This newbie from Bark River shows real potential for a do-it-all bushcraft/survival knife.
by Leon Pantenburg
I was not paid to do this review. KnivesShipFree.com is a sponsor of SurvivalCommonSense.com. Nobody supplied the knife used in testing free of charge.
The shoulder season for my knife testing is right about now. It is that time period between the tail end of winter camping and the start of fishing season. I’ll try to snowshoe in the sinking snowpack in the mountains, but any March campout will have to happen in the desert. I’ll be working with scouts in April on the Wilderness Survival merit badge, and we’ll be doing a lot of wood carving, shelter building and and survival firemaking.
But there is no off season for equipment testing, especially when it come to knives.
A newcomer from Bark River Knives is the Trakker Companion.
This knife, according to company information, is designed to be used in conjunction with the larger Trakker. The Trakker is the Bark River version of the Dave Beck Tracker made for Tom Brown. In his writings, Mr. Brown recommends a smaller knife to be used with the large survival tool.
I test blades by using them for their intended purpose. I don’t see the point in abusing a knife to failure, because anything can break. I generally spend a minimum of 10 hours using, carrying and handling the knife. During hunting and fishing seasons, whatever knife I’m testing goes on whatever outing is available.
I put the Companion to work immediately in the kitchen and found the blade to be thin enough to slice vegetables without plunking them off the cutting board.
The Companion disjointed and cut up a turkey with ease. It made a good whittler, and the grind and edge-holding ability of the blade made it easy to carve wood with.
Here’s the Trakker Companion specifications:
- Overall Length: 8.65 Inches
- Blade Length: 4.125 Inches
- Blade Thickness: .156 Inch
- Blade Steel: A-2 Tool steel @ 58-60RC
- Weight: 6.3 Ounces
- Made in the USA
Blade design: The Companion’s blade length is about perfect for a do-it-all utility knife. Much beyond above five inches, and your blade starts to get unwieldy for mundane bushcrafting tasks.
Spine: The edge opposite the sharpened one is ground at a 90-degree angle, like an ice skate. This allows processing pitchwood or scrapping a ferrocerium rod. The spine should be used more in the field, IMHO. I didn’t try scraping a ferro rod with this particular knife, but I have proven it works really well on several other Bark Rivers with the same spine and steel.
Grind: The blade shape is full convex, a grind I have come to prefer over all others. A convex makes a good skinning blade, and in my experience, holds an edge better than comparative grinds. (I recently sent my Tundra back to the factory to get it re-ground into a full convex. Love the Bark River 100-percent satisfaction guarantee!) A convex is also easy to keep sharp, once you get the hang of stropping the blade.
Point: The Trakker features a drop point, which is one of the best points for overall use. It works well for drilling the hearth in a firebow setup or for gutting a big game animal.
Steel: I love A2. When ordering a knife, I have a hard time deciding between it and CPM 3V. I find A2 holds an edge like crazy, and is easier to sharpen than CPM 3v. I use both steels extensively and either will make a superb blade. (Check out these explanations of knife steels.)
Sheath: The Trakker Companion comes with a sturdy leather sheath that can be carried vertically or horizontally on a belt. Leather quality and workmanship is superb and the sheath holds the Trakker safely and securely.
Handle material: IMO, pretty is secondary to composition in a user knife handle. Safe queens reside on velvet cushions in safe, climate-controlled places and may never be used. My users ride on my hip or on a pack, in temperatures ranging from below zero to the 100s. For my money, the best handle materials in these extremes is micarta.
I’ve found that micarta gets tacky when wet. I’ve used these handles in several big game hunting scenarios, where the knife was covered in blood and slime. For a hard use handle, get micarta.
That being said, I must confess a weakness for curly maple and desert ironwood. That’s only because these materials are stabilized and come with Bark River’s unconditional guarantee. And because the knives match my blackpowder rifles so well. The stabilized wood also becomes tacky when damp, as I proved to myself on a successful Mississippi deer hunt.
Warranty: The Trakker comes with Bark River’s no-questions-asked, unconditional lifetime guarantee. Customer service from Knivesshipfree.com and the Bark River factory is superb.
Made in the USA: All Bark River Knives are made in Escanoba, Michigan, by American craftsmen. The company and workers all pay local and federal taxes, and contribute to their community. Call the factory, and someone with a midwestern accent will answer the phone. Buy American.
Jury is still out:
Handle design: An ergonomic handle design that works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. Having big hands, like me, can be a disadvantage, unless you’re in childish, mud-slinging debate for a presidential nomination. My hands require a handle that measures at least four inches if I’m going to use the knife comfortably for long periods of time.
For me the handle is OK. It fits my hand fairly well, and is so designed that your thumb is situated onto the spine. I’m fine with that, but during extended use, the first contour on the handle rubs my index finger between the second and third joint. This could be fixed, for me, with the use of a fine wood rasp and sandpaper.
Gripping the handle puts my index finger right next to the razor-sharp edge of the blade. To me, this is counter intuitive. I won’t put my fingers that close to an edge for fine carving. I want a solid barrier, either from a hilt, or a handle design, when I’m butchering small or big game animals.
A bloody, or fish-slimy handle has the potential to be dangerous, especially if the task takes a while, and you start to get tired.
Do you need a Trakker Companion?
I’m going to check this knife out further with some of the most rigorous, hard-use testers on the planet – a bunch of Boy Scouts earning their Wilderness Survival Merit Badges. Several Bark Rivers will be loaned out (to trained scouts with a valid Totin’ Chip), with no more instructions than: “Be careful, and remember the safety circle.” We’ll see what the scouts think.
Personally, I think the Trakker Companion is a good, solid, well-designed knife. After wringing out more than a dozen, I have complete confidence in any Bark River knife.
The Companion may be just what you’re looking for, and the handle may fit your hands perfectly. The bottom line, on any survival product, is always “It has to work for you.”
(I was not satisfied with this review, wondering if I missed something or if it was just me that the handle doesn’t work for. So I sent it to another experienced outdoorsman for testing and here are his conclusions.)