Originally developed for the military, First Edge is new to the civilian market. Using highly corrosion and wear resistant Elmax supersteel and a new spin on kydex sheaths, their 5150 model is built to withstand hard tactical use. The question is, how well does it work as a survival knife for non-military applications?
Manufacturer: First Edge
Blade: Elmax steel drop point, flat saber grind with swedge
Rockwell Hardness: 59-61 HRC
Scales: Textured G10, removable
Tang construction: Full Tang
Sheath: Triple-laminate kydex
Country of Origin: USA
Price: MSRP-$325 / Online-$270
Dimensions (measured on this test sample)
Overall Length: 11.1875”
Effective Handle Length: 4.125”
Handle Thickness: 0.6875)
Blade Length: 5.5625” measured from the tip to the leading edge of the handle scale
Sharpened Length: 5”
Blade Thickness: 0.1875”
Weights: Knife: 13.7 oz / Sheath: 5.45 oz
First Edge provided the knife for this review, with no restrictions on use or stipulation for return after completing our evaluation.
Many knives purport to be “Navy SEAL” knives but often that appellation has no connection with reality. Not so with First Edge. The 5150 and its sibling, the 5050, were developed at the specific request of U.S. Special Forces and are both being issued to active duty personnel… SEALs for the 5050 and SWCC-CQT for the 5150. These knives are no pretenders.
Looking at the 5150 side by side with my WWII-era Camillus USN Mk2, I can clearly see the historical influence on this new knife.
While shorter, the shape of the 5150’s Elmax blade echoes the Mk2, with an almost identical belly and a swedge that nods to the original, without copying it. Of course, the grips of the 5150 are all modern – G10 scales bolted to a full, non-skeletonized tang.
The approach First Edge has taken with the kydex sheath is novel, and was part of what piqued my interest in the brand in the first place. In response to kydex becoming more brittle in extreme cold weather testing, they have introduced a patent-pending tri-laminate system.
This is basically a couple strips of metal (aluminum?) reinforcing the edges to keep the sheath from snapping under arctic conditions. Always good to see a new idea, and I like this one.
Keeping the sheath clean will be no sweat. Unlike typical kydex sheaths, in which grit can become trapped between the layers, the 5150’s scabbard can be taken apart with a hex wrench for thorough cleansing.
It also features a large drain hole, good for a field expedient rinse when you’ve left your tools behind.
A large nylon belt loop with a retaining strap puts the top of the knife at belt level when strapped on. Other carry options are limited, as the hole pattern is not spaced to accommodate common aftermarket clips such as the Blade-Tech (large or small) Tek-Lok.
Fit & Finish / Initial Edge
Everything about the blade is up to the high standards you would expect for a knife in this price range. All of the grinds are executed perfectly and the sharpened edge looks symmetrical all the way up… no uneven tip here!
The G10 scales line up with the tang perfectly. It’s not like they were sanded to fit either… the coating on the blade is still intact. Well done!
I do wish the heel of the blade were sharpened back a bit further. The wedge created by the gradual flare of the plunge line leaves a lot of metal behind what would otherwise be more usable edge. The wedge also makes it harder to sharpen the entire length, as it can interfere with flat sharpening stones. Granted this is a nitpick, but I can’t think of any time a more defined plunge would be a negative.
Of course, I could be wrong; I’m always learning. Be sure to comment below if you have a differing viewpoint.
Taking a closer look at the sheath reveals some detriments. The retention is not exactly snug. Not only does the knife rattle noticeably, but a the extra retaining loop is absolutely essential; the knife doesn’t exactly fall out on its own, but it can easily be shaken loose with only moderate effort.
I suppose this is the price you pay for the extra layer of reinforcement between the kydex layers. I guess you can strike my earlier comments about wanting Tek-Lok compatibility.
I tried removing the reinforcing strips to see if this improved the retention? While the fit was tighter, it was still not very difficult to shake the knife loose.
The 5150 experience is defined by it’s weight. While smaller than the 5050, this knife is still tanklike. You definitely feel the heft in your hand and on your belt. Words like “overbuilt” or “hell-for-stout” come to mind in a positive light. If you are looking for an ultralight survival knife, this is not your ticket. If you are looking for a gnarly piece of steel however, the 5150 has that in spades.
The scales are a little more slab-sided than I usually like, but they are better than some (I’m looking at you ESEE) thanks to being fairly short top-to-bottom. Still, if First Edge had started with ⅜” G10 (rather than ¼”), they could have rounded the scales down more for a better feel in the hand.
Despite my misgivings, the shape works well in a variety of grips. I especially like the concave sweep at the front, which works well in a pinch grip. The texturing on the flats is just barely on the aggressive side. I see this handle remaining very secure under wet conditions, but under heavy use gloves are definitely the way to go to minimize hot-spots.
Here is where you pay the price for the use of Elmax. When it comes to sharpening, this steel is not for the faint of heart. Good thing that the edge lasts a long time to begin with! In fact, during development of the 5150, the military actually asked First Edge for a version of this knife with “inferior” steel. The Elmax was holding up so well that they were having difficulty training the soldiers in edge maintenance. Because of that, you can also get a 440C version of the 5150.
Clay tested this knife a little bit before I received it, so I can’t weigh in on the factory edge, but when I got the knife, the edge wasn’t quite as good as I wanted. It took a lot of work on my Sharpmaker to get the blade up to a hair shaving edge, but eventually I got it sharp enough to go through ¾” manilla rope and slice through newsprint.
I did a little food prep with the 5150, but truth is the knife is too thick for most comestibles. It does the job, but the results are crude.
The same goes for corrugated cardboard. I cut through 200 feet of the stuff with very little edge degradation, but the knife was not happy doing it. As a survival/tactical knife, the 5150 exchanges outright slicing ability for brute strength and splitting power. On that note…
This thick piece of Elmax steel was made to take a beating, so I collected a small pile of logs to baton.
The 5150 is more than capable in such a role. The six inch blade gives you a good amount of edge to work with, and the swedge is not sharpened, leaving plenty of spine near the tip to beat on.
The geometry of the blade makes it a formidable wedge for all manner of logs. I beat the knife through knotty sections that would have completely stalled or broken a thinner blade. After a solid fifteen-twenty minutes of work, the edge was still undamaged, although the coating had taken a beating. I could even make tiny curls still.
Next, I picked out a particularly twisted sumbitch that I have been saving for a knife like the 5150. Sporting a couple of large knots and complex grain, it would take a beast of a knife to get the job done.
A lot of beating and clubbing and swearing was required to bust up the wood, taking me almost as long to break apart this log as it did the rest of the collection put together
This curve in the center presented quite the challenge. I threw all the brute force I could at it, yet I still needed to call up some wedge assistance.
After I finally halved the log, I took aim for the center of a huge knot protruding from one end of the log, not something I would recommend under normal use, and started whacking.
Took a bit more muscle but it split clean in two. Most impressive!
Caveat: In a true survival situation that would require batoning, don’t bother trying to split logs like this one. This piece was a perfect candidate to throw whole on the flames once the fire was already roaring. In the more “academic” environs of my backyard, things are a bit different. The 5150 will have to endure all manner of abuse in its primary combat role, and batoning is the best way for me to stress a blade in the course of my reviews.
Since most of the weight is concentrated in the handle, I didn’t have too much luck chopping with the 5150. The balance also limited the effectiveness of snap-cuts that can normally add a little velocity to a blade.
It wasn’t until I added a lanyard that I was able to choke back enough to get some decent swings. The Elmax withstood the impacts with no problems whatsoever, even if it does take a bit of effort to get anything done.
Whittling: Feathersticks and Tent Stakes
I’m convinced the 5150 will hold up to anything you will need it to in a survival situation. The question still on my mind is, how does it perform the more mundane tasks that the knife will be used for 95% of the time.
The one part that puzzles me about the design also makes fine carving more awkward than it needs to be. In order to get the start of the edge in a comfortable place for whittling, I had to choke up onto the blade. There is plenty of space for my index finger in front of the guard, but a full-size finger choil could help out greatly here, providing more positive engagement and protection for the finger, and maybe eliminating some of the wedge as well.
Tent pegs were still no problem despite this. Chest lever grips for the points are easy to execute and the blade makes notches just fine. I was never able to get the smoothest curls with the blade, and I think this is down to the edge geometry.
The 5150 will get the job done, but even with gloves on, hot spots are still present.
What impressed me the most about the 5150 is the strength of the Elmax steel, and the best example of why, is the condition of the tip after all of my testing. It is still just as pointy as when it arrived.
Not only did I drill some wood divots, I also drove the point into a log and pried the blade sideways a dozen or so times. The coating was scuffed up, but the tip was unfazed.
Even then, I was expecting a little tip loss when I sharpened the blade. The Spyderco Sharpmaker is notorious for rounding the very tips off keen points. The 5150 couldn’t have cared less about that reputation. The pointy end was still undamaged.
Elmax may be known for its high corrosion and wear resistance, but as shown by the tip strength and splitting performance, its toughness is nothing to sneeze at either.
I wanted to like this knife more, but the poor ergonomics killed my enthusiasm. There are just too many hot-spots under hard use for me to enjoy using it. The First Edge 5150 may destroy anything in front of it, but it won’t be comfortable while executing said destruction.
I like the overall platform, I’d just like to see some improvements, chief among them a more ergonomic handle. That would go the longest way towards making me happy. Other items are smaller but could greatly improve the knife, at least for a non-military user like myself.
Skeletonizing the tang could remove some weight. Additionally, a full-size finger choil for choking up or more edge continuing closer to the handle would greatly improve usability on woodcarving and finer tasks. I also like the idea of the “Tri-laminate” reinforcement, but the execution leaves me wanting. Retention needs to be improved for me to be happy, and spacing the holes for Tek-lok compatibility would be nice as well, provided said retention is fixed.
All that is left to talk about is the price. Street price on these is $270, give or take a few greenbacks – no small sum of money. Things had better be top notch at that strata, and the 5150 almost gets it. The knife possesses superlative build quality and top shelf materials, but due to the difficult ergos, I wouldn’t be putting my own money down on one. Not without changes anyway.