Almost exactly a year ago, I posted an article comparing the Bark River Gameskeeper II to the Fallkniven A1 and an older Cold Steel SRK (which were reviewed a year earlier). If you haven’t read the article, you can check it out at: Fallkniven A1, Cold Steel SRK and Bark River Gameskeeper II Field Test . I tried to remain objective about all three knives and find this continues to be one of the most frequently read postings on the blog. It was interesting to me to compare the knives as I’m always on the watch for that ‘perfect’ knife. Each had features I liked and some I didn’t. This year, I’ve decided to add a Bark River Bravo 1 to the mix.
Very briefly, the Bravo 1 was the result of a knife developed with input from Force Recon of the U.S. Marine Corp. The Marines had looked at a group of different knives from different makers and asked Bark River to develope a knife based on the Bark River Gameskeeper. The goal was to develope a true Bushcraft type Survival Knife. Thus the Bravo 1 came to be. It’s since been followed by the Bravo II (larger) and the Gunny (smaller). You can read the full genesis of the development on the Bark River website.
Here are the specs on the Bravo 1 alongside the previously tested knives.
|| Fallkniven A1
|| Cold Steel SRK
|| Bark River Gameskeeper II
|| Bravo 1
| Laminated VG10
|| Carbon V
|| A2 Tool Steel
|| A2 Tool Steel
| Hard Rubber
|| Hard Rubber
|| Ivory Micarta
|| Black Micarta
|| 7.375 oz
| Blade Thickness
| Point Tapers
||Very slow taper
|| Very Slow
| Belly Depth
It’s obvious each knife has certain similarities and obvious differences from the others. Looking at the Bravo I specs next to the Gameskeeper II, it’s easy to see the common roots of the two knives . Laying the four knives out side by side make some of the differences stand out even more. Top to bottom are the Fallkniven A1, Cold Steel SRK, Bark River Gameskeeper II and the Bravo 1.
The first difference that jumps out at you visually and in use is the ‘apparent’ thumb ramp on the Bravo 1. I think there were some grumblings about the ‘thumb ramp’ being too agressively notched for comfortable use. Bark River later explained the ramp was not intended to be used as such but was to act as a striker for the FireSteel while the front portion of the ramp was a rest for the heel of your thumb when making deep cuts. While that makes sense, it was hard for me to not use the ramp as a place for my thumb. Not very comfortable for any length of time.
The real disappointment came when I tried to use the ramp with the FireSteel. The little flat piece of metal that comes with the FireSteel works a whole lot better for me then the stricker on the Bravo 1. I just couldn’t seem to get the right angle to throw a ‘ball’ of sparks. In a pinch, I’d probably end up using the top edge of the blade which I don’t recommend doing unless you have to. The FireSteels throw a HOT spark which is not blade friendly. And whatever you do, do NOT use the cutting edge of your blade unless you plan on spending some time on it with a stone.
The quality of the steel and edge holding abilities of the Bark Rivers is absolutely not in question. I own and have used several Bark Rivers for a number of years and they’re sharp out the box and hold an edge incredibly well. The Bravo I is hardened to 59Rc which is about as hard as you want a blade if you plan on sharpening it in the field. The Gameskeeper II comes in at 58Rc. I’d noted in the previous article that under ‘abusive’ conditions the Gameskeeper II had a tendency to have the edge rollover as opposed to chipping as noted with the Fallkniven A1 (hardened to 59Rc). While I didn’t beat the blade on the Bravo 1 on the rocks, I can’t find a knick or any indications of the edge rolling.
I’m not sure it the Fallkniven has a tendency to chip rather then curl due to the hardness of the steel, the fact that it’s stainless instead of high carbon or what it might be. The Bark Rivers I’ve used all showed the ‘curling’ tendency rather then chipping and I think the edge rolling over may be more common with high carbon. Either is bound to happen under extreme conditions with any knife. Beat ’em against something hard long enough and somethings gotta give. I find it a little easier to straighten the curl then to stone out the chips but I still like the Fallkniven blades.
I made some little sticks out of big ones and the Bravo 1 did fine compared to the Fallkniven. (In fact, I found that I was constantly comparing it to the A1 as that is usually my knife of choice when I’m in the woods.) That convex grind Bark River uses just loves to dig in and cut.
I understand that probably isn’t a fair comparison due to the size difference, but this is a quest for the perfect field knife… in my world! The Bravo 1 is presented as being a superb bush knife so I’m going to compare it to my current first choice.
Taking care of tasks such as cutting rope, slicing up a tomato and other similar jobs it worked as good as any of the knives. Razor sharp and the cutting is effortless. The one downfall of all of the knives in this class is that they aren’t the perfect slicing knife when making supper. That thick blade tends to push things apart when making a thin slice off from an onion or tomato. Not a a big issue.
A shortcoming of the shorter blade (in any knife) was apparent when it came time to split some wood for the cook fire. The longer blade of the Fallkniven gives me a bigger target to baton through the wood. I know a lot of guys ask why I’m I so concerned about being able to split 2″ square sticks of wood for a campfire. I want nice small pieces of kindling for my cooking fire. I need a good bed of coals and the smaller sticks get the job done quicker, plus if I need a little more heat, I sure don’t want to throw in a 4″ log. Quite honestly, it’s surprising how frequently I use my knife for splittling wood.
So here’s where I come down on the Bravo 1.
First, the merits. This is one tough knife with enough strength in the blade to handle about anything I could imagine coming up against. That short, heavy blade would be extremely difficult to destroy. The steel makes up one of the finest blades you could ask for. It’ll take an edge and hold it under the toughest conditions. Can’t tell you how difficult or easy it is to sharpen as I didn’t have to!!! While Micarta isn’t as ‘sticky’ when wet as the rubber handled Fallkniven and Cold Steel, it’s definitely one of the tougher handle materials available and not that hard to control when wet. Plus, they’ve followed the grip pattern of the Gameskeeper which I really find comfortable. The Kydex sheath offers all sorts of options and can be adjusted for upright or horizontal carry positions, left or right hand, on a belt or tied to a pack. When you handle and look at the Bravo 1, it conjures up an image of the Marines. Efficient, clear sense of purpose, no nonsense approach to any task and tougher then nails.
What I didn’t like. The FireSteel striker I found to be so-so. While I liked the heavy duty blade, the thickness combined with the relative shortness made it difficult to work with if you were working around the cookfire. Not the first choice for peeling potatoes or splitting wood. When it came to knocking down a branch, I found myself wishing the blade were a bit longer and heavier.
The longer blade of the Gameskeeper and the extra weight of the Fallkniven held a definite advantage. Would the Bravo 1 do the job?? Absolutely, it just wouldnt’ be the first knife I’d grab for these tasks. In fact, more then once I grabbed the A1 or the Gameskeeper knowing they’d do the job more efficiently.
The last detail I’m personally not crazy about are the Kydex sheaths. They’re tough, incredibly versatile and don’t absorb water to name a few positives. I prefer a leather sheath with either some sort of keeper or a deep pouch that covers a good share of the handle. I also prefer a sheath that will hold the FireSteel. All of this is easily resolved with an aftermarket sheath. Just a personal preference. In fact, I ended up using a Blackhawk Deluxe Airborne Sheath on this trip. Not my style, but I’ll review it some time in the future. Nice item.
Overall, the Bravo 1 is a great knife but not my first choice. As a tactical / survival knife, it would be fantastic, I’m sure. For the ultimate camp knife, it’s going to be at the bottom of the knives I’ve reviewed so far (with that specific purpose in mind). Whenever I used it, I couldn’t help feeling that it was either to big or to small for the task at hand. It helped me understand why Bark River may have developed the Gunny and the Bravo II.
The Bravo 1 is a popular knife and I don’t want to discourage anyone from buying one as it’s tough as nails and one helluva knife. If you’re looking for a relatively compact knife that can run with the big dogs, it might be a perfect fit for you. I can’t argue the point that it would be a great ‘true survival knife’ which, after all, was the initial goal Bark River set out to achieve. It just didn’t seem to do everything as comfortably as some of the other knives I reviewed.