In the world of fixed blades, few names carry as much clout as Bark River. They’re a mainstay in the outdoor community, with a reputation for high-quality, American-made blades. But, how far down can one distill their legacy? I aim to find out with a review of the Bark River PSK.
Short for “Personal Survival Knife,” this diminutive entry bills itself as a perfect backup to your full-sized outdoor companion. The makers have used their knowledge and top-notch materials to pack as much utility as possible into the smallest practical space. I’ve cooked, hiked, and tooled around with the PSK for a few months now, and my thoughts are, well, complicated.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
Look – I’m going to try to keep this review from being one continuous short joke. But, let’s discuss the elephant in the room – Despite owning, carrying, and using an ESEE Candiru on a regular basis, the PSK immediately struck me as undersized. This is especially true when you factor in its $150-ish price tag.
That being said, there’s still a lot to like throughout the PSK’s 5.25-inch span. Bark River has fitted this full tang blade with burgundy Micarta scales, leaving 2.25-inches of satin Elmax up front. Two of these inches are sharpened, with a drop point design sloping down from its .08-inch thickness. This results in a convex edge, a grind well known for its versatile nature and outstanding durability.
But, while convex edges may be Bark River’s stock and trade, this is my first knife with this particular grind. I found it to be eminently capable, from wood carving to food prep and everyday chores. The sharpening anxiety is real, however. Elmax is definitely a long-wearing steel, but I’m concerned about my ability to sharpen this knife with my current equipment. The blade’s converging slopes require an abrasive surface with a little give in it, allowing you to gently roll the knife while honing the edge.
I know you can use sandpaper and a mousepad to preserve the curve but… Come on. This is a $150 knife, and I feel weird about sharpening it with products from Ace Hardware and Staples. That’s my hangup, though, not the knife’s.
Handle and Ergonomics
Ergo’s can be trick when it comes to small knives. Compact frames and tight tolerances leave less room for error. Thankfully, Bark River knows their craft. While the 3-inch handle is smaller than the blade on my Kizer Begleiter, the PSK manages to fit snuggly in my medium/large hand. This is due in part to its 0.38-inch thick handle and 1.45-ounce heft, which gives it a feeling of solidity lacking in the stock Candiru.
Here’s another advantage of the PSK: Thanks to its squared-off spine, this knife can be used to strike a ferro rod. It’s a nice touch on a blade with “Survival” in its acronym. I was able to get a small fire going in just a few moments, despite some fairly damp conditions.
The lanyard hole is nicely finished, as well. I’m not a lanyard person in general, but these small knives definitely benefit from a little cordage out back. But, while basic paracord looks natural on the bare frame of the ESEE, the fine handles on the PSK would probably benefit from a strip of nice leather.
Bark River’s material quality carries over to the sheath. This is one of the best made leather items I own, size be damned. It’s thick, solidly stitched, and well finished. There was a definite break in period at the outset, however. I had to force the knife in the first time, after which it took quite a while to work its way out. But, as with all leather sheaths, it’s loosened over time.
The bigger issue here is, “Where do you carry it?” While I was (barely) able to fit my belt through the loop, this isn’t a comfortable carry outside the pocket. Wait – That’s not entirely accurate. A better way to put it is that, given the size of the knife and the depth to which it sits in the sheath, it’s very difficult to draw and return the PSK when it’s riding on my belt. The angle of reentry can be tricky, and I was always concerned that I’d slip and stab myself in the thigh.
Honestly, I think a pocket clip stitched into the leather would have been a better call here.
Bark River PSK Review – Final Thoughts
Here’s what it boils down to: The PSK is a well-crafted, aesthetically pleasing, and surprisingly capable small fixed blade. It handled everything I threw at it without issue. The design is on-point, even down to the blade etching and colorful liners.
But, no matter how much capability you pack into these two inches of blade, it’s still a very small knife. It’s also tricky to carry, odd to sharpen, and more than twice the price of the similarly-sized Candiru.
We should also mention the warranty. Bark River offers a lifetime guarantee against manufacturer defects, which should put you at ease when it comes to actually using the PSK. But again, this isn’t as comprehensive as the “No questions asked” coverage you get from ESEE.
In the end, I’ve struggled to find the target audience for this blade. Outdoorsy folks will probably want something larger, unless they’re comfortable keeping $150-worth of backup knife in their packs. Kids and collectors, maybe?
The PSK reminds me of a small plate of food prepared by a world-class chef. No matter how finely crafted, perfectly presented, and delicious it may be, there’s just not enough there to quell the hunger. If you’re looking for an entry point into the world of Bark River, the PSK is an interesting piece. But for now, I’ll be swimming up a different stream.
Bark River PSK – From $134.95