In preparation for the summer and the next hunting season I decided to do a ESEE 4 review to test its strengths and weaknesses testing it in a variety of condition and for a number of everyday camping applications and bushcraft tasks from batoning and chopping kindling, shaving wood curls and food preparation as well as some basic butchery and skinning tasks. I also tried this knife out in a variety of weather conditions to check its performance in both wet and dry conditions.
First and foremost, to give an overview the ESEE 4 is a really nice, multi-purpose, fixed blade, full tang knife, entirely made in the USA that is great for a camping knife or for tactical and military applications. ESEE Knives are well renowned for producing exceptionally high quality fixed blade knives suitable for a variety of applications and the ESEE-4 is no exception. This knife measures in at 9 inches total, with a 4.5 inch blade length and around a 4.1 inch cutting edge placing if fairly solidly in the mid-sized blade range.
Forged from specially heat treated and tempered coated 1095 high carbon steel to make for an extremely durable blade. The blade itself is a lot thicker than you may expect considering its length, at 3/16 inch (4.76 mm) making the blade more suitable for any prying tasks you may need to complete. The ESEE 4 weighs in at around 8oz making it a heavier option than some other knives of similar blade length, this is due to the thicker blade as well as the full tang, meaning that the tang is the same width as the blade, rather than being a smaller piece of metal running the length of the handle.
The handle itself is made from linen micarta to provide a great grip in both wet and dry conditions. The ESEE 4 also comes with a very good moulded kydex sheath with adjustable tension screws allowing the user to adjust the resistance sheath to suit their carrying style, applications or preferences. The sheath also comes with a variety of options for carry customisation including a MOLLE backing making it very easy to attach securely to a backpack or belt or the option to string para-cord through its various holes to make a secure attachment depending on the user’s preference. Straight out of the factory this blade is razor sharp, fully ground with a 30-30 edge this knife will be sharp enough for any task you are likely to need it for, no pre-sharpening or re-honing needed of the factory edge on this piece of kit, it’s perfect straight out of the box.
One of the first things we noticed in this Esee 4 review is that the blade is considerably thicker than most comparable knives, this makes it much more durable and well suited to heavy duty tasks such as batoning or other heavy-duty wood working applications. The thick blade also makes this knife suitable for light prying work and as it’s made from high carbon steel as opposed to stainless it’s less brittle and therefore less liable to break. The extra weight provided by the thicker blade make the knife perform spectacularly for other chopping actions as well such as breaking up sticks into kindling or cutting through bone if you like to do a little outdoors butchery on a hunting or camping trip. Additionally the nice smooth curve of the blade makes skinning tasks real easy, the blade just slides straight through anything you throw at it. The double choil allows the you to have great control over the knife whether you’re using it in a standard or choke grip and makes delicate slicing tasks and food preparation that much easier.
The jimping on the back of the knife isn’t too aggressive and wont hurt your fingers even during heavy use which is a real plus, but still provides enough friction to help control the blade for precision cuts. This knife performs really well in wet weather as the linen micarta handle absorbs a little water which actually improves the resistance of the handle increasing grip. This is a real bonus if you live in an area where wet weather is a constant threat or if you intend to take this knife on an extended camping or hunting trip. The superior grip that the micarta provides makes using the knife in a reverse grip or using a downward stabbing action feel much safer and vastly improves performance if you”re wearing gloves. The sheath is spectacularly designed and allows the knife to fit snugly without risk of it falling out during hiking trips. The tension screw can also be adjusted if you prefer to have a less constricted blade for easier and quicker access.
The sheath also has a drainage hole so you wont have to worry about the blade sitting in a damp atmosphere when not in use causing corrosion. The blade holds an edge really well and is super easy to maintain using pretty much any sharpening system you prefer and in the event that your blade gets a chip it’s pretty easy to remove. The 1095 steel is sometimes considered to be an inferior steel, however, in this case the heat treating and tempering process that these knives go through result in a highly durable blade, easily comparable to that of other steels with the added bonus of maintaining the high carbon’s characteristic durability and non brittle structure. It is arguably the best 1095 steel knife on the market at the moment. That being said this knife is not without its shortcomings, one of which is it’s rather hefty weight, at 8oz it’s maybe not the most practical knife to carry around on a daily basis.
There are other knives with the same blade length that are considerably lighter than this, however they tend to have much lower durability particularly when it comes to more aggressive prying tasks, so it really does come down exactly what you will be using the knife for. In addition the handle is arguably a little small, personally I have medium sized hands so it’s not too much of an issue for me, however people with larger hands would benefit from the handle being extended a little. Another point about the handle would be that it could do with being marginally larger in terms of girth, it’s a little slim and has a tendency to make your hand ache a little after extended, hard use. Given that the blade is made out of 1095 steel it will rust if left damp which can be a concern, however if you maintain the blade well and wipe it down with an oil cloth after use this shouldn’t be an issue and the coating does do a spectacular job of countering the problem.
While this knife can baton wood reasonably well, there are better knives out there that are more suited to that purpose, really the blade is a little too short to be able to split bigger logs effectively. This can be countered if you were to alter the blade’s grinding angle, however the coating on the blade also prevents the blade from sliding through the wood as smoothly as it could do. Really if you’re looking to split bigger logs you would be better off with something like the ESEE Junglas. One other criticism would be that the linen micarda handle has a tendency to darken and look dirty over time. This would only be a problem if you are a collector or the sort of person who likes their knives to look factory new throughout their life.
However if you intend to use this knife as a tool it doesn’t affect the performance at all, only the aesthetics, and personally I prefer the look of a well-worn knife anyway. These are though fairly minor points and all in all this really is a fantastic versatile knife from a great company that really does know their business inside out. It’s no surprise that this knife is one of the biggest selling fixed blade knives on the market. This knife performs amazingly in wet conditions, never slipping an inch thanks to the micarda handle and well designed choils. The blade is superior to pretty much every other 1095 steel blade I have seen to date, both in terms of durability and rust resistance. This really is a great knife if you’re looking for a very durable, heavy-duty knife for all your outdoor needs. With ESEE’s legendary guarantee you can’t fail to be impressed by this knife.
There is a reason why this knife has such immense and enduring popularity, it combines durability, versatility, technology and design perfectly and I’m sure it will remain a classic for years to come. All in all it’s an amazing knife and would be perfect to take on a camping trip or to add to your collection.