Tag Archives: Made in USA

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.

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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: Wigwam Ultimax Down Range Fusion Sock

This review is for the Wigwam brand Down Range Fusion heavyweight sock made in the United States.

My Rating of the Wigwam Down Range Fusion sock

Comfort:          8/10
Durability:       10/10
Performance:      9/10
Price:            7/10
Overall Quality:  9/10
Overall Rating:   8.6/10
Weight (pair):    123.5 grams (4.35 oz.)
Notes: made in USA, tan, calf, boot sock, cold-weather.

Wigwam Down Range Fusion Sock (Tan/Gray)

Wigwam_DRF-001

Warranty & Durability

Wigwam socks come with a 2-year guarantee which should become an industry-standard for high-performance American-made socks. Unfortunately competitors like Thorlo have not yet embraced this consumer-friendly . However Thorlo does offer a “30 day no risk trial” so that if you don’t like them for any reason you can send the socks back, along with the receipt, and get a refund. I haven’t tried this myself, but the 30 days is much shorter than the 2-year warranty on some Wigwam socks.

I’ve had good durability results from Wigwam socks in general and these Down Range Fusion socks in particular. That should come as no surprise as the fully-cushioned construction from toe to calf is designed to take a beating and keep on going. The merino wool construction and synthetic fibers are all intended to last a long time and also be easy to wash and dry. I expect these socks to last longer than some of the merino wool Thorlo socks, but I find the Thorlo socks more comfortable in their material and fit.

Sizes, Colors, & Weight

Wigwam Down Range Fusion socks. Right sock is inside-out to illustrate the cushion weave and liner.
Wigwam Down Range Fusion socks. Right sock is inside-out, depicting the weave and liner.

Although these socks appear to be discontinued by the manufacturer there are black/black and tan/grey color options have been available in the past and may still be available from some retailers.

Normal adult sizes were available, however I find the fit to be a bit loose compared to other boot socks of the same size. In part this is due to the materials used in the construction, but also due to the dimensions of the toe section and the intended looseness of the calf section. The socks weigh 123.5 grams, that’s about 4.35 ounces. This comes out to be a hair lighter than Thorlo’s Thick Cushion Combat Boot sock (reviewed here), however the socks take up about the same amount of space when folded. I would say the Thick Cushion Combat Boot socks compress better, but this isn’t a fair contrast as they are not made out of merino wool and might not be used in the same weather/hiking conditions.

Materials

Wigwam Down Range Fusion. View of the heel, outside (left) and inside (right).
Wigwam Down Range Fusion. View of the heel, outside (left) and inside (right).

The liner is made of 100% Olefin, a high-warmth and lightweight synthetic fiber that is commonly used in warm base-layer garments. It’s sole purpose is to retain body heat while allowing moisture to be absorbed away from the body. Despite being billed as a “2 in 1” sock, this is all one piece and there is no risk of blisters from rubbing or bunched fabric.

According to Wigwam’s product page the outer sock is composed of natural and synthetic fibers which provide a number of benefits to the wearer for adventuring in extreme conditions.

  • 55% Merino Wool – dense, wind and cold resistant, moisture-resistant natural fiber. It is also one of the few fibers that retains heat even when wet.
  • 25% Stretch Nylon – adds resilience to an already durable sock while also lending itself to a secure fit after many uses.
  • 17% Olefin – resists moisture, deterioration, and stains.
  • 3% Spandex – improves fit.

Wigwam doesn’t readily specify where the merino wool comes from, but it’s possible that it comes from US wool producers. The goal in making a sock of merino wool is to create a moderately heat-trapping weave to keep the wearer warm but not hot. If it trapped too much heat the feet would sweat making it that much more difficult to be comfortable while on the move. The Down Range Fusion socks do this reasonably well, but they are not very warm socks overall. A heavier blend of wool, or even wool and silk, would provide similar comfort and moisture-wicking but also be warmer for brutally cold weather conditions.

These socks are not advertised as anti-bacterial or odor-resistant socks like many of their competitor’s offerings. However by nature of utilizing moisture-wicking and mildew-resistant materials these socks should perform and keep feet reasonably healthy even in unideal conditions. However people with specific foot health concerns might take a look at Wigwam’s or Thorlo’s other products that might feature more health benefits.

Design

The sock is a two-in-one solution for those looking for the sweat-wicking performance of a liner and the comfort and durability of a sock. The build quality is good and while there seems to be some loose stitching in some places this has not impacted long-term durability of the sock. This is particularly noticeable near the neck of the sock, where nylon is used to create a tight fit around the calf.

Neck of the Wigwam DRF, showing weaves on outside (left) and inside (right).
Neck of the Wigwam DRF, showing weaves on outside (left) and inside (right).

The Down Range Fusion socks are not over-calf, but instead sit at about the middle of the calf. A large band of nylon/spandex helps to grip the calf and keep the sock in place, however I suspect that as in older styles of sock that the Down Range Fusion is intended to ride low and bunch up at the top of the boot to provide an insulating pocket. On athletic people with moderately- and well-toned calves there will be a lot of slippage and I find this annoying while getting boots on or off, but not troublesome while hiking.

Wigwam DRF. Close-up of the inside of the toe section.
Wigwam DRF. Close-up of the inside of the toe section.

The toe section is a larger point of contention as it is proportionately wider than I would expect. This screws up the fit of the sock when getting it on and off or when putting on boots. It’s not a big deal, but it detracts from the ideal fit. I would expect that people with a shoe size (for instance 6)  toward the lower end of the shoe size range of a pair of these socks (5-9.5, for instance) would experienced a bit more “extra” width in the sock than is necessary. Experiences will of course vary based on foot width, as well, and the Down Range Fusion seems to accommodate larger, wider feet reasonably well.

Wigwam claims the Down Range Fusion sock has a “seamless toe closure” which is fairly accurate, but the seam is slightly noticeable in some places when being worn. It’s not enough to detract from the comfort but it is more noticeable than Thorlo’s seamless sock construction.

Heel and toe cushioning on the Down Range Fusion by Wigwam.
Heel and toe cushioning on the Down Range Fusion by Wigwam.

The dark gray at the heel and toe denote areas, presumably using merino wool, with a weave specifically to provide cushioning without relying on less-comfortable fibers used in the rest of the sock. This is particularly important in the heel where much of the impact is absorbed, but also good to see that the toe section gets some attention too. Overall the cushioning in the toe area is about the same density as the tan blend of materials (Olefin, wool, nylon), and therefore may have a slight difference in warmth.

Cushioning in this area can also be nice for steel-toed boots, however the Down Range Fusion unfortunately fails to provide a comprehensive section of cushioning over the top of the toe due to the placement of the seam which is a low-profile effort to transition between fabrics without creating a bulge. Whether or not this trade-off in cushioning comfort for seam comfort is worth it is up to the wearer.

Overall I like the down Range Fusion socks and will continue to keep several pairs at the ready for cooler temperatures. But when I hike in extreme cold I’ll be choosing something warmer.

Equipment & Gear: Thorlo Thick Cushion Combat Boot Sock

This review is for Thorlo brand Thick Cushion Combat Boot socks which are made in the United States.

Thorlo.com has a limited-supply offer for a free pair of socks based on your foot health and needs. Choose from several types of usage scenarios and then see if you qualify for your free pair.

My Rating of the Thorlo Thick Cushion Combat Boot MCB sock (olive)

Comfort:          10/10
Durability:       10/10
Performance:      9/10
Price:            8/10
Overall Quality:  9/10
Overall Rating:   9.2/10
Weight (pair):    125 grams (4.4 oz.)
Notes: made in USA, green, over-calf, anti-bacterial, boot sock, neutral-weather.

 Thorlo Thick Cushion Combat Boot sock (olive)

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Warranty & Durability

Thorlo socks come with “30 day no risk trial” so that if you don’t like them for any reason you can send them back, along with the receipt, to the manufacturer and get a refund. I haven’t tried this myself, but the 30 days is much shorter than the 2-year warranty on some Wigwam socks.

Generally I’ve had Thorlos last a long time regardless of whether I washed them after every use (as the care instructions dictate). Even old socks have remained durable after many uses and I am still getting use out of Thorlo Light Hiking Socks that are 12 years old and they’re only slightly less comfortable than the same model of socks I bought a year ago. So I expect to get several years out of these socks and put a thousand kilometers on them before I worry about replacing them.

Sizes, Colors, & Weight

Thorlo socks come in all the expected sizes for males and females and even kid sizes (US sz. 13-4) are available on the manufacturer’s store. Most varieties have enough acrylic and stretchy nylon material to provide a comfortable, snug fit at the arch, heel, ankle, and calf (if they reach that high), so finding the right size and fit shouldn’t be an issue. However I do see a few retailers stocking Extra-Small as only “Women’s Small” however as far as I know all the Thorlo socks are marked Unisex on their box.

As expected in an over-calf sock this model comes up to just below the knee. This is quite high for most hikers, especially for people that hike in shorts, but the combat boot style is specifically designed for the needs of someone who needs shin protection and maybe an extra layer between one’s skin and tough pants for the sake of comfort. Due to the types of fibers and materials used the sock stays snug against the calf and doesn’t ride down very much. Some socks without enough elasticity at the top will bunch up around the ankle, but I haven’t experienced this with the Thorlo socks after many days of use. In fact, they hardly feel like they’re on my calf at all, which is really remarkable compared to the overly tight spandex used by some sock manufacturers.

The Thick Cushion Combat Boot socks are available in black, desert sand (off-white), coyote tan, foliage green, and olive drab (green) from the manufacturer. Retailers may carry different selections and at different prices, but the Thorlo’s store lists the socks at $15.50 which it claims is the lowest price available. Regardless, it’s important to compare this price,and the features of a padded, antibacterial sock to its competitors to get not only a sock that is a good value, but one that will suit your needs for years to come.

These socks weigh about 100 grams (3.5 ounces), which is not bad for cushioned over-calf socks that reach to just below the knee. However such long socks will take up a lot of space in a backpack or bag as they don’t compress well, which is probably why they’re so comfortable.

Materials

The material a pair of socks are made from define its durability, warmth, moisture-wicking capability, fit, comfort, and ability to keep the feet healthy. In short the list of materials is the most important metric in determining the right sock for the job.

The Thick Cushion Combat Boot socks by Thorlo are made from:

  • 86% THOR•LON® Acrylic: a trademarked type of acrylic fiber designed to maximize comfort and durability without sacrifice.
  • 13% Stretch Nylon: adds resilience to an already durable sock while also lending itself to a secure fit after many uses.
  • 1% Spandex: improves fit around the calves.

Although these socks don’t advertise extreme moisture wicking performance with Thorlo’s own “Thermolite” or “CoolMax” trademarked polyesters the proven Thorlon Acrylic does provide moisture-wicking which benefits the foot by keeping it dry. The special acrylic also helps to reduce growth of bacteria and fungus that can occur when the feet are frequently sweaty and over-insulated. Thorlo also sells “Anti-fatigue” over-calf socks that look very similar, and cost $2.00 more, but are made with a slightly different balance of materials to provide different performance characteristics. Overall personal preference will determine which is the better sock.

As these boot socks don’t contain a blend of wool, silk, or generic polyester these socks are not “rated” for cold weather conditions. However it’s important to keep in mind that activity generates heat, especially in the feet, so socks that are good for neutral temperatures are often sufficient in cold weather and moderately warm weather as well. For extreme climates it’s better to go with a sock that will keep you warm or cool and help to wick moisture to reduce skin diseases such as athlete’s foot and promote comfort. This is particularly of note for people involved in long expeditions in conditions below freezing or above 26.5 Celsius (80 F).

Design

Thorlo Thick Cushion Combat Boot sock. Close-up of toe section showing the way the fabric is sown as a plush, loop pile.
Thorlo Thick Cushion Combat Boot sock. Close-up of toe section showing the way the fabric is sown as a plush, loop pile.

The materials a sock is made from are imperative to long-term comfort and durability but the design of the sock supports all the features that the materials are to provide. Thorlo and many other hiking/work/activity socks typically feature specific regions that are strengthened for resilience or padded for extra comfort. Some regions will also feature moisture-wicking performance fibers and in the case of Thorlo socks this material tends to be woven throughout the sock to maximize foot health and comfort without detracting from feel or durability.

In the case of the Thick Cushion Combat Boot variant most of the sock has cushioning, even along the shin. The photo above best captures the way the fibers are woven as a plush, loop pile, just like you can buy in a high-grade carpet. This design creates padding against impacts and helps to wick moisture away from sweaty feet. Similar cushioning at the heel also provides protection against impacts and form-fitting arch support keeps the toe and heel sections from slipping around which could cause blisters. The shin cushioning in particular provides excellent abrasion and impact resistance with tough boots that lace high up the calves.

Thorlo_CBS-006-sm
Thorlo Thick Cushion Combat Boot socks. Left: inside of sock showing shin cushioning and heel cushioning. Right: outside of sock showing low-profile seams.

 

Looking at the inside of the sock we can clearly see that the weave as well as the materials used help to provide that cushioning support necessary to reduce discomfort on long treks.

These combat boot socks are particularly notable for having low-profile seams. The seams at the toe are low profile and can’t be felt while the sock is on. Nor can the seams anywhere else in the sock be felt, inside or out. This makes the sock very easy to slip into, but also makes it easy to slip the foot into a boot. These sorts of practical designs are what make this simple sock an excellent choice for neutral-weather adventurers of all types.