Cold Steel Trailmaster - A Top Survival Knife?
When discussing survival knives, the talk often turns to large style bowie knives, which are big enough to take on the duties of a machete or hatchet yet are still sharp enough to function as a knife. Having never actually used a bowie knife I started feeling like I might be missing out, so I jumped on the chance to test a Cold Steel Trailmaster.
The Trailmaster SK-5
The Cold Steel Trail Master has been around for decades, being introduced in the late 1980's. In that time they have been made in the U.S.A., Japan, China, and Taiwan, and have been built with numerous types of steel including Carbon V, San Mai III, SK-5, and 0-1 High Carbon. The model I was able to test was a Trailmaster SK-5 made in Taiwan, apparently the first version of these knives in SK-5 steel were produced in China and production eventually shifted to Taiwan. (Side note: "Made in Taiwan" used to cause an involuntary cringe in many of us; however, they are now producing quality affordable knife lines for several of the major knife manufactures).
Let's just say I may or may not have recited a line from Crocodile Dundee when I removed it from the box for the first time. The Trailmaster is a knife for sure, it is 14.5" long and has a 9.5" blade that is a massive 5/16" thick before starts to taper, that's beefy. Surprisingly due to the taper of the blade it was lighter than I had expected, and weighed in at 17.2oz on my scale, which isn't featherweight but for the shear size I thought was pretty light. The grip was very positive, the blade was sharp and came to a sturdy but fine point.
While the definition of full tang can vary from person to person; pictures of Trailmasters with the rubber handle removed reveal a wide tang extending all the way to the back of the handle. The tang isn't as wide as the blade where it enters into the handle but does remain that same thickness all the way to the rear and is drilled through for the eye at the rear of the handle. I'm not sure I would technically call this a full tang but non the less it is still beefy enough that one would expect it to take some serious use and abuse if need be.
The blade came with a liberal amount of a greasy/oil substance on it, and took a little work to remove; high carbon knifes will rust in certain environments and need to be oiled especially for long term storage. The blade came sharp from the box but a quick touch up on a sharpener helped bring out its real potential. While this model features the SK-5 blade new models have switched to a O-1 High Carbon which many consider a closer substitute to the original Carbon V, although I cannot speak with authority to that point.
Trailmasters have shipped with a variety of different sheaths over the years; this one came with a Secure-Ex sheath which I felt was a pretty good. The sheath can be worn on a belt or has several slots and holes along the edge that could be used to secure it a pack or other mounting surface. The knife fits snuggly into the sheath and audibly snaps into the secure position; while I couldn't be sure, the knife blade seemed to make slight contact with the sheath if not carefully removed which might of been why the blade needed an initial touchup.
When used for chopping, I found that the sharp knife style blade had a tendency to stick in the wood more than say a hatchet or machete whose blade tends to split or separate the wood more than cut it. Also, despite the initial 5/16" width of the blade before it tapers, the blade seemed a little on the light side when hacking through wood. That said the grip was comfortable, the knife showed no signs of weakness, and it was definitely capable of doing everything I tried in my limited testing. However, for wood it wasn't on the same level as a hatchet or quality machete in my view.
Initially these knives were pretty expensive but the price gradually worked its way down to a current price of about $125; and while still a good chunk of change it is pretty reasonable especially when compared to some of the bowie knives on the market. The sheath was also more than adequate especially considering that many knife makers just through something together almost as an afterthought. Next, the Trailmaster would make a formidable self defense weapon with its large cutting blade for slashing as well as its sturdy point for thrusting attacks. Finally, this knife is very versatile and could be used to do most anything a machete or hatchet could do.
Perhaps my lack of experience with a bowie knife was a factor, but I couldn't really find this knife's niche. It was too big for most common knife tasks; I also found it too sharp (wrong type of edge) and a little light for the type of chopping and wood gathering I'm used to doing. A lot of people might argue that it isn't a niche knife and is capable of doing anything; and if they could only have one knife this or a similar bowie knife would be their choice. I would ask those people why they are limited to one knife?
Overall, the Cold Steel Trailmaster I tested appeared to be a well made knife and I have to admit it was a fun knife to have around and made for a nice conversation piece. However, from a purely functional standpoint, I still have a hard time seeing many scenarios where this would the best option; granted it is a very versatile knife that can do most anything, but excels at only a few things. To me the knife is probably best used as a self defense weapon, or for use clearing small vegetation where its large sharp blade can best be utilized. The Cold Steel Trailmaster is currently available in two versions: one that uses O-1 High Carbon steel which sells for about $130, and an another version made with VG-1 San Mai III steel and sells for about $280.