The year was 1982, and I was a curious Boy Scout absolutely addicted to camping and outdoorsmanship. Between bone-chilling winter camping trips in the shadow of the continental divide, I took a troop-sponsored classroom survival course taught by the legendary Papa Bear Whitmore.
He taught us the rough rule of twos (you’ll be incapacitated in two minutes without air, two days without water, or two weeks without food) and that adding stearic acid to cheap candle wax makes long-lasting survival candles. The course must have been pretty good because I still remember these details and many others, thirty-plus years later.
I also remember the end of the course, when Whitmore recommended that each of us have a top-quality survival knife that would never fail us. He passed around a form for ordering handmade knives we’d never heard of. Whitmore was friends with some Montana knifemakers called Ruana Knives, and he sold their blades to his survival-course students at a substantial discount.
A hundred bucks. This will barely buy you a mid-grade Spyderco today, and today I own several knives that cost this much. But a hundred dollars was a lot of money 30 years ago, and it was an even more astronomical sum for a family of five (soon to be six) children, all depending on my father’s salary. I did not get a Ruana knife for $100, and it was small consolation that none of my friends did either.
Some of their dads bought them for themselves, though, and their now-‘vintage’ Ruana knives sell on eBay for three to six times their original purchase price. The worn example shown above is selling for $650, and true custom Ruanas (which we could have spec’d out back then for just a little more money) now fetch in the thousands. They’re almost as collectible as Randall knives, even though they never achieved the same cult status among Vietnam-era soldiers and Marines.
Ruana knives are still made by hand in Montana, and when you can find them, new ones start at $300. I’ll keep my eyes peeled at garage sales, but it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll be filling this particular hole in my collection any time soon.
Manufacturer’s link here.