Survival Knife Showdown: Becker KA-BAR BK-16 vs ESEE-4 – KnifeCenter Reviews


Hey everyone David C Andersen here
coming at you from the KnifeCenter and today we’re taking a look at two of the
best American-made survival knives that you can get your hands on and neither of
them cost an arm and a leg it’s the Becker BK-16 versus the ESEE-4
let’s do this now both of these blades are sturdy companions whether you’re
bushcrafting doing survival or camping any of that sort of outdoor uses you
might need it for and as I mentioned they are made in the USA KA-BAR makes the
Becker knives in Olean New York while Rowen out of Idaho handles production
for ESEE Ethan Becker of course has a very long
history of designing well-regarded tools for outdoors and military users while ESEE
is an offshoot of Randall’s Adventure Training which is one of the most
recognized programs out there teaching survival and evasion techniques for
outdoors and military types so you can tell that the target audience for both
of these knives certainly has a lot of overlap and the pedigree on both is
undeniable now as far as cost it’s gonna be a little bit cheaper to get the
Becker at this point in 2020 it starts at about 85 bucks right now whereas the
ESEE-4 lineup starts at about $110 if you want a sheath to come with your knife
now it’s real easy to talk about the BK-16 because there’s only one option when
it comes to this knife whereas the ESEE-4 has a lot more variety can be as simple
as having different color options all the way up to modified blade profiles
and even different handle shapes can be had and the prices vary as a result of
that too but for the purposes of this discussion we’re gonna be keeping things
centered on the base model to go with that BK-16 both of these models feature
drop point blades and you can see immediately when you hold them up next
to each other why these are natural competitors they’re very close in both
size and shape the steel is virtually the same as well ESEE uses good old 1095
carbon steel while the Becker made by KA-BAR uses 1095CV now even though you’ve
got that CV on the end this is only a minor distinction from standard 1095 so
you get small additions of both chromium and vanadium but they mostly help with
just grain refinement during the heat treat process but ESEE’s 1095 is heat
treated by Rowen widely regarded as masters of that steel in the
production arena the end result I’d put the steel on both of these knives on
even footing and just about any use that you’re gonna throw at it you’ll probably
never be able to tell the difference as to how they perform both of the blades
are 5/32 of an inch thick and come with a full flat grind so that they can find
enough strength for hard use while still maintaining some slicing capability both
knives feature a textured powder coating which is designed to protect the carbon
steel blade from rusting but if you prefer a smoother finish for more
efficient cutting it’s easy to use paint stripper on either blade to remove the
coating and expose the bare metal underneath each of these knives has a
sharpened length of a bit over four inches long which makes them easy to
control in just about any outdoor scenario you can take it camping or
hiking it works well at bushcraft and survival tasks and they even make decent
hunters too thanks to that generous amount of belly and that drop point
profile now the ESEE as I mentioned earlier does offer a few more options
than the Becker you can get the knife in several different colors instead of just
black you can get those different coatings on there as well as a few
different handle colors as well as far as the blade shape itself they also
offer the option of serrations whereas the Becker comes in plain edge only you
can also get the ESEE-4 with a sharpened swedge for more piercing
capability they even have a stonewashed 440C version if you’re looking for a
stainless blade if all you want from your blade though is the standard carbon
steel drop point when it comes to making a decision between these two knives it’s
probably gonna come down to the handles now both these knives come with
removable scales but they go to different directions with their
materials and their shape now the standard ESEE-4 is gonna carry a little
bit flatter on your person because it has a flat and narrow shape to the
scales there’s just enough length on the handle for me to get a four finger grip
and because of that height of the handle even though it’s narrow it still
nestles into your hand pretty well and it also works very well on pinched grips
because of this nice bevel here at the front of the scales however for me I
find the BK-16 to be more comfortable in my hands it has a little bit more length
front to back as well as a lot more dimension got a nice swell here in the
middle that really fills up your hand now the ESEE-4 can kind of close the gap a
little bit with a few of their other variants of the model for instance the 4
HM model a rounded handle and it gets rid of this
finger guard right here for a longer and fuller grip and they’ve even introduced
new 3d sculpted handles for an even more premium experience which should be
available soon as far as materials the ESEE uses micarta linen in the case of
this particular one right here and it also has some thin red liners as well
for an extra little pop of color there are a few different colors to choose
from as I mentioned although G10 is also an option on both the flat and the
upcoming 3d machine scales now the Becker handle goes with a synthetic
material called ultra mid and it actually comes with two sets of handles
right out of the box that way you can keep it black or pop on the included
coyote tan ones for a little bit of a different look
now sometimes Becker’s catch a lot of flack for having quote-unquote slick
handles but honestly I’ve used one of these BK-16 knives extensively and I’ve
never found that to be the case they certainly aren’t going to feel as
premium as micarta or G10 but thanks to the shape i’ve never had any problem
with the knife slipping during use still if you’re not a fan of the feel KA-BAR
does offer a set of micarta scales separately that can be swapped in with
ease because as I said these handles are user removable for attachment hardware
the BK-16 uses standard bolts on one side with nuts on the other that are
held in place by a hexagonal cutout because of that you only need a single
hex wrench to remove the scales now the ESEE uses two male bolts on each side and
as such you may need to register removal now like they do with their handles both
of these knives go in different directions with their sheaths as well
the Becker has what I would call a survival style nylon sheath it features
a rigid insert for the blade as well as dual retaining straps and a small pouch
on the front for extra gear or survival items something like a sharpener fire
starter and maybe even a fishing kit all sorts of small items can fit in here
really easily now on the back the sheath is MOLLE compatible so you’ll have no
problem attaching this to any of your tactical gear and it also has a
releasable belt loop it’s secured by a snap and a wide velcro patch it’s not at
all likely to come undone if you’re traipsing through the woods now the ESEE
goes with a plastic sheath and the knife clicks into it with very positive
retention there’s a drain hole at the bottom to let water out and plenty of
rivets for lashing now this particular one I’m holding also
comes with a clip plate which lets you take it on and off your belt very
quickly it also comes with a MOLLE compatible backer that also can function
as a belt loop and it has a retaining strap on the front as well
now the fit and finish is roughly on par with both of these knives with maybe a
little bit of an edge given to the ESEE it feels just a little bit quote-unquote
nicer and the factory edges may be a little bit more refined than the Becker
the end of the day though both are built very well they’re made right here in
America you can put them through a ton of abuse and they’re gonna come back for
more they’re just tools that you can take pride in using the only question is
which one would you get would you go for the less expensive to start Becker BK-16
or take advantage of all the options available in the ESEE-4 lineup make sure
to let us know your choice in the comments and to get your hands on either
of them you can use the links in the description to head over to KnifeCenter.com
and be sure to sign up for our knifeRrewards program while you’re there
too because if you’re gonna buy a knife anyway you might as well earn free money
to spend on your next one I’m David C Andersen from the KnifeCenter signing
off see you next time

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