When I think hiking knives, I think of the ultralight crowd, a group that will sacrifice nearly anything to save a few grams, including ergonomics, versatility, and ultimate capability. The idea of bringing a large, robust, full tang knife on a hike runs counter to the ultralight aesthetic.
If any knife could change that idea, it is the Hiker by Big Chris Custom Knives aka Christopher Berry.
Chris is one of the knifemakers I had a chance to meet at BLADE Show 2015. He is a one man operation working out of his home in Kentucky turning out some beautiful blades.
Apart from seeing examples of his work online, I had also engaged his services to modify one of my knives a bit over a year ago. I was looking forward to seeing some of his actual pieces and they did not dissapoint. I extended him an open offer for us to review his work, and he lent this Hiker to test out. As soon as I first held it, I knew that the day I had to return the knife would be a sad one indeed.
Maker: Christopher Berry (Big Chris Custom Knives)
Blade: CPM-3V Drop Point, Flat Grind, Satin Finish
Rockwell Hardness: HRC 59-60
Scales: Black Polished Micarta
Tang construction: Tapered and Skeletonized Full Tang
Country of Origin: USA
Price: $300 as tested
Dimensions (measured on this test sample)
Overall Length: 8.875”
Handle Length: 4.875”
Handle Thickness: 0.88”
Blade Length (tip to scale): 5”
Sharpened Length: 4.55”
Blade Thickness: 0.168”
Weight: Knife, 7.0 oz / Sheath, 2.1 oz
Never would I have thought that a knife with a 5” blade at almost 3/16” thick would qualify as a hiking knife, but I am happy to have been proven wrong. Weighing only 7 ounces, it isn’t necessarily “ultralight” but neither will it drag you down. The Big Chris Hiker is robust, yet also comfortable, light and nimble. It manages to blend these traits together with a finesse that I don’t often see.
The heart of what makes this knife so special, is the tapered and skeletonized tang. Not only does this remove some weight, it also makes the knife perfectly balanced on the index finger, making precision tasks effortless. Yet, the 5” blade means it can handle bigger tasks that smaller hiking knives could never hope to accomplish.
The micarta scales are attached with a layer of epoxy and an aluminum lanyard tube and pins. Between the small pins and the tapered tang the knife does give up a little brute strength in favor of weight reduction, but that is the only real “compromise” to be found.
The CPM-3V steel used by Chris for this blade is tough enough to support a very thin edge and he took full advantage of that. Chris told me that on most of his knives he grinds the edge even thinner, but left the edge on the Hiker a tad thicker in anticipation of the hard use it would endure. You could have fooled me though. This blade could brush away arm hair the way a soft breeze picks up dandelion seeds. Sublime.
Rather than removing the extra texture, Chris leaves the scale from the heat treating on the unground portion of the blade and the visual contrast between this and the black micarta is pleasing indeed.
The knife came with a kydex sheath, also made by Chris, with a hole pattern that is compatible with a Bladetech Large Tek-lok. The sheath is very well done and the retention is solid. I like the design of the lower cut out. As you can see in the video below, it allows you to get a full grip on the handle before you draw the knife, meaning you are ready to go immediately after the draw.
Fit & Finish / Initial Edge
I think I’m ready to crown a new king for the sharpest knife I have ever had the pleasure of using. Chris did a fantastic job honing the edge.
When presented with a taut section of ¾” manilla rope, the blade pushed through effortlessly. Just look how clean the cut is in the photo above.
Likewise, magazine paper might as well have been air considering how easily the knife passed through it.
The high flat grind on the blade is flawless, so much so that I put off cutting any abrasive materials for the longest time because I didn’t want to scratch it up!
There is some nice chamfering on the ricasso, and the spine of the blade is slightly eased as well. Rounding the edges eliminates a stress riser on the blade, but on the converse side you won’t be able to use it to strike a ferro rod.
The Hiker has a big, heavily contoured handle, but is not cumbersome in the least. There was more than enough to hold on to even when wearing my size-large work gloves. Not that gloves are always needed – hot spots are minimal. The handle feels great, with a swell near the blade side that tapers further back until swell of the pommel takes over. Yes, you can choke back on the knife, but a chopper it is not.
There is a lot to like about the handle shape. My hand naturally goes to a saber grip when holding the knife. The tapered scales make pinch grips easy and reverse grips are comfortable as well.
If I had one complaint, I think the area where your fingers wrap around the tang could be a tiny bit beefier or flatter. When bearing down on hardwood this spot occasionally felt a little bit thin, and more material would also help when engaging the knife in a chest-lever grip.
The fact that the knife is lightweight means it is easy to carry and user fatigue will be minimal. I slapped a Tek-lok on the sheath and carried it for a weekend campout in horizontal cross draw configuration. The knife seemed to dematerialize on my belt – it never got in the way or weighed me down. I handed it to a few friends at the campout, and everyone was impressed with the featherweight strength of the Hiker.
Working on potatos and onions, the Hiker is a slicing phenom. As you can see, I was able to cube the potatos very small indeed. The high flat grind and superlative edge allowed the blade to cut true without wandering the way many thick knives can. The Hiker was also comfortable with paring motions and should have no trouble pulling kitchen duty at camp or on the trail.
Although the steel doesn’t contain enough chromium to qualify as a stainless steel, it will not quickly patina like carbon steels will when working with acidic comestibles. After I finished with my meal and cleaned the blade, it still glinted brightly with no discoloration.
I also used the Big Chris Hiker to remove the layer of fat and silverskin from a pork loin before marinating it. The belly of the knife proved useful for peeling back the fat and the knife had no trouble getting underneath the silverskin. Hunters should like this blade. The point was easy to control and the micarta stayed grippy throughout the task.
Whittling: Feathersticks & Tent Stakes
Making curls with the Hiker was a joy. The insanely sharp edge barely slowed down even when presented with aged hardwoods.
I do wish the sharpened edge came just a little bit closer to the handle to make detail work more controllable – it was a little farther away than I like, but we are only talking a fraction of an inch here. You can choke up to compensate but in-hand comfort takes a hit.
Whipping up some tent stakes was no sweat for the Hiker. I chest-levered the points with ease, taking off huge chunks of wood at a time, and notching out the stop cuts barely slowed the blade down. I still wish there was a bit more meat on the inside of the handles, but overall there wasn’t much to complain about.
My final woodworking test was evaluating the Hiker at one of the most strenuous jobs an outdoor knife can face, splitting wood. This is one of the last tasks I performed while evaluating this knife, and I still had not had to sharpen it. Keep that in mind.
A certain log on my woodpile provided the perfect example of why you may need to baton in an emergency. It had rained for three days straight earlier in the week and the outside of the log was still soaked a few days later. In order to start a fire I would need to get to the dry wood at the core.
The outer layer turned out to be rotted so it came away rather quickly.
Once that was out of the way I started to split down the middle.
The bottom half of the log was too wide for the Hiker, so I finished the split with a few wedges I had prepared with the knife beforehand.
I took the remaining pieces down even further until I had a bunch of kindling sized sticks…
…and then used a few of those to make feathersticks.
Even after multiple sessions of hard use, I was still able to make curls fine enough to catch the sparks from a ferrocerium rod. Overall the Hiker performed very well and coped with the stresses of batoning with no problems.
After sparking the fire, I used the other half of the log to drill a few divots.
The broad, flat pommel makes for easy application of downward pressure, and could also be used for some light hammering in an emergency. Drilling motions were natural and the 3V was unfazed by the twisting forces involved with drilling divots into hardwood.
I have a confession to make. I did not subject the Hiker to our normal cardboard gauntlet, and let me explain why.
Much of my testing of the Hiker was done concurrently with the Fiddleback Forge Camp Knife, which is made of the same CPM-3V steel. When I tested that knife on cardboard, the edge showed very little dulling even after more than 500 feet of corrugated cuts against the grain.
What I found from using the Hiker and the Camp Knife side by side, was that the Big Chris held its edge as good as, perhaps even better than, the Fiddleback. Because of the edge geometry, the Hiker should slice cardboard even easier than the Camp Knife did. As such, and due to my desire to get this review out before Christmas, I saw no reason to burn an entire evening on the task. Cutting that much cardboard takes a lot of time – time better spent finishing working on another review.
After putting the knife through the wringer, I am ready to declare the Big Chris Hiker the ultimate hiking knife. The design takes that idiom in a new direction, but campers, bushcrafters, and hunters should all like the knife; what is not to like about a 5” bladed knife that is 3/16” thick but still lightweight and perfectly balanced.
The handle shape is very close to perfect for me, and you big pawed folks out there will appreciate the generous real estate of those grips.
And that steel, my word, that steel!
In short order CPM-3V has become my favorite supersteel. The 3V Hiker held an edge that refused to quit, lasting through a camping trip with multiple sessions of heavy wood carving, and later more carving, batoning and drilling with minimal loss to ultimate sharpness. Even the tip of the blade that had been used to drill the divots could still shave hair. Not near as smoothly as it could in the beginning, but I was astonished.
Compared to the herculean edge retention, resharpening is a lot easier than I would normally expect. Not necessarily easy, mind you, but I am used to worse.
I wanted to maintain the nice convex edge on the Hiker so I stropped it back up to spec with a loaded strop. This takes a bit longer than my standard point of comparison, the Spyderco Sharpmaker, but the edge looks a lot nicer as a result. For reference, it took roughly two minutes with the Sharpmaker to put a razor keen edge back on the Fiddleback Camp Knife while I was testing that blade.
Apart from being an excellent design with fantastic materials, the workmanship on display in Hiker is superb. In fact, it is the nicest knife I have had the pleasure of spending time with period. Chris’ work is truly world class.
The razor sharpness of the knife when it arrived was perfection, the grinds are all laser precise, and the handle is extremely compliant. Chris’s kydex work is nothing to sneer at either, with a smartly designed and neatly executed pattern providing an excellent working sheath for the knife.
Chris has plans for this Hiker, so alas, I’ll have to return the knife in the next couple of days. I can tell you this, a little piece of my heart will go with it.