ESEE Knife Review – Izula and ESEE-3-Mil
My prior knife reviews have centered on some relatively expensive examples – some for those who fancy the fine elements and craftsmanship that command a high price – as well as some very good blades that sell for under $40. ESEE knives fall in between these price points yet offer top quality and fine attributes. They are made for ESEE by Rowen Manufacturing in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
A motorcycle rider, whether out on an adventure or in town, ought to carry a knife for the myriad reasons one might imagine. The two ESEE knives I review here may be perfect and both are fixed blade, which I often avoid because, generally, folding knives simply fit better in my pocket. In these cases, they are small enough to stash and pack a lot of cutting power.
Both are forged from 1095 carbon steel rather than more common stainless. Carbon steel is known to sharpen easier and take a razor edge but it is a bit more brittle and can rust or stain if not properly protected and cared for. Stainless won’t usually rust but is softer and dulls a bit faster. Carbon lacks the chromium present in stainless, which may make up 10-30% of its content. Both steels have excellent properties and aficionados will choose based upon their personal likes and the job at hand. The 1095 carbon steel blade has that certain razor sharpness mostly found in this type of steel. A careful finger over the edge reveals its aggressive cutting characteristics.
Personally, I adore carbon and the razor edge I can put on it rather easily. I have a 40-year old set of carbon Sabatier kitchen knives that the company no longer produces. Presumably, the buying public simply wants knives they can use, wash and put back in the knife block without worrying about staining. I must wipe these knives dry each time they are used but that’s not a problem for me. Additionally, they have taken on the dull patina of the years but, even after four decades, they are in perfect shape and one or two strokes on the strop or stone will yield a blade that can cut a ripe tomato into wafer thin slices. Collectors love them and they are worth a lot of money now. I find the same performance with these ESEE blades.
On the ESEE carbon blades I use a dry film rust inhibitor, like TUF-GLIDE or TUF-CLOTH. These are used by the military to wipe a rust-preventative nano-coating on metal surfaces. It works well and can’t really be noticed when applied sparingly.
I was attracted to the ESEE line-up not only because they use carbon steel exclusively in all blades (except the Lite Machete blade and the ESEE/Becker Cooking Knives) but because parent company Randall’s Adventure Training looked very interesting.
They say, “ESEE is pronounced “S E” and is an acronym for Escuela de Supervivencia (School of Survival), Escape and Evasion (ESEE). This acronym comes from our long running jungle survival school that teaches these principles of staying alive in remote and hostile environments.
“Randall’s Adventure Training has been in business since 1997, training military, law enforcement, and civilians in the art of jungle survival. During our survival training ventures, we recognized the need for a better knife for our jungle school. Machetes were too thin and flexible and sheath knives were too small and lacked cutting efficiency.
“In 2002 Randall’s Adventure & Training (RAT) licensed Ontario Knife Co to build the RTAK on a 5-year contract term. During that time frame, Randall’s Adventure & Training designed additional knives that were also built by Ontario, and secured government NSN numbers on two of the designs.
“After our Ontario contract ended in April, 2007, we decided to produce a higher quality line of knives outside of the mass production capabilities of Ontario. The new ESEE Line (Formerly RAT Cutlery) is considered “mid-tech” in the sense of quality and manufacturing procedures. This means you will notice upgrades to sheathing, fit, finish and detail on ESEE knives. Most important, ESEE is now in a position to respond quickly to new product development and upgrades to existing lines. All of our designs fit the bill of desirable field cutlery when it comes to toughness, comfort, and cutting efficiency.
“Unlike a lot of manufacturers, ESEE doesn’t just release a new knife because it looks cool on paper – we personally field test each new design prototype before is makes it to the production stage. Once we make the final design tweaks and the knife is put into production, we test the design again during field outings Stateside and jungle survival classes in the Peruvian Amazon. We also have users around the world that test our knives and submit feedback. When you buy a ESEE knife you know you’re getting a knife designed by real users.”
This was enough to make me want to hold a piece of that experience in my hands. Jungle survival for me? I don’t think so – but that hardware will work well on my moto adventures.
ESEE Izula + survival kit
“The locals in Peru call the meanest, nastiest ant of the jungle by the name “Isula.” We know it as the Bullet Ant. The Bullet Ant is known to be independent, tough, light on its feet, and a real aggressive survivor – the IZULA knife is built the same way. This knife is designed to be the perfect lightweight survival kit or concealed carry knife.”
The Isula, from my personal experience, turns out to be a really great knife to carry on my moto treks because it is very small and, due to its construction, thinner than most folding knives. It is a skeleton-handled blade that is devoid of scales (handles) for a minimalist look and feel. It’s not the only similarly designed small knife on the market but I like the look, size and heft.
Its 6.25-inch length is not too long for a pocket and the 2.63-inch drop-point, flat-grind blade length won’t be chopping firewood as the thin handle is not optimal for a powerful grip. It will, however, be easy to tote and cut the things that need cutting along my way – rope, hose, wire stripping, whittling, packaging, food, fingernails, plastic, tinder, cardboard and a whole lot more.
I find the Izula a bit small in my hand but that is the attraction for me. I don’t have visions of it doing major chop jobs or hand-to-hand fighting. It is just a perfect, minimal knife for me to have when I need something sharp. If I need more gripping power, I can buy scales or wrap the handle in paracord but I have not found either choice necessary. There are many videos online that show how to wrap paracord around the handle to soften the feel and add to its gripability and good looks.
For those seeking a slightly larger handle, the Isula II is available. It’s a half inch longer overall but the blade length remains 2.63 inches. And even though the Izula is small it has all the big knife features like a thumb rest, nicely shaped front quillon, small choil and a pommel with a round hole through which I can put rope, hang on a carabiner or even bind the knife to a branch to make a spear – something I have not done but sounds good.
It is available in many colors such as black, desert tan, olive drab, pink, venom green, purple, dark earth and stainless, and ESEE does sell scales if you are so inclined. I really admire the way the baked-on textured powder coating has been applied and it is standing up well to usage.
I have the freedom to configure the included molded sheath to hang on my belt vertically or horizontally and I can easily mount it on MOLLE or almost any spot on my go-bag or jacket or drop it in my pocket.
The complete (optional) kit includes: paracord, cord lock, large split ring, small split ring, ferro fire starting rod, emergency whistle, plastic snap hook and clip plate kit.
These items will help whistle, clip your knife sheath to your belt, start a fire without matches and create a snare trap for small game. Instructions for these items are at http://ESEEknives.com/Izula-Clamshell-Inside.pdf
If you want a little more heft than the Izula, and scales, you may want to look at ESEE’s smallest traditional fixed blade knife, the ESEE-3. This knife is available as the ESEE-3, ESEE-3-Mil and ESEE-3-Uncoated (satin) in plain edge as well as partially serrated, with a standard or modified pommel (rounded and .12 inches short overall) and finished in black, satin, desert tan or olive drab textured powder coat. Depending upon model, sheath colors are black, brown or olive and scales can be light green linen Micarta, gray, orange or black.
Here I review the ESEE-3-Mil which also has a drop-point, flat-grind black blade and light green Micarta scales. I chose this for no better reason than looks. I am a sucker for linen Micarta and these scales are nice to touch and behold, especially against the black blade. I am not a fan of serrated blades so I ordered the plain one. I would classify this 8.31-inch overall with a 3.88-inch blade length as a smallish medium-sized knife.
It fits nicely in my hand and, as you can see in the side-by-side photos, is a good deal larger than the Isula. For its size, it offers unparalled grip ability and finesse when working with the blade. It has no tendency to torque around in my hand under load and its full tang construction is solid with excellent fit and finish. The coating has a crinkle texture and enamel-like matte finish that is not completely smooth, has a sheen to it and is very attractive. It is one of those knives I just like to hold and admire. As with the Isula, the grind of the blade is about perfect and build quality for both is superb for this price point.
ESEE-3-MIL knives include the following: molded sheath, MOLLE back, clip plate, paracord lanyard and cord lock. The ESEE-3-MIL is not offered in different handle or blade colors at this time.
Both of these knives are so popular that many different sheaths and carry options are available in the aftermarket. This includes custom leather, canvas, kydex and other molded configurations.
ESEE sells only through dealers, and online prices vary, but quality does not.
- ESEE-3Mil-P-B is $184
- Izula-DT Kit is $110.50
Overall Length: 6.25″
Blade Length: 2.63″
Steel: 1095 Carbon, 55 – 57 Rc.
Weight: 2.0 Oz. w/o Sheath
Finish: Textured Powder Coat
Pommel: Carabiner Hole
Optional Handle Scales Available
Overall Length: 8.31″
Cutting Edge Length: 3.38″
Overall Blade Length: 3.88″
Steel: 1095 Carbon Steel, 55 – 57 Rc.
Weight: 5.2 Ounces (Knife Only)
Weight: 9.3 Ounces (Knife w/ Sheath)
Finish: Textured Powder Coat
Pommel: Glass Breaker