Throw Bags, Accessories and WorkShops "Gear For Life"

River Knives

                                                                           -- Jim Simmons

Over many years of paddling experience we've not had to use our knives in many critical situations but trusty friend is always handy. Paddlers usually carry either a straight, fixed blade in a sheath on the outside of the PFD, or a folding knife stashed in a pocket. Most knives have sharp serrated edges. To locate a suitable one search online catalogs, or visit any retailer that handles whitewater gear and equipment. You may even be able to find one in such places as Home Depot, Lowe's, Dick's Sporting Goods, Academy or general hardware stores. This report is a 'summary' of river knives based mainly on: cost, type, cutting performance, etc.

Often overlooked when choosing a knife, but a primary reason for carrying one is to free yourself or another paddler from entanglement by a rope, webbing, thigh strap, or any part of a boat's outfitting.
**On down below we describe a simple TEST we did with various brands to determine cutting performance of each one for freeing a 'entrapped' boater.

If you position your knife on the outside of your lifevest, for personal safety it is important to 'streamline' everything. This prevents snagging on objects if working on a rescue in the river or if swimming in river current. Although outside attachment points on rescue vests provide handy access to your knife, give some thought to exactly how you'll position yours to prevent any potential for snagging.

Common choices in FOLDING knives that we reviewed: (price listed is retail)
 1) Spyderco has both a Rescue 93mm version (about $85) or the 79mm (about $78).  Each has a sheepfoot nose and steel, serrated blade that can be opened with one hand.
2) Gerber's E-Z Out Rescue ($45) also comes with a sheepfoot nose, but its serrated stainless steel blade is razor sharp.  *Several of us carry one of these because of its quick cutting performance.  It has a non-slip rubber insert for gripping and a removable pocket clip/lock back.
3) SOG knives come in a myriad of types and are well-made. The Flash II has either a black or orange handle and would be a good choice. Retails for $75 on SOG website, but can be found at Lowe's, Dick's, Academy, or Bass Pro Shop for ($49).
4) A good choice for SAR personnel--the Smith and Wesson 1st Responder folding knife ($42). It has a serrated blade that is sharp enough to slice through a rope or webbing with one slice. Black handle and easy one-hand opening with a rounded type tip for safety. It has a spring loaded window punch and a belt clip, and comes with a sheath and both a belt loop and belt clip.

Common choices in STRAIGHT (fixed) blade types knives carried in a sheath:
1) Gerber's River Shorty ($40) has a blunt tip, full serrated drop point fixed blade and comes with a sheath that attaches to the PFD. Its companion, the River Runner ($38), has a half-smooth, half serrated blade, however, it has a pointed tip instead of a blunt nose.   While these type knives are frequently chosen by river paddlers we found them lacking in our cutting testing.
2) McNett has the Blakely, a sheepsfoot style with a non-puncturing tip and single-edged serrated blade. Comes with a sheath and sells for the appealing price of $25.
3) NRS Pilot and Co-Pilot, have smaller fixed blades with blunt noses selling for between $29-39. 

UNIQUE TYPE cutting tools:
A unique knife is the Bearclaw by Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT) for $40. It has a small curved two and one/half inch hawksbill blade with a blunt nose for safety (looks like an Anteater's snout and comes in three styles). The blade has a finger hole to prevent losing your grip and it clips securely into a sheath when stowed. It can be used both for rescue and survival tasks.

Another unusual but inexpensive and lightweight cutting tool is the Gerber Gut Tool, also called the E-Z Zip Tool ($15--20). Gerber indicates that in addition to being used for dressing deer it is a good choice for professional rescuers. It is small with a stainless razor type blade that has a blunt type nose. It comes with a circular sheath and spare blades stored in a velcro pocket (spare blades can be commonly found in stores).   We were very impressed with it cutting performance in our testing, and some of us carry this attached in our open canoes.  

Whether you choose a folding type, a curved blade, or a straight blade, having one with a sheepfoot nose, or hawksbill type nose can prevent cutting things that you don't want to cut (like someone's skin). If you purchase a straight (fixed) blade, many come with double edges making it a challenge to pevent cutting skin when placing it under a tight piece of webbing or rope around someone's leg or other body part.

 Also, to prevent losing your knife when handling it in water, it's a good idea to affix a small lanyard loop that can loosely fit over your wrist.


 While all river knives will perform many tasks, such as spreading peanut butter and jelly at lunch, we wanted to see how well each performed in cutting a paddler free from a constricting band of some type. We consider this the most common and serious type "eventuality" that might face a paddler/rescuer.

Our main criteria was how well each knife performed in cutting different materials--1) a two inch seat belt webbing (to simulate canoe thigh straps), 2) one inch tubular webbing, and 3) a 3/8 inch size spectra rescue line. For each we tightened the material around a 'victim's'leg and carefully worked the blade under the webbing or belt. We wanted to learn if we could make the cut with just one slicing action rather than sawing back and forth. As we did this rescue, we took note of of how difficult it was to prevent cutting skin if the knife was a straight, fixed bland that had a cutting edge on both sides.

 RESULTS. The Gerber E-Z Out Rescue and the Gerber Eze Zip Rescue (Bass Pro shops call this a Gut Tool) sliced through all of the constriction bands the easiest, particularly for folding knives. For a straight blade, the NRS Pilot is almost as quick. The two folding knives from Spyderco (Rescue 93 and 79 mm) took only a little more effort but did require some sawing back and forth. All of the other knives required considerable sawing back and forth to make the cut and free the leg.

 For SAR personnel, the Smith and Wesson 1st Responder folding knife sliced through fabrics in the testing very easily, equal to both the Gerber E-Z Out and Eze Zip Rescue.

SUMMARY AND COMMENTS. Relative to using a knife for rescue it is a good idea to know exactly how your knife will perform when cutting rope, webbing, or straps from a person's body or even boat outfitting. Practice cutting webbing or rope from around someone's leg or arm. This might prevent having to render emergency first aid in a live situation should yours not perform the way you thought it would.

We plan to continue more of this kind of testing in the future with other knives.

ACA Instructors Jim Jones, Tim Jones and Mike Gardner contributed to this discussion.

JS--11/11/'07; revised 5/'08; 9/'10; 3/'11










































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