When it comes to wilderness survival, camping and backpacking I can’t stress enough the importance of a quality fixed blade knife. The knife is the hardest item to reproduce in the wild out of everything you carry. It can make or break your ability to survive. Knowing that my life may depend on the knife I bring, I have a few requirements.

  • The knife MUST be full tang
  • The blade MUST be made of a steel that is easy to maintain in the field
  • The handle MUST be comfortable for long term use and able to withstand harsh environments.
  • Ideally the blade length MUST be a minimum of 3” and no longer than 4” (personal preference based on my experience). I want a blade that is easy to manipulate and control in less than ideal conditions. If I’m trying to do fine work with a large blade in a true survival situation, I run the risk of injury. That is why I prefer a 3 to 3.5 inch blade.

I’ve been through a few knives from different manufacturers. They all have their pros and cons, but if I had to choose one to take it would be the ESEE-3 MIL. We have highlighted the ESEE-4 in a previous article which is given to Air Force SERE Specialist trainees for their training. I prefer the ESEE-3 for much of the same reasons as was mentioned in that article.

There are a few different flavors of the ESEE-3. I have the ESEE-3 MIL, but wanted to know what exactly differentiated that from the others. I found reasons why on various posts on the internet, but didn’t want to rely on those. I decided to contact Mike Perrin (VP of ESEE Knives) to find out. Here is his short and to the point answer.

The MIL version , available to anyone, has canvas micarta scales and a sharpened glass breaker on the pommel.  Standard version has linen micarta and a non-sharpened glass breaker” – Mike

With that said let’s take a closer look at the ESEE-3 MIL.

Handles – As stated above the handle scales are manufactured from Canvas Micarta. This material is more coarse than Linen Micarta giving you better retention of the knife during use. The overall handle has a thin profile, but not too thin to where it’s uncomfortable. I’ve used this knife several times and have never developed any hot spots or blisters from use. The handle scales are removable and replaceable as well.

ESEE-3 MIL | Review
Canvas Micarta
ESEE-3 MIL | Review
Thin Profile of the handle

Blade – The blade steel is 1095 high carbon steel. Yes this steel will rust and stain if not taken care of, but that’s on you if you don’t maintain your gear. Take care of your gear and it will take care of you. The blade comes with a black coating for increased protection from the elements. Over time it will start to wear, which in my opinion gives the knife character, but as long as you maintain the blade you won’t have any issues. The cutting length of the blade is just over 3” (3.38” to be exact) which is plenty long enough for 99% of the tasks you’ll need to complete with this knife.

ESEE-3 MIL | Review
Blade profile and coating

Sheath – The sheath has a few different mounting options. As it comes the sheath system includes an OD molded sheath, Black MOLLE Back, Clip Plate, Paracord Lanyard and Cord Lock. I just run the knife in the standard belt carry mode, whether it’s actually on my belt or inside my pack. I have not found the clip plate to be very useful for my needs. I tried to wear it IWB (inside the waistband) utilizing the clip plate, but when I draw the knife, the whole shootin’ match comes with it. The clip on the plate just doesn’t have adequate retention to hold the sheath in place. Like I said this is a mute point for me since I rock the belt carry method. Retention of the knife itself inside the sheath is spot on. The knife does not wiggle around making unnecessary noise and is easily deployed from the sheath when it’s needed.

ESEE-3 MIL | Review
ESEE-3 MIL in it’s sheath
ESEE-3 MIL | Review
Backside of the MOLLE sheath