With their HUNT Series of knives, Bechmade Knife Company mixes traditional designs with modern materials and construction. As a fishing guide, I was excited to receive the Steep Country from Benchmade for testing and to add to my collection. This medium-sized (3.5″ blade) drop-point fixed blade is reminiscent of the time-tested Kephart knife, in size, shape, and function.
Add to that an incredibly grippy handle, judicious jimping, and premium S30V steel, and you have the ingredients for one fantastic tool. I have spent hours testing this knife in the shop, and a couple of months testing this knife on the water in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and I can assure you that the Steep Country is every bit the knife I expected it would be.
The Steep Country measures 7.65″ overall, with a 3.5″ blade and a blank thickness of .14″ (~1/7″) of S30V steel. It has a full flat grind with jimping on the spine. This jimping is in the typical position just forward of the handle. It is duplicated near the tip, which allows for excellent control in animal processing in particular.
The tang as well as grip-enhancing crenelations protrude through the handle. The handle itself is of a one-piece, molded design from a material called Santoprene. It almost feels like it is rubberize plastic, but I believe that Santoprene is a polymer that has a slight give in its outer boundary, yet feels hard like plastic inside. It is extremely grippy as you will see in the Testing section.
As I mentioned in my First Impression Review, I was extremely disappointed with the sheath. It really is substandard when compared to the quality of the knife. It is molded Kydex, but is by design quite loose and provides zero positive retention. Instead, the knife is held in place by a leather strap. While this snap-and-strap arrangement might not bother some folks, as it is a traditional arrangement (Buck 119 would be a classic example), I prefer the deep sheaths with positive retention found on my Mora Bushcraft and on the Woods’ Kraken.
My frustration was exacerbated by the fact that the screw holding the strap to the kydex worked loose and fell in the Middle Prong of the Little River while guiding, never to be seen again. I developed a barely adequte workaround which made me realize that the strap was not that bad, especially when I received a replacement sheath from Benchmade and got to go back to the designed arrangement. The screws have now been treated with locktite and the kydex seems tighter on this one, but I still feel that the sheath is not worthy of the knife.
The Steep Country is very hard, 58-60 HRC. It comes insanely sharp from the factory, as my fingertip will attest. It held this edge through a great deal of preliminary testing.
When it finally did come time to touch up the blade, I turned to the Spyderco Sharpmaker. I have had great results with the Sharpmaker on my S30V Native, and the this proved to be the case with the Benchmade. The hard steel takes a scalpel-like edge and keeps it beautifully.
Cardboard, Rope, and Newsprint:
The S30V took a scary sharp edge. Every bit as sharp as my Spyderco Native, the other S30V knife I own. It was like a laser through newsprint, and the full-flat grind made ribbons of over 100 linear feet of cardboard with great efficiency. The only downside is that the crenelated handle spine dug into my hand a bit during the prolonged test. Not bad, but noticeable.
Folded 3/4″ sisal took 2-3 swipes to slice through. This was honestly one of the easiest, cleanest result I have had with any knife on this test. I am pretty sure that had the blade been 4.5″ it would have made it with one swipe. A single straight piece of 1/2″ static climbing rope parted in a single swipe. No knife has ever managed to cleanly cut a doubled piece.
I used the Steep Country for a considerable amount of food preparation. It’s razor edge did a fantastic job on meat, and passably on produce. It was not due to the blade’s sharpness, rather the extreme sweeping edge is just not an optimal shape for produce. There is little to no straight edge to the blade, and a rocking motion is required. With practice I was able to improve my efficiency.
The final test is one of my favorites, processing a pineapple. This requires both rough cleaning and fine dicing and is a good test of a knife’s range. To add a layer of difficulty I drenched the handle in dish soap.
This did not phase the knife at all. The handle remained grippy throughout.
But wait, there’s more. Pineapple flesh is soft. The outer rind is not. So I julienned it.
Rags & Gun Patches:
I have made this an unofficial part of our TTAK Knife Testing Protocol. I frequently have old t-shirts lying around the shop and I turn these into rags and gun cleaning patches. This ongoing, practical task makes a good cross knife comparison.
I first rolled a t-shirt tightly. I doubled and sliced cleanly through the dozens of layers created by the rolling. Extremely cleanly. Next I laid the rolled shirt on the cutting board for some board slicing. The Steep Mountain sliced the shirt lie sushi rolls.
I cut the resulting strips into square cleaning patches, without the knife missing a beat.
This is where the (handle) rubber meets the road. I carried the Steep Country for about 2 dozen days on the water. I was completely pleased with how it performed through a wide range of tasks. It slices hoagie rolls and tomatoes easily. The second most common use is in cutting down branches to retrieve snagged flies. Typically I am standing on a boulder, reaching above my head pulling down a branch with my left hand. With my right I reach up and with ah combination slicing and hacking motion I cut the branch down and retreat to a less precarious perch to untangle the sweater which my client has knitted me.
The Steep Country’s sharp edge and firm grip slice branches with relative ease, and its hard steel absorbs this punishment without dulling the knife. It is every bit as good as my Mora, the knife that I have carried for the greatest number of days.
One area in which the Steep Mountain blows the Mora out of the water (somewhat literally) is in corrosion resistance. The carbon steel Bushcraft, while it has a tungsten coating, corrodes easily if it has been submerged and left in the truck in the Tennessee humidity. It has never been difficult to deal with by wiping the blade dry before driving home and touching up when necessary on the Sharpmaker. The S30V supersteel is as stainless as any I have ever used. I have purposely left it wet for multiple days and have never managed to blemish the blade at all. The lead picture in this review was taken this week and shows how pristine the knife remains after very rigorous use and testing.
The final typical task is to dress out a trout. I need to preface this by saying that there are plenty of fish in the Smokies. There is a healthy population of fish over the 7″ minimum, and my clients catch and release many unharmed. On those occasions on which I myself get to fish recreationally, one of two scenarios occurs. If I don’t bring ice, I slay fish of all sizes figuratively. If I do bring a bag of ice, karma dictates that I can’t catch a legal fish to literally slay.
I eventually caught a fish that was long enough, though smaller than I typically keep unless I am camping. So go ahead and laugh. This fish died so that you can make an educated knife-buying decision. It is on your conscience (and my daughter’s stomach. She loves fresh wild trout)
The knife dressed the trout out efficiently. The initial “butt-cut” slitting from vent to gills was a touch difficult to start, the pointier tip of the Mora starts cleaner. But if you were to use this knife in a hunting/skinning capacity, the rounded shape would be much better at not piercing the hide. The handle maintains grippiness even when coated in fish slime. It is all what you are using the knife for as to which shape is preferable.
I was trying to come up with a final practical test for this knife. I posted a link to a YouTube video by Schrade on how to make a survival gig-spear. They made a great looking one, and even showed how to fire harden it. They did use a folding camp saw to cut their sapling. Since I would not have that tool in a survival situation in the Smoky Mountain backcountry, I used the Steep Country to cut and prep my sapling.
I did not choose the ideal tree to cut. I chose one that was the right size and I wanted to clear. Garbage in, garbage out. My spear is ugly both due to the choice of sapling and this being my first time doing this.
I used the knife and a baton to strip away the smaller branches. I used a baton to alternately chop a clean tip, notching and rotating the sapling to create a platform to split. After wrapping the sapling with paracord to prevent runaway splitting, I batoned an “X” into the tip and split the sapling into 4 forks of the gig. Again, ideally I would not have spit through a knot.
I sharpened the the forks, and then skipped the fire-hardening stage as irrelevant to our test. After lashing in some twigs to stabilize the forks, the spear is ready to go. The Steep Country proved itself a more than capable bushcraft knife.
Things I like:
- This thing gets phenomenally sharp.
- Great edge-holding and overall durability.
- Rock solid handle grip.
- Excellent corrosion resistance.
Things I don’t like:
- Sheath is sub-par.
- The steel crenelations are a tad painful after prolonged use.
- I wish it were 4″
Ratings (out of five stars)
Kind of a homely little thing. I like the orange functionally (it is also available in black), but it is pretty obnoxious to my more traditional taste.
The first 5 star blade rating I have given. Space-age steel combined with a time tested design make for one exceptional blade.
Fit my medium-sized hand well. The negative of discomfort from the crenelations is more than offset by the positive aspect of gripiness. The blade is very well balanced. It actually makes a decent thrower.
I haven’t made a mark on this knife despite all of the testing reported above. One bomb-proof tool.
Overall Rating: *****
The Benchmade 15008 is a tremendous all around bushcraft knife. It performed well both in the shop and in the field. It is razor-sharp, easy to use, and incredibly tough corrosion-resistant and grippy. What is not to like?
In the end it is my familiarity with the Mora that keeps it atop my guide knife list. I like being able to simply slide it out of the sheath and drop it back in without thought. But functionally, the Steep Country did everything I asked of it and passed with flying colors. I am thrilled to have been given this knife and do have a role for it going forward.
Because I have absolute confidence in this knife’s corrosion resistance, I am making it my “Go-Bag” knife. It will do everything I ask of it, and I know it will remain ready for use despite being stored in the basement for a prolonged period of time.
At $115 MSRP, the Steep Country has a steep price. But you are getting a large hunk of premium steel, skillfully crafted into a phenomenal tool. I can confidently recommend this knife to anyone wanting a virtually corrosion proof bushcraft tool. Thanks again Benchmade.