By The Maj.
I will go ahead and admit I am a gadget guy, especially sharp gadgets. All be told, I do not know how many knives, hatchets, multi-tools, axes, machetes, etc that I have owned or still own. To me, there is not much that beats a good, sharp blade and in the end a good blade can be the difference in a survival situation. I have had my eye on the SOG Spirit for some time now and let’s face it, the design or “cool factor” is definitely there. I just had not pulled the trigger on the purchase, mainly because of the “unknowns” associated with the Spirit. Fortunately, the guys at Black River Outpost wanted to have it reviewed because they believe it serves a purpose/niche in the survival/prepping community but is not as well known as it should be. I gladly accepted the invitation to evaluate this tool and could not wait for it to arrive.
Out of the box, the Spirit impressed me and was not exactly what I had expected. Both edges were very sharp, the handle fit comfortably in my hand (which was a major concern just looking at the pictures), and it was well balanced. The blade is 4-1/4″, black oxide finish, 420 stainless, with RC 51-53 hardness. Overall length with the handle installed is 10-11/16″ and it weighs in at 10 ounces. The sheath is well constructed from a ballistic nylon, the stitching is very heavy, there are three pressed grommets for added durability of the sheath and since they are hollow it allows for random attachment points utilizing 550 cord, the belt loop is oversized, and the snap appeared to be heavy duty. The Spirit fits snugly in the sheath and the only issue I could find right away was the snap closure on the retention strap was a little difficult to close the first time. Unscrewing the handle from the base of the Spirit, I inspected the handle (glass reinforced nylon with center supporting rod) and noticed that the threads on the handle resembled the end of a broom / paint roller extension stick. The threads inside the Spirit head are metal and there is a set screw built into the head for attaching an unthreaded pole if/when necessary. Best I could tell with a micrometer, the “ideal” shaft size would be roughly 7/8″ with 3/4″ threads – getting the right turn for mounting would be the tricky part. Overall, I did not see any major issues with the design out of the box. At first glance, the thought in the back of my head was “this is a spear head, so let’s get it mounted and start chunking it around”. The urge was definitely there and I will admit I had to fight that urge might hard (especially since there were two perfectly good, threaded roller handles standing in the corner of the shop) but I fought that urge off and promised myself that testing as a spear would be the last evaluation step I would go through with the Spirit. There were several reasons including I did not want to break it right out of the box, the disappointment and unfair evaluation that would probably follow if it did not perform well as a spear, and the fact that I tend to get a little caught up in the moment when I start throwing things around with sharp points on them (not to disappoint, I did evaluate it as a spearhead, but you will have to cheat and scroll down if you just cannot wait for it). With the urge subsided, I sat down and made a possible list of evaluations including evaluating it as the following: defensive/offensive knife (duh), utility knife, throwing knife, and spear.
Ok, right up front, I am not, nor do I profess myself to be everything “knife fighting”. I am capable and confident with a blade (even though I will generally opt for two in a true knife fight) but there are plenty of people out there that could probably mess me up with a kitchen paring knife and me with my two blades of choice in each hand. The blade on the Spirit lends itself to present as having decent slashing and stabbing capabilities when employed in a forward or reverse grip (I prefered the forward for slashing and reverse for stabbing). Penetration while stabbing (a deer bow target) averaged 3 inches, making 4 inches a couple of times but considering that the wound would be cut on both sides (double edge) and the wound opening would be at least 1-1/2 inches wide (straight in and out) it would make a pretty decent bleeding wound. Defensively, it is reasonable to believe you could block and/or pary your opponent’s strike utilizing the Spirit but it would not be an ideal situation because of the double edge (potentially driving the Spirit back into you), the lack of a hand guard on the handle, and the angle of the blade on the Spirit. One big drawback to utilizing the Spirit as an offensive/defensive blade is the sheath – while it is a well built sheath and secures the Spirit well, it also keeps you from deploying the Spirit quickly and the reverse points on the blade can get hung in the sheath if it is deployed at an angle (read in a hurry). Another concern that I could not verify is the potential for fowling if the Spirit penetrated past the reverse points on the blade and while I had no such issues on the bow target, the human body is different, and fowling would be a legitimate concern. So, the Spirit can and does “work” as an offensive/defensive blade but would it be the blade you would select in that situation if given the choice, probably not. However, as a spare or backup blade that could potentially serve other purposes including offensive/defensive knife work, it is definitely worth considering.
My first “multi-tool” was a 4-inch, 3 blade, Case pocket knife my grandfather gave me and I used and abused that thing. About the only thing it lacked was a pair of pliers because I used those blades for everything from a screwdriver/pry bar to a toothpick to what they were actually intended for. Growing up on a farm, it was a rule that you always had a good pocket knife in your pocket and I learned the value of a good utility blade early. Given that, the Spirit works well for general cutting (rope, stripping electrical wire, tape, zip-ties, cloth, etc.). The sharp point and handle configuration works especially well for drilling small holes in leather, heavy canvas, and other similar materials. It even worked decent skinning small game (squirrels) and was especially impressive cutting through the small bones (more on this later) even though the double edge made it a little tricky. I did not attempt to pry anything with the Spirit blade because of the hardness and I knew the blade would bend. With a blade hardness of RC 51-53 it puts the Spirit more in the range of an axe or hatchet than most knives which means the blade is soft enough to bend, hard enough to cut/penetrate items with less hardness (flesh, wood, rope, etc), but also soft enough to absorb impact / bending without breaking (if you have ever broken a knife blade, you know what I am talking about). In the end, the Spirit definitely works as a utility blade, but its double edge and blade hardness limit it when compared to knives designed solely for a utility purpose.
Looking at all the pictures online, I remained focused on the idea of the Spirit being designed as a spear point and never gave it much consideration as a throwing knife until I actually held it in my hand. When I noticed the balance and was reading the specifications on blade hardness, the light bulb went off that it might make a pretty decent throwing knife. After doing some more research on SOG’s website, I noticed that SOG actually has it listed as a “throwing knife”. So, back to the deer target, I went and after a few throws, I was sticking the 8-inch target 9 out of 10 times (can’t blame the Spirit for that 10th one) consistently. What really surprised me was the penetration on the target was averaging 2-1/2 to 3 inches with the occassional 4-inches. Now, before you go out and buy it thinking it will make you an expert knife thrower, I have been throwing knives and axes for 30 years just for fun and I do it often. On that same note, I do not have any intentions of throwing a perfectly good knife in a fight or survival situation unless it is the very last straw, mainly because I believe the knife is worth more in my hand than it is flying through the air. Of course, as with knife fighting, there will be plenty of throwing experts out there that could and probably will pin me to the wall for making that last comment – it all comes down to personal preference. The Spirit does perform well as a throwing knife though and a throwing knife with more options that just “throwing.”
While dressing the squirrels, the Spirit did not allow me to place the normal downward pressure on the blade to cut through the bones as I normally would with my skinning knife. I was about to reach for the skinning knife to finish up but decided to try swinging the Spirit downward with pressure to see how it would handle the bones. Well, it worked, rather well I might add, as a lightweight hatchet with the factory handle installed. This gave me another idea that I had not considered, which was could it be made into a “better” hatchet with a longer handle installed. The next morning, I went to the woods and found some straightish hickory and oak saplings that I intended to make a spear handle from – I figured this would be how it would have to be done in a survival situation or post-SHTF if I found myself with a Spirit and needed a handle. I cut a few extra and it took awhile to find limbs or saplings straight enough, the right length, and the right diameter (7/8 to 1 inch). I used the Spirit to cut the limbs/samplings, strip them, and whittle the end down where it would fit inside the Spirit, but used the saw on my multi-tool to cut them to length making two hatchet handles (one oak and one hickory) and two spear poles. The Spirit cut the oak fine but it took some work on the hickory. I inserted the hickory handle into the Spirit and tightened the set screw (using the multi-tool). It took some getting used to, swinging the Spirit like a hatchet with the longer handle, but it was not long until I was whacking off low hanging limbs and cutting a few larger saplings with relative ease. The longer handle also helped with stripping limbs and cutting the smaller stuff to length. I did have to stop and readjust the shaft inside the head and reset the set screw several times but the head never did just fly off. As in the other areas, I do not believe my “Spirit hatchet” would replace the other hatchet in my bag, but it did work well enough as a makeshift hatchet to impress me.
The one most have been waiting for. After putting the Spirit through some abuse in other tests, I finally decided it was time to put it on a staff to test it out. Now, before I get too deep in what I did and how the Spirit performed as a spearhead, you need to keep in mind that a spear (of any type) is both a weapon that can be used as a stand-off tool (keeping it in your hand and keeping the threat at a distance) and a projectile weapon (thrown) when in capable hands. So, I mounted the Spirit first to a standard paint roller extension with wood threads (can easily be picked up at home improvement/hardware stores anywhere) and ran it through some trials. First, I utilized it as a stabbing weapon and it worked very well with full blade penetration in the deer target, I also put it to work slashing but the blade is a little too short to be very effective in that manner and it is not designed to be a halberd. After that, I moved to throwing the spear for accuracy, but I quickly realized that the cheap shaft was not balanced enough and the weight of the head caused the spear tip to dip as it approached the target (of course, I am not an Olympic javelin thrower either). This called for a trip to Lowe’s, where I purchased several different threaded shafts, including a fiberglass shaft. I tried all of those shafts and got the best results from the non-extendable fiberglass shaft, which was heavier than the wood shafts I had available. I then moved to the shafts that I had cut from the woods earlier that day (which I am guessing is how the Spirit would be utilized by most because I really do not have room for a fiberglass roller-shaft in my BOB). The homemade shafts worked and worked better than the store bought shafts for throwing (I did cheat and add some screws to the base of the homemade shafts for balance) but after 3 to 5 throws, I had to loosen the set screw in the Spirit, turn the shaft and tighten it back down to keep the Spirit from becoming loose. In the end, the Spirit works effectively as a spear, although better as a hand weapon than a thrown weapon in my hands (others better versed in throwing a spear would probably have better results). The question becomes, as an individual, do you or could you have a use for a spear – where I live, the answer is “yes” because of the wild hogs snakes and I already utilize a staff when hiking or walking in the woods.
After all of the tests, I carried the Spirit back to my work bench to inspect the blade. I found no major damage, a few small pits here and there (probably from the hatchet test) and some dulling. The finish had no major wear points or spots and the threads inside the Spirit head did not seem any worse for wear. The factory handle re-installed easily and the only issue I have with the handle is thinking about where or how to store it when I am utilizing the Spirit as a hatchet or spear. It would be nice if SOG could or would incorporate a system on the sheath that would retain the handle when the head is being utilized without it. As far as sharpening and working the small pits out, it took about 15-minutes on a stone and finishing the edge with ceramic sticks – it will work well with a pocket sharpenerl. In the end, it appears to be relatively easy to maintain and even a novice knife sharpener can restore and edge.
General Thoughts and Recommendations:
Overall, I am impressed with the SOG Spirit. With a little outside the box thinking, there are probably even more uses a person could come up with for the blade. Obviously, I just ran it through the pretty much standard tests and did not get the opportunity to attempt to kill a live animal with it but I believe it would or could be effective in taking down a hog in the right circumstances. While everyone will automatically think “spear” when they look at it, the Spirit does provide other options for use, could get you out of a tight in certain situations, and provides options that a standard knife is not necessarily suited for. If you plan to utilize it as a spear, I am not certain that I would personally want to rely on a paint-roller stick in a SHTF situation, so I will probably look to have a hickory staff custom built for the Spirit and my height since I already utilize a staff in my prep plans. At $29.95, it would probably not be the worst money you have ever spent on a backup blade that offers you additional options and I will definitely find a place in my BOB or on my harness for the Spirit. Although, as with all things prepping, the decision to purchase and incorporate the Spirit into your own plans is a personal decision and one only you can make.