KA-BAR – U.S.M.C. FIGHTING KNIFE REVIEW…Twenty eight years in the making

I remember it like it was yesterday…lying to the army surplus store owner about my age so that he would let me purchase my first “utility” knife. At that time the rule was one had to be at least sixteen or had to come along with his parents. Otherwise, no dice! The shopkeeper was eyeballing me up and down clearly not believing my lies (for a good reason) and eventually told me to get my dad while he’ll keep the knife I wanted on hold for me.

We showed up some time later and I was beaming with pride since I selected a knife which I though was the best and I had enough money from my first job to seal the deal. Dad looked at the knife and then at me and I knew right away that something wasn’t right in the universe.

I always loved gear that could do more than one function and selected my knife accordingly. It had a long thin blade with a plastic handle. With a little wiggling and adjusting it turned into a hammer and also a sling shot. On top of that it came with a sheath with a really cool camo pattern. It was a monstrosity. Dad looked past it at another knife and asked the surplus man to let him see it. After looking it over he handed it to me and said “See this…? This will be indestructable.”

I always loved gear that could do more than one function and selected my knife accordingly. It had a long thin blade with a plastic handle. With a little wiggling and adjusting it turned into a hammer and also a sling shot. On top of that it came with a sheath with a really cool camo pattern. It was a monstrosity. Dad looked past it at another knife and asked the surplus man to let him see it. After looking it over he handed it to me and said “See this…? This will be indestructable.”

Today, almost thirty years later, I have no idea how dad knew what he was talking about because I can guarantee he’s never seen that knife before, but he was right…was he ever.

U.S.M.C. KA-BAR

The knife was a reproduction of a Second World War fighting and utility knife issued first to the United States Marine Corps and later to the U.S. Army, Navy and the Coast Guard. It stayed with me for well over twenty years. These twenty years included untold number of camping trips, endless number of hunting expeditions, climbing glaciers, getting lost in our vast wilderness and two operational deployments in the Army. Simply put I took it everywhere.

Today the knife is in terrible condition. The hand guard is loose, leather handle discolored, coating is all but worn off and the blade shows lots of serious pitting. Also, the blade tip isn’t very pointy anymore since I did make a spear from this knife on more than one occasion and tried to feed myself in the bush. While throwing it, I found all the rocks! The knife first came with a beautiful leather sheath featuring the letters USMC along with the Marine Corps eagle and globe symbol. This sheath has long fallen apart and has been replaced three times. At one point I actually made a sheath from a beer can and duct tape.

Today, after over twenty years of hard use, the knife is in terrible condition. But I still wouldn’t hesitate using it for the toughest tasks.

SPECIFICATIONS

This Ka-Bar has an overall length of 11.87 inches with the blade measuring 7 inches. It has a clip point blade stamped USMC on one side and KA-BAR Olean NY on the other below the hand guard. The knife is a full tang construction form 1095 Cro-Van steel. Handle is manufactured of oval leather disks stacked on the tang with a 12 Ga commercial grade carbon steel butt cap pinned at the butt. Today, the knives are made in the USA while the sheaths in either Mexico or Taiwan.

There are also countless variants of this knife now available on the market. Generally, they will retain their outer dimensions with some differences. Some variants feature partially serrated blades and Japanese style Tanto blades. Many models are now available with Kryton handles and Kydex sheaths.

One of the models currently available is the D-2. The blade on this knife is made out of D-2 tool steel which arguably makes for the toughest blade on the market today.

USES

In over the two decades that I have owned my knife I used it as a can opener, trench digging tool, pry bar, diving knife, chisel and an ice axe to name a few. I used the butt of it as a hammer and I also pounded it with a real hammer. It’s been used to cut rope, wire, aluminum, cloth, leather and few times even wood.

If there is one complaint I would have about this knife it would be that the blade is little too long for tasks such as gutting and skinning big game. That being said, we did take down a monster moose once and in that instant the knife worked very well.

Today there is no task that I would be afraid of putting this knife up against. There seems to be no real breaking point where the Ka-Bar has had “enough”. I have also heard of people trying to destroy the knife on purpose and eventually, giving up.

KNIFE REQUIREMENTS

Many people have their own standards of excellence and features which their survival knives must have. I have narrowed down my requirements like this:

  • Blade strength – Quality steel is obviously a must. The blade must be able to survive continuous abuse. This is not because I intend to abuse it but because accidental hits in to rock or other hard surfaces should not take the knife out of action. Both 1095 Cro-Van and D2 pass.
  • Fixed blade – I am not a big fan of folding knives for two big reasons. A) it takes longer to get them ready, B) most of the time you need both hands to get them out and opened, C) the pivot point on a folder is a very weak point. Fixed blade knives can be drawn with one hand most of the time, and there are no hinges or pivot points. This doesn’t mean they have no weaknesses but it does mean they can generally take on much harder tasks.
  • Blade length – I find an ideal blade on a knife to be at five inches. The Ka-Bar is little too long in this case but only for gutting and skinning game. In all other applications the length of the Ka-Bars blade is perfect.
  • Construction – Full tang is a must in a knife. This is a very important feature on any hard use, fixed blade knife. My knife has to have a clip point with a well curved belly and a thick blade.
  • Comfortable handle – In my opinion, comfortable handle on a knife is very important. I use my knife a lot. It’s a tool that is with me every day, everywhere, and I reach for it many times in a day so I have to be able to hold on to it.
  • Lanyard hole in the handle – This is where the Ka-Bar does not hold up entirely. Entirely because the grooves on the handle can be utilized, by a handy owner, to hold a length of paracord in place which can he used as a lanyard. But even this system is not as good as a dedicated lanyard hole.
  • Good sheath – The sheath should first of all protect the wearer as well as the knife when it is not in use. A good sheath however must also provide for attachment to various belt widths. Also, the user should be able to wear his knife on his leg, pack, upside down and essentially in any position imaginable without the knife coming out of its sheath. The original Ka-Bar sheath does not allow such freedom but all modern Kydex sheaths which can be purchased separately, do.

At most of these points, the Ka-Bar passes with flying colors and therefore I would recommend these knives to anyone. The Ka-Bar has very high ratings everywhere and it may be the perfect “Everything” knife. Starting at about $120 CDN makes this knife very well priced when considering it could be the last knife you buy.

Below are five examples of the types of Ka-Bar knives that can be purchased on Amazon. Please select your knives carefully prior to purchase since some versions are “short” knives with blades measuring 5.25 inches.

CONCLUSION
Ka-Bar has been around for many decades. It traveled to just about every corner of the planet, has been to some of our highest mountains and deep under water. It went hunting, fishing and it also went to war. It is a proven blade that will most likely withstand anything you can throw at it and therefore it may be advisable to pack it in your BOS. I do.
If you have any comments or feel that there have been important points left out of this article, please leave a comment below. Also, if you had a Ka-Bar malfunction in the field we would very much like to hear about that as well.

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