Knife Story: The $100 Ruana That Got Away

Image courtesy Ruana KnivesThe 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.

RuanaThe price: a little over $100 for a  mid-sized, handmade belt knife like this one, with a horn handle and hand-tooled leather sheath.

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.


  1. Matt in FL says:

    I know I have several things like this that got away, but I’ve blocked them out so I don’t become bitter. Good luck in your search.

    1. Chris Dumm says:

      I’m pretty unlikely to ever see a $100 Ruana again, unless it’s a fake on eBay. I’ll keep my eye open at pawn shops, though.

  2. Sam L. says:

    I feel for you on that. I’ve looked at Ruanas, and always decided against. And yet…

  3. JB6789 says:

    I have a vintage Ruana with the same profile as the one pictured above. It’s been kept dry and lightly oiled for over 37 years. I was so careful with it that my Buck 110 ended up taken all of the workload…that and an old Camillus.

    Frankly, I was shocked to find out what these knives go for on Ebay these days. I’ll never part with mine as it was a gift from my parents during our trip to Yellowstone.

  4. Bob Wilkins says:

    Well, i first wanted one when Ruanas were a bargain at $10 and Randalls started at $25, and this in the late 60s.

    I did not get into Randalls until about 5yrs ago, and Ruanas until this year. Unlike Randall with a 5yr wait for what might be an iffy knife currently due to major personnel turnover in last year or so of a shop with a foreman, you can get a Ruana in 3-5mths from the same three family guys who were making them 30yrs ago, and they now cost three times what they did when you wanted one, and are far better, artful, even.

    That is saving a couple of bucks a day in a jar, and most folk reading this can do that.

    Watch this….

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Knife Story: The $100 Ruana That Got Away

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