We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: when it comes to survival gear,two is one, and one is none. This mindset of redundancy leads us to carry backups of our most important survival tools, and there are few tools more essential than the knife. Survival experts around the world will agree that a trustworthy knife is one tool you won’t want to do without, so in many circumstances, it makes sense to carry a pair of blades.
The question then becomes, what pair of blades is the most practical for survival purposes? Unless you want to look like a total mall ninja, dual-wielding two identical knives is not going to work. It’s most practical to diversify your capabilities by choosing two different blades which complement each other. Usually, this means…
- A large blade, for heavy-duty chopping, splitting wood, clearing vegetation, and extended reach.
- A small blade, for precise slicing, skinning, carving, and peeling.
Beyond these general guidelines, there are many choices within each category. The large blade can come in the form of a machete, parang,kukri, axe, or simply a large and sturdy fixed blade. These will all enable the user to fell saplings, break down firewood, and hack through tough brush. The small blade can be fixed (such as a neck knife, boot knife, or dagger) or a folding pocket knife. Compact blades permit higher dexterity, and are used for delicate tasks where the large blade would become unwieldy.
STEEL WILL KNIVES
At Blade Show 2016, we stopped by the Steel Will Knives booth, and noticed that the company has been expanding its Druid line of Outdoor Series knives. This got us thinking about testing out a pair of Steel Will blades from this line, to see if they could serve as the complementary one-two punch we look for in a pair of survival knives.
So, after the show had passed, we requested a pair of blades from the Steel Will Druid series:
- Druid 230 – a sleek fixed bushcraft knife with a 9-inch drop point blade
- Druid 291 – a compact folding knife with a 3.7-inch clip point blade
Both of these Druids are designed with hunters, fishermen, hikers, and other outdoorsmen in mind. This is illustrated by the knives’ simple but elegant design — there are no ostentatious notches, holes, colored coatings, or unconventional blade profiles to be found here. The handles come in any color you want, as long as it’s black.
If you’re the type who prefers simplicity and clean design, these blades should appeal to your aesthetic. That’s certainly not to say they’re visually unappealing, but they’re not exactly flashy, either. This focus on purposeful design is ideal for a survival knife, as its function matters more than form.
While these two Druid knives share a similar appearance, their constructions and features differ significantly. We’ll outline the specs of these knives below, then give our verdict for each blade at the end of this article.
DRUID 230 FIXED BLADE
The Druid 230 is the larger of the two blades, with an overall length of 14.6 inches. The drop-point blade is 9 inches long, 0.2 inches thick, and constructed of 9Cr18MoV stainless steel. With its high 18-percent chromium content, this steel offers strong corrosion resistance. The 230’s tapered full tang extends slightly past the butt of the handle, forming an impact point for pounding, hammering, or breaking glass.
Speaking of the handle, it’s formed around the tang from thermoplastic elastomer, also called TPE or thermoplastic rubber. This material offers a slight amount of give, cushioning your hand against hard impacts. It also has excellent grip characteristics in wet or dry environments, thanks in part to the cross-hatched groove pattern found on all Steel Will Druid handles. A lanyard hole is also present, for those who wish to add decorative paracord or a wrist retention strap.
The Druid 230 includes a black leather sheath, with a belt loop and upper and lower attachment points for thigh straps. The Steel Will logo is embossed into the leather. The sheath’s slotted opening fits the blade rather loosely, so you’ll need to massage the leather a bit to open it up enough to conform to the handle.
This fixed blade is available from Steel Will at an MSRP of $100.
DRUID 291 FOLDING KNIFE
The smaller of the two blades, known as the Druid 291, is an 8.9-inch folding knife. Its 3.7-inch clip-point blade is constructed of satin-finishedN690Co, an Austrian-made stainless steel. The N690Co steel is comparable to 440C or VG-10, but also contains cobalt for added hardness, and offers excellent corrosion resistance. This knife is manufactured in Italy, as noted on the flat of its blade.
An oblong thumb disc yields plenty of leverage to flip open the blade, and also provides leverage while cutting. A liner lock keeps the blade locked in place. The Druid 291’s handle color and texture are nearly identical to that of the larger Druid 230, but its composition differs. This folder’s handle scales are formed from fiber-reinforced nylon (FRN), which is harder than the TPE handle material used on the fixed blade.
You may notice the Druid 291 has both a pocket clip and a leather holster. Steel Will tells us that during initial testing, the deep-carry clip and textured handle made the knife difficult to remove quickly from some pockets—it’s so grippy that it dragged on and wore down thicker fabrics. So, the company added a belt holster as an additional method of carrying the knife. It’s nice to have the extra option, depending on your preference.
The 291 folder is available from Steel Will at an MSRP of $120.
TESTING THE STEEL WILL DRUIDS
We spent some time testing out each of these blades, and wrote down our general impressions, as well as a list of pros and cons for each.
First, the Druid 230 — its light weight and excellent balance makes it feel like a natural extension of the hand. Given its straight and slender blade, it behaves a lot like a hybrid between a machete and a large knife. It’s easy to swing quickly, and excels at slashing cuts.
The handle material is nicely textured, but our real gripe with the Druid 230 is the handle shape. It feels like it belongs on a 7- or 8-inch knife, like some of the smaller fixed-blades in the Druid family, rather than a 14-inch chopper. Also, it lacks a proper forefinger guard to prevent your fingers from slipping onto the blade (or off the end of the handle). That’s not reassuring for a knife this size, and we’d say it’s this blade’s biggest flaw.
The affordable 9Cr18MoV steel resists corrosion well, and held its edge admirably. However, most stainless steel in this family originates from China, and the fact that this blade’s country of manufacture is unlisted (unlike the Italian-made Druid 291) leads us to believe it may be made in China as well. If you’re planning on lots of extremely hard chopping and batoning wood, you may be better off with a tough yet less corrosion-resistant high-carbon blade. The Druid 230 is better suited for users who don’t plan to hammer it mercilessly.
Pros – Druid 230:
- Wonderfully balanced and lightweight (11.5 oz)
- Included high-quality leather sheath
- Good value for under $100
Cons – Druid 230:
- Handle lacks a substantial forefinger guard
- 9Cr18MoV stainless steel wouldn’t be our first choice for heavy and repeated chopping
Now, on to the recently-released Druid 291 folding knife. The fit and finish of this knife really impressed us. The blade pivots smoothly, and its liner lock clicks firmly into place. The clip point blade shape is timeless, and this knife is also offered in a drop point style (the Druid 290). Austrian-sourced Bohler-Uddeholm N690 is one of our favorite steels for folding knives, due to its hardness and edge retention.
The handle is what we’d call chunky, but that’s not a flaw per se — it works well for those with larger hands due to its substantial thickness and 5.2-inch folded length. As far as the carry options, we’d agree with Steel Will’s statement that “using the included holster is ideal”. The deep pocket clip is a nice backup option, but we found that it’s rather awkward in most cases. Unless your pants have thin seams and taut fabric, this knife is almost guaranteed to provide resistance as you yank it from your pocket. Forget about trying to draw it quickly from a pair of jeans.
That said, the leather holster is quite well-made, and we found ourselves growing to like it. We will mention that it’s less subtle than a pocket-carried knife, if discretion is a priority.
Pros – Druid 291:
- N690Co steel is excellent for this application
- Thick handle design and thumb disc provide tons of grip while cutting
- Nice fit and finish
Cons – Druid 291:
- Not ideal for pocket carry — expect to use the holster in most cases
To return to our original question, do these two Steel Will Druid knives form a cohesive pair? After testing, we’d say that they do. The fixed-blade Druid 230 works well for clearing brush, and the folding Druid 291 provides the precision needed for smaller cuts. Neither knife is without flaws — specifically, the lackluster finger guards on the 230, and the 291’s reliance on an external holster. But looking at the bigger picture, they complement each other well, and both Druid knives would be strong assets in any outdoor situation.
Written by PATRICK MCCARTHY