.

SOG Trident Tanto TF-6 with stainless steel finish and a US quarter and UK pound for scale.
SOG Trident Tanto TF-6 with stainless steel finish and a US quarter and UK pound for scale.

The clip-point blade from Ka-Bar is a little different from the one that you’ll find on SOG’s knives (see above) that feature a tanto blade. Although they are fundamentally designed for the same purpose the SOG Trident line of knives with a tanto blade comes to a much more dramatic point with the spine sloping down several degrees. This creates a much more aggressive look and may prove more practical for making incisions or other applications, but make it less practical in others. The Ka-Bar knives either have a straight spine that leads directly to the tip of the blade or a slight clip-point as shown below.E-08-KABAR_Short_Fighting_Knife_blade

Closing Thoughts: Ka-Bar is a tried and true brand with a history of reliability and consistent manufacturing quality. The Short Fighting Knife is my personal favorite fixed-blade knife because it is a good size and has a great balance in the hand. It offers all-purpose utility at a reasonable price (MSRP is $88, but can be had for $50). Although the steel is not as fancy as what is found in $200 knives, the 1095 steel is well-suited for field use and sharpens easily. In the 4-8 inch blade market I can think of no more reliably performing knife for its price.

Equipment & Gear: Ka-Bar Mule Folder Knife (2-3051-6)

KA-BAR (usually pronounced kay-bar) has a long history of use in the United States and became famous for being a dependable and choice pick for American soldiers during the Second World War. The brand name Ka-Bar also has an interesting origin and the fighting knives carrying this branding are known for being manufactured by Union Cutlery Co. in Olean, New York, USA.

Ka-Bar Mule Field Folder Knife model being reviewed:

Part Number Ka-Bar 2-3051-6
Blade Color Black
Product Dimensions 9.125 x 1.625 x 0.75 inches (0.125″ thick blade)
Item Weight 208 grams (7.3 ounces)
Metal Type AUS-8A Stainless Steel (Taiwanese manufacture)
Knife Origin Blade made in Taiwan.
Warranty Description Limited warranty of the life of the original purchaser.
Ka-Bar MULE Folder knife, made in Taiwan/China.
Ka-Bar MULE Folder knife, made in Taiwan/China.

Preface: The Mule Field Folder is not a folding version of Ka-Bar’s world-renowned Combat Knife. It differs from its larger counterparts in a variety of areas including where the blade is manufactured and the type of steel used in its construction. Yet it still carries the full backing and quality of Ka-Bar knives.

I bought this knife with intention of finding a pocket knife that had the same versatility and same utility as the  SOG Trident Tanto Assisted Folding Knife which I use frequently and have a review of here. Based purely on the specifications of the knife blade, as well as the price, I assumed that these two knives, while obviously  different, would provide a good apples-to-apples comparison of the two company’s efforts at fulfilling the market’s need for a good, long-lasting folding knife that didn’t break the bank. And at around $40-60 either of these knives promise to be inexpensive enough that losing them would not weigh heavily on one’s conscience, while also being the sort of durable tool that could be passed down to another family member.

KABAR Mule (top) and SOG Trident TF-7 (bottom).
KABAR Mule (top) and SOG Trident TF-7 (bottom).

However I didn’t take into account the differing ideologies that shaped these knives and ultimately the intended uses that these two knives were designed for. Just picking them up it becomes apparent that two very different sets of ideas went into making these knives, despite that they can be used for identical purposes.

Size & Blade Length: The Ka-Bar Mule Folder is a true pocket knife in the sense that it has a 3.875-inch long blade that fits in your pocket. The knife’s 208 gram (7.3 ounces) weight will not ever go forgotten in your pocket or on your belt. And being just more than twice the weight of the SOG Trident TF-7 gives a much more commending presence in the hand. Dispensing with weight restrictions this pocket knife incorporates a hefty Zytel handle with rubber grips that, while made of a similar material as the SOG, is thicker and ergonomically shaped to fit in the user’s closed hand.

Top: Ka-Bar Full-size Fighting knife with 20-degree "Tanto" style blade shape. Second from top: Ka-Bar Small Fighting Knife with 20-degree "Clip" style blade. Second from bottom: Ka-Bar Mule Folder with 15-degree "Clip" style blade. Bottom: SOG Trident with a "Tanto" blade.
Top: Ka-Bar Full-size Fighting knife with 20-degree “Tanto” style blade shape. Second from top: Ka-Bar Small Fighting Knife with 20-degree “Clip” style blade. Second from bottom: Ka-Bar Mule Folder with 15-degree “Clip” style blade. Bottom: SOG Trident with a “Tanto” blade.

From end to end the Mule (see above; second from bottom) is a whopping 9.125 inches long when opened. Closed it’s a more modest 5.25 inches. This is a very respectable size and as the blade is just shy of 4 inches it’s legal to carry in many states and provinces (but always check before purchasing a knife!). For comparison Ka-Bar’s Short Fixed-blade Fighting Knife is 9.375 inches and the larger Full-size Fixed-blade Fighting Knife is 11.75 inches.

At the thickest point Ka-Bar claims the Mule’s blade is 1/8th of an inch thick, a bit less than the thicknesses of the Small and Full-size Fighting Knives (0.125 inches compared to 0.165″).

About half of the blade’s edge is serrated with deep teeth perfect for cutting through nearly anything. The serrations are more pronounced than I’ve seen on other knives in this category and work extremely well on the basic things that I have intentionally and unintentionally cut with it: paracord, double-walled corrugated cardboard, and my thumb.

Ka-Bar Mule Field Folder

Versions & Modifications: The Mule comes in serrated- and non-serrated edge versions and some versions offer a polished steel blade finish or a black blade. A variety of handle colors are also available, including a neon green zombie edition.

The belt clip is designed to be taken on and off as needed can can be reversed for left- or right-side use. In my opinion the belt clip is also not comfortable when the knife is in-hand, so I removed it out of personal preference. Buying a polyester, Leatherman-style holder is more practical for carrying the knife on a belt anyway.

Side note: In order to take off the belt clip a Security Torx driver will be required with sizes T5/T6/T8 used on the various screws. As most people don’t have such small sized specialty drivers some of the screws will seem impossible to remove. A very small Allen wrench may also get some of the screws out, but this is not recommended and may damage the screw heads.

Blade and Edge: The AUS-8A blade is designed with the same ultimate utilitarianism as the handle: it’s thick and has the largest serrations on the blade that I’ve come across short of a saw. It’s the sort of knife that has no problem dealing with the abuse that comes from real, rugged work on a daily basis. And the Mule’s blade is thick enough that if it got run over by a truck I’d be more worried about the safety of the truck than the blade.

Top: Ka-Bar Full-size FightiKa-Bar Small Fighting Knife with 20-degree "Clip" style blade. Middle: Ka-Bar Mule Folder with 15-degree "Clip" style blade. Bottom: SOG Trident with a "Tanto" blade.
Top: Ka-Bar Full-size FightiKa-Bar Small Fighting Knife with 20-degree “Clip” style blade. Middle: Ka-Bar Mule Folder with 15-degree “Clip” style blade. Bottom: SOG Trident with a “Tanto” blade.

The AUS-8A steel chosen by Ka-Bar for the Mule Folder has a Hardness rating of 57-59, not significantly different from the 56-58 rating found in many of SOG’s folding knives at similar price points. These numbers are comparable to the 56-58 rating for the basic Ka-Bar fighting knives, however they use 1095 Cro-Van steel to achieve different sharpening qualities.

Shape & Cutting Ability: The 15-degree edge angle helps the Mule to cut like a dream. It’s a universally practical design that doesn’t deviate too much from the 20-degree edge angle of its fixed-blade cousins. Overall I don’t think that the Mule suffers in any respect compared to the other Ka-Bar knives I have reviewed (or will review soon) and does a better job than the SOG Trident TF-7. I do find the Trident easier to access when in a pocket or holster, but unholstering speed should not impact cutting ability for anyone except for vegetable-dicing quick-draw artists.

The factory edge is excellent and the slight unevenness to the grind suggests that the blade was manually sharpened in Taiwan where the blade was made.

Ka-Bar MULE Folder knife, made in Taiwan/China.
Ka-Bar MULE Folder knife, made in Taiwan/China.

Features: The locking mechanism of the Mule’s blade feels tight and secure and rather than a thumb-release lock there is a depressed button on the palm-side of the handle. The Mule Folder is not a switchblade and does not have assisted-opening technology which does make it less convenient than their competitor’s “SOG Assisted Technology.” The Mule’s blade can’t accidentally be closed, but the location of the lock also means that it can’t be closed with one hand as with other kinds of blade-locking mechanisms. Still, the durability and sheer ruggedness of the knife will appeal to the kinds of people who don’t need to be able to fold open and closed the blade with just one hand.

Overall Impression: I rate this knife very highly. It’s a fantastic tool with all the right features that would make it an obvious choice to be packed into a bag for an adventure. But this wouldn’t be the first knife I consider for an “every day carry.” It’s weight would throw off a lot of people, especially hikers that pack by the ounce, and the serrated edge isn’t necessary for my every day usage scenario. I commend Ka-Bar for bringing a great knife at a great price, but it’s disappointing that this wasn’t manufactured in America.

For more gear reviews please check the RHA Blog’s Gear page or visit the main website’s master list of equipment reviews. If you’re interested in purchasing knives & utilities or other items for your adventure you can buy direct from Amazon.com through RHA’s Back Country Gear storefront which features products shipped and sold by Amazon.com and its merchants. We will receive a small portion of the sale’s proceeds.