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Ka-Bar USMC Fighting Knife

Wilderness Arena Score: 97/100

It’s arguably the most famous fixed-blade knife design in the world. Produced by Ka-Bar, who has knife-manufacturing experience dating back to 1898, and built in the USA (Olean, New York), the Ka-Bar Fighting Knife has been used by U.S. military since 1942. Ka-Bar’s fighting knife is an excellent all-purpose outdoor knife that’s perfect for personal protection and as an outdoor tool.

About the Ka-Bar Fighting Knife

The Ka-Bar Fighting Knife was first introduced to the U.S. Marine Corps in 1942 as the Ka-Bar USMC Fighting Knife. The knife received rave reviews from soldiers. Soon after its introduction to the Marines, the Army, Navy, and Coast Guard adopted the knife too. To date it’s been used in Korean, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and Iraqi Freedom wars.

Ka-Bar Fighting Knife design

The blade

Ka-Bar Fighting Knife and leather sheathThe Ka-Bar Fighting Knife is a fixed-blade knife with a rat full tang blade (blade runs all the way through the handle but is slightly narrower than the handle to minimize weight). The full tang adds weight to the handle which shifts the balance toward the handle and makes the knife blade feel extremely light and maneuverable.

The knife measures 11.9 inches long with a 7-inch by 1 ¼-inch blade. It weighs a hefty .7 lbs. A shortened blade version is available if you need to minimize weight and improve portability. There are options for straight and serrated edged blades too.

Blade material is available in two variations. Both use a 20-degree edge with a clip point. The Ka-Bar’s 1095 Cro-Van carbon steel blade is constructed with small amounts of Chrome, Vanadium, Nickel, and Moly to increase strength and improve resistance to elements. Cro-Van is considered superior to straight 1095 steel. The 1095 Cro-Van carbon steel blades are easier to sharpen, will hold an edge longer than most knives, and resists chips, cracks, and breakage from heavy use.

An improved blade steel, D2 Extreme, was introduced in 2014. Ka-Bar says its testing shows D2 Extreme is the “toughest steel used in knife making”. In fact, D2 Extreme is so strong, you must use a diamond or ceramic crock stick to sharpen it. The blade edge will offer unparalleled edge retention at the expense of a more difficult sharpening process (and since there’s an inverse relationship between blade strength and brittleness, a slightly more brittle blade).

Which blade material you choose is a matter of preference. Choose the 1095 Cro-Van carbon steel blade if you want easier sharpening and good edge retention. Choose the D2 Extreme if you want excellent blade edge retention and are okay with more difficult sharpening.

The handle

Ka-Bar Fighting Knife handle and pommel (butt)The Ka-Bar Fighting Knife uses a unique hardened leather (stacked leather) handle with a metal butt cap (the pommel) which is useful for hammering or smashing stuff. The knife comes with a quality leather sheath that matches the knife handle’s unique design.

Ka-Bar Fighting Knife variations

There are several versions of the Ka-Bar Fighting Knife available. The classic USMC version is their biggest seller, but they also offer U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and other versions. They are all essentially the same knife with minor variations in the sheath decoration, handle decoration, and blade shape.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Unsurpassed blade quality.
  • Proven blade design, especially for fighting.
  • Sturdy, metal butt (pommel) for hammering.
  • Crossguard for protecting hands and prevent knife slippage.
  • Rat tail full-tang blade for increased strength.

Cons

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  • Blade is not stainless steel, so it is more susceptible to corrosion if wet.
  • At .7 lbs. knife is heavy.

Summary

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better outdoor knife than the Ka-Bar Fighting Knife. The knife is useful for everything from hammering, opening cans, and digging trenches to cutting wood, roots, wire, and cable. The Ka-Bar Fighting Knife is virtually indestructible and will last a lifetime.

Additional notes

Unsharpened swedge

Ka-Bar knives used to come from the factory with sharpened swedges, the top side of the blade near the tip. This of course, lets the knife better penetrate human flesh (and bone). However, in an age of fearmongering and increased wimpiness, some states have outlawed this type of blade. As a result, they are now shipped with unsharpened swedges. You can rework the swedge to make it sharp or keep it as is for the added (thicker) blade strength.

Leather washer handle

The Ka-Bar Fighting Knife handle uses hardened leather “washers” – a stacked leather handle. The grooves inherent in the design improve grip and allow the hand too cool while working with the knife. It also allows liquid (e.g. blood) to channel between the handle and hand giving a sturdier grip when wet. Oils from your hand will work into the leather handle over time which will improve the grip by slightly softening the leather. Yes, the Ka-Bar fighting knife is one of those rare products that improve with age.

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