Review: Bear Grylls Ultimate Knife & Parang Machete from Gerber

The Ultimate Knife (suggested retail: $60), the first product representing Bear Grylls' collaboration with Gerber, comes with a firestarter, sharpener and emergency whistle packed in the sheath. On its own, the knife is a solid hunk of a blade. The drop point, 4.8-inch blade is nearly a ¼ inch thick at the spine, hollow ground, and made from 440A steel with a Rockwell score of 55-59 (57+/-2), making for good strength and easy sharpening. The handle has a great ergonomic shape that fits well in the hand with a double guard to prevent slippage and a textured rubber grip that's pretty sticky, even in wet conditions. Some will gripe about the fact that a full half of the edge is serrated. It's a personal preference and a full smooth blade option is not currently available on this knife. During my tests the serrations didn't impede the tool in any way, so take from that what you will.Madeleine Maccar
The pommel is checkered stainless steel (left) giving the knife decent hammering capabilities. It made short work of driving some improvised tent stakes and the checkering had me shattering the ends of softer stakes rather than slipping off onto my knuckles. It also gives the otherwise synthetic handle a nice balance and weight, but with the knife clocking in at 11.2 oz., larger hammering chores would be better suited to a nicely contoured rock.Madeleine Maccar
If you've ever watched "Man vs. Wild," Grylls often uses a medium-sized knife like this, hammering the blade into saplings and bamboo in lieu of a hatchet. That's after he jumps out of a plane and rappels down a waterfall. So consequently…the Ultimate Knife got hammered by hunks of wood and rocks into a bunch of logs. I halved several pieces that were six to eight inches in diameter. The spine didn't chip from the hammering, and neither did the edge for that matter, and the synthetic handle showed no sign of cracking.Madeleine Maccar
And after mini-hatchet duty, the edge, which arrived scary sharp, easily shaved curls of dry wood for tinder.Madeleine Maccar
Ok, so far no surprises from Gerber. They make excellent knives and this is no exception. Now onto the stuff that makes this package a survival knife...and it's all in the sheath. When fully disassembled, the knife and sheath break down into four pieces: a ferrocerium fire starter rod, the knife, the zytel sheath with a diamond sharpening stone on the back side, and the heavy-duty nylon platform. When the center strap on the outside of the sheath is released, the zytel portion swings down on a nylon loop at the bottom to reveal the diamond sharpener. Oddly, that loop is Velcro as well and can be opened, allowing the zytel to be completely removed from the platform. I suppose this could be an advantage if you want to lash the zytel sheath to a pack or gear, but then you're only relying on the retention cup around the guard to hold the knife in place, as the retention strap (which is Velcro as well where I would have rather seen a snap) is sewn to the nylon platform. To me, it seems an unnecessary weakness, especially considering the nylon platform includes horizontal loops in addition to a belt loop for attachment to MOLLE-type rigs, or even old-school A.L.I.C.E. attachments. Gerber found a way to pack a lot of traditional survival knife features into a very streamlined, compact package, but when you get right down to it, only two narrow pieces of Velcro-lined nylon hold the whole works together.Madeleine Maccar
The fire starter rod has a small triangular handle with some orange rubber for grip and snaps into the bottom of the sheath. It didn't come with a lanyard, though it has a hole for one so...Madeleine Maccar
...I promptly moved the piercingly loud rescue whistle from the hole on the knife handle, where it was annoying the hell out of me, to the firestarter to make it a little easier to hang on to and find if dropped. The handle got a piece of paracord as a lanyard.Madeleine Maccar
Instead of a separate steel striker, a spot on the spine of the knife lacks finish, providing an area of bare steel with which to strike the rod. I would prefer a separate striker or a larger striking area on the spine, as the notch was a bit difficult to line up on the rod for repeated strikes, and striking it with the finished part of the blade produces no sparks at all.Madeleine Maccar
Though the rod is a bit shorter than I prefer and the blade isn't an ideal striker...Madeleine Maccar
...they set some tinder ablaze in short order, which I promptly extinguished as it was a rather dry day in the pines and setting a forest fire isn't on my bucket list.Madeleine Maccar
After sharpening some more stakes and trimming some more branches, a few swipes on the medium diamond stone got the smooth portion of the edge back to shaving sharp, if a little toothy. The serrations hadn't dulled a bit, nor should they have, though that would be a different story if I'd engaged in some heavy rope-cutting duties.Madeleine Maccar
The Ultimate Knife, and every product in the Survival Series, includes the Bear Grylls Priorities of Survival Pocket Guide, which slips into a weather-resistant pocket on the back of the sheath. The pocket also includes land to air rescue and SOS instructions on the outside. In my opinion, the booklet is a handy thing to have on you at all times and provides easy-to-understand survival priorities that would be a blessing for a panicked mind in a survival situation, like Grylls' mnemonic device for the four survival priorities: Please Remember What's First (Protection, Rescue, Water, Food). The booklet also includes simple instructions and illustrations for basic navigation, building simple shelters, building fires, tying knots, purifying water, making snares and more. It even has a handy ruler across the bottom edge.Madeleine Maccar
For any loyal Gerber customers who have been thinking that the blade looks familiar, it's nearly identical to Gerber's Prodigy knife, as you can see here, with a lighter-colored finish and a slightly different angle at the drop point. The basic shape was obviously reworked from the guard back and the most noticeable difference is the stainless steel hammering pommel versus the window-punch/skull crusher on the Prodigy.Madeleine Maccar
As much as I liked the knife portion of the Ultimate Knife, there are just some task a 4.8-inch blade can't handle. Enter another member of the Survival Series: the Parang machete (suggested retail: $55). The 13.5-inch machete blade sweeps back from the handle, making the edge almost all belly and perfect for swiping duties like clearing brush. It even sliced through thin, high grass with ease.Madeleine Maccar
The oddly shaped blade is encased in a heavy-duty nylon sheath that incorporates snaps and Velcro along one edge (right) so it can be pulled apart for easy drawing or stowed more securely for carry.Madeleine Maccar
The Parang handled some light hatchet duties nicely, easily cleaving small limbs from tree trunks, and chopping kindling was a breeze. However, the blade isn't very thick (a hair over 1mm) like most machetes, giving it light weight for repeated swings, easy maneuverability and quick swiping speed, but sacrificing strength. The light, plastic handle, without a stainless pommel like the Ultimate Knife, makes the whole tool feel a bit unbalanced and delicate, though once you get to swiping, the advantages of the blade shape are immediately apparent. I wouldn't trust it for extended heavy chopping or splitting duties, but it's a machete (specifically a jungle machete), not a hatchet, and wasn't meant to be used as such…but if you're in a survival situation and it's all you have, it would be nice to have a bit beefier of a blade.Madeleine Maccar
The Parang is the perfect tool for cleaning branches, making lighting-quick work of twigs and bark with easy, long swipes.Madeleine Maccar
With a trimmed stick, I decided to do something I've seen in movies but never actually put into practice. I lashed the survival knife to a stick to create a spear, using the holes below the guard provided on the Ultimate Knife. Alas, I didn't bring a length of paracord along (an unforgiveable sin, I know) and the piece I fashioned as a lanyard wasn't nearly enough, but as always, I had a couple heavy-duty zip ties in my bag and to my surprise, the chincy-looking setup did the trick, after cutting out a notch for the pommel to sit in and grooves to keep the ties from sliding. I speared the knife into some rotted wood, solid tree trunks and packed dirt piles. The ties held and it came away with nary a scratch, though rubbing against the stick caused the rubberized handle to get a bit torn up. If you ever find yourself in need of a knife-spear for real, my advice would be to use a good length of paracord or rope, though plastic zip ties are always a good thing to have on hand and would be great for holding the knife in place for lashing.Madeleine Maccar
All in all, the Ultimate Survival knife is a good tool to keep in a go-bag, survival kit or pack as it is a concise package wrapped around a quality knife that will be there when you need it. However, if you already have a good survival knife dedicated to such use, there's no reason to run out and replace it with an Ultimate Knife…unless you really dig the colors that is. The Parang is, without question, a great camping tool and provides the benefits of a full-sized machete without the length and often awkward carrying. The unbalanced feel, the thin blade and lack of an included sharpener for all that edge (or a place on the sheath for one) makes it low on my choice for a one-and-only tool to have in a survival situation, but I wouldn't mind having it along with a good knife. --Dave MaccarMadeleine Maccar