Back in spring I picked up a new knife model from Bark River–the Bravo Vortex. I wrote a post about it and compared it to my favorite knife, the Tops Pasayten. I had noted at the time that I had only just gotten the Bravo Vortex and would share my thoughts on it after using it a while in the field. So here is that promised update.
The old Bravo has been one of Bark River’s all time best sellers and one of the most popular high end knives in America. Bark River’s new spin on the Bravo, the Vortex, really spoke to me. The elongated clip point looked both practical and gave the knife a little fight on the off chance I might need it for that role. The blade is stout and hardy. The grips are fat and squared, which I like. It tells you where the knife is in your hands, handy when butchering game in the dark.
I won’t go into a lengthy discussion of its specs because that’s available everywhere, but the Bravo Vortex is 10.5 inches, with a 5.5 inch blade–exactly in my sweet spot. At 9.8 oz, it’s also a good weight, enough heft to be tough without being weighty. The balance is superb and it feels lighter than what it really is in the hand. I liked the leather sheath too, which is a very high quality hybrid of a drop sheath and secure snap sheath. You can drop the knife in there and leave it unsnapped and it’s quite secure.
The knife is an interesting, beautiful and practical blend of traditional and modern design. It is very practical for just about any purpose, a real jack-of-all-trades. I often carry it.
Okay, that’s the good stuff. Here are the problems. The knife is made of A-2 steel. A stainless version in a super steel is available, but Bark River knives are already absurdly expensive. I wasn’t paying 50% more for a stainless version. Now, the A-2 is good stuff, and as long as you keep it oiled and clean it won’t readily rust. But still, it’s maintenance you have to concern yourself with in the field.
I also consider the convex edge a flaw in design. I suppose it has a cool factor for those that are into that sort of thing, and it’s a little better for carving, but it complicates field sharpening. Rather than a tiny diamond stone, I have to carry a couple 4 inch bits of leather impregnated with sharpening paste to properly resharpen in. And since I live on a homestead, and my days are filled with activities from repairing barns and fences to making fires and foraging, playing around at carving spoons is the least of my concerns when it comes to a knife. I don’t go into the woods to carve toys.
The rakish drop point is great for piercing but only adequate for skinning fish and game. You have to pay attention so as not to punch through hide or guts.
The leather sheath looks really great but it is, after all, leather, which will hold moisture and encourage rust. That’s a problem in a wet place like Nova Scotia. During the summer, I went on a canoeing trip and while I wanted to bring the Bravo Vortex, I knew if I went in the water and got the sheath wet, I’d have to bury the knife in a backpack for a day or two while the sheath air dried, so I left it behind.
And the design flaw coup de grace is the lanyard hole. I learned from Bark River that the hole is lined with an A-2 steel washer. It’s very narrow so it’s hard to get into the area and clean it in the field. They said it would almost certainly rust over time. I don’t know about you, but I find rust unacceptable. Upon learning this, my first thought was: “Geez, at about $250 CAN for this knife, you folks couldn’t spend an extra dollar for a stainless steel or titanium washer to line the lanyard hole?”
Now, to me the closest competitor to the Bravo Vortex (and the standard Bravo) is the Tops Pasayten. The knife is 10.25 inches, very close to my sweet spot. It matches the traditional roach design of the Hudson Bay company, issued to trappers and woodsmen–so it’s a time-proven design. It has a traditional handle that is shaped somewhat like a bone handle but is squared. It is extremely comfortable in the hand. It has a drop point with a lot of belly, less fight in it but better for skinning. It comes with a very practical and high quality, adjustable Kydex sheath. And it is made standard with 154cm steel, an amazing stainless that strongly resists rusting yet takes an edge easily and is soft enough to be durable and resist chipping. The knife is twice cryo treated, too, and this perhaps explains the knife’s almost preternatural ability to hold an edge. Last year, I harvested two deer, a dozen hares and grouse and on the homestead we butchered 100 chickens. I processed them all with the Pasayten and it remained functionally sharp through all that work without even needing an edge touch up. The amazingly comfortable and versatile handle allows the knife to be used in any position and in reverse it’s sort of like an elongated ulu, and it is unbeatable for foraging and butchering game. It is a hair more slender at the spine but equally well balanced and weighs about an ounce less–still very tough but a little more graceful in the hand. When it rains, or I’m canoeing, I don’t have to worry about it rusting. When I get blood or sap on it, I don’t have to rush and clean it in the field–it is almost maintenance free. The edge is easy to field sharpen with a good diamond stone, or sharpen at home on water stones. Pricewise, the Pasayten comes in at around $200 CAN, very reasonable for a knife and sheath of this quality. The Pasayten hits my sweet spot but in an imminently more practical way.
The Bark River knife is beautiful and I wanted to like it more, but the Pasayten is the clear winner. In fact, it is hard to imagine a better knife. Combine this with a decent hatchet and you have everything you need to get by in the bush.
Still, it was a close competition. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate the Bravo Vortex a 9. But I’d rate the Pasayten a 9.75. It is more practical, tougher, more versatile and more affordable and comes standard in one of the very best knife steels. It is, quite simply, a better knife for the real woodsman always in the field.