White River Sendero Pack Knife
By Gary Zinn
White River Sendero Pack Knife. Image courtesy of knifecenter.com
Since this is the first White River knife that has been reviewed for Guns & Shooting Online, it is appropriate to introduce the business that makes it. White River Knife & Tool is located in Coopersville, Michigan. The firm is self-described as "a small family company with a passion for making high quality knives and tools in the U.S.A."
The patterns White River makes are organized into four groups, including hunting, fishing, survival and EDC. For instance, the hunting category lists seven patterns, including the knife reviewed here. They also make custom knives, one-off knives featuring special handle materials and extra finishing touches, and even a few with Damascus blades.
An information card that came with my knife states the White River guarantee as follows: "If you are not 100% satisfied with this knife, send it back for free repair or replacement." They also offer a no-charge knife sharpening service, with the owner paying only the cost of shipping.
Information about the various models of White River knives can be found on the website www.whiteriverknives.com. They also have an on-line dealer locator. Major internet dealers that carry their knives include Blade HQ, KnifeCenter and Smoky Mountain Knife Works.
Criteria for a Perfect Field Knife
I have a thing for well designed, medium sized, fixed blade knives. Whenever I see a new knife that fits the parameters of what I consider to be a "perfect field knife" (PFK), I always take a closer look at it. Sometimes, what I see prompts me to get a particularly appealing knife. The White River Sendero Pack Knife is a case in point and I have one in hand.
To me, a PFK is simple, tough, compact and versatile. Simple and tough go together and are best exemplified by a full-tang, fixed blade knife of high quality steel with a finger guard milled into the blank. Attach a pair of scales to the handle tang and it is all good. With the strength of a full tang and durable handle material, you have a tough knife.
Compact does not mean tiny. Through decades of experience, I have concluded that a blade 3-1/4 to 3-1/2 inches long is sufficient for most of the outdoor cutting tasks I encounter. With that blade length, an overall length of 7-1/2 to eight inches gives room for an adequate handle length of about four inches. I also like a handle that has enough girth to fill my palm.
The simplicity of the knife helps keep the weight down. Assuming a maximum blade thickness of 1/8-inch and no extraneous furniture, the knife should weigh less than five ounces. Finally, versatility is a function of blade size and geometry, complemented by good handle ergonomics. What I want is a knife that will be efficient at field dressing and skinning deer, cleaning small game and fish, and miscellaneous cutting chores. An upswept drop point with a curved cutting edge does this well.
Sendero Pack Knife specifications
The material and design of the Sendero blade checks off all the boxes for a functional and tough fixed blade knife. The steel is CPM S30V stainless, one of the super steels developed specifically for upscale knife blades. S30V contains carbon and high amounts of chromium, molybdenum and vanadium. Designed for hardness and edge retention, it has excellent corrosion resistance, but is somewhat difficult to sharpen.
I consider 57 to 60 Rc to be the sweet spot for blade tempering, because that range seems to give the best balance between edge retention and ease of sharpening. The 59 Rc temper of this blade is fine with me.
The knife has a full tang with integral finger guard, which serves to make the knife both strong and safe to use. The finger guard protrudes 3/8 inch below the front edge of the handle scales, just enough to keep the first finger away from the edge of the blade.
The blade pattern has two important features. The spine is an upswept drop point, while the cutting edge is virtually straight for the first inch in front of the hand guard. It then takes a smooth, increasing radius curve to a well defined tip.
The result is what I would characterize as a semi-skinner blade profile. I say semi-skinner, because the blade belly is not as rounded and the tip is not as blunt as one would normally find on a true skinner pattern knife. I like the versatility of this blade pattern so much that three years ago I had a John B. Hege Custom "Perfect Field Knife" made with a similar blade profile.
The blade has 3-1/4 linear inches of cutting edge, is 7/8 inch wide at the belly and has a 3/32 inch thick spine just in front of the finger guard. The blade has a stonewashed finish, which indicates the knife is meant for use, not show. The blade is flat ground, with a narrow (less than 1mm), evenly ground edge bevel.
The full tang has a very subtle taper, from 4/32 inch thick at the pommel to 3/32 inch at the base of the ground blade. It continues to taper along the blade spine. This is a refinement not often seen on knives in this price range. Functionally, it strengthens the handle spine and helps keep the balance point in the handle.
The factory edge was very sharp. We were remodeling a bedroom when I got my knife and I had several furniture packing boxes to break down for recycling. This became the first practical test of the new knife. Cutting single-ply corrugated cardboard was very easy and the knife powered through double and triple thick cardboard very well.
I then did some routine test cutting on wood, nylon webbing, cord and such. The knife easily handled everything on which I used it. I touched-up the edge on my Work Sharp Guided Sharpening System and it easily passed my paper slicing test.
The gripe I most often have with smaller fixed blade knives is poor handles. They are often too short, too narrow, not properly shaped, or some combination of those deficiencies. The Sendero handle is adequate in size and has a shape that makes for a comfortable and secure hold. The handle scales are 3-15/16 inches long and 1-3/16 inches to 3/4 inch wide. The maximum thickness is 9/16 inch.
The handle scales are G10, ground and shaped to make a handle that feels comfortable. The handle is just long enough to fit perfectly in my size 10 hand and the grip feels right. My only criticism of the handle is I would like it to be a bit thicker. If each scale were just 1/16 inch thicker the handle would better fill my palm.
The scales are perfectly fitted to the tang and are secured by a pair of stainless steel rivets. There is a lanyard hole in the butt of the handle, although it is not shown in the image above. My knife has orange scales, but olive drab is also available.
G10 is hell for tough, so using it on this knife is another indication that designer Jerry Fisk meant this to be a working knife. Given a choice, I prefer the look and feel of canvas Micarta for a tough handle material, but I can certainly live with G10.
The tapered tang and dense handle material work with the blade length to make for a perfectly balanced knife. I can grasp it and then open my fingers and the knife will just sit there, without any tendency to tip forward. I know I have to accept a weight forward balance in a knife with a long blade, but I want a knife with a 3-1/2 inch or shorter blade to have neutral balance.
I am not a fan of Kydex sheaths and the one that came with the Sendero Pack Knife did nothing to change my mind. The only good thing I can say about it is that it is molded with a detent that grasps the finger guard to hold the knife securely in place. This in itself is nothing novel, but the detent provides just enough tension around the guard for security, yet the knife is easy to withdraw. One of the beefs I have with Kydex sheaths is that often the detents are so tight that it is a struggle to get the knife out of the sheath.
As shipped, the sheath belt loop is attached for straight up, high right side carry. There is an instruction card that shows the various ways in which the belt loop of the sheath may be remounted for different carry options.
I played around with removing and remounting the belt loop, but soon became frustrated with the process. In addition to a small Allen wrench, it takes needle-nose pliers, small rubber washers and the patience of Job to change the loop setup.
At this point I have removed the belt loop, which effectively makes the sheath into a simple blade guard. I can carry the sheathed knife in a cargo pocket or day pack, but not on my belt. I plan to get an aftermarket leather belt sheath for this knife.
Speaking of leather sheaths, White River makes an identically patterned knife called the Sendero Bush Knife. This larger (3.6 inch blade, 8.25 inches overall) knife comes with a leather pouch-type belt sheath. I do not understand why a Kydex sheath is provided for the Pack Knife, instead of a leather sheath.
The Sendero Pack Knife fits my simple and tough criteria for a PFK with very high quality steel, a full tang, integral finger guard and G10 handle scales. With a versatile blade pattern, 3-1/4 inches of cutting edge and four inches of usable handle length, a lot of functionality is built into the compact total length of 7-1/2 inches. The knife itself weighs 3.1 ounces, according to my digital postal scale, and only 4.2 ounces with the Kydex sheath.
I give the Sendero Pack Knife a solid "A" in terms of my criteria for a PFK. The only reason for withholding an A+ rating is that I would like just a bit more handle girth. Conversely, I give the provided Kydex sheath a "D." I am enough of a traditionalist to feel strongly that a quality fixed blade knife should live in a good leather sheath. Anyone who likes Kydex sheaths should ignore my prejudice.
At a 2016 MSRP of $200 the Sendero Pack Knife is not cheap, but it uses top quality materials and shows excellent workmanship. This is a knife made to be used hard for a very long time, provided it is not abused.
Copyright 2016 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.