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Bark River UP Gunny or Bravo – Which is the best knife for you?

600 398 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness

The Bark River UP Bravo is the knife I would have designed for me. But the BR Gunny is one of my favorite knife series – my UP is my fifth Gunny, and so far it may prove to be my favorite.

These knives are very similar in configuration – which one will be the best choice for you? 

by Leon Pantenburg

(Disclaimer: I don’t get free knives, and I don’t work for Bark River or any other knife company. Knivesshipfree.com is a Survival Common Sense sponsor, but the company had no input in this review. All I ever promise in any product review is a fair shake.)

It’s a wonderful quandary: UP Gunny or UP Bravo? The obvious answer is do what I did: buy both. In fact, I ordered an additional Gunny after trying out the first one. I also had to have two UP Bravos. (And yes, I do have my dream job!)

The UP series is designed as user knives. The UP Bravo on top is slightly larger than the Gunny.

Both UPs are superb knives, but several readers have requested a comparison, and for me to choose which one is best for overall use. Here we go.

First, a little history. I am a long-time user of the Canadian blade style knives, and I love Bark River’s Bravo handles. I also love my custom Ambush Tundra. The Tundra has been used hard on big game hunting and river trips, and always exceeded expectations.

But hardcore knife enthusiasts are never quite satisfied, and there is a perpetual quest going on for that perfect knife. The Tundra’s Aurora handle wasn’t just right, so I got Pete Winkler to rehandle my Tundra, using a piece of antique walnut.

I also had a Bravo 1.25 LT custom ground to my specifications. I didn’t need another hunting knife, and hadn’t needed another knife for decades. But I had to have both UPs.

So here comes the nit-picky, ticky personal preferences that us knife nuts can’t seem to avoid.

Here are the UP Gunny specs: (Knife specifications courtesy of Knivesshipfree.com)

 Overall Length:  8.785″
 Blade Length:  4.25″
 Blade Steel:  A2 Tool Steel
 Blade Hardness:  60HRC
 Blade Thickness:  .125″

Weight: 5.3 oz

And here are the UP Bravo specs:

Overall Length:  9.7″
 Blade Length:  4.66″
 Blade Steel:  A2 Tool Steel
 Blade Thickness:  .156″
 Weight:  8. oz.

A cursory look at the specs show that there is about a one-half-inch difference in blade length, and a one-inch difference in overall length between the two. The Bravo blade is .31-inch thicker. Other than that, what is the difference, and why would you choose one over the other?

Here are the common features:

Steel: Thank you, Bark River and Knivesshipfree.com, for using A2 tool steel in both knives! I have owned and tested knives in most of the super steels, including custom Damascus. As a canoe guide on the lower Mississippi River, I use knives on a regular basis, and my knives are frequently loaned out to students. I can’t afford to compromise on quality, and don’t want to spend a lot of time sharpening blades in the field. If there was a practical advantage of the super steels over A2 I would use them.

Personally, I can’t tell any difference in edge-holding ability between A2 and CPM 3v, and I have used both steels extensively. A knife with CPM 3V steel will cost between 10 to 20 percent more than one with A2. I need affordable, practical tools for what I do, and A2 gives me that. I don’t know what it would take to break an A2 blade, but it would require deliberate, major abuse.

Blade design: The Canadian style blade with its centered point and raised spine works really, really well for most applications. The belly is good for skinning, and there is ample room between the belly and end of handle for slicing.

Point: The drop point is one of the most useful points for outdoors work. The point is thin at the tip, which makes it good for piercing. This is handy for the initial under-the-tail knife work when gutting a whitetail.

Grind: Different grinds work better for different applications. For me, convex has proven to be the best overall grind for what I need in a blade grind.

Spine: This is the area where the Canadian design shows its superiority over many other designs. The hump or bow keeps the point from piercing the entrails when doing the initial spine-down, edge-up cut that opens up the abdomen of a big game animal. The spine is ground at a 90-degree angle, like an ice skate. It will work for scrapping a ferro rod for firemaking. The spine needs to be sharpened if you intend to regularly use it for shredding tinder.

Sheath: Both come with a sturdy leather sheath. I like the design, but I add a D ring to make it a dangler, and may wet form the leather.

Here is more about the differences:

I got the Gunny the night before setting out on a deer hunt and the next morning, used both knives interchangeably on a whitetail. I used the Bravo to open up the carcass and split the ribcage. The Gunny was used inside the abdominal cavity for the messy part of field dressing. Both were used for skinning.

The UP Gunny is an excellent EDC and backpacking knife.

Handle: The best handle designers are people who use knives, and you get to pick between Bark River’s #1 selling Bravo handle or the #2 Gunny.  The Bravo handle fits my hand better than the Gunny. (I wear large gloves, and my right palm measures four inches across.) Both handles are great, but I would like both to have a bigger diameter. I wrapped both handles with tennis racket tape to increase handle size, and am experimenting to see if the larger diameter handles work better.

Blade length: The extra half-inch of length the Bravo has can be very useful while working on large animals. But the Gunny is more nimble inside the body cavity and when skinning around the neck and shoulders of a whitetail.

I prefer a longer blade on a hunting knife. The Bravo’s extra blade length and sturdier blade makes it a better choice on a hunt that has the potential to turn into a survival situation. (All hunting trips have that potential, especially once you get off the road and into the boonies!)

Also, consider what other tasks might be required from your hunting/survival knife. In one instance, I used my BR Sahara to finish off a wounded whitetail. Several years ago, I had to use a three-inch blade Kellam Hawk (the only knife I had on me) to put down a mule deer buck that had been hit by a car. Use the right tool for the job.

Blade thickness: I am a member of the “Thin-Is-In” club as it relates to blade thickness. I prefer the Gunny’s thinner blade because it slices better. I also realize that knife makers must produce blades that appeal to the widest range of buyers. As users become more skilled, I believe we will see more thin blade knives.

Which knife wins? (This is another “Who is your favorite child?” questions.)

For me, it is the Bravo. It is bigger, sturdier and seems to be a more rugged knife. It is a superb hunting knife that could work very well as a survival knife.

But. The Gunny would be a better EDC and backpacking knife because it is lighter (5.3 oz, vs. 8 oz for the UP Bravo) and more compact.

I’ll use whichever one seems most appropriate for the day’s tasks. Hope this helps.

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1 comment
  • Luketcg

    “The Bravo blade is .31-inch thicker.” I think you mean 0.031″ thicker (.125 vs .156). But we understand what you mean!

    I feel like I’m on a parallel journey. I find myself asking “where is a slightly fuller, palm-swelled yet neutral handle in micarta on 1/8″ or 5/32″ convexed blade in a2/3v?” Like a LTWK Jessmuck/Rogue River handle at 4.5 inches and a 4.5ish” UP blade? And the bravo/genesis finger guard and thumb scallops for extra credit!
    Remember when esee and kabar combined the izula handle and the bk11 blade(Becker Necker) to form the Eskabar and the knife world rejoiced? Maybe LTWK and/or BR can do the Jessmuck/full Rogue River handle with the Canadian/UP blade! “UP Leon”. I’d buy one ASAP!

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