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Survival knives

Survival knife review: The lightweight, practial and inexpensive Mora may be the best all-around choice

Survival knife review: The lightweight, practial and inexpensive Mora may be the best all-around choice

Currently, the rage among some survival schools is the Mora, a small, inexpensive Scandinavian-style sheath knife with a four-inch blade and a large, easy-to-hold handle.

The Cold Steel SRK (top) and the J. Martinni Mora-style knives are good choices for all around use. Combined with a Swiss Army Classic, they can provide a good survival tool kit.

The Cold Steel SRK (top) and the J. Martinni Mora-style knives are good choices for all around use. Combined with a Swiss Army Classic, they can provide a good survival tool kit.

by Leon Pantenburg

Personally, I think they’re great, and I generally have a Mora close at hand.

It’s all because newspaper guys, like me, research stuff. Sometimes we gather information, statistics and data for no apparent reason, and with a vague idea of what the info might be someday be used for.

That was the case several years ago when I bought my first Mora knife.

While I will never give up my folders, I was looking for a small, inexpensive sheath knife that could be recommended to Boy Scouts.

The knife had to be an all-around, do-everything tool. It would be used for a variety of tasks, which could include whittling, cleaning fish and small game, meat-cutting and peeling potatoes. It needed to be lightweight and small enough to be carried conveniently.

Practicality was paramount: A fighting knife was not in the running. I didn’t anticipate the do-everything knife would ever be thrown, used in a “tactical” application, as a prybar or as a weapon for stabbing bears.

Because you can get excellent Frost brand Moro knives for prices ranging from $10 to $15, I bought several versions and put them through their paces.

I got this background info on Mora knives from Ragnar’s Ragweed Forge:

The town of Mora, Sweden has been a knife-making center for centuries. Smiths in Mora developed a basic, functional style that became known as the “Mora Knife.” Until recently there were two remaining large companies in Mora, K.J. Eriksson and Frosts of Mora. They have merged into “Mora of Sweden.”

Mora knives place function before style. They have the flat Scandinavian grind that goes cleanly to the edge, and come from the factory very sharp.

A Mora specialty is the laminated carbon blade. This is a three-part sandwich, with a core of high carbon steel protected by sides of tough lower carbon steel.

Normally, my knife testing takes a while, and I focus on practical tasks the knife might be used for. Several different

This Mora knife was used to clean these trout, and the blade was still shaving-sharp at the end of the task.

This Mora 840 Clipper was used to clean these trout, and the blade was still shaving-sharp at the end of the task. (Leon Pantenburg photo)

Mora variations were put  through these tests:

  • Paper cutting:  An everyday carry knife is used for whatever task is at hand. For me, that might involve opening mail! I cut a bunch of paper up to make notebooks with a Mora, and after about half an hour of constant cutting, the edge was still reasonably sharp.
  • Meat Cutting: The Moras worked well for boning and trimming the meat of several elk and a couple of deer. The blades held an edge well, and were easy to re-sharpen with a whetstone and my grandfather’s butchering steel.
  • Cleaning fish: For panfish or other small, eating-sized fish, I usually cut off the heads and gut them. Then the fish are frozen in water. A Frost Mora easily got through a limit of eight medium-sized trout last summer, while maintaining a shaving-sharp edge. The soft, smushy handle never got too slippery to use.
  • Cleaning upland and small game: The Mora style is superb for taking care of a limit of chukers, pheasants, rabbits and squirrels. The three-to-four inch blade, and easy-to-hold handle work just right.
  • Whittling wiener sticks:  The first practical wood carving most of us do is probably a stick to roast wieners, brats or marsh mellows over a campfire. The Mora works fantastically well for this, and is a good knife to loan the kids for that project. You don’t have to worry about a beginner folding the blade over on a finger!
  • Spreading peanut butter or cutting up apples: On my 1980 Mississippi River canoe trip, these proved to be the most common tasks my Buck folder was used for. Any practical survival knife must also be able to handle the less-glamorous tasks!
  • Kitchen Use: I’ll generally keep the knife being tested on the magnetic knife rack in my kitchen and use it for awhile. This everyday use will quickly point out features you do and don’t like. The Mora is incredibly useful for just about any kitchen task.
  • Ease of Carry: While I generally carry my knife in my daypack, it must also be comfortable to carry on a belt. The traditional Scandinavian sheath, which dangles from a belt loop, is incredibly comfortable to carry. The “clipper” plastic sheaths, which clip on a belt, are not so comfortable.
After cleaning an eight-trout limit the handle on this Mora-style carbon clipper utility knife was still easy to grasp and use safely.

After cleaning an eight-trout limit the handle on this Mora  clipper was still easy to grasp and use safely. (Pantenburg photo)

While a  Mora can do many things well, my first choice for gutting a deer or elk would be my much-used Cold Steel SRK or my Bark River Sahara Hunter or Kalahari. Want a high end Mora-style knife? Get a Liten Bror. (I gave mine to a friend to celebrate him making Eagle Scout. I’ll be getting another.)

And a Mora doesn’t have the tweezers, scissors, and toothpick of my beloved Swiss Army Classic!

While you could split kindling or baton a Mora to cut  firewood, it isn’t the best choice. An axe is!

And I wouldn’t want to have to dig a very big hole with a Mora, or any other knife, for that matter!

The Mora’s low price is a major attraction. You can get a superb knife for under $20, making a Moro a great choice for inclusion in survival caches, Bug Out Bags or other survivalist and prepper stashes. And several Moras would make a great investment now, for bartering later.

A Mora-style knife can do about 90 percent of what I need an outdoor knife to do. And while I’ve yet to find the ultimate, do-everything wilderness survival knife, a Mora-style can come really close!


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Survival knives

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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