When it comes to bushcraft and survival knives, few names are as respected as ESEE. ESEE is a subsidiary of Randall’s Adventure & Training, an educational institution that teaches people survival, tracking, rescue, and other outdoor skills. Every person on their team is first and foremost an outdoorsman. Their knives are built for this rigorous lifestyle, and they are so certain they got it right that they offer a warranty without equal – if you break an ESEE, no matter how or why, they will replace it with a brand new one.
ESEE knives are excellent, and I personally own several of them, but they have a large catalog. Here, I’ll walk you through some of the best knives they offer and help you decide which one is best for you!
If you think a survival knife needs to be big and heavy, think again. The Izula can handle 90% of survival cutting tasks with ease, and it weighs less than 2ozs. This has made the Izula a favorite of hunters, campers, backpackers, EDCers and more. We all love it because it has just enough handle to grab onto, just enough blade thickness to tolerate some hard use, and just enough belly for all kinds of slicing jobs. It’s a great knife, and I can’t recommend it enough!
Fun fact: Izula is the Spanish name for the Bullet Ant, which is said to have the most painful sting of any insect. One poor sap who endured it described it as “walking over a flaming charcoal with a 3-inch nail in your foot”. Frankly, I’d rather suffer the wrath of the knife than the ant…
Backup knives are one of life’s greatest pleasures. Having one means you have multiple knives, which feels awesome, and it means that if something goes wrong you’re not high and dry. That’s where the Candiru fits. This little blade is so small and light that you can carry it in a pack, in a pocket, in a boot, or anywhere else and forget it exists until you need it. When you do, its stout flat grind and tough 1095 steel provides a durable, dependable tool for sticky situations.
Fun fact: Candiru is the name of small freshwater catfish in the Amazon basin. It gained infamy for swimming up someone’s… well, I’ll just let you look that one up. TL;DR, don’t pee in South American rivers. Once again, I’ll take the knife over the creature.
Full disclosure, this is my favorite ESEE. I love its size, blade shape, handle, steel, etc. It was designed after the Zancudo, a folder ESEE contracted with an overseas manufacturer, but this one is a USA-made powerhouse made of S35VN steel with a milled G-10 handle. It was designed as an all-purpose rescue tool for when you need a little more than the Izula. To that end, you can get it with either a full handle or a large hole, large enough to fit a full-size carabiner through for high-angle applications. Whichever you prefer, you’ll love the Xancudo.
Fun fact: Zancudo is the Spanish name for mosquito, the annoying little creature that spreads Zika, Malaria, and Dengue all over South America. That makes knives 3 for 3 in my wrath-of-knife-vs-wrath-of-parasite test.
Two of the most popular ESEE knives are the Izula and the ESEE 3, but for some the Izula is a little small, and the 3 is a little large. The Sencillo threads that needle perfectly. Another cool thing about the Sencillo is that it has a CPM MagnaCut blade. That steel is known for its crazy toughness, corrosion resistance, and edge retention. And just like all ESEE knives, it’s backed by that unbeatable warranty.
Fun fact: Sencillo is the Spanish word for “simple,” which is easily the least terrifying name we’ve encountered yet!
Designed by expert hunter Ashley Emerson, the Ashley Game Knife was built as a hunting knife that can play double-duty with whatever other cutting jobs the backcountry can give you. It has a long, sweeping belly for processing game, but its not so curved that it makes woodcarving difficult. Its large, pronounced guard protects you from the edge during hard cuts, but it’s still less than half of an inch from the finger grove to the edge, so detailed cuts are easy as well. A very nice knife indeed!
Many ESEE knives air on the side of thick to ensure strength during hard use, but few take it as thin as the ESEE 3. And not only is it very thin, it also has a full flat grind, proving a thin edge that glides through all kinds of materials. It excels as a companion-style camping knife, but also makes an effective hunting knife. When I go camping, my ESEE 3 becomes the de-facto camp chef knife, and it does that job great too!
When it comes to survival knives, the ESEE 4 is the gold standard by which all others are judged. This knife is overbuilt to withstand all kinds of abuse, but it’s not so huge that you don’t want to carry it on your belt. Most knives around its size opt for a full-length edge, but the ESEE 4 has a finger choil. That makes precise, detailed carving, like you do when making traps and triggers, a breeze. With almost any outdoor knife, you will be given to ask “but is it better than the ESEE 4?” And often, the answer is no.
Most of ESEE’s lineup is distinctly woodsy or rescue-oriented. The Laser Strike, however, is a tactical powerhouse. Its long blade can pack quite the wallop when chopped with, its tough blade steel can handle prying and stabbing, and its Kydex sheath has a secondary retainer for extra security. On the inside of the Laser Strike’s handle hides a small compartment. That comes repacked with a ferro rod and some other survival equipment for emergencies. It’s a great one-tool option for the apocalypse!
This is about the largest knife you would carry on your belt all day, and you’d be better for it. Instead of the more neutral-shaped handle found on the 3 and 4, the ESEE 6 opts for a more countoured handle. The smaller knives are great bushcrafters, but when it comes time to chop some branches, baton through seasoned hickory, or debark an entire log, you’ll thank me for recommending the larger knife.
There are some things that no picture could ever do justice. The Grand Canyon, the Las Vegas Strip, the Great Wall of China, etc. The ESEE Junglas is one of those things. Words cannot describe the feeling of immense power when you hack through a thick branch. It’s big, it’s tough, and it’s ready to tame the wilderness. It’s not much for small work, but the Junglas functions like a machete/axe combo. If you choose this one, I’d pair it with a smaller knife.
Why buy an ESEE?
ESEE designs knives for real use. Use them, abuse them, beat them up, and they’ll keep coming back for more. Many of them do look nice, but that’s not the point. They’re tools first and foremost, and you can feel it when you hold one. So if you like to get out in the woods in search of adventure, an ESEE might be for you.