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What would your ideal survival knife look like? Due to variations in personal preferences, intended uses, and surrounding environments, the answers to this question will be substantially different from one survivalist to the next. However, there will also certainly be some common ground in these responses.
First and foremost, a survival knife must be dependable. This means it needs a strong spine, a durable edge, and a handle mounted securely to the tang. Second, it must be efficient — the blade should be long and sharp enough to chop, whittle, skin, and slice effortlessly without becoming ungainly. It can't be too heavy to carry on long hikes, but can't be so light it cracks or bends under pressure.
A comfortable and secure grip is also essential, as is a tough sheath with solid rentention. As with all tools, value is a consideration. Many of us prefer to spend our hard-earned dollars on American-made products, but we also can't afford to break the bank.
At this point, you may be thinking that a blade which meets every last one of these criteria sounds like a mythical Holy Grail, and you're not wrong. But that hasn't stopped knife makers from pursuing the quest for an ultimate survival knife. The White River Knives blade seen here is a byproduct of this never-ending journey towards survival knife perfection.
White River Knife and Tool is a small business based in Coopersville, Michigan. It is owned and operated by John and Susan Cammenga, and their sons John Cammenga Jr. and Matt Cammenga.
The company proudly states that every single component of its knives — from the steel to the thread in its leather sheaths — is sourced and produced in the USA. That's an impressive statement to say the least, and one which should appeal to those of us who go out of our way to support American businesses.
White River also offers a lifetime guarantee on every one of its knives. If you own one of the company's knives and aren't 100% satisfied with it, you can send it back for free repair or replacement — no questions asked, no receipt needed. “We want people to feel confident when they finally make that buying decision that they're getting something that they're going to have for the rest of their lives,” said Matt Cammenga.
In addition to producing a variety of outdoor-oriented hunting, fishing, and bushcraft knives, the shop also grinds blades and makes private-labeled tools for other well-known brands. So even if you haven't handled a knife with the White River bear logo, you may have used one of the company's blades without knowing it.
We first handled the White River Firecraft production knife series at SHOT Show 2017, and these blades immediately caught our attention. Based on the design and our initial impressions, we awarded the Firecraft series our “Best Knife of SHOT Show” award. We also said we'd get our hands on one of the Firecraft knives for a full review. That day has finally come.
The White River Firecraft FC5 occupies the mid-range position between the smaller FC4 and larger FC7. This 10-inch knife features a broad 5-inch blade made of CPM S30V, a corrosion-resistant stainless steel infused with chromium and vanadium for added toughness. The blade is heat-treated to 59 HRC and wears a utilitarian stonewashed finish.
The Firecraft FC5 lives up to its name by providing two fire-starting resources. One of the notches along the spine offers a 90-degree edge for striking a ferrocerium rod (more on that shortly). There's also a polished stainless divot on the right side of the handle that's intended for stabilizing a bow drill.
This knife's full-tang design includes a large forefinger choil and additional contours for improved grip. Green canvas micarta scales and orange G10 spacers are attached to the tang via three hollow metal pins, with the third pin doubling as a lanyard hole.
Each Firecraft knife includes an American-made leather sheath embossed with the White River bear logo. A series of leather bands and brass hardware attaches the drop-leg belt loop, while a leather strip and eyelet allow the sheath to be tied around the wearer's thigh. If the drop-leg portion is unscrewed and removed, the sheath can also be worn in horizontal configuration on belts up to about 1.5 inches wide. (A 1.5-inch 5.11 Tactical belt worked in this configuration, but was a very tight fit.)
The knife is retained by a brass snap in the forefinger area, and its bow drill divot is still accessible when sheathed thanks to a circular cutout in the leather. A small loop on the edge of the sheath holds a 1/4-inch-diameter ferro rod, which is included with the knife and features a matching green canvas micarta handle.
Before we even laid hands on this knife, we were impressed with the list of materials it employs. S30V is a great steel for every-day-carry blades, hence its use on EDC folding knives by the likes of Spyderco, Benchmade, and Zero Tolerance.
It's somewhat of an unconventional steel choice for an outdoor fixed blade, since we'd usually expect something akin to 1095 high-carbon in a blade this size. However, S30V's excellent edge retention and corrosion resistance make for a low-maintenance setup — unlike high-carbon steel, it won't need to be cleaned and oiled frequently to keep the rust at bay.
Canvas micarta handle scales were another smart choice, since they tend to absorb moisture and provide improved grip in wet conditions. The orange G10 scale liners don't affect functionality, but they do show attention to detail and make the knife more visually-appealing.
Upon unboxing the knife, we immediately noticed the quality of the sheath. It's made of thick and tough American-sourced leather — none of that bonded pleather junk here. The brass fasteners and belt loop D-ring feel equally robust. We appreciate the inclusion of a leather thigh strap, since many knives skimp in this area.
Drawing the FC5 revealed one weakness of the sheath. Its retention snap keeps the blade secure and is easy enough to release, but the shape of the leather causes it to curve inward towards the blade. If you're not careful to firmly push these flaps out of the way as you draw the knife, the leather can be accidentally sliced as the edge moves past. If this happens enough times, it could permanently damage the sheath's retention flaps, so it's worth being cautious as you draw.
Once you get past the draw stroke, the Firecraft FC5's ergonomic design is absolutely outstanding. The extra-large choil and slight taper on the front of the handle lock into your index and middle fingers, while a smaller groove near the butt yields a secure grip point for your pinkie finger. The handle is also just thick enough to feel substantial, even in this author's large hands.
The micarta handle effectively soaks up sweat and moisture, but we would've been open to a slightly rougher texture on the faces of the scales. Even with the smooth finish, manipulating the FC5 is effortless. We might even say this is the best handle design of any survival knife we've used. It simply feels right.
Moving on to the business end, the Firecraft FC5's blade design is just as efficient as that of its handle. The S30V blade is just over 1/8-inch thick and 1-1/2 inches wide. It has been sculpted into a distinctive profile penned by designer Jason Tietz — some might call it a modified drop point, while others may say it's closer to a clip point or spey. Whatever you call it, it's clearly designed for slicing and chopping rather than piercing, and that's just what we'd want from a survival knife.
The deep primary flat grind on this broad blade culminates in a razor-sharp compound-ground edge. We used it to peel, whittle, baton, and hack through a variety of materials, and saw no chipping or deformation to speak of. Even if we had managed to break it, we recalled that White River Knives guarantees its products for life, no questions asked — that's reassuring if you're hard on your gear.
As for the fire portion of our Firecraft, we're extremely appreciative of the 90-degree-edge notch in the spine. It's perfect for striking the included ferro rod, and saves you from the cringe-inducing process of dulling your sharp blade edge on the ferrocerium. Far too many survival knives from major manufacturers omit this feature, so we're glad White River didn't forget it.
We usually view making a bow drill as a last resort due to the relative difficulty of starting a friction fire compared to other ignition methods. If you've got a lighter, matches, and ferro rod but jump at the chance to make a bow drill, you might be a bit of a masochist. But the included divot sure beats hunting for a dome-shaped palm rock, so we're glad it's present in case we ever need it.
So, does the White River Knives Firecraft FC5 tick off all the items on the “ultimate survival knife” checklist we mentioned earlier? No. It's not perfect, and no knife ever will be — especially not for every survivalist and every scenario. That said, this is a superb knife, and it continually exceeded our expectations.
The materials are high-quality, and they're sourced and assembled in America. We couldn't ask for much more from the design of the FC5 — it has great balance and grip, cuts beautifully, and stayed sharp throughout our tests. It's even aesthetically pleasing, with a handsome shape, nice stonewashed finish, and a classy leather sheath. It doesn't look like something dug out of grandpa's basement, but it's not treading in the realm of tacticool mall ninjas, either.
Our critiques of this blade are relatively minor. The sheath retention snap takes getting used to, and we put a few nicks in it before learning to be more cautious. The S30V steel, while very good for most tasks, will be much harder to sharpen than a high-carbon variety once it eventually dulls. And we would've preferred a slightly rougher texture on the micarta handle scales.
There's also the matter of price, as this knife will set you back $280 — that may sound like a lot to some, but remember it's made in America, includes a leather sheath, and offers a no-questions-asked lifetime warranty. As long as you don't lose it in the woods, this is a knife you might pass on to your kids someday.
For more information on the Firecraft FC5 and other White River products, go to WhiteRiverKnives.com.