Field-testing the legendary KA-BAR

By: Dan Carlson

My dad, a WWII vet who fought in the South Pacific, gave me my first KA-BAR knife in the 1970s.

The K-Bar knife with a serrated blade.

I'll be the first to admit that "field testing" a knife that is a worldwide legend for its military service seems a bit redundant. Ask any World War II veteran what was the best knife ever made and he is likely to say "KA-BAR" without hesitation. I have since passed that on to my nephew, but when I saw a KA-BAR USMC fighting knife in the Cabela's display case last month in a style similar to the one my dad carried in the war, I wanted to see how much of the legend was reality.

During the first years of World War II, United States fighting men were not pleased with the performance of the knives they were issued. A knife maker based in Olean, N.Y., submitted a design to the Marine Corps for a new fighting knife, and it was readily accepted. Praise of the knife from Marines on the front lines took very little time to reach other branches of the service. They were using the rugged knives for everything from pounding tent stakes and nails to opening cans and digging foxholes, in addition to close-quarters fighting. Soon the Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Underwater Demolition Teams were calling for more KA-BARs. The New York plant couldn't keep up, so other knife makers such as Camillus, Robeson and Pal were commissioned to make the KA-BAR design. Regardless of who actually made the knives, those in the military who used them always called them KA-BARs.

Though KA-BAR officially stopped making the famous fighting knife for 32 years after World War II, enough of them were still in circulation that they were carried into combat in every conflict from Korea to Desert Storm. In the 1970s, KA-BAR dug up the old blueprints and made a run of commemorative fighting knives in honor of the Marine Corps' 200th anniversary. There was such a demand for them that the company realized the legend of KA-BAR had been passed to a new generation, so they renewed production of the blade. Today the KA-BAR fighting knife is carried by many of our overseas troops as their personal option knife. It's also widely used by adventurers, survivalists and outdoorsmen.

Mine is a leather-handled USMC model with a 7" black blade. There's a 1.5" serrated portion on the rear portion of the blade. The sheath is of quality leather construction with a snap to hold the knife in place. I took it on a recent deer hunt where, as a side note, my hunting partner and I happened upon a National Guard F-15 pilot and his son. The boy quipped, "Nice knife!" when he saw my KA-BAR. He then turned to reveal an identical model on his hip. The fighter pilot then turned to show his KA-BAR in its sheath and stated with conviction, "Is there any other?" Three of the four hunters in that field were carrying the same knife.

Later that day I personally field dressed, skinned and butchered four white-tailed deer taken by the party. The fighting KA-BAR was a bit too much knife for the tasks, which could have been done with a smaller knife. In spite of its large size, I stuck with the KA-BAR through the whole process. It held its edge, the serrated portion sawed through bone, then it cleaned up nicely. As a test I left the blade sheathed for two weeks after cleaning, then I checked it again for any hint of rust or corrosion. There was none on the knife or sheath.

My experience with the KA-BAR fighting knife was positive. For those who want an excellent deer and antelope knife, I'd suggest the smaller model with a 5.25-inch blade. The larger model with a 7" blade gets the job done, but it's overkill unless you're hunting elk or moose. If you, or someone on your gift list could use a knife, consider the legendary performance of a KA-BAR. It's hard to go wrong when you strap a legend on your hip.