I’ve previously mentioned my eldest son’s interest in television survival personalities so when Gerber announced the introduction of its Bear Grylls Ultimate Knife (David Maccar’s excellent review is here) I figured it would be a slam-dunk of a birthday present.
It was. My son has been gleefully chopping, cutting, batoning, beating, slicing, hammering, spearing, whittling and carving with the thing for the past two months. And while I prefer a more traditional bushcraft blade, he loves it. When he goes outside it’s almost always on his belt or in his pack. And yes, I let my 10-year-old son son run around the woods with a sheath knife.
But the one thing he hadn’t yet done with his Bear Grylls knife is start a fire with the included firesteel.
But in the aftermath of the Great White Death Storm of 2011 (second edition) we were all stuck at home with single-digit temps and a foot of snow on the ground. What better time for a ten-year-old to try out his survival fire-making skills, right?
The mission was simple: make a fire using nothing but the knife’s firesteel and what we could find in the woods. No survival kit tinder, no matches, nothing. So we found a part of the yard where the snow wasn’t too deep, scooped out a small bowl, gathered dead grass and small twigs and my son broke out his firesteel…
To my amazement, ten minutes later he had a very cozy little fire going with not much help (aside from coaching) from me. The experience, however, was not without some difficulty.
First, the bad: Gerber, you gotta make the firesteel larger. It’s simply way too small for someone wearing gloves, even a 10-year-old. The firesteel handle is short and uncomfortable, the diameter and length of the rod itself is too small and the little patch of uncoated bare steel on the knife’s spine is entirely too small a striking surface. But when you could manage to keep everything lined up, it produced an adequate spark. Not nearly as hot as what I could produce with a larger steel and one of my uncoated 1095 or D2 blades, but adequate.
Now the good: despite the drawbacks and technical difficulties of the design, my son had an absolute blast trying to start his fire and was able to do so in short order. Yes, it may be a little gimmicky, a little too branded, but it sparked (pardon the pun) my son’s imagination and caused him to spend virtually all day outside roaming the woods on a day when it would be very tempting for a kid to stay inside and plug himself into the electronic void. And in this age of comfortable sloth that makes it priceless in my book.