I wiped my brow and looked at my students going through S-V80A, more commonly known as SERE training or Survival school. It was a bitter, cold afternoon in mid-February, the snow was a minimum 4 feet deep and we had pulled into camp several hours before for our first day of Survival training in the field. I had just finished cutting down a tree and bolting it up into kindling. “Alright” I said, “Make big sticks little sticks”. And my students gathered their wood and prepared to do so, drawing their issued Ontario Company Air Force Survival Knives or as we called them, “bolt knives”.

The ESEE 4 | Not The Best Survival Knife, But a Damn Good One!
My issued bolt knife when I was going through SERE Specialist Selection prior to it being used.

My students prepared to split their wood using the “beater stick” method. Wherein they place their bolt knives on top of the bolt of wood, cutting edge into the wood, and use a large stick to beat the blade through in order to split it. I was sheathing my issued ESEE 4 knife when I heard a soft twang. “Shiiiiittt” muttered one of my students holding up his bolt knife which had broken in half at the hilt. This is far from a rare occurrence and I almost count on it at this point. The bolt knife just isn’t suited for the type of hard survival work that we teach our students. When I think of a survival knife I think of something I can hammer through a tree. The bolt knife while technically “full tang” has a tendency to bend easily and break within a short period of time.

Since 2014 USAF SERE Specialist Trainees are issued ESEE 4’s once they arrive at Fairchild AFB to begin training. If you finish training you keep the knife. I’m not here to say that the ESEE 4 is the best survival knife currently made. Far from it – however, what I think it is, is a viable option for those who don’t wish to spend a lot of cash but want a lot of performance. The ESEE 4 is a full tang, 1095 steel blade that is 3/16“ thick with a full flat grind and is had for right around 100 bucks. I have no doubt there are other knives out there that will perform better or as well for the less or the same price but I’ve yet to personally use them. Most knives that I’ve seen students and SERE Specialists bring to the field that cost around the same tend to break or not perform for as long as the ESEE 4 has.

The ESEE 4 | Not The Best Survival Knife, But a Damn Good One!
My ESEE 4 as it currently stands, missing most of its finish and wearing a slightly rounded tip to ensure it won’t break in the field.

The Good, the bad, and the Ugly.