In previous articles, we discussed choosing a fixed blade survival knife:
A knife is one of the more important pieces of equipment you can have with you in a survival situation.
As such, a good, survival-appropriate, fixed blade knife is your best choice for inclusion in a survival kit or BOB (Bug Out Bag) or equivalent, and/or to be strapped on when an emergency is likely. In this article, we will consider a contender for “Best Survival Knife”.
As mentioned in the general articles, there are two classes of fixed blade knife which can be appropriate for survival scenarios, the “bush” (medium) knife and the “field” (large) knife. This knife belongs to the field class.
Why did I consider the Benchmade Jungle Bolo?
I've always been a fan of Benchmade pocket knives since their start in 1988 with the Bali-song (butterfly knife).
From that humble beginning, they have grown into one of the premier knife companies, and today, they make a couple of the best survival pocket knives I've found based on their Griptilian model.
So I was happy they have some fixed blade models which look promising.
Of course, they don't often land in my price range. Fortunately, I grabbed a deal on one of their field knives, the Jungle Bolo.
This is one of their “Blue” class knives, for “everyday use”. The model is Jungle, where “Bolo” is the blade shape, to differentiate it from the “CL” clip point blade shape version.
In addition to a lifetime warranty, typical of many quality knife companies, Benchmade offers the “LifeSharp” service, where they will resharpen your knife to factory razor sharpness any time you want.
Although only send a knife to Benchmade if you got it from an authorized dealer, as they can confiscate or destroy any knives determined to be “counterfeit”, without reimbursing you.
Although USA manufacture is not claimed on the knife or the box or website, Benchmade assures me these are made in their Oregon plant.
|Blade Length||9.69″||Overall Length||14.9″|
|Blade Width||2″||Weight (Knife Only)||11.4 oz|
|Blade Steel||1095||Grip Material||Rubber-like|
|Blade Shape||Bolo||Guard Type||Half, Molded into the grip|
|Blade Grind||Saber||False Edge||No|
|Blade Thickness||0.195″||Spine “Jimping”||No|
Special Features: Dark semi-textured blade coating
The Phillipean Bolo knives are more machete than knife, and they seldom have the deep belly this one has.
This actually reminds me more of a Kukri blade, although this blade is straight rather than bent like the Kukri.
In any case, it should be quite good at chopping, with that huge belly and a balance 2 1/2″ in front of the guard. Of course, this makes it feel odd in your hands, more like a hatchet than a knife.
The grips are a bit small in diameter for me, but the grip material, a checkered rubbery substance, is comfortable and secure in all grips except the saber grip.
The top edge of the grip has ineffectual ridges which don't provide much traction for the thumb, and there is no jimping to help out. Slip resistance is very good with the hand wet or dry, and pretty good with a bit of vegetable oil.
The edges of the spine are not particularly sharp and have a coating, so it is unlikely they will be useful
The lanyard hole is pretty good, with rounded edges, so lanyard wear should not be a problem.
The blade coating is only slightly textured, so should not have a significant impact on cutting functions; it does not reflect light.
The sheath is a nice leather one with good retention, but due to the odd blade shape, the draw is a bit clunky.
This knife seems to be optimized as a chopper; it remains to be seen how it handles that as well as other survival knife tasks
1095 is a workhorse Carbon Steel, commonly used for knives because it is easy to shape and heat treat. And fairly inexpensive.
As such, it is a decent choice; durable except rather susceptible to rusting. The coating should help protect the steel from rust, except for the edge and the logos engraved on the blade.
And any place where the coating is worn or scraped away. It would be wise to treat these areas with a rust inhibiter, preferably a dry one.
Protect the knife from moisture as much as practical, and when it does get wet, dry it off as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
This came sharp enough to easily cut paper, which is often adequate for a field knife. After 50 slices through cardboard, there was no reduction in sharpness.
The Pocket Pal actually increased the sharpness a bit, and my old Brass Rat increased it even more.
To summarize, it appears that the steel has poor rust resistance (assisted by the blade coating), high strength, good or better edge capability, very good ease of sharpening, high resistance to chipping and very good edge holding capability.
- Cutting cord – This is often necessary during construction of shelter, fishing, sewing and making snares and traps, as well as other times. Since this is not a major task for a field knife, I only tried the toughest I have on hand, 3/4″ Sisal. The knife cut through easily.
- Making notches in branches – This could be required for shelter construction and making snares or traps, as well as other times. The knife was pretty good at this, both the main cuts and the stop cut, using the portion of the blade close to the grip for control. In this mode, the balance was not a distraction.
- Trimming/Sharpening/smoothing branches – This would be for shelter construction, as well as making arrows, spears, stakes, walking sticks and even bows. The knife did a good job of this.
- Pounding in stakes – This could be required for making shelters, snares and traps. This knife is not set up to perform this function.
- Use with a magnesium bar or ferrocerium rod is not practical using the edge of the spine; it not only does not shave or spark well, but it marks up the blade coating on the side of the blade. Use the edge; it does not cause any visible damage.
- Making a “featherstick” with this knife is a bit of a challenge. Soft woods work well, but with hard woods, it tends to go “too far”. Lots of curls, just not still attached to the featherstick. This is the same as the previous field knife tested; perhaps it is a “feature” of this class knife. After all, the more mass you start moving, the harder it is to stop if from moving.
- Drilling a hole (for a fire drill) took a while, but the resulting hold was nicely shaped and fairly smooth. The tip is substantial and the steel is tough; it would be difficult to damage this tip.
- Batoning for access to tinder or making kindling from logs worked quite well. There were significant marks in the blade coating after this test; most of them scrubbed off.
- Not really appropriate tasks for a field knife, so I didn't bother testing it. It is not balanced for these tasks, so in combination with the blade length and tip configuration, it would be inconvenient at best for these.
- Sticks or fronds – For shelter and other construction, splints and firewood. This is the major task for a field knife, and this one excels at it. Make sure you use the big belly and leave the part of the blade nearer to the grip for other tasks.
- The grip is not the greatest for combat, but it can be used thus and the blade length is formidable. The tip is so wide, it probably won't be great for stabbing, but the knife should do quite well for slashing and chopping techniques, although you will need to practice with it to get used to the severe forward balance. It might be good against a wild animal, but is likely to be at a disadvantage against someone armed with a shorter, more nimble knife. There is, of course, little protection from your opponents blade, but it is better at preventing your hand from sliding onto your own blade than many knives of this design. This may not be a combat knife, but it should be useful for defense in some cases if necessary.
The sheath is a nice leather one. The belt loop is sewn in and is not very wide. But it is fairly stiff, so should be adequate.
A concern is, the blade is wider at the tip than at the grip, so for compactness, the knife is drawn out the front rather than out the top as is more common.
Because of this non-standard draw, and the strap which is across the spine rather than around the grip, this is slower to draw than many other knives.
Not critical for most uses, but a potential problem for defense usage. There is no hole at the bottom for a leg tie, so sheath flop may be a problem.
There do not appear to be any accessories available.
Price and Availability
The list price of the Jungle Bolo at this point in time is $125.00. You can usually find them new on eBay for $105 or so.
It is listed as being in stock at the company, and there are a few people selling it on eBay. Amazon seems to have them in the same general price range, and it is on the Prime program, but tax will be added.
As a chopper, this is excellent and handles other tasks that do not require the tip quite well. It is not great for defense, though, both because of the blade shape and balance, and the reduced speed of draw.
As a field knife, along with an appropriate bush knife or even a good folding knife, this could be a good combination; by itself, not the best choice.
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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in December 23, 2015, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.