Sunday, August 28, 2016

Budget Gear Review: Buck Selkirk Knife

Buck Selkirk
 The Dirt:

Buck Selkirk Knife

What is it? Fixed blade Survival/Bushcraft knife

Comes with: Sheath and ferrocerium rod with attached whistle

Size: Blade length 4.625". Overall length 9.5". Thickness 0.135"

Weight: 7.6 oz.

Materials: 420 HC Stainless Steel. Micarta handle. 

Price: $43.78 at

The Selkirk is a mid-duty fixed-blade survival knife named after one of my favorite places in the world, the Selkirk mountains of the Idaho panhandle. Not coincidentally, north Idaho is also home to the famous Buck Knife factory, where most of Buck's beloved knives are made. The Selkirk is not one of those knives. In fact, the name "China" is stamped on the blade. Some people won't consider the Selkirk for this reason alone. Despite its country of origin, the Selkirk is a solid knife that should warrant consideration when shopping for a bushcraft style knife under fifty dollars.

The knife's weight is the first thing I noticed. Previously I was almost exclusively using a Mora Companion. The Selkirk is heavy, and not particularly well balanced, owing to the steel-filled handle. The hammer on the pommel takes some of the blame for all that weight. It looks cool, but I found it not as practical for hammering as say a rock or heavy bit of wood. Though it certainly adds to the overall robust nature of the knife.

Hammer time.
Speaking of the handle, the textured Micarta has a nice wood-grain look, but feels a little too slick for my liking. Despite this, the grip is mostly comfortable. I say "mostly" because although the shape is fine, the spine isn't quite flush with the micarta. The result is an uncomfortable contact of skin and steel when I'm using certain grips or performing certain tasks. You can see in the photo below (and above) that the spine is raised just slightly above the micarta along the handle. It doesn't affect how I handle the knife. It's simply an annoyance. Call it nitpicking, but to me it shows a lack of attention to detail on the part of the manufacturer. 

Spine not flush.
Enough about the handle. Let's talk about the blade. That's where this knife really shines. Out of the box the Selkirk was shaving sharp. The edge retention is great and so is the ease of sharpening. In fact, the Selkirk is one of the easiest knives I have ever sharpened. It doesn't take much with a fine stone to hone the blade back to bad-assery. Credit the flat grind and 420 high carbon stainless steel. A lot of people knock Buck for using 420, but I have been continually impressed by the razor's edge of this knife. That said, I did roll the edge near the tip several months ago. I'm not sure what I was doing when it happened because I didn't notice it until I was cleaning my knife at the end of the day.

Feather stick

Let's not forget that the Selkirk is billed as a bushcraft knife. As far as carving, chopping, batoning and food prep, the knife performs exceptionally. The problem comes with the fire starting capabilities. The accompanied ferro rod is small, but it has to be. The rod is designed to be used in the choil of the knife, rather than the spine. To me, this is a total design flaw. For starters, the space to work with is tiny. Worse, you have to work your hand under the business end of the blade, which just increases the likelihood of an accident. Finally, if you prefer a larger rod, chances are it won't fit the tight opening of the choil. Now, the spine of the knife is not 90 degrees, but the angle is such that you can produce a small amount of sparks. Of course, you could always grind it flat on your own, but why Buck wouldn't do that in the first place is just silly.

Ferro rod is designed to go through the choil.

Finally the sheath. On other sites I've seen people knock the injection-molded sheath, but I think it's one of the stronger features of the Selkirk. It looks good, can be configured for a variety of carries, and holds both the knife and the ferro rod securely. Plus, like the knife itself, it can really take a beating. 

Overall, the Selkirk is worth considering for casual knife users, or buyers on a budget, especially if you're willing to modify the spine. Although rough around the edges, the blade is excellent, and you can count on the durability. Design flaws and sloppy manufacturing may deter some. If money isn't a concern, look elsewhere.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Three Sisters Wilderness: Doris Lake

Fishing didn't go so well.
I finally got out for my first Oregon backpacking adventure. Since Bend is still so new to me, I didn't quite know where to go. In the Three Sisters Wilderness, everyone says Green Lakes is the place to be. Since I did Green Lakes as a dayhike, I wasn't really interested in going back. Mainly I wanted to avoid the crowds that I knew would be clogging up the trails. After studying a map, I settled on Doris Lake instead. It's an easy hike, and the fishing was supposed to be decent. 

The hike in was as easy as advertised, and mostly in the shade of the big evergreens. After recreating  in the desert for so long I almost felt claustrophobic among so many trees. Line of sight is a fraction of what I usually had in the desert, We passed a few groups hiking out, either complaining about mosquitoes or wearing headnets. I knew we were in for a treat.

After making camp near the lake I tried my luck fishing. I love fishing, but I've decided that I'm not very good at it. I threw out an orange Panther Martin (recommended to me by the fishing guy in Sportsman's Warehouse) and spent the next couple of hours reeling in... an orange Panther Martin. The beach nearest my tent was infested by big red ants which literally bit the hell out of my feet every chance they got. Literally, every time I stepped down, all ants within a foot radius would immediately charge my foot like a platoon of gung-ho marines. If I moved my foot they would chase it. Those little bastards were aggressive as hell. But the scenery was nice and the water was perfect, so I gave up fishing and went for a swim instead. The ants didn't follow me in.

Video: Starting a fire with Old Man's Beard

Late afternoon the mosquitos were swarming. I was covered head-to-toe in protection, but they were chewing up my dog Rocco. I started a fire early, deciding to turn-in when the sun set, I sat by the fire sipping some Irish whiskey and watching. The trees were covered in Old Man's Beard and the setting sun turned everything green. As far as I knew, Rocco and I had the lake to ourselves. I didn't see or hear another soul.

Doris Lake camp

Monday, August 1, 2016

Three Sisters Wilderness: Green Lakes

Fall Creek
 Oregon. That is where I now reside. I've traded in saguaros and century plants for pine and spruce and fur. I'll miss the desert, but Oregon is a homecoming for me of sorts. If you've followed my blog long enough, you know that Spokane, Washington was where I began this journey. Now, I'm in Bend. The final destination... Hopefully. 

The boundary for Three Sisters Wilderness is literally a 20 minute drive from Bend, and the road is paved. With such easy access you can guess that Three Sisters is one busy wilderness. Green Lakes is supposed to be a primo locale in the wilderness, and late June is supposed to be the best time to go... Before the snow melts and the hiking hordes arrive. We were on the trail by 9 am, and the humongous parking lot was mostly empty. I had been warned about the crowds, but it didn't look too bad. 

Three Sisters Wilderness

Green Lakes is roughly a ten mile round trip hike over nicely maintained trail. Early in the year however, the trail is easy to lose in the snow. It's been awhile since I've hiked over hard packed snow, and almost immediately I wished I would have brought some microspikes. As a result, I was slipping and sliding all over the place, but at least I wasn't postholing. Shade from the trees, and the constant sound of running water from Fall Creek were a welcome change from the desert. Another key item I didn't bring was a pair of sunglasses. I remember walking out the door thinking, "I don't need my sunglasses, I'm not in the desert anymore," Boy was that a mistake. Walking over snowfields on the approach, my eyes ached from the glare of the sun off the snow. My eyes hurt so bad that I was worried about going snowblind. To eliminate the glare I had to walk with my hands cupped around my eyes, which drastically reduced my peripheral vision and caused me to constantly lose my footing. I felt like a complete rookie up there.

Three Sisters Wilderness
South Sister
 We found the lakes still frozen over, but the mountain view was awesome. Craggy "Broken Top" and the solitary "South Sister" overlook Green Lake from the right and left. I thought that Green Lake would be an excellent basecamp if I ever felt the need to climb either of them. I had brought fishing gear, but the lake was still frozen over. 

Three Sisters Wilderness
Broken Top
 We didn't see barely anyone on the hike in, but the hike back we passed probably 50 people. One group of backpackers had lost the trail under the snow, and didn't seem to know where they were. Another group of mountaineers were heading for Green Lake to make a basecamp for a summit bid on South Sister the next morning. Most were day hikers like us.

Return trip along Fall Creek
 The giant parking lot was completely full when we returned to the trailhead. I was beginning to realize just how popular this area was. Since the trip I've learned that Three Sisters Wilderness is the most visited wilderness in Oregon, and Green Lakes is its most popular trail. I think I'll skip that trail for the rest of the summer and find something a little more out of the way.

Creek crossing with the puppies.